Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Sic transit gloria mundi, again

Bulgaria? Egypt?
No, Rome.

Der Spiegel Online carries a story about Rome again undergoing a barbarian invasion ... although, of course, it is careful not to put it in such terms.

Headlined "The Downfall of Rome: Can a New Mayor Stop the City's Decline?" the article says:
A comment by one British tourist recently got posted on the Facebook page of Ignazio Marino, who became the city's mayor in June. The tourist said she had never before experienced "a more wretched hive of scum and villainy" than when she arrived in Rome by train. For safety reasons, she wrote, it is advisable to "spend as little time as possible" at Termini [the main railroad station].
The gypsies (or, in PC, "Roma") teach their kids the fine art of pickpocketing tourists who arrive disoriented, or anybody else who isn't wise to their game. Here's a heads-up: keep your wallet under several layers of clothing if the weather permits. Don't imagine a zipper on a purse will protect it. The purse, the zipper, money, and cards will fly away like a magic trick. If you're wearing jeans keep your wallet in a front pocket, with several rubber bands around it to create friction when -- not if -- somebody tries to snatch it. You're welcome.
Novelist Mauro Evangelisti warns visitors, like the pilgrims who are about to descend upon his city, that they must brace themselves for "an old airport, crooked cab drivers, swindlers, pickpockets" and streets full of potholes like in Havana. In an open letter published prior to the last municipal election, 21 Roman intellectuals lamented what they saw as signs of the city's downfall and "cultural gloom".

Meanwhile, Carlo Verdone, one of the leading actors in the movie that took this year's honor for Best Foreign Picture at the Oscars, "The Great Beauty," even goes so far as to describe his city as a true to scale likeness of a "totally failed country."

Mayor Marino sounds like his heart is in the right place, but he has the standard politician's instincts: first and last, beg for a larger subsidy. He succeeded in suctioning $829 million from the national government. Rome didn't go bankrupt. Nothing else seems to have changed.
A wiry, bald-headed man walks right through the turmoil on a recent morning and says, "The first thing that needs to be done is for the city to reconquer its public spaces. There is not a single street left in the entire city where you have the feeling you're in Europe -- I mean, where everything works as it should."
Few have the kind of insights about the underbelly of Rome as does Massimiliano Tonelli. The 35-year-old journalist is one of the most widely read bloggers in the city, but he is also one of the most contentious. His habitat is the streets, squares and riverside walks of Rome, and his natural enemies are those who make money by inflicting damage on the Eternal City's beauty. ...

The blog combines pictures and words to document the daily anarchy Romans from all walks of life face when they leave their homes. One posting shows a pig foraging for food in the overflowing dumpsters of a residential area on the periphery of the city. Another shows souvenir peddlers relieving themselves right in the middle of the ruins of the ancient Roman Empire. One shows piles of discarded stolen wallets, while another includes images of an inner city slum of the kind one might expect to see in Mumbai, but not in the heart of Europe.
The Der Spiegel writer is typical of journalists writing about social problems: you interview officeholders, and if you want to show you're an intellectual, celebrity artists. You can refer vaguely to ordinary citizens and their discontents, but never quote them directly: they may have in mind solutions that don't depend solely on spending more money.

Above all, if you want to keep your media job, stay away from any suggestion that the country ought to stop catering to economic refugees from from the Third World. Refusing them entry or booting them out would solve half the problems by itself. The EU be damned.

I suspect this is what quite a few Romans are thinking and saying, although the mainstream media ignore them or call them fascists.

It should be noted that there is plenty of corruption as well among native-born Italians who ingeniously loot the treasury, which is part of the cultural catastrophe. Italy is a country that has never really been a country, just a collection of provinces and regions uncomfortably roped together. Self and family come before civic virtue. 

Nor do I want a Mussolini 2.0 running things in the spirit of Rome's two and a half millennia of violent history. But the longer this "migrant" urban invasion is permitted, the more probable it will end in an ugly way. Beyond a certain point people will do what they need to when they perceive their way of life is threatened.

Like elsewhere in the West, Italy needs to come to terms with reality and stop the open-borders, multi-cultural nonsense before it boils over into something none of us want to see.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Obama signs law, then announces he'll ignore it

Barack Caesar signed a bill unanimously passed by Congress last week, and promptly announced that he is not bound to pay it any mind.
President Obama on Friday signed into law a bill authored by Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz that would bar an Iranian diplomat from entering the United States, but immediately issued a statement saying he won't enforce it.

Obama decided to treat the law as mere advice. ... "I shall therefore continue to treat section 407, as originally enacted and as amended by S. 2195, as advisory in circumstances in which it would interfere with the exercise of this discretion."
A law enacted according to constitutional procedures is, to His Supreme Authority, a suggestion that he can file and forget.

Presidents have outflanked Congress before to scratch their itches. The most famous case in modern times was Franklin Roosevelt's "lend-lease" deal to send ships to Britain when it was faced with a German blockade early in World War II, despite the United States being officially neutral. He got his way because most Americans were sympathetic to the U.K. 

Since then, presidents have sent U.S. forces to fight in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and smaller operations without a declaration of war. George W. Bush sent word via the Bush telegraph that illegal immigration was to be tolerated.

According to the Washington Post's brief notice, "W" had also insisted that laws in such matters “could constrain the exercise of my exclusive constitutional authority to receive within the United States certain foreign ambassadors to the United Nations.” 

Article II, Section 3 says that the president "shall receive Ambassadors and other public Ministers." Courts are notoriously liable to interpret constitutional language in loony ways. But unless there is specific evidence of what the constitutional convention delegates meant, common sense suggests that "receive" simply describes protocol, and the word "exclusive" is lacking. The same sentence says that the president shall "take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed."

Bush or Obama could have vetoed the bill and sent it back to Congress. Instead they used bad judgment in openly proclaiming their signatures on a bill to be a meaningless formality they were at liberty to observe or not, as the spirit moved them.

Was the country outraged by Obama's high-handedness? Hell, no.

Did the mainstream media, guardians of our freedom, raise the alarm? As far as a Google search could determine, the Washington Post ran a brief, bare bones story by a guest columnist.

The New York Times had this to say:

The rest of the print media had this to say:

I don't watch TV, but I would bet money the subject didn't come up on any news programs or Sunday chatter shows.

It used to be said that the president proposes, Congress disposes. Under today's regime, Congress proposes and the president disposes.

We are in deep waters.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

U.S. government: armed and dangerous

As we once suffered from crimes,
Now we are suffering from laws.

-- Tacitus, Annals

More and more federal agencies, including some supposedly with purely regulatory functions, have their own armed divisions. Investors Business Daily described how far this trend has gone.
Back in 2008, candidate Barack Obama slipped a little-noticed line in a speech, proposing a national police force reporting straight to him.

"We cannot continue to rely only on our military," he said. "We've got to have a civilian national security force that's just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded."
We have had civilian security forces for two centuries, called police. The only problem (in the minds of centralized government pushers) was that almost all of them were under state and local control, not Washington control. For really rowdy moments, the National Guard has been on call.

Even after the creation of the F.B.I. -- if kept within strict limits, a reasonable response to interstate crime -- you didn't worry about the mailman calling in a SWAT team if you didn't tip him at Christmas. The IRS could only threaten you with legal proceedings if they thought you were fiddling your taxes.

But the ex-Messiah has gotten his way and more. Not only one national police force of which he is commander-in-chief, but dozens.

Again, from IBD
The Environmental Protection Agency also has a private army. In late August 2013, armed EPA agents joined agents of the Alaska Environmental Crimes Task Force and swarmed gold mines near Chicken in the Last Frontier State. In groups of four to eight, they even wore body armor and carried guns while investigating a supposed violation of Section 404 of the Clean Water Act.

That raid drew attention to the fact that some federal agencies, including the Library of Congress and the Federal Reserve Board, have divisions employing armed officers. Other federal agencies participating in the operation were the Fish and Wildlife Service, Coast Guard, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Park Service and, yes, Bureau of Land Management.

That's right: NOAA, whose dangerous job is to forecast the weather, monitor the atmosphere and keep tabs on the oceans and waterways, has its own law enforcement division. It has a budget of $65 million and consists of 191 employees, including 96 special agents and 28 enforcement officers who carry weapons.
So while many of our legislators are out to wrest guns and rifles from ordinary peaceful citizens, they are happy for pretty much any federale who wears a shoulder patch to be allowed to carry deadly force.
Some 70 federal agencies, including those not associated with national security or crime fighting, employ about 120,000 full-time officers authorized to carry guns and make arrests, according to a June 2012 Justice Department report.

The Agriculture Department recently put in a request for 320,000 rounds. Not long ago, the Social Security Administration put in a request for 174,000 rounds of ".357 Sig 125 grain bonded jacketed hollow-point" ammo. NOAA put in a request for 46,000 rounds.
NOAA must be expecting stormy weather.

Monday, April 14, 2014

American Hustle

I know, there's been quite a gap since the last posting. Whatever happened to me? (I've been asking myself that for years.) Actually I've been writing on a brontosaurus of a project. The kind I get paid for, which subtly influences my priorities. Plus I have been spectacularly uninspired to come up with anything new worth saying. That may still hold true with this squib. I blog, you decide.

American Hustle is now available from Netflix in Blu-ray format. I thought I'd borrow it and see what all the fuss is about. I was mistaken. I've watched it and don't see what all the fuss is about. It's a modestly entertaining junk movie about con artists and political corruption in New Jersey circa 1978. (What would filmmakers do without NJ as a metaphor?)

Nothing about it is original or creative, and while I've read it described as a modern "screwball comedy," it isn't particularly screwy and if a comedy is supposed to make you laugh this is not a comedy.

It's left to the cast to save the movie, or not.

Christian Bale is Irving Rosenfeld, a would-be big-time scammer although he seems to be a farm team player. I couldn't connect with his character; he appears unsure what Rosenfeld is about or why we should find him interesting. A sharper screenplay or a better director than David O. Russell might have helped.

Rosenfeld  and his partner in crime, Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), get sucked into the gravitational field of an FBI man, Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper). The grifters and the fed man try to bamboozle each other. Cooper plays his role in flashing neon, punching his lines without let-up. The camera likes him and he'd probably be good if he'd dial the histrionics back about 50 percent. Maybe somebody told him he was playing in a screwball comedy.

I said the picture was modestly entertaining, and that's almost entirely down to other lead actors. Jeremy Renner, as the mayor who signs on to the scheming, resists the temptation to sink to caricature. He's convincing as a crook but you can't help liking him a little -- he lets you see the streak of decency in the man. He wants to line his pockets, sure, but sincerely believes that bringing in casino gambling will help the town's wretched economy.

Notwithstanding his relationship with Sydney (it's hard to tell if he has genuine romantic feelings for her or just finds her a useful business partner), Irving is married. Jennifer Lawrence is cast as Rosalyn Rosenfeld. I take it she's about the hottest star in movies currently. Would you believe I've never seen her in anything? No, I'm afraid I was doing something else when everybody was running to the Hunger Games movies.

I had gotten the notion she was a teenage waif, but either I was mistaken or she has grown quickly into a near-zaftig shape. Like everybody else here she has a cliché part, but makes it highly watchable. Impressive.

Now let's talk about Amy Adams. Another newcomer to me, she is both magnetic and clearly an accomplished actress. She puts nuances into lines that have none. The costume designer has installed her in slutty-elegant clothes that show off her figure to great advantage.

Sydney is alluring and smart -- at least in a calculating way. Part of the time the story asks her to speak in an English accent (which she does poorly, but I'd bet that's part of her characterization: she admits her origin was Albuquerque, which to the movie industry big shots is probably the ultimate loserville). So it's hard to understand why she's with a doof like Irving. She's the brains of the outfit. Not to mention the body.

In the unlikely event any feminist ideologues are reading this, I am charged with male chauvinism and "lookism." Guilty as charged. Me and a few billion other people. We all react to looks, although on closer acquaintance other qualities come into play.

Respectable authority is on my side. According to Montaigne, in his essay "On Physiognomy," when Aristotle was asked why men spent longer in the company of the beautiful than others and visited them more often, Aristotle replied: "No one that is not blind could ask that question."

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Those who know

The more nearly our soul resembles the divine, the closer it is able to approach the model from which it was formed and which it ceased resembling when it became tainted by the material on falling to earth. Thought and deed conjoined are crucial. Faith means nothing, for we are too corrupted to apprehend the truth.

Iain Pears, The Dream of Scipio

Those who know are different. The difference is hard to pin down, the signs subtle. But you can often sense them.

Usually they are among the older, but not necessarily; a few are even teenagers, especially those who have scraped their minds on hard experience. 

The obvious question: know what? It is not about having built a skill set over the years, and certainly not intellectual knowledge, which can be a barrier to the knowing we speak of. 

Allan Kardec, the founder of Spiritism, wrote that "the farther man advances in the study of the mysteries around him, the greater should be his admiration of the power and wisdom of the Creator. But, partly through pride, partly through weakness, his intellect itself often renders him the sport of illusion. He heaps systems upon systems; and every day shows him how many errors he has mistaken for truths, how many truths he has repelled as errors. All this should be a lesson for his pride."

Those who know have shaken off a great delusion, usually under the tutelage of repeated or heavy sorrow. They know that this world will not give them what they need most deeply, however much it may give them what they crave. If they desire riches and attain them, their reward will be the goods of the world and the envy of multitudes. If it is power, they will be feared but not admired. If it is romantic love, there will never be enough. Pleasures on top of pleasures, satisfactions of all kinds, bring happiness that drifts and scatters like clouds prodded by the wind.

And, of course, devastating personal tragedies can quickly dissolve the idea of life in the material world as a playground.

This knowledge goes against everything we are taught -- by our educational system, worldly wisdom, popular entertainment, politicians, even "cool" churches; above all by commerce and salesmanship.

Those who know do not necessarily benefit from it.

Some become depressed, some cynical. They can be mean, cranky. Others still refuse to look in a different direction, insisting that there is nothing to learn except that life is a veil of tears. At most you can try to do some good and be remembered with appreciation after you die.

But a few of those who know insist on seeking the meaning of the new outlook that has seized them. They study the collected wisdom of mankind, especially the vast catalog of spiritual teachings and practices. 

They say, in words or the signals of the heart, "God, teach me what I need to understand by this change of vision." They refuse to give up till new meaning replaces the illusion that has passed away. They do not withdraw from the sense world or reject it, but see it in connection with a greater, more rarefied realm of Spirit.
Define your goal and exert reason to accomplish it by virtuous action; success or failure is secondary. The good man, the philosopher ... would strive to act rightly and discount the opinion of the world. Only other philosophers could judge a philosopher, for only they can grasp what lies beyond the world.
Those who know would best become, to whatever degree they are capable, philosophers.