Sunday, December 31, 2017

New Years 2018


• 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


• 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


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


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


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.

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
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 which it shares nothing

but a winter season