Sunday, October 30, 2011

Postcard from ...

No, I'll keep it secret for now.

But I will dish this much: I've seen a campanile designed by Giotto, frescos (affreschi) by Ghirlandaio and Andrea del Sarto, monastic cells with frescos by Fra Angelico, and more.

I am in the heart and soul of the Renaissance, an amazing amount of which has miraculously survived for as much as 700 years.

A shame they can't keep the tourist riff-raff out, but I suppose the Fl-- uh, the locals would include me in that category.

I don't know what's happening in the US or the world, but probably when I get back it will still be pretty much the same as when I left. Glad to be on a holiday from it.

The cable TV in the hotel room has among other attractions Al-Jazeera and a channel from Russia. The latter seems to have mostly programs about industrial development, à la the USSR. As the French say, plus ça change ...



Tuesday, October 25, 2011

I am leaving the United States

... for a week and a half. On vacation.

I may do some remote posting if convenient Web access is available. I still do not own a laptop or tablet. I will take no camera, iPod, iPad, or the rest of the clobber tourists feel they must stay connected to.

My best wishes till we meet again.


Sunday, October 23, 2011

Occupy: The remake

The "occupy" melodramatists and the movie industry have much in common. Both are running on empty for new ideas. The best they can come up with is new versions of old titles.

One of the oddest things about the World of Ironies we currently inhabit is that the New, or new New Protesters, profess to be victimized by the Baby Boomer generation. According to the script, their greed and reckless entitlement spending has left younger people hard done by. 

So who do these brave new disestablishmentarians emulate? The Boomers in their 1960s incarnation.

I haven't myself been to any of the "occupy" events -- I don't like crowds -- but I've seen quite a few photos and videos by now. It all looks jolly familiar. Peace signs, anti-war signs, eat-the-rich signs, f*** the politicians signs. Nietzche banged on about the Eternal Return. I'm almost a believer. These protests are pretty much the same as their counterparts in Berkeley I witnessed, and sometimes participated in, back in the '60s. Okay, there is one visible difference. In Berkeley they hadn't yet decided that the height of cool was to imitate New Guinea headhunters and decorate your body with tattoos.


Now, the New York Daily News informs us, the circle is complete. Mr. Old Left himself, Pete Seeger -- Pete Seeger! -- has lent his 92-year-old presence to an occupy-themed march. The story doesn't say if one of his acolytes carried his banjo so he could strum and croak out "The Banks Are Made of Marble." With a guard at every door, and the vaults are filled with silver that the miners sweated for, etc. "And I'd like you all to sing along!"

Oh, and Arlo Guthrie. Check. The gang's all here. Let's have a hootenanny.

To be clear: The system has crashed. The economic Day of Judgment has arrived. Serious reform is needed. But it's not going to come from the occupiers. They know nada about history, economics, human nature. All they know is what their left-wing teachers have drummed into them for decades, that the world's problems are down to 1 percent of the population, the Wall Street ogres (FDR's "malefactors of great wealth"). Make love, not money.

This is the bumper sticker generation, the privileged children and grandchildren of the detested Boomers. They're dead against entitlements, except their own; life is supposed to be easy, the government should take care of everything and leave them with no need for gut checks, no choices forced on them except which ring tone they want for their smart phone, which "skin" for their iPod.

They did cartwheels over a mountebank who promised them hope and change. They thought diversity was the ultimate value, there should be no borders, and everyone who could sign their name should be able to get a mortgage courtesy of the Community Reinvestment Act.

They understand something is wrong. But their pitiful education, their popular culture, has left them with no analytical tools to sort out the story beyond slogans, no considered ideas about what to do. Their demands are a Turkish omelette of utopian causes. 

Well, occupiers, there were villains on Wall Street and enablers in Congress. But it was your entitlement mentality -- for the welfare class, for illegal immigrants, and most of all for yourselves -- that has you sleeping in the park. Think about it, if you can possibly disengage yourself from the Alinskyite propaganda you've been force-fed. And I'd like you all to sing along.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

U.S. vice president threatens murder if jobs bill not passed

Flint, Michigan, Police HQ

The Weekly Standard reports:
Last week, Vice President Joe Biden warned that more people would likely be raped and murdered if President Obama's jobs bill is not passed. "In 2008, when Flint had 265 sworn officers on their police force, there were 35 murders and 91 rapes in this city," Biden said at an event in Flint, Michigan. "In 2010, when Flint had only 144 police officers, the murder rate climbed to 65 and rapes--just to pick two categories--climbed to 229. In 2011, you now only have 125 shields. God only knows what the numbers will be this year for Flint if we don't rectify it."
The Speaker recognizes the representative from Michigan's Moon World district.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I rise in support of HR 1,053,922, the Jobs for All and Anti-Rape-and-Murder Act of 2011. You must pass this bill.

As my esteemed colleagues know, the proud city of Flint is distinguished by its widespread criminal activity, and that's only counting public employees. In addition, its private citizens boast a Viking-like tradition of murder, rape, and pillage -- a direct result of racism, sexism, Islamophobia, homophobia, xenophobia, classism, and lookism. You must pass this bill.

Now imagine you are a crime victim in Flint, say you are in the process of being raped. You must pass this bill.

You dial 911, that's assuming your phone service hasn't been terminated for nonpayment. You explain what is happening and that time is of the essence.

Consider your disappointment when a recording says, "We're sorry, all our shields are busy at the moment attending other rape customers. Your rape is important to us. Please stay on the line. Your rape will be dealt with in the order it was received. If you have been murdered, there isn't that much we can do. Please hang up and phone again when the volume of crime is lower, after HR 1,053,922 is passed."

How would that make you feel?

Pretty glum, I'll bet. And why? Because this august body has not seen fit to vote for HR 1,053,922! Which means that not enough persons of color can be hired to watch over the mean streets of Flint, or even to patrol them! You must pass this bill.

Suppose you are vacationing in Flint -- I'll insert in the Congressional Record the contact information for the Flint Convention and Visitors Bureau -- when, through no fault of your own (except voting "present"), you find a 200 pound man standing over you telling you to submit!

You must pass this bill.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

The 99 percent store

I'm occupying Blogger today for a few words about the self-styled "99 percent" who are taking over various public spaces to demand that the government take care of them and punish the greedy.

Greed is one of the seven deadly sins recognized by the Catholic Church since the middle ages. I don't know about the theology involved, but I suspect the seven sins are considered deadly because they are part of human nature that can only be held in check by a strong moral and ethical system. When such a system breaks down in a society, when people do not believe such failings are dangerous because they degrade the individual soul (which they don't believe in), you get a bumper crop of immoral conduct. Especially by the wealthy and powerful.


The supposed 99 percent (as opposed to the "1 percent" of the economic Mafia) make some good points. Congress used American taxpayers' money to bail out irresponsible banks that should have suffered the consequences of their folly. The Fed has kept interest rates ridiculously low, which benefits only institutions that can practice the "carry trade," borrowing cheaply and investing it for higher returns. Near-zero interest rates are a thumb in the eye of the old, the retired, and everyone else who wants to safeguard their savings while earning a decent yield.

But the occupiers do not understand either the American system of government (as the founders planned it) or classical capitalism. Both recognized human flaws as inevitable; but were designed to minimize the harm they could cause by pitting various interests against one another, by a balance of powers in government and competition in business.


Neither stratagem has ever worked perfectly, but through most of American history they have countered the worst excesses of self-interest and enabled just-in-time reform. 

But starting with Woodrow Wilson and really going to town in Roosevelt's New Deal and LBJ's "Great Society" (the scare quotes because it is impossible for me to write those words without bitter irony), the balance of powers has broken down. A republic has been replaced by a top-down, centralized national government with a permanent bureaucratic class, a permanent lobbying class, and a semi-permanent career political class.


As one bit of fallout, the protesters and marchers have been marinated their whole lives in the belief that for every problem the solution is more government intervention and more laws. They may think they are speaking truth to power; in fact, the politicians they purport to detest have exactly the same view of the government's role. Our D.C. masters see their job, or keeping their job, as a matter of doling out favors to this group or that. The "occupying army" believe justice will be restored if they, instead of corporations, are the recipients of the largesse.

"D.C. marchers rally for jobs and justice," reports the Washington Pravda.
Valerie Green-Thomas sees them every day in her classes at the Bronx middle school where she is a special education teacher. Kids hungry, anxious, living in the dark because the electricity in their homes has been turned off.

“I really wanted to come to this country, but I am so disappointed,” she said in her Jamaican accent. “To realize that the dream is not the dream.”
Really, Ms. Green-Thomas? What was your dream? To come to America on a Teddy Kennedy ticket and be rich from then on, thanks to the people who created American prosperity? As for kids living in the dark, hungry, anxious -- let me put this as gently as I can: I don't believe you. You are a liar. You've learned how to push "compassion" buttons to arouse stupid white liberals and minority grudge champions.
A succession of speakers, including American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten and Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis, offered support. They warmed up the crowd for Sharpton, whose raspy voice rang out, “No justice? No peace!” as the crowd shouted along with him, over and over.
A woman stomped her feet in the grass, and people pumped their fists.
The United States Secretary of Labor out in the streets doing a warm-up act for Convict Al Sharpton (Google "Tawana Brawley")? I would have thought that someone heading a cabinet department would be above rabble-rousing at street demos, but this is Obamination.
Referring to Congress, Sharpton said, “If you won’t get the jobs bill done in the suite, we will get the jobs bill done in the street!”

Of political leaders fighting and cutting social programs, he warned, “This is not about Obama,” he boomed, “this is about my mama!” People laughed and repeated, “It’s about my mama! That’s right!”
Convict Al, if you haven't been taking care of your mama, you are a naughty boy. But we knew that anyway.

To get back to the main point: Crony capitalism needs to be reformed. Maybe we need restrictions on outsourcing jobs to Indonesia and such -- although the Occupiers will be the first to bleat when their cherished iPods and Game Boys cost twice as much when Made in the U.S.A. Bad banks and stupidly run businesses should be allowed to fail. Those that fail will be replaced by other and better ones. That's how capitalism is supposed to work. But the state-run economy the Occupiers call for, while it might temporarily raise the so-called 99 percenters' position in the hierarchy of handout recipients, cannot itself produce wealth. It can only equalize poverty.


Monday, October 10, 2011

Three Montreal churches


Having some time to spare Friday before my flight home, I spent most of it visiting three of Montreal's notable churches. I'm not a churchgoer myself, but I find that sites for worship are usually worth seeing, sometimes inspiring. That doesn't leave much time for souvenir shopping, of course. Guess whether I care.

One of the city's most celebrated shrines, Mary Queen of the World Cathedral, happens to be across the street from the hotel I stayed at. The cathedral was designed as a sort of scale model of St. Peter's in Rome, and even has the same kind of high-Baroque canopy over the main altar. (Oddly, it's laid out on a north-south axis, rather than the traditional east-west.) I stopped by at about 10 a.m.; there were three or four worshipers in the pews; otherwise I had the place to myself.

Replica or not, the Mary Queen of the World is large and impressive. Also a little stern: all that marble suggests the no-nonsense God of the earlier generation of Roman Catholics who had the place designed.


Faded wall paintings in the transepts depict incidents in the Catholic Church's history in Quebec. One politically incorrect mural is of two martyred missionaries being burned at the stake by Huron Indians. Now that we know the Native Americans were all Boy Scouts oppressed by the savage whites, it's surprising the diocese hierarchy hasn't ordered it whitewashed. Maybe they've forgotten it's there.


I walked to Vieux Montréal, the oldest part of the city, and revisited the 19th century Notre Dame Basilica. It's one of the two loveliest Gothic Revival churches known to me. (The other is Saint Thomas Church on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.) Notre Dame's exquisite proportions, heavenly blue apse, and medieval-style detailing can't help lift flagging spirits and overcompensate for tired feet.


Only thing was -- last time I went there, maybe a dozen years ago, I just entered and drank it all in amid near-silence. This time, there was a $5 admission charge, posters pitching regularly scheduled sound-and-light shows inside, and a dozen tour groups being lectured on what they should point their cameras at.

The upkeep on these historic buildings must be costly. Still it saddens me when spaces formerly addressed to God are turned into tourist catchment areas. But French Canada seems no different from Europe in its modern skepticism and indifference to religion.


Back to downtown. St. George's Anglican Church, also Gothic revival of approximately the same period as Notre Dame, is now surrounded by our new high-rise temples housing financial institutions and the law firms that buttress them. It's currently surrounded by fencing and hemmed in by scaffolding, undergoing what is probably a much-needed renovation. At least it isn't being torn down, like the many similar churches that a plaque informed me had once dominated the area.

Although the main entrance was blocked by the fence, a sign directed me around to the back. I was admitted by a woman working in the church office. The interior is somber, but its dark old woodwork hints at time-defying continuity. Not surprisingly, the style is English Victorian (the Anglican church is the New World offshoot of the Church of England). Its current congregation has probably signed on to the social reform/aid to the Third World gospel, but as long as its interior is left intact, "the sure and certain hope of the Resurrection" will cling to its surfaces.


When I flew home that night, the air was marvelously clear. As we climbed to cruising altitude, the light-map of Montreal receded; soon we were over the Adirondacks, invisible in the darkness, with only a few scattered drops of illumination below signifying small towns. After a while, the great urban patches of the East Coast appeared. From 32,000 feet I observed the white and amber electrical embroidery, sectioned by veins of red tail lights. Soon it was almost like one continuous city, broken only by rivers and lakes, jigsaw-puzzle pieces of night under the wing, matching the night above.


Saturday, October 08, 2011

Bonjour, hello


Montreal (or Montréal if you're Francophone) is the ultimate Boolean logic city; every communication is a study in or/and/not. French and English speakers cohabit; most French speakers also speak English in varying degrees of fluency; many English speakers also know enough French to get by with. I'd think it's almost impossible not to be bi-lingual to some extent, since almost all signage and official pronouncements are in both languages.

After a few days in Montreal this week on a business trip, I seemed to hear a simultaneous translation running in my head, regardless of whether I was speaking in English or my mediocre French. How do you know in which language to address someone you are not acquainted with? I asked a (native English-speaking) Montreal resident. "Bonjour/hello," he said. Yes, but what then? Well, presumably you get in return either a "bonjour" or a "hello." But if you pronounce "bonjour" correctly -- the "n" barely sounded -- the other person might assume you are Francophone when you're not really; likewise, I suppose, "hello" might mean "I am trying to be polite, but I'm not comfortable in English."

Montrealers or Montréalais seem to have more or less devised an unwritten code about the language situation that works for them. I often heard people switching from French to English and vice versa several times in the same conversation.

The system doesn't work flawlessly. For instance, the hotel I stayed at can't decide if it is The Queen Elizabeth (as the sign on the facade indicates, and as it has been known throughout its lifetime) or Le Reine Elizabeth. That too is an anomaly. Le is the masculine article, while Reine (Queen) is, obviously, feminine. To anyone who knows French, le reine sounds bizarre. Presumably it is considered that le refers to hotel (actually, hôtel in French).

I think the people of Montreal or Montréal must have a good  sense of humor about the whole business.

While it's tempting to say that this relative linguistic peace shows that bi-lingualism is no big deal and we Yanks shouldn't make a fuss about our government rulers demanding that Spanish be a second American language, you have to remember that English speakers and French speakers have lived side by side in Quebec (or Québec) for 300 years. That's a long time to learn to adjust, and it's been a painful process, with plenty of tension even in recent years. We're insane to invite similar problems.

One other thing. It's often said that French Canadians speak "bad" French (a patois, or with a grating accent). That may be so outside of sophisticated Montreal, but to my ear the speech was close enough to classic French. And the Canadians are more conservative about their French than the supposedly fussy French themselves. In Montreal it is stationnement, please, not le parking. And they are very precise, even in the words crawling at the bottom of the TV screen, concerning accent marks -- as in dépôt -- which I understand the French French are increasingly careless about.

More observations from Montreal in the next posting. Stay tuned.


Sunday, October 02, 2011

Is Le Pen mightier than the sword?


The last time I wrote about Marine Le Pen, the leader of France's Front National who is seeking the presidency, I suggested that "France -- yes, France -- will be the first to stop Islamization."

Will Le Pen turn out to be mightier than the sword of Islam and Europe's ruling class?

I can hardly lay claim to deep knowledge of France's politics, nor do I follow its developments closely, so take this with due caution. Now and then, however, I check what the English-language media report.

Here's a story published a few days ago in The Telegraph, which is what passes for a conservative paper in Britain -- a little less cultural Marxism, please.

To the Telegraph, Le Pen is "the devil's daughter" ("as she has been called," in the reporter's weaselly formulation). It would probably call her the devil in female form, were the devil's title not already assigned to her father, the sourly nativist Jean-Marie Le Pen.

The devil's daughter is quoted:
Miss Le Pen's election strategy is to deflect from traditional Left-Right arguments. Today, she says, the only sensible division is between those who believe in national interests and those who believe in globalisation. 

"The Left/Right division makes no sense because they both think the same way – about the euro and the European Union for example – and they both have the same solutions that don't work," she said.
Touché. One of the strangest, and most alarming, signs of our times is that political left-right distinctions have become almost meaningless, as have political party differences. In the United States, there is one party with an Evil wing and a Stupid wing. In France -- Marine Le Pen aside -- it's More Left and Less Left.
"I say the euro is dead. The euro is a stalemate and has brought nothing but pitiful results in both the economic field and the social field in the last ten years. The current sovereign debt crisis means we are called to show solidarity with countries that we cannot bail out because we don't have the means. It's not possible. I would prefer to anticipate our exit from the euro and prepare for it than to wait for it to happen and suffer it. If we wait for the euro to collapse it will be an economic and social catastrophe."
The euro very likely will collapse. The banking cartel that owns the governments will put off the day of reckoning with loans, schemes, agreements, and fantasy, but that will only supercharge the eventual blow-up. Imagine, a politician who wants her country to face reality instead of playing let's-pretend. 
"I believe the people are with me on this. The French are against the bail-out plan, so are the Germans and Italians. There will come a moment when people will take power from their leaders." 
As far as the EU seigneurs are concerned, what the people want is none of the people's business. The Eurocrats would rather the reap the whirlwind than allow one micron of the EU's centralized, undemocratic power to be lost.


Asked what she believes is the greatest menace to France, she is quick to respond and unequivocal: the European Union and immigration.
"The greatest threat is the loss of our freedom as people because we can see that in reality the European Union has become another Soviet Union constructed without the people and sometimes against the people. It makes decisions and our democracy has disappeared; we French people cannot decide on our own future, it's a bureaucrat or technocrat who decides in our place.

"The other great danger is massive immigration that will result in the loss of our identity. I am madly in love with the idea of there being a diversity of nations, but for nations to be diverse their people have to stay together. It is not a lack of respect or hatred for foreigners, but I want Malians to remain Malians and defend the language and identity of Mali, Americans to stay Americans, the Chinese, Chinese and the French, French." 
For the international Leftist Establishment, such talk is straight out of a horror film. It would probably get her arrested in the U.K., Sweden, Norway, Austria ...


"There will come a moment when people will take power from their leaders." But what will happen when the Eurocrats sense the inconceivable happening: the end of their regime? How far will they carry their repression? Will they speed up the conveyor belt of Muslim immigration to improve their odds against the French French? Criminalize Marine Le Pen? Criminalize all the French who aren't part of the globalist elite?

Marine Le Pen has two things going for her. First, she speaks her mind without the usual politician's equivocation, a quality people are starved for. Second, she's good looking. Don't underestimate the importance of that.