More Wild Cards: The Center Cannot Hold

I have been unable to deliver on my promise to make a clean break from Twitter so far.  Recent outbursts of tribal bigotry—not racism, which actually requires a systematic underpinning—have lured me into several conversations.  But I also (and probably more than ever) feel the need of a discussion pitched at a higher level.  As I wait for my mind to clear, therefore (and hope that it does), allow me to continue with more “wild cards” that make predicting the next half-century very chancy.

Where does the next generation come from?  People are having fewer kids all the time, at least in the so-called “developed” nations.  (I’m having a hard time not mentally quoting that word every time it attaches to our degenerate society.)  Parts of Europe where “replacement rate” reproduction is clearly not happening have attempted to supplement their labor shortage by throwing open their doors to all comers… but instead of admitting enough active taxpayers to support their aging population, they have swollen the welfare rolls and literally fomented rioting in the streets (thanks to several varieties of cultural clash).  How does this play out?  What becomes of an aging population no longer able to pay its bills when overlaid with a much younger population also unable to pay its bills?  And the young arrivals are indeed reproducing at a rate far beyond replacement… but their children enjoy no better prospects of finding work.

For bringing this demographic Chernobyl to public attention, Thilo Sarrazin was openly reviled, dismissed from his government position, and virtually hounded from all “respectable” company in Germany.  Yet he writes of cultural environment, not of DNA.  (In today’s steeply dumbed-down world, one cannot ask an arrival from Moola-Woola to wear shoes or cut his knee-length hair because it’s “racism”.)  The facts are these: our new “guest workers” (and the situation is much the same on this side of the pond, mutatis mutandis) do not speak the language.  Adults are therefore unable to help schoolchildren with lessons, even assuming that the parents had received some level of instruction back in the old country.  Young boys, in particular, are not expected to slave over books, according to “tradition”; and while the girls are free to immerse themselves in their studies, their efforts will likely go for naught, inasmuch as their destiny is to marry young and stay at home.

Meanwhile, mechanization is snapping up ever more of the jobs that an unskilled, blue-collar labor force conventionally performed.  High-tech opportunities exist… but not for children who can’t pass basic algebra.  Where does it all lead?

American seniors are perhaps somewhat better positioned to weather the storms of old age than their European counterparts, for the time being.  But the dilemma isn’t going away, especially for the upwardly mobile white majority.  Here, as far as I can tell, the preference for late marriage, few if any children, and even the sterility of a homosexual arrangement or a house filled with dogs and cats is pronounced.  So be it, some would say. Just as many Germans appear to long for racial suicide, so many of this demographic seem unconcerned about expunging their DNA from the face of the earth.  Some are indeed crying out for it from high in the Ivory Tower.  So… what will the world of complex electronic systems serviced by a dozen people and serving billions of analphabetic dependents look like?  How will it work?  At what point will the technicians simply fuse with Artificial Intelligence… and at what point will the new “transhuman” elite decide that it doesn’t need the dead weight of the idle masses?  How will that dead weight be shed?

Will intra-societal clashes be encouraged as a purge—race wars, perhaps, such as one sees looming behind all the verbal fecal matter fling about Twitter?  Or will a sterilizing agent simply, sanitarily be added to the annual required flu vaccine?  One of my own Twitter exchanges (which narrowly escaped becoming malodorous) involved the notion of “believing the experts” in the matter of climate change.  I referred my interlocutor to Paul Driessen and Wolfgang Thune; I observed that being a cardiologist or an archaeologist—or even a meteorologist—does not qualify one to speak with authority about climate, even though –ologist wags its tail in all of these professional titles; but most of all, I stressed that Neils Bohr, Werner von Braun, and Philipp Bouhler were all expert in their field… and that the common folk of the Thirties and Forties reaped a very bitter harvest from their expertise.

With masses of people, even (especially?) among the educated, being so eager to be led, and with the resources necessary to handle human masses being so depleted and finite, our species’ immediate future seems very much in doubt to me.  I really have no confidence that we can seize the reins and direct our progress at this point—any of us, that is, who considers humanity worth preserving.  On the other hand, the leadership of the PRC continues to remove adversary pieces from the global chessboard.  I don’t know why China hasn’t already taken our queen by destroying the unprotected North American power grid… unless persons and entities within our own government have already compacted with the Chinese oligarchy for seats at the One-World Round Table.

With the rest of us being so powerless or so clueless… well, well.  Who knows?  I won’t say there’s no hope, because evil has a way of undoing itself even after it appears to have neutralized every force for good.  I can only say, “Tend to your garden.  Find a source of clean water.  Keep plenty of blankets around.  Know where your children are.”

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Who Wins History’s Game When Half the Deck’s Cards Are Wild?

Every time I read the phrase, “Historians will look back at this time and say…” I have to sigh.  Some of the trends currently complicating our lives may not leave anyone to read or write history if they continue; and in any case, historians must be published to be read, and to be published they must write what flatters the prejudices of their day.  I’ve given up on looking for a history published by an academician that considers on-the-ground facts in the South prior to the Civil War.  Even Marc Engels’ Clash of Extremes, recommended by a professor whose judgment I thoroughly trust, edges tentatively into the proposition that the war wasn’t primarily about slavery by reviewing speeches made in Congress and writings left by congressmen.

What about the fact that guerrilla leader John Mosby, perhaps the Confederate most wanted by the Union at a certain stage of the war, was smuggled to safety by two unsupervised slaves after being badly wounded—this with federal lines mere miles away, a reward on his head, and freedom a very likely bonus for his delivery?

In the same way, we never discuss why the western Ukrainians—you know, the ones in whose behalf we’re supposed to inaugurate World War III—sided with Hitler so as to oppose Stalin.  Uncle Joe is always presented as the lesser of two evils, though comparative body counts leave that a very dubious proposition.  Naturally, Winston Churchill couldn’t possibly have made such a miscalculation!  Naturally, when Churchill, coming away from the Yalta Conference, wrote that we had to “appease” Stalin, no tasteful historian would juxtapose his diction with Neville Chamberlain’s.

Okay… so the past belongs to Hollywood’s film library.  Sad, but perhaps inevitable.  I look into the future—that terrain about whose character future “historians” are to declare the truth retrospectively.  More and more, I’m dazzled by the number of wild cards in the deck.  The future.  Who could possibly come anywhere close to predicting it, especially in these days of technology-fueled trends that continually shift the goalposts of possibility?  In so many ways, I sense that we’re headed straight into an abyss—an interconnected, almost labyrinthine series of abysses, such that we steer into the one on the left if we miss the one on the right.

But not all the wild cards bear the image of the Grim Reaper.  Take China.  The PRC has been a force for pure evil since before my lifetime.  The Communist elite was behind Korea, behind Vietnam… now it’s saber-rattling around Japan and India, having already swallowed up Tibet and Hong-Kong, and simultaneously suckering African nations into surrendering the reins of power with “generous” loans.  (Of course, one of the chapters in our inerrant college history book tells us that Truman was absolutely right to dismiss that arrogant, insufferable bastard MacArthur, who would have deposed Mao and delivered China to Chiang kai-Shek.)

The Chinese elite is aging, however.  They’re human.  They must die, and fairly soon.  The Chinese people are fed up with them, even though a system has been engineered to ensure a continued habit of servility and sycophancy among the masses.  (The system’s effectiveness at deep programming explains, I suppose, why so many Chinese who escape to the US persist in voting for intrusive government.)  How many more generations of despotism can be sustained?  Leftists view human beings as blank slates, capable of infinite “education” and devoid of any fundamental moral beacon.  The rest of us know better.  How far into the future can the PRC spread its evil across this planet before Chinese of the rank and file demand an end to it?

What goes through Xi Jinping’s head?  We know (or suppose we know) that he doesn’t believe in any reality beyond this world’s.  What, then, does he hope to get from this world which will balance the evil he has introduced and is introducing into it?  He’s already an old man.  How many years does he expect to enjoy power—and how can he enjoy it when so many rivals must surely surround him?  How does it all end?

Or take our illegal immigration crisis.  California is our window into the future.  Imagine large cities across the country overrun with people who don’t speak the mainstream language, demand that our extravagant public subsidies be paid out, have no high-tech employment skills, are promised yet more handouts by the candidates of the statist party, sometimes serve as conduits (willing or otherwise) for gang activity, have no political tradition of self-determination (like the Chinese), and have lost their ancestors’ knowledge of working the land productively.  How does this end?

At some point, and sooner rather than later, we run out of money.  Won’t our “guests” beat a retreat as they see that day looming?  How many of them will sicken of the gangs in their midst and resort to the vigilantism for which a corrupt Mexican system always punished their fathers brutally?  As parts of urbanized Europe have become “no go” zones ruled by Sharia law, will we see large tracts of our nation breaking into self-policed islands of relative stability?  What will be the central government’s response to this balkanization?  Will it be favored and exploited as the stepping stone to some quasi-imperial central power structure (a.k.a. “divide and rule”)—or will we see, with the emergence of a permanent oligarchy, the creation of a national police force (lovingly imagined by Barack Obama during his original candidacy for president) that cruises our streets with 50-caliber machine guns mounted on Humvees?

And, at that point, will the state grow ever more autocratic… or, in light of its depleted and over-stretched resources, will the central authority lend a tolerant ear to talk of a looser national confederacy?

There’s an old Highland saying: Feigh ar a dheiradh—“Wait for its end.”  Who knows how a game of draw-poker played with twenty-six wild cards finishes?  Both worse and better than we can imagine, most likely.

Twitter: A Great Squawk Here, A Thousand Bat-Squeaks There

I was at first excited about Twitter… well, “at first” after I had surmounted my initial prejudice about its just being an occasion for people to sling epithets over the airwaves.  I decided that it might have several benefits, if properly used.  I could announce my publications through it.  I could run a flag up the masthead and see if anyone saluted; and if the response was good, I might actually make contact with other “like-minded people” (though don’t ask me to parse that phrase).  In some cases, I could also receive genuine news scoops from sources I trusted or be directed to articles of special interest to me.

That said—and Twitter does indeed possess all of the benefits that I just rambled off, in its better moments—I’ve also begun to grow very disappointed in the whole operation.  I suppose I understand now that I was looking for something like the growth of an intellectual community.  Yes, I’m back to “like-minded”.  It seems to me that I’ve been looking high and low for that community all my life.  In practice, here is what I find on the “tweeting” platform.

  • Nationally recognized authors and columnists use the platform to announce their latest post or publication, just as I do—except that they enjoy followings well into the thousands, and mine… a little over a dozen.
  • Seeking out a “community of interest” is an almost haphazard undertaking. Now, one may theoretically reach more than my faithful dozen, thanks to the notorious hashtag… but I rarely seem to be able to find two or three words for squeezing in after the # that attract a feeding frenzy.  This is the familiar pattern I noticed decades ago when people were hailing satellite-delivered TV as à la carte channel service. A phenomenon that I call “mainstreaming” occurs even on shopping or rerun or sports channels.  Within the given “specialized” market, everybody is making the same pitch, doing the same thing.  I have tried several times to start or enter a discussion on Twitter of our unprotected power grid.  Ironically, we might as well already have been struck by an EMP: no hashtag banner draws any attention, though the issue in question could involve the greatest cataclysm in our national history.
  • The “celebrity dressing room” effect seems very visible.  That is, one finds names to conjure with sharing intimate moments (sometimes far too intimates) or off-the-cuff comments (sometimes far too off-the-cuff) with their adoring thousands.  I suppose it’s a little like touching the hem of the Messiah as he passes… for them.  Not really what the word “community” signifies to me.
  • Links to YouTube videos abound that show a goldfish riding a bike… or whatever.  My wife seems to see more of this kind of thing on Facebook, but it has obviously carried over into the other platform.
  • And, yes, there’s a lot of the, “You stupid—ing dirtbag —hole!” species of meditation.  And perhaps the most depressing thing about these is the 3.5K “likes” that they attract.  So we’re back to the left-field bleachers in the eighth inning, from which empty beer bottles are starting to rain upon the visitors’ bull pen.

For a while, I would draw as many as twelve or fifteen “likes” for a comment that I had mulled over carefully and compressed with a skill that would have stirred La Rochefoucauld’s envy.  (Now there was a guy who knew all about envy!) Yet none of this effort translated into “followers”, so the next day I was back at Square One.  I was once again entrusting messages to bottles (speaking of empty bottles) that I cast into the wide gray sea from my desert island.  No one really knew I was there, and I hadn’t found anyone else who was “transmitting” steadily.  On a certain day and on a certain issue, I just happened to have collected a certain two dozen words that a certain dozen people thought were well chosen (and they weren’t, sometimes; my most thoughtful comments would usually pass unnoticed).  To the extent that loneliness in a crowd is harder to bear than loneliness on a mountain peak, I had magnified the frustrations of the castaway.

I’m sure there must be some “hack” or two that one may use to build the snowball.  Comment only on Tweets that are mere minutes old, my son advises (who never uses Twitter).  But if I start chasing after posts with a view to directing notice my own way, then I undermine the purpose for which I originally decided to give a few minutes a day to the thing.  And it’s alarming, frankly, to catch oneself choosing a particular post or tailoring a comment in a particular way because one thinks it may turn out to be a lightning rod for attention.  We get all over our politicians for playing the popularity game before their bags are even unpacked in DC… but the temptation is universal.  You tell yourself, “I’ll work on my following with this one: then I’ll have more eyes on my next genuinely profound gem.”  To hell with that.

Indeed, it’s happened to me a couple of times that I am “followed” for declaring an opinion that somebody liked and then “unfollowed” within days for declaring another that he doesn’t like.  It’s a strange feeling to older people like me who spent their lives dealing with warm bodies.  In that world of yore, you didn’t just befriend a person for displaying values you endorsed and then refuse to speak to him the next day for contradicting your opinion about marijuana or health care.  Welcome to e-Society.

I’ll continue on Twitter, I think, in a reduced capacity.  I feel very gratified about possibly having steered a woman to someone who can effectively work toward getting her wrongfully convicted husband released: at that instant, I was in the right place at the right time.  But I have too few years left to spend half an hour (or more) every day micro-editing a thought that poses a target for a snarky drive-by sniper… or, much more likely, that suffers the fate of a pebble cast into the ocean.  The bottles with messages at least float.  There are new platforms, I hear, where one may pre-select a cozy little fishing hole organized around a topic or set of principles.  I’ve had enough of trying to bait hashtags over the Mariana Trench.

R.I.P., Natalie Corona: The Devil Singe Your Hide, Crooked Prosecutors

In what I posted last week, I had no intent whatever of implying disrespect for, or even distrust of, the young people who put on a cop’s uniform to go draw fire in the undeclared wars of our urban centers.  When Natalie Corona—who was a year younger than my son, and had just entered active duty—was gunned down a couple of days ago during a routine traffic stop, I read what little I could find out with no satisfaction; and I will add that I find the grandstanding, rabble-rousing, leading-from-the-rear revolutionary poseurs on campuses who scream, “Death to pigs,” to have a part in such murders.  Not a very big part, for they’re incapable of contributing substantially to anything: enough of a part to be hanged on a very small gibbet on the very back row of Hell’s infamous hordes.

So, yes, I “support the police”… I think.  Kind of depends on what you mean.  I support ordinary people doing an extraordinarily dangerous job for modest pay and taking an extraordinary amount of abuse all the while.  My remarks of last week were not aimed at the Natalie Coronas of the world.  (For that matter, the backshooting butcher seems almost to have paraded in a bullet-proof vest before the cops who surrounded his home, aware that the “rules of engagement” rendered him even safer than his body armor.  Were it not for his having the decency to kill himself, his “ultra-sonic waves” defense probably would have won him a few years of therapy and then release. How much more insane can California become?)

The real villains, when law enforcement goes awry, are usually sitting behind a desk.  I don’t even know that I bear any particular grudge toward over-zealous detectives who manipulate suspects into dubious confessions.  It’s “how they were raised,” you know: part of the “culture”.  I can imagine that someone in that line hears so many lame stories in a typical month… “I wadn’t there… I just drove past… maybe I got out, but I didn’t go inside… he called me inside, and that’s when I looked through the screen door and seen the body… well maybe he wadn’t dead yet… it was two months ago, man, I can’t remember.”  God… and to think that I would lose patience with the excuses for why students’ papers were late!

The supervisors of the interrogators, however, are supposed to hold the reins.  They should instruct or discipline their subordinates when things show signs of going KGB.  Instead, too often, they take a dirty ball and run it to the goal line, trying to clean it off as they go.  As long as the chief clears his cases… as long as the DA gets a conviction: the public must feel secure (whether it truly is or not), the voters must be placated, the résumé must be spruced up… or perhaps we just want to get to retirement.  Sure, Chief, whose life is really ruined?  Everyone feels better except the guy going to jail for a crime he didn’t commit—and your footsoldiers have ascertained that the community is better off with him in lock-up, anyway, whether he did this crime or some other that he skated on.

They say a fish rots from the head; and the closer we get to the head, the worse the smell gets.  The District Attorneys with lofty career ambitions are the ones who begin to frighten me.  Rudy Giuliani made a couple of bids to be POTUS, and Kamala Harris has a very real chance of being her party’s nominee for 2020.  They aim for the stars, some of these warriors for justice.  What is it in me that would like to see a DA focused 100 percent on doing the job?

Then we get to the top of the ladder, where wolves in judicial robes are snarling over the bones of the republic that they tear apart.  Mike Flynn lately pleaded guilty to a perjury charge related to an interview that was a) supposed to be informal, and b) offered no evidence of falsehood to the actual interviewers.  Why did he take a plea deal?  Because the commander of the judicial Gestapo was threatening to frame his son for some crime to be named later.  Wouldn’t you fall on your sword to save your son?  I would.

People may protest, “But you’re tarring the whole system just because of an isolated case here and there in remote jurisdictions with no budget and because of a few high-profile cases where politics has warped the process.”  Here’s my response.  We were once outraged as a nation every time we discovered that our justice system was being abused.  Now we cheer if the abuse targets someone whom we dislike; or if the victim is a complete nobody, we adopt the Caiaphas line and applaud the savings in time and resources.  As long as it doesn’t impact us personally, we can wrap ourselves in a worldly sort of cynicism, murmur, “So goes the world,” and fall back to sleep.

But what if our turn comes around?  Former Representative Steve Stockman is serving ten years after being railroaded through the system by the Obama “Justice Department” on a trumped-up charge of misusing campaign funds (but really for criticizing El Supremo’s administration).  If they want you, they’ll get you.  What, for instance, is sitting on your iPad or iPhone right now that you don’t know about?  Kiddie porn, perhaps—sufficient to get you at least three years of hard time?  Can “they” do that—can they upload things onto your devices without your knowing of it?  I’ve heard of cases, though of course I can strain little accurate information from the chatter… and, naturally, the “news media” will continue to report on Mexican children being machine-gunned along the Bravo rather than research an actual story.  All I know is that, last week, I found two music videos downloaded on my iPad and iPhone featuring homosexual lovers in embrace—and I have never downloaded any music of any kind onto any of my devices.  I scrubbed the music ap and all its contents entirely from my software… but, of course, I don’t know what other surprises might be hiding in other corners.

That incident shook me up.  It got me to thinking about how very, very easy creating a criminal past for Citizen X would be in an era when everyone is more or less coerced into depositing sensitive information online.  If they want you, they’ll get you.  The officers who pile out of the squad cars to cuff you and cart you off will probably be as innocent as your own sons and daughters… but they will be working for the wolves of hell concealed in a human hide.

Sometimes Prosecutors Do Good Work: A Dead Clock Is Right Twice a Day

I began watching Making a Murderer, Part II because Michelle Malkin recommended the work being done by Kathleen Zellner to free the victims of wrongful conviction.  Now, I’m not devoid of skepticism in these matters—not by a long shot.  As they say in the Jug, “Everybody’s always innocent.”  No, everybody in prison has not been wrongfully convicted… but not all have been rightly, justly convicted.  If everybody in a room filled with one hundred people claims to be left-handed, probably about ninety of them are lying.  That leaves ten who are telling the truth.

The case of Steven Avery (and the yet more outrageous case of Brendan Dassey, a minor from whom a confession was wrung because the material evidence against Avery was all but non-existent) interested me enough to explore Netflix further.  Another disclaimer: I do not much care for the Netflix operation.  One certainly stands a much better chance of finding Michael Moore’s latest documentary than Dinesh D’Souza’s.  And, of course, there’s always a tendency to cash in on a good thing. “Wrongful conviction” serials have almost become a genre, apparently. I watched the first segment of an Australian series titled I Am Innocent yesterday… and was not particularly stirred. Yes, the investigating officers who ramroded three Aboriginal school girls into prison for a brutal mugging without bothering to check their alibis (and on the victim’s assurance that these were not her assailants) should have been cashiered on the spot; but much of the hour seemed devoted to maintaining that the girls’ lives were “ruined” by half a year in lock-up before their conviction was overturned, and that the hundreds of thousands of dollars they were paid in indemnity just had to be frittered away–no fault of their own–on booze and partying to erase the nightmare.

So… yes, Netflix is a pander both to left-wing crusades and to shameless capitalist marketing. But… but then we have a production in which author John Grisham was deeply involved titled The Innocent Man. This one was riveting in a responsible and disturbing way.  I was bothered by a few loose ends.  Ron Williamson was fully exonerated of the murder of Debbie Carter thanks to a more meticulous and sophisticated examination of DNA evidence… but another woman appears to have testified that he broke in and raped her once upon a time, yet the narration made no further mention of this incident.  Were we to assume that it was concocted?  It bothered me.  Tocqueville wrote that rape was universally punished by hanging in the America of 1830; and, were it not for the ravages of Political Correctness and the sexual revolution upon our collective sanity, I’d be fairly comfortable with that penalty for that crime today.  Williamson was no choirboy, apparently.

The victim of sloppy “assembly line” justice who truly excited my sympathy was Tommy Ward.  Also a favorite local bad boy because of his being born on the wrong side of the tracks, Ward fit the “narrative”.  After hours of good cop/bad cop interrogation, during which critical details were constantly fed to him, a package of the selectively taped “interview”, complete with “confession”, was prepared for the defense and the jury.  I was beginning to wonder why we Americans so rail against Putin’s KGB rookie days when many of our jurisdictions favor the same tactics.  The intolerable irony in Tommy’s case is that he will never be granted parole, despite decades of flawless behavior in prison, unless he confirms his false confession to a heinous murder—a murder whose details both he and his puppeteer-examiners got wrong, as it turned out when Denice Haraway’s remains were finally located.

So what’s going on with our judges?  Is the objective for the convict to “show remorse”… or is it for His Honor to sleep well at night?

Next up, Out of Thin Air: a documentary revisiting case in Iceland, of all places, that involved hundreds (not thousands—mere hundreds) of hours of solitary confinement accompanied by sleep-deprivation tactics, dosing with depressants, and (in one instance) what we know affectionately as water-boarding.  Wow… the Vikings live on!  To this day, some of the then-teenagers convicted of two murders (for which no bodies were ever recovered and whose circumstances were utterly unrelated) cannot distinguish between fact and implanted fantasy.  It was some small comfort to me as an American, however, to learn that our system remains a bit more enlightened than somebody’s.

And then… and then, I took a plunge into The Confession Tapes.  The first case in the series concerned two teens (notice a pattern? teenagers as putty in the hands of seasoned detectives?) who had airtight alibis for the night during which the parents and sister of one were bludgeoned to death with a baseball bat.  Didn’t matter.  One of them read Nietzsche, and both used the insurance money to party with inappropriate abandon.  (Maybe the detective who gave himself a crash course in German philosophy should have read Camus’s Stranger, where a man gets the guillotine essentially for not showing grief upon his mother’s death.)  Defendants Burns and Rafay were not even interrogated by American police: their “confession” (again fed to them, one detail after another) was part of a Canadian sting that would be patently unconstitutional south of the border.  Particularly hard to watch was the pompous buffoon of a judge who unleashed a flatulent thunder of righteous indignation upon Burns because the fellow dared to protest his innocence before sentencing.

Is one prohibited, as a judge, from recognizing that one is not God, and that a verdict may be incorrect even though one is obliged to accept it and sentence accordingly?  Indeed, hasn’t a judge the authority—and the obligation—to vacate a verdict when the defendants are positively identified by multiple witnesses as being miles from the scene of the crime at the time of its commission?  Guess not.

At this point, I was psychologically drained.  I used to believe that our system performed reasonably well at putting bad guys in detention.  Now I see nothing but detectives reviewing evidence in search of bits that fit some novel they’re writing, DA’s trying to nail down convictions quickly in high-profile cases, and judges covering the obscene rat’s tail of the profession upon which they have built a claim to be local gods.  I couldn’t take any more.  I was ready for Netflix to give me David Attenborough hoarsely murmuring over Andean hummingbirds.

I’m on Twitter—have been so for about a year (@GringoViego41, if you’re interested; I can’t explain the 41–I just thought that the first part would surely have been claimed by many another old white guy).  Upon tweeting something about my Netflix ordeal, I drew a response that forced me back to The Confession Tapes.  I will not be terribly specific, because I once tried to help an Iranian Christian broadcast her message of persecution amid Germany’s flood of “refugees”… and was reviled for the indiscretion.  (Could never understand that, inasmuch as she had posted a video on YouTube of herself blaring away in Nuremberg’s town square.)  But without being explicit, I will share that I was directed by a response to my Tweet to view a later episode of the Netflix serial.  It’s one of the most preposterous cases I have yet seen.  The murdered man’s daughter was supposed to have been called by the killer shortly before the deed, and to have given out her dad’s location unwittingly.  The man charged with and convicted of this crime is the woman’s cousin, who positively identified his voice as not being the one she heard over the phone.  With no material evidence, then—no murder weapon, no DNA, no items of clothing—and also no motive and no eye-witness, this man received a life sentence because… because he “confessed” to being present (not to pulling the trigger) after ten hours following upon a day of working two jobs, and with the assurance that he could “go home” if he would recite the magic words.

I think Michelle Malkin may pick this one up, just as she has been in the vanguard of drawing attention to the judicial railroading of Officer Daniel Holtzclaw.  (The Williamson and Ward convictions are also frame-jobs from the Oklahoma gallery.). You and I both know that some bad actors waste a lot of the court’s time in filing infinite appeals: that mustn’t blind us to the reality that sometimes, as Diogenes once remarked, “The big crooks are arresting the little one.”  Indeed, one can see on the nation’s broadest possible stage that prosecutors can go a-riding like McNelly’s Rangers with a little book of suspects in one hand, a sixgun in the other, and a rope hanging from the saddle horn.  If they want you, they’ll get you.

Do you recognize our nation any more?  I don’t.

Political Correctness, A+: Artistic Quality, F-

Nothing on “the scene” is currently interesting me–or perhaps I should say, more honestly, that everything in public life and contemporary culture so disgusts me at the moment that I’m trying very hard to direct my attention away from it.  So the idea came to me that I would again share a little of what I’ve been writing for a book.  This opus, to be titled Literary Decline and the Death of the Spirit, gathers together a lot of what I’ve wanted to say about the literary art for almost forty years.  In fact, some of it was composed several years ago… but the bit I’ve decided to post today was put together last week.  It’s intended as an example following a rather more abstract discussion.  So…

b) how a story profits artistically from depth of character

Examples are always welcome in abstract discussions.  I learned much from the previous chapter’s examples simply in composing them.  I offer the following extended illustration, then, by way of clarifying the importance in a story of deep characterization—of a palpable presence of free will—to generating an artistic sense of mystery.

Say that we have a feminist yarn about a society which eradicates males.  Readers will have inferred long before now that I attribute to academic feminism, perhaps more than to any other single source, a rash of careless readings that has beaten the finesse out of literary studies.  Every one of Chapter Four’s examples features an insistently feminist interpretation that has created a challenge to literary appreciation.  As the imperative to observe an orthodoxy—a party line—grows more and more strident, interest in or tolerance of individual characters who do more than project the Woman’s Perspective (i.e., are three-dimensional human beings) begins to wane… and we end up with narratives that harangue rather than provoke thought.

So in designing my hypothetical, I will not only not deny, but will stress that I am handling subject matter in whose typical message or “moral” I place no confidence.  Yet I still fancy that I can visualize this narrative growing in artistic strength to the degree that it pays more attention to character.

Let us dub our protagonist Nadya Ventura—again.  (If anyone in the wide world bears this name, I wish a) to apologize for appropriating your handle, and b) to congratulate you upon having the perfect moniker for an adventure/romance novel.)  Nadya leads the charge against the male sex.  She appears in all major battle scenes.  We can locate our story in the future so that blood spatter doesn’t render our pages obscene: perhaps all annihilation is accomplished with ray-guns.  However the cause is carried forward, Nadya is always in the vanguard.  Lots of action fills our book, and lots of courage, skill, resourcefulness, and intelligence flows from Nadya.  She is a genuine super-hero.

So far, our narrative is a mere cartoon.  One would like to think that even in today’s academy, it would find little support for being placed on the syllabus of a Contemporary Novels course.

Now let’s tweak the text.  Let us say that Nadya enters into conflict (verbal conflict) with her entourage of triumphant Amazons concerning the fate of the vanquished males.  Some wish the prisoners to be carted off to a kind of gender-Auschwitz for instant vaporization.  Others (emulating what Herodotus tells us of the Scythians) advocate blinding the captives and enslaving them.  Perhaps others pronounce themselves content merely to have all surviving males transformed through hormone therapy and a little elementary surgery.  Nadya considers all of these options inhumane and somewhat disgusting.  As debate proceeds, it is evident that she occupies a small minority of opinion.  Eventually she stands alone, refusing to concede… and a powerful bureaucracy has her posted to the highly undesirable Planet Ogygia, sidetracking her career and jeopardizing her life.

The narrative is growing more interesting, is it not?  The word “inhumane” crept into my condensation of events above: it was no mere slip of the pen.  Nadya has become something more than a two-dimensional poster for militant, sophomoric feminism.  She appears to recognize (or to begin to recognize) that the essential problem in human relations is abuse of power, and that relations between men and women have traditionally modeled just a few possible forms of such abuse.  An inner universe is opening up as we follow her reflections, its boundaries at least as veiled in shadow as those ringing Planet Ogygia.

We could do yet more—much more.  What’s a romance without some romance?  So how do women address this side of existence in an all-female society?  We could have them put the enslaved males to bedroom service prior to being executed, rather in the fashion of Ariosto’s expatriate Amazons from Crete; we could picture them as opting for a “lesbian only” habit of life; or, if the story indeed has a futuristic turn, we could give them robotic lovers, engineered and programmed to precise specifications.  Nadya could enter into conflict with her peers or superiors in any one of these scenarios.  She might become too attached to her lover-slave to surrender him for “nullification” at the mandated moment.  She might find that her female companion, upon receiving a promotion, begins to demand favors rather than to pursue an equal relationship.  She might tire of her cyber-amant for some reason that she can’t quite define, stalked by the uneasy, creeping conviction that the arrangement is reducing her, as well, to a machine.  In the novel’s long version, she might work through all three options and register major dissatisfaction with each.

I find that Nadya is beginning to grow very interesting—and ever more “literary”.  Again, I have deliberately (and somewhat archly, with more smug irony along the way than I could hope to deny) chosen a subject whose moral assumptions are repugnant to me.  I am not remotely receptive to the prospect of feminist world domination.  Yet I would still find something to enjoy artistically in this hypothetical narrative as Nadya progressed from a crude stereotype to a vibrant human being who wrestles with issues involving freedom, fairness, generosity, and self-respect.

An adversary might protest loudly, “Well, of course you take increasing delight in the narrative arrangements just described! With each one, you are undermining the theme that a women-only utopia would be a better place.” In response, I would offer to make Nadya’s supervisor, Sister Carrie, the main character; and Carrie, as indicated in all of my previous suggestions, would resist Nadya’s reactionary tendencies at every step. It is Carrie who would want the prisoners enslaved and emasculated prior to eventual execution, and who would become Nadya’s lover prior to innovating a culture-wide shift to gigolo-robots. All of the story’s action could filter through Carrie’s mind: she could indeed be its narrator. “The pleading of the prisoners before they were administered the ‘exit pill’,” she might say, “was disturbing to me. But I recognized my duty, and I imagined the chorus of silent pleading from generations of women who had feared to lift up their voices. Their volume drowned out the prisoners’ cries completely.” And later, this: “I had grown very fond of Nadya, and banishing her to Ogygia pained me deeply. But I knew that I might lack the strength needed to accomplish our mission if my darling Nadya continued to undermine it from the pillow. No sacrifice I made for the cause ever cost me more dearly.”

My adversary will fire back that I have now delivered the story into the hands of an “unreliable narrator” whom readers will perceive as a fanatic—and that I am hence, once again, undermining the work’s theme to suit my own taste. This manner of response would signify to me that I could do nothing to placate my critic; every move I might make in the direction of radical feminist liberation would be viewed as secret sabotage… and so it would be, in a way. Because every move I have in mind would simply pry open the monomaniacal plot and slip in touches of characterization—of weighing options, of venting frustrations, of regretting missed opportunities, of grieving the loss of present joys in the future (each element of which list, by the way, may be observed in the words assigned to Medea by Euripides). The insurmountable wall separating me from my adversary isn’t really politics or ideology at all, or not in this artistic context: it is the issue of allowing evidence of individual inner life—of free will—into the text versus banning it rigorously. If I have my way and one or more characters, no matter who they are, reflect in detectible fashion upon events, then my opponent’s desired effect is already compromised; for in his our her fictional vision of utopia, nobody has an independent thought. The world is so “perfect” that all of its surviving inhabitants merely live their waking hours in undifferentiated unity, never being driven into that moment of intimate personal questioning which indicts at least a tiny bit of dissonance between inside and outside.

No room for mystery here; and without the mysterious space created by affirmations of character, there is also no reality other than the purely objective world of sensory impressions. There is no soul here, and no beauty. It is a landscape, for that matter, where robots would feel entirely comfortable, and where one could no longer distinguish between the despiritualized human and the clever machine.

The Right Not to Be “Offended”: Psychic and Spiritual Suicide

I’ve been trying to gather together some old articles and new ideas about appreciating and teaching literature. In the process, I composed the following paragraph about interpreting the hero’s interludes with Circe and Calypso in Homer’s Odyssey:

So in what respect has this combination of characters provided a tantalizing, artistically indefinite commentary upon events? If only today’s young student would pursue these echoes down the corridors of experience! I believe the mythic presentation tells us that sex spells death to the soul if it has no context, no reason for being other than a self-annihilating, unedifying pleasure—infinitely renewable but infallibly, immutably annihilating in each of its reprises. What does Penelope offer that two goddesses cannot? Context; purpose. Children to raise; a home with which one’s identity readily and permanently fuses; companionship as the body ages and years in this world dwindle. In the living world of Ithaca and in the embrace of his living wife, Odysseus will find a forever-sameness within whose bounds change is natural and welcome. In the dead world of a goddess’s icy beauty, he finds an undying sameness that suffocates any possibility of meaningful change. And in what other terms would we cast a spiritual definition of human life, if not as an ascending sequence of deaths and rebirths—of changes that lead to an ever more significant, identity-assertive unity?

Of course, I was immediately struck upon rereading these words by how “offensive” they would be to just about any young person enrolled in a college English program.  And then I had the further thought… “Why?”  If your old Uncle Clyde sidled up to you during the holidays and began, “Wilbert, my boy, you have a bit of potential, but you also have a lot of major problems.  Here, I’ve made a list…” well, you would take a bathroom break and then squeeze through the window above the tub.  But I speak not of such cases.  Imagine, rather, that you happen to read a piece about the health risks of corn flakes or mashed potatoes.  Say that your favorite food has been targeted.  Are you “offended”?  Would you write the author a scathing email?  Or if this person delivered his culinary death sentence from a rostrum, would you spring up and chant, “Hey, hey, ho, ho!  This food Nazi’s got to go!”

Or what if you received a recall on your car because the airbag has a nasty habit of inflating spontaneously as soon as the driver reaches 60 m.p.h.?  Would you not take heed of the notice?  Or would you fire back, instead, “I love my car.  This message offends me!”

We seem to be surrounded by people who are “offended” by the existence of firearms, and hence by any mention of or reference to them… except in the context of a grotesquely violent Hollywood flick where the cool antinomian studs are heisting the evil corporate mogul’s Moon Rock.  They are “offended”, these sensitive plants among us, if the presence of guns in gang activity is underscored, or if the proliferation of gang activity in certain subsets of the population is remarked, or if a certain race or ethnicity happens to overlap that certain subset significantly.  We can’t say much of anything to put our highly “offendable” brethren on their guard, and we can’t wage a public discussion in the interest of reducing the dangers that circulate around them.

Certainly a teacher cannot analyze a text and propose that it carries a warning against promiscuous recreational sex.

If you find yourself constantly among the “offended”, may I ask how you ever propose to learn anything?  You cannot be warned of a peril.  You cannot be confronted with an example that may reflect negatively upon your own practice.  You cannot be introduced to a fictive world where your own values are not applied and promoted.

So how do you learn anything?  How do you grow up?  What motivates you to discard your diapers and put on a pair of big-boy pants?

Where is your pride in being an intelligent adult?  Where is your humility as a member of the human race?

Where is your sanity as a free citizen allowed to cross the street without a government mediator interpreting traffic signals for you in a non-offensive manner?