Wednesday, May 22, 2002

I've been really busy. I hope the Indian subcontinent doesn't go up in a gout of nuclear flame. More tonight.

Monday, May 20, 2002

Stephen Jay Gould - 1942-2002 - R.I.P.

Wow. I'd say that Orrin Judd has no sense of tact, but I believe that it would redundant - a lesser included charge under the felonyheading of Obnoxious Lunatic Moron.

Friday, May 17, 2002

The Seven AM Cultural Revolution of dissipated exhaustion after the 3 am violent overthrow of the consciousness

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

Autophagous thanateidololatria

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".

Now is the Later, and Leon Wieseltier has done the more for me

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

I'm a big horned toad, and blood's jes' shootin' from my eye!

More on this piece by Ron Rosenbaum later.

God is dead, and boy is he pissed

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

Crap. It was too good to be true.

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, penultimate
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.
What 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.
number the second, last
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."
What the heck does this mean?

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.