Monday, March 23, 2015

Bucket List: New Orleans

New Orleans was one of those places I always wanted to visit but haven't until now. I wanted to see it before it disappeared forever beneath the rising seas.

Mississippi River
Since reading Mark Twain and watching Maverick on television as a child I have wanted to ride a sternwheeler on the Mississippi. The river is narrower than I expected. While the river is a mile wide near St. Louis, squeezed in by levees, it is only 2000 feet wide at New Orleans. But it is deep. At 200 feet deep, the Mississippi River is deeper than Lake Erie and most of the water in the river is flowing past New Orleans below sea level.

French Quarter
Bourbon Street is the most famous street in the French Quarter and has all the historic charm of an '80's strip bar. However, since the most popular bordellos back in the day were on Bourbon Street, it does retain the same debauched ambiance of olden days. Just one short block closer to the river is Royal Street and that looks like the French Quarter I expected.
Royal Street.
Classic antebellum buildings and charming art galleries provide a gentile charm. The French Quarter abounds with street musicians and buskers and many people are bi-lingual. To tourists they speak standard American English without even a Southern drawl. Among each others, however, they speak a Creole English that outsiders can hardly interpret.

Cypress Swamp
I also wanted to get away from the city and boat up a bayou into a cypress swamp. Gators and snakes, song birds, wild pigs, plus more water that you'll find in California in a generation. That alone was worth the trip. If I return it will be to spend more time on a bayou.

Friday, March 13, 2015

All Politics Is Local - Israeli Division

Polls and news reports suggest that Bibi Netanyahu may be suffering from the Eric Cantor disease. Bibi is concentrating entirely on outside matter like tweaking President Obama and campaigning before the American Congress. He gives off the impression he would rather be in the United States Senate than the Israeli Knesset and he is suffering in Israel for it.

Israeli politics is all about coalitions. Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu has 31 seats in the current Knesset and formed the foundation of a ruling coalition that held a bare majority (61 of 120) of seats. The latest polls give them only 25 seats. Their current coalition is projected at just 49 seats but Likud can expect another five seats from new parties. However, the Labor coalition will also fall short of a majority. Their existing coalition is also projected at 49 seats.

The wildcard is the new Kulanu party. Their interest is entirely local and domestic economic policies and polls say they could earn as many as ten seats in the new Knesset. They have flirted with both sides and there is no predicting where they will go.
But the really wild wildcard is the Joint List. These are the Arab parties and polls suggest they will win 12 or 13 seats. They will never ally with the racists in Likud but they probably would not officially join a Labor coalition.

Then there is Netanyah's current "come home to Likud" strategy telling voters to abandon the fringe parties in his coalition and vote for Likud. While it might boost Likud seats it could drop some of his partner parties below the 3.5% vote threshold required for any seats in the Knesset and alienate the others. It's the kind of selfish, cult of personality campaigning we've come to expect in American politics but I doubt it will be effective in an atmosphere that requires coalition building.

We shall see.

Monday, March 09, 2015

Are There Blacks in the SAE?

Sigma Alpha Epsilon troglodytes in Oklahoma got caught singing "There will never be a n****r in SAE." That begs the question, are there African-Americans in Sigma Alpha Epsilon? So I did a little digging, checking out bulletin boards and websites.

SAE was founded in pre-Civil War Alabama. Most of its members fought for the Confederacy, 74 died defending slavery.  Some chapters still celebrate that heritage. In 1992, Esquire magazine published an article exposing the racist culture of Southern fraternities.

According to the bulletin boards, diversity is more of a thing for the northern chapters. In the Deep South, "diversity" might mean allowing in a Lutheran or (gasp!) a Catholic. As an example I offer the Southern Methodist University chapter of the SAE. I picked the SMU chapter for a reason. It has a deserved reputation for the two R's - rape and racism. They also have a very convenient website where I could test the question, are there n****rs in the SAE?
SAE at SMU. I've seen more diversity at a Klan rally.

There are many photos of the fraternity's 2014 winter party. The only black visible is in the band. The 2014 spring initiation shows who they are inviting into the chapter. I've never seen a pastier collection of douchebags in my life. One guy appears to have a bit of a tan but most look like they haven't crawled out from under their rocks since puberty.

There may be a few token blacks in northern chapters although at least one northern chapter admitted a black to the fraternity only to kidnap him and leave him to die as part of a hazing ritual. Since boys will be boys and the victim was only a n****r, the killers were only charged with a misdemeanor. So, officially, no murder or homicide even happened.

The SAE is still as racist as it was in 1858. As for that song the OU freaks got caught singing? I strongly doubt it's an outlier, they learned it somewhere. I suspect it is a common refrain especially in the Land of Dixie. OU's problem is that they accidentally allowed in a pledge with a moral compass. The SAE fraternity won't make that mistake again.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

The Night of the Murdered Poets

Yiddish is a lyrical language. During the first half of the 20th century, several countries, most notably the United States and Russia, had vibrant Yiddish language arts.

During the 1930's and '40, Yiddish radio was not uncommon especially in New York. While I only understand about a dozen words (Oy Vey!) I love listening to old swing recordings sung in Yiddish (The Barry Sisters singing "Chiribim Chiribom.").

What Is Yiddish?
Yiddish is a product of the Jewish Exile.  Isolated in the ghettos and shtetls of northern and eastern Europe, this Jewish language was formed much like Blacks isolated in American ghettos are creating a distinct communal language.

A century ago upwards of 12 million people spoke Yiddish, the largest concentrations found in Germany, Poland, Russia, and the United States. The Holocaust devastated half that population. In the United States, assimilation eliminated the tight knit communities necessary to preserve a distinct language. In Israel, Yiddish is kept alive by ultra orthodox sects.

And Russia
To tell the story of the Murdered Poets we have to start with the origins of the Soviet Union. Jews were predominate in the founding of the Soviet Union. A critical meeting of twelve Bolshevik leaders in October 1917 called for armed revolution that started two weeks later. Of the twelve, half were Russian Jews (including Leon Trotsky), four were Russians (including leader Lenin), and two were foreigners - Polish intellectual psychopath Felix Dzerzhinsky and an ignorant anti-Semitic rube from Georgia known as Stalin.
Stalin, Lenin, and Trotsky
Stalin, considered a loyal but energetic simpleton by Lenin, was named General Secretary of the Communist Party in 1922. Before being incapacitated by several strokes, Lenin wrote a paper describing Stalin as crude, rude, and inept. The paper was suppressed and after Lenin died, perhaps murdered, Stalin took total control of the Soviet Union.

Purges during the 1930's killed off most of Stalin's old Jewish comrades from the Revolution. Few new Jews were allowed into positions of power. Stalin did allow formation of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee (JAC) during World War II.

The Night of the Murdered Poets
Scene from the play "The Twenty-Seventh Man."
After the war, Stalin's paranoia got even worse. Shortly after the war he had concluded that Jewish writers and performers were all actually American spies. (Oddly, Sen. Joseph McCarthy had at the same time concluded that American Jewish artists were Russian spies.) The first to die was Solomon Mikhoels, a Yiddish theater star and chairman of the JAC. His murder was made to look like an accident and Mikhoels was given a state funeral.

Yiddish writers and Jewish intellectuals were arrested in 1948 and 1949 and accused of spying. They were tortured until they confessed. All save one. Yiddish poet Itzik Feffer was a loyal Stalinist. He was arrested along with the others but freely turned on his fellow writers and accused them of Jewish nationalism and anti-Soviet actions and so was never tortured.

Show trials were held. On August 12, 1952, thirteen Jewish prisoners, including Feffer, were executed at Lubyanka Prison.

Doctor's Plot and Holocaust Plans
Stalin wasn't done. As his health failed, Stalin became convinced Jewish doctors were poisoning him. Then he concluded that there was an international plot Zionist doctors trying to kill all Soviet leaders.  That devolved into the certainty that there was an American-Zionist-Israeli-Jewish conspiracy and that every Jew in the Soviet Union was trying to kill him. Stalin ordered four giant prisons built in Siberia to house every Jew in the Soviet Union. Foreign Minister Molotov's wife had already been arrested for being Jewish.

Before Stalin could implement his plan he fell in his bedroom. His personal doctors were all in prison so his bodyguards call top politicians. A few days of dithering was enough for Stalin to die. He died, ironically, on the Jewish holiday of Purim.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Bibi to Declare War

Tomorrow's the day that the Republican President of the United States, Benjamin Netanyahu, delivers his State of the Union address to Congress. He will, as he has done before, all but ask Congress for a declaration of war with Iran.
For years, Netanyahu has said that if the US doesn't bomb Iran then Israel will. For years, the US has not bombed Iran and neither has Israel. Netanyahu doesn't want to waste Israeli resources and lives on such a stupid war. He wants the US to fight a proxy war, to do all the stupid wasting, on his behalf.  Finally, he has an American Congress willing to act as his puppet.

This leads to an interesting thought experiment - What would happen if Congress declares a war the President didn't ask for? A Declaration of War requires only a simple majority to pass. It is a resolution, not a law. As such a Declaration of War is not subject to a presidential veto.

Obviously, President Obama would refuse to prosecute the war. But, Iran may not believe his diplomatic statements. They could respond by mining the Strait of Hormuz, trapping much of the Fifth Fleet (up to two carriers and 20 ships) in the Persian Gulf where it can be attacked relentlessly.  Israel would do nothing since the whole point of this is to force the US to do the fighting for her. There would be no grand global alliance against Iran as there was in the Afghan and Iraq wars.  The United States would be forced to fight a major war alone for the first time since 1898. And the war would be popular in some places as sharply rising oil prices would be a boon to US oil producing states.
But, perhaps, cooler heads in Iran would listen to President Obama. There is no actual shooting as the war declaration is ignored. Republicans for years have accused President Obama of treason for vague and idiotic reasons. This would give them actual grounds, aid and comfort to the enemy in a time of war. If a Republican like Ted Cruz gains the White House in 2016 he could file a criminal indictment against former President Obama for treason. Tried in the right court (i.e. Texas), a former president might be sentenced to execution for treason.

All of this is wildly unlikely. It's more likely that Mitch McConnell is an actual turtle-human hybrid. It's also possible that Netanyahu's speech will blow up at home and he will lose the Knesset elections set for two weeks from now. We can only pray.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Unreal American

Pundit Glenn Harlen Reynolds loves this country or, more accurately, loves to fuck with this country. He love this country so much he wants to scrap the constitution and write a new one. He believes the biggest problem facing the United States is that the majority of Americans don't think exactly like him.
Glenn Reynolds manifesto.

He's come up with a solution which I'm certain he will write into his new, improved constitution. Require people pass a Patriotism Test before they are allowed to vote. He contends that Obama was elected president by unpatriotic citizens. His solution to prevent such a horror from ever reoccurring is to prevent unpatriotic Americans from voting at all.

He references a work of fiction where "the right to vote came only after some kind of dangerous public service." Oddly, by this rule Reynold himself would be disenfranchised as in his life he has never served the public in any way, dangerous or passive. So, I suspect when Reynolds writes that constitutional clause he will use the 1918 Soviet Union constitution as a template. In that constitution, only members of the Communist Party were allowed to vote, thereby excluding unpatriotic democrats. 

At the risk of giving Reynolds ideas, he might find subsequent versions of the Soviet constitution more to his liking. They granted universal suffrage but all candidates had to be nominated from patriotic branches of the Communist Party. This insured that no matter how unpatriotic the electorate was they were required to elect only Communist patriots.  I'm sure Reynolds could draft a text that requires all nominees be approved by the Tea Party.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Sign of Spring

I don't care if the snow is piled higher than an elephant's eye in Boston. Spring has sprung in drought torn California.
Just load it on a train and send it west, California will take all the snow you have.

Really, we'll take every flake.
The Sierra Nevada snowpack is so thick you can shovel it with a teaspoon.
There is another traditional sign of Spring, too.

The first Republican urging dropping nuclear bombs on someone.  Just like the swallows returning to Capistrano, you know its Spring when Republicans emerge from their Winter homes to declare the desperate need to nuke somebody. From Douglas MacArthur in Korea to Curtis LeMay in Vietnam, Republicans have always seen Spring as the season to allow a hundred mushroom clouds to bloom. Last year, the goal was nuking Iran. This year, the call is to nuke Iraq (like we haven't done enough to that country). Next year, who knows? It is one of the mysteries of the season.