UKRAINIAN CRISIS

UKRAINIAN CRISIS

Macho Macho Men

Deconstructive Nationalism, whether infesting us here at home or inflicting itself upon our foreign policy, along with its catastrophic consequences, can be attributed, in part, to the uncivilized expression of brutish masculinity.

* * *

The position of nations on the global stage reflects the disposition of its people and leaders. Even societies dedicated to civilized ideas, rather than naked plundering, are susceptible to corruption by historic conditioning and partisan maneuvering. Nations, just like individuals, can succumb to vanity. Pride can drive us to be better than everyone else; and the criteria for being “better” is often conditioned by masculinity. When this happens, leadership becomes synonymous with virility. Even in a “free” and “civilized” nation like the United States, you cannot get and remain at the top of the political power pyramid unless you are willing and able to maintain the tough guy image at home and abroad.

This is apparent in our ongoing anti-Russian bias that makes it impossible for us to view the Ukrainian upheaval objectively and undermines the possibility that American diplomacy will optimize the objective interests of the American people.

For centuries, the more “advanced” nations of Western Europe, and their colonial offspring (that’s us), have assured themselves that they are superior to their eastern cousins. Slavic, Asian, Orthodox, rustic Russia was thought a harsh and backward land. The greatest Russian, Peter the Great, enjoys his place in history precisely because he shared this view- that’s why he ran through the streets coming upside the heads of his hidebound nobility.

With the advent of Bolshevism during the Great War, a new and even more brutal form of dictatorship transformed this erstwhile backwater into a threatening industrial juggernaut and military power second to none in less than thirty years. Traditional criticism now found second gear. Enlightened mockery of a retard was swathed in the urgent blare of sirens warning the world of the very real dangers posed by Communism.

This life and death struggle between liberal capitalism and hard-line socialism, which eventually was tagged as “The Cold War”, added generations of “Cold War Warriors” to the already flourishing “Red Baiters”. These, along with the more generic jingo, made sure everyone in the free world continued to know how evil Russia was.

The collapse of the Soviet Union, along with the advent of capitalism in Red China, removed any serious economic threat to “the west”. The Cold Warriors were out of work- their expertise and importance in society reduced to something akin to typewriter repair. Sadly, unlike “old soldiers”, these folks did not just fade away. Deep-seated hostility to Russia means there are still rewards for flogging a dead horse. Anti-Russian remarks provide second-rate politicians with a sure-fire, if lowbrow, applause line. After all, who would deny that czarist Russia was backward or that the Soviet Union was a twisted tyranny? These second-raters, in the form of “Cold War Warriors” were willing to bring humanity to the brink of extinction rather than lose the preeminence and celebrity they had gained by succeeding in creating an image of themselves as “tough” and “hard”. Efforts to get these hot heads to chill out only resulted in those few voices of sanity getting tagged as “soft”.

“Soft”, as you know, means such a person is not a real man. A macho is, of course, “hard”.

Even though we are several hundred years into the “Age of Reason”, macho display remains an effective and indispensable tool. Often, to be seen as “tougher” or “stronger” is a prominent element in political posturing.

With a public that is notoriously uninformed on global issues and world history, dueling machismo

can become a placeholder for the responsibility of leaders, including the press, to present the public with a rational fact based public discussion. Instead, even our thoughtful politicians must prove they are “real men” before they can have a seat at the table.

Perceived “softness” led the Democratic Party to a severe drubbing in the 1972 presidential elections. What had been considered sanity for most of our history (avoiding foreign entanglements) was now blamed for the “McGovern Debacle”. Since then, the Democratic Party leadership would rather get the plague than to be seen as “doves”- that is, as being “soft” or less “manly” than their Republican counterparts. Once again, partisan competition on the national stage requires all parties to beat their breasts, paw the ground and fill the air with bellicose bombast. Like effeminate men, and like women, the Democrats, lacking leaders with the self-confidence of an Eisenhower or a Reagan, have to try even harder to shed the “soft” image and be accepted as “real men”.

* * *

Machismo is a real and apparent motivator for all in the current struggle between pro “western” and pro Russian actors in the Ukraine. All sides have resorted to violence as patriotic expression. The question we have to ask ourselves is “What is our side”?

What the interest of every American citizen demands of its public servants, up to and including Secretaries of State and Presidents, should begin with an honest and straightforward statement of the facts involved and a cogent presentation of what the interest of the American people is in this, or any other, conflict.

In other words: Wassup, do we have a dog in this race?

Have we declared our allegiance to enlightened discourse? Have we abhorred the violence from all sides? Have we re-dedicated ourselves to maintaining a “New Europe” free of warfare? Have we declared that we recognize the simple truths involved; that the arguments of both sides have merit? Have we offered our “good offices” to both sides in an effort to achieve an equitable and bloodless settlement? Have we demonstrated to the international community that we deserve a leadership role because we are above the fray, rather than a part of it, that we understand that our self-interest lies in eliminating conflict between our friends? Have we recognized that it is, obviously, in the best interest of the American people to cultivate and maintain good relations with the Russian Federation?

Of course not. The correct answer is “none of the above”.

You need permission to sit on the top branch and distribute the bananas. You can’t be leader of the pack, top dog, or king of the hill unless you have a pack to begin with.

The psychological imperatives of machismo are overwhelming. Because the heroic confrontation with evil (the guys wearing the black hats) is a sure-fire winner for the advancement of partisan political careers, getting “tough” with the Russians is a no-brainer. After hundreds of years of anti-Russian conditioning, what could be simpler, and more rewarding, than making the Russians the “bad guys”? Does anyone fit the black hat image better than Vladimir Putin?

Despite the fact that an objective view of history would clearly lead to the conclusion that the Crimean

Peninsular rightly belongs to Russia, that it is critical to the national security of the Russian Federation, that tens of thousands of brave Russians have died to throw the Turks, English, French and Nazis out, and that the people of the Crimea clearly prefer being Russian rather than Ukrainian, the superb operation to repossess the Crimea has been portrayed in the USA as bald faced, brutal and unjustifiable aggression. On this, because no leading American politician has the spunk to risk being seen as “soft” on Putin, there is 100% agreement. There has to be a bad guy. It has to be the Russians. If you want to wear the white hat, one must be anti-Russian.

The only remaining decision available to American leadership, vis a vis public posturing, is how much damage to our relations with Russia, and to the global economy, should be suffered in order to sustain the tough guy image? Here, domestic machismo takes over at home from where cultural machismo leaves off overseas. Because this Ukrainian civil war must involve the Russians, centuries of ingrained superior attitudes dominate our perspective. Macho bombast allows our representatives to become invulnerable at home to political attacks on their masculinity.

With our economy recovering, the blind partisan opposition to Barack Obama is busy ginning up a case against the President, and the Democratic Party, based on his conduct of foreign affairs. All the criticisms of Mr. Obama’s foreign policy, that suggest high crimes such as restraint and thoughtfulness, amount to one overriding charge: he is a ditherer.

Dither and Die! Real men don’t dither.

The partisan attacks, which reflect how badly the traditional non-partisan conduct of foreign affairs has degenerated, are supplemented by the arrival, stage right, of the old Cold War Warriors whose careers can be rejuvenated if Russia once again becomes public enemy number one and the focus of our foreign policy.

The hawks are screeching. The Russia lobby has returned.

Hawks (the machos of bird land), mindful of the rewards of being seen as real men, are falling over one another in an effort to emerge as the reigning tough guy. We must “stand up”, “get tough”, and not “tolerate” these Russians. Not to be outdone, our government has been supplying us with routine bulletins demonstrating how tough they are getting. Statement after statement declares what we will and will not “allow” the Russians to do, and how well they are “complying” with our demands, and how we will “punish” them if they do not.

Dueling machismo provides a spectacle. The Republicans want to show what big men they are by painting the Obama administration as “soft”, while the Democrats reassure us that they are just as tough as anybody and will maintain the USA as king of the hill.

Relatively junior employees at the State department can now be observed scolding Russia and grading how well the Russians are following orders. The entire purpose of these pronouncements is to assure the public that the Obama administration is, indeed, a tough customer. The Democrats, we are assured, are not going to put up with any nonsense from those Russians.

State, if run by professionals, knows better than anyone else that our insignificant military deployments and puerile economic attacks are not likely to influence Russian behavior. This expertise has not affected our conduct. It is subsumed to the partisan need to look tough. All of history has shown that Russians never respond in a positive manner to threats and insults. Who does?

Just as our policy is driven by anti-Russian prejudice, and national macho posturing, this is even more true inside the Russian Federation. The more they detect another attack on the motherland from the West the more their anti-western, anti-USA, hackles are going to get up. They have “cold warriors” waiting in the shadows too. They know how many times the “superior” nations of the west have invaded their nation. They know that the cost of defending Russia has been staggering- in the many millions of lives lost. There is no shortage of hot-headed macho politicians in Russia who are happy to stroke the Russian public, and benefit from their arousal.. Does anyone really think that Vladimir Putin is going to let himself be seen by his own people as less macho than Barack Obama, John Kerry, John McCain or Sarah Palin?

There is zero chance that a policy of browbeating and public humiliation will cower Vladimir Putin or the Russians. On the contrary, it is guaranteed to strengthen Putin, every other Russian macho, and make a just and amicable resolution to the Ukrainian crisis far more difficult.

The press, like politicos, strives to have the largest possible audience. “Lurid” is the word we use to describe the media behavior that is the equivalent of political demagoguery. To insure that you are not outsold by other news stands, it pays to shout “WAR”. Every manufacturer wants to craft products that the public will buy. People that produce “news” are no longer an exception. Gone is the brief devotion to high-minded ideals such as “public service” or “journalism”.

News outlets recognize that macho posturing provides a hysterical audience ripe for the kind of gush that hypes a story. Like sandwich slices, each package produced is carefully wrapped and labeled by authenticating commentators so to appear as real cheese. The Cold War returnees and various other minor pundits and petite intellectuals fill the pages, airwaves and cyberspace with “expert” opinion.

We have to read and watch because the situation is “grave”. The Russian army is poised to swallow up many nations. World War Three is, we were told, a distinct possibility. That now infamous line,

so effectively employed by the shriekers that lead us into the Iraq quagmire, “this changes everything”,

is now shamelessly repeated. On one broadcast, from a supposedly highly respected news organization, I listened as one commentator opined that we must never be taken in by the Russians. That they are, and always have been, essentially sub-human slope-headed Asian barbarians intent on the rape and pillage of the civilized world. This nut job was dutifully thanked for his contribution to the hype, as were all the other nitwits, on staff and otherwise, presented to the public.

The responsibility to “advise and consent” that is generally attributed to the United States Senate,

actually rightly belongs to the public. It is our responsibility (some might say duty) to direct our representatives. Is this really possible when our consciousness is forced to operate within a matrix of ideas that is constructed from prejudice? Is it possible when prejudice is consciously created and exploited by macho politicians and inflated by irresponsible media? Just where, exactly, are citizens expected to find the objective information required? Just where, exactly, are responsible levelheaded leaders going to emerge from?

The obstacles that must be overcome in this, and many other conflicts, is whether or not a solution can be crafted that allows all the “real men” to maintain the masculine mantle while at the same time a civilized resolution is arranged. Can a macho make, or be forced to make, the necessary concessions demanded by compromise and still come out looking like a champ? In a similar, but far more dangerous, case of brinkmanship- the Cuban Missile Crisis – this is exactly what occurred. Both the United States and the Soviet Union, President Kennedy and Premier Khrushchev, both backed down and made serious concessions to the other side. Yet, the agreement was so skillfully crafted that each leader was treated at home like a conquering hero.

The conditions for this type of resolution in Ukraine are already in place. All the sides involved have attained important objectives that would allow them to proclaim victory. What remains is for all the players to make the relative secondary concession that would allow everyone to preserve their masculinity.

While I expect this will happen, the triumph of reason is never a done deal. The operation of Deconstruction Nationalism can prove to be an obstacle that cannot be overcome. History is littered with human catastrophes that were easily avoidable.

The civilian and military cemeteries, the mass graves, the rubble and the bones rotting in the fields are all filled with fine young men, and innocent civilians, whose lives were brutally cut short for no other reason than some ape could not keep his big mouth shut. While we all know that “loose lips sink ships”, we must also keep in mind that “loud mouths sink generations”.

Even as our leaders accede in public to the screech hawks and grand-standers, and orchestrate Deconstructive Nationalism to their own advantage, cooler heads are, hopefully, at work behind the scenes. In this case, I have no doubt that reason and civilization will prevail over brutish hysteria.

We are going to avoid Armageddon. Sadly, this settlement will only come after more damage has been done to our consciousness. Some folks will actually be disappointed when catastrophe is averted. Success will be attributed to “getting tough” rather being reasonable. Our relations with the Russian Federation will have been set back a generation. Our prejudices will have been reinforced. No voice will be raised to chastise the shriekers that embraced brutish masculinity over civilization.

One of these days, as they have so many times before, the Macho Macho Men will escalate some situation that could have been resolved reasonably into a tragedy. If we wish to avoid that eventuality,

we must consciously support a leadership that does not succumb to hysteria and keeps its head when everyone seems to be flying off the handle. We must reject a media that inflames rather than informs.

Intelligent comments to swantsays@gmail.com

San Antonio, Texas- summer 2014

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Die Ubermenschen and Germany

Die Ubermenschen and Germany

This autumn, three topics dominate global reporting. In the USA, these are the never-ending partisan farce called the Presidential election cycle (into which has been folded the “economy”), the Arab Spring, and the European Crisis. One is an ongoing migraine, another represents great hope for the future, and the third serves as official certification of one of the greatest achievements in all of human history.

This “European Crisis” should fill us all with joy.

For some, the phrase “European Crisis” has been a harbinger of doom. In the States, dread has attached to the phrase because it pulled us from our wise conservative heritage of avoiding “European Entanglements”, and shouts to us a warning of something evil that never changes.

For too many others, Europe represents an idealized picture of the old country. These fantasy lands are rich in cultural sophistication, where the “Western” tradition has reached its apogee; where human rights are most advanced, from which all other societies seek guidance as well as suffer from a sense of cultural provincialism. We go to Europe to soak up this culture, throw a coin in the fountain, chow down and, perhaps, have a naughty summer fling. Unfortunately, this view of Europe ignores the most basic aspect of European history.

When the words “European” and “Crisis” are put together, I am put in mind of the primal European tradition that underlies the culture – the brutal reliance on the sword. Among the Europeans there has always been an infestation of warlike, aggressive and barbarous people. If one were to pick the greatest Europeans; those who have had the largest impact on the world, it would be Alexander, not Aristotle, Caesar not Copernicus, Napoleon not Rousseau, Hitler not Beethoven, and Stalin not Tolstoy.

The finer elements of European society have always lost out to this gang. These thugs have made of European history a ceaseless catalog of senseless war, catastrophic global aggrandizement, and mind numbing savagery.

In so far as reason and science emerged, they often simply served to perfect the implements of destruction. Democratization, in this sense, did not represent the restraint of the fundamental European impulse – privilege – but rather the dissemination of aggression throughout entire nations whereby war, once conducted by elites with limited forces, now mobilized entire populations into mass hysteria.

If our Western tradition, in particular European history, actually represented the advancement of reason in the cause of perfecting the human condition, then the 20th century would have been the best century. The opposite is true.

Our most recently completed century, the 20th, provides overwhelming and incontrovertible evidence that this is a false assumption. In many ways, the 20th century was the worst in all of recorded human history. Never before, have so many died in so many senseless wars and cruel repressions. We have not yet invented the computer that can calculate the total. Give your brain a break: Start at 100 million lives thrown away, and then work your way up. Remember too, as you calculate, that by mid-century all the major belligerents had sunk to a level where innocent civilians had become legitimate targets. Include not only the uniformed (and most of those were just boys) but also the tens of millions of woman, children, and infants that were bombed, shelled, bayoneted, incinerated, executed or starved.

In response to this latest European Crisis, should we prepare our boys? Gear up the propaganda machine? Shall we mobilize? Rush to give blood? Complete our shelters? Await our doom?

No. For the first time in history, a major crisis in Europe does not threaten war. It is a different kind of crisis. It is peaceful. Before we address a few words of opinion towards the actual crisis in Europe, let us pause and say a few words about what a peaceful crisis represents (after all, no one else has).

Huzzah! Hallelujah! Thank God!

Bloody hell: Finally, Europe is civilized.

From our general jubilation over a continental liberation, let us turn to one of its particular national components – Germany.

Over here, the 20th was not a good century for our German-Americans. Always at some odds with their rivals, the English speaking, the reputation of the German-American here went south with the outbreak of the first World War of the century. This was, as you may know, a war about absolutely nothing other than the gross incompetence and inhumanity of Europe’s ruling elite – both “democratic” and despotic. When the USA overcame its sane and traditional neutrality, with the help of the Kaiser’s idiotic advisers, it became necessary to induce young Americans to throw their lives away. This was accomplished with cool, hysterical, anti-German propaganda. Germany, we were taught, was a monstrous state. The “Hun” was vilified. Neighbor turned against neighbor. German-Americans were insulted, repressed and ostracized. This, despite the fact that Germany was at that time one of the most civilized nations in the world, and that German-Americans constituted the largest ethnic group among white Americans, and were, in fact, significant contributors to what was then emerging as the ideal of “all-American”. They were distinctly associated with a love of freedoms, our Constitution, and a fervent loyalty to the Union.

Nonetheless, they, because we were at war with their former homeland, were thrown under the bus.

When the Central Powers were defeated, Germany was blamed for the war. This was one of the greatest lies in history. Germany was no more responsible for the First World War than France, Italy, England, Serbia or Russia. Still, tens of millions had died over essentially nothing, and somebody had to get the blame (and pay the piper). France led the way, with the British Commonwealth, Italy, and others happy to collect the spoils.

While the losses to the United States were relatively small, “only” some fifty thousand doughboys lost their lives in a few months of intensive combat “over there”, it was sufficient to demonstrate, once again, the stupidity of Europe, and give rise to a renewed
push to keep the United States “out” in the next, inevitable, European war.

In Europe, the harsh and unjust peace terms forced on the Germans provided a cause that would soon contribute to the rise of National Socialism in Germany. Seventeen years from the advent of this Versailles treaty, vengeful Germans (Nazis) would once again plunge the world into war – The Second World War – a war that would reduce much of Europe to rubble, kill many tens of millions of combatants and innocents, make tens of millions more homeless, and set a new low in human depravity

This time, little propaganda was needed to portray Germans as monsters. No lies were necessary. For twelve years, The Third Reich carried the Western Tradition of rapine and slaughter to new heights. Once again, a leading member of advanced European society was chiefly responsible. This period represents the all-time low point in human history, and it was Germany that rightfully earned a reputation for being on the cutting edge of depravity.

Throughout the course of European history the monsters that have terrorized the world (and each other) have had many titles. We have called them Prince, pirate and Prime Minister; Caesar, Kaiser, Czar or commissar, God and General, Chairman and Emperor, King and conqueror, Lord and Master, and every other word that tells us how very special they were – beyond the control of reason or morality.

Today we no longer use most of those names to describe European leaders. Yet, at the root of the current “crisis” is another class of people who run the world. They too assert privilege. In an age where finance dominates society, and where every other class is subordinated to credit, here in the States we call them the “Masters of the Universe”.

For those that see in the German people an innate tendency towards barbaric authoritarian behavior, the misunderstood writings of a German philosopher – Nietzsche -
sum it all up. His phrase “Ubermenschen”, which is usually casually translated as “supermen”, is an intellectual icon of a supposed Germanic trait that neatly sums up a selected history designed to convince us that the role played by Germany within the overall context of European barbarity is genetic. We arrive at Auschwitz via the Teutonic Knights, The Junkers, and the Prussians.

However, the new Ubermenschen, the “Masters of the Universe”, don’t seem to feature a German cast. When they assert a superior position in society, that they are above the law and should not be held responsible for their failures, this assertion is not being made in German. In fact, once again, the opposite is true.

Briefly, the current privileged class – The Masters of The Universe – is trying to weasel out from under their financial blunders. Aided and abetted by their retainers at court, the politicians and ratings agencies (if Standard and Poors had been in charge of risk management at the Vatican, the Papacy would have disappeared a thousand years ago), they have made trillions of dollars in stupid loans that they can’t cover. In the largest rip-off of private funds ever proposed, the Masters of The Universe would like the citizens of Europe to make good these bad debts while they go on their merry way. Employing financial terrorism, they warn the world that if they are made to suffer the consequences of their own malfeasance, Europe’s economy (and the world’s) will collapse. This “chicken little” moment is reminiscent of the USA in 2008. In this, we see the assertion of leading capitalists that if the rules of capitalism are followed, capitalism will fail. This call for a continental socialism by financial elites demonstrates the principle of privilege on a heretofore unheard of scale. Neither capitalist nor socialist, no rules or philosophy motivate our new “Masters” other than personal gain. This stunning twist on the basic social idea of everyone chipping in for the common good proposes a universal tax designed to perpetuate privilege rather than eliminate inequity.

These schemers are the Ubermenschen.

Where are they opposed? Who speaks for the citizen?

All over the world, there are those that have not been stampeded into believing that personal rewards for the Master of The Universe are synonymous with what is best in society. However, we are fragmented, disorganized and without leadership almost everywhere.

Except Germany.

It is here where the strongest and best organized voice of republican ideals has been raised (not in the USA, the home of republican government). It is in Germany where the most people, including leading politicians, are willing to flush the new Ubermenschen down the toilet. In stopping, or blunting, the great raid on the public’s treasury, whether we realize it or not, the Germans are leading the way.

From underneath the image of goose-stepping thugs, authoritarian militarists, and a blindly obedient populace, a new picture has emerged. The other Germany has arrived.

Why do we call the struggle for freedom in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, Syria, and Bahrain the “Arab Spring”? Like all the other political “springs” we refer to, this expression has its root in the German “Volkertfruhling” (people’s spring). It was an expression coined in Germany and used to express the movements for greater freedom in Europe that culminated in the year 1848. At that time, the Germans (and their Viennese cousins) were in the vanguard of the struggle to expand human rights.

It is these Germans, this tradition, which has emerged today. For every tank the small German military possesses, Syria has ten. Today, Germany, and the German states, are experiencing the longest absence of war in their entire history. It is their leader, a woman,
that has raised the most serious objections to socializing bank debt. It is in Germany, not the USA, where the good old-fashioned ideals of American cloth-coat republicanism are surviving.

It is not likely that the Germans will defeat the Masters of the Universe. They may, if we’re lucky, push them back a little; force them to take a little “haircut” and make them become responsible for some portion of their misbehavior. To the extent that they do succeed, this will be Germany’s gift to the rest us. Accustomed to the scorn of the world, the Germans will not ask for a “thank you”. Yet, shouldn’t the rest of us say something?

I think so. As we have already used up our huzzahs for the general blessing revealed in a peaceful Europe, what can we say now to cheer both the spirit of the “other Germany” in standing up to Die Ubermenschen, and the spirit of giving?

Merry Christmas!

San Antonio, Texas
October, 2011

Sensible comments to swantsays@gmail.com

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SAN ANTONIO CITIZEN #3- child safety

SAN ANTONIO CITIZEN

June 2011

“Damn the Children, Full Speed Ahead”

One section of un-landscaped land stood out on the recently opened Museum Reach of the Riverwalk. The piece in question sloped down from the rear of the Pearl Brewery to the concrete promenade. As time passed, workers covered the slope in grass sod. Huge rough hewn stone blocks, presumably Sandstone, were placed on the grass. Some steps were provided, also of rough hewn stone. It took a little while, but eventually it was obvious that this area was going to be an outdoor amphitheater.

In addition to the sloping amphitheater, there were two small grassed areas. One plot was at the top of the hill, contiguous to the amphitheater. The other was in a separate area adjacent to the newly opened (and popular) “La Gloria” restaurant. Soon children were seen playing there. Although this separate spot was no bigger than a standard suburban lawn, signs appeared announcing a “park”.

Next, all along the perimeter of the various segments of this new park signs began to appear – the type of metallic lawn sign common to political campaigns and tradesman. Hand lettered by children, they appeared by the dozen. They too proclaimed the arrival of “The Park at Pearl”; each one suggesting in a charmingly child’s way, all the things kids could do to have fun at a park. Finally, toys were distributed in this “park” for the merriment of children. It was only then, when I realized that the toys were being distributed in the amphitheater section of the “park”, and that children were being encouraged to play there, that a new question arose in my mind regarding this development: Has marijuana been legalized in Texas?

This amphitheater is sited on a slope; one that is difficult to walk down even for the average adult. On top of this has been placed a slippery grass cover. This grass is regularly slickened by the constant watering required to keep it green. The seating and steps provided for the audience consist of large stone slabs arranged in semi-circular rows. There are a few metal handrails to assist folks navigating to these “seats”. In addition, presumably to prevent erosion, there are metal pipes embedded in the grass at surface level and largely hidden from sight by the grass sod. This site, which would be a challenge for a healthy adult navigate, has now been proclaimed a playground for children.

Somebody must be high.

As I watched, with growing horror, little children and toddlers began playing in the amphitheater. I could not, at first, believe my eyes. These youngsters were to be regularly observed running across the tops of the sandstone blocks, jumping from one block to another (often with wet feet), and running deliriously in and out of the narrow spaces formed by the blocks and metal railings. On occasion, a child could be observed atop these stones powering a hula-hoop while at the same time playing catch with other children atop other equally dangerous blocks: The hula-hoops and balls having been kindly provided by the considerate folks at the Pearl Brewery.

What to do? I could either shake my head in wonder and ignore the situation or speak out. After a few weeks, and witnessing more close calls, I realized I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t try to do something. I would rather be considered an old crank than someday find out that a child had been badly injured or even killed at this amphitheater turned playground.

The first thing I did was to get online and see if there were any organizations dedicated to playground safety in San Antonio. I found an organization called Safe Kids USA that had a representative in San Antonio. In an exchange of e-mails, this lady more or less passed the buck by suggesting other people that might do something about my concerns.
Safe Kids USA, San Antonio branch, could not be bothered.

I contacted Paseo Del Rio in the hope they might have some jurisdiction or interest: They didn’t. I contacted the San Antonio River Association (SARA). It turns out that they built the stage for the amphitheater/playground. Although the stage is one of the main ingredients in attracting crowds to the amphitheater, they claim they have no responsibility for the “park”. I found this curious (this is not the time to ask why a public agency built a stage for a private park). After all, what is a theater without a stage?

It seemed to me that anyone responsible for attracting children would also be found liable if negligence would be found to result in a serious injury. Nonetheless, SARA did not agree and they too politely blew me off.

I had better luck with contacts in the city government. The parks department, where child safety is a constant concern, regretted they had no jurisdiction over private parks. Their concern was sufficient, however, to do enough research to indicate that the health department did have jurisdiction.

All this time, I wondered what could be motivating the highly intelligent folks at Silver Ventures that had created this safety nightmare. Clearly, they are using the park to attract customers to the other vendors that rent space from them at the Pearl. This is clear from their website. It says, regarding the park, “enjoy……then swing by the CIA bakery for sandwiches….” Through constant observation of the Pearl and frequent involvement, it has become clear that the overall development at pearl Brewery seems to be quite successful. It is the premier yuppie venue in San Antonio. It is also equally clear to me that the contributions to this success made by parents who bring children to play in the amphitheater are minimal. Why is this tiny incremental profit being allowed to overshadow common sense, concerns for child safety, and the threat of massive lawsuits?

Many millions of dollars are invested in this project. What percentage of this investment would be necessary to provide the required safety features? How much would simple fencing cost? Even if they are not motivated by a proper regard for child safety, one would think that such a tiny budget item would more than pay for itself in reduced insurance costs alone.

As of this writing, there are no safety measures whatsoever at this playground, nor is there any supervision provided. Still, a spokesperson for Pearl insists this site is safe. They maintain that, in any case, it is parents who are responsible, not Pearl Brewery.

They invited me to meet with them to listen to my concerns. I responded that I would be happy to do so if they could bring to that meeting the safety experts or safety reports they
had relied upon to justify using the amphitheater as a playground.

I’m still waiting.

An amphitheater is not a playground; what safety expert would risk their career or reputation signing off on such a reckless adventure? A thorough search of this subject would, I dare suggest, not find a single example on this planet where intelligent adults opened a rock strewn and sloped amphitheater as a children’s playground. While all San Antonians would like to advertise to the world our unique attractions, this is a case where we should prefer to be seen as normal.

The health department assured me that they shared my concerns. They informed me that they had spoken to Pearl about not distributing toys in the amphitheater area. They seemed to agree that child’s play should be restricted to the flat areas of the park and that play among the sandstone blocks was dangerous. They did not indicate that they were going to force Pearl to close this admittedly dangerous section of the park.

Several days after getting this advice from the health department I visited the park at prime time, a Sunday afternoon. On SARA’s stage, a live band was banging away. A tiny crowd was listening. Children were playing on and among the rocks. They were using the toys provided for that purpose by the Pearl Brewery. These toys had been distributed, once again, in the amphitheater area. If the health department had advised Silver Ventures that they should not provide these toys, and that play on the sandstone seats was dangerous, this advice was being completely ignored. As of Sunday, it was business as usual, full steam ahead, for the safety-challenged management at the Pearl Brewery.

So far, my efforts have created a storm of “cover your butt”, but the children are just as much at risk as ever. Perhaps citizen-journalism will get better results. I need your help. If you are in San Antonio, whether a private citizen like me or a public official, take a few minutes and check out our new playground.

Decide for yourself. Am I a nutcase, or is this place going to get some kid smashed up?

It is not a very important thing. It doesn’t compare with the border crisis or the budget crisis or the Arab Spring or the collapse of the Spurs.

Like children, it’s just a little thing.

Sensible comments to swantsays@gmail.com

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