Sunday, November 30, 2008

Warlike Europeans and Peaceful Americans

We know, any of us who read David Fromkin’s A Peace to End All Peace, The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East, or Margaret MacMillan’s Paris 1919, that the artificial borders created by France, Britain and America after World War I were a major cause of World War II. People were left where they were but borders were changed by David Lloyd George, Vittorio Orlando, Georges Clemenceau, Woodrow Wilson and their staffs.

Why should the change of borders cause problems? Because you Europeans just don’t like each other – at least not up close. If you are like me you’re okay, but if you’re not, especially if you speak another language, then I just don’t like you. We, some of us, have been trying to fix the border problem that became known as Iraq for some time. Many will be surprised to learn that Bush didn’t cause that problem. It was the aforementioned quartet, most especially Lloyd George in that case, that caused three distinct peoples, the Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites to be artificially grouped together. The Sunni Saddam Hussein beat the Shiites and Kurds into submission. When he began beating and threatening to beat nearby nations into that same sort of submission he was considered a threat by cautious or perhaps paranoid by certain Western nations and removed from power.

But there is a region that has a worse reputation, a region that gets along with each other even worse than the Sunnis and Shiites: Europe. False borders were not just drawn in the Middle east by the WWI quartet, they were drawn in Europe as well. They became part of Hitler’s well known speeches against the conspiracy of the Jews and those who put together the Treaty of Versailles. His first steps toward World War II were to “regain” German enclaves, to bring the Germans back together again – not by taking them back into Germany, but by claiming the lands they presently inhabited, and this seemed reasonable to many diplomats at the time. Who cared whether German combined with Austria. Who cared if it took back the Rhineland and Sudetenland? Weren’t the people who lived there German?

So after World War II, the West thinking it had learned its lesson, drew borders around ethnic populations – or rather it encourage ethnic populations to group up within ethnic borders:

From Tony Judt’s Postwar: A History of Europe since 1945, pp 25-28: “The Soviet authorities in their turn engineered a series of forced population exchanges between Ukraine and Poland; one million Poles fled or were expelled from their homes in what was now western Ukraine, while half a million Ukrainians left Poland for the Soviet Union between October 1944 and June 1946. In the course of a few months what had once been an intermixed region of different faiths, languages and communities became two distinct, mono-ethnic territories.

“Bulgaria transferred 160,000 Turks to Turkey; Czechoslovakia, under a February 1946 agreement with Hungary, exchanged the 120,000 Slovaks living in Hungary for an equivalent number of Hungarians from communities north of the Danube, in Slovakia, Other transfers of this kind took place between Poland and Lithuania and between Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union; 400,000 people from southern Yugoslavia were moved to land in the north to take the place of 600,000 departed Germans and Italians. Here as elsewhere, the populations concerned were not consulted. But the largest affected group was the Germans.

“The Germans of eastern Europe would probably have fled west in any case: by 1945 they were not wanted in the countries where their families had been settled for many hundreds of years. Between a genuine popular desire to punish local Germans for the ravages of war and occupation, and the exploitation of this mood by post-war governments, the German-speaking communities of Yugoslavia, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, the Baltic region and the western Soviet Union were doomed and they knew it.

“. . . Nearly three million Germans, most of them from the Czech Sudetenland, were then expelled into Germany . . . . Approximately 267,000 died in the course of the expulsions. Whereas Germans had comprised 29 percent of the population of Bohemia and Moravia in 1930, by the census of 1950 they were just 1.8 percent.

“From Hungary a further 623,000 Germans were expelled, from Romania 786,000, from Yugoslavia about half a million came from the former eastern lands of Germany itself;: Silesia, East Prussia, eastern Pomerania and eastern Brandenburg. . . .”

“. . . . With certain exceptions, the outcome was a Europe of nation states more ethnically homogenous than ever before. The Soviet Union of course remained a multi-national empire. Yugoslavia lost none of its ethnic complexity, despite bloody inter-communal fighting during the war. Romania still had a sizeable Hungarian minority in Transylvania and uncounted numbers – millions – of gypsies. But Poland whose population was just 68 percent Polish in 1938, was overwhelmingly populated by Poles in 1946. Germany was nearly all German . . . Czechoslovakia, whose population before Munich was 22 percent German, 5 percent Hungarian, 3 percent Carpathian Ukrainians and 1.5 percent Jewish, was now almost exclusively Czech and Slovak: of the 55,000 Czechoslovak Jews who survived the war, all but 16,000 would leave by 1950. The ancient diasporas of Europe – Greeks and Turks in the south Balkans and around the Black Sea, Italians in Dalmatia, Hungarians in Transylvania and the north Balkans, Poles in Volhynia (Ukraine), Lithuania and the Bukovina, Germans from the Baltic to the Black Sea, from The Rhine to the Volga, and Jews everywhere – shriveled and disappeared. A new, ‘tidier’ Europe was being born.”


As Dirty Harry said in the 1973 movie Magnum Force, “a man’s got to know his limitations.” That applies to nations as well and it would seem that the Europeans learned their limitations after the mistakes of World War I. They just weren’t able to get along with each other and they went about accepting and dealing with that limitation by grouping themselves into ethnically homogenous states.

Without regard to whether the European ethnically cleansing actions after World War II were a good or bad, one must accept that America has been on a different course almost since its beginning. At first we were in ethnically diverse communities. Our thirteen colonies made some claim to diversity, but when one of those colonies which became the state of South Carolina tried to insist upon its diversity, we had a Civil War which established once and for all (at least so far) that the Union shall have precedence over the rights of individual states. Since our Civil War we have been insisting more and more as time went on upon the acceptance of diversity. Homogeneity never really got off the ground in America.

But back in Europe that wasn’t true. Notice that one of the exceptions to the European homogenous-state plan was Yugoslavia. How has that divergent region been working for you Europeans? Has it been an example to you that you should become more like the ethnically diverse Americans? Not at all. Those Yugoslavians, after all were true Europeans and hated each other with typically European passion. Since Europeans fancied they had entered a peaceful paradise during the Cold War when the non-European U.S. and U.S.S.R. belligerently threatened each other, they were not prepared to sort out the Yugoslavian situation by themselves and had to call in the Americans, and that probably wasn’t a good thing for them, because American has the distinctly non-European tendency toward promoting Liberal Democracy. They think “one man (or woman) one vote” will work everywhere and solve all problems; so rather than tidy up Yugoslavia into Ethnic bundles they pushed Democracy. They, the Americans, were answering to a different set of “limitations.” The former Yugoslavia has yet to move away from their World War One-type borders and into an ethnically clean collection of states. Now whether they will or not (without the Old-European type of ethnic cleansing), I don’t know. I’m just observing that this ethnically-clean approach seems to have worked well for the rest of Europe. If you can’t get along with other people then you can either kill them or keep away from them. Europe tried the first approach for centuries, but has since WWII been opting for the second; so keeping away from the ethnically alien seems a viable alternative for Europe.

However, while ethnic conflict may be one of Europe’s oldest problems, it isn’t their only problem. Europe has decided to explore Socialistic experiments. I say “experiments” because none of them have been proved to work thus far, but hope springs eternal I suppose, and Europe is quite convinced that they will hit on some particular Socialistic approach that will eventually work. They seem particularly fond of the Welfare State system. In the Welfare State the people will be cared for from “the cradle to the grave.” Unfortunately for the European planners, the Welfare State has quite a bit in common with a Ponzi Scheme. The people receiving benefits now will think the scheme wonderful. They get their short work weeks, long vacations and generous retirements, but the problem with such schemes is that the next group or generation of people must pay for what you are enjoying now. If you ever run out of people your scheme collapses. You may be okay, but eventually a generation will be born who won’t get those benefits because there is no one left to pay for them.

The Ponzi-scheme downside of the Welfare System is well known; so national planners have kept a sharp eye on their birth-rates. As long as those rates are high enough then the scheme won’t collapse, there will be people born who will grow up to pay for those living today who want to live and retire well. But European birthrates have fallen dramatically. Perhaps if you live too well you don’t want children to mess up your dolce vita. Whatever is going on over there, they don’t think they can fix the problem without messing with ethnic homogeneity; which as we learned from World War II is a very bad thing for the warlike Europeans to do. They seemed to learn their limitations after WWII, but they have forgotten them and have invited in hoards of North Africans to become European citizens.

I have written several notes on this subject and the only responses I’ve received have been denials. These denials consist of accusing me of things like racism rather than dealing with the European reality. I’m not they racist, you Europeans are. I live in the most racially and culturally diverse nation in the world and perhaps the most racially and culturally diverse part of that nation, Southern California. No, I’m not the one with the problem, you Europeans are. You have invited ethnic aliens into your ethnic enclaves and since you can’t accept them as equals, they have formed enclaves of their own. They have been asserting themselves with increasing violence. Good grief, don’t they know where they are? They are in the most violent dangerous land in the world, Europe. They think the Tiger is asleep and they are pulling its tail and its whiskers. There is only one way this can end. Here I would cut to a Quintin Tarantino Dusk Till Dawn Movie if my blog site were more versatile.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Our Protean Liberal Democracy

Some have suggested that Liberal-Democracy is an “ism.” I suppose it can be said to embody a loose system of principles and approaches and so may be comparable to “isms,” but not in any useful sense. For one obvious reason, Liberal democracy lacks an “isms” passion. If you are into an “ism” then you are passionate about it. Liberal-Democracy on the other hand grew like Topsy. It seemed inevitable to Hegel, Kojeve and Francis Fukuyama. “Isms” require fanatics to advance them. Liberal-Democracy just happened.

The people who developed the term “Liberal Democracy” didn’t see it as an ism. To expand things a bit, Walter Capps, in his Hope Against Hope, Moltmann to Merton in One theological Debate, considers Lifton’s psychological theory of the Protean man. In Greek mythology Proteus knows the past, present, and the future, but he doesn’t want to talk about it. He wants to be left alone. He likes to hang out in caves with the seals. To aid him in his reclusive desires, he can change shapes. He can be anything, e.g., a seal, a lion, a goat, a wisp of smoke or fire; so if anyone wants to find out something from Proteus, they need to grab hold of him and not let go regardless of what he changes into. Eventually he will get tired and give you your answer after which he will disappear into the sea. Many see in Proteus an image of modern man. He can watch TV and in the course of the evening change into several identities as he changes shapes to fit the story or news report he is watching. Are some of us die-hard Conservatives not changing even now, changing a bit into Obama Democrats as we hope he does well, as we hope he doesn’t ruin the country and have faith that he won’t?

In an earlier time the Christian was faced with external fixity, whether in laws, church instruction, creeds, etc and had only to worry about his internal ambivalence – his internal “shape shifting,” his Protean nature. But the modern (Liberal-Democratic) world provides no solidity. It is a potpourri of anything anyone would like; so one seeks an internal solidity in a protean world. People used to go on pilgrimages, in a manner of speaking, to find themselves – not realizing that there was no self to find. They had become as Protean as the external world.

And our Liberal Democracies are the most protean of all modern societies, the most ambivalent, the least fixed. I referred to Liberal Democracy in one note as the anti-ideology because the major examples of ideologies, i.e., Fascism, Communism, and Islamism do provide ideologies that are fixed. There is nothing protean about what they teach and advocate. But there is no fixity in Liberal Democracy, and there is no fixity in most of us.

In an earlier period, Lifton tells us, you would have one conversion when you became a Christian, but modern man has several. How many conversions? From my own personal experience, I was raised a Christian, became an atheist in college, then studied some more and became an agnostic, then began studying various philosophies and religions looking “for the one true one,” and for awhile was happy with Yoga Philosophy, but then was reconverted to Christianity. And it didn’t stop there as I studied my way through several theological points of view. And this doesn’t count any of the non-religious changes. Wherever we are in modern Liberal Democratic society, we are challenged to change.

To move now into politics and foreign affairs, consider Special Providence, American Foreign Policy and how it changed the World. Perhaps Mead’s major thesis is that the U.S. has developed its own unique version of Liberal Democracy exemplified by four major political ideas or political trends which he develops at length. Now here we get into isms, and because they are more fixed than Liberal Democracy, they approach closer to ideologies, but they don’t quite get there – or if they do, we don’t quite fit in any one of them. They are terms of convenience than true “isms.” I would generalize them as follows:

  1. Jeffersonianism (with an emphasis on Rights)
  2. Hamiltonianism (with an emphasis on a Free economy)
  3. Jacksonianism (with a willingness to fight for a just cause)
  4. Wilsonianism (with an interest in expanding “Americanism” to the rest of the world)

Mead’s book is fascinating because it seems that few people or even groups are just one of these isms. We are combinations. The Jacksonians, for example are typically red-necks who are ready for a good scrap, but they want to be left alone. The Tennessean hillbilly is the prototype. Come after me and you’ll wish you hadn’t. The term “war monger” doesn’t fit these guys because they don’t care a whole lot about what goes on in the rest of the world. They don’t want to go after anyone else.

The Hamiltonians (unfortunately for the Jacksonians) have gotten the U.S. enmeshed in economic ventures and commitments around the world. They needed to convince the Jacksonians (without whom the U.S. could never fight or win a war) that its vital interests were at stake in Kosovo, Kuwait, Afghanistan, Iraq, etc.

The modern Neocons were (I say “were” because I’m not sure there are any left) Wilsonian. They wanted to export Liberal-Democracy, but there is no way that the Jacksonians were going to war to export it. Someone is always going to have to come up with a better reason for that -- if you want the Jacksonians to fight.

Perhaps there were Neocons in the Bush administration who were both Wilsonian and Jacksonian, but they couldn’t convert their red-necked brethren to that way of thinking, at least not in any philosophical sense. American politics is definitely protean, and being such will change into something slightly different during the Obama administration, but perhaps nothing will change other than the appearance. Grab hold of it if you can. Clinton believed in “nation building.” He took the nation, without UN approval to rescue the Kosovars. The Republicans criticized “Clinton’s war” just as much as the Democrats criticized “Bush’s war.” They were fought differently and for different reasons, and the chances are good that we will fight an Obama war as well; which, undoubtedly, the Republicans will criticize. We are protean. We change images but are essentially the same. We don’t know how to define ourselves, whether we are an ism or a detail of an ism or an ism within the broader Liberal Democracy which isn’t an ism. We are against war for the wrong reason but we don’t agree on what the right reasons are. Other nations accuse us of being a nation of warmongers, and as long as we have plenty of Jacksonian red-necks ready to fight at the drop of a hat, and dumb enough to be talked into almost anything, we shall probably continue to seem so. And what we really are isn’t any of those things. It isn’t any one thing. But it is Protean.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Bolano: The Desperate Reader

I have not found, although I must confess to not having engaged in a desperate search, a review of Bolano’s The Savage Detectives. I found plenty of “reviewers” who said, “oh what a wonderful book” and left it at that. Why is it wonderful? What’s good about it? They don’t say. Well I’ll say a little bit. I can’t say anything all-encompassing because his book is so episodic, but I can say a few things about some of the episodes. The following from pages 184-5) purports to be something said (I’ll only quote what I consider to be the meat of it) by Joaquin Font who is incarcerated in a “Mental Health Clinic” near Mexico City:

“. . . Now let’s take the desperate reader, who is presumably the audience of the literature of desperation. What do we see? First: the reader is an adolescent or an immature adult, insecure, all nerves. He’s the kind of fucking idiot (Pardon my language) who committed suicide after reading Werther. Second: he’s a limited reader. Why limited? That’s easy: because he can only read the literature of desperation, or books for the desperate, which amounts to the same thing, the kind of person or freak who’s unable to read all the way through In Search of Lost Time, for example, or The Magic Mountain (a paradigm of calm, serene, complete literature, in my humble opinion), or for that matter, Les Miserables or War and Peace. Am I making myself clear? Good. . . Furthermore: desperate readers are like the California gold mines. Sooner or later they’re exhausted! Why? It’s obvious! One can’t live one’s whole life in desperation. In the end the body rebels, the pain becomes unbearable, lucidity gushes out in great cold spurts. The desperate reader (and especially the desperate poetry reader, who is insufferable, believe me) ends up by turning away from books. Inevitably he ends up becoming just plain desperate. Or he’s cured! And then, as part of the regenerative process, he returns slowly – as if wrapped in swaddling clothes, as if under a rain of dissolved sedatives – he returns, as I was saying, to literature written for cool, serene readers, with their heads set firmly on their shoulders. This is what’s called (by me, if nobody else) the passage from adolescence to adulthood. And by that I don’t mean that once someone has become a cool-headed reader he no longer reads books written for desperate readers. Of course he reads them! Especially if they’re good or decent or recommended by a friend. But ultimately, they bore him! Ultimately, that literature of resentment, full of sharp instruments and lynched messiahs, doesn’t pierce his heart the way a calm page, a carefully thought-out page, a technically perfect page does. . . .”


Font doesn’t go into detail about the “literature of resentment” although the reader could probably glean what Bolano thinks it is from other parts of The Savage Detectives, but just looking at what is here, we do know there was a rash of suicides in Europe, primarily in Germany, when Werther was first published. Werther committed suicide for love and this was deemed so beautiful by young men that many of them followed suit. This is indeed age-related. I haven’t read statistics on this matter, but probably not many older people committed that sort of suicide: reading The Sorrows of Young Werther and being so struck by the beauty of it that they committed suicide as well. I read Werther when I was young but was probably too cynical (having served a hitch in the Marine Corps before entering college) to even understand why Werther would do anything so idiotic.

I don’t feel that Joaquin Font, with the single mention of Werther, adequately describes the sort of literature that appeals to desperate people. I agree with Font that the sort of person who would commit suicide after reading Werther is idiotic, but is he desperate? Font hasn’t demonstrated that. He describes more completely the sort of books a desperate person could not read; although I’m not sure Proust’s multivolume In Search of Lost Time should be on this list. There are many reasons besides desperation for not making it all the way through this collection of novels. I must confess that I made it only through two and a half of them and the reason I gave up wasn’t desperation.

I did read The Magic Mountain and enjoyed it, but I wasn’t young when I did so; so that wouldn’t count. Les Miserables was a novel forced upon us in High School. We didn’t make it all the way through the novel during class and I was never inspired to compete it. I don’t recall that desperation entered into it. I didn’t like the novel at the time and have never been sufficiently inspired to finish it, but maybe this is along the lines of what Font means. Perhaps I was desperate in some way and so incapable of reading Les Miserables. The only “desperation” I recall was the desire to complete High School and get on to something else – joining the Marine Corps as it turned out. I did read War and Peace when I was in my early 20s; so perhaps I wasn’t terribly desperate.

What sort of literature might suit the desperate reader? What came at once to mind when I asked myself this question, was Sylvia Plath’s Ariel. I can recall being stunned by that volume. I had never read anything like it. I read a review some place and went out at lunch from work and bought it and then sat on a bench some place and let her poetry hammer me. Plath was desperate when she wrote those poems. She committed suicide shortly after the last of them. Years later when I tried to read them I didn’t feel the same impact. I recall that I read Plath during my Leftist phase; so perhaps I was interested in reading that sort of literature. Resentment is a part of what made Plath’s poetry so powerful. Her resentments were personal rather than against “the system,” but perhaps it didn’t matter.

I was interested in Muck-Raking literature at one time. I read many of the Classics of early American anti-Capitalistic literature. They embodied resentment against various parts of the Capitalistic System: The Octopus, The Jungle, and The Brass Check come to mind. I also read Jack London’s The Iron Heel, which was pretty poor literature. Maybe London was one of the steps I took in eventually rejecting the “literature of resentment” if that is what it was. Although I don’t feel that I’ve changed in regard to disliking the same things that Norris and Sinclair disliked. It isn’t that I’ve changed in that regard. It is that Capitalism turned out to be more malleable than Marx gave it credit for. The sins and crimes that the muckrakers publicized have been punished and corrected, more or less. Workers and lower classes of today don’t suffer to the extent they did back when the Muckrakers wrote. What Capitalism has become, Liberal Democracy, is better than anything else out there. The Media is still looking for Muck to rake up, but it isn’t the same.

In thinking about the modern penchant of the media, looking for muck, I recalled reading, perhaps in Sir James G. Frazer’s The Golden Bowl, about the religions of primitive peoples. Typically they had rituals, certain things that they did and said over and over. They felt compelled to do them and thought it would be a great sin not to do them, but they couldn’t recall the origin of their rituals. The same thing might be said of the modern media. I wonder how many modern journalists have read the great Muckrakers of the past like Frank Norris and Upton Sinclair. Do the moderns have the same motives? I don’t see how they could have. The things those muckrakers criticized have been fixed. So what are their motives? Whatever they are, I suspect they have more in common with those of primitive people than with those of Norris and Sinclair.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Ruminations on Kafka's The Office Writings

In the current issue of the London Review of Books is a review of Franz Kafka’s The Office writings. The review is entitled “Double Thought” and written by Michael Wood.

Many many years ago I read all of Kafka, all that was available at the time, one book after the other, and the experience was unforgettable – and not in the pleasant connotation of that word. It was an experience I resolved never to repeat. And yet I have in a mild way re-accumulated a few of Kafka’s books now and again over the years and read a short story here or a chapter or two from a novel there – just enough to get the feel but not enough to reenter his nightmarish world. Back in the day I also read books relating to Kafka. I recall Letters to Milena, and writings by Max Brod, but I confess that reading the above review was a shock to me. Someone has gone to the trouble of accumulating the best of his “office writings,” that is, the writing he did at his job. Good grief!

Well, I thought “Good Grief,” how shameful for a literary historian to go grubbing about in Kafka’s wastebasket (Kafka told Brod to burn all this writings and he didn’t). But if the FBI can do it, why not literary historians? And I wondered why Kafka even brought such writings home. I was a writer for years and years in Aerospace but left all my writings in folders, files, and later on computers at work – at Douglas/McDonnell Douglas/Boeing. Yes I took pride in many of the things I wrote, as the literary historians report that Kafka did, but that was a ditch well dug, a door well hung, an incomprehensible engineering description well analyzed and made sense of. Why would anyone bring any of that home? If any of my novels ever get published and there is a run on my writings (I worked in aerospace almost as long as Kafka lived; so there would be a lot of them), would literary historians be able to find any of my “office writings.” I don’t think so. There would no way, at least there wasn’t any in existence when I retired, to track everything I wrote, assuming it still existed some place, by my name. It’s all gone. Tsk, tsk. But Kafka’s isn’t all gone. Brod saved all of it.

In the London Review article, Wood assumes that one knows what Kafka’s “office writings’ would consist of; which I didn’t, and had to refer to the publishers, Princeton University Press to find out: Wood writes mostly about Kafka’s The Castle, in which K works as a bureaucrat of sorts, perhaps in a similar capacity to Kafka’s for the “Workmen’s Accident Insurance Institute in the Czech Lands of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.” Wood quotes from The Castle and asks “where did Kafka learn to think like this?” The answer would seem to be, at least to some extent, from the work he did for the aforementioned Institute.

I can’t relate to what Wood writes. In my own case I don’t think of being influenced, but the reverse. I would be given tasks that others couldn’t do. Sometimes there was risk. I was once given the task to write a procedure for interaction with the Air Force in a certain realm. I was informed that those who had attempted the task in the past had failed and been fired. I wasn’t getting along well with the new boss who handed me the job. The implication was obvious. But I didn’t fail. I succeeded and was a minor celebrity at the office for a few days and my grumpy boss gave me an award, a case for carrying a laptop. In a sense all the years of my employment at that single company were like that. I came out of the Marine Corps not liking crowds, bureaucracies and people who were promoted beyond their competence – the latter describes many of the bosses I had. Fortunately for me. Bosses who were incompetent knew that they needed to rest on the laurels of their competent workers – even if they were arrogant and critical of incompetence.

But maybe I am deceiving myself. Maybe working all those years in aerospace affected me more than I realize. I knew my time in the Marine Corps affected me, and I concede that being in Engineering for decades has influenced my way of thinking-through problems, but is that really an influence. If I am debating someone, I am often reminded of discussions I had with incompetent engineers or administrators and maybe come down harder than I should, but was that truly an influence from aerospace? It seems to me I was already that way by the time I got out of the Marine Corps.

One must credit Wood with making interesting application when he writes, “He [Burgel] is suggesting that there is no rule or necessity which saves the system, but that something always will. This something will be contingent and accidental, like K’s sleepiness; not destined or designed. But it will arrive. At least it has always arrived so far. This is how the world corrects its course, and this is why Burgel’s voice takes on its musing tone, and offers its logical challenge to us, as if to say how elegant it is that those opportunities are always there but never used – how elegant and how appalling. . . .”

I thought of the state of our economy after reading that. In a recent article I ascribed the drop in the Dow to Obama’s election. I wrote, “The media is doing its best to dissociate the fall of the DOW from Obama’s election. According to the New York Times only “die-hard Republicans may be tempted to blame the rout on the election of Barak Obama as president of the United States.”

“The DOW dropped 835 points in the two days following Obama’s election. The people dancing in the street are dancing to some extent because Obama has promised them entitlements. He is going to take money from the rich (the people who invest in the stock market) and give it to the poor (people who don’t have any stocks). I suspect that more people than die-hard Republicans are going suspect there is a connection.”

Someone wrote a response which might be summarized as “no one knows why the Dow goes up or down; therefore you can’t know.” I responded that this wasn’t a complex matter in my opinion. Obama in speech after speech spoke of sharing the wealth, of taking it (through taxation) from the rich, i.e., those who invested in stocks, and giving it to the poor, those who didn’t invest in stocks. Surely those who invest in stocks were alarmed, or perhaps a better word would be “discouraged” at Obama’s election. Kafka’s idea, or perhaps principle, that something will always occur that will work things out in a conservative way, that is, to keep things as they are, seems especially appropriate here. I read in this morning’s paper the “Dow jumps 494 on treasury pick.” It was subtitled, “An hour before the close of trading, the nomination news starts a rally.” Investors were discouraged when Obama was elected but have had time to reflect on the fact that he won’t actually be doing things himself. He will have a cabinet for that. Obama hadn’t done very much and the investors were apprehensive about what he would do, but now he has now done something. He has picked, or possibly picked, Timothy Geithner as Treasury Secretary. That was good enough for the investors. Their confidence rose. Things might not be as bad as they feared. The Conservative Ship of state is righting itself.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Bolano's By Night In Chile and the Wizened Youth (4)

I finished the novel and in retrospect it seems more like Kafka than Joyce – perhaps somewhere between Kafka’s The Castle and Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. That’s just an impression.

The “wizened youth” image is clever. It is himself when he was young, but he now calls himself Father Ibacache – when he visits Maria Canales whose castle is in disrepair and soon to be taken from her. No doubt I should read this again with the idea that the Wizened Youth is Ibacache himself . . . but not Ibacache exactly. He is the true being, the one Ibacache prostituted and corrupted, the one Ibacache sinned against.

And do we not all, all of us who are older, have Wizened Youths? Perhaps we can say as Ibacache does that we regret nothing, but how do we fare when we are compared to our youthful ideals. We were once beings who had yet to do anything in the world, but we dreamed and planned and intended to do things, idealistic things, perhaps great things. How did we do? Does our Wizened Youth like Ibacache’s shout at us and accuse us? What are these shouts and accusations? That we have not done as we said we would. That we have not persevered in our ideals. That we have compromised and rationalized the choosing of something else.

Perhaps I always knew I had a Wizened Youth. Way back when he was a real youth and not yet wizened, he sat in a Sunday School class and heard the story of Solomon. He thought Solomon’s prayer for wisdom was wonderful and he too prayed that prayer. I don’t think the Wizened Youth can criticize me in that regard – or can he? I have persevered in study and even thought often of that long ago prayer. As to the achievement of wisdom itself. . . how can the Wizened Youth rail at me about not having achieved it when it is beyond my control? I can study and even reason from what I study, but can I stop at some point and declare myself wise? Or not stop, perhaps, but believe myself wise? I haven’t managed either of those things.

If we move into the realm of religion, and Father Ibacache was after all a priest, even if only in Opus Dei, then wisdom is not our own but Christ’s. He has been made unto us wisdom. Yes, I believe that, but that is way too abstract for the present world. If you go to churches you will hear Jesus words repeated over and over, read over and over, but who can put his words into their own? Who can encounter a Maria Canales or Pinochet or Mr. Raef and Mr. Etah and exemplify wisdom? When the breeze picks up and we don’t hold the rudder just so, or perhaps pull in the main or jib sheets at the right time and in the right way, we may go into irons, and if in irons we are confused. Where is our wisdom then? Jesus has been made unto us wisdom, but what happens when we haven’t handled the boat quite correctly and we are in irons? I look about and the Wizened Youth is just as confused as I am. He didn’t shout at me do this or do that when I was coming about. He didn’t say go on as before, don’t tack. He waited to see what I would do. Or perhaps it didn’t really matter to him. I could do as I liked. I could go into irons or not. Eventually I would catch the wind again and go someplace. What did it matter? It didn’t impact the Wizened Youth.

Our Western Civilization has a Wizened Youth. He shouts and rails at what we have become. We try experiment after experiment and he shouts and curses, but we don’t listen. He knows nothing about Socialism or Welfare States. He is idealistic and devout. He is a Renaissance Man, every inch an individual, and we have become herds of cattle, jostling against one another in subways and if thunder should occur or lighting crash, then we may very well be trampled.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Bolano's By Night in Chile (3)

Here is another interesting section from Bolano’s By Night in Chile, pp 81-2. The activities of the priest in this section reminds me of a friend from Argentina whom I will not name but will send a copy of this note to. This priest who is making his death-bed narration, perhaps “confession” is a better word, but he isn’t confessing to another priest so I’ll call it a narration. Also, he doesn’t feel he has anything to confess. He stands behind everything he did and regrets nothing. But he is sounding more and more, the further I read, like one of the fascists or right-wingers Bolano satirizes. Bolano was a socialist and this following section covers the period of the Socialist Allende’s presidency. We can read what this Opus Dei priest, father Sebastian Urrutia Lacroix does after he learns of Allendes victory:

“When I got back to my house I went straight to my Greek classics. Let God’s will be done, I said. I’m going to reread the Greeks. Respecting the tradition, I started with Homer, then moved on to Thales of Miletus, Xenophanes of Colophon, Alcmaeon of Croton, Zeno of Elea (wonderful), and then a pro-Allende general was killed, and Chile restored diplomatic relations with Cuba and the national census recorded a total of 8,884,746 Chileans and the first episodes of the soap opera The Right to be Born were broadcast on television, and I read Tyrtaios of Sparta and Archilochos of Paros and Solon of Athens and Hipponax of Ephesos and Stesichoros of Himnera and Sappho of Mytilena and Anakreon of Teos and Pindar of Thebes (one of my favourites), and the government nationalized the copper mines and the nitrate and steel industries and Pablo Neruda won the Nobel Prize and Diaz Casanueva won the National Literature Prize and Fidel Castro came on a visit and many people thought he would stay and live in Chile forever and Perez Zujovic the Christian Democrat ex-minister was killed and Lafourcade published White Dove and I gave it a good review, you might say I hailed it in glowing terms, although deep down I knew it wasn’t much of a book, and the first anti-Allende march was organized, with people banging pots and pans, and I read Aeschylus and Sophocles and Euripides, all the tragedies, and Alkaios of Mytilene and Aesop and Hesiod and Herodotus (a titan among authors), and in Chile there were shortages and inflation and black marketeering and long queues for food and Farewell’s estate was expropriated in the Land Reform along with many others and the Bureau of Women’s Affairs was set up and Allende went to Mexico and visited the seat of the United Nations in New York and there were terrorist attacks and I read Thucydides, the long wars of Thucydides, the rivers and plains, the winds and the plateau that traverse the time-darkened pages of Thucydides, and the men he describes, the warriors with their arms, and the civilians, harvesting grapes, or looking from a mountainside at the distant horizon, the horizon where I was just one among millions of beings still to be born, the far-off horizon Thucydides glimpsed and me there trembling indistinguishably, and I also reread Demosthenes and Menander and Aristotle and Plato (whom one cannot read too often), and there were strikes and the colonel of a tank regiment tried to mount a coup, and a cameraman recorded his own death on film, and then Allende’s naval aide-de-camp was assassinated and there were riots, swearing, Chileans blaspheming, painting on walls, and then nearly half a million people marched in support of Allende, and then came the coup d’├ętat, the putsch, the military uprising, the bombing of La Mondeda and when the bombing was finished, the president committed suicide and that put an end to it all. I sat there in silence, a finger between the pages to mark my place, and I thought: Peace at last. . . .”


Is this not what intellectuals sometimes do, especially intellectuals who don’t enjoy rubbing elbows with ordinary people? There is a political upheaval; so begin a reading project or work on a book. I recall in War and Remembrance, Aaron Jastrow puts himself, his niece and her son in danger when he can’t turn away from his book project as the Nazis advance. The priest isn’t in that sort of danger, and neither am I after Obama’s victory, but when something of an unpleasant political nature occurs, we take the opportunity to engage in literary projects.

Interestingly, I only learned from Wikipedia’s bio that Bolano was a Socialist and supported Socialist projects. I have seen no evidence of that in his writing thus far. One might argue that the piece above supports a Socialistic position in that it satirizes this priest who reads the classics until Allende is forced to commit suicide, but the Allende activities in this section aren’t described in such a way that we can see anything good in them. If he intends to satirize the non-Socialist position here, I can’t see it.

But yes this Opus Dei priest who believes in common work does no work while but while the people are fighting back and forth during the Allende presidency. He escapes from this time of trouble into the Classics, a class of literature remote from his difficult times. Looking for application, wondering if Bolano would accuse me of a like activity for abandoning the discussion of foreign affairs to read his novels, I think he might. And yet I haven’t given up foreign affairs entirely. It is just that I am no longer interested in focusing upon it exclusively. But if there were any anti-Obama riots occurring, I doubt that I could keep my attention focused on Bolano.

I thought about my Argentinean friend, someone who spends huge amounts of time in the classics. I wonder if he is as fast a reader as Bolano’s priest who completed his reading program (in the original languages) in the three years of Allende’s presidency. As far as I know he isn’t escaping from difficulties in Argentina through his study program. Surely all such programs cannot be suspect – can they?

Bolano's By Night in Chile (2)

Here is father Sebastian Urrutia reminiscing about his past while dying on page 54-56 of By Night in Chile:

“. . . and then I was walking alone through the streets of Santiago, thinking of Alexander III and Urban IV and Boniface VIII, while a fresh breeze caressed my face, trying to wake me up properly, but still I cannot have been properly awake, for deep in my brain I could hear the voices of the popes, like the distant screeching of a flock of birds, a clear sign that part of my mind was still dreaming or obstinately refusing to emerge from the labyrinth of dreams, that parade ground where the wizened youth is hiding, along with the dead poets who were living then, and who now, against the certainty of imminent oblivion, are erecting a miserable crypt in my cranial vault, building it with their names, their silhouettes cut from black cardboard and the debris of their works, and although the wizened youth is not among them, since in those days he was just a kid from the south, the rainy border-lands, the banks of our nation’s mightiest river, the fearsome Bio-Bio, all the same I sometimes confuse him with the swarm of Chilean poets whose works implacable time was demolishing even then, as I walked away from Farewell’s house through the Santiago night, and continues to demolish now, as I prop myself up on one elbow, and will go on demolishing when I am gone, that is, when I shall exist no longer or only as a reputation, and my reputation resembling a sunset, as the reputations of others resemble a whale, a bare hill, a boat, a trail of smoke or a labyrinthine city, my reputation like a sunset will contemplate through half-closed eyelids time’s little twitch and the devastation it wreaks, time that sweeps over the parade ground like a conjectural breeze, drowning writers in its whirlpools like figures in a painting by Delville, the writers whose books I reviewed, the writers whose work I criticized, the moribund of Chile and America whose voices called out my name, Father Ibacache, Father Ibacache, think of us as you walk away from Farewell’s house with a dancer’s sprightly gait, think of us as your steps lead you into the inexorable Santiago night, Father Ibacache, Father Ibacache,, think of our ambitions and our hopes, think of our mute, inglorious lot as men and citizens, compatriots and writers, as you penetrate the phantasmagoric folds of time . . . .”


Surely we must read this as poetry if the translator Chris Andrews has not improved upon the original. The dying priest Sebastian Urrutia is also Ibacache, a pseudonym he adopted for his critical works. He was Sebastian Urrutia when he wrote poetry, but Ibacache when he criticized the poetry of others. He comments at one point that his reputation as Ibacache became greater, perhaps much greater, than his reputation as the poet Sebastian. I’m a little surprised that the poets calling after him in the above poetic sequence call him Father Ibacache. If it was his critic-pseudonym then how would they know he was a priest. He was never Father Ibacache, but in his dying meanderings to be Father Ibacache, watching over the reputations of his flock (or perhaps merely destroying them) is perhaps fitting.

The “Wizened Youth” is someone who haunts his dreams and we have yet to learn who he is or why the priest is afraid of him.

His comments on reputations is provocative. His own reputation as a critic resembles “a sunset” contemplating “through half-closed eyelids times little twitch and the devastation it wreaks, time that sweeps over the parade ground like a conjectural breeze, drowning writers in its whirlpools like figures in a painting by Delville. . . .”

Delville was a Belgian symbolist painter who lived from 1866 to 1953. Here are some examples of his paintings:

Is Father Ibacache here feeling guilt over having devastated the reputations of the poets who called after him to think of their ambitions as he penetrated the phantasmagoric folds of time; which I take to mean that they considered him so far above them (as he considered himself far above them), a critic so far above mere poets, that he was considered almost a god by them. He blames time and not himself for the destruction of their reputations, those long dead poets who now want to build a crypt in his mind.

Earlier he says he regrets nothing; so if he was being accurate, he doesn’t here regret the reputations he ruined, if he along with time helped ruin them. Even earlier on page 2 he describes meeting his mother after he became a priest: “. . . my mother kissed my hand and called me Father or I thought I heard her say Father, and when in my astonishment, I protested, saying Don’t called me Father, mother, I am your son, or maybe I didn’t say Your son but The son, she began to cry or weep and then I thought, or maybe the thought has only occurred to me now, that life is a succession of misunderstandings, leading us on to the final truth, the only truth.”

He doesn’t like Jesus say “why do you call me good, there is none good save the Father.” Instead he says “Don’t call me Father.” “I am the son.” But perhaps his memory was revised later on and he only became “the son” after he became the critic Ibacache.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Balano's By Night in Chile (1)

I’ve begun reading Roberto Bolano’s By Night in Chile. Unlike Bolano’s priest, Sebastian Urrutia Lacroix who can remember events and the scenery, tastes, sounds, and impressions of long ago in amazing detail, I must write them down soon after I encounter them or I’ll forget.

I am encountering something I have come to expect in Balano, long lists of literary figures. I see on the back of this book that the London Times Literary Supplement calls it “Bolano’s intelligent indictment of Chile’s literary elite . . .” But it is obvious that Balono spent huge amounts of time studying his fellow Chilean writers as well as other Latin American and European writers. He knew what it was like to join “Visceral Realists.” No doubt there is a stinging indictment of someone’s “literary elite” in The Savage Detectives as well but it isn’t coming across that way to me.

Balano is never heavy handed, but in The Savage Detectives the reader can’t escape the understanding that the “Visceral Realists” is going to make no impact on Mexican literature. But does Balano intend to indict the “Visceral Realists” or is his treatment a nostalgic longing. Perhaps none of the groups like this one amounted to much, but there was a camaraderie that they enjoyed, friendships that developed, and maybe one or two of them went on to gain a deserved reputation – long after no one not in it could remember the Visceral Realists. Is Bolano part of some school? I haven’t read mention of it. He does seem to have been impressed by the “stream of consciousness” style Joyce popularized, or perhaps merely the “interior monologue” style which can hardly be credited to anyone, unless it be Shakespeare. But Bolano’s priest is no Hamlet. Perhaps he, and Bolano himself, is a bit like Dante describing the various realms of purgatory (not the Inferno nor Paridiso) that he has travelled through, replete with long lists of the people he has encountered.

Bolano wasn’t so dedicated to his craft that he gave his life for it as perhaps Hart Crane did if he indeed leaped (as opposed to being thrown) from the aft end of a ship. Perhaps Crane realized that he would never be a great poet and had done as much as he could bear. But Bolano suffered liver failure as the result of Hepatitis C contracted while sharing needles many years earlier during his drug-using days. He was on a liver-transplant list. He didn’t want to die so young – 17 years older than Hart Crane, however.

Friday, November 14, 2008

State of the blog and the human condition

I never intended this blog to be exclusively about foreign affairs. If I had, I would have given it a different title, but I used my own name reserving the right to write about whatever happened to interest me at the time. While my primary interest has been foreign affairs since 9/11, I had a goal in mind, and that goal has been reached. I believed the weight of evidence was on the side of Islamism being a serious threat to the U.S. and the rest of the West; so hoped that the Democratic administration that succeeded the Bush administration, would be willing to carry on that war. Yes, the Left is a potent force in America nowadays, but I hoped it wouldn’t be able to withstand all the governmental forces in place that demand that we behave responsibly in Iraq, Afghanistan and in support of our allies against Islamism. I have heard enough from Obama to believe he will carry on that war.

So I feel free to turn my attention to other things. Actually, one of those “other things” is still on the subject of foreign affairs, just not affairs that involve Islamism. I have an ongoing interest in the European human condition. I am presently reading Henry Kissinger’s Diplomacy, and Tony Judt’s Postwar, A History of Europe Since 1945. And as I mentioned yesterday, I feel free enough to take up some literary subjects, and have been attempting to resume Bolano’s The Savage Detectives.

I am somewhat compulsive about writing and study. I have a hierarchy that I’ve adhered to for years. If I can write, then I do that first. Second would be a serious work of history, philosophy, etc. Third would be a serious writer of some sort (Balono at present). Fourth would be some “no-brainer” fiction if my mind doesn’t seem up to any of the first three on my hierarchy. Fifth would be “no-brainer” movies, when my mind seems almost at the point of shutting down. But thanks to Netflix I have become almost totally soured on movie-watching. I am about to cancel my subscription.

In regard to my fourth category, I am presently reading Nevada Barr. She is a former park ranger with a talent for describing the National Parks she’s worked in. She’s created a character, Anna Pigeon, who is a tough and tenacious law-enforcement Park Ranger who solves some sort of mystery in each novel – after several harrowing experiences in which Anna is beaten, wounded, or left for dead.

Aside from my disappointment with modern movies, what could I have to complain about? I’m reading a couple of serious books. I’m making slow progress through a serious novel, and my attention wanders, I can resort to whatever predicament Anna Pigeon has gotten herself into. Perhaps “complain” is the wrong word, but everything I’m reading at present is depressing. I’m up to page 386 of Diplomacy, and Kissinger is describing Roosevelt’s struggle against the American isolationists. It is depressing to realize how prevalent this view used to be. Of course we still have Pat Buchanan, but he isn’t a major force. While not pacifism, it worked the same way pacifism did in that it left us ill prepared to fight our wars. We had to tool up in a maddening hurry to take on the Japanese, and we were ill-prepared to take on the Germans even though our generals didn’t understand that.

I’m not so far into Judt’s Postwar, A History of Europe Since 1945, only on page 20. He is laying the groundwork for what is to follow: “When the Red Army finally reached central Europe, its exhausted soldiers encountered another world. . . The Germans had done terrible things to Russia; now it was their turn to suffer. Their possessions and their women were there for the taking. With the tacit consent of its commanders, the Red Army was turned loose on the civilian population of the newly conquered German lands.

“On its route west the Red Army raped and pillaged (the phrase, for once, is brutally apt) in Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and Yugoslavia; but German women suffered by far the word. Between 150,000 and 200,000 ‘Russian babies’ were born in the Soviet-occupied zone of Germany in 1945-46, and these figures make no allowance for untold numbers of abortions, as a result of which many women died along with their unwanted fetuses. Many of the surviving infants joined the growing number of children now orphaned and homeless; the human flotsam of war. . . .”

I haven’t returned to Balono’s depressing beatnik-type poets since describing them yesterday, which leaves only Anna Pigeon, but she is now on Ellis Island to be near her sister, Molly, who is in a coma because she smoked too much and never exercised and may die. She befriends a guard who takes her up to the top of the statue of liberty one night when a party boat woke her. The next day a ten-year old boy comes crashing down to the ground dead. She looks up and sees the guard. A young boy standing nearby said the guard pushed him, but he probably jumped . . .

Poor Roosevelt, poor “Russian babies,” poor Mexican visceral realists, poor Anna and her sister and the little boy who probably jumped . . . I might as well continue reading about the Islamists.

And in the midst of writing this, I got an email from one of the pundits I occasionally read, Dick Morris. He is worried that Hillary may be appointed Secretary of State. Actually that wouldn’t worry me. She understands the importance of combating the Islamists. If Obama and Clinton can get along, she would be a better choice, in my opinion, than some of the other names I’ve heard. Dick Morris doesn’t think they will be able to get along.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Bolano's The Savage Detectives

I’ve given up on this novel more than once, but I have managed struggled up to page 170. I knew people like the ones Bolano is writing about, people who wrote poetry or worked on novels that few read or cared about. Although it would seem that in Mexico, Chile and Argentina more care about them than here in the U.S. – or perhaps it is just that our literati is more spread out, that part that isn’t running the small magazines for the Politically Correct, but then they are probably spread out too. Actually, before it became politically correct, it was rebellious – like the beats, the dropouts, and all those who opposed “the system.” So what do those in the little magazines who are saying things the system (which is synonymous with the Leftist Media)is also saying think? Never mind. Don’t tell me. I’m not that interested.

Eons ago I resolve to read all the great novelists, poets, and playwrights. I liked quite a lot of what I read, but I dutifully plodded through things I didn’t. That was even after I abandoned my plans for entering academia. I was never interested in travel. Why go off and look at something when you can read what truly perceptive writers wrote when they studied it. Maybe I’m not all that much into “looking” since my eyes went a wee bit bad – and then after I had the cataracts replaced with plastic lenses I was too set in my ways.

So when Jacinto Requena tells his little story (pp 165-170) about his pregnant girlfriend Xoxhitl and of how most of the “Visceral Realists” have decided to leave Mexico for Europe, he concludes “I’m not leaving Mexico.” The thing is, no one cares about the Visceral Realists. They concocted what they called a school of poetry, but it was more like a club – a group of people who got drunk together, slept with each other (including with the same sex, some of them) read poems to each other and talked into the wee hours about poetry, poets, novels and novelists. Some of them were also painters, but no one earned a living; although some got money presumably from parents, and some stole.

Where did I know such people? I knew a few in college who sounded a bit interesting when we talked after class, but they typically didn’t make it all the way to the end of a semester. I knew a few at the docks, where I worked part time while attending college, and I knew several in aerospace. I wasn’t in to begging or stealing so I decided to work for a living; which cut me off from my Visceral Realist friends who mostly talked about what they were going to write – aside from a very few poems; which I didn’t think were very good.

And we were all “rebellious” in those days, but what we rebelliously thought back then is politically correct now. Perhaps some of those I once knew settled more substantially into some of that. One of my Visceral Realist friends, Ken Hackney, who was laid off from McDonnell Douglas for not showing up for work often or sober enough, borrowed $50 from me years ago so he could travel from California to Kansas – or Missouri, to edit a small newspaper. Perhaps he, if he is still doing that, is churning out politically-correct editorials.

As for me, I never left Mexico – so to speak.

Lawrence Helm

San Jacinto, CA.

Obama's victory exposes European hypocrisy,8599,1858658,00.html

The above is an article by Jamey Keaten entitled “Obama’s Victory Inspires European Minorities.” Minority groups in Europe are taking the Obama victory as an opportunity to draw attention to the fact that they do not form the same proportion of government that they do of the population. Being Europeans, these minorities want government to do something about it.

Over here in America we don’t want government to “do” anything about such matters. We like to be able to vote for the best man or woman for the job regardless of race. The fact that we elected Obama doesn’t mean that our government made that possible. It meant that America is color-blind to a very large extent. They voted, most of them I suspect, because they believed Obama was a better choice than McCain.

As anyone would know who has read much of my blog, I did not favor Obama and did not feel he was the best qualified for the presidency, but not for reasons of his “race,” or not because I was prejudiced against his “race,” but because of his Leftist background. I am prejudiced against Leftism.

I also pointed out that he spent 17 years in a church that advocated Black Liberation Theology which is racist in that much of which James Cone (the mentor or Jeremiah Wright) teaches is anti-white. I didn’t have adequate evidence that he hadn’t been influenced by such teaching.

What Europeans are observing is what I have argued in several notes. The Leftist elites in government favor Socialistic Welfare systems and an egalitarian approach toward race, but the European man in the street is still of the ancient European culture which has for centuries been suspicious of strangers. The French elite favored a EU charter, but the French man-in-the-street rejected it. The EU elite has embraced a color-blind philosophy, but the EU man-in-the-street is still prejudiced against non-Europeans – at least to a much greater extent than is true of Americans against non-Americans. (I recall that Hitler called us “mongrels.”) Note that even some of our Southern States, which are still accused of racism, went for Obama.

Maybe we had an easier time accepting our minorities over here. As Keaten wrote, “Europe and the relatively young United States have vastly different histories when it comes to race. The United States is a lot more diverse: Minorities now make up about a third of all Americans. . .” Whatever. Many Europeans still criticize us for being racist over here. First pull the plank from thine own eye, oh Europeans. Then come and tell us how to remove the sliver from ours.”

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Muslim opinion of Obama's win

The above is an article by Daniel Pipes evaluating some of the differing Muslim views about Obama’s win.

Amir Taheri refers to a 7th century prophecy that is apparently current among Shiites today: “A ‘tall black man’ commanding ‘the strongest army on earth’ will take power ‘in the west.’ He will carry ‘a clear sign’ from the third imam, Hussein.”

Robert Spencer “generalizes that jihadists and Islamic supremacists worldwide showed ‘unalloyed joy.’”

John Esposito of Georgetown University “emphasizes the Muslim world’s welcome to Obama as an ‘internationalist president.’

Pipes quotes some negative Muslim opinions as well, and some draw the obvious conclusion that Obama is going to be prevented from being very different from previous presidents.

But I was most interested in the following Pipes comment: “Never before have Americans voted into the White House a person so unknown and enigmatic.” That was my view as well. I did a bit of research and found only Leftist, radical or the religiously bizarre (James Cone) views and experiences in his background. But none of that was being put forward by the media. Instead he was taken at face value. His words, and he is a polished speaker, were taken as the all in all of his being and purpose. His past was not counted. This implies a level of faith in his supporters most Christian pastors would wish for their congregations.

I don’t spend much time reading or watching the Media and so did learn about Obama’s past. I was alarmed by it and wished it were better known by the voting public. But now that the election is over I am willing to hope for the best. As Pipes writes, “Some commentators argue that Obama cannot make a real difference; an Iranian newspaper declares him unable to alter a system ‘established by capitalists, Zionists, and racists.’ Predictably, the appointment of Rahm Emanuel as Obama’s chief of staff confirmed Palestinian perceptions of an omnipotent Israel lobby. A commentator in the United Arab Emirates went further, predicting Obama’s replication of Jimmy Carter’s trajectory of flamboyant emergence, failure in the Middle East, and electoral defeat.”

Well, that’s put a bit more negatively than I would put it. I hope Obama does well for America, and that will perforce mean that he won’t satisfy all the dreams and wishes of our enemies and detractors in the Middle East.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Further on open-mindedness

Lest anyone think I have made a mountain out of T. Lief’s molehill, all of the Leftists who have said the same sorts of things T. Lief does comprise a mountain. The following is from another such discussion in January of 2007:

You have the chicken before the egg, Lefty. I produced some arguments and have been disgusted, irritated and annoyed because Leftists refused to treat these arguments logically, respond in a logical fashion, or produce counter arguments. They resort to personal invective of some sort – sort of like you are doing now. Note that we have lost site of the issues that began this. Why, because of the Leftist inclination is to attack the writer rather than the issue. You and others are willing to tell me all sorts of things wrong with me. You describe the deficiencies in my character, speculate about how bloodthirsty I am, etc. but you don’t address the issues. Minds change not as a result of the weather but as a result of being convinced by evidence and arguments built from that evidence – at least that is what it would take to change my mind. You describe how defective I am for not being willing to change my mind, but I’ve opened up your assertions and looked inside. There’s a bit of ketchup and a piece of lettuce, but no meat. You expect too much from your empty assertions.

You make me too much like you if you think I am interested in converting anyone. I am not a propagandist. I do a lot of writing and a lot of reading. Occasionally I post a note to clarify my thinking about something interesting I’ve read. Such notes are essentially thinking out loud. I am not attempting to convince anyone of anything. I do take issue with anti-American invective, but typically I produce evidence or arguments to argue that this invective is not supported by evidence. I described why an anti-American assertion was untenable and invited the holder of that view to produce evidence to support his position. This is about issues – or ought to be. It is not about my defective personality. It is not about my missing out on a Pulitzer Prize. After my character has been thoroughly besmirched, I notice that my concern about the unsupported Anti-American assertion, my request that the person advancing that assertion produce evidence to support it has gone unfulfilled. At the end of the day I notice that the assertion remains unsupported. I want it not lost sight of that there is no support for these assertions. Assertions are not arguments. A person cutting you off on the freeway and shouting “you are a jerk” has produced an assertion, not an argument. There are no arguments to support the anti-American assertions we have observed here – there are no logical conclusions that follow logically from evidence for no evidence has been produced. Notice where we are right now in this quarrel (it shouldn’t be dignified by calling it a debate or an argument): We started out talking this morning (yesterday actually) talking about whether it was legitimate to kill Terrorists and ended up talking about what a Schmuck Lawrence is (except for his poetry, thank you for that) – with Polly singing contrapuntally,

No one is doing

What you are saying

Not at all, not nearly at all.

You should give up

And leave us alone.

Go off to the archives

And look for a bone.

You are a bounder,

A dunce and a drone,

Go off and leave us alone.

Well perhaps I shall a little,



On being open minded

I have been reflecting upon T. Lief comment, “Still, glad you're open-minded enuf to give works by people like Bolano and Borges a try.”

Often (I’m tempted to say “always”) when someone suggests I might not be “open minded,” they mean that I don’t share their particular closed-minded view. Often such people have embraced the current “politically correct” view, and consider my views aberrant, retrograde and obsolete. And yet if such people reflected upon their own ideas they would realize that they are not themselves open-minded. They need some better term. They are abandoning “Liberal” for “Progressive,” perhaps they can abandon “open-minded” for something more suitable.

I dipped into T. Lief’s own blog: where I found such comments as, “It would require a virtual Encyclopedia Of 21st Century Republican Blunders to tell the whole story. In reverse chronological order one wonders who’s to blame for: The Ayers Strategy, The Palin Choice, The McCain Campaign Suspension To Do Nothing About The Bailout Package, The World Financial Crisis, The Military Failure In Afghanistan, The Iraq War Debacle, The Katrina Disaster, The Global Warming Denials, The 10 Trillion Dollar Deficit, Enron, Energy Deregulation?”

And “. . . the doyenne of conservative commentators, the ever-fatuous and dishonest Peggy Noonan who is treated with such undeserved deference and is such an unabashed shill for whatever bullshit is being peddled by the Republicans, has this performance after the Palin-Biden debate to live down.”

Gad! . . . However, I would have let all that go (“undiscovered” would be more descriptive) were it not for the innuendo about my open-mindedness. My emphasis has been foreign affairs; so I’ve studied the Afghan and Iraq situations in considerable detail. Only unrepentant close-minded Leftists call Afghanistan and Iraq military failures. I’ve commented on Afghanistan and Iraq at considerable length elsewhere; so I won’t do it again here, but most of the Left has abandoned the myth that these wars were failures. Obama no longer calls them failures. I tried to check the date of T. Lief’s pronouncement of these “failures” and it seems to be a recent comment.

As to the Ayers business, I investigated that at some length on my own. If T. Lief had gone a-searching for articles on Ayers in the way he went after articles on Balono’s Gaucho, he would have found some of my articles. There were more serious questions about Obama’s association with this Leftist than about Palin’s wardrobe, but we know which issues the media chose to publicize.

In an article by Jay Nordlinger, “An Area of Darkness,” ( ) Bernard Lewis’s speech at the launching of ASMEA (Study for the Middle East and Africa) is quoted as follows:

“I would like to begin with a quotation from the famous Dr. Johnson, one of his conversations recorded by Boswell. He says, “A generous and elevated mind is distinguished by nothing more certainly than an eminent degree of curiosity. Nor is that curiosity ever more agreeably or usefully employed than in examining the laws and customs of foreign nations.” A very interesting statement and . . . one uniquely Western — uniquely distinctive of this Western civilization of which we are the heirs at the present time. And I use the word “we” in the widest sense. . . .

“Today we confront new obstacles in our study of the Middle East . . . One of them I have already mentioned: postmodernism. . . . The second is a combination of political correctness and multiculturalism — which combination established orthodoxies in the academic world, [instituting] a degree of thought control, of limitations on freedom of expression, without parallel in the Western world since the 18th century, and in some areas longer than that. I don’t need to tell you how careers can be furthered or destroyed by this kind of imposed orthodoxy. This, it seems to me, is a very dangerous situation. It has now made any kind of scholarly discussion of Islam, to say the least, dangerous. Islam and Islamic values now have a level of immunity from comment and criticism in the Western world that Christianity has lost and Judaism has never had.”

Nordlinger then adds, “Toward the end of his remarks, Professor Lewis said, ‘It seems to me that we are beset by difficulties’ – this is understatement typical of him (and of his native country). And he spoke of ‘the deadly hand of political correctness.”

In thinking over T. Lief’s crediting me with a degree of open-mindedness for my willingness to read Bolano, I had merely replied “I read a lot,” but that wasn’t an adequate response. I was being dismissive, and I apologize for that. I like this Bernard Lewis construction. If I must have a motivation for all the reading I do, call it “curiosity.” I read different things because I am curious about them. I was curious about Bolano. I liked his short story. I didn’t like his novel Distant Star all that much and I had a serious problem with The Savage Detectives. I haven’t drawn a curtain upon him, however. I am still a bit curious. I plan eventually to finish the latter novel, and I have By Night in Chile left to read.

But what does being “open-minded” have to do with reading Bolano, T. Lief? Beats me.

Bolano's Gaucho & Distant Star

From a note I posted elsewhere on 11-24-2007. Someone found it and sent me a note to this blog about it. See comments below:

Today I received Borge’s A Personal Anthology and read “The South.” After having read Bolano’s The Insufferable Gaucho, “the South” was a disappointment. Yes, Bolano must have used the story as an outline, but not merely that. I suspect he found “The South” insufferably short with too many important loose ends left to the imagination or more likely the perplexity of the reader. Dahlman remains a puzzle which Bolano plausibly explains.

What can Dahlman’s motive be for going out to die other than the precedent set by his maternal great-grandfather who died gloriously from an Indian spear? But don’t we all have great-grandfather’s who died gloriously from an Indian spear – so to speak. Let me think . . . I have a great-grandfather, Schyler Helm, who was a Sergeant working in the Engineers in one of the Northern armies. Actually I don’t know how he died. I do know that he used his mustering-out pay to buy a plot of land in Iowa. Pretty disappointing that – someone choosing to live in Iowa – that strikes me as almost like dying – can’t call it glorious I suppose.

I had another great-grandfather who was mustered out with dysentery – not terribly glorious that, now that I think about it. He lived in a small town in Illinois– and other ancestors who were in the Civil war. Surely some of them must have died gloriously . . .

I know a private William Matthews on my mother’s side who was captured by the British in the War of 1812 – that, I suppose, couldn’t count as glorious either – more like an interesting adventure – unless he was tortured and he probably wasn’t – why would the British torture a private? Anyway, I can’t say that I was influenced by any of them, and maybe I’ll have to retract my earlier statement. Had one of them died gloriously like Dahlman’s ancestor who can say how that might have affected me. I might, in a Dahlman frame of mind, have left my base in Kunsan, stolen a jeep and drove up to the DMZ and rushed out to be shot down by 7.62x39 SKS rounds or failing that to throw myself on Chinese bayonets.

Lawrence, an insufferable Marine

t. lief tepper left a note on the blog reading as follows: Lawrence --

Just read Bolano's Insufferable Gaucho and, tacking back to Borges, an old favorite, reread The South. Then googled both and found you and your post. Then this blog.

Would suggest that, having read Bolano first, explained why you didn't see the point of the Borges. And was curious to have an internet exchange with someone, anyone, who's bothered to think about both stories.

Your blog, however, moots that. Still, glad you're open-minded enuf to give works by people like Bolano and Borges a try.

Dahlmann, btw, isn't about to die in The South. And the Insufferable Gaucho is unlikely to live. The 2nd story is an updating of the first. It's about Argentina, and identity, and its connection to mythos. Like our cowboy west. There's more, plenty of enigma to chew over. But the "ungrounded" "homeless" meandering of both heroes is the central parallel.

The knife-point daring of the Gaucho's final act may have whet your sense you'd 'got' what Bolano's prose obviously excited in you. Life and literature, however, is complicated, and there are inevitable disappointments when our presuppositions aren't confirmed by reality. When writers we're attracted to don't share the views we ascribe to them.

The Dow didn't drop cuz Obama got elected, nor did it drop 900+ pointd in one day a few weeks earlier because W. was and is an idiot. Bolano is a fascinating writer, and so, you will find, is Borges.

Use that Marine determination to incorporate lessons without denying reality and charge on, sgt.

Please don't hesitate to delete this post. It was really meant for your eyes only. didn't know how else to email you.


Actually, t. lief tepper, you weren’t remiss in posting your note to the blog. I didn’t intend this blog to pertain exclusively to foreign affairs and politics. I would eventually have posted motes pertaining to literature. In fact I posted a few poems there already. And If you checked back to the very beginning of the blog you would discover that I was provoked into beginning it as a result of a debate that turned vindictive – about Rhodesian Ridgebacks.

After reading Bolano’s “Insufferable Gaucho” I read Distant Star. I commented at the time: “Bolano has a huge long list of Chilean poets in his Distant Star which I finished this morning – longer than your list of philosophers – everyone in Chile must be a poet. Not everyone wants to publish so he counts unpublished poets as well. They belong to Poetry reading groups, clubs and seminars and they are all happy to read their poems to you. They read their poems out loud and are jealous of the good poets and the handsome ones whom the girls are attracted to.

“According to the writing on the back, this novel was considered great. I’ll have to read some reviews now to see what others thought of it. Coming out of a Negative/Positive consideration I was conscious of Bolano dealing with a lot of negativity, but he does it so engagingly and entertainingly that I forgave him.”

Elsewhere I wrote, “. . . reminded me of Alberto Ruiz-Tagle’s entrance into the Juan Stein’s poetry workshop in Concepcion. Of course Alberto Ruiz-Table wasn’t his real name. His real name was Carlos Wieder and from the activities he engages in described by the narrator (in Roberto Bolano’s Distant Star) I took him to be a serial killer, but after reading several reviews, I now suspect he was an assassin for the Pinochet regime. He was at least a lieutenant in the Pinochet Air Force and disposed of prisoners because there wasn’t room for them in prisons; so one of his jobs was killing. The thing that threw me off – made me think he was an ordinary demented serial killer – was his killing of the Garmendia sisters. Yes they were mildly engaged in subversive activities but so was everyone. It went with being a poet, but if Carlos Wieder killed people for Pinochet, he may well have been sent to kill them. One evidence of that is that even though it became well known that he as Alberto Ruiz-Tagle had killed them, he was never really pursued by the police. He merely changed his name.”

Also, t. lief tepper, I got only to page 147 of The Savage Detectives before bogging down – or finding something more interesting. I can’t recall for sure. As to Bolano exciting something in me, I can’t recall that he did. I just read a lot.

Hating Bush and Loving Obama

Someone said to me that the world hated Bush and he didn’t care. Actually that isn’t true. The “world” didn’t hate Bush, only parts of it. India for example loved Bush. He brought our two nations closer together. He enabled them to join the “nuclear club.” And China has a history with the Bush’s. His father was an “old China hand.” While the Chinese couldn’t be said to “love” any American leader, they have been comfortable with Bush. He has played by the rules. He has warned Taiwan that if they declare independence, they can’t expect support from the U.S. China has prospered materially during the Bush administration.

And Japan, land of the Samurai, loved Bush’s pugnacious spirit. Elsewhere, Poland and many of the Eastern European nations liked Bush. Some of the former SSRs liked Bush.

So if we were able to add up that part of the world’s population that didn’t hate Bush, it would probably be larger than the part that did. What is really meant by “the world hates Bush” is that majorities in the West and Middle East hate him. Now as to the Middle East, Bush did go over there in a hard way. He believed Islamism declared war against the U.S. (something I also believe) and he responded violently. And if the Islamists and members of Islamic dictatorships don’t like him as a result of that – if he gets a bad press over there – it is probably true that he doesn’t care.

Which leaves the hatred of “the West.” If this person had said “the West” hates Bush and Bush doesn’t care, I wouldn’t have argued. I disagree with many of the European foreign affairs positions and understand Bush’s disdain of them; nevertheless Samuel P. Huntington was right (in The Clash of Civilizations) to describe the U.S. as the “Core State” of the West; so for Bush to be hated by the rest of the West is not a good thing – if it goes on too long. We have become a temporarily dysfunctional “civilization” (using the term “civilization” in the Huntington sense).

I believe the European opposition to Bush was wrong and irrational, but I’ve discovered that just because my wife may be wrong and irrational doesn’t mean I can scoff at her arguments or “not care” about them – although I have and suffered the consequences.

Let us assume for the sake of discussion that it is better to get along with a wife (or Europe) who has her back up and is insisting on her argument even though we know it is wrong. What is the best thing to do? It depends on what is at stake. Bush believed our security and the security of some of our allies was at stake, and given what we know about the intelligence he was given at the time, he had good reason to be worried. If our wife is wrong and her wrongness might put her in danger, the responsible thing to do is the right thing – whatever is necessary to protect her. We are protecting her even if she doesn’t appreciate it – even if she thinks she doesn’t need protection – even if she makes us suffer for it. Besides, she’ll get over it, and if Bush were to serve several more terms, Europe would eventually get over it. We have too much in common to be “on the outs” forever. We are not headed for divorce, we are only having a family squabble.

Let us (also for the sake of discussion) consider the implications of leaving Saddam alone and in power. He would still be thumbing his nose at the US, and ignoring their demands. He would still be playing with the people the UN sent in to Iraq to verify that he had no WMDs. He would still be “pretending” for the sake of his image in the region that he did have them. He would still be shooting at British and American airplanes overflying Iraq to make sure he didn’t wax genocidal against the Kurds or the Shiites, he would still be starving large numbers of Iraqis, and he would still be corrupting members of the UN, France, Russia and others with the opportunities presented him in the Oil for Food program. But let’s assume we left him alone. We can’t solve all the world’s problems; so let’s leave him in the region and take the lumps we expect from Al Qaeda. We are a big nation. Osama can’t kill us all.

In retrospect, we know that Osama hasn’t killed any of us (except for soldiers in Iraq) since 9/11, but we can’t assume that would have been true if Bush hadn’t intruded the U.S. into the Middle East looking for Al Quaeda in a big way. That intrusion certainly inhibited Al Quaeda to some extent. Al Quaeda infused the “insurgency” in Iraq with additional forces, forces he could have employed in other attacks against the U.S.. As it was, he did attack more convenient areas in the West, but without Bush’s actions, he might have been able to mount another 9/11. Would that have been so bad? Well, it might have eventually convinced the rest of the West that we needed to do more than we were doing about the problem . . . maybe. Europe has serious Islamic immigration problems and is in denial about them. Europe may have gone on denying that Al Quaeda was a serious problem. Let’s let the police handle them. They are a nuisance not a serious problem. We certainly don’t need to go to war with anyone over them.

Leaving, now, those hypothetical considerations, what has happened has interesting advantages. Bush brushed aside the objections of the peevish Europeans and did what he considered necessary. And they hated him for it. This hatred was emotional rather than tangible. There were no attempts on his life mounted by disgruntled Europeans. Bush went ahead with his war against the Islamists. Al Quaeda is on the run and may be close to being extinguished --- something a president more concerned about being loved by Europeans could never have accomplished, and now he’s leaving office. He will be replaced by someone who loves Europe and is loved by Europe. Bush will be back in Crawford Texas while Obama and Europe engage in a love fest.

And no one may notice that Obama continues on with what Bush initiated. He will not leave Iraq before it is capable of defending itself; which might not be too far off. He will concentrate on establishing Afghanistan more securely and in the process deal with the Taliban and Al Quaeda forces across the border in Pakistan – and probably get European help in doing so.

So, assuming Bush did what was right in regard to the war against Islamism, and did it at the expense of the rest of the West’s favor, that time has passed. The eight years of war against Islamism has been effective. They are still out there, but they aren’t as ascendant as they were back in the early part of Bush’s first term. Obama now can assure the Europeans that nasty old Bush is back in Crawford where he can’t hurt anyone anymore, so let’s tidy up those criminal elements in the Middle East and have a party. It’s almost enough to make me believe in a conspiracy theory.