Saturday, February 28, 2009

Expanding the monologue on race

The Washington Post, which used to be merely the printing press for the Democratic Party line, is so high on President-Messiah Obama that it doesn't hesitate to sail into the treacherous shoals of race relations while casting objectivity to the high winds. A typical news or opinion -- you no longer can tell them apart at the Post -- story published today is headlined "Top Officials Expand the Dialogue on Race."

It is so blatantly one-sided, biased, and offensive that it reminds me of Mary McCarthy's blast at Lillian Hellman: "Everything she wrote is a lie, including 'and' and 'the.'"

When the country's racial chasms seemed to threaten President Obama's election, his team had to tread carefully. A month into his administration, the tone has changed. Top officials are engaging the subject of race more freely, with a boldness and confidence they once shunned.
"When the country's racial chasms seemed to threaten President Obama's election" -- Baloney. Obama's opponent, the twit from Arizona, did backflips to avoid anything to do with race, refusing even to mention The Messiah's 20-year membership in the congregation of the notorious anti-white racist, the Reverend Wright. The country's captive media worshiped Obama for his race, or races, as the Great Healer who would bring us all together.


"Top officials are engaging the subject of race more freely" -- trying to squeeze every last drop out of the white guilt that Obama's election was supposed to make irrelevant.
With the federal government's annual African American History Month celebrations as a backdrop, the attorney general, the first lady and the head of the Environmental Protection Agency spoke more frankly about race recently than any of Obama's surrogates did during the hard-fought campaign.
"The federal government's annual African American History Month" reads like an unconscious slip on the writer's part. It's annual, all right: lasts the whole live-long year. Spoke frankly about race? There is no frankness here, just a power play. But let us, indeed, speak frankly.
Lisa P. Jackson, the EPA administrator and a native of New Orleans, told her staff about having grown up in an area where she would have had to drink from unsafe water fountains because of her race. "Now in 2009, I am, along with you, responsible for ensuring that all Americans have clean water to drink," Jackson said. "Change has certainly come to this agency."
I'll give her the benefit of the doubt about the first claim. But "change has certainly come to this agency"? In other words, until Ms. Jackson was appointed by the Messiah, the EPA had no interest in clean drinking water, or no interest in clean drinking water for African Americans? Yes, change has come to the agency, right enough. What used to be about inefficient, regulation-mad, bureaucratic environmental care is now folded into the racial spoils system.
First lady Michelle Obama hosted middle-schoolers in the White House East Room and taught the children about African Americans and their roles in the executive mansion: the slaves who built it, the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation there, the meetings held with civil rights leaders.
Slaves did not build the White House. They were among many kinds of people, including free African Americans, involved in the construction. Slaves certainly did not design the White House, its original architect being James Hoban, an Irish American. I doubt very much that any of these distinctions were made by Michelle Obama in her "teaching." The children left Her Presence believing that slaves did it all while white overseers cracked whips to make them work faster.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., who ignited the most debate, used his Feb. 18 address as an admonition that "to get to the heart of this country, one must examine its racial soul."

"Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards," Holder said. "Though race-related issues continue to occupy a significant portion of our political discussion, and though there remain many unresolved racial issues in this nation, we, average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about race."

This manipulative, mean-spirited speech has been so criticized that I won't spend much time on it.

Since the 1960s, Americans have talked with each other about race more than any other subject except the economy. What the AG means is that not everyone has yet surrendered to the idea that whites are forever and irremediably guilty for events in the long-ago past, despite the indoctrination camps formerly known as universities, and are not ready to sign on to The Messiah's dreams of race replacement, along with a bottomless cup of welfare benefits and reparations for the racial group he has chosen to identify with.


For fake balance, the writer allows one or two dissenting comments, but they are all of the "we can't speak out too much to soon, the whites aren't ready for it, and their racist souls might be stirred up" variety. But, the writer concludes, "other people have shushed protesters as overly sensitive."

I can't bring myself to analyze the rest of this disgraceful piece of dishonest journalism. I guess I'm overly sensitive.


Thursday, February 26, 2009

ICE for heat


Phone conversation, 8:45 this morning.

[Female voice] "Good morning, xxxxxx Custom Homes."

[Me] "Good morning. May I speak to [CEO]?"

"He's out in the field now. Can I take a message?"

"Yes, please. Tell him I saw your company truck picking up a batch of illegals this morning."


"Uh, where was this?"

"Route xx at xx. I think he knows. Maybe he was driving the truck."

"All right."

"I'm reporting it to ICE. They probably won't do anything about it, but you can worry for a day or two. Good-bye."


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Class assignment: kill Cicero


John Murrell's Cicero and the Roman Republic is published by Cambridge University Press as part of "a series targeted at either advanced high school or undergraduate students," according to the review in CJ-Online. (Go here, click on
Murrell to open the PDF.)

The reviewer, Jonathan Zarecki, has favorable comments about the book but flinches at some of the discussion questions Murrell tosses the student readers:
… I often felt that the questions diverted attention from Cicero and the fall of the Republic and made the book seem as if it were more concerned with modern civics. A few examples:

“There are societies or countries which do not use the adversarial system. How is justice administered in such places?” (in a discussion of Verres’ trial); “In modern states what views do governments and political parties have about poverty and the ways to eliminate it?” (in the chapter devoted to the Catilinarian Conspiracy, after Cicero’s list of the five categories of Catiline’s followers given at Cat. 2.17–23).

Furthermore, at several points M. [Murrell] makes comments or presents questions that may not sit well with an American audience and that may require deft maneuvering on the instructor’s part to keep the class discussion both cordial and on-topic. For example, on p. 42, M. calls the contemporary United States an imperialist state; whatever truth this statement may contain, it could be easily construed as polemical by some students. The second question on p.91 asks students to think about modern examples of “politicians obstinately sticking to their principles when a more flexible stance might have helped the state”; I do not think that it is much of a stretch to think that the immediate response may involve President George W. Bush and his policies."
I too have some study questions for students of Murrell's book, which Cambridge University Press is hereby given permission to include in the next edition, gratis.

1. Is John Murrell really interested in Cicero, or is his priority contemporary political indoctrination?

2. Give several examples of societies that "do not use an adversarial system" to administer justice. The Stalinist Soviet Union? Jihadist cells? How is "justice" dealt out in such "societies"?

3. What views do you think the author has about "poverty and the ways to eliminate it"? Why is he asking you this question when his supposed subject is Cicero, who lived in the first century B.C.?

4. What does calling the United States "an imperialist state" have to do with Cicero? Is Murrell trying to sneak his politics in under the guise of teaching history?

5. Can you think of a modern example of a historian who obstinately sticks to his worldview when a more flexible stance might help the state?

6. What principles do many academics hold? Do they distrust individuals? Do they want to extend the power of government over every aspect of life?

7. What evidence do they have that governments solve problems? What evidence, on the contrary, is there that governments are composed of drones looking out for themselves, and creating more mischief than solutions?

8. Why are academics so fearful of open inquiry, so determined to force their ideologies on students over whom they have the power of the grade?

Cicero, if he were to consider the modern version of academia, would undoubtedly have some answers for us. Possibly they would not be flattering to the Cambridge University Press, or to John Murrell.


Sunday, February 22, 2009

Suddenly, it's 1970


There they are again, the musical luminaries of my youth, in the film Festival Express, which I watched on DVD the other night. The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, The Band, Buddy Guy, lots of others, playing concerts in Toronto, Winnipeg, and Calgary, with scenes shot aboard the train that carried them across the plains of Canada between gigs. (It may have been the last time in history that a band tour traveled by railroad.)

That was in July 1970, the zenith of the time we call generically the Sixties, which was actually 1967 to 1971. It looked very familiar to me. I wasn't at any of these concerts — I was a Berkeley freak at the time — but it reminded me of the Zeitgeist I'd once been so much a part of.

Let's see, summer 1970 was almost 39 years ago. Incredible. Some of you reading this weren't even born then. Whether you're old enough to remember the time or not, Festival Express isn't a bad way to immerse yourself in its vibe.

Many people today think the '60s were when it all started to come apart, a social revolution that became a social devolution eventually leading to today's reflexive political correctness, the Waterloo for civilized values. On the whole, I agree, notwithstanding my being among that generation.

But some of what went down was positive. There was the music, and … well, to try to explain what else was inspirational is probably futile if you weren't part of it. (And believe me, I'm not talking about the politics, which is what did most to corrupt the Sixties.) Yes, the music.

Festival Express was shot on 16 mm film, so the picture is a little grainy, not enough to be seriously annoying. The sound recording is remarkably good for live, outdoor venues, though, especially with the high-wind factor you can see in some shots. The you-are-there quality of the musical performances satisfies.

Dead heads will of course want to see the movie … no, undoubtedly already have seen it. This incarnation was more or less the original band, including Ron "Pigpen" McKernan. I don't think they're at their best in these performances; they're merely terrific. Ditto for The Band — the mystique of their early albums is missing. They were probably more a recording ensemble than a performing one.

Buddy Guy, the great electric blues guitarist, burns the screen up in his solos on "Money" and "Hoochie Coochie Man." The wonderful Ian & Sylvia contribute a couple of numbers. Tom Rush, from the early-'60s generation of modern folk singers, reminds us how splendid he was (is?). It's fun to see and hear the Flying Burrito Brothers again. (If you rent the DVD, be sure to watch the outtakes included as extras. They contain as much quality music as that in the theatrical release.)


And … Janis. I suppose it's possible, if you know Janis Joplin only from her albums, to wonder what all the fuss was about. Well, this is what. She's backed by her later band, Full-Tilt Boogie, much superior to the original Holding Company. Despite her well-publicized dysfunctional off-stage behavior — and the film shows her, at one of the many impromptu jam sessions on the train, blissed out with God knows what combination of extraneous chemicals bubbling in her brain — she was a serious musical artist. There is discipline amid the performance fireworks. Her songs captured here should be preserved for the wonder of future viewers.

Younger viewers will find the "hippie" looks of the audience a hoot. Having lived through the period, the sight isn't bizarre to me, but even I have to admit that a lot of the guys with their Geronimo hair, droopy mustaches, clown trousers, and love beads are dead goofy. Women, on the other hand, know how to make the most of their assets in any fashion environment. The gypsy-ish "chicks" still strike me as appealing. (And I enjoy seeing that young women today have revived the long, straight hairstyles.)

Before you decide I am wallowing in nostalgia, I note that there are aspects of Festival Express that show those days in a less admirable light. Even some of the music. The road show includes a Canadian band called Mashmakan, which I had never before heard or heard of, and hope never to again. Seatrain does a pretentious "art rock" number. But worse, and casting an ominous shadow before it, is the behavior of some of the fans.

They were outraged that they were expected to buy concert tickets. It's the people's music! It should be free, man! Never mind that the producer had to pay the bands and hire an entire train from Canadian National Railways. (He wound up taking a bath on the enterprise.) As happened so often in the days of peace and love, the anti-capitalist mood turned ugly. Police and guards hired for crowd control became targets; one policeman, we are told, received a serious head wound. To his credit, Bob Weir of the Dead is shown arguing
with a militant against such thuggery.

When gate crashers threatened to create chaos, Jerry Garcia asked the crowd outside for a little time to sort the situation out. He then arranged a free Dead concert at a nearby park. That moment symbolizes what went wrong in the '60s.
Jerry and his group should have used their popularity and perceived moral authority to teach the rebel children the basics of responsibility. Instead, the louts who demanded something for nothing were appeased and legitimized.


Musical, sociological, and historical interest aside, Festival Express isn't much of a movie. The recent interviews with the producer and some of the musicians are as dull as such things usually are. The director, Bob Smeaton, is a big fan of that irritating device, the split screen.

It's sad, and a little strange, to reflect on the passing of some of the people in Festival Express shown making music of such vitality. They seem so present, so "real," thanks to the ability of film to preserve the past. Jerry; "Pigpen"; Janis, who died three months after the film was shot. Delaney, of Delaney & Bonnie and Friends, who was also among the musicians on the tour, died while I was in London last December. The Telegraph had an obit of a few paragraphs for him.

Simon Gray, in his next-to-last memoir The Year of the Jouncer, writes about visiting his friend Alan Bates (the actor) in a hospital during Bates's last days. Around the same time, while channel surfing, he caught glimpses of Bates in old movies, young again, "in a bowler hat, an eyebrow raised, smiling quizzically."

Gray muses on "the contradiction that never existed before the invention of movies, of people who are long dead being visibly alive, you can see them breathe, there they are, the characters and the actors, both with futures of life and death unknown to them in the two stories they're in."

It occurs to me that the flower children grooving in those 1970 concerts are in their 50s and 60s now. Not a few have since then succumbed to illness or accident. While I believe that we survive the change called death, it would hardly be human not to feel a little knot tighten somewhere inside while thinking about those who are no longer with us.

If I were in a gloomy mood, which thankfully I'm not, I might echo the words of the 10th century Syrian poet Abu’l-Ala al-Ma‘rri (R.A. Nicholson, translator):

Life is a malady whose one medicine is death. …
All come to die, alike householder and wanderer.

The earth seeketh, even as we, its livelihood day by day
Apportioned; it eats and drinks of human flesh and blood. …

Meseemeth the crescent moon, that shines in the firmament

Is death’s curved spear, its point well sharpened,

And splendor of breaking day a sabre unsheathed by the Dawn.


Friday, February 20, 2009

Every breath you take


Every move you make
Every step you take
I'll be watching you
I'll be watching you
I'll be watching you
I'll be watching you...

— The Police, "Every Breath You Take"

Want to know what life will be like in the United States as a government-controlled, Marxist failed state, should the Obama regime have its way? Look no farther than some of the stories on the home page of today's Daily Mail from London.

Labour has 'failed' to take on polygamy for fear of offending Muslims, says peer:
"British politicians have ignored the issue of bigamy and polygamy in the UK because of 'cultural sensitivity' towards minority groups, a leading Muslim peer said today. Baroness Warsi, Shadow Minister for community cohesion, said there had been a 'failure' by policy-makers to take polygamy seriously, with the result that Britain's seemingly strict laws banning the practice were not being properly enforced."

Motorists face on-the-spot points and loss of licence for careless driving offences:
"Under the proposal, police can issue fixed-penalty notices for offences including failing to signal and coming to close to cyclists without evidence being heard in court. … Currently police must take drivers to court if they want to prosecute careless drivers, but new powers mean police can punish motorists instantly and according to their own judgement. The new power means that thousands of motorists risk losing their licences for minor offences. … The plans were welcomed by the Association of Chief Police Officers who said it would reduce the amount of time involved in processing cases." [Why stop at fines and taking away licenses? Shooting the offenders would make sure they would cause no future trouble.]

Work canteens to be forced to cut half of pastry from pies in new Government healthy-eating drive: "… Stringent new Government guidelines [rule] that the amount of pastry on a pie should be cut by 40 per cent. Under the new healthy-eating scheme, canteens in public buildings from council offices to schools may be ordered to serve healthier food.

"A pastry limit on pies could cut the fat content by 40 per cent, qualifying the dish for a bronze health award under proposals to recognise leaner cuisine. A silver award would go to sandwiches containing at least 40g of salad or vegetables. A gold medal would go to menus which met targets for low salt content."

Ordeal for mother driven 120 miles to three hospitals before she can give birth:
"A mother has told how she was driven 120 miles to three different hospitals to give birth - because no beds were available for premature babies. Natalie Page, 20, started her marathon at Leicester's General Hospital but was then transferred to Birmingham Women's Hospital because no suitable cots were available. But by the time she arrived in Birmingham the last bed had been taken and she had to be driven on to Liverpool Women's Hospital."


And this pièce de résistance:

An English country pub is my idea of heaven. But now Big Brother is invading even this sacred sanctum: "I read with utter horror this week's news that some police forces - even in rural Essex - are insisting that pub licensees should install CCTV cameras on their premises, to record the comings and goings of their customers. Increasingly, they are making it a condition of granting licences that landlords should undertake to hand over any footage to the authorities on demand. This strikes me as an assault on the very soul of England, an unpardonable intrusion by Big Brother into a sanctum where he has no business to be."

The traditional English pub has virtually disappeared from cities, replaced by chains with cute names, gambling machines, loud music, and customers from the U.K.'s subculture of 20-something aggressive drunks.

It would be pleasant to imagine the centuries-old, smoke-stained, sociable pubs of the village were holding on for at least a while longer. But The Bill (Britspeak for cops) keeps watch on pub car parks, and anyone who has been in the boozer too long (by The Bill's estimate) is likely to be pulled over
and breathalyzed the minute they drive away.

Now it's closed circuit TV cameras
inside the pub. Next, no doubt, microphones to pick up any "racist" remark so immigration restrictionists can be cuffed and hauled off to the station house before they can inflict further damage on the diverse multi-cultural community.


Which is one reason for this:

Shock BNP victory as far-right candidate takes council seat in Kent:
"A shock win for the far-right British National Party yesterday sent a tremor through Labour amid growing fears that the recession is driving angry voters into the arms of extremist parties.The BNP seized a Labour seat in a district council by-election in Sevenoaks on a substantial turnout, encouraging fears that the party could make significant advances in the June local and European elections. …

"Labour MP Jon Cruddas, who has consistently warned against the threat of a BNP surge in white working class areas, predicted it could do well in the European elections. He said: 'The BNP poses a threat in six Euro regions, with as little as 7.5 per cent required in the north-west, where the party leader, Nick Griffin, is standing.'With Ukip [the U.K. Independence Party] faltering, few local elections and the economy hurtling into recession, we will need everyone who opposes the BNP's message of hate to play a part. A BNP victory will change the political landscape in Britain.'"

Is it possible to imagine a story written with more overt bias? There was a time, believe it or not, when newswriters were supposed to simply report facts, without prejudicial or judgmental language. That's
so mid-20th century.

"Far-right, far-right." How often is the Labour Party in the U.K. or the Republicrat Party in the U.S. described as "far-left"? "Shock win." Shocks are unpleasant, sometimes can kill you. "Extremist parties." See "far-right" above. "The BNP seized a Labour seat." Seized?
Was it a coup d’état? Did they drop paratroopers into the district and haul the Labour MP out of bed? I thought this was what is called an election, where one party's candidate receives more votes than the other parties' candidates.

"Encouraging fears that the party could make significant advances." Well, for some it was fears, for others hope. Notice, too, how the victorious candidate is quoted at great length — exactly two words. While the Labour and Tory spokespeople are given two paragraphs each.

Regardless of how you feel about the BNP, this story isn't responsible reporting. It's blatant anti-BNP propaganda, what leftists would call if the situation were reversed "hate speech." And the
Daily Mail passes for conservative in Britain.


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Thoughts of Chairman Cooper

Right, it's been getting a little heavy around here lately. Time to downshift.

Once again, I call on the late, great Tommy Cooper for some of his lines:

I went to the doctor. He said, 'I'd like you to lie on the couch.'
I said, 'What for?'
He said, 'I'd like to sweep the floor.'

I went to the doctor the other day,
I said, 'With all the excitement of Christmas, I can't sleep.'
He said, 'Try lying on the edge of your bed, you'll soon drop off.'

One year I got a bike for my birthday. So I went pedaling off down the road and knocked an old lady down.
'Can't you ring your bell?' she said. 'I can ring my bell,' I said, 'but I can't ride my bike.'

A policeman stopped me the other night, he taps on the window of the car and said:
'Would you please blow into this bag, Sir.'
I said: 'What for, Officer?'
He said: 'My chips are too hot.'

I was reading this book today, The History of Glue. I couldn't put it down.

And he said, 'My dog doesn't eat meat.'
I said, 'Why not?'
He said, 'We don't give him any.'

I'm on a whisky diet, I've lost three days already.

A waiter asks a man, 'May I take your order, sir?'
'Yes,' the man replies. 'I'm just wondering, exactly how do you prepare your chickens?'
'Nothing special, sir. We just tell them straight out that they're going to die.'

My wife phoned me just before the show and said, 'I've got water in the carburetor.'
I said, 'Where's the car?'
She said, 'In the river.'

A man walks into a bar with a roll of tarmac under his arm and says: 'I'll have a pint please, and one more for the road.'

A man takes his Rottweiler to the vet.
'My dog's cross-eyed, is there anything you can do for him?'
'Well,' says the vet, 'let's have a look at him.'
So he picks the dog up and examines his eyes, then checks his teeth.
Finally, he says, 'I'm going to have to put him down.'
'What? Because he's cross-eyed?'
'No, because he's really heavy.'

I bought a greyhound about a month ago.
A friend of mine said to me,
'What are you going to do with it?'
I said, 'I'm going to race it.'
He said, 'By the look of it, I think you'll beat it.'

For the scientifically minded.
A neutron walks into a bar. 'I'd like a beer,' he says.
The bartender promptly serves up a beer.
'How much will that be?' asks the neutron.
'For you,' replies the bartender, 'no charge.'

Two cannibals eating a clown.
One says to the other, 'Does this taste funny to you?'

Well, dear reader, if this posting doesn't taste funny to you, my apologies. And to all, as Tommy used to say when he walked onstage at the beginning of his act, "You've been a lovely audience."


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Bridge out

Mr. and Mrs. Hassan,
overcoming Muslim stereotypes

It is most unfortunate that Mr. Muzzammil Hassan finds himself in a spot of bother. It was his privilege to have "founded Bridges TV in November 2004 to counter anti-Islam stereotypes."
Hassan touted the network as the "first-ever full-time home for American Muslims," according to a press release.

"Every day on television we are barraged by stories of a 'Muslim extremist, militant, terrorist, or insurgent,'" Hassan said in the 2004 release. "But the stories that are missing are the countless stories of Muslim tolerance, progress, diversity, service and excellence that Bridges TV hopes to tell."


Moderate Muslim

The message of the Religion of Peace was going full blast — er, rather, was making great gains — until just the other day. It seems that Mrs. Hassan was doing the unthinkable amid the tolerance, progress, diversity, etc. by starting divorce proceedings. One morning recently she woke up and could not locate her head. The police have charged Mr. Hassan with relieving her of it.

Mr. Hassan's present inconvenience would no doubt have been a trifling matter in Saudi, where he raised the lolly to put his network on the air. "Sorry, Sheik, but can you believe she wanted a divorce? It was a matter of honor." "Of course, of course, Muzzi. I'll put in a word with my uncle and my cousin will deal with the press. Take a vacation, why not. You need to recover from the great injury you have suffered."

It was also Mr. Hassan's malfortune that sharia law is still on the back burner in New York, while President for Life Obama has a few economic issues to sort before he can turn to the more important changes. Our entrepreneur might also have been luckier had he started his TV network in the U.K., where the Archloon of Canterbury recently said the country was coming around to his view that sharia law should be included in the country's legal system.

Extremist Muslim

Had he only been a scrap more patient, he might have operated — uh, wrong word again — made his feelings known to his wife under sharia law in the United States. Just ask CAIR: they'll tell you it's coming. Mr. Hassan could have saved himself his current troubles, and simply reported his wife as a capital loss on Schedule D.


Monday, February 16, 2009

Eye of storm, toe of frog


"Eye of newt, and toe of frog,

Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork, and blind-worm's sting,
Lizard's leg, and howlet's wing,--
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble."

-- The second witch, Macbeth

The political humorist E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post has written a marvelous parody of the mainstream media's infatuation with The Chosen One. Headlined "Obama in the Eye of the Storm," it begins with the words, "Barack Obama senses that he's in the middle of a hurricane whose gale-force winds could blow history his way."

This guy has perfect pitch. He understands the mind of the Marxist. The forces of history, not the works of individuals and groups of individuals, determine the future. And history leads inevitably to the redistributionist triumph.
He doesn't mind acknowledging that he is learning as he goes, and he is not bitter about how little help he is getting from Republicans. But he will never again let bipartisanship become the defining test of his success.
Here Dionne is having a laugh at the desperate scrabbling of the indentured media to turn every misstep of their Divine Leader into a learning experience. And their new party line: the "bringing us together" that the Divine Leader promised a few months ago will no longer be the "defining test of his success," now that he has utterly failed in that promise. His success is that he has failed.
The president offered his thoughts to a group of columnists whom he invited to accompany him Friday on Air Force One during his first visit home since he became president. He made his way west as his stimulus was nearing final passage in Congress, and to describe him as at ease would be merely to repeat one of the reigning cliches of his short presidency.
An exemplary send-up of the media's unconscious slips. In theory, the home of the president of the United States is the White House. This president's home, as the media well know, is the Chicago where politics is played by Chicago Rules. "Made his way west" -- not at 37,000 feet, propelled by four turbine engines, but by association with the pioneers in wagons, braving the perils of the long journey through plain and mountains.

"To describe him as at ease would be merely to repeat one of the reigning cliches of his short presidency." Here Dionne is taking the mickey out of columnists who reach into their knapsack of clichés and pluck one out, then preen in their superiority by acknowledging they know they are writing clichés.
More striking was his sense that fate has handed him opportunities few presidents ever get and that his test will be whether he makes good use of his chance to bend history at one of its "inflection points."
Our humorist has caught the tone of the media sycophants who see in Obama an agent of fate, a source of power beyond the merely human. His next test -- which he will perhaps later be seen to have succeeded at by failing -- is to bend history. To the victor ...
And where might Republicans fit into all this? Obama still thinks he'll win their support someday on some issues. Because the stimulus envisioned a large government role in rescuing the economy, he said, it may have "exaggerated" the partisan divide because it played on "the core differences between Democrats and Republicans."
This is a play on one of dodgy political journalism's running jokes, the idea that there is a "core difference" between Republicans and Democrats, with Republicans being against big government, or against government "rescuing" the economy. Actually, of course, when banks or auto manufacturers are being measured for the coffin, they are first to rush to Dr. Federalismo Subsidario for an injection of liquefied dollars.

I love the tag line of this caricature of fawning religious awe:
Maybe that mysterious calm people talk about reflects the temperament of a man who can live with his mistakes as long as he doesn't repeat them.
Ah, yes, the witless struggle to find anything to say when the genuflecting crowds are outside the door and the inspirational teleprompter has gone blank, transmuted by the power of the media into a "mysterious calm." I am sure that the Divine Leader can live with his mistakes. I am afraid the rest of us will have to.


Sunday, February 15, 2009

The thrifty Scottish on the Obama pork pie

The British may be feeling depressed, defeated, powerless, and at the mercy of a political class that can't contain its eagerness to re-brand their country as Britannistan. But now and again, flashes of the Brits' old gift for language and invective pop up in the newspapers -- although it probably helps if the target is the folly of Americans.

A piece by Gerald Warner in Scotland on Sunday is an instant classic. There's no point paraphrasing it because the original couldn't be bettered. Here are a few quotes, but for your full measure of satisfaction, read the whole thing:
Barack Obama's "stimulus" plan will be long remembered as the occasion when political euphemism triggered economic disaster. There is no terminology available to express adequately the appalling irresponsibility of this naked political banditry. To have squandered a fraction of the near-$1 trillion cost of Obama's pork barrel in days of prosperity would have been more than reprehensible; to do so at a time of financial crisis is unforgivable. Obama likes to pose as the heir of Abraham Lincoln: as this shameless bribery demonstrates, he is heir only to the Chicago Democrat political machine that spawned him.
Even the temporary boost that such ploys as spending $5.5bn on the "greening" of federal buildings may give the construction industry have been blunted, at least in the Senate bill, by omitting the E-Verify mandate that was in the House bill. This would allow an estimated 300,000 illegal aliens to parasite on construction jobs; they are even awarded tax breaks in another part of the package.

To call this spendthrifts' wish list a "stimulus" is an insult to America's intelligence. Instead, it is a hotch-potch of politically correct liberal obsessions: $75m to promote "smoking cessation" (that will stimulate retailers); a $246m tax break for Hollywood trash merchants; and even an extra $300m medical appropriation to treat Casanovas who, in the coy euphemism, have been kissing girls with runny noses.

The most blatantly sinister item is the allocation of $4.2bn to "neighbourhood stabilisation", the programme that will enrich the far-left organisation ACORN which played so controversial a role in voter registration during the recent presidential election. In tandem with that goes $1bn to forward Obama's ambition to control the 2010 census, rich in electoral opportunity for the promoters of the one-party state.

For do not forget that Timothy Geithner, the Treasury Secretary who displays a boyish unfamiliarity with tax returns, is standing by to throw a further $2.25 trillion at banks. If you add up the US government's commitments, the sums are: Federal Reserve, $5.5 trillion; Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, $1.5 trillion; Treasury, $947bn; Federal Housing Administration , $300bn – total $8.34 trillion. There is, however, one key component missing: the costs of nationalising Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which adds $5 trillion, producing the grand total of $13.3 trillion.

No wonder Barack Obama, bereft of his auto-cue, was uncharacteristically hesitant at his press conference last week. The messiah has to borrow $3.5 trillion over the next two years. This could prove a burden that even the legendarily resourceful and productive citizens of the United States cannot shoulder.
If only our leftist-captured, tamed, leashed mainstream media could tell it like this. But then they wouldn't be the mainstream media we know.


Friday, February 13, 2009

Imbecile of the year — no, century — well, make that all time

Nadya Suleman, champion welfare mom

You've read about this slag, no doubt. (Previous posting here.) She is the California head case who used in vitro fertilization to add another eight babies to her collection, already numbering six. She's not paying to birth and raise them, of course. That's what employed (unlike her), taxpaying citizens are for.

The very notion of eugenics — selective breeding to improve the gene stock of the population — is enough to send all good liberals, and not a few of other persuasions, into hysterics. (A word, incidentally, which comes from the Greek for womb. If our campus feminist loons had any classical learning, they'd no doubt add hysteria to the proscription list of politically incorrect terms.)


But our society does intervene in breeding. Only, it's in the opposite direction, dysgenics. We literally pay women to produce babies that they can't support. We encourage the stupidest and most unsocialized to outbreed the responsible, and bill the responsible for it.

California has a reported $40 billion budget deficit. Not even Nadya Suleman is accountable for all of it, but subsidizing the illegals and many legal immigrants, and other programs that operate under the principle "the less you earn, the more you get," are big reasons the IOU State is looking to soak its businesses and citizens to make up the gaping hole in the budget.


Oh, wait, I forgot. There's a stimulus package coming up. States will be held off from bankruptcy through money borrowed by the federal government. I'll bet Nadya is already planning her next baby binge.


Mickey Kaus writes in his Slate blog:

"Robert Rector and Katherine Bradley note that the anti-welfare-reform provisions in the stimulus bill aren't as bad as I'd feared. They're worse. They attempt replicate the fiscal mechanics of the old welfare (AFDC) "entitlement," but with a bigger incentive to welfare expansion:
"For the first time since 1996, the federal government would begin paying states bonuses to increase their welfare caseloads. Indeed, the new welfare system created by the stimulus bills is actually worse than the old AFDC program because it rewards the states more heavily to increase their caseloads. Under the stimulus bills, the federal government will pay 80 percent of cost for each new family that a state enrolls in welfare; this matching rate is far higher than it was under AFDC."
Tell me that bit again about how President-Messiah Obama would be "moving to the center" once he was elected?


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A hero's welcome to the U.K.: handcuffs?


Geert Wilders has announced that he intends to fly to London tomorrow, despite a Home Office warning that he — a member of the Dutch parliament — will not be admitted.

In the world of diplomacy, such an act would be nearly equivalent to a declaration of war. But of course Britain's rulers — no milder word fits the case: U.K. citizens are virtually powerless against their own government and the E.U. — are at war against Wilders.

They have sided with the jihad preachers in their own population, against a brave man who refuses to accept the ever-advancing state of Eurabia. As Lawrence Auster writes, "If the exclusion from Britain of an elected member of the Dutch Parliament stands, that would be a definite sign that Britain has passed the threshold from a left-liberal regime to one that is simply and frankly leftist and anti-Western."


How are the British papers that matter playing the Wilders issue, which is almost impossible to exaggerate as symbolic of the Establishment's fawning over Muslims?

As of this writing, the supposedly conservative Telegraph has nothing about it on the home page, although it has room for a link to an article headlined "India makes cola from cow urine." Neither does the left-wing Guardian, although you can learn there about "Valentine's dates with a difference: Forget candlelit dinners. This year, try a scratch-and-sniff cinema or formaldehyde dodos."


The new tabloid, comic-book version of the once-respectable Times reports, "A far-right Dutch politician will attempt to defy a government ban on his entering the UK tomorrow, amid a diplomatic row over his right to visit." (Shouldn't that be "far-right to visit"? Someone who makes a film quoting the Koran and is intemperate enough to suggest that its hateful verses actually mean what they say can't be called "far-right" often enough.) The Times also describes Wilders as "an outspoken anti-Islamist."
The Home Office’s decision yesterday to refuse Mr Wilders entry on account of his extreme views provoked Maxime Verhagen, the Dutch Foreign Secretary to call David Miliband to protest at the decision.
So, we are to take it that in the Times writer's mind, being an outspoken anti-Islamist constitutes having "extreme views."

Not only are the British rulers cowardly in bowing to pressure from the the most intolerant among the Muslims they have so determinedly recruited for their country, but they have been handily outfoxed.


By accepting the dare, Wilders has already won. If the British government backs down, it will be a victory for free speech and for Britons who aren't ready to accept dhimmitude. If they actually are foolish enough to arrest him, it will be a
cause célèbre generating far more publicity and sympathy for Wilders's cause than if they'd just let him in without a fuss — and, to boot, it will show the world how far the appeasement mentality has taken hold in Whitehall.


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The market is even bigger than Obama

Obama may yet manage to stop climate change and lower sea levels, but his all-thumbs economic policy won't reverse the investment world's law of gravity, Karl Denninger says. He thinks ordinary Americans should get mad and get even.
Obama: The market is issuing you a warning

We are approaching yet another market implosion just like the one in September and October.

While it may come today or tomorrow, I wouldn't take that bet. In fact I expect that people will "rejoice" that you didn't wipe every common stockholder's equity stake in firms like Citibank, Bank America and Goldman Sachs - even though you should. Because I expected you to do the wrong thing, I actually bought some Citibank stock a short while ago. Were you to do the right thing my position would be worthless. It should be worthless. I'll bet its not - at least not immediately (and that I'll make a profit as a consequence of your idiocy.)

When and if this dislocation comes, however, it will destroy what is left of the American Banking System, it will expose that Bernanke has over one trillion dollars of garbage on The Fed's Balance Sheet, and that in turn will destroy the international market for United States Treasury Debt.

In the best case we wind up like Japan and have a bunch of zombies sucking up capital and doing nothing of value for our economy. In the worst case we get much higher yields in the bond market and the near-immediate bankruptcy of hundreds of midsize and larger firms, including virtually all financial firms in the S&P 500 and DOW, along with all major multinationals that have a captive financing function.

The Government cannot backstop it all. If you try the government fails outright. The market is bigger than you, it is bigger than The Fed, it is bigger than Treasury. You are subservient to The Market, not the other way around. Go ask Bill Clinton about The Bond Market when he tried to ramrod his Hillarycare plan through and what the reaction was. That's 1/100th of what you're about to experience.

I have no way to know whether this is wrong, 10 percent true, 50 percent true, or 100 percent true. It's always tempting for a pundit to call the game on account of cataclysm. But certain things are so unarguable that they fall into the realm of fact.

Fact: Other than Bear Stearns, all the big-time players (not excluding the U.S. government) who made a plague pit of our economy are standing, digesting the first helping of bail-out money and licking their chops in anticipation of the next, and possibly the one after that. Fact: Not one of the executives (including U.S. government regulators) who knowingly created financial bubbles that they knew were bound to pop is under indictment or hiding out in Honduras. Fact: The financial advisors of the Bush and Obama administrations — in some cases the same Mandarins — have been unable to stop the debacle, although they have assured us many times that their wise hands on the tiller would do so. The only thing that has changed is that they have migrated from reassuring us to threatening us with dire consequences unless the stimulus is passed last week, if not sooner.

Denninger's thesis is that many of our big financial institutions are already bankrupt and that all the government can do to save them, which is a higher priority than saving millions of our citizens from bankruptcy, is to take the toxic assets (a self-contradictory term, that) and force the helpless taxpayers to buy them. And even that, he believes, won't work for more than a brief time.

President Obama, this next crash in the markets, if it occurs, is your sole responsibility.

It will come as a consequence of your policies where you intend to try to shift the BANKRUPT institutions' losses to The Taxpayer - a debt that America cannot finance and which foreign governments and investors WILL NOT cover.

I'm well-aware of the Washington DC policy called "kick the can" but the can is now full of cement and if you think you'll get through your term before this all comes home to roost you are, to be polite, nuts. You must stop the stupidity and you must stop it NOW. The game of obfuscation and literally violating investors both foreign and domestic as a consequence of fraud countenanced by our government is over.

Both Americans and foreigners know about the lying and fraud; it is pointless to continue to dissemble and obfuscate as you are merely making a fool of yourself. If you do not understand this and are being led by your "advisers", many of whom are the very people who advocated the changes in policy over the last 20 years that brought us here, you need new advisers, and you need them today.

It's no surprise that the president's playbook consists of oratory and spending borrowed money. And while there's no shame in needing, even relying on, advisors in specialized areas like economics, he needs advisors who don't just reflect back his own limited understanding. He might start by replacing his Treasury secretary or Fed chairman with someone who has demonstrated a knowledge of honest accounting and ethics, such as Harry Markopolos, the Cassandra whose warnings to the SEC about Bernie Madoff were ignored for almost a decade.


Monday, February 09, 2009

Process servers


A fascinating, important, and depressing posting with commentary at Belmont Club concerns the shift in government and organizations from result-based action to process-based action. The argument is that in our bureaucratized jobs, workers are now primarily tasked with following prescribed forms and being able to prove that they have followed them, rather than achieving what they are ostensibly there to achieve.

The most shocking recent example was the case of so-called "Baby P" in England (warning: the details in the linked story are extremely upsetting), where a sociopathic man tortured an infant under the care of him and his feckless, on-the-dole mother, a situation that went on for months despite 60 "interventions" (in social-work babble) by welfare professionals. "Baby P" finally, and under the circumstances you have to say mercifully, died.

Richard Fernandez, the Belmont Club author, writes:
At the core of [Theodore] Dalrymple’s critique is the idea that in many modern bureaucracies, appearances have become the actual measure of performance. They exist to fulfill their own procedures. And things may now have reached the point where people have actually forgotten what the point of the job is. …
Eavesdropping on the British bureaucratic debate following the death of Baby P … is like listening to people talk nonsense in what outwardly resembles English, yet in a language with completely different semantic rules. It is a language which seems designed, for example, to express as little meaning as possible in the greatest number of words. Everyone is always talking about ‘regret’, ‘appropriateness’, ’safety’ and ‘protection’ in such a disembodied tone that it is almost rote; and moreover where there is considerable doubt those words mean anything like their entries in a dictionary; and even some doubt about whether they mean anything at all, apart from what they imply in terms of procedure.

But what are we to make of speech deliberately emptied of significance? The first would be to recognize, as Orwell did, that the advantages to saying nothing at all in a bureaucratic world are very great. If you say nothing, no one can blame you for anything. It used to be the case that only macroeconomists were allowed to make deliberately ambiguous statements. But today it is a general virtue to be like Sergeant Schultz. I know nothing, I see nothing. It is a strange world we live in when to express a dislike for murderers or spot the dying baby — is to invite complication and trouble. We live in a world full of noise and glitz and yet is afraid to speak. No wonder Baby P could not be saved by an army of social workers. Not a one of them could risk saying the obvious. They just filled in the forms.

Fernandez is bang on about the propensity for meaningless, important-sounding doubletalk having become a standard way of doing business. It's second nature with politicians and people who deal with politicians. At legislative hearings, a witness will say, "That's an excellent question, senator, and I'll be glad to respond to it," and spend the next 10 minutes speaking words but not replying. He is demonstrating that he's following the rules: buttering up the senator by acknowledging his brilliance in asking, then declaring that he not only will answer, but will be happy to answer — which substitutes for the deed.

But this kind of rule-following, checklist-checking, process-driven behavior is now pervasive at every level of interaction other than between friends and family. The following examples are by no means equivalent in moral depravity to the welfare bureaucracy's unwillingness to confront the reality of Baby P, but they represent ways in which the process takes the place of an outcome that the process nominally serves.


You're no doubt familiar with one of the most common, the recording that comes on when you phone customer service.

"Due to an unusually heavy volume of calls, our service representatives are busy with other customers. Please stay on the line. Your call is very important to us." And so on, every 60 seconds between stretches of pop music.

Who is so thick as to believe that the call volume is unusually heavy? You have no doubt that if you phoned at 3 a.m. Sunday morning (assuming it's a 24/7 service) you'd get the same message, your call being the unusually heavy volume. And if your call is so flaming important to them, why don't they see to it that you get answered? A few companies manage to, so it's not impossible. But management wants you to accept the words in lieu of the fact.


I once called the employee assistance plan that came with my health insurance for a referral to a specialist within the area, part of the insurer's network, etc. The call was answered promptly enough. I started to explain my mission — just a moment, sir. Name? Address? Home phone? Work phone? Group number? Member number? Shoe size? (Okay, I made that last one up.)

Once we'd gotten through the preliminaries, I again started to explain what I was after — just a moment, sir. Please stay on the line and I'll connect you with an employee assistance specialist.

I sighed the sigh of one of the noble Duke of York's ten thousand men that he marched up the hill and down again. Still, I can see the sense in not lumbering a presumably knowledgable professional (a nurse, in this case) with taking down mundane details.

Sure enough, in a few moments she came on, listened carefully, asked intelligent questions. Finally, someone was taking a serious interest, and would sort things out dedicatedly. I was advised that she'd be working on it, and that it might take a few days before I heard back.

I don't need to finish this story, do I? Maybe my "case" was a little unusual, couldn't be dealt with posthaste by pulling up a list with a few keystrokes. Quite possibly the employee assistance professional actually did make an effort, followed the approved steps. That was the important thing. Her bosses wouldn't have expected, or wanted, her to take an inordinate amount of time getting me answers.


The organization and its representatives were doing their job, that being to respond to an incoming call and fulfill the company's protocol. I'm sure my call became part of their data in someone's report to the CEO: another customer served! The process working!

As someone notes in the comments at Belmont Club, the front-line worker, or even supervisor, can't — dares not — cut through the procedural jungle and get down to producing results. Because he or she is answerable to someone else, and that someone else is answerable, each person enclosed in another layer like a Russian matryoshka doll. As often as not, it leads to a government regulatory worker under a government macro-regulator.

This is what happens when a population is systematically taught from the day it enters kindergarten that individuals can't be trusted to make decisions, that the flow chart is the key, that wisdom comes only at the end of a long chain of command leading to a regulatory agency, preferably at the national level. In other words, the socio-political philosophy called centralism, statism, or Marxism, of which our president is the prize specimen to take root in the soil that once nurtured liberty.

Most of us are luckier than Baby P. But we are not much likelier to encounter service that is geared to outcomes rather than the appearance of correctness.


Friday, February 06, 2009

The city in James Howard Kunstler's mind


Kunstler is our virtuoso scold of the manmade environment, a one-man death squad for the idea of suburbia. He not only believes our modern way of life is doomed, but that it deserves to be. Here he is writing about the "suburban outlands" he saw during a recent visit to Montgomery, Alabama:
Along the low horizon, mall followed strip mall followed "lifestyle center," book-ending the "one house" failed subdivisions of otherwise empty unsold lots in a cavalcade of floundering enterprise. It seemed at times as if the terrain was a kind of sea-like expanse, and all the retail boxes ghost ships drifting to oblivion. … So far, the Obama team has not been willing to identify the suburban system as the heart of our economic problem. They can't recognize it for what it truly is: a living arrangement with no future – and an economic, ecological, and spiritual disaster. It is, of course, the primary reason why we find ourselves in the deadly predicament of importing over two-thirds of the oil we use every day.
Our present economic sinkhole, fears of "peak oil," and our dependence for much of our petroleum on good friends — of our dollars — in the Middle East have made Kunstler an intellectual rising star, especially (though not entirely) on the Left. I've read some of his online essays and found them rather one-dimensional and shrill: his extreme expressionism is suggested by the title of his blog, Clusterfuck Nation, within his Web site.


Okay, the man detests suburban development. It's not exactly a daring, bleeding-edge position. Most of us have experienced the sinking-heart feeling of driving through one of the monotonous landscapes of contemporary sprawl — malls lacking architectural character, big box retailers, the standard franchised fast food outlets, clogged six-lane highways, parking lots large enough to hold tank maneuver exercises in. While virtually no one defends this kind of design anymore, it wouldn't be fair to accuse Kunstler of attacking a strawman. After all, places like this continue to be built, or at least were until our recent economic paralysis began.

But wait. The commercial side of suburbia is only a part, maybe the smaller part, of Kunstler's "J'accuse!" What he really hates is the residential mode of suburbs. He is the enemy of
single-family housing. Those lawns and backyards — wasteful! Worse still, suburbs depend on a cultural bubonic plague, the automobile.
We need to begin planning right away for a transition away from automobiles, not in order to be good socialists but because Happy Motoring is at the core of our unsustainability trap. The car system is going to fail in manifold ways whether we like it or not, and it will fail due to circumstances already underway. For one thing, it will cease to be democratic as the remnants of the middle class find it impossible to get car loans, or pay for fuel, or insurance, and that will set in motion a very impressive politics-of-grievance setting apart those who are still able to enjoy motoring and those who have been foreclosed from it.
He may be right. I hope not, and for me, this kind of absolutism and probable exaggeration undercuts many of Kunstler's good ideas. He's a big-picture man, and although he's ideology-driven, at least it's his own ideology, not off-the-shelf cultural Marxism of the kind so popular in our academic pest houses. He was ahead of the curve in understanding what many people are coming, unwillingly, to understand: that an economy can't be based on endless "growth" and debt-spurred consumerism. We have to develop a steady-state economy that doesn't require endless artificial stimulation of the need to own more and more things. But to get back to the housing question, if Kunstler believes we should shoot our cars and exit the suburbs, where and how are people to live?


When I ran across his book, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition while browsing in the public library, I decided to read it to see if it might offer clues about his alternative to suburbia. (It should be pointed out that The City in Mind is copyrighted 2001, and doesn't necessarily represent his current thinking.) Does the man love cities as much as he hates suburbs? The answer would seem to be, he likes some cities and is disgusted by others. He likes some things about cities and dislikes others. He likes old cities and dislikes their modern disfigurement. Or perhaps, he likes the idea of cities, the city in his mind.

It was a little surprising, and pleasing, to find that Kunstler can express himself with a certain literary grace and touches of wit — qualities not often evident in his recent eco-sermons. I enjoyed the book, even where I thought he was off his head; more about that shortly.


The City in Mind contains chapters on Paris, Atlanta, Mexico City, Berlin, Las Vegas, Rome, Boston, and London, with occasional side glances at New York. He has spent time in all of them, researched their history, and gives just enough of their background to provide a thoughtful context for his judgments.

He is enthusiastic about Paris, celebrating Georges Eugène Haussmann's tremendous do-over in the 19th century, resulting in the wide boulevards, round points, vistas, and buildings of uniform height that have retained much of their beauty and charm even in the ultra-commercialized, automobile-centric 21st century. I agree with Kunstler that Haussmann's project was a spectacularly successful example of large-scale urban renewal ... and, I would add, virtually the only one.

No such enterprise would be possible today in a democratic country. Haussmann's enabler was France's last emperor, Napoleon III.


But Paris's re-creation was not without a cultural debit, which he ignores. The fabric of the pre-Haussmann Paris included large areas of housing dating from the Middle Ages onward, which Haussmann knocked down, sending their poor residents to live in the, er, suburbs -- a pattern of wealth in the center city with an outer ring of slums that continues to this day. Many Parisians at the time and since have lamented the destruction of so much of the city's history and architectural heritage. The razing of the old and planning of the new created a marvel, but such "rational" planning, beloved of urbanist theoreticians ever since, comes at a cost.

However, it's only partly the elegant streetscape that thrills Kunstler. He also sees it as an early exemplar of one of his favorite prescriptions for sensible modern life: population density. Paris adopted, or was forced to adopt, apartment buildings, which had been rare in the Western world since Roman times.
Londoners had a horror of sharing common hallways and stairs with strangers. The Parisians appreciated the convenience of apartment life and developed a supple social armor to deal with its surprises. The social relations in Parisian apartment blocks built under Haussmann followed the same hierarchical pattern as before his time. The lower floors remained most desirable. The upper floors and attic stories were occupied by the less well-off. The difference now, however, was that the buildings were brand-new, the middle class had grown enormously, and occupants of all ranks could benefit from modern domestic amenities and decent sanitation.
Convenience, high on the social engineer's scale of values. I don't have the ghost of an idea what supple social armor is, and it sounds uncomfortable to strap it on every time you enter the common hallways you share with strangers. Good sanitation and modern domestic amenities are pluses, in my opinion, but I fail to see why you must live in a human kennel to enjoy them. In fact, every suburban residential neighborhood that makes Kunstler see red proves that you need not.

Our author is good in describing the urban pathologies of Mexico City and Atlanta's failed development schemes. Surprisingly, Rome, which is the most endlessly fascinating city I know, doesn't seem to inspire him. His account quickly devolves into an academic treatise on classical architecture theories and their revival a thousand years after the fall of the Western Empire. The magic of the city eludes him. It's like explaining a great garden by a lecture on pistils and stamens.

Kunstler is funny in his word pictures of Las Vegas. But Vegas, of course -- the Strip and downtown -- is a target as big as a barn door. Everyone understands that it isn't, and never has been, a model of a city. It's a fantasy playground, an out-of-body and out-of-mind experience, a one-off that probably can never be duplicated (and I share his wish that it never will be).

But in Vegas, the former boom town now a bust town, people don't live in the casinos and hotels with mad architecture. They live in normal residential areas. Uh-oh.
... The plain truth is that the single-family detached house is an inappropriate building typology for the Las Vegas climate. [Or, in Kunstler's mind, for any climate.] It handles temperature extremes poorly. The attached courtyard house [get out your supple social armor!], of the type found in Latin America and North Africa, would make a lot more sense [for Latin Americans and North Africans], would take up a lot less space [the less space you have to yourself the better], would regulate heat and cold better with less artificial air conditioning, and built at high densities [his ideal again] with integral shopping [wouldn't it be convenient to live above a bagel store that opens at 6 a.m.?], would require a lot less compulsory motoring -- but, alas, the so-called stand-alone California ranchburger in a pod subdivision of identical ranchburgers, detached from the shopping and office pods, is what the builders are used to supplying to a market that doesn't want to consider anything else.
The boldfaced, bracketed interjections are mine, if you had any doubts.

Where to begin? How about at the end of Kunstler's fatuous paragraph? Builders will build what they think they can sell (currently, nothing). If people decide they want to live in 40-story replicas of the Potala Palace in Lhasa, developers will clamor straightaway for the services of Tibet's superstar architects.

He is scornful of homeowners who want California ranchburgers (huh? I don't get the metaphor), and he has every right to his own rejection of them. I know the kind of development he's on about, and have some reservations about it myself. But it's just condescension on his part to assume that "the market" doesn't want to consider alternatives. Could it just be that homeowners have considered alternatives, like Kunstler's efficient factories for living (Le Corbusier's phrase, and while Kunstler is rightly appalled by Corbu, his own belief system seems to be Le Corbusier Lite) and said no thanks.


Kunstler is clearly an intelligent man with a good ability to observe and reflect. But like so many intellectuals, he is a utopian who is frustrated by the unwillingness of others to conform to his rationalistic template. Some people are urbanites by temperament or upbringing -- Kunstler appears to be one -- and heaven knows they have plenty of urban environments to choose from. I have no quarrel with them until, like Kunstler, they insist that their preferences (overlaid with a dubious environmental rationale) become an imposed norm.

Most Americans, if they can afford to, still want to live in a house of their own, not an apartment building or Latin American hacienda. They like space around them. Even today, some prefer the relative quiet of suburbia compared with the noise of cities and apartments or condos that share walls with the neighbors.


Kunstler invariably plays what he thinks is his trump card, the running-out-of-oil scenario. If we're not persuaded by his utopian vision, then by golly he'll haul in environmental shortfalls and deputize them as enforcers. He dismisses alternative fuels or technologies, with no particular argument that I've read, just his own flat rejection.

Maybe we will have to abandon our cars and our houses and move into Blade Runner cities. Kunstler would look forward to that. As long as I have a car, house, or non-urban setting, though, he is going to have to come and try to take them from me.

Feeling lucky, Mr. Kunstler? Well, are you?