Saturday, April 25, 2015

"Critical thinking

 is possible only where the standpoints of all others are open to inspection. Hence, critical thinking, while still a solitary business, does not cut itself off from ‘all others.’ To be sure, it still goes on in isolation, but by the force of imagination it makes the others present and thus moves in a space that is potentially public, open to all sides; in other words, it adopts the position of Kant’s world citizen. To think with an enlarged mentality means that one trains one’s imagination to go visiting."

-- Hannah Arendt, Lectures on Kant's Political Philosophy

Sunday, April 19, 2015

 The Sycophants

Etymology of term:

The origin of the Ancient Greek word συκοφάντης (sykophántēs) disparages the unjustified accuser who has in some way perverted the legal system. The original etymology of the word (sukon/sykos/συκος fig, and phainein/fanēs/φανης to show) “revealer of figs”—has been the subject of extensive scholarly speculation and conjecture. Plutarch appears to be the first to have suggested that the source of the term was in laws forbidding the exportation of figs, and that those who leveled the accusation against another of illegally exporting figs were therefore called sycophants. Athenaeus provided a similar explanation. Blackstone's Commentaries repeats this story, but adds an additional take—that there were laws making it a capital offense to break into a garden and steal figs, and that the law was so odious that informers were given the name sycophants. A different explanation of the origin of the term by Shadwell was that the sycophant refers to the manner in which figs are harvested, by shaking the tree and revealing the fruit hidden among the leaves. The sycophant, by making false accusations, makes the accused yield up their fruit. The Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition listed these and other explanations, including that the making of false accusations was an insult to the accused in the nature of "showing the fig", an "obscene gesture of phallic significance" or, alternatively that the false charges were often so insubstantial as to not amount to the worth of a fig. Generally, scholars have dismissed these explanations as inventions, long after the original meaning had been lost. Danielle Allen suggests that the term was "slightly obscene", connoting a kind of perversion, and may have had a web of meanings derived from the symbolism of figs in ancient Greek culture, ranging from the improper display of one’s “figs” by being overly aggressive in pursuing a prosecution, the unseemly revealing of the private matters of those accused of wrongdoing, to the inappropriate timing of harvesting figs when they are unripe.


SYCOPHANT Ambrose Bierce

One who approaches Greatness on his belly so that he may not be commanded to turn and be kicked. He is sometimes an editor.

  As the lean leech, its victim found, is pleased
  To fix itself upon a part diseased
  Till, its black hide distended with bad blood,
  It drops to die of surfeit in the mud,
  So the base sycophant with joy descries
  His neighbor's weak spot and his mouth applies,
  Gorges and prospers like the leech, although,
  Unlike that reptile, he will not let go.
  Gelasma, if it paid you to devote
  Your talent to the service of a goat,
  Showing by forceful logic that its beard
  Is more than Aaron's fit to be revered;
  If to the task of honoring its smell
  Profit had prompted you, and love as well,
  The world would benefit at last by you
  And wealthy malefactors weep anew —
  Your favor for a moment's space denied
  And to the nobler object turned aside.
  Is't not enough that thrifty millionaires
  Who loot in freight and spoliate in fares,
  Or, cursed with consciences that bid them fly
  To safer villainies of darker dye,
  Forswearing robbery and fain, instead,
  To steal (they call it "cornering") our bread
  May see you groveling their boots to lick
  And begging for the favor of a kick?
  Still must you follow to the bitter end
  Your sycophantic disposition's trend,
  And in your eagerness to please the rich
  Hunt hungry sinners to their final ditch?
  In Morgan's praise you smite the sounding wire,
  And sing hosannas to great Havemeyher!
  What's Satan done that him you should eschew?
  He too is reeking rich — deducting you.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

  More cake than is good for them

Obama is a gambler and he bets on the likelihood that Iran, the quintessential leopard in the Middle East, will change its spots just because other animals treat it as if it were NOT a capable beast of prey. And anyway, if his gambit fails (as it's most likely to happen), it's other people's headache to deal with its detritus. Living in a vast continent flanked by two oceans and neighbors as belligerent as Canada, Obama can certainly afford to live with the consequences of his gambler's optimism.

What is Obama's thinking behind his strategy? Either he thinks that a better life for Iranians will induce the people to get rid of the ayatollah regime or that keeping the ayatollahs lubricated with candy will somehow keep them in check. Either way, he's mistaken, of course. People are unlikely to rebel when  the regime can tell them with some justification, how well it serves them. And as for the second conjecture, its premise is based on the indulgent-lazy-parent tactic so well captured in Jane Austen's novel "Persuasion":

Mrs. Musgrove took the first opportunity of being alone with Anne, to say, "Oh! Miss Anne, I cannot help wishing Mrs. Charles had a little of your method with those children. They are quite different creatures with you! But to be sure, in general they are so spoilt! It is a pity you cannot put your sister in the way of managing them. They are as fine healthy children as ever were seen, poor little dears, without partiality; but Mrs. Charles knows no more how they should be treated -- ! Bless me! how troublesome they are sometimes. I assure you, Miss Anne, it prevents my wishing to see them at our house so often as I otherwise should. I believe Mrs. Charles is not quite pleased with my not inviting them oftener; but you know it is very bad to have children with one, that one is obliged to be checking every moment, "don't do this, and don't do that;"; or that one can only keep in tolerable order by more cake than is good for them."

Monday, April 06, 2015

[last lines]

Reuven Malter: There is a story in the Talmud about a king who had a son who went astray. The son was told, 'Return to your father.' The son replied that he could not. The king then sent a messenger to the son with the message... 'Come back to me as far as you can, and I will meet you the rest of the way.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

In the same line of thought ...

Proverbs 26:28 

A lying tongue hates those it hurts, and a flattering mouth works ruin.

 It is part of human nature to hate the man you have hurt. (Tacitus)

Here is what can sometimes happen: one person wrongs another and doesn't know how to come back from that. So they deepen the wrong. They add further or worse misdemeanours, falsehoods, calumnies or what have you to the original one. This is the dynamic: to reinforce the thought that the first wrong wasn't one, anything which might diminish its recipient helps the offending party convince him or herself that the other must be a bad person, so that the first offence against them was somehow deserved. The deepening process is itself the symptom of a moral discomfort that cannot be squarely faced. (Normblog)


Nicholas frowned. He had done much evil to the Poles. To justify that evil he had to feel certain that all Poles were rascals, and he considered them to be such and hated them in proportion to the evil he had done them. (Normblog)


... independently of that, she disliked Fanny, because she [i.e. Mrs Norris] had neglected her... (Normblog)


 “There is perhaps no surer way of infecting ourselves with virulent hatred toward a person than by doing him a grave injustice.”

 “Propaganda ... serves more to justify ourselves than to convince others; and the more reason we have to feel guilty, the more fervent our propaganda.” ― Eric Hoffer, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements

 Where Anarchism and Uber-Nationalism dwell harmoniously:

"Anarchism is a political philosophy that advocates stateless societies often defined as self-governed voluntary institutions, but that several authors have defined as more specific institutions based on non-hierarchical free associations. Anarchism holds the state to be undesirable, unnecessary, or harmful."

It makes sense that a bona fide anarchist is, as per definition, hostile to any kind of nationalism.

So what does an American professor who is self-defined as 

"a former Marxist-Leninist, now an anarchist", a feminist, and an "atheist secularist".
do but express a worshipful admiration for an  uber-nationalist leader like Nasser?

I am still repeating to myself the immortal words of Nasser from his 1962 speech (see link from yesterday): "The boot of every one them (his soldiers in Yemen) is more noble than the crown of King Saud and King Husayn".

And never mind that in doing so he seems to be plumping for the religious extremists-nihilists in Yemen  that are Saudi's current enemies? 

It's not the first time this type of chaotic and inconsistent thinking has been noted in the venerable professor.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A mask and a face that shrinks from it:

Remember George Orwell's memorable quote: "He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it.” ?

I'm thinking about President Obama's successive broadsides at Israel's elected PM and his jaw-dropping declarations that "that two states is the best path forward for Israel’s security, for Palestinian aspirations, and for regional stability...or that a real knotty policy difference that has great consequences for both countries and the region.”

Here is the thing:

1. A two state solution will be good for Israel only if the Palestinians cut their aspirations to statehood in the Occupied territories, which entails an open and internationally-backed renunciation of their RoR claims.

2. Solution of I/P conflict will not make ISIS disappear, Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions or Assad to stop massacring and gassing his own citizens. So how is that going to bring "regional stability"?

My conclusion is the Obama is speaking as a liar. He cannot not know that what he's saying is false and based on moonshine rather than hard realities or verifiable facts. While wearing the mask of a peace-maker, his face doesn't grow to fit it but rather shrinks to make it all the more demonstrably a mask and no more than a mask. I mean, we have been reassured repeatedly that Obama is highly intelligent, a voracious reader of books and a lover of Jews and Israel. Yet he keeps saying things that contradict every one of these attributes.

As for the mask, I think we have some evidence that he's perfectly aware and comfortable with it.
Let me draw your attention to this little story from Ali Abunimah, from "The Electronic intifada". By Abunimah's own testimonial, this is what Obama said to him in

"the winter of 2004 at a gathering in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood. He was in the midst of a primary campaign to secure the Democratic nomination for the United States Senate seat he now occupies.
As he came in from the cold and took off his coat, I went up to greet him. He responded warmly, and volunteered, "Hey, I'm sorry I haven't said more about Palestine right now, but we are in a tough primary race. I'm hoping when things calm down I can be more up front." He referred to my activism, including columns I was contributing to the The Chicago Tribune critical of Israeli and US policy, "Keep up the good work!"

Does it need translation? Isn't Obama practically saying that he cannot reveal his genuine sentiments about the Palestinians because he is in a campaign to get elected? What remains unsaid but pretty clear is that as long as he needs to court the Jewish voice, he cannot be "upfront" about his own position.
As Abunimah himself helpfully adds later in the article:

"... given his historically close relations to Palestinian-Americans, Obama's about-face is not surprising. He is merely doing what he thinks is necessary to get elected and he will continue doing it as long as it keeps him in power."
A quick tour of the rabid anti-Israel Left blogs and media outlets can reveal some other telling quotes which suggest Obama's so-called staunch support of Israel is merely a convenient pose. Like this, for example:

"Less than two weeks after Obama gloated to AIPAC about his love for Israel, he unexpectedly admitted the truth while campaigning in Iowa recently. "[N]obody is suffering more than the Palestinian people..." said Obama, "the Israel government must make difficult concessions for the peace process to restart..."

And then there was the famous hot mic incident in which President Obama was caught on camera assuring outgoing Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that he will have "more flexibility" to deal with contentious issues like missile defense after the U.S. presidential election.

Both times there is POTUS openly admitting he's wearing a mask.

Too bad his face has not grown to fit that mask.

Monday, March 09, 2015

The Magic of Words

Obama's trust in the power of his words to make Iran and other rogue regimes behave reminds me of the following tale:

A British rag used to publish sensational novels in weekly serialized installments. The story was written from one week to the next and only the author knew how he was going to resolve the knotty problems that he had set up himself in the week before.

On one such occasion, the author, ended his weekly chapter in a cliff hanger situation, with his protagonist hanging with both hands in a pit, snakes snipping at feet, on one side a roaring lion, on the other side two crooks with their guns aimed at him. 

  The following week he didn't show up with the next chapter. As he was a known lush, everyone suspected that he had gone on one of his drinking binges. The editor appealed to his other writers to provide the necessary installment but they were all stymied. They had no idea how to get the hero out of the pit, and away from the menacing snakes, lion and killers. The paper was issued with an apology to the readers for missing that week’s episode.

Finally the author showed up. Everyone flew at him, yelling angrily and predictably, at a complete loss as to how he was going to resolve the situation.

What's the hullabaloo? shrugged  the author. He inserted a sheet of paper into the typewriter and began to type:

"Once out of the pit, our hero..."