Serendipity: Dépaysement

Lebanese Restaurant in Paris

The term dépaysement is a French concept which refers to that feeling of disorientation that specifically arises when you are not in your home country nor identify exclusively with it. It’s the way that I, a Hungarian-American who loves to travel in places like Latin America and Iceland, feel as the United States slides down the drain of Trumpism. Juan Goytisolo (1931-2017), a Catalan writer of Basque extraction who lived most of his life in Marrakech, felt that way about Spain, particularly after the Franco régime’s depredations. The following is from his essay “Why I Have Chosen to Live in Paris” from his essay collection Space in Motion:

Q: If I understand you rightly, French cosmopolitanism ….

A: There is no such thing as French cosmopolitanism; there is interculturalism, plurality, osmosis: a universe in miniature. If a person so desires, he can eat in a Cambodian restaurant, drink mint tea in a Moorish café, see a Hindu or Turkish movie in the afternoon—Yilmaz Güney’s The Sheepflock in my opinion is one of the best films of the year—and in the evening, with a bit of luck, attend a concert of the Noss el Ghiwán or Izanzaren. Society is linked to the idea of space, but culture—like the individual—is mobile, drifting like the wind. Culture today cannot be French or Spanish, or even European, but rather mestizo, bastard, fecundated by civilizations that have been victims of our self-castrating, aberrant ethnocentrism. For up until now we have exported the Occidental model with all its props—from its ideology to its drugs and gadgets—we are at present witnessing an inverse process that personally fascinates and delights me: the gradual dissolution of “white” culture by all the peoples who, having been forcibly subjected to it, have assimilated the tricks, the techniques necessary to contaminate it.

Q: So then, Paris for you …

A: Insofar as it abandons its pretensions of being a beacon and accepts its status as a motley, bastard, heterogeneous metropolis that belongs to no country, I will always feel better in it than in any other exclusively “national” city that is uniform, chaste, compact, rid of its angels.

 

 

Gladiatorial Television

Who Needs Lions vs. Christians When There’s the News?

When you have ten million people in a large, spread-out county like Los Angeles, you get to watch a lot of gladiatorial events on the evening news. Most of these are car chases, whenever some chicken-necked loser decides to steal a car and lead the police on a freeway chase. In almost all cases, the perpetrators are spread-eagled on the tarmac while being cuffed by a legion of angry police on their best behavior.

Today, there was a special event. An allegedly homeless man wearing an LA Dodgers hat and no shirt caused a ruckus in the 2000 Block of Brighton Avenue in San Gabriel. Around 1:30 in the afternoon, his girlfriend or acquaintance reported him to the police. The Sheriff’s Department showed up in force. When the man in question began firing at the police, the SWAT team was called in. But that was only the beginning. He set fire to two houses, continued shooting at the police, throwing lit firecrackers at them (?!), and running back and forth from house to car and boat and back again.

Houses Burning in San Gabriel

Of course, the fire department was unable to save the first house that was set afire, because the gunman kept threatening the first responders for upwards of five hours. Eventually, someone decided that enough was enough. First they hit the suspect with a rubber bullet, then they filled his hiding place with tear gas, then moved in and killed him proper using the real stuff.

In the meantime, they had to close down both lanes of the nearby San Bernardino Freeway (I-10) because the house was right up against the freeway, and the gunman kept firing in all directions. Tens of thousands of motorists trying to get home after work were affected.

If this is the kind of entertainment you crave, come to Los Angeles. But if you’re a chicken-necked loser or a shirtless bum, go elsewhere. Like Texas.

 

Talking About Homelessness

Most Discussions About Homelessness Are Too Vague

As an independent (no party) voter, I am dismayed by the way most liberals view the homeless. For one thing, I refuse to take a bleeding heart view of the hobo encampments that are spreading across American cities, particularly in the West. When I think of the homeless, I have three populations in mind, with a lot of overlap among the categories:

  1. People who, for various reasons, are homeless
  2. People who are addicted to various drugs such as alcohol, heroine, cocaine, and crystal meth.
  3. People who are mentally ill.

The Venn Diagram above shows that there are many overlaps. Some of the homeless have some hope and expectation of finding a place to live. These are mostly homeless who are not addicted to drugs or mentally ill. These constitute the majority of homeless who are living in organized shelters.

Wherever drug addiction and mental illness are involved, it is much more difficult to find shelter. These shelters have rules regarding drugs, alcohol, theft, and violence. Many of the bums in Los Angeles would not be likely to live in a shelter, if only because they have no intention of following the rules.

If you have about an hour to spare, I recommend you watch this video by news station KOMO entitled “Seattle is Dying,” which takes a no-holds-barred view of the dire homeless situation in Seattle:

 

This Is Indeed Poway

Why the Synagogue Shooting Happened There

The mayor of Poway, California, Steve Vaus by name, went on the air to say that the synagogue shooting on the last day of Passover was not representative of Poway. “This is not Poway,” he said. I beg to differ from him.

My own personal experience of Poway was a negative one. When I worked for Urban Decision Systems in the 1990s, we had to let our secretary go: She was getting too old. Her family had her move to Poway, and I went to visit her there. My impression of the town north of San Diego was that it was a sterile racially homogeneous suburban upper class slum. I hated the place and could hardly wait to leave. And that was over twenty years ago!

Now this type of place is a natural for a racist, bigoted shooter. It is easy to develop a hatred for Jews or Muslims or immigrants or African-Americans—if everyone around you is lily white and drinks the same Kool Aid as you do. They’re all in the same bubble.

I’ve read an interesting article in The New Yorker about what the Chinese are doing to keep dissidents from embarrassing the government at inopportune times:

While Presidemt Xi Jinping played host to African dignitaries in the Great Hall of the People, the police played host to [dissident Zha Jianguo] at various scenic spots in the province of Hubei, about a thousand kilometers away. A number of other Beijing activists and civil-rights lawyers … were treated to similar trips….

This practice is known as bei lüyou, “to be touristed.”

I begin to think the Chinese have the right idea. White racists should “be touristed” for several weeks at a time, perhaps to South Africa or Honduras or Afghanistan or even Israel. The idea is that no white person should be so ensconced in his bubble that he does not understand how people who are different need not be conceived of as being threatening.

On my vacations, I have visited a number of what our Presidente would call “shithole countries.” I have come to admire the Latin-American peoples to the south of us. They have been excellent hosts during my travels and more knowledgeable about us than we typically are of them.

 

Nobody’s Perfect

John Wayne (1907-1979)

In a 1971 interview appearing in Playboy magazine, John Wayne said a number of things that proved once and for all that he is no one’s idea of a Progressive. Here are a few snippets:

  • “I believe in white supremacy…. We can’t all of a sudden get down on our knees and turn everything over to the leadership of the blacks.”
  • He regarded Midnight Cowboy and Easy Rider as homosexual films.
  • “I don’t feel we did wrong in taking this great country away from [the Indians], if that’s what you’re asking. Our so-called stealing of this country from them was just a matter of survival. There were great numbers of people who needed new land, and the Indians were selfishly trying to keep it for themselves.”
  • On the subject of slavery, he said that he didn’t feel any guilt about the U.S. history.

So now the Professionally Outraged (who are permanently P.O.’d) want to do with the Duke what other protestors did to Confederate battle flags and statues of Robert E. Lee, namely, wipe their memory off the face of the earth.

While I cannot personally countenance what Wayne said, I think it is ridiculous to consider changing the name of the John Wayne Airport in Orange County to some more innocuous person who was never actually caught saying something unpopular in public. No doubt, such persons may exist. I myself have said and done a number of things which are equally reprehensible. After all, I was the son of a George C. Wallace supporter and (back in Czechoslovakia) a Jew-baiter. It was not until I divested myself of my Cleveland background that my thinking has been more politically correct.

As nasty as some of John Wayne’s beliefs were to me, I continue to enjoy his performances in Westerns by John Ford and Howard Hawks—even while I deplore some fave projects of his as Big Jim McLain (1952) in which he played an investigator for the House Un-American Activities Commitee (HUAC) and The Green Berets (1968) in which he was gung-ho on the Viet Nam War.

John Wayne was a man of his times. By the time of the Playboy interview, he was already ill and probably bitter about the direction the country was taking. I see no reason why we have to make him an unperson for some words he said half a century ago.

 

Going Colin One Better

Colin Kaepernick Kneeling During the National Anthem

Why does our beloved country have such a stupid and unsingable national anthem? Whenever I hear it, I not only take to my knees, but my head hovers within ralphing distance of a toilet bowl.

The tune itself comes from “To Anacreon in Heaven,” the official song of the Anacreontic Society, an 18th century English gentleman’s club of amateur musicians. Just to show you the high quality of the original source, here is the first stanza—sung, of course, to the tune of “The Star-Spangled Banner”:

To Anacreon in heav’n, where he sat in full Glee.
A few Sons of Harmony sent a Petition,
That he their Inspirer and Patron would be,
When this Answer arrived from the Jolly Old Grecian
“Voice, Fiddle, and Flute,
No longer be mute,
I’ll lend you my Name and inspire you to boot
And, besides I’ll instruct you, like me, to intwine
The Myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’s Vine.”

Francis Scott Key, the Perpetrator of Our National Anthem

The only question I have is: Was Francis Scott Key drunk when he wrote the gosh-awful lyrics of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and possibly stoned as well for using the tune of “To Anacreon in Heaven”?

Compare the barroom ballad that is our national anthem with the Hungarian “Himnusz,” composed by Ferenc Kölcsey:

So pardon me if I continue to take to my knees.

Crypto-Economics

Stack of Cryptocurrencies Including Bitcoin and Others

Today was my day downtown. After my mindful meditation session, I took the Dash B bus to Chinatown and had a delicious lunch of Beef in Black Bean Sauce at the Hong Kong BBQ on Broadway. As I ate my lunch, I read a long article in The New Yorker about cryptocurrencies. It was entitled “The Stuff Dreams Are Made Of” and was by Nick Paumgarten. I have held back from the subject because I used to be a computer programmer myself and know how tempting it can be to game whatever system I am designing to my advantage.

People are so mesmerized by the concept of a blockchain because it is something new and edgy. Therefore it exercises a powerful attraction, especially to people who are not quite conversant with the technology.

Do you know what a blockchain is? One can’t advance far into the subject without coming to terms with the concept. Here is a link to a graphic presentation from Reuters entitled “Blockchain Explained”: Click Here. I am familiar with hash codes in search algorithms, so I feel somewhat familiar with the ground. What disturbs me is that human nature keeps rearing its ugly head and leading to the system being easily scammed. Also, I am not happy about ransomware from hackers demanding payment in cryptocurrencies, because the transfer is untraceable by law enforcement.

I am always suspicious about economic activities that require more faith than I am willing to repose in them. There is such a marketing aspect to the whole technology that one feels one were being assailed by timesharing condominium salesmen, as I was when I landed at the Cabo San Lucas airport a couple years ago.

What if cryptocurrencies became more popular than the 1% share of the global financial services market they currently occupy. Even at the current level, blockchain software requires incredible computer power. According to the Paumgarten article:

This year, it is said, the Bitcoin network will use as much energy as the nation of Austria, and produce as much carbon dioxide as a million transatlantic flights. Mining rigs—computers designed specifically to do this work—are thirsty machines. Mining farms tend to sprout up where juice is cheap (typically, in proximity to hydropower projects with excess capacity to unload) and where temperatures are low (so you don’t have to burn even more electricity to keep the rigs cool). There are open-air warehouses in remote corners of sub-Arctic Canada, Russia, and China, with machines whirring away on the tundra, creating magic money, while the permafrost melts.

I can foresee Thomas Pynchon writing a sequel to his Bleeding Edge about this activity. It’s almost as if the subject of cryptocurrencies and the high priests who run them were made to order for him.

As David Chaum, one of the pioneers of cryptocurrency software, once said, “There’s never been, in the history of civilization, this much money aggregated as a result of doing nothing.”