Crashing and Burning in 2013

The Detritus of a Culture

I don’t want to hear any more from Anderson Cooper that his 85-year-old mom bragged of great cunnilingus -- nor to read that Cosmopolitan magazine sent one of its bloggers to masturbate publicly on the New York subway. Life is sick enough without all that. I’d rather read about the heroism of Depression-era farmers, or the ordeal of those who fought on Okinawa to ensure that Mr. Anderson can editorialize about octogenarian oral sex.

Miley Cyrus is neither attractive nor talented. But to paraphrase the Wizard of Oz, she has one thing you don’t have: a mini-celebrity name and a prior image as a pure Disney screen teen. Add that mix with this year’s raunchy sex on stage and you have a grating sort of disconnect that bewilders an audience -- for about six weeks. Now she has poked about with one outsized foam finger too many.

Kanye West somehow keeps in the spotlight. It is hard not to run across his name, quotes, or rhymes in the news. Yet a visitor from an alien solar system who examined his corpus of work and collated his public commentary would quickly conclude that he is talentless. A potty-mouth 5th grader could make up his ditties. He does not seem to distinguish music from banging or shouting. Were he not protected by his own victimhood, his cheap slurs of racism and anti-Semitic rants would have doomed his public persona long ago, despite Rev. Farrakhan coming to his rescue. He is more or less famous for being a famous version of the Kardashians. Wait, isn’t he hooked up with one?

Ditto Oprah. Unlike Cyrus or West, she is talented on TV and can act. She is also a billionaire who now stages racial dramatics to save a fading career. Did she not know that her suburban mom morning audience was non-partisan and liked her therapeutics because she transcended politics and race, and seemed to focus on people as people?

That was her currency and she threw it away, hyping Obama when he was 65% up in the polls and then whining about racism when he was not. It is hard to feel any empathy for Oprah when she claims that a racist Swiss clerk at Trois Pommes denied her the opportunity to examine first-hand a $38,000 crocodile purse (where is PETA when you need them?), or to listen to yet another half-educated sermon on racial relations, in which she hypes her fading movie by warning us that lots of bad Americans will have to die off before racial relations meet her criteria.

Die now, you Trois Pommes bigots!

The Middle East

The Middle East remains a critical region. It borders Europe’s southern flank that is now in financial chaos. It still produces 30-40% of the world’s petroleum. The Suez Canal is vital to world commerce. Who knows what our new ally Recep Erdogan is up to. A nuclear Middle East would not let others alone. Asian industry depends on access to the Persian Gulf. Trillions of petrodollars allow terrorist global reach that they would not otherwise have. Islam, Christianity, and Judaism were born there. Israel is a successful democracy surrounded by lunatics. Hot spots -- Cyprus, the West Bank, Gaza -- could spark a wider war anytime.

But all that said, the American public grew tired of the Middle East. Maybe it was the aftermath of the war in Iraq. Maybe our new energy production gives us that leeway. Maybe Benghazi. Or was it the psychodrama of threatening and not threatening Assad? Or maybe Iran’s bomb? Or maybe the nutty periphery like our other two allies Afghanistan and Pakistan?

No matter -- I detect that most Americans’ attitudes toward the Arab Spring, or talk of reform, or the Shiite-Sunni ongoing rivalry is summed up as something like “please turn the channel.” Three things seem to characterize those of the Middle East: almost everyone professes to hate Europe and the United States; yet half the region schemes to immigrate to either place; and once immigrating, Middle Easterners dream of turning the West into the Middle East that they under no circumstances wished to live in.

Take out a dictator, foster democracy and you get blame-America Maliki. Bomb Gadhafi out of power, and you win murders in Benghazi. Karzai hates America so much that he forbids us to leave as he orders us out. Stay out of Syria and you are damned as being heartless. Support Mubarak and you are cynical; support the crazy Muslim Brotherhood and you are naïve; support the junta and you betray your principles -- ad nauseam.

Who is worse -- Hezbollah or Hamas?  Assad or Nasrallah? The Iranians or the Pakistanis? Who cares?

For most of us, a bearded youth strutting around with an RPG on his shoulder is not our problem, twelve years after 9/11.  Nor is the contorted face burning an American flag on CNN, shouting the boilerplate "Death to America!" -- as he brags off-camera that he has an uncle in Lansing.

The next time around -- and I think there will be a next time around -- the American reaction, foolishly or not, will probably be purely punitive rather than engagement and nation-building.

Somehow the idea that the existence of Israel means that Egyptians were deprived of democracy, or Iraqis were made corrupt, or Syrians are gassing each other has become sort of like Miley Cyrus’s foam finger, Kanye West’s latest limerick, or masturbating on the subway -- boring.

(Thumbnail on PJM homepage based on a modified image.)