Monthly Archives: November 2015

Terror attacks on great cities – a rumination

I’ve been struggling with thoughts about the Paris attacks. I have a few old school friends who live there, and I am still getting “safe” message via Facebook.

Standing in solidarity is easy. The next step, what should happen now, is hard. Some responses don’t require any deep understanding of the perpetrators – for example, the police should find them and they should be put in the justice system and tried. From that point of view, they broke laws and should suffer consequences.

Foreign policy responses demand more thought, and that’s painful for a lot of people – even talking about it in a sober way seems like a betrayal, like you’re not angry enough. What, are you on their side or something?!

There’s a good question about whether there should even be a “foreign-policy response”. France has already said it was an act of war, which indicates that retaliation is being planned. This cheers me, but that’s an emotional response, and not very smart.

The right-of-center response is simple – everything we’ve done throughout history is fine, when the West takes over a country by force of arms, we did them a favor, and if they fight back they must be crushed. Basically, the attitude is that we’re better, we know best, and they should be thankful for the paved roads.

The lefty response, which I’ve already heard from some friends, is that we should do nothing (apart, I suppose, from the local police response), the premise being, I think, that we always screw these things up and make them worse. Ironically, this is the flip side of the right-wing notion about government action in the domestic sphere. Someone smarter and more energetic than me should write a long-form about that… (Adam Gopnik? He can write about anything well)

The left-of-center response to this kind of thing is burdened by the idea that nations should not adventure – that’s the colonial urge, and it must be checked. There’s the notion that these peoples/nations that were invaded and colonized by Western powers had their own valuable culture going, and that we stomped all over it, and stole their labor and resources, creating permanent harm. There is some acknowledgement that the mixing of peoples produces valuable and beautiful cultural artifacts, and that mixing of peoples will usually be colored by power struggles, often armed. But central is the idea that no cultures are better than others, and that, therefore, colonization is merely aggression and war and should be regarded negatively as such. Yes, sometimes the attitude is that cultures are not equal, that Western culture is worse than others, but I consider that a distraction and I feel free to ignore that attitude and those that espouse it.

I love my culture of Beethoven, kaffee mit schlag, Gauloises, opera (even the boring ones), lederhosen, cubism, cafés, and all things Europäisch – middle-, west-, or east-. One of my dreams is to get an EU passport (Germany? You listening? Ja, ich kan ein bisschen Deutsch sprechen…).

Yes, I judge certain aspects of American culture harshly, but I’m wary of being on the Mikado’s little list, loving “All centuries but this and every country but his own.” I think I understand where the yen for industrializing all things comes from – this country’s growth was spectacular, and there is a whole generation of folk who did well in good times and think they’re geniuses. That kind of self-righteous confidence is hard to dent, and is the iron core of the GOP. I subscribe to the notion (voiced on the left almost exclusively) that the stupendous growth was based on, basically, mugging Africans and Native Americans and stealing their stuff, and saying, hey look what I built by the sweat of my brow and the clarity of my moral stance. It’s kind of nauseous to think about.

The poles of this are Ta-Nehisi Coats on the side that White American wealth is stolen goods, and on the right by the ridiculous Ann Coulter, with her notion of her people not being immigrants but “settlers.” BTW, I’d love to know details of that – where they the settlers whose way was cleared of pesky natives by the US Army? Whose land was it that they “settled?”

And then there is Israel – colonial settler nation, and therefore not sympathetic? A nation like any other that was created by the international law at the time, and therefore perfectly OK? My feelings were well-expressed by a conversation on Warren Olney’s To the Point, where Dennis Ross faced off against Yousef Munayyer of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. The Ambassador said that in the entire Middle East, Israel is the only country that has institutions, democracy, separation of power, etc. Mr. Munayyer reminded him that there are lots of people under Israel’s unelected control who are not protected by those institutions.

[side note: every time I listen to one of those discussions, it seems to come down to two arguments:

  • Did Isreal really offer the Palestinian Authority a good deal, under Ehud Olmert, and was it rejected by the Palestinians, and was that rejection evidence that all the Palestinians want, really, is the elimination of Israel? See here for details.
  • Did the PA accept, formally, Israel’s right to exist as a secure, Jewish state? Palestinians say, how many times do we have to do this? The idea here is that all Israel wants is to cynically move the goalposts until there is rejection, because there are too many powerful Israelis who prefer the status quo to any two-state solution. See here for some details.]

Running out of steam.

 

Trying to remember a good Moth story…

I’ve had this story bouncing around my head for a few days. I’d think about it and store it away in my mental filing cabinet for future reference. Thing is, that filing cabinet is notoriously unreliable, and I forgot it. Then I’d remember it, and try to tack a label onto it. But the idea is like the bar of soap in the shower – grab it for a second, and the force of your grab is what makes it pop from your grasp.

Stories with clear beginnings, tidy endings, and some sort of point of view or moral to make it bang around in the listeners’ heads for a while are rare. Mostly we have to fake it. I’ll try a story out on people, in a (mercifully) nano form, and listen to their reactions. Mostly, to be painfully honest (the pain is mine), I don’t even get through my story before someone starts talking about something else entirely. Which is itself a useful result, I suppose, if not ego-supporting.

  • There’s the story of my dad and the bogus VCR bargain, which has the lesson that your parents are flawed human beings.
  • There’s the story of Oleg in the bathtub, which I’ve used already. The lesson is what it takes to be an adult.
  • There’s the story of being coerced into typing a letter to my grandmother when I was 12 and had nothing to say, in Hollywood. This is the story of appreciating your parents even at their worst.

But this story, I have such a hard time remembering it. When I do, by the time I get to a spot where I can record it, it’s gone. I know, smartphones… I’ll try again.