Works and Days

Works and Days

Goodnight, California

June 16th, 2015 - 10:59 pm


I offer another chronicle, a 14-hour tour of the skeleton I once knew as California.

8:00 AM

I finally got around to retrieving the car seat that someone threw out in front of the vineyard near my mailbox. (Don’t try waiting dumpers out — as if it is not your responsibility to clean up California roadsides.)

An acquaintance had also emailed and reminded me that not far away there was a mound of used drip hose on the roadside. That mess proved to be quite large, maybe 1,000 feet of corroded and ripped up plastic hose. I suppose no scavenger thinks it can be recycled. I promise to haul it away this week. One must be prompt: even a small pile attracts dumpers like honey to bees. They are an ingenious and industrious lot (sort of like the cunning and work ethic of those who planted IEDs during the Iraq War). My cousin’s pile across the road has grown to Mt. Rushmore proportions. Do freelance dumpers make good money promising to take away their neighborhood’s mattresses and trash without paying the $20 or so county dumping fee? And does their success depend on fools like me, who are expected to keep roadsides tidy by cleaning up past trash to make room for future refuse?

9:00 AM

My relative has sold her 20 acres to a successful almond grower; that was the last parcel other than my own left of my great great grandmother’s farm. All that remains is the original house I live in and 40 acres. Almost all the small farming neighbors I grew up with — of Armenian, Punjabi, German, or Japanese descent — are long gone. Goodbye, diversity. And their children either sold the parcels and moved away (the poorer seem to head to the foothills, the middle class go out of state, the better off flee to the coast) or rent them out. Most of the surrounding countryside, piece-by-piece, is being reconstituted into vast almond groves. I plan to rent out mine next year for such conversion.

Almonds can net far more per acre than raisins and do not require much more water and require almost no labor. Tree fruit, given its expenses and risks, can lose your farm. The last vestiges of small, agrarian farming in these parts died sometime in the 1990s. Oddly, or perhaps predictably, the land to the naked eye looks better in the sense that the power of corporate capital and savvy scientific expertise has resulted in picture-perfect orchards. The old agrarian idea that 40 acres also grows a unique family, not just food, is — how do we say it? No longer operative?

10:00 AM

I drive on the 99 freeway past Kingsburg on the way to Visalia. It is a road-warrior maze of construction and detours. The construction hazards are of the sort that would earn any private contractor a lawsuit. (How do you sue Caltrans — and why is it that four or five men always seem to be standing around one who is working?) Only recently has the state decided to upgrade the fossilized two-lane 99 into an interstate freeway of three lanes. But the construction is slow and seemingly endless. Could we not have a simple state rule: “no high-speed rail corridors until the 101, 99, and I-5 are three-lane freeways, and the neglected Amtrak line achieves profitable ridership?” It is almost as if California answers back: “I am too bewildered by your premodern challenges, so I will take psychological refuge in my postmodern fantasies.”

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Building the New Dark-Age Mind

June 8th, 2015 - 8:23 pm


History is not static and it does not progress linearly.  There was more free speech and unimpeded expression in 5th-century Athens than in Western Europe between 1934-45, or in Eastern Europe during 1946-1989. An American could speak his mind more freely in 1970 than now. Many in the United States had naively believed that the Enlightenment, the U.S. Constitution, and over two centuries of American customs and traditions had guaranteed that Americans could always take for granted free speech and unfettered inquiry.

That is an ahistorical assumption. The wish to silence, censor, and impede thought is just as strong a human emotion as the desire for free expression — especially when censorship is cloaked in rhetoric about fairness, equality, justice, and all the other euphemisms for not allowing the free promulgation of ideas.

George Orwell devoted his later years to warning us that while the fascist method of destroying free expression was easily identified (albeit only with difficulty combatted), the leftwing totalitarian impulse to squelch unpopular speech was far harder to resist — couched as it was in sloganeering about the “people” and “social justice.” It is easy to object to the speech codes of a self-interested, corrupt dictator in sunglasses and epaulettes, but difficult to fight censorship that allegedly helps the poor, minorities, and the helpless.

We can all but write off today’s university as a place of free expression. In the age of Obama, zealots in the university have clamped down on any thought deemed reactionary. “Trigger warning” is a euphemism for trying either to censure literature or to denigrate it. “Safe space” is another term for the segregation of campus areas by race, class, or ideology. “Hate speech” has become a pejorative for uncomfortable truth.

So try a thought experiment. If Professor A in various fora — before the academic senate, at the “free speech” area of the quad, during student advising, in a faculty meeting, or during class — announced that on-campus, Christian student groups practiced hate speech and thus should be monitored or silenced, or he declared that due to white privilege he was holding private tutoring sessions only for people of color, or he urged that global warming deniers should not be allowed to spread their heresies in class, or he insisted that the nature and propriety of sexual intercourse should be post facto defined only by the female participant, he would be hailed, and many of those proposals would be taken seriously if they were not already part of campus protocol.

But if a bookend Professor B in the same venues announced that he found Muslim groups equally suspect, or that, due to constant deprecation of white males, he was holding tutoring sessions only for his European-American students, or that he was hosting a campus conference on the unscientific nature of the global warming movement, or if he urged the university to insist that any allegations of rape follow strictly the rules of evidence and procedures as outlined in the U.S. Constitution and state laws of criminal jurisprudence, he would find himself in a great deal of trouble, if not fired.

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Junk Journalism

June 2nd, 2015 - 5:18 pm


Once upon a time, Dan Rather — the fallen CBS celebrity anchorman from the evening news and at 60 Minutes – was the master of “gotcha” journalism. Rather would play up his populist credentials, do ambush interviews with supposedly self-important grandees, and then pull out an unknown memo, an embarrassing quote from one’s past, or some sort of previously unexamined hypocrisy. And, presto, down went the high and mighty, as Rather grinned that he had taken down another enemy of his middle-class viewers without power and influence.

Rather became a multimillionaire celebrity himself, and forgot the very rules of ethical journalism that he so often preached to his victims. Nemesis finally — she is often a slowcoach goddess — caught up with him at 73, in the heat of the 2004 campaign and furor at the Texan-twanged, evangelical, Iraq War promoter George W. Bush. Rather’s producers got hold of faked memos purportedly proving that the commander-in-chief had once gone AWOL while serving as a twenty-something pilot with the Texas National Guard.

Rather’s story of Bush, the privileged hypocrite, made a big splash, especially in the age of Cindy Sheehan and Michael Moore. When the truth came out that the memos were not only not true but could not be true, given their computerized format from the pre-Microsoft age, a red-faced CBS hierarchy fired a few of its marquee producers and eventually eased Rather out.

Rather sued. He denied. He blustered. He pleaded. He cajoled. He would not go away. When he was all through, he had become the sort of hapless prey caught in a web of contradictions that he once had enjoyed teasing before stinging on air. Rather’s defense was finally reduced to “the means justify the ends” argument that the memos could have been fake but his charges were still accurate.

NBC anchor Brian Williams was a less abrasive persona, but no less smug and privileged a celebrity tele-journalist. He too imploded when his Rather-like ego convinced him that Rule One of journalism — to demand the truth from others, first one must always tell the truth — no longer applied, given Williams’ omnipresence, big money, and colossal sense of self.

So Williams began making stuff up live in front of millions of listeners, as if he were the story and as if the audience were the amazed bystanders. Given his progressive faith, his celebrity status, and his nice-guy image, Williams apparently mythologized for quite some time without audit. His yarns were pathetic, in the sense that they characteristically placed Williams, as a self-inflated version of Forrest Gump, in a danger zone perhaps at risk of his life, but always cool, forever professional in conveying inside drama to Americans on their couches. A sort of journalist version of Hillary Clinton flying into the Balkans braving gunfire.

Like Rather, Brian Williams is now gone, at least for a while. He may be back, given that he made his network far more money than did Rather in his waning years. But who could ever believe his personal-voice psychodramas again?

George Stephanopoulos was a Clinton-era flack who effectively bullied would-be investigative reporters, did negative research, and massaged liberal journalists to convince America that Bill Clinton was not a philanderer and slave to his appetites who habitually lied to escape the serial messes he got himself — and his family and friends — into. And Stephanopoulos was good at spin apparently, in that Clinton won his election and the country ignored the various females whom he had bullied, groped, cajoled, and sometimes smeared.

Stephanopoulos wrote a memoir that served as a kind of mea culpa, as he transitioned into the limelight of New York-D.C. corridor journalism. Yet Stephanopoulos never severed his valuable Clinton connections, even as he went from partisan political analyst to supposedly disinterested anchor. Like Rather and Williams, his hubris got the best of him and he too ended up calling down Nemesis.

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Greek tragedy often ends with a succession of personal disasters that doom an Oedipus or Ajax — apparently part of a divinely inspired nemesis (retribution) to pay back personal hubris (overweening pride).

The latter flaw seems to grow and grow until fate strikes the arrogant at the most opportune but still unlikely moment: a Nixon sweeping to a landslide victory in 1972, only to self-destruct over the cover-up of a two-bit, needless burglary. It apparently at last brought out his long-held character shortcoming (hamartia), theretofore seemingly either not too serious or at least adroitly managed.

The Sophoclean idea of eironeia (irony) — Oedipus cannot see until he is blind in the manner of the blind, but all-seeing Tiresias, whom he damned as sightless before his own blindness — suggests that the nature of one’s fate is often tragically ironic.

The swashbuckling George S. Patton, who braved death in his drive to Germany and was worried about his role in a peacetime world, was paralyzed in a minor traffic accident shortly after the Allied victory — and on the day before he was to go home and leave postwar Europe for good. He died not on the battlefield, but painfully in bed in a military hospital in Germany.

The idea of karma within the traditions of Buddhism and Hinduism is somewhat similar to Greek tragedy, though more geared to action rather than attitudes causing future accounting for past behaviors. Modern Western religions also share somewhat in both Eastern and Western notions of payback, even while on Earth before the final accounting in the hereafter.

Still, it certainly seems innately human (and thus egocentric) to try to make sense of present bad and good fortune by reviewing causation through one’s prior thoughts and deeds. The problem with mostly positive moral introspection is the narcissistic element: good or bad things don’t just happen to a single individual, but harm many of the uninvolved or innocent around him. Why do the innocents of Thebes have to suffer plague for Oedipus’s hubris?

It is all narcissism to think that catastrophes center on one person’s behavior, even if earned, and especially when they hurt innocent others. Aeschylus seems cruel to talk of pathei mathos, learning from pain.

I can see the logic of tragic collective vengeance, but even then, I don’t quite believe that a divine plan led to Hitler raging in his suicidal bunker as the logical retribution to his sick Nuremberg rants a decade — and six million innocents gassed —  earlier.

At best, all we can do, I think in our ignorance of causation, is to cover our bets and tread lightly and remain observant — keeping humble and modest in occasional good fortune (given so often that our blessings turn out to be dependent on the work of other friends and benefactors), while staying resolute in more frequent times of chaos and disaster, to be able to help and offer sanctuary to others.

It is wise to remember the good dead and emulate their example rather than to be caught up with the mediocre of the present. I certainly spend more time recalling the voice of my mother than listening to the televised psychodramas of our elite. Faith and transcendence in the end matter most, whether for us who believe in God and an eternal soul, or for the more agnostic humanists who trust that one’s good works now can affect others following them, from raising good children to planting an olive tree.

I’ve been trying to sort such thoughts out after the most terrible past 12 months. Everyone has horrific seasons. Nothing seems worse than losing parents. Mine died far too early, my mother from a malignant meningioma that first struck her at 64 while an appellate court judge; my indestructible father from a stroke at 75. Like most, I’ve had a few scrapes, a variety of accidents, diseases, and operations in some scary places.

But all one’s health seems the minor melodrama that it always really was. My granddaughter Lila was born December 5, 2013. Something seemed wrong almost at once. An adroit diagnosis at Stanford Medical Center found neonatal cholestasis, a severe malfunction of the liver, involving spikes in conjugated bilirubin. For days we researched the likely and quite scary causes — biliary atresia, alpha 1 syndrome, and worse. None had good prognoses. All had scary names.

But 10% of the infant cholestasis cases were in the literature dubbed “idiopathic” and resolved eventually. No one knew why. And so miraculously did tiny Lila’s — or so we thought.

Her bilirubin returned to normal; she survived and she seemed to recover. But by six or seven months something else was clearly wrong, or rather “delayed.” By March 2015 she was far behind in terms of walking and talking. We spent hours each night reading about post-cholestasis syndromes in almost every American and European journal we could find. Surely that mysterious liver disease had caused the delay — and thus catch-up would follow?

Not really.

More strange symptomology followed. Three weeks ago, after genetic testing, doctors diagnosed her with something known as Smith-Magenis syndrome, described as a “deletion of genetic material from a specific region of chromosome 17 (17p11.2). Although this region contains multiple genes, recently researchers discovered that the loss of one particular gene the retinoic acid induced 1 or RAI1 is responsible for most of the characteristic features of this condition.”

Previously SMS was often thought to be a severe subset of either Down’s syndrome or autism. The strange and multifarious symptoms are too numerous to list here. A wonderful foundation does its best to fight for help for this tragic syndrome and I am going to try to support it according to my station.

And yet a wonderful thing arose throughout this ordeal. The more the bleak diagnoses and worse prognoses piled on, the more Lila smiled and exhibited the most outgoing and warm personality. (Was it due to the SMS trait of not feeling physical pain, or its associated symptom of natural exuberance with a tendency to hurt oneself rather than others?)

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Lying, Inc.

May 12th, 2015 - 8:53 pm


Heroic quarterback Tom Brady was apparently caught lying about his involvement in deflating footballs. One assumes that such prevarication counts for little in the larger scheme of football and Tom Brady’s own career trajectory. His defense is that he did not need to use underinflated footballs to win, so what did a lie or two matter?

Were he a second-string quarterback on a losing team, he might be roundly denounced and suffer real consequences rather than a likely brief suspension. No one ever quite believed Lance Armstrong when he swore that he was not using enhancement drugs; they assumed he certainly was doping, but preferred to see him excel and set records first, and then only later get caught and fess up. When he was no longer in the news, then his lying caught up with him.

The national hero Gen. David Petraeus was caught lying when he told federal officials that he had not shared top-secret documents with his mistress. The law and the public apparently bestow to Petraeus, a good man, a sort of exemption from serious punishment on the logic once outlined by Pericles about putting into context the sins of the military hero or in the fashion that we forgave Bill Clinton’s untruths. Academics assured us that in matters of adultery, constructing competing narratives is quite understandable for all involved and sometimes good etiquette.

NBC anchor Brian Williams was not so much a liar as a bard, who spun yarns about life-against-death encounters, in which as Achilles he was always at the forefront of turmoil. Williams lied simply because as a talking head he could become both oral poet and Homeric hero all at once. His autobiographical sagas certainly jazzed things up at 6:00 p.m. Few question network anchor newsreaders. In Williams’s case his “aw shucks” mellifluous shtick and understated dramatics were his versions of hexameters and type scenes, and so made his lying a bit easier to swallow.

After his brief suspension, Williams might even return to his multimillion-dollar per year perch, with the understanding that he can restore NBC ratings and profitability, and do that with occasional exaggeration rather than outright making up stuff. And why not lie, when NBC itself doctors 911 tapes to confirm that George Zimmerman was a racist?

Everyone knows that “Hands up, Don’t Shoot” was an outright lie. Michael Brown never did or said that. Forensics, logic, and the majority of eyewitness accounts confirm that the strong-armed robber struggled with a policeman, lunged at his weapon, ran away, and then turned and charged him, not that he was executed in polite submission.

Does that lie matter? Not at all. “Ferguson” is routinely listed as proof of police racist brutality — and by no less than the president of the United States. Michael Brown is now the Paul Bunyan of the inner city. U.S. congressional representatives and professional athletes alike chant and act out “Hands up, Don’t Shoot” dramatics. The public shrugs that although it is all a lie, it is felt to be sort of true on the theory that something like that could happen one day, and thus it is OK to lie that it already has. Most knew that the strong-arm robber Michael Brown was about as likely a “gentle giant” as Trayvon Martin was still a cute preteen in a football uniform.

Community agitator and frequent White House visitor Al Sharpton has lied repeatedly about his income taxes and the reasons why he cannot produce accurate tax records, in the manner that he habitually lied about the Tawana Brawley case, the Duke Lacrosse caper, and the Ferguson “hands up, don’t shoot” meme. The public assumes both that Sharpton is an inveterate liar and that to dwell on the fact is either a waste of time or can incur charges of illiberality or worse. Most are more interested in his more mysterious, almost daily-changing appearance than the untruth that he hourly espouses.

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Decoding the Rules of Baltimore

May 3rd, 2015 - 9:49 pm

NBC’s Al Sharpton shakes hands with Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake as she prepares to speak at a summit to address issues surrounding the death of Freddie Gray and its aftermath at New Shiloh Baptist Church, Thursday, April 30, 2015, in Baltimore. Note the “No Justice, No Peace” slogan behind them. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

No one knows what exactly happened to the deceased Freddie Gray, except that it should not have happened. Between what is outlined in the indictments and what will be proven in court is an unknown abyss. But the more dramatic the short-term exuberance over the sweeping indictments, the more likely the long-term fury when the charges are likely to be substantially reduced or unproven in court.

Almost everyone blames the subsequent Baltimore rioting on some –ism — endemic racism, economic inequality, the lack of jobs, the legacy of slavery, systematic police brutality and insensitivity, the pathologies of the black underclass, the destruction of the black family and on and on. However, most of America, rich and poor, black, white and other, liberal and conservative can more or less chart the conditions that explain a Ferguson or Baltimore — and remain quiet about it. At this point, I don’t think much will change until action follows rhetoric and someone like Barack Obama symbolically puts his kids in the public schools rather than at Sidwell Friends, or some of the loud MSNBC team choose to live, in desegregated style, in the Baltimore inner city, or Apple and Google grandees mentor East Palo Alto gangbangers, or an Al Gore recruits inner-city youth on his green staffs, or a Warren Buffett leads a national effort on the part of plutocrats to invest money in Detroit or Oakland shopping centers. And as long as the proverbial black community has self-appointed adjudicators of racial redress that blame pathologies on cosmic racism rather than demand introspection — of the likes of the Revs. Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and Jeremiah Wright, in a way quite unlike the Asian, Jewish, ethnic, and Latino communities — things will not change much. Is there a Cuban or Chinese or Korean national reverend who takes it upon himself to agitate and negotiate collective grievances?

Until then, let us review the Baltimore Rules:

1) Statistics are irrelevant. Emotion rules and no one cares about larger statistical challenges. Blacks make up almost 13% of the population and commit 52% of the nation’s murders. Based on their statistical representation in the U.S. population, African-Americans on average are eight times more likely to inflict a violent crime and six times more likely to suffer a criminal act than is the general population. This fact is irrelevant; it is not the numbers per se that frame black homicide, but the conditions under which they occur that seem to matter. “Black lives matter” supposedly translates into the fact that blacks might be able to pressure police (of all races) from taking 200 black lives a year during arrests, but can do little if anything about stopping 6,000 black murders at the hands of other blacks. Darren Wilson serves as an easy poster boy for the public enemy, but a Crip gangbanger is a quite different candidate for group-hate.

In quite rare, but highly charged interracial murders, African-Americans are almost twice as likely to kill whites as whites are blacks. This, too, is irrelevant for a variety of reasons. Historically blacks suffered from the racism of a white majority, not whites from a black minority. Whites are hardly likely to protest about this imbalance given the rarity of interracial crime and the rarity of whites rioting on the basis of racial grievances. Most liberal professionals understand privately how to navigate travel in the inner city and how publicly to decry just such insidious stereotyping and profiling. Few of the 14% of murdered white crime victims who were killed by blacks are the elite and thus the problem remains minor.

Black youths (over 13% of the nation’s youth population) make up 52% of juvenile violent crime arrests, including 58.5% of those for homicide and 67% for robbery. Blacks commit hate crimes against other races at rates proportionally far higher than do whites, based on their respective populations. These imbalances probably suggest why police brutality may be higher during black than white arrests, but it is also irrelevant. As a nation we expect police to be professional 100% of the time during arrests and to be indifferent to the fact that less than 13% of the population is committing well over half the nation’s violent crime, higher in the inner city. A suspect may have a prior arrest record of over 20 felonies, but if he were treated any differently from someone who has never been arrested, then the police are at fault. Such perfection is as it should be, but then again few know much about the average day of a police person in the inner city. For now, disproportionally high black crime rates mean far more black arrests and more opportunities for something like what happened in Baltimore.

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The Fall of the House of Clinton

April 26th, 2015 - 9:12 pm


Hillary Clinton will probably survive her latest ethical disaster. James Carville — of “if you drag a hundred dollar bill through a trailer park, you never know what you’ll find” fame — is back again to pronounce the Clinton Foundation scandal as “diddly-squat.”  He may be right in the political sense. After all, we know the standard Clinton rescue plan from the past: her aging point-men like Carville, Lanny Davis, and Paul Begala flood the airways, yelling “prove it!” at their television hosts and declaring:

  1. That the accusations are “old news.”
  2. That the accusers are funded by right-wing conspiracists.
  3. That everyone does what the Clintons did.
  4. That the media pick on the Clintons.
  5. That there is no hard evidence (because they have destroyed documents) that would ever lead to a criminal case. And:
  6. That they are moving on, to work on behalf of the folks.

Such obfuscation worked well with Troopergate, Travelgate, Whitewater, the cattle futures scam, Monicagate, the pardons, and Bill’s serial and sometimes coercive sexual conquests. The scorched-earth protocol has already largely dispensed with the “what difference does it make” and “we came, we saw, he died” Libya/Benghazi scandals. That the ex-president of the United States often flew on a private jet with  registered sex-offender Jeffrey Epstein, known for supplying underage women to his guests, is, as the Clintons say, “old news.” Hillary Clinton’s serial lies about her email accounts and the Clinton Foundation shakedowns will likewise fade — despite the national-security implications of both transgressions for the United States.

So by “Fall of the House of Clinton” I don’t suggest that a special prosecutor will be appointed to indict Hillary and Bill for crimes that would likely make the accusations that were once leveled against Sen. Robert Menendez, Gov. Bob McDonnell, Scooter Libby, Conrad Black or Dinesh D’Souza look like child’s play in comparison.

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Don’t Worry, Be Happy

April 20th, 2015 - 8:43 pm

In his 1988 presidential race, George H.W. Bush was trashed by the left for selecting the Bobby McFerrin hit “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” as his campaign song. Maybe Bush thought he needed a lighthearted optimistic echo of Reagan’s 1984 mantra, “It’s morning in America.” But the Left thought the ditty confirmed the image of a callous and vacuous Bush who didn’t “worry” enough about the poor and minorities. The liberal McFerrin was outraged that Bush sought to play his own song at rallies. Shortly afterwards, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” was quietly dropped by the Bush team.

Perhaps no other slogan better characterizes the Obama tenure.

America is relieved that things at least appear calm, as war and death rage abroad. At almost every critical juncture, the administration chose short-term happy talk in lieu of worries over long-term consequences. No matter how frequent the disasters abroad, Obama can proclaim the world is at peace in an unprecedented age of stability and security.

We did not lose a soldier in the bombing of Libya. Only an ambassador and three U.S. personnel were killed in the aftermath. As Hillary Clinton put it: “What difference does it make?” Indeed, of Libya, she also chuckled: “We came; we saw; Khadafy died.”

That Libya is now a terrorist beheading hellhole on the Mediterranean is someone else’s problem at some future date. The bombing of Khadafy may have been the first time in U.S. history that we bombed an autocrat out of power without staying around on the ground to thwart the ensuing and inevitable chaos.

Was that “smart” diplomacy?

Remember “reset”? What happened to it? Did it die in Crimea or Ukraine? For nearly four years, from a plastic reset button to cancelled missile defense with the Czechs and Poles (how prescient that anti-Iranian initiative of George W. Bush now seems in light of the current talks), we were told how Obama and Hillary Clinton had undone the damage that Bush had inflicted on Russian-American relations.

Then, after serial Putin aggression, only silence followed.

There has not been a peep from the administration about the fate of “reset,” much less about the long-term consequences of appeasing Putin for four years. I think the Obama strategy is to keep quiet about the disaster, hope that it takes Putin some time to digest Ukraine, and then leave Putin’s agenda in the Baltic states to the next president.

Why worry about Iran? They promise not to make a bomb for a decade. Translated, that means that Obama (“I don’t bluff”) envisions more laureate accolades for getting out of office ahead of an Iranian nuke, and woe to the president who follows.

Pulling all U.S. peacekeepers out of Iraq at the end of 2011 proved a useful short-term campaign talking point. But the ensuing vacuum birthed the “jayvees” of ISIS, who probably also have a rendezvous with the next president. Why should anyone in Malibu worry about Tikrit or the impending fall of Ramadi, or how a new, low-grade caliphate might remake the Middle East?

Issuing various red lines and deadlines to the Syrians and Iranians sounded tough at the time, but at some future date an American president is going to have to reestablish — at some cost — the authenticity of an ultimatum by the president of the United States.

But for the short term, Americans were collectively relieved that Obama proved a gasbag and did not enforce the threats.

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Why Is Hillary Clinton Even Running?

April 12th, 2015 - 7:36 pm


That is not as stupid a question as it first sounds. Ostensibly we know her four ready answers.

I. Who Else?

One, there is no other credible Democrat who could run for presidency. The senior party leadership — Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Al Gore, John Kerry, and Dianne Feinstein — is shrill and buffoonish. They all have either tried before and failed, or are ossified has-beens — or both. There are no up-and-coming governors with distinguished records of executive success. There are no young charismatic Democratic senators — other than the well-preserved, 65-year-old Harvard populist Elizabeth Warren — out to make a name, who can speak well and mirror image a Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, or Mario Rubio. Congressional-district gerrymandering that encourages ethnic chauvinism and hard-left polarization has almost ensured that there will not be another minority star, like Barack Obama, who can win crossover votes and statewide office as a springboard to the White House.

II. Her Turn

Two, Hillary Clinton, like a Walter Mondale, Bob Dole or John McCain, believes that it is finally her turn. In her case she lost in 2008 and loyally served the man who defeated and often humiliated her (“you’re likable enough, Hillary” Obama condescendingly remarked during a debate of Democratic presidential candidates in January of 2008).

She feels that she was robbed of a sure nomination by the upstart Obama, who cut in front of the line with his inane “hope and change” banalities and subtle race carding, as if racial chauvinism must always trump gender pandering. She blew a huge lead in the primaries, licked her wounds, and now it is time for the party to unite loyally behind her the way she did with Obama.

III. First Woman

Three, she thinks she can win largely on the issue of being the first woman president in the manner that Barack Obama milked his racially iconic status in lieu of a record. Her supporters believe that they can reignite the old wars: the Republican war on women, war on minorities, war on immigrants, war on the environment, war on the poor, war on everybody — and thereby galvanize the supposedly oppressed, as in 2008-2012, to register, turn out, and vote in lockstep in record numbers. Thereby they will more than make up for the millions of independents and white, blue-collar so-called Reagan Democrats that she will lose by such racial and gender histrionics.

IV. Money, Money, Money…

Four, Hillary Clinton assumes that she can buy her way to the White House and trump even the Obama shakedowns of the one-percent elite. No one grubs money better than the Clintons, who have turned a so-so presidential foundation into a money-laundering machine for their global jetting and politicking.

Both Bill and Hillary have an uncanny insight into the very wealthy of Hollywood, Silicon Valley, Wall Street, the Upper West Side, and the Florida coast. They understand the formula: when many of the rich become very rich they no longer worry about high tax rates, either on the assurance that they have the capital and know-how to avoid them, or in the belief that that a 50% federal and state rate could hardly eat away much of their enormous pile. Huge federal redistributionist policies may fail and hurt the minorities and poor, but for now they are felt to be about the only insurance that the gates of the rich will not be stormed or their private schools and neighborhoods flooded.

The Clintons rightly sense that the one-percenters in certain fleeting moments feel awfully bad about their privilege. Thus they will feel much better about indulging their endless material appetites, if they give large tax-deductible contributions to the spread-the-wealth, help-the-helpless shtick of elite Democrats. The lifestyles of Hill and Bill over the last two decades reassure wealthy liberals that it is OK to wallow in the material good life as long as you pay occasional penance for such indulgence — and there is no better atonement than helping Hillary Clinton out in 2016 to speak truth to power. After all, with students facing $1 trillion in aggregate debt, Clinton marched into UCLA, check-listed some liberal nostrums for 30 minutes and walked away with $300,000 without a complaint — or about $165 in scarce university dollars for each second of her pieties. In other words, Hillary is running because she has invested enough in the past that the money will be harvested as never before in a presidential race.

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The Drought: California Apocalypto

April 6th, 2015 - 8:47 pm

Gov. Jerry Brown, center, answers a question concerning the executive order he signed requiring the state water board to implement measures in cities and towns to cut water usage by 25 percent compared with 2013 levels, at Echo Summit, Calif., Wednesday, April 1, 2015. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

The proverbial thin veneer of civilization has never been thinner in California, as if nature has conspired to create even greater chaos than what man here has already wrought. What follows below was a fairly typical seven-day period in the land of the highest sales, fuel, and income taxes that have led to the nearly worst freeways, schools, and general infrastructure in the nation.

I recently came home from an out-of-state trip. Something was wrong: I noticed off in the distance a strange geyser at the top of the hill. Vandals had apparently earlier taken sledgehammers to the pump’s four-inch plastic fittings — all to scavenge two brass valves (recycle value of about $20).

The fools did not know the pump was even on. When they smashed open the plastic pipes the spurting water apparently drenched them, and so they left their self-created mess. (No, criminals here do not know how to turn off a pump.) The ensuing deluge of several hours had ripped a three-foot-deep gully for about 20 yards.

I’ve lost count of how many pumps have been vandalized over the last decade. Some people play golf after work and weekends, but out here the pastime is to drive out to the countryside to wreck things for a few dollars of copper and bronze. It reminds me of the Ottomans in Greece, who pried off the lead seals over the iron clamps that had held together the marble blocks of ancient Greek temples and walls. The Turks, who could make little but scavenge a lot, got their few ounces of lead for bullets. In the exchange, the exposed iron marble clamps rusted and fell apart, ruining the antiquities that had theretofore survived 2,000 years of natural wear and tear. One civilization builds and invests, quite a different one destroys and consumes.

Four days earlier, three people (a male and two females) had parked nearby at the neighbor’s abandoned house. It was said not to meet California’s codes and thus was condemned, though the dwelling is far better built than are the occupied shacks and trailers across the street with various goats, chickens, geese, sheep, and cows grazing between the houses. In any case, the vandals were kicking in the sheet rock to rip out Romex wire (perhaps $5 worth of recyclable wire per ruined wall). I tried to catch them, but by the time I got to the truck and drove back out after them, they were speeding out of the alleyways with impunity.

When these things happen, no one calls the sheriff, the insurance company, or any authority. The problem is so ubiquitous, and the old civilized infrastructure so ossified, that it is impossible to address the vandalism and chronic violation of civilization’s basic tenets.

I think that we’ve come full circle in California: from the premodern Wild West of the 19th century to a decadent postmodernism that is every bit as feral, though the roughness of ascension is always preferable to its counterpart in decline. The day before Easter, Sacramento tried to stage the world’s largest public Easter egg hunt. From news reports it seems quickly to have devolved into a Darwinian free-for-all, where the ochlos swarmed the few who played by the rules.

After shutting the pump off, I drove back into the yard. That night the most miserable canine creature imaginable limped into the yard — a beaten bloody female dog dumped on the road.

This is a common occurrence in rural California: when dogs go into heat or become too expensive to feed or can no longer perform in backyard dog-fights, their peeved owners drive out of town, pull up to a rural house, and toss the dog out the car window.

We cleaned the creature up, and are trying to nurse it back to life to join our other dogs — who themselves were once throwaways.

After fixing the broken pipes, the pump ironically went dry the next day.

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