The memo, and what it implies

Not only has the damning memo been released (Francis Turner blogs here at length on what it implies), but now the “lost” text messages between FBI agent Peter Strzok and his lover have been recovered.

A journalist at Forbes published a timeline, which now seems to have been memory-holed by the paper [UPDATE: seems it is back]— but a cached copy is available here. Mollie Ziegler Hemingway weighs in here: NEW: Criminal Referral Confirms Nunes Memo’s Explosive Claims Of FISA Abuse.

What emerges is something that makes Nixon look like a naughty boy in comparison, and Watergate a schoolyard prank. (See also this, h/t masgramondou.)

In this context, the conspiratorial-sounding term “deep state” is often uttered, even by people as level-headed as Instapundit. Does this refer to some mysterious, nefarious, octopus-like conspiracy at the heart of the federal government? No, it is merely the current US term for a phenomenon with which Europeans (particularly the French) are intimately familiar: the “permanent bureaucracy” of career civil servants. Governments come and go, and the unelected permanent bureaucracy stays in place.

In an ideal world, the professionalism of longtime civil servants should act as a moderating factor and ‘sanity check’ on the less well-considered ideas of elected officials, as well as stop power-grabbing overreach on their part. In the real world, at least as far back as Plato, one faces the question most pithily asked by Juvenal: “who watches the watchmen themselves?”

My contempt for the loser in the 2016 electoral campaign is bottomless: she seems to have all the moral restraint of Lucretia Borgia combined with a peerless capacity for self-pity (read this serialized fisking of her book if you have a strong stomach). In contrast, I am at least willing to entertain the notion that the FBI agents desperate to exonerate her, and find fault with Trump, had sincerely convinced themselves that they were trying to save the Republic from a disaster. There is of course, paraphrasing C. S. Lewis, no worse tyrant than one who sincerely believes his actions are for your own good.

The career civil service bureaucracy in France is notoriously incestuous, with such a large percentage of senior civil servants being graduates of just one academy, the ENA (National Administration School) that some French quip about being ruled by “l’ENArquie”. The ENA is one of France’s élite “Great Schools” that inhabit the tier above mere ‘universités’ in that country’s peculiar system. Its students are a truly elite crowd selected by standardized exams graded anonymously (and hence free of favoritism and reverse discrimination). However, this quasi-Mandarin monoculture ensures a homogeneity in outlook, and only exacerbates the natural tendency of any governing elite to conflate its own collective self-interest with the interest of the nation.

Their American counterparts are a good deal less of an elite, and a good deal more of a ‘credentialed gentry’, to use Angelo Codevilla’s term. Yet they are at least as cocksure as their French counterpart, and at least as averse to an outsider ‘not one of us’ upsetting the applecart. It is, therefore, no surprise that Clinton, Inc. and the Chicago machine behind Obama would have found willing accomplices.

Nobody in their right mind would want to go back entirely to the ‘spoils system’. And there are still people working in the Federal apparatus that it is a privilege to know and who are both highly competent and dedicated to their country.  It is, however, well past time for a thorough housecleaning. It is even more past time for those politicians who suborned elements—all the way to the top—in the country’s highest law enforcement authority to be called out, disgraced, and ostracized from political life forever. I used to dismiss the characterization of the Democrat Party as “a legalized crime syndicate” as irresponsible hyperbole. Used to being the operative word. Now I wonder instead: if it really were one, what would they be doing differently?

 

UPDATE: Welcome, Instapundit readers!

UPDATE 2: More from Mollie Ziegler H.: How the media buried two FBI stories yesterday. “Where journalistic instincts go to die”, indeed.

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Chair of Belgium’s largest party: “The Left must choose: open borders or a welfare state”

[For an interesting window into Belgian politics, see the following note that was posted [in Dutch, English translation mine] to the Facebook feed of Bart De Wever, mayor of Antwerp and chair of the center-right N-VA (New Flemish Alliance) party.
Had his name been Burt Weaver, it could almost be an article in National Review or another conservative magazine in the Anglosphere. Milton Friedman would surely nod in recognition at the title. — Nitay Arbel]

The Left must choose: open borders or a welfare state

Bart De Wever is the chair of [the] N-VA [party] and mayor of Antwerp
The migration crisis has confronted Europe with its own moral nihilism. Citizens that form a human chain around the [Brussels-]North [railway] station, or put up transient migrants for the night, touch a soft spot in all of us. Suddenly we are wrestling with the age-old question: what does it mean to be a good person? What are we bidden to do? And by whom? And to whom? The Christian heritage that we still nurse from after the twilight of G-d, dictates to us that we should treat our neighbor as we would treat ourselves. But how near must our neighbor be?
In this moral confusion, an industry of leftist lawyers, NGOs, and activists has found a meal ticket. The present government, they claim, follows a policy that is inhuman, egotistic, and heartless. This is a subtle form of moral blackmail. For whoever does not agree with them, cannot be a good person. And who wants to be a bad person? Out of sincere moral compassion, we are all inclined to go along with this leftist discourse.
But, though the migration industry seems motivated by the will to do only good, rather ideological motivations hide behind this moral facade. I cannot dispel the impression that the left is cynically exploiting the migration crisis in order to, through judicial warfare [lawfare] and moral blackmail, make the concept of ‘borders’ so porous as to hollow out the nation-state. For some cosmopolitans, this is wish fulfillment. But the consequences are enormous, and there is room for doubt whether they are equally advantageous for all citizens.

A healthy res publica [body politic]

Borders do not just delineate our democracy and citizenship, but also our implied solidarity. Today we know who can make use of our social security system and why. A healthy body politic creates an ethical community where every citizen shoulders responsibility for the collective, but  also knows (s)he can count on the community if needed. In this context, net taxpayers do not object to contributing, even as they do not personally know the fellow citizens who benefit. The social security system we have built on this bases is among the most open and generous ones in the world.
 But if we [start] say[ing] that there are no more borders and anyone should be able to count on our solidarity, we enter a situation in which there are no more fellow citizens with whom we can show solidarity, but only fellow humans who live here today, elsewhere tomorrow. Human rights are, however, not [the same as] civil rights. Everybody is born with the inalienable right to life — that is [an example of] a universal human right. But you don’t get born in Sudan with the universal and inalienable right to access to a Western European social system.  That is a civil right, which you have when you happen to be born in that Western European nation-state, but which can also be acquired if you follow certain procedures [for naturalization] and fulfill the requirements.
If we start universalizing every civil right, we need to accept the consequences and accept that our current standard of living becomes unsustainable, simply because we won’t be able to afford it anymore. Then you get a denuded social system for paupers, which has no more carrying capacity—for it is difficult to remain in solidarity with people who enjoy the fruits of the social systems, but never have contributed to it and in many cases never will contribute. The strongest will withdraw into gated communities where their children will attend private schools, and the denizens will pay themselves for their own private pension and healthcare. Such a system is perfect if you manage to turn your life into a success. If you don’t, tough luck.

North American model

Europe will then evolve toward a more North American societal model, albeit it with even less of a social safety net. For the US has the geographic advantage that they are surrounded by two oceans, and, to the North, by a rich country with a very high standard of living. Only on the southern border are their migration streams that are difficult to contain, and they have been trying to seal that border hermetically since long before the coming of Trump. Europe, on the other hand, is but a peninsula of the enormous Eurasian landmass and separated from Africa only by an inland sea. Without enforced borders, people can simply walk into Europe. Allowing this, or not doing so, is a choice.
And our federal government has made that choice. Transit migration is not a European problem but a Franco-Belgian problem. We are the only countries with a passable border to the UK. Through the dismantling of the tent camps in Calais, the problem has shifted entirely to our country. Our government policy is to prevent [the emergence of] a second Calais at all costs. But a second Calais is emerging out of sight. Through the collaboration between left-wing NGOs and ditto mayor, and through various acts to morally blacken government policy and to suspend it[s enforcement], the left is now de facto itself organizing the transit migration, even though it is de sure prohibited. At the same time, the moderate left keeps claiming they are not advocating open borders — at least the extreme left is upfront about this.
Don’t we have the duty to help people in need? Of course. But those who can help themselves are not in need. Anyone who can travel thousands of kilometers from East Africa to end up in a Western European welfare state — not with the intention to request asylum there but to travel to another country — may be in dire poverty, but is not in an acute emergency. An emergency is a threat to life, not the desire to lead a pleasant life, however understandable be that wish. There are 37 million Sudanese, each of whom undoubtedly wants a better life. Do we have the moral obligation to take in all 37 million? And what about the rest of Africa?

Absorb newcomers

The left must dare to speak things through: what do they really want? Do we have to take care of everyone, and does that need to happen via immigration? Fine by me, but then we won’t be able to maintain our social system at the current level any longer. If we choose that path, there are two options left for us: a closed social security system only accessible to people who contribute, or its collapse. Our left-wing “gutmensch” [German loanword, idiomatically equivalent to “bleeding heart liberal”] will in its absolute goodness achieve just the opposite of what he claims to want: the total demolition of the welfare state.
I stand for a different policy. A policy with European efforts to absorb refugees in their own region, and with closed borders. A policy with strict controls on legal migration, where, if necessary, those we allow in are emancipated/acculturated in the Enlightenment values, and put to work as quickly as possible in order that they are able to contribute to our prosperity, and thus to our social security. In this way, we can absorb newcomers and enjoy their talent. In this way, our social security can remain open, freely accessible and generous for everyone. But then we must first dare to make difficult choices and dare to implement the chosen policy. Politicians must let the common interest prevail over their personal conscience, however hard it may be.
Hannah Arendt concluded the second part of her book “The Origins of Totalitarianism” with a chapter that is controversial on the left until now: ‘The Decline of the Nation of the Netherlands and the End of the Rights of Man’. In it she argues that we need the nation-state and borders. It is not only the demarcation of our democracy, the outline of the rule of law, and the basis on which we organize our solidarity; it is also the only working mechanism that can enforce human rights. The nation-state is literally vital. Let us be careful that the dream of the “gutmenschen” does not end in a nightmare for us all.

Rabbi Akiva, “The cold equations”, and “The gods of the copybook headings”

There is a Talmudic passage (Bava Metzia 62b, reference via http://www.dvar.org.il/the-obligation-of-self-sacrifice) concerning the hypothetical of two men in the desert, of which only one has a water flask. (Like law school today, the Talmud is big on hypotheticals.) There is not enough water for both to survive, but enough for one.

R’ Ben Petura said that it was better that both should die than that one would see the death of the other. R’ Akiva, however, overrules him, saying that the man with the bottle should drink the water, quoting Leviticus 25:36 ‘Your brother’s life is with you’

Elie Wiesel is reported to have commented on this: “Rabbi Akiva was very hard, very hard on the survivor.”

I was reminded of this while reading the classic, chilling short SF story “The Cold Equations” by Tom Godwin. The first time I read it, I was shaking all over, and it still elicits a strong emotional response whenever I read it.

Briefly, here’s the plot. A survey party on an alien planet sends out a distress message that they are about to die from a plague, and that their supply of vaccine has been destroyed in a natural disaster. The nearest source for the vaccine, a spaceship in hyper transit, sends out a shuttle into normal space to deliver it. The shuttle has a precisely calculated amount of fuel for a one-way trip (the pilot will, nolens volens, have to join the survey party), with a negligible margin for error. After he has left, he discovers a stowaway: a young girl who was hoping to pay a visit to her brother on that planet.

If he leaves her aboard, both they and the seven people awaiting the vaccine will die. There is no way to hand off the vaccine in-flight. The pilot gets on the (presumably hyperspace) radio and runs through all possible options with the mothership, and all conclude that the only ‘solution’ is an extremely unpalatable one: for the girl to be jettisoned into space — for her to die that eight others shall live. Even for the pilot to do the chivalrous thing and sacrifice himself is not an option, because she doesn’t know how to pilot the shuttle and cannot be taught quickly.

The story is a heart-rending one to read precisely because it is devoid of sentimentality. Eric Flint, who has been editing Tom Godwin’s work posthumously for republication, points to the implausibility of the shuttle being sent out with no margin for error on the fuel. And anyone reading this who is not heartless hopes for a ‘deus ex machina’ solution to avoid the heartbreaking end.

But of course, that would have defeated Tom Godwin’s purpose, which as far as I can discern was twofold. First, it was to present a moral dilemma akin to that of R’ Akiva, but with the stakes changed from “one vs one” to “one vs many”.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, to express his view of the Universe as a cold, uncaring place that has no particular interest whether the laws governing it are emotionally comforting to human life. And where nobody can ignore ‘the cold equations’ in the long run, or the Universe will present the bill.[*]

The famous Kipling poem, “The Gods of the Copybook Headings”, expresses this latter thought. Its full text can be read here.

 

A ‘copybook’, I am told, is the British English term for a preprinted book in which elementary school pupils learned penmanship by copying out short phrases — usually pithy proverbs, sayings, or admonitions. Interestingly enough, both Glenn Reynolds (an American law professor better known as the “blogfather” Instapundit) and yours truly (likewise born on the seam line between Boomer and Gen-X) interpreted “copybook headings” as something else, namely column sums on a balance sheet. And passages like these sure admit of such a reading:

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “If you don’t work you die.”

 

Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.
[…]
And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

“The gods of the copybook headings” or “the cold equations”: They are neither good nor evil. They just are, and we ignore them at our greatest peril. No matter how much those of us of a liberal temperament (some of whom may actually be conservatives by conviction) might like it to be otherwise, the Universe (and human nature) are what they are, not what we would like them to be. And of course, like in science or engineering, for every “cold equation” we know there are ten, or a hundred, that we don’t know.

We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place,
But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome…
[*] I note in passing that Godwin’s writings display a fascination with human survival in inhospitable environments. This bio wonders whether this stems from Godwin earning his keep as a surveyor around the Mojave Desert.

Chesterton’s parable of the fence

The British writer G. K. Chesterton is probably best known to the general public as the author of the “Father Brown” series of mysteries. Among English-speaking Catholics, he is also well known as an apologist for their faith. Agree or disagree with his views, friend and foe recognized his intellect.

In one of his apologetic works (“The Thing”, quoted here, and discussed here from a different religious perspective) he coined an interesting parable:

In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”

This paradox rests on the most elementary common sense. The gate or fence did not grow there. It was not set up by somnambulists who built it in their sleep. It is highly improbable that it was put there by escaped lunatics who were for some reason loose in the street. Some person had some reason for thinking it would be a good thing for somebody. And until we know what the reason was, we really cannot judge whether the reason was reasonable. It is extremely probable that we have overlooked some whole aspect of the question, if something set up by human beings like ourselves seems to be entirely meaningless and mysterious. There are reformers who get over this difficulty by assuming that all their fathers were fools; but if that be so, we can only say that folly appears to be a hereditary disease. But the truth is that nobody has any business to destroy a social institution until he has really seen it as an historical institution. If he knows how it arose, and what purposes it was supposed to serve, he may really be able to say that they were bad purposes, that they have since become bad purposes, or that they are purposes which are no longer served. But if he simply stares at the thing as a senseless monstrosity that has somehow sprung up in his path, it is he and not the traditionalist who is suffering from an illusion.

Meaning no disrespect to Chesterton’s splendid prose, allow me to paraphrase and elaborate in plain(er) contemporary English.

Suppose you are walking along a road and see it blocked by a fence. Is your first impulse: “this fence is oppression! We must tear it down!” Chances are you are a left-liberal “progressive” — especially if you flip 180 degrees to “we must keep the fence, and saying otherwise is hate speech!” after being told that the fence was erected by or at the behest of one of your mascot groups.

Is your first impulse rather, on seeing or suspecting that the fence was erected by the state: “down with the state! down with the fence!” Then, if told that the fence was erected because there was a cliff behind it, or quicksand: “it is my dog-given right to drive off a cliff or into quicksand if I choose to do so, and the state has no business making such a fence!” Chances are you’re a doctrinaire big-L Libertarian. (A more sensible libertarian might advocate tearing down the fence but putting up warning signs, saying “proceed at your own risk”.)

Or is your first impulse that the fence is sacred just because it has always been there, and we must not question why? Chances are you are a reactionary.

Or, finally, is your first thought: “Hmm, that fence wasn’t put there overnight by leprechauns. We must find out how that fence came to be and why. It’s quite possible that the fence was built for reasons that are no longer relevant, and that we can safely tear it down; it’s also possible that the fence is still sorely needed. Until we have a straight answer to this question, let’s not mess with it.” That is what it means to be a conservative. Not to be afraid of anything new, not to oppose reform or evolution —  but to go about it cautiously and thoughtfully, and mindful of the Law of Unintended Consequences.  A conservative with libertarian sympathies (like myself) may err on the side of allowing people to make their own mistakes rather than “protecting them against themselves” — but still would not tear down the fence unthinkingly. I might be more rash, if I were alone on a desert island. But in the immortal words of John Donne:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

 

 

 

Preference cascades and the fall of the Ceaucescu regime

The protests in Iran seem to be getting bigger. I can’t help being reminded (though this may be wishful thinking) of the 1989 protests in Rumania and the subsequent downfall of its dictator Nicolae CarpathiaCeaucescu.

The regime was deeply unpopular following an austerity program that had Rumanians scrambling for the most basic necessities, while the Inner Party, of course, enjoyed everything imaginable. Yet the Securitate (the Romanian secret police) maintained the most repressive police state of all the Eastern European regimes, and its grip on the people was supposed to be unassailable.

Then protests broke out in the Transylvanian town of Timisoara, in support of a Protestant pastor named László Tökés who belonged to the Hungarian minority of Transylvania. At the time, I did not think this would be a cause for the Rumanian majority — but it triggered a “preference cascade“. Suddenly, all sorts of people who loathed the regime and their circumstances, but feared to speak up realized they were not alone — and that the others around them had just been keeping their heads down. Thus one regional protest, not immediately suppressed, lit off a firestorm.

It’s unclear when exactly the tipping point occurred, but apparently, the defense minister was fired by Ceaucescu for not having issued live ammunition to the troops sent to suppress the Timisoara protests. His successor either did not care to sully his hands with mass slaughter to contain what had meanwhile grown to national protests, or he realized that the troops had changed allegiance and would disobey orders to fire on protesters — or perhaps both.

At any rate, second-tier elements of the regime then realized Ceaucescu was doomed, had no desire to share his fate, and made a deal with one of the protest leaders (a hydro-engineer and former head of a technical publishing house named Ion Iliescu). Within days, the grotesque dictator and his even more grotesque wife ignominiously escaped in a helicopter, then in a commandeered private vehicle, then ultimately handed over for arrest. Following a brief kangaroo court session, they were executed by firing squad on Christmas Day. Earlier, propaganda slogans had been aimed at the protesters to go home and enjoy the Christmas repast — whether these admonitions were more cynical or pathetic is hard to decide. At any rate, the Rumanian people did thus get their Christmas gift.

The transition to democracy (at first under Iliescu) was messy, but eventually, Romania left the nightmarish regime behind and has recently achieved a modest measure of prosperity, though much remains to be done.

Incidentally, what became of László Tökés? As it turns out, he had a political career later, and eventually became deputy chair of the European Parliament.

Will elements in Iran at some point similarly realize the mullahcracy is unsustainable, and engineer its downfall? Will this pit the army against the Revolutionary Guard? The mind wonders…

The embassy move to Jerusalem: less changes than you might think

“Sinterklaasdag” (December 6, St. Nicholas Day) presents are neither a Jewish nor an American tradition, but today US President Trump announced that the US recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and that he is instructing the State Department to start moving the embassy from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem.

1600px-us_embassy_tel_aviv_6924

Predictably, doomsayers and useful idiots of the Caliphate are claiming the world will end—while in fact [sarcasm] this moves clearly proves collusion between Trump and the Russians, since Russia recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital six months ago.[/sarcasm]

But jokes aside, what does this move change? In practice, less than you might think.

(a) The US already has a pretty large diplomatic presence in Jerusalem, with at least four locations that I can think of: a consular office in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem; another on Agron Street in West Jerusalem (near the Great Synagogue); a third in the Arnona neighborhood, in what used to be “no man’s land” between the 1949 armistice and the 1967 Six-Day War; and an America House next to the YMCA. [State reportedly also owns a plot of land in the Talpiot neighborhood, which could be a potential embassy site.]

(b) The initial decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem was taken 22 years ago by Congress, in the Jerusalem Embassy Act, which was approved on October 24, 1995 by overwhelming bipartisan majorities of 374–37 in the House and 93–5 in the Senate.  (Roll call vote 734Roll call vote 496,) Then-President Clinton refused to sign the Act — which was an embarrassment for him as well as for the Rabin-Peres gov’t in Israel at the time — but with a veto-proof majority, it passed into law anyway on November 8, 1995.

According to the terms of the act, if the embassy had not been moved by a May 31, 1999 deadline, the State Department would see its construction and upkeep budget for overseas missions cut by 50%. The Act did leave one loophole: the President may sign a six-month waiver, renewable indefinitely, for the sake of national security interest. Clinton, Bush 43, 0bama, and Trump all have done so, Trump just once when the previous waiver expired.

Apparently, he will sign again in order to prevent State getting partially defunded, but he has given instructions to start the process of moving the embassy. Fox reports that “some 1,000 employees” will need to be moved: the mind wonders whether this was a blooper on Fox’s part, or whether the US truly needs such a massive mission in a relatively small country—any halfway competent spy novelist will of course nod in recognition.

(c) The Jerusalem consulate already operates at near-parity with the consular section of the Embassy in Tel-Aviv: certain consular services, for instance (such as those related to Social Security) have been centralized in Jerusalem, while certain others (such as visas) are only available in Tel-Aviv. (The US also maintains a smaller consular presence in Haifa, while some countries maintain consulates in smaller cities — e.g. France in Ashdod and Netanya, with their sizable French-Jewish communities.)

In short: while Presidential recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital (rather than Israel’s economic nerve center Tel-Aviv) is of great symbolic value for friend and foe alike, the practical implications on the ground are quite limited. Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat quipped that all the Americans needed to do is clear an office at the Consulate where the ambassador could sit; in practice, ambassadors don’t move alone, and the migration is likely to take years.

UPDATE: in the wake of Trump’s announcement, the Czech Republic followed suit

And here, at the website of the Mann/Shinar architectural bureau, are some architectural renderings of the Arnona ‘annex’ to the Consulate in Jerusalem.

3kkk

Some little ‘annex’. Commissioned in 2003, during Bush 43’s first term.

UPDATE 2: Six months ago, Northwestern U. international law professor Eugene Kontorovich wrote in a prescient Wall Street Journal op-ed:

If Mr. Trump nonetheless signs the waiver, he could do two things to maintain his credibility in the peace process. First, formally recognize Jerusalem—the whole city—as the capital of Israel, and reflect that status in official documents. Second, make clear that unless the Palestinians get serious about peace within six months, his first waiver will be his last. He should set concrete benchmarks for the Palestinians to demonstrate their commitment to negotiations. These would include ending their campaign against Israel in international organizations and cutting off payments to terrorists and their relatives.

 

 

 

 

 

If it keeps on raining…

 

 

The other day I heard a strange and wonderful cover of a blues classic, performed by Tool vocalist Maynard James Keenan’s second band.

A delta blues purist might get an even bigger stroke than they would from Led Zeppelin’s famous version. But precisely because of the change of context, and Maynard’s emotional yet understated delivery, the song hit me like a hammer.

The original was written about the 1927 Great Mississippi Flood, the most destructive river flood in the history of the USA, which made hundreds of thousands homeless. Many of those were black, and joined the Great Migration from the agricultural South to the industrial cities of the Northeast and Midwest.

But the metaphor of a levee about to break speaks to me on a number of levels.

There is the general sense that insanity and inanity in the political system and the popular culture have reached a level where the rest of us feel like we are drowning in derp and d-baggery. Exhibit, well, T: My Beautiful but Evil Space Mistress’s article on the left’s long post-election tantrum.

At another level, the Harvey Weinstein scandal (and another shoe about to drop) show that the depravity of some beacons of popular culture has risen to such levels that even with the help of a fawning, compliant press it can no longer be contained. “When the levee breaks, you’ll have no place to stay.” Not that it came as a great surprise to anyone familiar with the inner workings of certain industries.

My friend “masgramondou” comments here on the peculiar “bootlegger and Baptist coalition” (or is that a CAT coalition: cads and Tumblristas?) that has arisen in an attempt to change the subject. (Mayim Bialik learned the hard way what happens when you deviate from the party line.)

At a third level, one sees something more hopeful. The ever-increasing shrillness of the would-be opinion makers and virtue signalers in politics, media (but I repeat myself), academia, and popular culture are causing ever more of us to “cut the cord” and tune them out entirely. Too many alternatives are available nowadays, and if none are to our liking, the entry barriers to creating our own have never been lower. (The flip side, of course, is the ever greater challenge to stand out from the crowd of creators.)

Are we at a tipping point, and is a return to sanity near? “And grace and good sense will be found in the eyes of G-d and man” (ומצא חן ושכל טוב בעיני א׳ ואדם), as it says in the Grace After Meals. May it happen speedily and in our days.