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

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Genesis Prize: Portman

Since 2014, when it was created, Israel's Genesis Prize has been awarded to those "who inspire others through their dedication to the Jewish community and Jewish values". These, to say the least, are loose, baggy and hugely debatable criteria. As per the NY Times (4/21/18), previous award winners include former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, sculptor Anish Kapoor, violinist Itzhak Perlman and Hollywood actor Michael Douglas.

Let me say that I am a particular fan of Anish Kapoor's work, which touches on polarities not usually explored by artists — the simple and basic one between inside and outside, for example, or, more grandiloquently, fullness and absence, presence and void. But much as I am enchanted by his work, it would take at least a tractate of the Talmud plus admonitions by Martin Buber to instruct me about its inherent "Jewish values" or its function for the "Jewish community."

Putting such questions aside for now, Natalie Portman has occasioned a furor by refusing to travel to Israel to accept a Genesis Prize, and the $2 million that comes with.

On one side of the furor, ministers in Netanyahu's government have accused her of being a dupe for rejectionist Palestinian types out to defame and isolate Israel. (Do these ministers think Hamas has offered Portman more money than the Genesis Award?) On the other side of the furor there are those on the left who condemn Portman for even thinking about going to Israel, since, let's be honest, if you're a certain kind of loyal lefty, Zionism is still racism, right? Leninist gobbledygook still applies, doesn't it? You mean, it don't!?

In the midst of this nasty but not unpredictable shit storm, Portman has opted to speak not through agents or representatives but for herself, as she does, very ably.

As per the Times:

"Let me speak for myself. . . I chose not to attend because I did not want to appear as endorsing Benjamin Netanyahu, who was to be giving a speech at the ceremony."

Portman said she did not support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which aims to isolate Israel over its treatment of Palestinians.
"Like many Israelis and Jews around the world, I can be critical of the leadership in Israel without wanting to boycott the entire nation," she said.

I love the way she put this:

"Like many Israelis and Jews around the world, I can be critical of the leadership in Israel without wanting to boycott the entire nation."

I completely sympathize with her refusal to accept the Genesis Prize, but also feel bad about it, since, if there are "Jewish  values" this prize recognizes and rewards, she speaks for them.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

David Grossman

Israeli writer David Grossman is not what's technically described as a "Torah sage" by today's ultra-orthodox theocrats, but when it comes to the reality of Israel he seems to me very much a sage. At any rate, he is someone I look to in times of crisis, such as this one — not that Israel, and beyond Israel, Jewry ever lack for crises.

Here is a remark I've chosen from Grossman's "Israel Is a Fortress, but Not Yet a Home," his Memorial Day Speech to Bereaved Israelis and Palestinians:***

When Israeli snipers kill dozens of Palestinian protesters, most of them civilians — Israel is less of a home.

Not much of his talk is dedicated explicitly to the conflict at the Gaza border. Most of it is directed to Israel's existential situation — not existential in the sense usually used, as in "Iran represents an existential threat to the Jewish State" **, but morally existential, in the ways Israel consistently undercuts much of its own meaning.

For example, he says: Israel is painful for us. Because it is not the home we want it to be. We acknowledge the great and wonderful thing that happened to us, by having a state, and we are proud of its accomplishments in many areas, in industry and agriculture, in culture and art, in I.T. and medicine and economics. But we also feel the pain of its distortion.

I'm not Israeli but I care profoundly about the country. From the relative safety of the United States, I acknowledge "the great and wonderful thing that happened to [Jews], by having a state."

Were I Israeli I'd hope to care about that state the way David Grossman does.

** Worth noting is that Grossman does not criticize the Israeli attack on an Iranian outpost in Syria, coterminous with the conflict at the Gaza border. Not to speak for Grossman, but that may be significant. At any rate, I do not challenge Israel's right to neutralize in advance an Iranian or any other threat in advance of it becoming militarily existential.

***The full text of Grossman's speech can be found at

If a pay wall prevents viewing the whole text, I will supply it on request.

Monday, April 16, 2018


For those who missed James Comey being interviewed on ABC Sunday night, (4/15/18), I'm including bits from a Times summary that I find most striking.

• I don’t buy this stuff about him being mentally incompetent or [in] early stages of dementia. He strikes me as a person of above average intelligence who’s tracking conversations and knows what’s going on. I don’t think he’s medically unfit to be president. I think he’s morally unfit to be president.

• It was him talking almost the entire time, which I’ve discovered is something he frequently does. And so it would be monologue in this direction, monologue in that direction, monologue in a different direction.

And a constant series of assertions that — about the inauguration crowd, about how great my inauguration speech was, about all the free media — earned media, I think was his term, that I got during the campaign. On and on and on and on. Everyone agrees, everyone agrees, I did this, the — I never assaulted these women, I never made fun of a reporter.

And — I’m sure you’re wondering what question did I ask that would prompt those? None, zero. I didn’t ask any questions that I recall.

• He will stain everyone around him.

• [NY Times]: During much of the interview, Mr. Comey seems disciplined and almost dispassionate. But at the end, he lets loose in a remarkable way. It is hard to think of a time that such a senior official of the government has gone on to so directly question the moral fitness of the sitting president. He said that he hoped Mr. Trump would be held accountable for his lies, but that impeachment would be a cop-out for a public that should also be held accountable for electing Mr. Trump in the first place.

So, as per Comey, Trump is neither intellectually nor neurologically challenged. To explain him in such terms — as, say, stupid or declining into dementia —is, in effect, to excuse him, to get him off the hook, to give him a high office version of an insanity defense. No, Comey sees Trump more simply as a bad man, morally deficient by most standard but extravagantly so by the norms of the presidency.

And give that high office, Trump's immorality can't be quarantined; it has the capacity to "stain everyone around him." I think other escapees from Trump Tower, if and when they gather the courage to tell their stories, will confirm Comey's view.

Comey takes a similar view on impeachment. Sure it would be nice to rid ourselves of Trump by any possible legal means but impeachment, for Comey, would give not Trump, but the electorate, a pass it doesn't deserve. It's the electorate that needs to cleanse itself of Trump.

Comey did not deny the possibility that his own clumsy, badly timed announcements about Hillary's emails might have skewed the election, though he hopes they didn't. To my mind they did, but still his point stays with me: the American electorate, whatever turbulence it experienced on the way to the polls showed its own moral caliber, or lack thereof, by making Trump president.

Oh, Trump will make a serious, potentially violent  stink however he is evicted, but as to the electorate coming to its senses, I think Comey is right to say the only real good riddance is to vote him out.

Monday, April 2, 2018


Gaza I

I hate to see what's happening in and to Gaza.

Are Gaza protestors in some cases being intentionally provocative? From what I can tell, yes. I'd be surprised if that weren’t the case. What other style of leadership has Hamas ever had to offer?

Are the Israelis employing overkill? Once again, yes. Given his rightwing government, Netanyahu has fewer constraints than ever, and more encouragement to suppression.

And the residents of Gaza fewer allies.

Gaza is being squeezed not just by Israel but by Egypt, which enforces a blockade from its side. And by the fact that there is no peace between Mahmoud Abbas, the octogenarian who putatively represents West Bank Palestinians, and Hamas; there is only enmity.

One difference I see between the current conflict and the 2014 Israel–Gaza war is that militants in Gaza are not attacking Israel or Israeli settlements directly. There are no rockets being launched. The tunnels Hamas had used to infiltrate Israel have reportedly been destroyed.

Israel has a right to defend itself against attack but in this case is it being attacked?

I see provocative but relatively trivial border incidents to which Israeli troops are violently overreacting, as if each amounted to a real insult to its existence and a challenge to its sovereignty.

Is Hamas playing to "world opinion", whatever that means?

Perhaps. But no one is coming to the rescue of Gaza. The Sunni powers, led by Saudi Arabia, are far more interested in cementing their ties with Israel in preparation for the war against Iran they both crave. (They hope too that Israel Israeli-Washington ties will bring the United States into it.)

My geopolitical ruminations to the side, so far as I can see, between the follies of their own leadership and the enmity of their foes the residents of Gaza are being subjected to unsparing cruelty.

Gaza II

One response to previous post about Gaza:

Gaza protestors being "intentionally provocative".,.? This is no longer in the category of speculative query but verified agenda. Those in doubt should read the manifesto of the terrorist arm of Palestinian cause, Hamas. It's all there available on the internet. The Hamas Charter, 1988, revised in 2017. Resistance to Israel is mandated by any ways and means. The fight against Zionism, aka the continued nationhood of Israel, must continue unrelentingly at whatever cost of human life however long that may take. It's a holy mission, a mandate from Allah never to be relinquished. Palestinian leadership has managed to accumulate capital to their cause in the court of world opinion by victimizing their own people, encouraging them to commit violent acts, to sacrifice their own lives. An immorality sold and bought into by those duped into identifying this duplicity as humanitarian cause.

My response:

I think much of what you say is true about Palestinian dedication to suicidal opposition, but even if every bit of it is true it is still legitimate to ask why the IDF chose lethal responses. It didn't have to. The protestors posed no lethal — certainly no existential — threat to Israel.

No Israelis nor Israeli settlements were harmed. And I've yet to read accounts of the IDF being harmed.

I think the killings were predetermined warnings to Gaza protestors and beyond — to Hamas, and beyond Hamas to Hezbollah and Iran.

And beyond that, to whoever crosses Likud defined tripwires in opposition to Israeli policies — critics of the occupation of the West Bank, and critics of the shrinkage of Israel democracy.

Not that they will be shot but their views will be utterly disregarded.

No, it's not an excuse that residents of Gaza are in a truly dire and pathetic situation, but they are.

And it seems Israel, instead of alleviating it to some degree,  doesn't mind making it more dire.

Let me also express some surprise that those who see Trump as involved in the negation of democracy fail to see anything similar about the reign of Netanyahu.