Monday, April 08, 2002

This article from the Weekly Standard on bourgeoisophobes has been making the rounds in the blogosphere; how you take it, I suppose, depends on whether you consider "bourgeois" an insult or a compliment. Here are some commonplaces of bourgeois thought from arch-bourgeoisophobe Gustave Flaubert's Dictionary of Received Wisdom to help you decide if the doxa fits:

AGRICULTURE: One of the two breasts of state (the state is masculine but never mind). Should be encouraged. Short of manpower.

AMERICA: Fine example of injustice: Columbus discovered it and it is named after Amerigo Vespucci. If it weren't for the discovery of America, we shouldn't have syphilis and Phyloxera. Praise it all the same, especially if you've never been there. Expatiate on self-government.

ART: Leads to the workhouse. What use is it since machines can make things better and quicker?

ARTISTS: All charlatans. Praise their disinterestedness (old-fashioned). Express surprise that they dress like everyone else (old-fashioned). They earn huge sums but squander them. Often asked to dine out. A woman artist must be a whore. What artists do can't be called work.

BATTLE: Always "bloody." There are always two sets of victors: those who won and those who lost.

BEARD: Sign of strength. Too much beard causes baldness. Helps to protect cravats.

CATS AND DOGS: When you see a dark cloud, don't fail to say, "It's going to rain cats and dogs."

CHRISTIANITY: Freed the slaves.

COMFORT: Important modern discovery.

DIPLOMA: Emblem of knowledge. Proves nothing.

DWARF: Tell the story of General Tom Thumb, and if by any chance you shook his hand, boast of the fact.

ENGLISHWOMEN: Express surprise that they can have pretty children.

FURNITURE: Always fear the worst for your furniture.

HAMMOCK: Characteristic of Creole women. Indispensible in a garden. Persuade yourself that it is more comfortable than a bed.

IDIOTS: Those who think differently from you.

IMAGINATION: Always "lively." Be on your guard against it. When you lack it, attack it in others. To write a novel, all you need is imagination.

IMPERIALISTS: All respectable, polite, peaceable, distinguished people.

KORAN: Book by Mohammed, which is all about women.

MUSICIAN: The characteristic of the true musician is to compose no music, to play no instrument, and to despise virtuosos.

NEWSPAPERS: One can't do without them, but thunder against them. Play an important part in modern society. . . . You must leave them lying about on your drawing-room table, taking care to cut the pages beforehand. Marking a few pages in red pencil is also impressive. In the morning read an article in one of these grave and serious journals; in the evening, in company, bring the conversation round to the subject you have studied in order to shine.

ORIGINAL: Make fun of everything that is original, hate it, jeer at it, and annihilate it if you can.

PYRAMID: Useless edifice.

RABBIT PIE: Always made of cat.

REPUBLICANS: The republicans are not all scoundrels, but all scoundrels are republicans.

STUDENTS: All wear red berets and tight-fitting trousers, smoke pipes in the street and never study.

TIME: Thunder against it. Deplore the fact that there is nothing poetic about it. Call it a time of transition, of decadence.

WORKMAN: Always honest, unless he is rioting.

From Drudge, under the headline "Bush Heckled in Tennessee":

Hecklers repeatedly interrupted Bush's speech at the Knoxville Civic
Auditorium; he watched as authorities removed them, but didn't change his
standard address on the war against terrorism. The demonstrators
shouted: "We won't fight your racist war!"

Bush had to yell at one point as counter-hecklers shouted the protesters

I listened to the speech today on the radio here in Knoxville while running errands--a very nice Christian hardware store owner intentionally undercharged me for sharpening some point chisels--and the hecklers were barely audible. Apparently there were six of them, in groups of two, three, and one (if one can be a group), at the back of the auditorium, and they were "detained for questioning" after the speech. "Repeatedly" is an exaggeration, as there were only three interruptions, and they were quickly quashed.

The main reason I posted this excerpt, though, is the word "counter-hecklers." It's probably more accurate than "counter-protestors" or "counter-demonstrators," but wouldn't "patriots" have been accurate as well?

Friday, March 29, 2002

From an interview with Barry Sonnenfeld from the New York Times series on directors' favorite movies (Sonnenfeld's is Dr. Strangelove):

"There was a short period where I spent my days at the New Yorker movie
theater instead of going to high school," he said of the long-gone theater at
89th Street and Broadway. "One of the great moviegoing experiences of my
life was a double feature one day of `Duck Soup' and `Hamlet.' It was pouring
rain, the kind of rain where your pants are soaked from wherever your coat ends,
and I was kind of depressed. I was the only person in the theater except for this
old woman, who looked like a street person, and I'd brought in this tuna sandwich
that really stunk the place up. All through the movie, this woman in the back of
the theater, kept saying over and over again in this very sad voice: `Don't trust
them, Hamlet. Don't trust them!' "

One of the reasons we like to watch favorite movies again and again is that the ritual (and it is a ritual--the theater developed from religious festivals) confirms a certain vision of the world. For two hours the chaos of life is ordered into a coherent whole; every line, every action confirms it, and there is comfort in feeling that things make sense. Even an essentially existential play like Hamlet--"The rest is silence"--allows us to participate in the search for meaning, which in meaning's absence becomes an end--absurd or defiant--in itself.

But some rituals lose their power to enchant over time. A good example of this is the Middle East "peace process." Over the last couple of decades, what began as a noble endeavor has devolved into vulgar farce. As the possibility of lasting peace became more and more unlikely, the ritual of negotiation took on a life of its own--see my take on Richard Cohen's fetishization of negotiation without regard to actually achieving anything below. We have seen this movie many times: Arafat arrests a suspected terrorist, releases him, the terrorist blows up some Israelis (and himself), Arafat calls for a cease-fire, the Israelis respond, the world calls for peace talks, Arafat rounds up the usual suspects, releases them, and so on. It is a well-worn script. But I think we've finally seen the last performance. Arafat will be dead or in exile within days.

So, to strain the metaphor even further, is Arafat a tragic hero? In the Aristotelian sense that the tragic hero must make a fatal miscalculation and suffer a reversal of fortune, yes; that he must achieve an understanding of the true state of affairs, no. Ostensibly, Arafat has been fighting all these years for a Palestinian state. But the goal has never been self-determination for Palestine but instead destruction of Israel, and Arafat has never been a leader but merely a pawn of the Arab League.

Thursday, March 28, 2002

In an incredible (in that it leaves me completely incredulous) column in the Wahington Post, the thesis of which is that by keeping the Palestianians and Israel in a state of perpetual negotiation, Clinton sagely and single-handedly brought peace to the Middle East, Richard Cohen writes:

But it is the job, the obligation and the duty of any American administration to do the hard, often fruitless work of the Middle East. It is the responsibility of any White House to keep the secretary of state frequently in the region, if only to keep the two sides from tearing each other apart. This is particularly true at the moment, because, as Yeats would have it, the center has not held. Foggy Bottom is the only center left.

First of all, why is it not the responsibility of the Middle East to take care of itself? Cohen's implicit sanction of the "root causes" of Middle East dysfunction--autocracy, misogyny, ignorance, anti-Semitism, and fanaticism--as long as the sides are talking is reprehensible. But even worse is his misuse of poetry. Yeats was a major figure in Irish politics as well as poetry but had an ambivalent relationship towards Irish nationalism. (You might say that he loved Ireland more than the Irish.) The beautiful terrorist Maud Gonne was his lifelong obsession, and Yeats was both fascinated and repulsed by the violence that surrounded her. (She thought he was a weenie.) Though he despised the incalcitrance of the Irish revolutionaries, however, when several of them--including John MacBride, Gonne's husband--were executed by the British for their role in the Easter Rebellion of 1916, he recognized that they had transcended politics and that martyrdom had invested them with a certain mana: "A terrible beauty is born."

In other words, a good writer might draw some interesting parallels between Irish and Palestinian (or Zionist, for that matter) nationalism and use the words of the twentieth century's greatest poet to try to elucidate the complex, murky, maddening situation we face today. A good writer might; Cohen just misquotes him. Here's the poem in question, "The Second Coming" (1921):

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Yeats, whose metaphysics tended toward the occult, if not the downright loopy, thought that history moves in two-thousand-year cycles, or gyres. (Picture two intersecting cones, spirals really, the points of which touch each other's bases.) As one cycle dissolves, another emerges out of its ruins. The birth of Christ, for instance, signaled both the end of the classical gyre and the beginning of the Christian--which we are at the end of now. This is what "The Second Coming" (which, despite its title, is not millenarian in the Christian sense) is about. Yeats saw the twentieth century descending into chaos, and, just as the Christian era was a falling off from the classical, so the next cycle, embodied in the "rough beast" slouching towards Bethlehem, will take a form unrecognizable to the present but nonetheless portentous.

Cohen identifies the "center" which "has not held" as some sort of stasis in the Middle East in which Israelis and Arabs don't tear each other apart and that can be controlled from Washington. For Yeats, though, the center "cannot hold." The entire impetus of the civilization it represents has run out and will be, necessarily, replaced by a new order. This is a perfect illustration of the current situation. In the clash between modernity and Islamic fundamentalism, something has to give. One way of life will be swept away by "the blood-dimmed tide," and the other will supplant it. Imposing "stability" at this point will only increase the violence of the inevitable explosion. America should do everything possible to make sure that the next gyre is, though born out of violence, one of worldwide liberation and liberalization and not one held hostage to fear of change.
Quote of the day:

"I will burn his eyes out with a hot poker."
--Ozzy Osbourne on Randy Yates

"Gee, Ozzy, don't bite my head off," Yates is reported to have replied.
Straight shooting, as usual, from USS Clueless:

It is better to have an honest enemy than a lying friend. It's as simple as that. We now know which Saudi Arabia is.

Amid all the hand-wringing over Cheney's "failure" in the Middle East to make headway in the "peace process," the pundit class has missed the fact that the vice president has done exactly what he set out to do: he has forced the various Arab nations to show their hands. The fact that Bush sent Cheney and not Powell shows that this was never about negotiation. Egypt and Jordan are wisely lying low, but the Saudis have chosen to side with Saddam, at least publicly, which merely means that we will stage the coming invasion of Iraq from either Turkey or Kuwait. The Saudi princes apparently fear for their thrones; they would do better to fear for their lives.

Sunday, March 24, 2002

The New York Times editorial page asks today:

Can prosperous nations best help [poor nations] by spending
significantly more on foreign aid, or by better targeting their
assistance and making it more efficient?

Framing the question in terms of what prosperous nations can do, however, misses the point. The question should be: "What can poor nations do to establish stable legal and financial institutions, eliminate corruption, and promote education and women's rights so that they will be able to participate in the free market?" Until a country begins to respect property rights and the rule of law, foreign aid is money wasted, for both donor and donee. Bush realizes this, and his willingness--not just desire, but readiness to take action--to effect regime changes in North Korea and Iraq, foment popular revolution in Iran, and transform at least a portion of Third World ressentiment into the promise of participation in the global economy makes this potentially one of the most truly revolutionary moments in history. Let's see how he deals with the forces of reaction--the anti-globos, the European Union, the World Bank and IMF, and the Democratic Party--aligned against him.

Friday, March 22, 2002


What possible exit strategy can you have against an enemy whose ordinary soldier signs up with the following oath (found among the documents captured from al Qaeda in Afghanistan): "I state in the presence of God that I will slaughter infidels for my entire life"?
Here's another article on Russia's implementation of a flat tax from NRO:

Moreover, the Russian flat tax has proven a smashing success
since it took effect in January 2001. Russia's economy grew
by more than 5% last year while most other nations were
mired in recession. Even the Organization for Economic
Cooperation and Development called Russia's flat tax system
a "key accomplishment," a stunning admission since the
Paris-based bureaucracy is infamous for complaining about
the "unfairness" of nations using low tax rates to lure jobs and
capital from high-tax nations.

It also is interesting to note that Russian tax revenues are
skyrocketing even though the tax rate now is now far below
the 30% top rate of the old system. According to preliminary
figures, inflation-adjusted tax revenues climbed by 28% last
year. This proves the class-warfare artists in Washington
completely wrong when they argue that tax revenues would
fall and the rich would get a big tax cut if America adopted
such a system. The Russian experience confirms — again —
that tax revenues rise under a flat tax.

Radically simplifying the tax code in America would also initiate real campaign finance reform by eliminating from the legislative process the creation of hidden loopholes and exceptions that only those corporations that have paid for them can find. Bush seems to like the idea, but Karl Rove would never let him run on it. Democrats would demagogue it, of course, but if Republicans could successfully earmark the increased revenue for "saving Social Security," it might have a chance. Will this be the true legacy of Bush's second term? (I can dream, can't I?)
Excerpt of the day, from the Washington Post, via Drudge:

Not all sporting events between international forces and Afghans have ended violently, however.
This article, via Arts and Letters Daily, reviews evidence that people who rely on "gut instinct" as opposed to reason are less able to detect falsehoods. You don't say.

Wednesday, March 20, 2002

Here's a conservative take on Alanis Morissette's oeuvre in NRO. Not all conservatives share the author's perspective, though. When Jagged Little Pill won scads of Emmys in 1996, the Mississippi State Legislature voted to honor Russ Ballard, the Mississippi native who had produced the album and cowritten most of the songs on it, by declaring Russ Ballard Day. Then someone actually read the lyrics, and an embarrassed legislature quickly revoked the honor--to be sure, an even greater distinction.
Thomas Friedman in the New York Times:

What the hawks don't understand is that the escalating
friction between the Israeli and Palestinian forces is enabling
Palestinians to steadily improve their military skills. This
is a natural phenomenon seen in many prolonged wars
between a more sophisticated and less sophisticated army.
It was the long friction between Hezbollah, a ragtag Lebanese
militia, and Israel that eventually improved Hezbollah's skills
to the point where it was able to force Israel to withdraw
unilaterally from Lebanon, without any agreement, by
lowering the casualty ratio between Hezbollah and Israel
from 10 to 1 down to 1 to 1.

Israel can kill Palestinians till the cows come home and it
will not alter its central dilemma — it can't stay in the territories
and remain a Jewish democracy and it can't just leave and
stay alive as a Jewish democracy. The only way it can safely
leave is if U.S. troops are protecting its borders and those of
the Palestinian state. It's also the only way the Palestinians are
going to get a state. If American Jews really care about Israel,
if Arab leaders really care about the Palestinians, if Iraq hawks
really want to get rid of Saddam, this is what they will lobby
President Bush to offer.

But what happens the first time a Palestinian suicide bomber takes out a squad of American peacekeepers? The only solution to this intractable situation is one in which the Palestinians no longer serve as pawns for the Arab world's proxy war on Israel, which means, not to put to fine a point on it, decapitating Arab political and cultural power in the region. Until all of the Middle East looks and acts like Turkey, there will be no peace with Israel, regardless of who's guarding the borders.

Tuesday, March 19, 2002

From the Harvard Crimson:

Stillwell attributed the men's success to the fact that the male contestants worked hard to be women.
Famous last words via Arts and Letters Daily:

Pancho Villa: "Don't let it end this way. Tell them I said something."

Marie Antoinette, after treading upon her executioner's toe: "Pardonnez-moi, Monsieur."

French grammarian Dominique Bouhours: "I am about to — or I am going to — die; either expression is used."

Henry David Thoreau: "Moose, Indian."

From the AP wire:

A giant Mr. Potato Head given to an English town by Pawtucket, R.I., its US sister
city, has been scratched and dismembered in an attack by children, residents said.
Dressed as early English settler William Blackstone, Mr. Potato Head was sent to
Belper last May as a good-will ambassador from Pawtucket, the headquarters for
Hasbro Inc., the toy manufacturer. The 7-foot-tall fiberglass statue had one of its
arms ripped off and its hat broken in the attack last week.
What does God will that I do now? What does he not will? A little while ago it was his will that you should be at leisure, should talk with yourself, write about these things, read, hear, prepare yourself. You have had sufficient time for this. At present he says to you, "Come now to the combat. Show us what you have learned; how you have wrestled." How long would you exercise by yourself? It is now the time to show whether you are one of those champions who merit victory, or of those who go about the world conquered in all the circle of games.

Don't be morbid. Take your eyes off your navel. Take your head from under your armpit. Stop sniffing mortality. Play games. Don't read so many books. Take cold showers. Eat more meat.
--Balso Snell