Thursday, August 30, 2018

counter revolution

A piece in the NY Times — (8/28/18, "‘The Whole World Is Watching’: The 1968 Democratic Convention, 50 Years Later") — consisting of recollections by participants in the protests at the '68 Democratic National Convention, begins with this:

MARILYN KATZ, then 21, S.D.S. security chief: I was pretty exuberant. We were having a good time. We had Allen Ginsberg and all these adults who were our idols coming to say how wonderful we were. It wasn’t just in Chicago — it was Paris, Mexico City, Prague. We were part of a worldwide youth movement, and we really thought we were the future.

It concludes with this less enthusiastic assessment by Todd Gitlin, (former S.D.S. president, then 25):

I think once you step back, what really happened here was not the beginning of the revolution but the beginning of the counterrevolution.

. . .

Back then, I was in the demographic fully swept up into the exhilaration Katz expresses. We were irresistible and contagious — we were viral avant la lettre: Chicago, Berkeley Columbia, Paris, Mexico City, Prague and beyond.

Or as Kesey put it on his Magic Bus: "Further!"

Gitlin was noting and/or foretelling a different future, one involving the Southern strategy, Nixon, racism, xenophobia, escalation in Vietnam. And to continue beyond that time frame to today, Orban, Erdogan, Putin, and not least of all, Trump.

The question I'd ask Gitlin if I were talking to him now is: given your accurate reading of the future, how have you managed to maintain your activism,  to the high degree which you have done?

Tuesday, August 28, 2018


Palestinians in Israel's Occupied Territories, and, to a lesser degree, within Israel proper, have it rough, for sure, with few prospects of improvement. The cameras are on them. Still, it's worth contemplating the even more abysmal fate of China's Muslim population, the Uighurs, where few cameras penetrate.

As per a recent report in the Atlantic:

"One million Muslims are being held right now in Chinese internment camps, according to estimates cited by the UN and U.S. officials. Former inmates—most of whom are Uighurs, a largely Muslim ethnic minority—have told reporters that over the course of an indoctrination process lasting several months, they were forced to renounce Islam, criticize their own Islamic beliefs and those of fellow inmates, and recite Communist Party propaganda songs for hours each day. There are media reports of inmates being forced to eat pork and drink alcohol, which are forbidden to Muslims, as well as reports of torture and death."

Chinese Muslims are treated to the old fashioned clenched fist approach of communism, still available when modernization isn't enough. As per a broadcast in China, explaining the mass detention of the Uighurs: "The religious extremist ideology [aka Islam] is a type of poisonous medicine, which confuses the mind of the people."

Such religiosity is treated as a form of mental illness, to which detention by the thousands will provide the cure.

How very Soviet, how echt-Stalin.

There are many solid reasons why Americans, and others, are preoccupied with the fate of Palestinians, and become obsessed, even vicious, about conflicting approaches to remediation. But it would be nice if we could suspend such presumably well-intentioned intramural hostilities and spare a thought for the fate of the Uighurs.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Turn this plane around!

I love this: federal judge Emmet G. Sullivan, ordered a plane to turn around and bring back "several Central American women requesting asylum [when] he learned that a woman and her daughter had been ushered from a Texas shelter, driven to an airport and put on a plane to El Salvador." **

The judge, "criticized the government for deporting the pair just as they were seeking justice in court."

Maybe I love this most of all: "In ordering the government to undo the deportation, he threatened to hold government officials, from Attorney General Jeff Sessions on down, in contempt, said a lawyer for the plaintiffs."

At least some of the judiciary is holding firm against the wholesale assault on democratic institutions by Trump.

The plane did not turn around in mid-air, which seemed to be the import of the judge's order, and would have been cinematically ideal. Instead, it landed in El Salvador, but took off again immediately, whisking the "deportees" back to the United States.

**Vivian Yee "Judge Threatens Sessions With Contempt Over Deported Asylum Seekers" (NY Times, 8/9/18)

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Dear Nation Readers

Dear Nation Readers
Dear Nation Readers, here I go again: I too like reading Katha Pollitt, Eric Alterman (when he posts), Calvin Trillin, etc. — I like it when The Nation is at its best, leftish but non doctrinaire —but the magazine owes readers an accounting.

Or does anybody still care enough about The Nation to notice and demand it? Perhaps not.

In any case, publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel, and her husband, Russia scholar Stephen F. Cohen, have repeatedly used the magazine as a platform for their views that any difficulty between the United States and Russia is all the responsibility of the United States.

Putin harbors no grand anti-democratic, anti-Western designs.

There is no Russian  cyber-strategy aimed at the West.

Russia did nothing to encourage Brexit.

Nothing to encourage anti-democratic regimes in Hungary and Poland.

Nothing to help Trump win in 2016.

One could go on.

Perhaps this is a throwback to the Cold War, when some lefties attributed the whole contretemps to the West, the United States in particular.

Perhaps it is a testament to the fact that, whether you are left or right — true I am addressing the left —  learning is hard, when historical circumstances shift strangely and radically.

Katrina vanden Heuvel and Stephen F. Cohen evince no propensity for learning. They are still defending and foolishly upgrading  an ideology that may have made some sense once upon a time, or not.

The Nation owes readers an accounting.

On the other hand, given lack of demand for it, maybe nobody  cares.

Monday, July 23, 2018

War with Iran

Trump threatening war on Iran is terrifying, all the more because of his partner in would-be belligerence, Bibbi Netanyahu.

Netanyahu's military advisors advised against opposing Obama's nuclear treaty with Iran, and against Israeli military action against Iran. No doubt they are advising similarly now. And yet. . .

As for me, I don't understand how Netanyahu skirts the obvious fact that war with Iran would catastrophic for his country, no matter American involvement. Through Hezbollah, comfortably ensconced in Lebanon, Iran has thousand of increasingly advanced missiles targeting Israel, including its population centers.

Does Netanyahu imagine an invasion of Iran would be as simple, in the first place, as the American overthrow of Saddam Hussein, though that too, after the initial, simple, and predictable victory for American arms, redounded with long-term, catastrophic consequences we're still feeling?

Does Trump believe his rhetoric, according to which the Iranian people are just waiting for the American whistle to rise up and dispatch their onerous Islamic regime?

Don't we know that worst kind of demagogues, real or aspiring, are those who believe their own rhetoric?

There's much madness afoot here, both Trump's and Netanyahu's, and more, to my mind, Netanyahu's than Trump's. What, in the short term, does the United States risk in military engagement with Iran? Washington, NYC etc. are beyond the range of Iranian missiles.

Tel Aviv, it's just the perfect solution, the perfect bulls eye.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Speaking of Epistemology

Masha Gessen makes a distinction between how Putin and Trump lied in Helsinki (New Yorker 7/17/18). Trump, he ranted and raved, per usual — fake news, FBI witch hunt, and all the rest. Putin however, as per Gessen, was more circumspect and more, shall we say, strictly epistemological — about it.

“As to the question of who can or can’t be believed and whether anyone can be believed: no one can be believed. Where did you get the idea that President Trump trusts me or that I trust him fully? He protects the interests of the United States of America. I protect the interests of the Russian Federation.” . . . In other words, Putin was saying, both of us will lie strategically. There is no such thing as the truth. Knowability is a delusion."

Thing of it is, Trump has to confront democratic norms, frayed and in serious retreat as they may be, back in the United States.

Putin confronts no such obstacles. A history that devolves around Nicholas II, Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev et al is clear sailing for a twenty-first century tyrant. Putin exults and basks in pure will to power.

Of course Trump has Putin envy.

But will Putin's dictum: "There is no such thing as the truth. Knowability is a delusion" really prevail in the land of Jefferson and Washington, an essentially, foundationally empirical land? Will it really demolish what was, in politics, an Enlightenment experiment and an unquestioned Enlightenment victory?

It occurs to me to ask: What does Steven Pinker say?

Last I heard, he'd written a great and laudatory book about Enlightenment — The Power Of Reason, Science, Empirical Truth. He thinks only the bad mood of the press, and too great an interest in the sour thoughts of Friedrich Nietzsche has kept the true appreciation of the Enlightenment from coming to the fore.

But where has Steven Pinker gone.

Seems he's left and gone away.

Hey hey hey

If I were you the big book I'd read about this stunning and dangerous reversal of Enlightenment values we're seeing at the moment is not Pinker's "Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science"

It would, sad to say, be Timothy Snyder's "The road to Unfreedom : Russia, Europe, America"


Tuesday, July 17, 2018

why this poem sucks

forgive me if this poem sucks, but then again
so too does falling

what does the devil have to say about falling
he fell for a long time lucifer and his whole crappy anti-photonic crew, those dull grey angels

but milton doesn't much discuss the endless
helplessness of falling

he focuses on landing, how satan made out of hell a heaven and all that defiant latinate oratorical shit he famously utters

& how he rallied the demoralized likes of bespoke and beshat demons like beelzebub around him

gathered them up from the frozen outhouse  of hell

told them to man up
get they asses together

(forgive me but lucifer was like jordan peterson except for demons)

and comprised them into a regime

but of falling itself
milton was strangely mute

which is weird
'cause he was fucking blind

so didn't he ever tip over

(on milton's being blind yet not fearing falling many doctorates could be written )

point being
from milton on
falling itself is unexplored

though i am in a plague of falling
people my age
tripping losing their balance landing on their faces their arms their backs

more brittle than they were
coming up busted
fearful of the next time

more of us all the time
arthritic sclerotic neuro-nastily damaged

i blame paradise lost for not being truthful about this

for covering it rhetorically over

and beyond that blame genesis
which sets the stage

so adam and eve had to walk the earth
or maybe that was cain

but nobody actually toppled over
suffered the fact of falling

(footnote: it actually it was christianity that made a big deal of the fall, qua fall.)

i blame all that history
for why this poem needed to be written
which maybe it didn't
including why
i think

it's lacking . . .