Accepting the unacceptable, &c.

The bad old days: Food line in Novokuznetsk, Russia, in the 1980s.


I was talking to a Russian-born friend who has lived in this country for most of her adult life. She was telling me about the difficulties of dealing with her son’s school: its bureaucracy, its rigidity, its indifference to normal human feelings and foibles. She said, “It wasn’t this bad in the Soviet Union, I swear! Teachers and administrators were more flexible. Why do you Americans put up with this?”

It was hard to answer her: We accept a lot of things, I think. In the past few weeks, people have said to me, “People will reject Obamacare because it doesn’t work. They are rejecting it already.”

That’s good news — but I have to tell you: My whole life, I’ve been told that the program called “Head Start” doesn’t work. I have also been told that it is unkillable — sacrosanct. Congress renews it year after year, even though “everyone” knows it doesn’t work.

My whole life, I’ve been told that our public schools don’t really work — that they are “dysfunctional.” That they especially fail poor and black kids. And yet Americans accept this system, year after year, generation after generation.

People can get used to almost anything, I’m afraid. They simply figure they are stuck with something and muddle through.

On a related note, a reader e-mailed me,

I just saw a headline from the Associated Press that struck me as a succinct sign of how much this country has changed, and, particularly, what our citizens are prepared to accept about their relationship to the federal government. I will leave it to you to unpack the many layers. I just don’t have the strength.

I don’t think I do either. Anyway, the headline: “Policy cancellations: Obama will allow old plans.” (The article is here.)

Is a president supposed to have that sort of power? I mean, a president of the United States, not a president of, say, Egypt?

China has just been elected to the U.N. Human Rights Council. So have Vietnam and Saudi Arabia. Always, the worst human-rights violators sit on the human-rights council. Over the years, we have had Qaddafi’s Libya, the Assads’ Syria, the Castros’ Cuba, Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, genocidal Sudan, etc., etc.

In a way, I’m not displeased to see the worst regimes sit on the human-rights council: because it exposes the hollowness of the United Nations. Maybe North Korea should have a place on the council!

I said “hollowness,” above, but maybe it would be better to say “reality” — the reality of the United Nations. As Solzhenitsyn said, the U.N. is not so much a gathering of nations or peoples as it is a gathering of governments or regimes — and many of those regimes are undemocratic, obnoxious, or monstrous.

So, China has its human-rights seat — the PRC, a one-party dictatorship with a gulag. Ho-hum, I guess.

Whitey Bulger, the mobster, has given us a portrait of heartlessness. Listen to this:

The families of people killed by South Boston crime boss James “Whitey” Bulger and his gang finally got the chance Wednesday to tell Bulger how his long reign of terror damaged their lives, calling him a “terrorist,” a “punk” and even “Satan.”

A stone-faced Bulger refused to look at them, again declared his trial a sham and didn’t take his opportunity to address the judge.

Bulger, his back to the families, stared straight ahead and scribbled on a legal pad as a dozen relatives stood one by one in a packed courtroom and poignantly described the loss of their loved ones and their contempt for Bulger.

The rest of the article, if you’re in the mood, is here.

You can give Bulger this, I suppose: He has not gone sentimental, in his moment of judgment (legal judgment). The ice is firmly in place in his veins.

There is nothing light about Syria, obviously — but listen to this: “KFC quits Damascus as Syria crisis becomes too much for the colonel.” I am quoting a dispatch from Tom Gross, here.

And I was reminded of a trip to Egypt I took years ago — to Alexandria, in particular. For National Review, I wrote an article called “Alexandria the Great,” and it ended up as the last piece in this collection.

In the article, I wrote,

The Americans have been here lately — at least in the form of their eateries. The city is dotted with Hardee’s, Arby’s, Chili’s, Pizza Hut, Baskin Robbins, Kentucky Fried Chicken — heck, the Colonel’s face is almost as ubiquitous as Mubarak’s.