Blogito, Ergo Sum

by Gregg Calkins

26 February 2009, a Thursday

How things can change...NYT item:

The financial crisis and falling oil prices will make it harder for Iraq to pay for services and could affect U.S. plans for troop withdrawal.

And here I thought you wanted us to leave, Iraq.

Bloggers, organized labor and MoveOn will form a group seeking to push the Democrats to the left.

Good Lord, there’s more room remaining over there?

Is Roger Cohen really a New Yorker?

I was reading on the crowded subway when a distraught-looking woman stumbled into me.

“Please, please help me out,” she said. “Please. I’m trying to buy flowers for a funeral arrangement.”

She was African-American, middle-aged, wide-eyed. Her words were not addressed to me but to the whole subway car. The slightness of her build belied the strength of her voice. So many things are dying at the moment — an entire free-spending epoch is being laid to rest — that I wondered which particular burial she had in mind.

“My cousin was a good kid,” she said. “Please, please. For the funeral arrangement, I need flowers.”

People averted their eyes. Early-evening fatigued, city-churned, they did not want to hear talk of funerals, much less help pay for them.  ...

I wondered who the stumbling subway woman’s cousin was, how “the kid” died, in a knife fight or from withering illness, what flower arrangement she had in mind (chrysanthemums? gladioli?) — or whether the whole story was made up, just a scam.

It wasn’t a scam, the funeral was probably true, but the flowers were cannabis and the arrangement, as apparently all of the other riders knew, was dried and smoked.

We are trying to get our bearings, find out where the bottom is in order to put one foot in front of the other. Bernard Madoff’s investment firm did not buy any securities for clients in 13 years. And nobody noticed.

Ah, but that’s not precisely true.  More than one person noticed; more than one person complained.  But the people who were paid to look averted their eyes, too, for some reason.  Our failure in this crisis is not a lack of regulation but a curious unwillingness to regulate.  Since most people seemingly love to regulate others, even when they don’t have the authority to do so, I find this exceedingly curious.

I’d just returned from Tehran and devoured the review of Nafisi’s new book, “Things I’ve Been Silent About: Memories.”  ...

Nafisi’s new book is essentially a family memoir, but in the tumult of Iran, her story and the nation’s overlap. She alludes to the terrible misconceptions of Iranian democrats and leftists about Ayatollah Khomeini in the revolutionary fervor of 1979:

“Too arrogant to think of him as a threat and deliberately ignorant of his designs, we supported him. We welcomed the vehemence of Khomeini’s rants against imperialists and the Shah and were willing to overlook the fact that they were not delivered by a champion of freedom.”

 Not in my world, we didn’t.  Some of us (although admittedly not Iranians) supported the Shah.  What she had were too many people willing to listen to the scamsters and not enough willing to listen to the warning voices that said things could get worse easier than better, the typical outcome of most revolutions.

The Shah of Iran might not have been a great guy by American liberal standards, but they failed to take other things into consideration.  One was the fact that he needed to be judged against the standards of his country, his times, and the limitations imposed upon him by societies both external and internal...not to mention his own as a creature of his times. 

The story of Anna and the King of Siam is a good example and even the fictionalized version has merit.  The King had goals for improving Siam, for bringing democratic changes that he recognized could be aided by importing Anna to help educate his people.  But he also knew this process would not happen overnight, and recognized that there were some things that he couldn’t change even if he wanted to, as well as some he wasn’t so sure that he wanted even if he realized they were due course.  Which saint was it who prayed for chastity...but not just yet?

If you look at how far the Shah moved toward bringing Iran into the 20th century, not even compared with how far the mullahs have managed to push it back, you will see that he was doing a remarkable job compared with his predecessors, no matter how imperfectly.  Liberals who insist upon instant perfection or nothing are invariably disappointed in the real world, because nobody can deliver instant perfection and when you wind up believing in those who say that they can then you get people like Khomeini...scamsters who people should never have needed to wonder about in the first place.  You think the Shah’s secret police were bad?  Hah!

The other scam I’ve found curiously effective is the notion that imperialism must be, ipso facto, bad...and only bad.  This has sold remarkably well when you consider that the vast majority of the former British Empire live in conditions significantly better than the world which was never part of it, and many if not most of the former colonies were doing better when the British left than they are today.

It turned out that most of them liked the rule of law and the advance of individual freedom other systems did not provide, the same way that the so-called American Empire is doing in Afghanistan and Iraq today, as they once did in Europe (okay, twice, at a minimum) and many other places it have touched.

Sure there are evils associated with empire...heck, there are evils which have been associated with religion and with marriage and with every institution man has devised thus far, but each has to be evaluated according to its time and place and relative value.  Not everyone should be married, for instance, depending on what they want to do with their lives.  And there have been wives who have devised secret police methods and fiendish ways of torture which the Shah could only envy, since they leave no outward signs of physical damage, but that’s no basis for a complete condemnation of marriage when good wives also exist...and maybe even rarely a good husband.

And, like Cohen’s Nafisi advises, learn to evaluate the individuals involved and what it is that they want versus what they say it is.

In one of my life’s funnier experiences, I once attended a geophysical conference in downtown Los Angeles with three of my Standard Oil fellow workers.  We were not on an expense account and so we brown-bagged our lunches from home to eat outside in the square in front of the conference hotel.  I wound up in charge of all 4 bags, somehow, but when we met in the square one of our members was missing...he had gotten incredibly lucky and was being taken out to lunch by one of the exhibitors. 

So after we had eaten and were sitting there enjoying the sunshine (through the smog), we were approached by a panhandler.  He was quite a charming guy, actually, shabbily dressed but not unclean, apologized for intruding while complimenting us on our suits and ties and obvious success in life.  As it turned out, he said, he had once been much like us but had fallen on hard times through sheer misfortune.  However, he added, he was on his way back up now, thanks to his determination, and all that he really needed now was one good nutritious meal to enable him to get going again.

It was a great story, well told, and he took his time getting to the punch line, never asking for money even at the end. 

Well, what could I do?  We all had families and no extra money to spend even for our own lunches out, but there I was sitting with my buddy’s home-packed lunch, prepared by his loving wife, and I knew it was full of some pretty damned good food.  I explained this to the guy and handed him the bag.  I’m from Salt Lake City, not New York City, and I actually more than half expected him to sit down and eat it with us while we continued talking.

He looked at me, suddenly without words, for the longest moment...never in his wildest dreams had he expected this from three guys dressed in suits and ties.  Asking for food and being given food...what kind of a deal was this? 

You know the familiar comic panel which has a light bulb appearing in the balloon over the character’s head when he gets an idea?  Well, I swear that you could see this happen here.  I kid you not.  His face lit up with an inner glow and he thanked me profusely for my kindness and understanding.  Then, without even glancing inside the bag, he set off across the square at something between a fast walk and almost a run.  He had suddenly figured out where he could sell the contents for the money he wanted to buy his true heart’s desire.

I think of Cohen’s lady on the subway and wonder what would have happened if some kindly florist had stood up and offered to take her to his shop and give her a funeral wreath or two.  Better yet, he could have asked her for the address of the funeral home so he could have them delivered the flowers in her name, saving her even that much trouble.

What was it Reagan said?  Trust...but verify.  A lesson Iran should have learned and one I hope we’re not learning for ourselves today.

Speaking of trust but verify...

Fannie's Red Ink Prompts Aid

Mortgage giant lost $59B in '08, including $25.2B in fourth quarter; U.S. gives huge cash infusion.

Did you ever hear the lyrics to the song that go “some gotta win, some gotta lose...”?  Do you ever get the feeling that all of these guys claim to be losers, lining up with their hands out?

Look, we know that SOMEBODY had to win, so where are they? 

More in the “How Dumb Can We Be” Department:

A Robin Hood Budget

Froomkin: This time, the rich will be subsidizing the poor.

Who but a mindless Liberal could possibly believe it could be the other way around?  The poor have no money with which to subsidize anyone.  Anyone at all.  It’s like this stupid idea of cutting taxes for the poor people who don’t pay any taxes to begin with.  You cannot raise taxes or lower taxes or take subsidy money from anyone except the people who are actually making money and paying taxes to begin with. wonder some people believe in manmade global warming!

Finally, George Will brings me face to face with the age gap:

In 1965, the Moynihan Report sounded an alarm about 23.6 percent of African American children born out of wedlock. Today the figure for the entire American population is 38.5 percent, and 70.7 percent for African Americans.

To me, you still do not DO that.  If you father a child, he or she is your responsibility, and that responsibility includes marriage.  Tough, maybe, but that’s the way that things are.

In perhaps true male fashion, I blame women.  Back in my day—a phrase I am increasingly repeating—nice girls did not give in or come across or whatever term we used no matter how much you begged.  And, frustrated or not, we respected them for that strength of character that we lacked in ourselves. 

We all knew, down deep, that women, our mothers and our sisters, were better people than we were.  We could rely on that. 

Women, in seeking to become men’s equals, have succeeded only too well, and the cornerstone of our reliance has crumbled.

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