Who is the real Barack Obama?
It’s an odd question to ask about an incumbent president less than a week before he’s up for reelection. It’s an especially strange inquiry to make of a president as self-obsessed and introspectively voluble as Obama.
Yet Obama has been the subject of so much fantasizing (not least by Obama himself) that the actual man remains occluded.
A simple explanation of Obama’s strengths and weaknesses has finally occurred to me.
The first two-dozen years of Obama’s life saw him on a path for a professional niche that nobody has quite explicated before. Until he upped stakes and moved to Chicago in 1985 to participate in the Council Wars racial struggle with the implausible goal of becoming mayor of Chicago, Obama was gliding down an unusual path: to become an international interlocutor, a graceful go-between connecting America and the Muslim world.
In the classic 1974 science-fiction novel The Mote in God’s Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, humanity comes into contact with an alien race whose ambassadors are articulate, elegant, and empathetic. They can listen to a human’s stumbling explanation of his wants and repeat it back to him more deftly than he did. Only slowly do the humans grasp that these polite, likable envoys are merely one caste among the aliens, a special breed called the “mediators.”
Here on planet Earth, international intermediaries are not yet bred to specification. Still, area experts and emissaries tend to emerge from certain backgrounds, classes, and personality types.
In American history, Foreign Service specialists are often the mild-mannered descendants of adventuresome old Protestants who became bored with their rocky Northeastern farms, such as the Yankee sea captains, merchants, and Protestant missionaries who dominated 19th-century America’s contacts with less developed cultures abroad such as the Kingdom of Hawaii.
In 1971, the ten-year-old Barack Obama enrolled in Punahou School, Hawaii’s flagship of Yankee culture. Punahou had been founded 130 years before by the Vermont missionary Hiram Bingham I. Upon Bingham, James Michener had modeled his villain, the Rev. Abner Hale, in his 1959 bestseller Hawaii.
As Obama notes in his stump speeches, the Dunhams were from Kansas, but from a particularly Yankee-leaning part of the Jayhawk State. For instance, his grandfather’s brother Ralph, a Berkeley Ph.D., traced his name back to that ultimate Unitarian, Ralph Waldo Emerson. (The president’s grandmother also had a sibling who earned a doctorate.)
In American history, the two most controversial castes of missionary-derived mandarins were the Old China Hands and the Arabists.
The former were typically sons of Protestant missionaries born or raised in China, such as Owen Lattimore, John Paton Davies, Jr., and John S. Service. The left-leaning diplomatic, academic, and journalistic China Hands clashed with the right-leaning China Lobby in the 1940s and 1950s over whether American should back Mao Tse-tung or Chiang Kai-shek. Was Chiang a loser or was Mao a lunatic? (Unfortunately, it turned out that both could be true simultaneously.)
Similarly, as outlined in Robert D. Kaplan’s 1995 book The Arabists: The Romance of an American Elite, Protestant missionaries from the Atlantic Seaboard voyaged to the Arab world in the 19th century. They didn”t have much luck converting the locals to Protestantism. (Obama’s Columbia professor Edward Said was a rare Arab Protestant.) But these intermarried families founded influential schools such as the American University of Beirut.
The Arabists played an influential role in American foreign policy until largely being squeezed out by Zionists angered with Arabists” sympathy for the Palestinians.
Much of the Muslim world, however, is not Arab”for example, Indonesia, Pakistan, and large parts of black Africa. And that opened up a potential career path not as an Arabist per se, but as a “Muslimist.” The Muslimist route became especially promising in 1973 with the Muslim-dominated OPEC’s emergence as an economic power. The oil cartel included not only Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Libya, and Iran, but also Indonesia and part-Muslim Nigeria.
With Halloween upon us as well as a new television program based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s writings, it’s worth revisiting his spiritualist leanings and his contentious relationship with Harry Houdini.
You probably think of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as a buttoned-up sort of chap, the epitome of a Victorian English clubman with his richly tinted complexion and luxuriant waxed mustache.
Conan Doyle was all of these things and more. Apart from creating Holmes, he was also a historian, essayist, practicing doctor, pioneer amateur photographer, political candidate, paleontologist, motorist, athlete, spirited banjo player, and arguably the first man to popularize downhill skiing. In later years, Conan Doyle broke violently from the established church and became the proprietor of a popular freak museum that he opened, provocatively, next door to Westminster Abbey.
There was another side to Doyle that makes a striking contrast between the rational world of Holmes and the more shadowy one of Ouija boards and spooks. As a young provincial doctor in the 1880s, he”d regularly “consulted the cards” and attended sÃ©ances. He described himself as “thrilled” when a dozen fresh eggs once apparently materialized in front of him out of the ether. Before long he was conducting experiments in mesmerism and telepathy, and over the years he became a firm believer in levitation.
Conan Doyle’s spiritualist beliefs eventually led him to endorse the claims of 16-year-old Elsie Wright and her 10-year-old cousin Frances Griffiths when they announced they had gone for a walk one day in the northern English village of Cottingley and returned with photographs of little people. The girls produced five such pictures, which Conan Doyle made the basis of his 1922 book The Coming of the Fairies. Sixty years later, the then-elderly cousins admitted that the whole thing was a hoax. They had cut out illustrations from Princess Mary’s Gift Book, in which Doyle himself had published a story, and propped them up in the grass with hatpins.
Across the Atlantic, Harry Houdini cast a more skeptical eye on the various phenomena produced by the 1920s” growing ranks of mediums and clairvoyants. He had known too many of these supposedly gifted performers when they were struggling vaudevillians to think otherwise.
For example, there was the Washington, DC husband-and-wife team of Julius and Ada Zancig, who convinced Doyle that they literally had a meeting of minds. After visiting the Zancigs, Doyle wrote that
The wife was able to stand with her face turned sideways at the far end of a room, and then to repeat names and duplicate drawings which I made and showed to her husband.
Houdini in turn visited and reported that the Zancigs
did a very clever performance. I had ample opportunity to watch their system and codes. They are swift, sure, and silent, and I give them credit for being exceptionally adept in their chosen line of mystery. Telepathy does not enter into it.
In April 1920, Houdini met Conan Doyle. They were arguably the two most famous entertainers on Earth, and each man quickly identified something he needed in the other. Houdini was then 46, had ambitions to be a writer, and never missed a chance to rub shoulders with the literary elite. Conan Doyle, 60, saw “the little chap” as a possible high-profile recruit to the spiritualist ranks.
A wary friendship began. Doyle announced that he was in regular touch with his son Kingsley, who had died in the Spanish flu pandemic two years earlier. On one occasion, he said, the family had been sitting around a table in a darkened room, “and I heard a very intense whisper say, “Father!,” and then after a pause, “Forgive me!””
Some of my best friends are “birthers.” So far I”ve resisted the temptation to sign up with them, although I loved that bit about the signature on that Hawaiian “Certificate of Live Birth” possibly reading “U. K. L. Lee.” (Get it? “Ukulele”?)
I wasted a brief long-ago interval mired in JFK buffdom and must manfully resist the temptation to tumble back through the looking glass. That rarefied region is an ever-so-cozy womb that’s saturated with thalidomide. The conspiracy theory “community” is so seductive in part because it provides the illusion that one is engaged in vital, high-risk “work” when you”re only mentally masturbating within a “safe room” while hiding from “authorities” who wouldn”t give a crap about you even if they knew you existed.
Yes, it matters who killed President Kennedy. (Psst: The commie did it.) The assassination of America’s commander in chief doesn”t stop being a historical event just because some goofball autodidactic basement dwellers also think it is.
Same with Obama’s citizenship. The Founding Fathers wanted Americans to care about where the president was born. The Constitution is admirably clear in Article Two, Section 1. Conveniently, a commonplace document was invented long ago to provide this exact information: a birth certificate.
Alas, one of those Americans concerned about Obama’s citizenship is Donald Trump, which is about as helpful and reassuring as Ed Gein running for the cure.
Trump began openly asking questions about Obama’s citizenship in April, 2011, joining the chorus demanding that the president show the world his long-form Certificate of Live Birth.
Incredibly, the White House then released the document. Was it authentic? What did it say? All I remember is Trump trumpeting his victory, which reinforced his image as A Powerful Man Who Gets Things Done. But so did Obama when NBC interrupted The Celebrity Apprentice to announce that Osama bin Laden had been killed.
Last week, Trump challenged Obama to unseal even more “secret” documents. Sophisticates on all sides feigned disgust, but much as I hate to say it, Trump is the busted Rolex again here. Everyone would love to peek at the president’s college records. But since “the Donald” is the one doing the asking, that makes it uncool.
Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people—a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs, and who, by their joint counsels, arms, and efforts, fighting side by side throughout a long and bloody war, have nobly established general liberty and independence.
So wrote John Jay in Federalist No. 2, wherein he describes Americans as a “band of brethren united to each other by the strongest ties.”
That “band of brethren united” no longer exists.
No longer are we “descended from the same ancestors.”
Indeed, as we are daily instructed, it is our “diversity”—our citizens can trace their ancestors to every member state of the United Nations—that “is our strength.” And this diversity makes us a stronger, better country than the America of Eisenhower and JFK.
No longer do we speak the same language. To tens of millions, Spanish is their language. Millions more do not use English in their homes. Nor are their children taught in English in the schools.
As for “professing the same religion,” the Christianity of Jay and the Founding Fathers has been purged from all public institutions. One in 5 Americans profess no religious faith. The mainline Protestant churches—the Episcopal, Methodist, Lutheran and Presbyterian—have been losing congregants for a half-century. Secularism is the religion of the elites. It alone is promulgated in public schools.
Are we attached to “the same principles of government”?
Half the nation believes it is the duty of government to feed, house, educate and medicate the population and endlessly extract from the well-to-do whatever is required to make everybody more equal.
Egalitarianism has triumphed over freedom. Hierarchy, the natural concomitant of freedom, is seen as undemocratic.
Are we similar “in our manners and customs”? Are we agreed upon what is good or even tolerable in music, literature, art?
Do we all seek to live by the same moral code? Abortion, a felony in the 1950s, is now a constitutional right. Homosexual marriage, an absurdity not long ago, is the civil rights cause du jour.
Dissent from the intolerant new orthodoxy and you are a bigot, a hater, a homophobe, an enemy of women’s rights.
Four years ago, a starry-eyed, hopeful, and fatally credulous nation elected Barack Obama to the presidency based largely on some dimwitted notion that he would usher us into a glittering new “post-racial“ era where everyone got along, had group orgies, and joyously mixed their genes into a highly agreeable shade of caramel.
Four years later, “researchers” seem perplexed that the nation is just a tad more “racist” than it was four years ago.
A recently released “study“ co-sponsored by the Associated Press”which, smack my ivory-colored ass if I”m wrong, is supposed to dispassionately report facts rather than issue studies that treat indefinable terms such as “prejudice” as if they were remotely scientific”has concluded that Americans are a whopping three percent more “prejudiced” than they were in 2008.
Here’s the punch line, served straight with no chaser by the objective fact-diggers at the AP:
Racial attitudes have not improved in the four years since the United States elected its first black president, an Associated Press poll finds, as a majority of Americans now express prejudice toward blacks whether they recognize those feelings or not.
Thank you, ladies and gents! My name is George Orwell, and I”ll be here all week! Don”t forget to tip your waitress!
In their article announcing the study’s shocking findings, the AP trotted out a series of “Experts on race”: for example, this one, this one, this one, this one, and this one. Notice a pattern? Sure, they also quoted this one apparently for balance, since he lives in an area that is less than half a percent black. The article was coauthored by this woman, which should allay any of your paranoid fears that the entire project stank to heaven of its own sort of prejudice, you racist.
And unless you want to be culturally stigmatized forever, don”t you dare question the study’s methodology, which concluded that it was “prejudiced” to respond in the affirmative when asked whether blacks tend to be more violent. Shut your eyes and ignore the facts, or we”ll bludgeon you into submission with nasty names. Because we all know that despite what all the evidence suggests, what you”re displaying is prejudice rather than postjudice. Even after decades of what may be hard personal experience, you are obviously prejudging.
And kindly snap your mind shut from wondering why it isn”t “racist” that 96% of blacks voted for Obama in 2008 or that Romney’s support among blacks is currently hovering around 0%. We can only hope that Obama is reelected and uses his unparalleled skills at unifying and healing to help black Americans finally get over Romney’s unfortunate skin color. Obviously it’s the Republicans who are alienating nonwhites, and the Democrats” ceaseless white-bashing could not possibly be driving whites away in droves.
The ominous warning of the AP study is that this new upsurge in “prejudice” could cost Obama the election. So don”t blame them if disillusioned Obamabots riot as a result. Clearly it would not be the fault of his supporters, nor of the race-baiters in the media and the race “experts” in academia”the blame will lie solely at the freckled feet of the “prejudiced.”
A detailed report in The New York Times tells about a hearing taking place in the Russian Parliament emphasizing alleged American human-rights violations. Among the featured abuses are the American practices of waterboarding suspected terrorists, historical abuse of minorities, and the mistreatment of Russian orphans or abandoned children adopted by American parents. It seems that in recent years Americans have been adopting Russian children who have been warehoused in large cities after having been brought in from surrounding rural areas.
Having known people who have availed themselves of this service, I believe this form of adoption allows better positioned Americans to acquire white children who generally look like themselves and who have a reasonable chance of exhibiting at least median cognitive abilities.
Usually this adoption procedure results in a happier situation than what the adoptee could expect to find growing up in a crowded Russian orphanage. But occasionally there are problems: for example, when Russian children die suddenly after having been taken off to the US. This leads to speculation about who’s responsible for the fatality. In recent months Russian dignitaries have been coming forth accusing the US of grabbing their children and proceeding to abuse them. One female law student quoted in The New York Times expands this accusation against Americans abusing adopted Russian children into a more general broadside against American righteousness:
They tell us they are the parents of democracy, and that we should learn from them, but they are not paying attention to what is going on in their own country.
The New York Times shows no sympathy for the Russian side in this controversy. Since the fall of the Soviet regime, a despotism with which Times reporters seem to have had a heated, intergenerational love affair, their depiction of the post-communist “authoritarian””read nationalist”Russian government has gone from smirking contempt to utter hostility. The reporter attacks Putin’s hold on the Russian government, comments on the disappearance of his political opponents, and cites the tirades of the “nationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky” against the predominantly Jewish Ã©migrÃ©s who left Russia for the US and who have unleashed “anti-Russian propaganda.”
Judith Schalansky. Pocket Atlas of Remote Islands”Fifty Islands I Have Not Visited and Never Will. London, New York: Penguin, 2012. 240 pp.
The West is writing over all the world’s white spaces. The unrolling triumph of occidental enlightenment and exploration has meant the near-complete charting of the planet”conquest of the tallest peaks, penetration into the remotest forests, sounding of the deepest submarine trenches, and attainment of the abstract Poles. We have stripped shadows from the world and bathed it in harshly antiseptic light. As we have driven back the frontiers of geography we have driven into extinction the many-headed monsters that once patrolled the edges of all atlases. Although there will never be an End of History, sometimes it feels as though we”ve come to the End of Adventure.
How ironic that such an anticlimax should be the outcome of the greatest adventure of all”those eager centuries when the little countries at the westernmost end of the Eurasian “world-island” sent out their best and bravest to find new trade routes, to spread the fame of their country and deity, and to seek knowledge and excitement. The resounding language of the King James Bible expresses something of the mixed motivations and restless romance of the great explorations:
They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters;
These see the works of the LORD, and his wonders in the deep.
The caravels, carracks, galleons, galleys, pinnacles, sloops, and whalers of the Europeans crept down perilous coasts and breached brooding horizons, often to die in the doing”bringing catastrophe (and civilization) to native nabobs, ancient insular cultures, and overly specialized ecosystems.
A desire to bring magic back to maps motivates Judith Schalansky”a German graphic designer who cannily combined her cartographic and typographic interests to produce a beautiful atlas-as-literature. “Now that it is possible to travel right round the globe,” she observes, “the real challenge lies in staying at home and discovering the world from there.”
Her Pocket Atlas, translated almost faultlessly into English this year, brings together depictions of some of the world’s loneliest rocks with whimsical or appalling tales from the islands” past or present. It projects readers across thousands of miles of ocean until we are alongside the author, bobbing off some black-cliff behemoth in the banshee-winded south, or floating apparently on air in a white-sand-coconut-palm fringed lagoon while giant manta rays wing below.
Islands are paradoxical places where even evolution bends its rules to make tortoises that can carry men and pigeons that once bulged grotesquely into doomed dodos. They are places we approach in unlimited hope, where convicts can become kings. No man can be an island, but we project onto them our deepest desires. As Schalansky notes:
The island seems to be in its element, still in its natural state, unchanged since the beginning, paradise before the fall from grace, innocent and unblushing….A land surrounded by water is perceived as the perfect place for utopian experiments and paradise upon earth.
I think of Stevenson’s Tahiti or Margaret Mead’s Samoa”or a thoughtful young girl growing up in East Berlin, flicking longingly through the People’s Democratic Atlas and ignoring the socially significant statistics in favor of tiny yellow blobs floating in fathomless reaches of azure. The Pocket Atlas is awash with accounts of incurable romantics and seekers after spiritual peace or fabulous treasures.
But islands can also be pointless places where convicts simply stay convicts, such as the notorious Norfolk Island penal colony north of New Zealand.
Day after day, Italian newspapers pullulate with deeply disturbing examples of the antics of Italy’s judges. But this past week has been a vintage one even by Italian standards.
First, a judge in the city of L”Aquila, where in April 2009 an earthquake killed an estimated 309 people, convicted seven staff from the government Commissione Grandi Rischi (Natural Disaster Commission), six of them scientists, of the manslaughter of 29 of the earthquake victims, jailing them for six years. Their crime? They told the people of L”Aquila in the days before the earthquake that such an earthquake was improbable. Why stop at the manslaughter of only 29 victims and not all 309? It is not hard to imagine where the application of such insane and terrifying logic might lead. Who now will dare even to be a weatherman in Italy for fear of what Italy’s judges will make of a false prediction?
On Friday, a Milan court convicted Silvio Berlusconi, AKA “Silvio il Magnifico,” of tax fraud and sentenced him to four years in jail, banned him from public office for five years, and ordered him to pay 10 million euros to the tax office. He too had been unable to prove his innocence. Ever since the 76-year-old media tycoon and three-time prime minister became a politician in 1994 to save Italy from the “ex”-Communist Party, Italy’s highly politicized magistrati (judges) have been on his back.
In Italy, there are up to three gradi, or trials, if either the defense or prosecution lodges an appeal. This is the fourth time Berlusconi has been convicted “in primo grado.” Justice in this country is unjustly slow and maddeningly byzantine. It has taken six years simply to reach the end of this first trial, which relates to crimes allegedly committed between 1995 and 1999. But even Silvio il Magnifico is not immortal and so he will probably be dead before its conclusion. But the damage to his reputation from this and all the other prosecutions brought against him has been massive and irreparable.
He has been investigated and prosecuted down the years for practically everything except murder. But he has never spent a single day in jail. Few do in Italy, unless the sentence is greater than three years in jail”that is, few do after conviction and sentencing. Cattle trucks full of people get locked up before trial prior to even being charged with a crime while the magistrati work to gather evidence against them.
As Berlusconi told the media on Friday after the sentence: “This is the barbarity of an uncivilized country. We can”t go on like this. Democracy is finita. We must do something. Italy has become invivibile.”
There remains the notorious bunga bunga trial, which before it even got to court branded Berlusconi in the world’s eyes as a whoremonger and pedophile, leading to his resignation in November 2011.
After the last presidential debate, many conservatives were disappointed in Romney. Bill O”Reilly had said this was Mitt’s chance to put the final nail in Obama’s coffin but that he blew it by letting Barack walk all over him. Others felt Romney showed presidential composure while the president acted like a goofy teen with lines such as, “The 80s called. They want their foreign policy back“ and “We have these things called aircraft carriers.” Ann Coulter summarized this defense of Romney immediately after the election when she said, “I highly approve of Romney’s decision to be kind and gentle to the retard.”
This caused predictable indignation from Obama supporters, Coulter detractors, and even one person with Down syndrome. Special Olympics athlete John Franklin Stephens came out with a letter claiming she had retardation totally wrong and it was actually a “wonderful gift.” (Santa was unavailable for comment, but I”m guessing he doesn”t get a lot of requests for chromosome 21.)
Unlike the shrill banshees who use the disadvantaged to further their own agendas, I actually know some mentally handicapped people. I”ve done videos with them and even had them edit an issue of my old magazine. My experience has been that they couldn”t care less about politics and are much more interested in TV shows, “partying,” being nice, cowboys, race cars, and eating cupcakes. Only a total retard thinks Stephens wasn”t at least a little coerced into writing that letter. It’s depressing enough to watch NPR trot out blacks who have been trained to pretend they care about things such as Kwanzaa, but seeing people use the mentally handicapped to further their own political cause is disturbing.
The whole thing is reminiscent of the time Special Olympics Chairman Timothy Shriver claimed he was “assaulted“ by the comedy Tropic Thunder. The film parodies actors who go for cheap tears and easy Oscars by pretending to be handicapped. “Never go full retard,” said one idiotic actor to another, but the subtlety was lost on Shriver (who is, technically, not retarded at all) and before you know it, signs that said, “WE HAVE ABILITIES NOT DISABILITIES“ were handed to the disabled and the studios capitulated. The Special Olympics got a new pulpit and became one step closer to having the kind of authority the NAACP has. What I find particularly infuriating about this particular case is the scene in the film was an attack on those who take advantage of the sympathy people feel for those with disabilities. Then, Shriver takes advantage of them by telling them they were insulted. Now they”re getting a retard insult that wasn”t there in the first place. How retarded is that?
I”ve worked with Justin Theroux, coauthor of Tropic Thunder‘s screenplay, and the guy is such a sensitive lefty I wouldn”t be surprised if he lets mosquitoes bite him. His motives for the scene were about as politically correct as it gets. I also know Ann Coulter, and her motives for her quote were clear. (I realize there’s a lot of name-dropping in this piece, but 15 years in media will do that.) She was using rude words to insult the president. Almost every time a fellow New Yorker finds out I fraternize with the Devil they say, “How much of what she says is just for shock value?”
I respond, “What exact quote are you talking about?”
They never have an answer so I”m forced to break the silence with, “Ann talks in public the way we all talk in private.” If you had said her “retard” quote to a liberal in a bar that night, he wouldn”t pretend to be offended by the word. He”d be offended by the insult and say, “Obama’s not being a retard. He’s kicking your boy Romney’s ass, you fucking fag!” That’s how we talk when we”re not scared of having our words twisted by strangers. Why can”t Ann Coulter talk the same way we all talk? She doesn”t go up to the mentally handicapped and say, “Hiya, retard.” Nobody does. When I tell people that “nigger” is a swear word they always say, “Yeah, well, would you go up to a black guy and say it to his face?” Not if I didn”t know him, but I also wouldn”t walk up to an old lady and yell “cunt” in her face.
The GOP commits slow suicide “ Telescopic diplomacy “ Israel, Iran,
and the bomb “ The weird logic of racial reporting “ George McGovern
passeth away “ Nostalgia Corner: The Cuban missile crisis “
Pussification, a vent “ Oop oop oopa, Pyongyang style “ I don’t need
the gas pump, just the air pump “ Not as gay as you think “ True
diversity on the Supreme Court.