My face hurts!

For the last five years I have had the opportunity and the pleasure to live independently of all institutions. This is an unusual thing, especially for someone my age, and it has involved some sacrifices.  I feel that it is well worth it, and I wish others who are of a similar socio-economic background would do this as well, because the world would be a better place for it.

One of the great features of this lifestyle is that I can play basketball whenever and wherever I choose.  My life consists more or less of four things: books, ball, booze, and girls, and pretty much in that order.  Most of the guys who have played with me would probably describe me as a tough competitor, a guy who lacks real athleticism but can do everything on the court and do it better than most of the other guys.  I can’t get around anyone,and I can’t jump.  But I’m the smartest guy on the court, I find passes in and to places others can’t see, I can hit the 3, I can score in the post, I have a mid-range game, I block a ton of shots (especially as a help defender, on the fast break, or when I get beat by my own guy), I can rebound, and you can stick me on the other team’s best player and it will take a load of screens to get him free.  If you give me the ball at the end of the game, especially if I’ve stunk for the rest of it, I will probably hit the last two shots–and make the last defensive play–to win the game. Some will deny this, but these are generally the guys who have been victims of my scoring barrages or my last-minute heroics.

Recently I’ve been hit by a string of injuries, mostly involving my face.  The last two of these were a lacerated tongue in October, because I was an idiot and did not wear a mouth-guard, and, last night, a cut and gumball-shaped lump near my eye, the result of an errant elbow that a defender was trying to use to get at one of my shots in the post.  Pain heals, chicks dig scars, and glory lasts forever.  And you can tell Mayweather that I am coming for him.

The question now for me is when is enough enough?  When do the injuries become too numerous and too frequent to justify continued play?  I turned 27 on Saturday, and the guys who play pickup ball are in their late teens and early 20s.  I told them to call me grandpa.  The younger generation is not one of thinking men, and the differences between them an I are exacerbated by my injuries, rather than alleviated by the formation of common bonds.

Everybody who plays enough games gets hurt.  I used to play from 10 am to noon on Sundays, then 10 pm to midnight, and then Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, AND Thursday.  I was as durable as a basketball player can get, and I could take a pounding.  I was probably more durable because I never could jump and never was very quick.

I could call it quits now.  I really could.  But here’s why I don’t think I will:

1) Basketball is one of the greatest means by which I can assess people.  All different kinds play, and you can tell a lot about a man by his game.  All virtues and vices appear in the course of the game.  A man’s intelligence or lack thereof is obvious; his dedication to himself or to others is there; his willingness to share, his critical thinking ability, his response to adversity and to triumph, his commitment to getting things right or lack thereof.  Everything shows.

2) Basketball is a puzzle, and it exercises the highest elements of my mind and my character.  God knows that when I began playing serious pickup ball at 18 or 19 I got trapped on the baseline after getting a rebound a thousand times.  He knows that I would get the ball stolen trying to handle it, and I couldn’t get the ball out of a double- or triple-team, that i was a limited offensive player, and that I could be bullied on defense.  He also knows that I have been able to transform myself into a dominant point-forward, from whom you can’t steal the ball, who can play both the wing and the post and can pass out of any trap you attempt to set for me.  I’ve learned how to think through the game, and to process every situation you can encounter on the court.  Given the speed at which the game is played, this is not at all easy, and many players remain lost their entire lives if they start the way I did.  God gifted me with an eidetic memory for the purpose of figuring all of this out.

3) I love the game.  This is the hardest point to understand, especially if you don’t love it, or don’t love anything.  It’s a passion.  For me it’s an art form.

So why do I say this here?  Because these are three reasons that can be applied to almost any pursuit to justify its continuation.  And I think that’s really worth noting.  I said earlier that I’ve had to make sacrifices to remain independent.  I may well be the last American to do this.  But think about whether money is really the right justification for dependency, and whether these three things might justify an independent life.  You might be surprised with what you conclude.

Review of Unhappy Union by John Peet and Anton La Guardia

Publisher: Public Affairs, 2014 (in conjunction with The Economist)

This intriguing account of the economic and political issues facing the European Union left me a bit cold.  On the surface it appears to be a good read: a short book (180 small pages) about a highly relevant set of issues.  That, and a Wall Street Journal review, sold me.

The Wall Street Journal had said the writing was a bit too technical and I thought I could work through that.  It’s a fair criticism and there’s nothing too bad about highly technical writing, though the book loses some of its interest when it gets too technical.  But for me the issue was not how technical the writing was, but rather a very poor method of organization, which wound up resulting in the technical writing.

What I mean by this is the following: the EU has two basic philosophical problems: 1) it has 28 members but only 18 use the Euro, and 2) there is a gap between it and the democratic process, and associated gaps between it and national governments.  Almost everything else can be explained around and through these philosophical premises, from the political aspects of those who are in the union but not the currency, between members who are in the currency, between debtors and creditors, between northern and southern countries, between austerity countries and heavy-spenders, and so on and so forth.  The steps taken to address these conflicts can then be explained.  So if you mention these things at the beginning, the rest of the writing process becomes much easier.  You do not have to resort to the highly technical stuff, or when you do it comes off a good deal smoother.  In essence, you start big, then go to details to illustrate.

These authors, however, started with the details, then tried to go to the larger philosophical problems two-thirds of the way through–that is to say, they wrote the book backwards, and it caused them to engage in almost illiterate babble for much of the first several chapters.  With some books this might work; with this one it didn’t, because the subject matter is somewhat complicated.  Even for me.

So, I suppose, what I am saying is that while I have a better understanding of some of the problems facing the EU, and thus can invest my money better–which was why I got this book–I also feel that the knowledge I have isn’t as clear as it could and should be, and that this is a result of author incompetence, rather than slowness of mind.  I am not saying this book is worthless, but I am saying to be cautious when buying and to look for alternatives which may be superior as resources.

An Open Letter to the President of the United States

Dear Mr. Obama–

It is with great regret that I recall at this moment a story appearing this morning on CNN describing your refusal to personally travel to Baltimore–a 38.5 mile journey according to Google–to attend to the unrest in that city.  I have hesitated before making an open declaration of this sort, but I believe it needs to be said before the American people, and I believe this moment, placed alongside several others in the span of your Presidency, is the proper one: you are a coward, and you are a very bad leader.

Let me begin by saying that I was not the kind to question your birthplace, your religion, or your economic agenda–though I disagreed with your policies from the start–and that the performance of the economy under your watch has been good, if not superb.  I am not a rash or extreme critic, and I am a man who thinks, and thinks deeply, before coming to judgment. I understand that the job is difficult–it is one I would not wish on myself or anyone I know, and would only take if foisted upon me, but it is one you chose–yet it is insanity to follow the course of action you have followed from the outset.

With that said, I must describe some of your decisions that make me shudder, as an American and someone who fiercely values my country and my freedom, on seeing you inhabit the office established by the great George Washington.  First and foremost, of course, is that mentioned above, which can be contrasted with Mr. Washington’s suppression of the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794.  Washington did not himself fight, of course, but he made his presence known by appearing in person to review troops he had ordered into western Pennsylvania.  By so doing he established his authority over the region.

By contrast, you have not appeared in Ferguson, Baltimore, or New York during the rioting season, which has lasted now several months and which is clearly out of hand.  Granted that there might be danger in such reasons to your person as the personification of the distant elite travelling in the midst of the disgruntled masses.  Nevertheless the position to which you boosted yourself–which you personally sought–demands enough bravery and selflessness to expose yourself in such a case, in order to achieve a larger purpose.

All it would take, from a smart leader, is a verbal show of support for police who must handle career criminals–a category in which nearly every single citizen who has been killed by police and made national news in recent months falls–and those who insist on running, whether towards or away from, police.  This must be the most frustrating thing–and I do not see how the world necessarily loses by the loss of some of its worst elements, though I believe that police restraint is of extreme importance.  Instead you have launched your attorney generals into investigations of alleged civil rights abuses, some of which may have occurred but none of which are relevant to the cases at hand.  In so doing you have put the police under more fire, which has no doubt led to more aggressive action on their part.  Perhaps it is on the citizens to behave themselves, to refrain from criminal behavior and to interact with police respectfully and as adults.  Has anyone thought of this?

Before one criticizes the militarization of police, it is well to remember that but yesterday morning I saw a story describing the first ISIL attack on United States soil, and that it was a lone traffic cop who stifled it.  This militarization is a necessary part of the policing of this country, at present.  And once that begins, it is very difficult to stop.  So this, this is my second problem with your Presidency.

Without a doubt you have conducted the worst foreign policy of any President in the history of the United States, and it is not particularly close.  From the beginning you entered office with a plan to establish a legacy by brilliant actions, rather than following a consistent course of action which ultimately will steer events such that your legacy would emerge.  This plan has created a host of problems, which you have not modified your approach to address.

The first of these problems was the evacuation of U.S. troops from Iraq, an unstable region from the beginning of its existence in the aftermath of World War I and one in which a continuous presence of troops–however small–was needed.  The war was, indeed, unpopular, especially among those who elected you.  It is your job to lead these people, not to follow them.  This you have failed to do.  You failed to ensure that Iraq could stand on its own feet before you disengaged our troops.  In so doing you allowed a power vacuum to emerge, in which the Al Qaeda terrorist group gained a foothold.

Once this was done, however, you continued to assert your planned legacy by supporting, if not sponsoring, the rebellions and revolutions in North Africa, including Libya, Egypt, and Tunisia.  Instead of recognizing the role dictators such as Qaddafi and Mubarak played as stabilizers in the region, you and your then-Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, engaged in rhetorical play supporting the establishment of democracy in a region which is neither suited for it nor prepared to exercise it properly.  John Milton speaks often about the need to distinguish liberty from license, and John Calhoun says that a revolution designed to implement a constitutional republic among men who are not suited for it is likely to leave in its wake ‘a form of government more simple and absolute.’  This is precisely what followed.  And instead of addressing the matter, you have shied away from any acknowledgment of the real circumstances in this portion of the globe.  John McCain said in a recent interview that he begged you to do something in Libya, and you ignored him.  You, sir, have much less experience than he does–and it is the mark of a good leader to listen to those who know more than he does, rather than letting their ego dictate what they believe to be good.  The list of rebellions which ensued from your refusal to act is virtually endless, now including Yemen as well.

Then you compounded the issue by drawing a ‘red line’ with regards to Syria, where the dictator Assad was destroying his own people.  This state, which neighbors Iraq, devolved into anarchy, with Assad controlling one part with an iron fist and a power vacuum emerging in the remainder, into which again the remnants of Al Qaeda slithered.  This portion of Syria then became a feeding ground for ISIL, and, compounded with the decomposition of Northern and Western Iraq, a band of wayward psychotics took advantage of your refusal to act to establish a regime of terror and threat.

If you had put a stop to it early, perhaps you would have done some good–but instead you continued to engage in rhetorical play, repeatedly calling them cowards, when they are clearly much braver than you.  It is you who are the coward.  Instead you chose to emphasize an improved relationship with Cuba–which had ceased to be a threat to the United States once the Soviet Union was no longer able to support it–and to ‘negotiate’ with the Taliban for the release of the deserter Bo Bergdahl.  In these negotiations you swapped more out than you received in return, embodying the general weakness and pusillanimity of your administration.  It was these negotiations that the family of Kayla Mueller, an ISIL hostage, believed were an enabler to this heinous group.

Thus you have allowed the psychotic and wayward elements of the world, both civilized and savage, to bully and threaten the civilized West, and failed to protect it.  This you have done in spite of having resources at your disposal which would end this conflict once and for all–resources which in the hands of a braver, and wiser, man would be utilized properly.  You evoked the legacy of Truman when you established your Health Insurance law (of which I am a great and thankful beneficiary), and yet you failed to ask yourself the same question Truman asked: ‘people are going to die, but do I have control over which people?’

But that is not all.  In addition to this you have engaged in negotiations with Iran, hoping to arrange a deal which would reduce tensions and allow their nuclear program to operate under the watchful eye of the interested world.  In so doing you once again hoped to secure a legacy which you will fail in all regards to establish.  And in so doing you once again ignored the most pressing historical lessons.

The thing is that Iran has openly avowed a wish to destroy Israel, a wish both anti-Semitic and political in origin.  I am not a bleeding-heart Israel Jew, but I am a fervid Westerner (especially given my interest in the Great Books) and I value the only Western outpost in the Middle East.  Challenged by the Israeli Prime Minister, Netanyahu, about the matter, you decided to chastise him, threatening to withdraw support from this most important of nations, the lone bright spot in a terribly dark area.  It is as though you have not the slightest clue what you are looking at.  Meanwhile, that big dark spot, Iran, menaces the rest of the Middle East, vying with ISIL for control of Iraq, supporting the Houthi rebels in Yemen, and asserting their influence as against Saudi Arabia in every place in which they can.  They are the lesser of two evils, sure, but not by much.

The problem is that this policy of doing nothing has been done before, and a power like Iran has been seen before, and that power utilized Western weaponry to destroy the lone Western outpost in the Middle East, upon which they began to threaten the West and did not cease to do so for several hundred years.  Here I am not referring to Hitler and I am not comparing you to Chamberlain, however apt that comparison might be.  Instead I am referring to the conquest and subjugation of Constantinople by the Ottoman Emperor Mehmed II, using a barrage of cannonfire best embodied in the enormous cannon supplied by the Hungarian Ulnar.  He controlled the sea first, and choked off the supply chain to the capital of the Byzantine Empire; and he used that great Muslim persistence, one which continues to appear, to conquer the most ancient and unconquerable of cities, which was undermanned to begin with.  The leader there, carrying the name of the city’s founder, Constantine, was brave to the end–but as with Netanyahu, his bravery was treated as a vice by the pusillanimous Pope and political power-brokers in Europe.

I am imploring you to do something and do something decisive, and to do so immediately, in the interests of all Americans.  I recognize that my name may wind up on some list, somewhere, and that freedom of speech is all but a dead letter.  I still believe that courage to think and courage to speak independently is a virtue, and I believe, as a man with no higher aspirations than to revitalize classical learning in the United States, that my intentions will be viewed by the great bulk of men as pure and benevolent.  I wish you the best as a man, but wish you never had been elected as the President of the United States, so symbolic of our nation’s decreasing intellectual acumen and increasing vulnerability to demagogues and charlatans.  Your job is to ensure that your government protects our lives, liberty, and property.  This, I am certain, you have failed to do.


–Jason R. Goetz

Phoenix, Arizona