Kaibiles

Guatemalan Army Elite Kaibil Troops

Usually translated as “Tigers,” the kaibiles are elite counterinsurgency troops of the Guatemalan army. According to Ronald Wright’s Time Among the Maya: Travels in Belize, Guatemala, and Mexico, the Mayan word actually implies a “double” or something of double the normal strength. Wright describes meeting a kaibil detachment as he enters Guatemala from Belize:

The pole across the road is lifted, and we are waved through, between a wooden watchtower and a sandbagged machine-gun nest. Not far beyond the tower there’s a billboard with a naive painting pf a Guatemalan soldier in camouflage fatigues. The soldier is shouting, “If I advance, follow me; if I delay, hurry me; if I retreat, kill me!” An inscription below him boasts: ¡AQUI SE FORJAN LOS MEJORES COMBATIENTES DE AMERICA!—HERE ARE FORGED THE BEST FIGHTERS IN AMERICA! I have just begun to wonder whether this is intended for Belizean visitors or rebellious citizens when I see the back of the sign, which direcs its message to those coming from the Guatemalan interior. It shows a gorilla head in the King Kong tradition, or maybe Planet of the Apes. Maniacal eyes burn ferociously, the gaping mouth is dripping with blood and armed with sharp fangs; and lest anyone fail to get the pun … the creature wears a Che Guevara cap. Above it is the single word ¡ATREVETE!—roughly, MAKE MY DAY.

Wright goes on to describe kaibil hazing rituals which include cannibalism and drinking human blood.

His book, which was originally written in 1989, is (fortunately) now a little dated. Most of the depredations on the Maya population by the Guatemalan army have ceased since a peace that was signed in 1996. Still, when I go to Guatemala in January, I plan to steer clear of the army. Many of the army posts Wright describes no longer exist. I hope.

 

 

The Unthinking Detective

Belgian-Born Mystery Writer Georges Simenon (1903-1989)

The following is a slightly modified reprint of a posting from March 3, 2013. I have just finished reading Georges Simenon’s Maigret and the Killer and decided to look up a five-year-old review of an earlier Maigret novel.

Sometimes I am surprised that Georges Simenon’s work is not part of the university literature curriculum. After all, he did for France what Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and James M. Cain did for the United States and what G. K. Chesterton, Dorothy Sayers, P. D. James, and Josephine Tey did for Britain. Although he was a more prolific mystery writer than all the other above mentioned authors put together, his work could stand comparison with the best.

Inspector Maigret is a mystery in his own right. Unlike Edgar Allan Poe’s notion of a tale of ratiocination, Inspector Cadaver gives us a detective who absorbs with the help of intuition more than he reasons from dry facts. In fact, his case comes together when one of the characters, Alban Groult-Cotelle, quite unnecessarily, presents a receipt as alibi that he was not involved in a murder—before it was ever suspected that he was involved. Maigret’s response is classic: “Don’t you know … that there is a saying in the police force that he that has has the best alibi is all the more suspect?”

That starts the Inspector on a train of thought:

The minute he left the house, an idea had occurred to him. It was not even an idea, but something vaguer, so vague that he was now striving to recapture the memory of it. Every now and then, an insignificant occurrence, usually a whiff of something barely caught, reminds us in the space of a second of a particular moment in our life. It is such a vivid sensation that we are gripped by it and want to cling to this living reminder of that moment. It disappears almost at once and with it all recollection of the experience. Try as we might, we end up wondering, for want of an answer to our questions, if it was not an unconscious evocation of a dream, or, who knows, of some pre-existent world?

I love reading about Maigret’s train of thought, because it is not only unique in the genre, but fascinating as an expression of the French concept of débrouillage, working one’s way through a mental fog.

In a few pages more, we see some progress has been made:

At such moments, Maigret seemed to puff himself up out of all proportion and become slow-witted and stodgy, like someone blind and dumb who is unaware of what is going on around him. Indeed, if anyone not forewarned was to walk past or talk to Maigret when he was in one of these moods, he would more than likely take him for a fat idiot or a fat sleepyhead.

“So, you’re concentrating on your thoughts?” said someone who prided himself on his psychological perception.

And Maigret had replied with comic sincerity:

“I never think.”

And it was almost true. For Maigret was not thinking now, as he stood in the damp, cold street. He was not following through an idea. One might say he was rather like a sponge.

Try to get Sherlock Holmes or Philip Marlowe to admit to something like this! He never thinks, and the facts come to him the way a sponge absorbs water. What Maigret does is allow the patterns to form by themselves in his mind. Then, he is ready to pounce!

Inspector Cadaver was published in 1944 during the War in a France under German occupation, and its atmosphere of grimness partakes of the time. And yet, and yet, Simenon, whenever he sets a tale in the provinces, creates an intriguing combination of ugly weather and pompous, ugly characters.

 

Identity Politics vs Power Politics

How We Liberals Fritter Away Our Access to Political Power

I am no longer a Democrat because I saw that the party’s emphasis on identity politics was leading it into a quagmire from which it might never return. No longer am I emboldened by gigantic protest marches—irrespective of the issues involved—nor do I care that somebody gets beaten up on Twitter or other social media. Have Liberals all become whiny little bitches who would rather be right than holding the reins of political power?

Evidently.

Hillary Clinton, Tom Perez, even Nancy Pelosi—all have been guilty of surrendering political power while pursuing some vague identity politics rewards points, which have a monetary value of $Zilch.

We are all victims of one sort or another. Instead of trading bubble-gum cards, let’s all get together, make deals with one another, and get rid of the clowns who have turned our country into a Tea Party Trash Bin. If you must insist on whining about your victimhood, lock yourself in your closet and do it in the dark, alone.

 

Mars Beneath the Surface

Doesn’t Look Like Much, Does It?

When I was attending my mindful meditation session on November 15, the cute young woman who acted as liaison with the L.A. Central Library handed me a flier that promised an interesting experience:

Live, from another world! Watch the live stream of NASA’s InSight mission when it lands on Mars. InSight is a robotic lander designed to study the interior of the Red Planet. The mission is scheduled to land on the surface of mars at Elysium Planitia, where it will deploy a seismometer and burrow a heat probe. This will be the first mission dedicated to studying the deep interior of the planet.

As the event was scheduled for today at 11 am, I took the Metro to the Central Library and attended the event. For all the years that I have lived in Southern California, I have never interested myself in the space program—except for my visit to the retired space shuttle Endeavour at the California Science Center. This was to be the first Mars landing in six years, and it was the first that was planned and executed all within the State of California. It was put together by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, staffed largely by graduates of Cal Tech, and launched early in May from Vandenberg Air Force Base near Lompoc.

Although technically, the live-streaming was a bit of a dud, with the image going into long buffering pauses in between live action snippets. At one point, I asked if they were running Windows 3.1, which was the version I used in the late 1980s. When I found that they were using Apple’s Safari browser, I noted yet another black mark laid to Apple’s account (though it probably wasn’t Apple’s fault).

Mockup of the Mars InSight Lander

Fortunately, there were a number of JPL employees present who were able to bridge all the lacunae and present a coherent picture of the mission from the point of view of the techies who were most involved. Fortunately, it was a splendid success, with the first picture coming in within minutes of the landing. It doesn’t look like much: It’s merely an image of the surface on which the lander was situated. You can see mostly a lot of dust (this is because there is a protective transparent lens cap covering the photo lens) and a rock in the lower left foreground. At the lower right, you see one of the legs of the lander.

This mission is not meant to move around the surface of the planet: It is, rather, to use a seismograph (that’s the object above that looks like an upside-down colander) to determine whether the Red Planet has a molten core, or whether it’s as dead as our moon. There is also a probe drilled 15 feet into the surface of the planet to measure micro-variations in heat.

I understand that JPL has an open house in the spring that I am interested in attending.

 

Enroute to Infamy

Mr. Fish Cartoon of a Narcissistic Trump Taking a Selfie

I couldn’t resist sharing this cartoon with you of our narcissistic Presidentissimo. As his enemies close in on him, he becomes ever more objectionable. Does he think his base will protect him? I don’t think his base is growing at all.

 

Seeing the Stooges at the Alex

Curly, Larry, and Moe—The Original Three Stooges

You wouldn’t think that Martine is a big fan of the Three Stooges, but she is. She has seen every one of their shorts innumerable times. For the last twelve years or so, we have trekked to Glendale’s Alex Theatre see see their annual big screen event, usually on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Today was the 21st annual Stooges show at the Alex.

The theme this year was a title with the number three in it. Consequently, the program included:

  • “Three Little Beers” (1935)
  • “3 Dumb Clucks” (1937)
  • “Three Missing Links” (1938)
  • “Three Little Pirates” (1946)
  • “Three Hams on Rye” (1950)
  • “Three Sappy People” (1939)

I am not about to claim that watching Stooge shorts is a sophisticated intellectual experience, but it is uproariously funny. There is something about watching same with a large appreciative audience that makes it funnier still.

The Alex Theatre on Brand in Glendale

The Alex Theatre is on the National Register of Historic Places. Founded in the 1920s, it has become a venue for not only films, but occasional concerts. Two of the upcoming film programs include the Nutcracker Ballet with the Los Angeles Ballet (several dates in December) and “The Greatest Cartoons Ever” on December 26.

One of the reasons that incline Martine toward events in Glendale is that she truly loves the way Armenians prepare chicken. (The City of Glendale is the largest Armenian city outside of Asia.) Glendale is the home to Sevan Chicken at Kenilworth and Glenoaks and Elena’s Greek and Armenian Restaurant at 1000 Glendale Boulevard.

What Flows Through My Veins

No, It’s Not Coffee … Ever!

With most Americans, I would wager that what flows in their veins is either coffee or Coca-Cola. With me, it’s tea—either hot or iced. And my tea is occasionally made with tea bags, but most of the time with tea leaves which I store in bulk. Although I also drink Chinese and Japanese green teas with my Chinese or Japanese food, my tea of choice for my own cooking is Indian black tea. Darjeeling is by far the best, but the better grades can be fiendishly expensive. So I usually blend it with Ceylon or Assam depending on the time of year.

When it gets cooler, as it is now, I like to mix the Darjeeling with a “wake-me-up” Assam like Baruti or Ghalami. I -purchase the tea in bulk either from an Indian or Persian grocery store. One pound of any loose black tea will last me the better part of a year.

I have a cheap Japanese metal pot with a removable insert so that I don’t need a strainer to remove the infused tea leaves from my cup. After making a couple of cups of hot tea for breakfast, I save the rest of the tea in the pot for iced tea, adding two or three ice cubes per glass. During the summer, I usually drink iced tea all the time, including for breakfast.

My iced tea is usually unsweetened. For hot tea, I like to add mesquite honey and a squeeze of fresh lime.

Sometimes I don’t even think of myself as an American because I’m not hooked on coffee and Coke. Although I will occasionally drink a Coke when the only alternative is iced tea adulterated with passion fruit, raspberries, or kumquats. Adulterated iced tea is an abomination and to be avoided at all costs.