Apocalypse Eventually

May 24, 2011

89-year old retiree Harold Camping, an eccentric old man if ever there was one, recently grabbed his 15 minutes by convincing a surprising number of Americans the world was going to end in a series of earthquakes this past weekend. Mr. Camping also predicted the Rapture would unfold at the outset of the end, at which time the saved were to have been called to Heaven while lesser souls languished Earthbound for five months. Then, he preached, they would be consumed in fire.

It wasn’t the first time Mr. Camping roused the Rapturous rabble: he predicted the same thing years ago and, when the appointed hour came and passed, blamed the world’s failure to end punctually on bad math. He’d simply mis-calculated the date, he said.

This time he must have double-checked the numbers: “I am utterly, absolutely, absolutely convinced it is going to happen” he told reporters for an ABC news affiliate several days before what he anticipated would be the faithful’s last day. Hundreds – if not thousands – of his regular parishioners bought it, and prepared accordingly. Some had the clear-headed foresight to hire services which promised to collect and care for their pets after they themselves were called to Heaven.

Then the time came and the world didn’t end… again. Mr. Camping was “mystified” and “a little bit bewildered” at the rest of the world’s inability to be destroyed by earthquakes and fire, an associate of his told reporters. “It was a very difficult time for me, a very difficult time,” Mr. Camping later explained. “I really was praying and praying and praying, ‘Oh Lord, what happened?’ “

Contrary to Preacher Camping’s opinion, the real question isn’t what happened (or didn’t). Rather, it is: What kind of man prays for the end of the world? And what kind of people follow him? And why did hitherto respectable news organizations validate any of it with so much as one printed word?

Droit du L’Establishment

May 18, 2011

Hastily abbridged excerpts from an article of May 17, 2011 by The New York Times columnist Stephen Clarke:

Since Sunday, when Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the head of the International Monetary Fund, was arrested on sexual assault charges in New York, French politicians have been loudly expressing their horror at his “violent” treatment at the hands of America’s criminal justice system. It must be a shock to them: the sight of a top French establishment figure being treated like an ordinary criminal is about as rare as a photo of the Queen of England in a bikini.

But they are not merely voicing their concern for an esteemed colleague; many of them are also thinking, “There but for the grace of God (or rather the grace of living in France and not the United States) go I.”

France may think it had a revolution, but in fact it just got a new, and even more powerful, elite. They believe themselves so indispensable to the running of the country that trying to topple one of them is a bit like threatening to shoot a prize racehorse for nibbling your lawn. You’re meant to shut up and let them nibble.

French politicians are known to be serial seducers, and as a rule no one bothers them about it. It is widely accepted that a male politician can combine efficiency in his job with a tendency to leap into bed with as many people as possible. And maybe it’s true — the French eat a balanced diet and have lots of energy.

The most telling parallel with the Strauss-Kahn case is that of Roman Polanski. Whatever his talents as a filmmaker, he fled the United States to France in 1978 to avoid being sentenced for unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl. When he was arrested in Switzerland in 2009, at the request of the American authorities, the whole of the French cultural establishment rose up to defend him.

All of which leads me to my belief that even if Dominique Strauss-Kahn is convicted and has to serve time, he will someday return to France, publish his autobiography (which will, of course, be adapted for the big screen by Mr. Polanski) and eventually be made a government minister.

Rudyard Kipling: “Fox-hunting”

May 18, 2011

WHEN Samson set my brush afire, to spoil the Timnite’s barley,
I made my point for Leicestershire, and left Philistia early.
Through Gath and Rankesborough Gorse I fled, and took the Coplow Road, sir!
And was a gentleman in red, when all the Quorn wore woad, sir!

When Rome lay massed on Hadrian’s Wall,

…and nothing much was doing, …
Her bored Centurions heard my call 0′ nights when I went wooing.
They raised a pack – they ran it well (for I was there to run ’em)
From Aesica to Carter Fell, and down North Tyne to Hunnum.

When William landed hot for blood, and Harold’s hosts were smitten,
I lay at earth in Battle Wood, while Domesday Book was written.
Whatever harm he did to man, I owe him pure affection;
For in his righteous reign began the first of Game Protection.

When Charles, my namesake, lost his mask, and Oliver dropped his’n,
I found those Northern Squires a task, to keep ’em out of prison.
In boots as big as milking-pails, with holsters on the pommel,
They chevied me across the Dales instead of fighting Cromwell.

When thrifty Walpole took the helm, and hedging came in fashion,
The March of Progress gave my realm enclosure and Plantation.
‘Twas then, to soothe their discontent:

I showed each pounded Master,
However fast the Commons went, I went a little faster!

When Pigg and Jorrocks held the stage

…and Steam had linked the Shires, …
I broke the staid Victorian age to posts, and rails, and wires.
Then fifty mile was none too far to go by train to cover,
Till some dam’ sutler pupped a car, and decent sport was over!

When men grew shy of hunting stag, for fear the Law might try ’em,
The Car put up an average bag  of twenty dead per diem.
Then every road was made a rink for Coroners to sit on;
And so began, in skid and stink, the real blood-sport of Britain!

Hunting Fox Clip Art

Safety in Vengeance

May 9, 2011

One radio commentator recently compared the benefit of Osama bin Laden’s death to the cost of securing it: national gratification versus the money and men spent in his pursuit. It was that pundit’s opinion that, in a cost-benefit analysis, the good of the terrorist chief’s death was outweighed by the price at which it was bought.

That commentator missed the mark entirely: while it remains a good and noble thing to bring justice, in whatever form appropriate, to international criminals, it is more than good and noble to demonstrate to the world that America avenges herself when wronged; it is essential to our safety and national interests.

International relations is a world which revolves around signaling and game-theory. If country A undertakes action X, will country B undertake action Y? If it does, does country B believe country A will undertake action Z in response, or action Q? The what if’s are boggling.

In that arena, the best defense is a good offense, and the most sure way in which countries protect themselves is to signal their ability and willingness to defend themselves. In that respect, America’s handling of bin Laden was textbook-perfect: he was hunted tirelessly for almost a decade, found, killed, and buried respectfully – by Muslim rites – at sea. The signal went out: wrong America and she will seek you till she finds you, then kill you.

Signaling that doctrine was the true benefit of bin Laden’s death, as much – or more so – than any national catharsis, because that doctrine provides for the safety of Americans. The cost of that safety is tremendous, but its value is commensurate.

Watering Holes: Anthony’s Bar

May 4, 2011

10 S. Broadway

St. Louis, Missouri

(314) 231-7007

Cribbing from recent Pulitzer Prizer Joe Rago of the Wall Street Journal, “there is something out of time about lunching” at Anthony’s Bar. Mr. Rago turned the phrase in describing his luncheon with William F. Buckley, Jr., in New York City, but we’ll take it; standing on the shoulders of giants, etc.

Saint Louis, Missouri boasts exactly one restaurant worth three Michelin stars: Tony’s, a redoubtable Italian institution down-town on Market Street and Broadway, near the river. The Bommarito family has run it for generations and, in years past, ran also a small waiting room on the ground floor of the office building in which it operates. The room was originally a reception area for dinner guests, who could sit in one of the bolted-down leather stools around its oblong, polished wooden-slat bar and have a drink while their tables were made ready.

The reception area was one small room, two stories tall, fitted out in floor-to-ceiling wood, that oblong bar in the middle and a handful of lower circular tables around it. Two-story blackout curtains cut outside light, keeping things clubby. One white-shirted barman worked the counter, one white-shirted waiter the tables. That waiting area became Anthony’s, a restaurant in its own right, some years ago. The Bommaritos still run it, and thankfully keep it stubbornly athwart decades. Service at Anthony’s moves as quickly as fossils turn into gasoline.

Today, Anthony’s is open mainly for lunch: lawyers and bankers generally, blue shirts with white collars and cuffs. Tasselled loafers or maybe horse-bits, alligator belts, that crowd. Occasionally it’s open after ball games, too. The menu is, put generously, spare: three kinds of hamburgers (plain, with cheddar cheese, or with Bleu cheese), a beef tenderloin sandwich, a Ceasar salad, a daily special. Sometimes soup. Old-fashioned glass Coca-Cola bottles, the small ones. Every table gets one glass bowl of Lay’s baked potato chips, unlimited. “Out of time” is an apt description; a time capsule unto itself, more so.

Sympathy – & Justice – for the Devil

May 4, 2011

Young Americans are a generation steeped in sympathy for evil: drug dealers sell drugs because they come from hopeless neighborhoods; pedophiles abuse children because of their own childhood abuse; and killers kill for want of hugs.

There can be wisdom in the understanding of evil available through sympathy. Understanding the disposition of disenfranchised teenagers to drug dealing can – in theory – spur neighborhood redevelopments. Youth centers, guidance counselors, positive adult influences and all that lot are sometimes (and sometimes is better than never) proven to keep young people in school and out of trouble. Likewise, knowledge of the roots of pedophilia can improve treatment and prevent recidivism among offenders.

The lesson is global. Terrorism, like gang violence, is frequently born of hopeless poverty, taken advantage of as motivation by terrorist recruiters. It’s no coincidence virulent terrorism is born of regions whose young people enjoy few luxuries and are harshly restricted by their governments. Providing for the hope and upward mobility of foreign citizenry can alleviate the anger of its youth, and happier young people with bright prospects are less likely to sign on for terror campaigns.

The recent bringing to justice of Osama bin Laden is an opportunity to internalize that lesson, and to reaffirm a second. With regard to the first, developed countries could do worse than remember that trade practices and national policies which foster friendly relations abroad will lead to foreign climes less likely to produce violent extremists.

The second, which bears reaffirming amidst sympathy, is: despite our incidental understanding of it, there exists evil in the world which can – indeed, must – be eradicated fully and finally, no matter its cause, because of its inability to coexist with good. In that light, bin Laden’s epitaph should read like a rabid dog’s: it was a shame he took rabid and it would have been better for all had the conditions which allowed for the existence of the disease been eradicated, but – once rabid – he had to be put down.