Well, I guess it's time to, once again, trip the light fantastic through a selection of current events, since no one story seems big enough to devote an entire post to... unless you live in Pennsylvania, and I'll deal with that as well.
As I've pointed out before, the media have already made their selection among the motley crew of presidential candidates – namely Rockjaw Goodhair, of whom no fault can be found... at least not until he finds himself running against Obama, and then the truth will come out: Don't you realize he's a Mormon? With that totally wacked-out theology? Et cetera. But that's a phase we'll have to wait until next summer to witness. In the meantime, the other candidates are being picked off one by one, like ducks in a shooting gallery – the latest being Herman Cain, who had committed the unforgivable sin. And what is that, you ask? Surely not by being found black... or even a Republican... or even an alleged conservative. And as to all of these adultery/affairs allegations, those are things that are laughed off when the perp in question is a Democrat and/or liberal, and anyone who dwells on them is dubbed a “hater”. No, his sin, in the eyes of the liberal establishment, and therefore of the mainstream media, was that of being black _and_ Republican _and_ conservative (allegedly again). This is the one thing that simply does not compute among the media, and therefore anyone who exhibits these traits has to be declared a social pariah and relegated to the outer darkness. After all, who would want anyone as president who is “a traitor to his race”, an “Uncle Tom”, and so forth? Heaven forbid anyone who is black should question the maintenance, by the liberal establishment, of blacks as a permanent underclass that will need special attention, preferences, and “help” from liberals until the end of time. A highly-achieving, self-confident black man who did not attain to success thanks to affirmative action and with the help of the public dime? Theory forbids it. He is, in other words, a liberal's worst nightmare – which is why he had to go. And believe me, if they hadn't managed to dig up the current pile of dirt on him they'd have come up with something else. So he will be relegated to political history wearing the newly-defined mark of Cain.
Now there is something at least semi-new under the sun – namely Hillary Clinton making nice with both the rulers of Myanmar and their opposition – an impressive balancing act, if only it weren't part of a blatant attempt to move in on China's turf. The timing is interesting too – just as we're supposedly “winding down” in Iraq and Afghanistan, up pops Southeast Asia and the South China Sea. What a coincidence! Now, a cynic (ahem) might say, well, this is just to distract from our manifest failures in the Middle East and the tremendous cost of said failures. Think about that cop in the movies who always says “Nothing to see here, folks, you can go back to your homes now.” Well, no – the Middle East is going to remain a festering sore for generations to come, is my guess... and going up against China is, to put it mildly, a fool's errand. Which is, in fact, why Obama has sent Hillary on her mission... and frankly, it amazes me that she was even able to find the place. I mean, here's a country that not only changed its name, but also changed the name of its capital, and then moved its capital out somewhere in the middle of the jungle. All designed to fool the Yankees, I'll bet – and yet there she is, wearing that diplomatic grin that required complex surgery to implant on her face. But hey, she's no stranger to delusion; this is a woman who still thinks she was the target of sniper fire in Bosnia. So... let her parade on, I say; it sure couldn't hurt, and it gives the late-night talk-show hosts ample fodder for their monologues.
Imitations of Life
I always say that you can find more out about the people who are running the world from art auctions than from any other single source. And sure enough, in the midst of world-wide economic woes (except for China, I guess) the high-end art market (and its spin-offs, like gems and cars) is doing a bang-up business. An article about “Art Basel Miami Beach” points out that “Those attending... will include some of the world's most well-heeled art investors, many of whom appear to be impervious to the global economic downturn.” I couldn't have put it better myself. And, “Gallery owner Marco Berengo says that, for the most part, the attendees 'don't really feel the impact of the financial crisis'.” Gee, I wonder why? Maybe it's a “crisis” for everyone else but not for them. Maybe it was planned that way! Could this be a sign of the times? Well, when were all the Duesenbergs sold? During the Depression, of course! There is something about hard times that brings out the divide between the classes in sharp relief – and there is no divide more palpable in our time than that between the people in charge and everyone else. Now don't get me wrong – I'm not a “redistributionist” like the Occupy crowd, or like Obama pretends to be. In fact, I firmly believe that the vast bulk of higher culture, both in our time and historically, can be attributed to the benevolence – or whims – or tax lawyers – of the wealthy. You show me a society where radical socialism, communism, and “leveling” have taken place, and I'll show you one where most cultural activities of any value have come to a screeching halt – or where the ones that remain (think Bolshoi Ballet) are holdovers from an earlier, less egalitarian age. Collectivist societies build monuments, certainly – but they are monuments to bad ideas, and they look like it. The cities of Eastern Europe are still festooned with some of the most tasteless buildings of all time, holdovers from the Soviet/Warsaw Pact/Iron Curtain era. And for that matter, what do we see when we tour a really ancient site – in Italy or Greece, for example? We see things that rich people built; the stuff poor people built for their own use crumbled to dust centuries ago. So I'm not objecting to wealth per se, but to “ill-gotten gains”, and I wish I could tell you whether the wealthy of our time have more of a criminal bent than the wealthy of former times; I truly don't know. Maybe it's true that, as Balzac is supposed to have said, “behind every great fortune there is a crime”. I hope and wish this is not the case, since I can very easily imagine a great fortune being made simply by inventing, marketing, and selling goods and services on the free market. But when it comes down to actual cases, one is hard pressed to find a pure example like this – especially in our time, when so much depends on things like no-bid government contracts, government-granted monopolies, bribery, and various forms of fraud and deception, made even more virulent by the use of digital communications. At any rate, it is clear that the people at the top aren't worried about a thing, even as the ground appears to be quaking beneath their feet. Perhaps they're deluded; perhaps they're living in a dream world... but I suspect that all it means is that they know something the rest of us do not, and that our leaders and the media pretend not to know – namely that everything is firmly under control.
And speaking of the “Occupy” movement, it seems that it is past its high water mark, thanks to inclement weather and local authorities losing patience with Woodstock-style detritus marring the otherwise-pleasing vistas of our major cities. All perfectly predictable, of course – and I, for one, am shedding no tears, because it has become obvious (tho' always suspected) that the core agenda of the Occupiers has always been the elimination of private property and the elimination of “wealth” of any sort (legitimate or otherwise – although they would not regard any form of wealth as legitimate, as discussed above). And who better to undertake that task than the government, even though it has failed spectacularly in every other regard of late? I mean, the mere sight (and scent) of a gaggle of anarchists is not going to be enough to cause the “masters of space and time” to descend from their blue-tinted glass towers and mingle in a penitent way with the rabble, so the answer has to be the government. And sure enough, Obama has said enough to encourage their delusions, even as he builds his election war chest from contributions from those very same captains of industry and finance. So as usual, the lumpen proletariat is feeling used, deceived, exploited, and made fun of – and rightly so. Populism of all sorts is the kind of thing that crops up time and again in this country, only to be bought off, compromised, and co-opted, leaving its advocates no happier and primed to rise up again under the right circumstances. And one might say, well, isn't this part of the dialectic? Don't we “need” people of this sort to take to the streets now and then, just to serve as a counterweight to the oppressive, manipulative, greedy controllers? The problem with this is that it presents a false dichotomy. The temptation is to think – as they want us to think – that the Occupy types are all for individual freedom, social justice, “small is beautiful”, “green is good”, capitalism is bad, tailored suits are bad, and so on... and that the denizens of the glass towers are the greedy oppressors, akin to the robber barons of old, or to the royal families of even older. The problem is that, in this day and age, both sides are thoroughly committed collectivists. In other words, on the most basic metaphysical level they are in complete agreement, and this is why true conservatives and libertarians shun (or ought to) both sides. The Occupiers believe that the only truly legitimate human institution is the government – and the more centralized and totalitarian the better, as long as that centralization and totalitarianism is for the right cause, namely a radical leveling of not only opportunity but outcome – to say nothing of social status. The government, in other words, is the answer for everything. The Wall Street types, on the other hand, not only believe in government, they have basically taken it over and made it an appendage of the world financial system. How else can they make sure that it does all the right things – like keep getting us into endless, but immensely profitable, wars... debasing the currency... engineering inflation... collaborating in the engineering of various financial “crises”, “panics”, and so on? The government in our time (if not always – the jury is still out on that) basically exists to do the bidding of the kings of finance, and if the outcome is not always to the Occupiers' liking, well, that's too bad, but it has nothing to do with any real difference in world view.
The Schoolyard Gates
And speaking of rich people and what they do with their money... well, didja ever notice that people who know how to make money seldom know how to spend it? And people who might know how to spend money (like me! Ahem.) don't know how to make it? I've commented before that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation seems especially adept at tossing money down rat holes and flushing it down toilets, and anything given to either the U.N. or to public education certainly fits both metaphors. Well sure enough, now it seems that, according to an article in the local paper, a full one-third of the Gates money given to the Pittsburgh Public Schools has been spent on “consultants and contractors” -- that's 1/3 of $40 million, folks! Hardly chump change. But you throw it at the large and bottomless maw called “public education” and it can be consumed in a jiffy, with the recipients crying for even more. Hey – I worked for the government, and I ran into plenty of “consultants”, OK? A few of them knew their stuff and were even worth the money... but the vast majority were windbags, con artists, and hacks. Some of them, I swear, if they hadn't landed a consulting gig would have had a hard time holding down a job as fry cook for McDonald's. Oh, they were good at organizing, and directing, “off-site” meetings in fancy resorts with five-star buffets, but if you wanted to see any bottom-line impact – something that actually aided the “mission” -- you'd better look elsewhere. Of course, I'm one of those people who says that if you think government workers are bad news, you ought to see government contractors. They do less, but earn more – a lot more. So basically, it looks like Bill 'n' Melinda have been chumpified by the Pittsburgh schools – but, well, they can afford it, and who knows, otherwise the money might have gone to something even worse.
Now this is genuinely interesting. As a result of our latest ham-handed escapade in Pakistan, which resulted in the deaths of 24 of their troops, we have been given notice by the Pakistan high command that “the country's troops (will) return fire should they come under attack again from U.S.-led coalition forces.” So... what this means is that we could wind up in an undeclared war with a country that we are also giving billions to in foreign aid each year. But, see... in this age of perpetual war, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with an arrangement like this. Foreign aid, first of all, is only intended to enrich the leadership of the recipient country; that has long since been established. Any other “intended use” is poppycock. And our many wars, both overt and secret, have long since been relieved of the burden of having any mission or goal, or having to result in “victory”. The goal of war nowadays is self-perpetuation, pure and simple... and it's an easy goal to achieve. We are currently in what is alleged to be a “drawdown” phase in Iraq in Afghanistan – even though you can be sure that the CIA and its mercenary army are still firmly in place in both countries, as well as in most other countries around the world. But are they looking for victory – assuming that can even be defined these days? No, and the primary reason is that the military, like all other government activities, is basically a jobs program. You don't protect jobs in the military by winning wars – you protect them by not winning... but also by not giving up, not “cutting and running”. The alleged withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan will be amply balanced out by upticks elsewhere, you may be sure – the groundwork for this is already being laid in the South China Sea area. And if a Republican should win next year, heaven forbid, we'll have troops in all of the breakaway republics of the former Soviet Union – or at least all that will take us. The American dollar still goes a long way in those places – but apparently Pakistan, for one, is growing weary of our bad habit of showing up for dinner then staying for ten years. It's actually harder for our “friends and allies” to get rid of us than for our enemies to do so (especially if those enemies managed to kick our ass, the way the North Vietnamese did). In any case, it's a highly intriguing situation that bears watching. Pakistan may decide that the price of American “friendship” is just too high.
Hugo and Our Gang
Elsewhere on the international front, the Latin American countries are having a party, and we're not invited (and neither is Canada – like they can't tell the difference!). “We are sentencing the Monroe Doctrine to death” -- thus speaks Daniel Ortega. So... what Hugo and the gang have come up with at their summit in Venezuela is something unheard of – namely an organization that actually unites all of Latin America in a common cause, namely not us. This is held up as a contrast to the OAS, which has never been more than “the U.S. and some other guys” -- the same way NATO is “the U.S. and some other guys”. We've always been in the position of getting together for baseball with the neighborhood gang, but we owned the bat and the ball. So right away, everyone else was a second-class citizen. It's been a long time since the U.N. wandered off the U.S./Europe/New World Order-dominated reservation; NATO has not done so yet, and probably won't, since it's a synonym for the American-European cabal. But here's Latin America, feeling a new sense of empowerment – led by the old communist guard (Chavez and Ortega, among others) but also sporting one of the so-called “BRIC” countries, namely Brazil, that shows every sign of becoming an economic powerhouse (and which, by the way, may be the only country on Earth without a “race problem”, which has to be contributing mightily to its prosperity and morale). Frankly, I don't blame these countries one iota – they've lived out behind the big house in sharecropper shacks for long enough. And what has our ceaseless meddling in their affairs ever done for them – or us? Wouldn't it be nice to get an entire hemisphere's worth of countries off our “to do” list? I think so.
Hey, anyone out there remember AIDS? I thought it was one of those countless things – like homelessness – that had disappeared the minute Obama took office, but it turns out, no, it's alive and well (so to speak), and Obama, just in time for next year's election, has “recommitted” to the “war on AIDS”. In fact, he's about to “redirect” $50 million to said war. (As to where the money is being “redirected” from, you can bet it's not from war – don't we spend that much each day in Iraq and Afghanistan? And “recommits”? When did he “de-commit”? Oh, never mind.) But the article (from the L.A. Times) doesn't hesitate to point out that “Obama's announcement drew praise from activists at a time when he hopes to renew the devotion of the liberal base that helped elect him in 2008.” Just another blatant, sleazy political ploy, in other words... or maybe not. It's just funny that issues like this only seem to enjoy popularity in the 12 months preceding an election, and the rest of the time they might as well not exist.
OK, I said I'd mention this, and I will... but fair warning! I've had an animus toward big-business college “sports” since I was in grad school and had to put up with the sight of gleaming athletic palaces on large university campuses, surrounded by the lowly huts of the peasantry – i.e. “academics”. Do I have to point out the obvious, that “football schools” and “basketball schools” are seldom known for anything else? I mean, if you were a professor of English at Clemson, would you admit it to anyone outside your immediate family? My modest proposal is that the government (Arne Duncan, call on line 1) simply declare some schools to be sports schools, which are allowed to exist for that purpose and that purpose alone, and move all the academic departments elsewhere – namely to schools that exist in order to be... hold onto your hats... schools! Hey, it could work! I mean, there are art schools, acting schools, music schools... why not sports schools? And anyone who was serious about academics – about real learning – could avoid them like the plague. Well... a guy's gotta dream, right? But in any case, Penn State is a perfect example of what happens when football becomes a religion and its coaches the high priests – they become a law unto themselves, and constitute a political, social, and economic monolith that no one dare touch. And I think a lot of the reaction that is sweeping the commonwealth is based precisely on this – that the most hallowed institution we have has developed serious cracks, and many of its heroes are turning out of have feet of clay. And this is totally aside from the merits of the accusations. It sounds bad, I'll admit – real bad. But does anyone remember the child sexual abuse witch hunts of the 1980s, in which prosecutors and their minions scoured the land like a plague, arresting people left and right? There was “overwhelming evidence” then too, but the vast majority of those cases fell apart because they turned out to be pure fabrication and the result of political ambition and mass hysteria. And we see some of this hysteria, and some of this piling on, in the Penn State case as well – things that, I suspect, hide something even deeper and more embedded in the American psyche. But having said that, I have to admit to a certain schadenfreude when it comes to seeing a big-time football “program” brought to its knees – because those programs have become a monstrosity, and maybe it's only events like this that can start to sober people up as to their value vs. their deleterious effects.