Friday, September 06, 2002
Wednesday, August 21, 2002
Wednesday, August 07, 2002
I am horribly dismayed.
Let me restate that. That disgusts me. That the bureaucratic application of a label to a human being and legal citizen of the United States of America - an arbitrary marker of "enemy combatant" - is sufficient to convert a legal person into rightless chattel for processing in an administrative-bureaucratic machine, is an outrage and a desecration. It is the blithe smearing of excrement on lawbooks. It is the wink and the nod, and the outstretched palm, and the ranks of clients in the antechambers.
I wrote the following, in response to the White House plan for using military tribunals (not under the regulation of the UCMJ, but under the direct supervision of the Secretary of Defense and the President) to try foreign citizens in secret:
From: email@example.com (David Joseph Greenbaum)
Subject: Re: This is some nightmare and I will wake up soon.
Date: Thu, 15 Nov 2001 04:25:46 GMT
Organization: Cornell University
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In a fit of divine composition, Mark Atwood
inscribed in fleeting electrons:That's it. That's exactly it. It is so infuriating, I lack the words to express the depths of my scorn and contempt for Ashcroftian chazerei. They recognize no law but privilege and convenience.And this is different from what? When? It has been just as true from all the other political types in history,and more so, in fact.
More so of what, Mark? Fact is, this is posse comitatus Feme for furriners. It's about expediting vengeance on easy targets - more easily targeted for not having access to the civilian court system or the civilian protections of the law - and having *that* victory labeled as progress in victory over terrorism.
Let me tell you, it isn't. Ramming civilians through the military courts to achieve a swift, outrage-lubricated victory is a f***ing profanation. It is ghastly. It is a staggering violation of the explicit norms of legal procedure and philosophy in our country. Do you not understand what this is?
This is not about taking Bin Laden (who may be shot while resisting arrest, for all I care) and making sure that no pansy muddle-headed jury lets his sorry ass out on technicalities.
This is about being able to detain foreign nationals indefinitely and exercising coercion over them through an executive bureaucratic-administrative apparatus that is restricted by no outside independent oversight. Secret evidence in front of military tribunals, in secret. The time-unbounded detention of aliens that the INS is justly condemned for at present occurs *after* a open civilian criminal trial and term of service. This is arbitrary judicial terror. War criminals have more safeguards on their persons.
If they did it for foreigners for convenience, they will try to justify it for Americans. It is a profanation.
The present proceedings on Yasir Esam Hamdi confirm my prediction.
I originally wrote a nice little self-deprecatory note about texts exuding tinfoil hats and slobber-soaked paranoia; I self-referenced a putative unwillingness to Cassandrically expand a deleted phatic condemnation of current political, social, and intellectual trends towards uncritical subordination to the law-unbounded operation of an organic, instrumental State.
To cringe by couching language in gentle shame -- shame that is no more that a fear of social reproof -- that would be lying. The organs of executive government are controlled now by liars, gangsters, thieves, and self-annointed aristocrats. That a lawyer for the Justice Department can barefacedly and unshamefacedly put forward the legal theory of the "enemy combatant" before a court of justice -- that is an assault and an affront to the world.
It is Staatstreich.
Wednesday, July 24, 2002
Little ol' Dovidl, looking for thing to make him go and post to his weblog, yep, dot's me. Yessirree. I say nothing about the situation in Israel, nor will I say anything about the current meltdown in the world's financial markets (except to say that the dollar bet that I had with my friend Howard from way back in the spring of '99 - looks I will be winning that bet - and the luscious dollar riding on it).
I'll talk about Chaim Potok's passing.
I never read any of his fiction, though The Chosen and My Name Is Asher Lev both sat on my parents' bookshelves. I've only read Wanderings, his literary history of the Jewish people. I read it so much when I was nine that my dad's paperback copy fell apart in the spine along three seams. Chaim Potok became a foil for my genial goyische friend Andy to prove his benevolent judeophilia and tweak me when I got tired of his relentless Puritan moralizing in our late-night coffee fueled bull sessions.
Chaim Potok is one of the writers whom I have wanted to draw into myself. He was on my list of people with whom I wanted to have lunch and dinner - a list that every year grows longer through discovery, and then shorter again through mortality.
Now I read the rest of Potok.
Saturday, July 06, 2002
let me tide you over with a little story...
Imagine an two-story octogonal school, laid out around a gymnasium/auditorium. Around the wall-height rim of octogonal gym, a balconied walkway rings the inside of the second story. Off this walkway are the doors to twelve classrooms and two bathrooms. At ground level, the asbestos-tiled concrete pavement is bounded by khaki-painted cinderblock walls intermittently cut by doors to storage room, computer lab, the niche with the milk-fridge and the hamotzie hand-washing sinks, curtained stage, the portico to the front lobby, the door to the dairy kitchen.
The long minute hand of the clock nears the quarter-hour. In class, sugar anticipation inspires fidgets and salivation in the spoiled children with Ding-Dongs in their lunchbags. The rest of us had celery, or pretzels (bleah).
Rabbi Preil is vainly explaining to Jason Gardner that the summary of the mishneh reading was due... yes, now! and why didn't he have it?
Amir raises his hand and asks if it's time for gym yet.
It is time. The combined class of fifth and sixth grade boys bolt for the door, the walkway, the stairs, for... the gym. Well, depends on how bolting is defined:
"David, put down the book and come downstairs!"
I slink past Rabbi Preil sullenly. Gym time is fear time.
For the purposes of this recollection, we will call him Mungo, or Shit Head, or.... because I have forgotten his given name. I remember drawing a caracature of him as a donkey pissing on a buried head, on a page in my ruled mishneh notebook. I remember that I labeled this caracature, for future references' sake, presumably. I remember that I wrote some epithet that contained the word "fuck". I remember all these things, because I saw the lovingly preserved notebook some months ago in my parents' house. But I do not remember Giant Retardo-Neanderthal's name.
He was near six feet tall. He had a mustache. He shot spit-balls. He was a merciless storm-trooper fascist bully, and he could fling a vinyl, textured-surface dodgeball very, very fast.
The game is not yet started. There are no teams. It is the war of all against all, strong against weak, hormone-supercharged super-annuated sixth grader against sylph-like petal-delicate fifth grader. Shimmie Weiner and Mungo Death-chucker are the tallest boys in the combined class: they jump for the ball in the center of the gym, in the center of the school, the geometrical minimal-energy point where all culture, all mercy, melt away like hot wax in a blowtorch's flame.
Kill-bot's mutant long arms grab the ball a full foot above Shimmie's reach - the hope of light and truth and justice is swiftly snuffed out. Mungo pegs Shimmie on the shoulder with the down-swing. Shimmie is out. The ball rolls away, to Jacob Kleinberger, who hucks it at Steve Fernandez, who catches it. Jacob is out. Steve throws the ball at David Marcovici. The ball catches Marcovici, hits him on his calf while he is extended in full stride, and Mungo scoops up the ricochet. He stands in the center of the gym. He is Hitler, holding his Wehrmacht, and we are little feeble Polands. The first victim is chosen.
"I'm gonna get you, Jackie!"
Yaakov Azoulay begins running along the outer rim of the gym. Mungo starts throwing the ball - hard! He misses, catches the rebound off the wall, lopes into another throw, misses, catches the rebound. Jackie is a fast runner, but Mungo likes to play with his food. He throws again and misses. The rebounds are too fast for anyone to catch except Mungo. He throws, misses, and abruptly bores of the cat-and-mouse. Splat! Jackie is hit in the face with the ball. He stops running, trips, falls. There is a little blood. The game goes on.
Amir Roth gets the face-bounced ball, tries to get Mungo. Mungo catches Amir's girly throw. Amir is out. I get hit in the back by somebody. I stand behind the curtain. Mungo hits Jason in the back of the head. Ross Jacobs is brought down by a gut-shot. Fat little Ari is hit in the ass. Uri Leibowitz catches the ball. And drops it, because Mungo tackles him on the gym floor, seizes the ball, and aims it at Uri's head. Steve Fernandes gets the bounce. He is the last. Mungo slaps the ball out of Steve's throwing hand, chuckles, and goes in for the kill.
Rabbi Preil is standing outside the front entrance of the school, smoking. Shit Head wins again, news at seven, eleven, and wedgie on the stairs back to class. And people wonder why I hate dodgeball.
Thursday, June 06, 2002
If this evening's news reports are right, the President is about to call for a very large reorganization of government. In the newest scheme, disparate agencies - Lawrence Livermore Labs, the Coast Guard, FEMA, the Secret Service, INF, Border Service, et cetera - are going to ripped from their cabinet departments of origin, and placed under the direction of a new Cabinet-level officer, the Secretary for Homeland Security.
I can't sufficiently express my scorn for the idea - a sick monoculturing of bureaucratic ecologies. Previous examples of same sort of mega-Organization? Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) in Stalin's Soviet Union - a dysfunctional octopus of incompetence, empire building, and autistic malignancy.
Saturday, June 01, 2002
Wednesday, May 22, 2002
Monday, May 20, 2002
Friday, May 17, 2002
I am dying here. Eighty thousand degrees and enough humidity to chafe a camel. How much is the Ocean View worth again?
Update: worth every penny. On the mainland, they're starch-steam pressing the trees. Armpit-Sweatman, the Funk Fairy, and Heatstinkboy bestow their aesthetic and aromatic presents on the multitudes. And it's Shavuos. I get to stay up *all* night. I can mine Tijuana Gold from my eyeballs now.
Yes. I am bitching, moaning, and complaining. It's practise. Bear with me.
Thursday, May 16, 2002
It's a good phrase. Pompous. Rich in authority - it suggests deep wisdom, 'cuz its cobbled together from Greek roots. It means 'self-consuming death worship".
Since the Netanya suicide bombing on the night of the first Pesach Seder, I and a lot of other American Jews contracted a fit of the vapors. Mr. Wieseltier, in a piece on the New Republic website, expresses perfectly - excellently pitched - a critique of the self-indulgent qualities of the public panic:
The savagery of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the virulent anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism in the Arab world, the rise in anti-Jewish words and deeds in Europe: All this has left many Jews speculating morbidly about being the last Jews. And the Jews of the United States significantly exceed the Jews of Israel in this morbidity. The community is sunk in excitability, in the imagination of disaster. There is a loss of intellectual control. Death is at every Jewish door. Fear is wild. Reason is derailed. Anxiety is the supreme proof of authenticity. Imprecise and inflammatory analogies abound. Holocaust imagery is everywhere.
The fright of American Jewry is finally not very surprising, and not only because we are an "ever-dying people." To a degree that is unprecedented in the history of the Jewish people, our experience is unlike the experience of our ancestors: not only our ancient ancestors, but also our recent ones. It is also unlike the experience of our brethren in the Middle East. Their experience of adversity in particular is increasingly unrecognizable to us. We do not any longer possess a natural knowledge of such pains and such pressures. In order to acquire such a knowledge, we rely more and more upon commemorations--so much so that we are transforming the Jewish culture of the United States into a largely commemorative culture. But the identifications that seem to be required of us by our commemorations are harder and harder for us to make. In our hearts, the continuities feel somewhat spurious. For we are the luckiest Jews who ever lived. We are even the spoiled brats of Jewish history. And so the disparity between the picture of Jewish life that has been bequeathed to us and the picture of Jewish life that is before our eyes casts us into an uneasy sensation of dissonance. One method for relieving the dissonance is to imagine a loudspeaker summoning the Jews to Times Square. In the absence of apocalypse, we turn to hysteria.
In America, moreover, ethnic panic has a certain plausibility and a certain prestige. It denotes a return to "realism" and to roots. A minority that has agreed to believe that its life has been transformed for the better, that has accepted the truth of progress, that has revised its expectation of the world, that has taken yes for an answer, is always anxious that it may have been tricked. For progress is a repudiation of the past. Yes feels a little like corruption, a little like treason, when you have been taught no. For this reason, every disappointment is a temptation to eschatological disappointment, to a loss of faith in the promise of what has actually been achieved. That is why wounded African Americans sometimes cry racism and wounded Jewish Americans sometimes cry anti-Semitism. Who were we kidding? Racism is still with us. Anti-Semitism is still with us. The disillusionment comes almost as a comfort. It is easier to believe that the world does not change than to believe that the world changes slowly. But this is a false lucidity. Racism is real and anti-Semitism is real, but racism is not the only cause of what happens to blacks and anti-Semitism is not the only cause of what happens to Jews. A normal existence is an existence with many causes. The bad is not always the worst. To prepare oneself for the bad without preparing oneself for the worst: This is the spiritual challenge of a liberal order.
The Jewish genius for worry has served the Jews well, but Hitler is dead. The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is harsh and long, but it is theology (or politics) to insist that it is a conflict like no other, or that it is the end. The first requirement of security is to see clearly. The facts, the facts, the facts; and then the feelings. Arafat is small and mendacious, the political culture of the Palestinians is fevered and uncompromising, the regimes in Riyadh and Cairo and Baghdad pander to their populations with anti-Semitic and anti-American poisons, the American government is leaderless and inconstant; but Israel remembers direr days. Pessimism is an injustice that we do to ourselves. Nobody ever rescued themselves with despair. "An ever-dying people is an ever-living people," Rawidowicz sagely remarked. "A nation always on the verge of ceasing to be is a nation that never ceases to be." It is one of the lessons that we can learn from the last Jews who came before us.
An excellent argument against the fascist tendencies of existential despair - particularly the drama queen variety. Read the whole thing.
That is to say that violent judeophobia is prevalent, and should be fought with every weapon. Hypocrisy and apathy are intolerable.
Thursday, May 09, 2002
Crub. So, I had this spectacularly good day, all chock full of physical exercise, personal creativity, and concrete accomplishment, and just when I was about to sacrifice in thangsgiving a pair of rock doves (they're nesting on the porch lamp and crapping on the welcome mat - I must remove their nest and shoo them off) Avram Grumer posted this interesting entry to his weblog - a critique of religion and received morality:
This reminds me of something a friend of mine once said, when we were talking about science, religion, and worldviews. My friend (a Hasidic Jew) said that the reason he found the scientific worldview unsatisfying was that new facts and discoveries were always coming along, often undermining the old ones, and what he wanted was to just know the truth and have it always be the truth, forever.
I think a lot of people feel that way. Matter of meaning and morality are immaterial, so they aren’t subject to empirical testing, but they affect how we act in the physical world, so they are important. Since human beings are pattern-finding animals, we like to believe that our beliefs fit into some kind of coherent pattern, and it’s therefore possible to undermine a competing argument by showing it to be inconsistent. That means that belief systems compete with each other on the basis of (among other things) internal consistency.
The problem with consistency (well, one problem) is that the best tool for checking consistency is logic, and all logical systems must rest upon axioms which cannot themselves be verified within the system. Ultimately, as you explore your belief system, you’re going to come to some point where you can’t shore it up with logic, and that’s the point at which the system is going to look vulnerable to attacks from proponents of competing systems.
Many people deal with this by trying to shove the axioms off into the realm of things that are more difficult to question. Religious worldviews often claim that their axioms come from a supreme deity; they often also claim that the actions of the deity are beyond human comprehension, and therefore cannot be questioned logically. Ta-dah, instant attack-proof worldview, as long as you don’t watch the dealer palm the cards. (There are materialistic worldviews that do this as well, but I haven’t witnessed it done often enough to be able to summarize it well; Your Materialism May Vary.)
One problem with this argument - and it is a major, major problem, is that it reifies logic - a useful but arbitrary set of rules for evaluating and proving syllogisms. Instead of God, or the logos, or Al-Lah, or the numinous, we have the sparse rules of logic, a set of rules just as uncritically assimilated as theology.
I'll not open the can of Harvard Beets (which I hate with the fiery angry passion of a thousand nova suns) that is the epistemology of religion. I'll address something that I think is at the center of Avram Grumer's critique - his frustration with the tendency of religious thinking to make
attempts to trace a few principles out to their vanishing points, so as to be able to make new moral decisions without the troubling and difficult process of evaluating new situations on their actual merits.
In other words, the tendency of religion to robotically prescribe and elaborate a restricted repertoire of particular desired conduct. I can understand why Avram has this terrible difficulty with inflexible codes of behavior (which are, I may add, codes - rather like the law codes are - and where do they derive their coercive legitimacy?). I do - he finds the religious prescription of moral judgement and behavior regarding certain particular "sins" to be insane. Religion punishes actions that Avram cannot find any earthly reason - particularly any reason derived from the cultural norms of the society in which he lives - to condemn (for example, the Biblical prohibition of male homosexuality or any sexuality not within a marriage bond, both highly ordinary in the culture, and highly anathemized by the big 3 monotheistic religions.)
I'll simply say the following - we all have the responsibilities to be upright, honest, brave, thoughtful and generous people. We are bound to the categorical imperative - present in theology and in humanist moral philosophy. Inasmuch as the continuous and autonomous generation of contingent moral judgement is a task too great for any single person (and it is, no matter what someone might brag about their critical sense), theist and atheist codes, systems of belief, and rational discourses, are all necessarily unreflectively applied by the individual - most of the time. And since Avram is concerned with this world, that's the only issue that needs to be addressed - not whether the inspiration of the moral conduct is rationally or divinely derived.
Sunday, May 05, 2002
I was planning to post an essay on food and familiarity here - which will come later, and it will be full of cholent-y goodness. I was also going to hold to a self-imposed ban on discussion of the situation in .. . yeah. Well.
So one of the things that surprised me in the aftermath to the kamikaze hijackings was the emergence of Chris Hitchens as someone whose comments I actually appreciated and paid attention to, as opposed to the Alternative Radio (with David Barsamian) fatuous gasbag blowhard lecturing me on why Bill Clinton (Henry Kissinger, Robert Reich, insert name here) was evil, eeeevil. How to be frank - Chris Hitchens was on my list of progressive writers, who, as a consequence of their strange dilections for center-bashing and self-promotion, got into the TO BE IGNORED box.
Thus, when I read Chris Hitchen's journalism after the attacks, I found it to be remarkably clear-headed and straight forward. Sensical, angry, justifiably so, and completely in accord with how I, myself, felt. To whit, I agreed with Hitchens. Ak. Thshippsstst. He wrote stuff about the way the further left responded to the attacks (and the later war in Afghanistan) that fit directly into my conceptions. He slammed Noam Chomsky and Ed Herman and the folks at Zmag with verve and energy for their intellectual vanities and moral cowardices, and I, umm.. became a fan. Because I hated that response. It seemed so... so... stupid. So airy-fairy moronic. I felt genuine burning antipathy for people who expressed that viewpoint - because it seemed that advocacy of that particular critique could not possibly be honestly inspired, and that the people who therefore advocated pacifism, a developmentalist, anti-hegemonic and culture-sensitive response to the attacks - the advocates of placid and virtuous resignation - were motivated by some inner-evil, some malignancy of spirit. They were pro-hijackings, pro-mass murder, pro-death. Slobber, froth, froth. Yeah, I know - never ascribe to evil what can be adequately foisted off in the arms of the fool. But my personal reaction to the attacks, and to the peculiar and repulsive nature of the ideologies that inspired them, colored my response to their response. I still feel extremely strongly about the over-all left-antiglobalist critique of responsively violent warmaking in response to the September mass murders.
So Hitchens tickled a nice spot for me - if opinions are vitamins, and I wanted to drink from the refreshing and cathartic well of congenial orthodoxy - to him I would go, whether in the Nation, or in the Grauniad, or in the Independent - and I would take my Flintstone vita-boosters of righteous indignation. I posted excerpted pieces of the Hitchens-Chomsky fracas on rec.arts.sf.fandom in September and October. Avram Grumer did make the comment that:
Reading these is like reading a catalog of Usenet flamebait. I don't know if either of these guys ever learned how to argue honestly, but if so they've forgotten it all now.I ignored Avram, because Hitchens made me feel right, and good, and winning over the forces of stupidity. I'm over the visceral war-mongering now.
But Avram is right. Hitchens writes Usenet flame-bait disguised as professional journalism. In his latest Nation column (May 13, titled "Single Standards"), there are these two paragraphs:
Number the first, penultimateWhat the heck does the last sentence have to do with the thought? I can parse the sentences fine, but - he's making a leap here I don't understand. Private inner speech - rife on Usenet.
Here again, it is wise to look at the original political programs. The forces of Islamic Jihad say that non-Muslims are vile interlopers in a consecrated land. Their tactics therefore express their primitive ideology. Sharon and Netanyahu believe that god reserved this same territory for the Jews, and Sharon has specialized for decades in punitive wars against those impudent enough to complain at their original expulsion or subordination. He has taken this campaign of revenge against the victims all the way to Jordan, to the Sinai, to Gaza, to Lebanon and most recently to Jenin. He has welcomed to his Cabinet Effi Eitam, an open advocate of ethnic cleansing, and he has appointed a minister of internal security, Uzi Landau, who says that Israel should treat the Palestinians as Saddam Hussein dealt with the Kurds. (Funny how those who say the wrong thing are often saying what they mean.) Not one US government voice has been raised against the statements of Eitam or Landau. Not one US government voice has been raised against the Saudi financing of the suicide militias. Referring this trade-off to the international scene, it's now a race to see whether Saddam saves Sharon, or Sharon saves Saddam.
number the second, lastWhat the heck does this mean?
Facile equivalences are to be avoided. One in particular is the stupid equation by peaceniks between Sharon in Jenin and the international coalition in Kabul, which easily made distinctions between killers and noncombatants and which still does. But if the American conservatives choose to make the same mistake by identifying in reverse order, then they replicate the reciprocity between Sharonism, which is an insult to the Jews, and jihadism, which is a disgrace to the Arabs. (Perhaps a pious Christian supervision of this ghastly "process" of symbiosis is all that we needed.) September 11, more than anything, marked the opening of a culture war between those who believe that god favors thuggish, tribal human designs, and those who don't believe in god and who oppose thuggery and tribalism on principle. That ought to be the really historic and dialectical sense in which it "changed everything."
Sorry, Hitch. You're back in the box. So long. Love ya... not. I've got a better yes-man to robotically ditto re: the Middle East and American politics - Victor Davis Hansen!
Ahem. Tip your waitron.
Monday, April 29, 2002
This blogging thing is hard. They expect you to be reasoned and responsible and logical and everything here. Rightfully, Patrick Nielsen Hayden brings me up short.
That seems like a tremendous amount to dump on Ginger Stampley's head...
I don't see where you get off accusing Ginger of any kind of "high horse." Nor am I clear on what you mean to imply when you observe that "people of the 'American' temperament are in the minority in this world." Perhaps so, and so what? We are what we are, with the temperaments we have.
It's all very well to get snarky about "friendly, objective reasonableness," but exactly what attitude has served us better, in this or any world? Aside from simply displaying a big dose of superior attitude, what are you actually proposing?
Forgive my snarkiness, but I _do_ read your blog carefully and give a lot of thought to what you say, and this time I literally can't parse it into anything more coherent than a wish that liberal Americans should shut up.
Patrick is right. I emptied the missile silos at Ginger, and she didn't deserve it. And I was wrong to target her.
But there's something instructive in the spleen - something dreadfully important about the way people think, identify, and respond to challenge. I must explain why I had the superior attitude - why I lost my Enlightenmen, why I broke my cool..
Patrick is right - my attack on Ginger (my October usenet post warped by my Saturday annotations) is nothing more than a bitchy wish that the liberals would shut up, would stop their pointless, exasperating yammering. It hasn't been doing any good. It's been twenty months since the Intifada broke out; now, the contents of the dialogue on the matsav differ little from the self-same discourses and dialogues exchanged way back in the summer of 2000. And that's not entirely surprising, because those who carried on the dialogue always kept certain values and ideas at the forefront of the debate - parties' grievances were justified, but sustained malice was not. The disputants valorized the ideal of compromise in service of higher, humanitarian goals. The shafted Palestinians deserved a state. The screwed-over paranoid Jews deserved peace. All else therefore was detail, quibbling over land and obligation.
The timeline of history demonstrates the virtue of those attitudes - the virtue of the liberal spirit. Patrick is right to say "It's all very well to get snarky about "friendly, objective reasonableness," but exactly what attitude has served us better, in this or any world?"
There is no better attitude - that attitude universally employed is the only one that allows solutions to all the problems of the world for all the people.
I rejected it because over the past twenty months, I have become sick with hatred, fear, loathing, memory, and cant. I don't want to concede the smallest detail any longer to the opposite side. I feel that the balance - the normality and the solvability which the liberal dialogue brought to the dispute between the Israelis and the Palestinians - needs to be broken. Ginger's, and Patrick's, and Mike Weholt's, et cetera, considerate, careful, and calibrated adjustments of the scale enrage me, because I don't believe in my heart any more that goodwill and compromise can do anything.
It's a species of fanatical despair - the same kind of unthinking heart-hardening that we rightly condemn in the Islamists. For me, the proper solution is much more Greece-Turkey 1922 than Camp David 2000, and I listen to the careful discourse about borders and respect and oppression and human rights, and I feel that it's more a ploy to get my guard down and steal from me advantages won by blood and love, than it is a genuine effort to reach worldly justice.
I know different, but feelings reach up to choke the brain.
This is despair from the inside, folks. Thank you, Patrick. Ginger, I apologize.
Sunday, April 28, 2002
I posted this to rec.arts.sf.fandom at the end of October. It states my objection to Ginger Stampley's viewpoint.... Some quotes:
One of the problems that must be addressed in the comflict is the common notion on each side (expressed in each side's terms), that their problem is singular, central, and existential. I am a Zionist because of the Holocaust. I daresay most modern Diasporic Jews who are Zionists are Zionists for that reason. Israel's nukes are the greatest totemic comfort that I have (when I feel threatened), that the horrors that were visited on my own family will never, ever be repeated. I think that Dan Kimmel's unfortunate vitriol springs from the same root - the existential fear that Jews in the Diaspora and in the Yishuv have that someone is trying to kill them all again. That someone will always be trying to kill them all, and that only the effective wielding of exclusively Jewish state power can defend against that someone.
Frankly, this is what exercises me about the activists who not only decry the brutality of the occupation but link it to some inherent illegitimacy or permanent-by-nature injustice in the existence of Israel as a Jewish national state. They have a point about cruelty, but they offer no comfort to the practitioners of fear-derived coercion to encourage the deflection or defusing of that cruelty.
The state of Syria is promoting a film called, "the Blood of Zion" about the blood libel. Preachers in the Haram al-Sharif allude to the Protocols (I am not even going to talk about Holocaust denial in the mainstream Arab press). Schools in the PA peddle the same kind of biological, essentialist racism that marked the pedagogy in NS Germany. When these things are mentioned, peace advocates generally pooh-pooh them as details, not central to the real problems. Why? Because it is an unfortunate, distracting detail of the parochial insanities of a powerless, victimized population. That it isn't important because all the problems are material. Because the problems are legal. Because deprivation breeds hate, and generosity conquers deprivation.
This runs right to the heart of the dispute. Michael's plaint that a moralistic, Stunde-Null American attempt at slate-cleaning and starting over is the only thing that will work is very much taken to heart. But as I sit here, I can't possibly communicate the depths of my dread of Arabist and Palestinian nationalist judeophobia. This existential dread is the heart of the mainstream Israeli response to Palestinian violence.
I can't credibly communicate the Palestinian existential critique of the creation of Israel (Dier Yassin, the Naqba, the Occupation, sweet Haifa, al Quds). Hanan Ashrawi, Edward Said, Hassan Qhatib have all done a far better job of describing the animating myths of Palestinian existential dread. Though I have studied it, my emotional inclination is to dismiss its validity and I know intellectually that to be dishonest.
That existential fear must be addressed, comforted, assuaged, and not with Jewish blood and martial victory. The solution to the conflict should allow Jews the luxury of not deriving totemic comfort from the possession of weapons of mass destruction. And I despair that there is no way of getting there from here, and all the goodwill and all the technocratic and grandiose megalomania cannot solve the problem, because the Palestinians will not stop zetzing Israel with bombings and murders and with allusions to Nazism unless they are coerced into stopping.
As Ginger says:
The Israeli-Palestinian situation really bothers me as a blog-topic, which is one of the reasons I don't talk about it much in my own words. It's a topic where everyone is so convinced of the rectitude of their side -- and so many people have a side -- and so convinced that anyone who disagrees with it must also believe a host of morally deficient things that it's hard to discuss it in anything approaching a civilized and objective fashion. There are people I am very find of and people whose work I find otherwise compelling, both in blogdom and elsewhere, whom I will no longer read on Israeli-Palestinian issues because it's just too painful. And so much that should go without saying has to be said because of those operating assumptions people make about folks who disagree with them.
Get off the high horse of "objectivity" and "civilization: - this is the world of politics, fear, and animating myth, and if the lessons of the last eight months are anything to go by, people of the "American" temperament are in the minority in this world. L'esprit du bon volonté and the un-limited acceptance of the wholeness of the other is really very, very rare. The deployment of empathy, respect, and reason is to be lauded. But we must permit ourselves to mourn the failure of the liberal strategy- when it has been proved useless, and not reflexively, robotically, confirm our own self-righteous and smug superiority and reasonableness with all the discretion of a flatworm.
Wednesday, April 24, 2002
Fascinating graphic and conceptual artist, doing integrative composition and collage in Photoshop. He is very good, having done illustrations for books, the New Yorker, et cetera.
Also a gentleman and an exhausted new parent. His wife is from my grandmother's hometown. Buy his stuff. Buy.
Tuesday, April 23, 2002
I don't think I ought to comment on the news story about the advice the Berlin police administration gave to Jews considering a stroll through the Paris on the Spree. You know, the one where they say that outward signifiers of Jewish faith, like yarmulkes, striemels, long black gabardine coats, beards, et cetera, are very certainly poor fashion sense, and possibly rage-inciting?
You've come a long way, baby!
Ahem. That was in poor taste. I was looking for some pictures online - pictures of German soldiers standing around traditionally garbed rural Polish Jews, making fun of them. Failing that, pictures of Jewish men forced to wear Talleisim while cleaning the streets after Kristallnacht. But the picture of the couple with the signifying stars will do.
Those effing Germans - their racial-national spirit personified in the police official giving the helpful advice to the Ha-aretz reporter - they just don't get it.
How charming. How marvelous -- Germans have swung between two extremes of aesthetic feeling regarding the externals of their Jews... Paul de Lagarde, a Germanist of the nineteenth century, demanded that the Jews of Germany utterly abjure their identity in order to stay within the land - a harmonious society was a homogeneous society - and since the Jews symbolized distinction and disciplined, malevolent alienness, they had to become German in appearance and spirit, or they had to be dealt with as disease bacilli:
With trichinae and bacilli one does not negotiate, nor are trichinae and bacilli subjected to education; they are exterminated as quickly and as thoroughly as possible.The failure of Jewish assimilation brought the second aesthetic representational mode of Jewishness - the one that the Nazis imposed - that of forced distinction.
Look's like I found one of the pictures of abuse of traditionally-garbed Jews that I was looking for.
Forced distinction, intended to speed extermination - rather like this:
All in all- that was a remarkably stupid thing for the police bureaucrat to have said.
Thursday, April 11, 2002
Inquiry? I am a warblogger? I dislike the term. A lot, actually, because it presumes that the people who work at their online daily hyperlinked journals are militarist warmongers throttling freiheit and demokratie through the pounding on the keyboards - that the expression of opinion is somehow warlike.
I dislike "blog" even more than I dislike "warblog," by the way.
So what brings this on? The fact that I have been linked to by a person named "Eric Blair" who, in a web-log entitled Warblogger Watch characterized my posting on Little Adam Shap-i-ro as 'spewed bile'.
Why, yes, it was rather bilious, wasn't it? It definitely seemed as though I was suffering gastric upset when I was automatically writing my hateful little mots des anti-paix. Yes. That is all that those words were. Poorly digested fragments of food, fulminating and frolicking about in the mindless vacuous echo chamber that is my skull.
So an Orwell wannabe slimed me. I should be in such august company on his web-log - Lileks, Den Beste, Charles Johnson, Glenn Reynolds. Not that I share the majority of their center-right political agenda. But I do like their styles. I'm cleaning my glasses, and sharpening my quills. They are porcupine quills. And I use them for target practise.
Monday, April 08, 2002
Just when you've gotten used to James Lileks' addictable daily product, ignoring the medium for the message in the daily inquiry to the state of the Gnat - he offers up gems like the following:
Had a horrible thought today: how long until Al-Aqsa sends pregnant women to commit suicide bombings? There’s certainly nothing in their moral construct that would prohibit it. They’re canny enough to know that many Westerners would find this Horribly Symbolic - not the act itself, of course; we’ve digested (and excreted) the concept of female suicide bombers and the attendant carnage. No, many would insist that we regard anew how horrible the situation must be, that women would kill their unborn babies in protest. The inhumanity of the act - the unspeakable atrocity of the act - would be taken up by some as proof of a greater atrocity visited on the Palestinian people. The symbolic denial of a collective Palestian future by the occupation would be equated with the actual denial of the future of an individual Palestinian child. Mind you, no one would support it . . . but.
Always a but.
The men who send these children out to kill know their enemy, which is to say us. They know well that some in the West wouldn’t even consider a Manichean stance unless the name was changed to Personchean - and even then, it’s too simplistic. Some in the West insist on a complex approach to moral inquiry, as if they want an innoculation against uncomfortable truths. Stupid people are full of cerrtainty - why, Yeats said as much. Smart people, wise people, nuanced people are more comfortable analyzing evil than confronting it - as if understanding the history of handgun development will keep the one pointed at your head from firing.
They know well that some in the West wouldn’t even consider a Manichean stance unless the name was changed to Personchean . What a turn of phrase. This is why they pay him the big bucks.
Friday, April 05, 2002
Joseph Aaron has some interesting comments.
I apologize for my terse lack of elegance. I really don't have very much to say right now. I mean, I do have a great deal to say, but I don't quite know how to say it without bursting a few seams.
1) I could make a few comments about Adam Shapiro. I know that Gary Farber has, and a bunch of other web-loggers have done the same.I told you that I am angry. Angry Angry Angry. And if I loose my rage, I will totally alienate a whole bunch of people.
I disagree with Gary. I think Adam Shapiro is a chuckle-headed moron piece of shit, and he should be sanctioned in his community because of his poor political choices. And the parents who enabled same - they should be vehemently condemned. I think they should be publicly embarassed - ostracized. There should be no safe-harbor for self-hating yidlach inane stupidity.
2) I was profoundly disturbed last year by Bush's "election". My responses to that "election" can be googled for on Google's usenet archive. I am not comforted by the way that Bush is handling the current situation. The walking pillar of temporizing demonic flame that is James "Fuck the Jews" Baker III remains a strong influence on Middle Eastern policy in the Department of State and in the government of Bush Minor.
3) My foreboding about the rise of international violent judeophobia on the 25th of March seems completely prophetic, in the light of the events of the last twelve days. And I am completely pissed about what has been happening in France.
Irena Z. is back from Jerusalem tonight. She interviewed Avigdor Lieberman and other leaders of the Yisroel Beiteinu party, and ate pastries bought from a coffee-deli-bakery in Jerusalem hours before it was bombed last week - before the Pesach massacre. She said some interesting things about what's going on, which I will post later.
She edits Vecherniy NY, an American Russian language newspaper headquartered in south Brooklyn..
Sunday, March 31, 2002
It's been a week. I thought about doing an April Fools' thing, but I like being mopey and Rhine-massacre-apocalyptic.
As if I could post anything worthwhile. As if anything I had to say at the moment would have any redeeming value. It's been five days since the Seder massacre. It's been three days since the beginning of the police-sweep action proper. Time. That is what I have been doing, as observer. I have been marking time. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.
The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists made this wonderfully facile representation of the immanence of the threat of nuclear war back in the forties - the Doomsday clock, a rhetorical timepiece first printed on the cover of the magazine in 1947.
Monday, March 25, 2002
In years past, Pesach was a comfortable pitstop halfway through spring, a time of year when we gathered to re-enact ancient ritual, but mostly to eat macaroons, gefilte fish, matzoh, and complain about the constipation inflicted by the last. This year, everything is different.
Joshua Micah Marshall posted a couple of comments to his weblog here and here, about his aversion to the concept of multiple citizenships for an individual. He sees American identity as righteously hegemonic - that individuals who call themselves Americans should not have the right to place themselves at the beck and call of any other sovereign collectivity, that American citizenship is unitary and utterly unalienable.
I know that Josh is Jewish. I don't know his family's history, I don't know how much his day-to-day narrative builds on the older stories of previous generations in his family, and how much credence he places in those older stores. I don't know how much he identifies as an American, vice being a Jew. I won't comment on how correct his statements ought to be for himself - I'm no moralizing ghetto dweller believing in the sanctity of my own victimhood. But I am profoundly shaken by his pronouncements, because they are indistinguishable from similar protests made by prominent German Jews in the 'teens and 'twenties, about the perfectness of their Germanness. They possessed a perfect citizenship which many to the East desired who were by war or circumstance deprived of it. Even being Jewish did not collide with the Ausweis that said "Deutsches staatsburger".
And I am descended from German-Jewish refugees from Hitler. I sit now in a parlor furnished with odds and ends crammed hurriedly into a shipping crate in 1937, when such cramming was still possible. I am typing on this keyboard as it rests on a desk my great-great grandfather used in his house in Nuremberg one hundred and fifty years ago. Racked in a bookshelf two rooms away sit my grandfather's school-annotated Hebrew texts, published by the vanished Rüdelsheim press. When I go to services, I wear a smuggled tallis, and put on smuggled tefillin both made to order for my grandfather's bar mitzvah in the Erlangen schul in 1922.
As I approach Pesach this year, the very fact of the impermanence of my tenure in this land spits in my face. I don't feel secure in my Americanness. I don't feel safe with my white face and my brown hair. This year, unlike every year before, I am a Jew, andI am afraid. I'm not just afraid because of the blood libel bullshit some camel-jockey notional academic with a Potemkin degree published in al-Riyadh; I'm afraid because judeophobia seems to have seeped more deeply into the common Western consciousness than at any time since the Second World War. I'm afraid because Danny Pearl was murdered like a sheep at Eid because he was a Jew, and should I ever go to Pakistan or any of the two dozen Arab states in the Middle East, I would be murdered in exactly the same way because I am a Jew, and not a single person would raise their hands to defend me because I am a human being.
I think Jonathan is wrong. I think citizenship is tactical, and should be in the private interest of the sovereign individual. I'm glad I can get the British, German, Polish, and Israeli passports to which I'm entitled by national citizenship laws in those respective countries. I'm glad the option is open to me, should I need to flee as my grandparents fled.
My father was born in England in 1944. My mother, in Philadelphia in 1950. They keep their passports, bankbooks, and cash handy in a special place in the house. I used to think that was crazy and sad-funny. I don't anymore.
Sunday, March 17, 2002
While this is the first time I've been able to post to Plastic Words in a week, it isn't the last.
I lived for a year, last year, underneath Joe Sabia, the Cornell student who is the author of this turgid and nasty piece. I never, ever saw him take somebody home at night. But he did have his Campus Republicans on staff on Election Night - pounding beer and doing waves for each state going red. I couldn't sleep until five am that morning because of all the friggin noise.
Tuesday, March 12, 2002
Monday, March 11, 2002
From: email@example.com (David Joseph Greenbaum)
Subject: Re: WTC Disaster
Organization: Cornell University
X-Newsreader: News Xpress 2.01
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=US-ASCII
X-Copyright0: Copyright 2001 David Joseph Greenbaum
X-Copyright1: All rights reserved. X-Copyright2: Permission granted for quoting in usenet articles
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Date: Wed, 12 Sep 2001 20:03:42 GMT
In a fit of divine composition, XXXXX@XXXXXXX inscribed in fleeting electrons:
Our President just did. He called it an act of war, which is in fact a military attack, right?
No. An "act of war" is, essentially, anything that a sovereign government decides is an act of war.
I so wish he had not done that. I so wish he had called it a criminal act. If he had called it a criminal act, it would have been tantamount to committing the country to taking legal steps and not military ones, and we might have come out of this with a stronger international commitment to law and peace. I suppose we still could, somehow.
I don't, and I vociferously disagree with you about calling this a "criminal matter" as opposed to a "military matter" being anything that can solidify and strengthen international commitment to law and peace.
I think you're engaging in wishful, magical thinking about how casting spells of nobility and love and lawful justice about oneself will inevitably lead to peace, love, and goodwill toward one's fellows.
I realize that it has to take a degree of pretending to say this is a purely criminal act and not a highly focussed political and military one, but I think it's a degree of pretending the world could benefit from right now.
I don't know how to phrase this carefully enough to avoid offense, but I think there's a large contingent of muddle-headed people who, before the fucking rubble has cooled off from the fires, loudly insist that America comport itself as the good guardian of Law and Justice, and thus refrain from anything that could possibly disturb the muddle-headed's righteous right to sleep at night. They are less disturbed by the savagery of the attack, by the powdered concrete and the pulverized blood-stained bones of the victims, than they are by the fear that they might be seen as less than holy themselves -- should they give voice to the darker, bloodier calls for vengeance and retribution.
I think, in the view that the people who plotted and carried out yesterday's mass murders didn't fucking care one fucking bit what we thought of them nor what we think of ourselves, that to imagine any kind of reciprocal regard for conscience is folly. I think it's muddle-headed, besides the point. I think, inasmuch as the planes, the passengers, and the targets were inanimate, soulless instrumentalities in the sight of the chaleria who hijacked their fates, the evil people who promote such calamity need to be addressed as dangerously contagious bacilli.
[....]Thousands of people are dead, XXXX. Thousands. International law-abiding justice did *nothing* for those people.
I feel the need for progressive political reform just as strongly as you do, but to these events, I think it irrelevant. The events at the World Trade Center have absolutely nothing to do with justice, and everything to do with war. My grandmother said that the World Trade Center attack felt exactly the same to her as Kristallnacht did, when her first husband was arrested and interned at Dachau.
Schöner, grüner mond von Alabama, leuchte uns!
Denn wir haben heute hier
Unterm Hemde Geldpapier
Fur ein grosses Lachen deines grossen, dummen Munds.
-- Bertolt Brecht
Sunday, March 10, 2002
After a few ill-advised attempts to enter the current-events fray in blogdom (particularly my unilateral declaration of genocidal war on Glenn Reynolds for writing something dicky), I basically gave up on the idea of being a self-referential, interblog-linking uberpundit, shucking the crass world of the fray for snarky commentary in the discussion areas of better people's weblogs and airy, erudite, and remote essays on whatever topic interests or intrigues me at a particular moment in time. And things that piss me off. Those always work. But I'd better return sometime to the original point and inspirational root of this weblog, the plasticity of language, and its misuses for deception, lies, brutality, and theft. Otherwise I will lose myself in a miasma of intellectual jerkoffery.
Whitbeck stands in august company; whoever he is, and I care not ever to make his acquaintance, he marches ranked in the battalions of prevaricators, dispatched at the command of an ugly ideological imperative to eliminate the term 'terrorist' from the descriptive lexicon of the gens. He shits on this word in order to ruin it. Let us engage in linguistic coproscopy, hmm?
The greatest threat to world peace today is clearly "terrorism" — not the behavior to which the word is applied but the word itself.Ah, yes, this essay begins with the necessary opening hyperbole - that the world stands in greater peril from the dictionary-linguistic definition of terrorism than it does from human acts conventionally defined as such. Well, it's a clear statement of position.
For years, people have recited the truism that "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter." However, with the world's sole superpower declaring an open-ended, worldwide war on terrorism, the notorious subjectivity of this word is no longer a joke.Robotically reciting an asinine 'truism' does not make it true. Inverting the 'truism' - saying that 'one man's freedom fighter is another man's terrorist' - is a pointless activity - we learn nothing new; we have restated Whitbeck's point - which is that terrorism and freedom-fighting are inherently interlinked and interchangeable concepts, and that third person interpretations of 'terrorism' can amount to no more than subjective, idosyncratic, and individually autochthonous reflectivities - aggregated illegitimacies - all third-person subjectivities in conflict with the originator's intended conception of the 'terrorist act' are inherently invalid.
Whitbeck subsequently states a further point - that power and authority held by observers separately or in aggregate have no legitimacy in framing the moral debate about the definition of behavior putatively coming under the rubric of 'terrorism.' The subjectivity of the USA disqualifies it from judging the moral substance of the 'terrorist act', while the physical power of the USA inherently disqualifies it from applying its own valuations of that self-same 'terrorist act'.
The word is dangerous because many people apply it to whatever they hate as a way of avoiding and discouraging rational discussion and, frequently, excusing their own illegal and immoral behavior.The word is dangerous because many people apply it to whatever they hate as a way of avoiding and discouraging rational discussion and, frequently, excusing their own illegal and immoral behavior.According to Whitbeck, the employment of the term 'terrorist' is inherently flawed - the term's moral implications blind its users to the real universe, because it allows them to justify illegalities and immoralities. What utter horseshit hogwash! Whatever rhetorical baggage Whitbeck and other assorted protoplasmic chazerei may hear in their addled heads, 'terrorism' is not a politically valenced word - it only defines a mode of warfare and politics: that mode of politics in which political activists use force and violent coercion to instill fear in their political enemies in order to achieve their policy goals. Simple enough - people who use violent, deadly force to scare their enemies into submission are terrorists. Political and legal theorists since Grotius and Hobbes understand that violence is socially corrosive, and that the state, as the constituted agent of law, needs must have a monopoly on the use of violence. The standard definition of terrorism long excluded states from being in the category of perpetrator - however, historically recent examples require the inclusion of states in this category. Regardless, defining a terrorist is only a matter of defining the means, thrust, and goal of that terrorist's demonstrated actions. If the goal of the sue of violence to to deter actors from implementing their own policies or from opposing the implementation of policies congenial to those of the terrorist, by inspiring fear and terror of the consequence of disobeying the user of violent coercion, than that is terrorism.
There is no shortage of precise language to describe the diverse acts to which the word "terrorism" is often applied. "Mass murder," "assassination," "arson" and "sabotage" are available. However, such precise formulations do not carry the overwhelming, demonizing and thought-deadening impact of the word "terrorism," which is, of course, precisely the charm of the word for its more cynical and unprincipled abusers.That 'thought-deadening impact' is an inherent feature of the word in liberal societies. That reaction is not illegitimate - the use of violent coercion in the public realm is antithetical to Enlightenment values. It utterly disputes the legitimacy of the concept of human equality and the concept of the human commonwealth. The state, as guarantor of the citizenship of sovereign individuals, is utterly vitiated when it is deprived of the monopoly on legitimate uses of violence, because the universal codes that states enact to preserve their bodies' politic cannot be enforced. Governance becomes a naked contest of warfare. Long experience with political terrorists has proven to the vast, overwhelming majority of citizens in the West that the costs of legitimated violence utterly outweigh its potential gains-in-use. Furthermore, disaggregating the political goal of 'terrorist' actions from the acts themselves only serves the threadbare preservation of mobilizing dignity on the part of the inspiring political movement. If terrorist actions can only be seen as the actions of criminals, absent political motivation, genuinely corrosive and evil political movements escape necessary examination, censure, or destruction.
Most acts to which the word "terrorism" is applied (at least in the West) are tactics of the weak, usually (although not always) against the strong. Such acts are not a tactic of choice but of last resort. To cite one example, the Palestinians would certainly prefer to be able to fight for their freedom by "respectable" means, using F-16s, Apache attack helicopters and laser-guided missiles such as those the United States provides to Israel. If the United States provided such weapons to Palestine as well, the problem of suicide bombers would be solved. Until it does, and for so long as the Palestinians can see no hope for a decent future, no one should be surprised or shocked that Palestinians use the "delivery systems" available to them — their own bodies. Genuine hope for something better than a life worse than death is the only cure for the despair which inspires such gruesome violence.This paragraph should leave any reader properly aghast. Whitbeck disputes not the use of violent coercion - but merely its moralistic evaluation. The idea that violence is a tactic of last resort is questionable; what is risible is that violence is inherently ideologically and programmatically justifiable without reference to consequence. That the Palestinians legitimately have the right to employ conventional weapons of war or weapons of mass destruction in their struggle against Israel - that they have the right to go to war against Israel, because of the peculiar moral idiosyncratic character of their policy goals - Whitbeck accepts unquestioningly. Of course, the converse - that Israeli Jews should have the right to wage war to defend themselves, Whitbeck by implication certainly has denied. If terrorism is a valueless term, how yet can Israelis become illegitimated and the proper subjects of murderous force because their conduct is described as 'terroristic'? 'One man's terrorism is another man's freedom fight', indeed.
Let us, of course, skip to the end
If the world is to avoid a descent into anarchy, in which the only rule is "might makes right", every "retaliation" provokes a "counter-retaliation" and a genuine "war of civilizations" is ignited, the world — and particularly the United States — must recognize that "terrorism" is simply a word, a subjective epithet, not an objective reality and certainly not an excuse to suspend all the rules of international law and domestic civil liberties which have, until now, made at least some parts of our planet decent places to live.
By depriving us of the useful moral categorization and condemnation of 'terrorists', Whitbeck serves their goals. Depriving violent actions of their political and moral character merely serves to enshrine that Hobbesian state of perpetual, all-embracing civilizational war, by denying opponents of the moral high-ground necessary to mobilize populations against their outrages. If coercion of the weak by the strong is illegitimate, and the latter is not the case, how can the state of laws be preserved, oh International Lawyer? You gutless, lying, moralistically prevaricating get-of-a-suppurating-dromedary - fuck off and leave my language alone.
The Buffet at the Beijing Marco Polo. Cadogan, Lonely Planet, Frommer’s, Fodor’s, and the relatively little known Beijing Walks all advised against eating fresh vegetables or cold foods in China. Sometimes the reasons given were relatively simple – that the state of the art in kitchen hygiene in China is still rather low, and the knowledge and awareness of the germ theory of disease isn’t fully permeated into the cookery culture. Norbert Elias has written about the revolution in sanitation in Europe in the late nineteenth century, the shit-phobia that had been instilled into the culture by the advent of the germ theory of disease invented by Pasteur and the public health advocates, and the elaboration of techniques of germ control and cleanliness to control periodic outbreaks of infectious disease. Northern China is now in the stage of this process that the Western World passed through seventy years ago, only it has had the assistance of antibiotics in moderating the impact of the message. Seventy years ago, western hospitality industry journals were advising hoteliers and hostel mongers to reuse all unused meat and other meal leftover in special dishes purposefully designed to recycle meal waste. Roast joints to meat dormers and cottage pie (at least in Great Britain).
Sometimes the reasons given in the guides are straightforward: 85 per cent of China is still rural and agricultural, and this system of agriculture, which now feeds the population, unlike in the past when it was unequal to supplying a smaller population, still relies on tradition methods of intensive cultivation, including the use of human honeypot waste for fertilizer in the fields. Human waste is a vector for disease; the continued Chinese use of human waste for agriculture at least poses a public health risk to the foreign traveler unused to the novel disease environment.
The Buffet at the Beijing Marco Polo. The advise given in the travel guides is simple – don’t eat fresh fruits and vegetables that cannot be peeled, do not use chopsticks that don’t come in plastic seals, and don’t drink the water (which is the name of a Woody Allen play that has nothing to do with gastric upset experienced by travelers in foreign countries – only potential political difficulties). Don’t eat foods that arrive cold. Pickles that are highly preserved might be okay, but might not be okay for other different reasons (the Chinese still use niter and saltpeter to pickle vegetables and meats). To violate these rules meant to risk severe illness. My friend Dave, when he was taken to Russia with a school tour group in 1986, said that the first thing he and the rest of his group did upon arriving was to drink the water and to eat the fresh vegetables – what fresh vegetables he could find in a Communist dictatorship with a dysfunctional food system – and only one of the ten in their group got sick. An admirable rate of disease avoidance.
Here in the US, in Minneapolis, the water system was contaminated by Cryptosporidia in 1997 and 1998, and Milwaukee suffered the same outbreak in 2000. People died of Escherischia Coli-contaminated ground beef cooked into burgers at Jack-In-The-Box franchises in 1994, and of Listeria-infected pork, chicken, and beef cold cuts sold by Thorn Apple Valley in 2000. With growing frequency, meat factory farms in Arkansas and North Carolina herald the glorious future of environmental problems caused by livestock manure run-off, while they pollute and contaminate streams, rivers, and lakes, and contaminate underground water supplies, supplies which are used to irrigate the vegetable fields and orchards of rural farmers in the South. People have gotten ill from contaminated fresh vegetables served raw in salad bars at Wendy’s – enough so that public health officials and doctors advise people with acquired or innate immune deficiencies to avoid salad bars or other kinds of public food buffet.
Despite the prevalence of food-related danger in the USA, on the whole, I took the warnings about the nature of food in China much more seriously. I think I took it more seriously because of the durability of the threatening images of third world Agriculture – the uncleanness, the fright of ill-effected sanitation, the ever-present honeypots. The images of the unclean street markets, where street vendors hawked skewers of raw chicken, beef, fish, and pork, food that sat out in the unseasonably warm air, exposed to the spattered droplets of passerby-shoe-pavement strikes, and the ever-present phlegm of the perpetually expectorating population (the pollution in Beijing was so bad that everyone, including myself, coughed out the airborne insults of the day at night into handkerchiefs.) China was an unknown place with inscrutable habits, lack of caution in the bazaars and the eating halls only augured ill.
The Buffet at the Beijing Marco Polo hotel. China’s agricultural system has three tiers: the first, most primitive, yet not the oldest, is the subsistence agriculture of rural dependent peasantry. The urban rural commercial food exchange system broke down at the end of the nineteenth century, and the social chaos which descended on China after the Opium wars and the rebellion of the Great Tai’Ping drove rural proprietors into an essentially subsistent growth regime. The extensive interregional trading systems which prevailed earlier failed in the face of tremendous rural population growth and land pressure, combined with a failing market for agricultural produce. Capitated taxes fixed in money could not be paid with proceeds earned on crops grown for steadily diminishing market prices, and retail inflation squeezed peasants pocketbooks. This dysfunctional system provided a way out – farmers simply grew enough to survive on, and no more. Under the communists, these peasants found their minimally productive estates squeezed by exactions of contributions by the state in kind. The Communist collectivization of agriculture killed millions, particularly during the Great Leap Forward and the subsequent famines. Communes formed from subsistence farming communities sometimes died out completely. Today, this agricultural system still prevails in many remote provinces away from the primary riverine trading routes – the thrust of modernization has not touched these rural holdings, despite the divestiture of the notional communes and the return of ownership, or at least proprietorship, to private hands. Productivity remained very, very low.
Deng Xaioping’s 1978 and 1986 reforms permitted the growth of a new agricultural system - or rather, the renewal of the older kind of effective intensive market agriculture. From the enormous holdings of communes in the fertile valleys along the main river courses, individuals, their families, or small alliances of families, recreated the intensive productive agriculture that fed the China’s burgeoning cities during the Song, Ming, and Manchu dynasties – an agricultural regime not based on required requisitions in kind in lieu of taxation, as the Communist state did before, but based instead on flexibility in crop selection, transport and marketing to regional population centers, with farmers keeping profits only moderately taxed by the government. Traditional agricultural methods have persisted here, too: the ruthless frugality of the traditional intensivist agriculture has been complemented by modern strains of crops and breeds of farm animals, and by the introduction of modern fertilizers and pesticides – the Green Revolution strikes China. Productivity in this system is higher, and it is this system that presently feeds the vast majority of Chinese. Its greenhouses, fields, paddocks and paddies supply the grain (wheat or rice), the fruits and vegetables, and the variety of meats that Chinese use to make up their diet.
The Buffet at the Marco Polo Hotel. The last agricultural system to be implanted inside China is the modern factory farm. Assays and attempts have been made to emulate the corporate farm in China for decades – one of Mao’s favorite communes, Dazhai, was built around a Soviet imported dairy and feedlot, built with the application of cutting-edge agronomic theory in the Taylorized matrix of Soviet mass-production. But now, a different force remakes the countryside, exciting high productivity, heavily capital-intensive commercial mass agriculture. This force would be McDonalds.
There are twenty eight McDonalds in Beijing City alone; over a hundred Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises are in the Beijing prefecture. A TCBY sits close to Mao’s tomb. Starbucks, Pizza Hut, Bob’s Big Boy, and Schlotsky’s Deli complete the set, with dozens of outlets sprinkled around Beijing. One McDonalds in Beijing is the world’s largest, and the world’s cleanest, seating thousands – together they sell hundreds of millions of hamburgers every year – and since they are growing, they will be selling more. These western foodsellers require sufficient regular inputs of qualitatively predictable agricultural produce, since the importation of food is not only illegal but would also be prohibitively expensive. These chains set up, in the countryside, with select farmers chosen for their willingness to supply a new market, an entirely new agricultural system fashioned after the American model. Rural holdings were bought out and amalgamated into enormous factory farms, growing the tomatoes, lettuce, onions, and cows that McDonalds needs for making its hamburgers. Dairies and cheese packers were set up, supported by a liberal regime of loans from the state-owned agricultural banks, Taylorized to supply this insatiable market. Every technique of American agriculture is at work on these farms, which are, in dollar terms, are the most productive farms in China, producing the most predicable product.
That Buffet at the Marco Polo Hotel was of a variety and quality that I’ve never experienced anywhere else. The Marco Polo Hotel, on 6 Xuan Wei Men Wu Dajie, about five blocks from Tian’anman Square, is brand new, part of a chain of luxury businessmen’s hotels built in urban centers throughout the Far East. This particular hotel was built by a joint venture of the international chain and a public company owned by the Beijing City Development Authority, a state agency. It was opened and managed, while I was there, by an Australian expatriate. For the breakfast buffet, the managers of the hotel deployed a heroic variety of foodstuffs, from cultures round the globe: Scandinavians found smoked fish; Britons and Americans could wolf down traditional English breakfasts of thick-cut bacon, farm fresh eggs, Poor Knights of Windsor, and spotted dick; Japanese guests could eat sushi, congee, and a variety of soups and broiled skewered meats and fish; those whose palates turned to the Chinese model could consume traditional Chinese dishes, like fried rice and noodles; Germans found their rolls, aufschnit, and butter; the health conscious could consume from a variety of fresh fruits, breakfast cereals, western bread, crescent rolls, fresh fruit juice. The food met a very high standard of quality and freshness.
And there was a salad bar, with the whole variety of salad vegetables that a Westerner might expect in Europe. Clearly, in the center of all that plenty, the salad bar shrieked caution. I was surprised, what I saw the salad bar at the Beijing Marco Polo hotel. That salad bar symbolized everything that was full of fear in Chinese cuisine. The Cadogan guide was particularly severe- in no uncertain terms did it condemn the consumption of fresh raw vegetables from Chinese tables. If I wanted to contract a gastrointestinal illness or hepatitis or, God forbid, some horrific unknown viral disease of uncertain etiology, then I certainly ought to partake. These salad vegetables in glistened with moisture; they were freshness and perfection. They looked and certainly cost delicious.
It was a clarion call to the accumulated wisdom of a million turista’ed travellers gone before: “Do Not Eat!” (like the sign on the silica gel packets sold with moisture sensitive products).
Saturday, March 09, 2002
Zygmunt Bauman: one of the premier sociologists writing on issues of modernity, identity, and the revenge of ambivalence
Think about how modern Islamism is, in the context of the following quote:
Dehumanizing definitions of the enemy are not new in human history and hardly a peculiar feature of the modern age. They accompanied most wars - perhaps any war. During the combat, they were probably indispensible. The soldier had to suppress his aversion to kill and maim if he was not to be killed or maimed himself. There is a grim symmetry in battlefield contests. On both sides, suspension of the 'Thou shalt not kill' commandment regarding the Other becomes the condition of upholding it toward oneself (or, more perversely still, of coercing the Other to obey it). Defence of one's own right to live needs a denial of such right to the Other. In such a figuration, the Other need not - or so it seems - be defined. The Other defines himself - as the Enemy - as he casts one's respect for his moral identity into conflict with the protection of one's own. One can deny his being an enemy only at one's own peril.
While ostenibly surviving intact the advent of the modern age, the old tradition of dehumanizing the enemy in combat has been, like everything else, thoroughly revolutionized by modern organization and technology. The contest of individual combat skills - the duel in which chances of survival were evenly cast on both sides - was replaced with wholesale slaughter at a distance. Symmetry of intentions is no longer self-evident and self-corroborating - it has to be construed and demonstrated. More importantly, the symmetry of intentions always points to symmetry of practises, and modern weapons of mass annihilation are rationalized to stave off such symmetry. Unlike the combatants in a man-to-man battle, the objects of wholesale slaughter cannot have their humanity, however impaired, admitted. Modern weapons require a complete obliteration of the moral identity of their victims before they obliterate their bodies.
Paul Fussell, Professor of English atPennsylvania and a veteran of the Pacific War, remembers that 'Among Americans it was widely held that the Japanese were really subhuman, little yellow beasts and popular imagery depicted them as lice, rats, bats, vipers, dogs, and monkeys.' Army and Navy journals wrote of the 'gigantic task of extermination', and some of the marines landing on the islands held by the Japanese duly inscribed 'Rodent Exterminator' on their helmets. Dehumanization of the enemy was, of course, reciprocal. Its persistence on both sides, the shared forgetfulness of the humanity of the other side, made the massacres possible - as they allowed the participants to think of them as sanitary operations rather than murder. '...Let's pour gasoline into their bunkers and light it and then shoot those afire who try to get out. Why not? Why not blow them all up, with satchel charges or with something stronger? Why not, indeed, drop a new kind of bomb on them?'
With all its modern innnovations war remains a situation in which the adversaries retain the right to self-definition (in its developed stage at least, even if not always at the point of original assault.) The enemy appears to be objectively an enemy, while my denial of his right to be protected by moral commandments appears - again - as an exercise in reciprocity. Not so with genocide. Here, the object of extermination is defined unilaterally. No symmetry is applied or intimated in any form. By any stretch of the imagination, the other side is not an enemy, but a victim. It has been marked for annihilation because the logic of the order that the stronger side wishes to establish has no room for its presence. Most of the little wars which combined into the great war waged by Nazi Germany against the world were of this blatantly assymetrical character - removal of the aliens occupying German living space, or alien races burrowing into German life and corroding the German spirit. The object to be destroyed was defined fully by the vision of the future German Reich. And as Rubenstein and Roth point out, 'If the Holocaust has a single overriding lesson, it is that there is absolutely no limits to the obscenities a determined and powerful aggressor can freely visit upon stateless, powerless victims.'
Declaring that a particular category of people has no room in the future order is to say that this category is beyond redemption - cannot be reformed, adapted, or forced to adapt itslef. The Other is not a sinner, who can still repent or mend his ways. He is a diseased organism, 'both ill and infectious, both damaged and damaging'. He is fit only for a surgical operation; better still, for fumigation and poisoning. He must be destroyed so that the rest of the social body may retain its health. His destruction is a matter fo medicine and sanitation.
Hitler set the tone for all later Nazi narrative, describing his service to humanity (killing the Jews) as 'exterminating the pest'. Streicher's Der Stürmer hammered this defnition home with relentless monotony: 'Bacteria, vermin and pests cannot be tolerated. For reasons of cleanliness and hygiene we must make them harmless by killing them off'. The modern scientific discourse of race (of an immutable, ascribed quality - hopelessly 'nature ordained', admittedly hereditary, culturally unmanipulable, resistant to all remedy) from which the Nazi manufactur of the Other dre so lavishly, was from the start replete with the images of pathological deformation, degeneration, madness, sexual perversion. Theoretical concepts were inextricably interwoven with mdeical practises, taxonomic operations with surgical ones, conceptual oppositions with segregatory actions, abstract evaluations with social discriminations. Defining the other as vermin harnesses deeply entrenched fears, revulsion and disgust in the service of extermination. But also, and more seminally, it places the Other at an enormous mental distance at which moral rights are no loger visible. Having been stripped of humanity and redefined as vermin, the Other is no longer an object of moral evaluation.
Zygmunt Bauman, Modernity and Ambivalence, pp. 46-48
Friday, March 08, 2002
Top of the Town sits on East Chang'an Street
Capitalist people's palace of wealth
Machers and scheibers in Mao's shadow meet
Rich, that no furtive sin impels them to stealth.
Replacing poverty with massive goods gluts
Party and businessmen practise their swings
learning the good western art of golf putts
while bank accounts grow on commerce's wings.
By Tian'an'men Square, this monument
To replete bellies, notional top hats,
Proudly present Party's modern rules bent
Favoring fatness and the swarm of brown rats.
China has chosen a new path today,
Bragging of gold, its newspapers bray.
Wednesday, March 06, 2002
Just kill me now. I'm done. Stick a fork in me. My juices run clear and hot.
Why, I do ask, a million times over in the serenely quiet unmolested airport parking lot, is it that that crap begins at the legal-political border? (for a plane on an international flight is considered to be the territory of the destination power) China works like heavily staffed clockwork. Things are very clean. A lot of people get paid to stand around or perform odd tasks (like applying and removing stickers from peoples' shirts at arbitrary intervals), and aside from the developing country nonsense of poorly finished plumbing in five-star hotels costing thirty bucks a night (I could only take baths because only the hot water line was connected to the shower mixer valve. If I wanted to provide blanched David to the starveling locals, I could have taken showers.), Peking shows off a remarkably sophisticated and functional infrastructure and social system.
Detroit, on the other hand, doesn't. Sorry - if context is being lost, I am comparing Beijing and Detroit International Airports. On the whole, I felt freer, more comfortable, and less harried in the communist totalitarian dictatorship airport than I felt in the new Detroit McNamara International Terminal, which is to airports as the 1962 Rambler American is to cars.
If I could have calmed down, I would have written some scathing poetry about the sheer staggering incompetence on public display. I would have been humorous and biting and witty and... after 24 hours in transit, on a plane declaring a medical emergency en route (the poor Chinese lady is still alive, but apparently people kick off on transcontinental flights alla time), while I couldn't sleep en route because nobody saw the good idea behind trying to reset their internal clocks by sleeping, so it was 747 HOUSE PARTY TIME with DJ DOCTOR G IN THA HOUSE, and, well, if you haven't guessed by now, I missed my connecting flight despite having two hours layover time scheduled, because - ring-ding-a-ling - the security system in US airports has finally gone Bulgakov-Mad. I was awake for thirty one hours yesterday, the longest day in my life. Happy Birthday, Dad!
Monday, March 04, 2002
Sunday, March 03, 2002
Saturday, March 02, 2002
The first of a cycle of sonnets describing my trip to Beijing
Always already, the art of tea brew
As ceremony, celebration, art,
Practise, joy, culture, good deep and true,
From Japan articulated in part.
Tea is Chinese, old like hills with man names-
Tea Ceremony is modern, novel.
In tourist shops deployed in timely frames
To send porcelain sold on foreign travel.
By tailored ritual, lives are sped along
The practised Hu-Tong path, tourist rutted
With cups, saucers, filled with jasmine, oolong,
This novelty by citizens tut-tutted.
The mahoganny chairs change butts with time,
Selling mugs for tea bags crusted with twee rime.
Friday, March 01, 2002
Sunday, February 24, 2002
Kosher goose is a rare and wonderful thing. Alright, it is a fatty, gamey, rich, mouthwatering, tasty treat when basted with honey and rotisseried for hours and hours. I want to sing a song to goose. Ich habe den gans ganz gegessen. Caper, caper, caper.
Capers are tasty too. But not as tasty as goose, good, rich, roasted goose. Thank you, Herr Bierig und Frau Schwartz!
Serious mien, for a moment. Essay on kosher foods, certifications, and the decline and fall of kosher butchery, coming up. It will be the last thing I post before I leave for China on Tuesday.
Thursday, February 21, 2002
As reported on the Diane Rehm show, the scuttlebutt about the videotape of his murder is that his last words were, "I am a Jew, and my father was a Jew."
Daniel Pearl is a martyr, to modernity and to God.
May the merciful Father who dwells on high, in his infinite mercy, remember those saintly, upright and blameless souls, the holy communities who offered their lives for the sanctification of the divine name.
The thrice-god-damned BBC - of course.
First they cover the Intifada in Israel with the loosest fitting figleafs of objectivity - one can see the lust expressed - then they shut down the shortwave broadcasts of their decent cultural fare to North America, so that the only stuff I get to listen to is their redolent barnyard news and public affairs programming, over their sycophant PR repeaters.
And now, now this snide, sneering holier-than-thou piece describing displays of mindless American jingoistic nationalism (in Windows Media Format, in MP3 - 510kb, and Realaudio) at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Words cannot - oh, screw this - of course words can express my deep, deep contempt for this blatting sententious foolishness!
I believe my response to this is in the mode of Götz von Berlichingen, in Goethe's play of the same name:
Lech mich am arsch!
Well, I know that they don't speak French in the People's Republic, but French is the language of diplomacy. Traveling to China without a diplomatic passport means that one needs a visa, obtainable by mail or in person at a Chinese consulate or embassy. So I went to New York on Tuesday to get my visa.
Cheap Trip to China: an Anticipatory Travelogue In Parts, Odds and Ends
I got up at quarter to five to get on the road. I've a healthy respect for New York rush-hour traffic, and I had no intention of driving into town. The mass-transit system in the metro area is marvelous. PATH is very nearly a perfect people portageur. Well, you can't really park anywhere near a PATH station except in Newark. Which is a national auto-theft capital. So I parked in a gated garage two blocks from Newark-Penn station (a great Beaux-Arts/Art-Deco space) and rode the PATH into Gotham.
I should probably mention that the last time I did this was September 7, and, resulting from a comedy of errors, I took the NJ transit train from the Broad Street Station to Hoboken, where I took the PATH train into the 33rd Street station. This was five bucks more expensive than it should have been, so I walked down to the World Trade Center to take the PATH to Newark on the way out. Ironically, this was the first time I'd actually visited the World Trade Center complex in my life, and I recall, walking down Varick Street in the noon-light of the Seventh, looking up at those boxy great glass towers, and marveling at the space that was enclosed within, inside of great balloons of metal and concrete.
There was a tendency, for months, for people to tell stories about the WTC: to connect their personal experience and emotions to the gigantic disaster that unfolded four days after my visit. I was and am no different. My World Trade Center story is kinda short. I walked down there, visited the Borders, bought my then-girlfriend a gift at the Strand four blocks away, went back inside the WTC, peed in a boxy aluminum jake in a marble/granite bathroom, and took a PATH train out after waiting fifteen minutes on a tastefully-stained wooden bench, next to tracks 3 and 4. I'd never been up in the towers. I never saw the need to ride up to the observation deck. I'd been to the top of the Empire State, and, as far as I was concerned, that was my gesture to vestigial New York boosterism. My family spent a very short time in New York, at first in Washington Heights in preparation for the emigration from England in 1950, and Dad and Mom lived there married for a short six months in 1975. They left three months before I showed up on the scene. So, what I am is a notional New Yorker. I like New York. I like New York very, very much. But I haven't lived there, and I won't until this fall (which is what I said last fall).
The signs in the PATH train denoting the routes had changed since September. No biggie - I was expecting that. (I've been to New York since the attacks - but each time I've driven in on weekends.) But it was like a thudding nail in my chest, to notice the change. And then, then there were the delays. The purpose of short, irregular stops on the tracks in Jersey and under the Hudson were obvious: delays to let traffic through the switches and the tunnels - the system is much more heavily loaded now that it is running at 200 per cent capacity.
The Chinese consulate in New York is in a big dirty building on 12th and 43rd. Obviously, I'd either walk it from the 33rd street station, or I'd take the A up the West side to the Port Authority, or something. So, naturally, I got off the train at Christopher Street, in the Village, and began walking south.
This is really natural. Highly, highly ordinary. The consulate opened at ten; there would be a long line and I needed to be there early to get the visa. In the middle of morning rush hour, I get off the train fifty blocks south of my destination and walk further south, the twenty blocks from Christopher Street, down Hudson Street, to the apron of inaccessibility that girds Ground Zero.
Why did I go?
I'd like to say that I went in order to say Kaddish. I did say Kaddish. I did not stand and gawk. I did say Kaddish, and great cold waves of nausea gripped me while I stared down Washington Street, across the great gray field, at the webbed and cloaked facades of 1 Liberty Plaza and the other buildings on the south line, and up at the great, enormous buildings of the World Financial Center, with scars and shrouds facing into the square. I looked for thirty or forty seconds, blasted through the Kaddish Yatom - for mourners - quickly the way I despise in outwardly more religious Jews - how can God hear a chattering mumble? - that Kaddish that is said by the mourner in the year after death.
I did not go to gawk. I went to cry. I went to Ground Zero so that I could see with my eyes the devastation there, and know that the images on screens, in magazines, and half-toned in newspapers were real. That I lived in the same universe as those by-now iconic events.
By way of comparison, I've never visited Dachau, though both of my grandfathers were imprisoned there after Kristallnacht.
So I shivered, and saw great destruction, and my spirit quailed, and I left, because I did not want to gawk. I did not want to be a tourist.
I'd intended to write an essay about the bedlam in the visa and passport office in the Chinese Consulate. I had a great fund of jokes about the residual Wolke-Kuckuckheim authoritarian propaganda plastered everywhere inside - entirely posters defaming Falun Gong is the most autistic, risible ways. I was going to write about the chaos in that visa office, and the long-vanished-and-now-rediscovered pleasure of mocking incompetent and inconsequential tyrants. I got to stand on line to get a ticket that would permit me to stand on a different line. Twice. Ha ha. So funny. So funny to laugh at the antics of the transplanted natives "who do not understand queuing". Why was the consulate in a shitty building on the Upper West Side? "We pass the savings on to you!" Ha. Ha.
New York was very quiet. Silent. I've never seen anything in my life like it. And never so many empty shops - except - and never so much trash - except - and never so many homeless men and women - except - no, I haven't seen those things, and had the seeing matched by a deadened silence. A silence that persisted for hours, in the weekday light of the greatest city on the planet.
That is what mourning is like. New York City is an onan, and I fear that the shloshim will last much, much longer than their statutory thirty days.