Thursday, October 31, 2002

I've begun double-posting my Iraq comments on No War Blog.

The Guardian "The conventional wisdom... was that Iraq was going to help the president and Republicans running for office," said Lawrence Jacobs, a political science professor at the University of Minnesota. "Nobody doubted that.
"But the Iraq vote has boomeranged - at least in Minnesota."
So the senate could go either way because the voters can't tell the difference between the parties. And if they remain passive it could mean more wins for Bush just because there are no alternatives. The voters seem to have some Naderesque opinions, at least as regards the war. And it seems they've already achieved left/right cooperation.

Wednesday, October 30, 2002

The War Resisters League list of actions and demonstrations
No War Blog is an attempt by Max Sawicky and some libertarians from Cato to create a left right coalition against the war. Bloggers who sign up should double-post all comments on the war, but not on other subjects.
My mother chaired a lawyers' commitee drafting legal positions on the rights of soldiers during Vietnam: retired JAG officers on one side of the table, lawyers from the movement on the other. The point was their shared concern for the soldiers themselves and not for the powers that be.

Tuesday, October 29, 2002

I have a number of problems with this piece from the NYRB: with the author's opinions as well as the book being reviewed, which is about the evolutionary 'success' of the idea of religion. But in the meantime, it will serve to remind us of the charms of The Good Book, which are important to bear in mind now that everybody is worrying about the Koran.
The Bible, especially the Old Testament, is full of exhortations to be cruel to heathens. Deuteronomy 20:10–18, for example, explains the obligation of the Israelites to practice genocide: when your army approaches a distant city, you should enslave all its inhabitants if it surrenders, and kill all its men and enslave its women and children and steal their cattle and everything else if it doesn't surrender. But if it's a city of the Canaanites or Hittites or any of those other abominable believers in false gods, then the true God commands you to kill everything that breathes in the city. The Book of Joshua describes approvingly how Joshua became a hero by carrying out those instructions, slaughtering all the inhabitants of over four hundred cities. The book of rabbinical commentaries known as the Talmud analyzes the potential ambiguities arising from conflicts between those two principles of "Thou shalt not kill [believers in thine own God]" and "Thou must kill [believers in another god]." For instance, according to some Talmudic commentators an Israelite is guilty of murder if he intentionally kills a fellow Israelite; is innocent if he intentionally kills a non-Israelite; and is also innocent if he kills an Israelite while throwing a stone into a group consisting of nine Israelites plus one heathen (because he might have been aiming at the one heathen).
I sent this to Max first but I might as well add it myself: another example of American moral relativism, obscene, and at this point in history, in practical terms, just stupid.

Monday, October 28, 2002

By pure luck I now get to argue my point in more detail. Tapped today linked to this piece in the Washigton Post which they refer to as a defense of science and technology over fantasy, while the author himself seems to consider it a defense of regular life and ordinary people over magic and elves.

I have no particular interest in Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, or Harry Potter, while the author Chris Mooney, admits to being a fan of all of them, films included. But the fact remains that they are little more than simple fictions predicated on a misconception of the value of mythology and of fiction itself: that of the escape 'from' daily life and 'into' Meaning. But fantasy is made up, and the point of mythology is that it is not. A myth tells the story of the people who made it, as the Bible is the story of it's own creation, and fiction writing, as an art, is the description of the world and time that produced it. As most novelists will tell you: it's not the plot it's the description that is the value and the art. You don't create depth, you describe it. I read an essay once by a critic who was a fan of Tolkien. He talked about another well known critic who distained him. "He made it all up" the friend said. To my shock the essayist then wrote: "I don't know what he meant" Fantasy writers conflate the value of the story with the plot and end up, by trying to 'create' meaning, merely create an illustration.

Those who argue against technocracy have complex arguments and ideas. But liberal mouthpieces such as Tapped are all too willing, in their naive view of such a critique, to lump imagination together with fantasy, and its fans, as idealist and idealistic as the technocrats they oppose, are all too willing to agree. Both are wrong. It is not fantasy that argues against technocracy, it is humanism that argues against both.
Lula is in. Now we have to watch how The Powers That Be respond. Given the current climate, any cynical attempts by international finance to undermine him will be seen as such by people who ten years ago might not have paid attention. I remember the stories that circulated around David Rockefeller after he appeared before the senate to complain about US support for Unita. He had a stake in the refineries that the Cuban troops were defending, and Angola paid its debts. Lets see how resilient Lula is, and what tricks are pulled against him.
Some nice words on Lula from Nathan Newman.

Mexico is with France against the new US program for Iraq
And the use of extortion is being discussed more openly by it's defenders and not only by its critics.

It's frustrating the degree to which, in this country, political and cultural sophistication seem so mutually exclusive, how much the philosophy of culture in the respectable left is as mechanistic as that of the right. Alterman discoursing on Springsteen has more to do with a middle class Jewish intellectual's need for acceptance by the (Goyishe) white working class than anything else. But the general tendency on the left to imagine that art is or should be somehow educational or edifying and therefore useful is disturbing, especially since as a backlash, art, and politics, are defended as nothing but inarticulate expression and a freedom from responsibility. That the pursuit of pleasure as pleasure, and as complexity, should need to be described as either moral or amoral is ridiculous. Ironically, this is one of the reasons so much of American culture, as opposed to American politics, was given open rather than grudging respect in Europe. The freedom from expectation is one of the the reasons American art -music, film and to a lesser extent literature- was as preeminent as it was for a time.

No other country on the planet is ruled by such simple dichotomies.

Sunday, October 27, 2002

Maxspeak
And I would add that on a cultural level, after all that Jews did to help civilize Europe -by way of their outsider status and their intellectual tradition, which together allowed them to observe their host culture with critical eyes- Israel, with with all of its self mythologizing crap, is now an intellectual backwater, and more culturally barren than Iran by far. Islam is becoming modern; it stands a good chance of being the only enlightened religion left. Christianity certainly is not that.
I'm an atheist. I have no regrets about it. But I prefer a religion where the faithful are debating freedom and responsibility amongst themselves to one that preaches only subservience. And what is Rome saying now? What are the Jews on the west bank saying now. What are Israelis saying now with their rank hypocrisy?
The American middle class by and large are not believers, whatever they say. Their only religion is their greed. And the poor are believers in desperation. Islam has a following among a middle class who have a core respect for things other than money and their own self interest. That will fade as well as capitalism weaves it's way. But in the meantime I'll defend civility and civilization where I find it.
Who heeds conspiracy theories?
The problem is not that we are still playing The Great Game, but that the Bushies think we can win. The very ideas behind the Game are not only that it is amoral, on the assumption of its masters that such is an honest assessment of our nature, but that it is unwinnable, and that we all earn a certain stability in an otherwise chaotic world as a result of our acceptance of such a cold logic. The mixture of drooling greed and romantic enthusiasm on the part of our current leaders, on the other hand, is astounding.
The policies of Bush, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and co. may not yet be fascist but they are making the world safe for fascism, the most unstable form of government we know.

Saturday, October 26, 2002

So this is our new morality.
From a friend:
"This year's thanksgiving themes: 'Thank god I'm not a Chechen.' and
'My terrorism is worse than your terrorism. But its thanksgiving, so we should all love each other and support each others wars.' "

Also: North Korea has a point.

Friday, October 25, 2002

A couple of things. I've spent too much time on Maxspeak arguing with people who like to rant about the dangers of Islam, these days as it applies to our tall black Tim McVeigh.
The Mullahs of Rome are still trying to protect their authority over the faithful, in the face of mounting democratic pressure for reform; the ultra Orthodox of the west bank are shooting olive pickers who trespass on the land God gave them; our Attorney General drapes the exposed tits of marble statues in canvas dropcloths and annoints himself with handfuls of Mazola; and we have to put up with bullshit qbout the dangers of Islam. It's silly. The danger is from fundamentalism. And the reason is the degree to which people in many parts of the world feel that their lives are not in any way in their own hands. More than that, they feel that their lives are in the hands of other people, like themselves, but with more power. The value of religion is that it simultaneously gives you responsibility and takes it away. But what takes it away is specifically not another human being but something that is greater than all human beings. In this way a believer can feel pride even as he or she serves.
We could feel this pride in Democracy. But most of us don't. We could feel pride in education but most of us don't. Most of us feel pride in our freedom to shop.

Nicholas Kristof managed to be incredibly disrespectful and condescending in the Times today. If he had treated the words of American women, even born again Christians, with as much contempt as he did the opinions of university professors in Riyadh he'd be getting letters out the ass. Here are the last paragraphs

" Is it paternalistic of us in the West to try to liberate women who insist that they're happy as they are?
No, I think we're on firm ground.
If most Saudi women want to wear a tent, if they don't want to drive, then that's fine. But why not give them the choice? Why ban women drivers and why empower the religious police, the mutawwa, to scold those loose hussies who choose to show a patch of hair?

If Saudi Arabians choose to kill their economic development and sacrifice international respect by clinging to the 15th century, if the women prefer to remain second-class citizens, then I suppose that's their choice. But if anyone chooses to behave so foolishly, is it any surprise that outsiders point and jeer?"Link

The women's responses were smart and complex. They understand what it means to be a Saudi woman. And they understand the dificulty.
Nick, If you ask someone's opinion and you think the response is silly, don't wait to go home to have a laugh. Either have the guts to do it in her face, or show her more respect when she's not around.

Paul Krugman was good today.

Wednesday, October 23, 2002

I'm adding Sam Heldman to my links list. I'm thinking of taking a few off as well. I'm really not intersted in other people's dairies, unless they're well written. It annoys me when people luckier than I am who write for a living, Alterman, for example, think that the web is a place to be lazy or chit chat with fans. I want to learn things when I read -and when I write for that matter- either about a subject or about the act of reading, writing, or thinking. I may pare down my list to those who really interest me in one way or another, and let Max and others like him link to the rest of the planet.
I've lightened the photos a little so they should look better on Windows, and I've added two more pages: editions from 1997 and 99. The files are pretty low resolution except for the third page. It's all 'bare bones', but I'll get more sophisticated as I learn. In the meantime, I'll go back to politics, but not tonight.
Enjoy the war.

Sunday, October 20, 2002

It is interesting the degree to which Republicans are willing to stand on principle when it comes to guns, even in the face of concerns for public safety, but are unwilling to do so when it comes to privacy and freedom of speech, given the same, though much less obvious, concerns. This morning on ABC after trying to make the case that gun fingerprinting does not work, (imagining, among other things, a storehouse full of millions of spent shells) and having his argument shot down by the rest of the assembled panel, George Will came close to arguing just this, that state security is more important than individual safety. This is and always has been the philosophy of the conservative elite but in a democracy it's not meant to be talked about in public.

After all the chatter about the apathy of the american voter, not to mention of the press, we have the result in the simplistic foreign policy of an uneducated man. The administration's response to news from North Korea, (ignoring the fact that they did not inform congress until after the Iraq debates) will no doubt be on par with James Kelly's performance two weeks ago. Their response to Indonesia will be no better.
Nothing on this day is more symptomatic of the situation than The New York Times Magazine. It's a mark of the conflict in this country that the 95% of the Times including ad space that is constructed to document and accessorize various form of decadence and conspicuous consumption should be excused, in the minds of the liberals who read it, by the 'seriousness' of the articles. This week between ads for ten thousand dollar dresses and and million dollar homes one can find an article by Paul Krugman on the unfairness of it all for the average American. I know that left/liberals will be in ecstasy over the appearance of such ideas in a glossy magazine, even one printed on cheap paper, but I won't be.

Also this week there is an article on the 'Democratization' of TV thanks to the web and other measures of audience response. This is something that will probably go unnoticed in political circles, though the same questions if raised about Karl Rove, also the subject of an article this week, will result in a response.
So we get an attack on a dumbed down American idea of politics back to back with a celebration of the dumbed down American idea of Art. If we criticize Americans for their ignorance and argue that their freedom should be earned, shouldn't we make the same argument for art: that it should do more than affirm the lowest common denominator? Art by committee and politics by whatever the least educated are trained to think; though the least educated may have been smart enough to leave it all to the pundits, who are trained better than anyone.
Democracy has a brighter future in Iran

Saturday, October 19, 2002

It is frustrating to be told by cowards what it is that we're supposed to be thinking, and then to have to rely upon the foreign press to be reminded how few people actully think it.



"Their defense is simple and unintellectual: "somebody will have power; it might as well be me." Glenn Reynolds, like Posner, like the neo-cons, like so many others, tries to create logical arguments for things he viscerally doesn't like. And he doesn't succeed. If he did, Max, you wouldn't have such an easy time with him. "
I posted this on the link at Maxspeak below. Aside from the obvious mistake- Posner et al. attempt logical arguments concerning, or against, but not 'for' things they don't like (sorry) I'd like to reiterate my second point, which I realized later I should treat as more than a throw-away. There is no intellectual defense of right wing politics. The only defense is the quote I imagined above. Every logical argument can be logically refuted, but that honest and simple line can not, because it nullifies all opposition. It says, in effect, the only definition of right and wrong is common sense, and that that definition can only be applied on an ad hoc basis, to be dealt with by the ruler 'justly' or not, accoring to how he weighs his priorities. There may be intellectuals who will argue for this 'realistic' position, but how many would admit that their argument againsts systems obviates their own position. Would George Will ever openly admit that his only desire is to serve his masters faithfully?

Wednesday, October 16, 2002

Our president in action.

I heard Kenneth Pollack, the author of "The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq" and the intellectual hero of the hawks these days, speak on the NPR affiliate in NY this morning. At the end of his spiel, the host asked him what he thought the odds were of Musharraf being overthrown, perhaps as a result of a backlash against his support of US policy.
"I can't answer that" Pollack said, "I don't know the first thing about Pakistan"

'Friedman'... That's a German name isn't it?:
" If the settlers get their way, Israel will de facto or de jure annex the West Bank and Gaza. And if current Palestinian birth rates continue, by around the year 2010 there will be more Palestinians than Jews living in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza combined. When that happens, the demand of the college anti-Israel movements will change. They won't bother anymore with divestiture. They will simply demand: 'One Man, One Vote...' If you think it is hard to defend Israel on campus today, imagine doing it in 2010, when the colonial settlers have so locked Israel into the territories it can rule them only by apartheid-like policies... This is a call for everyone who wants Israel to remain a Jewish state — and not become a binational state..."

So what happens when ther are two states, all the Palestinians in Israel leave? And if they don't do so voluntarily, do they get the boot?
The Turks in Stuttgart will have more rights than the Palestinians in Israel.

Sunday, October 13, 2002

In an age of global 'integration' more than half a century after the founding of the UN we are planning the installation of a puppet government to control the second largest oil reserves in the world. And not only do the Democrats cave, but we have to put up with the images of concern and moral doubt on the faces of those like Jim Leach who see themselves as carrying a heavy burden.
Of course I'm glad that Leach's vote against the power grab is earning praise from his constituents in Iowa, just as I'm angered that Diane Feinstein admitted she was voting against the wishes of her supporters. But any country as large and well organized as this one is nonetheless a danger to the planet. Decency and civility are not enough to make up for the mind bending ignorance of its people.
I prefer immigrants to Americans, even if they are the adventurous and greedy ones and I would probably prefer the members of their families who'd stay behind even if they had a choice. I prefer them to the Ameican working class, with the exception of blacks, whom I grew up fearing much less than whites because of my strange situation as a child. Immigrants at least bring with them some of the values of their own countries: the values that working people share and capitalism destroys. I tell my neighbors and co-workers, " We will all hate your grandchildren." and they laugh, or tell me their plans to go home as soon as they have enough money, or before the children grow old enough to be fully American. Even those who stay make sure they send their children back home for the summers if they can, to insulate them as much as possible from the numbness of this country.
?

Friday, October 11, 2002

Never have so many people, of such ignorance, had so much power.

My main interest has been in the White House policy towards Iraq, so it was not until I listened to the Senate yesterday that I understood how much the rules would be, have been, permanently changed by the vote last night.

It angers and saddens me that it can be argued Clinton and Schumer voted the way they did because of the Jewish vote. Schumer is terrible on Israel, and this may reflect his personal beliefs rather than simply his politics, for obvious reasons. And I don't doubt the accusations against Clinton: of her making racist, anti-jewish, comments in an argument 30 years ago, so maybe it's 50/50 (30 years is and is not a long time.) Regardless of whether their decisions were sincere or cynical, they were equally nearsighted, immoral, and stupid.

Carter, by the way is a famous misanthrope. He's been pushing for years for a Nobel and every year that he hasn't gotten it he's had a fit. If anyone can be said consistently to do the right thing for the wrong reasons, it's Carter. He's a piece of work.

Thursday, October 10, 2002

Pro Taliban hardliners are doing well in the Pakistani elections. The Guardian. The BBC

Wednesday, October 09, 2002

All things being equal (invasions aside) I'm still more worried about the danger to all of us from an unstable Pakistan than I am about Iraq.

From an article in last week's New York Review. In response to a question from one of a group of Pakistani bankers and businessmen about how he planned to control the rising violence and disorder in the country, [Musharraf] "took out his silver plated pistol and waved it in the air. 'This is how I protect myself.' "
A man behaves this way because he's trying to scare people while still needing their attention and approval. Such behavior bodes well neither for a democracy nor a dictatorship. It simply bodes a messy end. Saddam Hussein has never been so stupid.
A number of CIA analyists and Government scientists are claiming that they are being forced to defend Bush's case against Saddam Hussein even though it is based on "a slanted and sometimes entirely false reading of the available intelligence."

The Times, in its modesty, seems to be representing more official doubts.

Monday, October 07, 2002

A friend of mine sends his children once a week to a Yiddish school run by The Workmen's Circle. It's good to know that such places, which go back to the working class Jewish New York of 100 years ago, still exist and are apparently doing well. As one of the other parents told my friend Joshua: "I'm an Athiest. My father was an Athiest. My grandfather was an Athiest. My great grandfather was an Athiest. God willing, my children will be Athiests." The kids sing songs in Yiddish and are taught about the things "their ancestors used to believe." How civilized.
Who knew?
Last night in The Guardian: The People of the United States are not as arrogant or stupid as their president wants them to be. With these poll numbers, The cowardice of Daschle and Gephardt is unconscionable. This morning in The NY Times: use plural2/grandmother to log in.

All three main networks have declined to present Bush's speech on Iraq tonight, which is shocking. What's even more so, or perhaps not, is that The White House is not pushing them to show it. They are obviously a little afraid of the public seeing their man in action.

Again to remind people that generalizations concerning naive idealism and adolescent self-indulgence in (left wing) political thought should refer to the sullen citizens of the richest and most powerful country on earth and not to critics, even adolescent ones, from overseas:
"Emily Dische-Becker, a 20 year old student at Bard College... and a native of Berlin, said she had come to the city with friends and was leaving dissappointed.
'It's like pop culture, concentrated teen angst,' she said of the rally. 'The rhetoric is too heavy handed. That's the problem with American activists. They need to simplify.' Someone on the stage railed against police brutality, and she rolled her eyes."

Sunday, October 06, 2002

I'm a bit late, but Todd Gitlin does a smart job on The Bush Doctrine as it is defined in 'The National Security Strategy of the United States of America' (NSSUSA), which Gitlin says "...must be opposed – not because America has no enemies, or because it deserves the enemies it has, but because even paranoids who have real enemies are obliged to be intelligent and wise."
The people of the United States are nervous, insecure and uneducated. The Democrats, as representatives of the people, feel they have an obligation to mirror their indecision. The Republicans, who believe their obligations are to themselves, have the strength to act. This isn't Democracy; this is a gathering of subjects waiting for a king.

Leon Fuerth was good enough on Meet the Press today, against Perle, but Daschle was absolutely awful. "We need to get beyond this" were his words.
Strong democracy does not come from consensus but from argument, the assumption being that out of argument come wise decisions and just action. This in turn is based on the idea that people desire education and are willing to learn.

American politics and American culture are based on an anti-intellectualism that discounts the experience of others. That's fine when you're poor, scrappy and streetwise -though it's more chaos than democracy- but when you're rich and lazy it's suicide.

Saturday, October 05, 2002

Contacting Congress. An index of who and where with email addresses and other means of contact.

Veterans group calls for Rumsfeld to resign.
Nathan Newman reminds us that it's the employers who locked out the longshoremen. It is not a strike.

Friday, October 04, 2002

Bush vetoes Middle East talks. Wolfowitz is not only entirely amoral he hasn't a clue how damaging this policy is to the success of everything he believes in, let alone to the interests of The American People he is sworn to represent. Corporations dictate domestic policy, and foreign policy is run by the followers of Arik Sharon.

Ratlosigkeit.
A peculiarly Germanic concept describing a sort of passive helplessness of the witness to a crime, defined by the question: 'what could I do?'
My contribution to a thread on Maxspeak
Among the differences between the US and Europe we can list these: the US as a state is based on citizenship not genetics; we rule the world by offering others the chance to join us or be swamped, not simply by stealing wealth. The country thrives on a social mobility that's rare in other countries, The drawback is that most of the mobility is exhibited in the immigrant populations. It would be interesting to know if there are any studies on this, but my impression is that the American born poor are more likely to remain so while the immigrant poor tend to move up. Unlike Germany or France where poor (dark skinned) foreigners are not accepted, there's a real sense in this country that it's laziness that's frowned upon not foreignness. What this means, however, is that those who don't climb quickly often don't climb at all. I'm witnessing this now in my neighborhood where there's a real tension between the children of immigrants from post-war Poland and the generation who left Poland at the end of the cold war and who are incredibly aggressive in their drive for wealth.  America welcomes adventurers.  But it should not be a crime to be other than rich and want to be content.  In the new hyper capitalism, "you're either a suck-up or a fuck-up" is the line of the day. Nonetheless it's the strength of America in relation to Europe, where instead of complacent poverty there's a complacent bourgeois. Europe is becoming as racially diverse as America, but I still get the impression that while immigrants come to America to get rich, immigrants go to Europe simply to have a decent life. Indeed I know many who only come to the States for the jobs and the money, planning to move to other parts of the world, back to their home, or to Europe is possible, as soon as they can.

On China, I'll say something else entirely. I read an article by Ronald Dworkin on his visit to the mainland and his conversations with political figures, intellectuals and students. He made an interesting comment and what he thought of their hopes for the future, and for political change. They were optimistic he thought, even though they knew things were moving slowly. He worried that their optimism was over-confidence given the youth of China's new leaders; but as I read the article, I got the impression that they might have thought 30 years not too long to wait, or that perhaps their children would reap the rewards of their patience.

Patience is not something America understands. We've conquered Europe. Our version of modernity born of youth and revolution has made brashness and enthusiasm both popular and intellectually respectable. And if ever brashness and enthusiasm described our political philosophy it does so now, as evinced in the policies of our current president and his companions. But George W. Bush represents our national philosophy in all it's weaknesses, and none of it's strengths. Arrogant but not streetwise, rich and spoiled, badly educated and unintellectual, both boorish and contemptuous.

I'm looking forward to the next generation of modern civilizations. The age of revolutions is over. Contrary to what you hear on the radio, the romance with youth is ending. China's students struck me as patient. Iranians are patient. Stability not as decadence or power but as maturity is a value to them. I take that very seriously. And I respect it.  30 years ago someone asked Zhou En Lai what he though was the significance of the French Revolution. He said it was too soon to tell. He was right.

Wednesday, October 02, 2002

A Friend of mine, Thom Merrick, is in a show opening soon in Nuremberg.
I may not be posting as much in the near future. I was down to my last $57 in the bank -the actual number- when a call finally came in. I don't really like the idea of looking for listings for carpenters in the help wanted section. I'd rather just stay in touch with friends in the business.

The most I've got to say today is that the Democrats are now so cowardly as to be disgusting. The rest of the world is worrying about a war and they go for the economy.
You can really sense if you try, and I mean almost physically touch, the emptiness in the American political scene. The people I know who are just numb are too numerous to mention. Of course I'm talking about the scene in the big cities, not the culture as a whole. But I live in the world the pundits live in, not the world of their audience. I don't live in Peoria, or Portland Maine, where there does seem to be some life (which the pundits are ignoring). The despair I sense is a despair that may not exist outside its walls of the cities that rule the country. Indeed it seems not to and I'm grateful. But those places are not my home. I'm not a provincial. This country does not know sophistication that is not decadence. And that's a pity.
Am I supposed to be grateful for this?