Saturday, April 25, 2015

To a Young Friend About Why I Fell for Mao:

How could I and many like me have been so foolish? Yes, there was plenty evidence, from the Great Leap Forward on about the tyranny of Maoism. So why didn't we see it?

One way of putting it is to say we were too proud of ourselves for putting Stalinism, and the Old Left, behind us. We were done with all that shit. We were in a new, uncorrupted space. And we styled ourselves not merely as anti-war but pro-Ho, pro-Mao, pro-Fidel. We were revolutionaries. Revolution was possible. And Bolshevism wasn't the model. It was people's war that moved us.

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Deal with Iran

The most cogent and persuasive argument I know of for supporting Obama's attempt to reach a deal with Iran vis a vis WMDs:

Wednesday, April 22, 2015


I go to pretty regularly and look forward to its reportage, esp. with regard to Europe, where it has done a great job chronicling the rise of anti-Semitism.

I appreciate Adam Kirsch's dutiful wrestling with the Talmud, though the net effect on me may be the opposite of what Kirsch intended. In short, the more I read Kirsch the clearer I am that Talmud is arcane, ancient, and inapplicable.

Then there's Lee Smith, a senior editor for the avowedly conservative Weekly Standard, who, on behalf of the Tablet: "Explains the Middle East."

Or does he?

Let me cut to the chase and say that Smith is a Netanyahu-ite who explains the Middle East as Netanyahu might want it explained. Smith, like Netanyahu, maintains that Obama wants to jettison the historic alliance between Israel and the United States in favor of cementing a new accord with Iran.

There's no question that Iran is at the root of a Shiite axis running from Teheran through Bagdad on to Damascus and Beirut. Of course, as most everyone knows, the United States took out the Sunni buffer to Iran when we invaded Iraq and overthrew Saddam Hussein.

Smith isn't much interested in such previous misadventures. He wants to keep the United States tied to Israel a la Netanyahu. He doesn't believe there's any sincerity or real commitment behind Kerry's strenuous efforts to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power. Au contraire, he thinks Obama will do most anything to make friends with Iran.

I don't believe that.

I don't think Obama would sleep easy if Iran got close to getting close to getting close to getting nukes.

Smith is at his worst when he explains away the viciousness of ISIS et al. At least ISIS doesn't work for Teheran, he reasons. And that's what counts for him.

I appreciate Lee Smith, in a negative way, for marking out a negative space. Like Adam Kirsch, in a certain sense, he helps clarify for me what I do not believe. That saves me steps. I wouldn't mind there being a less predictably Netanyahu-ish take on the Middle East from Tablet, but so it goes. There's much else to be gleaned from its writers.

What bothers me much more is a piece I came across in today's Tablet (4/22/15) by Liel Leibovitz, a senior writer for Tablet. Leibovitz is more the voice of Tablet than Smith, so it seems to me, and a good, often persuasive writer. (Yes, he believes in Israel's right to exist and yes he can be critical of its policies.) He's co-authored a book with Todd Gitlin, who often writes for Tablet and cannot accused of any sort of Netanyahu-ishness.

Yet Leibovitz's new post strikes me as the most devious, ultra-conspiratorial  Netanyahu_ish argument  I've come across. He takes as his starting point Obama's espousal of "safe spaces" for LGBT individuals. Leibovitz is not concerned that this is Obama, leading as often, from behind. He could care less. It's more about Obama mustering Jewish liberals behind him — since what Jewish liberal can disapprove of minority rights? —  so that they will thereby be silenced when it comes to selling out to Iran.

Do you think Obama's attention to LGBT rights and to police killings of black people is all about shutting up Jews on the way to a bad deal with Iran?

You think that's what Obama is all about?

If so, boy do I have a bridge or three to sell you.


Friday, April 17, 2015

Maoism Shall we not discuss Maoism

Maoism. Shall we not discuss Maoism. Let us sit around and discuss Maoism.

Shouldn't people of a certain age and political experience formally and openly confront and hopefully, not counting the diehards of whom I know a few, disabuse themselves of Maoism?

I am of that age and political experience.

I shared in the intoxication. We knew about Stalinism. Revisionist, repressive. We knew about the Terror, the show trials, about the Bolshevik Revolution eating its young. And though Solzhenitsyn had not yet published his Gulag trilogy, we had intimations enough.

Maoism blindsided us. It was a mutation for which we had no immunity. Stalin was cold war, old hat. Mao something different. Mao promised revolution everywhere. If it was possible in China, then why not Cuba, Vietnam, and ah yes the United States. You just had to adjust the strategy (we'd now say algorithm), tweak/fine tune it to the specifics of your country, and it was possible. Totally possible.


Mao supported the Vietnamese, didn't he?

Mao wrote poetry and say what you will some of it is good. (I used to have one of his odes, in the classical Chinese manner, I gather, posted to my door.) Mao was the poet as revolutionary. the revolutionary as poetry.



I remember sitting in the student union of the University of Wisconsin, in Madison, reading about the Red Guards, and their China-wide attack on bureaucracy. Mario Savio had done the same at Berkeley a few years back, hadn't he? Wasn't he all about attacking faceless bureaucracy?

Mao analog to Mario Savio, Mario Savio analog to Mao.

These days: the Chinese struggle constantly with Mao, as they do and will with many of their emperors, and as they do with Confucius. Mao and Confucius. Confucius and Mao. Mao cum Confucius.

In the west though, we haven't really come to terms with how Mao blindsided us, how we had no immunity, and how it screwed things up.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

But is it art?

I know I get all worked up about politics. And with the endless presidential election season upon us in earnest it will be hard to ignore campaigns that are sure to be two things, if they aren't already: excruciatingly boring (where did Hillary put her emails, that bitch? exactly how off-the-charts crazy is Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Rand Paul's father?) and, despite that, unavoidably important. I, for one, don't want to think about where a Republican Congress plus a Republican president will lead us because when I do, the answer that flashes on my screen is Armageddon.

At times like these, it's good to have art, no? For purposes of contemplation and repose.

Then again, what is art? What if art is no less obsessed with Armageddon — a mini-version, a foretaste, a representation?

So it seems in Dallas  anyway, where a giant crane keeled over onto the city's art museum and the viewers who rushed to the scene concluded this was not merely an unfortunate accident but a “special art display".

Were they wrong? Even if it was an accident?

The crane driver, who somehow came through unharmed, has been identified as Marco Dookycampussy, a figure known to the  construction/deconstruction trade of Dallas and also its art world.

When assisted out of the cab of his crane Dookycampussy said: "Every generation must invent its own upside down urinal and every art world must deal with it and by means of the art world, the rest of us."

Dookycampussy was diagnosed with severe concussion. When the medical team descended on him, he said, "Anybody here play chess?"—_and_everyone_just_assumes_it_is_art/

Sunday, April 12, 2015


I like this, despite its admittedly dubious source:

Republican lawmakers in Washington and around the country have been focused on blocking Mr. Obama’s agenda and denigrating him personally since the day he took office in 2009. But even against that backdrop, and even by the dismal standards of political discourse today, the tone of the current attacks is disturbing. So is their evident intent — to undermine not just Mr. Obama’s policies, but his very legitimacy as president.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Cop Killings

Recent protests with regard to the shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida, Michael Brown in Ferguson, and the choking-to-death of Eric Garner in Staten Island, have made a difference. Those protests, combined with a relatively new technology, the ease of taking videos, have, I think,  brought us to a turning point.

I don't know if it's unprecedented for a cop to be charged with murder, as  Michael T. Slager,  the North Charleston, S.C officer in question, has been  for shooting Walter L. Scott, a fleeing, unarmed black man. But I'll bet anything the decision to bring down such a heavy charge has never come so swiftly.

What we're seeing, I submit again, is that technology plus protest plus, not least of all, national focus, has brought us to a turning point with regard to police killings/murders.

They will never go as unchallenged/unquestioned as had been the case, as had been routine, in the past.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Four Sons

Did you seder or did you not seder? I did and it was OK.

But I do get to thinking about the four sons/children, as in vat a bunch: "one wise, one wicked, one simple and one who does not know how to ask a question".

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Gail Collins David Brooks

In his NY Times column on Friday, about the start of Passover, David Brooks, commenting on a key episode of the story, observes that: "The normal version of this episode is that God parts the Dead Sea, the Israelites cross, the Egyptians are engulfed and then the Israelites sing in celebration."

Actually, that's a highly abnormal version. In the normal version, it's the Red Sea that God parts. How, I wonder, did that error get by the fact checkers and copy editors? True, the Times after a bulk of readers from the five boroughs called in, commenting and complaining, dutifully printed a correction. But how did David Brooks, what with all his deep thoughts about Passover, get that elementary element wrong?

Gail Collins often dialogues in The Times with Brooks. How can she bear it? He's really not up to her level. Maybe she'll pull out a map of the Middle East during their next go-around and point out relevant bodies of water. "Here's the Dead Sea, David, this the Sea of Galilee. That, that, David — are you with me? — is the Red Sea. And for extra credit, here's the Mediterranean."

Gail Collins is funny, smart and informative. (In my view, the best that can be said of David Brooks is that he isn't always awful. Yeah, he loved the war in Iraq, the endless wars in Afghanistan. He never says he's sorry about wars. He's that kind of Republican. But he's not like a lot of other kinds of Republicans. And he does read a lot. I like that. But when he regurgitates his reading, can I trust results, any more than I can his reading of Exodus?)

Back to Gail Collins: I thought the column she published today — "And Now, Political Virgins" — was sharp and scary. Her wit neither disguises nor muffles the frightfulness of this, for example:

On Tuesday in Texas, the House of Representatives voted to take $3 million earmarked for prevention of H.I.V. and other sexually transmitted diseases, and spend it instead on abstinence-only sex education. It was a fascinating moment — particularly when the sponsor of the motion, a Republican named Stuart Spitzer, told the House that he had been a virgin until he got married at age 29.

“What’s good for me is good for a lot of people,” he said.

She writes apropos bans on abortions sweeping through the states, that while gay marriage is increasingly recognized, even by Republicans, at least younger ones:

The nation is becoming more rational about gay sex and more irrational about heterosexual sex. Who would have thought?

That's paradoxical and worth contemplating.

Sometimes I don't read Gail Collins fully. Oh, she's about being funny, and I want something serious. But she's funny and serious.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Seder People . . .

People alive or not too long dead I'd like to have at a Seder:

Harold Bloom, Robert Pinsky, Susan Sontag, Larry Bird (you heard me, Larry Bird), maybe just maybe Garry Kasparov, Francine Prose, Carl Djerrasi, Richard Price (that just hit me and it's a great idea), Ayan Hirsi Ali (wouldn't that be interesting?), Rebecca Newberger Goldstein (but she'd probably bring her husband, Stephen Pinker, which could be a drag), EO Wilson (you might think that's a stretch but I don't, he'd be great). . . 

Thoughts about Passover.


I'm going a Seder tomorrow and in advance sent a few thoughts around to the others attending.

Passover is, in a way, the most Jewish of all holidays. It the story of how the Hebrews came together as a people in their escape from slavery and tyranny in Egypt. The events told in Exodus made the Hebrews a nation and promised them further nationhood.