Travel

An Excerpt From Paul Bowles’ ‘Allal’ & A Strange, Schlocky Scene From ‘Conan The Barbarian’

From Paul Bowles Allal, found within this collection of short stories.

I recall musical and deeply rhythmic English (Bowles was a composer who lived in Morocco for most of his life), along with a recurrent theme of Western innocence, ignorance and arrogance meeting ancient North African realities and brutalities.

‘Moments passed with no movement but then the snake suddenly made a move towards Allal. It then began to slither across Allal’s body and then rested next to his head. He was very calm at this moment and looked right into the snake’s eyes and felt almost one with the snake. Soon his eyes closed and he fell asleep in this position.’

What have you done with your I/Eye, dear Reader?

Something tells me the kind of fantastical savagery and imaginative schlock of Conan the Barbarian doesn’t quite capture the deeply moral, frighteningly real and lushly imagined Bowlesian world…

But maybe it does highlight some themes Bowles’ drew into relief:

You know, maybe I’d just better put this up:

What’s The Plan, Here, Exactly?-Theodore Dalrymple On Immigration In Europe

Dalrymple:

‘This seems to me a time when several European governments act specifically and deliberately against the most patent and obvious national interests of their country, often with the support of the intelligentsia…’

It’s baffling to me that one of the most basic and visceral obligations leaders have to the people they represent (safety and security) isn’t really being met in many cases.  Heck, it appears just pointing these problems out makes one unwelcome in polite society; the issue not yet the stuff of pandering political promise.

Most of us know right away, in fact, we feel it all around us when there’s danger afoot: ‘I’m not safe here. I’ve got to stay alert.

Let’s just say it’s a priority for most people, whether standing outside a seedy bar, living in a rough part of town, or being anywhere near a war-zone.

What worries me is that many European societies are only generating political will enough for consensus around ideas which can’t even get this most basic of obligations….basically right.

What’s the plan, here, exactly?

Via a reader, Dr Tino Sanandaji, a Kurdish-Swede discusses Kurds, Kurds in Europe, European immigration and Swedish immigration in particular, via the Rubin Report, which pursues a new form of anti-Left liberalism:

Christopher Caldwell At The Claremont Review Of Books: ‘The Hidden Costs Of Immigration’…From The Middle East Quarterly Via A & L Daily: Europe’s Shifting Immigration Dynamic

Michael Totten On The Problem From Hell In Syria

Michael Totten’s Vietnam Kickstarter Campaign

Link to 3:26 video here.

Totten is visiting the five remaining countries around the globe still ruled by Communist parties:  North Korea, Cuba, China, Laos, and Vietnam.

He has a Kickstarter campaign to reach the modest goal of $10,000 for the Vietnam trip.

If you like travel writing/journalism with an observant eye, some war correspondence and political/economic analysis as it relates to conditions on the ground, I recommend his work.

Donors will receive updates from his visit.  It’s a solid pitch.

Related On This Site: Michael Totten At World Affairs: ‘The Once Great Havana’

Michael Totten At World Affairs: ‘Syria’s Regime Not Worth Preserving’James Kirchik At The American Interest: 

Michael Totten’s piece that revisits a Robert Kaplan piece from 1993, which is prescient:  “A Writhing Ghost Of A Would-Be Nation”.  It was always a patchwork of minority tribes, remnants of the Ottoman Empire

I just received a copy of Totten’s book, Where The West Ends, and it’s good reading.

Michael Totten At World Affairs: ‘The Once Great Havana’

Full piece here (Link may not last)

Totten, in this blog’s opinion, is at his best discovering new places as a travel writer/journalist.  Some pictures included:

‘I’ve seen cities in the Middle East pulverized by war. I’ve seen cities elsewhere in Latin America stricken with unspeakable squalor and poverty. But nowhere else have I seen such a formerly grandiose city brought as low as Havana. The restored part of town—artifice though it may be—shows all too vividly what the whole thing once looked like.’

Havana wasn’t just another 3rd-world and/or typical Carribbean capital, it was a Spanish-style city of genuine character, class and wealth, showing American/English influences as well.

Now, unfortunately, as Totten explains, it’s the capital of a rotting, totalitarian police state, with its citizens still forced to live under a maximum salary of $20. Even if one had $20, there’s nearly nothing to buy, as many stores have only a few items on the shelves.  Cubans are still forced to live this way.

An anecdote:

‘He told me about what happened at his sister’s elementary school a few years after Castro took over.

“Do you want ice cream and dulces (sweets),” his sister’s teacher, a staunch Fidelista, asked the class.

“Yes!” the kids said.

“Okay, then,” she said. “Put your hands together, bow your heads, and pray to God that he brings you ice cream and dulces.”

Nothing happened, of course. God did not did not provide the children with ice cream or dulces.

 “Now,” the teacher said. “Put your hands together and pray to Fidel that the Revolution gives you ice cream and sweets.”

The kids closed their eyes and bowed their heads. They prayed to Fidel Castro. And when the kids raised their heads and opened their eyes, ice cream and dulces had miraculously appeared on the teacher’s desk’

Look at where that gotten them.

Some ideas on what’s next for Cuba here, at Law At The End Of The Day, from someone with roots.  More here.

Towards a theme-Apparently, memory is short.  Some people in America have taken-up romanticized notions of Communist revolution (no more Che shirts, please, even if done with ironic or iconic cool).  Unmistakably, from Moscow to Beijing to Pyongyang, the same totalitarian impulses are there, the same rigid State and party control, the same centrally planning, ruthless junta living according to very different rules from the “People.’

———–

North Korea has been frozen in time since 1948, when the first Kim was installed by the Soviets.  Since the Korean War, it’s grown into a cult of personality, headed by the divinely inspired, thoroughly repressive Kim dynasty and in its wake, a totalitarian State.  It is bizarro world, but still has a large military, with missiles pointed at Seoul, and virtually little else.  Like a sick dog on a rusty chain, it growls when it needs food.

Take a trip to the Hermit Kingdom:

—————-

What about value pluralism…positive and negative liberty?: The classical liberal tradition…looking for classical liberals in the postmodern wilderness: Isaiah Berlin’s negative liberty: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

Classical Liberalism Via Friesian.Com-’Exchange with Tomaz Castello Branco on John Gray’

The End Of History? –Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

What set-off the Spanish-American war and a good run of yellow journalism?  The 1898 destruction of the Maine in Havana, which led to Cuban independence a few years later in 1902, until the revolution in 1959.

Classic Yellow Journalism by malik2moon

Remember The Maine! The good old days…by malik2moon

J. Maarten Troost Via Youtube Via Althouse Discusses His New Book: ‘Lost on Planet China: The Strange and True Story of One Man’s Attempt to Understand the World’s Most Mystifying Nation, or How He Became Comfortable Eating Live Squid.”

—————

(Q & A starts at about minute 6:20)

This blog is still trying to better understand China.  Troost traveled for months around the country, went with the flow, and wrote about his experiences.

The book comes highly recommended.

Some takeaways:  China’s undergoing rapid, almost seething, sociological, economic, and some political change (we’ll see how that pans out given the old Communist state structure and involvement in the economy).  It’s got over a billion people, a huge landmass, and a long history, and can make individuals feel very small indeed.

Interview with Troost here (via Althouse).

Fascinating piece here.

What’s life like in Beijing for an American editing an English-language Business Magazine?

Interesting quote on author Eveline Chao’s censor:

‘I understood then the mundane nature of all that kept her in place. A job she didn’t like, but worked hard to keep. A system that would never reward her for good work, only punish her for mistakes. And in exchange: Tutors. Traffic. Expensive drumming lessons. They were the same things that kept anyone, anywhere, in place — and it was the very ordinariness of these things that made them intractable.’

World Bank overview here.

Related On This Site: Kissinger says our relations with China are incredibly fragile, and that due to its own past, it may not fit as easily into the Western models of statecraft as some would think: From The Online WSJ: ‘Henry Kissinger on China. Or Not.’

From The WSJ-Exclusive: ‘Eric Schmidt Unloads On China In New Book’

From The China Daily Mail: ‘The Cultures Of North Korea And China: Conflict Escalation Explained’

Over a billion people and a culturally homogenous Han core.  Rapid industrialization atop an ancient civilization.  There is state-sponsored hacking and espionage, a good bit of corruption and a lot of young men floating around fast-growing cities.   There are people fighting for their freedoms, better laws, and making their way forward.  There is an often lawless, ruthless capitalism (and hefty State involvement and cronyism) and it will take smart leadership to maintain steady growth. Can they do it?  TED Via Youtube: Martin Jacques ‘Understanding The Rise Of China’From Foreign Affairs: ‘The Geography Of Chinese Power’From Via Media At The American Interest: ‘History Made; Media Blind’From The New Perspectives Quarterly: Francis Fukuyama’s ‘Is America Ready for a Post-American World?’

From The China Daily Mail: ‘Why Are Chinese Tourists So Rude?’

Full post here.

Well, not all of them, by any stretch, but it’s interesting to note the reasons why.  Click through for more:

‘After almost every ‘rude Chinese tourist’ story, unfortunately, made SCMP.com’s top-10 list, I decided to give the question some serious thought.’

This strikes me as similar to complaints Americans can receive while abroad (loud, rude, coarse, disrespectful of custom, don’t speak the language, etc).

Because I couldn’t find a photo, here’s an unrelated incident with a likely drunken Chinese man on a Chinese Subway giving a white guy a hard time, and getting a little more than he bargained for.  Good times:

—————————-

We are populous, but they are many times more so.   We have a large contiguous land mass with great differences in climate and natural resources, and so do they (and a longer history).  They can be pragmatic, practical and cheap (shopkeepers of the world), so can we.  They have what will be the largest economy in the world (still state-manipulated, modernizing, pegged to our dollar) and seek to control commodities and supply chains while making deals around the world. They are rattling sabers with their military and seek more cultural, business and political influence in their backyard and around the world.

Psychologically, this will pose some interesting challenges for both countries, with lots of friction and a trickier road to reach mutual cooperation and understanding with these two huge economies.  We’ve got some serious work to do to build and connect that common ground.

———————–

Fascinating piece here.

What’s life like in Beijing for an American editing an English-language Business Magazine?

Interesting quote on author Eveline Chao’s censor:

‘I understood then the mundane nature of all that kept her in place. A job she didn’t like, but worked hard to keep. A system that would never reward her for good work, only punish her for mistakes. And in exchange: Tutors. Traffic. Expensive drumming lessons. They were the same things that kept anyone, anywhere, in place — and it was the very ordinariness of these things that made them intractable.’

Related On This Site: Kissinger says our relations with China are incredibly fragile, and that due to its own past, it may not fit as easily into the Western models of statecraft as some would think: From The Online WSJ: ‘Henry Kissinger on China. Or Not.’

From The WSJ-Exclusive: ‘Eric Schmidt Unloads On China In New Book’

From The China Daily Mail: ‘The Cultures Of North Korea And China: Conflict Escalation Explained’

Over a billion people and a culturally homogenous Han core.  Rapid industrialization atop an ancient civilization.  There is state-sponsored hacking and espionage, a good bit of corruption and a lot of young men floating around fast-growing cities.   There are people fighting for their freedoms, better laws, and making their way forward.  There is an often lawless, ruthless capitalism (and hefty State involvement and cronyism) and it will take smart leadership to maintain steady growth. Can they do it?  TED Via Youtube: Martin Jacques ‘Understanding The Rise Of China’From Foreign Affairs: ‘The Geography Of Chinese Power’From Via Media At The American Interest: ‘History Made; Media Blind’From The New Perspectives Quarterly: Francis Fukuyama’s ‘Is America Ready for a Post-American World?’

Are we headed toward 19th century geo-politics?:  Obama’s Decision On Missile Defense And A Quote From Robert Kagan’s: ‘The Return Of History And The End Of Dreams’ From Foreign Affairs: ‘The Geography Of Chinese Power’Do we try and invest in global institutions as flawed as they are?:  Daniel Deudney On YouTube Responding to Robert Kagan: Liberal Democracy Vs. AutocracyFrom The American Interest Online: Niall Ferguson on ‘What Chimerica Hath Wrought’

Repost-A Goya Tour Of Madrid At The NY Times

Full slide show here.

“Fantasy abandoned by reason produces impossible monsters: united with her, she is the mother of the arts and the origin of their marvels.”

See Also On This Site:  Goya’s Fight With Cudgels and Goya’s Colossus.  A very good Goya page here.

From Foreign Policy: ‘Leftist Planet’

Full piece here.

Our author criticizes the travel guides, mainly ‘Lonely Planet’ for being out of touch:

‘THERE IS AN almost Orientalist presumption that the citizens of places like Cuba or Afghanistan have made a choice in rejecting globalization and consumerism. From the perspective of the disaffected Westerner, poverty is seen as enviable, a pure existence unsullied by capitalism. ‘

Well, most people travel to take a risk, and for new experiences, and to broaden their horizons and understanding and learn about other cultures. Our author finishes with:

‘So go to Cuba. Try to get that visa to North Korea. Visit the former U.S. Embassy in Tehran. Just make sure to throw your Lonely Planet and Rough Guides in the trash before you do.’

Of course, be careful and be street-smart, too, and good luck getting to North Korea.  Apparently, the folks over at Lonely Planet are still hitting the hippie trail, looking to romanticize the ‘noble savage’ or go searching for the pristine tribe and/or life-affirming anthropological/new age experience away from the industrial, capitalist, soulless, over-individualized West.

As for me, just give me some good tips and as many facts as possible.  I’ll sift through the rest.

*Michael Totten has a new book  Where The West Ends, and it’s good reading about his travels to Iraq (Kurdistan) via Turkey, the former Yugoslavia, and to the Ukraine and Georgia.  Not places you would normally go.

**Or at least read some Paul Theroux

Related On This Site:  Repost-Roger Sandall At The American Interest: ‘Tribal Realism’…Romantic primitivism in Australia: ….Roger Sandall At The New Criterion Via The A & L Daily: ‘Aboriginal Sin’

Did Jared Diamond get attacked for not being romantic enough…or just for potential hubris?:  Was he acting as a journalist in Papua New-Guinea?:  From The Chronicle Of Higher Education: Jared Diamond’s Lawsuit

Some truth and courage in the face of barbarism, but mostly a lot of sentiment, a naive understanding of politics and diplomacy, and dramatic romanticization of Africa: Kony 2012.

Add to Technorati Favorites

Via The Mars Science Laboratory At NASA: ”Mount Sharp’ On Mars Links Geology’s Past And Future’

Full post here.

Mt. Sharp sits in Gale Crater, where Curiosity is headed.

“Mount Sharp is the only place we can currently access on Mars where we can investigate this transition in one stratigraphic sequence,” said Caltech’s John Grotzinger, chief scientist for the Mars Science Laboratory. “The hope of this mission is to find evidence of a habitable environment; the promise is to get the story of an important environmental breakpoint in the deep history of the planet. This transition likely occurred billions of years ago — maybe even predating the oldest well-preserved rocks on Earth.’

The water find is less probable.  Expected landing date is August 6th, 2012.  Let’s hope it goes well.

Via Reason: ‘Salvador Allende’s Cybersocialist Command Center’

Full piece here.

Click through for the photo.

‘The system, designed by British cybernetician Stafford Beer, was supposed to allow powerful men to make decisions about production, labor, and transport in real time using up-to-the-minute economic information provided directly by workers on the factory floors of dozens of newly nationalized companies’

A shag carpet probably would have been out of place, but I like the white pod chairs (Captain Kirk to the bridge for fuel price re-allocations).

In fact, the network that fed the system was little more than a series of jury-rigged Telex machines with human operators, transmitting only the simplest data, which were slapped onto old-style Kodak slides—again, by humans. The controls on the chairs merely allowed the operator to advance to the next slide’

——————————————————

In working towards a theme, check out Buzludzha, the abandoned communist monument in Bulgaria’s Balkan mountains, which still draws up to 50,000 Bulgarian Socialists for a yearly pilgrimage.  Human Planet’s Timothy Allen visited the structure in the snow and took some haunting photos.  You will think you’ve stepped into a Bond film and one of Blofeld’s modernist lairs, but with somewhat Eastern Orthodox tile frescos of Lenin and Marx gazing out at you, abandoned to time, the elements and to nature.

——————————————————

Continuing towards that theme, here are two quotes from a recent Harvey Mansfield review of Steven Bilakovics new book, which could possibly help explain how, say, the Chrysler building and St. Patrick’s Cathedral have become two of New York’s most iconic buildings (hint: we’re not a socialist society):

Tocqueville almost uses the above phrase in a chapter on “why American writers and orators are often bombastic.” He says that there is “nothing in-between,” or more literally, “the intermediate space is empty,” implying that there might have been something there. In democratic societies, each citizen is habitually occupied in the contemplation of a very small object: himself. If he raises his eyes, he sees only the “immense object of society” or even the whole human race. If he leaves his normal concerns, he expects it to be for something indefinitely vast instead of something definite and greater than himself.”

Artists have a particularly tough time in America, because they’re often particularly alone in America.  Ezra Pound and T.S Eliot abandoned the place completely, and many aspiring artists get their training in Europe. This blog believes Wallace Stevens to especially be representative of this dilemma (he never left).  He was an insurance executive by day and perhaps one of America’s best poets;  a romantic, a modernist, as well as a man who possibly had a deathbed conversion to Christianity:  From The NY Times Via A & L Daily: Helen Vendler On Wallace Stevens ‘The Plain Sense Of Things’

On this view, being the good democratic citizens that we are, we reject the aristocratic elements from gaining too much traction, and thus do not create the vine-ripened literary, artistic, and cultural traditions that can make good artists into what they become, and what makes European cities, novels, poets, museums, and Europeans themselves something of what they are (a broad brush, I know).

I think Mansfield’s point is that some folks in the U.S see this dilemma of the democratic man only in terms of a vulgar materialism that must be overcome with the Arts, or High Culture, or Poetry or with a ‘Let’s be like Europe’ approach, especially in many a Liberal Arts Department.  It’s a deep wish.  Democracy is a leveling force.   It’s worth pointing out that the Arts can also be united with a Left-of-Center political philosophy as they are at NPR for popular consumption.  On this site, see: From ReasonTV Via Youtube: ‘Ken Burns on PBS Funding, Being a “Yellow-Dog Democrat,” & Missing Walter Cronkite’Repost-From NPR: Grants To The NEA To Stimulate The Economy?

Some of these same folks see religion (the Puritan roots especially) as a restrictive, repressive force that needs to be overcome in order for freedom, free artistic expression and individual autonomy to flourish (I believe this is a driving tension in Hollywood).  There’s some truth to this, because I believe religion and politics, and even philosophy itself, have troubled relationships with art.

Mansfield goes on:

‘The theorists of materialism tell us that the long term will take care of itself so long as we do not obstruct materialism in the short run in our everyday lives. With a view to supporting political liberty, Tocqueville wants to limit everyday materialism and to concern us with a long-term goal, such as improving our immortal souls. This is why he fears for the state of democratic souls and speaks so strongly, if not fervently, in favor of religion. This is also why he showed such disgust for socialism.’

Perhaps we can keep it simpler, and not get taken with grand theories, or at least socialist ones anyways:

Too much politics into the arts?


First National Bank of Houlton, Maine

Related On This Site:  From Grist.Org Via The New Republic Via The A & L Daily: ‘Getting Past “Ruin Porn” In Detroit’…Marketplace aesthetics in service of “women”: Dove’s Campaign For Real Beauty: Pascal Dangin And Aesthetics

Some of Le Corbusier’s work here, examples of Modern Architecture here.

See AlsoBrasilia: A Planned City and Review Of Britain’s “Lost Cities” In The Guardian

Cities should be magnets for creativity and culture? –From The Atlantic: Richard Florida On The Decline Of The Blue-Collar ManFrom Grist.Org Via The New Republic Via The A & L Daily: ‘Getting Past “Ruin Porn” In Detroit’… some people don’t want you to have the economic freedom to live in the suburbs: From Foreign Policy: ‘Urban Legends, Why Suburbs, Not Cities, Are The Answer’

Philosopher Of Art Denis Dutton of the Arts & Letters Daily says the arts and Darwin can be sucessfully synthesized: Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’

How might Nietzsche figure in the discussion, at least with regard to Camille Paglia.  See the comments:  Repost-Camille Paglia At Arion: Why Break, Blow, Burn Was Successful…Here’s Nietzsche scholar J.P. Stern on Nietzsche’s anti-Christian, anti-secular morality (Kant, utilitarians), anti-democratic, and anti-Greek (except the “heroic” Greek) biases…

Nothing that Allan Bloom didn’t point out in the Closing Of The American Mind: Update And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’

Add to Technorati Favorites