Even in this progressive age, religious uncertainties still abound as we approach Holy Season, which begins with St. Martin’s Day on January 16 and extends throughout Black History Month. This was made dramatically clear last week at a college near where I live, a place that has demoted the ancient Christian holiday that falls on December 25 and the weeks leading up to it as “holiday season.”
Meanwhile the institution is making every effort to commemorate MLK’s trials and martyrdom. Considering his stature, the customary one-day celebration was deemed inadequate, so they are preparing for a weeklong celebration of their twentieth-century savior. The sacred week will be devoted to recounting America’s racist past, what remains to be done to overcome that past, and most importantly, the question of whether King’s pronouncements can help advance gay and transvestite agendas.
When asked to submit lecture proposals, only one faculty member bothered to respond, but since this wiseacre had the temerity to question King’s spiritual purity, he was immediately turned down. Still, there’s no reason to suspect that other faculty members were equally irreverent. One retired professor wrote to his colleagues that the proposed celebration did not dwell sufficiently on Southern wickedness. He also said the college was not doing enough to exalt King, given what this truly heroic figure had done to raise us out of our bigotry.
The college community was peacefully and reverentially preparing for January 16 until someone expressed an idea that befouled the worshipers as if a garbage truck’s contents had been dumped on their heads. This disruption is equivalent to the controversy over Christ’s divinity that wracked the early Christian world. The person who set it off belonged to the college’s venerable Center for Global Citizenship and was helping to plan an international dinner to be served for foreign students on the academic liturgical calendar’s holiest day. In his childlike simplicity he suggested including a large fleshy-centered fruit called “w————n.”
Rather thoughtlessly, the committee was planning a festive menu without beseeching the approval of their religious superior—the black female Director of Diversity. Had they acted through the designated chain of authority, the ensuing controversy would not likely have arisen. The lower clergy would have known it was acting in a way that ran contrary to the teachings of the Church of Political Correctness, whose highest campus official is the diversity-directing minority lady. Similar grave oversights may have led to Christendom’s split in the sixteenth century, if one may be allowed to compare the present moment of high sensitivity to outdated religious superstitions.
The Director of Diversity issued a pronouncement emphatically prohibiting her flock from serving w————n on the Feast of St. Martin. The prelate explained that w————n is a “symbol of oppression to all black people,” thus it would be racist to serve at a college event. To their credit, those associated with Global Citizenship immediately withdrew their menu suggestion and have acted contritely ever since. But what sort of benighted being wouldn’t recognize the gravity of this offense on their own? They had ignored repeated warnings that a prohibition would be coming. For months the Director had lamented the fact that the forbidden fruit was being served on campus. But others chose to ignore these cries of despair.
It seemed like such a kind offer. They were going to the same house party a hundred miles or so north of London. The girl—seventeen years old, blonde—didn’t own a car. He—a decade older, boisterous, full of charm, heir to a title—did. So they set off that summer’s day in the early seventies, he at the wheel and she at his side. They were far from London when he turned off the main road onto a small lane. The girl, unaware of the peepholes drilled through to his female lodgers’ bedrooms at his house in Chelsea, knew that their route involved no such detour but said nothing. They stopped. A lunge, the car door flung open, skittering heels hopelessly fighting for traction on tarmac, and his heavier, surer footsteps behind. When he had finished, he said: “You made me do it…sitting there…you’re too pretty…you made me.”
Researching a book about 20th-century “black sheep” aristocrats inevitably yields lurid details. The assailant appears in its pages but not as a primary character, since he eluded public disgrace. He did not invest his inheritance in essentials such as helicopters, heroin, and handcuffs—some of the recreational tools favored by John Hervey, AKA 7th Marquess of Bristol (1954-99). John’s precocious alcoholism led him in adolescence to hide bottles of crème de menthe in water-closet cisterns. Hervey’s family seat, Ickworth, was described by its creator’s wife as “a stupendous monument of folly” whose 200-yard frontage is pierced by a 104-foot-tall rotunda.
John’s father, Victor, 6th Marquess of Bristol (1915-1985), arguably handled his liquor better, decaying gently in Monte Carlo where he initiated his days by proclaiming “God Save the Queen” and swigging vodka from the bottle. Victor had the edge in raw recidivism, being sentenced to three years’ penal servitude in 1939 and later successfully defrauding the Finnish Ministry of Defence.
Father and son are two among the many aristocrats who floundered and failed in the first democratic century. Mowbray Howard, 6th Earl of Effingham, fatally ran down a pedestrian, went bankrupt, and married a suspected KGB agent. The British Secret Service assessed him as “a weakling…fond of drink.” By the 1960s, such traits had commended him to the gangsters Reggie and Ronnie Kray, who retained him as their London gaming club’s director.
Sir Anthony de Hoghton, 13th baronet, established his reputation at Oxford by urinating in letterboxes, throwing soup in waiters’ faces, and composing poetry deemed blasphemous. (“God is in his garage, cranking up his Bentley.”) He perished in 1978, aged 58, having spent his declining years as a “fat and grizzled tramp.”
By the late 1990s, another viscount had retreated to a basement flat, a sewer of congealed food, unwashed crockery, greasy furniture, and airless rooms. Accompanied by an English male and a female New Yorker, he adhered to a limited but dedicated routine—smoking crack cocaine, and then more. A black butler was entrusted with facilitating re-supply.
Though the British aristocracy doesn’t have a monopoly on depravity or an innately greater propensity to addiction, it offers almost limitless evidence of dysfunction, whether manifested by alcoholism, drug abuse, wife-beating, or sexual delinquency. In his novel I Want it Now, Kingsley Amis partly decrypted why:
They’re worse, not because they’re worse by nature, but because of their opportunities for power without responsibility.…If you’re rich, you can afford to abandon reason, justice and good manners whenever you feel like it.
Things aren’t looking too good these days, says Slavoj Zizek in his latest book, Living in the End Times.
The underlying premise of the present book is a simple one: the global capitalist system is approaching an apocalyptic zero-point. Its “four riders of the apocalypse” are comprised by the ecological crisis, the consequences of the biogenetic revolution, imbalances within the system itself…and the explosive growth of social divisions and exclusions.
What the devil could he mean by “apocalyptic zero point”—a revelation, a revolution, a shift, an exhaustion, an implosion, an explosion?
[W]e are bombarded from all sides with injunctions to recycle personal waste, placing bottles, newspapers, etc., in the appropriate bins. In this way, guilt and responsibility are personalized—it is not the entire organization of the economy which is to blame, but our subjective attitude which needs to change.
He calls it an “ideological trick,” and it’s one of the oldest in the book. As personalized guilt was a hallmark of Christianity, diffused responsibility is one of democracy’s trademarks.
Badiou was right to claim that today the name of the ultimate enemy is not capitalism, empire, exploitation, or anything similar, but democracy itself. It is the “democratic illusion,” the acceptance of democratic mechanisms as providing the only framework for all possible change, which prevents any radical transformation of capitalist relations.
How radical were some of these so-called transformations? Were they revolutions blowing the whole thing to smithereens, seminal events setting new patterns, or merely vents allowing the system to blow some steam and keep going?
Zizek walks us through the last half-century’s successive insurrections. May ’68 failed politically but won socially with its loosening of mores. The anti-communism revolts of 1989 won politically as communism collapsed, but they lost socially. He says “the new post communist society with its combination of wild capitalism and nationalism is not what the dissidents were fighting for.” He dubs this year’s London riots as “pure irrational revolt without any program.”
Like the steam engines that launched it and that it launched, the system—call it industrial, capitalist, or democratic—is well supplied with safety valves (or in psychoanalytical terms, defense mechanisms).
After taking a line from quantum physics, Zizek compares our current situation with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance—which he uses as chapter headings for his book.
Who died, though? A particular idea of what constitutes revolution? And is it such a sad thing that the hedge of piques and bayonets has turned to pointed fingers? They’re pointing rather lamely—not being as sharp, they’re not as fatal.
Seeing as how man didn’t emerge from the caves until something like 6,000 years ago, thirty-five years is a mere bagatelle in the grand scheme of things. Still, man’s day-to-day folly is always more fun than grand schemes.
In September 1976 I went to Torino to buy a Fiat car for my daughter’s mother straight from Fiat’s principal shareholder Gianni Agnelli. He not only gave me a very good price but also had me stay in his house along with his then-driver for Ferrari, Niki Lauda. The Austrian driver had recently been horribly burnt at Nürburgring but recovered enough to win the Formula One title in 1977. The next day, I took possession of the Fiat and motored toward Paris. I was advised to drive slowly for the first thousand kilometers.
Boredom on the motorway brought on the muse. I memorized close to 1,000 words—a word per kilometer—on how one can spot an Englishman in a European nightclub. (They scrutinize the bill and argue about it with the waiters, never have the right currency, wear thick tweeds that smell of horses and dogs, dance without rhythm, and scare the Arabs with their red complexions.) When I eventually got to London I rang The Spectator’s then-editor Alexander Chancellor and proposed the piece. For any of you unfamiliar with The Spectator, it is one of the English-speaking world’s oldest magazines, running close to 200 years and over nine thousand issues. Graham Greene has called it the world’s best written and most elegant weekly.
As luck would have it, Chancellor wanted to lighten the magazine up a bit, and he welcomed my proposal. I wrote 1,500 words in half an hour, adding a French accent to it: ze for “the” and zut alors after every expostulation. It ran the next week and Alexander asked me if I wished to contribute regularly. I jumped at the chance, as until then I had been traveling around the world’s trouble spots reporting dry facts for wire services. My column went in the back of the book, as it’s called, and it was supposed to be funny—harder to do than it sounds.
Jet-setters did not read The Spectator 35 years ago. Politicians, literary people, Oxford and Cambridge dons, and clubmen did, but not jet-setters. So I invented the quintessential English jet-set couple, Mark and Lola Winters, based on Martin and Nona Summers, a real twosome I ran into everywhere I went. I began chronicling their life. The trick worked. The story of their egregious social climbing made the rounds after gossip columnists picked it up and people from all walks of life started to read the column. I wrote amazing things about Mark and Lola: their social climbing with real people, many of whom were close friends of mine, the tricks they pulled to get invited to chic parties, their efforts to attract celebrities to their Eaton Square flat, the presents they sent to certain Greek shipowners whom they hardly knew, the children they rented to pose as their own when they managed to have “proper” people as their guests, and finally, their desperation to get third-rate royals, any royals, to attend their bashes.
The column became required reading by those who found the Winters ridiculous and savored the humiliation I heaped on them week in, week out. When The Spectator conducted a poll to see who was reading us, it was revealed that Oxford dons were reading my column en masse and discussing the state of English social climbing at the High Table after work. Dons are notorious gossips. I also reported on the parties I attended—where I invariably ran into the notorious couple—and about my first love, politics. One thing that everyone at The Spectator could never figure out was why no one realized the couple was fictitious. I think it was because I mixed them up with real people who were mostly vague and aristocratic and who could never remember anyone’s name.
A week is proverbially a long time in politics. A year is 52.14 times longer than that. Our own lives occupy the fronts of our minds, while public affairs rumble in the background. To most of us this was the year that Jimmy went off to college, Suzy got married, dad lost his job, or grandma died.
This is right and proper, because public affairs matter. Events that happen in Congress or the Persian Gulf might determine whether Jimmy can go to college or dad can keep his job. But there isn’t much any of us can do to affect those events, so to give more than twenty minutes’ thought a day to them is a waste of one’s life.
It follows that by the end of a calendar year, normal people have forgotten most of what happened in the public realm. As a public service, I offer a month-by-month summary of 2011. You’re welcome.
January. Gabrielle Giffords, a US representative from Arizona on the fairly sane side of the Democratic Party, was shot in the head when Jared Lee Loughner opened fire on a meeting she was holding. Rep. Giffords survived and is making a good recovery, but six other people died. The political left blamed the shooting on “eliminationist rhetoric” (Paul Krugman), Sarah Palin (Daily Kos), Jared Taylor (an Arizona law-enforcement organization, apparently on the theory that all persons named Jared must be in cahoots), or the Tea Party (well-nigh everyone). It turned out that Loughner was a maniac with no discernible political ax to grind.
February. A great month for scales falling from eyes, at least in Europe. Angela Merkel got the ball rolling in October 2010, telling a gathering of her party’s youth wing that “Multikulti ist gescheitert”—multiculturalism has failed. Next up was British Prime Minister David Cameron at a panel discussion with that same Frau Merkel in (irony alert!) Munich, saying: “Under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and the mainstream.” Bringing up the rear was French President Nicolas Sarkozy in a TV interview: “If you come to France, you accept to melt into a single community…and if you do not want to accept that, you cannot be welcome in France.”
March. Preparing to receiving open homosexuals into its ranks, the US Marine Corps issued training materials to officers containing imagined scenarios they should ponder so they will know how to proceed. Sample:
You are the Executive Officer of your unit. While shopping at the local mall over the weekend, you observe two junior male Marines in appropriate civilian attire assigned to your unit kissing and hugging in the food court.
What should a good Marine officer do in this situation? “Retire to his quarters with a bottle of Scotch and a loaded sidearm” is not an acceptable answer.
April. Congress passed a budget deal to avert a government showdown. The deal was advertised as including cuts to federal spending. There was some trimming of programs in health, labor, education, and contributions to the UN and various international organizations for a total savings of $38.5 billion—only .002% of the federal deficit.
The more popular it is to worry over some organized threat, the less of a danger it likely is in reality. After all, if some group or institution was truly fearsome, most people would either be terrified into silence or admiration.
For example, Dan Brown made a fortune off his The Da Vinci Code pulp novel during this low ebb of the Catholic Church’s powers with a tale of how a nearly omnipotent Church conspires to cover up pagan feminism’s golden age.
However, actual pagans traditionally complained that Christianity was too female-friendly. But Brown is practically Edward Gibbon compared to his successor as a global publishing sensation, the late Stieg Larsson, author of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (or as it was originally titled in Sweden, Men Who Hate Women). Himself a hate-filled lefty nerd, Larsson concocted an elaborate fantasy world for true believers in the conventional wisdom.
Although Larsson was a long-time supporter of the Communist Workers League, his politics seldom got in the way of his lust for Apple products. The Aspergery author penned such undying literary effusions as:
Unsurprisingly she set her sights on the best available alternative: the new Apple PowerBook G4/1.0 GHz in an aluminum case with a PowerPC 7451 processor with an AltiVec Velocity Engine, 960 MB RAM and a 60 GB hard drive.
You may have somehow garnered the impression that Sweden is a politically correct social democracy where the main problems women face (qua women) are oppression and rape at the hands of Muslim immigrants whose traditional misogyny is sometimes excused in the name of multicultural sensitivity. Otherwise, Scandinavia would appear to be a feminist utopia. As WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange, currently appealing against extradition to Sweden on “sex-by-surprise” charges filed by two women scorned, has complained, “Sweden is the Saudi Arabia of feminism.”
Nordic feminism has a thousand-year history since Leif Ericson’s half-sister Freydís Eiríksdóttir terrified the poor Skraelings in Vinland. And modern Sweden’s mild-mannered men are famous among the more aggressive sort of male tourists for their relative lack of apparent jealousy when their womenfolk amuse themselves by flirting with strangers.
This year crawls toward its doom while 2012 waits to unleash new horrors upon us.
Here in California, we enjoyed the first year of rule by our resuscitated governor, who has learned to his chagrin that the 1970s are indeed over—although his predecessor clung to life by unveiling a love child. Governor Brown did not lie during his campaign: His assertion that he had no plan or any idea what to do in office has proved to be true. We teeter ever closer to financial ruin while remaining wealthy enough to produce 120 people willing to fork over $17,900 a head to dine with President Obama.
Obama can claim credit for two coups in 2011: Osama bin Laden, the 21st century’s very own Emmanuel Goldstein, was at last packed off to paradise or wherever, and our troops are finally out of Iraq. Closer to home he reaffirmed his roots by replacing newly anointed Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel as Chief of Staff with the former mayor’s brother. Unlike Truman, who broke with the Pendergast machine that created him, the president is a man of loyalty. Chicago-on-the-Potomac remains secure.
In royal news, Prince William married Kate Middleton in a pageant that melted the hearts of folk worldwide. The heads of government of the 16 Commonwealth realms agreed to change the Act of Succession, thus allowing gender equality in choosing the next heir and allowing him or her to marry that most dreaded of all things, a Catholic. In response to Japan’s earthquake and nuclear crisis, the country’s Emperor took the unprecedented step of addressing the nation directly without a government speechwriter. The heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Otto von Habsburg, died at age 99 and was sent off with an imperial funeral the likes of which Vienna had not seen since 1916.
The Arab world erupted in unrest: Presidents-for-life were toppled in Tunisia, Egypt, and, most bloodily, in Libya. At year’s end, Syria’s president remained employed, albeit at a large cost in his constituents’ blood. The war in Afghanistan ground on, and rumors of conflict continued to flash around Iran and Israel.
As a sentient being born in the 1960s, I don’t remember not knowing about the Holocaust. So only two things genuinely shocked me when I visited Israel’s Yad Vashem last year:
First, the Garden of the Righteous Gentiles wasn’t quite the lush oasis I’d been expecting. It was more like a row of Charlie Brown Christmas trees shoved into possibly the only stretch of parched earth left in that famously well-irrigated country.
Second? The gift shop. I mean, that it existed. In retrospect, refraining from going inside was a mistake, because then I was free to speculate on what might be for sale. Crematoria snow globes? Jedem das Seine welcome mats?
The Canadian Museum for Human Rights gift shop is already open for business online, but the $310-million (and counting) museum proper is still under construction for now. The ribbon-cutting has been pushed ahead from early next year to 2014. Or maybe 2015. Or, some of us hope, never.
The Canadian Museum for Human Rights started out as “the dream of CanWest founder Izzy Asper” and/or (according to everyone else) one of those beyond-reproach philanthropic “gifts” the rest of us never wanted and usually wind up financing. Whenever these good-for-you “legacy” projects are waved in my face, I feel as if I’m being forced to give head to the Hindenburg.
So First Ladies inevitably champion “literacy,” and who could possibly object? Well, me, for one. The average newspaper’s “Letters to the Editor” demonstrate that this whole “teaching everyone to read and write” business has gone too far. And even decades later, only a few brave souls dare criticize the 1980s’ “feed the starving Ethiopians” fad, which succeeded only in feeding the egos of celebrities and their smug, sheeplike followers.
“Few can logically argue against the value of a human rights museum as an entity,” one Canadian columnist recently declared. In the timid Trudeaupia of even ten years ago, perhaps. But not here and not now.
If the late publishing and broadcasting baron Israel Asper hoped his parting “gift” might stifle mean-spirited whispers about “Jews running the media,” that part kind of worked, because if that charge was true, his pet project would have gotten way better press.
The mildest criticisms revolve around the puzzling location of this new national museum not in Ottawa or Vancouver, but Winnipeg, AKA “Winterpeg.” (Picture Minneapolis with more mosquitoes.)
Other concerns are more serious.
“They took all the rights/put ’em in a Rights Museum,” one Canadian blogger likes to joke. Kate McMillan (along with me and some other troublemakers) is all too familiar with the consequences of questioning our nation’s multi-million-dollar “human rights” religion.
Half a century ago, American children were schooled in Aesop’s fables. Among the more famous of these were The Fox and the Grapes and The Tortoise and the Hare.
Particularly appropriate this Christmas season, and every Christmas lately, is Aesop’s fable of The Dog in the Manger.
The tale is about a dog who decides to take a nap in the manger. When the ox, who has worked all day, comes back to eat some straw, the dog barks loudly, threatens to bite him and drives him from his manger.
The lesson the fable teaches is that it is malicious and wicked to deny a fellow creature what you yourself do not want and cannot even enjoy.
What brings the fable to mind is this year’s crop of Christmas-haters, whose numbers have grown since the days when it was only the village atheist or the ACLU pest who sought to kill Christmas.
The problem with these folks is not simply that they detest Christmas and what it represents, but that they must do their best, or worst, to ensure Christians do not enjoy the season and holy day they love.
As a Washington Times editorial relates, the number of anti-Christian bigots is growing, and their malevolence is out of the closet:
“In Leesburg, Va., a Santa-suit-clad skeleton was nailed to a cross. … In Santa Monica, atheists were granted 18 of 21 plots in a public park allotted for holiday displays and … erected signs mocking religion. In the Wisconsin statehouse, a sign informs visitors, ‘Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.’ A video that has gone viral on YouTube shows denizens of Occupy D.C. spewing gratuitous hatred of a couple who dared to appropriate a small patch of McPherson Square to set up a living Nativity scene.”
People who indulge in such conduct invariably claim to be champions of the First Amendment, exercising their right of free speech to maintain a separation of church and state.
They are partly right. The First Amendment does protect what they are doing. But what they are doing is engaging in hate speech and anti-Christian bigotry. For what is the purpose of what they are about, if not to wound, offend, insult and mock fellow Americans celebrating the happiest day of their calendar year?
While interviewing Ron Paul a few days ago, CNN’s chief political analyst Gloria Borger avoided discussing his policies and instead dredged up the already exhausted newsletter scandal.
On multiple occasions, Paul has stated that he: (1) doesn’t know who the author was, (2) takes full responsibility for the newsletters being published under his name, and (3) denounces their content. Yet Gloria wouldn’t let up with her antics.
Sean Hannity and other right-leaning pundits have asked Paul equally stupid questions over the years, so it isn’t only left-wing news outlets.
One of Paul’s most popular stances is his strong rejection of the War on Drugs, which had been a non-issue until he came into the mix. Substance prohibition in American history has frequently been entwined with anti-minority ideology. In the early 1900s, marijuana was denounced as a drug that polluted the white race and turned Mexicans into murderous lunatics. The same thing was carried out against Chinese immigrants and blacks through anti-opium and anti-cocaine legislation, respectively.
Anti-drug laws still disproportionately affect minorities. A 2009 Human Rights Watch study concluded that “an estimated 67 percent of convicted felony drug defendants are sentenced to jail or prison.” Relative to population, “blacks are 10.1 times more likely than whites to be sent to prison for drug offenses.”
The Root, a black-oriented website, referred to ending drug prohibition as the “most meaningfully pro-black policy today.” The NAACP accepts this thesis and passed a resolution earlier this year to end the War on Drugs.