June 4, 2010

Kent State and Palestine

Same shit, different century.

Left: the aftermath of shootings of demonstrators by the National Guard at Kent State University in the Vietnam era. Right: a peaceful American demonstrator (an artist, in fact) blinded by a tear gas canister shot by Israeli forces at a roadblock in Palestine.

May 24, 2010

Hey, Dershowitz!

You odious prick, how's your attempt to smear Goldstone workin' out for ya, now that this has come out again?

March 27, 2010

The Ten-Book Meme

There’s a meme going around asking people to name ten books that have been influential in their lives, or views. You’re not supposed to think too much about it. Well, here are mine, with brief explanations. I left a great deal out, for example the works of Érico Veríssimo, which taught me a great deal about Brazil, or Mary Renault, whose early historical novels I liked so much.

If I did it tomorrow, I'd come up with a different list, maybe starting with Apuleius's Golden Ass, the Lazarillo de Tormes, and A Confederacy. There are no right answers.

1. Homage to Catalonia, by George Orwell.

Orwell, like many leftists of his time, went to Spain to fight in the Civil War. In Orwell’s case, he didn’t leave his common sense or keen observer’s eye behind, and was able to see and convey the darkness behind many leftist movements, especially the Stalinist version of communism. At an early age, I acquired a skepticism (not strong enough) about the left.

2. The Road to Serfdom, by Friedrich A.Hayek

A popular book on the follies of socialism and the managerial state, that lays out pretty clearly how government control of the economy doesn’t work very well, and tends to tyranny. I’m not a down-the-line libertarian, but this is an important book.

3. The Orthodox Way, by Kallistos (Timothy) Ware

A concise and literate overview of the Orthodox Christian tradition.

4. All the King’s Men, by Robert Penn Warren

A fine book about a special, but not entirely atypical corner of American public life. Evokes the great but flawed Huey P. Long of Louisiana. See also Liebling's The Earl of Louisiana, an account of Huey's brother, crazy, though perhaps like a fox.

5. 100 Poems from the Chinese, by Kenneth Rexroth

Lovely gems of classic Chinese poetry, beautifully rendered into English. Rexroth, a West Coast anarchist poet and critic, is almost always worth reading.

6. The Death and Life of Great American Cities, by Jane Jacobs

Jacobs led a successful crusade against the bureaucratic visionary and “master builder” Robert Moses, who wanted to drive a highway through Greenwich Village, destroying it. Jacobs shows how conventional zoning destroys urban community life.

7. A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula LeGuin

LeGuin is the daughter of the Berkeley anthropologist Alfred Kroeber, but instead of researching existing worlds, she creates fascinating worlds of her own. Earthsea is perhaps the best known. This is the first novel of the trilogy--or is it now a tetralogy. A coming-of-age novel in a well-imagined different world.

8. 1-2-3 Infinity, by George Gamow

Gamow wrote more than one popularization of the cosmology known in my youth. It’s all changed, of course, but it drew me into an appreciation of science and mathematics, even if I never became proficient in either.

9. Growing Up Absurd

Paul Goodman’s dissection of the early meritocracy, and dream of a better way of growing up, and being grown up.

10. Reviving Ophelia, by Mary Pipher

A wise and humane account of the pressures on many pre-adolescent and adolescent girls, and how to help them to grow up strong, with the liveliness they had at 10 and 11.

January 1, 2010

Three New Year's Scenarios

Wm. Safire having bought the farm, someone had to make New Year's predictions. Here are mine, in three variants: quasi-apocalyptic, benign, and realistic. Or: really bad s**t, pretty good news, what's most likely to happen.  We'll check in a year. Here goes:


1. Iran starts executing dissidents.

2. Yemen-based Al Qaeda succeeds in downing planes. Americans attack Yemen. Obama institutes conscription.

4. Israel attacks Iran. Iran closes Straits of Hormuz. Hezbollah and Hamas attack Israel. Israel retaliates, destroys Lebanon, bombs Syria, and expels Palestinians from West Bank. Mubarak government falls. Military-Islamist coalition takes power, denounces peace treaty with Israel, sends troops to Sinai. Netanyahu threatens to nuke Aswan Dam and kill millions in Nile Valley. Saudis close oil spigot.

5. Oil rises to $250 per gallon. Stock market plunge worldwide. Food prices soar. Worldwide food riots. US unemployment rises to 15 per cent.

6. Hemorrhagic fever epidemic starts in West Africa; hundreds of thousands die. Worldwide travel ban ensues. Major airlines file bankruptcy.

7. Obama killed by IED planted by unknown terrorists. Biden assumes Presidency, giving 5-hour rambling speech. Appoints Hillary VP. Blacks riot in major cities nationwide. National Guard kills dozens. Martial law proclaimed in Harlem, South Central LA, etc.

8. Taliban close supply route to Afghanistan. Pakistan Army refuses to intervene. India attacks Pakistan. China mobilizes on India border. Shiites and Iranian Pasdaran attack supply route from Kuwait to Baghdad. US troops in jeopardy as civil war erupts in Iraq. Muslim youth riot throughout Europe. Martial law proclaimed. Italy, France intern foreign nationals.

8. California and New York default on debt. Biden places them under federal control, appoints Petraeus supreme commander. Massive food queues, riots in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco. Hundereds shot, martial law proclaimed as cities burn and Whites, Asians arm themselves.

9. Earthquake and tsunami during monsoon season destroy most of Bangladesh, killing millions.

10. Civil war breaks out in Ukraine. Russia seizes East Ukraine, Crimea. NATO mobilizes.


1. Five Senate Democrats announce they cannot support health care bill in present form. Substitute proposed with modest reforms (tort reform, anti-trust exemption for insurance companies abolished, state-mandated coverage for politically popular diseases banned, etc.)

2. President appoints Special Prosecutor to investigate banking débacle. Dozens of Wall St. bankers indicted. Geithner, Summers fired. Volcker Sec. of Treasury.

3. Withdrawal from Iraq accelerated. Escalation in Afghanistan quietly delayed. Obama orders phase-out of mercenaries such as Blackwater.

4. Iraqi Army issues pronunciamento. Khamenei flees to Russia. Moussavi assumes Presidency. Talks lead to comprehensive deal between US, Iran.

5. Obama proposes all-infrastructure stimulus.

6. Hamas, Fatah agree on unity government, negotiations. Obama warns Netanyahu against attack on Iran.

7. Major breakthrough in carbon-fixation research.

8. November election leads to GOP control of House, narrow Democratic majority in Senate. Reid defeated for reelection.

9. Illegal immigration continues to decline.

10. AIDS, malaria vaccine tests promising.


1. Health care negotiations stall. Democrats ultimately pass a bill that everyone hates, creating new entitlement. The entire camel is in the tent.

2. Obama proposes, Congress passes, second stimulus. Interest rates on Treasuries begin to rise.

3. Violence in Iraq increases as troop drawdown continues. Full civil war avoided. Casualties in Afghanistan increase as supply lines come under threat. Zardari arrested for corruption, deposed. New elections called. Mass rallies against American drone strikes.

4. Greece defaults on debt; Baltics, Spain in danger of default. Germans reluctantly agree to bailout. Euro falls relative to dollar.

5. Iran becomes increasingly unstable. Nuclear negotiations falter. Weak sanctions imposed. US restrains Israelis from attacking.

6. israel-Palestine peace process stalls. Abbas ousted. Barghouti is released in prisoner swap, becomes President of Palestinian Authority, recognized by Hamas. Civil disobedience on West Bank grows. Kadima splits. Talk of one-state solution increases.

7. California legalizes, taxes marijuana.

8. Stevens retires from Supreme Court. Obama appoints Hillary Clinton, who is easily confirmed.

9. NY Times files Chapter 11, purchased by News Corp. Chrysler fails, is liquidated.

10. GOP victory in Congressional elections, Dems hold Senate narrowly; GOP has narrow lead in House. Reid, Specter defeated. Schumer becomes majority leader. Cuomo, Brown are governors in NY, CA respectively. After fundraising and campaigning nationwide, Palin's star continues to rise.

December 30, 2009

A Low, Dishonest Decade

Rod Dreher lists five changes he thinks significant in the last decade:

* The Islamic threat
* The humbling of American power
* The humbling of market capitalism
* The collapse of American conservatism
* The rise of gay marriage
* The globe is going to warm, no matter what

I came up with four more:

1. The rise of new economic powers in the former Third World: China, India, Brazil. This change is as permanent as things get in history.

 Let's hope it doesn't end in war, as did the rise of Germany.

2. The digital media explosion, with the decline of the MSM. We're just in the middle of this transition, but it's enormously significant in ways we're just beginning to understand.

3. Environmental degradation. I'm a bit skeptical on global warming, though on balance it seems to be happening, but the damage done to oceans, groundwater, forests, and arable land is undeniable.

4. The decline of fertility. Most marked in Europe and Japan, but occurring almost everywhere. Concomitantly, third world immigration to industrial countries. The trend lines may shift, making straight extrapolation disaster scenarios uncertain, but this is another change that is incomplete and whose results are uncertain.

December 24, 2009

If Your Christmas Gets Too Saccharine, Watch This

One of the few songs I know about disillusionment (as opposed simply to torch songs).

There's no redemption for us without recognizing our fallenness.

December 6, 2009

The Return of the Player

The Return of the Player The Return of the Player by Michael Tolkin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This book is a send up of the Hollywood and associated New Rich. There are some very funny insights and scenes, but the book is not nearly so profound as the author thinks. His views, alas, are often quite tiresome.

View all my reviews >>

November 27, 2009

Och Rocks On: Thanksgiving Debate

The Ochlophobist is a Memphis blogger. He has posted a screed on Thanksgiving that is well worth reading and pondering. The latter part of the post is a good story about bullying and other antics at a Mennonite school. Well worth reading but hardly food for debate.

The former part questions Thanksgiving, among other things because it is surrounded by patrioteering mythology. Our kindergarteners dress as Pilgrims and Indians, and are told about the harmonious beginnings of our country, but not about the massacres that followed not so long after, which were also the occasion of Thanksgiving by the Puritan community. A long history followed, in which our forbears were far from blameless.

Och sees Thanksgiving as an idolatrous feast, in which we gorge ourselves on packaged foods, and celebrate our nation as if it were a god, rather than a flawed set of human institutions. Och is not a zealot, and celebrates with his family, but uncomfortably.

Och, as usual, is onto something. In our sometimes frantic efforts to weld a bunch of immigrants and their descendants, from many different ethnies and religions, into a nation, we tend to become loud, assertive, and if challenged, defensive. Perhaps we have no need constantly to beat our breasts about the crimes of our predecessors, but neither should we be oblivious to them. The ideology of American exceptionalism is indeed idolatrous, and has provided some of the rationale for foreign misadventures from the Phillipines to Iraq. We can love our country without bowing down to it as a god or fashioning a mythology to deify it.

Thanksgiving is part of a festival cycle that has grown up. We can say that it is as follows:

New Year's

American readers will be familiar with the rituals and symbols involved, and because analysis could get tedious, let's leave it at that. This cycle is no longer recognizably Christian, as its personifications (Witches, ghosts, and goblins; turkeys, Pilgrims, and Indians; Santa, Rudolph, Jimmy Stewart and Bob Cratchit; the Old Man and the Baby New Year) show. For some Christians, the Holy Family and the crêche play a minor part, but if one listens to the music in public places, it's "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" and "Chestnuts Roasting Round An Open Fire," not "Come All Ye Faithful" or "Angels We Have Heard On High." The religious expressions are frequently treated as private and if expressed in the public square, offensive.

I am not raising the spectre of the "War Against Christmas," which by now is a straw man. If there was such a war, the Christians have long since surrendered.

Ho ho ho.

Follow the money.

The "Russian Whore Test"

Like a freeway gawker looking at a crash, or a spectator at a bum-fight, I am drawn to Commentary Magazine's contentions blog, to see how degenerate neoconservatism and hasbara can become. Max Boot, usually one of the site's less-deranged bloggers, posting about the importance of Dubai, despite its financial troubles, today blew my weak mind:
But still for all of Dubai’s excesses it is a wonder that it has gotten this far. It deserves not ill-disguised glee at its misfortunes but a degree of respect for its willingness to flout traditional Arab taboos. It is, for example, a place where Emiratis in white robes rub shoulders with Russian hookers in mini-skirts — a place where it’s perfectly possible to get a nice cocktail (and not a “mocktail,” as in Kuwait) in a public bar, and to do so in the middle of Ramadan if you’re feeling parched at that point.
If an Islamist needed an example of not merely the West, but Western Jews, promoting the destruction of traditional culture in the Middle East, Boot has provided it.

I do not romanticize Islamic culture. There is, no doubt, plenty of sexual hanky-panky in Islamic societies, as there is in almost all. If, however, the test of an enlightened society is the presence of Russian whores and the availability of martinis in public places, the game of spreading modernity by force of arms or by largesse financed through the sale of paper to the Chinese is not worth the candle. Let them import their own damned whores.

November 13, 2009

Things Are Changing

As Netanyahu knows, there is consensus support among Israelis for his plan to ensure that the country retains defensible borders in perpetuity. This involves establishing permanent Israeli control over the Jordan Valley and the large Jewish population blocs in Judea and Samaria. In light of the well-recognized failure of the two-state solution, Hamas's takeover of Gaza and the disintegration of Fatah accompanied by the shattering of the myth of Fatah moderation,Israel should strike out on a new course and work toward the integration of Judea and Samaria, including its Palestinian population, into Israeli society. In the first instance, this will require the implementation of Israeli law in the Jordan Valley and the large settlement blocs.
--Caroline Glick

Seems like the ogress has embraced the one-state solution, albeit without the right of return, and she'd like to finesse letting all the Palestinians on the West Bank vote right away. Would she also let them travel and work throughout the country, on the same roads, dismantle the roadblocks, etc.?

I still fear the real plan is to provoke a war and carry out "transfer" (expulsion) under cover of the crisis, but perhaps she's serious.

In any case, Oslo is just about over, and apartheid will not stand.