Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Lights out

The lights are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.
—Sir Edward Grey, British Foreign Secretary, 1914

Fjordman, the brilliant political essayist who now publishes in the Brussels Journal, offers a chilling update on Sweden's slide into Islamo-fascism.
The primary reason why I write so much about Sweden is because it is the most totalitarian country in the Western world, and should thus serve as a warning to others. The second reason is that Sweden, like my own country, now needs some "tough love." Too many Swedes still cling on to the myth of the "Swedish model" while their country is disintegrating underneath their feet. If Sweden the nation is to be saved – if it still can be saved, I'm not so sure – then Sweden the ideological beacon for mankind must be smashed, because vanity now blocks sanity.
I don't normally just link to articles without trying to supply some value-added, but Fjordman's description of life in present-day Sweden needs no further comment.

Swedish policeman models new gentler, kinder,
immigrant-friendly uniform.

Oh, yes, I did like this bit: "Meanwhile, police officers are protesting against a new uniform designed to make them appear less aggressive by replacing boots with shoes, making guns less visible and changing the shirts to a softer, gentler color."

Monday, July 30, 2007

Immigration protest: The good, the bad, and the ugly

I predict we're going to see a lot more of this until the United States decides whether it's going to have borders or not. As it stands, the immigration boosters and the immigration restrictionists can both reasonably claim they're in the right, based on current policies.

To begin by giving credit where it's due, the Newark Star-Ledger story appears to be reasonably even-handed. (I say "appears" because I wasn't at the event, so I don't know what may have been left out.) It's refreshing to read a piece that doesn't automatically put the pro-immigration speakers in the lead paragraph and give them far more space than the other side, who are relegated to a token quote or two way down the line, followed by a "rebuttal" from the immigrationists.

Otherwise, the report of this demonstration makes for pretty dismal reading. Insofar as they are quoted, both factions sound bad, and the whole business feels ugly. Especially when viewed as a preview of more, and worse, to come.

Although I'm for stopping and reversing the immigration debacle, the case doesn't lend itself to sound nuggets and bumper-sticker slogans. The good guys in Morristown seemed to be trying to act like oafs, and succeeded.

When he took the stage, the mayor, who is seeking to deputize local police officers as federal immigration agents, condemned his opponents for stalling his efforts.

"How dare they, how dare they question my right as mayor of this community to move this program forward?" he asked.

Huh? Mayor, you must have sounded like Mussolini up there on his balcony with his arms crossed and chin out. What do you mean, "how dare they" question your right? You're a politician, man. People are going to question everything down to whether your tie clashes with your shirt.
[Mayor] Cresitello retaliated with a warning. "To the Communists across the street, and the Marxists, we know your motives, and we will not continue to let you go forward with your intent to take over our country," he said.
Oh, deliver me. Let's not mix the immigration problem up with Red-baiting. Even the malignant politicians, business interests, and media propagandists who promote open borders aren't Commies. Criticize them for greed, exploitation, indifference to the general good, overpopulation promotion, and plenty else … but they don't have eyes to create a dictatorship of the proletariat. If anything, they're out to destroy what little remains of a solvent American working class, replacing it with a sub-working class of welfare-supported galley slaves.

On the immigrationist side, the arguments, if you can dignify them with that term, were as scurrilous and dopey as usual — "Mayor KKK," etc.
"That side is hatred, and hatred is what causes the problems here," Miculiani yelled, pointing at the crowd outside town hall. "It's these kind of people, they're no better than the terrorists on 9/11!"
It's scary that people as demented as this inhabit the same country I do. And of course you have the inevitable priestly twit, calling on God to send the Church in the United States more peasant faithful to fulfill the quotas for fund raising, weeping statues and Mary sightings.
Father Hernan Arias, pastor of the church, asked God to help the country's immigrant workers. "In your eyes and ears we are all legal, because we are your sons and daughters," Arias said.
Begging your pardon, Father, but I expect the nuns taught you Latin when you were in school, maybe even the term non sequitur. You would no doubt agree that God has endowed everyone with an immortal soul — making them his "sons and daughters," so to speak — including murderers, torturers, rapists, pederast priests: all sons and daughters of God, however twisted. Does that mean they, or their actions, are all "legal"? I'm afraid, old boy, you are seriously confusing God's universal love with human society's need to set rules so it can function reasonably well for everyone, not just for your victim class of the month.

We're likely to see such ugly scenes as this demonstration multiply, and probably grow violent. Because the longer we have national borders in name only, the more "migrants" are going to flow in with an attitude of entitlement and a big family.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Carrying on the Spiritist tradition

Heads up: The United States Spiritist Council will present a symposium this fall in Washington, D.C. The date is November 18.

Spiritism -- not to be confused with Spiritualism, a religion -- is a guide to the inner life and soul growth based primarily on two 19th century books, The Spirits' Book and The Book on Mediums. Although both are nominally by the Frenchman who took the name Allan Kardec (originally named Hippolyte Léon Denizard Rivail), they consist largely of transcriptions of questions, put by Kardec to spirits that he discerned to be of a high moral and spiritual character, and their answers.


This preface to The Spirits' Book by its translator, Anna Blackwell, is a decent introduction to the genesis of Spiritism. She writes:
... Allan Kardec was not a "medium," and was consequently obliged to avail himself of the medianimity of others in obtaining the spirit-communications from which they were evolved. The theory of life and duty, so immediately connected with his name and labors that it is often erroneously supposed to have been the product of his single mind or of the spirits in immediate connection with him, is therefore far less the expression of a personal or individual opinion than are any other of the spiritualistic theories hitherto propounded; for the basis of religious philosophy laid down in his works was not, in any way, the production of his own intelligence, but was as new to him as to any of his readers, having been progressively educed by him from the concurrent statements of a legion of spirits, through many thousands of mediums, unknown to each other, belonging to different countries, and to every variety of social position.
I have been very impressed and inspired by the teachings of Spiritism, and recommend both books. Even though he was experimenting at a time when psychical research as a scientific discipline hardly existed, Kardec was very scientific in dealing with the phenomena of mediumship. By no means did he take the words of whatever spirits showed up at s
éances as gospel. He quickly rumbled what some Spiritualists like to ignore: that a lot of spirits are silly time wasters, who have fun playing with the gullibility of their audiences.

Spirits -- disembodied beings, including people who have died and passed on to the next realm, and inhabit other planes of existence, but can make themselves known in various ways in the physical world -- are of varying degrees of development, just as embodied humans are. (Probably the spirits most likely to "come through" mediums are the least evolved, being closest to the earth plane, and are correspondingly least likely to offer timeless wisdom.)

Nevertheless, during countless sittings with many different mediums, he encountered some whose sayings, as transmitted by mediums, had the ring of truth; very profound truth. Like Boswell recording as many as possible of Samuel Johnson's bons mots, Kardec set down the "best of" his questions and the spirits' answers, so to speak.

Allan Kardec

Spiritism had a large following in France in the 19th century; when Kardec passed from the physical world, he was buried in P
ère-Lachaise Cemetary, the resting place of the remains of many of the country's famous and celebrated. The influence of Spiritism faded in France and Europe, though notables such as Camille Flammarion (who was both a distinguished astronomer and a psychical researcher) and Dr. Eugène Osty continued in something of the same spirit (pun intended).

But Spiritism acquired a new lease on life in South America, particularly in Brazil. (That's why the program for the November gathering includes several Brazilian-based speakers.) It continues to thrive there, although there are a few study groups in the United States and elsewhere. But I believe it is unusual to find a symposium like the one in Washington (celebrating the 150th anniversary of the publication of The Spirits' Book) in this country. I'm planning to be there, and looking forward to it.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

New Haven secedes from the Union

New Haven, Connecticut, home to various institutions of culture and learning — most notably, Yale University — is now issuing ID cards to illegal aliens so they can open bank accounts, use city services, and flash the card at any policeman who is rude enough to ask for identification.

In other words, New Haven is openly and proudly supporting violations of the nation's sovereignty.

Now let's try a thought experiment. Imagine that a city in — oh, let's say Arizona — decided to enforce the immigration laws that are on the books. No midnight raids or round-ups, mind you: just check the legality of every person who is booked for a crime, or stopped for a traffic violation, or otherwise comes under reasonable suspicion. And everyone who turns out to be a border jumper is charged under the law; is sentenced under due process of law; and is turned over to ICE for repatriation.

It doesn't take an overactive imagination to know what to expect should this occur. The usual suspects — mainstream media, La Raza (The Racists), the ACLU, etc., etc. — would scream blue murder. Taking action against illegal activity — outrageous! And of course the barrel scrapings of the legal profession, that is to say immigration lawyers, would immediately file suit, arguing that the city has no jurisdiction, since immigration policy (they say) is a federal matter.

But wait a minute. If illegal immigration is strictly under federal jurisdiction, then New Haven has no authority to take any position about it, including offering mini-amnesties to illegals. Where are your alleged principles now, ACLU? Are you going to sue New Haven?

Let's be clear about this. Cities that pander to illegal immigrants, refusing to accept that they can oppose laws but not violate them, strike at the heart of civil society. They are in effect seceding from the Union.

The national government fought a civil war, an unprecedented disaster for both sides, the last time that came up. True, the actions of a single city are on a relatively minor scale compared with the Confederate States of America; but as the news article linked to above notes, lots of other cities are watching New Haven, and should the "Elm City" (as it likes to bill itself) get away with its campaign of subversion many other liberal enclaves will surely follow.

Make no mistake. The anger of large numbers of citizens who see their country turned into a new haven for indigent Third Worlders, imported by big business and the Democratic Party as a servile peasant class, is growing with every new outrage. I do not want the situation to degenerate into civil disorder, but that's what it may well come to unless one side or the other in the immigration battle, nonviolent for now, emerges triumphant.

I'm taking the side of the Union.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The movable object vs. the resistible force

There's a fascinating debate thread at Lawrence Auster's View from the Right about the proper response of traditionalist conservatives should the country be faced in a little more than a year with, God help us, a Clinton vs. Giuliani election.

I can't do justice
here to the arguments, and they are very much worth reading in their entirety — whichever side you favor, both have thoughtful spokesmen. If only the national political and social dialogue were conducted on this level! But briefly:

Auster believes traditionalist conservatives would be better off with Hillary in office, to get conservatives and Republicans in a fighting mood. He sees Giuliani as another liberal in conservative drag — G.W. Bush without even the latter's relatively blameless personal life. He can and does argue the position better than I can, but I take it that the gist of his message is that if traditionalist conservatives are ever to become a force again, they have got to stop voting for candidates who are slightly or apparently less liberal than their opponents.

A reader named Stephen Warshawsky and one or two others take an opposite stand, and it's more than a simple-minded "half-a-loaf" argument. One points out, for instance, that no matter how much a Hillary presidency might turn conservatives who are currently defensive and resigned into crusaders, she might have three opportunities to appoint Supreme Court justices even in a single term. Since the Court is now an unelected monarchy, new arch-liberals would reverse its balance of power and sew up the federal judiciary's power to overrule states or localities that go against the socialist, open-borders Master Plan.

Of course, the concrete hasn't set yet. It's still possible that another candidate than Giuliani will get the nomination, and I see some promise of that: while many people may like the urban legend his handlers have built up for him, Giuliani is rather off-putting when actually seen and heard. There's something cold and reptilian about his manner that I suspect won't play well. So who do we actually want? Tancredo, of course.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Generic Baghdad news story

Look, news agencies, it's really bad form to risk your reporters' lives to cover the endless carnage in Iraq. There's no need to send them out on the street in flak vests to interview dead people about how they got that way. In the interest of kinder and gentler news gathering, I have created the following template which your reporters can use from the comfort of their hotel room — or for that matter, from Ibiza. They need only pick up their cell phone and dial until they find a living Iraqi policeman to supply the details.

{Insert number} Car Bombs Kill {number} in Iraq

BAGHDAD – {Number} parked cars exploded within {number} minutes in a predominantly {Shiite} {Sunni} area in Baghdad, killing at least {number} people, police said, the deadliest since {date} in a series of bombings and shooting attacks nationwide. {Number} of the blasts in the Baghdad neighborhood of {location} struck nearly simultaneously.

One targeted a {police patrol} {mosque} {embassy}, killing {number} {soldiers} and {number} pedestrians and wounding {number} other people, a police officer said, adding that at least {number} cars also were damaged in the blast, which struck near to a {police training academy} {police station} {U.S. Army checkpoint}.

Another parked car bomb struck at about the same time, ripping through a bustling {vegetable market} {flea market} {residential street}, killing {number} civilians and wounding {number} others.

Television news footage showed U.S. soldiers milling about the charred wreckage, with shattered glass and blackened debris from nearby shops and street stalls strewn on the bloodstained pavement.

Another car packed with explosives blew up on the main road about {number} yards from an entry point to the U.S.-controlled Green Zone, killing at least {number} Iraqis and wounding {number}, a police officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of security concerns. The heavily fortified Green Zone is home to the U.S. and British embassies as well as Iraqi government offices and thousands of American troops and contractors.

Elsewhere in the capital, a bomb exploded on a(n) {SUV} {minibus} {taxi} near a busy commercial area, killing {number} people and wounding {number} others, police said.

A roadside bomb struck an Iraqi army patrol about {number} miles {east} {west} {north} {south} of Baghdad, killing {number} troops, according to police and morgue officials. The explosion occurred on the southeastern edge of the volatile {name} province.

Near the Iranian border, gunmen ambushed a convoy of trucks loaded with {goods} {medical supplies} {refugees} being sent from Baghdad to {location}. {Number} people were killed and {number} others kidnapped, including drivers and guards, police said.

In western {name} province, security officials said at least {number} policemen were killed and {number} wounded when a woman hiding an explosives belt under her Islamic gown blew herself up as she was about to be searched at a checkpoint on the {western} {eastern} {northern} {southern} outskirts of Ramadi.

In all, at least {number} people were killed nationwide on {day}, according to security officials who asked not to be identified because they feared retribution.

The U.S. military also reported the deaths of {number} American soldiers this weekend in separate roadside bombings in Baghdad and {north} {south} {east} {west} of the capital. One attack occurred {day} and the other on {day}, raising to at least {number} members of the U.S. military who have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Absolutely Sweet Marie

Well, your railroad gate, you know I just can't jump it
Sometimes it gets so hard, you see
I'm just sitting here beating on my trumpet
With all these promises you left for me
But where are you tonight, sweet Marie?

Well, I waited for you when I was half sick
Yes, I waited for you when you hated me
Well, I waited for you inside of the frozen traffic
When you knew I had some other place to be
Now, where are you tonight, sweet Marie?

What could there possibly be left to say about Bob Dylan's 1966 album Blonde on Blonde at this late date? Well, for one thing, the album meets one definition of a masterpiece: there's always something new to discover in it.

But more than that, Blonde on Blonde (like most of the Dylan discography) has been remastered by Sony -- successor to the original Columbia label -- for better sound quality. As usual, I'm late to the party, since the new edition has been out since 2003, but I'd never heard the sonically refurbished CD before.

It's been remixed three ways, although they're on different layers of the same disc: 5.1 Super Audio CD, stereo SACD, and plain old stereo. But whichever way your sound system permits listening to it, it's almost guaranteed you've never heard it in such clarity and detail.

Blonde 2

Dylan's nasal, midwestern-flat voice, occasionally leavened with country-ish vowels, is no more beautiful than it ever was, but its unique quality (as a friend of mine once said in its defense, "Well, it's Dylan's voice") is reproduced with greater accuracy. But it's the freshness and etching of the backing instruments that really grabs you. None of the session musicians are big names, except Al Kooper, who's on only a few tracks, and Robbie Robertson of The Band fame (credited on the original cover as "Jaime Robertson").

But wow, do they cook, and wow, can you hear them now. Details you probably never noticed consciously in the old record and CD versions get out there and strut. It's the aural equivalent of having your dusty and bug-splattered windshield cleaned -- the environment becomes more colorful and involving.

Originally issued as a two-record package, Blonde on Blonde seems to me one of the two supreme Dylan albums -- Highway 61 Revisited is the other. Sadly, he afterward went into a musical decline from which he has never recovered. John Wesley Harding, which followed Blonde on Blonde, had two or three great songs in a very different style and mood; Nashville Skyline was a pleasant trifle; after that, forget it. He still comes out with a new disc every few years, and the '60s fossils on NPR ritualistically fawn over it before it sinks into obscurity. I'll say this for Dylan, the man: at least he doesn't pretend to be an Important Force anymore. He seems to have found some kind of peace, keeps a low profile and doesn't go around heading benefit concerts to cool off the world.

But it 1966, Dylan was at his creative peak. Blonde on Blonde was a perfect amalgam of compelling songs and teasing lyrics.

When I acquired the remastered disc recently, I went right to my favorite song on it: "Absolutely Sweet Marie." It's not one that music critics, or even Dylan fanatics, seem to dote on. I've never heard a band do a cover version of it, and it's not remotely as famous as the lovely "Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands," another album highlight. But although every track is memorable, "Marie" still impresses me as first among equals for its melodic virtuosity and wild, surrealistic words.

Well, I got the fever down in my pockets
The Persian drunkard, he follows me
Yes, I can take him to your house but I can't unlock it
You see, you forgot to leave me with the key
Oh, where are you tonight, sweet Marie?

There's even a touch of classic, old-fashioned song format. Dylan varies the meter by including bridges between the choruses:

Well, I don't know how it happened
But the riverboat captain, he knows my fate
But everybody else, even yourself
They're just gonna have to wait.

Blonde 4

While Dylan's muse was still working full time, he had an uncanny gift for verse that's way-out-there quirky without being pretentiously absurdist. A constantly turning kaleidoscape of metaphors, his verses seem to make some higher, or at least poetic, sense. In fact, the literary figure Dylan (in the period that included Blonde on Blonde) reminds me of most is the early T.S. Eliot ("He laughed like an irresponsible foetus"; "Hidden under coral islands / Where worried bodies of drowned men drift down in the green silence / Dropping from fingers of surf").

Now, I been in jail when all my mail showed
That a man can't give his address out to bad company
And now I stand here lookin' at your yellow railroad
In the ruins of your balcony
Wond'ring where you are tonight, sweet Marie.

Do I overrate Blonde on Blonde because it was part of the soundtrack to my young life, a leitmotif that returned again and again in those heady days in 1960s Berkeley? Maybe: it was the best and the worst of times -- although in the end, it was mostly the worst of the '60s that contributed to today's toxic waste dump of popular culture -- but the music comprised a lot of the best. It was still possible, then, to imagine that rock music and psychedelic drugs would send the old rotten world on its way and bring in a new one of love and peace. Foolish, yes, but the young must be given a modest allowance of foolishness, if only so that they later (if they're smart or lucky) get in the habit of learning from experience the difference between fashionable fantasy and how things actually are.

Hearing the disc again after so long -- I don't think I'd listened to even a track of it for 15 years; I didn't make the effort because I thought I knew it so well -- I found it still to be a rare and glorious experience. But, admittedly, it's hard to factor out (not that I want to) my time in the counterculture, so long ago now. The past is another country and all that. Where are you now, Alexandra? Tim and Karen? So many others? And where are you tonight, sweet Marie?

Friday, July 20, 2007

Rage Boy

I have read that in the Middle East there are women who make their living as professional mourners. They are hired to attend funerals, including those of people they never heard of. Their job description includes wailing and crying and pulling their hair to add to the festival of grief.

Rage Boy (tip of the hat to Snapped Shot) may be pursuing a similar career, except instead of funerals he fetches up at every Muslim demonstration to add to the sum total of human rage. Or he may just be like Woody Allen's Zelig, who shows up somewhere in every photo.

Rage Boy is, no kidding, a real person who seems to have been spotted as often as Elvis:


Rage Boy has made it to the heights that every Muslim demonstrator dreams of: the BBC.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Dear terrorist: You throw like a girl

The Chronicle of Higher Education has taken a bold stance against terrorism. The Chron says it's okay to call terrorists insulting names.

Carlin Romano, a "teacher of philosophy and media theory" at the University of Pennsylvania, says it's a mistake to be too nice when describing suicide bombers and others in that class of "folks," as our president might say.
… if the admirable part of political correctness is that one shouldn't utter unsupportable, reactionary ethnic, gender, or other generalizations, that principle is misapplied in the case of terrorists, who are picked out for condemnation by their acts alone. Aren't "bastards," "scum," and so on precisely the right terms for people who seek to maim and kill presumably innocent others to make a political point?
Yes, Carlin, although I'm a scrap puzzled by the word "unsupportable" in your prohibition of politically incorrect generalizations. Are supportable reactionary ethnic, gender, or other generalizations permitted? Isn't "bastards" a slur on the children of otherwise-cohabiting parents? What "other" generalizations should one not utter?

I think that can be easily answered from the article. You can call them "savages, scum, and uncivilized losers." (Although, unfortunately, "losers" may be an unsupportable "other" generalization.) Notice, though, how carefully he tiptoes around using the word Muslims. Unless I missed one, its only occurrence is in the sentence, "Let's mention just one key goal: the education of the world's Muslim youth."

That is, while you can use various nasty names in connection with terrorists, you must not notice that these acts which Romano deplores are performed in aid of advancing Islam and making random infidels convincingly dead. The explosives craftsmen must be "picked out for condemnation by their acts alone." Such uncivilized losers are very naughty boys and girls. Probably had a poor upbringing. But "their acts alone" have nothing to do with the Religion of Peace.

Romano quotes from H.W. Fowler (whose famous Modern English Usage has, incidentally, been sabotaged by subsequent editors) for a definition of euphemism: "mild or vague or periphrastic expression as a substitute for blunt precision or disagreeable truth." Romano knows how that works.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Zimbabwe — For a vacation you'll never forget!


Zimbabwe (once called Rhodesia) is almost the definition of a failed state:
Since 2000, Zimbabwe has suffered a catastrophic economic decline. The government-backed seizure of land from white farmers has crippled the commercial farming sector; a default on international loans has cut off the possibility of outside aid; and slum clearances have left 700,000 people homeless. Foreign investment, which had amounted to $436 million in 1998, has almost entirely ceased. The population of 12.3 million is now 80 percent unemployed and dependant for survival on food donations and remittances from relatives overseas. The economy suffers from hyperinflation, de-industrialisation, and an exodus of the workforce into South Africa and Botswana. Life expectancy has fallen to under 40 years, due to starvation and high rates of malaria, cholera, and HIV. Zimbabwe’s democratic institutions have been severely weakened by the ruling ZANU-PF party. Corruption is widespread, elections are marked by fraud and intimidation, and political opponents are frequently killed or tortured.
Hardly a day goes by without some appalling news coming from that miserable land run by a world-class psychopath, Robert Mugabe, who took power in 1980 and forgot to give it back. Even self-appointed saints working for the Wretched of the Earth, who blame any less-than-utopian conditions on "the legacy of Western imperialism," can't quite bring themselves to argue that life in Zimbabwe, liberated from colonial and white rule, is better than it was in the old Rhodesia. (So, of course, they just avoid the question.)

Curious to know if Zimbabwe still has any cheerleaders, I checked a few travel Web sites. (I did the same experiment on Iraq, just before the invasion that was obviously coming. There was an official government tourist ministry site, although it didn't go very deep and seemed not to have been updated recently.) No one looks at a place with rosier-colored glasses than a travel promoter.

The web site Afrizim says that Zimbabwe is "known as Africa's Paradise and is a breathtaking country."
And it leaves no doubt that Zimbabwe has attractions for sightseers: Victoria Falls, Hwange National Park and Matusadona National Park for wildlife, the Eastern Highlands with their mountains, Lake Kariba ("one of Africa's best kept secrets"), and Masvingo ("the most extensive and best-preserved ruins anywhere in Africa south of the Sahara Desert").

That last description sounds like it might apply to all of Zimbabwe.

So what about, uh, cities like the capital, Harare?
Harare has no absolutely compelling sights but is a pleasant and compact city with a population of more than a million people.

Set in the natural garden of the Zimbabwe highveld 1 500 metres above sea level, Harare is a city of trees and gardens nurtured by champagne air and a temperate climate.The name 'Harare' means in the Shona language 'the one who does not sleep' and indeed Harare is a city with many stimulating attractions.

According to iExplore, Harare is
… a clean and sophisticated city, characterized by flowering trees, colorful parks and contemporary architecture. Local sightseeing includes the modern museum and art gallery, the Robert McIlwaine Recreational Park, which has a lake and game reserve, the Lion & Cheetah Park, the Larvon Bird Gardens and the landscaped gardens of aloes and cycads at Ewanrigg Botanical Gardens. Due to its pleasant climate, Harare is known as the ‘Sunshine City’.
Sure enough, if you search for pictures of Harare on Google Images, you see what looks like an appealing tropical city:


Except … the web site that published this photo says:

It’s Harare, Zimbabwe’s flower market in Africa Unity Square, a landmark in the city center, busy and beautiful for more than 50 years. Now it’s gone. President Mugabe’s police destroyed the flower market last month as part the dictator’s “Operation Murambatsvina, or Drive Out Trash.” Mugabe and his henchmen call this urban renewal.

The Zimbabwe Independent responded with outrage after the vendors were brutalized and their flowers destroyed May 21.

“There is admittedly much crime and grime that needs to be addressed in the inner city. But the flower sellers in Africa Unity Square were not part of the problem,” said the editorial. It noted that “the burgeoning informal sector is a reflection of (the) government’s failure to nourish and sustain a viable formal sector.” People are surviving through folk economics, because Zimbabwe’s mainline economy has shuttled between non-existence and corruption.

The iExplore site does acknowledge in its overview that "Modern Zimbabwe is in a terrible state," and explains why in some detail. It adds: "It is a shame that the country has gained such a bad reputation as it boasts some amazing natural sites."

Zimbabwe is likely to be inexpensive (once you get there), and you can avoid tourist crowds. If you're considering a holiday there, the state-sponsored tourism web site is www.zimbabwetourism.co.zw and sometimes it loads; you can also get advice on the site about "investment in Zimbabwe." In the United States, the Zimbabwe tourist office is at 128 East 56th Street, New York, NY 10022, (212) 486 3444.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Thanks for taking my call

Telephone call

Am I on the air? Good. I'd just like to make the point that too many people think "terrorist" when they hear the word "Muslim." And all this talk about jihad. Jihad is an inner struggle. It means trying to live up to the Qur'an and the hadith. Whenever I hear anybody talking about Muslim terrorists, I start worrying about a backlash against peaceful Muslim engineers and doctors.

Tip of the hat to Drunken Blogging for the photo.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Two-lane blacktop

It's not often many of us get a close look at the country we care for, except the tiny bit that is our normal environment. This past week, on a family car trip, I saw a different side -- several different sides -- of the southeastern United States, primarily North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.

For one thing, we got off the Interstates frequently. I don't hate the Interstate highways; they have their purpose, usually the fastest way to get from one point to another, and sometimes that's what you want to do. The facilities you need (gas stations, restaurants, "rest areas," and all that) are conveniently located. Uninspiring? You bet. But for all the widespread and justified criticism of routes that endlessly repeat the same dozen chain and franchized fast-food outlets and motels, it's some comfort to know that amenities you can count on to be reasonably hygienic and safe are readily available.

Even so, it was fascinating to abandon the traffic arteries and drive two-lane national and state roads. It's a different world, sometimes no more than five miles geographically from the Interstates punctuated by Denny's and McDonalds and Holiday Inns.

two-lane 2

This isn't going to be a sentimental posting on the virtues of rural Americana. There are good things to be seen from the two-lanes that carry so little traffic, comparatively, that it isn't worth any corporation's money to install housing developments or big shopping malls next to them. But there is a disturbing side as well.

What's enjoyable -- at least for someone just passing through -- is the greater variety. There are still mom-and-pop restaurants and service stations where the owner is the guy in overalls inspecting the car up on the hoist. You pass historical marker signs, memorializing events, institutions, and people that have been deleted from the nation's collective memory. (Unfortunately, there are rarely pull-offs where you can safely stop to read the signs; they seem to have been mostly planted in the 1920s and '30s, when there were fewer and slower cars on the road, and you could just edge over to the side a bit.)

The central sections of small towns contain solid old commercial buildings in a variety of styles, and often Victorian-era houses with gingerbread wooden trim (why is it called gingerbread? I never did get that), stained glass panels in doors and windows, wrap-around verandas and porch swings. It's easy to imagine that our ancestors' domestic environment was more gracious than ours.

It's hardly that simple, though.
Small towns have always had a social gradient as strict as that of a Henry James novel. The well-to-do inhabited those lovely houses with the turrets and sloping lawns (probably still the case where the upkeep looks admirable). The former dwellings of the mill and factory workers have mostly been torn down as unfit or fallen into dust, but here and there you see them: plain, uninviting, seemingly small enough to contain only three or four rooms. And of course, back when the town grandees were building their Victorian castles, the black families -- kept at a decent distance on the other side of the railroad tracks or down the slope -- lived in even meaner shacks. Sometimes that was not the worst of their problems.

Along the two-lanes are towns represented by small dots on the map, but there actually are no small towns anymore. They have become highway strips. It's more economical for businesses to build along the road on the outskirts than to renovate buildings in the town center. I saw many a town and small city that has been "hollowed out" -- the expansion outward leaving a sickly, nearly empty downtown. It's sad to see these places, especially the ones that obviously were once thriving, as evidenced by elaborate buildings and public squares with statues of Civil War officers or politicians.

One small city we inspected curiously (I won't mention any names), apparently a county seat, boasted a magnificent stone courthouse complete with three-story Corinthian columns. It is presumably still in use, since the nearby offices mostly harbor law firms -- a sort of legal game park -- amid boarded-up storefronts and a few shops clinging precariously to life, selling wigs and plumbing supplies and renting videos.

Here and there, people have tried to revive these decrepit town centers with artsy-craftsy studios, boutiques offering hippie-revival fashions, and '50s-style, retro-decor restaurants. I admire the effort, but suspect it's only a holding action. With luck, they will preserve the old atmosphere until serious money moves in to create "historic" condos and offices, if it ever does.

Sooner or later, though, it's time to say good-bye to these slices of alternative America and return to the Interstate (if we hadn't, we'd still be on the road this time next week). Around the freeway exits, a new type of -- well, civilization isn't the right word -- has sprung up. You get dense, traffic-clogged slices of inner suburbia, spreading out from on- and off-ramps a hundred miles from nowhere. I don't know that sociologists have even coined a term for these places. They're not "edge cities": there is no city for them to be on the edge of. Yet they comprise pure specimens of post-'80s development: big malls, chain restaurants, long stoplight cycles complete with left-turn signals. In the middle of North Carolina, you could be in southern California or Long Island.

It's inevitable, I guess, that they should spring up to service ever-rising numbers of cars and people. The United States has added a hundred million to its population since 1970 (most of it through immigration). Rural sprawl is one result. Yet for some reason I have never been able to understand, the country remains addicted to booming population. USA Today recently carried a front page piece on the fastest growing cities, and their local officials beamed with pride. New York City's reigning idiot, Mayor Bloomberg, could hardly contain his glee at predictions that the city will add another million people in a few years. Politicans and businessmen see in population growth only more tax revenue and more customers, respectively; the rest of us see more congestion, less open space, and more herd behavior.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Most predictable headline of the week

From the July 6 Washington Post:

"Indian Doctors Fear Backlash."

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Template trouble

I'm away from home and my usual computer/browser. Something has gone haywire so that the blogroll has slipped down below the postings -- still there, but you wouldn't know it unless you scroll all the way down. Blimey O'Riley, quelle horreur, &c.

I can't understand it, as I haven't been fiddling with the template -- hadn't even looked in on Reflecting Light until yesterday. Well, I'll see what needs to be done to fix it next week. Meanwhile, a happy Fourth to you if you are in the United States of America; be careful and do something about your brain damaged Labour masters if you are in Britain; and thanks for stopping by, wherever you are.