December, 2016

Black Is White and Up is Down

December 30th, 2016 9 Comments

Donald Trump

Watching CNN the other morning as my coffee kicked in, I heard the newscaster comment on the unprecedented anti-Trump rage being expressed in certain venues. He enumerated the tsunami of angry tweets, protests, hateful and hate-filled editorials, a public refusal by at least one member of Congress to work with or even meet the Trumpster, a planned anti-Trump march the day following the inauguration, a refusal on the part of various artists to participate in the inauguration, and—in general—a sort of mass hysteria, some of it from people in positions we normally, putatively, associate with relative intelligence and a certain level of education. The newscaster went on to say that nothing he had seen in any of the previous elections over the past sixteen to twenty years, including the close and contested 2000 election, had come anywhere near to the hysterical tantrums now being thrown on the left.

The interesting thing about all these reactions is that almost invariably, among the words used to describe Trump is the noun “fascist.” Believe me, I have reservations about the Trumpster. I think it’s fair to use all kinds of pejorative terms about him because he has both said and done things that richly deserve those pejorative descriptions. But anyone who uses the term “fascist” to describe him is either patently ignorant, dishonest, or so hysterical that they’re not thinking clearly. I’m going to give it to you right from the horse’s mouth, the horse in this case being Webster’s II New Riverside University Dictionary, because that’s the one that sits on my desk:

“Fascism: noun; 1) A philosophy or governmental system marked by stringent socioeconomic control, a strong central government [emphasis mine] usually headed by a dictator, and often a belligerently nationalistic policy. 2) Oppressive, dictatorial control.”

I’ll grant you the belligerent nationalistic policy, but other than that, everything Trump has said he plans to do is the exact opposite of fascism. He believes in less government and has stated that he plans to (this is a direct quote) “decrease the size of our already bloated government” by doing away with some bureaucratic agencies (Department of Energy, Department of Education) and cutting back on others.

Tell me how that constitutes “strong central government.”

He has stated he plans to reduce the federal budget by, among other things, returning responsibility for various programs back to the states.

Tell me how that constitutes “strong central government.”

He has stated he plans to end a lot of the regulations that inhibit job growth. You make think that’s not good policy, but…

…tell me how that constitutes “strong central government.”

He has stated that he intends to undo many of the “illegal and overreaching” executive actions signed by Barack Obama. Many of those executive actions are universally agreed to be constitutionally questionable and even Obama is on record as stating that his executive action on illegal immigration was completely unconstitutional, so no matter how you look at it, Trump’s undoing of those actions…

…can in no way constitute “strong central government.”

I could go on, but you get the picture. Hate Trump, hate his conservativism, call him a crude, vulgar, incoherent, sexist, buffoon with weird hair. But for the love of God, use words correctly! Both Barack Hussein Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton come much, much closer to the definition of fascism than Trump on his worst day, Obama in particular. Remember Obama’s famous comment about successful businesses? “You didn’t build that business. Government did.” That’s a pretty good definition of fascism right there. Elegant, smooth, charming, well-spoken, charismatic fascism, but fascism.

Light from a Long-Dead Star: A Christmas Memory

December 23rd, 2016 36 Comments

cat and elk 003 (Small)

We decorated our tree recently. It’s a six-foot artificial tree, one bought with fire safety, young dogs, and cats in mind. The dogs and cats play havoc with real trees, the scent drawing them all like magnets to mouth and chew and pull ornaments off. The cats in particular seem to be drawn by the heavenly scent, and clearly, as any fool knows, the ornaments were only hung for them to play with. Most importantly however, Darleen had watched a sobering local public service announcement that illustrated just how quickly a Christmas tree can go up in flames. Given the number of fires we have had in our area this year, and the amount of devastation caused by them, fire is much on our minds, so I acquiesced when She Who Must Be Obeyed announced it was to be a fire-resistant artificial tree or nothing. I miss the scent of the real thing, but I admit that burning down the house would kind of ruin my day too. But it was while we were decorating our fire-resistant-artificial-pre-wired-with-white-lights-easy-to-assemble-stand-included-lasts-for-years-made-in-China Christmas tree that I suddenly remembered a long-ago Christmas in Germany. Time, nearly six decades worth, may have dimmed some details and my imagination may have added others, but I have the basics right. If anybody out there has ever heard of the lady in question, or knows of a descendant of hers, please get in touch with me.

My parents had met an old, old lady, Baroness Caroline von Kempis, who lived in a Wasserburg somewhere north of Cologne, about an hour and half drive from our apartment in Bad Godesberg. Wasserberg means, literally, a moated castle, which it was, but this particular moated castle had been stuccoed sometime back in the 18th century, stuccoed and then, ill-advisedly, painted Pepto-Bismol pink. I think it was a poorly chosen tip of the hat to the over-the-top Rococo exuberance that began in France and swept through Europe all during the seventeen-hundreds. As my father once observed, Rococo was a stylistic fad that frequently resulted in architecture that looked as if it had been designed by a mad pastry chef, with icing everywhere and vibrant shades of chrome yellow and chartreuse and gold-leaf and turquoise. And pink. Very bright pink.

The Baroness came from an extremely wealthy family and the castle had not been their primary residence when she was a child. Instead, it was used exclusively as a hunting lodge, and the baroness had been herself an enthusiastic hunter as a girl. She had a long scar that ran up the outside of one calf where the dogs had let a boar slip loose before she was ready to bring her spear into play, and the boar had opened her up as it ran by.

Yes, spear. I don’t know whether it had been considered a rite of passage in her family, or an homage to an earlier and more robust time, but according the baroness, back in the days of her childhood, the family always hunted boar with dogs and spears. The spears, many of them, still hung in the vast entry hall, crossed in great x’s. They were long, heavy things, with a substantial cross-bar just below the pear-shaped blade intended, as the baroness explained to me, to prevent the stabbed boar running right up the spear and into the hunter’s lap, a crossbar that only worked, obviously, if you had time to bring the spear into play. There were boar’s heads, stag’s antlers, roe deer antlers, shields, and the ingenious hunting swords unique to Germany, stout, short-bladed affairs, with knives and forks in the specially built scabbards, for hunting is hungry work. There was a suit of armor at one end of the hall, paintings of hunting scenes, an immense, dark, massive table in the center with an enormous silver bowl that always held flowers, and oriental rugs from one end to the other. It was, in short, an entry hall designed to entrance an impressionable young boy who longed for adventure. I probably couldn’t have even lifted one of those spears, but in my mind’s eye, I was there in the woods with my dogs and the other hunters, hunting sword on my belt, spear in my hand, linked not only to the time of the baroness’ girlhood, but to earlier centuries stretching back to the hunts described by ancient Greeks a thousand years before the birth of Alexander.

The baroness must have understood the effect that hall had on me because after lunch, when she and my parents would go upstairs to the library, I was allowed to linger and gaze and wonder and dream. My father had told me the baroness had come within a few days of losing her life in a concentration camp for helping Jews escape the Holocaust, and that scrape with death at the hands of the Nazis, coupled with her scrape with death at the tusk of a boar, made her a compelling and fascinating figure, but not so fascinating as swords and spears and dreams.

But it was the library that figures in this particular Christmas visit. They had all gone up as usual, but suddenly my father came back down the stairs and told me there was something he wanted me to see. I knew and trusted my father enough to know that if he said something was worth seeing, it was almost certainly, by golly, very worth seeing indeed, and I went up with him.

It’s hard to give an accurate sense of the size and scale of the place. Perhaps that lovely Wasserberg has grown larger in my memory than it really was because I was, after all, so much smaller then, but the rooms really were, well, baronial. The library was as large for its function as the entry hall was for its, and it had the same dusty and immutable sense of an earlier time captured in stone and wood. There were towering bookcases on three of the four walls, tall elegant windows that looked out over the grey German winter, ancient furniture and equally ancient oriental rugs, bronzes and vases and stacks of magazines. And in one corner was the largest Christmas tree, a freshly cut spruce, I have ever seen in any private home anywhere. I used to think it must have been eighteen or twenty feet high, but realistically it was more likely about twelve feet, and its scent filled that dusty room with the clean and heavenly smell of the outdoors and ancient rituals of faith and hope, peace on earth, and goodwill to men.

It was hung from top to floor with ornaments, most of which I later realized, pre-dated even the baroness’ birth, but what stunned me, even then as a child, was that on the tip of almost every branch, were actual, burning candles. I was as heedless and reckless as the next boy, but even I was a little aghast and aware of the potential for disaster. I was also aware, even as the beauty of it took my breath away, that there were buckets of sand and buckets of water discreetly and conveniently placed just outside the lowest circle of branches. My father explained to me that because of the danger, the candles were only lit for special occasions, but that the baroness had had them lit especially for us, for my parents and me, so that we could see how Christmas was celebrated in the old days.

Dear me, those days are the old days now, but I was fortunate enough to have been given a glimpse of an even older Christmas, all through the kindness of an ancient lady of courage and what Jews so accurately call righteousness. She died not long after we returned to the United States, but if, as Homer once wrote, the dead continue to survive as ghosts for as long as they are remembered, like the light from long-dead stars, she is still in her pink Wasserberg, and I wish her and all of us a safe and merry Christmas.

Golfing in the West

December 18th, 2016 16 Comments

img_2395-small

My bride was driving by the local golf course when she saw this foursome playing though. She immediately came and got me and my camera and then sat patiently in the car as I trailed them. There were actually five bulls, one of them an eight-by-seven, but I was never able to get all of them together in a single photo and the eight-by-seven wandered off before I could get any shot of him.

img_2397-small

img_2401-small

img_2403-small

I have never played golf. All I know about the game is what I have read in the Mr. Mulliner stories by P.G Wodehouse, but I do believe these qualify as what are known as “hazards.” They seemed pretty mellow, but I kept a respectful distance and I suspect if some duffer whacked one of them with a long drive, they might become less mellow. So would I, for that matter, if I got bonked on the coconut by a long drive. If you look closely, you can see that all the racks have suffered some damage from brawling over the ladies. On one of them, even the main beam on the left has been broken. The rut is long over and there were no ladies present anywhere, but even so, two of them had to engage in a little practice shoving and pushing, not unlike teenaged boys showing off and testing their muscles.

img_2418-small

img_2423-small

I do wonder what the groundkeepers think of them.

The Paradise Across the Pond

December 5th, 2016 15 Comments

4074690

 

“Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

Ben Franklin

 

Great Britain is so often held up as a sort of paradigm for America: two nations separated by a common language, yet linked by laws and customs. Our media pundits and politicians frequently point to Great Britain as the wellspring for our legal system and for many of our Constitutional rights. Never mind that Great Britain has no written constitution; the pundits are actually pointing to the Bill of Rights (1689), and that should give all Americans nightmares, because Great Britain’s Bill of Rights was a flawed and prejudiced document when it was written and it has since proven itself to be completely meaningless and not worth the paper it was written on.

To take the most flagrant example, consider the right to keep and bear arms: in 1689 it afforded that right solely to Protestants, excluding Catholics, and now no longer exists. So much for that right.

Freedom of speech was also spelled out as a right, yet Parliament had no trouble radically curtailing that right during both world wars, especially the second, with news censorship, with criticism or anti-war speech being severely punished, and with fake news (also known as propaganda) being spread by the Ministry of Information. So much for that right.

If even having a Ministry of Information sounds suspiciously like something out of George Orwell’s 1984, there is a reason for that, because the novel revolves around the concepts of perpetual war and constant, all-pervasive government surveillance. Perpetual war is pretty much what we have right now, and Great Britain has finally brought George Orwell’s surveillance nightmare to life with its most recent (passed November 17th ) and most intrusive law, the “Investigatory Powers Act.”

The Investigatory Powers Act requires British telephone and internet companies to keep records of every single phone call made, and every single website visited, by every single citizen, for twelve months, and for the companies to turn over those records to any one of forty-eight different government agencies without a warrant. The law also allows intelligence agencies to hack into any device they wish to, and it further gives the government the right to force internet companies to remove encryption, thereby reducing the average Englishman’s right to privacy to the same level as the average North Korean’s.

I would like to quote Great Britain’s Home Secretary Amber Rudd’s justification for the new law: “At a time of heightened security threat, it is essential our law enforcement, intelligence, and security services have the powers they need to keep people safe.” [Emphasis mine.]

Remember those words, gentle reader, because they echo words spoken by Goebbels to justify the Nazi’s actions; they echo words that have been spoken here on Capitol Hill; and they presage words you will almost certainly hear again in the near future in this country because far too many of our politicians think no more of your rights than the British Parliament does of its citizens’ rights. The only difference is that we do have a written Constitution. Remember that and be grateful.

Top of Page