July 26, 2012

Ernie Sailer, 1917-2012

My father has died at age 95.

Here are a few pictures.
L.A. County Art Museum, 1984
This was taken during the 1984 Summer Olympics, when my father was 67. A general theme in these photos is that he usually looks about a decade or more younger than he really was, which reflects his robust health.

Cabo San Lucas, 1985
Two striped marlins, mine 110 pounds (took about 45 minutes to reel in), my father's 155 (took 75 minutes). We thought we were hot stuff until the next boat brought in a 506 pound blue marlin.

Honda 90, about 1967
I hadn't previously noted my Dad's resemblance to a French comedian. The child actor looks like a drip, though.
Hiking in Topanga Canyon, late 1990s
Atop Lembert Dome, Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite, October 1986
Atop Sugarloaf, Rio de Janeiro, May 1978

Not The Onion

This is what I found tonight front and center on NYTimes.com:
Kameron Slade spoke in support of same-sex marriage before the City Council on Wednesday.Boy’s Gay Marriage Appeal Gets Audience 
Kameron Slade, 10, was invited by the New York City Council speaker, Christine C. Quinn, second from right, to deliver his speech in support of same-sex marriage.

The expressions on the grown-ups' faces are particularly Onionish.

NYT: Churchill's Special Relationship "poisonous," "hateful"

According to Wikipedia
Otto von Bismarck remarked at the end of the 19th century that the most significant event of the 20th century would be "The fact that the North Americans speak English".

The half-American Winston Churchill coined the term "Special Relationship" for the ethnically-anchored alliance among the English-speaking peoples that, as Bismarck feared, more or less conquered the world in the 20th Century.

Charles Blow, regular New York Times columnist, writes:
On Tuesday, The Daily Telegraph, a leading conservative newspaper in Britain, quoted an anonymous adviser to Mitt Romney commenting on the so-called special relationship between Britain and the United States: 
“We are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage, and he feels that the special relationship is special,” the adviser said of Mr. Romney, adding: “The White House didn’t fully appreciate the shared history we have.” 
The paper pointed out that the comments “may prompt accusations of racial insensitivity,” and they did. 
The reporter who wrote the story said later on Twitter that the anonymous adviser “was a member of the foreign policy advisory team." 
... Romney’s team stopped short of issuing a complete repudiation and demanding a total cleansing of these poisonous ideas from their ranks. 
The phrases “if anyone said,” and “weren’t reflecting the views” are weak and amorphous and don’t go far enough towards condemnation. 
The reason is simple: the Republican Party benefits from this bitterness. Not all Republicans are intolerant, but the intolerant seem to have found a home under their tent. And instead of chasing the intolerant out, the party turns a blind eye — or worse, gives a full embrace — and counts up their votes. 
... In the 2000 U.S. census, only 8.7 percent of Americans identify their ancestry as English, which is ranked fourth behind German, Irish, and African-American.
The bipartisan National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund projects that in November the Latino vote will be almost 26 percent higher than it was in 2008. That would be a staggering increase. 
No amount of corporate money and voter suppression can hold back the demographic tide washing over this country. As each of these gaffes further reaffirms the Republican Party’s hostility to minorities, the shorter the party’s lifespan becomes. 
I for one don’t believe that this is a coordinated effort. It’s the seepage from a hateful few slipping in like water through a compromised dam. But it will not be enough for the Republicans to plug the holes. They must drain the reservoir.

How many American politicians have gone to visit some village in Ireland where one of their great-great-great-grandfathers came from and there pledged undying cultural loyalty to the Irish? 

Basically, all of them.

In principle, what is the difference between highlighting the value of one's Irish ethnicity and one's Anglo-Saxon ethnicity? 

In practice, of course, Ireland is an unimportant country while England rivals America for global cultural dominance.

The Anglo-Saxons have turned out to be the biggest winners in history. Their language dominates the world in 2012. 

And the reason the Anglo-Saxons won is because they figured out a lot of better ways to do things, such as the British parliamentary system. And a big reason they figured out better ways is because they valued freedom of discussion and tried less hard than most people to shut down all criticism and unwelcome speech.

But, the way things work in the modern world is that it's hateful and poisonous for anybody to be publicly proud of being related to a winner. To win these days, you should proclaim your victimhood whenever possible, which gives you moral authority to silence your critics.

Thus, in practice, Barack Obama rivals George H.W. Bush as the WASPiest-acting President of my lifetime, vacationing on Martha's Vineyard, playing golf, and reading Marilynne Robinson novels about Congregationalist ministers. But, if he were Brooke Osborne instead of Barack Obama, would he have ever been considered Presidential Timber? Would anybody have ever even noticed him? Of course not. Among people with a mellifluous prose style, Obama is not the most perceptive observer, but he;s got that figured out, as shown by naming his autobiography after the deadbeat African father he barely knew. Thus, Obama was offended to discover that his nasty but sensible rich African grandfather had spent his life as a head servant for the English colonists, studying the ways that made them rich and powerful, and applying them in Kenyan countryside.

In theory, we now admire losers. (In reality, we admire power and money, same as always.) 

But there are reasons the losers lost. And those reasons, which ought to comprise valuable lessons for the future, are never to be mentioned in public.

July 24, 2012

Colorado, Christopher Nolan, and "Following"

From my new essay in Taki's Magazine:
Are criminals in real life ever even one-tenth as fascinating as they are in Christopher Nolan movies? Can you think of a real criminal as intriguing as the late Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight or Leonardo DiCaprio’s Cobb in Inception? Or is “master criminal” just a fantasy where filmmakers such as Nolan project their own considerable talents onto a class of dismal individuals? 
Whenever some creep shoots a lot of people, as at The Dark Knight Rises midnight showing in Colorado, journalists are expected to generate instant analyses of The Meaning of It All.  
Yet if we have to concoct far-reaching theories based on a sample size of one, I’d much rather ponder somebody accomplished and interesting, such as Nolan. The director’s first movie, Following, a miniature masterpiece from 1998, demonstrates that Nolan has been fretting for his whole career about this question of whether he’s glamorizing lowlifes by portraying them as creative leaders of men, as auteurs modeled on himself.

Read the whole thing there.

Huma Abedin and the Saudi Lobby

I don't have any inside information on Huma Abedin, Hillary Clinton's close personal advisor, so let me speculate irresponsibly.

Abedin is a rich South Asian-ancestry but Saudi-raised woman who is also (amusingly enough) the wife of disgraced ex-Congressman Anthony Weiner. 

Michelle Bachmann got herself in all sorts of trouble with Respectable Washington by pointing out that Abedin's family has had lots of ties over the decades to the now-ascendant Muslim Brotherhood, such as her father founding the Institute of Muslim Minority Affairs, a Saudi outreach program. (Her Pakistani mother is a professor in Saudi Arabia.)

John McCain, for example, was apoplectic at Bachmann's effrontery.

Washington insider Ed Rollins, Bachmann's own former campaign manager, went berserk on Fox News:
Shame on you, Michele! You should stand on the floor of the House and apologize to Huma Abedin and to Secretary Clinton and to the millions of hard working,loyal, Muslim Americans for your wild and unsubstantiated charges. As a devoted Christian, you need to ask forgiveness for this grievous lack of judgment and reckless behavior.

Wow, sounds like Bachmann struck a nerve ...

My guess would be that Ms. Abedin is not some sort of radical Islamist Manchurian Candidate who has had a baby with her Jewish politician husband just to cover her Islamist tracks. 

But, I suspect that Bachmann struck a nerve with the Bipartisan Establishment because Abedin has so many Saudi ties. The Fourth Rail of Washington imperial politics is the Saudi Lobby (the Third Rail is the Israeli Lobby). 

The Saudis have more money than God, but, like the Kuwaitis in 1990, they are too lazy and cowardly too defend their unearned oil wealth. But, unlike the Kuwaitis, who were too arrogant to even pretend to like America before Saddam's invasion, the Saudis have long been using their oil money prudently to buy themselves friends in Washington. 

One way they do it is by doing actual favors for the United States of America. Most notably, at the Reagan Administration's request, the Saudis pumped so much oil in 1986 that it drove oil prices low enough to pound the last nail in the Soviet Union's economic coffin. That was a big one, and I am grateful. 

Currently, the Saudis appear to be funding the Sunni uprising in Syria. Is that at the request of the Obama Administration? (I haven't been following the news out of Syria.) Obviously, this is wildly hypocritical after the Saudis sent tanks in to Bahrain to crush democracy protests there last year, but such is the way of the world.

Unfortunately, the Saudi rulers aso have interests not at all aligned with America's. Most notably, the Royal Family buys off local hotheads by subsidizing them to stir up Muslim hotheads abroad.

On the other hand, while occasionally the Saudis will do a genuine expensive favor for the U.S. like cutting the price of oil to hurt a mutual foe, most of the time they find it more cost effective just to do favors for members of the American ruling class. 

Consider the amazing career of Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi ambassador to America from 1983-2005. The illegitimate son of a royal prince and a part black slave girl, Bandar never had a hope of rising to the throne himself, but he made himself the most valuable servant of Saudi state by insinuating himself into almost every crack in Washington with his charm and money. For example, when George W. Bush told his dad that he really ought to finally learn something about American foreign policy if he were going to run for President, George H.W. Bush sent him to Bandar for tutoring.

Personally, I've always admired Bandar as a patriot who did much for his country. But, I would have kicked him out of the U.S. for being too good at his job. (His mental health finally broke under the stress and he went home in 2005.)

What does all this say about Huma Abedin's rise to power within the American government? I'm not sure. It may just be personal. But, the principle matters to the Important People in Washington, and the principle is that the public isn't supposed to think about how chummy they are with the Saudis. So, no thinking about Huma!

L.A. Times: "Is it 'relevant' that James Holmes is white?"

From the L.A. Times:
Is it 'relevant' that James Holmes is white? 
By Michael McGough 
At the risk of being accused of having an obsession with references to race and ethnicity in journalism,  I want to call attention to a controversy over the fact that some news reports identified James Holmes, the accused shooter in "The Dark Knight Rises" movie theater shootings,  as a white man. (The L.A. Times story did not so describe him.) 
This is from Richard Prince’s “Journalisms” feature on the website of the Maynard Institute: 
"News consumers learned that the man suspected of shooting 70 people in Aurora, Colo., on Friday was white before they knew his name. 
“NPR described the man accused of killing 12 people and injuring at least 58 others as a ‘white male in his early 20s.' On Pacifica Radio's 'Democracy Now,' host Amy Goodman said the gunman was 'believed to be white, about 24 years old.... 
“Paul Colford, spokesman for the Associated Press, explained to Journalisms at midday,  'I'm told that 'white' was part of the original police description, though that element will be dropped. Race is included when a story contains a racial element, and so far this one apparently has no such element.'" 
It's true that most newspaper style guides counsel against identifying crime suspects -- and other people -- by their race, a practice dating to the 1960s.  Before then, it was common for news stories to refer to a suspect, even after he had been captured, as a “Negro man.”  The exception to the modern colorblind policy is when race is “relevant.” 
That’s obviously the case in, say, the beating of Rodney King by white police officers or a description of a congressional candidate who is the first African American (or white, though that’s unlikely) to hold a political office. Race is also relevant when the suspect is still at large, though there have been instances of stories that tell the reader to look out for a suspect with “black hair and brown eyes" without mentioning race. 
Beyond that, though, relevance is in the eye of the beholder, and readers often behold things differently from the way editors do. 
To complicate matters, the same editors who would enforce a ban on racial descriptions in a crime story might nudge a reporter to make clear, indirectly, that the subject of a positive portrayal belongs to an underrepresented group. 
Finally there’s the double standard for breaking news and feature stories: Physical description is at a minimum in breaking stories, but when a reporter is in feature mode, quasi-racial descriptions like “the blond, blue-eyed tot” or “the teenager in dreadlocks” come out of the tool kit. 
In the case of the Colorado shootings, the arguments for identifying the shooter as white would be: 
Readers/listeners are curious, just as they’re curious about whether the shooter was young or old or male or female. The problem with this argument is that for many readers that curiosity is tinged with a kind of prurient racism. 
This is a story with anthropological/sociological overtones. One reason readers may have been curious about the race of the shooter was that the supposed rarity of nonwhite serial killers has been a topic of more or less informed discussion for years. ...
Is this racist? Racially insensitive? Or unobjectionably informative? You tell me. 

My view is: Of course the race of the Colorado killer is relevant. It's news.

As a commenter points out, the first three facts that the police gather on a suspect are sex, race, and age: e.g., "A male Caucasian about 25." For the press to go and proactively delete race shows their dedication to keeping the public ignorant.

The news media should drop its campaign to control the flow of facts about race out of disdain for its readers' "prurient" curiosity. The press writes about race constantly, but it tries to massage readers' opinions on race, most obviously by trying to cover up the fact that, according to the Obama Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics website, the majority of homicides since 1976 have been committed by African-Americans.

To give an example from the same edition of the Los Angeles Times of how baldly the prestige press often covers up race:
$50,000 reward offered in slaying of cook in Sherman Oaks 
July 23, 2012 | 10:31 pm

Los Angeles officials will be announcing a $50,000 reward for information in the slaying of a 38-year-old man shot outside a Hoagies & Wings in Sherman Oaks. 
Raul Lopez, who worked as a cook at the restaurant, had pushed out a group of men who had become angry while waiting for food before he was shot June 29, police said. 
Police said the men had shouted racial slurs at employees, causing other customers to leave and prompting Lopez to take action.

There is no mention in the rest of the posting about the race of the killers, who are seen on security video, even though that's doubly relevant, since it can help somebody collect the $50,000 reward by identifying them, and because the killers "shouted racial slurs." But withholding relevant information serves the higher purpose of thwarting prurient racists' curiosity by not validating stereotypes.

See, leaving the impression that this could be a killing by a gang of white racist no doubt Romney-supporting anti-Latino murderers roving Ventura Boulevard is a good thing. (This strategic ambiguity might, for example, help the SPLC get some more donations from confused old rich people in Sherman Oaks. And the SPLC needs the money.)

In contrast, the lowly Sherman Oaks Patch reports:
The five suspects are thought to be in their 20s or 30s, and lead homicide detective James Nuttall said Tuesday that the men, all African-American, were driving a newer model black Cadillac Escalade on 26-inch chrome rims. 

Okay! That's useful, relevant news. It's also, like most crime stories, a stereotype-palooza.

Keep in mind that this reticence about race and crime doesn't have anything to do with preventing further violence. This L.A. Times columnist is proud of how the press hammered on the subject of race in the Rodney King beating, which eventuated in 53 people dead and a billion dollars in riot damage.

July 23, 2012

"Sustainability" and "Local Living Economy" as code words for race and rain

Here's a promotional video marketing Bellingham, Washington, a small city on Puget Sound up near the Canadian border, as a "Local Living Economy." From Wikipedia:
0.98% Black or African American, 1.48% Native American, 4.25% Asian, 0.17% Pacific Islander, 2.16% from other races, and 3.08% from two or more races. 4.63% of the population is Hispanic or Latino of any race.

For a long time I was baffled by the hipster trendiness of economic localism since the rationalizations put forward for buying only products grown or made within X number of miles are clearly specious.

For example, modern merchandise transport doesn't emit a whole lot of carbon because it has become so incredibly efficient. The latest generation of freighters bringing new cars from Japan to America carry 8,000 automobiles in each ship.

On the other hand, the idea of creating an inward-focused high cost / high price local economy might make sense from a demographic standpoint. If you like your community the way it is or want to attract more of your kind of people, resistance to Wal-Martish globalization makes sense as a way to put up price barriers to discourage being flooded demographically.

Of course, rain helps too.

America as the world's crash pad

Thomas Friedman explains:
Obama should aspire to make America the launching pad where everyone everywhere should want to come to launch their own moon shot, their own start-up, their own social movement.


I've got an even better idea, though. If America is to be the world's crash launching pad, then let's make Tom's estate in suburban D.C. into America's launching pad. I've got a few things I want to launch in the Washington area, so, Tom, here's a head's up: I'll be crashing in launching from your pool house indefinitely.

July 22, 2012

Ishmaelia: From Evelyn Waugh's "Scoop"

Perhaps my favorite novel is Evelyn Waugh's 1938 journalism satire Scoop, and my favorite stretch of prose might be Scoop's serene and cheerful description of the Republic of Ishmaelia (mostly Ethiopia, with a dash of Liberia):
Ishmaelia, that hitherto happy commonwealth, cannot conveniently be approached from any part of the world. ... Desert, forest, and swamp, frequented by furious nomads, protect its approaches from those more favored regions which the statesmen of Berlin and Geneva have put to school under European masters. An inhospitable race of squireens cultivate the highlands and pass their days in the perfect leisure which those peoples alone enjoy who are untroubled by the speculative or artistic itch.
Various courageous Europeans, in the seventies of the last century, came to Ishmaelia, or near it, furnished with suitable equipment of cuckoo clocks, phonographs, opera hats, draft-treaties and flags of the nations which they had been obliged to leave. ... None returned. They were eaten, every one of them; some raw, others stewed and seasoned -- according to local usage and the calendar (for the better sort of Ishmaelites have been Christian for many centuries and will not publicly eat human flesh, uncooked, in Lent, without special and costly dispensation from their bishop). Punitive expeditions suffered more harm than they inflicted, and in the nineties humane counsels prevailed. The European powers independently decided that they did not want the profitless piece of territory; that the one thing less desirable than seeing a neighbour established there was the trouble of taking it themselves. ... A committee of jurists, drawn from the Universities, composed a constitution, providing a bicameral legislature, proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote, an executive removable by the President on the recommendation of both houses, an independent judicature, religious liberty, secular education, habeas corpus, free trade, joint stock banking, chartered corporations, and numerous other agreeable features. ... Mr. Samuel Smiles Jackson from Alabama was put in as the first President; a choice whose wisdom seemed to be confirmed by history, for, forty years later, a Mr. Rathbone Jackson held his grandfather's office in succession to his father Pankhurst, while the chief posts of the state were held by Messrs Garnett Jackson, Mander Jackson, Huxley Jackson, his uncle and brothers, and by Mrs Athol (nee Jackson) his aunt. So strong was the love which the Republic bore the family that General Elections were known as 'Jackson Ngomas' wherever and whenever they were held. These, by the constitution, should have been quinquennial, but since it was found in practice that difficulty of communication rendered it impossible for the constituencies to vote simultaneously, the custom had grown up for the receiving officer and the Jackson candidate to visit in turn such parts of the Republic as were open to travel, and entertain the neighbouring chiefs to a six days' banquet at their camp, after which the stupefied aborigines recorded their votes in the secret and solemn manner prescribed by the constitution.
It had been found expedient to merge the functions of national defence and inland revenue in an office then held in the capable hands of General Gollancz Jackson: his forces were in two main companies, the Ishmaelite Mule Taxgathering Force and the Rifle Excisemen with a small Artillery Death Duties Corps for use against the heirs of powerful noblemen. ... Towards the end of each financial year the General's flying columns would lumber out into the surrounding country on the heels of the fugitive population and returned in time for budget day laden with the spoils of the less nimble ...
Under this liberal and progressive regime, the Republic may be said, in some way, to have prospered. It is true that the capital city of Jacksonburg became unduly large, its alleys and cabins thronged with landless men of native and alien blood, while the country immediately surrounding it became depopulated, so that General Gollancz Jackson was obliged to start earlier and march further in search of the taxes; ... there was, moreover, a railway to the Red Sea coast, bringing a steady stream of manufactured imports which relieved the Ishmaelites of the need to practice their few clumsy crafts, while the adverse trade balance was rectified by an elastic system of bankruptcy law. In the remote provinces, beyond the reach of General Gollancz, the Ishmaelites followed their traditional callings of bandit, slave, or gentleman of leisure, happily ignorant of their connexion with the town which a few of them, perhaps, had vaguely and incredulously heard.

A few notes:

- "Inland revenue" is the British equivalent of "internal revenue," the IRS.

- "Death duties" are taxes on inheritance.

- The first names of the Jacksons are drawn from progressive British celebrities, such as Victor Gollancz, fellow-traveling head of the Left Book Club; Samuel Smiles, Victorian reformist and author of the bestseller Self-Help; the suffragette Mrs. Pankhurst; and the numerous Darwinian Huxleys. The Manders were a family of industrialists and reformers, a sort of Wolverhampton version of the Wedgwoods. The Rathbones were a family of Liverpudlian ship owners, reformers, feminists, and movie stars. Bunny Garnett was a bisexual conscientious objector prominent in the Bloomsbury literary circle. I'm not sure who Athol was.

The opening chapter of John Updike's 1978 novel The Coup describes the fictional African People's Republic of Kush in comparably dazzling prose. The Coup's one-paragraph acknowledgment note lists Waugh as a source, so I imagine Updike was directly inspired by this passage from Scoop.

Eight Is Enough

In the U.S. in this century, the conventional wisdom has become that the problems posed by the poor, since they must be 0% genetic in origin, are best addressed by taking poor children away from their families for as many of their waking hours as possible and turning them over to intensely dedicated Ivy League graduates in Teach for America and similar programs. 

One unanticipated consequence of relieving poor children's parents of many of the time-consuming burdens of parenting, however, is that this leaves the poor parents with more time, energy, and lack of disincentive to hit the clubs and conceive even more poor children. (Meanwhile, the demands for long hours upon the middle class professionals to whom their children are entrusted reduces the fertility of the MCPs.)

Of course, the entire topic of differential fertility is simply not on the mental radar of American conventional wisdom propagators.

In the wake of last summer's shameful English riots, however, the Brits are starting to talk about how, you know, just maybe it would be a good idea if people who already had more kids than they could handle wouldn't have any more. And, even, if you can believe such a thing, that government social workers might occasionally be so bold as to hint to "problem families" that enough is enough. From The Telegraph:
Problem families 'have too many children’ 
Mothers in large problem families should be “ashamed” of the damage they are doing to society and stop having children, a senior government adviser warns today. 
By Robert Winnett, and James Kirkup
Louise Casey, the head of the Government’s troubled families unit, says the state should “interfere” and tell women it is irresponsible to keep having children when they are already struggling to cope. 
She told The Daily Telegraph that the Government must not be a “soft touch” but instead be prepared to “get stuck in”, challenge taboos and change lives. 
Britain’s 120,000 problem families cost taxpayers an estimated £9 billion in benefits, crime, anti-social behaviour and health care. A fifth of them have more than five children. Miss Casey is leading a scheme to turn their lives around after they were blamed for last year’s riots. 
“There are plenty of people who have large families and function incredibly well, and good luck to them, it must be lovely,” she said. “The issue for me, out of the families that I have met, [is that] they are not functioning, lovely families. 
“One of the families I interviewed had six social care teams attached to them: nine children, [and a] tenth on the way. Something has to give here really.” 
Miss Casey warns that the state must start telling mothers with large families to take “responsibility” and stop getting pregnant, often with different, abusive men. 
“The responsibility is as important as coming off drugs, coming off alcohol, getting a grip and getting the kids to school. 
“So for some of those women the job isn’t to go and find yourself another violent, awful bloke who you will bring a child into the world with, to start the cycle all over again.” 
Miss Casey has travelled the country and has analysed the problems of 16 of the worst families, who cost the state up to £200,000 each a year. ... 
She recently visited a family court, where she watched a young woman lose her ninth child to care. The woman, a drug addict, was expected to get pregnant again and the state would intervene again to take the child away shortly after birth. ...

Keep in mind that Miss Casey's comments are news appearing in a newspaper.

John Craig comments:
By criticising problem families who "have too many children", Louise Casey is saying what senior politicians would like to - but dare not. ... 
Politicians have got into serious trouble in the past when they've criticised the lifestyle of poor families or single mothers who are living off the taxpayer. 
Most famously, Sir Keith Joseph destroyed his Tory leadership ambitions with a speech in 1974 in which he talked about mothers of low intelligence "who were first pregnant in adolescence in social classes 4 and 5". 
In 1993, John Redwood was accused of vilifying single mothers after he said that before they receive state hand-outs the father should be contacted and asked to make a financial contribution. 
And more recently, Tory peer Howard Flight sparked a political storm in 2010 when he said George Osborne's child benefit changes would discourage the middle classes from "breeding" and give "every incentive" to those on benefits.

But Louise Casey is an adviser - and an outspoken and controversial one at that - and so she can get away with it. 
Despite her controversial style, she has been an adviser to the last three prime ministers, so clearly she's highly valued in Whitehall. She was Tony Blair's "Asbo Tsar", then Gordon Brown appointed her "Victims' Champion" - taking over from Sara Payne - and then after last summer's riots, David Cameron appointed her to head the Government's "troubled families" unit.