June 4, 2010

Kent State and Palestine

Same shit, different century.

Left: the aftermath of shootings of demonstrators by the National Guard at Kent State University in the Vietnam era. Right: a peaceful American demonstrator (an artist, in fact) blinded by a tear gas canister shot by Israeli forces at a roadblock in Palestine.

May 24, 2010

Hey, Dershowitz!

You odious prick, how's your attempt to smear Goldstone workin' out for ya, now that this has come out again?

March 27, 2010

The Ten-Book Meme

There’s a meme going around asking people to name ten books that have been influential in their lives, or views. You’re not supposed to think too much about it. Well, here are mine, with brief explanations. I left a great deal out, for example the works of Érico Veríssimo, which taught me a great deal about Brazil, or Mary Renault, whose early historical novels I liked so much.

If I did it tomorrow, I'd come up with a different list, maybe starting with Apuleius's Golden Ass, the Lazarillo de Tormes, and A Confederacy. There are no right answers.

1. Homage to Catalonia, by George Orwell.

Orwell, like many leftists of his time, went to Spain to fight in the Civil War. In Orwell’s case, he didn’t leave his common sense or keen observer’s eye behind, and was able to see and convey the darkness behind many leftist movements, especially the Stalinist version of communism. At an early age, I acquired a skepticism (not strong enough) about the left.

2. The Road to Serfdom, by Friedrich A.Hayek

A popular book on the follies of socialism and the managerial state, that lays out pretty clearly how government control of the economy doesn’t work very well, and tends to tyranny. I’m not a down-the-line libertarian, but this is an important book.

3. The Orthodox Way, by Kallistos (Timothy) Ware

A concise and literate overview of the Orthodox Christian tradition.

4. All the King’s Men, by Robert Penn Warren

A fine book about a special, but not entirely atypical corner of American public life. Evokes the great but flawed Huey P. Long of Louisiana. See also Liebling's The Earl of Louisiana, an account of Huey's brother, crazy, though perhaps like a fox.

5. 100 Poems from the Chinese, by Kenneth Rexroth

Lovely gems of classic Chinese poetry, beautifully rendered into English. Rexroth, a West Coast anarchist poet and critic, is almost always worth reading.

6. The Death and Life of Great American Cities, by Jane Jacobs

Jacobs led a successful crusade against the bureaucratic visionary and “master builder” Robert Moses, who wanted to drive a highway through Greenwich Village, destroying it. Jacobs shows how conventional zoning destroys urban community life.

7. A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula LeGuin

LeGuin is the daughter of the Berkeley anthropologist Alfred Kroeber, but instead of researching existing worlds, she creates fascinating worlds of her own. Earthsea is perhaps the best known. This is the first novel of the trilogy--or is it now a tetralogy. A coming-of-age novel in a well-imagined different world.

8. 1-2-3 Infinity, by George Gamow

Gamow wrote more than one popularization of the cosmology known in my youth. It’s all changed, of course, but it drew me into an appreciation of science and mathematics, even if I never became proficient in either.

9. Growing Up Absurd

Paul Goodman’s dissection of the early meritocracy, and dream of a better way of growing up, and being grown up.

10. Reviving Ophelia, by Mary Pipher

A wise and humane account of the pressures on many pre-adolescent and adolescent girls, and how to help them to grow up strong, with the liveliness they had at 10 and 11.

January 1, 2010

Three New Year's Scenarios

Wm. Safire having bought the farm, someone had to make New Year's predictions. Here are mine, in three variants: quasi-apocalyptic, benign, and realistic. Or: really bad s**t, pretty good news, what's most likely to happen.  We'll check in a year. Here goes:


1. Iran starts executing dissidents.

2. Yemen-based Al Qaeda succeeds in downing planes. Americans attack Yemen. Obama institutes conscription.

4. Israel attacks Iran. Iran closes Straits of Hormuz. Hezbollah and Hamas attack Israel. Israel retaliates, destroys Lebanon, bombs Syria, and expels Palestinians from West Bank. Mubarak government falls. Military-Islamist coalition takes power, denounces peace treaty with Israel, sends troops to Sinai. Netanyahu threatens to nuke Aswan Dam and kill millions in Nile Valley. Saudis close oil spigot.

5. Oil rises to $250 per gallon. Stock market plunge worldwide. Food prices soar. Worldwide food riots. US unemployment rises to 15 per cent.

6. Hemorrhagic fever epidemic starts in West Africa; hundreds of thousands die. Worldwide travel ban ensues. Major airlines file bankruptcy.

7. Obama killed by IED planted by unknown terrorists. Biden assumes Presidency, giving 5-hour rambling speech. Appoints Hillary VP. Blacks riot in major cities nationwide. National Guard kills dozens. Martial law proclaimed in Harlem, South Central LA, etc.

8. Taliban close supply route to Afghanistan. Pakistan Army refuses to intervene. India attacks Pakistan. China mobilizes on India border. Shiites and Iranian Pasdaran attack supply route from Kuwait to Baghdad. US troops in jeopardy as civil war erupts in Iraq. Muslim youth riot throughout Europe. Martial law proclaimed. Italy, France intern foreign nationals.

8. California and New York default on debt. Biden places them under federal control, appoints Petraeus supreme commander. Massive food queues, riots in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco. Hundereds shot, martial law proclaimed as cities burn and Whites, Asians arm themselves.

9. Earthquake and tsunami during monsoon season destroy most of Bangladesh, killing millions.

10. Civil war breaks out in Ukraine. Russia seizes East Ukraine, Crimea. NATO mobilizes.


1. Five Senate Democrats announce they cannot support health care bill in present form. Substitute proposed with modest reforms (tort reform, anti-trust exemption for insurance companies abolished, state-mandated coverage for politically popular diseases banned, etc.)

2. President appoints Special Prosecutor to investigate banking débacle. Dozens of Wall St. bankers indicted. Geithner, Summers fired. Volcker Sec. of Treasury.

3. Withdrawal from Iraq accelerated. Escalation in Afghanistan quietly delayed. Obama orders phase-out of mercenaries such as Blackwater.

4. Iraqi Army issues pronunciamento. Khamenei flees to Russia. Moussavi assumes Presidency. Talks lead to comprehensive deal between US, Iran.

5. Obama proposes all-infrastructure stimulus.

6. Hamas, Fatah agree on unity government, negotiations. Obama warns Netanyahu against attack on Iran.

7. Major breakthrough in carbon-fixation research.

8. November election leads to GOP control of House, narrow Democratic majority in Senate. Reid defeated for reelection.

9. Illegal immigration continues to decline.

10. AIDS, malaria vaccine tests promising.


1. Health care negotiations stall. Democrats ultimately pass a bill that everyone hates, creating new entitlement. The entire camel is in the tent.

2. Obama proposes, Congress passes, second stimulus. Interest rates on Treasuries begin to rise.

3. Violence in Iraq increases as troop drawdown continues. Full civil war avoided. Casualties in Afghanistan increase as supply lines come under threat. Zardari arrested for corruption, deposed. New elections called. Mass rallies against American drone strikes.

4. Greece defaults on debt; Baltics, Spain in danger of default. Germans reluctantly agree to bailout. Euro falls relative to dollar.

5. Iran becomes increasingly unstable. Nuclear negotiations falter. Weak sanctions imposed. US restrains Israelis from attacking.

6. israel-Palestine peace process stalls. Abbas ousted. Barghouti is released in prisoner swap, becomes President of Palestinian Authority, recognized by Hamas. Civil disobedience on West Bank grows. Kadima splits. Talk of one-state solution increases.

7. California legalizes, taxes marijuana.

8. Stevens retires from Supreme Court. Obama appoints Hillary Clinton, who is easily confirmed.

9. NY Times files Chapter 11, purchased by News Corp. Chrysler fails, is liquidated.

10. GOP victory in Congressional elections, Dems hold Senate narrowly; GOP has narrow lead in House. Reid, Specter defeated. Schumer becomes majority leader. Cuomo, Brown are governors in NY, CA respectively. After fundraising and campaigning nationwide, Palin's star continues to rise.