Latest Posts


VirginiaWoolf

The assistant looked at me with an amused, vaguely ironic expression: better not to do than to do, better to meditate than to act, better his astrophysics, the threshold of the Unknowable, than my chemistry, a mess compounded of stenches, explosions, and small futile mysteries. I thought of another moral, more down to earth and concrete, and I believe that every militant chemist can confirm it: that one must distrust the almost-the-same (sodium is almost the same as potassium, but with sodium [no explosion] would have happened), the practically identical, the approximate, the or-even, all surrogates, and all patchwork. The differences can be small, but they can lead to radically different consequences, like a railroad’s switch points; the chemist’s trade consists in good part in being aware of these differences, knowing them close up, and foreseeing their effects. And not only the chemist’s trade.
— Primo Levi, The Periodic Table (1975)

In the current American climate, while Donald Trump lunges for the White House by ranting from platforms, screens, and newsfeeds against the women, the immigrants, the refugees who must be identical with his contempt for their differences from him, as if a word matched its referent, always without slippage, I talk to the dead. To two long gone, especially: to Virginia Woolf and Plato, their resonances stretched across the millennia separating them. They are tough to hear, those echoes, but the listening can be earned, so long as any hearer balks at the sameness that lives on the other side of Trump’s disdain for the differential. Part of our human trade, as Levi sketches out, ought to involve defying the effort to squeeze persons into our vision of them, to batter down two into one, whether or not we are mindful of the consequences of such an act, its potential explosions. Together, Woolf and Plato help their listeners to resist equalizing the seer and the seen, or at least to understand that the consequences of resistance, as well as its failure, are ours. (more…)


Bernie_Sanders

I am not one who thinks that Bernie Sanders is the perfect candidate. At the same time, Sanders is the candidate most fit to play the role of president in the 21st century. And, unlike so many in the media, I believe he must and will win nomination over Hillary Clinton. Here’s why.

First, the nation and world face a political turn to the far-right. Europe is rattled rightward by immigration from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and elsewhere in North Africa. German prime minister Angela Merkel can no longer guarantee political stability in Germany or decisive leadership in Europe. British exit from the European Union looms. China is imposing stricter controls on its population’s access to information. Brazil and Argentina are moving to the right. A Hindu nationalist party controls India’s state. Russia is flexing its muscle.

The recent agreement with Turkey shows just how vulnerable to violence Europe is. Turkey is pounding Turkish Kurds and committing broad human rights violations in the name of national security. The Europeans are willing to countenance Turkey’s bloody authoritarianism and even suggest Turkey’s inclusion in the European Union, just to slow the flow of immigrants and the potential violence associated with it. If the U.S. and its allies carry out attacks against the Islamic State in Libya in the near future, the likelihood of more Islamic State strikes in the West before the U.S. presidential election is high. (more…)


binyaminsalman2

One of the most famous lines in German poetry is “Don’t greet me under the lime trees.” The Jewish-German poet Heinrich Heine asks his sweetheart not to embarass him in public by greeting him in the main street of Berlin, which is called “Unter den Linden” (“Under the Lime Trees”).

Israel is in the position of this illicit sweetheart. Arab countries are having an affair with her, but don’t want to be seen with her in public.

Too embarrassing.

The main Arab country in question is Saudi Arabia. For some time now, the oil kingdom has been a secret ally of Israel, and vice versa.

In politics, national interests often trump ideological differences. This is so in this case.

The area referred to by Westerners as the “Middle East” is now polarized into two camps, led respectively by Saudi Arabia and Iran. (more…)


fjords

Angels

We are one another’s mainstays: angels, fjords,
Flashlight’s evanescence, halcyon bodies of water,
Love everlasting: song cycles, bond asseverations.

Spectacles

Is it brain, despite these words, that makes a vain attempt?
I am that tired. And do I marry a memorial to diremption,
Losing the cantilever meaning on which it rests or pivots?
The question’s merely a shortcut to chalcedony’s heresy.
Morning is not given for nostalgia, for looking backward,
With no time – now or never – for the will of never mind
(Whose evil is the delight of men, whose barn raising …
Whose beeing, brainstorming envelops those who mourn).
What of my seas, senses, inchoate experience? High-rises,
Turnstiles, lenses, impediments to bodily housing eager
To figure obstruction: mental strikes against the sanctum
That will out on fairground days – the release for plenty.
You will know what you have to do when you wake up,
Take place (let it take place), assume attitude in our time. (more…)


erdogan dictator

The resemblances to interwar Italy are unmistakable, and the results are gradually turning out to be almost as fatal.

Humanitarian aid to [civilians] must be allowed immediately. ‘Surrender or starve’ tactics are directly contrary to the law of war.

Any western leader might easily use these words to scold the Turkish state, and its starvation of Kurdish towns to the south-east of the country. But it would be highly unlikely. In fact, John Kerry’s tweet was aimed at the Syrian regime, not the Turkish one.

Why do American leaders describe Assad’s strategy of ‘surrender or starve’ as a war crime, while they ignore Erdoğan’s? (more…)


tedcruz

On stage in Vermont in early January Donald Trump asserted that he respected the rights of those protesting his policies. In the next moment, shielding his eyes from the overhead spotlights, Trump peered into the crowd to locate a group of protesters and ordered his security personnel to “throw them out in the cold. Keep their coats… it’s minus 10 degrees outside… no coats… confiscate their coats.” His views on foreign policy mirror his treatment of protesters. In disparaging the Obama administration’s negotiations with Iran, he promised he would put together a tougher team. Trump actually warned his audience that the negotiators he would appoint are “not nice people. They’re brutal, brutal genius killers!” He also ripped the media, presumably for distorting his image: “I hate ’em… I hate ’em!” At one point in his rambling speech, he referred to his supporters as “the most loyal of anybody. I can do anything… we have great genes in this room.” In his contemptible remarks, in the authoritarian tone of his voice, in his sneers and dismissive facial gestures, Trump reveals a vile and aggressively judgmental character. Yet he leads the Republican field of presidential candidates. (more…)


clintons

Nine times out of ten, or ninety-nine times out of a hundred, electoral politics at the national level these days does more to disable democracy than to enhance it.

Sometimes, though, elections can be good for something. This may be one of those times.

Until recently, it seemed that the 2016 Presidential election, a factor in American politics since at least 2014, would, as usual, deflect democratic impulses into useless electoral pursuits – and, as if that weren’t bad enough, that it would do so in a boring, unedifying way: by pitting two pro-corporate, interventionist-minded, military-industrial complex friendly political families, the Clintons and the Bushes, against one another. (more…)


Ban_Ki-moon

So now we have another anti-Semite. Mazal Tov (“good luck”) as we say in Hebrew. His name is Ban Ki-moon, and he is the Secretary General of the UN. In practice, the highest international official, a kind of World Prime Minister.

He has dared to criticize the Israeli government, as well as the Palestinian Authority, for sabotaging the peace process, and thereby making Israeli-Palestinian peace almost impossible. He emphasized that there is a world-wide consensus about the “Two-state Solution” being the only possible one.

The formulation sounded neutral, but Ban made it quite clear that almost the entire fault lies with the Israeli side. Since the Palestinians are living under a hostile occupation, there is not much they can do one way or the other. (more…)


Palestinian activists in a reading human chain in Jerusalem's Old City

Far from condemning them to oblivion, Israel’s policy of withholding the bodies of martyrs has cemented a renewed sense of solidarity among Palestinians.

In her 1969 book On Death and Dying, Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross outlined five major emotional stages that people tend to go through while coping with the death or loss of a loved one: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

Over three months have passed since the killing of his son Bahaa, but Muhammad Alayan has not been able to experience any of them. The 60-year-old lawyer has been too immersed in the struggle to recover the body of his slain son to actually contemplate his loss.

“More than a hundred days have gone and I couldn’t sit with my wife and three (remaining) children at one table together and realize that there is an empty chair no longer occupied by Bahaa,” Muhammad Alayan told me. “We have had no time to discuss his absence because our entire lives have revolved around getting him back.” (more…)


utopia

Neoliberalism is a utopian vision based on a ‘world without poverty’. What if we imagine a world in which the problem is not poverty but wealth?

It is generally accepted that to label a political argument as utopian is in part to condemn it. And yet, a great many political arguments have some utopian refrain. There is something in the possibilities of utopian thinking that seems too rich, too exciting, too open-bordered to pass up. Even in an age in which we are told that politics has become more moderate, more technical, and obsessed with ‘evidence-based policy’, we find explorations of how we might live if we could do exactly that. And we come across utopian thinking even in the oddest places.

Imagine a beautiful island in uncharted emerald seas. On that island, everyone gets a wage that reflects their productivity, leaving just enough profit for the entrepreneur to invest in their company and remain competitive. This allows each and every firm to provide goods and services at the cheapest price to a nation of consumers who seek out the best value for money in all things. There is little waste. Everybody can know about the state of the markets for jobs and goods and services, and everybody is free to change their working and purchasing preferences. This makes everybody happy. Society is a great agglomeration of little acts of decision-making in the marketplace, which has its own positive overall effects in producing a near-perfect balance between wages, prices, and investment. (more…)