.. died peacefully at his home on Fårö, Gotland, Sweden, early this morning, aged 89.
“... probably the greatest film artist, all things considered, since the invention of the motion picture camera. " (Woody Allen in 1988)
I cannot disagree. His films encompassed an almost Shakespearean range of human conditions, from obsessive love to the madness to possess, raw revenge, fear of death, marriage, bereavement, old age, young love. While his films are haunted by the dialectic of terror and beauty, he always reserved a very special place of grace and joy to the arts, especially to the dramatic arts. They sustain our jest for life and hope.
Most memorable to me are " The Seventh Seal" and "The Virgin Fount". The first is about a crusading knight playing chess with Mr. Death, and the second is about a father's revenge gone wrong. Both are situated in medieval Europe, when the continent was dark with religious fanaticism, witch hunting, plague, superstition and fear.
The Contentious Centrist
"Civilization is not self-supporting. It is artificial. If you are not prepared to concern yourself with the upholding of civilization -- you are done." (Ortega y Gasset)
Monday, July 30, 2007
Brits Wouldn’t Hand Over Intelligence On Bin Laden In 1998, Guardian Blames Bush
I wonder what the moral balance is in this story. The Brits can be proud of their superior moral fiber in resisting the CIA's demands for the information that might have led to Bin Laden's capture. At the same time they have to live with the knowledge that their cooperation with the CIA might have prevented 9/11 and therefore the war in Afghanistan. And the War in Iraq might have been won long ago, with American and British troops back home.
But of course this is highly speculative. You are never shocked by what does not happen. If 9/11 did not happen, we would never know the depth and spread of the danger that Bin Laden has unleashed on the world. Only the bodies in charge of our public safety are acutely aware of the thin and porous line of defense that separates what might happen from what actually happens.
We readers and helpless inhabitants in this world are left in the entirely ironic universe created by these dilemmas.
Thursday, July 26, 2007
Once again, what is the line that separates legitimate criticism of Israeli policies towards Palestinians and simple antisemitism?
Eve Garrard lines up her exhibits, on Normblog today:
What is really noticeable is the mismatch between what pro-boycotters, and the
Union itself, say about anti-Semitism and the proposed boycott, and what seems
to be actually going on among some of the boycott's supporters. Whether through
ignorance or malice, some of them are telling flagrant and disgusting lies about
Israel, lies which express some very familiar anti-Semitic tropes. But the
Union's view is that saying that Israel is the root of all evil just can't be
construed as anti-Semitic. And saying that Israel is the most inhuman country in
the Middle East, and that it's the cause of all the world's troubles, can't be
anti-Semitic either. Saying that Israel's supporters have bought America's
government can't be anti-Semitic. Saying that Israel is equivalent to the Nazis
can't be anti-Semitic. Saying that Israel is committing genocide can't be
anti-Semitic. Saying that Israel should be wiped off the world map can't be
anti-Semitic. Really, you begin to wonder what the Union would regard as
Norm Geras takes up one point to expand upon:
Denying that the Jews were the victims of a genocide now has its counterpart in
the allegation that the Jewish state is perpetrator of a genocide against
another people. And this is not a case where the evidence is borderline. Just
like Hocaust-denial, genocide-assertion as applied to Israel vis-à-vis the
Palestinians bears no relation to any serious historical evidence about the long
conflict in the region. It is a blatant historical falsehood - the blood libel on
a spectacular scale. Genocide-assertion with reference to Israel should be seen
henceforth as the twin of Holocaust-denial: a not very covert form of
anti-Semitism that disgraces its proponents.
In 2004, the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) called attention to the lack of a common definition of anti-Semitism. Consequently, a working definition was written collaboratively by a small group of non-governmental organizations (NGOs):
Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by
claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.
Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or
demanded of any other democratic nation.
Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism
(e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or
Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the
Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the State of
And further to Eve Garrard's and Norm Geras's points, here is Christopher Caldwell (Weekly Standard, June 5, 2002) on same:
“For anyone who inhabits Western culture, the Holocaust made that culture a much
more painful place to inhabit – and for any reasonably moral person, greatly
narrowed the range of acceptable political behaviour. To be human is to wish it
had never happened. (Those who deny that it did may be those can’t bear to admit
it happened,) but it did. If there is a will-to anti-Semitism – then the Arab
style Judeophobia, which is an anti-Semitism without the West’s complexes,
offers a real redemptive project to those Westerners who are willing to embrace.
It can liberate guilty, decadent Europeans from a horrible moral albatross. What
an anti-depressant! Saying there was no such thing as the gas chamber is, of
course, not respectable. But the same purpose can be served using what Leo
Strauss called the reductio ad Hitlerum to cast the Jews as having committed
crimes identical to the Nazis’. They must be identical, of course, so the work
of self-delusion can be accomplished. We did one, the Jews did one. Now we’re
This is why one may find Israel being facilely and baselessly accused of "crimes against humanity", or Jews jeered at for being offended by the Islamic instruction to the believers that the Jews are “the enemies of Allah, descendants of apes and pigs.” It is because, as Nick Cohen explains in "What's Left,:
[b]eyond the release from the burden of the past, lay the relief of
letting out repressed emotion.... Once … a figure or group became
an approved object of hatred, pent-up feeling burst over it. "
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
Here’s Sartre on defeating anti-Semitism:
“The cause of the Jews would be half won if only their friends brought to their defense a little of the passion and the perseverance their enemies use to bring them down. In order to waken this passion, what is needed is not to appeal to the generosity of the Aryans- with even the best of them, that virtue is in eclipse. What must be done is to point out to each one that the fate of the Jews is his fate. Not one Frenchman will be free so long as the Jews do not enjoy the fullness of their rights. Not one Frenchman will be secure so long as a single Jew – in France or in the world at large – can fear for his life”
Hitchens makes a pithy comment on L'affaire Galloway in Slate. I'm mostly interested in his concluding paragraph:
Just look at the gang that strove to prevent the United Nations from enforcing its library of resolutions on Saddam Hussein. Where are they now? Gerhard Schroeder, ex-chancellor of Germany, has gone straight to work for a Russian oil-and-gas consortium. Vladimir Putin, master of such consortia and their manipulation, is undisguised in his thirst to re-establish a one-party state. Jacques Chirac, who only avoided prosecution for corruption by getting himself immunized by re-election (and who had Saddam's sons as his personal guests while in office, and built Saddam Hussein a nuclear reactor while knowing what he wanted it for), is now undergoing some unpleasant interviews with the Paris police. So is his cynical understudy Dominique de Villepin, once the glamour-boy of the "European" school of diplomacy without force. What a crew! Galloway is the most sordid of this group because he managed to be a pimp for, as well as a prostitute of, one of the foulest dictatorships of modern times. But the taint of collusion and corruption extends much further than his pathetic figure, and one day, slowly but surely, we shall find out the whole disgusting thing.
(Via: Oliver Kamm)
Sunday, July 22, 2007
Frank Furedi, Professor of Sociology at University of Kent, and author of "Politics of Fear, explains his view of the meaning of the New Antisemitism. His conclusion reads as follows:
For a variety of reasons, Israel has come to bear the cross of the West’s sins. In Europe in particular, there is a powerful sense of weariness towards Israel. ‘If only it would go away, then we would have a chance for peace in the Middle East’, is the fantasy view of some European officials and writers. Others simply resent Israel’s claims to special status on the basis of its links with the Holocaust – which is why there is a growing trend to turn the moral power of the Holocaust against Israel. The West’s estrangement from Israel today does not mean it is ready to rethink its transformation of the Holocaust into a new moral symbol. All that it means is that the West increasingly embraces the ‘good Jews’ who were the victims of the Nazis, while distancing itself from the ‘bad Jews’ who are alive and kicking in Israel.
In today’s climate of self-censorship, moral uncertainty and competition over the Holocaust, it does not look as if the genie of the ‘new anti-Semitism’ will return to the bottle anytime soon.
So, the age-old European ugly saw that "the only good Jew is a dead Jew" has now become the new morality of European (and other) thinkers.
"However, combining forensic skills, interpretive wits
and moral judgements is not necessarily conducive to searching for the truth.
Rather, such methods of ‘investigation’ might lead individuals to see something
that isn’t there. Making a moral judgment call about what an individual really
means is a highly subjective act, which can be influenced by the judger’s own
prejudices and by other cultural and political assumptions."
Furedi's rebuttal here is flawed. He quotes Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal as suggesting a three-way approach to investigate whether antisemitism resides in someone's position about Israel and Jews, but in his critique of it , Furedi ignores the first two stipulations and concentrates on the third one which is moral judgment and therefore can easily be dismantled on the basis of subjectivity. Stephens takes his linguistic cue from the world of law and order. You have an event (or a certain position) which calls for a closer look at motivation. How do we decipher motivation if we do not have access to the services of Macbeth's witches to look into the heart of man? We examine their words. This is the "forensic skills" that Stephens calls for. It means we read the words and try to understand their meaning, based on the assumption that most words convey more or less the same meaning to most people. Once we have established that we understand what is being said, we can then try to interpret it in terms of a larger context. How what is said make sense, when other factors are present in the analysis? Only then, do we make a moral judgment. It is possible, of course, that the whole process will be undermined by a persistent, a-priory urge to indict, but then, it would be very easy to poke holes in the interpretive process and point out where the weaknesses and distortions take place.
It is my own position that Jewish people are never in a rush to invoke antisemitism. Antisemitism is, first and foremost, a hatred and in my experience no sane person likes to declare, gratuitously: people hate me! No one likes to think, and certainly not admit, that he/she is not as well liked as the next person. However, we do sometimes accept that someone hates us and we try to understand why. Usually we can come up with a number of plausible reasons. When we fail to do that, not because we are dishonest about our own responsibility, but because the facts simply do not support the lurch into hatred, that's where we begin to suspect that we are dealing with an irrationality here. And unless the irrationality is a symptom of some mental illness and deserves our pity, then we must face the fact that it is a gratuitous malevolence rooted in some factor over which whatever we do or say will have no effect at all.
And this is how antisemitism can be spotted.
In this post I furnish an example of such irrationality.
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
From Solomonia: "The Making Of A (Child) "Martyr/Hero"
On the industry of radicalizing Palestinian children. The film starts with teenage Husham, who is small in stature and has a sad beautiful puzzled face of a child ill at ease in this world. Why did he want to become a martyr? He gives two reasons: One, because nobody likes him, two, because he wanted to get to Paradise, where he would have some fun.
Next, the film begins to follow the chain of persons involved in Husham's suicide mission. Two other teenagers who seem confused and then, the chief recruiter, a ruthless thug who describes the death culture that he helped create with full knowledge and unmitigated pride. For him, Husham is a failure, a wasted investment. If the candidate does not pull the trigger of the suicide belt, he is nothing, an object worthy of contempt.
Chilling testimony of the self-destructiveness of Palestinian society. Nothing is more indicative of a death cult, and a deadend society, than the kinds of models and future offered to children.
Saturday, July 14, 2007
As per yesterday's post, here's Howard Jacobson's speech in today's Independent:
The other thing that seemed worth saying related to that now classic formulation - "It is not anti-Semitic to be critical of Israel." I wasn't concerned to make the no less classical rebuttal - "Of course being critical of Israel doesn't necessarily mark you out as an anti-Semite, but it doesn't necessarily mark you out as not one either." Enough already with who is or who isn't. What I wanted to address was something different - how the glamour word "anti-Semite" has transfixed both parties to this semantic tussle, when the real issue is what we mean by "critical".
Reader, only think about it: was ever a tiny word sent on such a mighty errand, or to put it another way, was ever such a massive job of demolition done by so delicate an instrument. Critical - as though those who accuse Israel of every known crime against humanity, of being more Nazi than the Nazis, more fascist than the fascists, more apartheid than apartheid South Africa, are simply exercising measured argument and fine discrimination.
I know a bit about being critical. It's my job. Being "critical" is when you say that such-and-such a book works here but doesn't work there, good plot, bad characterisation, enjoyed some parts, hated others. What being critical is not, is saying this is the most evil and odious book ever written, worse than all other evil and odious books, should never have been published in the first place, was in fact published in flagrant defiance of international law, must be banned, and in the meantime should not under any circumstances be read. For that we need another word than critical.
So try replacing it with whatever that word or words might be and have a look at how the statement bears up now. "It is not anti-Semitic to defame or curse or stigmatise or revile or execrate or anathematise or with malice aforethought misrepresent Israel." You might think that veers a touch too far in the opposite direction, but you take my point. Put back the inordinacy of reprehension hidden behind the pretend even-handedness of fair-seeming little "critical" and you see why those who oppose the boycott and other such traducements smell a rat.
Friday, July 13, 2007
An anti-boycott meeting on July 11, 2007
Let me draw your attention in paticular to these 3 speakers:
1 John Mann MP (Labour MP for Bassetlaw and the driving force behind the Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism)
6 Howard Jacobson (writer and Independent columnist)
8 Anthony Julius (author TS Elliot, Anti-Semitism and Literary Form, and lawyer)
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
Costa-Gavras film "Amen" takes place during the years of accelerated Holocaust efforts. It focuses on Kurt Gerstein's futile attempts to bring the knowledge to the outside world and especially his failure to puncture the Pope's rare capacity for staying in a state of graceful denial despite the howling of beasts all around him. The more generic message in the movie is:
No one wants to hear...
The Holocaust was not Germans against Jews. It was Europe against the Jews. The Nazis found assistants in every European country. But in the western, southern and northern countries, the collaboration stopped at the train stations. Dutch police did not murder the Jews; they just put them on trains. It was in the east that one killed them... In Lithuania, 98 percent of the Jews were murdered in their own villages. There was only one transport from there to Auschwitz. In Estonia, Croatia or Ukraine, the Germans found a lot of people who were ready to murder. And of course no one in these countries wants to hear that any more."
Later today: funny, that I should have mentioned the refusal to deal with Holocaust guilt in East Europe, just as this story is breaking:
.. Fr Rydzyk was recorded as saying: "You know what this is about: Poland giving [the Jews] $65 billion (£32 billion). They will come to you and say, 'Give me your coat! Take off your trousers! Give me your shoes!' "
The apparent tirade drew a harsh response from president Lech Kaczynski's office, which described it as "scandalous".
But it is sure to re-ignite suspicions of enduring and widespread anti-semitism in Poland, where three million Jews were killed by the Nazis during the Second World War.
Many of those who survived the war faced continued persecution under the country's communist regime. Poland's Jewish community now numbers only about 30,000.
The compensation deal at the heart of the recording has bedevilled Poland for years, and concerns not only Jews but all those who lost property to the communists.
The total value of assets seized is now worth about £13 billion according to campaign groups, of which approximately £2.2 billion is sought by Jewish claimants.
While the Polish government is certainly anxious the repair the rip in civilization known as the Holocaust, and willing to suit action to word, it is doubtful whether the priest's libel will fail to incite the people.
In another item of news today, the same Rydzyk "is heard on the tapes lashing out at the prime minister's wife Maria, saying her support for limited abortion rights amounts to backing euthanasia:
"The first lady with this euthanasia. . . You witch, I'll let you have it. If you want to kill people, do it to yourself first."[-]
In March he criticised Maria Kaczynska in public after she signed a declaration in support of the existing abortion law – already strict by European standards – which allows terminations only when the pregnancy poses a threat to a woman's life, or results from rape, or when the foetus is damaged.
Rydzyk said Kaczynska has turned the presidential palace from a "perfumery into a sewage tank".
I have to wonder if antisemitic defamation is not a simply cynical tool manipulated by this man of God in order to soften and sway his listeners to accept his word on the second issue. It is not unknown in history, and in the Muslim world, that some people are extremely gullible when it comes to believing the most outlandish allegations about the Jews which serve as a useful tool for kneading public opinion.
Monday, July 09, 2007
"Jack Twist: Tell you what, we coulda had a good life together! Fuckin' real good life! Had us a place of our own. But you didn't want it, Ennis! So what we got now is Brokeback Mountain! Everything's built on that! That's all we got, boy, fuckin' all. So I hope you know that, even if you don't never know the rest! You count the damn few times we have been together in nearly twenty years and you measure the short fucking leash you keep me on - and then you ask me about Mexico and tell me you'll kill me for needing somethin' I don't hardly never get. You have no idea how bad it gets! I'm not you... I can't make it on a coupla high-altitude fucks once or twice a year! You are too much for me Ennis, you sonofawhoreson bitch! I wish I knew how to quit you.
Ennis Del Mar: [crying] Well, why don't you? Why don't you just let me be? It's because of you Jack, that I'm like this! I'm nothin'... I'm nowhere... Get the fuck off me! I can't stand being like this no more, Jack.
Jack Twist: I wish I knew how to quit you. "
I watched this movie recently, again, for the first time after I'd seen it on the big screen two years ago(?). Already two years? It shook me then and now, again. Even more so. What a great love story. Easier to watch since I knew to expect the calamitous end. But not any less heartrending.
I read since the short story on which it was based, by E. Annie Proulx, by no means a favourite of mine. The director, Ang Lee, took the material and made it soar in a way that it had never been meant to be, I suspect. I am very interested in the translation between media, the fiction to the visual. So I may write something about it, sometime. I've got some major writing projects on my plate but no stimulus. Need to find my stimulus.
In the meantime, it's a dentist appointment with the kids.
Old movies recently watched for the first time:
The Great Dictator [ Charlie Chaplin is doing the Hinkler ]
The Music Box
New movies just released:
Ratatouille (The latest from Pixar, brilliant but not convincing: I can accept living toys and rebellious insects, but rats cooking dinner? It overestimates human credulity!)
Ocean's Thirteen (a contrived tale of a sting operation which brings in the surprisingly sanguine "stingees" of the first two "Ocean's" trilogy, Ocean's Eleven and Ocean's Twelve , cooperating in the most unlikely manner in Ocean's new adventure, on the principle of mine enemey's enemy is my friend, or more simply, money makes the world goes round. George Clooney is as handsome as ever. Al Paccino is the bad guy, and not looking too good these days, I'm sorry to say. The collected crew are the kind of people who will throw away their last penny to save your sorry ass, if they count you a friend. It's actually a movie about male friendship at its best.)
Transformers Awesome for those who are enthralled to cars mutating into giant machines, lots of thundering explosions, quite a lot of fun (for young men, teenage boys, little boys and their fathers) but too long for someone who can watch the 5 hours of the A&E Pride & Prejudice in one sitting).
Nancy Drew (a very cute and clever, unspoiled, wonderfully accomplished and neat teenager sleuths her way around L.A., keeping her cool and her unique style. Highly recommended for parents of daughters to be seen with daughters. Others may not appreciate the character as much as she deserves to be...)
Jazz, Nectarines and Lebanese doom: Syria can, apparently, get away with just about anything. I could hardly blame Assad at this point if he believes, after such an astonishing non-response, that he can reconquer Beirut. So far he can kill and terrorize and invade and destroy with impunity, at least up to a point. What is that point? Has anyone in the U.S., Israel, the Arab League, the European Union, or the United Nations even considered the question? Meanwhile, the Syrian government is evacuating its citizens from Lebanon in advance of…something they expect to happen after July 15, 2007.
Raees, from the Good Neighbours blog reaches out for a happy end, while dreading another violent summer in Lebanon:
On a recent trip to south Lebanon, I had conversations with
a number of town council people who hoped for peace with Israel and the
incredible economic success it will bring. They also noted that Lebanon did not
have nectarines (the peach without fur) until they were transplanted from
Israel. There are rumors that the reason Qatar is sending so much aid to the
south is because they hope for peace between Israel and Lebanon. Allegedly,
Qatari businesspeople are trying to buy up tracts of land along Lebanon’s border
with Israel in the hopes of a massive payout when peace comes.
And Michael Totten scratches his head with gloomy prognostication:
Syria can, apparently, get away with just about anything. I could hardly blame Assad at this point if he believes, after such an astonishing non-response, that he can reconquer Beirut. So far he can kill and terrorize and invade and destroy with impunity, at least up to a point. What is that point? Has anyone in the U.S., Israel, the Arab League, the European Union, or the United Nations even considered the question?
Meanwhile, the Syrian government is evacuating its citizens from Lebanon in advance of…something they expect to happen after July 15, 2007.
Saturday, July 07, 2007
Why didn't Tolstoy get the Nobel Prize?
Samir Ubeid asks some pertinent questions about the Nobel prize and provides the answer:
*Why has the prize been awarded to 167 Jews, and to only four Arabs out of 380 million Arabs – and all four are considered traitors?
My colleague said that there is democracy. What democracy is there, if out of 1.5 billion Chinese, only two or three were awarded the Nobel?
If you examine the Russian scientists and writers, who shook the world with their literature and their knowledge... What about Sakharov, what about Tolstoy?
(Interviewer: But Sakharov was awarded the Nobel prize.
Samir 'Ubeid: I meant Chekhov. Chekhov! Chekhov!)
Are we Arabs not included in the transfer of the scientific genetic code? We, the descendants of Al-Khawarizmi, Al-Jahez, Al-Razi, Avicenna, and Ibn Al-Haytham – are we all born idiots? Is there not a single scientist among us? Are we not included in the genetic code? Is intelligence not transferred down among us Arabs?
And the answer?
This prize stems from the core of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
This interview put me in mind of another interview, conducted by Pierre Heumann of the Swiss weekly Die Weltwoche, who spoke with Al-Jazeera Editor-in-Chief Ahmed Sheikh, one of the brightest stars of Arab intelligentia:
[Sheikh] In many Arab states, the middle class is disappearing. The rich get richer and the poor get still poorer. Look at the schools in Jordan, Egypt or Morocco: You have up to 70 youngsters crammed together in a single classroom. How can a teacher do his job in such circumstances? The public hospitals are also in a hopeless condition. These are just examples. They show how hopeless the situation is for us in the Middle East.
[PH] Who is responsible for the situation?
[Sheikh] The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the most important reasons why these crises and problems continue to simmer. The day when Israel was founded created the basis for our problems. The West should finally come to understand this. Everything would be much calmer if the Palestinians were given their rights.
[PH] Do you mean to say that if Israel did not exist, there would suddenly be democracy in Egypt, that the schools in Morocco would be better, that the public clinics in Jordan would function better?
[Sheikh] I think so.
“Anti-Semitism is the swollen envy of pygmy minds.” ~Mark Twain
"The sense of shame is the beginning of righteousness" (Mencius, 4th century BCE)
Socrates' Comments on his Sentence (From: "The apology")
"You think that I was convicted through deficiency of words ... Not so; the deficiency which led to my conviction was not of words - certainly not. But I had not the boldness or impudence or inclination to address you as you would have liked me to address you, weeping and wailing and lamenting, and saying and doing many things which you have been accustomed to hear from others, and which, as I say, are unworthy of me... I would rather die having spoken after my manner, than speak in your manner and live. For neither in war nor yet at law ought any man to use every way of escaping death. For often in battle there is no doubt that if a man will throw away his arms, and fall on his knees before his pursuers, he may escape death; and in other dangers there are other ways of escaping death, if a man is willing to say and do anything. The difficulty, my friends, is not in avoiding death, but in avoiding unrighteousness; for that runs faster than death. I am old and move slowly, and the slower runner has overtaken me, and my accusers are keen and quick, and the faster runner, who is unrighteousness, has overtaken them. And now I depart hence condemned by you to suffer the penalty of death, and they, too, go their ways condemned by the truth to suffer the penalty of villainy and wrong; "
I've been reading Plato's dialogues which describe Socrates' trial, for a discussion group that I was leading during the winter semester. What struck me most, and without even being prepared for it, is how important it was for Socrates to lead a life free of shame. And that meant that he refused to supplicate the jury that convicted him even when it meant that his death sentence could be annulled. He thought there was shame in betryaing values such as decent and correct thinking and inner honesty for some spurious gain, such as popularity or prestige. He did not walk around these issues in an attempt to reconcile an act of dubious morality with true morality. He thought justice is indivisible and cannot be a gift depending on the mood and good will of one or a few persons. Something was either right, or it was not. And for him to plead for his life would have meant a complicity in injustice. Why? because his indictment was unjust and unfounded. If he needed to sway the jury on his behalf, he would only do so due to persuasion based on truth. If he had to manipulate their pity by crying and asking for mercy, he would be telling them: Since reason fails to make you realize I'm innocent, I'll try to make you feel sorry for me as a human being. That would have meant giving up, or relinquishing his defence in favour of supplication and a de facto admission of guilt.
The discussion about socrates' sense of shame and righteousness clarified for me a certain question which had always puzzled me. I had encountered it in Terence Rattigan's play which was twice made successfully into a movie 'The Winslow Boy". In 1948 and then again in 1999, directed by David Mamet. The moral core of the play--which pivots around the story of a patriarchal family that refuses to accept the unjust expulsion of the youngest son from school on the grounds of dishonorable behaviour - is the question of the difference between right and justice. Right predates justice. And Right is about the insistence on the preservation of a virtuous, autonomous essence. Which, I think, can be more simply translated into preserving the dignity of a life free of shame, unclouded but the knowledge that some primary principle had to be subverted for some material gain (in which I include prestige).
In the play, we see the family going through self-inflicted deprivations, because they will not compromise on their son's right to repair his name. And not just the family, but the barrister who defends him, is asked to make a sacrifice, so that "right be done".
Here are the pertinent sections from the script:
DESMOND Well, granting the assumption that the admiralty, as the Crown, can do no wrong.
CATHERINE I thought that was exactly the assumption we refused to grant.
DESMOND In law, I mean. Now-er- a subject can sue the Crown nevertheless by Petition of Right.
CATHERINE Petition of Right? Yes?
DESMOND Redress being granted as a matter of grace and the custom is for the Attorney General on behalf of the Crown to endorse the Petition and allow the case to come to court.
SIR ROBERT It is interesting to note that the exact words he uses on such occasions are 'Let Right Be Done'.
ARTHUR Let Right Be Done. I like that phrase, sir.
SIR ROBERT It has a certain ring about it, has it not? Let Right Be Done.
CATHERINE I'm afraid I have a confession and an apology to make to you, Sir Robert.
SIR ROBERT Dear lady, I'm sure the one is rash and the other is superfluous. I would far rather hear neither.
CATHERINE I'm afraid you must. This is probably the last time I shall see you and it's a better penance for me to say this than to write it. I have entirely misjudged your attitude to this case and if in doing so I've ever seemed to you either rude or ungrateful, I'm sincerely and humbly sorry.
SIR ROBERT My dear Miss Winslow, you've never seemed to me either rude or ungrateful and my attitude in this case has been the same as yours: a determination to win at all costs. Only, when you talk of gratitude, you must remember that those costs were not mine but yours.
CATHERINE Weren't they also yours, Sir Robert?
SIR ROBERT I beg your pardon?
CATHERINE Haven't you too made a certain sacrifice for the case?
SIR ROBERT The robes of that office would not have suited me.
CATHERINE Wouldn't they?
SIR ROBERT And what is more I fully intend to have Curry censured for revealing a confidence. I must ask you never to divulge it to another living soul. And I'd like you to forget it yourself.
CATHERINE I shall never divulge it. I'm afraid I cannot promise to forget it myself.
SIR ROBERT Very well if you choose to endow an unimportant incident with a romantic significance, you are perfectly at liberty to do so.
CATHERINE One thing puzzles me, why are you always at such pains to prevent people knowing the truth about you, Sir Robert?
SIR ROBERT Am I, indeed?
CATHERINE You know that you are. Why?
SIR ROBERT Which of us knows the truth about himself?
CATHERINE That is no answer.
SIR ROBERT My dear Miss Winslow, are you cross-examining me?
CATHERINE On this point. Why are you ashamed of your emotions?
SIR ROBERT To fight a case on emotional grounds is the surest way to lose it.
CATHERINE Is it?
SIR ROBERT Emotions cloud the issue. Cold, clear logic wins the day.
CATHERINE Was it cold, clear logic that made you weep today at the verdict?
SIR ROBERT I wept today because right had been done.
Friday, July 06, 2007
Normblog has this gem today:
Cause and consequence
I find that it wasn't just Tacitus who anticipated this; it was also Jane Austen. Here she is writing of the dreadful Mrs Norris:
... independently of that, she disliked Fanny, because she [i.e. Mrs Norris] had neglected her...
Austen seems to give flesh and spirit to Norm's observation, articulated here:
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.
And here is Christopher Caldwell (Weekly Standard, June 5, 2002) with the same thought, writ large:
"“For anyone who inhabits Western culture, the Holocaust made that culture a much more painful place to inhabit – and for any reasonably moral person, greatly narrowed the range of acceptable political behaviour. To be human is to wish it had never happened. (Those who deny that it did may be those can’t bear to admit it happened,) but it did. If there is a will-to anti-Semitism – then the Arab style Judeophobia, which is an anti-Semitism without the West’s complexes, offers a real redemptive project to those Westerners who are willing to embrace. It can liberate guilty, decadent Europeans from a horrible moral albatross. What an anti-depressant! Saying there was no such thing as the gas chamber is, of course, not respectable. But the same purpose can be served using what Leo Strauss called the reductio ad Hitlerum to cast the Jews as having committed crimes identical to the Nazis’. They must be identical, of course, so the work of self-delusion can be accomplished. We did one, the Jews did one. Now we’re even-steven”.
This is why one may find Israel being facilely and baselessly accused of "crimes against humanity", or Jews jeered at for being offended by the Islamic instruction to the believers that the Jews are “the enemies of Allah, descendants of apes and pigs.” It is because, as Nick Cohen explains in "What's Left, [b]eyond the release from the burden of the past, lay the relief of letting out repressed emotion.... Once … a figure or group became an approved object of hatred, pent-up feeling burst over it. "
Of course, the only consolation in this scenario is that nobody can stay in this state of blithe denial interminably. It is unsustainable. That is, unless we speak of pathologically enfeebled minds resistant to reason and reality, which these comments are not addressed to, anyway. As Tacitus said: It is part of human nature to hate the man you have hurt.
As George Orwell observes in his essay : Antisemitism in Britain:
Intelligent woman, on being offered a book dealing with antisemitism and German atrocities: "Don't show it me, PLEASE don't show it to me. It'll only make me hate the Jews more than ever." ....
As the last .. of the above-quoted remarks shows, people can remain antisemitic, or at least anti-Jewish, while being fully aware that their outlook is indefensible. If you dislike somebody, you dislike him and there is an end of it: your feelings are not made any better by a recital of his virtues.
It is as I always claim that Jane Austen knew all about human fallibility and talent for malign self-deception. She may not have had the scope of Shakespeare's subject matter but she certainly managed to explore in dainty minute detail the incoherences of the human heart. As she herself attests to her humble aspirations in one of her famed letters (which I strongly suspect is just as tongue-in-cheek as the opening lines of Pride & Prejudice):
What should I do with your strong, manly, spirited sketches, full of variety and glow? How could I possibly join them on to the little bit (two inches wide) of ivory on which I work with so fine a brush, as produces little effect after much labour?
And speaking of Jane, here is Ibn-Warraq redressing the injustice to her moral weltanschaang which she had suffered at the hands of Edward Said. I've got lots to add to his case but I'll have to find my notes, first. Later, hopefully.
Thursday, July 05, 2007
Anti-Semitism, by Nick Cohen
I learned it was one thing being called “Cohen” if you went along with liberal orthodoxy, quite another when you pointed out liberal betrayals. Your argument could not be debated on its merits. There had to be a malign motive. You had to support Ariel Sharon. You had to be in the pay of “international” media moguls or neoconservatives. You had to have bad blood. You have to be a Jew.
I've just finished reading Nick Cohen's book "What's Left". Here is what one reviewer says:
Third world democrats, feminists and liberals have been betrayed by those who so style themselves in the West. The fall of communism and the disappearance of a coherent set of principles have liberated Western leftists into a kind of nihilism that is akin to modern consumerism. Now you can pick your issue du jour from an anti-Western smorgasbord. Cohen chronicles the etiology of the disease - how it started with postmodern theorists and obscure fringe groups, entered the mainstream and led to the failure of left-liberals to confront genocide in Bosnia, Kosovo and the Middle East until it grew into an all-consuming fever. He also attempts to salvage the best of the liberal-left's internationalist and democratic traditions. In this regard, please consult A Matter of Principle edited by Thomas Cushman.
The author chronicles these developments in part by telling the story of Iraqi human rights campaigner Kanan Makiya who exposed Saddam's atrocities in the book Republic of Fear and was later shunned by his former so-called comrades. Makiya was prescient as he foresaw the outcome of these relativist multiculti tendencies in his 1993 book Cruelty and Silence. Many myths and lies are exposed by Cohen, for example those concerning Saddam's arms suppliers. For the record, between 1973 and 2002, 57 per cent of those weapons came from the Soviet Union/Russia, 13 per cent from France and 12 per cent from China. The USA and UK together did not contribute even one per cent.
Other revelations concern sinister British groups on the left, like the Workers Revolutionary Party of the thug Gerry Healy, a toxic cult if ever there was one. Some of the juiciest writing is about the obscurantism of postmodern theorists - it makes you laugh out loud. The Sokal Hoax is inter alia covered here, but the very best dissection of this species may be found in Explaining Postmodernism by Stephen Hicks.
Cohen observes that the utopian, the hate-filled and the irreconcileable do not dissappear with geopolitical changes, so a revived radicalism was inevitable after the fall of the Berlin Wall. But the death of communism gave birth to a nasty nihilism, the breast milk of the Moonbats. Not surprising since one of their intellectual masters, Michel Foucault, already hailed the Khomeinian ayatollocracy back in 1978. Thus his intellectual heirs ended up endorsing anything that was against liberal democracy.
And here is what another critic has to say about Cohen's position vis a vis Israel and antisemitism:
On The Zionist Question
In dealing with the general situation in the Middle East, Nick Cohen adopts a strong position for the defence of Israel, whilst arguing that a solution of the Palestinian conflict requires a confrontation with both Jewish and Muslim ultras.
There is then a strong criticism of those liberals who camouflage forms of anti-Semitism under a cloak of anti-Zionism.
Here it seems to me that it is fruitful for the left to avoid such dangers by clarifying what we understand by the use of the concept of “anti-Zionism”. For it is possible to adopt forms of Zionism and anti-Zionism at the same time.Zionism was initially a movement to establish a Jewish State in Palestine. With the establishment of a State of Israel with its widely recognised borders and its theoretical rights for its Arab citizens as embodied in its Constitution, a major element of the initial project has been achieved.Without recognising the rights of settlements on the West Bank nor of Israel’s freedom to act at will in Gaza and the Lebanon, those of us who recognise the right of Israel to exist and to take reasonable action to defend itself have, in fact, come to accept a partial Zionist position.
Many of us have not done this from ideological positions, but mainly as a matter of coming to terms with what we saw as the politics of the situation. Although those of us who were young children at the time of the holocaust, may have developed Jewish sympathies which gave little consideration at the time to the Arab Question.
On Zionism, we need to be clear that we are opposed to its expansionist form and to any desire to treat Arabs as second class citizens.
Many anti-Zionists obscure the distinction I have made. Their ill defined form of anti-Zionism allows them to gain the acceptance of those who wish to destroy the State of Israel, whilst telling the rest of us that they aren’t anti-Semitic as they actually favour a two State solution to the Palestine problem.*
Clarity on what we mean by anti-Zionism might not be everything, but it sure is an important starter.But whilst we have a three card trick being played by some to obscure the distinctions we need to have in our mind between Anti-Zionism and Anti-Semitism, Zionist lobbies (of both the types I describe) can also be used to hide counter criticism of un-praiseworthy acts by Israel or its supporters. We should avoid being fooled by the language tricks on both sides of this divide.
* The author is refering to only a part of the Left in this description. For the ultra left-- the kind that defines itself as the "anti-globalist, anti-racist" movement (best manifested in the anti-Israel boycott movement in Britain)-- the two-state solution is a clearly pro-Israel position, which they refuse to accept. Their goal is expressly the dissolution of the Jewish state. What redeems them from outright complicity with genocidal organizations like Hamas or Hizzbala is coy reluctance to expound upon the form in which their express goal will be achieved.
JAY When's the latest time you were out there?
SAM (trying to remember) Seventy... eight.
JAY Well. Things are different. First, you have to be friends. You have to like each other. Then you neck. This can go on for years. Then you have tests. Then you get to do it with a condom. The good news is, split the check.
SAM I don't think it could let a woman pay for dinner.
JAY Great. They'll have a parade in your honor. You'll be Man of the Year in Seattle Magazine. Tira misu.
SAM What's tira misu?
JAY You'll find out.
SAM What is it?
JAY You'll see.
SAM Some woman is going to want me to do it to her and I'm not going to know what it is.
JAY You'll like it.
SAM (grimly) This is going to be tougher than I thought.
I mentioned once that I like things Italian (food, music, shoes, biscotties, limoncello, amaretto, sambucca). Manolo's recent post about the Tiramisu reminded me of this simple, uncomplicated and luscious dessert, made of ingredients that have absolutely no quarrel with each other. Not just the coffee, or the nutty flavour of Italian soft cheese (robustly tastable even in the low fat ricotta), or the cream, but allso in the associations that come with this dessert: the fairly uncomplicated city of Seattle which served as the very fitting background for one of my most favourite, uncomplicated, romantic comedies: Sleepless in Seattle. When I stayed in Seattle for a few days some time ago, my cabdrive would inevitably go along the lake, the driver would gesture with uncomplicated pride; This is where they made "Sleepless in Seattle". There, you see, is a floating houseboat, the kind you see in the movie. A couple of friends who showed me around the city reassured me that the floating houses were actually securely anchored and unlikely to shift or drift away in case of a gale-power storm.
Here is my recipe for a simple, uncomplicated, low fat Tiramisu
which I had developed for the sake of my friend Sue:
1 angel food cake mix
1 pound of Low fat, fresh, ricotta cheese
1 teaspoon natural vanilla essence
I cup Splenda sugar substitute + one tablespoon sugar
1 cup cold strong espresso coffee
Rum, coffee liqueur, amaretto or cognac*, each or all together
half a teaspoon ground cinnamon
cocoa powder or grated chocolate
Half a cup of Half and half cream
Prepare angel food cake, substituting coffee for the water they recommend in the preparation instructions.
Divide batter into two small cake tins. Bake. Chill.
Prepare cheese filling by mixing cheese, cinnamon, half and half, splenda, sugar, vanilla essence
Douse the two cake layers with the alcohol of your choice. Be generous but be careful not to over-saturate the cake.
Assemble the cake: one layer of cake, spoon half the cheese mixture, place the second layer of cake, cover with the rest of the cheese mixture. Lightly sift cocoa powder over the spread cheese mixture. Or carefully scatter the grated chocolate over it (or do both, if you wish to make it a bit extra rich). Place in the fridge for 6 hours at least, to allow all the flavours to blend in.
Since it is a low fat cake I don't recommend serving it with whipped cream except for the very thin among your guests or family members (my husband and son qualify but they don't like tiramisu) or those who answer yes when you enquire whether they would like the additional, and in my opinion, gratuitous, calories. The cake is so good it can stare down even Mr. Henry's super-rich recipe.
*Cognac, btw, goes very nicely in cakes that incorporate ground nuts in them, like peanuts, hazelnuts, or allnuts. I'll try to find the recipe I have for it. Learned it from my mother, whose cakes have never been great except this one which she made with peanuts (since wallnuts were quite beyond our budget in those days. She used to make baklava and tishpishti with peanuts, for the same reason).
Wednesday, July 04, 2007
Monday, July 02, 2007
A Galileo for our times ...
"Last December, St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, authorized a small Spanish Inquisition of its own to denounce a St. FX Muslim professor. . . . My sin: I attended a conference in a Muslim nation on the Holocaust entitled The Review of the Holocaust: Global Vision. It took place in Tehran, Iran, in December 2006, and it was widely—and erroneously—described in the western media as a “Holocaust-denial conference.”
Holocaust Denial and Academic freedom, as not so masterfully spinned by a whining Shiraz Dossa, the professor of political science at Canada’s St. Francis Xavier University who attended Iran's Holocaust Denial conference to deliver a "scholarly" paper:
"The second western fallacy is that the event was a Holocaust-denial conference because of the presence of a few notorious western Christian deniers/skeptics, a couple of a neo-Nazi stripe. It was nothing of the sort. It was a Global South conference convened to devise an intellectual/political response to western-Israeli intervention in Muslim affairs....It was the Zionists and the neo-Nazis who, for very different, self-serving reasons, depicted it as a Holocaust-denial conference and sold it to willing, anti-Iranian Islamophobes."
It's not about historical truth, the denial of one genocide and preparing the warrant for the next one. No. It's just Islamophobia and Zionists running the world and persecuting the heralders of "new enlightenment" such as Dossa himself . . .
Consider the man's confusion when he says:
"The petition oddly defended my “academic freedom … to espouse any views that he pleases,” but then negated my right to do so by being “profoundly embarrassed by his participation in the Holocaust-denial conference held in Tehran.”....
By his own formulation, he explains that his right for academic freedom was "negated" by his critics. How was his right "negated"? By critics explaining how they lack sympathy for such academic projects as he participated in. No one threatened him, or punished him for his ill-informed, immoral positions. He was castigated, verbally, in editorials and possibly by the frowns of his colleagues, for showing such poor judgment. How does that exactly "negate" his fundamental right to say what he pleases about the Holocaust? Perhaps the good professor does not understand what "negate" means:
"to deny the existence, evidence, or truth of, to nullify or cause to be ineffective,
to be negative; bring or cause negative results. "
Negating a right means refusing that right, causing it to be removed, taking it away.
I would suggest that Dossa's understanding of his "negated" rights has about the same ring of credibility and validity as his understanding of Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial conference and plans for Israel.
The question is, of course, why would Dossa misunderstand these issues?
Sunday, July 01, 2007
A precarious moment at the United Nations Human Rights Council
"I took a wander through the many outer rings of observer seats for diplomats whose governments beat and starve and isolate and murder their people — Iran and Sudan, North Korea and Syria. I watched the observers from Vietnam and Yemen and Venezuela huddled in alphabetical proximity, waiting for the magic moment at which this U.N. body might complete its year-long procedural gestation.
They were not disappointed. Just before midnight, Council president Luis Alfonso de Alba of Mexico reappeared from wherever he had been closeted, strode briskly to the podium and announced (apparently with no regard for Canada’s dissenting voice) that a solution had been found. China had compromised with the European Union. The upshot was that the U.N. Human Rights Council, having fulfilled its organizational requirements, will now omit any examination of Cuba and Belarus, ignore a raft of other despots under its roof, and above all, will carry on with its single-minded focus on democratic Israel.
The day’s work was done. It was just after midnight. Smiling, cheering, clapping, almost the entire crowd in the chamber rose and gave de Alba a standing ovation. Then they filed out to the parking lot, and in a convoy of BMWs and Mercedes (the Porsche was long gone), rolling up the drive, past the thick lawns and the sturdy gates, these U.N. guardians of human rights drove off into the night."