Monthly Archives: January 2016

Considering the post I wrote the other day on nationalism, I was interested to see this post on Zero Hedge, “Nationalism and Its Discontents: A Deep Rumination on the Meaning of Trump.”

It starts with Fukuyama’s essay, “The End of History?” In this case, I read the book of the same title. Much like “The Clash of Civilizations,” Fukuyama’s argument is often reduced to its title. Raimondo summarizes the idea as the world approaching a “universal homogenous state” which would end with “U.S. hegemony over the entire earth.” This isn’t quite what Fukuyama said, but Raimondo doesn’t seem to have been the only one to have heard this. I have not reread the book in the two decades since it came out in paperback, but as I recall it was about the triumph of the liberalism as an idea, not about the domination of other countries by the West, let alone the United States of America. However, some people, especially political thinkers in the U.S.A., were very happy see in the end of the Cold War, not a triumph of liberal ideas, but a victory for the U.S.A.

Raimondo’s first paragraph is disappointingly inaccurate. I was going to write something else, but I find I’m being held up by this fact. He follows his several sentences on Fukuyama with

In a symposium commenting on Fukuyama’s thesis, the ever-practical Charles Krauthammer nevertheless insisted that it would be necessary for the United States to hurry History along by force of arms. In a subsequent polemic in Foreign Affairs, he argued that we ought to take advantage of “the unipolar moment” to “integrate” the US, Japan, and Europe into a “super-sovereign” global empire united by a “new universalism” – which, he averred, “is not as outrageous as it sounds.”

I followed the link to the Foreign Affairs article and could not find in it “new universalism,” “is not as outrageous as it sounds” or “super-sovereign.” I am not found of Krauthammer and disagree with the aggressive foreign policy that he advocates in the article, “The Unipolar Moment,” however Raimondo’s inaccuracy is annoying. I thought I would just summarize Raimondo’s post because I liked it, recommend people read it and go to bed. Perhaps Raimondo is working from memory. I’m not going to be able to double check all or Raimondo’s statements, so I’ll go back to my original plan of summarizing, although the errors do weaken the point. They’re all the more annoying because I think the basic point is a good one. I thought it was good until I read the Krauthammer article and saw that the words Raimondo quotes are not there.

So, Raimondo recounts an argument which occurred in conservative circles at the end of the Cold War, one that pitted internationalists advocating an aggressive foreign policy against isolationists. The people who we would come to call the “neo-cons” wanted to take advantage of what Krauthammer called “the unipolar moment” and actively assert the United States’ dominance.

Blinded by hubris, enthralled by the possibilities of unlimited power, the neocons – and their liberal internationalist doppelgangers on the other side of the political spectrum – didn’t see the nationalist backlash coming.

In Raimondo’s retelling, the isolationist impulse is exemplified by Patrick Buchanan.

Buchanan’s answer to Krauthammer’s globalism was a foreign policy of “enlightened nationalism”: “total withdrawal of US troops from Europe,” and a rejection of the idea – nowhere authorized in the Constitution – that the President and/or Congress has the power to sacrifice its sons on the altar of some crazed crusade for “global democracy.”

According to Raimondo, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks the neo-cons were able to redirect that nationalistic sentiment and use it “to mobilize the American people behind a crusade to transform the Middle East.” Then, after years of war, the citizens of the United States had a desire to return to “normalcy” and “elected a President who vowed to end the wars.”

…that promise, however was not kept, and Barack Obama will leave office with the US once again in the middle of at least three wars, and with a hand in several others on their periphery. Yet the nationalist impulse – which is, in part, an “isolationist” impulse – is stronger than ever, laying just beneath the surface of the American political landscape, waiting for someone to pick up its banner.

That someone turned out to be Donald Trump.

Trump’s nationalism has elements that are “useful, instructive, and even admirable.” Regarding the demagogic elements that many conservatives who dislike Trump see in him, Raimondo says:

Yet demagoguery didn’t bother them when it was deployed by George W. Bush as he marched us off to a disastrous war – a war Trump opposed, and continues to denounce today – and implied that his critics were in league with America’s enemies. … Demagoguery in the service of mass murder is fine with them: it’s only when their own methods are turned against them that the War Party starts to get religion.

The hypocrisy of the conservative stance against Trump can also be seen in the reaction to Trump’s immigration stance. Raimondo calls the National Review “a veritable fount of anti-Muslim propaganda.”

No, the real motive behind the neoconservative holy war against Trump is rooted in his foreign policy positions, which the neocons rightly view as a direct threat to their internationalist project.

Raimondo then turns his focus away from the conservatives, emphasizing that in Washington D.C. there is an “internationalist-interventionist consensus.” His target is a piece written by Thomas Wright, “director of the Project on International Order and Strategy at The Brookings Institution,” which Raimondo says if funded by Qatar. (He has a link I haven’t followed.)

Examining Trump’s foreign policy pronouncements over the years – the GOP frontrunner wonders why we are stationing 28,000 troops in South Korea, complains that we’re defending Japan while they slap tariffs on our products, and says we have no business stationing tens of thousands of soldiers in Europe, which can damn well take care of itself – Wright trots out the hate figures interventionists love to excoriate. Trump is like Robert A. Taft, who didn’t want us to join NATO: he’s like Charles Lindbergh, a leader of the anti-interventionist America First Committee, a particular hate-figure of the interventionist-neocon foreign policy Establishment. And, of course, Trump is an “isolationist,” because he’s sick of coddling our shiftless “allies” while they rip us off and laugh at us behind our back, all the while huddling under the protective wingspan of the American eagle.

All of this is no doubt reassuring to Wright’s Qatari paymasters, who have a lot to lose if Trump should win the White House and present them with a bill for services rendered. But in reading Wright’s list of Trumpist foreign policy heresies, one can’t help but think that the average American would agree with each and every one of The Donald’s complaints about the profligate paternalism involved in maintaining this precious “international order” Wright would have us enforce for free.

The following paragraph is interesting and I’d like to highlight it:

“To understand Trump, in the end, we have to go back to Taft and Lindbergh,” avers Wright, and in this he is absolutely correct. It’s a pity some of my libertarian friends fail to see this, but they are blinded by cultural factors and held captive by political correctness: immigration matters more to them than foreign policy. What they don’t understand is that the question of war and peace is the central issue of modern times. They fail to appreciate the foreign policy paradigm shift represented by Trump’s political success. However, Wright does understand it, along with his neoconservative comrades over at National Review and the Weekly Standard.

Robert A. Taft was a conservative Republican politician who opposed U.S. entry into the Second World War.

Raimondo concludes:

The lesson to be taken from this episode is the centrality of foreign policy in the political life of our country. The doggedness with which the internationalists are attacking Trump, the nature of their criticisms, and the viciousness of their tactics is an indication of how hard it will be to dislodge them – just as Trump’s popularity shows how eager Americans are to hear someone tell them that we don’t have to continue being the policeman of the world….

The meaning of Trumpism is that Americans want to rid themselves of the burden of empire…. Trump’s rise augurs a seismic shift in the foreign policy debate in this country, marking the end of the interventionist consensus that dominates both parties. And it certainly means the final defeat and humiliation of the neoconservatives…. And that alone is worth whatever price we have to pay for the triumph of Trump. For the neocons are the very core of the War Party: their demise as a politically effective force inside the GOP is an event that every person who wants a more peaceful world has been longing for and should celebrate.

When the Republican-controlled Congress in the Clinton era threatened to pull the funding from Bill Clinton’s war in the former Yugoslavia, Bill Kristol threatened to walk out of the GOP. Today, as Trump appears to be the likely Republican presidential nominee, Kristol is threatening to start his own party.

This is all very interesting.

Although I’ve been critical of anti-war people for their tendency to downplay the consequences of their decisions. At the same time, I am not in favor of an aggressive foreign policy, either. In Krauthammer’s Foreign Affairs article there is a mention of another point of view which is neither isolationist nor interventionist which Krauthammer calls realism.

Isolationism is the most extreme expression of the American desire to return to tend its vineyards. But that desire finds expression in another far more sophisticated and serious foreign policy school: not isolationism but realism, the school that insists that American foreign policy be guided solely by interests and that generally defines these interests in a narrow and national manner.

The origins of the First World War always seemed a little slippery to me and, in school, like most kids, I learned to memorize like a catechism, reciting without quite understanding, that the causes of the First World War were “nationalism, militarism and imperialism.” Throughout my education, I was taught that nationalism was a great bugaboo, the root of evil, worse than money, worse than a lust for power, worse, it seemed, than anything. To consider nationalism objectively, thinking that it might have pros as well as cons, seemed as insane as considering the pros and cons of cannibalism or infanticide.

Therefore, when I saw a book for sale with the title Nationalism: Five Roads to Modernity, I was naturally intrigued and picked it up. I read it. Found many of its points very interesting some of which would become integrated into my own political thought. It must have only been recently released, because shortly after I read it I came across a review. Although I can’t say that I bought every word Greenfeld wrote, moreover, there were many portions I had to take on trust because I did not have the background to evaluate them, especially her chapter on Russia since I speak no Russian, I felt that she had opened my eyes to several important aspects of nationalism. The review, while making approving comments about her erudition, was so biting in its tone that it was quite clear that she had written something even more controversial than I had been aware of when I read it. I reread it to make sure I hadn’t missed the part where she advocated eating babies. After reading it a second time, I became convinced of the importance of at least one of her points.

I’m writing from memory since my copy is at the bottom of a box. If you had any clue how I live, you would certainly advise me to keep it there and not make a huge mess of my apartment trying to find it. Therefore, you will have to pardon me for working entirely from memory, a memory from about 1992 or 1993. In no way do I mean to summarize her book or do justice to her argument, I am simply highlighting the part that was useful to me.

Greenfeld says, among many other things, that sovereignty must be located in a body. In the days before nationalism, that sovereignty was located in the person of the king. With the rise of the concept of the nation, sovereignty became lodged in that entity. Without this concept, a sovereign nation, modern democracy, the self-government of the people, could not have arisen.

Ironically, I read this at a time that one of my two closest friends was getting drawn more and more towards anarchism. Compared to some of my friends, I am quite conservative, and this is the sticking point. Of course, I am not conservative in the sense that many people use the term: I support legal abortion; I support the right to marriage between people of the same sex; I support the right of people to change their sex; I believe that there are no significant differences among races; I believe in the right to full and equal citizenship of all people regardless of birth; I believe it is a benefit to the nation as a whole to have public education; I believe progressive taxation is necessary to avoid the condensation of wealth; and I could go on. Many of these positions put me at odds with conservatives and place me clearly left of the center. Yet the farther edges of the left leave me worried.

I have watched with trepidation as the left has a post-modernist and post-nationalist world as its goals. I know too many people on the left to not believe that they mean well. Still, I worry that their work will weaken democracy without securing the broader justice they believe they are seeking. In this regard, the populist right which believes the internationalist left is seeking to undermine democratic government is not entirely wrong. I do not believe that it is being directed from on high, as some sort of conspiracy of international bankers. I believe the left is acting in all honesty, but I think they are acting without caution and foresight. If they succeeding in weakening democratic self-government, the wealthy will be glad to take advantage of the weakness they created.

A disturbing development, is that the right in the U.S. is now embracing this sort of post-nationalist idea. There is no balance. The elites across the political spectrum are afraid of the masses.

The close connection between nationalism and democracy should give pause to the people on the extreme left, most of whom believe themselves to be anti-authoritarian.

Recently, the National Review devoted an entire issue to the scary, gauche thing that is Donald Trump. In it, they published what may turn out to be the most famous sentence ever to appear in their magazine. It is being repeated all over. Let me repeat it again:

He and Bernie Sanders have shared more than funky outer-borough accents.

Dahlink, I’ve got a funky “outer-borough” accent. Technically, mine is from New Jersey, but it’s not the Upper East Side. Sorry folks. I’m not partial to the Donald’s taste. I was once a decorative painter and I have a nearly painful awareness of the intersection of taste and class. I’ve advised clients to not add one more curlicue. However, one thing I hate more than the taste of the overly ornate arriviste is the taste of fear, the abject people who seek approval and dress in fear, and furnish their homes in fear, and speak in fear.

What does this have to do with French? Not much except free association inside my noggin.

“Moé, chus bonne.” One of the most remarked upon differences between Quebec French and Standard French is the pronunciation of the “oi” sound. Today, in Standard French “moi” is pronounced like “mwah” (ipa: mwa). However in Quebec it is pronounced as “mweh” (mwe). (I know the typical way of transcribing the pronunciation of é is “ay,” but “ay” is a dipthong and they sound very unlike. We don’t have the sound in English.) Louis XIV, in all likelihood, said “L’etat, c’est moé.”

The French typically tell me that the Canadians speak “eighteenth century French.” This of course is incorrect. Obviously, we are in the twenty-first century and the French-speaking Canadians are, but definition, speaking a variety of twenty-first century French. France lost Canada to the English in 1763. This was before the revolution. “Mwe” was Standard French. “Mwa” was the working class, Parisian pronunciation. In linguistic terms, it was highly marked. We might call it stigmatized, it marked you as a lower class person. During the Revolution, however, these things got turned upside down and having an upper class accent could get you killed. It was only in the wake of the French Revolution that French became standardized throughout the country. I’m not sure why the “wa” pronunciation spread, but it did. Certainly, Canadian French has changed since 1763, but it did not undergo the changes wrought by the Revolution, which is why is sounds “eighteenth century” to some French people.

Another distinction between Standard French and Quebec French is the pronunciation of the r. This is the main element of a Canadian accent that my French retains. To an English speaker, it is a subtle difference, both are uvular fricatives, meaning that they are “rolled” in the back of the throat, however Standard French is voiceless (ʁ) and Canadian French is voiced (χ). For those of you unfamiliar with linguistic terms, this is the difference between a “p” and a “b.” “P” is voiced while “b” is voiceless. If you say “puh” and “buh”, you’ll see what I mean. Your lips are doing the same things, but your vocal cords are not. A voiced “r” does appear in some regional French accents. (Quick – how many nasal vowels are there in French? If you said four, you probably learned French in school like I did. Different regional accents have different numbers of nasal vowels, anywhere from three to six.) In English, the more noticeable your regional accent is, the lower down on the class scale you probably are. I’m not familiar enough with French culture to be certain, but I believe a similar dynamic occurs there. It is definitely the case the Quebec. At the same time, however, if you speak French in Quebec with a voiceless r, you will be accused of putting on airs. One of the reasons I have a Canadian r to begin with is that my ex-husband was obsessed with my pronunciation of this one sound. He kept telling me that I sounded like a “snob.” Since I could barely speak French at that time, I thought this was a bizarre fixation on his part. However, it goes to show how closely tied our accents are to social signals and identity. At times, I’ve thought it would be socially useful to speak without an accent and have thought about changing it. The reason I haven’t done so is that I would feel like a faker.

Before going onto my next free association, I thought I might add this video I found more or less by accident a few months ago. The girl in the video strikes me as looking and sounding typically Quebecoise. Sometimes when trying to give and example of French Canadian accents people give examples that either highlight or downplay the differences between Quebec and France depending on the point they’re trying to make. This strikes me as the sort of language I heard on a daily basis.

I recall reading when I was kid about the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland. One story I read talked about how, if a kid walked into a neighborhood where he was unknown, he might be grabbed by a gang of local kids and forced to recite the alphabet. If he pronounced “h” in the wrong way he would get beaten up. Different social groups had different accents and the pronunciation of the “h” was a distinguishing feature.

I don’t drop my h, but then I’m not from Brooklyn or Queens. Still, I know that I have a lower middle class manner of speaking. I have one rich friend who visibly winces when I say certain words.

From Matt Welch writing on the libertarian website Reason:

Yes, Trump is nobody’s conservative, but it’s not at all clear that many voters really care about such things. His rise is a rebuke to the stories that political commentators have long told themselves, and to the mores they have long shared even while otherwise disagreeing ideologically with one another. You can despise Donald Trump (and oh Lord I do), and appreciate National Review’s efforts here, while simultaneously wondering whether his forcible removal of a certain journalistic mask might also have some benefit.

Strangely, despite disagree with Trump on a variety of issues and doubting that he has the requisite experience to make a decent president, I can’t help rooting for him. I know that the people who hate him hate me too. It’s a strange feeling. I understand why someone wouldn’t vote for him, but I don’t understand the hysteria. We have a republican form of government. What’s the worst that could happen? I’m supporting Sanders despite not being a socialist in large part because I don’t think he’d be able to get his most socialist ideas through Congress. I think Sanders’ focus on working people is good and Congress will prevent him from going too far. It would be even more dramatic with Trump. My own hunch is that if Trump becomes president he will be able to do less than even Sanders because he’s not as familiar with the inner workings of government. We’ll have four muddled years. The earth won’t stop turning. Frankly, I don’t see Trump as having enough support to do something like invading Iraq, so I doubt he’ll even be as damaging as President Bush, Jr. After that, we’ll probably get a more mainstream politician.

As far as Trump being an embarrassment, I don’t really care. Between the welfare of the American people and the good opinion of European high society, I’ll take the welfare of the American people every time. Trumps accent, lack of style, hair, wife, interior decorations are all non-issues to me. Everyone was so thrilled that President Obama cut a dignified figure on the world stage, but, while he did so, the gap between the rich and the poor grew. Dignity be damned. My concern about Trump is that he is too unfamiliar with government to govern well.

Anyway, the person who truly scares me is Senator Cruz.



There’s so much to write about these days, but I’ve been trying to get some off-line things done. I think I will be putting up a few very short posts just to share some of the things that have been kicking around in my head. Unfortunately, I might not have as much time to elaborate on them as I’d like.

The other day, I was looking through some documentaries with no particular subject in mind other than “history.” I came across this one, produced by Al Jazeera English in 2013, about what happened to some of the women from Armenian communities in Turkey during the Genocide of 1915. Since sexual violence towards women is common during wars and periods of social unrest, it is unsurprising to learn it was a feature of the Armenian Genocide, still I had never heard about it specifically.

About a year ago, I wrote a post asking if I should cancel my subscription to The New Republic in the wake of major changes to its editorial staff.

For those of you who are not familiar with the magazine, it is a 101 year old “institution” which has always been more influential than its modest subscriber base would indicate. It considers itself “liberal” but has generally been more centrist than the word “liberal” conveys in the popular vernacular today. It has generally had a reputation for intellectual rigor. When I first purchased my subscription, my own politics were somewhat to the left of the line of The New Republic’s editorial staff. For that reason I found it valuable. It was a different liberal voice in a sea of liberal voices which often sound too much the same.

It was bought by Martin Peretz in 1974.

Peretz was a veteran of the New Left who had broken with that movement over its support of various Third World liberationist movements, particularly the Palestine Liberation Organization. Peretz transformed TNR into its current form.

It advocated what Wikipedia calls “a self-critical brand of liberalism.”

The magazine as I would first come to know it was

known for its originality and unpredictability in the 1980s. It was widely considered a “must read” across the political spectrum. An article in Vanity Fair judged TNR “the smartest, most impudent weekly in the country,” and the “most entertaining and intellectually agile magazine in the country.” According to Alterman, the magazine’s prose could sparkle and the contrasting views within its pages were “genuinely exciting”. He added, “The magazine unarguably set the terms of debate for insider political elites during the Reagan era.”

At this point in time, it was very much to the right of where I was. Still, it was not so far to the right that I didn’t feel that I couldn’t benefit from the writing in it from time to time but didn’t have a subscription.

Peter Beinart was the editor in the late nineties and early 2000s while Franklin Foer became editor after him. Under Foer the magazine went in a decidedly leftward direction. Prior to Foer the magazine had an unapologetic emphasis on words. The layout and design weren’t much to look at and there were few illustrations. When they first went for a glossier, mass market, general interest look, I was initially apprehensive because I was afraid it was a sign that less emphasis would be put on the substance of the magazine. After a few issues, it seemed that my worries were either unfounded or, if there was a decline in the quality of the writing I was unable to perceive it.

In 2012 on of the co-founders of Facebook, bought The New Republic and appointed himself editor-in-chief. His status as a co-founder of Facebook is said to be entirely due to the luck of being college roommates with Mark Zuckerberg (after attending Andover). The fortune he acquired as a result prompted Peretz to quip, “I think he owes about $700 million to the Harvard housing office.”

Hugh’s did make some changes in the beginning, including a greater emphasis on the website and more visuals. A little over a year ago, at the time I wrote my post about canceling my subscription, Hughes made significant changes. He replaced Franklin Foer with Gabriel Snyder and created the new position of CEO, filled by Guy Vidra,

a Yahoo veteran who had a short attention span and was a vocal critic of the magazine’s discursive style during internal staff meetings, saying the articles bored him—demonstrated tone-deafness to the cherished culture of the opinion journal.

A recent Daily Beast article by Lloyd Grove recounted how during the December 2014 crisis caused my the management changes a dozen editors and writers quit.

John Judis, one of the brand-name writers who quit the magazine amid the implosion of December 2014, wrote Monday on his Facebook page: “What’s a good saying that will allow me not to use clichés like ‘the chickens have come home to roost.’ Hughes, the first generation of Silicon nouveaux riches, didn’t know what he was doing when he bought a political magazine. He didn’t understand what a political magazine was. And now that he has gotten rid of all the original staff, blown away its readership, and tarnished a century of work by people dedicated to make the country better rather than making a profit for the already wealthy, he’s calling it quits.”

Much of this has been cast as traditionalists versus Silicone Valley, although I think that gives Hughes far too much credit. Hughes says that he was trying to find a viable business model, but maybe he just doesn’t know anything about business. The absolute disdain for Hughes is palpable. The headline on one New York Times post read, “When Restless Billionaires Trip on Their Toys.” From The Wall Street Journal:

Web traffic declined by more than 50% following the tumult, according to comScore Inc., and hasn’t risen much in the past year.

In November, the site attracted 2.3 million unique visitors, down 38% from the same month a year earlier.

In fact, the graph included with the article shows numbers that are far worse because November was higher than the previous months.

Ira Stoll, writing in the New York Sun, had an additional point, beyond the mismanagement, and why I’m writing about the subject myself:

But the bigger issue isn’t a collapse of circulation or advertising revenue or the publishing industry’s digital transformation. Underlying the New Republic’s difficulties is a broader and far more troubling collapse of the ideology — call it Cold War liberalism, or the center-right wing of the Democratic Party — that once animated the magazine.

What did the New Republic stand for? Under the long editorship of Martin Peretz, if the magazine stood for anything, it was the idea that Israel had reliable allies — and Islamic extremism had reliable enemies — among the American intellectual center-left elites. That certainty is now gone, as evidenced by, among other things, the paltry opposition in the Democratic Party to President Obama’s Iran nuclear deal. Senator Schumer and Rep. Nita Lowey of New York voted to block the deal, but theirs was a lonely stance.

Under Mr. Peretz, the New Republic editorialized in favor of the North American Free Trade Agreement, entertained doubts about the justice and efficacy of race-based affirmative action, supported American military intervention in Bosnia, published a devastating takedown of Hillary Clinton’s health care plan, and otherwise displayed an admirable independent-mindedness. It was a counterpoint to the blame-America-and-capitalism-first attitude of other left-of-center publications such as the Nation or Mother Jones. It wasn’t clear that Mr. Hughes was interested in pursuing that political agenda, or that, even if he was, there was an audience remaining for it.

At the current moment in our politics, the left is suffering from a lack of self-criticism. They seem to fallen into self-parody and they don’t even know it. The vacuum located where the center left used to be is huge and it’s palpable. Despite the noisiness of the far right, the center right is still there.

Ultimately, a magazine provides a service to its readers. No one reads a magazine because they like the platform. The New Republic under Hughes just became one more generic liberal magazine in a market already inundated with like-minded publications. I subscribed, not because I agreed with its positions all the time, but because it gave me something that I couldn’t get elsewhere.

I didn’t actually cancel my subscription, I just let it lapse.

I just came across this on Twitter. I haven’t posted about Raif Badawi because I figured most of my readers are already familiar with his situation. For those of you who don’t know, Badawi is a political activist in Saudi Arabia and has been found guilty of apostacy. (An important note: He does not call himself an atheist or agnostic!) His wife has received political asylum in Canada. His lawyer has also been imprisoned. Now, it seems his sister is also being persecuted.

The photo at the bottom of the post is from 2012. Let’s hope the two women on Samar Badawi’s right and left remember her and speak out.

We Are Raif

Samar with her husband Waleed before his imprisonment Samar with her husband Waleed before his imprisonment

We have just heard that Samar Badawi, the sister of free speech activist Raif Badawi has just been imprisoned in Saudi Arabia. Samar has heroically continued to campaign for the release of her brother and her husband the lawyer Waleed Abu Alkhair. Waleed represented Raif in his trial and is also a free speech campaigner.

Samar’s contribution to women’s rights and human rights has been recognised internationally. She has continued to be an important source of information for those wanting to know what is going on there.

We understand that she has been imprisoned for her activity on Twitter.

This latest development is very disturbing. It is an indication that the repression continues to grow in Saudi Arabia. It is also an indication that the British government has been totally ineffective in pursuing human rights reform in Saudi Arabia. Its claims that it has…

View original post 43 more words

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. quoted Theodore Parker, a Unitarian minister and American Transcendentalist, he made that sentence a household phrase.

One set of my ancestors tried to kill another set, not just kill, in fact, but dominate, conquer and annihilate. For the most part, they succeeded.

I like the modern world and entertain no fantasies that I would actually prefer living in any premodern society. Still, if I were asked to pick among premodern societies, I might very well pick one of the Algonquian tribes from the eastern coastal region of North America. I’m a little self-conscious about that choice since I feel like maybe I’m being bigoted here. Still, I can’t help feeling that they had a really pleasant culture. If you don’t mind a bit of poverty, they still do. When the Europeans first arrived here, they reported that most of the tribes were really peaceful. I’m quoting from memory, so pardon me if I’m inaccurate, but Roger Williams wrote that if they had a war for seven years they would not kill seven men, that wars among Algonquian tribes mainly involved cutting off trade relations and endless negotiations. That is in all likelihood an exaggeration, but there is no doubt they definitely are high up on the peaceful scale and leave the premodern Europeans far behind. The are also well ahead, at least according to my own personal preferences, of the Europeans on the matter of gender equality. They seem to have not had any particularly onerous religious rituals, another plus in my book.

I don’t think I’m romanticizing Native Americans because I don’t necessarily view other premodern North American cultures quite as rosily, not that I’d put them beneath the Europeans. I’m afraid I don’t know much about the culture of the California coast and even less about the tribes of sub-Saharan Africa. Instinct tells me in a region so large I’d probably find at least one or two groups to be highly agreeable. South Pacific Islanders definitely give everyone a run for their money and they have a far better climate than Eastern North America. Still, I think we can say that, according to standards of my very modern self, the Algonquian tribes had a pleasant, agreeable, peaceful culture.

It is a puzzle to try to know how much some of these cultural traits endure, but all of the people I’ve met belonging to communities descended from Algonquian tribes have been really nice, kind, gentle people, which just reinforces in my mind the image of these groups.

In late elementary school or middle school, I recall going to the library looking in books to find out which Indian tribes lived where in North America. The adoption agency said that my biological mother’s ethnic background English, American Indian and French. I knew she came from the East. Now, people can move, but still I was putting higher probability on the eastern tribes, which according to the books were “extinct.” The word doesn’t mean the same thing for human beings as it does for dodos. For animals, it means every last member living on earth is dead. The northern white rhino is not yet extinct but almost certainly will be, still we do not call it extinct as long as a few survive.

Regarding Native American tribes, the word “extinct” means that the nation no longer exists as a political entity. However, more often than not, they left descendants. In many instances, the descendants live in the same community, or a handful of nearby communities. The word I found in the books as a child was “remnant.” Previously, I had mainly associated that word with a nearby carpet factory that advertised that its outlet store sold “remnants.” It was a weird and vaguely unpleasant association that I’ve never really been able to shake.

Since that time, I’ve met people belonging to those communities. One day, I’d like to take a trip and drive from New England to the South and visit some of the communities with the end of writing something about them. For now, l just want to point out that, where the fate of these people are concerned, there was no justice. The arc of the moral universe will never be long enough to bend towards them.

The “good guys” don’t always win. By our current moral standards, the Algonquian tribes were at a higher level than the barely modern Europeans who destroyed them. Moreover, it was the very quality that makes their culture morally preferable to us today, their peacefulness, that made them especially vulnerable.

When President Obama compared today’s Syrian refugees to the Plymouth Pilgrims, I felt quite angry with him. I thought it showed a callous disregard for the indigenous people of New England as well as a willful ignorance of history. Take it from a remnant, the universe is not moral.


or in this case, the oil.

Zero Hedge has on its website a fascinating map by Dr. Michael Izady at Columbia University that adds a dimension to the current tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia that many of us are only dimly aware of. So far, I’ve mainly heard of it as a Sunni/Shia conflict. Since Saudi Arabia is usually referred to as a Sunni, or even Salafist or Wahabi, country, there is a strong tendency to forget, on my part at least, that there is a Shiite minority within the country. What I did not realize was that much of Saudi Arabia’s oil is underneath Shiite majority regions.

What the map shows is that, due to a peculiar correlation of religious history and anaerobic decomposition of plankton, almost all the Persian Gulf’s fossil fuels are located underneath Shiites. This is true even in Sunni Saudi Arabia, where the major oil fields are in the Eastern Province, which has a majority Shiite population.

The recently executed Shiite Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr came from that area. Although Schwartz is not claiming at it is only oil fueling the conflict, it does add an additional dimension.

Because Iranians are not Arabs, I always think of them as being very separate from the Saudis. This map, focused on the Persian Gulf rather than on one of the countries shows how physically close they really are.

I don’t have anything of my own to add here and I don’t know entirely what to make of it or how much emphasis to put on it, but I think it’s very interesting.

Frequently, regarding politics, I find myself taking refuge in a sort of back-to-basics naiveté. I’m not dumb and am as capable as the next person of tying myself up in complicated justifications of my positions. However, more than anything, I want to see clearly.

First and foremost, the end does not justify the means. To be clear, I’m not talking about Machiavelli’s advice for individuals seeking to seize and maintain power. I am not a powerful person, nor do I seek to be. Whatever wisdom there may be in it for the powerful, it is altogether different for the general public. I hold my political positions because I think they are right, that they are of benefit to the polity in question, whether that be the city, the state or the nation, not because I seek political office myself. That gives me a great deal of leeway that an actual leader does not have. So while those seeking political office may need to engage in various forms of double-dealing to remain in office, I bear no such burden.

One of those intentionally naive positions is a firm adherence to the truth. Given the popularity of postmodernism, I should probably specify that I mean a vernacular notion of truth here, not far removed from the word “fact.” When people are lying, even if they are people with whom I align myself politically, I ask myself, “Why?”

There is a lie I have encountered several times. During the riots in Baltimore on April 27, 2015, the news media showed many images of a CVS on fire. (For my international readers, CVS is a nationwide chain of drugstores, they contain pharmacies within them and stock a wide array of other items.) Sometime, during the ensuing weeks, I was reading an article about CVS’s rebuilding of the store. In the comments, someone asked if anyone knew if the destruction had placed any real burden on the residents of those neighborhoods. Someone else replied to the effect that it wasn’t any big deal, that the riots weren’t as bad as the news media were making it sound, that it was just this one drugstore and the residents had several others in the immediate neighborhood.

Now, I don’t know if the person answering the question knew he was lying or if he was badly uninformed. I lived in Baltimore. I didn’t know many people who lived in that area, but I know people who do. During the riots and the during the days afterwards I talked to people who had first hand knowledge, so I’m pretty confident about my facts.

According to The Baltimore Sun:

Among 350 businesses identified by city officials as damaged in two nights of rioting were drugstores and grocers considered the lifeblood of some of Baltimore’s poorest areas. Many customers are elderly or have chronic health problems and live in “food deserts” with limited access to transportation and healthy food.

This Google map can give a notion of how widely the riots spread. They did not engulf the entire city, large areas, especially affluent suburban areas, were entirely spared any damage, but they were not confined to a single neighborhood either.

A Google map showing the locations of some incidents on April 27, 2015 in Baltimore.

Here’s a screen shot of that map.

Why am I mentioning this now? Well, yesterday, in the comments beneath Conor Friederdorf’s piece on mandatory minimum sentences I came across this paragraph within one comment by “Dee-light”:

If the tactics in response to BLM and Occupy Wall Street were legal and moral, why aren’t they being applied to armed men who took over a federal building in Oregon? A CVS was burned down in Baltimore and you would’ve thought the aliens blew up the White House with the way the media responded. The choice is simple, either law enforcement should change the way it responds to left-wing protesters or apply the same tactics to right-wing protesters. The concept is not that hard and Conor spends way too much time hand wringing over minimum mandatory sentences to avoid it.

While the commenter doesn’t specifically say that it was only one business that was destroyed, it is strongly implied that the robbery and arson was not much more extensive than that. Ironically, if anything, the media images probably underplayed the destruction. I think the media took so many images of that CVS because it occurred relatively early, during daylight hours, and the presence of many police in the photos makes me think that the news crews felt comparatively safe there. Similarly, there were many images of a senior center that was on fire later that night. It’s very near where some people I know work and, they have told me, it was very far away from the main rioting. In fact, I was told that that area was surprisingly calm given the fact that it is normally considered a high crime area. Also, many of the streets in Baltimore are narrower than is typical in the U.S. The senior center was located across the street from a small triangular island that has been turned into a park and the images were clearly taken from that vantage point. The media’s choice of which of the many incidents to highlight should be seen as having been subject to circumstances; the choices were opportunistic in the most neutral meaning of the word. They had to know about it, have an available crew, be able to get there and get out safely, and be able to get a newsworthy image.

At least one person my sister knows who lived in one of the neighborhoods affected, phoned her and told her that she was actively scared. They talked about the possibility of her staying with my sister if the rioting didn’t stop soon. (Traveling during the night probably would have been more dangerous than staying put.) For those of you who think only white people are scared during incidents like that, I guess I have to point out that the woman in question is an African-American woman with two children, one a teenage son, who grew up in Baltimore. And for those on both the extreme left and extreme right who think all young African-American boys in the neighborhood participated in the riots, I can tell you that this woman’s son did not – and I’m sure he wasn’t alone.

It mostly seems to be people on the left who are lying about the Baltimore riots being confined to a single drugstore. I don’t entirely understand why they are lying, but it makes me suspicious. I’ve made no secret of the fact that the riots, or more accurately the left’s response to them, has been a large part of the reason I’ve been feeling distant from people with whom I considered myself to have been politically aligned in the past.

Friedersdorf, by the way, in his article refers to the Red Tribe / Blue Tribe dynamic I brought up the other day. I light of that context, I found the amount of tribalism in the comments to be disappointing.

Over the course of a couple of years, a routine had developed. I’d take the subway from Brooklyn to Luscious’ place in Chelsea at least once a week. I’d get there around between eight and nine and bring a six-pack. Luscious would have certainly sneered at today’s commingling of yuppie consumerism with downtown cool, artisanal this, single source that. Some of the artifacts that now make up hipster material culture were only just beginning to appear at that point and Luscious had only disdain for them. “We’re not going to consume our way to a better world,” she once said to me. So, I’d bring a six-pack of decidedly mass market beer. Michelob, strangely, was her preferred brand, but I don’t think it really mattered that much. Food snobbery back then was in its infancy and most Americans ate the same stuff most of the time.

She’d greet me at the door with an enthusiastic greeting, as if my expected arrival and ritual proffering of a six-pack was a pleasant novelty. She’d relieve me of my package and take my coat if it was cold. While she put the beer in the fridge I’d try, yet again, to make friends with her freaky King Charles Spaniel with a hyperactive thyroid.

Her apartment was a studio on the first floor. It was long and narrow. Although a post-war building, the ceiling was high and the light from the lamp next to the brown suede sofa never seemed to penetrate the darkness. If felt oddly cavernous and cramped at the same time.

I’d sit on the sofa, or just pace nearby, and Luscious would emerge from the kitchen with two beers. She would always finish her beer before mine. Holding her bottle up to the light and making a playful frown at its emptiness. She’d grab mine from my hand and look at the quarter or third still remaining. “Little people drink so slowly,” she’d sigh. She’d chug-a-lug the remainder of my bottle. “Don’t worry. I’ll go get us some more.” It was like an ongoing bit in a sitcom. It was also the only way I was able to keep up with her drinking. It was hard to say how many drinks I had had in a night because I almost never finished them.

She was, as I’ve mentioned before, a rock and roll obsessive, and this would be the time when she’d play me something new there was anything interesting. She was my own private pop music reporter and it was principally through her that I kept up on new music. If there was nothing new, she’d put on something old. Sometimes I’d get an impromptu lesson, such as the time she played multiple versions of “Gloria”, which she insisted was the world’s most sexist song for reasons that I never understood. She delighted in Patti Smith’s intro to her version, “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine.” I never really understood that either, but I guess it helps to have been raised as a Christian. Both of Luscious parents had come to the U.S. from Ukraine in the wake of the Second World War. She was born in the East Village, spoke Ukrainian and was raised in the Ukrainian Catholic Church.

As ten o’clock approached, we get ready to leave. In the summer, we might take the subway a couple of stops to Christopher Street and make our way eastward on foot, hitting a series of night spots along the way. In the winter time, we’d walk out in the coldest weather without coats because we were heading to small, hot, sweaty clubs, really bars that had bands, and those places didn’t have coat rooms and some members of the audience had sticky fingers. So, we’d charge east towards Seventh Avenue at top speed and hail a cab as quickly as possible. Luscious, the tall one, would stick out a hand. The cab would pull over and she’d get in first.

One night, she slid across the seat, behind the driver. During the crime wave of the seventies, cabs had started installing plexiglass partitions between the driver and passengers. It was typically on this partition, behind the drivers head, that the taxi license with the name of the driver is displayed.

She looked at the name on license, greeted him in Ukrainian and he replied in kind. After a couple of more exchanges, she said, “My friend doesn’t speak Ukrainian. Can we speak English?”

“Yes, of course.”

Luscious would typically chat with the taxi drivers. It was one of her ways of finding out what was going on the city. Despite Luscious’ radical politics, or perhaps because if it, she usually steered clear of controversial subjects, satisfying herself with being on the receiving end of the conversation. Perhaps it was different this time because the diver was from the same country as her parents. In any case, I no longer recall the conversation that led up to it. I think I was only half listening anyway, but I recall he said that United States was a wonderful country.

Suddenly Luscious was animated. Leaning forward, raising her voice, waving her hands dramatically in the air, “Are you kidding,” she said, “the United States the worst country in the world.”

“Worst country? You must be joking,” he said.

She rattled of a litany of left-leaning complaints from capitalism to Cointelpro.

“You don’t know! I lived in the Soviet Union.”

Luscious expressed a preference for communism over capitalism.

The cab driver was now getting visibly mad. “You don’t know how bad bad can be. You are naive. I know what I’m talking about. You are a foolish girl.”

We were getting near our destination and Luscious flopped back against the seat. We paid our fare in silence.

When the door was shut and the cab was pulling away, she said to me, “He sounds just like my father.”