Saturday, March 13, 2010

Lewis Carroll, the Mad Tea Party, and Language

"You should say what you mean," the March Hare went on.
"I do," Alice hastily replied; "at least - at least I mean what I say - that's the same thing, you know."
"Not the same thing a bit!" said the Hatter. "Why, you might just as well say that 'I see what I eat' is the same thing as 'I eat what I see!'

Gundula Janowitz, after all

Of all of the great Contessas I've heard, none can compare to the dignity and sweetness of soprano Gundula Janowitz. Here, in a fine performance from 1980 at the lush and gorgeous Opera Garnier in Paris, is her "Porgi Amor," from the Marriage of Figaro. Sadly, her even more spectacular "Dove Sono", from the same performance, lacks an embed for posting. It is worth viewing as well.

Clinton and East Jerusalem

Jeffrey Goldberg has an apt post about Hillary Clinton's scolding of Netanyahu over East Jerusalem settlement building:

So Hillary has picked the right fight, and the Obama Administration has picked the right person to pick the fight: A former senator from New York who is married to one of Israel's favorite ex-presidents. I might be over-optimistic here, but maybe this scolding will help Bibi focus on what's important: Keeping Israel in America's good graces so that the two countries can together figure out a way to neutralize the Iranian threat.

She is right to use her husband's popularity in Israel as leverage in the wake of the needless, belligerent act on Israel's part. I am nearly always a supporter of Israel, as it is the only legitimate democratic and open society in the Middle and Near East - with the exception of another steadfast ally, Turkey. That is not to say that Israel has any right to occupy the West Bank for any other reason than for security purposes. Yet, as is widely known, the occupation seems to be as much about illegal expansion of territory as it is about security. But the Palestinian leadership in under Abu Mazen has shown signs recently of opening to direct peace talks with Tel Aviv. Hopefully, this is more than an admonishment of Israeli hubris. Maybe peace talks can happen because of this assertion of will by the Clinton. Netanyahu has spoken before about his dialogues with President Obama and the personal comity they engendered between the two men. Let's hope the construction in East Jerusalem is a test of American fortitude and not Netanyahu's caving to the Israeli version of our Christianist right.

Saturday, March 6, 2010


D.H. Lawrence's War

Rereading D.H. Lawrence's Women in Love, I am struck by how forcefully anti-philosophical it is. I find this refreshing of course, since too much philosophy can make the mind go limp by abstracting itself and its surroundings too much. Lawrence is a creature of exquisite and daring passion, and his critique of modern British society as largely artificial and spiritually bereft may very well have been accurate. His solution is not just a frontal assault on industrialism and over-refinement; it is a war on bourgeois culture itself. Lawrence, through the character of Rupert Birkin, makes the case for a sensualism that defies what many would likely deem to be decadent. What makes Lawrence so radical, in part, is his exaltation of sensualism as a response to the decadence of self-satisfied, impotent intellectualism, as well as bourgeois, Romantic naivete. What makes Lawrence's work profoundly anti-philosophical is its assault on such concepts as "knowledge" and the "self." Rather than wading into the murky waters of definition of these abstractions, he dismisses them in favor of self-abandonment. Through this, he casts knowledge and the self in vital rather than abstract terms by allowing their ebb and flow without detaining them for interrogation.

A Sober Point on Iraq

Real Clear Politics picks up a sober and acute response to Jonah Goldberg's ex post facto defense of the Iraq war. Of course any reasonable comment on the Iraq invasion must consider the seeming inevitability of Iraq coming undone with or without American military action. Saddam Hussein held that artificial - see British colonialism - country together by force, and I see no reason to believe either one of his sons would have been chillingly competent enough to hold the respective ethnic regions together once he inevitably passed. In all likelihood, Iran would have exerted its presence in the Shia south of the country and the Kurds would have continued their campaign for an independent Kurdistan in the north of the country, with conflict over oil-rich Kirkuk ongoing with the Sunni heartland. The point is well taken though: if the United States is going to claim credit for a nascent democracy in Iraq, it must take responsibility for the tens of thousands who have lost their lives because of the decision to invade. We really cannot have one without the other. The moral ambiguity is crushing.

Hillbilly Storm

A curious take on the grotesque carnival of Sarah Palin. Has she officially stopped differentiating between being a celebrity and being a politician? Is she crafting a new kind of hybrid form of public official as yet unknown? Or is she plainly an incurious degenerate looking to line her pockets with fistfuls of mammon her phony religion likely embraces? If you chose all of the above, good on you. Wasilla always sounded more like a skin disease than a place to be from, and I am itching incessantly just thinking about it.

Friday, March 5, 2010

There's Still Public Support for Health Care Reform

Gallup indicates the American public still trusts the Obama administration to do the right thing on health care reform. I think the Congress does need to get this done so the numbers do not erode further from where they were last summer.

Trial Run

David Frum rightly claims the use of military tribunals to try terrorist suspects is not a perfect idea, but there is not a feasibly better one. I disagree in part. Framing the question is central here: giving high-level terrorist suspects trials in civilian courts casts them as domestic criminals rather than enemy combatants guilty of the murder of thousands. This gives the paranoid right wing fringe ammunition to cast anyone who believes in showcasing the superiority of impartial American justice in the face of religious, fanatical hate as an obvious Stalinist madman bent on the liquidation of American "values" - I wish this were hyperbole.

The civilian trial would have made sense as another step in the reinstatement of the rule of law. The gesture would have been largely symbolic, but a noble gesture all the same. The problem, I figure, with this scenario is that most of the suspects up for trial have been tortured - as was policy - and, therefore, most of the evidence gathered to be used against them - i.e. coerced evidence - is tainted and cannot be used.

The favorable aspect of a trial by military tribunal is that it denies terrorist suspects a public forum to make martyrs of themselves and fulminate against their rhetorical bogeymen. Trying and executing top suspects by military tribunal is not appetizing, but it may keep them away from the publicity they so crave and is so key to their propagandizing. Either way, a trial would be practically meaningless beyond symbolism: no one believes the U.S. might have the wrong players behind 9/11. Whatever happens to the them in the long term will happen, whether it be by civilian trial or military tribunal.

Nevertheless, this is a retreat for the Obama administration. In this case, however, I acknowledge it may be an intelligent political move, since the amount of political capital required to fight this out with the right wing fringe would come at too high a cost with so much of the domestic agenda still to be legislated and implemented. Let the opposition have this one. Allow them to glory in defeating a symbolic move while health care, cap and trade, and, hopefully, a sane and not purely market-driven education reform bill make their way, with some luck, through the Congress.

Tinker Creek Redux

Having finished Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, my enthusiasm has ebbed significantly. Initially, I found the book enthralling for its simultaneous emphasis on the ecstasy and intricacy of the natural world. By capturing minute natural occurrences and massive natural upheavals, she creates a sense of the sublime by rendering the natural world as something beyond not just rational apprehension, but stable meaning all together. The boldness of this concept captured me quickly at the outset. Moreover, her idea of the reinvention of sight by undoing what we see in objects and living things and attempting to look on them in a purely dynamic, protean way was masterly developed.

Yet, with all of these ideas going for it, the book becomes tedious as it progresses. I could not help but simply wince at her labored meditations on muskrats and grasshoppers. God, who cares. When writing about the awful brilliance of the praying mantis female killing and eating the male during copulation, I was struck with awe. That was it. From there her ideas begin to become over-extended. The book should never have been more than a long essay. The latter third is so self-indulgent as to nearly ruin the preceding two thirds.

Ah well.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Against the Misappropriation of George Orwell

Yglesias has an important note on the American Right's wrong-headed adoption of Orwell for their own imperialist and theocratic purposes. Not only was Orwell a committed Socialist, he was arguably even more of an anti-Fascist and anti-Capitalist. Yes, he expressed great fears of the destructive potential of certain centralized states. Yet, mercifully, he recognized what so many in the Unites States today do not: that a centralized government acting as a vehicle of the citizenry's will is not the same as a rapacious, imperialist police state bent on total social and cultural homogeneity. Fortunately, the closest we've come to having an irrationally expansionist police state that spat on the rule of law expired in January of last year.

The Enduring Foolishness of the "Giveaway to the Health Insurance Industry" idea

Jonathan Chait rightly pounces on this silliness:

"The insurers were playing a double game -- hoping reform would die, but negotiating to limit their downside risk if it did pass. They were most friendly to reform when it looked inevitable. Now that they have a chance to kill it, they're taking their best shot. That's not something you do to legislation that's designed to give you billions in profits."

Instituting an insurance mandate is a means of spreading risk and, at least theoretically, pushing premiums down in cost by doing so. Car insurance would almost certainly be higher if insurance companies had to consider the potential risk of motorists' accidents with uninsured drivers when setting premiums. Moreover, the added bill in the House to end the anti-trust exemption for the health insurance industry I think is more devastating for them - and rightfully so - than ending their ability to discriminate against those with chronic illness or refusal to provide insurance for health - the latter, of course, being their paradoxical means to profitability.

A Modest Case for Religion

"Any religion that does not affirm that God is hidden is false."
- Pascal

A Modest Case against Religion

An Eskimo once asked a missionary priest if he would spend eternity in hell if he did not know about God or sin. "No," the priest replied, "not if you did not know." "Then why," the Eskimo asked, "did you tell me?"