Tuesday, September 29, 2009

more on cultural studies

The Michael Bérubé article I linked to recently has caused a quiet uproar. Silly me, I saw it as a defense against the sorts of people I see attacking the field (and a few supporters) who largely ignore what it can do. However, others (mostly those who misread the article or who are a touch sensitive about Theory's failed plans for world domination) saw it as an attack on the field. So see this follow up from Bérubé at Crooked Timber dealing with those issues. But also see this article by Ellen Willis that came up at MB's own blog.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

My Jew is a better Jew than you

Apparently, an article supposedly by Richard Falk is making the rounds, questioning Israel's criticism of the Goldstone Report. Of course, some people will say (as Philip Weiss, who is also Jewish, not-so-subtly does) that both are Jewish. What is neglected is that both were appointments of the UNHRC, which is itself part of the problem. (Fer chrissakes, Mary Robinson turned down Goldstone's position because she found the mandate biased from the start.) Falk was not merely terrible; he's a Truther who blames the Mossad for 9/11.

Converts to Christianity were often the most antisemitic, because they had to prove the sincerity of their conversions. I came across an article by James Baldwin recently which includes a relevant quote:
The poor, whatever their color, do not trust the law and certainly have no reason to, and God knows we didn't. "If you must call a cop," we said in those days, "for God's sake, make sure it's a white one." We did not feel that the cops were protecting us, for we knew too much about the reasons for the kinds of crimes committed in the ghetto; but we feared the black cops ever more than white cops, because the black cop had to work so much harder--on your head--to prove to himself and his colleagues that he was not like all the other niggers.
So long as antisemitism dominates, it doesn't matter if the people hired to criticize Israel are Jewish or not. They certainly have every right to speak for themselves, but they do not in any way speak for Jews (any more than Michael Steele speaks for Blacks). Just as Christians promoted converts, antisemitism continues to try to put up "Good Jews" to silence other Jewish voices. That's colonialism, plain and simple.

Monday, September 21, 2009

institutionalized bigotries

This would be an example of institutional antisemitism. Facebook isn't staffed by Holocaust deniers, certainly, but their responses to Denial go beyond inadequate.

Btw, I checked Newsvine. They seem to have instituted a policy that to accuse anyone of being antisemitic or Islamophobic is against their terms of service. As for actual antisemitism or Islamophobia, I'm sure it's still allowed.

God is great, but is not quite "God"

Interesting interview on Fresh Air, with Karen Armstrong. She argues the idea of God we tend to use today is a recent invention. I think in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (it's been a while), Stephen Dedalus is asked whether the God he believes in is the "personal God" who hears your prayers, and intervenes, and has a long white beard, and so on with all the trappings, to which Dedalus answers, "Is there any other kind?" Well, yes, there is another kind.

Religion tends to work in two distinct ways. For some, it's a teaching to be learned. For (less numerous?) others, it's a process to promote learning. One of the problems with anti-theists lately is the failure to engage with both kinds.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

In which I suggest defenses of cultural studies

Read Michal Bérubé in The Chronicle of Higher Education. I've thrown my lot in with a lot of people who are quite dismissive of cultural studies, but I quite like it. It offers, for example, an response to the Z-Left that's far more compelling than the usual precisely because it has the empathy and respect for people that Noam Chomsky only pretends to have. (And, bonus, explains the inevitable frustration that turns Chomsky into James Petras.) The answer to bad Theory Leftists is not an attack on Theory, but better Theory, and Bérubé is generally, as in this article, is quite good at that. I'm looking forward to upcoming release of The Left At War. See also, the joke his article sprouted.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Marc Garlasco on Afghanistan

"I don't think people really appreciate the gymnastics that the U.S. military goes through in order to make sure that they're not killing civilians," Garlasco points out.

"If so much care is being taken why are so many civilians getting
killed?" Pelley asks.

"Because the Taliban are violating international law,” says
Garlasco, “and because the U.S. just doesn't have enough troops on the ground. You have the Taliban shielding in people's homes. And you have this small number of troops on the ground. And sometimes the only thing they can do is drop bombs."
That's him speaking in 2007, well after leaving the Pentagon for HRW. Kinda wow. He's defending (not to mention a logic that HRW would deny to Israel) collateral damage rates way beyond what Israel has caused.

At the Pentagon, Garlasco was chief of high value targeting at the start of the Iraq war. He told 60 Minutes how many civilians he was allowed to kill around each high-value target -- targets like Saddam Hussein and his leadership.
"Our number was 30. So, for example, Saddam Hussein. If you're gonna kill up to 29 people in a strike against Saddam Hussein, that's not a problem," Garlasco explains. "But once you hit that number 30, we actually had to go to either President Bush, or Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld."

Garlasco says, before the invasion of Iraq, he recommended 50 air strikes aimed at high-value targets -- Iraqi officials.

But he says none of the targets on the list were actually killed. Instead, he says, "a couple of hundred civilians at least" were killed.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

More on Inglourious Basterds

David Bordwell, who co-wrote possibly the most widely used textbook in film studies, devotes much of this post to the film. He also provides links, one of which leads here, which uses a title that ought to really catch anyone interested in antisemitism.
One of the basic reasons we go to the movies is their bottomless capacity for wish fulfillment fantasy. It is a shade of escapism, or perhaps vice versa. These wishes and their cinematic granting may be base, unhealthy, cathartic, pathetic, unarticulated, mysterious or unhealthy. The movies provide a potentially powerful and relatively safe arena for working it out.

One of the fascinating things about The Parent Trap, for example, is its bizarrely naked fulfillment of a fantasy harbored by children of divorce, that Mom and Dad will reconcile -- that they can be forced to reconcile. When given some thought, surely no one would want their own children clinging to the desperate, futile hope, wallowing in the stunted, immature understanding of relationships, or the practicing the conniving and cruel schemes of Sharon and Susan to reunite their parents. And yet adults made the film. It is irresistibly sunny and extremely incorrect at the same time, with no hope for the faithless to say it is charmless or unfunny or the faithful to untangle it.
Oh, but about IG:
A swastika Zoller whittles into his sniper's perch in Nation's Pride rhymes with the Basterds' nickname carved into a rifle butt, and of course, Raine's handiwork across the foreheads of surviving Nazis. These echoes draw disconcerting parallels, connect ideas to be compared, but do not necessarily imply coequals. Continually complicating matters are glimpses of common human experience peeping through holes in Nazi uniforms: the one-word story of Rachtman's Iron Cross, an off-duty soldier celebrating his child's birth, Landa's disarming dorkiness beneath his hard, smooth legend. In the person of Pvt. Zoller, this stinging theme is distilled. He thinks he and Shosanna are in a romantic comedy, plays his role with much charm and confidence. At the Nation's Pride screening then, what is it that makes him flinch, avert his eyes, abandon his seat? Embarrassment at his performance? Pain at the memory of taking hundreds of lives (his explanation)? Pain that it took the power of cinema to make him feel the weight of those deaths; that his favorite art form had turned on him? Or the crushing realization that he is not in the movie he thought he was in? In Zoller's defining moment, he disrupts Shosanna in the projection booth, tries to play romantic lead one last time, is pushed too far, and threatens to assault her. He feels entitled, as occupying force. Human, certainly, and a G.W. Pabst fan to boot, but the equation is unbalanced: he's a human being that has irrevocably chosen to throw in with the Nazi Party. There are, in the end, those things Nazis believed, things they did, which cannot be made up for by doses of charm, frailty and circumstance. Things get complicated, Inglourious Basterds admits, but some of identities we flicker through stick with us and muck up all the others. And Zoller's a Nazi.

Monday, September 14, 2009


Much needed, to this. David links to me as he notes:
The first is that I really do not believe there is any ill intent behind the "Flak 88" moniker. The objection is that 88 is symbolic for "Heil Hitler" in Nazi circles. Perhaps I'm too credulous though, but that a specialist in flak guns naming himself after a prominent flak cannon seems more likely than closet Nazi sympathies.
His post is much clearer than mine, but we were thinking along similar lines. I had written:
But I find it impossible to believe that anyone who goes by the name Flak88 is neither a Nazi nor antisemite, and can't fathom Gardner's generosity in saying "HRW may well be correct." The 88 is not a random number.
Bad writing on my part. (I had meant neither/nor to allow for one or the other, rather than to insist on both.) I doubt Marc Garlasco is a Nazi. But antisemite? Garlasco, as a collector of Nazi memorabilia, is in the orbit of actual neo-Nazis. He must surely know that, and he must surely know that "88" has meanings other than what he intends. And he decided that just wasn't important. As David writes:
We say the same thing about Southern good ol' boys who love flying those Stars and Bars. Maybe it is about heritage for them. But there are other people to (not) think about.
I have no problem being harsher in my judgement than David is, or expressing it more harshly. But I could and should have been clearer.

The rest of my post was about the seeming incongruity of antisemitism and human rights. For the sake of argument, I spoke in extremes, rather than to this specific case. There is something about antisemitism that many seeming incongruities aren't really incongruous. That is an important point, where this might be a better example. Though he has left the Left and joined with Jean-Marie Le Pen and the National Front, Dieudonné M'bala M'bala, formerly known as an anti-racist, can still speak in the language of human rights and anti-racism. If he weren't pals with Le Pen, though, I wonder how many would defend him.

Friday, September 11, 2009


[Update: clarification.]
The reaction of Human Rights Watch (HRW) to concerns about its military advisor Marc Garlasco’s keen interest in Nazi German WW2 memorabilia is a shocking indicator of the failure of many NGOs to decently engage with Jews on antisemitism and related issues.
I'm not as sure I could be as generous as Mark Gardner is toward someone who goes goes around online as Flak88.

No, it's not fair to write HRW88 above. In neo-Nazi circles, the 88 stands for "Heil Hitler," but HRW is not a neo-Nazi organization. Still, if anyone would have a problem with me daring to write that, then that's how serious it is that HRW relies on Flak88 as an advisor. Gardner writes:
When it comes to Nazism, you either contribute to the struggle against it, or you do not. Human Rights Watch insist that their expert, Marc Garlasco, is not a Nazi, and is not an antisemite. They relate how in the foreword of his book he says to his daughters that “the war was horrible and cruel, that Germany lost and for that we should be thankful.”

In all of these claims, HRW may well be correct. They know Garlasco well. But, if Garlasco wants to immunise his daughter (and all our children) from Nazism, then fetishising Nazi medals for public consumption is a stupid way of going about it. You do not fight Nazism by helping to promote the marketplace for Nazi medals and trinkets and accoutrements. You do not fight Nazism by presenting its soldiers as brave, handsome, fresh faced youths – and you most certainly do not fight Nazism by normalising the wearing of Nazi-themed sweatshirts as Marc Garlasco does in this picture:
But I find it impossible to believe that anyone who goes by the name Flak88 is neither a Nazi nor antisemite, and can't fathom Gardner's generosity in saying "HRW may well be correct." The 88 is not a random number.

Of course, for some people, they'd be flabergasted and ask why someone even in the orbit of Nazis would work for a human rights organization. Wouldn't neo-Nazis be opposed to everything HRW does? As comes about in this discussion, antisemitism blames Jews for wars, so it is easy for antisemites to convince themselves they are the only ones interested in peace. Anyone who disagrees is seen as a warmonger. That discussion springs from an article in which Pat Buchanan argues that Hitler really wanted peace. Buchanan's fuller view is that American Jews pushed for war and thereby caused the Holocaust. But, of course, Hitler really was the warmonger we all know him to be, and, however he protests, Buchanan is only a pseudo-peacenik. But antisemitism can create those kinds of inversions. Or, some may remember Arun Gandhi's claim that:
We have created a culture of violence (Israel and the Jews are the biggest players) and that Culture of Violence is eventually going to destroy humanity.
It should not be shocking that an antisemite, or even a neo-Nazi, would be sincerely interested in human rights. The core of antisemitism is that powerful Jews are oppressing the people, so why not a human rights organization?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Venezuelan Jews in Miami

Miami is the exile capital for Venezuelan Jews, just as it has been for Cuban Jews, or ``Jewbans.'' I predict the time will come when we'll be called ``Venejews.'' There are similarities between both groups.

As it happened in Cuba under Fidel Castro, the number of Jews in Venezuela has dramatically decreased since Hugo Chávez came to power. The Hebrew community has been the object of invectives from the president himself and the government media. Which prompts me to ask: What will be the fate of the vibrant Jewish community in the land that gave refuge to my ancestors and served as a model to the Jewish diaspora?