Sunday, December 10, 2023

The Rot in the Ivy

 I'm the wrong person to write this post. I already hated Ivy League Schools. Right away I began this post and invective already flowed that had you read it would lose me friends. Powerful ones...

There should no more be such a thing as the Ivy League than there should be billionaires or a corporate monopoly. Any institution powerful enough to dictate government policy should be broken up. The holdings of Harvard and Yale should be held by ten unaffiliated schools, old buildings and dorms be damned. The same should go for Princeton and UPenn, and the same for non-Ivies like Stanford and MIT. None of these schools should be more influential than the average liberal arts college where students go to smoke weed and write a thesis about juggling. The richest schools, with the most prestigious professorships and most ambitious students, should be the state schools; where future policy makers are forced to interact with those tens of thousands of peers most affected by the policies they'll implement. It'll go the other way too: the other students will see that the best students are real human beings, hardly different from them. The only real difference? The best students are more boring.
I need a few more days on this one...

Saturday, December 9, 2023

That Photo....

 I'm going to begin with three paragraphs I wrote at the end of the first week:

"There will be atrocities committed by Israel. Period. They will be dreadful and malevolent. They will challenge everything we ever thought we knew about Israel. They will not be what Hamas just did, and yet everyone we know will tell us that they're worse.
... In moments of rage Israeli soldiers may commit massacres of a dozen civilians, even a few dozen, but there will not be a single night in which 1300 were butchered with complete intention as a public statement of barbarity: everyone from genocide survivors to babies. Israel has cut off all supplies and aid to Gaza. Thousands of wounded may die for lack of medical care and starve for lack of food, but what is Israel supposed to do when Hamas will hoard all the aid and distribute it as rewards for service and compliance? There will be cellphone captures of the murders most brutal, but can anything Israel do be as brutal as a kidnapping one-hundred-fifty people (it turned out to be 240) of all ages with the possible intent to murder them on live television?
And yet friends the world over will push us to draw moral equivalence, and push, and push, until the yelling and the insults start, then the green lines in the sand that everyone crosses."
15,000 dead. It's... it's... well it's war, but that doesn't make me any less nauseous. And if that number doesn't make you nauseous too, you've lost what makes you human.
I want to make something very clear: at no point did I say that I supported a ground invasion. A ground invasion was inevitable, and there was no point in strenuously opposing it, but I only supported a ground invasion so long as Netanyahu is gone as Prime Minister. He's not yet, and may never be. If you're going to kill 15,000 people in two months, the end had better be a good one, and no good end is even likely right now.
So far, the best we can hope for is the status quo. Israel goes in once every five years to uproot the latest generation of terror, with all the blood and horror that brings. To do that, you don't need a fifteen year PM aching to exploit a war for a chance to stay in power forever.
Only 19% of Israelis want him to stay, but how do the 81% get rid of him? Bibi doesn't have to call elections until 2026. If elections were held today, Benny Gantz's party would get 1/3rd of the seats and form a governing coalition very easily. Gantz is one of the most decorated soldiers in Israeli history, and no 'Greater Israel' right-winger, but if he leaves the National Unity government, he deserts Israel in its hour of greatest need and his whole appeal goes with him.
Before October 7, Netanyahu was at the head of a very VERY fractious coalition with a slim majority. The way he got it? He was virtually the most left-wing, scrupulous member of his governing coalition. So long as there is no more right wing politician than Bibi capable of putting together a coalition, I see no way Bibi leaves.
Every Jew I know says not to worry, that Bibi's career is over, that Bibi is so hated that the country will get rid of him, but how?
It took a full year to depose Golda Meir after the Yom Kippur War started on her watch (five major Arab countries invaded Israel simultaneously on Yom Kippur, 1973). The difference is that Golda was at the head of the 'Alignment', a coalition of two parties, either of which could bolt. In 1973, there had never been a right wing prime minister, and she could easily have been replaced by Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Moshe Dayan, Yigal Allon or Abba Eban. They were all flawed, many of them had significant roles in the Yom Kippur failure, but they all had the governing experience to do the job. Bibi has switched cabinet ministers so many times that is there even a right wing replacement with the experience to call themself competent?
I don't think there is a single person who could look at those photos of Gazans in their underwear and not think of Abu Ghraib. We don't know the context of the photo. We don't know who these men are. We don't know what was the security precaution invoked, if any.
We're told they were being taken for mass questioning, but they are at the edge of a small cliff, as though at the precipice of a mass grave. I'm sure others thought of Abu Ghraib, I thought of Srebrenica, a town where 8.500 Bosnian men were killed en masse as a brutal, senseless act of revenge.
It was probably a demoralization tactic. Israel is much too practical to kill men they need for questioning, even Netanyahu's Israel, but these are the sorts of photos and videos that Gaza will start to hemorrhage. They will shake us all, make life more and more difficult for Jews, and make friendships with those who oppose Israel's actions that much harder.
Welcome to the wonderful world of Jewish life, where every action is futile and moral ambiguity sweats from out life's pours.
The goal at the end of all this, the eventuality we most need prevent, the justification for all this striving to survive is....
We'll do it another night. It's late.

ET: Almanac

"Bright, sympathetic young people who now face a time when innocent human beings are killed by the thousand can be excused for thinking that their elders do not care enough, and indeed it is true that complacency tends to creep in as the hair falls out. But their elders grew to maturity in a time when innocent human beings were killed by the million. The full facts about Nazi Germany came out quite quickly, and were more than enough to induce despair. The full facts about the Soviet Union were slower to become generally appreciated, but when they at last were, the despair was compounded. The full facts about Mao's China left that compunded despair looking like an inadequate response. After Mao, not even Pol Pot came as a surprise. Sadly, he was a cliche."

- Clive James: Cultural Amnesia


Friday, December 8, 2023

Posts I Still Want to Write:

1. A New Liberalism, Not Centrism:

In state after state, liberal beginnings curdle into mushy moderate governance, which only resulted in the railroading by the right, which in turn causes liberals to jump into alliances with the left. The right railroads moderates, the left railroads liberals, and society's breakdown is assured.

The stability and prosperity of society is not achieved by keeping to a mushy middle point between ideologies, it's by, yet again, evolving liberalism, taking the best of left and right, combining them, and rejecting what is toxic:

A broad social safety net from the left, a vigilant national defense from the right. Multilateral cooperative diplomacy from the left, intervention in foreign affairs from the right. Promulgation of an agenda for human rights from the left, tolerance of alliances with dictators from the right. Massive amounts of foreign aid from the left, putative action against those who misuse aid from the right. Toughness on crime from the right, toughness on crime's causes from the left. Belief from the right in the importance of family, community, tradition, and the institutions that have always fostered them like religion, belief from the left in the importance of inclusion, chosen family, and heavy pressure to revise those traditions of religion that have no place in a civilized society. Fostering from the right the growth of corporations, fostering from the left the growth of government so that corporations are not too powerful to control. From the left, belief in abortion rights, LGBTQ rights, and the inviolate the rights of minorities, but also beliefs from the right in incentivising two-parent family structures (AT LEAST two parents...), and, I can't believe this is a more a right-wing point than left now, FREE SPEECH. VASTLY increased income and corporate taxes from the left, vastly increased vigilance in paying off debts from the right. Encouraging mass immigration from the left, continual mass background checks and security tactics from the right that today's leftists would find to be harassment.

To achieve all this and more is absolutely impossible in the current social state of the US or any other state, but something like this will be what's required to survive into the twenty-second century as democracies. God knows what it will be to take us there, but I believe something not unlike this is what will come when we realize there's no other choice.

Somehow this all is related to Israel....

2. The Jewish Shakespeare, The Arab Shakespeare

It's unlikely to happen, but if someone called Naguib Mahfouz and Isaac Bashevis Singer the two greatest writers of the 20th century, I'd raise no objection. It is difficult for outsiders to understand just how much both of them mean to their cultures, hell, it's difficult for insiders too. How have these two geniuses fostered so much love and so much hate? How have both of them presented dozens of characters their peoples still recognize? How do both of them so effectively challenge their peoples to constantly reexamine what it means to be both Jewish and Arab?

Both of them are said to lose half their meaning outside of their languages, just as the greatest are said to in every major language: Shakespeare, Cervantes, Dante, Pushkin, Goethe, etc. and yet they both speak in English so forcefully that how much more meaningfully must they read in their own tongues?

By reading them, we get more morally serious by having fun. There are only two words for this process: great art, and there are no artists in the world better than Mahfouz and Singer.

3. A series of posts expanding that post: "How Do You Explain?"

A. I need to explain better what I meant when I said 'persecution of Jews matters more.' It's a very controversial point, that's why I lead with it. I don't mean that it matters more in an absolute sense or that Jews are racially superior, I mean whatever the threat to individuals within certain groups or even nationalities within those groups, Judaism and Jews are more threatened than Muslims or Christians. I don't know how anyone could claim otherwise.

B. I need to explain how America's funding of Israel is not just a bribe to not become a rogue state, but is morally justifiable on its own terms; and that, perversely, if other countries put their loans to use as good as Israel does with their loans, there would be no question that Israel is deserving of it.

C. Try to get people to understand that the military industrial complex is a much more complicated phenomenon than people think, in both its benefits and dangers. It's too big a subject to elaborate on here, assuming I even have the competence....

D. Pre-emptive war. Does it save Jews? Does it save other nations? Does it save any nation? Would it? Will it? In what circumstances should it be used? In what circumstances is it dangerous? Are the results of pre-emptive war at all predictable?

E. How do you talk to radical zealots who hate everything you believe in, every choice you make, every priority you have, half your friends, half your family members, half of everything you are, and insist on you knowing it every time you see them? Can you even talk to them when they spend every interaction clearly trying to bait you and then take even the slightest irritation as a personal slight? Is it inevitable that eventually you will take the bait again without even realizing it until it's too late?
For better or worse, democracy and peace depend on exactly these interactions - both of them. If you seal yourself into a corner with people you agree with, it's not a democracy and it's a recipe for war. So we all have to find a way to have these conversations with people who wish ill everything we are, and have to have all the same carrots and sticks in our arsenal as any accomplished diplomat.

Hopefully I'll figure out what three thousand years of writers haven't...

4. The failures of educational institutions: this includes television, internet rabbitholes, and podcast propaganda on the right in addition to university, social media and podcast propaganda on the left. The current state of intellectual discourse has caused a hundred million minds over three separate generations to go to seed, and until the whole apparatus of infotainment is thrown out, we are never going to get your minds back.

Also, ---- you. :)

5. Right wingers and left wingers are enemies to Jewish survival. Full stop. This includes the Jewish ones. Do I even write an essay about it?

Also, ---- you. :)

6. Liberal Realism: Abolishing Liberal Illusions

I watched a podcast video (irony) with Walter Russell Meade, a 'radical centrist' thinker who makes great points but rarely seems to connect the dots. He made a point that's impossible to refute: in era after era, liberals attached themselves to the illusion that the formula for progress has finally been solved, and the institutions in place will solve every new challenge. It was the illusion liberals had at the end of the Cold War when regulated capitalism seemed to cause the 'end of history' (moderates and sane conservatives too). It was same illusion liberals (and leftists) had at the end of World War Two as well: that the UN would solve our problems.

The problem was never that the solutions didn't work, the problems was that the solutions worked well enough that they caused different problems.

The Cold War was not a result of failure but of success. In the late 40s and 50s, it was heightened diplomacy, prosperity and disposable income which created the Cold War even as it prevented a Third World War. Instead of the chaos of nations fighting without a deliberative body, two superpowers with diametrically opposed conceptions of prosperity faced against each other in an existential competition for who could bring the most prosperity to the most number of people. In the process, they used an infantry's worth of measures: hard, soft, sharp, diplomatic, military, intelligence, covert, and all done through the body of the UN. The United Nations was both the cause of and the solution to the Cold War, and the fact that this war was cold rather than hot was progress, and even if it was hot in many places around the world, the fact that we haven't had a nuclear war yet whose death toll is in the billions is the ultimate indicator of some human progress. We have the UN to thank for that.

Now turn that formulation on its head: it was military might that ended the Cold War, which created an unprecedented amount of disposable income in the 90s. The disposable income created what what we call the Information Revolution. If the Cold War ended hotly with bombed out continents, the world would have been too focused on rebuilding to focus on computers. The Information Revolution gave us exponentially more information, but no real way to interpret it, and since the world is focused on computers, the world is divided on how to interpret all that information, and has therefore lost its ability to interact with itself diplomatically. So instead of computers creating a better world, the world will soon be as unstable as it was at the height of the Cold War, and we have the internet and the Information Revolution to blame for it.

Once you solve the world's problems, the real work begins.

Also, ---- you. :)

Oh god there are so many more.... Let's leave it here.

Also, ---- you. :)

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

An Attempt to Restart...

 So where has your faithful facebook correspondent been?

He's been exhausted. Writing about issues of this import is exhausting. Life's other tethers have called, and sometimes you just want to stop reading.
Books have been too exhausting the last few weeks, regardless of the subject. Instead: it's been catching up on The Crown, rewatching Bojack Horseman, listening to Elgar (don't ask), and generally trying to think about, well... anything else, anything at all, please let me not think about this, oh my god I hate this subject that endlessly obsesses me. And consequently, I've developed writers block.
I promised not to get mad, but I just had to defriend a few people who posted publicly that what was going on is a genocide, people for whom it might be inconvenient socially to rock the boat like that. We all have our red lines, this is mine. It's one thing to call it a genocide privately, I obviously don't like it but at least it's not direct incitement, but the best you can say about people who do it is that they're not serious people, maybe even juvenile, but the worst you can say? Well... it's a lot worse than calling them mere antisemites.
But getting angry is exactly what I'm trying to avoid. It's just too easy to get angry about these issues, and you do your best to keep a cool head even though there's an omnipresent urge to rage daily, weekly... hourly... because the wear and tear of these issues insist on themselves. It's impossible to go through Jewish areas without them discussed endlessly, and feeling forced to constantly affirm your commitment to this Israel side of this argument which frankly never deserved our full support.
All I know is that if I don't keep writing about it, if I don't keep thinking about it, the rage will come out in ways that are deeply unsettling.
More later I'm sure...

Thursday, November 30, 2023

So here, to me, is Elektra

 When asked why he refused to conduct Strauss, Nikolaus Harnoncourt replied that he thought Richard Strauss the most gifted composer since Mozart, but he used his gift for... I forget exactly how he put it but I immediately felt as though I heard what he meant.

Richard Strauss is different than the usual 'overtalents' of music: Mendelssohn, Liszt, Saint-Saens, Rachmaninov, Hindemith, it all came much too easily to them. I distrust those artists who have an overabundance of genius. If you were born with it, you never have to overcome the colossal struggle that gives you something worth saying with your gift. They're awe-inspiring musicians, but they're not great artists. Not for me at least. Mozart and Schubert had that overabundance of genius, but their brief lives were colossally difficult and their heart had something to say beyond their gift for organizing notes.
It came too easily to Richard Strauss too, and yet there was something genuinely different about him that I can never understand. The heady subject matter of his tone poems was like an impersonation of artistic depth rather than Mahler's real thing. How could a man with such a charmed life understand the purpose of artistic depth?
And yet there is a kind of neuroticism in Strauss's music that seems to intuit that this artistic gigantism was imitating his society in an unhealthy way. I have said many times before that I often think that the avant garde works are a kind of pandering pose, contemptuously giving pretentious audiences what they wanted, when what he really wanted was to use his thousands of colors to create music as beautiful as the Mozart and Mendelssohn he loved above all other music. Strauss stayed on the surface of depths And the music for which he was most passionate is the truest key into Strauss's psyche we will ever get. He wanted an untroubled life of beauty, but in order to get beauty, he had to provide the public with philosophy and noise.

Strauss stayed on the surface of depths Mahler freely plunged into: after RS's early romantic poses in Don Juan and Tod und Verklarung, so much of his music is either a kind of postromantic modernism or neoclassical, yet the two seem to combine ever so rarely. To Strauss's credit, he manages to find his own way of creating both modernism and neoclassicism. Mahler too found his way to do both neoclassicism and the avant garde, but he integrated the two modes and many others besides. The generation of Mahler and Strauss venerated Strauss's music and excoriated Mahler's, but that was because Strauss reflected the world back to them his audiences wanted to hear, whereas Mahler reflected all the facets of the world they considered detritus: popular music, tavern music, Jewish music, military music... Strauss is proof enough that nobody had a problem with Mahler's modernism, they had a problem with his populism.

But this is the contradiction of that period's Germany, indeed the contradiction of Europe's entirety. On the one hand, gemutlicher charm, on the other, a taste for violence (and yes, yes, present day America has the same problem). It's the refusal to integrate the schism in Europe's personality that resulted in its great crisis. Mahler showed a way out of the crisis, but Strauss WAS the crisis itself.
Strauss was a second-rate first-rate composer, not the other way around as he said he was. He was great enough to reflect all the problems of his epoch, not great enough to find a way through them.
Below is one of the very few performances that finds a way to integrate those strands of Strauss's personality. Hewing closely to Strauss's metronome markings as perhaps only Carlos Kleiber does besides, the ever underrated William Steinberg finds the Mendelssohn in the light speed whizz of Strauss's millions of details. It is one of the only performances in which Elektra seems to happen in a single breath, a scherzo that, for all its gigantism, passes by with fairy-like lightness. Perhaps that's what Strauss needs, in ultraserious works like Also Sprach and Elektra, to be played with kidding lightness, and with weighty soberiety in playful works like Rosenkavalier and Till Eulenspiegel. Perhaps it's the performances that misrepresent Strauss, and he composed far more psychologically integrated music than I give him credit for.
So here, to me, is Elektra.

Important Books: In the Land of Israel by Amos Oz (part 1 of 2, I promise)

I said I'd write about important books about the region, so let's get to it.
Believe it or not, back in 2006, Amos Oz and I lived in the same town. A deserted desert wasteland called 'Arad.' It was a town that practically symbolized the Israeli dream gone to seed. Even now when the city of Be'er Sheva burgeons--when I lived in Israel it was a shithole--Israel's most prosperous area is still the North where the Mediterranean's climate produces fruit of the vine everywhere.
When the sherut (long distance taxi) driver dropped off in Arad, he pointed out to the desert vista and said to me in Hebrew: "This is Arad. There's nothing here." (Zeh Arad, Yesh Shoom Davar Kahn) Here was a completely planned city like Columbia MD, created to bespeak Ben-Gurion's dream to 'make the desert bloom.' Yet when I got there, one Russian girl turned to me and said three words in English, "Welcome to hell."
Jerusalem and particularly Tel Aviv are cultural centers that can take their place among the world capitals, but Arad was a place almost completely removed from any cultural activity: crawling with Israelis too malcontented to live in more crowded places, the less successful children of the Negev's original residents who never made it North for better opportunities, ex-soldiers haunted by war experience, Soviet emigres and working class Sephardim seduced by the desert's low expenses, senior pulmonary cases needing a desert environ with clean air, hippy artists who painted no pictures but women who posed nude, and low level Russian mafia. It was still Israel - you got fresh pita at six in the morning, a falafel on every street corner, and the bars never closed. But the movie theater still took a smoke break and the mall was closed by dinner time.
Like everywhere in Israel, Arad had its collection of intellectual eccentrics. There was the ex-journalist I once spent a shabbos with, who spent the entire dinner yelling at her British husband. There was the Swiss artist who sold hashish. Then there was the ultra-orthodox mystic who ran Arad's one used bookstore--it was just a kiosk. She didn't speak English but she sold me an English language copy of Don Quixote and gave me an entire speech about how Don Quixote was a reincarnation of Moses.
And yet Arad was known all through the world as the town of Amos Oz, and his wife used to run the artists' program I was there for. We never knew a thing about what Amos or Nilly used to do for the program, but somewhere in this town they were still said to be there, living in the largest house on the town's outskirts with a full window view of the deserted eternity. He was clearly never home when I walked by, and he probably used it as a vacation house to stay in between speaking engagements; but in Arad his presence was everywhere, like a giant whose shadow loomed over every interaction. Residents would speak of him with a kind of awe that such a titan would make home among them. In vain I would go eat at Tokyo Pizza, said to be his favorite place, wondering if I could spot him, get a spot of original wisdom, and maybe get him interested in my first attempts at astonishingly mediocre fiction. My uncle said to just call him up and ask him to coffee. "Israel is just like that." He said. I could only chicken out. I'd still only read a single book of his and I didn't like it much. I could only take it on faith that he was the writer everyone said he was, and what was I going to say? "Duhhh, I hear you write good books..."?
Amos Oz was the intellectual leader of his country. He wasn't its best novelist. Years later, the Israeli novels that most haunt my memory are A.B. Yehoshua's history soaked dreamscapes. And his op-eds were... well... who gives a shit about op-eds?
But then, after I got home, I encountered A Tale of Love and Darkness. Nothing could have prepared me for it. It is one of the greatest books ever written in any country, telling of his mother's suicide and his adventures in pre-Israel Jerusalem, as a farmer/soldier on an early Israel kibbutz, his encounters with all the historical giants of record, but mostly, the many portraits of his family members - types of people who'd be recognized by every Jew, and really every person the world over. Over its six hundred pages, you laugh and cry on nearly every page. It had just been released when I was in Israel, and I was told to drop everything to read it immediately - I didn't. It has since become something resembling the Israeli National Epic.
Five years ago, when Amos Oz died, I wrote an appraisal about him for the Times of Israel. Relatively speaking, it got a lot of attention. Most of the comments on it were somehow deleted. It was at this moment that I realized that the free bloggers were sacrificial lambs to be thrown to the internet cranks - in other words, they thought we were internet cranks too. I tried to use a shul connection with Haaretz to get them to pay me for my writing, and they just offered me another free blog.
There was every kind of crank who answered that article in every kind of tone, and stupidly, I answered them all, telling just about all of them exactly what I thought of them - as is my wont. There was the guy who called Israel's military funding a 'temptation of Mamon.' There was the guy who correctly pointed out something I fumbled in the article, but somehow answered in the tone of a UN Address, beginning every one of his three paragraph with "No, Mr. Tucker," which echoed the famed Arab 'Three No's of Khartoum' after losing the Six Day War - probably intentionally. Best of all was another who said that God commanded Israel to fight all those who oppose our presence in Israel, and that those who would opposed Israel God would 'eliminate.'
It was this moment when I realized that my best option is to write for myself and hope some influential editor would like it in thirty years time.
But we're here to talk about In the Land of Israel. Hopefully that'll be ready tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

What I Don't Want this Diary to Be

I don't like pundits. Scratch that. I fucking hate them. A thousand trained monkeys at a thousand type writers can be a thousand pundits. All you do is repeat talking points coined by the ether. How did the ether come up with it? Because the points are so fucking obvious that a thousand people thought the same point at the same time.

Public intellectuals is one thing, critics are one thing; their purpose is to challenge, not confirm--but pundits? Oh god they're awful. They do what they do because they have one very limited field of supposed expertise on which they are held as unaccountable as forty year tenured professors. They may very well be fed points by a central party messaging, but even if they weren't, they'd either come up with the same points or points just as obvious from a different ideology.

You know one when you read one/hear an interview with one. They are there to give their reading on a situation, on which they have no real expertise but their talking points. There's no attempt at details to fill in the vagaries of the area, just ideology, just fitting it into the broader narrative of what they think is already true for not just the subject at hand but everything else. So who cares what a person's opinion is when the opinion is one that anybody else can have? We only read them to get validation for what we already think.

What a person thinks is not important. What's important is what everybody thinks. Private affairs are private , and when writing about private matters it's important to empty every crevass of your mind's nuances. In public affairs, what matters is the community, and what's important is to give voice to a whole community of thoughts. Not just the thoughts of two people with diametrically opposed positions, but people of every background, every demographic, every job, every region, every income bracket, every personality, and yes, every identity.

Tomorrow, hopefully, I'll cover a book that does exactly that, because I'm fucking tired of saying what I think. I'm not even sure I think the same things from day to day. The only people fit for punditry are the people whose point of view is so reliable that you can guess what they think about any issue before you read them, and that makes them incredibly boring. The rest of us are dynamic: we evolve, we live, we experience. Every event doesn't just confirm that we were right but newly influences our thinking as we take stock of the ways we might be wrong.

The word for this kind of polyphonic consciousness is 'literature.' Insofar as I wanted to be a writer rather than a musician, I sure as shit didn't want to be an internet commenter nobody reads except a couple friends Stockholmed by me into believing my point of view is insightful. I wanted to be someone whose thoughts are deep enough that my imagination can explore what other people think, not what I do.

I had begun a novel that takes Jewish history from the point of view of exactly that.

Let me rephrase that. Over more than ten years I'd written over 500 pages of a foot-crushing historical fiction, about a hundred of which were useable (I didn't even bother showing many of them to my editor, sorry Nathaniel...).

I've said it before, but all my life I only ever wanted to be one thing: a great artist. Not some 'artiste' with a business card and not just some hipster in a gallery, but the kind of writer/musician who, even if he can't write something that matters to a wide swath of people, at least tries every day with his very soul. A great artist is not someone who succeeds at it (thought that would be amazing...), a great artist always just shows up to work and tries every day to create the best damn thing he can, even if the whole world thinks its shit. The fact that I haven't, with all my opportunities, is a failure of work ethic, a failure of nerve and courage, and a failure of integrity.

So long as I'm doing this shit, I'll never get there. Maybe I was never meant to. Nothing keeps the muse away like 'Importantitis' and the best stuff always happens by a mixture of habit and accident. Maybe stuff like the last seven-and-a-half weeks is the extent of what I can do, but oh how I'd like to do more.

Monday, November 27, 2023

Ten Inconvenient Truths about anti-Semitic and anti-Islamic Hatred

1. The shooting of three Palestinians in Vermont emphasizes the most inconvenient truth about antisemitism in America. We Jews are going to have to come to terms with the fact that even after Pittsburgh, it is still more dangerous to be a Muslim in America than it is to be a Jew. If it were as dangerous, we'd have more than one Jewish murder by now. This leads us to point 2.

2. The statistics say that 60% of all hate crimes in America are committed against Jews. Antisemitism is as bad as it seems, but let's face it, we Jews have easily the most efficient process for reporting the hate crimes that happen to us. We are probably the only demographic for whom a large amount of the hate crimes against us gets reported.

3. No topic gets European conservatives riled up more quickly than the issue of Islamic immigration, and yet according to the Pew Research Center, Muslims will only make up 10% of the European population by 2050.

4. At the moment there are roughly 3.5 million Muslims in the US, and there are twice as many Jews as Muslims, but thanks to birth rates and immigration, there will probably be more Muslims than Jews by 2050. It is naive to expect that their interests will not have political representation in one of the two major party platforms.

5. Whatever the statistics currently demonstrate, global warming can cause an unprecedented wave of immigration to temperate countries from more tropical ones. Every demographic projection would be thrown out the window. This leads us to point 6.

6. Just as in Europe, half of what we currently think of as the 'left' might turn sharply right when they realize that a massive number of immigrants will be religious fundamentalists: be they Islamic or Christian, who passionately advocate to end progressive freedoms.

7. There is no conflict between the values of Islam and the values of democracy, except among Muslims who claim there is. There are countries, like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan, where the support for imposing sharia (Koranic) law is over 84%. However, enormous parts of two those countries are ruled by sharia law, so people polled in Afghanistan and Iraq (take note which two...) cannot be counted on to speak their mind - though, it should be noted, in Afghanistan, the figure was 99%, and this was in 2017, before the Taliban took over again - though by 2017 every Afghan knew a Taliban restoration was likely.

In more secular countries that are majority Muslim, like Turkey, the figure stands around 10%. Imposing sharia takes a jihad war in any country, so if you want to impose it on your own country, you almost undoubtedly want to impose it elsewhere too. That probably means that out of all immigrants, roughly 10% would support imposing sharia law on other countries as well: that amounts to about 800,000 Americans and 7.5 million Europeans by 2050, and that number is only by current demographic trends, not counting the chaos that world affairs always brings.

These statistics speak both to how common support for a theocratic dictatorship would be in the Islamic community, and also how little freedom such a dictatorship would afford its citizens.

8. Since October 7th, anti-Islamic incidents seem to have gone up roughly 200%. Since October 7th, antisemitic incidents seem to have gone up 400%. Given the attention these issues currently get, these numbers are probably pretty reliable.

9. One half of Muslims report other Americans expressing solidarity and care for them. Only one-third of Jews do.

10. Antisemitic hatred from leftist champions of Palestine will only radicalize both Jews and the right against Islam. Anti-Islamic hatred will only radicalize Islamic people who otherwise could be of benefit to Western societies - the committed are people of action, after all. Viewing it practically, not sentimentally, then however much rage Israel-Palestine engenders, the only workable solution is to set aside the fury about this issue when dealing with each other's communities; and address together the situation that impacts our lives much more directly than what happens abroad.

Saturday, November 25, 2023

Oh g----mnit We Have to Talk about Bernie Sanders

There are no words for how extraordinary this document is. How many times has Bernie Sanders poured cold water on his supporters fire? Twice? Three times? Is this the only time? And it's over the issue of Israel?
If ever there was a remarkable development in American politics, this is it.
I never hated Bernie Sanders's policies: I agreed with well over half of them, and on the issue of gun control he's to my right. What I hate is how he was willing to risk the collapse of American democracy in order to enact them.
Neither Sanders nor his movement should be blamed for Donald Trump, and yet they can.
Whatever any of us thinks of Hilary Clinton, 2016 could have... should have?... been the greatest moment for liberal reform in American history. We'd just had a historically liberal-to-progressive President and were about to have a moderate-to-liberal President with greater skill in building huge coalitions than any President since Lyndon Johnson, who could make deals with the left and bring along a sizeable coalition of the right. Instead? Well, you know instead...
Bernie Sanders was not Donald Trump on the left, but he was the left's 'tea party', and like the Tea Party he's probably enabled the rise of a leftist demagogue to be named later, and just like the origins of the Tea Party got away from its founders with unintended consequences, the Sanders movement got away from his founding goals, as they always would.
It's extraordinary how his movement heard a message completely different from the one Bernie Sanders issued.
His tactics are that of a Marxist who sees no distinction between liberal and conservative, but his policies are just a 1970s international socialist who saw a model in European heads of state like Bruno Kreisky and Willy Brandt. His mindframe exists in the era before 'identity' became the left's primary concern, and it wouldn't surprise me if he privately views issues of racism and sexism as a luxury distraction from the issues of all working people.
The vast majority of followers couldn't care less about this sort of history, which they see as unforgivably behind the times. They speak of the intersections of identity like a revelation: as if everyone before them did not understand issues of racism and sexism, and therefore every era before theirs was asleep to the real concerns.
Sure, the most passionate Bernie supporters were the next-generation socialists, but along with them were the most fervent metoo and Black Lives Matter proponents who take their cues from bellhooks, Audre Lord and Rebecca Solnit (who, ironically, supported Clinton), along with anti-colonialists who take their cue from Frantz Fanon and Edward Said: relegating the young socialist Bernie Bros back to the margins of American discourse with astonishing speed.
So it follows that Israel would be international enemy #1. Not because Israel is that bad, but because when viewed through extreme social theory, Israel appears that bad. It was not founded on colonialism, but there's little doubt that the founding had elements in common with colonialism. The other European colonial projects are pretty much over. Europe has long since ceded their empires, and the tiny Israel is their last bit of microscopic evidence that white colonialism animates the world - regardless of how implicating Jews resembles antisemitic tropes, regardless of how implicating Jews resembles antisemitic tropes, regardless of how Israel was only founded to stop the longest victims of white European crime from being hounded by them anymore, regardless of that Jews are the most reliably left/liberal demographic in the entire world. There's always a new war in Israel, however small, with new news to stoke their fire. , regardless of that Jews are the most reliably left/liberal demographic in the entire world. There's always a new war in Israel, however small, with new news to stoke their fire.
There is very little Saudi-American population who feels a great connection to Saudi Arabia, and most Chinese Americans are trying to put as much distance from the Chinese mainland as the globe permits. But however much less Israel violates human rights than those two human rights beasts, Israel has 2.4% of the American population who never stopped feeling deeply connected with it, and Israel's particular human rights violations are sprawled around every newspaper page and link. It's a completely unique situation in the American demographic spread.
But Bernie Sanders is the son of Jewish immigrants whose views were partially formed by the mid-century Jewish experience. For him, the Holocaust is probably not just another tragedy in the long history of white oppression, it's THE tragedy. Sixty years ago, Bernie Sanders spent ample time in Israel, and I think he views Israel tragically. The early Israel was arguably the truest socialist state on earth, a champion cause for the left, and there is a probably a deep part of of him that cannot let Israel go as a lost cause and believes that with security, Israel may yet become a northern Europe-like state of social democrats, the one which proves that, with socialism as the ultimate aide, Europe can let go of the eras-old antisemitism which he still feels just underneath their surface in his kishkes.
There are few movements more Jewish than socialism. The world's most famous socialist was Jewish, and socialism wouldn't have overtaken Europe without massive quantities of Jews relinquishing their religion for socialism. Without evidence that socialism works particularly for Jews, the best evidence that socialism works for everyone is missing.
For all my venom at Bernie Sanders, there's a lot to admire. I fully recognize that much of my revulsion is visceral and Oedipal, not intellectual. He's an extremely Jewish type of person, I grew up among a dozen Bernie Sanderses, each of whom took a different direction politically and intellectually from both Bernie Sanders and each other. He's what would happen if any of us became famous and listened to, and our temperament is not a recommendable example of how to conduct oneself in public discourse: the dogmatic obsessions, the blindness to unintended consequences, the willingness to endanger good relations for the sake of feeling right, it's all stuff I recognize intimately from well over half a dozen deep intimates.
And especially within myself.

A Letter to my Progressive Jews - rewritten


Don't worry, this isn't the first day of the rest of your life. Not everything you believed is no longer true, just a few beliefs to which you'll have to make adjustments, as most generations of progressives do.
We live among the first generation of progressives to not be chastened in a whole century: we saw the state of the world, with Trump and Brexit and economic deregulation and global warming, and it moved us left.
Our parents and grandparents promised we would see the world more conservatively as we got older. That obviously didn't happen. It didn't happen because a world without that moderating urge is just out of living memory.
Living memory now begins with Hitler, when pacifism and communism failed to bring about a better world. When nobody's around to remind us of the circumstances that brought Nazis to power, we fall for all the same temptations that brought us there. Like all opposites in this world, the strength of one strengthens the other. The more you embrace the left, the stronger the right grows.
This does not mean that the correct action is the middle point between every argument. The center of every problem is a dynamic thing: often the solution is quite left of center, occasionally even 'left', because conservatives are usually the establishment that defines the terms of any debate. It does, however, mean that the correct belief can be all over the political map: including sometimes right of center (though, don't worry, it's comparatively rare in Western life, and seldom actually 'right').
But particularly when it comes to military matters, peace without the threat of force is as likely to work as force without the promise of peace.
I don't think you need me to tell you that after you've seen your allies offer the barest hint of sympathy while you're scared out of your wits, you're going to have to make some adjustments to your beliefs: but in the grand scheme, these adjustments are pretty small. What you're perceiving is the realization that most left gentiles will have to come to eventually - the salvageable ones at least: that extremism in the pursuit of virtue is very much a vice.
It's my opinion that there are three basic adjustments you'll have to make.
The first is you'll have to do away with the idea that a just world is possible. On a case by case basis, the world can rise to justice through hard and smart work, but as a whole, the world is indifferent to what's right, and always remains that way.
The last fifty days proved conclusively that there is no future in which racism and antisemitism will be cast aside: antisemitism is just the first of many times the intersectional world will come upon the oceanic limitations of its hypocrisies. Eventually, there will be vast divisions between those who prioritize class with those who prioritize identity, there already are some, and we saw a small ocean of that difference between the average Bernie Sanders supporter and the furthest left Clintonites. Even on the identity side, there will be vast disagreements between those who prioritize fighting racism and those who prioritize fightin sexism and those who prioritize fighting LGBTQ+phobia: and again, there already are. And within each of those divisions, there will be much finer divisions, even granular ones, that cause generations long enmities.
In the Russian Revolution, the Leninist Communists were just one of many many Marxist sects. They arose through a combination of luck, fanaticism, and a ruthless will to power. 999 of 1000 leftists you know are absolutely incapable of such violent acts, but then there's that thousandth, and if the conservative grip on governments tightens so much that they can't help but fall chaotically, don't think the violent ones wouldn't mount a successful attempt to take over in some countries where we currently think their takeover completely unthinkable.
Whether it's intersectionality or Marxism, it's a religion without God. One of my favorite thinkers, the center-liberal Raymond Aron, said in a great book, The Opium of the Intellectuals, that 'intellectuals cannot tolerate the chance event, the unintelligible: they have a nostalgia for the absolute, for a universally comprehensive scheme." There are solutions that usually work, but there are ALWAYS many exceptions. Another favorite of mine, the leftist George Steiner, turned that line: 'nostalgia for the absolute' into a whole series of lectures in which he outlines how these movements have progressed many times: a substitute religion embraced by an original generation of believers, followed by a series of schisms between sects who believe only their sect speaks for how the central belief was meant to be interpreted.
There have been so many of these secular substitutes over the decades: Marxism and certain socialisms, Freudian psychoanalysis and a hundred types of critical theory, like intersectionality, these are substitutes for Christianity and Islam (and yes, our religion too), and evolved in just the same way. They promise that the truth of the world is animated by an invisible structure, and when it isn't, the movement breaks into thousands of pieces.


The second notion in three parts, and paradoxical to the first:
History has very definite lessons, which have to be applied in every era and every country, but they are lessons of "don't"' not "dos."
1. Do not believe progress can't wait, and when progress happens, do not believe the solution is more than temporary. Working for progress can't wait, but the progress itself takes decades, sometimes centuries. The world always resists solutions: it is a stationary force until the moment the proper solution gets applied, and the moment it's applied, the world becomes a dynamic force that grows immune to the solution. Now that history happens so quickly, the world takes less time to grow immune to the solutions we successfully enacted.
2. Do not believe any force in the world can exist without being balanced by its opposite. The more peaceful the world grows, the more progress the world makes, and the more that progress is converted into weaponry, and the more dangerous the world's wars become. The more prosperous a superpower becomes, the more chaotic the world grows when the power falls. Peace is only achieved through the threat of war, and war can only be won when you have a plausible vision of peace.
3. 'History does not repeat itself, but it often rhymes.' It's usually attributed to Mark Twain, but I doubt anybody knows who really said it, and I'd imagine that, like historical events, whoever said it did so in a slightly different way from how it really happened. On the one hand, history happens randomly. Like rapids on a river, it can flow torrentially, but it never stays in the same place for more than an instant; and yet the topography of a riverbank always stays a riverbank. We study the past because past solutions are usually a key to the future, and past obstacles are a key to what doesn't work: it's not a great key to predict the future with, but it's the only reliable key we have. So FUCKING LEARN HISTORY.
The third adjustment, and this is the hardest. I'm sorry to say that we're probably going to have to get rid of the notion that we're 'progressives' and go back to being a boring ass 'liberals.' The difference may seem laughably cosmetic, but the liberal tradition and the progressive tradition have one very large difference: the presence of common sense.
Progressivism, from its late-19th century inception, brought us some of the greatest policies we take for granted: universal public education, economic regulation, organized labor and antitrust laws, laws for workplace safety: this is all progressive policy, and it's fair to believe that the Obama Administration was the beginning of a second progressive age that brought us massive public health care, a worldwide climate deal, and gay marriage. But just as the first progressive age was accompanied by world war and the rise of totalitarian dictatorship, so may this age bring something similar. When you take the safeties off a society, you can't be surprised when any terrible thing becomes possible. This month has born out that progressivism has its deep flaws just as past progressivism did. It would be naive for us to anticipate that this age will not have similar catastrophic events.
Liberalism has one major difference: it doesn't believe in itself strongly enough to pursue anything but what should obvious. Back in the 19th century, liberalism was basically what libertarianism is now, but thanks in part to progressivism, it evolved, and rather than the early 20th century stymied progress of TR and Wilson, it became the stable forward progress of Roosevelt, Truman, and Eisenhower. You know what that entailed, I don't need make a litany. So it's important to have a progressive tradition, it is also important to shed it when it outlives its usefulness.
Conservatives will blow their tops when they read this next sentence, but liberalism's sins are the sins of caution. Liberalism's sins are the sins of believing that in order to achieve victory against worldwide fascism, you have to sometimes stomach dictators as allies, including fascist ones; or the sins of believing that in order to create a better social safety net, you will have to ditch a universal safety net. Yes, they're sins, but they're not quite as mortal sins as the alternatives.
When a public expert tells you that what you see with your eyes is not true, don't believe them. Just as when Republican experts tell you that tax revenues go up when taxes go down, you have to disbelieve progressive experts who tell you that there is an invisible power structure keeping minorities from achieving equally. The power structures keeping them down are extremely visible, and not every white person is complicit in it; and as the most reliably liberal demographic in America, an especial number of Jews aren't complicit.
Don't lie to yourselves, it's possible that the same dark times are coming for us as eventually come for every Jewish era in every country. It may not be yet, it may not be for another few generations, but it's coming, and we'd better be ready.
The writing is on the wall. The Democratic party probably won't be Jewish allies for much longer, and while I can't imagine not voting for them for an infinitely long future, we can no longer expect they will return our loyalty.
Whether center, left, or left-of-center, Jews who bet progress are on our own now. There is only one option left.
Isaiah 42:6 says “I, the LORD, have called you to demonstrate my righteousness. I will take you by the hand and guard you, and I will give you to my people, Israel, as a symbol of my covenant with them. And you will be a light to guide the nations." This is often taken as a testament of Jewish jingoism. I doubt there is much jingoism in the promise that God will guard us, because He so clearly hasn't.
Here's what I choose to believe it means:
That, yet again, we, the Jews, are called to set an example of righteous conduct to a world that doesn't want to see it, if only so we can account for the example we set when it's time to justify ourselves in whatever next world comes.
If other demographics can't let go of their fanaticisms, we have to do it and act with both correct conduct (Derekh Eretz) and help heal the world (Tikkun Olam). It's not jingoism to wonder if Judaism and Liberalism may be the two best ways the world has yet invented to adopt to life's ever changing circumstances, and as always, we are God's lab rats, called as never before to test whether this partnership between two of the world's greatest life philosophies can long endure.
Amen and be well,