Birmingham, Alabama’s Black Community might want to rethink its protests planned for Friday (December 19)

The Black community in Birmingham, Alabama plans to join the protests over the two Grand Juries’ refusal to indict for murder the police officers in Ferguson, MO and New York City whose actions led to the deaths of two Black men. Their plans include blocking traffic to the two busiest shopping areas in the Greater Birmingham area—The Summit, which is an open-air mall at the intersection of I-459 and Highway 280, and the Galleria, which is a traditional enclosed mall off I-65 in Hoover. Both could be considered suburban malls, and are located in majority white areas. The city of Birmingham is majority Black—about 2/3rds are Black in the city proper, while in the greater metropolitan area the numbers are reversed—2/3rds White and 1/3 Black or other minorities. There are several small towns west of the city that are almost exclusively Black (Fairfield, Bessemer, Midfield, etc.). But the rest of the cities comprising the suburbs surroundingBirmingham and its smaller sisters are majority White or practically all white, white flight having begun well before the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954 meant that the happy little segregationist equilibrium in Birmingham was about to be upset. The Whites, like everyone else, got out of the nasty, stinking coal-mining, blast-furnacing, steel milling city as soon as they were able. The Whites were able the soonest, so they fled first, but Brown accelerated the trend.

Things got real ugly during the implementation of Brown. There were outrages galore, from firehoses being turned on Black protesters to police dogs being sicced on them. And of course, there was the infamous bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church on a Sunday morning that killed four little black girls dressed so daintily in their Sunday finest. White people around Birmingham would like to forget that past, and the vile mistreatment Blacks suffered at the hands of their ancestors during the Civil Rights movement and before. The Blacks wish to never let the memory die.

But memory is a funny thing. Most people, even most people in Birmingham, probably believe that turmoil during the Civil Rights era arose from Birmingham’s Antebellum past; that it was the descendants of White slave-holding plantation owners seeking to keep the freed Blacks in the place where they’d been put after Jim Crow upended Reconstruction. Nothing could be further from the truth. Birmingham has no Antebellum past. It wasn’t even incorporated as a city until 1871. It was nothing more than a crossroads before the Civil War. People all around knew about its rich seams of iron ore, so rich that the hills were literally covered in red dirt, but didn’t know how to separate out the silica, which gave it the red tint that Native Americans used for dye and face paint (most iron ore is brown) until after the War. Once that problem was solved by shoving some locally abundant limestone into the furnaces with the ore, and then the problem of fuel for the furnaces was solved by the discovery of coal seams richer even than the iron ore, the steel industry, and the city boomed.

Most of the city founders and leaders were from the North, from Pittsburgh and West Virginia and Ohio, where iron smelting and coal mining were already well established industries. The former plantations in Alabama were way down around Montgomery and points south. The only one of the city founders who had an antebellum past was Colonel Ensley, who arrived in Birmingham from Memphis with a million dollars left from his slave-owning days who put it to use building the Ensley steel works, out in what became the West End section of Birmingham.

The fin de siecle was Birmingham’s coming out party. People during the era talked of Birmingham becoming the industrial and manufacturing hub of the South. But by then, the Federal government had abandoned the South’s Blacks, and their re-subjugation (or subjugation, in the Magic City, as Birmingham came to be known), was well under way. It was Northern ‘mules’ as they were called, that ran Birmingham, locking up Blacks for petty offenses so they could be put to work in Pratt’s coal mines (Pratt was from New Hampshire, by way of Georgia and Prattville, which was named after him, like Pratt City, where his coal mines were). It was slavery by another name, but it was the Jones Valley area’s first taste of it (Birmingham’s city streets were laid out on a grid in the relatively flat Jones Valley situated just north of the Red Mountain range from where the iron ore was excavated and smelted). Things got so nasty in Birmingham during the Civil Rights era because Jim Crow had flowered quite grotesquely under the tutelage of the Northern mules, while the Whites and Blacks who worked the coal mines and blast furnaces and steel mills knew that they were doing the same jobs and that their disparate treatment was therefore illegitimate. The Whites were concerned that losing their privileged, if undeserved, status might render them uncompetitive in the marketplace, while the Blacks were determined to make sure they did. So the Whites fought desperately to retain the vestiges of slavery that were embodied in Jim Crow while the Blacks fought just as hard to overthrow it.

But all that stuff is past Birmingham now. To be sure, the overthrow of Jim Crow is commemorated in parades and even a Civil Rights Museum, but people in Birmingham don’t live that stuff anymore. No cop working today would believe he could get away with oppressing Blacks because they were Black. Besides, the majority of officers on the Birmingham Police force are themselves Black.

The Summit is an upscale mall catering to the rich (mostly White) women in rich, mostly white, Over the Mountain suburbs (i.e., over Red Mountain to the South, where Whites originally fled to get away from the smog and grime of Jones Valley once the smelters and furnaces started belching black coal soot into the air and discharging metallic waste into the water). Getting to the Summit very nearly requires navigating the traffic on Highway 280 (there is a back entrance that can be accessed without using Highway 280, but few people know about it). And Highway 280 is practically a parking lot this time of the year, especially in the vicinity of the Summit, what with all the holiday shoppers spreading cheer. If the Black community in Birmingham shuts down 280, as they are threatening to do, the first question people might ask is ‘how can you tell’? But only jokingly. Because if they significantly impede traffic flow so that rich suburban White women in their hulking SUV’s can’t barrel in to the mall and park in the handicapped spot out front of whatever store is their destination, which they assume is their God-given right as the anointed upper crust of the American empire (there is no welfare queen quite like a rich White suburban American soccer mom), then the Black community is playing with fire.

The last thing the Black community wants to do is attract the ire of rich White suburban American soccer moms of the sort that shop at the Summit. Because all those soccer moms have to do is look at their rich White wolfish husbands with despair in their eyes at not being able to shop to unite a whole class of people against their cause. Rich White guys already believe that Blacks have nothing to complain about now, what with one of their own as President. And they never felt much of the White guilt thing, mainly because they never feel much guilt over anything. But their feelings about these Black agitators nowadays is roughly that they should just shut up and be thankful their ancestors were brought here as slaves so that they might now share in the bounty that their ancestors (the White guys) built. There is very little sympathy for Black protesters in the White community in Birmingham in most times, though there were pockets of sympathetic understanding during the Civil Rights years. Without the understanding and sympathy of those years to tamp down visceral hatred, the Whites will, at the very least, harden their hearts over the plight of the Black community if it carries through with its threat to make already bad traffic on Highway 280 even worse.

The Blacks in Birmingham, and elsewhere, but especially in Birmingham, are very obviously hoping to provoke the Whites into violence. In that regard, their protests are the rough equivalent of the Palestinians lobbing missiles into Israel from the Gaza Strip. Blacks know that open and official displays of violence against them of the sort that could be even roughly analogized to that which was inflicted upon them during the Civil Rights movement is taboo, and would provoke a backlash of support for them, and a forceful denouncement by the public of those who engaged in it. But the Blacks are likely miscalculating if they think Whites are as stupid as they were during the Civil Rights struggle. Whites get that they can’t lash out in violence, not even if the protests turn violent. They understand they can defend their lives in the face of violence, but little else, and any defensive action undertaken must be carefully calibrated to the level of actual peril they face.

But it is not clear, other than provoking some violence on the part of the White establishment, what the Black protesters are attempting to accomplish. Grand juries can’t be assumed to be inherently biased against Blacks. They are perhaps biased in favor of police, which by default means they are often biased against Blacks, as Blacks commit crimes way out of proportion to their numbers, but is bias in favor of cops so undesirable in the grand scheme of justice? Cops almost have to be given the benefit of the doubt if they are to do their jobs.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”. But he was wrong. There is no arc of the moral universe, or at least there isn’t so far as group identity and justice is concerned. Group identity and justice, the game the Blacks are trying to replay from the sixties, swings on a pendulum of power. The Civil War and Reconstruction represented the first swing of the power pendulum towards Blacks. Jim Crow saw it swing back towards Whites. With the Civil Rights movement, which can be argued ended with the election of Barack Obama, it swung as far as it possibly could back to Blacks. The next swing will be towards Whites, and the contrived outrage and pointless protests that Blacks are now engaging over isolated incidents in Ferguson and New York might well catalyze its next move. The arc of the moral universe will only reveal itself when the pendulum of power based on group identity dissipates its energy. Perhaps this next swing away from awarding Blacks power on the basis of their group identity will be a small one, and like a clock winding down shows on its slowing face the evidence of its dissipating energy, this swing will be visibly smaller and less violent than the rest.

In any event, throwing Birmingham’s Highway 280 traffic during the holiday season into further disarray is probably not the best strategy for protesting events that each happened over seven hundred miles away.  The Black community in Birmingham might well discover as much if they follow through with their plans on Friday.

The Rolling Stone article on UVA’s campus rape scene falls apart; TCA offers practical advice to college females on how not to get raped

Tawana Brawley, Crystal Gail Magnum and “Jackie”

What do these names have in common? All three are names of females who claimed to have been gang-raped by white men. (Tawana Brawley in New York City in 1987. Crystal Gail Magnum at Duke University in 2006. And “Jackie”, in 2012, at the University of Virginia.) The first two women are black. The race of the last woman is not clear, as her actual identity has not yet been revealed. But in all three cases, the claims proved to be outrageous fabrications, stories cut from the whole cloth of the women’s imaginations.

Jackie’s case was reported in the Rolling Stone magazine last month, a couple of years after the fact, alleging she had been gang-raped at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house at UVA. Jackie never went to the police, unlike the other two. She went to the University of Virginia campus rape and sexual assault support group, and shared a story about a sexual assault with them and her friends, but not the same story she shared with the Rolling Stone, as the following excerpt from a Washington Post article indicates:

They [her friends] also said Jackie’s description of what happened to her that night differs from what she told Rolling Stone. In addition, information Jackie gave the three friends about one of her attackers, called “Drew” in the magazine’s article, differ significantly from details she later told The Post, Rolling Stone and friends from sexual assault awareness groups on campus. The three said Jackie did not specifically identify a fraternity that night.

How many times will it take of a young woman accusing a group of White men of some heinous crime that later proves to be a product of her imagination until the press and the public begin to realize how gullible and credulous they have become? When will they learn better than immediately presuming the probity of the supposed victim’s tale and the guilt of the perpetrators? Young women lie, and frequently, about being sexually assaulted. It’s why it was so believable in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird that Tom Robinson, who was black, was falsely accused of rape by Mayella Ewell, who was white. It’s said that truth is stranger than fiction, but that’s because fiction has to be less strange than truth for a story to work, and false accusations of rape, especially as in Mayella’s case, to protect a woman’s virtue, are as common as dirt. The ongoing War on White males, which replaced the War on Black males over the last few decades, means that any gathering of White males is immediately suspect. And any accusation against them is true until proven false.

The 9,000 word Rolling Stone article in which Jackie’s fabrications were detailed (since retracted in practical totality by the magazine) caused an uproar not only on the University of Virginia campus, where all fraternity activity was immediately suspended until the end of the year, but also across the country, where feminist rape-baiters went quickly to work claiming this is what one in five women being raped at some point in their college careers looks like.

The problem, of course, is that none of it is true; neither Jackie’s story nor the notion that one in five college women are raped. Jackie’s story unraveled almost as quickly as it was published. The statistic that one in five women in college are raped comes from surveys done for the Centers for Disease Control that included every kind of later-regretted sexual encounter as a sexual assault, which then morphed into the one in five “rape” statistic. Department of Justice statistics measuring completed rapes don’t come anywhere near the one in five level as reported by public health authorities. According to the US Department of Justice, there were 3.1 completed rapes per 1,000 non-student females between the ages of 18 and 24 during the 1995-2013 period, compared with 2.0 completed rapes per 1,000 college student females during that time. So there is no epidemic of campus rape, and being a college student is actually about 1.5 times safer than not going to college, so far as the likelihood of being raped is concerned.

But it only takes a little common sense to know that the one in five number is nonsense. If twenty percent of young women going off to college were raped or unambiguously sexually assaulted, there would be a hue and cry reverberating through the land so great that it could not be ignored. White males would actually be lynched, instead of just crucified in social media. But twenty percent (a hundred percent?) of young women going off to college often get drunk and do things they later regret. Sometimes they get so drunk they couldn’t have really been able to consent to what they did, but then their dates were probably just as drunk. But that’s why they call it the walk of shame, not the walk of pride. Being stupid with one’s sexuality is nothing to be proud of, but the answer isn’t shifting the guilt to the White male scapegoat. The answer is to take charge of one’s sexuality, to own it as the most precious gift, like Tim Cook observed of his homosexuality, that God had bestowed.

In order to help with that task, I have devised Five Rules for College Women to Observe in the Conduct of Their Sexual Relations. These mostly arose from talks I have had with my high school senior daughter the last several months. The authority that a barely adult woman just arriving in college has over her sex life has got to be a scary and confusing thing for the young woman, especially in this day and age. And no matter how desperately feminists would have young women believe otherwise, with authority comes responsibility. So, here goes:

First, understand that men will say or do anything to have sex. It’s not their fault—it’s just the way they are made. They are biologically primed to aggressively seek out and find all the necessaries of life, including sex. The circuitry in the male brain that compels seeking is closely tied to the circuitry that engages violence. They will use physical force if necessary to get what they seek, but like all mammals, prefer less dangerous methods of acquisition, such as getting you drunk enough that your clothes just fall off of you, or sweet-talking you until you spread your legs, or both. But sweet can turn to mean in a New York minute, so be careful.

Second, no man who didn’t love you before you had sex with him will love you after you have had sex with him. If you think you can trade your sex for his love, you are mistaken, and will ultimately be disappointed, perhaps devastatingly so. But please, don’t go and try to fabricate some tale about being raped to make you feel better. And always remember the First rule when contemplating your disappointment. You should not have trusted him.

Third, women who sleep with multiple sex partners are not highly regarded in the community, no matter how much the social cesspool has tried to convince you otherwise. Randomly hooking up will ruin your reputation.. But the same can’t be said of men. Men who bed a lot of women are considered heroic. Sure it’s not fair, but it just is. Get over it and behave accordingly.

Fourth, having sex, particularly for the first time, is a huge emotional investment for a woman. Make sure your partner is emotionally invested in the relationship in a manner similar to you. Sex between two people who loved each other before there was any sex is a beautiful thing. Sex between a couple who aren’t so emotionally vested is at best unfulfilling, at worst tragic, especially if one partner cares deeply for the other, but the other is a cad.

Fifth, booze and boys don’t mix. Plain and simple. If you seek to protect God’s most precious gift, don’t get drunk and alone with a boy or a group of boys. Nothing good ever comes of such a circumstance. And while no boy should take advantage of you in your inebriated state, neither should you be so stupid that you think you can get drunk and rely on the kindness of strangers to protect your virtue. It’s just common sense. And remember, four-fifths of the time, the rape victim knows the rapist, even according to the more conservative Department of Justice statistics. Just because a guy seems nice does not mean he can’t turn mean. To prevent something untoward happening, it is best to never have impaired faculties when alone around men, and it is a good idea to just not be alone with a man until you know him, and maybe his whole family.

And a bonus: Discount everything you hear at the college orientation session about how sex should be conducted at the university. Nothing of what they are saying matters in the heat of the moment. The way to protect yourself is to prevent a situation from arising. Take charge of your sexuality just like you plan on taking charge of your coursework.

A short history of rape

Is all sex rape, or is all rape sex?

By itself, the act of intercourse, of inserting a man’s penis into a woman’s vagina, is the most natural thing in the world. A man’s erect penis craves encasement in a vagina and a woman’s vagina craves it being there. Intercourse is a requisite precursor (except when making test-tube babies) to insemination, pregnancy and reproduction, and like all other living creatures, human beings are reproduction machines. Natural selection built us that way, not out of choice, but of necessity. Them that aren’t reproductive machines don’t reproduce, or reproduce at far lower rates than reproductive machines, and their line thereby dies out. So intercourse, the act that becomes taboo if forcibly undertaken, is as natural and necessary to mankind’s continuation in time and space as fresh water and air and food. Intercourse only becomes rape when it is not welcomed for some reason or another. And the reasons have changed through the years.

The Bible gives us a glimpse of what the first civilizations thought of rape in ages past. The Old Testament rape of Dinah was considered an affront to her family, specifically to her father, Jacob, more so than to Dinah. But it isn’t even clear, from the text of the Bible, that what we today consider rape, i.e., forcible intercourse with an unwilling partner, occurred. It may have been that Dinah was a willing partner in the sexual relations she had with Shechem, the son of Hamor the Hivite, the ruler of the area where Jacob and his family were encamped. Or at least, Shechem may have thought so:

When Shechem…saw her, he took her and violated her. His heart was drawn to Dinah, daughter of Jacob, and he loved the girl and spoke tenderly to her. And Shechem said to his father Hamor, “Get me this girl as my wife.” (Genesis 34: 2-4).

The word translated into English as ‘violated’ in the passage did not mean the same thing rape means today. It was an euphemism for sexual intercourse that had a faint connotation of ‘being made to lie down’ (from the Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible, New International Version, 1996). And imagining that a rapist would seek to marry his victim, and enlist his father’s aid in doing so, would be absurd today.

But to Jacob and his sons (Dinah’s brothers), Dinah, or more specifically her womb, was an asset of the family to be jealously protected. A woman who had been ‘defiled’ as the act was later described, i.e., a woman who was unclean because of having engaged in premarital sexual relations, would fetch a much lower bride-price, if a buyer could be found at all. And a woman without a husband was a familial liability. The Hebrew answer to such a calamity was to force the defiler to pay the bride-price for a virgin, and to force him to take the woman as his wife, unless he had raped an already-betrothed virgin, for which he would be put to death (along with the woman, if she was in the city and failed to scream out for help, presumably implying she was complicit in her defilement—see Deuteronomy 22: 23-28).

So when Dinah’s defilement was later discovered by Jacob, it wasn’t overly generous of Shechem that he offered to pay whatever bride-price Jacob demanded. Jacob had been wronged by Dinah’s defilement. It was only natural that Shechem should pay what Jacob demanded. The response of Jacob’s sons was, however, a bit over the top. They duplicitously agreed to let Shechem purchase Dinah on the condition that all Shechemite males be circumcised. And all were duly circumcised. And then this:

Three days later, while all of them were still in pain [from the circumcision], two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and attacked the unsuspecting city, killing every male. They put Hamor and his son Shechem to the sword and took Dinah from Shecham’s house and left. The sons of Jacob came upon the dead bodies and looted the city where their sister had been defiled. They seized their flocks and herds and donkeys and everything else of theirs in the city and out in the fields. They carried off all their wealth and all their women and children, taking as plunder everything in the houses.

Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me by making me a stench to the Canaanites and Perizzites, the people living in this land. We are few in number, and if they join forces against me and attack me, I and my household will be destroyed.”

But they replied, “Should he have treated our sister like a prostitute?” (Genesis 34: 25-31)

Their fury was undoubtedly quite the deterrent for those who considered having intercourse, forcibly or willingly, with Hebrew females without official sanction.
For Simeon and Levi, it wasn’t Dinah who had suffered harm, but their honor. So they deceived Dinah’s defiler and his people, setting them up for slaughter. The chastity of the females in the family was a matter of honor among the men. It made little difference to them whether a woman’s virtue had been defiled voluntarily or involuntarily. The fact of defilement is what mattered. Punishment would accrue to the defiler. If the female was complicit in her having become unclean, rules exposited later in Deuteronomy provided the death penalty for her.

Female chastity before marriage and fidelity afterwards was highly valued among the ancient Hebrews, and presumably generally among ancient cultures. The women were not free to do with their wombs whatever they wished. Their unblemished wombs were valuable commodities to be traded for the bride-price.

Outside of the bride-price, women were, in ancient Judea, a liability to support, another mouth to feed, and one that was dangerously capable of creating more mouths to feed. Every family sought to find suitable mates for their daughters, men who would then be responsible for their care and feeding. An unchaste woman was a hard, if not impossible, sell in the bridal market, so the family, which was run by its males, was intimately concerned with the sexual proclivities and activities of the daughters of the clan. And not much changed in the intervening couple of thousand years from ancient Judea to manorial England. Jane Austen’s Bennett clan in Pride and Prejudice had only one aim—getting the five Bennett daughters suitably married. The drama of the book centered on the challenge of finding suitable mates for the girls (which is also why I found the tale dreadfully boring—but can see why it’s good stuff for teenage girls).

Premarital sex or illicit sex under such a regime as obtained from the days of the ancient Hebrews in Judea clear to the pre-Industrial Age of manorial England was treated substantially the same, whether it arose voluntarily or was forced upon the woman. In a sense, any and all sex of that sort was rape. (And, it should be added, any and all sex within a marriage was not). The intent of the parties to the transaction wasn’t much considered. The community’s opinion is what mattered, and premarital or extramarital sex was a very bad thing for women in the eyes of the community, even if it were forced upon them.

It is only in the last half century or so, since the proliferation of nuclear weapons* and the wholesale delegation of authority over a woman’s sexuality to the woman, that the violence of rape has become more important than its underlying sexuality. It took economic equality—not necessarily in the amounts being earned by women, but in a job market that no longer favored brawn over brains—before women gained their sexual freedom. In other words, it took women attaining the ability to provide for themselves before they were allowed to do with their sexuality what they wished. So long as they were considered the responsibility of their families until they married, their sexuality was of paramount importance, and was tightly monitored and regulated, both by the family and by whatever governing entity held jurisdiction. Rape was bad, but mainly because unsanctioned sex was bad.

It was until the nineteen sixties and seventies in the US and other developed countries that rape became solely about the intent of the woman who engaged in the sexual act (and let’s just quit pretending that men are raped by women enough to matter). It was during this time that even marital sex, if unwanted but forcefully indulged anyway, could be considered rape. (Think for a moment at how remarkable is the idea that a husband can be charged with rape by his wife, a woman who had pledged before the state, her family and friends, and perhaps even God, that she would be his sexual partner for life. Aside from the difficulties in proving that the consent to do something she had perhaps done hundreds of times had been withdrawn in the particular case at hand, wouldn’t it just be easier to file for divorce? Maybe the first inkling a man gets that his wife wants a divorce comes when they slap the cuffs on him for his arraignment for rape charges.) With economic equality, women were given more or less complete autonomy over their sexuality, even within a sexual relationship they had willfully and openly entered.

Thus the problem arose that the only way of proving or disproving rape was the victim’s testimony as to her intent. Rape is defined today as the penetration of an unwilling victim, vaginally, anally or orally, by pretty much anything, it doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is that the victim was unwilling. And there’s the rub. What does it mean to be unwilling? If the victim is half-drunk, can she be willingly penetrated? Or, to put it in the feminist vernacular, if the woman is inebriated, can she give her informed consent? The definition of rape now requires that courts ascertain the intent of the victim, and then try to figure out whether the alleged rapist understood, or should have understood, her intent. And the only evidence of intent, outside of actions actually undertaken, is the testimony of the parties. And it is rare a thing when there are third-party witnesses to a purported rape. Timely examinations after the event can sometimes prove sexual penetration, but sexual penetration is not rape unless the woman was unwilling, so it practically always resolves to a matter of dueling testimonies.

California and other places have gone so far as instituting laws that require affirmative consent, i.e., ‘yes means yes’ laws as they are informally known. But that muddles the evidentiary conundrum even more. Unless every sexual encounter is videotaped to prove the receipt of verbal consent, how can anyone except the parties know who said yes to what?

It would seem pretty easy to prove a rape occurred if the woman was still tied to the bed with her panties stuffed in her mouth when the police arrived. Her intent and his would seem clear. But maybe not. A whole genre of female fiction is devoted to just such a fetish (Fifty Shades of Grey, et al). She may very well have been doing exactly as she liked. Some women even have rape, i.e. forcible sex fantasies, they like to act out. How does a court tell what is a fantasy and what is an actual unwilling penetration? Obviously things get rather murky when the victim also knows the accused, as is the case in almost 80% of reported rapes, according to Department of Justice statistics.

The good news, according to those same statistics, is that rape and sexual assault are on the decline, even as the range of potential perpetrators has expanded. From Female Victims of Sexual Violence, 1994-2010, a study by the US Department of Justice:

From 1995 to 2010, the estimated annual rate of female rape or sexual assault victimizations declined 58%, from 5.0 victimizations per 1,000 females age 12 or older to 2.1 per 1,000.

This comports with an overall decline in violence of all kinds that began around the end of the Cold War. The causes for this decline are unclear, but probably have demographics at least partly to blame. The vast Baby Boomer population bulge was passing into middle age about this time, and violence of all types is a young man’s game.

Regardless of the reason, there is not, contrary to feminist hysteria, any epidemic of rape and sexual assault. Not on college campuses, or in the military, or anywhere really in the entire developed world. The exact opposite is happening. There are fewer and fewer rapes and sexual assaults with each succeeding year. Which is surely why rape/sexual assault-baiters, who depend for their livelihoods on an ever-worsening landscape of rape and sexual assault for young women, have sought to expand the notion of rape or sexual assault to include practically any sexual encounter which is later regretted, for whatever reason, by the woman. This from the New York Times Magazine, in an article by Susan Dominus, Getting to No:

The night started, as so many college nights do, with a red cup pressed into a hand. Ubiquitous at tail gates and parties, those bright plastic cups are a harbinger of carnival, of unleashing. The hand around the cup was mine.
I remember many of the details only vaguely, but the cup shines through; I can still taste the sweet-sour drink inside it. No matter how much I sipped — and each sip made the next one easier — the cup remained filled, courtesy of a young man, a fellow college senior, attending to its contents. I liked him, a little; I found his focus — on me — impressive.
I drank from the red cup, and in the next scene from that evening that I can recall, I am on my bed, and he is on top of me. I am resisting, but he is heavy, so heavy, and my limbs so leaden. I am certain he thought he was, as we used to say back then, a totally decent guy. Even now, I can imagine him as someone’s loyal husband, a maker of pancakes, his kids’ soccer coach. But that night I said no, and still he lay there, massive, pleading, sloppy with beer, for what seemed to be hours (but surely was not), until I finally stopped holding him off. Too close to sleep to rouse myself to outrage, I settled for capitulation, then revulsion.

The most radical of rape agitators would today consider that this woman was raped. To her credit, Ms. Dominus refuses to do so, assuming the blame for the way she later felt about the transaction. She knew she could have prevented or stopped things had she wanted to. And more importantly, as an act of violence, which some feminists claim is the whole point of rape (incorrectly**), this is quite lame. Nothing but feelings were hurt, pointing to another problem with designating intercourse against one’s eager consent as an act of violence almost tantamount to murder—if someone is murdered, or even just assaulted, they suffer clear and visible physical insults and injuries. If someone is raped because they changed their mind after getting drunk and lying in bed with a man, where is the physical insult and injury that characterizes violence? (Please don’t claim that the mental anguish of regret can rise to the physical pain of a beating. Anyone who tries to equate the two has clearly never been beaten. )

If trends continue, it won’t be long until the definition of rape comes full circle. In ancient days, the fact of intercourse mattered more than the intent of the parties. Extramarital sex, of whatever character, sullied a female’s virtue, and thereby her attractiveness as a wife. All sex outside of marriage was illicit sex, so all sex was, in a sense, rape. In today’s world, as reluctant or regretful sex morphs into rape and sexual assault, then all sex will again be rape. There won’t be a unique category for when a man violently and forcibly subdues and penetrates a woman against her will. Violent or no, all sex that a woman later regrets will be considered rape, and since women practically always find some reason for regret of just about everything, from their Cobb salad to their last glass of beer to that boy they knew in high school***, all sex will be rape, just as radical feminists already claim. And if all sex is rape, then none really is.

So, to answer the question first posed, is all sex rape or is all rape sex? Yes. Undeniably so.

*I added proliferation of nuclear weapons because there was a drastic alteration in the male-female protective calculus when the world got nukes. It takes not strength, nor speed, nor stamina—attributes more commonly found in the male population–to press the buttons that launch nuclear-tipped warheads. Manliness is not required. Aside from males being shunted aside economically in the post-Industrial Information Age, the Nuclear Age has shunted them aside as protectors as well. Men can no longer assert control over female sexuality because women no longer need them for much of anything. Except, of course, sex. And women generally need and want sex in far less quantity than men.

**Rape, i.e., forcibly subduing and penetrating a woman against her will, is not all about the violence. It is also a successful reproduction strategy, as roughly 5% of rapes result in pregnancy in the US, according to a 1999 study referenced by Steven Pinker in The Better Angels of Our Nature, 2011, page 396. Rape, or sex against a woman’s will, is endemic to all human cultures, implying that rape, though a potentially high-cost means of achieving reproductive success, is nonetheless a viable strategy.

***An inside note to see if she is reading

The pointlessness of these protests

According to my local (Birmingham, Alabama) newscast last night (December 8, 2014), there were protests in Talladega, Alabama over the Ferguson and New York City cases where local grand juries had refused to indict police officers whose actions caused the deaths of a couple of Black men. Talladega is not a hotbed of racial strife. But it has a historically-Black college—Tuskegee College– and it appeared to be mostly Black college kids, probably about fifty of them, egged on by the local chieftain of the NAACP, who were protesting. Exactly the nature of what they were protesting was probably as mysterious to them as it was to me or anyone watching. Nothing happened to them to cause the protest. And surely they can’t imagine that it makes any difference to New York City or to Ferguson, Missouri that some little town in east central Alabama has Black kids with free time enough to march down the streets protesting the actions of their police forces and grand juries.

This little police-brutality drama, and the protesting arising from it, seems so contrived. It’s almost as if the Black kids and the spoiled little white kids (apparently the bulk of the protesters) are trying hard as they might to reenact the sixties, when protesting anything and everything like a tempestuous two-year-old throwing a temper tantrum was all the rage. The sixties protesting got carried away, to the point that it became protesting for the sake of protesting. The young women of the free-love sixties liked protesting because it gave them license to behave in ways their parents and polite society would disapprove. The young men liked it because it improved their chances for sex with the free-loving female protesters seeking social and parental disapproval. Last night, when a television reporter interviewed the young, good-looking Black student at Talladega College about Ferguson, etc., he looked the camera sincerely in the eye and said that it was ‘love, just love, just a whole lotta love’ could heal the pain. I looked over at my wife and asked, “You reckon that might get him laid?”

“Well, it can’t hurt,” was her curt reply.

Cal-Berkeley students (Cal-Berkeley is one of the campuses of the University of California system and is located a few miles northeast of Oakland), and apparently a few interlopers, were out in force, protesting and rioting last night, according to wire reports. They actually shut down a major interstate, I-80, the connector between Sacramento, Oakland and San Francisco. The interstate does not pass through campus, but is a couple of miles away. Those Berkeley kids must have been really bored and in fairly good physical condition to march the thirty or so blocks from campus that it took to get to the interstate, and then to get around the barricades, and stage a shutdown of travel with presumably not much more than their bodies to stop the cars and trucks from moving. The protests had turned a bit riotous the night before, on Sunday, with looters breaking store windows and grabbing stuff at random, but were mostly tame last night. (Radio Shack—who even knew there still were any—was one store hit on Sunday, presumably because someone at Berkeley or in the surrounding Oakland area needed a long roll of coaxial cable or some telephone jacks and knew better than pay for them, as such things might be obsolete before the ink dries on the warrants made out for their arrests.)

Cal-Berkeley, has become somewhat infamous for its riotous, protesting, undergraduates. Cal-Berkeley students were among the first to stage sit-in protests in the sixties, and even after most of the rest of the world had figured out that protests were mainly for the sake of protesting and therefore pointless, Berkeley kept right on at it. In Berkeley protesting has become institutionalized. The City and campus have passed rules on the allowable police attire during a protest—no storm trooper accouterments allowed. But what does it mean that protesting is institutionalized? Isn’t defying social institutions and norms the whole point of protest? How can that be done when the very act of protesting is itself part of the institution? Where can a good, Northern California hippie agitator go to find an orgiastic protest where he can really throw off the shackles and chains of civilization in the pursuit of some higher purpose? Perhaps all that’s now left for him is to protest the institutionalization of protests. But try fitting that on a sign.

It seems that these sporadic protests, from the Occupy Wall Street movement that fizzled before it ever really sizzled, to the latest protests over what is allegedly police brutality but is really only the police doing what they were hired to do, are nothing more than young people, bored with their present, and anxious over their future, letting off a little steam. Or, that’s mainly the case with the kids at Berkeley and elsewhere who have at least pretended sincerity for the cause of reforming police procedures. For the looters and rioters, the protests are just an excuse to, well, loot and riot. They don’t care about police brutality, even as they are the ones most likely to be directly affected by it, exhibiting in real time a propensity for being on the wrong side of the law. For the Blacks, it seems to be a mechanism for keeping the Civil Rights movement alive.

Angst and ennui are the twin devils plaguing the utopian developed world in this age of the ‘New Peace’ or ‘Long Peace’, as Steven Pinker describes things. Since the Cold War ended and the existential threat posed by a bipolar world teeming with nuclear weapons passed, the developed world, and particularly the US, has thrashed about seeking to define the purpose and meaning for existence. This plays out at the aggregate level through the federal government continually conjuring new missions for itself (e.g., flood reliever, health care insurance progenitor, financial system rescuer, etc.) in an attempt to replace its old and traditional purpose of protection, a purpose that economic strength and the absence of existential threats have rendered relatively less important, if not totally irrelevant. It plays out at the individual level, as peace, and the prosperity that inevitably accompanies it, has rendered the individual struggle to survive and thrive dramatically less difficult and thereby less meaningful. There is no angst and ennui among the starving, but among the well-fed and sedentary, battling angst and ennui and the waist line is the primary struggle. Anything that alleviates the boredom—like a protest for what seems a good cause, at least for indignation–is a good and glorious thing.

For the millennia prior to the Bomb, when first clans, then nations, then states fought incessantly just to keep even, the struggle to survive was far more difficult and fraught, and thereby less tedious and anxious. Today, with the Bomb promising near complete annihilation of all man’s civilizations if ever it were generally deployed in war, there is precious little anymore of the confrontational-type struggle for existence between two powerful states that characterized the human experience for so long. When it comes to nuclear armed states, the choice is to live more or less peacefully together, or push a few buttons and the world as it is known evaporates.

At least partly as a result, the general populations in the developed world have become herds of placid bovines, unthreatened by existential threats, willing to gently chew the cud day in and day out. But the bodily pains of life that are no longer experienced because of the comfort and security of modern living conditions yield to the painful thoughts and feelings of minds that were tempered in the crucible of predictable savagery and unpredictable nature to be always vigilant and aware. While the body takes to sedentary living quite well, the mind wallows in existential pain, driving itself crazy for something to do. For the protesters, at least temporarily, contrived indignation is as good as anything, like the kids at Berkeley found out decades ago, at relieving the unbearably light burden of being.

The developed world has become quite as close to a utopian paradise as could ever have been imagined by our ancestors. There is peace and justice and plenty. But the problem with utopia is that happiness is not achieved from reaching the destination of peace, justice and plenty. Happiness is in the striving to get there. It’s why rich white kids are apt to be haphazardly angry and discombobulated pretty much all the time. They need to strive for their own utopia, but all the striving’s been already done for them. With regard to Civil Rights for American Blacks, which comprise at least the nominal cause for the protests, the Civil Rights journey is the destination. Even as the Black Civil Rights train pulled into the station with its load of emancipated Blacks several decades ago, the passengers won’t disembark. Continuing the struggle gives their lives meaning and purpose and indeed, is a great source of happiness, not to mention social power.

So the protests and riots aren’t surprising. Acting within the scope of their duties, White police officers in two locales that could not be any more different, happened to kill a couple of Black guys. It was unfortunate, but it happens. The unrest that followed was, for rich White kids, just a grasping at straws by people drowning in angst and ennui for how easy and thereby pointless life in 21st century America has become.  For Blacks, it kept the Civil Rights movement alive, which is all the movement is about anymore anyway.

The “White Man’s Burden” in the 21st Century

The adage “if it bleeds, it leads” needs some modification in this new age. It should now be, “If a White man caused it to bleed, it leads”. It is just great sport to pin the blame for every last ill in the world on White men; it is today the socially acceptable thing to do, and the world is all about social acceptance in this age of hyper-socialized media.

So, when an old media publication like the Rolling Stone came out with a story about a group of White fraternity guys savagely gang raping a University of Virginia co-ed, you can bet that was its lead. Problem is, in their rush to garner eyeballs they could sell to advertisers, they sorta didn’t do such a good job of discerning the probity of the accuser. And it now appears that “Jackie” may have made the whole thing up. Here’s the Rolling Stone retraction:

Last month, Rolling Stone published a story titled “A Rape on Campus” by Sabrina Rubin Erdely, which described a brutal gang rape of a woman named Jackie at a University of Virginia fraternity house; the university’s failure to respond to this alleged assault – and the school’s troubling history of indifference to many other instances of alleged sexual assaults. The story generated worldwide headlines and much soul-searching at UVA. University president Teresa Sullivan promised a full investigation and also to examine the way the school responds to sexual assault allegations.

Because of the sensitive nature of Jackie’s story, we decided to honor her request not to contact the man she claimed orchestrated the attack on her nor any of the men she claimed participated in the attack for fear of retaliation against her. In the months Erdely spent reporting the story, Jackie neither said nor did anything that made Erdely, or Rolling Stone’s editors and fact-checkers, question Jackie’s credibility. Her friends and rape activists on campus strongly supported Jackie’s account. She had spoken of the assault in campus forums. We reached out to both the local branch and the national leadership of the fraternity where Jackie said she was attacked. They responded that they couldn’t confirm or deny her story but had concerns about the evidence.

In the face of new information, there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie’s account, and we have come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced. We were trying to be sensitive to the unfair shame and humiliation many women feel after a sexual assault and now regret the decision to not contact the alleged assaulters to get their account. We are taking this seriously and apologize to anyone who was affected by the story.

The apology came several days after the initial story, long enough for fellow media denizens like the New York Times to weigh in at how horrible is this epidemic of campus rape, etc., quoting the oft-cited statistic that one in five women suffer rape in their lifetime. If it were true that one in five women were forcibly, violently raped in their lifetime, it would constitute an epidemic of violence of epic proportion. But it’s really not like that. The statistic comes from self-reported instances of rape in surveys conducted or commissioned by the Centers for Disease Control, which also reports that 4.8% of men claimed to have been forced to penetrate someone at some time in their lives. How is that even possible? A penis must be erect before it can “penetrate” anything. Presumably the man to whom the penis is attached has some input over whether he gets an erection. (Or, come to think of it, maybe not. I can’t count how many times I’ve gotten an erection when I wished I hadn’t.) But really. To make a man penetrate someone he doesn’t want to penetrate would imply the person he is penetrating (or who is penetrating themselves?) has restrained him in some manner. I can’t visualize it any other way. Are that many men being tied up and made to “penetrate” someone they don’t wish to penetrate? Doubtful. And so is the notion that a fifth of all women have been raped.

What is really happening is that the definition of rape is changing to include any instance of reluctant sex. So, something like 100% of married women with children can legitimately claim to have been raped by their husbands. In a marriage, the before-child sex is probably, mostly, consensual, maybe even desired by the woman. But for women who have had children? Not so much. After the kids, or just after a certain period of time if there are no kids, and all marital sex is reluctant sex on the part of the woman, unless she is sufficiently inebriated. Then she can at least more readily imagine she’s doing the deed with someone else. But she can’t be considered to have voluntarily consented if she’s drunk, so that too is rape.

As membership in a fraternity while attending college at places like UVA is almost always the sole purview of White males, campus “rapes” are also the most heavily sensationalized. It fits the meme that the locus of evil in the modern world is wherever the White and male people can be found. But the concern is limited to when rape is perpetuated by White males.

Jameis Winston, Florida State’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, was accused of raping a White girl. Fifty years ago, that sort of allegation would have been good for him getting shot while trying to escape a prison farm, even if the white girl had seduced him, and no actual sex had taken place (alluding to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird). With Winston, it was ignored for so long as it could be ignored. Nobody wants Famous Jameis to have his football career interrupted by a silly little incident of perhaps, maybe, reluctant sex with a White girl who was a member of a band of females who were devoted to having sex with athletes. When did the girl quit wanting to do it? After she was on her knees with Winston’s buddy videoing her? Had, however, Winston been White, even a star White football player (yeah, I know how silly it sounds), surely the outrage would have built to a crescendo enough to make him wish he were gay.

Because it is White males with whom the White females are doing battle. This whole rape as reluctant sex meme doesn’t even apply to the Black culture. Listen to some rap music if you don’t believe me. To say rap music is misogynistic is to give misogynists a bad name. Yet the White girls love it. But every time a White girl has sex with a White guy and a contract of consensuality hasn’t been executed, it’s rape. Yes means yes, and nothing else will do, in White on White sex. But the White girls love to listen to the rappers telling how dey treat dey bitches. I know. I’ve got a teenage daughter who listens to the garbage.

The riots/protests/gaggles-of-people-milling-about in Ferguson, Missouri and New York City and elsewhere attest to the idea that White males are fair game as objects of derision. Think about it. Would there be any consternation if the cops who had killed the two Black guys had also been Black?  It would have been considered an unfortunate affair–two cops doing their jobs–but well, that niggah in New York was obviously resisting arrest, and who knows what the brother in Ferguson was doing. Instead, it was White male cops, oppressing the black man again.  Never mind that one was in fear for his life, and the other had no idea that the perp who was resisting arrest had severe asthma trouble. It is because it was a White male cop that Ferguson erupted in riots and continues on a razor’s edge. And it is because it was a White male cop in New York City that people there are feebly trying to follow Ferguson’s lead. And the media just eggs the whole thing on. Post-racial after Obama’s election?  To laugh.  If anything, we’re now hyper-racial.

Eventually the day may come where White males are as persecuted for being White and male as Jews in Central Europe were persecuted for being Jewish. But if this idea that the locus of evil in the modern world resides in the White male heart is perpetuated much further, the White females and Blacks who are perpetuating it risk creating a White male coalition for fighting against it. White males do not comprise any sort of identifiable cultural group at present. But enough attacks upon them, and they will become one. Their power is dispersed and diffused right now. But White males still comprise about a sixth of the population, almost as large as the proportion of women who claim to have been raped by them. If they ever come together under the yoke of vilification, they will be a force to be reckoned with.

Book Review: The War of the World by Niall Ferguson (2006)

This is the first of Niall Ferguson’s books I have read. It won’t be my last. If War of the World is a fair representation of his writing, then Ferguson sets the standard of excellence among historians and history writers I have read. He is exquisitely knowledgeable about the pertinent aspects of the human condition—social, political, economic, tribal, national, technological, etc.—prerequisite to gaining an objective understanding as to what went on and why during the period in question. He writes with a clarity and brevity and insightful verve that few in science or academia can muster.

And his is not history as ideology.  It is not dogma disguised as objectivity. Had I not already known, it would have been quite impossible for me to tell which side of the great political divide (conservative/liberal) he might fall. And he artfully understands how to pace and space and interlink his arguments and stories into a narrative whole, much as writer of fiction might.  War of the World was an engaging and informative read, another of that rare species of book that compels dread in the reading because of the knowledge that it must eventually end.

WOTW basically covers the twentieth century, particularly focusing on the events leading up to World Wars One and Two and their aftermath. Ferguson derives the title of the book from George Orwell’s War of the Worlds, where aliens attack Earth and kill people with trenchant and cold efficiency, much like the efficiency and ruthlessness with which the German Wehrmacht marched through Europe. Germany, like others of the era, notably the Soviet Union, channeled the passionately-held bigotries of their people into coldly bureaucratic and ruthlessly efficient expressions of killing, torture, rape and oppression. Orwell’s War of the Worlds didn’t, however, come close to capturing the brutality of World War Two. World War Two, particularly in the Eastern European theater, was so horrible, as Ferguson makes abundantly clear through vignettes personalizing the barbarity, that it wouldn’t have been believable as fiction.

But what was the world like before the outbreak of World War One, the war that marked the beginning of a remarkable period, culminating in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, of turmoil and bloodshed? It turns out that it was remarkably similar to the world of today. In the following, Ferguson quotes Keynes, the leading political economist of the time, describing the life of a reasonably well-off bloke in London in 1901:

He could secure forthwith, if he wished it, cheap and comfortable means of transit to any country or climate without passport or other formality, could dispatch his servant to the neighboring office of a bank for such supply of the precious metals as might seem convenient, and could then proceed abroad to foreign quarters, without knowledge of their religion, language or customs, bearing coined wealth upon his person, and would consider himself greatly aggrieved and much surprised at the least interference.

Now that privilege extends to practically anyone anywhere. The world today is like it was before 1914 changed everything, but on a much grander scale. To be sure, there are passports and visa restrictions today that weren’t in place a century ago, but the basic expectation of cheap and easy travel is the rule today, just like then, only now it is yet cheaper and easier and quicker. But if modern man prefers, he can bring the world to where he is. So too could the gentleman in London:

The inhabitant of London could order by telephone, sipping his morning tea in bed, the various products of the whole earth, in such quantity as he might see fit, and reasonably expect their early delivery on his doorstep…

All those dot com busts of the early 2000’s, and Jeff Bezo’s idea to deliver stuff the same day via drone aircraft, seem a bit revanchist when juxtaposed upon the condition of the average Londoner in 1914. A century and two hot wars and one Cold War later, and we’re just beginning to recover lost ground.

So, why did it all have to end, over something as seemingly insignificant as an assassin’s bullet? To say the world was a powder keg of nationalist/imperialist impulse and sentiment begs the question. The world was, as Ferguson points, experiencing the apogee of European dominance and control as had not been seen since the Roman Empire ruled the Mediterranean and most of Europe. Only this time, the dominance and control extended across the seven seas. England ruled a half billion Indians with only a token force, had gained hegemonic control over most of Southern Africa, and had colonies in Southeast Asia and China. And that was only the British. The French, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese and Germans had also extended their influence well outside their borders. If the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries had been the age of European imperial ambition, the twentieth would be the age of retrenchment and dissolution.

Take the experiences of China during the era. At the time of Keynes’ London observations, China’s Qing dynasty was soon to disintegrate, to be replaced by a quasi-republican regime that almost immediately found it necessary to mount arms against a fledgling Communist insurgency. Chinese dynastic rule, at one time many times more powerful than perhaps even the Roman Empire in the West, finally fell from the weight of centuries of ossified corruption. In the process, it lost control of substantial portions of its country through externally-imposed free trade zones (“treaty ports”) where Europeans, and later, the Japanese also, enjoyed immunity from Chinese law and policy, to live and trade freely.

The degradation of the Chinese Empire began in earnest in the mid-1800’s with the two Opium Wars Britain fought in order to facilitate their trafficking of Indian opium, which the Dynasty sought to abolish. By the time the British succeeded in imposing her will, China was forced to pay reparations, and cede Hong Kong, and the scramble for China’s riches among the European powers was on. But it was only a few years after Japan and Germany were defeated that China had regained practically all of its lost territory, had kicked out its corrupt Nationalist government, and had abolished completely the trafficking in opium. Within another half-century, it would overtake Japan as the second largest economic system in the world (on an aggregate basis; Japan still far exceeds China on a per capita basis).

Ferguson makes the point that what made the world so unstable in 1914 was not that so many empires were strong and competing against each other. It was that so many were weak and technologically backward. The Ottoman Empire, the Austrian-Hungarian Empire and the Qing Empire were either totteringly unstable or had already fallen. There were spoils to be divvied up. There were power questions to be resolved. The nineteenth century was spent leveraging the new technologies of the Industrial Age for the building of empire. Those empires that fell behind in the race for technology, i.e., the three previously mentioned and a few others, became vulnerable to the ones who embraced technological advancement.

The twentieth century was spent applying the technologies to internal imperial power dynamics and international relationships. Which meant killing. Lots and lots of killing. Because one answer of what to do with the multitudes of ethnicities populating the various empires was very simply genocide. Kill them all, and let God sort out the good from the bad. It was a policy Germany certainly pursued, and the more maniacally as its military fortunes declined. But Stalin probably killed as many people in the Soviet Union before the war as Hitler killed in Germany and the occupied territories during it. And the killing wasn’t restricted to just Germany and the Soviet Union. By the time World War Two rolled around, wherever there was a minority, especially a religious minority, there would be some killing, raping and oppressing by the majority. It happened in Poland, before, during and after each war, at times more severely than anywhere else.

It happened in the Soviet Union to pretty much everyone, including even the dominant ethnic group, Russians, if they happened to be suspected of subversive sentiments, though non-Russians took the brunt of the abuse. Stalin starved probably 2-3 million Ukrainians to death before and during the war. Once the Red Army turned the tide of war in its favor and started its march through Germany, it behaved like marauding Vikings, raping, pillaging and plundering all along the way, just as the Germans had in their truncated march to Moscow. And in the East, Japan literally raped and murdered perhaps 20,000 women in Nanking, the Nationalist government’s capitol, while enlisting thousands of Korean women as prostitutes to satisfy savage appetites unleashed by the brutality, not to mention the wholesale slaughter it inflicted on populations everywhere it conquered.

It is readily clear that the cycle of violence didn’t start with the bullet to Prince Ferdinand’s head in 1914 nor end in Nagasaki in 1945. From a human perspective, war compresses time and space. In active combat, seconds seem to last for hours. A lifetime can be lived in two weeks. Yet it can take years for the tectonic forces of war to sufficiently build such that they are released in the crescendo of combat. World War One was as much a product of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 as it was of the intervening years of empire building. Germany consolidated and defined its empire and identity in the 1870 war. Almost half a century later, it was eager to extend its realm at the expense of Western European powers it considered as having grown weak (France) and overextended (Great Britain). And the conditions compelling its impulse to aggression changed very little in the intervening years between the World Wars. France grew weaker and markedly less resolute about defending its empire, and even its native borders. Great Britain could not have possibly held onto her empire in the face of a viable threat. When France’s army proved to be nothing but a paper tiger, capitulating in less than six weeks in the face of the German Wehrmacht’s blitzkrieg, it was obvious that France had been defeated a long time before the war had even begun. Napoleon’s Army that had once wreaked havoc over all the Continent was never again to rise. Lonely Great Britain could barely defend herself, let alone her African and Asian colonies.

It could be imagined that the twentieth century was exceedingly bloody because the nineteenth had been exceedingly less so, as the race for applying the new technologies of the Industrial Age consumed the competitive energies for awhile. Only after the first wave of technology, particularly the refinement of mass production, was fully exploited, did the empires turn on each other, applying the technological advancements to ghastly ends. (Which wasn’t so much Ferguson’s assessment, but makes sense to me.)

The brutality of which Ferguson wrote seared images in the mind that are hard to dispel. The story of the Holocaust only partially tells the tale. The killing began far earlier than the latter years of the war that is associated with the wholesale slaughter of Jews in the death camps. The killing began as soon as the blitzkrieg was under way. And it was often not the Germans who were doing the killing, but the locals of the conquered territory. Ferguson offers the account of a Latvian, Boris Kacel, after the Germans took over:

In my wildest dreams, I could never have imagined the hidden animosity the Latvians had for their Jewish neighbors. Trucks arrived carrying small vigilante groups of ten to fifteen armed Latvians, who wore armbands in their national colors of red, white and red. These men intended to kidnap Jews off the street and take away their personal belongings. The prisoners were then forcibly loaded onto the trucks, taken to the woods, and killed… I did not expect such a severe assault; after all, the Jews had lived with the Latvians for many years. The two groups had always tolerated each other and had lived together in a friendly, harmonious atmosphere…The greatest tragedy was that these crimes were not committed by strange, invading forces, but by local Latvians, who knew their victims by their first names…The Jews soon had to seek German protection from the vicious Latvian hordes.

The brutality was almost unbelievable; this is from a Ukrainian’s account of his countrymen’s persecution of Jews:

First, they raped his wife. Then, they proceeded to execute her by tying her up to a nearby tree and cutting off her breasts. As she hung there bleeding to death, they began to hurl her two-year-old son against the house wall repeatedly until his spirit left his body. Finally, they shot her two daughters.

It is tales like this that offer some perspective on, for example, the Black experience in the US. This sort of thing never happened in the US, or if it did, was exceedingly rare and was severely punished as the criminal behavior that it is. But ethnically-motivated rape, torture, murder and theft (now called ‘genocide’ or ‘ethnic-cleansing’) was more or less routinely happening in 1940’s Europe, just over seventy years ago, just as Blacks in the US felt comfortable enough to coalesce into a movement for an expansion of their Civil Rights. Blacks in the US should thank their lucky stars every day that their ancestors were kidnapped and brought here as slaves. No matter how bad they might have had it here, they would have had it far worse anywhere else. The protesters in Ferguson and New York and elsewhere need to just shut up. The facts of Ferguson and New York are ambiguous, at best. There was no ambiguity in the slaughter that prevailed in Central Europe before, during, and sometimes after, World War Two.

The subtitle to Ferguson’s book is “Twentieth Century Conflict and the Descent of the West”. The point being that the World Wars were as much about a Western comeuppance vis a vis Asia and the Middle East and Africa as anything else. Prior to the wars, Britain ruled five times her population in India, and all the delectable morsels of China and Southeast Asia had been carved away by European powers, as well as in Africa. Between the first and second war, Britain and France acceded to Turkish possessions abandoned with the fall of the Ottoman Empire, particularly in the Middle East. As a result of World War Two Britain lost India and her Middle East holdings, the imperial European powers were soon enough run out of China with the ascendancy of Mao and the Communists, and Southeast Asia and Africa slowly pulled away from their colonial masters. In many respects, the US was the only imperial power left standing, and it had little stomach for empire for its own sake, but sought empire only when it was clearly advantageous economically to do so. Descent is always as relative matter, but there is no doubt that Western civilization descended in status, power and prestige in the twentieth century relative to the rest of the world. Japan’s descent with her defeat marked something of a reversion to a recent mean for the region in which she tried her hand at empire building. The European descent marked a reversion to a more ancient mean.

The question that plagues the mind when the carnage of the twentieth century is assessed is whether it could happen again. The answer surely lies in understanding why it happened in the first place, but there is little that can be concretely said as to why Germany, Italy, Japan and to some extent, the Soviet Union, all became more or less simultaneously gripped with a fever for conquest and ethnic cleansing. World War Two seems more racially motivated than was World War One, which was nationality-motivated, but that may be a distinction without any substantial difference. But why? What unleashed the hounds of racial animosities that turned otherwise fully civilized humans into brute, almost-alien savages, gleefully perpetuating horrendous crimes against their fellows—against their neighbors, friends and citizens? Why have we, by and large, seen practically nothing of the same in the last half-century? Are Europeans and Asians becoming less antagonistic and more cooperative? If so, as much can’t be because of a change in our genetic architecture. Fifty years isn’t much more than a blink in the eye of recorded history, and is effectively nothing in the deep geologic time that has the capacity to shape and form genomes to fit the environments in which they are found. So what is it?

In 2011 Steven Pinker came out with a seven-hundred-plus page assertion that mankind has gotten less and less violent over the millennia (The Better Angels of our Nature), at least since the advent of sedentary agriculture begat civilization, from which ultimately devolved states with the Hobbesian power of the Leviathan. The legitimacy of a state depends on it having a monopoly on the use of deadly force. But as the first half of the twentieth century provides ample example, legitimacy does not imply the absence of despotic and tyrannical use of the power. The individual violence that characterized the human experience through much of history became organized and corporate with the economic reorganization of life fostered by sedentary agriculture. It may have lessened as a ratio of the total population, but only as an incident of populations growing geometrically larger with agriculture’s relative efficiency over hunting and gathering. And it’s doubtful a member of the disfavored ethnicities in Germany and its conquered territories—the Roma, the Jews and the physically or mentally disabled, and really anyone who didn’t appear to be Nordic, with at least blue eyes and fair features—thought that the human heart had softened since before the time of agriculture. And can there be any doubt that in the breast of the most civilized man walking the streets of London, New York, Tokyo, Moscow, Berlin or Beijing beats the heart of a savage, always alert for the environmental clues that would compel its expression? There is only a thin veneer between savagery and civilization, one that is sometimes explored in artistic and popular venues but that is mainly avoided in social interactions as a truth that is too taboo for acknowledgement.

There has been, it seems, and Pinker argues, a dramatic decline in violence of all sorts in the decades since the end of World War Two. How much of the decline has to do with the reality that conventional violence has been rendered more or less irrelevant, except around the margins, since the development of nuclear weapons? The human race is only a few buttons away from its almost certain annihilation. What point is there in petty little killings otherwise? The twentieth century was about the clashes of empires. Today’s nuclear-armed empires, were they to clash in total war, would completely destroy each other. So it can’t be long before it happens. The heart of the savage beast still beats within us. In fact, unless humans are fighting each other, there is little opportunity for the expression of mankind’s finely-honed genetic legacy of combativeness (particularly in the male). Pinker dismisses the “hydraulic” origin of violence (the idea that it bubbles up from some innate wellspring), while at the same time acknowledging how much of human nature must be overcome for civilization to flourish.

What might the future hold? Did history end with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, as Francis Fukuyama famously asserted? Ferguson emphatically says, “No”. History didn’t end with the rise of liberal democracies in Western Europe. Conflicts rage all across the globe. And he’s mostly correct, but in the developed world mass conflict and violence seems to have been thrown upon history’s trash bin. But could a maniacally racist, nationalist, violent century like the twentieth, where whole ethnic populations were singled out for elimination, happen again?

World War Two was, at least as Germany, prosecuted it (and to some extent, Japan), an exercise in expressing deep-seated racial and ethnic animus through the application of modern killing and destroying technologies. The German people’s principal motive for fighting seemed to be racial and ethnic animus for those around and within Germany that they felt were inferior, and should therefore be subjugated or eliminated. German state policy was to identify and separate the various races and ethnicities for disparate treatment, a policy not so unusual among empires, but one which eventually turned quite sinister in Germany’s case.

Though not yet nearly as sinister, disparate racial and ethnic treatment obtains in the US today, where the federal government parcels out, through its Affirmative Action programs, social, political and economic spoils according to membership or not in racial and ethnic categories. The US is playing a dangerous game, pitting each racial category against the other in order to magnify the power of the central government, much in the same manner as Germany and other empires (the Soviet Union comes to mind) have done. The logical conclusion of the strategy in Germany was the Holocaust. There is no telling where things might lead in the US. Ferguson points out that it is when empires are faltering and failing that latent bigotries among their populations are most violently expressed. The Ottoman Turks didn’t slaughter the Armenians on a massive scale until it was clear, halfway through World War One, that the Ottoman Empire would not survive the war.

What would happen in the US if its empire started to falter and fail? What if the next Great Recession becomes a grinding, poverty-inducing Great Depression that causes the empire to splinter along well known ethnic and racial fault lines? The coagulation of European ethnicities in the US that blended together to become the cultural group known as ‘Whites’ feel that they by and large built the country. What if they see their relative demise as analogous to that of the Turks in the Ottoman Empire? The White’s chiefly British culture, with a mishmash of German, Dutch, French, Irish, Italian, Polish, Greek, etc., thrown in, provided the leadership and initiative for the great institutions and cultural norms used in settling and pacifying the land. What happens when the Whites come to believe their country and their culture is being usurped and abandoned and replaced by the culture of the Hispanics and Blacks and Asians? Will the White culture go quietly into that good night? The next War of the World might very well be in these United States, as the majority culture becomes only a plurality, and fights to retain its power and relevancy.

In any event, it is a sobering thing to use the vehicle of Niall Ferguson’s capable narrating to peer back to a past not even a century old and clearly see the utter depravity lurking in men’s souls. To imagine that we have somehow permanently negotiated our way out of all that came before this period of relative peace would be baseless and foolish. The War of the World is the rule. The relative peace since then is the exception.

Islamic fundamentalists sometimes have a point

Ho, hum. Another videotaped beheading of another Western do-gooder. What is up with all these white American men just sort of showing up in the Middle East hoping to do good, but inevitably becoming captives of one of the warring factions? There have lately been three (if my recall is accurate) Americans whose beheadings were videotaped for public consumption by ISIS, which probably means there are three hundred or so out there waiting to be similarly rewarded for their “altruism” (as the word “altruism” describes something that doesn’t exist, the word always requires quotation marks when being used so that no one misses the irony, which is also why it should never be used in conversation unless both hands are free to make the air quote marks). Do-gooders are like cockroaches—if you see one on the kitchen counter, there’s probably a hundred in the woodwork. And one imagines, if ISIS had only one or two white American men left in captivity, it would be less willing to sacrifice them to the cause of dying for Allah for which their “altruistic” hearts were unwittingly devoted. They probably have dozens. The latest victim, Peter Kassig, had converted to Islam and even taken a Muslim name, Abdul-Rahman. So much for doing well by doing good and trying to assimilate.

All these videotaped beheadings remind me of the scene in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” where Indiana Jones is being chased down a narrow alleyway or corridor in a crowded Arabian city by some locals. It appears Jones is trapped in a sort of box canyon of a street. When he turns to face his pursuer, the big, stereotypically scary (bushy eyebrows, facial hair, maniacal eyes, etc.) Arabian guy pulls a scimitar from the waist belt around his robe, and starts waving it around menacingly, like a ninja twirling nunchucks. Things look rather dire for Mr. Jones, but only for a moment, until he reaches in his own belt (holding up regular old Western rugged-wear pants), pulls out a pistol, and unceremoniously shoots the dangerous-looking Arab.

I recall my fellow theater patrons actually applauding after Jones killed the guy. I may have, too, but I don’t remember for sure. I was just a teenage kid at the time.

But I wasn’t too young to get the lesson for the scimitar-wielding Arab—don’t come to a gun fight with a knife. The lesson for the executioner in the ISIS videos is along the same lines—don’t come to a drone/smart bomb fight with a knife and a video camera. The US could destroy ISIS in a New York minute if it so desired. ISIS only exists because the West lets it exist. The more poignant question is why it chooses to do so.

A CNN opinion piece written by Fawaz Gerges claims that the beheadings are acts of desperation by an organization that finds itself on the run in the face of American and European (aka, Western) air bombardment. Perhaps. But like the stock market can stay irrational far longer than investors can stay solvent, ISIS can stay irrationally committed to the Levant much longer than the West has the will to keep at the task of hunting it down. In a way, ISIS is less of a military organization and more of an abstraction made concrete. ISIS stands for the idea that the West is corrupt and weak and immoral and decadent. And it has a point. In fact, the continued existence of ISIS proves the point. But there are other markers of Western decadence that help prove ISIS’s points. Take, for instance, female sexuality.

Western women, particularly American women, are more or less afforded complete freedom to do what they wish with their sexuality, to the point that they can have the unintended consequences of their sexual activity siphoned from their bodies without legal penalty or moral sanction. Given all that freedom, what have American women done? Arguably, they have used their hard-won freedom to become even more sexually depraved than men. It is instructive that Kim Kardashian, Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus (and legions of other American women famous for their hyper-sexualized personas) are all poignant examples of American women expressing their sexual freedom in a lowest-common-denominator fashion, competing to see who can be the most outrageously sexualized, as if the only dimension to American women is their sexuality.

American women have, by and large, proved incapable of handling sexual freedom. Instead of using the opportunities presented by equality and freedom to civilize and harmonize the culture as only women are capable of, they have vulgarized it, dragging the whole culture through the gutter of sexual depravity. They adamantly refuse to acknowledge the responsibility that comes with the power of a womb, preferring to pretend that the power of the womb they attempt to exploit through exhibitions of their sexual attractiveness should have no consequences except their enhanced social status. But no power has ever been wielded that didn’t come with responsibility.

The refusal of young American women to take positive and responsible charge of their own sexuality is why American colleges now feel compelled to define as sexual assault every casual sexual contact without which a provable consent was rendered. The “Yes means yes” movement, now codified into law in California and elsewhere, is the rough equivalent of the rules in Muslim and other “backward” cultures regarding the interactions of unrelated males and females. The West, facing a crisis of female irresponsibility in dealing with sexual equality and freedom, has been forced to vastly expand the definition of rape to protect the virtue of its women. It is little wonder that the notion of modesty in female dress and behavior as touted by ISIS and other Islamic fundamentalist organizations has found purchase, particularly among African and Muslim cultures, outside the vulgarized West.

People in the West would say that Muslims and Westerners treat women quite differently. In reality, the West pretends the problem of female sexuality does not exist, until it inevitably does, at which point it imposes strict behavioral codes enforced with draconian punishments, much as Muslim cultures do. The difference is that Muslim cultures realize that female sexuality has always been problematic to civilization, and requires modesty in dress and behavior to attempt to forestall bigger problems later on. Which is the better and more “progressive” solution? It would be hard to argue that the West, exemplified by outrageous campus rape statistics, by the likes of Miley Cyrus and others, and hyper-sexualized femininity, has things better figured out.

Taking female sexuality as one cultural touch point, the basic premise of ISIS is correct. The West is grown morally bankrupt and decadent. ISIS serves a valuable purpose in pointing out as much. Perhaps that’s why it has thus far been allowed to survive.

If you thank me for my service on Veteran’s Day, I’ll bop you on the head

My daughter did it just to yank my chain. “Thank-you Daddy, for your service.”

“Ha, ha. Do that again, and I’ll quit not domestically abusing you.”

“Thank-you for your service.”

Bop, went my hand (lightly) against the back of her head.

“Thank you for your service, Daddy.”

Bop, again. It was sort of fun. She must have thought so too or she wouldn’t have kept at it.

She’s going away to college next year, so this is pretty much it for a close personal relationship between us. But it’s been fun this year, as she’s tried to decide what she wants to do while juggling a busy social life. She’s got at least two main romances and a number of boys that are just “friends”. I’ve told her, like Harry told Sally in the 1990’s movie, men and women can’t really be friends. Men who befriend a woman only do so in order to get laid. Sorry ladies, it’s true. I’ve tried to help my daughter, even as she does her best to aggravate me in every aspect of life, understand the male psyche. It’s not terribly complicated. Men want sex. They’d like to have sex with a woman who they find attractive and who wants to have sex with them, but they’ll settle for a snake if they can find someone who will hold its head. It’s just the way guys are. They just aren’t usually as emotionally invested in the relationship as are women. The way a woman can get a man emotionally invested is to withhold sex until he is. Nothing new here.

I’ve also told her that I don’t care how much a woman thinks ‘no’ means ‘no’; to imagine that she can then get sloppy drunk and expect men will respect her wishes is to also imagine that there will be a unicorn under the tree on Christmas morning. Like I told her, boys and booze don’t mix. The country music song, Tequila makes her clothes fall off, was old when it was written.

I’ve told my daughter why I can’t stomach people thanking me for my service—it’s condescending, awkward and presumptuously foolish. It’s condescending for some stranger to think I served for their benefit just because I happened to serve. Maybe I served in spite of the fact that they benefited, which is certainly true, for example, in the case of early 1990’s soccer moms eagerly cheering on the death and destruction in Iraq and Kuwait. I served in that war, but only because I had to, and not at all for those cheering soccer moms. The idea that we were killing people so that spoiled, entitled, rich, white soccer moms could fill up their hulking SUV’s with cheap gasoline repulsed me. It repulsed me then and repulses me now. That the first Iraq War led directly to the attacks on 9-11, which led directly to the destruction of the Constitution with passage of the Patriot Act, which led to two more wars in the region, repulses me even more. Especially don’t thank me for my service in that one. I am ashamed that I was involved.

And how awkward is it to have somebody you don’t even know come up to you and thank-you for something you didn’t do for them? What do you say? No thanks to your gratitude? Because I didn’t serve so you could expiate your guilt at living an easy, indulgent life while others were sacrificing for you. It’s just awkward and like most things awkward, contrived and pretentious and unnecessary. If I were still serving, I would never let any civilian use me or my soldiers for the purpose of guilt expiation. There would be no trotting out of heroes to make the politicians look good.

It’s also presumptuously foolish to imagine that I and my fellow service members are schmucks who didn’t do a cost-benefit calculus when deciding to serve in the military. I certainly did. And here’s what I got out of it: A paycheck, no small thing in the economy of 1985; a chance to travel the world; a chance to fly helicopters, and I could go one, but isn’t that enough? The cost? Maybe, just maybe, being asked to participate in a killing that I didn’t agree with, which happened to be the case for me, but still wouldn’t have tipped the scales against serving. I didn’t serve for altruistic reasons. I haven’t an altruistic bone in my body. And neither does anyone else. No one has ever done anything for someone else for which they didn’t get some sort of benefit. And the guys who joined in the years since 9-11 when the US basically entered an era of perpetual war, obviously knew what they were getting into. It has to be assumed that they did the same cost-benefit calculus as I did, and as every other living creature in the world, human and otherwise, undertakes before embarking on a course of action.

But my daughter did a reasonably decent job, eventually, after being bopped on the head a few too many times, of justifying why she should be grateful—because by serving I made money and started building a life for myself, and that life eventually led to her. Fair enough. But she could say that about a number of things, and she needn’t have thanked me for her, because, there as well, I have selfishly benefited. I’ve always gotten more than I’ve given through having her in my life.

An open letter to Tim Cook, CEO of Apple Computer, regarding his recent announcement

Dear Tim,

It is okay that I call you Tim, isn’t it? I mean, you felt like you knew me well enough that you revealed your sexual proclivities to me, and since I haven’t the same capacity to convey mine to you in such an attention-grabbing manner [ravenously heterosexual, if you must know] I felt I should at least be allowed to address you informally.

I appreciate that you felt so comfortable in your own skin that you could let us all in on your little ‘secret’, though I’m sure it wasn’t much of a secret among the people who actually knew you. And isn’t that the way things should be? And I bet you never got any grief from any of them about your homosexuality. Steve Jobs certainly didn’t hold it against you when he named you as his successor.

You claimed that your homosexuality was the greatest gift God has bestowed upon you. Were you serious? Where, then, does the Apple Computer gig fit in? I mean, I doubt your predecessor thought his sexuality was the greatest gift bestowed upon him. I’m not the CEO of Apple Computer, and while I’ve had plenty of sex over the course of my half century or so on the planet, I don’t consider my ravenous heterosexuality (does it make you uncomfortable to hear me discuss things that way? Imagine how heterosexuals feel about homosexuals ceaselessly revealing their sexual proclivities to the public) to be the greatest gift God has bestowed upon me. Or, even one of the top ten gifts.

It might even be the greatest curse. Have you been around American women lately? Oh, yeah, but not in that way. Well let me tell you, they can be batshit crazy and controlling and diabolically evil, and that’s just the ones who can otherwise function in society well enough that they not be institutionalized. If you want to know a bit of what American men face when confronting the problem of their heterosexuality, go to see the movie, Gone Girl. You ought to be able to view the movie a bit more objectively than I did. I was shaking with terror by the end, and will probably never look at my wife in the same way again. I can see why so many men who are on the sexual preference fence are climbing down into your side of the pasture. Heterosexuality doesn’t seem much of a gift, but a burden. But maybe that’s just been my experience with it.

As I recall, your predecessor at Apple wasn’t married (not that heterosexual or homosexual marriage is required for expressing one’s sexuality), but certainly behaved as if he were heterosexual. But I bet Steve Jobs thought the iPod, not his sexual orientation, was the greatest gift God bestowed upon him and upon Apple Computer. (Given Jobs cultish appeal, God undoubtedly achieved near perfect expression through Jobs, or at least that’s what Jobs seemed to think). I mean, before the iPod, Apple Computer had about been forgotten in the great consumer technology game. The iPod was like Sony’s Walkman. Literally, accounting for the differences in technology of the times, the iPod and the Walkman were identical. They were faddish but individualized means of listening to music. God, through his medium, Jobs, and Jobs, through his medium, Apple, made it cool to walk around with earbuds in one’s ears, just like Sony had once made it cool to walk around with a CD player strapped to the hip and headphones wrapped from ear to ear. But with iPods, a library of music that would have taken a fair-sized closet to store now could be accessed and downloaded digitally and carried everywhere. The world was so much better for it. Well, except for recording artists and record companies who found it harder and harder to get paid as it became easier and easier to share music. But certainly, the iPod made Apple Computer matter again, and turned the mock-T wearing Jobs into a guru of techno fashion. With the iPod becoming the next big, cool technology thing, which Jobs wisely followed with the iPhone and then the iPad, each with relentlessly innovating updates, Jobs and Apple Computer eventually became to consumer technology what Ralph Lauren was/is to Western sartorial tastes—the place the masses of middle to upper middle class bourgeoisie turned to in deciding upon what they should be wearing or carrying next. That little bitten apple logo (and what a sardonic little slap in God’s face the logo represented) became as chic for consumer electronics as that little polo pony and rider logo was for clothes.

None of any of this had really anything to do with anybody’s sexuality, except that the striving for status that wearing a Polo or carrying an iPhone represented was innately tied to sexuality and has been cynically exploited by both Jobs and Lauren. Higher status humans, like higher status wolves in a pack, get to have more sex. Or, at least, that’s the case in the heterosexual world. I’m not really sure how things work in the homosexual world, since I don’t live there.  It would seem ambiguous, as there is no reproductive point to the sexuality of a homosexual.

But the truly remarkable societal change the iPod and iPhone fads represented was that information technology was no longer valuable simply for its usefulness. It became as much or more valuable for its stylishness. Where Microsoft’s operating platforms were only as beautiful as they were efficient enablers of productivity enhancements, Apple’s phones and computers were considered stylish and beautiful in their own right. The culture spent the nineties getting more efficient and thereby richer on Microsoft technology so that it could squander its fortune on iPods, iPhones and iPads. Information technology jumped the shark and become a luxury, instead of utilitarian, good. The coolness of the iPhone bled over into even the personal computer game. No hipster would be seen dead with a Dell or HP PC by the mid to late aught’s. Whereas an IBM PC was de rigueur in the eighties, it had to have a point and click Windows operating system interface by the mid-nineties (no more DOS), and then it was replaced altogether by Compaq, Gateway, Dell and eventually Hewlett Packard by the end of the decade. Apple obliterated all that. It became the “It“ IT company apparently unto infinity (if the stock price is any indication) for consumer technology devices.

The point here is that Apple got to be cool when the slow accretion of wealth across the society during the nineties yielded enough people who could afford to indulge personal technology as something more than just an efficiency enhancement tool. And here’s the deal—the same could be said of the present cultural movement to liberalize laws and attitudes towards homosexuality. It is a function of wealth that homosexuality is celebrated and accepted. The West, without any real existential challenges, has become unimaginably wealthy (even if it doesn’t feel that way sometimes) and with unimaginable wealth comes luxuriant decadence. It’s sort of perfect in a way that you, the CEO of Apple Computer, are the first to come out among the Fortune 500. Apple sells luxury (if mass marketed) technologies. There is nothing anyone needs with an iPhone that they couldn’t get with someone else’s phone for cheaper. The iPhone can charge more because it is chic. And a society that can afford iPhones can afford to provide the equal protection of its laws to people who have more or less foresworn their reproductive imperatives (notwithstanding some few homosexuals do have children). It is not often discussed in this world of seven billion and rising people, but it matters quite a bit to a society whether or not its citizens have children. Ask Japan, and Russia. Both countries have total fertility rates well below replacement. One openly persecutes homosexuality (Russia). The other (Japan) does not, but neither does it provide any special protection for the condition, or allow homosexuals the benefits (?) of marriage. But it can’t be imagined that the leaders of both countries aren’t very concerned, if not always openly, that their populations are in actual decline. What leader seeks for his organization to shrink?

The problem with homosexuality, so far as society is concerned, is its violation of Kant’s categorical imperative. If everyone were homosexual, unless there arose a different means of human reproduction (which is not entirely implausible), the society would not long exist. For Kant, the answer to a question of whether something is moral is to ask what would happen if everyone did the something in question. If the answer comes back clearly negative, then it should not be done by the individual.

So there is the Kantian moral problem of societal survivability, but all moral problems are about survivability of either the individual or society, so calling it a moral problem is really just another way of saying that at some percentage of the population, homosexuality could be expected to impair the long-term prospects for the survival of the species. Yet another way to put it is that there is no way that a strictly homosexual genome could be naturally selected for propagation in a sexually reproducing species. Homosexuality, especially of the exclusive variety, is a genetic aberration, but one of many that is possible within the expansive human genome. The anomaly afflicts, according to a study by the Williams Institute, about 3.5% of the adult population in the US. And yes, there are varying degrees of innateness. The homosexual inclination lies upon a gradient, a continuum, where there are the perfectly straight people on the one end, who are disgusted at the very thought of homosexuality and who have never had a homosexual encounter, and perfectly homosexual people on the other end, who are similarly disgusted at the idea of physical contact with the opposite sex. Most people, as I suspect is the case with you, Tim, lie somewhere in between.

But it can’t be imagined that widespread acceptance of openly homosexual lifestyles won’t encourage the fence sitters to jump off the fence and into the homosexual camp. I don’t know for sure, as I’ve never had a homosexual relationship, but it would seem to me that homosexual relationships would be less difficult and fraught than straight relationships. With homosexual relationships, there is already a commonality that is not present in heterosexual relationships—the homosexual couples have in common the physical plumbing and experiences of being male or female in society; they view things from the same, or very similar perspectives, gender-wise. Straight couples don’t have that luxury. Men and women really are different, and not just because of social conditioning. It takes a powerful urge (i.e., lust) to bring them together, and for those in the middle of the heterosexual/ homosexual gradient, that urge might not be strong enough to overcome the volatile differences.

Western society is rich enough and populous enough that it can afford to extend protections and benefits to homosexuals, and doing so helps it believe that its mythical purpose of promoting equality and individual liberty remains its animating virtue. Promoting the acceptance of homosexuality, as you did in coming out, is seen as, in your words “…paving the sunlit path towards justice, one brick at a time… “. It is viewed as the highest expression of human progress, even more so than the progress represented today by everyone spending their days hyperactively socialized on their iPhones. But in changing the conversation from your company to you and your sexual proclivities, it could be argued that you did a disservice to the shareholders of the company who you purport to represent. Of course, it might be a public relations gambit worth taking, if Apple’s technology products become more closely identified with the social movement de jour of this bored society. And it would be an appropriate identification (Apple with the Gay Movement), because in large measure, boredom is the real driver of both. Apple figured out how to make endless hours of wasted time looking at internet drivel appear to be purposeful and cool, while also making it moderately enjoyable. And the homosexual acceptance movement is something that relieves the domestic ennui, particularly of the federal government and court system and a whole host of do-gooder organizations that need but can’t often find a purpose for being and who thrash aimlessly about when they don’t have some perceived injustices to correct. And it gives society at large something besides another military campaign abroad to rally around.

But the reality is that people have always known there were homosexuals in their midst. Homosexuals often were ignored or marginalized or even ostracized and persecuted, because the majority of people thought, then and now, that homosexuality is, of whatever source, an aberration. And it is an aberration, of the genetic variety. But there are other such genetic aberrations that aren’t met with similar disdain, and it is not right and never was to treat homosexuals poorly. People always sort of knew that homosexuals were born that way, but still persecuted them for something they had no control over. Being homosexual, at times in the past, must have seemed not much different than being Jewish (for the most part, Jews, also, are born that way), except that the Jews had a more robust social support system than did homosexuals, at least until recently.

Tim, I hate that there needs to be a gay acceptance movement and that you felt compelled to support it with your coming out. But I relish the reality that society has grown so rich and has so conclusively conquered so many other injustices and threats that it can now turn its attention to gay acceptance. But I caution that wealth and luxury yields inevitably to decadent excess, and that we are pretty much already there, which endangers us in a progressively-accumulating manner internationally. ISIS makes easy hay with the bored young men it needs as fighters because it is easy to point to the decadence (particularly sexually, particularly among heterosexuals, particularly among women—Western women seem hell bent to outslut each other in behavior and attire, getting a bit more vulgar with every passing year—a matter for a different letter) that seems to have been the point of all that vaunted Western progress. While the West extends the marriage franchise to homosexuals, ISIS establishes an Islamic caliphate in the Levant where homosexuality is punishable (like all else) by death. The two extremes are more closely related than anyone cares to admit.

As a parting observation—you came from Alabama, growing up in Robertsdale, down around Mobile, and attended Auburn University. It would have been nice if you hadn’t felt it necessary to get in a dig in your coming out at how poorly homosexuals were treated in Alabama when you were growing up. It would be hard to imagine that they were treated much differently in Alabama than they were anywhere else back then. I am about your age and found very little open persecution of homosexuals when I was growing up, but also was aware of very few openly homosexual people. Where I live now (Birmingham), there are openly homosexual people everywhere, and pretty much nobody notices, so far as I can tell. Whole neighborhoods (Crestwood) have reputations for having a large percentage of homosexuals (in Crestwood’s case, as urban rejuvenators). Things really aren’t that bad down here. There are no laws specifically protecting homosexuals, but there are also none specifically deleterious to the homosexual condition and lifestyle. I think the principle of live and let live, which Alabamians like to assert against the Federal government, has been sort of intuitively applied to homosexuals by the vast majority of the population.

In the meantime, I’ve enjoyed our little chat. Best wishes for whatever new, must-have thing Apple comes up with next. Who knows, I might even, for the first time, buy one. But probably not.  Don’t despair.  I don’t wear clothes with little polo players embroidered on them either.



Was it Auburn football’s voodoo magic that broke Treadwell’s leg to ensure a victory

To anybody paying attention, it is pretty clear that sometime after the disastrous 2012 Auburn football season, when the Tigers went 0-8 in the SEC after having won a BCS Championship only two years before, the Tigers made a deal with the devil, or found favor with a powerful angel, or just learned how to cook up a little black magic to make the ball bounce its way. How else to explain going from worst in the SEC to the BCS championship game in one season, with basically the same footballers as stunk up the field the year before? An alternative theory is that Gus Malzahn, whose first season as Auburn’s head coach was last year’s inexplicable turn-around, is the new evil genius of football, not even requiring talented players in order to put a world-beating team on the field. Yeah, right. I think it’s more plausible to figure that Auburn, or maybe just Malzahn, offered some sacrifices to a voodoo god, especially considering the way things had to break (literally, with the last game) for them to have enjoyed the success they’ve had.

The black magic started last season with last second luck at Mississippi State that helped the Tigers squeeze out an early-season victory. Then it was Johnny Manziel looking less than Heisman-worthy to get the win in College Station. Then came the miracle tip at Georgia on a fourth and forever play that would have wrapped up Georgia’s own somewhat miraculous comeback, but instead gave the victory to the Tigers. Things just got ridiculous the following week, when hated Alabama’s Nick Saban plead with the ref’s to have one second added to the clock so that the Tide might try a field goal to break the tie before overtime. The attempt fell short and was promptly returned for a game winning touchdown that set the Jordan Hare rafters to rattling for the ages. It was a second that will last forever. Excepting the LSU game, the magic only failed once for Auburn last season. It came when Florida State’s Jameis Winston marched his team down the field for the winning touchdown as the last seconds ticked off the clock in the BCS Championship Game. Considering how many scrapes Winston has gotten into off the field but somehow manages to still play, he may have a closer relationship to the voodoo god than Auburn. Or, perhaps the god was exhausted, having taken Auburn from a season without a single SEC victory to the cusp of the national title over the span of just two years.

The voodoo god resurfaced Saturday night in Oxford, Mississippi, but this time revealing its ugly side. How else to explain it? What other team snatches a victory from the jaws of defeat by having an opposing player’s leg break just before he crosses the goal line? This is getting scary. If Auburn can command the god break an opponent’s leg to preserve a win, what can’t it do? What won’t it do? Saturday night showed that Auburn’s god is a merciless god that will stop at nothing to preserve a victory. Think about it–breaking a player’s leg, and in such a painful manner that he drops the ball six inches before he falls into the endzone, writhing in agony? What if Auburn’s god decides Nick Saban needs a heart attack? What if it directs its ire towards the Saban family, like a Mafia don might? This could get ugly.

In hindsight, it seems that Mississippi State must be really, really good, to have beaten Auburn and the power of its voodoo god earlier this season. Or, maybe Auburn’s voodoo god is lazy, sort of like its defense, and hadn’t awakened to the danger that the Tigers might lose that day before it was too late. Or, considering that Mississippi State gave up five turnovers that day and still managed to win, maybe Auburn’s voodoo god was displeased with the Tigers for some reason, and wanted to teach them that relying on luck is not always a sound strategy, even when you have plenty of it. Whatever was the cause of the stumbling, bumbling effort at Mississippi State, the god made amends Saturday in Oxford.

However, it could be argued that the god who broke Treadwell’s ankle was not Auburn’s god at all, but was the mad god that delivered three of the last five BCS Championships to Alabama. Remember 2009’s championship? It took two blocked field goals to beat Tennessee that year. Two blocked field goals in one game? Who does that, without supernatural help? Remember 2011? It took a string of unpredictable losses, culminating in Iowa State’s defeat of Oklahoma State, to reposition Bama for the title game after having lost to LSU in the regular season. The Tide won the BCS Championship in 2011 without even winning its own conference title. And it won the 2012 BCS Championship after losing a game early in the season to Texas A & M. So the Tide has had plenty of help in its recent return to luminance in the college football firmament. Besides, consider its head coach—Nick Saban. Could it be just a coincidence that his name sounds so much like “Satan”? Saban would say that there’s no such thing as coincidence, which he would probably follow up with one of his half-crooked Grinchy-looking grins. And if he dropped from a heart attack just before the Auburn game, his point would be proved.

After losing to Ole Miss earlier in the season, Alabama needed Ole Miss to lose at least two games to give the Tide a chance at the SEC championship. Done (LSU the week prior) and done (Auburn this week). Now Alabama again controls its destiny. If it wins out (LSU, Mississippi State and Auburn remain), it will go to the SEC championship game with one loss, even if Mississippi State’s only loss is to Bama. So it might have been Alabama voodoo that did Ole Miss in. Auburn needs Mississippi State to lose two games if it is to go to the SEC championship game. The only real chance of that is if Alabama and Ole Miss beat them. I doubt Vandy’s gonna get it done if one or the other of those fails. Incidentally, who has the toughest remaining schedule in the SEC, just going on present rankings? Yes, of course, it is Bama, not Auburn, contrary to what the voodoo queen likes to claim. Bama has the first (Mississippi State), third (Auburn) and fourteenth ranked team (LSU) left on its schedule. Auburn has only Texas A & M (unranked) Georgia (17th) and Alabama (4rd) left. So shut up already, Gus.

We’ll know more about whose voodoo, Alabama’s or Auburn’s, beat Ole Miss when the Tide plays LSU this Saturday. If Bama loses to LSU, we’ll know it was Auburn’s (because Bama will be all but eliminated with another loss). LSU, which started out looking like a cream puff this year, has really turned its season around. But with two losses already (to Auburn and Mississippi State), LSU is almost certainly not going to win the SEC West. Auburn would have to lose two of its last three games (Texas A & M, Georgia and Alabama remain) and Mississippi State would have to lose all three of its remaining games (Alabama, Vanderbilt and Ole Miss). And LSU would have to win all its remaining games (Alabama, Texas A & M and Arkansas), which is not impossible, but is unlikely. LSU ain’t winning the West. And if it somehow happens anyway, it could be reasonably assumed that Les Miles upped the ante on the voodoo god’s favor, because it sure as hell wouldn’t make any football sense.

Over in the SEC East, things haven’t made sense for a while. Texas A & M crushed South Carolina to start the season, then South Carolina beat Georgia. Georgia hands Missouri its only loss, and then gets beaten by a Florida team that was embarrassed by Missouri. Kentucky becomes a dark horse in the hunt for the title, but gets beaten by Missouri and Florida and Mississippi State and LSU. The only team that controls its destiny in the SEC East is Missouri. If it wins out against its weak remaining schedule (Texas A & M, Tennessee and Arkansas), it will win the East. But if it loses any one of those games and Georgia (Kentucky and Auburn remain) wins out, Georgia will go. Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee and Vanderbilt are all out of the running. Florida could win the East, if it wins the rest of its games (Vanderbilt and Kentucky—very doable) and Missouri loses all three of its remaining games (Texas A & M, Tennessee, Arkansas—most unlikely). If Florida won the East, it would be a football mystery for the ages (Georgia would still have to lose another game). But it wouldn’t matter anyway—Will Muschamp is still getting fired, no matter how many voodoo dolls he sticks pins in.

The homestretch ought to be fun. It’s looking like a possible rematch between Auburn and Mizzou in the SEC Championship Game. Or, maybe Mississippi State and Mizzou. Or, Mississippi State and Georgia. Or, Auburn and Georgia. Or, Alabama and Georgia. Or, Alabama and Mizzou. Or, LSU and Georgia. Or, LSU and Mizzou. Whatever happens, I think the West beats the East again. It seems about now to enjoy something of a closer communion with the mad gods controlling the football fates.


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