Sufficient Integrity

If I say it is so, best you believe it.

CS&W is mostly about travel. Life-fulfilling, experiential, aspirational stuff, usually. Most of the time it’s about the world outside the United States, and many readers live outside this country.

There is no reason people outside the US should follow our country’s daily internal politics, but I think you should know that just now it’s a bit of a fraught moment. The other day, President Trump said this about the North Korean leader:

“He’s the head of a country, and I mean he’s the strong head,” Trump told Fox News Channel. “Don’t let anyone think anything different. He speaks and his people sit up at attention. I want my people to do the same.”

Modest note to the president: We are not your people.

Later, this from Mr. Trump:

“I’m kidding,” he said. Admonishing the journalist, the president added, “You don’t understand sarcasm.”

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Adam Serwer writes in the Atlantic,

It is (a) flaw in the American system that it relies on the presumption that the chief executive will be a person of sufficient integrity not to abuse that tension for personal gain.”

He’s talking about the

“inherent tension in America’s constitutional system in that the attorney general, the head of the Justice Department, is also a Cabinet official answerable to the president.”

In defense of the American system, it took 200+ years to throw up our reigning rascal.

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We Americans define ourselves in many ways. Diversity is our country’s robust strength. We are conservatives, liberals, citizens, grandparents, parents, children, patriots, military veterans, immigrants, activists, protesters, bread-winners and retirees, political supporters and opponents.

But I am hard-pressed to imagine anyone who would consider himself a subject of the president in the way North Koreans are to their leader, and in the way that the American president described us “sarcastically”  to his house organ.

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Diminished respect for the rule of law and general thuggishness in this country chime with the lived experience of Europeans this 2018. To Poland (Law and Justice), Hungary (Jobbik), Austria (Freedom Party), Italy (the League), Finland (the Finns), the French Front Nationale, Germany (The AfD), Greece (Golden Dawn), England (UKIP), this summer we may add USA (Republican).

The retiring chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said his own party is acting like a “cult” in kowtowing to the president. The ruling party’s leadership though, astride the trough and damned well intent on retaining wallowing rights, won’t hear of it.

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From far away we Americans read about the rise of European nationalism as a clinical, academic thing, a phenomenon unrelated to our purported world dominion, our whole reigning former unipolar, indispensable nation thing.

You poor uncomprehending Europeans systematically mishandle your refugees, among them the ones that come via Libya, a now lawless land we were happy to lead from behind to help you destroy. Not our problem now.

We float above petty squabbles like that whole Libyan lead from behind thing. We mightily beat back the challenges of invading hordes of impoverished brown people on our southern border seeking a better life. An agency of our government called ICE, for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, has been systematically and as a matter of policy separating would-be immigrant parents and children at the US/Mexican border. Many of these people are fleeing some of the most violent, lawless countries in the world.

In a country avowedly proud of the separation of church and state, here is America’s senior law enforcement officer, Attorney General Jeff Sessions this week:

“I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order,” Sessions said. “Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves and protect the weak and lawful.”

Later, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders summed up the same idea: “It is very biblical to enforce the law.”

We are fast coming off our deteriorating and underfunded national rails. Most alarmingly, it looks like this comes with at least the tacit support of at least a large minority of Americans.

Eh.

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Weekend Reading

Good stuff to read this weekend:

The case for invading America by Scott Gilmore in MacLean’s: “Our invasion may be slowed due to the usual congestion at the border crossings, but if we time our attack mid-week, traffic on the Ambassador Bridge should be manageable.”
Watermarks by Donovan Hohn at Lapham’s Quarterly. A meditation on water.
Teddy Roosevelt on How the Blind Cult of Success Unfits Us for Democracy and Liberty by Maria Popova at Brain Pickings.
The Political Path to GPS: How war and peace forged the universal map by Anthony Paletta at New Atlantis
Mexicans Drive Bus to Russia for the World Cup at El Universal

Last Friday I wrote that

“President Trump is not taking the country seriously, but rather playing it as a television show in which he is the star, with teases and cliffhangers, time-worn entertainment industry tactics to keep us tuning in,” and that “This year the United States has become a cartoon country, with either the complicity or inattention of much of its population.”

Here is an article from Monday that elaborates on that theme: Ladies and gentlemen, introducing the kayfabe.

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Birds are strange. Sometimes kind of prehistoric and scary and very unlike humans. But they are not beyond the occasional bad hair day. For one further weekend diversion, I invite you to enjoy 183 entertaining photos of our avian friends at EarthPhotos.com.

Enjoy the weekend.

Meanwhile in Turkey

Reserve a little thought space for the upcoming Turkish elections. Both presidential and parliamentary elections are coming in nine days time, and by most accounts President Erdogan finds himself in a tightening race. An article in Bloomberg titled Why Erdogan’s Election Has Gone From Shoo-In to Nail-Biter writes about

“the prospect Erdogan wouldn’t work with a hung parliament and instead call an election do-over if the results were not to his liking.”

The president said Monday that

“he expects the next presidential and parliamentary elections to end in the first round, with little possibility of a second one.”

But a Reuters poll just out today shows Ergodan

“falling short of a first-round victory … with his support dipping 1.6 points in one week…. The poll also showed his ruling AK Party was forecast to lose its parliamentary majority in the June 24 vote.”

So, we may expect an excess of media riches on Sunday, 24 June: England vs. Panama, Japan vs. Senegal and Poland vs. Colombia in the World Cup, and Erdogan versus a more-than-usually-united opposition in the Turkish Election Sweepstakes.

Thank You

The machine says CS&W has 993 followers. In a good week, maybe two or three, a thousand people may be reading what this modest, self-published author has to say. I just want to thank you all so much for spending some of your time here. I hope you’ll stay with me.

Quotes: Small is Really Small

No surprise to me I’m mostly empty space.

“… if an atom were the size of Fenway Park, the home stadium of the Red Sox in Boston, its dense central nucleus would be the size of a mustard seed, with the electrons gracefully orbiting in the outer bleachers. In fact, almost the entire volume of an atom, considerably more than 99 percent, is empty space, except for the haze of nearly weightless electrons. Since we and everything else are made of atoms, we are mostly empty space.”

Alan Lightman, here. Complimented by the completely genius Natalie Wolchover’s article Why the Tiny Weight of Empty Space Is Such a Huge Mystery.

You Miss FYROM Already. Don’t You?

In 1991, when Macedonia broke from the collapsing Yugoslavia, it declared itself the independent Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).

On a trip to Athens and then Tiranë, Albania more than twenty years ago, I recall seeing anti-FYROM graffiti in Greece. Now, finally, “Macedonia, Greece Reach ‘Historic’ Deal On Name Dispute.”

Says the Guardian, “The tiny state will henceforth be known neither by its acronym, FYROM, nor simply as Macedonia but as the Republic of Northern Macedonia – a geographical qualifier that ends any fear in Athens of territorial ambition against the neighbouring Greek province of the same name.”

Thus ends what seems to an outsider one of the needlessly longest-running disputes out there.

Welcome to the Republic of Northern Macedonia. Unclear whether the flag will change.

African Vignette 6: Madagascar’s Zoma


The Zoma

Zoma means Friday and it’s also the name for the positively teeming Friday market in Madagascar’s capital city, Antananarivo.

It’s strange to prepare for theft, but that’s what they admonish. Fix your bag to minimize what they get if they slash it open. The Bradt Guide to Madagascar: “The Zoma is notorious for thieves. It is safest to bring only a small amount of money in a money belt or neck pouch. Enticingly bulging pockets will be slashed.”

From a hill above Independence Avenue, a sea of white umbrellas washed out ahead in every direction, swallowing up the main square, flowing into busy little eddies beside stairways, up the hills as far as the eyes could see. Up one hill, down the next.

We paused. This was big, sprawling, daunting and dramatic. We clasped hands and dove in. Flowers first, down on the right. Then a jumble of sundries, the multitudes and the advertised danger, rarefied by the dry hot sun.

Someone reached out and tugged at Mirja’s skirt. Beware the “voleurs,” she warned.

Buy whatever you will. Locks and hinges. Grenadine drinks. Bright plastic jugs. Chicago Bulls caps. Greasy food rolls. Major motor parts. Michael Jackson T-shirts. A vast selection of wicker. Bon Bon Anglais Limonad. We bought a “Madagascar” ink-pad stamp that actually printed “Madagascap.”

Must’ve been three or four hundred meters down one side. Too tight to turn, too close to walk two abreast, too tense to relax. Still, smiles from the stalls. Dignity, not desperation. Some smiles, and lots of open looks of wonder.

All the way down and halfway back we didn’t spy anyone from our part of the world, probably for an hour.

Baby clothes. The tiniest shoes you’ve ever seen. Embroidery. Crocheting – napkins and table covers embroidered with lemurs and scenes from traditional life.

The Malagasy are a little smaller than me in general and I was forever bumping my head on the edges of their big white umbrellas, knocking my sunglasses off my head.

Mirja tried on mesh vests.

Down by the train station, the varnished wooden trunk section. Turning back, furniture. Circuit boards. Tiny piles of tacks. Stacks of feed bags.

There is a classic trap: there is a Malagasy 5000 Franc note. Then there is another that says 5000 also in numbers, but instead of reading merely “arivo ariary,” it reads “dimy arivo ariary,” which I believe means five times five thousand and in any event definitely means 25000 Malagasy Francs, even though in numbers it says 5000.

The feed bag guy wanted 1100 (27.5 cents) for a multicolored “Madagascar” bag. Realizing it just as the bill left my hand, I gave him not a proper 5000 but one of the 5000’s that are really 25000. After a lot of consultation with a lot of people, I got the correct 23900 in change.

We walked up each side of the Zoma – past the train station, bureaux travel, the Library of Madagascar, and made it to the top of an adjoining hill unrobbed.

Here at the top of the hill stood the country’s symbols of power: the Central Bank, High Court, Ministry du Promotion de l’Industry. A band was set up to play on a flatbed but never did. There was hubbub, amplified music and lots and lots of people. Up here the kid beggars that you usually tolerate because objectively, their circumstance ain’t like yours, swarmed so that they might have carried us away, so we turned aggressive and swatted ’em back.

By midday, unscathed and self-satisfied, we sat with our backs to the wall like in any good western, at the Hotel Colbert’s terrace bar, already having seen a week’s worth in one morning. Hotel Colbert had a dubious five star rating, apparently not from any organization in particular.

It was a gorgeous day and the city was so picturesque, completely foreign. We ordered Heinekens in the haze. At Hotel Colbert smoking was still as big as it ever was. Yellow Benson and Hedges ashtrays as big as your head took up a quarter of each table, and flaccid, bibulous Frenchmen sat nursing their Three Horses Beers, and hacked and smoked too much.

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See photos from Madagascar in the Madagascar Gallery at Earthphotos.com.

Africa Vignettes is a weekly series most Mondays this summer on CS&W.