Where It All Began

Sayyid Qutb in an Egyptian Prison

Islamic fundamentalism of the jihad variety began a little more than half a century ago with Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966), the founder of the Islamic Brotherhood, which gave birth to al Qaeda. He is the author of several seminal works including Social Justice (1949) and Milestones (1964). He also is credited with a 30-volume commentary on the Qur’an called In the Shade of the Qur’an. Early in his career, he spent two years in the United States teaching college in Washington, DC; Greeley, CO; and Stanford University.

About American women he wrote:

The American girl is well acquainted with her body’s seductive capacity. She knows it lies in the face, and in expressive eyes, and thirsty lips. She knows seductiveness lies in the round breasts, the full buttocks, and in the shapely thighs, sleek legs – and she shows all this and does not hide it. [I always thought this was a global phenomenon]

He did not have much good to say about the tastes of the average American:

The American is primitive in his artistic taste, both in what he enjoys as art and in his own artistic works. “Jazz” music is his music of choice. This is that music that the Negroes invented to satisfy their primitive inclinations, as well as their desire to be noisy on the one hand and to excite bestial tendencies on the other. The American’s intoxication in “”jazz” music does not reach its full completion until the music is accompanied by singing that is just as coarse and obnoxious as the music itself. Meanwhile, the noise of the instruments and the voices mounts, and it rings in the ears to an unbearable degree… The agitation of the multitude increases, and the voices of approval mount, and their palms ring out in vehement, continuous applause that all but deafens the ears.

I wonder what he would think of Hip-Hop. He seems not to have liked African-Americans very much.

In the end, I think that Qutb was not very comfortable in his own skin. For one thing, although an Egyptian, his ancestry is part Indian—and we know what happened between the Hindus and the Muslims in India and Pakistan in 1948 (Hint: widespread massacres). In the end, Gamal Abdel Nasser had him imprisoned and hanged in 1966 as a threat to the emerging Egyptian nation state. Qutb and his followers were enemies of nationalism in general and advocated an Islamic government that transcended the borders of existing nation states.

Many of the Islamic terrorists of our day are inspired by entities that pay homage to Qutb, including al Qaeda and ISIS/ISIL/Daesh.

The Flip Side of Gallup

The Gallup Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial

Gallup, New Mexico, in the 21st century would be nowhere without the Indians. Window Rock, Arizona, the capital of the Navajo Nation, is a short hop away across the state line. Yet, at the same time, Gallup is a dangerous place for Indians. The problem is that, with only 22,000 inhabitants, Gallup has 39 liquor licenses, or about 19 per 10,000 people—much larger than most big cities.

The Indians come to Gallup, get drunk, and frequently die. According to a 2015 article from the Indian Country Media Network:

In 2014, 36 unnatural deaths were recorded for Natives in or around the Gallup area. Almost all were alcohol related or caused from being homeless. Seventeen of those deaths were caused by motorists killing pedestrians attempting to cross major thoroughfares or I-40. Nearly all the victims were Native. This winter, too, has begun with record-setting deaths from exposure in McKinley County—12 so far; all the victims were Native.

Another lethal practice is for drunks in cold weather to lie down on the warmer asphalt highway, fall asleep, and get run over.

I have always seen Indians of the Southwest as a national treasure. Alas, it is a treasure that we have compromised by destroying their culture and leaving them to fend for themselves in the cold cruel world of contemporary America.

Messing with Mother Nature

Chinese Mass Wedding

Chinese Mass Wedding

China is worried. The all-powerful Communist Party has messed with Mother Nature once too often. For many years, they banned having more than one child per family. That led, not surprisingly, to an excess of male newborns over female newborns. (Accidents sometimes happened to infant girls, when it was boys who were desired.)

Although the Party has eased up on its child restrictions, there are two serious consequences:

  1. The number of marriages is dropping, possibly because many young men cannot find a sufficient number of marriage-age women to wed. I also remember reading stories about suicides of male factory workers because they had no hope of being able to raise a family.
  2. A disconcerting 500,000 elderly have wandered off—most of them suffering from dementia—partly because there are not enough children to bear the burden of their support.

China has been in this type of situation before. One of the decrees during the Great Leap Forward period (1958-1962) was that the “Four Pests” were to be eradicated. The pests in question were rats, flies, mosquitoes, and sparrows. One effect of killing massive numbers of sparrows was that the ecological balance was upset as crops were eaten by insects that were kept under control by the birds.

Maybe having too much power over men and animals is dangerous in the long run.


Meanwhile, Back in the Ukraine

Battle on January 10, 2014 at Kiev’s “Euromaidan”

Battle on January 10, 2014 at Kiev’s “Euromaidan”

The one Ukrainian author I have read is Andrey Kurkov, a Russian who lives in Kiev and considers himself Ukrainian. He is best known for three mystery novels, the first two of which feature a penguin named Mischa: Death and the Penguin, Penguin Lost, and The Case of the General’s Thumb.

During the 2013-2014 revolution that sent President Viktor Yanukovych to Russia requesting asylum from Putin, Kurkov kept a diary of daily events in Kiev, the Crimea, and Eastern Ukraine. It was published in 2014 as Ukrainian Diaries: Dispatches from Kiev. His mystery novels have a wry sense of humor which also carries over to this diary:

Posters and signs have been put up all over the country with images showing that all Ukrainians, after the signature of the Association Agreement with the EU, will become homosexuals. Even in the metro, each time you take an escalator, you have to pass dozens of these posters. In Kiev, he propaganda campaign is considered laughable, but I am afraid that in the east and in the provinces, people will naively believe that universal conversion to homosexuality is the condition imposed by Europe on Ukraine for the signature of the treaty. (November 28, 2013)

And: “Yesterday, Parliament announced an open forum day. Everyone was given the chance to speak. Or, in other words, no one listened.” (February 5, 2014)

Ukrainian Author Andrey Yuryevich Kurkov

Ukrainian Author Andrey Yuryevich Kurkov

Since it declared its independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991, the Ukraine has had a succession of governments that could only be described as a combination of thuggery and rapine—in fact, pretty much the sort of governing we could expect from a Donald J. Trump. You can see in Kurkov’s penguin mysteries the dysfunctionality of Ukrainian politics at work. Now, in the diaries, we see Kurkov losing sleep whether he would be dragged out of his flat by security forces, tortured, and killed.

Fortunately for us, he wasn’t. I look forward for his other works to be translated from Russian to English.





I have seen it coming over the years, the burgeoning diversification of wheeled transport for young people. When I first came to L.A. late in 1966, there was a concert film (which included the Rolling Stones) called The T.A.M.I. Show, which was filmed in 1964. It began with a prologue of a couple of young skateboarders rolling down a steep street in what looked like Pacific Palisades. I have even seen a few motorized skateboards recently that look clearly illegal, but their owners must think they are powerful chick magnets.

Of course, bicycles have been around since the 1800s, but now they are getting ever more popular, with occasional street closures called CicLAvia. (I remember getting stuck on Venice Boulevard in Mar Vista for over half hour during one of those.)

Next were inline skates, which infuriated bikers because skaters wound up taking too much of the lateral space in bicycle lanes as they moved from side to side.

Although scooters have been around since my childhood, the Razor scooter came in around 1999. (BTW, I’ve seen a few motorized versions of this as well.) Around the same time, the first Segways started coming out. And we mustn’t forget the infamous hoverboard, which is under fire for safety reasons.

I hesitate to think of what’s next. Unfortunately, the devotees of all these modes of transportation act as if they were the only game in town. Their devotees like to get into “the zone” as they speed up past all obstacles, such as stop signs, traffic signals, and unwary pedestrians.

Perhaps it’s like the United States as a whole, which is rapidly fragmenting into ever smaller subsets of wheeled transportation. In future, will there be separate lanes for pogo sticks? Will toddlers’ strollers be motorized and driven by their occupants? Will little red wagons ever come back?



The Chiltern Hundreds

The House of Commons in Session

The House of Commons in Session

Let us say that you were a member of Britain’s House of Commons and wanted to quit your job. If it were anyplace other than the United Kingdom, it would probably be a no-brainer. But in Britain, you have to apply to quit, whereupon you are assigned to a royal stewardship from which you can ease out of office. The two stewardships available for this purpose are:

  • Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Three Chiltern Hundreds of Stoke, Desborough, and Burnham—located in Buckinghamshire.
  • Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead—located in North Yorkshire.

The Chiltern Hundreds figure in two novels by Anthony Trollope, Phineas Finn and The Three Clerks.

In 1624, the House of Commons passed a measure making it illegal for an Member of Parliament to quit or willfully give up his seat. The Act of Settlement of 1701, amended by subsequent legislation, MPs were excepted who accepted an office of profit under the crown. (Originally, MPs were not paid.)

Over the years, there have been several other crown offices which served the same purposes, but only the Chiltern Hundreds and Northstead remain.

Fast and Furious

Too Many Tragedies

Too Many Tragedies in Too Short a Time Frame

It seems that flags have been at half mast for so long— beginning with the Dallas police shootings—that one no longer knows which disaster is being commemorated. With the 24-hour news cycle, the shootings are coming fast and furious, and the border between events is being blurred.

When one big news event happens, it triggers a news orgy in which the particular story fills all the news time until it is abruptly replaced by the next disaster. I cannot help but think that all the breaking news stories work on the minds of disturbed individuals, making them think that a mass shooting would be a good idea.

I don’t think the perpetrators do it with suicide in mind, but, hey, their minds don’t work all that well anyhow. The San Bernardino shooters, for instance, thought they could stage a getaway. If one is unable to reason well, one gets a certain amount of magical thinking going that, once “the point” has been made, an escape path is possible. Killing multiple human beings with a Bushmaster, however, is so traumatic that it isn’t likely that the shooters could waltz out of the slaughterhouse they have created.

So I never ask why the flag is at half mast any more. It might as well always be at half mast. I wonder if the person who raises and lowers the flag even knows.