Date in history

December 11, 2009

Today is the first night of Hanukkah, that minor historical commemoration that American Jews have transformed into a non-Christian Xmas, just to get into the holiday spirit.  David Brooks, the muddle-headed conservative columnist I used to love to hate (I stopped reading him, so now I don’t care what he writes.) actually had a decent column about the history of the day – maybe his niche is really popular historical writing.  Anything but present-day affairs.

Just a remembrance of a revolt of religious fanatics, Jewish ones (fundamentalists?) against those lovable, rational, cultured, Hellenizers who were ruling Judea at the time.  Lots of Jew-honchos thought the way to go was to get with the Greco-civilization program, but Judas Maccabeus disagreed.  He and his terrorist crew decided to kill off the collaborators and make things hot for the Greeks.  Well, that’s my reading of it, and I tend to side with the moderates. 

Miracles and God, and candles burning on despite the lack of oil, that was all embroidered on later.


He kept us safe…

January 18, 2009

bushbullhorn

In many letters to editors, I have heard this sentiment expressed in defense of GWB’s miserable record as president:  “No terrorists have attacked us…he kept us safe.”  Well, 9/11 did occur when he was president.  Here is a small gallery of momentos of our safety with W.

Our fearless leader keeps cool, and keeps reading “My Pet Goat” as the attack plays out.  What decisiveness!

safe1    bushreadingthepetgoat

Our great leader was brilliant during the phony energy crisis manufactured by Enron (remember them?) that nearly bankrupted California.

safe2

Once again, Numero Uno was on the ball when Katrina hit, and his valiant lieutenant, Brownie, did a “helluva job.”  Oh well, it was an act of God…

katrina-neworleanssuperdomesat3sept-moretrashstillwaiting2bevacd-reuters-shannonstapleton       _42130348_domebaby_getty416b

WMD?  WMD?  Did somebody say something about weapons of mass destruction..?  Well, he kept us all safe, right?

safe3

Well, Bush isn’t the only great leader and visionary we had to guide us these last years.  Now we see the results.  I bet he  and his friends kept their money really safe!

safe4


Terror Neat, Please

March 8, 2008

Medusa Cellini

As readers of my drivel know, I have a fondness for extreme political rhetoric, the more apocalyptic the better. There is also a bizarre frisson to be had from the prose of political “theorists” who stare down the abyss of terrorism, and find it good. Maximilien Robespierre is one of the best (emphasis mine):

The two opposing spirits that have been represented in a struggle to rule nature might be said to be fighting in this great period of human history to fix irrevocably the world’s destinies, and France is the scene of this fearful combat. Without, all the tyrants encircle you; within, all tyranny’s friends conspire; they will conspire until hope is wrested from crime. We must smother the internal and external enemies of the Republic or perish with it; now in this situation, the first maxim of your policy ought to be to lead the people by reason and the people’s enemies by terror.

If the spring of popular government in time of peace is virtue, the springs of popular government in revolution are at once virtue and terror: virtue, without which terror is fatal; terror, without which virtue is powerless. Terror is nothing other than justice, prompt, severe, inflexible; it is therefore an emanation of virtue; it is not so much a special principle as it is a consequence of the general principle of democracy applied to our country’s most urgent needs.

There you have it. The Last Days are upon us, and the battle between good and evil will be resolved. Enemies are everywhere – anyone could be a traitor. There is a need for merciless terror, but it is virtuous. With such axioms and logic, almost anything can be justified.

I love the formula by which he clearly demonstrates that terror is justice. I am fascinated by the tone of the piece – so elevated, alluding to the revered, shared values of the classical past. It brings to mind that wonderful piece by the ever able propagandist for the revolution, and later, for Napoleon, Jacques Louis David, The Oath of the Horatii. Can we be so virtuous? We can, we must, but we must not flinch from the use of terror!

As the history of revolution moseys along, things change a bit. Here’s V. I. Lenin:

“We will turn our hearts into steel, which we will temper in the fire of suffering and the blood of fighters for freedom. We will make our hearts cruel, hard, and immovable, so that no mercy will enter them, and so that they will not quiver at the sight of a sea of enemy blood. We will let loose the floodgates of that sea. Without mercy, without sparing, we will kill our enemies in scores of hundreds. Let them be thousands; let them drown themselves in their own blood.

Sounds so much more emotional than Robespierre. Who knew Lenin was so romantic? Almost biblical, could easily have come from the mouth of Martin Luther, mutatis mutandis. Ah, this is more like it:

“We stand for organized terror – this should be frankly admitted. Terror is an absolute necessity during times of revolution.

Here, however, Trotsky waffles a bit:

Our class enemies are in the habit of complaining about our terrorism. What they mean by this is rather unclear. They would like to label all the activities of the proletariat directed against the class enemy s interests as terrorism.

Whatever the eunuchs and pharisees of morality may say, the feeling of revenge has its rights.

If we oppose terrorist acts, it is only because individual revenge does not satisfy us. The account we have to settle with the capitalist system is too great to be presented to some functionary called a minister.

What bothers me is the drift away from aesthetically pleasing moral certitude that Robespierre states so succinctly. Lenin and Trotsky argue. Maybe they felt guilty. The ends justify the means, but all that blood! Stalin was a stronger man, but not so eloquent.

Finally, we get the degenerate prose and rhetoric of the apologists for terror of the 40s to the 60s; the supporters of Stalin and his successors who were repelled by the violence of the Soviet State, but wished to portray it as somehow necessary, or no worse than the concealed violence of the capitalist regimes. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, with his Humanism and Terror is prominent here. Why not just come out and say YES to terror?  “I’ll take my terror neat, please.”

I’m not trying to knock the left here, though it might seem that way. It’s just that liberal-socialist-marxist thinkers have a professed committment to reason, so they have to argue for the goodness of killing women, children, innocent men, etc. They have to show that in the end, it’s all for the best, sort of like Pangloss proved in Candide. This perversion of rationality is what intrigues me. Except for Ayn Rand, I cannot think of people on the right who do the same. (She perverted rationality, but I don’t know that she supported terror.) When they plunk down for terror, they usually do it out of blood lust, romantic hero worship, satanic apocalyptic yearnings, or unutterably sick, evil, and convoluted workings out of their own psychological problems. Many vicious fascists, anti-semites, Nazi fellow travellers fit this bill.


Master of Stupid

December 5, 2007

dunce2.gif

Thomas Friedman, the idiot savant is at it again.  Today, in the New York Times, in a column called “Intercepting Iran’s Take on America,” he has written a “satirical” column on what the leaders of Iran must be thinking about us, including:

First, 9/11 has made America afraid and therefore stupid.

It is, I believe, at least the second time he has voiced regret over the 9/11 induced “stupidity” of America’s body politic.  Hmmm…interesting.  As I recall, he was one of those who was rooting for the war in Iraq, saying we had to act “a little bit crazy,” etc. to root out the terrorists.  When it comes to stupidity, he should speak for himself only.  I won’t say he’s as bad as David Brooks who frequently sounds as if he just arrived from Mars, but he is remarkably shallow and glib.  Basically a journalistic shill for the powers that be…for the moment.


Terrorized by Risk

November 27, 2007

What is this poor fellow so scared of? Is he traumatized by the probability (miniscule) of being brained by an asteroid (properly called a meteorite) as he strolls to his favorite banana vendor? Or he is he worried by the odds (much higher) that he will be creamed by a drunken driver as he walks or drives home? Maybe he’s worried about the obvious threat to his health and safety posed by the vicious terrorists of the world who want to do the United States harm. Well, he’d be better off watching his back as he crosses the street.

The fact is, the threat of harm from terrorism here in the USA is pretty darn trivial. There are so many other things that are more likely to bring down death and maiming on an individual that it might seem odd that people are so worked up about it. Of course, one difference is that being killed in a car accident or by falling off of a ladder is an . . . accident. The fact that there are people out there who would love to kill some of us, any of us, is deeply upsetting. Nevertheless, the odds of its actually happening are very small.

Some people, including me, think the terrorism bit is being overblown. Part of the terrorist-industrial complex, for which the vague notion of a “war on terror” is, for most, justification enough. Add that to the prison-industrial and the military-industrial complexes, and you have quite a service and construction economy going! You can read some very good arguments on this point by Prof. John Meuller of Ohio State University at this link:   Six Rather Unusual Propositions on Terrorism. Meanwhile, I’m going back to worrying about something really scary – the next major meteorite impact on earth!


Hashishims – Assassins

November 16, 2007
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alhambra4g.jpg

Could it be that this is what the acolytes of The Old Man saw?

As a boy, I was fascinated by the history of Genghiz Khan and his descendants. One of them, Hulagu Khan, knocked off the Old Man of the Mountain, Hassan-i Sabbah, who had terrorized his neighbors for decades. From him, so the legend goes, the word assassin is derived. Or rather, from his fanatical cult of followers, whom he drugged with hashish or opium, transported to a beautiful garden in the mountains while they were out, and left them there for a few days to taste the “delights of paradise.” By the time they were getting used to it, he drugged them again and brought them back down to earth. Upon waking, they were told that they had glimpsed the heaven to which they would go if they died in his service. Naturally, they were willing to do anything, and they made a handy cadre of murderers who would dispatch any of his enemies anywhere. One of the earliest recorded instances of suicide terrorists?

How true is all of this? The man did exist, but beyond that, we know that the story came to Europe from Marco Polo in his travelogue about China. He’s a writer that some scholars claim never even existed! Well, that’s an extreme position, but there is doubt about whether he ever visited China at all. Nevertheless, nobody seems to doubt that he did travel through the Old Man’s territory shortly after his downfall at the hands of Hulagu.

Here’s the text from Marco:

CHAPTER XXIII: CONCERNING THE OLD MAN OF THE MOUNTAIN.

Mulehet is a country in which the Old Man of the Mountain dwelt in former days; and the name means ” Place of the Aram .” I will tell you his whole history as related by Messer Marco Polo, who heard it from several natives of that region.

The Old Man was called in their language ALOADIN. He had caused a certain valley between two mountains to be enclosed, and had turned it into a garden, the largest and most beautiful that ever was seen, filled with every variety of fruit. In it were erected pavilions and palaces the most elegant that can be imagined, all covered with gilding and exquisite painting. And there were runnels too, flowing freely with wine and milk and honey and water; and numbers of ladies and of the most beautiful damsels in the world, who could play on all manner of instruments, and sung most sweetly, and danced in a manner that it was charming to behold. For the Old Man desired to make his people believe that this was actually Paradise. So he had fashioned it after the description that Mahommet gave of his Paradise, to wit, that it should be a beautiful garden running with conduits of wine and milk and honey and water, and full of lovely women for the delectation of all its inmates. And sure enough the Saracens of those parts believed that it was Paradise!

Now no man was allowed to enter the Garden save those whom he intended to be his assassin. There was a Fortress at the entrance to the Garden, strong enough to resist all the world, and there was no other way to get in. He kept at his Court a number of the youths of the country, from 12 to 20 years of age, such as had a taste for soldiering, and to these he used to tell tales about Paradise, just as Mahommet had been wont to do, and they believed in him just as the Saracens believe in Mahommet. Then he would introduce them into his garden, some four, or six, or ten at a time, having first made them drink a certain potion which cast them into a deep sleep, and then causing them to be lifted and carried in. So when they awoke, they found themselves in the Garden.

CHAPTER XXIV: HOW THE OLD MAN USED TO TRAIN HIS ASSASSINS

When therefore they awoke, and found themselves in a place so charming, they deemed that it was Paradise in very truth. And the ladies and damsels dallied with them to their hearts’ content, so that they had what young men would have; and with their own good will they never would have quitted the place.

Now this Prince whom we call the Old One kept his Court in grand and noble style, and made those simple hill-folks about him believe firmly that he was a great Prophet. And when he wanted one of his Ashishin to send on any mission, he would cause that potion whereof I spoke to be given to one of the youths in the garden, and then had him carried into his Palace. So when the young man awoke, he found himself in the Castle, and no longer in that Paradise; whereat he was not over well pleased. He was then conducted to the Old Man’s presence, and bowed before him with great veneration as believing himself to be in the presence of a true Prophet. The Prince would then ask whence he came, and he would reply that he came from Paradise! and that it was exactly such as Mahommet had described it in the Law. This of course gave the others who stood by, and who had not been admitted, the greatest desire to enter therein.

So when the Old Man would have any Prince slain, he would say to such a youth: “Go thou and slay So and So; and when thou returnest my Angels shall bear thee into Paradise. And shouldst thou die, natheless even so will I send my Angels to carry thee back into Paradise.” So he caused them to believe; and thus there was no order of his that they would not affront any peril to execute, for the great desire they had to get back into that Paradise of his. And in this manner the Old One got his people to murder any one whom he desired to get rid of. Thus, too, the great dread that he inspired all Princes withal, made them become his tributaries in order that he might abide at peace and amity with them.

I should also tell you that the Old Man had certain others under him, who copied his proceedings and acted exactly in the same manner. One of these was sent into the territory of Damascus, and the other into Curdistan.

CHAPTER XXV: HOW THE OLD MAN CAME BY HIS END

Now it came to pass, in the year of Christ’s Incarnation, 1252, that Alaü, Lord of the Tartars of the Levant, heard tell of these great crimes of the Old Man, and resolved to make an end of him. So he took and sent one of his Barons with a great Army to that Castle, and they besieged it for three years, but they could not take it, so strong was it. And indeed if they had had food within it never would have been taken. But after being besieged those three years they ran short of victual, and were taken. The Old Man was put to death with all his men [and the Castle with its Garden of Paradise was levelled with the ground]. And since that time he has had no successor; and there was an end to all his villainies


The United States of Fear

September 29, 2006

We know you did something bad. We know because of your name and where you were born. You’re not a born American, you moved here, and you kept your contacts with the terrorists in your country. We’ve checked your story, but if you haven’t done anything wrong, why did you appear on three government watch lists? A mistake!? Not likely! That’s why we pulled you out of line at the airport and brought you here. Where? Nevermind. If you cooperate and tell us what we need to know, we won’t beat you anymore, otherwise, we’ll ship you off to Syria where they’re less squeamish about applying the necessary methods to make you cough up the information.Don’t bother us with your requests for a lawyer or to make a phone call, that doesn’t apply to you. You gave up your rights as a citizen when you aided those terrorists by sending them money through that front operation, Muslim Doctors for Humanity. When you did that, Bud, you became an enemy combatant. So, Mr. Jones, or Joseph K., or whatever your real name is, tell us what we need to know. Or we might just decide to have you disappear for a long while. We can do that now, you know.


Boob Tube & End of Days

September 12, 2006

I heard some grousing by ‘conservatives’ about the latest flap over the ‘docu-drama’ about the days leading up to 9/11: seems they cannot understand why people would be upset about some editorializing, “poetic license” with the facts taken by ABC when they didn’t get upset by distortions made by Michael Moore in his attack on GWB. Am I missing something, or isn’t there a big difference between what we expect from a partisan, independent filmmaker who makes no secret of his point of view and a huge corporation that employs a public resource, the airwaves, to broadcast its pseudo-documentaries?

GWB has informed us that our “War on Terror” is the central ideological struggle of the 21st century. Well, how come the most signal success so far in that war, the foiling of the plot in London, was carried out by the old fashioned grunt work of patient policemen? More glorious to declare war and thrash about. I suspect the apocalyptic rhetoric feels good to a guy who has no problem with Biblical notions of Creation. Let’s hope he doesn’t get itchy to bring on the End of Days even faster than it might otherwise come!

I can no longer sit back and allow terrorist infiltration, terrorist indoctrination, terrorist perversion and the international terrorist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids-

General Jack D. Ripper


Ground Zero from My Window

July 27, 2006

I work next door, so to speak, to the World Trade Center site, and I pass through the PATH station there twice each day. Fortunately, I was not working here on the day the WTC was destroyed – I saw it on TV along with most everyone else. I did pass by the smoking pile of ruins several times in the weeks and months after the disaster, however. This is the view from my window now. Ground Zero – isn’t that what they used to call the point of impact of nuclear missiles? To me, the culture that has grown up around the WTC site seems a bit ghoulish, and self-pitying.

I tend to think that Americans are rather childish when we contemplate national violence, by and against us. We are the most powerful nation in the world, but we are puzzled that we cannot get people to behave as we would like. We want to control the situation, but we haven’t the will to impose ourselves as an imperial power. We think we can do it cheaply, and nicely, because we are so good. We are courageous, evil people are cowards. The terrorists who destroyed the WTC must have been weak and cowardly, because we are the opposite. Instead, they did their dastardly deed, and gave us the Ground Zero of our bewildered pain. What happened? How could this happen to us?

The Brits lost 40,000 people in the London Blitz, when Hitler poured V-1′s and V-2 rockets onto the city. There were smoking piles of ruins everywhere. What happened at the WTC was a horrific atrocity, and I was stupefied by it for weeks (the images of people jumping stay with me even now) but in comparison, it was small. The emotion that it has generated here is a measure of the scale of achievement of the terrorists – they have scared us silly. We’re supposed to be safe from all that.

We have a prez who has dragged us into the fiasco of Iraq because we were too rattled to think cooly and clearly about how to respond to the attack. Okay, knocking off the Taliban made sense – they were in Afghanistan, they did it, they would do it again. But Iraq?!! Now we have an ‘expanded war on terror.’ We wish we were fighting a war, instead of a grinding, bloody ‘police action’. So do the Israelis, today, I guess.

Now people throng to the WTC site. (Does anyone ever comment on the black humour of 9/11 and call 911 for emergency? No, too tasteless.) They pose in front of the fence around the pit where construction work proceeds in a desultory manner. They read the timeline of 9/11 that has been posted. Why? “At 8:04 the pilots’ throats were cut…At 8:24 our valiant commander turned a page and continued to read to the 1st grade class…” This is common knowledge – we should have a proper memorial for people to visit, and where they can reflect, not a gimcrack Powerpoint presentation that is nothing so much as an invitation to wallow in gruesome reflections about “how awful it was.”

Oh yes, we are building a Freedom Tower. FREEDOM Tower?!! What is THAT? In Europe you can see columns erected to commemorate the end of the Plague – too bad they didn’t call them Plague Towers. Do we have to be so obvious, so crude? It sounds like something from 1984 – what does a towering skyscraper, which is totally unnecessary for the area, have to do with freedom? Empty symbolism to counter the devastatingly effective symbolism of the original murder and destruction.


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