Sunday, December 31, 2017

New Years 2018

http://www.harveyblume.com/2017/12/new-years-2018.html

HAPPY

• About 10 minutes later, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo arrived.
As he and Judy Clark sat down, he wanted to know about her crime, the 1981 Brinks Robbery, and her motivation.
"Were you on drugs?" Mr. Cuomo asked.
"No," Ms. Clark replied. "I was on politics."
   Jim Dwyer

• As Putin once remarked to a child, “Russia’s borders don’t end anywhere”—before adding, “That’s a joke.” 
   Emily Nussbaum,

• Alain Badiou, often considered France’s greatest living philosopher, has helped to turn anti-Judaism into an intellectual point of pride. To Badiou, and his epigone Slavoj Žižek, Judaism is the enemy of utopianism; just as Jews denied Christ, so Jewish liberals today deny the transcendent dimension of the revolutionary Event.
   Adam Kirsch

Something very profound happened to Israel during the six day war. For the first time we seized land, we took land by conquest, and suddenly the religious Jew saw the Bible not as a historical story, but as a contemporary operations manual. Yes, I want Israelis to have access to the Wailing Wall, but I don't need to own it. Nor do I need to own any of these holy places. It's new and it's profoundly un-Jewish.
   David Grossman

•  Donald Trump’s speeches make them feel good. So does OxyContin.
   Frank Rich

• The temperature was nearly a million billion billion billion degrees. Time and space churned like boiling water. Of course, such things are unimaginable.
   Alan Lightman

Had the Mafia withheld its unofficial blessing from the film, any number of unexpected impediments might have interfered with the production of “The Godfather,” like labor troubles, missing scenery or missing cast members.
   Sam Roberts

• What is most beautiful in virile men is something feminine; what is most beautiful in feminine women is something masculine.
   Susan Sontag

• For us “coastal elites” who understand evolution, genetics and science, nothing we say to those in flyover country is going to be listened to because not only are we fighting against an anti-education belief system, we are arguing against god
   Forsetti Justice

• A poem or a short story in Faulkner’s view was too small, too soon over, to encompass the big thing on his mind—the great submerged obsessive guilty burden of slave times, when all whites knew but few said that slaves were not only unpaid laborers but unpaid sexual servants.
   Thomas Powers

• Prairie-dog alarm calls are the vocal equivalent of wartime telegrams: concise, abrupt, stripped to essentials.
Ferris Jabr,

• “Last year, it was still quite humanlike when it played,” Mr. Ke said after the game. “But this year, AlphaGo became like a god of Go.”
Paul Mozur

• China is shutting coal mines as fast as it can build wind turbines.
   Bill McKibben

• In my youth, when she'd join my father for a drink after work--"Just one, I have to get dinner on the table"--that was a happy sound. Now it was like a trigger being cocked.
David Sedaris

  I remembered a friend telling me how he watched a Haredi man on a plane meticulously following the rules for laying tefillin while flagrantly disobeying the pilot's instructions for everyone to sit down.
   Peter Beinart

NEW YEARS

• Theirs was an insular community in which sexual selection--for Darwin, a central motor of mammalian evolution--had for centuries favored slender, nearsighted, stoop-shouldered young men rocking back and forth as they pondered the complex, heavily annotated, often esoteric tractates of Jewish law.
    Stephen Greenblatt

• Ruling is hard. This was maybe my answer to Tolkien, whom, as much as I admire him, I do quibble with. By the end of the war, Sauron is gone but all of the orcs aren't gone – they're in the mountains. Did Aragorn pursue a policy of systematic genocide and kill them? Even the little baby orcs, in their little orc cradles?
   George R.R. Martin

• People who worry about the fate of democracy still write (and read) books. Those who are determining it prefer to tweet.
Elizabeth Kolbert

The retreat from the Continent was a perilous time for Britain. The Germans were willing to throw everything into making it as dangerous and costly as possible for the island people. Britain’s French allies were full of suspicion about what they were depicting for propaganda purposes as a treacherous retreat. The British government was in disarray, with senior government ministers even proposing negotiating with the enemy in order to minimize the terrible ultimate cost that they now saw as inevitable. Everyone was crying out for leadership.
But enough about Brexit; what about Christopher Nolan’s new movie about Dunkirk?
   Andrew Roberts

• Scotland and Wales were asserting a sense of difference in devolved parliaments and, in the Scottish case, in growing demands for independence. What could not be predicted, though, was that the decisive nationalist revolution would occur not in Scotland or Wales, but in England.
    Fintan O’Toole

• What happens in philosophy stays in philosophy, by and large, and a good thing it does, too.
   Daniel Dennett

• I have noticed that even faiths that we used to think of as being gentle, like the Buddhists, are behaving very badly in Myanmar. So my attitude to the church is twofold. Firstly it’s where I belong – I’m a cultural Christian. Secondly, I have learned to have a grave suspicion of all religious power wielded politically.
   Philip Pullman

 • He hasn’t shown us his taxes; how can he make a plan for tax if he’s hiding his taxes from us? I believe that every presidential candidate should see a psychiatrist before they’re allowed to stand. I truly believe he has brought a whole dark cloud over the world. Climate, immigration, everything.
Grace Jones

• When I think of Akiba, greatest of all the rabbis, I recall not only his eloquence and his heroic martyrdom at the hands of the Romans, but also his apocalyptic blunder in hailing the insurgent Bar Kochba as the Messiah, an error that contributed to one of the major Jewish catastrophes, a holocaust exceeded only by the Germans just half a century ago.
   Harold Bloom

• Actually, Trump voters are not the only people I hate. I also hate Jill Stein voters and Gary Johnson voters and Bernie deadenders with their ridiculous delegates math and people with consciences so delicate they could not bring themselves to pull the lever for Hillary so they didn’t vote at all. I hate everyone who thought there was no “real” difference between the candidates because Hillary was a neoliberal and a faux feminist and Trump was not so bad. I especially hate everyone who thought that electing a reactionary monster would be okay because it would—or could, or might, who can tell?—bring on the revolution. Looking at you, Susan Sarandon and Slavoj Zizek! You are idiots and my heart seethes with wrath against you. 
  Katha Pollitt

• When I read the classical inception of Beauty and the Beast, I always think they are on equal terms. Nobody can see past his ugliness, and nobody can see past her beauty. She cannot be seen as intelligent, complex, capable of darkness, for the same reasons that he cannot be seen as capable of love or kindness.
   Guillermo del Toro

• I travel around the world, eat a lot of shit, and basically do whatever the fuck I want.
   Anthony Bourdain

• I still have the absurd notion that, as with any other ailment, age and infirmity will run its course and I will recover from it.
   Alan Bennett

    2018

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Ta-Nehisi Coates vs. Cornel West

If you've come across the bits and media shards of this confrontation, you might think there's something profound about it, something the left, without much of a new bone left in its theoretical body, might want to latch onto.

Oh, left, poor left, looking for by-gone significance.

But Coates v. West is just an old-fashioned pissing contest. Brother West wants to start one up against any young brother who might have something new to say, as he did against Michael Eric Dyson.

What Ta-Nehisi Coates has to say is a cautionary, partial and perhaps incomplete testimony about the power of racism but it's also passionate and authentic. Brother West wants to drag out a creaking anti-imperialist critique and crush Coates beneath its rust.

There are those on the left anxious to sift through this contretemps for deeper meaning, as if what we have here is comparable to the truly seminal split between Booker T. Washington v. W. E. B. Du Bois, or the one between Malcolm X and Martin Luther King.

These comparisons don't apply. West v. Coates is but a pissing contest, no fault of Coates.


Thursday, December 21, 2017

Accusations

My question is why it took a conservative writer, which Bret Stephens, NYT columnist is, to weigh in and put the obvious so clearly, or, more bluntly, to, with any luck, blow the whistle?

He writes, coolly, sanely:

All societies make necessary moral distinctions between high crimes and misdemeanors, mortal and lesser sins. A murderer is worse than a thief. A drug dealer is worse than a user. And so on. Gillibrand, Driver and others want to blur such distinctions, on the theory that we need a zero-tolerance approach. That may sound admirable, but it’s legally unworkable and, in many cases, simply unjust.

His bottom line:

Of course none of it is O.K. The supposedly petty sexual harassment that so many women have to endure, from Hollywood studios to the factory floor at Ford, is a national outrage that needs to end. Period.

I'm with him: "Of course none of it is O.K."

But I've read, experienced, and know from history, that once the freedom to accuse is unleashed it can achieve a wild momentum from which none are safe.

This a wild and crazy and uniquely dangerous moment in America. Artists demand that work by other artists be torn down and destroyed. (See the controversy about the Dana Schutz portrayal of Emmitt Till, for one example, among too many others.)

The very idea of trying to sympathize, understand and with luck and talent portray the pain of others is denounced as cultural appropriation.

This is a sick time. It's not a right v. left kind of sickness. It's hard to tell the difference between right and left in many controversies. They are united most of all, fused,  by the violent urge to condemn, censor, control.

So, with regards to sexual abuse, let me return, if I can, to the formulation by Bret Stephens:

All societies make necessary moral distinctions between high crimes and misdemeanors, mortal and lesser sins.




Monday, December 18, 2017

Hebrew

Wonderful pre-solstice day, made for slumber. When not succumbing to naps I read this fascinating piece about the three hundred years —  "from the 3rd to the 6th centuries CE." — for which, "there is simply no evidence that Jews were speaking or even reading Hebrew."

Astonishing, isn't it?

"Hebrew wasn’t even used for the regular recitation of Scripture or worship in synagogue. Similarly, Jewish tombstone inscriptions from before the 9th century in the territories of Spain, France, and Hungary are either Greek or Latin."

Hebrew was fading into Greek, Latin  and Aramaic, even for religious purposes. Ironically it was the rise of Arabic, which challenged Aramaic as a lingua franca, that brought Jews back to their original tongue, Hebrew.


https://forward.com/opinion/389890/that-time-hebrew-disappeared-for-300-years/


Saturday, December 16, 2017

Fans of Omoraso

Fans of Omarosa (assuming any other than Trump) be warned; I aim to savage her. Feel free to join.

Back in her "The Apprentice" days her role was to be a bitch — dishonest, cheating, shameless, altogether and impeccably hateful, and all on camera. Yes — no racism intended — a distinctively black bitch, which it made the whole thing more volatile and explosive and dangerous. And terribly good for ratings.

Omarosa played the role to perfection, no coaching necessary. And has continued to play/be that very thing no matter the context.

This isn't the time for a definitive flame, which would reference her marriage to Michael Clarke Duncan, star of "The Green Mile," and the battle between Omarosa and his kin over Duncan's will. Nothing pertaining to Omarosa can, by definition, escape scandal. And then there are her wilderness days, her phone days, her phone porn days, when she charged men by the minute to talk to the exquisite and exquisitely dismissive Omarosa.

And then there is the work she has done for Trump. Work, work? Indeed What work? Nobody has the slightest. Seemed like leisure according to all accounts. But she was paid $180,000 a year for it, until her entry card to the high precinct was revoked and she was shuttled out for good.

How corrupt is Omoraso? My favorite latest bit is her attempt to storm the West Wing with the troop she invited to her most recent wedding. Gen Kelly was ready to call out the Marines on that one.

And Omoraso is gone.

Or is she?

Gone or gone a la Steve Bannon?

Gone like Omoraso, who is about to make a mint detailing the things she saw during her stint as a nothing and no-show at the WH.

"And when I can tell my story, it is a profound story that I know the world will want to hear."

But her story will have its limits.

As she has put it, “Donald Trump is racial, but he is not a racist."

Duh? Huh?

Meaning she will never implicate Massah Trump in anything.

Why do I despise Omarosa?

First of all, because she is, in and of herself, completely and utterly despicable.

And then there is this, namely that she is a fully authorized imprint of Trump himself, a fraud to the innermost core. Obedient. The kind he likes.





Friday, December 8, 2017

why i'm not a maccabee and yet i am

they were torah-belt hebrews
down from the galilean hills
to stuff orthodoxy or their unsparing version of it
into hebrew mouths
while lopping off remaining
hebrew foreskins.

why i am a maccabbee
even though i'm not
because they fought for self-determination
against a cosmopolitan empire
because though their cause was wrong
their cause was right

let's face it
their revolt against the greeks
led to the hasmoneans, herod etc.
a dynasty of toadies for none other than greeks and romans the maccabbees opposed

why i can celebrate hanuka
though
is the way the holiday was softened and transformed over jewish history
the long history may i remind of you of galut, Jewish exile

songs and traditions grew up around hanuka that had nothing to do with apocalyptic war

i was raised up with some of these
as transplanted from the old to the new world
vis a vis pogroms and the long circuit of Jewish history

and warmed to them

so i can celebrate Hanukkah

diseased as it my be
by now
at the root
with
christmas

with which it shares nothing

but a winter season

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Distinctions

I don't know that I agree with all the points Jill Abramson makes as she tries to assign various degrees of culpability to the men standing accused of sexual abuse. For example, she thinks there’s a key distinction to be made between misdeeds by Al Franken, unacceptable as they are, and Harvey Weinstein’s brutal and well-funded career of violent assault, intimidation and cover-up.

This should be obvious.

Why isn't it obvious?

We don't assign the same level of responsibility to a subway pickpocket and an armed robber. Common sense and legal tradition say not. Outrage is appropriate in both cases, to be sure, by victims, but the degree of blame and punishment are and should be very different.

Maybe newly revealed sexual abuses are too fresh for us to have learned to parse them appropriately; maybe outrage will have to be baseline until we find out how.

Or maybe, as I fear, the response will devolve, a la Phillip Roth into "America's oldest communal passion, historically perhaps its most treacherous and subversive pleasure: the ecstasy of sanctimony."

Hope not. In the meantime, it would help to make useful distinctions.

Or are we too swamped to bother.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/nov/19/zero-tolerance-sexual-misconduct-al-franken





Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Frank Rich writes:

Frank Rich writes:

Bannon  has  called  Trump  “a  blunt  instrument  for  us.”  Finer-tooled  instruments    smarter  and  shrewder  demagogues  than  the  movement’s  current  titular  head    may  already  be  suiting  up  in  the  wings.

Rich's latest piece offers up not much in the way of solace or optimism, but maybe, in exchange, we get historical perspective. As Rich sees it, all the right-wing movements from Father Coughlin up through George Wallace have fueled Donald Trump. But with this difference, Trump being the first to assume national office, his movement is fortified to be cohesive for the long haul.

Like I said, not optimistic, but who needs optimism when things are going so well?

http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/11/frank-rich-trumpism-after-trump.html



Friday, October 27, 2017

cancer gets me up in the morning

cancer gets me up in the morning
cancer brings me to unaccustomed places
where i talk to haughty but dedicated doctors
and smart sometimes absurdly foxy nurses

cancer is travel and new venues
cancer is meet and greet
cancer is hospital
cancer is invitation to biology
and how all these tests
ct-scans mris pet scans
do their thing

as my mri tech said
there's a lot of physics involved

he was a smart guy
from china
who'd been an architect
then a software engineer

and is now an mri pro
whose exact title i forget

have you ever had an mri?
makes the sound of a
rock concert seem muted
led zeppelin wouldn't be heard over an mri

there's this pulsing between the magnets and the electricity
maxwell's equations in hi decibel action
that is dreadful
unless you are a fan of weird electronic music

i asked feng the mri tech
do you like electronic music
yes
but not like that! that's horrible!

feng is entitled to his opinion

getting back to tests
to scanning
espec pet scans
pet short for
position emission tomography

i am left wondering about what positrons
(the anti-matter version of the electron)

can tell the doctors and the nurses
about cancer
my cancer
my wakeup
squamous cell cancer

and intend to look into this

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Bannonism . . .

We’ve enjoyed calling Trump a fascist. And he has all the reptilian reflexes, plus the innate grasp of a debased and compliant media that goes with the calling. But reflexes aren't enough; fascism takes brains too, a conception, an ideology, a vision -- however foul.

Bannon brings that to this rolling coup; he brings ideas. Remember that it was Bannon, above all, who crafted the Trump candidacy.

That Bannon is no longer in the WH only empowers him, giving him full leeway to shape the Republican Party into a vehicle for right-wing nationalism, as racist and bellicose as it needs to be.

(Bannon bridles at little wars, that benefit his base not at all. He's right when he calls Bush the worst ever, and tags him for Iraq. Bannon has bigger fish to fry, aims at bigger geopolitical confrontations. Bannon is going after China.)

Maybe this will all blow over and be remembered as a strange glitch in American history before some sort of regression to a democratic norm. Maybe. But I think what's taking shape is a genuine long-term, American style fascist-type threat.


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Moshiach or not . . .



The Chinese have a saying: may you live in interesting times. It's intended as a curse. The rabbis say much the same thing when they pray: May Moshiach come and may I not live to see it.

Details about Moshiach aside, there can be no doubt that we are living in dread & interesting times, to wit, among other things: the Republican Party is fracturing.

Lest we yell in triumph, remember this is precisely as  Steve Bannon would want it.

Bannon wants to purge the Republican Party not only of moderates — put paid — but even tried and true right-wingers. He wants to replace them all with zealots and fanatics of the Trump persuasion, committed to crushing the media and civil liberties in favor of a white supremacist mass movement, not averse to some neo-Nazi impetus.

Emphasis here on movement, emphasis on crushing and on Trump as supreme leader and enabler (or as Milo Yiannopoulos calls him "Big Daddy.")

It's time to read some history, and not only American history. Think about interesting times in Europe, while you're at it.

Though the parallels are necessarily inexact and though we have a long way to go before the victory of totalitarianism in the United States, it's worth knowing that Bannon's goal is nothing less than following/guiding Trump into the triumph of Fascism with American Characteristics.

We are living in interesting times. As for me, I see no signs of Moshiach, though some of his supporters think Trump fits the bill.



Monday, October 23, 2017

Megyn Kelly

Something strange and transformative is going on, strange and transformative enough, at any rate, to get me to post in favor of Megyn Kelly.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/vGGEefKbc4k?rel=0&enablejsapi=1

In a response, Bill O'Reilly said, "never had any problem with Megyn Kelly." So what, Bill? Don't you get it? She's not saying you had a problem with her. She's saying she has a serious problem with you, and, btw, FOX, your network.

. . .

I'm sorry James Toback is being accused of sexual abuse. I'm the kind of liberal who'd rather the charges swept the likes of right winger ideologues like O'Reilly away. But I'm also the type of liberal who thinks, let the chips fall where they may. Even if it means bringing down a divided personality like Harvey Weinstein, who marched for women's rights and contributed significantly to liberal causes, while committing serial, serious abuse. And even if it means opening — but not closing, we don't know yet — the book on James Toback.

I'd rather Toback was not guilty. I'd rather Ben Affleck was not complicit. I'd rather Quentin Tarantino had nothing to regret or apologize for. I'd rather so much of the story was not muffled for so long because women were bullied into silence in exchange for money.

I'd rather not be anxious that a sexual witch hunt is likely to follow in which men are judged guilty without any presumption of innocence, just because they are men. Maybe it's due to my long experience of political extremism that I suspect such a thing is already on the way.

But this is how the story breaks. And let it keep breaking. Let the chips fall where they may.

What's happening is transformative. We're not at the end of it yet, but when we are, things won't be the same, for the best.


Friday, October 20, 2017

Tarantino / Weinstein

Quentin Tarantino

I think I walked out on Django — more predictable QT revenge porn, one great blast of fantastic violence purging or compensating for all evil, Nazism, slavery, what have you — and if not I certainly meant to. But I like, have viewed and reviewed, many Tarantino films, even if they too often lately reduce to Kill Them All.

But my respect for Tarantino as a man was bolstered immeasurably by his comments about Harvey Weinstein. In  a NY Times piece he is quoted as saying, about failure to act on what he kept hearing about Weinstein, even from Mira Sorvino, his lover at one point:

“I wish I had taken responsibility for what I heard . . . If I had done the work I should have done then, I would have had to not work with him.”

He added:
“What I did was marginalize the incidents. . . Anything I say now will sound like a crappy excuse.”

Not as crappy as dodges or inadvertent and peculiar comments by Ben Affleck and Woody Allen.

I think it's particularly brave for Tarantino to aver that if he really knew then what he fully knows now, he wouldn't have been able to work with Weinstein. It's brave because Weinstein produced, touted and promoted Tarantino, propelling him to the celebrity status he occupies today.

One question I have, and haven't heard addressed: Would Tarantino and films by other of Weinstein’s bravos, have seen the light of day minus Weinstein’s hi-powered, bullying tactics?





Monday, October 16, 2017

Weinstein

There's no doubt that Harvey Weinstein's behavior was heinous and punishable. It's good that he's being reduced to zero, and let that be a lesson to others.

And then there are the onlookers, the buddies who knew and stood by. I'm sorry to think Ben Affleck may be one of them.


They should be confronted, too, here as in every case where passive onlooking is a form of complicity.


But this being the United States let's remember there's always a danger of overcorrection, in this case political correctness run amok.

Political correctness, or some impulse drawing from it,  can be seen when protestors try to deny viewers the right to see Dana Schutz's painting of Emmett Till, and even the right of a white artist to conceive of and execute such an image.

That's the kind of overcorrection for racism that corrects for nothing and is sick in its own right.

In a piece for The Forward, Cathy Young writes

McCarthyism was not a good response to the real problem of communist espionage and infiltration. Sexual McCarthyism . . . is not a good response to the real problem of sexual predators.

The comparison to McCarthyism may be questionable but this being America it's worth considering.

http://forward.com/opinion/national/385236/its-a-good-thing-that-harvey-weinstein-has-been-stopped-but-lets-not-start/




Friday, October 13, 2017

10,000 year old Scotch

10,000 year old Scotch
**
So after a fulfilling week as president, in which he kicked the supports out from under the Affordable Care Act, raised the chances of military confrontation with Iran, insulted Puerto Rico, and groped Rose McGowan — no, this just in, that was the other (chazar) pig in the news — Trump heads out to a golf course for some much deserved R&R

On the way out, he takes a call from Stephen Bannon, who's gushing.

- Mr. President, I thought you were slowing down but no, you're ruining things faster than I thought possible. The fact that you're old and fat and, let's face it, stupid doesn't bother you at all.

- No! Stupid doesn't bother me. Without tons of stupid, where would I be?

You watch, Bannon. After a bit of golf, just a bit, many steaks and some shots from my private barrel of 10,000 year old Scotch, I'll be back to bust more stuff up. Did you think I forgot about that Korean pudge ball, that cock-eyed dumpling? You wait, I'm going to turn him into kim chi.

- Surprised you know about that Korean delicacy. I thought you were strictly a steak, potatoes, and Melania type of guy.

- Let's lay off the Melania stuff, ok? She's American sure, unlike most everyone in Havana. . .

- You mean San Juan. . .

- Yeah San Juan. But she also speaks Slavilckian. It's a strange tongue, and those people they have moods, they get moodlyy. You ever been around a Slavookian in a moodle?

- No Mr. President, but I'm sure you can handle it. And if you can save me a taste of that 10,000 year old Scotch, I'd be much obliged.

- Can't promise about the Scotch. It's rare. But ruination is sure my thing. And I am just getting the hang of it.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

This is a man?

Ecce homo is an old Latin phrase generally translated as "Behold, this is a man." This generally leads to philosophical exposition on the human condition.

Yiddish has a version with a somewhat different slant:

Oich mir a mensch.

This, loosely, translated, means: You kidding, this is human?

The Yiddish came to mind today when my dental hygienist, a fluent Yiddishist, and I were bantering about Trump.

Another Yiddish phrase strikes me as apt: A shtick fleish mit eaigen — A piece of meat with eyes.

"A shtick fleish mit eagen" doesn't only cover walking dead types, zombies and the like; it also refers to moral and mental  absolute zero nothings like Trump who, if I believed in such things, I might construe as a consummate construction of the Devil, something the Teyvl (Yid. for Devil) has sent into our world in order to cause maximum harm.

If so, this Satan ex machina is off to a good start.


Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Chomsky in the Age of Trump

Chomsky has a piece in The Nation. I'm not going to quote or allude to it because Chomsky to my mind is often too black and white, too Manichean.  

The title of the Chomsky piece, is "Noam Chomsky Diagnoses the Trump Era: The president has abetted the collapse of a decaying system; Chomsky explains how."

Decaying system, collapse.

These were the kinds of things victims of the Nazi regime often said about it, cheering themselves on, hoping that after Hitler something better would come.

Perhaps it did, though most of them, and many millions of others, weren't around to see it.

Chomsky may have mattered to me more once upon a time but now just bit of him is somewhat more than I need.


Monday, September 11, 2017

Age of the Strong Man

There is such a thing as global weather, though no one can predict it, neither Marx, nor Lenin, nor Che Guevara. Not Hegel, not Woodrow Wilson, and certainly not Gorbachev.

Global weather is as difficult to predict as the meteorological version. And yet there is such a thing. Everyone alive in 1968 felt it; it was as if history were coming to an epitome. Many were stunned by the counter thrust —Reagan, Thatcher, Deng Xiaoping.

These days we throw around words like "fascism" to explain current politics but maybe we need to peer beneath such ideological categories and recognize that this, above all, the age of the strong man.

The evidence is too abundant. One of those things you either ignore or explain away if you can.

In the United States there is the populist, anti-democratic Trump, of course.

In Russia, there is wildly popular, anti-democratic Putin.

In China, Xi Jinping is, as the LA Times described him, "on the cusp of gaining power unseen since Mao Tse-tung."

The US, Russia, China — the three great powers. What global mood do they reflect or collaborate to fashion?

On a smaller scale there is of course Turkey's Erdogen. And though I don't mean to complicate the issue beyond reckoning, Netanyahu is on this scale, too, Netanyahu as Israel's seemingly eternal, eternally crushing  potentate.


It's the age of the strong man. Whatever can be done for democracy must reckon with that brute fact.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Ashbery 7/28/1927 - 9/3/2017

John Asbery
7/28/1927 - 9/3/2017

I've been reading and contending with John Ashbery since his early book Rivers and Mountains (1966). I resisted him, and still do, while learning to enjoy him, within measure. His poems frustrate the hunger for settled, discursive meanings — ideas, things to extract, chew on and discuss. He is an artist of the anti-idea. Meaning for his poetic practice was a sort of tyrant — best to skirt and never mention.

Though Walter Benjamin and John Ashbery couldn't be further apart intellectually, Benjamin echoed, or prefigured, this unspoken goal of Ashbery's when he wrote: "Children, when thinking up stories, are stage managers, who do not allow themselves to be censored by meaning."

There are times when, despite all Ashbery does to defend against it, meaning does come coalescing through the artifices.

As, I think, in the following, badly camouflaged and therefore all the more lovely love poem:


"A Blessing in Disguise," by John Ashbery

Yes, they are alive and can have those colors,
But I, in my soul, am alive too.
I feel I must sing and dance, to tell
Of this in a way, that knowing you may be drawn to me.

And I sing amid despair and isolation
Of the chance to know you, to sing of me
Which are you. You see,
You hold me up to the light in a way

I should never have expected, or suspected, perhaps
Because you always tell me I am you,
And right. The great spruces loom.
I am yours to die with, to desire.

I cannot ever think of me, I desire you
For a room in which the chairs ever
Have their backs turned to the light
Inflicted on the stone and paths, the real trees

That seem to shine at me through a lattice toward you.
If the wild light of this January day is true
I pledge me to be truthful unto you
Whom I cannot ever stop remembering.

Remembering to forgive. Remember to pass beyond you into the day
On the wings of the secret you will never know.
Taking me from myself, in the path
Which the pastel girth of the day has assigned to me.

I prefer "you" in the plural, I want "you,"
You must come to me, all golden and pale
Like the dew and the air.

And then I start getting this feeling of exaltation.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Antifa

Todd Gitlin published an op-ed in the New York Times today (8/28/17) entitled "Who’s Afraid of Antifa?". As is everything he writes it's worth reading and considering.

Antifa — anti-fascist — is, as Gitlin sees it, "a particular strand of aggressive left-wing activism." It consists, in a sense, of lefty daredevils willing to put their bodies on the line against the surge of "white supremacists."

In describing the diverse lineage of antifa adherents he says: "They are aware of, or unimpressed by, the fact that when Hitler came to power, he crushed the left-wing militias. . . " [It would be nice, wouldn't it, if the Times retained enough proofreaders to change "aware of" to "unaware of" which would permit the argument to make some sense. But such proofreading is a thing of the past, even at the Times.]

Gitlin emphasizes that the impetus of antifa is originally defensive in nature; it is a push-back
against the violence of the white supremacist right.

No doubt.
But not only.

There's another way of looking at antifa, namely that it is the hard-edged component of something more general that is happening on the left, something less justifiable or uplifting, something innately censorious.

In the same issue of the Times I read that, "Memphis Theater Cancels ‘Gone With the Wind’ Screening."

Why? Because some thought the film "insensitive to a large segment of its local population.”

But GWTW is not Griffith's famously prejudiced "Birth of a Nation", is it, or Leni Riefenstahl’s odious ode to Hitler, "Triumph of the Will."

And even if it were, both the above films should be shown, if only to be debated and to serve as markers. How do we know who we are if we don't know where we were?

I'm not making the ludicrous claim that antifa had anything directly to do with the shutdown of GWTW.

I am saying, clearly as I can, that left censorship and suppression is not always a reaction to the right: it has its own awful lineage and impetus.