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.