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Thursday
Nov042010

8 More Years of Dr. Feelbad, or Okay, so Maybe I Will Comment on the Effing Election

Looks like John Kitzhaber will become the first 3-term governor of Oregon.  So we follow our large neighbor to the south in giving another shot to a failed, aged leftist while rejecting a candidate with actual business experience.  If California rides the short bus, Oregon sits in the back of it.

This should come as no great surprise.  The mass migration of Californians to our once mostly rural, mostly common-sense, conservative state has brought all of California's problems in tow.  We have essentially become a miniaturized outpost of a place Ashley Montagu once described as "the land of perpetual pubescence, where cultural lag is mistaken for renaissance."  We have by now long had all of the principal features of California's dysfunction, though in a scaled-down version.  For instance, we grew by 500,000 souls between 1999 and 2009, yet created less than 12,000 net new jobs, and lost over 60,000 jobs in manufacturing.  In that same decade government spending doubled--doubled--from $30 billion to $60 billion.  In the past 4 years alone, government spending has grown by 46%.  The state hired 4000 employees in that period, while the private sector hemorhaged 150,000 jobs.  California North.

Dr. Feelbad left the Governor's Mansion 8 years ago bitter and aloof, declaring the state "ungovernable."  A true enough statement, owing almost entirely to his own impenetrable arrogance, dogged economic illiteracy, and status as the live-in concubine of the unionized public workforce.  But this time things will be different, because now he's . . . eight years older!

Eight more years.  I can scarce contain myself.

 

Wednesday
Nov032010

Why the Latin aphorisms? Or: What I’m Writing in Lieu of Commenting About the Effing Election, Which is Mercifully Over

I’m a student of history, and the desultory studious forays I’ve made into that subject have made me a conservative (or, if you don’t like that word, a libertarian, or a constitutionalist–frankly I’ve never been all that adept at locating the opaque dividing lines between these different shades of the same ideology).


If it can be said that I’ve absorbed a single enduring lesson from the study of history, it is that while times may change, men and women do not.  Hence my fealty to a system of government brought into being by a constitution such as our own, which recognizes human nature for what it is and attempts to forge a government manageable by human beings as they are, rather than as we might have them be. It was conceived by one of the last generations of men roundly educated in the classics.  They were humanists with a thoroughgoing understanding of our nature, and did not suffer from any delusions so commonly brought about by ideology or infectious, novel theories about how to order and structure society.


Our Constitution, as originally conceived before the as yet ongoing process of thoroughly bastardizing it began in the 1930s, is the best and most ingenious attempt ever devised at maximizing freedom, justice and the rule of law amongst desperately weak, intemperate and fallible creatures.  This I contrast with the specious “New Man” nonsense of Marxist doctrine and its derivatives.  It is one of the most perennially baffling things I’ve yet experienced to observe that so many doggedly persist in failing to see those twisted ideologies for what they are, tens of millions of corpses later.  In the early post-revolutionary Soviet Union, posters abounded that read, “Comrades: Together We Shall Forge a New Life.”  Any system that seeks to alter our inalterable nature is made of dust and ether.  Contra negantem principia non est disputandum.  Human nature itself makes this so, as the concentration of power in the hands of beings possessed of such a nature–which must necessarily inhere in all reformative or revolutionary systems–makes tyranny inevitable.


What has any of this to do with the Latin?  The beauty of Latin aphorisms is that they express truisms as valid today as they were 2000 years ago and more.  My fascination with ancient Rome has roots in my childhood, but the bits of universalist wisdom from Seneca, Terrance, Pliny, Cato, Cicero and others first took hold of me when I was working my way through the Flashman series of novels by George MacDonald Fraser.  At least two of these novels prominently feature a recurring character–my favorite in all the novels save old Flashy himself–named John Charity Spring.  A deranged sea captain and slave runner who had been kicked out of Balliol College, Oxford, Spring is constantly spouting these pithy little sayings, generally in bizarre situations.  On seeing this timeless wisdom in its original language, I was hooked.  I found a good web resource, http://latin-phrases.co.uk/dictionary, and began systematically learning those I found the most compelling.  


So that’s really all there is to it.  Litera scripta manet.

 

Tuesday
Nov022010

Mencken on Congress:

"Congress consists of one-third, more or less, scoundrels; two-thirds, more or less, idiots; and three-thirds, more or less, poltroons."
 - H. L. Mencken

Monday
Nov012010

Kids These Days

This piece was originally written in December, 2007 and published shortly thereafter in the now-defunct BrainstormNW magazine.  I'd like to think that their brave tenacity in regularly publishing my work in no way contributed to their defunctitude, but I couldn't swear on it.  This one has been retouched in a few particulars, none especially significant, for the blog.

SMS

I knew I could begin counting myself among the aged once I started rolling my eyes in bemused disgust at the behavior of people in their teens and early twenties.  This preceded even my first grey hairs, which conspire and win converts as I write. 

       One such episode occurred last week, as a friend and I entered a hip boutique at a high-rent local shopping mall to purchase some shoes.  The store also featured several iterations of the now-ubiquitous Tshirts sporting a stylized portrait of Ernesto “Che” Guevara, the Argentine-born Marxist guerilla leader most widely known as Fidel Castro’s right-hand during the overthrow of the Fulgencio Batista regime in 1959.  Alternating with the Che T-shirts were other various retro-revolutionary items, including a shirt with a hammer and sickle and the letters “CCCP”–the Russian initials for “USSR”–printed on it in a manner designed to make one imagine it had been done with spray paint and a stencil in some insurgent’s basement.  None of this official commie garb could be had for anything less than the robustly capitalistic figure of $18.  

            In what surely must be the annoying fashion I have of pretending to speak to the person next to me while taking care to speak loudly enough for all to hear, I said to my friend, “Well, I see that despite the overwhelming evidence of history, communism persists in being cool.  Oh, and look–Che Guevara–quite possibly the worst shithead of them all!”  The heavily pierced youth behind the counter wasn’t about to stand for this.  “Oh, yeah,” proclaimed he, “he only went to South America and stole from the government to build schools for peasant children so they wouldn’t be peasants their whole lives before the CIA murdered him.”  When I asked him if his idolatry toward Che would be dampened in any way were he aware Che liked to torture and execute political prisoners for fun, he looked at his feet and muttered something on the order of “Well, anyone can change.”

            I suppose I should grant that.  Che definitely changed for the better at the precise moment a Bolivian sergeant put a bullet through his skull in 1967.  When captured by the Bolivian army and their CIA advisors, Che and his band of Cuban mercenaries were trying to foment a revolution in that country.  Their efforts failed to enlist the support of even one rural peasant.  Contrary to the two principal myths promulgated by Che apologists–alternatively that he escaped death, or that he was brave and defiant to the end–the only documented and widely accepted version of his fate is that Guevara died groveling and attempting to bargain for his life. 

            Guevara died fittingly given that a bullet to the head, typically delivered to men and boys who had their hands and feet bound, was his preferred means of execution.  Credible accounts of Che’s atrocities are manifest.  Indeed, the man himself made no bones about being a hate-fueled murderer.  In one oft-cited passage from his 1967 Message to the Tricontinental, Che declares: “Hatred is an element of struggle; relentless hatred of the enemy that impels us over and beyond the natural limitations of man and transforms us into effective, violent, selective and cold killing machines.  Our soldiers must be thus; a people without hatred cannot vanquish a brutal enemy.”

            Some of the earliest known instances of Che’s brutality came in 1956, shortly after he landed in Cuba with Fidel and Raul Castro.  With some 80 guerillas in tow, the three had sailed from Mexico, where the Castro brothers were living in exile for their opposition to the Batista regime.  Their Marxist insurgency frequently had trouble with desertions, and Che ordered that recaptured deserters be taken to him so that he could personally blow out their brains. 

            By the time Castro’s troops seized Havana, Che had been promoted to “Comandante,” the highest rank in the revolutionary army.  In this position, he presided over the systematic and ruthless quashing of all dissent.  Given command of La Cabana prison, Che was directly responsible for the murders of over a thousand political prisoners.  In addition to countless innocents hapless enough to be ensnared in the many round-ups he ordered, Che’s prisoners included homosexuals, “delinquents,” anyone arbitrarily classified as an “anti-social element,” and “roqueros.”  This final category included anyone caught listening to American rock and roll.  Hence any twenty-something who today might sport a Che Tshirt would, in post-revolutionary Cuba, have found himself in one of Che’s torture chambers.  La Cabana houses dissidents, AIDS patients and other “undesirables” to this day.

            One such prisoner was the father of a Cuban-American lawyer my uncle once dated who was good enough to help supply me with material for this piece despite the painful memories doing so would inevitably conjure.  She managed to escape Fortress Cuba at the age of 22, but not before being very personally victimized by the T-shirt icon himself.  Her father was a professor of physics and mathematics at a religious school in Havana.  Like many at the start of the revolution, he supported Castro and believed he heralded an emergent democracy.  The Batista regime, it should fairly be noted, was corrupt, repressive and wildly unpopular amongst ordinary Cubans.  However, when Castro declared that he was a follower of the Marxist ideology, many of those professionals who once supported him started to conspire against him.

            On October 21st, 1961, her father was taken away.  His family did not know where he was taken–or if he was alive–for an entire year.  With neither an attorney or a trial, he was given 20 years in prison, escaping a longer sentence (or execution) only because of the weakness of the evidence against him.  Most of his colleagues and co-conspirators were executed or given 30 years, also without anything resembling due process.  During his first months in prison, he was tortured by being kept in a small closet where he could not stand up straight or sit or lay down, and without any food or water.  They played tapes of a woman screaming, and he was told that it was his wife being tortured.  He remained in prison for the next 18 years.

            In La Cabana, he witnessed firsthand the demented sadism of Che Guevara.  Raul Castro and Che frequently called all of the prisoners to a line-up.  They would both walk up and down in front of the line of men for a while until Che would stop randomly and say, “From here to the end of the line, execute them all.”  Those spared were sent back to the cells to listen to the firing squad.  It was often Che himself who fired the last bullet into the heads of the dying.

            Writer Humberto Fontova recounts the story of Pierre San Martin, another of Che’s prisoners.  San Martin and 31 prisoners were crammed into a cell.  Sixteen would try to sleep on the filthy floor while the others stood.  Each time the rusty steel door of the cell would open, a handful of them would be led to the firing squad.  Every prisoner wondered when that door would be one of the last sounds he would hear.

            One morning a boy of 12 or 14 was shoved into the cell.  He had been brutally beaten by Che’s goons for attempting–unsuccessfully–to save his father from the firing squad.  Che’s guards soon returned for the boy, leading him away to the execution yard.  The remaining prisoners watched Che strutting about the yard.  When the boy was led to him, Che repeatedly ordered him to kneel down.  The boy refused to die on his knees, and in frustration Che put a bullet through the back of his neck, nearly decapitating him.  The boy’s erstwhile cell mates screamed at Che from their window, “Coward!  Assassin!  Son of a bitch!  How could you murder a little boy?”  When Che had heard enough of this, he emptied the remainder of his pistol magazine at the window, wounding several of the prisoners.

            When bearing arms against men who were neither helpless nor incapable of shooting back, there is good evidence that Che was actually quite an abject bumbler.  After his relationship with Castro began to cool, Che embarked on a second career as a revolutionary for hire.  In 1965, he traveled to the Congo and attempted to organize rebelling factions there under his brand of Marxist-Leninism.  His forces were handily routed, and Che barely escaped with his life.  He blamed that failure on the incompetency of his black Congolese charges, for whom he had the most bitter contempt.  Indeed, his diaries from that period, released in 2002, reveal the humanitarian and liberator Guevara to be a rather uncomplicated racist.

            Che and his Cuban mercenaries were similarly trounced in Bolivia, where his encirclement by government forces sealed his demise.

            Even Che’s legendary victories in the Cuban revolution were mostly just that.  The bulk of Batista’s troops had minimal loyalty to the dictator, and his officer corps was for sale on the cheap.  Castro’s guerillas had plenty of cash to distribute from their Soviet and other leftist benefactors.  Indeed, the only thing remarkable about Che’s fabled march on Havana was its bloodlessness, made possible by delivering a note and $150,000 to Batista’s military commander charged with holding the city.  Most of Batista’s troops simply stood down as Che and his rebels walked past them.

            Che was no less a murderer than Pol Pot, Hitler, Mao, Stalin, and every other tyrannical scourge of the past century.  But apparently–to some, at least–the disheveled Latin proto-hippie looks sexier on a Tshirt than the others.  One similarly wonders how a film like The Motorcycle Diaries, which romanticizes the early life of the man who would become Che receives critical claim when one about a young Hitler or someone equally monstrous would be met with appropriate outrage.  How is it that a National Socialist—one no less racist, authoritarian or intolerant than any in Castro’s gang—is reviled while the Marxist revolutionaries are lionized by youth culture?

Incidentally, my research turned up no evidence of Che setting up schools for peasants in South America or anywhere else.  The books I read, however, probably contain fewer pictures than those preferred by the clerk at the boutique.  As Cuban writer John Suarez notes, “Che’s legacy in Cuba is one neighbor spying on another, high suicide rates, and a generation of young Cubans risking their lives on rafts in the Florida Straights rather than continue to live under a despotic government.”

            The hammer and sickle shirts should be no less offensive to patrons of a shopping mall than had they sported swastikas.  That the basic sameness of totalitarian systems, whether ostensibly of the left or right, continues to be lost on so many is perplexing.  The ideological window dressing comprising the purported differences between them is as superficial as it is irrelevant to their tens of millions of victims.  When individual rights are given no legal protection, or are otherwise disregarded or subordinated to the interests of the state, the result is always the same.  Government power is unchecked.  The number of people led to concentration camps under the swastika is roundly dwarfed by the legions herded into gulags as flags bearing “CCCP” flapped in the Siberian breeze overhead.  A friend of mine who visited Krakow several years ago struck up a conversation with an elderly gentleman at a bar.  The man had lived through both the Second World War and the Cold War.  When my friend asked him what differences there were between the Nazi occupation of Poland and the Soviet era that followed, he thought for a moment before answering, “Well, the Germans had swastikas on their uniforms, and the Russians’ uniforms had red stars on them.”  A few observers–F.A. Hayek and a handful of others–caught onto the remarkable sameness of all totalitarian systems as early as the 1940s.  In 2005, the idiot youth of a prosperous, free and capitalistic society still don’t get it.  Rather than let this lead us to depression, perhaps we should rejoice in the fact that a lot of capitalists are making money from Che’s appropriated image.  If you’re looking for a Che Tshirt of your own, the hundred-odd internet sites selling them will not disappoint.

Sunday
Oct312010

“If every action which is good or evil in a man of ripe years were under pittance and
prescription and compulsion, what were virtue but a name, what praise should then be due to well-doing, what gramercy to be sober, just, or continent?”
–John Milton