Archive for November, 2006

Blessed Be The Perfect

Life in ancient Sparta was problematic from the beginning.

Shortly after birth, the mother of the child bathed it in wine to see whether the child was strong. If the child survived it was brought before the elders of the tribe, by the child’s father, who decided whether it was to be reared or not. If found defective or weakly, the baby was left on the wild slopes of Mt Taygetos. In this way [was] attempted [the] maintenance of high physical standards in Sparta.

This calculated infanticide was meant to ensure that every Spartan was a perfect specimen of humanity.

It worked. Spartan women were said to be the most beautiful in Greece. Spartan males were the finest soldiers in history until the coming of the Roman legionaire.

Some 2700 years later we hear of this:

Britain’s Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecology is reportedly calling on doctors to consider euthanasing “the sickest of newborns” which it says can disable healthy families.

So here we are. We have descended to the moral level of those who worshipped Zeus and Athena.

Latin American Two-Step

There is a whole lot of cyber ink being spilled concerning recent elections and upcoming elections in Latin America. You can keep up with all the hubbub at Publius Pundit and Babalu Blog. The picture they paint is not a pretty one. But neither is the picture I would paint of the political realities of our fellows to the south.

I have lived, loved, traveled and worked among them for 14 years. My summation of the governing competence of Latin Americans is as follows:

Corruption is as common as the sun. The State exists to serve the whims of an elite whose visions seldom extend beyond pelt and pelf. Constitutions are scarcely worth paying attention to—and few do. Law is just another commodity, like soap or automobiles—the more money one has the more law one can purchase. Taxation is arbitrary and confiscatory. Government regulations are multitudinous and Byzantine. Poverty is rife and obvious. The police rely upon avarice and bribery. Militaries are used to control the citizenry. Ignorance and illiteracy are manifest. The ‘presidents’ south of the Rio Grande resemble bit players in an opera bouffe.

Mob politics is the usual style of governance. Statist socialism is the usual style of economics. Mendacious propaganda is the usual style of politicians. Riots are the usual style of protests.

In short, Latin America is as it has always been. One unarguable fact of the universe is that Latin Americans have no demonstrated talent for running economies or governments. The political culture of Latin American would never allow any man with such talents to assume power. Pick up any history book about Latin America and you will see what I mean.

It is an odd curse that some of the finest people on earth inhabiting some of the most stunningly beautiful land imaginable live under a governing elite that is purely extractive and exploitative, without any purpose save self-aggrandizement.

And it does little good to blame everything on the United States, as the Latin Americans tend to do. Latin America’s problems were similar under the Spanish Empire—they existed long before the United States existed. There is simply no escape from this argument.

Consider the following condition of a nation: Life expectancy less than 50 years, civil war, foreign invasion, worthless currency, savage rebellions and guerrilla war on the frontier, economic dislocation, military incompetence, malarial swamps, polluted water supplies, weak government, abysmal public health services. Your typical Latin nation you say? Not at all. It describes the United States of America in 1776.

Americans rose above their problems and defeated them. Latins are still mired in them, wallowing in self-pity and tossing blame about at anyone but themselves. Witness the riots that arise whenever an American president visits any Latin capital. The purpose of such street theater is exactly…what?

But do not listen to this Mexican-gringo half-breed. Consider the following from Cuban-born Carlos Alberto Montaner. He takes a look at the leadership of Nicaragua, Venezuela, Peru, Argentina, Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile and Brazil. He is not happy with what he sees.

The people of Latin American are victims not of a stubbornly corrupt ruling class but of their own tolerance toward those who violate the laws and of their own indifference toward the breakdown of standards.

The old dictum that says people have the government they deserve almost always contains a bitter truth. If we don’t mind electing rogues, we have no right to complain.

Such bitter truths about Latin American politics run through the writings of Latins themselves. You might see Guide to the Perfect Latin American Idiot, Liberty for Latin America and The Other Path.

The common theme among these Latin American writers is this: What cripples Latin American economies and governments is the centrally-planned state—in short, socialism. The greater the size of the state the greater the opportunities for corruption. This has always been true wherever one looks in history.

The solution is simple to write, horrendously difficult to put in place. Socialism must end. It must be replaced with capitalism. And let us not pretend that what capitalism is what some cheap Marxist says it is. Read here what the Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto thinks of it.

The genius of capitalism is that it allows the formation of a class that exists not at the whims of the state but outside the state, a class that excels through competition, ambition and enterprise. It is the opposite of how Mussolini—himself a woeful example for Latin American leaders from Perón to Haya de la Torre to Chavez to Morales—described his own version of socialism, “Everything in the State. Nothing outside the State. Nothing against the State.” It is capitalism that is a direct threat to every socialist dream of state control.

That is the reason why it is so attacked south of the Rio Grande. The ruling classes of Latin America would be swept away in any capitalist revolution. And that is the reason why so many Latins admire Castro. He alone has accomplished what they dream of in their heart-of-hearts, the absolute domination of a nation and her people by the State. And that is the reason for such strident anti-Americanism. America is the pre-eminent capitalist power. And she opposes Castro—yet another reason to hate America.

I will end with a joke told to me by an Argentine friend:

A Latin senator and an American senator were in the United States. They discussed the varieties of corruption in each of their nations. The American pointed to a bridge. It was grand and beautiful. The Latin was duly impressed. The American then slapped his pocket and said, “Fifty percent!” The next year both senators were in the Latin’s country. The Latin told the American to look at a grand and beautiful bridge. But the American senator saw nothing. The Latin senator then slapped his pocket and said, “One-hundred percent!”


What Men Fear

I have traveled my share of the world’s rural byways. On these seldom tread paths I have run into the odd, the weird and the bizarre. Such things are unavoidable when you venture into ‘wild, weird climes, out of space, out of time.’

The Lost White City of the Maya has long been rumored to lie somewhere between the headwaters of the Paulaya and Platano Rivers in the jungles of the Mosquito Coast in Honduras. During my second attempt to find it (1989) I was stuck for a time in the Caribbean town of Trujillo.

In those days I was broke, and so always sought out the cheapest accommodation possible. This meant the Hotel Central. It was a terribly ramshackle affair, chock full of bugs and myriad crawling things. Of course there were neither lights nor running water.

During the night I had to search for the toilet. The thing was in the basement. I noticed something strange when I found it. The water in the bowl was filled with ancient urine and moldering feces. There was no method to flush the thing other than fill up a plastic bucket with river water and pour it into the bowl. This chore had been long neglected.

I accepted the inevitable. Putting the flashlight between my teeth I began to loosen my pants. Then that I noticed that the goo in the bowl was moving. It looked like a pot of boiling stew. A closer look showed a huge brown rat stuck in the bowl. It tried to extricate itself from the mess it was in, but the slime inside the toilet did not allow the wretched beast to get a decent grip. And so every attempt to escape ended with the animal sliding back into the grime.

Had I squatted over the toilet before noticing that rat, the thing would have been able to use a dangling part of my God-given anatomy as a life-line to freedom.

Every male who has read what I just wrote most assuredly shuddered. And with fair reason. But now I present to you a tale so shocking, so terrifying, so damned grotesque that children will be sent fleeing in horror upon hearing it. Men will become pale with fear. Women will clutch their men and girls in a vice-grip of protection.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the candirú (Vandellia cirrhosa).

It is a type of catfish that was certainly designed in Hell. The candirú is found in the Amazon and its tributaries. It is small, perhaps an inch in length and pencil-thin. It has an odd habit of swimming into the human anus and genitals. It is attracted to urine and blood, and has been known to swim up a urine stream and enter the urethra. When there it erects spines to hold it in place and begins to feed on blood and tissue.

The pain of such an attack is simply beyond words. Men have been known to cut off their penises after a candirú infects them. There is no cure except for surgery or the following:

A traditional cure involves the use of two plants, the Xagua plant…and the Buitach apple which are inserted…into the affected area. These two plants together will kill and then dissolve the fish. More often, infection causes shock and death in the victim before the candirú can be removed.

For good reason the candirú is more feared than the vastly over-rated piranha.

Here is a first-hand account of a candirú attack. It is not for the faint of heart. Some amusing excerpts:

The fish penetrated the victim’s urethra while he was standing in the river urinating, actually emerging from the water and entering his penis…He reported trying to grab hold of the fish, but it was very slippery, and it forced its way inside with alarming speed. The candirú’s forward progress was blocked by the sphincter separating the penile urethra from the bulbar urethra. With the passage blocked, the fish had made a lateral turn and bitten through the tissue into the corpus spongiosum, creating an opening into the scrotum.

So the next time you have a desire to seek out ancient Honduran toilets or to venture into the Amazon basin do take care. You have been warned.

Teacher Shock And Awe

I knew this moment would arrive. And so today it has. There are now in my possession mountains of ungraded homework assignments from my beloved students. 

And at last I clearly see the awful consequences of one week’s procrastination. And that crime against humanity is exactly what teachers and parents have railed against in students for 6000 years.

And so I have sinned. I have put off until tomorrow those things I should have done today. The results are strewn everywhere in my apartment—homework, essays, exams, quizzes. I stare at these mountains of things with shock and awe. It is enough to make one scream.

And I have screamed. I scream still. At my own sloth. And through all my self-pity those essays are with me yet, tugging at my sleeve like demanding and persistent children.

Ok. Enough hand-wringing. Enough wailing and gnashing of teeth. Time to get down to business. Time to get out the red pens and get to grading.

And time to heed the words of the writer of Proverbs (6:4-9).

Give your eyes no sleep
and your eyelids no slumber;
…How long will you lie there, O sluggard?
When will you arise from your sleep?

This weekend will be devoted to getting every bit of my work done—and getting to Confession and getting in some miles on bike and foot. There will be little time for pithy commentary on the latest political silliness.

But I do not worry, as such things are an unending stream from which any writer can dip any time he wishes.


Yesterday began as any other. A 2 AM alarm, a quick jump out of bed, a rush to the kitchen to get the coffee going, a pulling on of some pajama-type clothing, a grab of java, some quality time with God and then a bee-line for the computer.

I headed for my blog and then…nothing. Well, no, there was something, but it was a message from WordPress stating that ‘Error. Database cannot be found.’

Panic. Sort of. Was I hacked? Had WordPress gone out of business and taken all my past writings and words of wisdom along with it? Was my cyber-life extinguished? Had some errant demon entered my blog in order to raise havoc?

I existed in this state of mind until I returned from Mass at 7 PM. All was well again and up and running. Relief ensued.

There are no longer ghosts in my machine.