City of Joyful Dread

I caught a fever, a holy fire

Category: Occupy Everywhere

Books I read in 2018

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Books I read in 2018 were mostly novels, meaning that I probably did not read enough books in 2018, because I do not read many novels.

In order (January-December):
SHADOWBAHN, Steve Erickson (I have read all 10 of his novels, his two nonfiction books and probably everything else he has written and not burned or otherwise destroyed since 1985, and SHADOWBAHN is arguably my second-favorite Steve Erickson (THE SEA CAME IN AT MIDNIGHT) with less arguably his best soundtrack (true story: I first heard about this book from the Mekons’ Facebook page)–the greatest living unknown novelist in and of America, in my opinion, despite killing himself off in at least two novels so far and hopefully not for the last time)
BLACK WAVE, Michelle Tea (in which the world begins in San Francisco and ends in LA, in the words (almost) of Phil Ochs; also, Matt Dillon is in this book, as is Bourgeois Pig, which I went to before it was known to be so cool that it is no longer cool in this novel)
WAR PORN, Roy Scranton (disturbing, repeatedly and intentionally)
THE ALGIERS MOTEL INCIDENT, John Hersey (a 2017 movie that I have not seen)
THE WAGES OF WHITENESS: RACE & THE MAKING OF THE AMERICAN WORKING CLASS, David Roediger (I love David Roediger, and not only because he responded, thoughtfully, to my December 2016 email about his sundown towns article in CounterPunch; Noel Ignatiev’s related How the Irish Became White may be on my reading list for 2019 but based on my small sample sizes, Roediger is a better writer)
FREEDOM’S ORATOR: MARIO SAVIO AND THE RADICAL LEGACY OF THE 1960s, Robert Cohen (I never knew Mario Savio was a stutterer, or how he used the Socratic method, or where he went after the Machine Speech–fascinating, if you are fascinated by such things)
DHALGREN, Samuel Delany (it only took me 22 years–meaning in this case I began reading DHALGREN in 1996, no, seriously; I never realized this book was an extended allegory on what happened to everyone who didn’t belong–outcasts in any sense–when the 60s as such were over–whether it took the form of communes, riots, self-destruction (whether cultural, literal, sexual) and the impermanence of it all; Delany’s more obscure true life sequel may be on my list for 2019)
HUBCAP DIAMONDSTAR HALO, Camden Joy (nonessential reading by the author of a 90s novel I loved, THE LAST ROCK STAR BOOK, OR LIZ PHAIR, A RANT)
JERUSALEM: ONE CITY, THREE FAITHS, Karen Armstrong (this book ends in 1996, and doesn’t)
AMONG THE BLACKS, Raymond Roussel & Ron Padgett (two authors, one title)
A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES, John Kennedy Toole (how can you not love writing like “The siren, a cacophony of twelve crazed bobcats, was enough to make suspicious characters within a half-mile radius defecate in panic and rush for cover. Patrolman Mancuso’s love for the motorcycle was platonically intense”?)
THE QUIET AMERICAN, Graham Greene (a 1958 and 2002 movie I have not seen (Brendan Fraser as Pyle? really?)

Bonus films I saw in 2018:
ISLE OF DOGS (Yoko Ono!)
BLACK PANTHER (now I get it)
THE LAST JEDI (porgs!)
R.B.G. (she is amazing, but Sotomayor is still my favorite justice)
FIRST REFORMED (the best 1970s film of 2018, and probably the best film of 2018, period)
SICARIO 2: DAY OF THE SOLDADO (I don’t get the gratuitous Isis thing at the beginning, other than it’s 2018 and Hollywood can’t not do Islamophobia in a nominally progressive film)
SORRY TO BOTHER YOU (read the Jacobin article, see the film; it almost lost me with the horses, but, you know, wild horses couldn’t …)
BLACKKKLANSMAN (this is true, but also Washington and Driver are great, and the Belafonte scene alone is worth the price of admission)
AT ETERNITY’S GATE (63 year old Willem Dafoe as 35 year old Vincent Van Gogh, which works because Willem Dafoe has never not looked 63 years old)

Top ten albums of 2018 (maybe)
Earl Sweatshirt, MORE RAP SONGS
Phosphorescent, C’EST LA VIE
Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, SPARKLE HARD
Low Cut Connie, DIRTY PICTURES (Part 2)
Alejandro Escovedo, THE CROSSING



Books I read in 2017

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Not a typo; I missed a year last year.  (2018 is now in process.)
I would try to categorize these, but no obvious themes occur to me other than Books Trump Will Not Read.  The other common theme is that they were all print books.
Also: I went to the Strand in the East Village last night for the first time in about 12 years.  Depressingly, they have more of everything than I remembered except actual books.  (I have seen the global village …)

In order (January-December):
TYRANT MEMORY, Horacio Castellanos Moya (worth it for the epilogue) (note: this link is not about the epilogue, but it’s a good summary of the book, which I don’t remember in detail now that it’s almost 2019)
ROAD TO WIGAN PIER, George Orwell (Orwell’s socialism book, appropriately free from–sharing is caring)
THE ARGONAUTS, Maggie Nelson (what I hoped it would be from reading this, only better–possibly this generation’s version of I LOVE DICK, a personal 90s favorite)
DEEP SOUTH, Paul Theroux (more thoughtful than a Cletus safari but no more fulfilling, and at times outright uncomfortable; worth reading because it’s Theroux but–)
THE GOD OF SMALL THINGS, Arundhati Roy (it only took me 20 years to read, as long as it took her to write the followup, which is on my list for 2019)
GOING HOME, Doris Lessing (I want to read more about apartheid South Africa, because I know far less than I feel like I should–this memoir of sorts is non-essential for that purpose as well as non-essential Lessing, but it’s a decent read)
WHITE TEETH, Zadie Smith (it only took me 17 years to read this, or any Zadie Smith other than the occasional New Yorker column)
STAYIN’ ALIVE: THE 1970s AND THE LAST DAYS OF THE WORKING CLASS, Jefferson Cowie (I probably heard about thishere or here–thanks, Erik Loomis)
BROKEN CONTRACT: A MEMOIR OF HARVARD LAW SCHOOL, Richard D. Kahlenberg (remember when law schools–at least the “elite” ones–actually taught Critical Legal Studies, and it was debatable enough to be teachable that the indeterminacy of legal doctrine masked the ways in which law favored the wealthy and powerful?)
DOSTOEVSKY: A WRITER IN HIS TIME, Joseph Frank (a worthy biography; also enormous)
THE RED PARTS: AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A TRIAL, Maggie Nelson (a true crime book about the crime of autobiography)
RECONSTRUCTION: AMERICA’S UNFINISHED REVOLUTION, 1863-1877, Eric Foner (still unfinished–I mean Reconstruction; I finished the book)

Also, films I saw in 2017:
LION (train stations in India, and Nicole Kidman acting Australian)
PATERSON (Adam Driver as William Carlos Williams’s #1 fan, directed by Jim Jarmusch–I like this film better in retrospect; I remember nothing happening in it but maybe something happened that I don’t remember)
KEDI (street cats of Istanbul–I will be moving to Istanbul)
MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (remake; Johnny Depp; everyone did it (sorry))

Cracker King

Crown Elvis

come on everybody do the twist & stomp
come on everybody do the twist & stomp
tell em, womp womp

come on sister do the twist & crawl
come on sister do the twist & crawl
& build that wall

come on brother do the twist & swing
come on brother do the twist & swing
I’m the Cracker King



broke n****s thuggemup
coke n****s druggemup
joke n****s fuggemup
woke n****s duggemup

protest wrote the Constitution

protest wrote the Constitution
fugitive slaves freed the slaves
(we say enslaved)
our cities were never surrounded in flame
we never heard sirens in the night
beckoning us back to the rocks
where our dreams are over
and we carry on
wash the blood off the flag
and wave it proudly*

*Mari Matsuda, “Voices of America: Accent, Antidiscrimination Law, and a Jurisprudence for the Last Reconstruction,” Yale Law Journal 1991

The Iran deal

The US’s withdrawal last week from the Iran deal thanks to three billionaires means more emails to my Congressman, a Democrat who is decent on labor issues and not a terrible human overall, urging him not to support our latest preemptive war of aggression. Our last exchange, back in 2015:

* * *


Dear Congressman Norcross:

I’m writing with regard to your mailing opposing the Iran deal on the basis that it “rewards a known sponsor of terrorism by lifting economic sanctions without providing enough assurance that Iran will be restricted from developing or acquiring a nuclear weapon,” concluding that Iran “must stop funding terrorist organizations and must never be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon under any circumstances.”

I agree that Iran shouldn’t have nuclear weapons. But I also think Pakistan shouldn’t have nuclear weapons. Nor should India. Nor should Israel. Nor should the US. Given that these countries do have nuclear weapons, it’s difficult for me to argue Iran should be treated differently.

Nor does state-sponsored terrorism differentiate these other countries from Iran. Pakistan’s ISI has supported militants in Kashmir as well as the Taliban. The current ruling party in India is the political wing of the paramilitary group RSS, which has been linked to Hindu terrorism. Israel funded Hamas in the 1970s to weaken support for the PLO and sabotage potential peace negotiations, and has also provided weapons, training, and/or intelligence to Somoza’s Nicaragua, Salvadoran death squads, and the Ferguson police force. As far as US state-sponsored terrorism, the CIA along with the UK removed Iran’s democratically elected prime minister when their oil cartel was threatened; supported the Shah, whose SAVAK intelligence force tortured and executed political opponents; and has provided support for MEK (People’s Mujahedin of Iran), an anti-Iranian terrorist group within Iran. Why should Iran’s support of Hezbollah and Hamas be treated differently?

I won’t tell you Iran can be trusted because I don’t know what trust means in the context of countries, who speaks for whom or to whom. I will tell you I don’t think the US, or Israel, or India, or Pakistan, or Iran has the moral authority to determine which countries should or shouldn’t obtain or possess nuclear weapons. None of them should, ideally, but since many of them do, all of them should be able to. Only when those weapons are used, not simply obtained or possessed, can we demand otherwise. But so can they.

“Diplomacy has worked and can continue to work,” you conclude. “That’s why I urge all parties back to the bargaining table to develop an agreement that ensures a nuclear-free Iran and a more stable, peaceful world.” I agree, and encourage a broader discussion with other world nations that will ensure a nuclear-free Pakistan, a nuclear-free India, a nuclear-free Israel, a nuclear-free America, and a nuclear-free world. I don’t disagree with a nuclear-free Iran, but why stop there? Where’s the bargaining table if only one side is bargaining?

Lastly, I note that the mailing I received was “prepared, published and mailed at taxpayers’ expense.” I appreciate the honesty, but not the waste of my money. Please stop.


H. Wechsler

* * * *

September 18, 2015

Dear H. Wechsler:

Thank you for reaching out to me with your concerns regarding the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Agreement (JCPOA) with Iran. I appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts with me on this issue. As your Representative, I am grateful for the opportunity to respond to you directly.

While I fully support the administration’s diplomatic goals, I am deeply skeptical that the Iranian regime shares America’s values and desire for peace. When we are dealing with nuclear weapons there are no do-overs and no second-chances. Iran must never be allowed to become a nuclear threat to the world. Not today. Not ten or fifteen years from now. Never.

Since the agreement was announced last month, I have met twice with President Obama, including a briefing inside the White House Situation Room. I was also briefed by Secretary of State John Kerry, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, and senior members of the U.S. Department of Defense. As a member of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee, I had the opportunity to review classified documents related to the Iran nuclear deal multiple times.

I had the opportunity to visit Israel last year and again this August with fellow members of Congress, which gave me a crucial opportunity to hear what this deal means to Israeli officials, military officers, and everyday citizens. I have also met with a variety of constituent groups from South Jersey over the past few months to hear their thoughts on the issue.

In April, prior to the announcement of a deal, I wrote a letter to President Obama, voicing my concerns over the negotiations with Iran and missed deadlines. In it, I outlined my belief that an acceptable deal would be long-term, fully transparent, and provide for the dismantling of Iran’s nuclear program all verified by intrusive inspections in exchange for phased sanctions relief. Unfortunately, the JCPOA falls short in each of these criteria.

The Iranian regime is a known sponsor of terrorism that has openly expressed its hatred for both the United States and Israel. Lifting economic sanctions at the outset essentially rewards past behavior and infuses billions of dollars into their economy that could be used to buy more weapons and outsource more terror. Moreover, the deal does not provide enough assurance that Iran will be restricted from developing nuclear weapons, so this windfall may ultimately help fund their nuclear ambitions.

I’ve listened, I’ve studied the issues, and after careful consideration, I must vote against this deal.

I applaud the Obama Administration and other world powers that worked diligently on a diplomatic solution. We all know no deal is perfect or iron-clad and I am not looking for perfection, but I do believe that a better deal can be achieved. Diplomacy has worked and can continue to work. We have not exhausted all possible efforts. I urge all parties to go back to the bargaining table so we can continue a dialogue that can help us achieve an accord that ensures a nuclear-free Iran and a safer world. To that end, I promise to work with Congressional leaders to foster more diplomatic action.

Thank you again for your interest. If I may be of any assistance to you in the future, please do not hesitate to contact me.


Donald Norcross
Member of Congress

Well, he responded. Maybe now, in 2018, he can visit Oaklyn, or West Collingswood, or Camden, or (gasp) Tehran or Gaza, and hear what withdrawal of the deal means to everyday citizens from places other than Israel.

Cracker Identity Politics

What’s the difference between
solidarity and intersectionality?
One Big Union and a Master’s.
Otherwise, we wear the same masks.
We are people, plural,
differences manifest
as one.
Lester Bangs wrote,
“We will never agree on anything
as we agreed on Elvis,”
but we never agreed on Elvis,
or Lester Bangs.
We never voted for Trump,
but it only took a minyan.
Do you identify with
those who identify with
Eugene Debs,
who wrote that the most heroic word
in all languages is
and does your revolution
dance with Emma Watson,
or only Emma Goldman?
Brocialism, the working man’s Branarchism!
(Black flags fly forever, ask any
Raiders fan.)
Solidarity and intersectionality both mean becoming someone else’s struggle
without becoming someone else.
We’re never more radical than radical
tolerance. The rest is reverie.
Both sides do it,
but only one side owned slaves.

* New York Worker, April 1907

Books I read in 2016

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Devil in the Grove, Gilbert King
W.E.B. DuBois, who had left the [NAACP] organization in 1934, was nevertheless around the office enough to observe [Thurgood] Marshall’s “unbuttoned office manners to be outlandishly bad.”  It was a charge the lawyer could not deny.  Victories were celebrated, often on Friday afternoons, when Marshall would pull a bottle of whiskey from his desk drawer and proceed to hold court.  Imitating judges, opposing counsel, or dim Uncle Tom witnesses, he’d punctuate his tales from the civil rights battlefront with one of his famous deadpan grins or bawdy punch lines.  He relished racial humor, like the story about the slave who stole a turkey from his master, then ate the whole bird—and just as the master was about to deliver a whipping, the slave pleaded, “You shouldn’t beat me, massuh.  You got less turkey, but you sure got more nigger.”
“He could tell some pretty off-color jokes which would be, if they were told by someone else, embarrassing,” recalled Mildred Roxborough, who began a long career with the NAACP as a secretary in the early 1950s.  “But you would find yourself responding to them because of the way in which he told them.”
In an office where the work was hard, usually depressing, and often tragic, Marshall was inclined to using sophomoric or gallows humor to alleviate tension.  One associate recalled an occasion when Marshall, tin the course of doing research, came across a story in a nineteenth-century newspaper about a black man who’d been doing railroad construction in the Midwest and had fallen into a ditch.  The absurdity of the headline gripped Marshall, who kept reading it aloud from his desk, over and over, as if it summed up the black man’s condition then, and now: “Nigger in a Pit…Nigger in a Pit…Nigger in a Pit…”

The Judge and the Historian, Carlo Ginzburg
For me, and for many others, the notions of ‘proof’ and ‘truth’ are, rather, integral parts of the historian’s profession.  This does not mean, of course, that nonexistent phenomena or falsified documents are of little historical importance—Bloch and Lefebvre taught us the opposite long ago.  Still, any analysis of representations cannot overlook the principle of reality.  The nonexistence of the bands of brigands renders more significant (because more profound and revealing) the fear that spread among the French peasants in the summer of 1789.  A historian has the right to detect a problem where a judge might find an ‘absence of grounds for proceedings’.  This is a major divergence which, however, presupposes an element that links, rather than divides, historians and judges: the use of proof.  The professions of both historians and judges rest upon the possibility of proving, according to given rules, that x did y, where x may equally well indicate the protagonist (perhaps nameless) of a historic event or the subject of a penal proceeding; and y an action of any sort.
Obtaining proof, however, is not always possible; and even when it is, the result will always be measurable in terms of probability (perhaps 99.9 per cent), not absolute certainty.  Here, a further divergence arises: one of the many that mark—beyond the initial similarities mentioned above—the profound distinction between historians and judges.  Let me try to explain it as we move forward.  At that point, the implications—and the limitations—will emerge in that intriguing analogy suggested by Luigi Ferrajoli: ‘A trial is, so to speak, the only case of “historiographic experimentation”—in a trial the sources are forced to interact de vivo, not only because they are heard directly, but also because they are forced to confront one another, subjected to cross-examination and prompted to produce, as in a psychodrama, the adjudicated event.

Philadelphia Freedom: Memoir of a Civil Rights Lawyer, David Kairys
I noticed how easy it was to see the value judgments in every line and phrase of an opinion [Greer v. Spock (1976)] that announced my defeat, compared to how uncritically a winning opinion can seem obvious and valueless.  Something hit me clearly that day that had been brewing for some time.  Legal opinions are written in a style that emphasizes objectivity and requires results.  But there is broad, though usually hidden, discretion, choices made based on values nowhere specified or required in the law.
What struck me that I hadn’t heard or thought of before was the regularity of value judgments in legal decision making.  It wasn’t unusual to find criticism of particular decisions or judges for applying values.  That was considered wrong, a deviation from what is normal and right.  But maybe values were always involved, although all legal decisions have a theme that emphatically rejects values or discretion: the law made me do it.  It reminded me of something I’d heard comedian Flip Wilson say.  He had a routine delivered in a woman’s dress called “The devil made me buy this dress.”  She excused her misdeeds with “the devil made me do it.”  No other explanation or justification was offered or necessary.”

Stone Butch Blues, Leslie Feinberg
Bold shook Duffy’s hand.  “Do you think we’re gonna win?”
Duffy smiled and nodded.  “Yeah.  But it’ll take a fight.  We got strong people in each department.  If we had more like Jess, we’d win it hands down.  I trust Jess.  She’s proved she’s for the union 100 percent.”
Everything happened in slow motion.  When I heard Duffy say she I turned in horror, my jaw dropped.  Frankie slapped her forehead with her palm and shook her head.  The guys looked from Duffy to me and back again.  I stormed out of the VFW post and headed for my motorcycle.
“Jess, wait!” I heard Duffy shouting.  He caught up to me and grabbed my arm.
I yanked it away.  “Thanks a lot, Duffy.”  Seeing tears in his eyes made it worse.
“I’m so sorry, Jess.  It just jumped out.  I didn’t mean it.”
I shrugged.  “It doesn’t matter what you meant to do.  I’m out of this job now.”
He shook his head.  “We’ll work it out, Jess.  You could stay.  I’ll talk to the guys.”
I laughed bitterly.  “You don’t get it, do you?  Which bathroom you think I’m going to use on Monday, Duffy?”
Duffy put his hand on my arm.  I glared at him.  “Jess, I’d never do anything to hurt you.  You know that.”
I pushed his hand off my arm.  “Well, you did.”  I turned and walked away.

Times Square Red, Times Square Blue, Samuel Delany
….desire is never “outside all social constraint.”  Desire may be outside one set of constraints or another; but social constraints are what engender desire; and, one way or another, even at its most apparently catastrophic, they contour desire’s expression.

Mishima: A Biography, John Nathan
In 1946 and 1947 eight hundred thousand repatriated troops from His Majesty’s Imperial Army poured into Tokyo alone.  These unhappy men were received coldly: the city couldn’t bear to be reminded of the war.  Many were maimed and became beggars on the streets in tattered military uniforms.  Those of able body found they were discriminated against when they sought employment and had to join the gangs which ran the black market.  On every Tokyo street corner hoods with belly bands and American pennies in their ears “peddled” food and clothing (shoes were not manufactured domestically until 1948; an American pair cost $60 in a store, $5 on the street), toilet paper (the government ration was twelve sheets a week per family), and whiskey.  It was a time not only of domestic hardship and social mayhem but profound humiliation.  The Japanese diet was so low in sugar that a whiff of the tinfoil wrapping from a stick of chewing gum was enough to cause dizziness: a few sticks of gum tossed into the street from a jeep were sufficient to create a small riot.  In many neighborhoods GIs, including blacks (who struck fear into the hearts of most Japanese), were “shacked up” with local girls won over by stockings and lipstick, known as “onlys” and recognizable in the streets by their cosmetic attempts to look as “western”—heavy rouge and lipstick, blowzy clothes—as possible.  Speakers at train stations blared American boogie-woogie.
In every respect it was a nightmarish time, and the writing of the period is dark and sorely wounded.  But however grim the reality appeared and was, the young writers of the Postwar School shared with the critic Ara the unshakable conviction that life was precious and to be affirmed.
For Yukio Mishima, the surrender was no reprieve but a sentence to life.  In August 1944 he had written “The murderer,” meaning the artist, “had less use for recovery than for any illness.  He disdained passion directed toward recovery.”  These lines expressed many things for him, but in essence they meant that for the young artist, death was more beautiful and more precious than life.  It was not that he wanted to die in any conventional sense: when he was finally confronted with death as a reality in 1944 he ran from it as fast as his legs would carry him.  But he was captive to a romantic longing for death as an esthetic ideal which originated in his erotic nature, his very sexual identity.  And changes in external reality could neither release him from his longing nor alter its nature: the emperor had announced Japan’s surrender, but death remained his “life’s aim.”

Before Night Falls, Reinaldo Arenas
I think that the sexual revolution in Cuba actually came about as a result of the existing sexual repression.  Perhaps as a protest against the regime, homosexuality began to flourish with ever-increasing defiance.  Moreover, since the dictatorship was considered evil, anything it proscribed was seen in a positive light by the nonconformists, who in the sixties were already in the majority.  I honestly believe that the concentration camps for homosexuals, and the police officers disguised as willing young men to entrap and arrest homosexuals, actually resulted in the promotion of homosexual activities.
In Cuba gays were not confined to a specific area of a club or beach.  Everybody mingled and there was no division that would place the homosexual on the defensive.  This has been lost in more advanced societies, where the homosexual has had to become a sort of sexual recluse and separate himself from the supposedly nonhomosexual society, which undoubtedly also excludes him.  Since such divisions did not exist in Cuba, the interesting aspect of homosexuality there was that you did not have to be a homosexual to have a relationship with a man; a man could have intercourse with another man as an ordinary act.  In the same way, a real gay who liked another gay could easily go out and live with him.  But the gay who liked real macho men could also find one who wanted to live or be friends with him, without in any way interfering with the heterosexual life of that man.  It was not the norm for one queer to go to bed with another queer; “she” would look for a man to fuck “her” who would feel as much pleasure as the homosexual being fucked.
Homosexual militancy has gained considerable rights for free-world gays.  But what has been lost is the wonderful feeling of meeting heterosexual or bisexual men who would get pleasure from possessing another man and who would not, in turn, have to be possessed.
The ideal in any sexual relationship is finding one’s opposite; and therefore the homosexual world is now something sinister and desolate; we almost never get what we most desire.

* mostly just G and T

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Why Marx Was Right, Terry Eagleton

I Pity the Poor Immigrant, Zachary Lazar
She was a cocktail waitress.  Businessmen, scotch and gin, some stale pastries in a glass case, no music in the background.  One night, after Meyer had left Israel, the journalist Uri Dan came in with a group from the embassies, and he half stood and pointed at each of them with his cigarette, relaying their orders, not seeing her.  Of course, he could not have known who she was.  Of course, she was nobody.  She bent at the knees, serving, back straight, focused on the glasses, the table.  The inventedness of Israel as a country seemed completely transparent at such moments, everything too new to be convincing, but she realized that this was a refugee’s thinking.  The real problem was that she had never gotten used to the newness, had never taken her position in the country seriously enough.

Eichmann in Jerusalem, Hannah Arendt

Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, Max Blumenthal
According to a March 2011 Ynet-Gesher poll of 504 Israeli adults, 48 percent of Israelis supported settler violence in retaliation to Palestinian or Israeli government actions, with only 33 percent stating their belief that settler violence was “never justified.”  While a vast majority of Orthodox and religious nationalist respondents expressed strong support for settler attacks, 36 percent of secular Israelis did as well—a remarkably high number for a population that lives primarily inside the Green Line.
…Dov Lior, the chief rabbi of Hebron, has cheered on the murder of anyone, Jew or non-Jew, who appeared to interfere with the redemptive cause of Greater Israel.  At the funeral for Baruch Goldstein, Lior extolled the mass killer as “a righteous man” who was “holier than all the martyrs of the Holocaust.”  Thanks in part to Lior’s efforts, a shrine to Goldstein stands inside the Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba, where Lior presides over the yeshiva.  At the same time, Lior pronounced Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin a moser (a Jew who snitches to the goyim) and a rodef (a traitor worthy of elimination), helping establish the religious justification for Yigal Amir, one of Lior’s admirers, to assassinate him.
Lior’s penchant for overheated, fascistic tirades has not diminished with age.  He has warned Jewish women not to allow in vitro fertilization with the sperm of non-Jews, claiming that “gentile sperm leads to barbaric offspring,” described Arabs as “evil camel riders” and said captive Palestinian militants could be used as subjects for live human experiments.  The short, gray-bearded rabbi has even held forth on the evils of “boogie woogie,” declaring that rock and roll “expresses people’s animalistic and lower urges.”  He added, “Something that belongs to the rhythms of kushim [Negroes] does not belong in our world.”

Bringing the War Home: The Weather Underground The Red Army Faction, & Revolutionary Violence in the 60s & 70s, Jeremy Varon
Marcuse’s notion of the “Great Refusal” offers additional perspective on Weatherman’s transgressions.  Convinced that “administered societies” quickly neutralized or assimilated all forms of local resistance, Marcuse counseled the rejection of “the whole.” Yet neither Marcuse nor the New Left had any fixed sense of when one was being authentically radical, rejecting the system in its totality, truly subverting the mainstream.  The escalation in militancy over the course of the 1960s was, in part, an experiment with new and more provocative forms of refusal.  The Weathermen appeared intent on being the opposite of everything they felt the dominant culture valued.  Years later, Roth described Weatherman’s core message at Flint: “We spit on all your values, on all your sensibilities.”  Stern conveyed the intensity and narcissistic quality of the group’s “refusal” in the threat made at Flint that “there would be no peace in America as long as one Weatherman was left standing.”
From a deconstructive perspective, Weatherman’s “refusal” seems a rather crude strategy of reversal.  In opposing chaos to order, destruction to the status quo, the Weathermen simply inverted the hierarchies within a binary structure, leaving the structure intact.  In a Marcusean vocabulary, the Weathermen practiced a nondialectical form of negation that naïvely equated transgression with transcendence.  Marcuse defined negation, most broadly, as the refusal to accept the rationality and necessity of the given.  But according to Marcuse, truly dialectic negation also had to contain a moment of affirmation—a vision, however prefigurative and itself negated by prevailing “reality,” of liberated utopian possibilities.  Marcuse developed this view mostly with respect to aesthetics, but his aesthetic theory provides useful analogies for politics.  To Marcuse, emancipator art must express, through its commitment to form, a beauty that testifies against and transcends the contradictions, ugliness, or even the obscenity of the established order.  He therefore praised certain works of “high” bourgeois art and some of the creativity of the counterculture, such as Bob Dylan’s more soulful songs, for pointing toward a transcendent realm.  (As if in agreement, the folksinger Phil Ochs penned the line, “In such an ugly time, the true protest is beauty.”)[…] Beyond a critique of art, Marcuse offers a model of failed resistance as the repetition or mirroring of the very tendencies the resistance seeks to oppose.  Flint, as Weatherman’s own grisly theater, conformed to this model, insofar as it failed within the terms of Marcuse’s analysis to truly shock and gloried in a destructiveness the Weathermen presumably sought to overcome.

Dispatches, Michael Herr
We talked while we ate.  Mayhew told me about his father, who “got greased in Korea,” and about his mother, who worked in a department store in Kansas City.  Then he started to tell about Day Tripper, who got his name because he was afraid of the night–not the dark, but the night–and who didn’t mind who knew it.  There wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do during daylight, but if there was any way at all to fix it he liked to be deep in his bunker by nightfall.  He was always volunteering for the more dangerous daylight patrols, just to make sure he got in by dusk.  (This was before daylight patrols, in fact almost all patrols around Khe Sanh, were discontinued.)  There were a lot of white guys, especially junior officers trying to be cool, who were always coming on to Day Tripper about his hometown, calling it Dodge City or Motown and laughing.  (“Why they think somethin’s special about Detroit?” he said.  “Ain’t nothin’ special, ain’t nothin’ so funny, neither.”)  He was a big bad spade gone wrong somehow, and no matter how mean he tried to look something constantly gentle showed.  He told me he knew guys from Detroit who were taking mortars back, breaking them down so that each one could get a piece into his duffel and then reassembling them when they got together back on the block.  “You see that four-oh-deuce?” he said.  “Now that’ll take out a police station for you.  I don’t need all that hassle.  But maybe nex’ year I gonna need it.”

Republican Gomorrah, Max Blumenthal
Charles Colson joined the chorus of Alito defenders with an unusual revision of civil rights history.  Colson, who once burned a cross on the lawn of a black law partner in what he later described as a “prank,” and who exploited resentment of forced school desegregation to win ethnic white votes for Richard Nixon, declared in a January 2006 radio commentary that Martin Luther King was “a great conservative.  Were he alive today, I believe he would be in the vanguard of the pro-life movement and would be supporting Judge Alito.”  Colson’s logic, remarkable as it was, was actually part of a premeditated Christian Right effort to link Alito to the legacy of King.  This campaign culminated when Tony Perkins convened Justice Sunday III at a black church in inner-city Philadelphia.
The event featured a strange cast, beginning with Bishop Wellington Boone, an African American church leader and spokesman for the evangelical men’s group known as the Promise Keepers.  Perkins had recruited Boone to lend his rally a bold splash of color; however, the bishop had lost any credibility he might have enjoyed in the black community years before when he wrote, in his book Breaking Through, “We need to boldly affirm Uncle Tom.  The black community needs to stop criticizing Uncle Tom.  Uncle Tom is a role model.”  In the same tract, Boone declared, “I believe that slavery, and the understanding of it when you see it God’s way, was redemptive.”

Regulating the Poor, Francis Fox Piven & Richard Cloward

Open City, Teju Cole
But do you think you could live in Mecca or Medina?  What happens to individual liberty in those places? If you moved to the central cities of Islamic faith, what would become of your cigarettes and your Chimay?
Mecca and Medina are special cases.  Yes, I could live in the Holy Land.  I would see it as a paysage moralisé.  There’s a spiritual energy in the topography, through which one can endure the physical limitations.  I am drinking this now—he gestured to the bottle of beer—and I know that this is a choice I have made, and the consequence of this choice is that the wine of paradise will not be available to me.  I am sure you know what Paul de Man says about insight and blindness.  His theory has to do with an insight that can actually obscure other things, that can be a blindness.  And the reverse, also, how what seems blind can open up possibilities.  When I think about the insight that is a form of blindness, I think of rationality, of rationalism, which is blind to God and to the things that God can offer human beings.  This is the failure of the Enlightenment.

American Hunger, Richard Wright

Red Harvest, Dashiell Hammett
I walked streets hunting for her, half the streets in the United States, Gay Street and Mount Royal Avenue in Baltimore, Colfax Avenue in Denver, Aetna Road and St. Clair Avenue in Cleveland, McKinney Avenue in Dallas, Lemartine and Cornell and Amory Streets in Boston, Berry Boulevard in Louisville, Lexington Avenue in New York, until I came to Victoria Street in Jacksonville, where I heard her voice again, though I still could not see her.

On Keith Ellison


1. I tend to agree with Chomskythat opponents of the Israel Lobby both overrate it and underrate the power of US imperialism.  In other words, that the Mearsheimer-Walt thesis(i.e. the Israel Lobby forces the US to commit bad policy against its own interests) leaves the US government untouched on its high pinnacle of nobility, “Wilsonian idealism,” etc., merely in the grip of an all-powerful force that it cannot escape.  More broadly, in the words of Bill WeinbergThe problem with too many who are immersed in the Palestine issue is that they are so awed by Israel’s Washington political machinery that they lose sight of the inevitable and over-arching context for this privileged position within the beltway elite: US imperialism. (I would add Christian Zionism to that, as either a subcategory or its own category, especially as support for Israel becomes less debatable for Republicans than for Democrats.)
2. Is this necessarilyanti-Semitic?  Of course not, which doesn’t mean that it’s neveranti-Semitic either.  Despite popular myth, it’s not difficult to separate anti-Semites from anti-Zionists.  Élise Hendrick provides an excellent overview of who’s who in her 2015 takedown of Counterpunch.  Clearly, obsession with the Lobby (what Hendrick refers to as “Lobby fetishism”) is less anti-Zionist than it is anti-Semitic, if only by association.
3. Much of the current Ellison controversy is manufactured, meaning not only that he’s called anti-Semitic for past comments but that those past comments are deliberately taken (occasionally ridiculously) out of context, as Glenn Greenwaldand J.J. Goldberg, among others, have noted:

Some of the evidence against him is downright hilarious. One video clip from 2007 was posted to my Facebook page by an irate reader, as evidence that Ellison blames “Jews” for the 9/11 attacks. It’s circulating around the web with explanations that you can hear audience member saying, “Jews benefited from 9/11,” and Ellison replying, “Well, I mean, you and I both know.”

Except that’s not what’s on the video. For context, Ellison is likening the 9/11 attacks to the Reichstag fire, the 1933 burning of the German Parliament that was used by the Nazis as an excuse to crack down on leftists and consolidate their power. In post-9/11 America, Ellison says, bigots used the attacks to justify a crackdown on “religious minorities.”

At this point, someone off-camera can be heard saying, “But who benefited from 9/11?” Ellison replies, “Well, I mean, you and I both know.” The questioner then answers his own question: “Yeah, Bush.” “Who,” not “Jew.” (Cue the Woody Allen routine.)

4. Ellison isn’t an anti-Semite, and it’s (willfully) wrong to suggest that he is.  But it’s also wrong to celebrate the Ellison controversyon the basis that pro-Israel organizations are turning on one another. And we’re finally going to have an honest conversation about the power of the Israel lobby[.]  Desires to accelerate the contradictionsof neoliberalism lead nowhere at best, to Presidents Trump and Bush at worst.  Why should the contradictions of pro- and anti-Lobby fetishism lead somewhere better for the Democrats, when the Republicans have no contradictions, or for Palestinians, whose rights in Israel (or anywhere else) always become collateral to the Lobby’s rights in America in these arguments?

Robert Kuttner is more realistic:

The battle over a new, more progressive and effective leader for the Democrats is degenerating into a bitter fight over loyalty, score-settling, and the power of the Israel lobby.

The Democrats have enough problems. They hardly need this donnybrook, much less a DNC elected in a narrow and bitter factional win. Ellison is a great guy, but this may not be his moment.

I have no objections to Ellison.  I agree with Kuttner that [h]is blueprint for party activism reads like a progressive organizer’s dreamBut if someone equally progressive ends up becoming the DNC Chair, I won’t automatically think the Democrats sold out.  On the other hand, if the Democratic future needs to look like Tim Kaine, that’s a problem, with all due respect to Tim Kaine.  As always, it depends.

5. The irony, of course, isn’t merely that the Party of Bannon has no contradictions on Israel (just ask Ambassador HuckabeeChristian Zionist) or that the most well-known Jewish organizations and fellow travelers denouncing Ellison (AIPAC, the Zionist Organization of America, Alan Dershowitz, David Horowitz) defendedBannon to varyingdegrees, but that Ellison’s opinions on Israel are so conventional.

[H]e is a Muslim peacenik. Since entering politics, he has consistently spoken out in favor of the two-state solution, by which he means Israel and a Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security. 

The Daily Beast:

[Ellison has] made statement after statement defending Israel. “The world needs a secure Israel.” (2010) “Every country has a right to defend itself.” (2009)

Ellison himself:

“I have long supported a two-state solution and a democratic and secure state for the Jewish people, with a democratic and viable Palestinian state side-by-side in peace and dignity,” Ellison said, in an emailed statement. “I don’t believe boycotting, divesting and sanctioning Israel helps us achieve that goal.”

The two-state solution (which is dead, if it ever really existed, and which wouldn’t remedy legal discrimination within Israel’s current or future borders nor would it promote pluralism or a right to return).  The right to defend itself (a truism, but also a euphemism for disproportionate force).  Opposition to BDS (a nonviolent movement whose demands are ending the occupation, full citizenship rights for Palestinians i.e. pluralism, and the right to return).  Far from being the keffiyah-wearing, bomb-throwing radical his rightwing opponents have projected, Ellison is one Democrat among 187 in Congress.

True, maybe that’s the power of the Lobby talking, but maybe it’s just politics.

Photo courtesy of Congressman Keith Ellison.  Available at Wikimedia Commons.


How Soon We Forget


To recoup, the capitalist class unleashed an attack against working people. Real wages, especially for the unorganized majority, have been cut; speed-up, lack of safety and other declining conditions have become a fact of life at work. In addition, the quality of life: of social services, of the cities, of the natural envi­ronment has decayed….The all-too-evident flight of capital only hammers this point home. Working class people feel powerless, hostage to the needs of capital accumulation and profit.

In this situation it is understandable, though not defen­sible, that sections of the working class should try to protect themselves at the expense of the weaker sections. This is the main source of the drift to the right in the work­ing class. The process is not always conscious. But insofar as people are really unable to act as a class and are not tak­ing on the capitalists, they are unlikely to adopt a class struggle world view to solve their problems. There is then every temptation to see society as made up not of two classes in opposition but of individuals competing on the market. This outlook does correspond to one aspect of capitalist reality: for workers are not only collective pro­ducers with a common interest in taking collective control over social production. They are also individual sellers of labor power in conflict with each other over jobs, promo­tions. etc. This individualistic point of view has a critical advantage in the current period: in the absence of class against class organization, it seems to provide an alterna­tive strategy for effective action—a sectionalist strategy which pits one layer of workers against another.

It appears possible for the stronger sections of the work­ing class to defend their positions by organizing on the basis of already existing ties against weaker, less-organized sections. They can take advantage of their posi­tion as Americans over and against foreigners, as whites over and against blacks, as men over and against women, as employed over and against unemployed, etc. In so do­ing, working people may act initially only out of what they perceive to be their most immediate self-interest. But over time they inevitably feel the pressure to make sense of these actions and they adopt ideas which can make their actions reasonable and coherent. These ideas are, of course, the ideas of the right.
–from Johanna and Robert Brenner, “Reagan, the Right and the Working Class,” Against the Current, 1981 (H/T Verso Books)