Saturday, February 17, 2018

Trump & caviar

Trump, well he grew up in Queens, but he has the manners and mentality of a Russian oligarch — but not the taste, assuming any. Yes he has his dacha in Mar-a-Lago but I can't imagine Yevgeny Prigozhin, for example, Putin's "cook," stooping to shtup and (possibly overdose) on Whoppers and Big Macs.

No, a genuine member of Russian's new nomenklatura would enjoy something like Sevruga Classic Grey Caviar,  listed as $17,297.18 per 64 oz tin, or, better yet, Almas caviar, produced from the eggs "of a rare albino sturgeon between 60-100 years old, which swims in the southern Caspian Sea where there is apparently less pollution."

Fascinating. Mythical. Astoundingly delicious.

To plotz for.

There are parts of Brooklyn, heavily settled by Russian immigrants as you would expect, where super caviar is kept under surveillance — food for the Tsars and a nice nosh for their descandant, Putin. Not that Trump would know from or appreciate it. Like I said, he's from Queens: Whoppers and milk shakes for him.

When Trump formally applies for refuge in Moscow, sooner rather than later, he would have to be re-educated.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Against JVP

Some of my recent writings about why I oppose JVP.

I think of it as a perfect way to divide a growing and inevitable consensus among Jews on campus and elsewhere against Israel policy toward the Palestinians, and to foment useless and exhausting internecine battles instead.

This thought deserves fuller treatment than I'm giving it here, and I fully mean to expand on it, but still: Just as Weatherman helped incapacitate the campus based movement against the war in Vietnam — no one has better documented this than Mark Rudd, in his pained and rueful description of how proto-Weathermen gleefully and stupidly tore up mailing lists of anti-war students —  so JVP is helping to hinder or incapacitate a consensus among Jewish students that Israeli policy towards Palestinians needs to be opposed.

Just as Weatherman did, JVP  puts division and unneeded opposition in the way of potential unity.

[Here's an email to Mark Rudd who had had objected that I could just as easily — and wrongly — apply the above argument to any position to the "left" of mine. My response:]

First of all, I don't think of JVP as to the "left" of my position. I'm not sure those terms apply.  I think of JVP as mischievous and dishonest.

In brief, there's the mass line: apply BDS to products from the settlements — cool. Behind it, there's the cadre line: Israel is the first and foremost of illegal settlements; Israel is a colonial settler state — Leninist lingo lives on, don't it — and the oppression of Palestinians can only be resolved by annulling Israel and replacing it with a binational state, Jews and Palestinians, one person one vote.
The mass line — BDS as applied to the settlements is appealing, to me and others, and draws people to JVP. But the cadre line — abolish the Jewish state — is the driving and guiding force, the leadership. If you like I can establish that this is so with ease, as you can too,  simply by going to Omar Barghouti's site.

What did it for me about JVP — as perhaps tearing up the mailing lists on reflection did it for you — was learning that Barghouti flipped out when the Pope, on his visit to Israel, paid respects to Herzl’s grave. The Pope visited with Abbas to show clear Vatican support for a Palestinian state. That didn't satisfy Barghouti, who saw the Pope honoring Herzl as a hideous violation of Palestinian rights; for him, for JVP, the Pope had no business honoring Herzl, because, after all,  ZIONISM = RACISM.

Some of problem with JVP stems from this dishonesty. If JVP could be clear about its support for a "one-state" solution that would be to its credit, and allow for honest debate. (We can discuss: I'm against but understand why many at this point are for). But JVP is not honest; it fudges. At least we were honest about our admittedly meshugenah belief in world revolution guided by marxist-leninist-maoist parties.

That's not all of it: I do think Israel is pushing Jews except for the religious right to a consensus sharply critical of Israel. That would be more obvious on campus were it not for the way debate is being distorted and hijacked by whether or not you are for JVP. It's nice to think JVP/BDS is at last a practical way to push Israel to change its policy. (Ah, another parallel with W'man, for would not armed struggle compel the United States to disengage from Vietnam the way mass protests on their own would not?) But truth is JVP drains energy more than lends it to critique of Israel. Were it not for the exhausting and dumbfounding debate about JVP I think liberal Jews would be finding all sorts of ways to press their point, ways more integral than West Bank goods, maybe, who knows, pertaining to United States military/financial aid.

(As an aside: of course there is such a thing as liberal Zionism. Take me: As a liberal, both vis a vis the United States and Israel, I oppose much of Israeli policy, and have for decades. But do I believe Israel has a right to exist? Yep. Must be the Zionist in me, the elemental Zionism I do not disown. Could be how impressed I was by "Exodus"  when I read it as a kid. Could be my memory of how my maternal grandmother, with personal memory of pogroms, speaking Yiddish, her first language, would mutter that Israel [my transliteration] hut gerativit  — had saved menschen.

Could be how badly the left now as ever contends with anti-Semitism.

I think you came through the Weather experience uniquely — self-critically and sanely, with enough political grey matter remaining to make you worth hearing.

But I think with regard to JVP you are — out of frustration with Israel, violent impatience for it to change — going through the same thing twice.

I am often asked in these discussions how I propose to stop Israel on its awful course. I answer something to the effect that, I write, arthritis permitting I demonstrate, I read, I talk. I support J St because it educates and works so far as it can toward a 2-state solution, which is still the only solution, assuming there is any solution, short of war.

And there's the thing, this thing about solution. Why do I have to know the solution? There are many dire situations on earth that hurt to think about it. I don't feel in each case I have to know the answer. I've shrugged off that kind of arrogant global responsibility long ago.

But about the Middle East, I don't think JVP is anything like a solution, being neither left or right  but just mostly wrong.

There'd be more, and more effective, criticism of Israel, more channels for expressing it if JVP had not deranged the debate — yes, much the way W'man did, when it substituted a debate about armed struggle and global revolution for a debate about the war — and civil rights.

Don't tear up the mailing lists, Mark. Not again.

** I can see why decent people might support JVP/BDS out of profound frustration with Israeli policy toward the West Bank — yes, the West Bank, the Occupied Territory, not the Biblical lands of Judea and Samaria. I understand their outrage but think they're being fooled since, if  you take care to look into it just a bit, it becomes obvious that Omar Barghouti and other founders/leaders of JVP are not interested merely in addressing Israel's proto-apartheid policy toward the West Bank; no they think of Israel itself as just another, bigger, illegal settlement.

Monday, January 15, 2018


I can see why decent people might support JVP/BDS out of profound frustration with Israeli policy toward the West Bank — yes, the West Bank, the Occupied Territory, not the Biblical lands of Judea and Samaria. I understand their outrage but think they're being fooled since, if you take care to look into it just a bit, it becomes obvious that Omar Barghouti and other founders/leaders of JVP are not interested merely in addressing Israel's proto-apartheid policy toward the West Bank; no they think of Israel itself as just another, bigger, illegal settlement.
Then I read statements like those made by Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah this past weekend. In them: 
[he] gave a lengthy history lecture reaching back to the 17th century, saying that Oliver Cromwell had first proposed shipping European Jews to the Holy Land, before tracing the beginning of Zionism to what he called the 19th-century journalist and activist Theodor Herzl's efforts to "wipe out Palestinians from Palestine."
"This is a colonial enterprise that has nothing to do with Jewishness," Mr. Abbas said. "The Jews were used as a tool under the concept of the promised land -- call it whatever you want. Everything has been made up."
If educated, senior (if not yet certifiably senile) leaders of the Palestinian movement think "Jewishness" has nothing to do with the creation of Israel, and that the notion of "the promised land" is alien to Zionism and the creation of Israel, well, that's uniformed, fantastical and more than a little crazy.
It's exactly the sort of nonsense that will buttress the other side, the likes of JVP/BDS.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Trump Shits

Some have argued, cogently, that Trump has mental problems. Let me suggest he has bowel problems, and further that bowels can trump brains when it comes to being problematic. Yes, both bowels and brains contain neurons, the brain many more of them, of course, but bowel neurons are primed, charged and sunreflective.

Back to Trump, it's his shits not his thoughts that count. His shits fly, and he can barely outrun them to West Wing toilets. He doesn't like his crap wrinkling down his leg into his expensive shoes. He doesn't like screaming "No Shit!" as he discovers that nothing is faster than the speed of shit.

Of course Trump has got the Seventh Fleet if need be, plus Marines, to clean him up, and White House maids by the dozens to provide new linen.

Still, it roils him something wicked to soil himself.

And then he wipes himself and tweets

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Daphne Merkin "Publicly, We Say #MeToo. Privately, We Have Misgivings."

You may know Daphne Merkin as author of "Unlikely Obsession" (New Yorker, 1996), her account of how being spanked was an essential ingredient in her enjoyment of sex. Though BDSM was hardly a secret — think, in brief, of Madonna and The Velvet Underground, old news already, Merkin's piece triggered a fair amount of controversy. Perhaps that was because she was a writer, a littérateur, not a pop star, and should have had better things to do than write about the necessities of being spanked.

You may know Merkin, too, as a widely published author of essays which err, too often, in my view, on the side of being both quite knowledgeable and too decorous, too well-behaved — too defensive and shallow.

Last year she published a very well received memoir: "This close to happy
: a reckoning with depression."

It should also be noted — she has written about it — that she hails from a wealthy New York Jewish family, which after falling prey to Bernie Madoff's pyramid scheme, is now, one gathers, significantly less prone to philanthropic largess than it had been.

I'm mentioning all this now only to call attention away from it, and toward her op-ed in today's NY Times: "Publicly, We Say #MeToo. Privately, We Have Misgivings."

I think it's the most sane, level-headed, both assertive and questioning piece of writing I've come across about the scandal of sexual abuse and how to address it.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Alpha Zero, Chess God

Chess now has an engine, AlphaZero, that starts off knowing nothing of chess. It does not come equipped with a formidable database of old games, or a list of openings. It was never briefed by the likes of Garry Kasparov or Magnus Carlson, and never needed their assistance.

AlphaZero, "learned to play solely by playing against itself, over and over and over — 44 million games. It kept track of what strategies led to a win, favoring those, and which didn’t, casting those aside. After just four hours of this tabula rasa training, it clobbered the top chess program, an engine called Stockfish, winning 28 games, drawing 72 and losing zero. "

This is the method by which AlphaGo taught itself Go, and in short order became what one competitor called, "the God of Go,"  capable of playing "how I imagine games from far in the future are played."

What's fascinating about AlphaZero's chess play is that it, "adopted an all-out attacking style, making many bold material sacrifices to set up positional advantages." This is contrary to the impeccable but dull style of other chess engines. Without any help from chess history, except for its own four hours of play, AlphaZero revives the original impulse of chess — go for mate.

Oliver Roeder, "Chess’s New Best Player Is A Fearless, Swashbuckling Algorithm"

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Cognitive decline, plus shot gun.

You may know Charlie Pierce through his hi-test sports banter with Bill Littlefield on NPR's, "Only A Game." Pierce also happens to be author of five books, among them "Hard to Forget: An Alzheimer’s Story" (2000), which recounts the impact Alzheimer’s had on his father, his uncles and through them his whole family. Pierce brings his personal experience with Alzheimer’s and his research on the subject to bear in his cautionary take on the 12/28/17 interview President Trump gave to the NY Times.

Here are some excerpts from Pierce's commentary:

In my view, the interview is a clinical study of a man in severe cognitive decline, if not the early stages of outright dementia.

Over the past 30 years, I’ve seen my father and all of his siblings slide into the shadows and fog of Alzheimer’s Disease. (The president's father developed Alzheimer's in his 80s.) In 1984, Ronald Reagan debated Walter Mondale in Louisville and plainly had no idea where he was. (If someone on the panel had asked him, he’d have been stumped.) Not long afterwards, I was interviewing a prominent Alzheimer’s researcher for a book I was doing, and he said, “I saw the look on his face that I see every day in my clinic.”

In this interview, the president is only intermittently coherent. He talks in semi-sentences and is always groping for something that sounds familiar, even if it makes no sense whatsoever and even if it blatantly contradicts something he said two minutes earlier. To my ears, anyway, this is more than the president’s well-known allergy to the truth. This is a classic coping mechanism employed when language skills are coming apart. (My father used to give a thumbs up when someone asked him a question. That was one of the strategies he used to make sense of a world that was becoming quite foreign to him.)

In addition, the president exhibits the kind of stubbornness you see in patients when you try to relieve them of their car keys—or, as one social worker in rural North Carolina told me, their shotguns.

For example, a discussion on healthcare goes completely off the rails when the president suddenly recalls that there is a widely held opinion that he knows very little about the issues confronting the nation. So we get this.

But Michael, I know the details of taxes better than anybody. Better than the greatest C.P.A. . . .
This is more than simple grandiosity. This is someone fighting something happening to him that he is losing the capacity to understand.
. . .
. . .
. . .
None of exempts Trump from all sorts of political interpretations. But it would be a mistake to discount what may be the definitive contribution from neuroscience, namely that the president is in the throes of a dangerous and irreversible dementia. Who will take the car keys and the shotgun from him?

Pierce's commentary is here:

For more see: