Anxiety driven ideation

Anxiety driven follow up.

It just takes corruption in five states; FL, NC, and GA are super easy. Then there would be lawsuits which the Supreme Court would shut down to Protect a Divided Nation, much like Scalia did in 2000. We just can’t keep counting! Yes, that decision was explicitly said not to be a precedent, but, hey! Now it could be! Why not! And they’ve already shown their hand with Wisconsin. Counting votes? We can’t just “count” “votes”! Who even knows what “count” and “votes” even mean! Originalists can cherry pick whatever 18th cent text they want to write a decision they don’t even need, frankly, except for form’s sake. What’s anyone going to do? Disapprove?

And if one conservative justice clutches their pearls, they have enough anyway. Gorsuch and Roberts would have to team up with the liberals, which they’re not likely to do. Play ball, your kids get jobs. Look at Scalia’s son.

Patriotism

I think a lot about patriotism. In the way a blind person might muse about colors or an autistic person might wonder about facial expressions.

I find anthems stirring and flags have an effect on me. So do cathedrals and organ music, but they don’t make me believe in a god. What I conclude from that is that there are feelings that can be induced by certain visual and aural stimuli. There, that’s the lesson, the whole lesson.

I remember an old acting teacher of mine, John Stix. He said that dialog, the words we speak, are the ruffle on the edge of the dancer’s skirt. A minor side effect of the main action. So if someone does something heroic or incredibly generous, or something horrible and murderous and selfish, the fact that they utter religious or patriotic words as they do it is of little interest—the action is the thing. If you see a nature show with seals on the beach, all cavorting and barking and squealing, you can tell which are courting or competing or fighting — you don’t need to understand what the barking means. Same with us. Religion and patriotism are the noises we make as we follow our subconscious urges and do what we wanted to do anyway. We just make noises as we do things—big deal.

Likewise, I don’t think any country has a monopoly on … well, anything. I’m safe and can prosper in some countries at some times, but not at other times. And certain ethno/religious/national groups may be more comfortable in some places at some times than in others. The trick is not being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
There is a museum in Paris, the Musée Nissim de Camondo, which is some dead rich guy’s house; a Jewish banker, as it happens. He had great taste and was a collector of nice things. He had been a banker in Turkey. Things got dicey there for all the reasons things can get dicey for rich Jews (some gentile wanting their money is the usual thing), and he left. If I remember, he basically bought himself and his family Italian passports, and then French. They settled in this grand mansion in 1911. His children ended up rounded up by the Vichy regime. I think they died in the camps.

We thought we were going to see nice furniture and china, and ended up weeping. Now, that’s a museum. Highly recommended.

So if I moved to France or Germany, I would certainly worry about the Front National or Alternativ für Deutschland. Actually, more the latter than the former. The FN has learned the Republican trick of making nice with Jews as partners against a) atheist Communists and b) insufficiently atheist Muslims to inoculate themselves against claims of religious intolerance (though they haven’t learned the next trick of referring to “Judeo-Christian” values; I guess laïcité makes that awkward). AfD seems to be keeping its anti-semitic powder dry for now, but they tolerate it in their followers, much like the Republicans do.

As I muse about patriotism, I think about the Good German–the unimpeachably ‘Aryan’ person who had no particular beef with Jews (some of their best friends…), but was in no personal danger (if a guy, might have been drafted… let’s say he’s too old or has a club foot). What should they do? Keep their head down and wait for better times as they think about Eternal German Values and how they’ve been distorted This One Time? Should they emigrate? Should they join the Resistance and sabotage the war effort at tremendous personal risk? We might have mild contempt for the first, understand the second, and admire the third. What would you do? I like to think I’d be the cunning resistance fighter, but I’d probably be the coward who does the easy thing. If family history gave me a second passport, I certainly might leave, even if I weren’t in personal danger.

These are tough questions. I can send money to various movements, BLM and such. I might even protest were it not for Covid and my and my wife’s age and vulnerability.

Or I could leave, if it were not for family and the weight of property.

Consider the odds

Yes, there are many imponderables. People kept away at the polls at the last minute, mail-in ballots diverted, maybe a Black person shot by police in Philadelphia to provoke unrest and drive more iffy Republicans to the polls to protect Their Way of Life™, which, apparently, requires streets paved with dead Black bodies.

Oh, wait. That last thing just happened. I can check that box. The bloody cherry on top.

I’m reading a book called The Drunkard’s Walk about probability and statistics, which I find soothing. The writer is Leonard Mlodinow, who co-wrote A Brief History of Time. So he’s, you know, Good. If you ever thought you should know more about prob and stat, but thought it would be too boring to bear, this is the book. He’s a sparkling writer. And I find having a dispassionate take on the odds can have a calming effect. Combine that with the 538 Politics Podcast, where Nate Silver talks in his very slightly Aspergerish way about odds, what they tell us and what they don’t.

Of all the things that scare me, such as heavily armed gangs of excited goyim, I think I was most frightened by the redefinition of “elite” to mean people with education, rather than people with money and influence. So an adjunct professor of history who makes $40k is elite, while the owner of a chain of exterminators who makes $500k and plays golf with your congressman is not. That takes us one more step toward Pol Pot and putting people with eyeglasses into work camps.

Oh well. Living in earthquake country, it’s always been a good idea to have a Go Box, with important documents in it. Of course, when they give a Proud Boys lieutenant my house and paintings, I don’t think showing my deed to the house to the authorities will have any effect. Deepfake!

Rootless Cosmopolitans

When I was working in Lyon, the team would have lunch together and talk politics and religion. One dude was complaining about immigrants or hijabs or something, and I said something like, Did you enjoy your empire? This is the flip side. You liked the parades and the military dudes with medals and tanks? Congratulations, they’ve brought you les banlieues. Getting rich off of Africa means that Africans are going to be your neighbors.

French cultural note — that was perfectly OK office lunchtime banter.

I feel the same way about the US and Central America. Those people are fleeing chaos we created. Not that chaos doesn’t happen for many other reasons, Zinn and Chomsky notwithstanding, but this particular chaos, in Guatemala and Honduras for instance, we own that. We should take their refugees, no questions asked, until the end of time.

I suspect that it’s hard to have been an empire, even if the empire was in the year 900. Faded memories of greatness are a burden we are not intended to carry. We just don’t do it well… it makes us mean and stupid. I think France carries it off a little better than many, and I give La Revolution credit for that—an awareness that the villain is the rich guy and the cleric. That probably-not-Diderot quote is salutary: La Révolution n’est pas fini jusqu’à ce que le dernier roi est étouffé avec les boyaux du dernier prêtre. Or something like that. And if Jews have any advantage in their culture, it’s that, if they had an Empire, it was thousands of years ago under David. But still, Jews all over the world read about that every day. And now they have control of a nation again.

My family is the ultimate “blood and soil” bugaboo; we are all proud rootless cosmopolitans. I don’t think any of us ever came to America for “liberty”. My great grandfather came to San Francisco for the gold rush, my grandparents went to Hollywood for showbiz, my father went to New York for publishing. My mother, too, came to New York, specifically. Not Sioux City, where, presumably, there’s just as much Liberty™ as NY. But she was fleeing the small town for the big city, not Canada for the US.

And if my grandparents had given up on Hollywood dreams, they could have stayed in London instead of getting on that next boat. Or they could have gone to South Africa where, as Jews, they would have been considered conditionally quasi-White and had plenty of Liberty (and cheap domestic help). Or Palestine where they would have had Liberty, but the kaffee mit schlag would have sucked. But Hollywood was where the action was.

The Shrinking Majority in a Democracy

If you are in a world of Kings and Monarchies, you might take it for granted that Royalty is in place for (perhaps) Divine reasons. God made it so, and so it must be. And if Royalty misbehaves, that’s God’s will and we should be clever in not being noticed by them, lest we incur their displeasure.

If you live in a colony founded by Royal Decree, and you are far away from the displeasure of the dreaded Royals, you might start to Think Differently. It seems arbitrary and capricious that people, of highly variable talents and character but who are of a particular bloodline of someone who won a war a long time ago, get to be rulers Just Because.

You might, if you were a somewhat Deep Thinker, wonder about what gives a Government the Right to Govern. And you might conclude that it is the Consent of the Governed.

Okay. And that gets us to the Enlightenment and the Age of Revolutions.

Now, say you live in a World of Democracies. You are a member of an Ethnic or Cultural Group and it seems to you as if the Interests of your Ethnic or Cultural Group keep being ignored or denigrated by the Democratically elected Government. If you are in the Minority, you try to get everyone in your Group to vote. If that is not sufficient, you try to persuade members of other Ethno-Cultural Groups to vote with you. Perhaps you need to increase suffrage, perhaps you need to persuade disenchanted members of your Group to have Hope and to behave Optimistically. Perhaps you need to tell your Story in such a way that other Groups see themselves in your Story.

So far so good.

Let’s say you are in the Majority while this is happening. Normally, things Go your Way because you’re in the Majority. You have the Power to dictate How Things Go. Any Minorities that want to Live a Good Life can vote with you. You get to decide which Minorities are OK and which are Not-OK.

But a new consensus is forming and your numbers are shrinking and suddenly Democracy seems to bring other people’s and groups’ interests to the fore.

What is the Former Majority to think about Democracy now? Suddenly it doesn’t look so obviously Good.

In many countries, Syria and Russia, for instance, minorities govern. There are sham Elections, because Elections Are Good, but those who support the interest of the Minorities Always Win. Right-thinking people scorn those systems. The Sacred Vote! One Man One Vote!

As someone clever said about the Arab World: One Man, One Vote, this one time.

In America, far-Right White Supremacists have always been deeply suspicious of our Sacred Constitution. After all, it never mentions White people. It does have the 3/5ths business, so, OK, but it does not guarantee that White Men shall always be In Charge.

Looked at that way, from the Point of View of disenchanted White Men, Democracy and universal suffrage could be seen as an insult, just a sneaky way to take their (God-Given) privilege away and give it to the Less-Deserving.

Yes, it all sounds depressingly familiar.

If you are a member of an Ethno-Cultural Group that enjoyed Dominance in a Democracy, but your numbers are dwindling, it is conceivable that Democracy might seem to have Worn out its Welcome. Yes, it was a wonderful, and Philosophically Satisfying, way to have power in the land, but now there must be Other Ways. So maybe deny others the vote, make it harder to vote, have Judges who declare that maybe “voting” is not something absolutely everyone needs to do. Get Intellectuals to Opine on the topic.

After all, nobody is being oppressed by a King, that’s a long-ago battle. Now we are just grasping at power.

And that’s how it ends.

How not to think

I have an old friend who is suffering from anxiety. I mean, we all are (I know I am), but he has additional issues having to do with health. I suggested meditation, and he said he had tried, but he couldn’t stop thinking! He couldn’t get a “clear mind!”

I told him that he was being over-ambitious. Start by just sitting still for five minutes. After succeeding at that for a few days, add listening to breath and ambient noise. Then add feeling your body…

After doing this for a while, add noticing your thoughts. Now, this is hard. You’re thinking your thoughts, how do you notice a thought that you’re thinking?

Here’s my very amateurish, totally not a yogi approach. I believe our mind/brain has dozens if not hundreds of somewhat independent agents, each of whom is making their own noise. Our left-brain interpreter (itself an agent) is the storyteller of our brain. We listen to it more than other agents because it’s louder and its stories are more complete and compelling. But we can hear, if we listen, more of our agents.

You know that trick, at a party, of listening to the hubbub of the party, then zeroing in on a single voice? Do it the other way. Soften your focus, zoom out to sense the field of noise, not any one piece of it.

Do this with your thoughts. They’re all making noise, listen to the crowd. This makes any one thought or story seem less engrossing.

Try this with your vision, too. Allow the entire field of color and shadow and light to be present, while not sharpening your focus on any one detail. When you (inevitably) do focus, zoom out again.

Anxiety shopping

I’ve been resisting anxiety shopping. I could easily waste hundreds of dollars if I’m not careful. Here’s what I’ve been eyeing:

The reMarkable tablet. Such a sweet piece of technology! Super thin, it can be used for PDF reading, note taking and drawing. You can also use it as an ePub reader, but I’m told it’s not good for that, though they don’t give details about what it’s not good at. Oh, and it’s $400, and that’s its “introductory” pricing, where they toss in a special stylus and cover, which would be an additional $137. $400 is a lot of money, and I have no pressing need for it. I just admire the tech and it seem quite beautiful.

I recently (6 mos ago?) replaced my HP 17-inch Pavilion laptop. I had kept it going for years by replacing and upgrading parts. I got pretty good at that. The fans of that machine tend to fail after a couple of years (okay, maybe you need to puff air through the vents more regularly than I did…). I had replaced the fan a while ago, and did it again, but I must have tugged on the wire to the monitor because it suddenly went all green. So I bit the bullet and bought a ZBook G6 17, which is a fantastic computer. It weighs a lot, so it’s barely a laptop — they call it a “mobile workstation”. The stand I’m using is from the old Pavilion, the HP USB Media Dock. It has an integrated (removable) USB3 docking station that plugs into the base of the stand, which is also an Altec Lansing speaker. Much better and louder than the quite good B&O speakers built into the ZBook. Then I have an external old Samsung monitor that I keep on a heavy articulated arm stand clamped to my desk. I found the HP Display and Notebook Stand II (e8g00aa) made by Ergotron, and it’s verrry nice; I love Ergotron! Elegant way to hold the computer and an extra monitor while taking up much less desk space than I use now. It accommodates various HP docking stations, none of which, sadly, I can use with my machine, AFAIK. The port replicator I could use with my machine costs another $300 (the Thunderbolt 230W Dock G2 with the confusingly-named “combo cable” which is a power cord and USB-C cable glommed together; and I can’t even power my mobile workstation via the dock, so I would have a cluster of big, heavy, HP power bricks). Also it doesn’t have a speaker. But the stand is a very sweet design, and can be bought for $190. But I didn’t NEEEED it. Not really. But then I listened to the sound on my laptop stand, and the speakers weren’t working! Finally, an excuse! So I bought the e8g00aa. Then I thought, wait: have I updated the drivers of my DisplayLink docking station? So I did that, and … the speakers work just fine.

I canceled my order. *sigh*

I’ll be taking a Statistics class at UCLA Extension as a prerequisite for an MLIS program which I would like to start in a year. The course suggested a scientific or graphing calculator. It’s always nagged at me that I should never have thrown out the old HP-25 I had in college and used until the battery pack up and died. So I explored vintage HP programmable calculators. Now I want to buy an HP-41CX with the Stats pack. Like this one, on eBay. But, my god, $310? Without the manuals? Seems like a lot for something I don’t really need. I can do everything I need on Excel ON MY PHONE. But the vintage HP calculators are super sweet… And my Pixel 3? Eh, I have no emotional connection with it. This kind of thing is most fun when you get it at a thrift shop for $20 and spend $290 on fixing it up, right? Yikes. So I haven’t bought one … yet. But I have my eyes open.

I just recently spent $380 on refurbishment and repair of an old German Erika Naumann typewriter sent to me by a relative. It was such a sweet gesture, that I really wanted to do the repair as a gesture of gratitude and to honor the dead relative who owned it. And, if we’re counting, it’s a valuable typewriter.

More egregiously, I spent $1200 (!!) on a Comma 2 for my Prius Prime, to add more driver assistance features. It’s amazing, really. Works great. Beeps too much. It beeps when I engage cruise control and when I disengage it. It also puts a green outline on the screen. Too much feedback and the beeps annoy and frighten passengers.

My daughter says we should buy pretty much anything we want—I still have a job, Ellen is still working, what the hell! But I try to be careful… Not only on spending but on accumulation. I have two big bags of things I want to sell on eBay. Maybe when I’ve sold them I can use the proceeds to get that calculator…

Cheap rents and a vibrant culture

I’m a native New Yorker. My wife isn’t, but lived all her young adulthood there and is as committed to the idea of New York as any convert. She and I were both in theater there, often at the same theaters but at different times, so we didn’t meet until the 90s, when I moved to Los Angeles.

Often we sigh and say how much we miss New York… and then correct ourselves—we miss New York in the 70s and 80s, not New York now, debilitated as it is from money poisoning. Making a living is for losers—they want to make a killing. Commercial rent is jacked up not by 10% but by 100%, 200%, more, there is no top. And if space remains empty, the political and tax system support that. Once vibrant streets in the West Village are ghost towns, not because of Covid—this is from way before Covid—but because of rents. I suspect, but don’t know, that this is at least partly because landlord families are losing ground to hedge-fund and Wall St landlords who feel zero stake in the life of the city and the culture around them, and only respond, AI-like, to simple numerical metrics.

We may be seeing a return to cheap rents as Covid-19 hollows out cities and telework keeps people at their desk even in a remote location. Soon, some say and I hope but don’t dare believe, cities like New York can be places where people interested in collaborating on projects that don’t make all that much money can congregate and thrive.

These projects will seep into the culture and create a new, fresh American culture, which will replace the one we have now, decadent and rotting into the ground, and whose fate is to be compost for what comes later.

Oh, that’s fancy!

But New York is a disaster now. Its culture was embodied in the people who lived there and who left because of rents, maintained at an artificially high level by oligarchs parking money and by a Wall St mentality, driven by numerical metrics and divorced from any kind of human experience.

Even, though, at its most optimistic—the city empties out a little, rents ease, oligarchs complain about reducing value and decamp to seasteads, and artists can move back to the city—I wonder if it will, over the next few generations, become a fountainhead for American culture anything like it used to be.

In the 60s there was already a culture shaping across the country, so when it focused and concentrated in New York, it was a vibrant, transformational event. Post-war prosperity combined with a still-extant (soon to die) cultural egalitarianism that the whole world admired.

That’s gone now.

I can’t go on. I’m too vexed and upset… I’ll never be able to go home to NYC, and if I could (if rents dropped a LOT), it’s a cultural nothing.

The hedge-fund landlord

Corporations—the AI we’ve been living with for centuries… As Cory Doctorow writes in Skynet Ascendant: We humans are the inconvenient gut-flora of the corporation. They aren’t hostile to us. They aren’t sympathetic to us. Just as every human carries a hundred times more non-human cells in her gut than she has in the rest of her body, every corpora­tion is made up of many separate living creatures that it relies upon for its survival, but which are fundamentally interchangeable and disposable for its purposes. Just as you view stray gut-flora that attacks you as a pathogen and fight it off with anti­biotics, corporations attack their human adversaries with an impersonal viciousness that is all the more terrifying for its lack of any emotional heat.

Elon Musk’s stated fear of AI seems ironic in that he is such a corporate creature, and corporations behave exactly how he describes AI in such apocalyptic terms. But that is exactly what is happening, not only to cities, but most visibly there, because cities are were value and capital are most concentrated. Yes, a family that owns a few buildings—like my old landlord and his Greek immigrant family; they started with a diner and ended up owning a few dilapidated buildings in midtown, one of which I lived in for 17 years—would form a corporation which owns the buildings; but that is qualitatively different from a financial corporation whose management decides that the ROI they need to justify their bonuses is waiting in real estate and rental properties rather than boring old equities, bonds, and complex derivatives thereof.

I’m not clear on the difference, but I suspect, as with most things, that it’s a gradual difference, a sliding scale, rather than a nice, simple toggle switch. My old landlord wasn’t a financial corporation with no view of what was in the world except certain select metrics, blind to culture and human life, and chewing through humanity to get the coins in our pockets, then pulling the hair and buttons from its teeth. But he did live in Long Island City among his ethnic and religious counterparts, and I don’t think he cared personally all that much about people like me in Manhattan. So he did that thing that landlords do, which is to send in unlicensed contractors to do horribly destructive work on the building for years and years, in the hopes of either driving us out one by one, or, better yet, provoking a tenant lawsuit, the result of which is that the building would be condemned and … we’d all be driven out at once.

So was he better than a hedge fund landlord? He was, if only that I could actually talk to him and he would respond, and he was answerable. Also, he didn’t have megabucks to spend on lawyers to salt the soil around his enemies. He had one awful, but not THAT awful, lawyer whom we used to see in court.

Better would be Art Stabile, the lefty Catholic who lived down the block, who owned the building he lived in and rented out the apartments to young (Catholic mainly, I believe) international students. He had a stake in the building, the street life, and the world from which he earned his living. I don’t know who owns his building now…

Cities become prey to certain cultures. Los Angeles was for a while a creature of Hollywood. The dreams and desires of those who worked in entertainment were the legitimate dreams and desires. Others were… less interesting. Hollywood includes artists and craftspeople, so Los Angeles has always been receptive to artists, though somewhat contemptuous of those who don’t—or, the suspicion is, can’t—sell out.

New York is under the spell of Wall St and has been since the 80s. But Wall St’s culture itself has changed and dragged the city behind it, helpless in its wake. And information technology has supercharged its ambitions, so that, while years ago, it would have been a chump’s game to invest in rental real estate, because management was complicated and expensive, today, rental real estate is pretty good for a return.

I go back to the first episodes of Planet Money—when it was good, when it was important, before they did inane “brand stories” about Hydrox vs Oreos and “ain’t business grand.” The inception of Planet Money was a This American Life episode called The Giant Pool of Money. Investors used to park money in Treasury bonds, but interest rates were lowered to speed up the economy. This meant the T-bills yielded less. So all those smart guys ‘n’ gals on Wall St (really mostly guys, especially then) turned their Ivy League-honed minds to where else they could invest.

Turns out mortgages were just sitting there being valuable. So they proceeded to process them via the alchemy of high finance—tranches, derivatives, derivatives on those derivatives—until a small number of folk made a lot of money and many, many people lost their homes in the Great Recession.

They have no stake in Main St. Just like with Tyson (of the Foods), Wall St parties are so much more fun than those annual BBQs they use to keep their staff happy with their low pay and shrinking benefits.

After the Depression and WWII, there was, for a brief while, a time when the nation’s culture was egalitarian. All Americans (let’s not get crazy; not Blacks really, and not women, not really) were equal, and your boss could live in your neighborhood. He might have a pool and you might not, but big deal! You were all equal, you were all Americans.

But (see Piketty) that was an anomaly, brought on by a confluence of disasters and FDR. Now we’re back to the status quo ante. And, while other nations still strive to emulate America in the 60s, America is turning its back on that and looking to the 1880s.

I don’t like it. No sir, not one bit.

Charlie Hebdo and the Muhammad cartoons

The new issue of Charlie Hebdo is featuring the same Muhammad cartoons that provoked the terrorist killers five years ago to attack and kill CH staff members and cartoonists. The trial is starting now, so the magazine republished the cartoons. I subscribe to CH (digitally), and I’m trying to download the issue now, but the app isn’t responding. I’d ascribe that to popularity or to interference, but I suspect it’s just an unreliable app… NOTE — it worked. The app responded, and I’m looking at the issue.

So, where do I stand on CH? They should have the right to publish and not be murdered. Just so you know what I think. I suppose I think that, if they were wise, they would do more outreach in schools. Of course, they wouldn’t be allowed to, that would be supporting atheism… It’s only natural that Muslims consider attacks on Islam to be attacks on their bubbe and zayde (or teta and seedo). Many communities do not make the distinction between insulting “the religion” and insulting “the believers.”

There is research that shows that we react to attacks on values that are core to our identity (e.g., gun control) in ways indistinguishable from how we react to physical attacks. See the brilliant podcast You Are Not So Smart, #171.

(And, frankly, if you have to explain a joke or a cartoon that much, it isn’t working… you can blame the audience if you like for not “getting” it, but that doesn’t cut much ice when you’re sweating in front of the bare bricks…)

A good old friend of mine is disturbed that a recent poll (article in CH, article in Le Figaro) shows only 59% of French approve of CH’s publication of the cartoons, and that 18% of Muslims “do not condemn” the murders of the CH staff. My friend bemoans the lack of support for the French concept of laïcité.

As I understand it, laïcité just means that religion shall have no sway over government, which I think has a lot of support. I suspect that this is more, why should Muslims or young people who are sympathetic with them, be OK with a magazine that gratuitously offends a people who (in France) are underdogs and experience discrimination.

(Sidebar—Note the difference between the US idea of Freedom of Religion and the French concept of laïcité. Here in the US, the government cannot establish religion or interfere with the free exercise thereof. In France, religion may not interfere with government! I love that, and I wish we had more of it here—no more political “prayer breakfasts”, things being Under God, and so on. If only that were considered rude and wrong, as it is in France.)

(Sidebar to the Sidebar—Different histories explain this. Our revolution wasn’t explicitly about religion, but many colonists left England because it had an official religion that was not theirs. As soon as the Puritans got here and could exercise their religion freely, they set about docking the ears and noses of Quakers. They weren’t for “freedom of religion” except for their own. In France, the Revolution was against the aristocracy and the church. In the immortal words of Diderot, “The revolution is not over until the last King is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.” For the history of this not-really-a-quote, see here.)

(Sidebar3—I wonder, since the French government owns all places of worship, why they permit Saudi petrocrat financing of Wahhabist extreme Islam. I suppose it must all be about the Euros. I have no information about this topic, but this is a blog that, after all, few people will ever see.)

And a lot of French people support the publication of the cartoons for what I would consider the wrong reason, namely that it does offend Muslims — that it “owns” them, to use the modern US phrase. I don’t think the pure, intellectual “freedom of speech” argument especially impresses kids in the banlieues who can’t get a job; and I don’t think it’s what is motivating a lot of the people cheering CH on — they just don’t like Arabs and Africans and enjoy seeing them insulted and humiliated.

I know that CH claims (vociferously!) that they are not aiming at Arab or African individuals but the religion, and they have anti-Jewish and anti-Catholic cartoons (and they must have anti-Protestant cartoons, but none come to mind…). Also, that Islam is a vastly powerful structure with a billion people under its sway. And this is very true. A lot of people who have strong opinions about CH have no idea what they actually publish. If you can read any French at all, I recommend taking a look. It’s quite amazing and very different from what you’d find in the US. If you’re thinking, Oh, isn’t it like Mad Magazine? you’re so, so wrong. There just is no equivalent.

While I am not religious myself, I do identify with Judaism and can feel personally threatened by attacks on the religion I don’t believe in (I do say the prayers on Friday night sometimes, though). But I do love a good “Hasids behaving badly” story when I see it in the Forward… And when CH mocks Judaism, it is more about Israel and circumcision and Hasidim and Haredim, which I agree are good targets for mockery (they’re not me, after all! Well, circumcision, sure, but I don’t have religious feelings about it; I never had a bris). They don’t have nice, bien-pensant Reform or Conservative Jewish congregations in Europe AFAIK, so there’s less of a target there and I am pretty much spared. So I acknowledge that it’s easy for me to support the right to negative speech that isn’t about me.

I love CH, and I love the culture that produces it, but I don’t agree with everything they do. They recently had a piece with several cartoons about how ridiculous it is to target Confederate monuments in the US—complete with what I consider offensive caricatures of black people. Their claim is the monuments are “just” speech. Of course, the speech they embody is saying, You will always be second-class citizens, you will always be under threat, you will never be safe, you will never be equal, we will kill you if we feel like it and we will be backed up by the police and justice system and we will never face punishment, while you must do as we say immediately and without question or we will kill you and get away with it because “we were scared”.

You know what I think about Confederate monuments? I think melt them into slag right there on their plinths. But, yes! I acknowledge that’s not a pure, principled, “all speech must be sacrosanct and left to express its message loudly forever” ideal. I prefer Germany’s approach that decided that pro-Nazi speech (in the form of monuments, among other things) should be removed. They made a national decision that certain speech was bad and had no place in a modern Germany. I’m perfectly OK with that.

I think Freedom of Speech and Freedom from Fear are in conflict much of the time. I understand that Congress cannot infringe FoS, but can’t do jack-shit about FfF, which is a “freedom” made up by FDR.

I know that fans of Confederate monuments claim that the “speech” they represent is something anodyne about pride, valor, respect… just like the Confederate flag is about sweet tea and magnolia blossoms. I am reminded of something a school friend’s older brother used to do: he’d swing his fist at his kid brother’s head and, at the last second, stop and coolly brush his hair back. So, induce fear and then claim deniability. He wasn’t going to hit him! (he just wanted to see him flinch…) This is cousin to the Schrödinger’s Douchebag phenomenon.

Anyway, I haven’t got a nice, tidy wrap-up. I approve of freedom of speech, including speech that intends to contradict or criticize someone else’s speech. And—just so it’s explicit—I’m against murder. I know! Brave stand.