Enter the Donald

For a quarter century now, political correctness has been the blight of our age. Using intolerance to enforce what they call tolerance, its self-appointed guardians always seek reasons to take offense and force their victims to apologize while simultaneously squeezing as much money out of them as possible. On the way they have corrupted whatever they touched, turning discourse into a stinking, horrible goo. In academia—where many universities now have groups of vigilantes consisting of students out to humiliate professors—in the media, in public life, they keep spewing forth a single poisonous message. Beware of what you are saying; or else. Even in private, for walls have ears. And even if you have been making an innocuous joke.

They have long since ended any kind of straight talk, any right to call a spade a spade, any attempt to do serious work that might hurt their alleged sensibilities. With them went many, perhaps most, attempts at original, incisive expression. In respect to the range of subjects they censor they have put nice, open-minded gentlemen such as Philipp II of Spain—he of the Inquisition—Josef Stalin, Adolf Hitler, and Mao Zedong to shame. Worst of all, by forcing the rest of us to keep using euphemisms they have made people doubt whether they are being told the truth, increased their paranoia, and decreased their readiness to believe anything they hear or see.

Enter the Donald. He is possessed of as big an ego as all of his casinos, hotels, plazas, resorts and towers combined; no other man I can think of so well fits what former vice president Dan Quayle once described as a “temperamental tycoon.” Probably more so even than Ross Perot who was the original target of that jibe. Needless to say, I have never met the Donald and do not expect to do so in the future. From what I see and hear I do not think he is particularly likeable or that I miss much. I do not know what makes him tick. Nor whether his run for the White House will be successful, nor whether he has what it takes to be a good president. Not being an American citizen or an admirer of Netanyahu, whom Trump has publicly praised, I cannot even say any of this interests me very much.

What, in my eyes, makes him unique is that, rather than hide behind all kinds of polite euphemisms, he keeps saying what he thinks about people and things. Without apology and without concern for the consequences. Being dugri (blunt, or straightforward), as we Israelis say. Also that, thanks to his billions, and perhaps an incipient change in public opinion, he is getting away with it as few others can or have. Nor does the way he talks and acts seem to hurt him in the polls. To the contrary, he has made the media follow him and listen to him. Some positively beg him to appear on them. To the point, he says, where he actually found himself spending less than he thought he would have to.

Some people see Trump as a clown (one acquaintance of mine fears he may turn out to be a Mussolini). Many others half believe, half hope that his appeal is already fading. Ignorant of foreign affairs and lacking a proper organization, they say, he will never be able to gain the presidency. No matter. Even in the unlikely case he disappears tomorrow, he has already achieved something important; namely, shaken the barriers on free thought which the professional enforcers of political correctness have been so busily surrounding us with. May others follow his example, and may the barriers disappear like the cobwebs which, in reality, they are.

AliceInWonderlandRedQueenTennielOffWithHerHead1And that reminds me of Lewis Carroll, famed author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865). Towards the end of the volume the Red Queen is about to have another one of her servants executed. The following dialogue develops:

“Stuff and nonsense!” said Alice loudly “The idea of having the sentence first [before the verdict]!”

“Hold your tongue!” said the Queen, turning purple.

“I won’t!” said Alice.

“Off with her head!” the Queen shouted at the top of her voice. Nobody moved.

“Who cares for you?” said Alice (she had grown to her full size by this time.) “You’re nothing but a pack of cards!”

At this the whole pack rose up into the air, and came flying down upon her; she gave a little scream, half of fright and half of anger, and tried to beat them off, and found herself lying on the bank, with her head in the lap of her sister, who was gently brushing away some dead leaves that had fluttered from the trees upon her face.

“Wake up Alice dear!” said her sister; “Why, what a long sleep you’ve had!”

Ashley’s War

Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, Ashley’s War: The Untold Story of a Team of Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battlefield, Sydney, HarperCollins, 2015.

Judging by the slightly misleading title, one might think the book is about a team of ferocious female fighters who, gun in hand, fought side by side with the U.S Rangers. It is not. It is about a very small group of military women who provided those units with something known as “cultural support” by questioning and searching Afghan women in an attempt to avoid offending “cultural sensibilities” in that country. To no avail, of course, in so far as the war was hopelessly lost long before the women arrived on the scene in 2011.

The story follows the careers of a few of these women, in some cases from the moment they came into the world. Many were born to military families. Ohers came from the kind of small towns so prevalent in the US where nothing ever happens and people have no future, only a present. Others still came from families that did not have the money to allow them to study, which explains their decision to go for ROTC and join the army. Asked why they volunteered for CST (Cultural Support Team) training, most answered that they wanted to “prove themselves” to themselves. And to advance their careers, of course. Even if, as happened in quite a few cases, doing so meant leaving their little children for months and months on end.

As the author admits, “the training program for the female enablers did not come anywhere close to the formal preparation of Special Forces or Ranger Regiment men” with whom they were supposed to work. Good: or presumably the outcome would have been lots of female cripples hobbling about on crutches and drawing pensions. And why, one female trainee asks, don’t male soldiers want to carry female ones or be carried by them during training? Because they worry about being falsely accused of “sexual harassment,” that’s why. To the point that some commanders in Afghanistan have tried to ban all non-duty communication between male and female soldiers. Or at least monitor it as closely as they could.

Having received lots and lots of PT and acquired a smattering of Afghan culture, the women found themselves in that Godforsaken country. And what did they actually do? Here is what. “A week or so in, one CST discovered an AK-47 buried in the ground just beneath a woman she was searching… Out one night with her Ranger platoon, Cassie was called up to the front of formation to help calm a young girl whose father was known to be part of a group planning attacks on Afghans and Americans.” The girl, however, told Cassie to go to hell and spat obscenities at her. Enter Nadia, an Afghan-American interpreter or “terp,”, as they are known. Nadia was not a CST and had not received the relevant training. Yet her linguistic skills made her more useful than all the other women combined. Even so, trying “to build bridges between the Afghan women and the American soldiers who led the missions… she found few takers.” Scant wonder, I should say.

At one point the Rangers engaged some Afghans in a firefight. Meanwhile Ashley White, the CST after whom the book is named, “was standing in the open air of the main compound’s courtyard questioning the women and children.” In fact the real heroines of this particular episode were not Ashley and her interpreter. They were the Afghan women. Torn out of their beds in the middle of the night and trying to protect their children, they surprised Ashley by taking the ransacking of their houses and the nearby gun battle with “relative composure.” It is they, not Ashley, who should have been awarded the Combat Action Badge.

I read the book from cover to cover. Easy, because so much of Ashley’s War consists of filler. It bristles with totally irrelevant stories about Japanese Americans in World War II, the history of dogs in the army, the history of a military hospital in Kandahar… The one thing it does not offer is serious analysis, either of CST or of anything else, from which anything can be learnt. It is not even a war novel (some war novels are very good indeed, presenting reality better than reality itself can). It is a fourth-rate sob story masquerading as reportage. Which, given that all names except that of Ashley and her immediate relatives have been changed, it may or may not be.

Much of the remaining material consists of rather infantile descriptions of the heroines’ background and their emotions. For example: “Rigby… had grown up with a hippie mom and a Navy veteran dad who taught her that nothing in life was either easy or handed to you, a reality that was reinforced by her dad’s job woes, her parents’ eventual divorce, and years of financial precariousness.” “Her eyes felt like glass that was being sandblasted.” “North Carolina has the brightest stars I’ve ever seen, Tristan thought.” “Six months into the job, Nadia realized that the shallow, label-conscious Afghan-American girl she once was had disappeared, and in her place was a steely professional.” While on the final, hardest of all, road march, Ashley “heard the flapping wings of birds flying above against the steady, in and out pattern of her own breath and the tap-tap-tap of her own heart.” Actually that is not at all what a human heart sounds like during strenuous exercise (as a former Marathon runner, I should know). One purple passage follows another. Or would have, had the author known how to write them properly.

A pity Freud did not have a chance to read the book. He would have found in it an almost inexhaustible treasure trove of penis envy from which to draw examples for his own works. We meet “ironman women” (why not simply “ironwomen”?) Women routinely address other women by calling them “guys.” “It [a grueling road march] will be a suckfest, Kate promised.” “Why wasn’t I born a boy, [Cassie] often thought to herself, so I can do what I really want to do?” Repeatedly, trainees who are not doing well enough are told, by their fellow trainees, to “man up.” Tracey, a lieutenant, “considered making herself more ‘masculine’ and harder-edged for the sake of fitting in.” The women “were undeniably proud to have a chance to wear the uniform worn by the Army’s hardest fighters.” Anything but do the one thing men cannot do as well as, or better than, women. Namely, have children and raise them as they deserve to be.

Towards the end of the book Ashley dies of injuries received when an improvised explosive device (IED) goes off near her. That finally entitles her to the greatest accolade of all: namely, to be called, after a 1910 speech by Theodore Roosevelt, “The Man [my emphasis] in the Arena.” Had I been a military woman, and had anyone written about me the way Ms. Lemmon does, I would have died much earlier.

Of shame.

In Re. Iran

Like most people, I am not terribly familiar with the complicated rules that govern the way the US Congress works and votes. Unlike most people, in re. Iran I do not think it matters very much. That is why I allow myself to look into the future as best I can. images

  1. Whatever happens, the Mullahs are not going to give up their nuclear program. Partly that is because of the number of times the US has waged war in or against foreign countries over the last half century or so. Partly because, not counting the US forces in the Gulf, they have three nuclear neighbors right in their backyard; and partly because Israel, which is not an NPT member, has repeatedly threatened to bomb them. That does not mean they are going to test any time soon. What it does mean is that they will continue to shape the program in such a way as to allow them to build the weapons fairly quickly in case they feel under threat. They will also continue to build increasingly sophisticated delivery vehicles in the form of ballistic missiles and, perhaps, cruise missiles.
  2. Whatever happens, the same Mullahs are not going to drop their bomb, if and when they have it, on anyone. No more so than the other members of the nuclear club, i.e. the US, the Soviet Union/Russia, Britain, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea (which has recently resolved the latest of its countless crises with the South) did. It is indeed possible that the Iranians, in an attempt to further their political interests, will threaten to use the bomb. If so, however, they will hardly be able to do so in more crude and blatant a way than Truman did in 1948, Khruschev in 1956, Kennedy in 1962, Nixon in 1973, and so on and so on.
  3. Whatever happens, several other countries in the Middle East are going to push their nuclear programs forward. Just so as to be on the safe side. Among them are Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and perhaps Jordan as well. The only question is, how fast they will proceed and how long it will take them to produce results (whatever that may mean).
  4. Whatever happens, Iran’s nuclear program will continue to figure large in the ongoing wars between Democrats and the Republicans. Considering that elections are only a little more than a year away, and also the importance of the Jewish-American vote, this is just too good an issue for either side to drop. And even should they want to do so, there will always be Netanyahu to stir up things and ensure that they don’t.
  5. Whatever happens, the sanctions will gradually come to an end. Already now Russia, by agreeing to sell Iran SA-300 surface-to-air missiles, has occasioned a major breach in the international consensus. Delegations from China, Germany, France and Japan are flooding Tehran, seeking opportunities for trade. Pressure in this direction can only increase. History will not stand still merely because President Obama cannot agree with Congress, or the other way around. At a time when the world economy seems to be faltering, by and large the return to normalcy is a good thing. It should cause the price of oil to fall. Until it starts rising again, of course.
  6. Whatever happens, and occasional talk about an eventual nuclear-free Middle East notwithstanding, Israel will continue to maintain a formidable nuclear arsenal. One fully capable of wiping out Iran and/or quite some other countries within striking range of its ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, fighter-bombers, and submarines. Probably meaning, even without taking the submarines into account, at least three and a half thousand kilometers from Tel Aviv.
  7. Whatever happens, Netanyahu, as long as he stays in power, will continue to huff and puff about the “Iranian threat” and the urgent need to counter it. Partly he will do so in order to impress his electorate which, following years of sustained propaganda, has become paranoid and believes that no Iranian ever thinks of anything except for getting to paradise with its seventy-two “big breasted” virgins. And partly because, each time he does so, the spigots open and Israel gets more and more weapons from the US and Germany in particular. Speaking to the New York Times, Obama personally has offered help in building “a successor to Iron Dome.” Israeli reports also have it that he is prepared to help in finding solutions to the problem posed by the “attack tunnels” Hamas, and perhaps Hezbollah, are digging along the borders of the Gaza Strip and Southern Lebanon respectively.
  8. Whatever happens, Netanyahu, as long as he stays in power, will not launch an offensive against Iran. Partly that is because some of his advisers have repeatedly told him that such a strike may very well fail to achieve its aim. Partly because of the fear of Iranian retaliation, which is certain to follow; and partly because he knows that the US opposes to such a strike and may not rush to his assistance in case he runs into difficulties. Above all, however, it is because, as the so-called Barak tapes have recently shown once again, the man does not have the necessary guts. The only opponents he will wage war on are very weak ones such as Hamas.

And once he is gone? Remember that, a decade ago, Netanyahu’s predecessor, Ariel Sharon, a much braver man than he, also threatened to attack Iran. And that nothing came of it at that time either.

Guest Article: Doomer Porn

By KL Cooke*

Sometimes I think about the “good old days,” and by that I do not mean my youth. Rather, I refer to the time following my retirement, but prior to becoming aware of the imminent collapse of civilization. The time when I still believed in the future. The change occurred with the financial crisis of 2008, though it was not caused by it directly. There was a series of events that began some years before with the so-called dot com meltdown. In 1999 I was involved in the launch of a telecommunications business that turned out to be like a small boat leaving harbor and sailing into the teeth of a hurricane.

Technology recovered, of course, and E-commerce is alive and well, having shaken out the early, ill-starred ventures in on-line dog food and the like. But my business remained on life-support, kept alive by heroic measures until futility forced my retirement. I was in my early sixties, with a portfolio of mutual funds, so contentment was brief. There was the oil shock of 2007, when filling the gas tank became a major budget item. More worrisome were the implications for the economy, as I was insulated from direct impact by no longer having to commute.

Solomon Wu Cover gs jBut then came the financial crises of 2008, when value went into free fall and there seemed to be no bottom. There has always been a business cycle. One trimmed the sails for a year and fair weather returned. But this time it was different. I had the sense that something was very wrong. I searched the Web, where for good or ill there is more information (not to be confused with knowledge) than one could ever hope to process, and came across the term “collapsitarian.” This refers to the theory that industrial civilization is about to tumble into a new Dark Age, precipitated by overpopulation, fossil fuel depletion and climate change, which will bring about global conflict, famine and epidemic disease. The more optimistic proponents foresee a near term population reduction to ten percent of the current load. The less sanguine envision mass species extinction to include Homo sapiens.

I became a collapsitarian, immersing myself in a large body of literature that has come to be known colloquially as “doomer porn,” presumably due to the addictive properties of morbidity. I found an on-line collapsitarian community. It is not quite a cult, but certainly has cult-like properties. There is no single charismatic leader, but rather a variety of gurus who keep blogs with updates detailing the process of devolution. The weekly entry is followed by a forum where a screen named commentator provides strophe and antistrophe.

There are three superstars of the doomer porn blogosphere, each with his own approach. I will refer to them here as the Wizard, the Curmudgeon and the Provocateur. They are all prolific writers who use their blogs to promote the sale of their numerous books (which I do not disparage, as given the current state of publishing, this seems to be the only way authors, save a chosen few, can hope to rise above the noise floor). That they are able to support themselves on their royalties, presumably supplemented by the occasional honorarium, speaks of their talents.

The Wizard (so called due to his background in mysticism and the occult, though this is not particularly featured in his collapse blog) takes an historical approach. Drawing from Spengler and Toynbee, he emphasizes the cyclical nature of the rise and fall of civilizations, puncturing the “myth of progress” as the fore defeated driver of economic theory since Adam Smith. His forum is strictly moderated for civility and propriety, but his followers are generally high minded. Typically they offer mélanges of social theory, religion and philosophy to answers to the coming crisis, or else describe their preparatory efforts through organic gardening and cottage industries. Political correctness is practiced to a degree.

The Curmudgeon’s background is ‘60s activism. His slant is cultural, aimed at the degradation of the American polity. His pieces are short, but highly entertaining, due to his capacity for hyperbolic vituperative hurled at the governing and elite classes, as well as the proletariat. The so-called “sheeple.” But ultimately he sounds like an exasperated missionary who has spent a lifetime watching his converts backslide. His forum is a looser ship that attracts a rowdy crowd of armchair Black Bloc types who misuse the space to express identity politics, anarchy and class envy en paroles. But the dialectic invariably

The Provocateur is Russian, though he chooses to live in the United States, as our harshest critics often do. Formerly his writings emphasized technical analysis of the unfolding crises, with suggestions on how to prepare. More recently, however, he has become a gadfly of the “West” (meaning primarily the U.S.A.), which he characterizes as a Great Satan, responsible for all ills, and upon which retribution will fall the hardest. This is not to say he lacks a case, but he presents it from a Russian centric point of view. The Motherland is held up in comparison as a paragon of stability and virtue that will weather the storm on national character. (The Soviet Union has failed, but the canard of the worker’s paradise lives on.) His tone is similar to RT, the state channel that seems less intent upon informing the viewers as on discouraging them. And both seem to assume a lack of awareness of Russian history and current events. The Provocateur’s following tends to vote the party line, like good apparatchiks.

Despite divergent points of view, these writers and their followers agree on one thing: Collapse is certain and the only questions concern depth and timing. There is little to be done to mitigate the descent and reparation such as homesteading, stockpiling or relocation will ultimately be of small value. So we talk about it week upon week, parsing the lugubrious details. But it occurs to me that the blog gurus are not so much issuing jeremiads as exploiting a niche market. A market that seems to be expanding, for where collapsitarians were once a fringe group, articles on the subject are beginning to appear in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and The Economist. We have scorned these publications as “cornucopian;” promoting a false doctrine of infinite resources on a finite planet. So this new mainstream interest suggests a growing undercurrent of doubt in a public formerly concerned with business as usual. Also worth noting, the purveyors of media entertainment are increasingly proffering apocalyptic fare,

Prophecies of end times are not new. If I properly understand Spengler (not an easy challenge, even in translation), the West has been in decline for a thousand years. There is also a long American tradition of predicting the exact date of Judgement Day, by preachers whose followers dispose of employment and worldly goods to await the end, only to find themselves embarrassed. Further, the current issue ofglobal warming caused greenhouse gasses follows an opposite concern from a few years back, predicting global cooling due to solar activity. Maybe the two will offset each other. Wouldn’t that be nice?

What then is the attraction of doomer porn? Is it the pleasures of the game that Dr. Eric Berne called Ain’t It Awful? I note the blog participants are typically middle age or older, with an “outsider” mentality. It may be that intimations of mortality and general frustration have given voice to a subconscious wish to bring down the roof like Samson. Further, the millennialism of the Abrahamic traditions of the West and beyond is possibly being amplified by overcrowding, wealth disparity and “red queen running,” striking a harmonic on a string of Thanatos. That we are facing global constraints of resource scarcity, climate change and financial instability is undeniable, though there are those who continue to deny. But the West, particularly the United States has a history of technocratic optimism. And for every prophet of destruction there is another predicting the triumph of technology.

When doctors disagree, who is to decide? Usually lawyers, but in this case it will be history. The more measured collspsitarians advise that collapse is a slow process. Barring a “Black Swan event,” celestial or man-made, the projected Dark Age is many generations away. We know what became of the grandeur that was Rome by accounts such as that of Rutilius in the 5th Century CE, and not long after the Eternal City was virtually empty, with the Old Forum used to raise wheat. Yet modern Rome stands atop its past, as do Istanbul and Jerusalem. Machu Picchu, by contrast, turned into a ghost town in short order, remaining such for centuries before becoming a tourist attraction. The Incas experienced a Black Swan event in the person of Pizarro. So one speculates upon the future of cities like New York, London, Beijing or São Paulo a thousand years from now, and one is tempted to fiction.

* KL Cooke is a retired project manager and veteran of the Silicon Valley. He has a new job watching grandchildren, with the rest of the time spent fishing, reading and dabbling in painting and writing.