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 . . . 

Monday, July 16, 2018

spectacular power

7/16/18: Just to say that Fascism with American Characteristics (FwAC) has taken some historic steps forward.

With the nomination and likely appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court numerous hard fought rights — voting rights, and the right to abortion — are threatened and will be turned back.

In his meeting with Western European leaders, Trump has made it clear he regards them more as foes than as friends. (He feels something of the same enmity for American intelligence services, not to mention the American press.)

For friendship, for ideological kinship, Trump bonds with Putin and through him with all the lesser demon/despots now asserting themselves throughout what looked like a newly democratic European sphere.

How can this be?

It's possible that Putin has the goods on Trump and his family, which is what holds Trump in thrall. This can't be dismissed but seems to me far too simplistic, too — and as it were —reductionist.

Let me propose another way of looking at it: Putin has power, the power of newly minted twenty-first century autocracy, a horror with no settled name yet. It is, to be sure, Stalinism without Stalin, Hitlerism without Hitler. It is the thing itself, aspiring to absolute power and without all the ideological muddlements and justifications of twentieth century dictatorship. It is even minus the baggage of the Tsars. Putin doesn't need pretend to be a Romanov.

He wants to be seen as something more original.

Trump, you kidding, he lusts for some of that.

Some spectacular power.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Least you can do is unsubscribe The Nation

Just to say, Trump's upcoming meeting with Putin may or may not be significant, beyond the fact that it is occurring at all is already significant. That it is occurring at all underscores the fact that Putin is having it all his way. He's got Crimea, and has pretty much dissolved the Ukrainian nation state, pretending all the while it never existed. He's got Brexit and is making progress toward tearing apart the sinews of the EU.

And he's got Trump. Whatever the Mueller investigation turns up about the details, so far as the big picture goes, he's got Trump (not to mention all the little Trumps — Orban,  Le Pen etc.)

As the Emperor intoned in Star Wars: Everything is going exactly according to plan.

And may I, in passing, recommend unsubscribing from The Nation?

Once an organ of literate left-liberal opinion, it has been utterly Putinified, and is now an American house organ of Putin opinion. Yes, there are occasional good pieces by the likes of Eric Alterman and Katha Pollit and the republishing of work by the superb Vivian Gornick, but these are no more than embellishments. The orientation of the Nation now  should be defined by the arguments of Steven Cohen, husband to Katrina vanden Heuvel, publisher.

According to both, all the conflicts between Russia and the West since the Fall of Communism are the fault of the West.

Putin couldn't have said it better himself. For him, Russia, the home of the Rus, that great fount of the peoples of  EurAsia, is eternally and by definition innocent.

The art of Russian propaganda lost none of its potency or zeal or skill with the fall of Communism. It only lost its adherence to a Communist alternative, which was if anything a drag.

Minus fealty to Communism, the arts of disinformation, honed in the Cold War, what with cyber war etc., become ever more sophisticated.

Disinformation and dissolution for their own sake.

Bring down the West.

It's all going exactly according to plan.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

church and state

"Mr. Trump’s administration has consistently treated the separation of church and state as a form of heresy rather than a cherished American value."

That sharply worded commentary is from an op-ed by Susan Jacoby ("The White House Is Tearing Down the Wall Between Church and State," NY Times 7/5/18).

Jacoby goes on to write: "Attacks on the wall of separation established by the founders . . . are nothing new. What has changed under Mr. Trump is the disproportionate political debt he owes to extreme religious conservatives, whose views on church-state issues — ranging from the importance of secular public education to women’s and gay rights — are far removed from the American mainstream."

For Jacoby, the separation between church and state is at the core of American democracy but she sees the Trump administration trying to breach it routinely and with intent.

For example, she writes: "Attorney General Jeff Sessions turned to the Bible — specifically, Paul’s epistle to the Romans — to justify President Trump’s policy of separating migrant children from their parents."

Whether Sessions correctly interprets the passage from Paul — Jacoby thinks not — is immaterial to the fact of his citing it in the first place. Those who composed the foundational documents of United States democracy — the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution — pointedly stayed clear of citing religious texts in support of their then, and apparently still, revolutionary positions. We have, and at speed under the Trump administration, gone backward since then.

In another telling example, Jacoby refers to a visit by Education Secretary Betsy DeVosy to NYC, home to what happens to be the biggest public school system in the country, during which DeVosy, "did not inspect a single public school. Instead, she stopped by two Orthodox Jewish schools and spoke at a fund-raiser where she was introduced by Cardinal Timothy Michael Dolan."

Am I correct in remembering that Sinclair Lewis wrote in "It Can't Happen Here" that when fascism comes to America it will have a Christian face? Perhaps, were he around today, he might have amended that to say a Judeo-Christian face.

As for myself, let me say the routine abuse of religion for political purposes is one reason I refrain from indulging my residual affection for Judaism.

Jacoby has written books about Tom Paine, and the nineteenth-century orator Robert Ingersoll, nationally famed in his time for trying to bring Paine's radical secularism —or, as Jacoby prefers to put it, freethought —  back into circulation. Her strongly argued op-ed is in that vein.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Paul Berman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Hamas

Paul Berman, writing for, lauds Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for momentously beating Joe Crowley in the primary for House seat in NYC's 14th district. He does so while crediting Crowley, first of all, for a fine Bronx accent, and beyond that for being a consistently liberal pol throughout his career. Berman credits Ocasio-Cortez both for her savory Bronx intonations and beyond that for an insurgent politics whose time has come.

Berman also manages to gently upbraid Ocasio-Cortez for her views on Israel. It matters that the upbraiding is gentle and therefore far from the hysteria all too often occasioned by this subject, and also that it occurs in Tablet.

Tablet (, in the nine years of its existence, has established itself as a site for quality material on Jewish life and history but also, increasingly, and without redress, for an ugly, sneering tilt toward rightwing Zionism. This takes the form of jeering at those who still maintain some vestige of belief that a peace movement in Israel is necessary, and that a two-state solution, despite all manner of impediments, remains a viable goal, given, among other things, the utter lack of any sane outcome.

Given the venomous baseline of Tablet's tried and true house polemicists, Berman's rebuke of Ocasio-Cortez comes as a balm.

Ocasio-Cortez is opposed to what she sees as Israeli brutality toward Gaza protestors, and has voiced deep concerns about the humanitarian disaster of life in Gaza that provides the awful, ongoing context for these protests. Though others at Tablet might sneer at Ocasio-Cortez's expressions of sympathy, let it be said that Berman does not.

It's only when she compares the Gaza protestors to "civil-rights protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, and to protesting schoolteachers in West Virginia," that Berman dissents, again, softly. Such protests have the tradition of the American civil rights movement behind them, and the likes of Martin Luther King for inspiration. Protestors in Gaza, on the other hand, suffer and are bedeviled by a leadership consisting of Hamas.

Perhaps, Berman muses, Ocasio-Cortez will at same point look into the Hamas charter and articulate key distinctions for herself. For now, though much has been made of her membership in Democratic Socialists of America, she has not echoed the slogan adopted by some members at their last convention: “From the River to the Sea/ Palestine will be free!”

Whether chanted by members of DSA or Hamas, it means not only no peace with Israel, but no Israel altogether. It bespeaks a politics of stupefying and suicidal bent, the unhappy politics of Hamas. If you live in Gaza, the disaster land where Hamas rules, and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion are holy writ,  enshrined in the Hamas charter, you may have no choice but to adopt and march under the banner of such views. To live in the United States, and, as a member of DSA or in some other context, echo these views means you don't mind furthering anti-Semitism.

Berman underlines the fact that no matter the depths of her outrage at the situation of Gaza, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has not collapsed into this aspect of DSA/Hamas politics.

Leaving Berman behind, I think of Ocasio-Cortez as a sane lefty/liberal/progressive, one who hasn’t crumbled into one or another of the pitfalls of the left, which happen to be, too often, some version or another of renascent and reconfigured anti-Semitism.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

To Hell with the Hillbilly, the kleine Leute, the Little People.

Ruth Lepson writes in a recent FB post:

Three recent books on Hitler reviewed in the NYRB--authors believe that the only way to counter fascism is by individual acts--of course we need millions of them. We have to keep speaking out & calling congressional reps to express our opinions and helping in other ways like giving to groups that help immigrants, etc.

Her reading of that excellent, must read, NYRB piece is more optimistic than mine.

One of the books reviewed by Cass R. Sunstein is "They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933–45" by Milton Mayer.

Mayer, "An American journalist of German descent" went back to Germany to renew contact with ten Germans — self-described "kleine Leute, little people." His most stunning conclusion is:

"is that with one partial exception (the teacher), none of his subjects 'saw Nazism as we—you and I—saw it in any respect.' Where most of us understand Nazism as a form of tyranny, Mayer’s subjects 'did not know before 1933 that Nazism was evil. They did not know between 1933 and 1945 that it was evil. And they do not know it now.' Seven years after the war, they looked back on the period from 1933 to 1939 as the best time of their lives."

This is stunning. Not even complete and utter military defeat disabused these ordinary Germans of their fond view of the not so distant past.

What does it take?

It's worth noting that in securing the confidence of his informants, who he regarded, despite their views, as friends, and they him, Mayer held back one explosve fact, namely that he was Jewish.
. . .
Ok, the Nazis lost. But here they are, in one form or another, making a comeback, from Hungary through Poland on into the United States.

If I ask, again, what does it take, it's because I don't know, except that it takes a lot.

I do, I do think of Gramsci — I know, I know, we're not to quote Marxist authorities, how tiresome and outdated, and I agree except he was something special. He said, in even worse times than ours, "Optimism of the will, pessimism of the intellect."

The most memorable portrayal of Gramsci that I know of occurs not in any syllabus or summary of Marxism but in Penelope Fitzgerald's deeply satisfying novel "Innocence", where we encounter Gramsci in a Mussolini jail, dying of the tuberculosis that had worked its way into his bones.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Hysterical Gaza

In a NY Times piece about Gaza that has generated some possibly useful controversy —  "Falling for Hamas's Split-Screen Fallacy" — Matti Friedman writes that "As is often the case where Israel is concerned, things quickly became hysterical and divorced from the events themselves" .

He writes: "Israeli soldiers facing Gaza have no good choices. They can warn people off with tear gas or rubber bullets, which are often inaccurate and ineffective, and if that doesn't work, they can use live fire."

Fair enough. Did Israeli soldiers use tear gas? They did, and it obviously failed to contain the protest. Did they then try rubber bullets and discover them to be "inaccurate and ineffective?" Not that I've read or heard. From what I can tell, the IDF went directly to live fire with predictably ghastly results.

But wait: Friedman tells us that, "a Hamas leader, Salah Bardawil, told a Hamas TV station that 50 of the dead were Hamas members. The militant group Islamic Jihad claimed three others." And we, critical readers all, not at subject in the least to hysteria where Israel is concerned, don't stop to doubt the Hamas boast, do we? No, because if Hamas says it, it must be true: everyone cut down by the IDF must be a shahid, a true Islamicist martyr.

If you believe that, this bit of Hamas self-glorification, than maybe you’d like to invest in this bridge I happen to know about. You don't have to go to Gaza — who'd want to, right?— to get in on this offer; it's right there, at the lower tip of Manhattan. A nice bridge.
. . .
. . .
My view is this:

1) recognize the perniciousness of Hamas


2) can still criticize Israel.


There are those on the Israel-bashing left (assuming it can be called a left) who deny that there can be liberal Zionists. There is no room for liberal Zionism in their anti-Zionist qua anti-Semitic worldview. For them, Israel is so bad from the ground up that liberalism doesn't apply to it; Israel can't be corrected or usefully critiqued, only, one way or another, torched and  reconstituted according to better — internationalist? Leninist? — principles. You don't have to go far to find examples of this. Dig just below the surface of JVP/BDS and you'll come on a raging source.

But it just ain't so. Like I said, I am a Zionist insofar as I believe without reservation in the state of Israel. I am a liberal Zionist in that I simultaneously believe that the country has deep flaws and I have the right to point them out.

This liberalism of mine is portable. It's American liberalism, to start with, and as critical of Trump and his gang of thieves, warmongers and liars as it is of Netanyahu's brand of nationalists and theocrats.

But getting back to Gaza, it doesn't make me an Israel-basher to say, after due consideration, that the use of live fire against protesters in Gaza was brutal and unjustified, and gave Hamas all the deaths it could now claim for itself, all the shahids, real or mostly bogus.

I bet a lot of the people out here who rush to the defense of Israel are liberals/progressives in the American context. Trump disgusts them. But somehow Netanyahu doesn't.

Now that's hysterical.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Little Kid in Gaza

In a NY Times piece about the turmoil and slaughter at the Gaza Border there was a bit about a Palestinian boy brandishing what he regarded as a precious trophy, a snippet of the barbed wire fence dividing him and his kind from Israel. He risked his life to get it, and was a fool for doing so. Gazans like him and his family are never getting back land they imagine was theirs in Jaffa, Jerusalem, or Tel Aviv. Hamas has misled him and others like him to fantasize otherwise and yet I think beyond child's play there some element of heroism in his action.

At any rate I feel more for him than I do for the Israeli sharpshooters looking down from wooden towers — have you seen these structures? the stuff of Star Wars, Mordor, Avatar — on Palestinians of all ages doing their deluded do-si-do with the border. These Palestinians are really no threat to crash that border and march on Eretz Yisrael, no threat to occupy even an inch of land. They have burning kites and burning tires, sometimes Molotov cocktails. And yet the IDF treats them as existential threats, as the overused saying goes, as if they were they vanguard of some mighty revanchist army that about materialize out of Arab sands at any time.
. . .

How sick of Hamas to send helpless desperate believers to confront awesome military might.

How sick the IDF to shoot down from towers with live fire instead of rubber bullets.

Israel sharpshooters shot low, it's true, breaking legs, incurring crippling, maiming, amputation. They are sharpshooters; they aim. Would someone tell me how rubber bullets below the knee would not have more than sufficed to neutralize the advance of the dread phantasmagorical Gazan army?

. . .

Israel disgusts me.

Not only vis a vis Gaza, though that would be enough, but also vis a vis Jerusalem, and how on the very day on which Palestinians mark Nakba, Trumpenyahu commemorated American official recognition of Jerusalem as capital of the Jewish State, thereby putting an end to all hopes that Jerusalem might also serve, as capital of a Palestinian entity.

How viciously provocative, on Nakba day.

But then there's the gargoyle nonsense of the commemoration, which featured a Christian pastor who has declared that "Mormonism, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism" lead people "to an eternity of separation from God in Hell," and a concluding benediction by an another pastor noted for saying "Hitler was sent by God to drive the Jews to their ancestral homeland."

Israel disgusts me, and its theocracy. So too the United States, and its, our, theocracy light.

Sometimes political reality leaves little space to breathe.

I know how that little Palestinian kid felt with a bit of Gaza wire in his hand. And that he had no idea of the shit he was getting into.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

President Horribilis — Iran

How disappointing that the opposition — the "resistance" — did next to nothing to oppose or resist Trump's withdrawal from the nuclear treaty with Iran.

Nothing about the withdrawal was a surprise. Trump kept promising to do it. And given his manifold failures — to fully eviscerate Obamacare, to get Mexico to splurge for a wall, to bring back coal etc. — it seemed increasingly likely he would follow through on this particular boast: this was the one big campaign pledge entirely within his power to fulfill,  so he did.

Seems to me those of us who might have mounted or called for at least a semblance of opposition, and I do not exclude myself, were bent over with concerns about burnishing our critiques, fussing over just the right historic parallels to bring up and the most acerbic phrases to use in describing the nouveau conditions of the Trump presidency — that of President Horribilis.

It was, I felt often, as if there was some unannounced Grand Prize for coming up with the best rhetorical flourish, the most thunderous damnation.

But while we were thundering, flourishing and damming, Trump, by annulling the American stake in the Iran deal, has very simply moved the United States, the Middle East, the world, close to a big war.

Sometimes, seems to me, the most politically astute among us are blinded by our astuteness.

And I'm not in the least confident that we of the resistance, of the opposition, have any idea of how to resist or oppose this war, which is already coming at us in bits and pieces.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Corbyn, Zionism, Jewish nationalism

When you disregard or insult Jews enough — as Jeremy Corbyn has done by calling Hamas and Hezbollah great friends of the left, or at least his version of it — not only do you betray a blinkered view of the world but you in effect dare Jews to do something about it. I mean, what can Jews do, cause they need the left, right?

Or maybe not.

And so, in the spirit of "If you prick us, do we not bleed?", London Jews have pricked back. They voted Labor out in seats long regarded as Labor sinecures.

Lest this be construed as yet another debate about Zionism, let me suggest it is but it is also much more. It is, for one thing, a debate about a leftism that has never matured an inch beyond Leninist conceptions of history. According to these, Israel is a "colonial settler state." That's the sort of nonsense Abbas revisits when he talks about imperial designs on the Levant that Zionism Europe a vehicle to fulfill.

In his apology for this dreck Abbas did admit that nothing worse than the Holocaust had ever happened, ever, so far as crimes against humanity go.

Holocaust on the one hand, worst crime ever, Zionism as handy imperialist conspiracy on the other.

Sense the disconnect?

I'm sure Abbas, an octogenarian, gets splitting headaches about this. Maybe. Or doesn't. Assuming a head. Same should be said of the left head. Or lack thereof.

But I want to move on, if only slightly, from the particular brain ache about Zionism and the Holocaust.

I want to say something ++ about the emptiness of Zionism, its failure, allure, insufficiency, void.

I support the state of Israel. Therefore, in the most basic sense, I am a Zionist. But Israel does not satisfy my sense of Jewish nationalism. Nor can it. Nor can it speak for or protect me and the likes of me outside its borders.

I support English labor initiatives much as I can, or the equivalents in the United States, but I support even more those Jewish voters in London who said, no you can't run over us.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Bibbi, What's Wrong With Him?

Bibbi, What's Wrong With Him?

Bibbi, what's wrong with him and beyond him Eretz Yisrael

Yeah, I read The Times. and here's the scariest bit I came upon in today's paper (5/3/18):

Even as Mr. Netanyahu was speaking [announcing reasons, fraudulent even by the lights of his own highly sophisticated military, for abrogating the nuclear treaty with Iran] his coalition in Parliament was pushing through a bill that would shift the power to go to war or carry out a military operation from the full cabinet to the smaller security cabinet — and, under “extreme circumstances,” allow the prime minister and defense minister alone to order such action.

This is scary. Even if the Israeli political system will put enough blockades in the way.

And yet, one must ask, what is it with Netanyahu, as in WTF?  Such a monster,  warmonger?


Monday, April 30, 2018

Anthony Bourdain

Anthony Bourdain "Trump, God, and Guns"

Anthony Bourdain's "Trump, God, and Guns," set in  McDowell County, West Virginia, the kickoff to his new season of "Parts Unknown," left me dispirited. That's not because the Appalachian cuisine featured seemed less appetizing than the complex noodle dishes Bourdain regularly savors in other parts unknown, since the  deep fried Appalachian rabbit — never mind it was farm raised — promised pleasures of its own.

No, it's because the gulf between the likes of Bourdain and the good people of McDowell County seemed immeasurable, nonnegotiable — even unspeakable, at least by the usually voluble Bourdain. And as the show establishes, they are good people — if you're one of them. From football to cooking — "Let us now say grace," which they do for both endeavors — they know and look after each other, as if they have since forever.

But there are paradoxes, including the ubiquitous love of guns, including fully automatic machine guns. It's not mostly about rabbit or squirrel hunting, though it might have begun there. No, they raise their rabbits. They just like to shoot. They say they want to be able to protect themselves. But if, as seems to be, they are such good neighbors, what exactly are they protecting themselves from? Not crime, surely, no mention of which is made in the show.

Then what?

It's a culture unto itself, and Bourdain can't seem to crack or honestly speak to it. I've never seen him so awkward, tongue-tied, maybe even frightened. He's relieved if not grateful they take him in, share with and say grace with him, even though he's the kind of New Yorker whose lifestyle refutes and contradicts so many of their values.

Another paradox is Trump. Another New Yorker. Nothing remotely salt of the earth about Trump. Yet they see him as one of their own. They embrace and close ranks around him.

Bourdain sputters in response to that.

I'm not sure what I would have done in his place, not sure what I would have said.

Maybe I would have skipped the whole discordant, inassimilable W. Virginia venue. Or maybe I would have solved all the "Let's Say Grace" occasions by saying, no disrespect,  I'm Jewish, that's not my prayer.

Or maybe I would have said the kind of thing that would have roused the good people of McDowell County to drop their good manners and become unpleasant.

I don't know that I could have stopped myself.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Hellboy: Or Fascism with American Characteristics

I like Hellboy as played by Ron Perlman. I like Hellboy way better than I do Batman, Superman or any of the Avengers. Hellboy isn't as thick and serious — as deep down turgid — as Hulk, Thor etc.. There's humor to him, and a bit of whimsy.  

So I respect his opinion a lot more than I would that of Ultron, Odin, Black Widow, Iron Man or the rest of that clunky, corporate bunch. And I'm not surprised in the least to learn that he detests Trump keenly, though it's nice to have it in his own words. Asked, for example, if he'd like to play Trump in a film, Perlman asked back, what's to play: "There’s nothing there to explore. He’s one-dimensional, and he’s not clever. He’d be very boring to play.”

Anything else Hellboy would like to point out about Scrump? Well, that he's "normalized things that are unconscionable, lies every time he speaks and has desensitized us to what a lie and the truth is. There is nothing to teach our children to aspire to, the ideals that are truly American. He’s got it all muddled. He’s supporting Nazis, he supports all of the things that autocrats support, destroying the credibility of the free press. He’s managing to speak to the lowest form of discourse. And he’s parlayed this into this hold he has on the GOP, and shown there is no patriotism in the GOP."

As for the cast of characters Trump has promoted or tried to — that band of fascists with American characteristics — “It seems for him the only way to maintain full control is to tear down everything that exists. The head of the EPA, he puts in a guy who protects polluters. The Treasury is supposed to protect the economy, and the guy he names protects the one-percent. Housing, he’s got this fucking idiot, I don’t know if he’s asleep or awake."

Note well the Marvel, DC and Disney big shots stay mum.

But Hellboy, he  can't help it, he speaks out.

Hellboy has no dual identity. He can't crawl back into Clark Kent or Steve Bannon or Bruce Wayne. He's Hellboy 24/7/365, with his tail, his horns and his sweet love of cats.

Hellboy has fought all kinds of heinous entities, the wonderfully named Wink, for example, in Hellboy II, and Sammael, the Seed of Destruction, Hound of Resurrection in the original. Hellboy has defended the Earth from Rasputin and monsters that hail from the Lovecraft dimension of   evil, older things, just waiting for the conjunction of forces that would let them break through. Hellboy has even defended the earth from Hellboy , shearing off his budding Hellboy horns when need be.

But you get the feeling even Hellboy and Perlman are debating how to deal with the "cardboard cutout piece of shitfuck," we in 2018 call president.  How is it possible? How could it happen? This question brings us to history, politics, philosophy and what may extend beyond these disciplines — comics.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Revolt of the incels

“We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys!"

What!? WTF?

This is a virulent Internet subculture talking, in the person of Alek Minassian, who drove his van onto a Toronto sidewalk this past Monday, "killing ten people and injuring more than a dozen others" (NY Times 4/24.)

True, Toronto doesn't have handguns. People don't get shot. But who needs guns? When it comes to crazed resentment, WIFI, a drivers license, and misogyny are enough.

Minassian identifies himself as an "incel", an involuntary celibate.

He's never has sex and, the age of 22, never even been kissed. Feminism is why the likes of him — "beta" male that he is — have been denied their "right to sexual intercourse."


“We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys!"

The Chad is the guy the women like — the alpha.

The Stacy is woman who favors him.

The incels — the betas — aren't going to take it any more.

In Goya's wonderful and much quoted phrase, "The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters."

So too, I think, does the superheated conjunction of the Internet and the pornographic imagination.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Mark Rudd Speaks

In his fine synopsis of the anti-war Columbia protests of May 1968**, Mark Rudd says:

I arrived on campus in 1965 and immediately fell in with a group of campus radicals, who eventually formed the Columbia chapter of Students for a Democratic Society.

I was among those radicals and appreciate how well Mark has summarized our story. He's right on, for example — as one used to say —  in writing that the occupation by students of five buildings, the subsequent strike that shut the Columbia campus down for the semester, and the over-the-top violence of the police response combined to make the Columbia protests "a high point of the campus movement against the Vietnam War, and a mile marker in its radicalization."

But Mark also detects a downside, or disconnect, one which I at best only dimly if at all perceived at the time. Yes, we SDS activists were buoyed by — if not drunk on — a sense of history, as you can tell from the grand names we used in our faction fights, in which the adherents of the Action Faction would polemicize mightily against those of the opposing Praxis Axis. Perhaps we had drunk too deeply of history and imagined that these disputes would lead to the emergence of the Correct Line, the Real Leader, and, finally, a goddamn Revolution!

There were far fewer African Americans on campus than whites but those who were involved in the protest had their own, more grounded, less pompous sense of history. They, Mark writes, "were inspired by the civil rights movement in the South and by their own parents' lifelong struggles." And their connections to the Harlem community surrounding Columbia may have resulted in some restraint being imposed on police all too eager to break heads and shed student blood.

What I also value in Mark's short piece is his introducing a key element of autobiography. "As for myself," he writes, "after a rocky few years pursuing the fantasy of anti-imperialist and socialist revolution, I settled into a lifetime of teaching and organizing."

All that enveloping sense of history, all that longing for revolutionary release, and all the deadening dogma that came with that longing:  Mark's been there and emerged — as many have not — with cautionary but also encouraging words to those among his peers who can still hear him, and, more important, to new generations seeking social change.

Mark Rudd, "The Missing History of the Columbia '68 Protests" NY Times 4/22/18