Wednesday, December 25, 2002

SEE YOU NEXT YEAR. When I first started blogging back in February 2003, I had a few rules. One was not to take blogging so seriously that anything I read would ruffle my feathers. Another was not to respond to anything precipatately, or ever to explain myself. A blog is simply a diary, not a scholarly tome, but I vowed that I would say what I had to say as thoughtfully as possible, and then simply move on. At first, I was very good at sticking to my rules but over the course of nearly a year, I've found myself getting steadily worse. I'm breaking those rules a lot and it's bothering me. So I'm taking a holiday break from blogging to regain my balance and will see you next year, possibly in new digs, but pinker than ever.
A CHRISTMAS POST. I'm dreaming of a wet Christmas....those miserable weather forecasters misled us again. Snow-freak that I am, I was looking forward to walking through a winter wonderland of a white Christmas. Nope. What a disappointment -- it's windy and raining and cold. The weather is like wet sheets flapping from clotheslines.

LORD OF THE RINGS. Since J.R.R. Tolkien was a serious Christian, and since I observe Christmas (I mean those words literally, as in "I observe-watch-apprehend Christmas") from the perspective of non-belief (atheism), foreign ancestry (Jewish) and infelicitous location (in the fleshpots of a commercial entrepot--but one strangely full of churches!), today's the day for my Lord of the Rings impressions. (Not a review--impressions.) Which I finally got to see, yesterday. Too sick to work, but not too sick to get out, I trudged up to the Metro on 98th street and caught a reduced-price matinee.

First things first: I've read some blogger reviews and most of them are from serious Tolkien geeks who are intimately familiar with the books, and who compare the filmed adaptation to the works that became part of their interior landscape at an impressionable age. I'm not one. The Hobbit was the thing to read when I was an adolescent; then you went onto the Rings trilogy, I guess. I say I guess because I thought that The Hobbit was a big yawner, and never made it onto the Trilogy. (See under, "My Childhood Reading": post to come*). So this brain is nearly tabula rasa, as far as Tolkien is concerned. I was probably smoking weed while I read The Hobbit, yeah, man, I went through a heavy little hippie phase when I was fourteen man, I even went to a Dead concert at the Fillmore, man. Far out. (Actually, I was as much of a hippie as T Lo is in favor of affirmative action. But that's another post.)

This is not a standalone product. The makers of The Two Towers simply take it for granted that you've seen the first installment and you'll see the last. Even so, it's a much better movie than the first one, which I found pompous and draggingly paced. This installment is like a train heading towards an unknown direction; the viewer is caught by the tremendous drive and momentum of the piece. Occasionally there's a pitstop for the viewer to catch his breath and then off we go. I found the movie impressive as a technical, logistics feat, and the production values were magnificent, but as a human document, it simply didn't register with me.

For one, all the characters were one-dimensional, cardboard and flat -- except the Gollum. Now, that was a really fascinating character, wonderfully realized by the technical wizards of moviemaking. I began the film looking at the critter in horrified fascination; as it progressed, I wanted to see him more, because I found him (it?) technically fascinating, but also because he was interesting in a way that the other characters just weren't. (Chris: is it just me, or were their distinct Spielbergian overtones in this character? Or did Spielberg steal from Tolkien?)

Even in a technical slambang movie like this, acting matters. Aragorn is the hero; he's played by an empty, merely adequate actor. No, Chris, it's not because I took exception to Viggo Mortenson's silly spoutings about WWII on Charlie Rose. He's a gorgeous guy, but I simply don't think he's a very good actor. I'm not going to play casting director and make suggestions, but as the part was really underwritten, it takes someone with the ability to project heft and inner depth to make up for the script's deficiencies. The women were chosen mostly for their ability to look pretty while suffering nobly. (I'll do something about women in combat, a subject that interests me, later, but I wouldn't hold the fact that they didn't use women in the ultimate battle scene against the makers of the film. One assumes that women in Middle Earth -- in other words, the Middle Ages? -- were valued more for their fertility than for their battle prowess, especially the daughter of a king, whose bloodlines would be particularly precious.)

About the Hobbits. Chris disagrees with Roger Ebert about this. Not having read the books, I can't say whether the films downgrade their importance, but I'd agree with Chris that Frodo is the fulcrum of the movie, and the other two Hobbits' moral choices in favor of the necessary evil of war (sorry, can't recall their names) are crucial to the point of the movie: that evil must be resisted, even at cost to our own values. That said, the very graphic nature of the film medium weighted the action in favor of the battle sequences, which didn't include hobbits. Question: did anyone else think of the Hobbits as representative of the British working classes? With their regional accents and shorter, stockier stature, are they supposed to be the repository of sturdy British common sense and decent values?

Lastly, I was struck by the utter absence of Christianity in these adaptations and I wonder if that is the case with the books as well. The film was very violent; even the scenes that were not violent were pregnant with the possibilities of violence: the violence of nature, and of men both. This is not a criticism. Nature is violent. Human beings are violent. It's the job of artists to point this out. But in Christianity there is always the flickering possibility of redemption through belief in Christ. In this film, I don't see such possibilities. And I'm not sure whether this is a perversion of Tolkien's message or an accurate representation of it. If it is accurate, then that is mighty odd. I intend to read the Tolkien chapter of Cantor's Inventing the Middle Ages to see if there are any clues on this subject. If Tolkien, a passionate Catholic, purposely excised Christian belief from the deepest product of his imagination, was it a case of what Nabokov once called casting out the gargoyles?** If the latter, does that tell us that even Tolkien thought there were limits to Christianity?

As David Warren writes:

This is what is so profound in the Christian message; not Christ's strength but his weakness. It is the root of the sympathy we are invited to feel for people who are sinners, and for people who are not like us. It shatters the ancient morality of "us versus them". It is the very source of what we mean by "enlightened", even those of us who are post-Christian.

But you see, in LoTR there is very much an "us versus them," as there was in World War II, and as there is between us and al Qa'ida. I find it puzzling that one of journalism's biggest supporters of the War on Terror ("if you are not with us, you are against us") should also be such a passionate Christian believer. I admire his Christian tenacity--but doesn't it conflict with his stated political beliefs? I bring this up not to pick a fight with David Warren, but to relate one Christian's profession of faith (which I believe to be an accurate description of the essence of Christianity) and contrast it to creation of another Christian.

So, my question remains: is this film adaptation a faithful rendering of the original, in which case, is Tolkien saying that there are limits to Christian belief, which would be a self-immolating proposition, or is Peter Jackson's work a post-Christian mangling of Tolkien's creation?

Since I joked about the issue of race and LoTR in a previous post, I should mention that my impressions were if anything reinforced by this. LoTR is the product of the imagination of a Northern European Christian, and his standards of physical beauty are very prominent in this film. (I'm a Legolas fan too: it was looks all the way. All that blond, braided hair. What a gorgeous ice-boy!****)

In re-reading this, I realize I've given the impression that I didn't like LoTR. I did. It was more than the sum of its parts, the product of an individual imagination (Peter Jackson), who expertly made it appear that the movie was a great collaborative effort.***
*briefly, I was passionate about early 20th century American fiction, not fantasy. Such a different interior landscape.
**Paraphrase, I am unable to locate the exact quote.
***I have revised my opinion of Gangs of NY steadily downward since seeing it. I now think it was an atrocious cartoon, atrociously made.
****As Philip Roth observed in Portnoy's Complaint about Christians in the Newark of his childhood: "so fresh, so cold, so blonde!" (But...the character's name is Legolas Greenleaf (a changed name?) and the actor's name is Orlando Bloom. Both mighty suspicious....

JEWISH VOTING PATTERNS. Haggai has some valuable thoughts on this, as a followup to Meryl's comments. .

I contributed this:

Haggai: I agree with you that anti-Israel sentiment in the Democratic party is mainly a matter of a fringe element. (Oh, and Cynthia McKinney was not booted out as a result of Republican crossover votes. I read a refutation of that in some blog, citing stats. QS can look it up if he cares so much...)

If anything, traditionally the Democratic party has been more pro-Israel than the Republican party, but lately, it's a wash. (I wonder what the presence of Sununu will do?)

That said, Haggai, I think that Jews voting Democratic is as much a matter of housing patterns as anything else. Jews tend to live around other Jews; they are concentrated in the "blue" states where Democrats are prevalent. In order for a small group of people to have any impact they must vote as a bloc--it's a self-enforcing pattern that won't be broken unless the Democrats become openly hostile to Israel (unlikely).

Think of African-Americans. To the extent that they voted before 1964, they voted Republican. With the passage of the Civil Rights Act, we saw a sea-change and blacks flocked to the party that they rationally perceived was the vehicle for their interests. So it could happen with Jews and the Republican party, but only if the Dems decisively turn against Israel. That hasn't happened, and it won't. This, plus the fact that Jews live in areas where the Democratic party prevails, ensures that they won't vote Republican for a long time to come. If ever.

Addition: I was that rarity, a Jewish, female member of the Republican party, for about 18 months. Briefly, I was taken in by the McCain charisma (that's passed) and wanted to vote for him in the NY state primary. I must have changed registration in September 2000. And it wasn't easy. The Republican party in NY state is a closed, ugly little club controlled by party hacks. You can't just call up the local Republican club and ask for help. I finally got an application via the League of Women Voters. Alas, by the time the primary rolled around, I learned that I was ineligible to vote in the primary as a Republican, because I hadn't been a member long enough! Each state has its own rules. My best friend (non-practicing cradle Catholic), who is about as conservative and cynical as I am (comes with age), always warned me against changing parties: as a Republican, you have zero influence in New York City. It's true: the Republican's don't even bother to put up candidates for most positions, the city is such a one-party state. But I was adamant. I was sick of the Democrats. Time passed. I began to feel....not very at home in the Republican Party. It's hard to explain rationally--changing parties is like religious conversion. You can maybe retire from your birth religion, but to actually change to another one is a wrenching thing. Long before l'affaire T Lo, I was uncomfortable belonging to a party whose majority leader was a blow-dried segregationist Bible-thumping mouthpiece for rich guys. (Yes. I know. The Democrats are funded by the rich, too. Nolo contendere.)

About six months ago, I changed back. Thus ended my brief life as a Republican. I haven't changed my opinions, but I feel slightly more comfortable.

Another thought about Jewish voting patterns. I've often heard it said: "Jews do so well under capitalism. Why do they show such a self-destructive bent towards socialistic systems?" Then comes the reply: "Judaism is a religion of social justice." Well, yeah, there's that. I think it's more basic. It's easy for us, who live comfortable lives and who have benefited from the riches of capitalism, to sing its praises. And I do, yes, I do. But let's remember that in the formative stages of a capitalist system, there are many injustices and brutalities. Dark, satanic mills and all that. This is not only repulsive to a sense of justice: it brings instability, which is threatening to a minority group. Capitalism has historically meant not stability, but dynamic crisis, a swing between extremes. As a group of people that has suffered greatly from the periodic crises that have wracked capitalism, Jews as a group have reason to fear its excesses unmediated by social welfare safety nets, as much as they have reason to applaud it as individuals.

BOMB THEM WITH TELEVISION SETS? Must-read post about the sitch in Baghdad/Iraq.

Salam suggests that some of us might know the meaning of the word "farhud" in Arabic. Yes, I do.

My one other Arabic word is warda, meaning flower, taught to me by a friend in Haifa. He picked it for me, and told me the meaning.

Salam brings up an important issue: the devaluation of the Iraqi dinar. What will happen to the middle class in the event of an American regency? Back in Vietnam days, the old days, when we used to hear the daily body count on every evening news show (does anybody else remember that?), a friend of my mother's used to say that we should have bombed them television sets. So, in the spirit of Roslyn B., I suggeste that this might be a time for us to try to, well, buy off the Iraqi intelligentsia. Reassure them that their assets will be safe under Uncle Sam. Salam, what do you go for?

I'd Millad Said oua Sana Saida. I got that off Merry Christmas in 70 Languages.

Tuesday, December 24, 2002

From the temporarily offline Razib: in this battle of light and dark, dark wins!
I HAD AN email exchange once with a science journalist dude. I won't say which, because he'd probably be ashamed to be associated with a blog.

Anyway, I wrote him the following words (or words to this effect):

Since human beings evolved with women policing other women, and men policing other men, we are having major problems in the contemporary integrated workplace with men (mostly) policing women. I use the word policing in the sense of regulating, chiding, disciplining. It also means that it is mostly women who keep other women in place. Most of the time it is women who enforce restrictive standards of feminine behavior on other women. I'm exaggerating, but I think the point is, in general, true. Women are the biggest enforcers of the traditions that keep other women down.

He wrote me back: "post that." I did, but it's on the other blog, and I'm thinking of it again.

An elaboration just occurred to me: This pattern becomes compounded and intensified by the clever tactic that women have of inciting men to rip into women who break out of line, and who break the rules. They manipulate men into doing things that they haven't got the guts or the brains to do themselves. I guess it's the way of the world, but I won't let it stop me from saying what I want to say, or being myself.

This is even prettier in person

Come and see it!

And to all a good night.
DRINK A LITTLE VINEGAR, swish your mouth with lemon juice, and then read read this article aloud with a New England accent.

“For preventing disorders arising in several places within this jurisdiction, by reason of some still observing such festivals as were superstitiously kept in other countries to the great dishonor of God and offense of others, it is therefore ordered that whoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by forbearing of labor, feasting, or any other way, shall pay for every such offense five shillings to the county.”

The Pilgrims were un-American!
CHRISTMAS, 1620. Said the Pilgrims: bah, humbug!

The Separatists and Puritans, finding no warrant for Christmas in the Bible, simply rejected the day as one of the nefarious human inventions of which they sought to rid the church. The holiday was made illegal between 1659 and 1681, following English Puritan precedent. When the Restoration of 1660 led to the revival of Christmas in England, New England remained unimpressed and Christmas-less...


It was only in the 1830s and 1840s that Christmas became popular in New England, and when this happened, it happened quite rapidly...As Plymouth historian W. T. Davis observed for Christmas’ belated arrival here, "I am inclined to think that its observance has found its way through its appeal to the aesthetic rather than the religious sense of the people." Neither Christmas’ aesthetic or religious element held any appeal for the Pilgrims...
Aziz Poonawalla bemoans the fact that Christmas 2002 is being celebrated everywhere but Bethlehem. Everywhere? Saudi Arabia?* Varanasi? Williamsburg, Brooklyn? I think there are many places in the world that Christmas isn't being celebrated.

*Are the US troops in Saudi Arabia allowed to celebrate Christmas?
WHITE SKIN PRIVILEGE. Interesting discussion about race and sex going on at Susanna's and Razib's. (Razib: I am not linking to the actual post because I get something weird when I try to access your site.)

My two cents. These are very rough thoughts, with no pretense towards consistency or even coherence.

I work with a young woman whose appearance is striking. She is nearly 5' 9" (so in heels she's quite up there), gracefully slender, and has thick, straight, shiny natural blonde hair. She has sloe-shaped gray eyes and a soothing voice. Sounds great, right?

Well, she also has a nose like a macaw and a jutting chin, and very thin lips. Altogether, her face is very Valkyrie, and not in a pretty way. But....with that height, and her coloring (and her youth), and her figure, she presents a stunning outline. A smaller, finer-featured woman with dark hair would not make the same visual impact. If she were short, or had dark hair, no one would give her a second glance. The height, the slenderness and most of all, the blondeness, not only compensate for her lack of conventional prettiness, they somehow work together. (At least as long as she is young. Aging will be a problem for her.)

There are a lot of dark-haired women in New York who die their hair blonde. It's such a fashion that it's perfectly OK to walk around with 2 inches of roots showing. They get stares from men; it's a sexual signal that shows you are in the market. A dark-haired woman would have to be beautiful to get the same attention. And then there are hordes of women who streak their hair. Blonde, of course.

What is going on here?


Razib thinks that stupidity is the natural state of man, I think it is enchantment. Human beings search constantly for diversions that will alter their consciousness, and feminine beauty is one of the most potent of these drugs.

I'm getting off the point here, which is about race. And I think the reason I am noodling around is that race is a tough subject, especially after the last century. Millions of people have been murdered for their race. People were enslaved. Lynched. Ghettoized. People have been ascribed inferior moral attributes because of race. It's so easy to forget, but the reality is so dangerous and so ingrained that race has become to Americans the great taboo: it's the torch that can burn the house down, isn't it? And nearly did, more than once.

So the natural tendency of all good people has been to deny the reality of race. But it seems that there is indeed an underlying biological reality that will become ever-more difficult to deny as science forges ahead. So I think that the real issue here, for people of good will, is to become aware of the facts, and to assign them their proper place. Razib contributed something original by observing (if I'm not misunderstanding him) that true racism is to ascribe metaphysical qualities to a physical reality. But there is no point in denying a physical reality. I differ from an African-American in my propensity towards certain diseases, and reactions to dosages of certain medications. I do not believe this to be a trivial difference.

The reason I brought up my blonde colleague at the beginning of this post is because, like all women, my physical appearance is important to me, and I scrutinize men's reactions to my and other women's looks like a hawk. And you can't help but notice that blondes get more attention from men, and get cut more slack from them too. I've come up with a word for it: blondeism. This used to piss the shit out of me, but now I watch the whole thing bemusedly. It's simply a fact of life. And, I guess I have other assets that compensate, or so I'm told. :)

(Think Catherine Zeta-Jones v. Renee Zellweger. Who's the better looking woman? I don't know the names of the hot chicks that Razib talks about so much on his blog, they all meld into one meta-hottie to me, but many of them seem to have dark hair and dark eyes. Of course, most of the great beauties of the past were dark: Ava Gardner, Sophia Loren, Liz Taylor....Marilyn Monroe didn't stand up to them in the sheer looks category, but she was blonde. In a category of her own. Anyway, you get the point. A moderately pretty blonde gets the same attention that a genuinely pretty brunette gets. Only when the brunette is a statistical outlier will she generate lots of attention.*)

After noticing the reality of blondeism, acknowleding white skin privilege is just the next step on the train ride. That, too, is a fact. Yes, there are always the fashionable exceptions, such as the current rage for Asian (read: East Asian) women. But notice that they are the prized picks of white men, which is what elevates them in status. The vogue for East Asian chicks is proof of white skin privilege, not the opposite.

Is this wrong?

Here is where I go into my infuriating a-moral, agnostic mode. How can one say that anything which is rooted in biology is wrong? I guess you could say that murder is rooted in biology, and that's wrong, and I'd agree. But somehow I don't think that preferring one human being over another because of the say s/he looks is related to murder. Attraction (or enchantment) is related to survival. Without it, we'd never reproduce. Is that wrong?

Black women are often derided for sexual jealousy. Why? I find their feelings perfectly understandable. Our society prefers white skin, a European body type, and gives people like my colleague extra points for being tall, slender and most of all, blonde. Black women have a problem with the gracile body type and of course, the hair color. (Texture, too, about which, more later.) They do tend to possess the favored attribute of tallness, but damn it all, it tends to work against them: whites associate tallness in black women with heightened masculinity.

Razib ponders whether black women's lower vocal register interferes with their sexual attractiveness to men of other races. Maybe, but I'd guess that the hair texture is a big problem.

Is this wrong?

Well..consider this passage from the autobiography of a ballerina:**

Balanchine also understood hair tossing and often used loosened locks for dramatic emphasis. Originally there were no hair changes in Serenade, but later he requested that just before the waltz girl falls to the floor, her hair should tumble free.*** Then the ballet proceeded toward the "Elegy" section with a more emotional context. This followed a tradition: when Gisell,e one of the most famous heroines of the Romantic ballet, went mad, she lost her mind and her hairpins simultaneously.****

Balanchine said many witty things, which became famous in the dance world. One of them was that the ideal color of a ballerina's skin was that of a peeled green apple. His third wife, whom he made into the first great American prima ballerina, was an American Indian. Go figure.

My point is: we are all products of our upbringing and our biology, and life takes us in the strangest directions. A Georgian-Russian can believe that ballerinas should be pale wraiths, and then marry Maria Tallchief.

But an American Indian girl can shake her hair loose on stage, just as a white woman can. Can this little girl? Whites are being asked to do things simulaneously: notice that Kenna Wright is black, and not notice it. Which is it? How is it possible to overlook the fact that this little Clara is black, but applaud the fact that she is? And what happens when she grows up and wants to be a ballerina? Yes, I know that there is one black prima ballerina, but she's not in a major company. I've seen her, and...I found her appearance a bit of a distraction. She was a good technician, but so deviated from my mental picture of a ballerina that I found myself concentrating more on her appearance than on her performance.

Is this wrong?

I've been very leery about posting these thoughts and I want to thank both Razib and Susanna for breaking the taboo. Free speech is dangerous speech.

*That said, the only woman I've ever seen who literally stopped traffic, as the cliche goes, was a petite, raven-haired woman wearing a tight pale-blue silk dress. Imagine a Georgian (that is, Caucasian) version of Penelope Cruz, and you'll get the picture.

**Kent was a favorite ballerina of George Balanchine. She was born Iris Margo Cohen, and kept this a secret until her book came out.

***It's a fantastic touch. Really makes an impact onstage.

****Also a fantastic touch, and it's helped along immensely if the ballerina has a huge head of fluffy hair with a striking color that looks prettily mussed.
BACKGROUND LINK on Sereny v. Irving.

Aha. I remembered correctly:

I made him most angry in 1977 when I accused him of mistranslating something. Anyone who speaks German as a foreigner can make mistakes. He speaks very good German, but obviously my knowledge is deeper.

BTW, Sereny is a Viennese-born Hungarian, and is not Jewish. She's just a seeker after truth, and has no personal issues involved in this. It shouldn't matter, but I admit it, I'm sort of relieved.
STRANGE DOINGS. I wrote to Natalie Solent with the URL of the David Irving post. She wrote back saying that both links in the post were the same. I checked them out. One was supposed to be google's cached photo of the site; the other, the site itself, which was down when I tried to access it. Irving's site is now functional, for any of you who wish to sample a six-sheets-to-the-wind full-bore variety of anti-Semitic paranoid ideation. OK, not my idea of holiday reading either. The convicted liar is now claiming that a writer from the (London) Times is lying about him. This is a habit of Irving's. He sues anyone who bothers him, in the name of academic freedom, truth and justice, of course. Everyone knows how he failed to silence Deborah Lipstadt; I'm not sure whether his attempts to intimidate Gitta Sereny are still in the works. His website doesn't make this clear. As you can see, he illustrates his bizarre, rambling database with a nasty caricature of Ms. Sereny. I think he is particularly enraged at her because she questioned his German-language skills. A lot of his reputation depends upon the fact that he is supposedly fluent in German. But the people who accepted the accuracy of his translations (Christopher Hitchens, John Keegan) aren't competent judges of that issue. When a native German speaker questions the quality that is his bedrock claim to fame, it really must hurt.


Monday, December 23, 2002

I VISITED CAIRO in 1985, near the end of the year. I was leaving Israel soon and I didn't know when I'd have the chance, so I took a quickie trip to Egypt. Just a week. We drove across the Sinai and took a ferry over the Nile. I hardly remember it, except that it did remind me of the Mississippi at St. Louis: BIG. Huge, actually. More like a lake than a river. No, an ocean.

Cairo knocked my socks off. It is the only city, other than my own beloved (and hated) native city, to do so. Well, maybe Istanbul. But Cairo...Some part of it -- I don't remember where -- reminded me of the west 30s in Manhattan. I thought: Semitic. Energy. Somehow very familiar. Also very foreign. Not sure how to put this without (a) sounding incoherent and (b) ugly, but the Arab part was foreign (sorry) but the nervous Semitic energy was familiar. So like New York. Not like Tel Aviv, a laid-back, hedonistic town.

I fear that Jonathan does not quite "get" Salam's sense of humor. (Pro-Palestinian and pro-Saddam? Puh-leeze.)

But, I understood completely what Salam said about the out-of-body experience that is framing opposition to America... in American English. Totally. Completely. Absolutely. And that vague, persistent feeling of betraying your true self and your home culture by being caught up in this great, ambient whirlpool of American capitalism. It's as true of Americans -- some of us -- as it is true of other people..

PS I got the picture of Tota, which made her fiance look like a child molester. Thankfully, he told me she is now 25 -- 13 years older than in the picture! I was relieved.
DAVID IRVING LIES AGAIN. Via Natalie Solent, I learned of yet another unsavory incident involving David Irving. This guy has unsavory incidents hanging from his hide like a porcupine has quills. It seems he has an e-mail relationship with Prof. Mona Baker, of "No Israelis Need Apply" fame. But when I checked his crazy website (on Saturday), I saw that he denied the whole thing. I was too preoccupied with other things to post the link. Returning to the issue today I see that he has been messing with his website. Thank God for google's cache, which has a picture of this convicted liar's flimsy denials. Be sure to click on the original link which, as you'll see, is dead as a doornail. Doesn't Irving know about google's cache? He's an asshole, as well as a liar.

Christopher Hitchens has never retracted his statement that Irving is a "great historian of Fascism."

Actually, his entire website seems to be down. I wonder what's going on. Natalie? Heard anything?
Jeff Jarvis has several posts up about the newest World Trade Center design debacle. (Click around the blog.) Fer allahsakes, can't these guys come up with something reasonably attractive? These designs are positively frightening. They are the architectural equivalent of a scream at the top of one's lungs.

I just want a place that's green, pleasant, quiet, reflective, and yes, modest. What's wrong with modesty? Why is everybody so obsessed with size and scale??

Paging Maya Lin.
Jim's got a point. Whatever the situation in Iraq is, it ain't peace. So the question is not, "when will war start?" or "will there be a war?" but, "when and where and what form will the next stage of this war take?"

But what happens after....?? That's the unanswered question.
Imshin wrote an interpretation of my post on Tommy Lapid, which was remarkably content-free. Here is what what Imshin wrote and here is what I wrote. Read both, and the article about Tommy Lapid that provoked them (linked in my post), and make up your own minds. I won’t bother with it further, but I’d like to point out a couple of examples that were particularly misleading:

Diane seems to find offense in the fact that his wife, besides being a successful and accomplished writer, is also a “Bala Busta” and takes joy in indulging her husband’s love of good “heimisher” food. He likes eating. She likes feeding him. Where’s the problem? Granted, Tommy doesn’t sound like an easy partner, but this doesn’t mean she’s an oppressed wife in a demeaning relationship. She makes the soup and feeds the guests. He takes down the garbage. This is family life. Shavit has twisted it to make it seem ugly, and Diane fell for it.

So, I fell for ugly, twisted stuff. Wow. This is what I wrote:

for the record, I'm something of a traditionalist on male/female relationships, so it doesn't bother me that Shula does the serving. But I think that it's perfectly, uh, kosher for Shavit to point all this out.

Now, I wouldn’t have even brought up the whole thing about Lapid's domestic bliss, were it not for the fact that Imshin objected to the fact that Mrs. Lapid is a well-known woman in Israel. She didn’t like the fact that that wasn’t underscored in the article. But why did it have to be, if it was originally written in Hebrew, for Israelis? Imshin brought up the entire non-issue about sexism and I'm happy to drop it, other than to say that no, I don't resent his domestic bliss and someone who says I do should think twice about accusing journalists of cheap shots.

The reason Shavit mentioned that incident was not to score cheap points about Lapid's sexism, but to point out the fact that Lapid eats ham at home, and offers it unashamedly to his guests. This is a symbol with substance among Jews. Even those who don't ordinarily keep kosher will exclude certain items from their diet. Ham is kind of a red flag in the Jewish world and Lapid was waving it for effect. That's his "secular Judaism"--doing whatever pisses off religious Jews. How fake, how empty, how sad.

What is most important about Lapid is his attitude towards what Israel is, where it fits in the Middle East, and yeah, his attitudes about Judaism and the Jewish culture. He is not only against religious coercion. He hates Judaism, the whole 3,000 years of baggage. He is the kind of European who despises Jews, except for the accident that Lapid was born to a Jewish mother. Other than that, the attitudes are strikingly similar. Shinui the party may be against religious coercion and that's a good thing. But Lapid offers a form of petty fascism that glorifies the race and forgets about everything ethical and law-abiding that Jews have ever stood for. Not good. Not good at all. Judaism to him is like a birthmark that he has to struggle to remove.

Imshin says that branding Lapid a racist is wrong and strongly implies that I endorsed the article’s usage of that term. Here is what I said:

I, too, did not like the conflation of the term "racist" with "doesn't have Mizrachim on his party list." I am also sick and tired of this trite equation of equality and civil rights with bean-counting….And like Imshin, I'm tired of being bashed for things I didn't do…And: I am also sick and tired of the misuse of the word racist, which has a specific meaning. I think that Lapid might more properly be called an extreme cultural nationalist.

Imshin says:

Furthermore, his opposition to sitting in a coalition with Arab parties is not because they are Arab parties, as such, but because by no stretch of the imagination could any of them be regarded as Zionist and because their leading Knesset members have blatantly and repeatedly expressed their support for the Palestinian violent struggle.

This brings us to something that actually is important, which was not about whether Lapid’s wife serves him ham, or whether he serves her kugel, but about the phenomenon of an Israeli politician who despises the cultures and the peoples of the Middle East. If that’s not a serious issue, I don’t know what is.

The other article that I cited stated that Lapid won’t sit in a government with any Arab parties, including those which subscribe to “the laws of the land” (i.e., those parties that accept a Zionist Israel, in which a “Jewish and democratic Israel” is accepted).

I can understand that the leader of a party in a small, embattled state, isolated amidst hostile neighbors, would not want to sit in a coalition with parties that are actively dedicated to his state’s destruction, and which are run by people who are ethnically related to that coalition of states dedicated to its destruction. That is understandable, in fact, quite principled. (Some might disagree.) How many politicians would give up the chance to sit in a ruling coalition for a few crumbs of graft? Not many.

But that is not what this article stated. The article stated that Lapid won’t sit with any Arab political party. Period. And I asked for clarification. I am not saying that what this article reports is the gospel truth. I am familiar with media misrepresentations of what people say. I asked a question. If it is true, then Lapid is no better than one of the fascist nationalists who drove him from Novi Sad.

Imshin assures us that he is a dinosaur, not to worry. He is a charmer, and has a twinkle in his eye. Now where have I heard that kind of talk before? Just about any leader of any volkish party is described in terms of personal charm and charisma. Our guy, our fellow, he doesn’t mean any of that stuff about (the Others—fill in the blank). He’s a solid, honest politician and he’ll clean up the mess that they created. The situation in Israel must be more messed up than I imagined for sane people to fall for that line.

Finally, Imshin's feelings about the Ha'aretz article were passionately contradictory, and I think, more revealing of the reader than what she was reading. She didn’t like the fact that the article threw in a few “little-known” facts about Lapid, but then, she objected to the fact that the article mentioned the Holocaust as central to his psychology, because “everybody” knows that. Imshin damned Shavit for referring to little-known things and she damned him for referring to well-known things about his subject. Furthermore, she strenuously objected to Shavit's hammering home of Lapid's well-known (to Israelis) staunch beliefs in the superiority of European culture, but she is also outraged that resentful Middle Easterners should ever, ever think of Israel as an outpost of Europe. This is utterly befuddling.

Update and last word: this exchange served as the basis of some particularly clueless remarks on Imshin's comment blog. Someone wanted to know what a "balabusta" is. The answer to that is: a woman who doesn't serve ham to her husband and guests. That's the first time I've ever heard anyone call ham "heimisher."

Sunday, December 22, 2002

THE PIANIST. Speaking of movies, The Pianist is one I definitely intend to see. I'm not much of a one for 10 best lists, and that sort of thing, but if I were to compile a list of 10 best directors, Roman Polanski would have to be on it. Think of it. Is he the only artist ever to make masterpieces in both the European and the American cinemas? So often, when estimable non-American directors come to the US, they fall flat. The system eats them up, or they are defeated by the strangeness of the environment or the idiom. Whatever the case may be, great foreign directors never reproduced the freshness and dazzle that they had in their home countries in Hollywood. But look at Polanski. Rosemary's Baby was quite good, and what else can you call Chinatown but a masterpiece?

Daggerman and Authentic Liberal* both link to this article by one William Grim, an apt name for a journalist working in Germany. I wrote to Grim asking him why he worked from Germany if it's that bad and he wrote me back, "Someone's got to do it."

I wonder if a Chicago Boy would like to comment. Is this situation characteristic, or anomalous?

*The link's not on the current page and Authentic Liberal's archives are screwed up. That almost makes me happy. Misery loves company, ya know.
R U reading this, you fucker? As if. I know you are.

Everybody here wants to see LoTR (Lord of the Rings). It's LoTR all the time, 24/7. LoTR, LoTR. Like there's no other movie playing. No one's talking about GoNY (Gangs of New York) 'cept me.

Nothing else of importance is going on in people's lives.


Take a walk.
TED BARLOW has a post up that proves what my late father used to say: "Normal is a person you don't know yet." (Via Razib.)
MYSTICS OF ALL KINDS. After Einstein, we walked through the hall of the Plains Indians. This is my personal tradition; anytime I go to the Museum I visit the Plains Indians rooms. This goes back to childhood. Of all the peoples that the anthropologists from the Museum studied, I have returned over and over again to these exhibits. In truth, they don't do the subject justice. They are kind of tatty and old; I don't think they've changed since I was a kid. The Plains Indians had many mystical societies, especially military societies, but there were many women's societies too, not to mention non-military male shamanistic societies.

The remains of these once-glorious societies are now on display behind glass cases.
BIG AL, THE KING OF ALL MYSTICS. Again, I did not make it to LoTR. This is getting to be a habit. My friend Kate (the Great) and I got together and sampled the Einstein exhibition at the Museum of Natural History. God, I already feel smarter. No, seriously, I don't understand relativity any more now than I did before the damned exhibit, but I am always astounded at the fact that someone like Einstein existed. The exhibit made a lot out of the fact that Einstein was a serious pacifist and his principles were strongly shaken by the circumstances that led up to WWII. I learned that he wasn't allowed to work on the Manhattan Project, because Hoover didn't grant him a security clearance, and that his FBI file was 1,500 pages long.

Hey, I wonder if the FBI file was longer than all of his scientific papers put together. Relatively speaking.

There was a thumbnail picture of everyone who took part in the Manhattan Project; Richard Feynman's 22-year-old mug shot was there, along with Teller, Groves and the rest. Somewhere, Feynman said of Einstein's miracle year, "I still don't know how he did it." Feynman. Wow.
DIANE, YOU IGNORANT SLUT. Everyone says that I am all wrong on the Iraq invasion. Meryl says we invade on the dark of the moon in January. A reader (whose e-mail name is "shtelseeker") wrote me a cheery e-mail with the subject header: "Purim in Baghdad!":

I am 100% certain there will be war. When even chief peacemaker Colin Powell states that Iraq's cooperation has been inadequate, and that Saddam has one last chance to avoid conflict, it is obvious that the administration is laying the groundwork to justify an attack on Iraq. I will even predict the date: Rosh Chodesh Adar (February 3, 2003). The sky conditions will be right (no moon), and the six weeks between now and that date will allow the military time to build up its forces and equipment to a level that will assure a relatively quick victory. My forecast: Saddam will be gone by Purim.

In fact, hostilities were formally concluded in 1991 on the day of Purim, so this theory intrigues me, because I like mystical mumbo-jumbo and arcane symbols as much as the next bozo. No, I really do. (Anyone who is that interested can go and verify this little funfact, because I am not. But I distinctly remember noticing it. I also remember another Purim well: the day that Baruch Goldstein went crazy.)

We shall see, shan't we? as they say on the British TV shows.....

BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR. The talk shows were full of backhanded admiration for how the BWH (Bush White House) handled l'affaire Lott. They really took lemons and made a tubfull of lemonade. (Did you know that they have created a species of lemons that isn't sour? I bought one at Fairway out of curiosity. It didn't taste quite right. What is a lemon without pucker-inducing sourness?)

It becomes clear that it wasn't Atrios who pushed Trent Lott off the cliff, it was first of all the neoconservative punditocracy, which drew the first blood, and then decisively, the White House, which despatched him with the elan of a professional contract killer. Now the White House has gotten exactly what it wants: a Senate majority leader of their own choosing.

And, as someone who well remembers the tyrants LBJ and Nixon, that's a scary thought.

The next part of this post has been edited slightly. It was full of typos.

TOMMY LAPID*. Imshin disagrees with my enthusiasm for the Ari Shavit article about Israeli pol Tommy Lapid. This should teach me not to post and run.

I'm not 100% sure what Imshin didn't like: the fact that the article was implicitly critical of Lapid, or the fact that the article exposed with brutal honesty his feelings about the superiority of European culture over all others.

First things first. I, too, did not like the conflation of the term "racist" with "doesn't have Mizrachim on his party list." I am also sick and tired of this trite equation of equality and civil rights with bean-counting. What next, airline pilots and surgeons by race and gender? And like Imshin, I'm tired of being bashed for things I didn't do. I never owned slaves. (This is sauce for the gander too: no German born after WWII has any responsibility for what previous generations did. Enough and basta and maspik, already. There has got to be a point where people put things behind them and go on.) And: I am also sick and tired of the misuse of the word racist, which has a specific meaning. I think that Lapid might more properly be called an extreme cultural nationalist.

That said, one of the reasons I didn't comment about the affirmative-action silliness in the article is because I'm sensitive to the issue of criticizing a different political system using terms more appropriate to an American template. It's one thing to say that ethnic bean-counting is wrong in America. But ethnic identity is what Israel is all about, so who was I to criticize?**

I thought that the article did a masterly job of placing a man who is a bundle of contradictions in a cultural context. He is the biggest Israel patriot around, but he seems to hate not just religious coercion, but Judaism itself.

I must admit that I was one of the "uninitiated" regarding the independent status of Lapid's wife. I didn't know she was one of Israel's best known writers. But, knowing that, I find it to be one of the most devastating touches in the piece. If every Israeli would know this, the following depiction of Shula as the little homemaker was Shavit's rapier-like way of telling the readers that no matter what she has accomplished outside the house, vis a vis Tommy, she's there to do the wifely bit when a big journalist comes to interview him. Does anybody think that if Shavit came to interview her, Tommy would invite him into the kitchen and serve food?

Here is the passage:

A short time later, he invites me into the kitchen for a bite to eat. He drums on the refrigerator door and pulls out the plate of ham that his wife, Shula, sliced and the Hungarian cheese that Shula prepared and the soft lamb that Shula roasted. He tells me about that lost world....

Hey, I'm an atheist, I don't care what Lapid eats. And I don't care what his relationship with his wife is, for the record, I'm something of a traditionalist on male/female relationships, so it doesn't bother me that Shula does the serving. But I think that it's perfectly, uh, kosher for Shavit to point all this out.

What was most fascinating and yeah, somewhat tragic, to me, was the depiction of Lapid (which I am certain was completely conscious on Shavit's part) of Lapid's cultural emptiness and confusion. What the the hell does his Judaism consist of, other than Jews-with-guns?

Now, I am no one to judge, and I'm not setting myself up as the arbiter of What's Authentically Jewish. I am only pointing out that this is what attracted me least about Israel: the secular, Ashkenazi-types who worshiped at the altar of Europe. My feeling was and is: what the fuck did Europe ever do for us except segregate us, ghettoize us, and then murder 6 million of us?

And this is where we get to the heart of my real suspicion of Lapid's evident distaste for the Middle East, for Arabs and for Mizrachim. He's known for being a straight shooter. Well, fine. If he wanted to say, "Look, it's a simple fact that Mizrachim for the most part don't have the same qualifications as Ashkenazim. They are also too wedded to religious tradition. I'm a secularist. I believe in qualifications. I have no problems with a Mizrachi Jew who is a ham-eating atheist like me, who has the same qualifications as I do," I'd admire him. But that's not what Lapid is about at all. Beyond his admirable opposition to religious coercion, he just doesn't like the Middle East, its cultures or its peoples.

I don't think the article did a good job of explaining that at all. But it's a fact. And that's what's most tragic about Lapid, and the people who fall for Lapidism (as opposed to the people who may may vote for Shinui because they are sick of religious coercion; those, I have sympathy with). Because they are in the Middle East, and denying that fact is to cut themselves off from a potential source of strength.

So, I am puzzled at Imshin's visceral dislike of the critical tone of the article, given her comments on Jonathan's blog disagreeing with him about Israel's European nature. (Jonathan was weighing the issue; not taking the point that Israel was European. Imshin seemed to really dislike Jonathan pointing out that Israel has any European roots.) Well, it does, and Lapid is a good example of it.

*By the way, at some point a few weeks back, Meryl referred to an article from, I believe, Gush Shalom's website that quoted Lapid. She misidentified him as a self-hating Israeli leftist because he made a comment that appeared to excuse a suicide attack in 1994 or 1995. As is obvious now, Lapid's no leftist. He was simply pointing out, in his characteristic no-holds-barred style, that the attack was a response to the Goldstein murders.

**More about ethnic beancounting. Lapid has also said that he won't form a coalition that has any Arab parties. According to this article, that means any kind, whether they subscribe to the laws of the land or not. If this is a distortion of his views, please let me know. If it is not, it sounds like, well, extreme cultural nationalism.

Saturday, December 21, 2002

The recital went well. I thought I was horribly nervous and made weird facial expressions at one point but everyone said that I looked very composed. Most of the time I can feel that my face is very still when I play; it's a practice that calms me down (although I move a fair amount), so I was pleased when other people told me that I didn't break my game face. I played a movement from a little Seitz piece, a composer known only in violin pegagogy.

Afterwards Mr. X (who kindly came to see me play) and I went to see Gangs of New York. I really liked it. I usually don't like violent movies, and I'm not a huge fan of Scorsese, but he told a good yarn here, and during the violent scenes I just said to myself, "it's opera," and closed my eyes. It was, as the capsule reviews in the Times used to say, "graphic and pounding." But if you really hate movie violence and you aren't interested in the bloody history of New York City, bag it.

What was most interesting to me was it's explication of that seeming constant of human history: tribalism.

PS The movie was filmed in Rome! Pete Hamill didn't like it. He's got a point: it was a cartoon, but a well-done one.

I just had a weird thought. When I was a kid, I used to watch Jimmy Cagney movies on television about gang kids of New York's Lower East Side. These movies were made in the 1930s. In other words, 70 or so years after the events in this film. Now, 70 years ago brings us back to the 1940s, not exactly ancient history. I love thinking of things like that.

Friday, December 20, 2002

Another great article by Ari Shavit. There is no one in the U.S. writing for a major newspaper who writes with his depth and perception. I'll add to this post tomorrow, because the man portrayed and his subject bears upon Israel as a European or as a Middle Eastern country.
I never made it to LoTR. I got as far as 88th street and something called Guilt began whispering in my ear. Truth to tell, I don't know every note of my piece, and I feel terribly scared of screwing up tomorrow. I had a strange and wonderful experience my first recital. My teacher is Russian and she insists on every student of hers performing. (I am fairly certain this is a Russian thing; I had another Russian teacher who was the same way.) I thought it was ridiculous. We're mostly adult amateurs. We suck, well, most of us; there were two students who were really quite good, adults who had a lot of training as kids and then picked it up again. But most of us aren't worth listening to. It's not like listening to vernacular fiddle styles; classical violin just doesn't sound well unless it's played by a competent professional. The pianist accompanying us is a professional; he's way above our capacity and we are lucky to have him. Anyway, I was so nervous before my first recital I actually thought I would have a psychotic episode. I was so terribly scared. But I didn't screw up at all; I got in touch with my inner ham and had an epiphany onstage. My first few bars were a mechanical nightmare. Then I relaxed, and said to myself, "I may not be Isaac Stern, but he's not playing right now. I can't play perfectly; I can't even play that well, but no one can play more dramatically!" I really hammed it up. Such a prima.

Later, I had a discussion about this experience and revelation with a professional violinist at Mark O'Connor's Fiddle Camp, where I went this summer. When I told her how nervous I had been, and that I was scared I would go crazy, she laughed, because she used to have terrible stage fright like that too. It made me feel better.

Anyway, I never made it to LoTR. Seeing Viggo Mortenson on Charlie Rose last night somewhat killed my enthusiasm. He wore a silly t-shirt lettered with "No Blood For Oil." He spoke about the US as being the world's biggest threat, and made nasty remarks about the US's role in WWII.

WWII? Yup. He said that "maybe" we were on the right side in WWII, and threw in some gratuitous swipes at the bombing of Dresden. What a jackass.
Don't mind me; I just love to change templates once or twice a day. No, not really. The other template took forever to open up; plus, yes, you guessed it, it screwed up my archives. (Actually I haven't checked whether the same is going on with this template.)

Anyway my blogger problems will be over, because someone is coming to my rescue and I will be leaving Blogger forever.
Darn it all, I am playing hooky from work and it is raining manxes and hounds outside, preventing me from doing my appointed rounds: long-deferred errands, seeing LoTR, and looking up the section on Tolkien in Cantor's Inventing the Middle Ages. I've been overpracticing and I'm making stupid misteaks. So I tapped out a few thots about Iraq. Then I'll be off, rain be damned.

While everyone else is buzzing about T**** L***, I'll talk about Iraq.*

Further to my response about the likelihood of war in Iraq (I feel somewhat uncomfortable calling it war with Iraq, given the disparity of forces), I want to underscore that I hardly claim the mantle of prophethood. In fact, since taking up blogging, my prophetic powers have declined. I know, correlation isn't causation, but sometimes I think I am too close to the subject. The only thing I've gotten right since blogging is predicting a Pataki win, and that was almost a no-brainer.

I should disclose that I stole the idea of product rollout from this writer, a contributor to the stalwart paleoconservative site, Chronicles of Culture. (Yeah, I read it.) He's often over the top,** and one has to bear in mind that he writes from a pro-Serbian, anti-Muslim viewpoint, but this article strikes me as cynically persuasive. Or maybe I am too much of a sucker for a cynical tone of voice--a distinct possibility. In any case, I am not prophesying, only offering a few free thoughts (unlike Andrew Sullivan), and I readily concede the old butt-coverer of pundits everywhere: I Could Be Wrong.

Yes, I could easily be wrong. But I don't think I am wrong about how the policy came to be. I do think that this is all part of a tortuous process of getting rid of the sanctions, which is a political impossibility as long as Saddam is in power. I do think I am right that the Administration's position is much more of a consensus muddle-by-committee than anyone would like to admit. But unlike Stephen Green or Steven Den Beste, I can't prove this.

What I really should clarify publicly is something that only I am an authority on: my feelings about the subject.

Do I think that we should go to war against Iraq? I've been all over the place on this one. Here is where I stand:

I'm not sure.

I'll be honest. I'm not unenthusiastic about an American-led military invasion of Iraq because it will kill civilians. Call me naive, but I think that the Allied military powers will do their best to minimize casualties. There will be some. But Iraq is already a vast concentration camp at the whim of one capricious brute. People are already dying there.

I can already see the emails charging me with hypocrisy: you are invoking Saddam's violations of human rights expediently in order to justify an invasion. Save it. I'm only saying that I have less reservations about killing civilians in a country where a civilian's life isn't worth a plug nickel than killing civilians in a country where civilians are empowered citizens, with all that that word implies.

In any case, call me insensitive, but if the objectives of a war are just, we kill civilians. Again, save the e-mails. I plead guilty: I am insensitive on certain subjects, one of which is the value of the other guy's life relative to me and mine. Mine matters more to me. So sue me, expel me from PETA, rip up my Amnesty International card. I already did it anyway. What it really comes down to is this: are the benefits of an American-led military invasion greater than the costs?

I have my doubts. I see so many problems inherent in an American-led military invasion of Iraq. Let's be generous and assume that the actual fighting part goes according to plan. That might not be the case, but to be a fair doubter, I'll simply concede that. What about afterwards?

The United States will be at that point the New Ottoman Empire. Yes, we are in it up to our eyeballs now, and it's dishonorable, and irreponsible, as some anti-war bloggers insist, that we simply roll up our awnings and close up shop behind Fortress America. That's not realistic. It's wrong. We've done a lot diplomatically in the Middle East, we have enormous economic interests--maybe we shouldn't, but we do--we have very deep and strong relationships with every country there, except Iran. We dominate the place economically.

[Culturally is another matter. Other than the ephemera of Coca-Cola and Mickey Ds, I don't think that the US has made as much cultural penetration there as some think. In certain ways that's a good thing (for those of us who like cultural continuity and preservation of folk traditions), in many ways, bad--I need not illustrate that, they are the daily fare of most of the bloggers on my list of permanlinks.]

Colonial domination is quicksand for the colonizer. That's what I see, or rather, fear happening in Iraq after the flush of victory is over. The closest that any country in the Muslim Middle East has come to establishing a self-replicating, stable system is Turkey, with it's comparatively mild form of Kemalist authoritarianism. But that grew out of very peculiar circumstances: the ignominious double-crosses that ended the war to end all wars, the invasion of Anatolia by Britain and Greece, the extraordinary and utterly unique personality of Kemal Ataturk, and not least, the national character of the Turks themselves, which grew out of the characteristics of the Ottoman Empire (or was it the other way around?).

None of these factors are replicable in Iraq, which is why I have my doubts. I want Saddam out of there, but I can't figure out how to do it without opening up a can of pythons and cobras. Something tells me that all the smart minds in Washington haven't either, which is why we are where we are now, fobbing it all off on the UN, a deliberative body of squirming and contending that produces mostly noise and fog.***

One thing I am certain of: Bush hasn't made the case for this war. I read in blogs over and over links to this article and that alleging relationships between al Qa'ida and Saddam. Fine. Why hasn't Bush gone on the record, saying this unambiguously? It comes down to the President. He's got to make the case. He hasn't.

So there you have it, something to piss off everyone. No great objections to war per se, to civilian casualties: the anti-warblogger crowd. No great enthusiasm for this glorious campaign: the warblogger crowd.

*My feelings about this subject are always subject to change, or ramify, as the case may be.

**I keep intending and putting off a post commenting on an article he wrote about Islam that struck me as correct in its specific criticisms of Islam, but a distortion nonetheless. Later...

***I make a distinct exception for the World Health Organization, which really has done some great things. That's for my long-deferred post about smallpox.
As I just said to Haggai, the likelihood of war is about as great as the likelihood of my succeeding with Blogger.*

If there be war, "Product rollout" won't come for another year. At least. The pictures of smiling Iraqis have to be timed with the campaign for the general election. Assuming that war will be (relatively) easy, but aftermath complicated and therefore pregnant with many difficulties, we can't rush things. If there be war, it won't come for some time yet. This all must be timed with exquisite precision. Do you expect anything less from the Texas Machiavel, Karl Rove?

*Archives screwed up, yet again. I've tried the "no archive, publish" trick already--no luck. If anyone can help, I'd appreciate it.

Thursday, December 19, 2002

If this is too pink, let me know.
BY ONE of those twists of blogger-fate, I have shared a position on blogdex with Daniel Pipes the last couple of days, specifically, this article. I thought of watching the show he describes with such dismay, but I had other things to do and besides, I sort of guessed at the contents: credulous hagiography, no critical thinking.

But I'm not as upset as Pipes is over what this means. Pipes strikes me as being in a constant tizz over what he considers butt-kissing of the Islamic religion out of fear. I don't see it quite that way. It's fear alright, but not of what Muslims will do. The fear is of one's own disgust at an alien religion.

Familiarity doesn't always breed contempt. It's breeds friendliness as well, and most Americans don't feel terribly friendly towards or familiar with Islam. Islam makes them deeply nervous. (During my trip to Turkey, I took a few day tours with other Americans. You could sense their deep unease at the prospect of walking around by themselves in an Islamic country. Actually Istanbul is one of the safest places I have ever been, and Turks among the most trustworthy people. A blind woman could walk around Istanbul with her wallet hanging out and she'd be safe.) Hence the obsession with being very friendly. Said through gritted teeth.

So there is no Ramadan Ronnie, the Muslim equivalent of Hanukkah Harry*. And won't be for a long time. Muslims will know they've "arrived" when folks can josh around with them. Treating them with studious politeness is a fairly blatant admission that they are socially barracked.

Another sign of hope that I see, which Pipes does not, is the very need for apologetics and justification and explanation. Even if they engaging in deception, isn't the real process here a form of self-deception, which over the course of generations will eventually become evident to their children and grandchildren, and which will occasion questioning, doubt, and reform? (Or heresy?)

By the way, the Virtual Hajj puzzles me. If it's against religious law for infidels to visit Mecca, then isn't there something vaguely kufr by allowing non-believers to take a virtual peek?

*Some time ago, Imshin posted about Israel's accomplishments. Not sure if this is an accomplishment, but of all the things American Jews have contributed to their society (the polio vaccine, Sandy Koufax, the microphone, Superman, Allegra Kent, organized crime), the Jewish sense of humor ranks tops on my list. Has there ever been anything quite like it? One of the many reasons I don't trust Christopher Hitchens is that he doesn't like the Marx Brothers. Got to be something wrong with a guy like that.
FOR THOSE OF you coming here from blogdex, or yahoo, I have been blogging for nearly a year as Letter from Gotham. Blogger "disappeared" me. I am working on getting the old blog back, at least to link to.

For those of you who were referred by Razib, my "ice people" remarks about LoTR were made here in the middle of a long post about various cultural matters. You have to scroll down and swing over. Everything is messed up.

That post contained a lot of stuff that I intend to revisit, but briefly (and perhaps I shouldn't say anything this explosive briefly, but I will), I don't think it is wrong, or racist, to locate and identify the product of an individual imagination culturally and ethnically. There's nothing wrong with saying that Tolkien was a northern European Christian and that his work reflected both his intellectual patrimony and his ethnic heritage. I can enjoy it, but I don't 100% identify with it.

I e-mailed Ev with a tail of woe and will follow up with a snail mail if I don't get some action. All I want is for the archives to be restored and to be able to link to ye olde blogge. I'm perfectly happy to post from the new digs, until I can set up a permanent shop somewhere else.

Note to Daggerman: I was a Viggo Mortenson fan when you were translating classifieds from Corriere Della Serra for Italian temp agencies.
IT'S BEGINNING TO LOOK A LOT LIKE THE ROCKEFELLER CHRISTMAS SHOW. They were walking the camels in Rockefeller Center this morning. Three of 'em. One of those "damn, I wish I had a camera" moments. I mean--camels, in the middle of Manhattan, on a work day. Only in New York (unless it happens in other cities).

I'm feeling kind of under the weather and my recital is Saturday; today I have a rehearsal at 7:45 p.m. so it's gonna be a long day. I think I may call in sick tomorrow to rest up. That means I bring the camera Monday morning.
Salam is back.

I am not telling Glenn; I want to perform an experiment. I want to see how long it takes for this to reach him without my telling him directly.

Salam says Uday is having a big party. That's one I really don't want to crash.

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

IT'S LATE, I'm tired, and I can't develop this as elegantly as I'd like. Let me just throw out a few ideas. If they turn out to be wrong, by all means, throw them back in my face at a future date.

So far, I haven't taken a definitive stand against war in Iraq, or for it (although I have expressed feelings that I'd like to see Saddam be removed--and I stand by those feelings) because...I see no reason to oppose or favor a war that's not going to happen.

I still feel that way. I don't think anything is going to happen.

After September 11, Bush felt that he had to throw a bone to the Arabs. That meant dropping the sanctions against Iraq. They are deeply unpopular in the Arab world. That, plus our support of Israel, pushes even moderate Arabs to the boiling point. But it is politically impossible to drop sanctions against Iraq if Saddam stays in power. Can't be done. So the administration comes up with this half-assed piece of rhetoric: "regime change." Notice Bush never said war. I don't think Bush has ever actually said the magic Word, although I concede a whole lotta sabre-shakin's going on.

You have an Administration that really is divided over what to do, factions galore, and an inarticulate, not particularly thoughtful leader who is under the influence of a very powerful papa. What to do?

Compromise. So you have a policy that's a real muddle.

I don't think any of this was very clearly thought through. It's a policy made by committee, implemented by bureaucrats, headed by a conciliator whose family has deep business ties in the belly of the beast.

Let's face it, war is organized hate (so is politics, but that's another story). Maybe things have changed in this high-tech world. Maybe Bush is a chess grandmaster who is cleverly orchestrating things and I'm too dumb to see it. But all I can see is confusion and drift.

I'll sleep on it.
WHAT IS BLOGDEX, and how come I'm suddenly so popular? I am #22 on the list. Surely, this cannot be right. Surely, Atrios is well above my obscure little corner of the blogosphere, especially in his current avatar as avenger of all things Trent Lott!
DEMOCRACY CAN BE SUCH A DRAG. C'mon, were you thinking what I was thinking when you read this?
MEMORIAL BLUES. I was afraid of this.

They are all horrible, more or less.
PILING ON LOTT. From the Bible to W.C. Fields: "Hugh Briss is back in town."
WEIGH TO GO. Is Israel European or Asian? HeadHeeb weighs the facts.

WAY TO GO. Meanwhile, the European Economic Review says that Tel Aviv University has the finest economics department in Europe. Oxford University comes in second. Neener, neener!! Take that,

Now, can somebody pleeeaaaze work out a statistical model that illustrates the relationship between the quality of a country’s university economics departments, and the quality of a country’s economy? This I'd like to see.

I’d disagree with the Heeb’s assessment that Tel Aviv is European while Jerusalem is Middle Eastern. Speaking strictly of West Jerusalem, I always felt the distinct tinge of MittelEuropa in the air. It always seemed to me that that the Israelis who reminded me of characters out of Aharon Appelfeld, uprooted but thoroughly European, lived in Jerusalem. And with the presence of so many “Anglos,” it’s possible to go a day or two without hearing Hebrew. Not so Tel Aviv, which is all-Hebrew-all-the-time. That, plus the physical makeup of the place, makes me think Mediterranean, which is not necessarily European, but a special place of its own: European, North African, Anatolian...all of those definitions aren't sufficient to convey the unique sense of place that the Mediterranean inhabits.

The overwhelming majority of people I dealt with on a day-to-day basis, which included my then significant other and his family, were completely Middle-Eastern in origin. Many of them didn't even have family in a Western country. I suppose it depends what you mean by European, but in any case, I can't think of TA as European.
An interesting discussion of Trent Lott’s woes. Positively Biblical, baby. We can decide whether it is Lott or the Mrs. who turns into a pillar of salt at a blog-bash. The "Lott-Bashing Blog Bash." Say that five times consecutively.

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

ONE LAST THING. I took two more of those online tests, but I am no longer putting the graphic on my site cuz they are a pain in the ass to download. Now, what city do you think I turned out to be? (Hint: begins with an "N", ends with a "K" and is named after a town in England by the name of York.) The only surprise about this is that the last town on my list was....Washington, DC. I haven't been so pleased with results since I failed a Wasserman, for those of you old enough to remember what that is.

I also took the "What's my Magic" test and turned out to be a witch. Last: Wiccan.

All in all, a good day at the online psych testers.
Cripes, I've heard of mothers guilt-tripping daughters, but what about when daughters guilt-trip mothers? It seems I have a blogdaughter (well, I'm a co-mommy, with Meryl Susanna, and I haven't linked to her yet. OK, last thing tonight before practice. I am going to s-u-c-k if I don't.

(PS One of the sisters wrote a really good review of White Oleander.)
RACE MATTERS. I don't mean to sound as if I am defending Trent Lott. He said the indefensible; there's no temporizing, he's a pol, he knows the rules of the game, he should go. Plus, he's a blow-dried creep. But there's something about this self-righteous four-part harmony baying for blood that gives me the willies. Especially since everyone in Washington's a big, fat hypocrite on this subject. Everyone.

I lived in D.C. the summer of 1988 and I was appalled at what a segregated town it was. And I had lived, only a few years before, in Israel, a society that is explicitly communitarian, that is, a society where various communities live parallel lives in separate communities: Arabs with Arabs, Jews with Jews, Armenians with Armenians. Within each community, the groups separated by professing religion or ethnic group. (Maybe the latter has changed since then.) I remember looking for someone at a certain address in a town called Yavne. I stopped a man on the street (yes, that proverbial man) and asked him where the address was. He responded, "eza eda?", "which community?" "Temani," I replied. ("Yemenite."). Oh, there: he pointed. Even this didn't prepare me for Washington.

I lived up 16th street, a major dividing line between black and white Washington. Everyone stuck to their side of the street. It was just a given. Yeah, if it were up to Trent and Strom, this would still be written in stone, and for that, he should be given the heave-ho. But wasn't that just as true before he outed himself for the 20th time?

Zach's blog refers to a study (which I heard mentioned on NPR yesterday morning) that purports to prove that discrimination in hiring is real, based upon responses to resumes. The resumes that came from people with "African-American" names got less responses than the resumes that came from "white-sounding names."

I have major problems with a study like this.

From my observations of African-Americans, it seems that there is a dividing line: those who name their kids cultural neologisms (I can't think of another word for it) that have become associated with African-Americans, and those who continue to name their kids traditionally fine old Anglo-Saxon names. (Aside: when I was growing up in New York, the only people who had Anglo-Saxon names people!! In the 60s, the only person in NYC with a name like Reginald Jackson, or Rupert Jones -- not to mention less plummy but equally Anglo-Saxon names such as Anthony Hawkins, Joseph Rivers and Geoffrey Treadwell --all names of black guys I knew as a kid, would have been black.) Curiously, the only naming tradition that has dropped into the cultural memory-hole is naming children after characters in the Hebrew Bible. Show me a black Rachel Jones, or Leah Smith, and I'll show you a lady who been collecting social security for some time now.

It's my observation that the blacks who name their kids the "African-American sounding names" are looked down upon by the "Anglo-Saxon traditional namers." I understand that the study was scientific enough to address the resumes from areas where the underclass wouldn't predominate, but that doesn't remove the cultural associations from people's minds. I think that everybody -- meaning every-middle-class-body who is in a position to hire, associates certain names with "underclass black," not just "African-American."

Does anyone seriously think that John McWhorter had to overcome the disadvantage of his classy Scottish name?

The study is measuring reactions to class and race, and is thus contaminated.
THIS ARTICLE about the political instability in South American by Nicholas Kristof raises an interesting question. He observes that the mood in much of South America is "desperate, angry and above all unstable" (with the parallel observation that the US is "nowhere in sight." Of course, if the US were in sight he'd probably be the first to criticize it for exercising global hegemony, or some such, but anyway....). The cry immediately issues forth from the lips of the fevered brow brigade: that's because there's no oil in South America.

But of course, there is.

So why the disengagement? Why is there such an obsession with Middle Eastern oil, and not with Latin American oil? Well, I can name a few off the top of my head, but let's face it: there's one thing that the oil barons of the Middle East potentially have access to that the Latin Americans don't:


The prospect of a country obtaining WMDs really concentrates the mind of the global hegemon wonderfully. It's a real attention-getter.
I FEEL STRANGE, as if I've just moved house, and am still getting my sealegs. Weird, it's just a change of name and template.
WHEN I WAS rudely interrupted from blogging, I had observed on my old blog that whatever happened to Trent Lott, I hope that Lott's wife doesn't look back at all this in future years and turn into a pillar of salt.
IN THE POST below, I referred to "that useless band of gray on the extreme right." I was not referring to the the tinpot chorus of newly-minted civil rights attorneys that has suddenly materialized in the Republican Party to demand the head of Trent Lott.
ACTUALLY, I don't mind this template at all, except for the useless band of gray on the extreme right. If someone can tell me how to change the template so as to get rid of that useless band of gray on the extreme right and widen the column where the text goes, I'd appreciate it greatly.
UPDATE: Meryl says nope, it's not because I am a miserable sinner. It's blogger's fault. Their database got screwed up.

EEGADS. I think I figured out what the problem was. First of all, I committed a flagrant transgression of blogger rules by placing an ad on my blog. A venial no-no. Then, I committed the cardinal sin of the web:

I stole bandwidth. Officer, I didn't realize I did it. But ignorance before the law is no excuse, and I paid for my sins. I had gradually put several images on my old blog that were linked directly from the other sites. I did a little reading about "stolen" bandwidth, and realized what I did. I am sorry, sorry, sorry. It'll never happen again.

That's what happens when you give a painting set to a monkey (like me). We end up splattering the paint all around the room.

Oh well. I am paying for my sins by adopting a severely understated new template. I don't deserve anything better.

Monday, December 16, 2002

Getting up to speed; I can't post much this week because I have a recital coming up this Saturday. I have no fucking clue what happened to Letter From Gotham; one day, I woke up and couldn't access my account; even the archives for one month (December) were erased from the Internet--which is supposedly impossible to do--but I intend to write Ev a snail mail about this and demand some kind of answer. I got attached to that damned blog.

And to pink.
Welcome to Gotham2003.