Clap, you son of a bitch, or Tinker Bell will die

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I always liked Tinker Bell, even at her bitchiest. The illustration above unfortunately doesn’t make clear how extraordinarily sexy she was, but at my age, I must avoid over-excitement.

I never liked Bernie nearly as much as Tinker Bell, though of late, the grief he’s been giving Clintons, Inc. has rather endeared him to me. The enema of my enemy, and all that.

But a most depressing kerfuffle erupted today in my little corner of Facebook. Somebody posted a link to a piece at Counterpunch by Joshua Frank, which seemed pretty sensible to me, as Frank’s stuff usually does. Excerpt:

Bernie has fought a good fight, but he’s toast. The Clintons are just too ruthless and the primary process too rigged in favor of the establishment. The worst thing about the whole ordeal is that Bernie’s vowed to back Hillary when she ends up becoming the nominee.

Now this, of course, is precisely the reason why I haven’t been able to get too worked up about the Sanders phenomenon. Or primaries in general. It’s a contrived spectacle, engineered to offer the illusion of democracy, and ultimately achieve ‘buy-in’.

But the Dog-Star seems to have risen early this year. The response to this post by Bernie fans was… well… hysterical.

Most of it settled fairly close to the nadir: “Fuck you, asshole,” or words to that effect. A few more erected spirits were able to rise to the level of cliche, and reproach Frank for being unrealistic, or purist, or morally superior, or a party-pooper, or maybe a saboteur on the Clinton payroll.

Of course the amusing thing about this particular catechism of cliche is that it is precisely, word-for-word, identical to the reproaches that ‘centrists’ (read: reactionary monsters) like Clinton, and Albright, and Steinem, have been heaping on Bernie fans.

I wish somebody would write a history of this ‘purism’ trope. I bet it goes back at least as far as the English Revolution of the 17th century. In fact I bet somebody in Wat Tyler’s retinue hurled it primordially at a mediaeval comrade — accompanied, no doubt, by a generous fistful of Monty-Pythonesque horse manure.

One down, eight to go

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Shown, Huck and Jim. Behind them, presumably, a Mitteleuropa headwaiter.

I say with shame that I never had a good enough sense of humor to enjoy Scalia. My first spontaneous response to the news of his death was, Well, that sack of shit will make a fine old fryup on the Devil’s gridiron. Perhaps I do still have a liberal bone left somewhere in my body, painfully trying to work its way out. Perhaps it’s the source of that annoying new ache in my left shoulder.

At any rate, though I have always said that anything which tends to bring the Supreme Court into disrepute is to that extent a good thing, Scalia always got under my skin. He seemed to me like a classic white-collar bully, the uncool goofy kid who finally got a chance to send people to the electric chair. Particularly the kinds of people he was always afraid of when he was young.

But he really did seem to enjoy himself on the Supreme Court bench, and though I hate to say it, he did seem to have a sense of fun, and even a certain inclination toward self-parody. These are attractive qualities. One has the uncomfortable sensation that one might have found him rather amiable and amusing in person.

So although I am not invited to the meetings where these things are decided, I would like to file an amicus brief in favor of commuting his damnation — well-deserved, of course, as whose is not? — to a good long stint in Purgatory. He was such a faithful Catholic that I’m sure he would have taken this plea. Even if it meant that all the people he pissed on in his life in the law got to piss molten lead on him.

Which I hope happens.

Curb your enthusiasm. But give free rein to your Schadenfreude

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So dear old Dobbin, aka Bernie Sanders, seems to have ‘won’ the New Hampshire primary by a rather impressive margin.

This is, of course, good news. As far as it goes. Which isn’t very far.

What’s good about it is the fury and chagrin it seems to have caused among the Clintons, mere, pere, et fille, and people like Madeleine Albright and Gloria Steinem. Only a heart of stone could fail to rejoice at the discomfiture of these monsters. One hopes their various heads explode on live television, though this seems unlikely, alas. We are speaking here of people with a vast sense of entitlement and self-regard; but they are also experienced, tough-fibred old stagers, accustomed from of old to the ups and downs of electoral politics. As regards the vile Clintons, it’s the family business. No doubt Chelsea was reading polls, instead of the Berenstain Bears, at the age of four.

Still, a guy can dream, eh?

But there are dreams we should not entertain, for the sake of our own self-respect. One such is that Bernie might be the Democratic Party nominee. In general, I think that people who try to predict the future are fools, on the the principle that You Can’t Make This Shit Up, but I think it’s a reasonably safe bet that the machine will end up operating in its usual way.

But say he were the nominee? Say he won the general election? Oddly, it doesn’t seem impossible to me that if he were the nominee, he might win against Trump, or Cruz, or whatever loon the Republicans nominate. I could see young people turning out, the way they did for Obie. You have to be disappointed more than once or twice before you give up.

But suppose, piling one Pelion of improbability upon another Ossa of unlikelihood — suppose he won? What might we expect from him?

The record is unencouraging. Basically, he’s just another Democrat, in spite of his coy independent/socialist grass skirt.

But Terence, this is stupid stuff. Here I am trying, yet again, to find a way to tell my friends not to take this pantomime seriously — and in order to do that, I must pretend to take it seriously, and entertain all the far-fetched hypotheticals, and run regressions on the stats, and pay attention to polls.

What I would like to do is persuade my friends to stop doing all that. It’s like handicapping the Oscars, or the Super Bowl, and the outcome makes just about as much difference.

Waterloo for the Lobby?

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Or maybe just Stalingrad?

The times are definitely a-changin’. It’s amazing enough that a machine politician from Chicago would go up against the Israel Lobby at all on this Iran nuclear deal; and even more amazing that the Lobby, having gone balls-to-the-wall in an attempt to defeat it, would fail. Since an aura of invincibility is a big part of their stock in trade, this seems like a very serious reversal for them. (Of course they failed on Syria two years ago, too, which seemed like a straw in the wind; but they weren’t quite so high-profile about that.)

Even Hillary, always a reliable water-carrier for Israel, seems to be going along with this one, though of course she’s triangulating so strenuously that we need a new category of behavior disorder: trigonophrenia, perhaps?

It’s difficult to imagine Obie taking this initiative without a fairly solid elite consensus behind him, which suggests in turn an emerging elite disenchantment with Israel. No doubt it seemed more of an asset during the Cold War than it does now, and less of a liability when its ambitions weren’t quite so grandiose as they are now.

It’s also interesting to note the Lobby’s complete realignment with the most reactionary, troglodyte elements in US politics. Remember “liberal Zionists”? Ah, those were the days.

Social Construction & Demolition, Inc.

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The Rachel Dolezal story has provided me some innocent merriment for the last few days. For those pillar saints who haven’t yet heard, Rachel has been making a living for some years by impersonating a black woman. Recently her parents went public, swearing up and down that she’s ‘Caucasian’ — an Azerbaijani, perhaps? — with the usual American fictive admixture of an odd Cherokee somewhere in the more tenuous boughs of the family tree.

One does wonder why the parents decided to out her now. We’ll never know, probably. Families!

A great deal of metaphysical energy has been spent on the ontological conundra hereby posed. It seems that race needs to be simultaneously a bogus category (so racism has no basis) and a real one (so we can recognize the indisputable fact that there are racist people, racist practices, racist institutions, and that these harm some people more than others — people whom it’s mostly not very difficult to identify).

Speaking of identification, there’s also the highly charged question of ‘identity’ — what it consists of, what it’s good for, who’s allowed to claim it, and who’s entitled to say who’s allowed to claim it. The default position is that those who already have it are the ones allowed to rule on who can claim it. A bit like a country club. Though this standard has not gone undisputed.

Perhaps some, at least, of the animus against Rachel arises from the fact that her imposture has given her a not-bad career, a career which was, in effect, stolen from some real black person who would otherwise have had it. The Lump Of Opportunity Theory. She’s been a cuckoo’s egg in the nest, you might say. She forged a diversity card!

Perhaps one might suggest that there are some implications here about the value of ‘diversity’ as a response to racism.

Perhaps there are further implications. Transgender is a thing now, right? It’s universally acknowledged that there are people who are really women born into men’s bodies, and vice-versa. Soooo… why shouldn’t transracial be a thing, too? Maybe Rachel really is a black person, who had the misfortune to be born with ‘Caucasian’ ancestors and pale skin. I gather there’s been some disagreement among feminists about whether trans women are ‘really’ women, and no doubt similar perplexities will arise in connection with trans black people. Will the foundations of essentialism begin to crumble at every corner of the citadel? Probably not; but a guy can dream.

[Update: I thought this was an original idea, when I had it an hour ago, but I now discover that as usual, Twitter is way ahead of me, and the tweets are flying fast and furious from both sides, with the usual fervent dogmatism. Transrace is a thing! No, transrace is NOT a thing, you racist boob!

Just as a matter of logic, it seems to me that anybody who accepts transgender and rejects transrace has to carry the burden of proof. It shouldn’t be too difficult; when an analogy is bad, it’s usually easy to see why it’s bad.]

At the very least, one certainly senses a great opportunity here for medical entrepreneurs. And it’s very exciting to have been present at the birth of a whole new identity.

The grievance entrepreneurs

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Northwestern University, situated in a bosky North Shore suburb of Chicago, has, or used to have, anyway, a particularly pampered, spoiled customer base — sometimes referred to as the ‘student body’ — mostly drawn from other similar suburbs. I would have said it was the Nordstrom’s of higher education; but this may be a poorly calibrated comparison. I invite better-informed suggestions.

Laura Kipnis, a very engaging writer, has the mixed good and bad fortune of being a tenured professor there. She has recently found herself in hot water because she has written a couple of sprightly and entertaining articles in the Chronicle Of Higher Education — now, unfortunately, paywalled — about the demented excesses of thought- and speech-policing on American college campuses these days. Summing it up, she has found herself the subject of Title IX sex-discrimination complaints because she wrote an essay in the aforementioned Chronicle; and she subsequently wrote an account, alternately horrifying and hilarious, about the hugger-mugger Star Chamber proceedings to which she was subsequently subjected by her employers.

This shitstorm of campus imbecility around trigger warnings, harassment, discrimination, comfort, safety and what not, like all social phenomena, is overdetermined. Partly the Unis have brought it on themselves with their ambition to be totalizing environments, where every aspect of the customer’s experience is carefully controlled, and nothing unpleasant is permitted to intrude. Disney World is the obvious prototype.

Then too there’s just good old-fashioned entrepreneurship, in this case grievance entrepreneurship. The kids who are making all this noise are, I suspect, a not very numerous part of the customer base, but they seek opportunities for self-aggrandizement and an influence on events. Of course in the contemporary US there is no better lever for such self-promotion than a grievance. The ‘Nineleven Families’ might be cited as the locus classicus here, though at the same time it must be admitted that they suffered an actual harm, unlike these twaddling embryo Inquisitors at Northwestern.

The noisy minority, however, does have a way of bringing a larger penumbra of camp-followers with it. At the last college graduation I attended, about half the credentialees had taped the numerals ‘IX’ on top of their mortarboards. I gather this was meant to communicate that rape was a Bad Thing.

The cost-free advantages of a gesture like this are fairly obvious. It feels ever so mildly, though safely, always safely, transgressive, and yet it’s in aid of an eminently uncontroversial proposition. Win/win!

I like to think the kids are alright, as I may have said before, so I don’t want to make sweeping generalizations about how coddled they are or how aggressive and entitled they are, as some other old-fart observers of this collective mania have done. I think the institutions are mostly to blame.

At any rate, that’s my story, and I’m stickin’ with it. As the man said.

Demophobia; or, fear of the rabble

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I recently had an interesting conversation with a young friend of mine — ‘young’, in this case, meaning less than half my age. My friend and I started off by agreeing that the recent referendum in Ireland, endorsing same-sex marriage by a rather amazing 60% majority, was excellent and gratifying news. But then my young friend gobsmacked me by saying that he wished this result had been achieved by some other means than a popular vote. Unless I misunderstood him, which is possible, he seemed to believe that a court decision, based ostensibly on some text like the US constitution, would have been preferable, as offering a more secure foundation for the right so obtained than the fickle whimsies of… 60% of the people. In Ireland!

I don’t think my friend is a particularly political guy — at least, the topic has never come up before — but I would be amazed if he were a right-winger. In fact, I would bet he isn’t.

I think what he may have been exhibiting is something very American, namely a dislike and distrust of the rabble, cherished even by many of the rabble themselves (a category to which I certainly belong; perhaps my friend has a trust fund I don’t know about, but I suspect he’s rabble too).

This is a pretty extraordinary phenomenon, when you think about it. Of course it’s not surprising that the ‘founding fathers’ hated and distrusted the people; they were a thoroughly elite body. But it’s pretty remarkable that this mentality has been able to reproduce itself so well for so long, among people who are anything but elite, and have had plenty of opportunities to figure out what the elites are really up to. My friend, for example, has certainly lived long enough to see the Supreme Court in action for a while now, and might have drawn some conclusions about what that sorry row of scarecrows is all about. But unless I misunderstood him, he would be happier with his rights in their custody than in the custody of his fellow-citizens.

Is this just the tyranny of received opinion? Or does it reflect a certain factitious sense of elite status among relatively educated liberal folks?

Or am I just over-interpreting? A very insightful former girlfriend of mine once said that I was the sort of guy who would show up for a friendly backyard game of touch football, all kitted out in cleats, shoulder pads, and a regulation helmet.

Obie covers the waterfront

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The unspeakable Jeffrey Goldberg, cruelly but accurately caricatured above, was recently granted an audience with the God-Emperor Obie, and made such hay of it as he could in a lengthy but rather predictable piece in the Atlantic magazine. Obsequious, of course, as befits a kicker of heels in the corridors of power, but also tendentious — the piece is mostly devoted to keeping us all very worried about Iran, a thankless and probably fruitless undertaking. Nobody much, or nobody without a vested interest, is buying that bill of goods any more, so one has to admire Jeffrey’s determination to keep the vaudeville going even as the audience is bolting for the exits.

Now Obie, of course, has presided, willingly or not, over two rather sharp kicks in the teeth to the Israel lobby. First there was the refusal to attack Syria back in 2013, though the lobby had dialed the noise machine up to 11 on this topic; and more recently, the tentative nuke deal with Iran, against much the same kind of alarums and excursions upstage.

Since I don’t like Obie, personally, I would prefer to believe that he was dragged kicking and screaming to these decisions; that the consensus of the foreign policy elites has begun to shift against Israel — not a minute too soon — and that Obie, good organization man that he is, had to go along. But who knows? They don’t invite me to these meetings. Maybe he’s more of a leader than he appears to be. If so, good on him, up to a point.

Of course, he felt obliged to give voice to the usual nonsensical incoherencies:

There’s a direct line between supporting the right of the Jewish people to have a homeland and to feel safe and free of discrimination and persecution, and the right of African Americans to vote and have equal protection under the law….

It is true to Israel’s traditions and its values—its founding principles—that it has to care about those Palestinian kids….

The bedrock security relationships between our two countries—these are sacrosanct….

The core strategic relationship that exists between the United States and Israel… will continue until the end of time….

A Jewish-majority democracy. And I care deeply about preserving that Jewish democracy….

Kibbutzim, and Moshe Dayan, and Golda Meir….

I think a good baseline is: Do you think that Israel has a right to exist as a homeland for the Jewish people, and are you aware of the particular circumstances of Jewish history that might prompt that need and desire? And if your answer is no, if your notion is somehow that that history doesn’t matter, then that’s a problem, in my mind.

Sacrosanct? Until the end of time? Jewish democracy? This is all word salad, of course, and the idea that the Zionist cause and the American civil rights movement have anything in common is simply an obscenity. Not to mention that caring about Palestinian kids is a founding principle of Israel. Well, in a sense it is, no doubt. Getting rid of them is certainly a founding principle of Israel.

Much has been made, in the pro-Israel blogotweetosphere, about that last bit — the connection between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. The God-Emperor has been cited as endorsing an equivalence between the two, and this has been much hailed here and there among the Zionist arriere-garde. In fact Obie’s language, on close inspection, offers a bit less comfort to the Thought Police than they would like to have.

I daresay Obie will leave us all guessing. Does he really believe this nonsense, insofar as anyone can be said to believe anything that makes no sense? Or is he just saying it, to protect his flank, and not embarrass Bloody Hillary too much in her own progress to the Iron Throne?

Wouldn’t it be nice if he actually wrote a truthful memoir, once he’s out of office? Not that I expect it. He’s too well-trained, I think. But I continue to believe that he’s not actually a fool, and hey, a guy can dream.

Hate speech?

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Parse the title as you will — analogous to ‘string cheese’ or ‘got milk?’

Our neighbors in the Great White North lately seem determined to beat us USniks at our own crazy game:

The Harper government is signaling its intention to use hate crime laws against Canadian advocacy groups that encourage boycotts of Israel.

Such a move could target a range of civil society organizations, from the United Church of Canada and the Canadian Quakers to campus protest groups and labour unions.

If they really mean it this would imply that advocating BDS constitutes ‘hate speech’.

Now there are two ways we could go with this. One would be to comment on the absurdity of considering BDS advocacy as ‘hate speech’, a preposterous notion on its face, even if you think that the notion of ‘hate speech’ is a useful construct.

But the other, more sweeping and naturally therefore more appealing to me, is to suggest that this ‘abuse’ of hate-speech legislation was certain to happen, as certain as God made little green apples, and for this reason among others, the idea of outlawing hate speech — indeed, the concept of hate crimes in general — is a disastrously bad one.

Going further still, there is, of course, an even more principled basis for resisting the notion of hate crimes: namely, that they are essentially thought crimes. If you beat somebody up because he’s gay, this is worse than beating him up because he’s a Red Sox fan. Why? Nobody deserves to get beaten up because of his tastes. Even Red Sox fans.

The underlying intent, I suppose, is to discourage people from beating up gay guys, which is certainly a desirable outcome. But assault and battery is already a crime, and has been for a long time. To the extent that law can assist in protecting gay guys from beatings, the law is already there, and it has the additional effect, also desirable, of protecting everybody else from beatings too — again, to the extent that a law can. (Enforcement and prosecution are another matter, of course, since they occur or don’t at the whim of the cops and the DA. But that remains the case with or without specific legislation about hate crimes.)

The larger purpose, perhaps, is to persuade haters to hate a little less. Also a desirable outcome. But might one suggest that creating new categories of crime, hinging on subjective feelings and attitudes, is an ill-advised way to go about that admirable project?

I am afraid we are dealing here with a déformation professionnelle of liberalism: namely that the proper response to any problem is to outlaw something not previously outlawed, and dial up the penalties for it. So the only way a liberal has to signal his solidarity with gay guys is to offer them an expansion of the criminal code, and a shiny new pair of pincers in the prosecutor’s arbitrary toolkit.

This reflects, at the very least, an impoverished repertoire of self-expression. It’s like being the driver of a car: all you can do to make your feelings known is to honk the horn.