I have met a lot of people here in Tennessee that I almost certainly would not have met in Michigan; partly because Tennessee is growing, partly because my social circle is necessarily rather ad hoc down here. Not that I did not know any religious people in Michigan, or drug dealers, but I certainly did not tend to live with them in rather close quarters.

One person I met was a young guy who had lived in Saudi Arabia with his father, who had some ongoing business in the KoSA. Some people think SA is terribly anti-American; while I agree that it is rather bigoted, certainly Western society, as a whole, presented a similarly depressing picture back in the day. And that is what I took from this young man. First, the Saudis are not under any illusions that the KoSA is rather unique: when you disembark you are required to sign a document that informs you, in stark language, that the penalty under sharia law for many minor offenses is either death or something close to it. We find this disturbing. I would find it far more disturbing if they tried to cover it up or claim it was normal, a la the Islamic Rebublic of Iran. KoSA is every bit as exceptionalist as the U.S. but in a different way: homeland of Mecca and Medina, SA is almost the Vatican, the Solomon's Temple, of the Islamic world and, indeed, as you might expect of the Papal States, the royal family is terribly weak unless, and only unless, their official acts are seen as completely orthodox and conservative; then they act from a position of strength. Note that bin Laden turned professionally anti-American when the King allowed American soldiers in the Kingdom only to repel Iraq from Kuwait. That act was a radical change and radical change is bad.

How old-fashioned is Saudi Arabia? This kid told me a story of tooling around the desert in a dune buggy until his old man cut it short. The father saw, on a far dune, horsemen: the bedou. In the old days, the bedou made pocket change by raiding and kidnapping. Since it is hard to tell if a man cares he is living in the 21st century by his distantly-viewed face, the father got his kid out of there in a hurry: they were known to hit isolated targets even today.

It is romantic, in a way, to think of the bedou, old even in the time of Christ, as a going concern. It is also a bit frightening, given that even the city Arabs and Turks found them troublesome and rebellious. It is a living reminder of the age of the world and the thin veneer of civilization papering over all that blood and strife, just as I feel when I read, pace some blogger, that the age of the iPod is in fact powered by electricity usually generated by coal.

My landlord is another type I had not met in Michigan; an ex-Colombian living in the U.S. College-educated, his first name is Adolfo. He was named after Adolf Hitler.

He was born in 1960.

As it turns out, his grandfather was severely burned in a barn fire as a boy. He ended up in Germany, which was the only country which could, more or less, repair burns of that extent. Apparently, in addition to the medical care, the young man was quite impressed by the Nazi response to the Depression. And thus "Adolfo".

The truly humorous part of all this is that the grandson is quite liberal. I mean, Socialist. Which means simply that he pursues the same old bad ends from an international, not chauvinist, perspective. One might be tempted to suggest different ends. One might also harbor fantasies of a Five Year Plan for peace in the Middle East. According to this guy:

- Vincente Fox is all for the rich. (Yeah, what did those lousy Morgans, Fords, Gates and Astors ever do for America?) The next Mexican President, of a different party, will also be for the rich.

- The U.S. government dictates currency devaluation in all of South America.

- South Americans are only allowed to buy Esso (you know, Exxon) oil while the Norte Americanos must share their home market with British Petroleum. The same goes for cars, soda, &c. This is the way the U.S. wants it and Europe and Japan meekly accept this.

- France is full of diplomatic geniuses thwarted by that cowboy in the White House.

- South American pharmaceutical companies produced "generic" anti-HIV drugs before the bad U.S. free-trade agreements. The term "pirate" never occurs to him, just as it never did to the Russians I met who thought Linux was a bad deal when you could "distribute" MS Windows for the cost of a CD-R.

- He has no idea why South American unemployment skyrocketed in the 1990s. Apparently, the thought that Malaysians, Taiwanese, Koreans, Chinese and Indians are now in the jobs market does not occur to him, nor that the Norte Americanos also suffered from this dislocation.

- The Chinese will soon overtake America as the great power. Their crippling bad debts and political rigidity does not occur to him, nor that they may suffer the fate of the Japanese. ("Our Economy Is Stuck On Suck.") Nor does he think that trade will tie their war hand.

This reminds me of the great blog post on the Arab Parallel Universe. In fact, I see one of the commenters spelled it out: "Man, I feel so related to this post: change Arab Parallel Universe for Latin American Parallel Universe, and you get almost the same. And I thought we were [the] land of Magical Realism!"

Apparently, our State Department sucks far more than I thought: these thoughts are the common currency of people who do not read hard news. Quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus indeed. What do we pay those goons in Foggy Bottom for, again? Are we no longer the land of Madison Avenue? Deep down I know that America was like this back in the day: Washington and Adams both risked ultimate defeat in negotiating peace treaties with England and France because the great mass of American opinion, among the low, in those days was virulently paranoid about aristocratic, monarchial, European influence on our way of life and our government. We were lucky to go through that then, before the age of nukes, before suicide bombers and sarin gas.

"I am not a Pillar, but a Buttress, of the Established Church. I support it from without."–Lord Melbourne