Wednesday, September 25, 2013

An Encomium for an Unsung Writer


Daniel Greenfield, the Sultan Knish columnist and frequent contributor to FrontPage's The Point Blog, is one of the most perceptive, objective, prolific, and ruthless observers of contemporary politics and culture in the country. He writes things Charles Krauthammer would be hesitant to publish, and says things no one on Fox News would dare utter.

This is because he is an intellectual, a thinker in fundamentals, and so he has a far wider perspective on things Islamic than has any newspaper pundit or TV anchor or teleprompter reader.

One of the first tasks I perform when returning to my computer after a night's sleep is to hunt up and read his latest pieces. I do not know how he keeps up the pace and the output. I've often kidded him by asking him if he has a time warp device that allows him to vanish into a timeless realm to cover and produce as much copy as he does, and then emerge from it to have a bite to eat and take a nap. That way he could keep to the twenty-four hour day with the rest of us.

He will only admit that it is "like racing along a treadmill manned by Marxist clowns."

More often than not his Sultan Knish columns are evocative of H.L. Mencken at his best: wryly ironic, sometimes bitter, always contemptuous of politicians and activists who suffer from foot-in-mouth disease or who have been lobotomized by political correctness, or who are just plain morally and/or politically corrupt. Regardless of his mood, he will make an unforgettable point. A few times he might over-write, and occasionally a grammatical error might creep in, but such lapses are so infrequent it would be picayune to dwell on them. Given the caliber of his intellect and his bare-knuckles honesty, readers are getting a bargain.

Greenfield has a devoted and growing readership. He has been writing "Sultan Knish" since 2005 and for FrontPage since 2011. His FrontPage byline reads: "… a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center… a New York writer focusing on radical Islam. He is completing a book on the international challenges America faces in the 21st century."

An example of his thinking is his latest Sultan Knish column, "The Gang Religion of Islam," written on the occasion of the attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya over the weekend. While the attack and massacre of non-Muslims (and perhaps of a few Muslims who weren't lucky enough to be asked to recite an Islamic prayer or name Mohammad's mother) has been claimed by Al-Shabab, a faction of the Somalian jihadist gang of the same name, Greenfield points out that the particular umbrella name of the killers hardly matters. The attack could've been planned and executed by any other jihadist outfit: Hamas, Hezbollah, Al-Nur, Al-Qa'ida Central, the Muslim Brotherhood, or any one of numerous units of the "Free Syrian Army."

In short, Greenfield did not use the notion of "gangs" as a mere metaphor. He identified Islam's core modus operandi: kill for the sake of killing.  

To one reader of "Gang Religion," who commented on Islam's "Golden Age," Greenfield replied:

Islam is not conducive to philosophy. You can't read it and gain a larger sense of the world. There's no room for speculation afterward. It's a series of badly cribbed scriptures and the narrative of Islam's present, past and future wars.

In short, Immanuel Kant had a philosophy (with which Islam and modern Western culture are largely copasetic). Hegel had a philosophy (which let loose today's Marxists and Progressives and other totalitarians). Martin Heidegger had a philosophy (which sanctioned Nazism). Christianity and Judaism have their philosophies.

Islam has no philosophy that pursues the meaning of life. In it, speculation is prohibited. As such, it can only obsess with the meaning of death, without page-long Kantian paragraphs that explicate its death-worship.

Islam at bottom is imbecilic and it attracts recidivist imbeciles. Passive Muslims are those who religiously go to mosque and question nothing. Activist Muslims are the killer imbeciles who fly planes into skyscrapers, prey on non-Muslim women in Britain and Europe, and invade shopping malls, guns blazing.

Islam's "Golden Age" is based on Greek and Roman texts which invading Arabs might have discovered and preserved, but which they did not originate and which were subsequently disdained as un-Islamic.

But Islam, if it can be called a philosophy, is a philosophy of nihilism and death. Islam, as Greenfield describes it (and too few others critical of Islam), is a manual for conquest, submission and self-immolation cobbled together from other creeds, chiefly from Judaism and Christianity, while Allah was originally a pagan moon god. There is no system or structure to it. It is an arbitrary, unwholesome porridge of assertions, sayings, anecdotes, and dicta, a disparate potpourri of statements of dubious authorship whose central theme is "conquer them, convert them, or kill them." It appeals to psychopaths and sociopaths – the jihadists – and to the morally rootless and selfless rank-and-file Muslims, that "silent majority" of manqués who refuse to think. But its overall thesis is explained by Greenfield in his opening paragraph:

Killing non-Muslims is the point of Islam. To the extent that it has any point. That isn't to say that Islam doesn't preach the virtues of charity and love for one's fellow Muslim. It does. But its virtues are not original. Like most of the rest of the framework of it, they are lifted from existing religions.

Not a day passes anymore without news of another spate of Muslim honor killings, rapes of child brides, or of mass murders of Muslims by Muslims of either sect, or of the targeting of Westerners and others not of the Islamic suasion for slaughter or rape. All of it done in the name of Allah, or for the sake of being a "good Muslim." Since 9/11, nearly 20,000 acts of Islamic terror have been committed. Perhaps more. Someone is keeping count.

But Greenfield asks the question: If these crimes were instead committed by men for no ostensive or alleged religious reason, would we not deem them crimes, regardless of the upbringing or religious background of the perpetrators? Charles Manson, Richard Speck, Aaron Alexis and other mass murderers committed their crimes without benefit of religion or ideology. They were psychotics, sociopaths, or simply nihilistic. Still, we hold them responsible for their crimes. What difference to the victims should it make that they have been slaughtered in the name of a deity? What difference should it make to us that they were slaughtered for a religious reason, or in the name of a deluded vision or for no comprehensible reason at all?

Greenfield leads into his thesis:

Islam may have become a religion, but it began as a code. Like the Pirate Code or the Thieves Law of Russia, it was a set of rules that allowed a select group of bandits to choose leaders, plan attacks and divide the loot.

The code invested their actions with meaning, it kept order in their ranks and allowed the members to believe that dying for the gang was more than a martial ethos, but also contained a spiritual element. Similar attempts to invest gang life with spirituality can be found in the tattoos, rap songs and graffiti memorials of every street gang in America. 

And what are street gangs notorious for? Violence. Killing. Terrorism. With guns, with tire irons, baseball bats, knives, or anything else that is proven to be lethal.

Imagine the Kingism of the Latin Kings street gang, which has its own prayers, crude theology and philosophy becoming the religion of the gangs ruling over a Post-American civilization. In the 80s, the Chicago gang Blackstone Rangers realized the benefits of becoming a religion and declared itself the El Rukn tribe of the Moorish Science Temple of America.

Despite the elaborate mythology, the Latin Kings is a gang first and a religion second. In time it might become a full religion, stranger things have happened, but it will never be able to escape its origins. It will at its heart always be a gang code with an emphasis on providing a spiritual overlay for gang violence.

And that is the case with Islam.

It's nothing new. Let's go back to the early 20th century, and the Chicago of that era, and to the St. Valentine's Day Massacre of February 14th, 1929. In a reprise of the event, John O'Brien of the Chicago Tribune wrote:

On this frigid morning, in an unheated brick garage at 2122 N. Clark St., seven men were lined up against a whitewashed wall and pumped with 90 bullets from submachine guns, shotguns and a revolver. It was the most infamous of all gangland slayings in America, and it savagely achieved its purpose--the elimination of the last challenge to Al Capone for the mantle of crime boss in Chicago.

What was the prize? The undisputed monopoly of distributing prohibited liquor to the city and its surroundings.

The victims, killed outright or left dying in the garage, included Frank "Hock" Gusenberg, [George "Bugs"] Moran's enforcer, and his brother, Peter "Goosy" Gusenberg. Four of the other victims were Moran gangsters, but the seventh dead man was Dr. Reinhardt Schwimmer, an optician who cavorted with criminals for thrills. Missing that morning was Capone's prize, Moran, who slept in.

Interestingly, gangs have attracted hangers-on who are fascinated by the power gangs enjoyed with near impunity. Another hanger-on who cavorted with gangsters was Saul Alinsky, whose mentor, Al Capone's gang "manager" Frank Nitti, helped him to formulate his "rules for radicals" and "community organizing" techniques.

Is there really any difference between the mob wars of the 1920's and 1930's, and the conflicts between the Sunnis and the Shi'ites? Except for the religious coloring, both sects seek uncontested dominance over the other, preferably by extinction of the other.

Need one say more about "gangster government"? In attacking the Obama seizure of the auto industry, Michelle Bachmann must have done her homework on the origins of President Barack Obama's policies, as well. She called the whole phenomenon "gangster government."

What is the attraction of Islam to psychopaths, sociopaths, and nihilists? As Greenfield explains:

After over a thousand years, after its own empires and conquests stretching around the world, after endless religious schools, reform movements, theological debates and splinter groups, Islam is not able to leave its gang roots behind. It is still at its core a gang religion. That is why it appeals so well to convicts who recognize that they are interacting with something far more ancient than Kingism.

That is also why Islam, like most street gangs, degenerates so readily into internecine violence. No matter how much its devotees dream of conquering the decadent West and planting the black flag of Islam everywhere, they can't help turning their guns on each other, because gangs are naturally primed to fight amongst themselves. The gang code never suffices to settle disputes among men who live by violence. They may fight to impose Islamic law on the world, but they can't live by it.

What are we witnessing in Syria, in Libya, in Egypt, in Kenya, in Nigeria? Only the Capone and Moran gangs tricked out in ghutras or shemaghs or keffiyah masks and wearing suicide vests or carrying AK47's and grenades.  Just as Capone's and Nitti's Chicago Outfit couldn't keep the truce with other gangs, so the Sunnis and Shi'ites and other Islamic sects can't unite permanently, only temporarily, when they gang up on non-gang members. Non-Muslims.

Syria is Islam at its most primal with gangs fighting over the ruins of cities, small groups joining up, Shiite and Sunni militias killing each other, Free Syrian Army and Al Nusra Front gangs fighting over bakeries and pipelines, an endless stream of recruits from around the world rushing to join up in a gang war that has claimed over 100,000 lives.

Not even America's bootleg and drug gangs and modern organized crime families can top that figure. And that figure is only the tip of a mountain of corpses that began growing in the 7th century.

And the question was how do you keep a band of bandits from stabbing each other over the loot while convincing them that if they die while stealing a goat or raping someone's third wife, they'll go to a magical place full of goats and virginal third wives with skin of the color of bone marrow.

As the holy warriors of the Syrian Civil War killing each other over control of bakeries while fighting to impose the perfection of Islamic Law on everyone can tell you, it's not a very good answer even to that question. It's an even worse answer to any larger social problem that doesn't involve twenty men trying to divide the profits from one raid on an abandoned university.

But when a religion is based on gang violence and because of that inevitably reverts to gang violence, it's an answer that keeps coming up again and again.

The answer of Islam is the answer of violence. It's the answer of uniting the various gangs around killing non-Muslims. Sometimes that answer even works.

Few Muslims can deal with the conundrum. Raheel Raza, for example, in his September 25th Gatestone column, "The Danger in Our Midst," addresses it. His article is fundamentally an overture to repudiation. Writing about the recent violence in Nairobi, he asks:

Is it because there are verses in the Qu'ran that can be, and have been, used to justify violence against non-Muslims? If this is the situation, then it is time for us to lift our heads out of the sand, and understand that the enemy is within.

Islam is a prisoner of its own rationalistic Möbius strip. It can't escape its nature, writes Greenfield. It is congenitally doomed by its defective, anti-life purposes and ends. It can't be "reformed" without repudiating its core premises and therefore obviating it. Its metaphysics is impossible and the stuff of Looney Tunes, and its epistemology is intrinsically blood-red.

The "ideal" Islam, writes Greenfield, isn't Muslims butchering each other in Syria.

Islam finds its meaning from fighting and killing non-Muslims. It is the only meaning that it can ever have. The exercises of its devotees who memorize countless Koranic verses, who debate the fine points of laws and prepare for their pilgrimages to Mecca must inevitably converge on the violent core that gives the whole thing purpose.

The historical dynamic of Islam has never left behind its gang origins. Its future is measured in terms of conquest and more conquest. The manifest destiny of Islam is an eating contest as its holy warriors cram more and more territories and people into an expanding Caliphate that falls apart vomiting up the conquests into chaos. The lessons are never learned. The holy warriors fall to fighting each other.

That congenital condition can be likened to the steel pin ball that will always roll towards the bottom, no matter how furiously the Islamic scholars work the flippers. No matter how many times they send the ball back up to score on one of the buttons, the ball's ultimate and only destination is the black hole of nihilism.

The lessons can't be learned, because Muslims have a vested interest in the impossible metaphysics and feel naked without flaunting their blood-soaked epistemology in reams and sound-bytes of taqiyya and practiced dissimulation. Greenfield writes:

Every fourth gang hip-hop song is about how hard it is to leave the gang life. The other three are about how everyone else out there is a pretender and not a real gangsta. That is Islam in a nutshell. Islamic civilization can't leave the gang life and insists that every other civilization and even most other Muslims are pretenders and that only the Salafiest of the Salafists are the real Gangstas.

No one, not even the most authoritative, articulate, and well-read "Islamophobes" in the blog realm can inveigh against Islam as Greenfield can and does consistently and with haunting prose. He goes to the core issue of Islam and reveals its fetid, dank nature. He finds no redemption in its diseased leprosy. It's unfortunate that his work is confined to the blog realm, because more people concerned with Islam would profit by imbibing it.

He knows there are no such things as "moderate" Islamists or "radical" Islamists or even "militant" Islamists. The adjectival terms are merely evasions indulged in by men who have their own mental problems. In Islam, there are only the passive dullards, and the disconnected "activists." He knows that jihadists are simply being consistent with their gangster code, adhering to the whole panoply of Koranic ideology in pretend exercises in "spirituality." Being consistent means killing, either the heretical other, or the "People of the Book." That is the nature of any terrorist organization or creed.

And that is Islam. Even run-of-the-mill criminals need a philosophy of life, even if it is unarticulated or founded on paranoia or schizophrenia or on some Rosicrucian-like delusion.

Islam, however, articulates a philosophy of death.

If you want a powerful guide to the unabridged, naked hell that is Islam, Daniel Greenfield is your Dante.  

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Equal Opportunity for the Ugly

When I was about ten years old (in the 1950's), my foster father and I drove out to run some errands. On the way, we were stopped by a black traffic cop who was directing traffic at an intersection. I had never seen a black man before, so I was not a little stunned and curious. All I saw was a black man in a blue uniform blowing his whistle. My foster father, however, stunned me even more. He muttered, "Damn niggers are taking over the world!"

I gave him a shocked look that must have looked to him like a reproach, because when we got back home, he took his belt to me.

On another occasion, when I was about the same age, the family had "company" over for dinner. Someone asked me – because the subject must have been race, but I don’t recall the particular details – it must have been one of my foster folks, "What color are we, Ed?" I answered, "Beige."

Wrong answer. It earned me another session with the strap after the company left.

But this column isn't about race or color-blindness. It's about the new egalitarian push to grant ugly or homely people – race optional – their "fair share" of entitlements and a generous dollop of "social justice." It's about the educational and cultural establishment taking their belts to human esthetics and all measurements of value. And by "belt," I mean government force.

The issue of ugly people has been gathering steam since at least 2011. Stanford Junior University law professor Deborah L. Rhode, in her 2010 book, The Beauty Bias, began thumping the war drums about the "injustice of appearance in life and law." I quote from the synopsis of her book, in which Rhode or her publisher's copywriter noted, after claiming that the annual global investment in appearance is in the neighborhood of $200 billion:

Many individuals experience stigma, discrimination, and related difficulties, such as eating disorders, depression, and risky dieting and cosmetic procedures. Women bear a vastly disproportionate share of those costs, in part because they face standards more exacting than those for men, and pay greater penalties for falling short.

That was Rhode's liberal/left call-to-arms. Next, she gets to the totalitarian nub of her opus:

The Beauty Bias explores the social, biological, market, and media forces that have contributed to appearance-related problems, as well as feminism's difficulties in confronting them…. Appearance-related bias infringes fundamental rights, compromises merit principles, reinforces debilitating stereotypes, and compounds the disadvantages of race, class, and gender….The Beauty Bias provides the first systematic survey of how [existing] appearance laws work in practice, and a compelling argument for extending their reach….

Rhode's book was published by the Oxford University Press in May 2010. It was favorably received by Publishers Weekly, the Christian Science Monitor, Slate.com, and a passel of notorious distaff gender studies entities. I was surprised not to see the Huffington Post and other liberal/left blog sites endorse the book. In the reviews, she is cited as "the nation's most cited scholar on professional responsibility."

Responsibility to whom? Or to what? You fill in the blanks. If individuals aren't permitted to establish their own esthetic values – even if they enter an employer's calculations of what he finds suitable for employment, or for a wife, or for a work of art, then who or what will establish them for him?

In April 2013, Daniel Hamermesh's book, Beauty Pays, appeared from Princeton University Press to the acclaim of Publishers Weekly, the New Yorker, the New York Journal of Books, Forbes, the Daily Mail, and an audience of obedient critics responding to liberal/collectivist autosuggestion. Hamermesh is a professor of economics at the University of Texas-Austin and a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. His work has been subsidized by the National Science Foundation and other federal agencies, and he has written on the economic aspects of "beauty, sleep and suicide."

He missed one major realm of research: the economic impact of picking lint from one's belly button.

From his book synopsis:

Most of us know there is a payoff to looking good, and in the quest for beauty we spend countless hours and billions of dollars on personal grooming, cosmetics, and plastic surgery….

Including former Speaker of the House Nancy "Let's see what's in it" Pelosi, a soul-mate of Hamermesh, who has spent a fortune on plastic surgery and/or Botox injections to present to the American public a mask of motherly and despotic benevolence.

The first book to seriously measure the advantages of beauty, Beauty Pays demonstrates how society favors the beautiful and how better-looking people experience startling but undeniable benefits in all aspects of life….

What happened to Rhode's book? Wasn't it the first one to seriously measure the advantages of beauty? But, we quibble. In a Huffington Post interview of September 2nd, 2011, Hamermesh reveals his premises.

To me the crucial question is whether we should think of beauty as productive, or as reflecting discrimination. This is a very tough question, since there's no doubt that hiring a beautiful person raises a company's sales. I would argue that beauty's effects reflect societal discrimination, and that is not inherently productive.

It isn't often that one sees a glaring contradiction in the space of one short paragraph. On one hand, Hamermesh says, a "beautiful person" undoubtedly raises a company's sales. On the other hand, because of "societal discrimination," raising a company's sales isn't productive. Go figure.

He was asked to define beautiful and ugly persons.

I wouldn't and can't. It's like pornography – I know it when I see it.

No, Hamermesh wouldn’t dream of revealing his personal measure of beauty and ugliness. These measures, he contends, are a consequence of a societal consensus.

In his August 27th New York Times op-ed, "Ugly? You May Have a Case," Hamermesh reveals his true agenda, which is to correct society's "consensus" with fiat law.

A more radical solution may be needed: why not offer legal protections to the ugly, as we do with racial, ethnic and religious minorities, women and handicapped individuals?

We actually already do offer such protections in a few places, including in some jurisdictions in California, and in the District of Columbia, where discriminatory treatment based on looks in hiring, promotions, housing and other areas is prohibited. Ugliness could be protected generally in the United States by small extensions of the Americans With Disabilities Act. Ugly people could be allowed to seek help from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and other agencies in overcoming the effects of discrimination. We could even have affirmative-action programs for the ugly.

Hamermesh looks like a jolly old fellow with a beard who wouldn't hurt a fly. He might have even chuckled at a relevant "Seinfeld" scene. But he didn't write his op-ed tongue-in-cheek or as a suggestion for a Saturday Night Live skit. He is serious. He is proposing that the government employ force to "aid" the ugly.

For purposes of administering a law, we surely could agree on who is truly ugly, perhaps the worst-looking 1 or 2 percent of the population. The difficulties in classification are little greater than those faced in deciding who qualifies for protection on grounds of disabilities that limit the activities of daily life, as shown by conflicting decisions in numerous legal cases involving obesity….

Economic arguments for protecting the ugly are as strong as those for protecting some groups currently covered by legislation. So why not go ahead and expand protection to the looks-challenged?….

You might reasonably disagree and argue for protecting all deserving groups. Either way, you shouldn’t be surprised to see the United States heading toward this new legal frontier.

No, we shouldn't be surprised, especially when entities like Stanford law professor Deborah Rhode are all for anti-discrimination laws that would protect ("promote"?) the ugly and penalize the beautiful, and when there are countless individuals who would readily and shamelessly claim that they were discriminated against because of their looks. And who might be the "we" who would "agree" on who is ugly? An "Ugliness Panel" convened under the aegis of an ObamaLooks law? Perhaps the panel would recommend that people be sent to hospitals to have their looks corrected, to give them a better chance at jobs and life in general.

Rod Serling's Twilight Zone episode, "The Eye of the Beholder," is a classic tale of what our government wardens would have in mind. 

Ruth Graham, in her August 23rd Boston Globe column, "Who will fight the beauty bias?", natters on about the beauty-vs.-ugly issue without committing herself to any legal or "social" remedies.

The galloping injustice of "lookism" has not escaped psychologists, economists, sociologists, and legal scholars. Stanford law professor Deborah L. Rhode's book, The Beauty Bias, lamented "the injustice of appearance in life and law," while University of Texas, Austin economist Daniel Hamermesh's 2011 Beauty Pays…traced the concrete benefits of attractiveness, including a $230,000 lifetime earnings advantage over the unattractive.

So, now we will add "lookism" to the list of ism's and phobias that have sanctioned curative legislation: ageism, heightism, sexism, homophobia, deafism, mutism, Islamophobia, racism, weightism. Have I left anything out? Oh, yes. Speech-impedimentism.

In all the articles I have read while researching this column, I did not encounter a single definition of beauty or ugly regarding the human visage. The writers wrote from their own vague, woozy notions of what those terms mean, yet they are willing to legislate politically correct esthetics based on their approximations of what the terms mean.

However, Ayn Rand wrote clearly on the subject.

Beauty is a sense of harmony. Whether it’s an image, a human face, a body, or a sunset, take the object which you call beautiful, as a unit [and ask yourself]: what parts is it made up of, what are its constituent elements, and are they all harmonious? If they are, the result is beautiful. If there are contradictions and clashes, the result is marred or positively ugly.

For instance, the simplest example would be a human face. You know what features belong in a human face. Well, if the face is lopsided, [with a] very indefinite jaw-line, very small eyes, beautiful mouth, and a long nose, you would have to say that’s not a beautiful face. But if all these features are harmoniously integrated, if they all fit your view of the importance of all these features on a human face, then that face is beautiful.

Here are examples of what Rand means by harmony (John Singer Sargent's "Lady Agnew of Lochnaw," and the ugly, distorted, and disharmonious (Chuck Close's gallery).

Now since this is an objective definition of beauty, there of course can be universal standards of beauty—provided you define the terms of what objects you are going to classify as beautiful and what you take as the ideal harmonious relationship of the elements of that particular object. To say, “It’s in the eyes of the beholder”—that, of course, would be pure subjectivism, if taken literally. It isn’t [a matter of] what you, for unknown reasons, decide to regard as beautiful. It is true, of course, that if there were no valuers, then nothing could be valued as beautiful or ugly, because values are created by the observing consciousness—but they are created by a standard based on reality. So here the issue is: values, including beauty, have to be judged as objective, not subjective or intrinsic.

The attack on beauty is an attack on values – on values for being values. It is an assault on the good for being the good. The nihilistic nature of this renewed attack is disguised by a profession of relativism. "What's ugly to you is beautiful to me," is the defensive cop-out response by anyone whose sordid tastes in art and literature are questioned.

"There is no lobby for the homely," writes Graham. "How do you change a discriminatory behavior that, even though unfair, is obviously deep, hard to pin down, and largely unconscious…?"

Tentatively, experts are beginning to float possible solutions. Some have proposed legal remedies including designating unattractive people as a protected class, creating affirmative action programs for the homely, or compensating disfigured but otherwise healthy people in personal-injury courts….

Other solutions would require the systemic and systematic lobotomization of men's minds so they are "bias-free" or value-free. This is what is occurring in the nation's schools in esthetics, in history, in politics, in science, to produce a generation of manqués conditioned to have their minds programmed to respond to the state's or the race's or collective's values of servitude and self-sacrifice.

Graham writes:

How to fix this problem depends on what kind of problem, exactly, you think it is. A number of scholars see it as fundamentally a civil-rights issue, with the unattractive a class of people who are provably and consistently discriminated against. It's an idea that seems poised to resonate beyond the academy….

 Where it resonates the most beyond the academy is in the envious, malignant souls of those who are itching to elevate the ugly to the same value level of the beautiful, in order to destroy the beautiful and all beauty.

Ellsworth Toohey, the arch villain of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, articulated the principal method behind the assault on beauty:  “Don’t set out to raze all shrines – you'll frighten men. Enshrine mediocrity – and the shrines are razed.”

It is in the name of the mediocre, the nondescript, the ugly, and the average that the nihilists in and out of the academy have declared war on beauty. 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Putin Upstages Obama as "Man of Peace"


I can appreciate a good joke. But Russian President Vladimir Putin's Op-Ed in the New York Times of September 11th, "A Plea for Caution," which I'm sure caused him to smile as he penned it, is not funny. It isn't even a bad joke.

On one hand, there is some humor in seeing President Barack Obama being hoisted on his own petard for having shot off his mouth about the "red line" he had drawn about Syrian President Bashar Assad's alleged use of chemical weapons – that was on August 20th, over a year ago – and now having to back-pedal. He owned that red line, and, true to form, is now disowning it, claiming that it was "the world's," and not just his. That's his "community organizing" skills coming to the fore.  As Robert Farley of FactCheck.org concluded on September 6th:

Obama is correct to argue that the international community has long drawn a “red line” condemning the use of chemical weapons, but his point blurs the fact that his “red line” comment in August 2012 was made in the context of what it might take for the U.S. to get involved militarily in Syria. While Obama may have had some justification for drawing that line based on international conventions, the decision to tie U.S. military involvement to Assad using chemical weapons was Obama’s red line.

Another chuckle was earned by Secretary of State John "Swift Boat" Kerry when he inadvertently gave Putin the idea of suggesting that Assad's chemical weapons could be put under lock and key for the duration of the Syrian "civil war." As Bloomberg News iterated on September 10th:

Putin’s remarks complicate the outlook for the Russian proposal a day after it was presented by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who had seized on comments in London by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry about the possibility of Syria turning over its chemical-weapons stockpile.

But, if these are jokes, they are not long-lived ones. In past columns we examined the horrific record Obama has chalked up for himself since taking the presidential oath of office in 2009. We should now revisit the record of the man who would assume to take the leadership and moral high ground and have the chutzpah to offer Americans and their political leaders his advice. While no one should get too excited about Obama getting a deserved comeuppance, no one should get too excited about Putin, either. After all, Putin, the man with the arctic-cold blue killer's eyes, is a man after Obama's own heart.

He is a successful and feared power-luster.

However, a joke of sorts was practiced on Putin and his Op-Ed. Someone at the New York Times had the presence of mind to illustrate his column with a Black Hand, an Italian Mafia warning to extortion victims. Putin did imply, ever so subtly, that if the U.S. launched a strike against Syria, it would have to contend with Russia.

The potential strike by the United States against Syria…will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria's borders…It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance.

That is called stealing Obama's thunder.

First off, Putin had a career as a KGB officer in charge of watching other Russians and also foreigners. Posted in Dresden when the Wall went down and Eastern Europe found itself adrift of Soviet domination, he easily made the transition from being a KGB officer for the Soviet Union to being a watcher for the Federal Security Service (FSB), which succeeded the KBG after the collapse of the Soviets in 1991. At Leningrad State University, still in the KGB until the organization underwent its name change, he watched over the student body and recruited more spooks.

Later, he oversaw the transfer of Soviet state properties to the new federal government of the Russian Federation. In the economic and political chaos following the collapse of the Soviet government, Russian business and industry were up for grabs, causing the creation of a state-protected oligarchy.

Putin has a doctorate in economics. His dissertation title was "The Strategic Planning of Regional Resources Under the Formation of Market Relations," in which he argued for the establishment by the state of "National Champions" in business and industry. Sounds a lot like Obama's plan to subsidize American "national champions" in "green" technology, except those "champions" have all gone belly-up, knocked out cold by the realities of business.

Putin rose to the top of the new Russian political system, becoming between 1999 and 2000 prime minister, then president from 2000 to 2008, prime minister again from 2008 to 2012, and president again in 2012. It is quite appropriate that a skilled and determined ex-KGB officer should rise to the top of political power in Russia and have a firm and ruthless grip on that power.

The long and short of how Putin remade Russia is that from being governed by a totalitarian communist régime, he transformed it into a nation ruled by an authoritarian fascist régime. The Russian state is in "partnership" with companies that toe Putin's line, determines the content and policies of state and private news media, and caters to the wishes of many Russians that Russia become again a power to contend with on the world stage.

There are Obama's little wars, and Putin's Northern Caucasus "problem." Putin waged brutal wars with "autonomous" republics within the Russian Federation that wanted to secede. The two against Chechnya were simply battles between one authoritarian régime, Putin's, against an Islamic one.

That is something Putin understands. As he noted in his Times Op-Ed:

Syria is not witnessing a battle for democracy, but an armed conflict between government and opposition in a multireligious country. There are few champions of democracy in Syria. But there are more than enough Qaeda fighters and extremists of all stripes battling the government. The United States State Department has designated Al Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, fighting with the opposition, as terrorist organizations. This internal conflict, fueled by foreign weapons supplied to the opposition, is one of the bloodiest in the world.

Putin was exercising a bit of diplomatic courtesy by not naming who was supplying the "rebels" with weapons: Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United States.

His forces invaded Georgia, nominally an independent nation, over its policies in dealing with the "breakaway" republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Light operas and satirical plays were once written about the interminable squabbles in the Balkans. No one is composing librettos about the bitter conflicts between Russia and what were once the "autonomous" Socialist Republics of the late Soviet Union. There are no "good guys" in any of these conflicts whose side one can take.

At 5'7", Putin is a short man, but a combination of a state-controlled Stalinist personality cult for "public relations" purposes and a strong streak of personal narcissism show him flying fighter jets, shooting tigers, competing in martial arts contests, fishing, hunting, swimming, and engaging in other "manly" activities, many of them bare-chested. The only picture missing is of Putin wresting with a bear, or dancing with wolves. All together, Putin's photo-ops are better than Obama's golfing photo-ops. You'll never see a picture of Putin in a sand-trap.

Which is what Obama found himself in over his "red line" remarks.

Putin's Russia is not a place to practice freedom of speech. The number of journalists, rights activists and other individuals who have been murdered or assassinated for practicing it is high, and that shouldn’t be startling. Imagine a member of the Al Capone gang suddenly advocating repeal of the 18th Amendment to his bosses. He would soon be sleeping with the fishes.

 Stanislav Markelov, a civil rights attorney representing the family of a woman who was murdered in Chechnya by a Russian tank commander, and protesting the early release of that man from a ten-year sentence, was shot in killed in central Moscow, together with Anastasia Baburova, a 25-year-old journalist trainee as they left a press conference about the early release. The tank commander, Yuri Budanov, did not get to enjoy his freedom too long; he was himself assassinated in Moscow.

Alexander Litvinenko, a former FSB (or KGB) officer, defected from Russia when he protested the rampant corruption in the Russian government. He was poisoned in London in a restaurant where he met someone who claimed to have information about the murder of a Russian journalist, Anna Politkovskaya that same year, 2006. He died of thallium poisoning.

Natalya Estemirova, a civil rights activist for Chechnya, was kidnapped and shot in 2009, probably at the behest of a Putin appointee in Grozny, Chechnyan President Ramzan Kadyrov. As the Telegraph story relates:

In the past 10 months many of his rivals have been found dead after killings in Vienna, Istanbul, Dubai and Moscow.

Paul Klebnikov was an editor for Forbes-Russia in Moscow. He was investigating corruption in the Russian government, specifically in connection with expatriate and business "oligarch" Boris Berezovsky, who fled to Britain years before. He was shot. Berezovsky, who once cast aspersions on Klebnikov's articles on Russian corruption, himself met with a dubious death, either by hanging or drowning in his bathtub, after he voiced support for Paul Litvinenko.

Yuri Shchekochikhin, and editor writing about the corruption in Russian government, suffered a gruesome assassination, having ingested a poison that shut down all his bodily functions one by one and causing his skin to peel off.

There must be dozens more such murders committed under Putin's régime that have not caught the attention of journalists (or of politicians) in the West. Many of the killings are attributed to the Russian "Mafia," which, from all the available evidence, acts as a kind of "enforcer" arm for Putin's government and leaves out any role of the FSB.

And that is but a partial exposé of Vladimir Putin, our latest "man of peace." Not exactly a laughing matter.

Russia not only has a close relationship with Syria's Assad, but has maintained very cordial relations with Iran, as well. It built Iran's first nuclear reactor and has offered to build Iran another. Putin met with Iranian President Hassan Rowhani to offer him S-300 missiles In fact, Iran is helping to train Syrian "rebels."

So, we are not only helping to arm the Al Queda-linked Syrian "rebels," but may be working shoulder-to-shoulder with the troops from another implacable enemy of the U.S., Iran, to overthrow Assad's régime.

In the meantime, Saudi Arabia has also sent arms to the Syrian "rebels" in a continuing bid to shift the outcome of the conflict in the Saudis' favor. As the New York Times reported last February:

The Iranian arms transfers have fueled worries among Sunni Arab states about losing a step to Tehran in what has become a regional contest for primacy in Syria between Sunni Arabs and the Iran-backed Assad government and Hezbollah of Lebanon.

What it boils down to is a contest between the Sunni branch of Islam and the Shi'ite branch to decimate a despised third Islamic sect, the Alawites. Assad is an Alawite, and so is his régime.

Try and figure out why Barack Obama would want to step into this religious mess and ongoing bout for supremacy. It isn't just about chemical weapons.

It is about ideology. And Obama has had his clock cleaned by Putin and the rest of them.