The Death Star’s new secret weapon…


… to wit, the Boredom Bomb, which seems to be a beefed-up version of the old hot air blast ordnance known affectionately as Tubby Tommy. The new model appears capable of boring whole nations to death at one stroke.

I happened to pick up a copy of last Saturday’s NY Times today on the subway and was gobsmacked to find a mighty piece by the apparently retooled, neobionic Thomas Friedman occupying almost the whole of the op-ed page. The online version runs about 2,300 words. Never have I seen a neuron-buster on this scale dropped by the Times, even on a test range, much less in combat. The effect was devastating. As soon as the page was exposed to the air, people all around me began to lose consciousness and snore sterterously. I don’t know why I was spared; perhaps I used to read the Times enough when I was younger to develop an immunity.

But even I didn’t dare read this damn thing of course. There are limits. I cherish what scraps of sanity I have left. A quick browser word search — eyes averted — revealed that this is clearly not the old Thomas Friedman, since there is no reference to a cabdriver anywhere in the text. Prompted by a hunch, I searched for the word ‘Shiite’ and sure enough, found that it’s all the Shiites’ fault, according to Obie:

The fact is, said the president, in Iraq a residual U.S. troop presence would never have been needed had the Shiite majority there not “squandered an opportunity” to share power with Sunnis and Kurds. “Had the Shia majority seized the opportunity to reach out to the Sunnis and the Kurds in a more effective way, [and not] passed legislation like de-Baathification,” no outside troops would have been necessary. Absent their will to do that, our troops sooner or later would have been caught in the crossfire, he argued….

“[W]hat we have is a disaffected Sunni minority in the case of Iraq, a majority in the case of Syria, stretching from essentially Baghdad to Damascus. … Unless we can give them a formula that speaks to the aspirations of that population, we are inevitably going to have problems. … Unfortunately, there was a period of time where the Shia majority in Iraq didn’t fully understand that. They’re starting to understand it now. Unfortunately, we still have ISIL [the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant], which has, I think, very little appeal to ordinary Sunnis.” But “they’re filling a vacuum, and the question for us has to be not simply how we counteract them militarily but how are we going to speak to a Sunni majority in that area…”

So it’s still all about encircling Iran, apparently. ISIL, that Golem ginned up by the Gulf States, no doubt with help from the US and Israel, may be a somewhat dangerous and problematic tool; but what’s a Death Star gonna do?

When the big bombs go off, one doesn’t ordinarily pay much attention to the popgun, but a kind, or perhaps unkind friend forwarded me a cri de coeur from no less than Louis Proyect, that keeper of the Fourth International flame and great friend of the Sunni. (I don’t normally see Louis’ stuff any more since I finally unsubbed from his Marxmail list. This, also, in aid of protecting the abovementioned scraps of sanity.)

Louis, as far as I can tell, is indignant that what he calls ‘the “anti-imperialist” Left’ — the embedded quotes are important — isn’t leaping to the defense of ISIL:

For days now, the US military has been launching air strikes against the reactionary Sunni-fascist group Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS, or just IS now) in Iraq. Yet, strangely, not only have I not seen any evidence of anti-war demonstrations, or organising for them, I have also not seen the entire faux-“left” cybersphere full of fulminating attacks on US imperialist intervention, with everyone repeating and slightly re-wording the same half-baked, evidence-free article, like we saw last August during the alleged build-up to an entirely imaginary US attack on the reactionary, secular-fascist regime of Bashar Assad in Syria.

I say “as far as I can tell” because Louis has an uncanny capacity to tie himself in intellectual knots that any topologist can prove are impossible in the ordinary 3-D world, so being hit by a Proyectile of this kind gives one a queasy, churning sensation, like looking at one of those puzzle pictures by Escher.

Update: I’m told on good authority that my topology metaphor misfired (see comments). A Valuable Prize to the best suggested replacement for it.

16 thoughts on “The Death Star’s new secret weapon…

  1. Something that appeared in Village Voice even as Friedman was morphing into a pundit of Conventional Wisdom (“genius of bourgeois stupidity”):

    It is not just the comic philistinism of Friedman’s ideas that I find so remarkably jejune, or his sassy and unbeguiling manner, or his grating indifference to values and principles by which, perhaps misguidedly, Arabs and Jews have believed themselves to be informed. It is rather the special combination of disarming incoherence and unearned egoism that gives him his cockily alarming plausibility — qualities that may explain the book’s quite startling commercial success. It’s as if — and I think this is true of his views on both Arabs and Jews — what scholars, poets, historians, fighters, and statesmen have done is not as important or as central as what Friedman himself thinks…

  2. My initial reaction to seeing this full-page torture was the same as yours MJS. I ended up wading through it, and will now never get that 10 min of my life back.

      • I rushed through it as quickly as I could. As with most of my experiences with Friedman columns, it’s essentially an act of rubber-necking. Sometimes, I just have to look.

        • After you’ve had a couple of G&T’s, it’s fun to watch a few minutes of the video. Obie laboriously delivers a few agonizing platitudes. He’s obviously trying to remember what the old Tom — Taxicab Tom — has written, and tailor his responses accordingly. One almost feels sorry for the guy. Almost.

          Tom bobs his head with exaggerated energy at each meaningless response to each softball question. It almost suggests a kind of virtualized fellatio.

          • Tom has a long history of sporting kneepads during his interviews with the powerful.

  3. Obie is on his way out the door. No need for his views anymore. I did force myself to read the latest from Clinton, though. The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades.

    I’d be careful with Louie. He claims that few people on the left have his knowledge of the culture and history of Syria.

  4. Every time I read the news these days I wonder where a good length of rope is and how far I need to stagger to get to the barn.

    I’d blow my brains out but I feel guilty about leaving such a mess to my sons to clean up.

  5. Living up to the unfair stereotype of mathematicians as dull killjoys, I’m going to call bullshit on your inventive analogy: all the knots you can think of are realized by embeddings of a circle in Euclidean 3-space (although embeddings in a 3-sphere, with the “ends” out at infinity, might be more how many people think of knots). and all knots (embeddings of circles) are “trivial” (isotopic to an unknotted circle) in higher-dimensional spaces.

    This is analogous to the way that pairs of points embedded in a line can be “linked” in that you can’t move them past each other without their meeting at some point during the move, but all pairs of points in the plane can all be moved past each other with no such problem.

    It *is* interesting, though, to consider embeddings of the 2-sphere (e.g., the surface of a ball) in 4-dimensional space, or 3-spheres in 5-space, etc., or 4-spheres in 6-space, and so on. A way of putting this is that “knottedness” is a codimension-2 phenomenon.

    Then again, if you take some other three-manifold, not Euclidean space, the theory of knots (embedded circles) therein *is* different than that in Euclidean space, and maybe that’s what you meant. So maybe this diatribe was kind of pointless.

    • On the contrary, I loved it, and maybe in my next life I’ll be able to understand it. I would like to. Topology, to the very modest extent that I could ever get a glimmering, always seemed really fascinating to me.

      Your penance for being so much smarter than I am on this topic is as follows: to read a few Louis Proyect posts about Syria or ISIS or what have you and come up with a better mathematical analogy.

      • Oh no!

        I don’t always explain things well, but I can try again. I am pretty sure I can at least get the thing about embedded circles in R^4 across by analogy. I will need to make pictures, though.

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