The Bear rolls over and growls


I seldom like seeing the New York Times on my doormat in the morning, but I enjoyed it today. Headline, in that alarming Italic typeface and reinforcing diagonally-slanted layout of theirs:


It’s a haiku, except that each line is short a syllable. And of course the double enjambement into and out of the middle line is genius, sheer genius.


‘With the Russian flag planted atop the regional Parliament, Crimea raised the specter of secession from Ukraine, threatening renewed civil conflict and a showdown between Ukraine’s fledgling government and the Kremlin.’

The Times’ reporters are unfortunately not up to the literary standard of its headline writers. The cliche density in this graf approaches neutron-star levels: specters raised, showdowns, fledglings, and that fine old staple, The Kremlin. Of course I indulge a lot in the last-mentioned myself, so I probably shouldn’t shy any cobblestones at that target. The Kremlin! Even now, doesn’t the mere phrase make your blood run cold? Is there… laughter in The Kremlin? I think there is. I can just hear it. Ah quel frisson!

And what’s this about ‘planting’ a flag? Doesn’t one usually raise a flag? And how are we to construe the curtain-raising ‘with’ clause — a kind of poor man’s ablative-absolute?

Anyway, I’m too lazy to transcribe more, and the version of this story now online has changed a great deal since the print edition went to bed last night:

Masked Forces at 2 Airports in Crimea; Russia Disavows Move

SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine — Armed men of uncertain allegiance took up positions at two airports here in Ukraine’s Crimean region on Friday, fueling concerns about possible Russian military intervention or a separatist rebellion in a region with stronger historical ties to Russia than to Ukraine’s central government in Kiev.

Although there were no confrontations or bloodshed by evening, the appearance of a large number of masked men with assault rifles unnerved residents and travelers, who were buffeted by warnings from Kiev of military meddling by Moscow and statements from the deposed Ukrainian president, Viktor F. Yanukovych, that the country had been taken over by fascists and “bandits.”

‘Buffeted by warnings,’ eh? How do these people pick a verb — by tossing a coin? ‘Were no confrontations or bloodshed.’ Get me rewrite, doll!

The only thing unpredictable about the Times is how bad the prose will become.

There was, of course, nothing unpredictable about the events themselves. In spite of much nervous whistling past the graveyard in various US media, it seemed quite unlikely that Putin would soak up this intervention without response.

By the way, the map up top — which somehow lost its labels when I plagiarized it — depicts the Russian-speaking areas of the Ukraine with a barred pattern. Maps are always so interesting, don’t you think?

The Nation deplores


Since I’m trying to wean myself away from making fun of Louis Proyect, and his adventures in moviegoing, weight loss, and anti-Stalinism, I have fallen back on the desperate expedient of reading The Nation. Probably by this time tomorrow I will have sunk to Skid Row, in the form of Melissa Alexandra Mediagenia Harris-Foggybottom. Facilis descensus Averno!

I was relatively fortunate today, however; I found a very earnest piece written by one Bob Dreyfuss, explaining just what the Ukraine needs and doesn’t need, and offering sage helpful advice to the incumbents of the Kremlin. Sample:

The Russian threats, bluster, troop mobilizations and pledges to throw their support to the ousted former President Viktor Yanukovych of Ukraine — who, delusional to the end, still asserts that he’s president despite a revolution in the streets that’s plain to see — are worrying, and ominous. Yanukovych, who has blood on his hands from the massacre of protesters in Kiev, will never, ever again have a role in Ukrainian politics.

Not just worrying, but ominous. Wow, that’s harsh.

Don’t you love it when people say something can ‘never’ — or rather, ‘never, ever’ — happen? Who would have thought that Nixon might be President after the famous press conference? For that matter, who would have thought that Yulia Tymoschenko, with her absurd hairdo, would ever again bestride the world stage?

Brother Dreyfuss is not entirely deaf to an indecent note of triumph in the loathesome Kerry’s various brayings on the matter, but seeks to reassure us:

…it’s also ominous that both Secretary of State John Kerry and NATO have talked about NATO’s role in Russia’s periphery yesterday. With exquisitely bad timing, while meeting the Georgia’s prime minister, Kerry said, “We stand by the Bucharest decision and all subsequent decisions that Georgia will become a member of NATO.” And NATO’s secretary-general, whose organization ought to have nothing whatsoever to say about Ukraine, said yesterday: “Ukraine is a close and long-standing partner to NATO. And NATO is a sincere friend of Ukraine. We stand ready to continue assisting Ukraine in its democratic reforms.” Needless to say, Ukraine doesn’t need NATO to help build a democracy.

But an important news analysis in The Los Angeles Times notes that Russia gave NATO advance notice of its military maneuvers…

Oh, well, that’s all right then. The Bear will roll over and go to sleep after all. Or so says the Los Angeles Times. Whew.

As one who once took a professional interest in the definite article, I find it fascinating to note that there seems to be a law of conservation for them: the Ukraine has lost its, but according to brother Dreyfuss, ‘the Georgia’ has picked one up.

Russian language, of course, as is well known, doesn’t have such pesky thing. Is much to be said for same.

The paper mill


The image above has next to nothing to do with this post, but I found it irresistible and had to share it.

Here’s a nice little item in the online edition of Nature magazine:

The publishers Springer and IEEE are removing more than 120 papers from their subscription services after a French researcher discovered that the works were computer-generated nonsense.

Over the past two years, computer scientist Cyril Labbé of Joseph Fourier University in Grenoble, France, has catalogued computer-generated papers that made it into more than 30 published conference proceedings between 2008 and 2013. Sixteen appeared in publications by Springer, which is headquartered in Heidelberg, Germany, and more than 100 were published by the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), based in New York.

I love it that this discovery emanates from Joseph Fourier University. I have always admired Fourier, and believe that his eponymous Transform is about the coolest thing going.

I used to be a member of the IEEE, and in those days, their publications were full of pretty good stuff — at least, the ones I read were. See what happens when you turn your back, just for a minute?

I would like to see PMLA purge itself of gibberish papers. Of course this would mean that the last forty years’ worth of the journal would be empty covers, with no pages inside. But think of the space saving on library shelves!

The depressing thing about PMLA is that very few of its gibberish papers were computer-generated, I feel sure. People actually wrote them.

Here we go again


Another dreary Color Revolution in the Ukraine — this time with genuine neo-Nazis to spice up the goulash, or rather, the borshcht — and Challah-Girl herself literally wheeled back on stage. Really, I thought we had heard the last of this one.

Greater Germany — sometimes referred to, euphemistically, as ‘Europe’ — is rejoicing, of course. Another paw amputated from the old Bear, and now to be thrown into the neo-liberal stew and boiled to the bone. Served with a side order of Brussels sprouts, of course.

Maybe this time it will really work; though one should never reckon without a live Bear, to paraphrase Professor Tolkien.

Presumably the officers on the bridge of Deathstar USA are also pleased, though you couldn’t tell it from John Kerry’s exceptionally wooden and tongue-tied performance. Still, Kerry remains an infallible touchstone: Anything the poor old ponderous tool says is a lie, so when he assures us that this is not a matter of East versus West, we can be absolutely certain that it is.

Not for the first time, I am struck by how little has changed since the days of Lord Palmerston and the Crimean War.

Naturally I wondered how the Left moral misotyrannists would react to this one. So I went to the gold standard, Comrade Louis Proyect, the Great Wet Hen himself, whose indignant cluckings I have rather missed since he exiled me from the disciplinary delights of his bondage-dungeon mailing list (quite rightly, too).

One was not disappointed:

If you read Global Research or the World Socialist Website, you’d tend to think that the troubles in the Ukraine are the result of a cabal by the Republican rightwing and the Ukrainian bourgeoisie to use the native fascists as a battering ram against Putin’s allies who are trying to preserve state-owned industry…. As I have pointed out in a previous post, the picture is a lot more complicated.

Louis has always ‘pointed something out’ in a preceding post — or some dozens of them — and of course one is always on safe ground to observe that life is complicated. In this case, though, it would be difficult to find an account less complicated than the straw man Louis constructs in this characteristic passage, and sets into brief lumbering life, like a flimsy third-rate Golem, only to incinerate it a sentence later.

(I can’t help marvelling at the fact that Louis himself apparently does read Global Research and the World Socialist website, and seems to think that the rest of us do so as well. A dirty job, but no doubt somebody has to do it; and Louis seems like just the guy.)

Captain Boycott’s children

There is a professors’ club called the American Studies Association which recently decided to endorse an academic boycott of Israeli institutions. Now although I don’t usually have much use for guild organizations like this, I propose a toast to the ASA. This was certainly the right thing to do, and even now, a fairly ballsy thing to do, and I hope more such groups follow their example.

It should come as no surprise to hear that the Fort Zion defense team is chewing the carpet. (Of course they’re always chewing the carpet, but now the molars are involved.)

In my home state, one of the most loathsome, squalid, reptilian, stercoraceous, depraved, shameless and dogfaced politicians America has ever produced has leaped into the fray. And no, I don’t mean Bill Clinton: I mean someone even worse, if worse be possible, namely Sheldon Silver, the Democratic speaker of the New York state assembly — itself, of course, the filthiest, most vendible and abject deliberative body ever assembled since Satan called his council to order on the ever-burning sulfur unconsum’d.

(Though the New York state senate might be even worse. It’s a near-run thing.)

Here’s… Shelly!

That faux-chateau in the background is the home of the New York state legislature. The picture doesn’t do it justice. Henry Hobson Richardson designed it, and never, I think, was good solid Victorian architecture more wasted on a stinkpot kennel of slinking soup-hounds.

Shelly has introduced a bill to defund any academic institution in the state of New York which ‘funds’ the ASA. The term ‘funds’ in this context includes things like paying a professor’s dues to the ASA, or defraying his travel costs to a farbrengen thereof.

Now what strikes me most about this measure is the tooth-gnashing impotence of it. Parturiunt montes, nascetur ridiculus mus. The worst thunderbolt that Shelly can fling at this atrocity, from his Olympus in Albany, is to trim the expense accounts of professors. A fleabite. We have come a long way.

If I were running the ASA I would offer a dues and registration waiver to anyone living under Zionist occupation, including the hapless citizens of New York. As for travel expenses — perhaps the Iranian government would be willing to establish a scholarship fund.

It seems to me that this ludicrously damp and inconsequential leven-stroke — a fulguration that signally fails to fulminate — ought to be matter for unbridled rejoicing among the friends of Palestine and foes of Israel (among whom I number myself, though the least).

It puts me in mind of a story told to me by an old friend of mine. My friend’s grandfather had very sensibly gotten himself out of Russia, as a young man, during the bad old days of the Black Hundreds. When the grandfather was a venerable patriarch the family, for his birthday, took him to see Fiddler On The Roof. In this show there is a pogrom scene; a number of Broadway dancers dressed as Cossacks come swirling onstage and behave in a very mean way toward the unfortunate inhabitants of the shtetl. The music, I’m told, gets very loud at this point.

During this scene the patriarch’s shoulders were observed to be shaking. The family were worried: Is this just too intense for the old boy?

At intermission, tender concern was, well, tendered. The grandfather, dissolved in mirth, managed to say, ‘You call that a pogrom?!’

This is sort of how I feel about Shelly’s bill. You call that a pogrom? If that is the best the Zionists can do, then difficult as it may be to accept, we’ve won.

Of course this hasn’t prevented all my academic friends from heating up the mailing lists. The humanity!

I guess it’s all a question of where the shoe pinches.

De mortuis, etc.


I’m sorry to say that the late Pete Seeger always left me rather cold. It’s a dismal thing to say about a man who lived through some very interesting times, and was always more or less on the side of the angels. His defiance of HUAC, if nothing else, deserves respect — indeed, something more than respect.

But I always saw him — alas — as a sort of living exhibit illustrating what went wrong with the old CP. And I don’t mean the Stalin thing. Indeed, one of the most depressing episodes in his later years was a grovelling apology, extorted by the unspeakable Ron Radosh, for Seeger’s Stalinism in the 30s. As it happens, I believe the only people who had it even halfway right in the 30s were the Stalinists, and they have nothing to apologize for. I mean, consider the alternatives. Hitler? Trotsky? Puh-leeze.

Admittedly, my fathers in God, the old Stalinists, were only halfway right. But to paraphrase Phyllis McGinley — now of course a forgotten name — halfway right is better than stupid(*).

Halfway, alas, was the best they did — the high-water mark. Subsequently many became Democrats, and then mere liberals, and ended up, like Pete, apologizing for the only heroic phase in their career.

Poor Seeger’s banjo — seen above — illustrates the degeneration. That po-faced inscription is an hommage to Woody Guthrie’s guitar, on which he wrote ‘This machine kills Fascists’.

Woody’s is better, don’t you think?

As I see it, Fascists are not an extinct species, and I would rather see a few of them killed than see an abstract noun surrounded. Oh, I’m not a bloodthirsty guy, and I’ve never killed anybody and probably never will; probably never could. But there’s something refreshingly concrete about Woody’s slogan that’s missing in Pete’s. I’ve never felt that abstract nouns are much of a problem, but I’m quite worried about Fascists.

Then of course, besides Fascists, there are Zionists. As with many other old CP types, poor Pete had a soft spot for Fort Zion, and actually broke with his old collaborator the Rev Frederick Douglass Kirkpatrick over the latter’s support for the Palestinians.

(Full disclosure: I knew Kirkpatrick slightly, in his last years, and liked him very much. There’s a little doorway to a basement apartment in my neighborhood, which I pass a couple of times a week, where Rev Kirkpatrick lived in those days. Sunt lachrimae rerum. Too many places in my nabe are now associated with those who have gone before. Time to move, perhaps.)

Another old pal of mine has a different and more fond connection with Pete, and we spent some time talking about Pete purely as songwriter. It was borne in upon me — depressingly enough — that I never much liked his songs either.

‘Where have all the flowers gone’ is so associated in my mind with early — and mostly unsuccessful — attempts to get laid that I can’t begin to say whether it’s any good or not. Usually I relish the elegiac mode but there’s something a little too weepy about this one. Even for me.

Always loathed ‘If I had a hammer’. Too many abstract nouns. Somebody please explain to me how you’re supposed to ‘hammer out love’.

‘Little boxes’ seems smug, and the lip-smacking way Seeger pronounced ‘ticky-tacky’ always made my skin crawl.

‘Waist deep in the Big Muddy’ might actually be my favorite, but even that has some strangely inartistic touches — like the painstaking explanation of the fatal creek’s hydrography; as if the Big Fool’s error was that he didn’t do his geography homework.

But Seeger was an energetic and convincing performer, whose presentation could make you overlook the weaknesses in the material. And undoubtedly he did more good than harm.

Let’s hope we can all say as much, should we live to be 94. Sit levis terra.


(*) Oh, all right:

Martin of Tours, when he earned his shilling
Trooping the flags of the Roman Guard,
Came on a poor, aching and chilling,
Beggar in rags by the barrack yard.

Blind to his lack, the guard went riding.
But Martin a moment paused, and drew
The coat from his back, his sword from hiding,
And sabered his raiment into two.

Now some who muse on the allegory
Affect to find it a pious joke;
To the beggar what use, for Martin what glory
In a deed half-kind and part of a cloak?

Still, it has charm, and a point worth seizing.
For all who move in the mortal sun
Know halfway warm is better than freezing,
As half a love is better than none.

I’ve always liked the pun on ‘half a love’ — worthy
of Dorothy Parker.