Sunday, December 31, 2006

Gerald Ford: did he exist?

I grant that the headline is a little exaggerated. Yet I am surely not the only observer to find that the public commemoration of Gerald Ford's demise is excessive. Ford was never elected to any office higher than Congressional Representative. As president he fulfilled a Zelig role, being a kind of silly putty that the nation could mold into any shape it wished. Reputedly damaged in the head in a football injury, Ford's intellectual abilities were exiguous at best. Lyndon Johnson got it right when he said that "Jerry can't walk and chew gum at the same time.

For thirty years after he left office, Ford simply vegetated in Palm Springs. A fitting end, I suppose, for one who was essentially a cipher.

Now, after his death, we learn that Ford was opposed to the Iraq war, but declined to have this view revealed (by Bob Woodward) until after his death. To my mind the enablers of the war--those who knew better--are almost worse than the Machiavellian schemers who engineered the conflict.

The real reason for this lavish public display about Ford, I believe, is that it provides an implicit criticism of another Republican, the one currently in residence in the White House. If only Bush could bring sweetness and light, the way Ford did! Alas, matters are a lot more complicated than that.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

A backward glance: my year 2006

There is a theory about expatriation that goes something like this. For the first few months the exile is in heaven, contentedly exploring all the delightful opportunities of his new country. Suddenly, though, this euphoria yields to a kind of field reversal. One wonders, “How could I have done this? I just want to go home.” Finally, after a year or so, the expat stabilizes, and starts to traverse a plateau that combines appreciation with rational understanding of the downside. I have tried expatriation twice--first to Italy, then to England--and I found that the template sketched above is basically valid.

Lo and behold, it is true of retirement as well. Two years ago I stopped going to work at Hunter College and started staying home, collecting my pension. The first few months were indeed splendid. Then I ran into a snag, as my partner of many years self-destructed and our relationship ended. That was a complicating factor, but I probably would have experienced some letdown about retirement anyway. Now I have assumed an even keel.

In fact I have never felt better. Cleaning up the apartment is proceeding slowly, but it is getting done. Of course the place will never qualify for one of those photo shoots that appear in Better Homes and Gardens. Instead my home will always be a kind of loft, a cluttered nest where I produce my creations, with all the paraphernalia I might require.

And what are my creations? Two years ago I became a pajama person, making postings every other day or so on my blogs. Unlike some enthusiasts with itchy fingers who go on line with short bursts every few hours, I prefer to write essays, meditating on them for several days if necessary. My main blog is After getting that one up and rolling, I created to house a book that I had compiled about homosexual language. (I may have been unwise to recycle the word Homolexis, the title of a book I wrote twenty years ago. The new effort is entirely different.)

In September I returned to teaching at Hunter with a course described as “From Symbolism to Abstraction.” All the old synapses kicked in—as they should, for I had been at Hunter College for thirty-three years. Over the summer I resolved to master the areas of Symbolist literature that I had not studied. This meant hard work, grappling with dense French texts by Huysmans, Mallarmé, and Villiers de l’Isle Adam. But it paid off; I was well prepared for my class. I posted a record of my findings at my third blog,

Two of my blogs ended up being books of a sort, one on language, the other on Symbolism. We are said to be living in the twilight of the Gutenberg Era, so maybe this means of publication is adequate. Readers are few, but that is the case with most academic books as well.

Still, I continue to acquire printed books. Last year I abandoned several hundred in my office at Hunter College (mainly ephemeral novels and such), and now I am trying to give some of the other ones away. As I have few takers, most of the rejects end up in a kind of informal library we have established in the basement of this building.

Nowadays few would attempt to create the equivalent of my 20,000-volume library. The general concept is based on the Warburg Institute in London, where I spent many profitable hours as a grad student in the sixties. At that ideal collection I noticed that the emphasis on original works extended to translations of them in various languages. Thus I have Dante’s Divine Comedy in English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish. The Internet serves mainly as a supplement to the books. I have grown fond of Wikipedia, which I also consult in foreign languages. The other day in search of material on Jan Toorop, the Dutch Symbolist, I found (no surprise) that the Dutch version of Wikipedia was the best source.

What with all the hassle at airports (much of it unnecessary) I find travel less appealing these days. I did have a rewarding trip to Germany in July. The draw was a comprehensive exhibition of the work of Caspar David Friedrich in Essen, an interesting but little-visited industrial city in the Ruhr. I also paid nostalgic calls at Aachen and Cologne, the latter especially delightful. My German had become rusty, so I threw myself into some serious reading when I got back. I now have 23 volumes of Friedrich Nietzsche’s work in a splendid German edition. Needless to say, I did not read all of them—just a few key items. Having this set is akin to owning the complete CDs of Mozart and Bach, which I bought in a cheap Diamond edition. Of course, I have other favorite recordings, especially of Bach, and I doubt if I will ever listen to the whole of either set. Yet as with Shakespeare, Plato, Aristotle and others of that kidney, it is nice to know that it is all there!

Since the days of “run city” in the mid-seventies, the quality of life has steadily improved in New York City. I have no qualms about my decision to retire here. In addition to major art exhibitions, which I still faithfully attend, there is a cornucopia of performing-arts events. These come in all prices—from $100 (which I paid to attend the first part of Tom Stoppard’s “Coast of Utopia”) to zero bucks (for a wonderful Gagaku presentation at Riverside Church). The gratis option means I’ll be able to keep going out even if my pension declines because of the folly of the current administration in Washington. I trust that things will not get that bad. Global warming is a reality (though not for the reasons usually given), so winters in New York look to be mild. At least this one is, so far.

Today my situation is more placid than it has been during some earlier periods. So be it. Each stage of life has its distinctive advantages and pleasures.

Let me wish you a rewarding 2007, as you would like it!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Gay Los Angeles III

The Los Angeles books by Faderman & Timmons, and by Robert Hofler, noticed in recent postings, have now been joined by Daniel Hurewitz, Bohemian Los Angeles and the Making of Modern Politics (University of California Press, 2007).

The author originally presented his findings as a UCLA dissertation. In the several years intervening he has enlarged his data and refined his ideas. What we have then is a carefully crafted presentation of his case. Hurewitz focuses on the early and middle years of 20th century. Supplementing previous accounts, there is a good deal of information about ordinary gay men that is new.

In my review of Gay L.A. by Faderman and Timmons, a generally excellent book, I faulted the writers for not offering a sufficient explanation for the seemingly improbable fact that America’s only enduring gay emancipation movement arose in Los Angeles. Commendably, Hurewitz attempts to resolve this conundrum. Unfortunately his explanation doesn’t work.

He portrays three interdependent spheres of innovation in the Southern California city--the arts community; the political radicals (especially the Communists); and gay men and lesbians.

Ostensibly linked by their sharing the neighborhood of Edendale between Hollywood and downtown LA, Hurewitz’ three worlds are not in fact closely connected. While many artists and leftists lived in Edendale in the first half of the twentieth century it did not enjoy the status of a “gay village” until recent decades, when it became known as Silver Lake and Echo Park.

A number of the founders of the Mattachine Society had also been Communists, but this fact, while true, is not enough to justify the triple project. The reason Mattachine survived and prospered was because after its reorganization in 1953 (a change much lamented by today’s nostalgic leftists) it was led by individuals who were centrists.

Over this book there is a haze of the Romance of American Communism, to cite the title of a gushing book by the New York writer Vivian Gornick. These people were working to establish a Soviet system in America. Had they succeeded in doing so, “degenerates” would have been sent to Gulags.

Those who sugarcoat this leftist history instruct us to forget about international politics. Instead, just look at the rewarding personal lives these Communists lived! Regrettably this picture wasn’t rosy either. When one joined the Party one was urged to devote all one’s free time as much as possible to working for the Revolution. There were no “free weekends.” Just as with a religious sect, members were encouraged to marry within the Party. All this meant severing one’s previous ties. After the pattern was set, members were discouraged from leaving because they knew that if they did no they would be ostracized. They would end up with no friends at all.

As noted, the linkage of the three phenomena is elusive. If there was an L.A. Bohemia, this wasn’t it.

Hurewitz makes much of the matter of identity. Yet this was not an issue during the period he mainly covers. Gay identity (and other purported identities) became important only in the seventies. The legacy of this concept has been scarcely benign. The perception of Balkanization, appealing to separate interest groups rather than the national interest, continues to haunt the Democratic Party. Hurewitz further believes that Los Angeles was the crucible in which the identity principle advanced to be part of the national agenda. This claim, which ignores the crucial effect of the civil rights movement in the South, is specious.

In short this book is good in parts. Yet in my view its overall claim fails.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

End of the two-party system?

It is now clear that the new Democratic Congress that assembles in a few days time will not make much difference. "Earmarking" will go on as usual, except that the money will flow to Democratic districts. Paul Krugman, ever a barometer of self-righteous idiocy, says in the New York Times that the Democrats must now get their full share of pork. Never mind the hyperastronomical deficits that will result. There will of course be no meaningful changes in the "look the other way" policy on ethical lapses. Members of Congress play by their own rules, which are not the ones that apply to you and me.

Above all, it seems depressingly clear that the Democratic regime will not accomplish the main task that the voters wanted them to do, and that is to end the war in Iraq. Of course warmongers like Lieberman and Clinton are hopeless. That we have known. What many are not prepared for is the large contingent of enablers, like Senator Harry Reid, who will actually support an increase (the "surge") in troops, providing it is somehow linked to a larger plan to end the war. Sure, sure.

We have a president who is delusional, and the opposition party, ostensibly in power, is not prepared to do anything about it. They are truly gutless.

There will be a large antiwar rally in Washington on January 27. I plan to be there. Remembering as I do the antiwar energy of the Vietnam era, I find the absence of such rallies puzzling. It can't just be the lack of the draft as a motivator.

Perhaps we have entered into a new age of electronic democracy. That might be a good thing, but I don't see that the bloggers are proving efficacious at a time when we desperately need their intervention.

The two-party system, though, is moribund. Perhaps the best that can be expected is withdrawal from Iraq (after two more years!), and then a period of isolationism in foreign policy and gridlock with regard to domestic legislation. The scenario assumes that the Chinese and our other foreign creditors will not pull the plug.
Then our own equivalent of bread-and-circuses--shopaholic frenzy at the mall--will have to stop.

We can still cultivate our garden. That's what I'll be doing, in the guise of a new research-and-thinking project. Details will be supplied in due course.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Onward Atheist Solders

In a recent NY Times column Nicholas Kristof indicated that some current advocates of atheism are beginning to mimic the intransigeance and intolerance of their theist adversaries. Actually, this kind of militant atheism is not new, for I remember as a teenage enthusiast receiving (almost sixty years ago) a packet of such material from a New York advocacy group. All the same, there does seem to be an upsurge in what I would term aggressive, militant atheism.

Those who take this tack seem to hold that for too long they had held their fire. After so much pussy-footing, they have concluded, it is time to take the offensive.

I think that there is another reason. That is the fall of Communism fifteen years ago. Let me explain.

Richard Dawkins, the English scientist, is perhaps the most intense of the new Atheist Soldiers. His book, The God Delusion, is doing well--by definition, of course, among those who still read books. An ad for the book captures the tone. If we didn't have religion, all kinds of noxious things would disappear. There would be "no Crusades, no Inquisition, no pogroms, no 9/11, and no suicide bombings."

Perhaps so. But let me bring up another list. What set of regimes was responsible for the following: suppression of all opinion not in accord with Scientific Socialism; confinement of opponents to mental hospitals; discrimination against individuals because of class origins; prohibition of emigration and foreign travel; and (last but not least) the Gulags? Not so long ago these conditions afflicted some two billion human beings living in officially atheist states, including the Warsaw Pact group in Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union, the People's Republic of China, North Korea, and Vietnam.

Now that most of these countries have changed, or at least moderated their regimes, it is easy to forget what had happened.

The reality is that there are different types of Christianity and different types of atheism. As far as I know, no Quaker has every participated in a Crusade. The gentle Episcopal clergy I know of are most unlikely to be involved in a pogrom. Most Muslims would be incapable of participating in a suicide bombing.

Of course, there are different kinds of atheists too. Dawkins and Sam Harris are unlikely to seek to have their opponents commmitted to a mental hospital or prevented from prevented from foreign travel. (Though come to think of it, the latter step might be helpful with Mormon missionaries. Just kidding!)

What matters is not the distinction between believers and atheists, but which kinds of these we are speaking of.

It is no help, by the way, to say that Marxists are not "genuine atheists." There are plenty of people to say that the boundaries of "genuine Christianity" do not include the Catholicism of Torquemada and Savonarola. Or as some would say nowadays, Fallwell and Robertson are not really Christians. Oh yes they are, just as Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot were genuine atheists.

Moreover, as in Northern Ireland, religion is often a mask for economic differences. By contrast the Basques in Spain are just as troublesome as the IRA, but they are (most of them) Catholics like those they oppose.

Conversion of the world to atheism would not usher in the millennium. At all events it is unlikely to happen. Even in Western Europe, where growing numbers of nominal Christians are neglecting religious observance, these people have not become flaming atheists. Many are probably agnostics--as am I. In my view it is agnosticism that is the best antidote to fanatacism. Kristof is right: the new aggressivness among atheist advocates is a form of preaching to the choir that turns others off. I know that this is my reaction. Stop lecturing us, Dawkins and Harris. Hardly anyone cares about your certainties, however passionately expressed.

Long live indifference!

To be sure, I am mindful of the dangers posed by the Christian-nation folks, who want to establish a theocracy in the United States. But why should this problem push us into atheism? There are plenty of decent Christians, Jews, and Muslims. They form a stronger redoubt than militant atheism, which will never appeal to more than a small educated minority, while raising many hackles.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Gay Los Angeles II

Growing up in Los Angeles in the forties and fifties I went to the movies twice a week. Eventually I came to harbor a fierce contempt for the latest products of Hollywood. I have in mind such things as the immensely over-rated “Barefoot Contessa” and “Two Weeks in Another Town,” the latter surely one of the most disgusting piles of faeces ever flung at the viewing public.

I felt differently about the silents and some major talkies of the pre-WWII years, such as “Sullivan’s Travels” and the comedies of W. C. Fields. Among contemporary works I savored imports from Italy, France, and Sweden. But the latest Hollywood flics were beyond the pale. They were hopelessly infantile.

In retrospect, this infantilization had two causes. During World War II audiences demanded light entertainment to take their minds off the long hours they were working and the often-grim news from the battlefield. After the war was over, the studios continued on this profitable course. Then television came along, and Hollywood had to lower its standards still further to compete with that rubbish (as it was, in those early days).

Eventually movies got better—or some of them did, especially with the rise of the indies, the new art-house fare. And I came to recognize that Hollywood has had a major impact on the American collective psyche. It is also one of our few successful exports, shaping people’s views about America across the globe.

As a student at UCLA I picked up rumors about gays in Hollywood. Having met some of them, we all accepted that writers, set designers, and costumiers could be gay. But we thought that the studio’s filtration devices kept “pansies” (as the moguls and their minions routinely termed them) from ever appearing on the silver screen. The only exceptions were “obvious” types like Franklin Pangborn and Clifton Webb, stereotypes brought out as if to prove that all the real stars were heterosexual.

That did not stop some people from gossiping, though. I recall when I heard (ca. 1955) that Rock Hudson was gay. Those Hollywood queens, I thought, they will say anything!

As we have long known, Hudson (originally Roy Fitzgerald) was the creation of the agent Henry Willson, who discovered the actor, coached him on grammar and table manners, and had his teeth fixed. To stave off a threatened expose, Willson required that Hudson submit to a kind of shotgun wedding to a secretary, Phyllis Gates.

Willson discovered many other pretty boys, including Guy Madison, Rory Calhoun, and Troy Donahue. The benefactor bestowed all these names. (Humphrey Bogart remarked that the ideal Willson name was Dungg Heep.)

During his prime (in the late forties and fifties) studio moguls prized Willson for his uncanny ability to detect men who would appeal to bobby soxers. That was because the agent was himself a kind of bobby soxer. The ideal young man was tall and muscular, had Anglo-Saxon features, a cute smile, and a pleasant, though vapid personality. Acting ability was not required. That could be added later, Willson opined. In short the agent played Pymalion, but with naive hunks instead of flower girls.

He could also engage in cruel mockery. Sometimes at dinner he would break a breadstick in two and hold up the short end, exclaming "Guy Madison!"

Some of the hunks were straight and some were gay. Willson may have been a predator, but not all of his protégés were required to sleep with him. After they met his tests he would get them through the studio doors. Then the rest was up to them.

The gay candidates had to follow certain rules to protect their image. Any effeminate traits must be purged. They must not live with another man. Cary Grant and Randolph Scott had gotten away with it in the ‘thirties, but now times had changed. Even Willson himself would only have favorites over for a weekend. Matters were helped, after a fashion, by the fact that he seems to have been a “oncer” who showed little interest in men after the first seduction. This helped in another way, for men who were repelled by the experience could console themselves with the prospect that it was unlikely to be repeated.

One must never be seen dining in a tête-à-tête with another man. To foster the proper perceptions, Willson supplied “beards,” young women tacitly in the know who would agree to be seen publicly with the actors. Appropriate photo ops were arranged. Indeed, part of Henry Willson’s success lay in his expert manipulation of the Hollywood gossip sheets. He also took care to cultivate secretaries and mail-room boys with gifts and flattery. Then he could rely on them for useful tips.

After office hours Willson held court at his favorite Hollywood restaurant, and also at his Saturday afternoon pool parties. Both groups, gay and straight, proved surprisingly adaptable. If possible, the gay men had to give the appearance of dating, and sometimes to get married, as in Rock Hudson’s case. For their part the straight pretty boys had to go along-—at least at the beginning. One experienced heterosexual protégé advised a newbie that performing fellatio was not really so bad; it was a bit like sucking on a woman’s teat.

Remarkably, all this happened during a great surge of America’s homophobia. Homosexuals were deemed security risks, and the vice squads were especially active, damaging many lives. Willson had a serious brush with the FBI, but he denied that he was homosexual and the matter blew over. What did Willson in was the new type of star represented by Marlon Brando, James Dean, and Warren Beatty. These men didn’t fit Willson’s template.

Willson died a pauper. When the end came, the only person attending at his bedside was the superstraight Troy Donahue, who held the disgraced agent’s hand.

Readers will find all they need to know in Robert Hofler’s The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson: The Pretty Boys and Dirty Deals of Henry Willson (Carroll and Graff). This is much more than a tell-all book; it is genuine history. Mr. Hofler, a writer for Variety, conducted some 200 interviews and consulted many printed sources. His book fills a gap some have felt in the generally excellent Gay L.A. by Faderman and Timmmons. I am putting it on my reference shelf.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Two truths, not

Two truths (not)

The British police have just announced the an investigation, confirming an earlier one by the French, concluding that Princess Diana did not die as the result of a conspiracy—whether by MI5, MI6, the Mossad, the CIA, a cabal led by Prince Philip or any of the other suspects. She died because her chauffeur had been drinking heavily and was driving too fast in order to evade the paparazzi. It is safe to predict that for some this will not be the end of the matter. There will continue to be two views about the cause of Diana.

Nowadays such bifurcations occur in many realms. Some years ago one of my Hunter College colleagues, the late John Henrick Clark, proposed that Cleopatra was black. Most scholars agree that the Egyptian Queen was pure Macedonian and therefore Caucasian. But the Cleopatra-was-black thesis retains many adherents, not all of them African American.

In similar fashion many have rallied to the assertion that Abraham Lincoln was gay, as argued by Abraham Lincoln. As far as I know, no significant Lincoln scholar has ratified these findings, but the possibility continues to be entertained. One Lincolnologist says that by far the greatest number of questions he receives in his speaking tours concerns the sixteenth president’s sexual orientation.

As regards the Bible, many gays believe that the “clobber passages” (such as the Sodom story in Genesis, the death penalty prescribed in Leviticus, and the unnatural allegation of Romans) are not about homosexuality. You see that phenomenon did not exist in ancient times, and if it did, the passages are about Canaanite fertility rites or some other extraneous issue.

Those who sympathize with the American Indians tend to accept the assertion that the United States Constitution was based on the Great Law of the Iroquois. Most American historians, however, still hold that our government relies on European precedents, beginning with ancient Greece.

There are more momentous bifurcations. Surveys have found that as much as a third of the American public holds that the Twin Towers fell on 9/ll because of a plot on the part of the American government. The only difference is between LIHOP (they Let It Happen on Purpose) and MIHOP (they Made It Happen on Purpose).

In South Africa and elsewhere AIDS denialists still insist that HIV is not the cause of the disease.

And in Tehran a conference has just concluded in which the speakers agreed, or so it seems, in denying the reality of the Holocaust.

There may be a silver lining in some of this dissidence. For example, the 9/11 doubters are exercizing a skepticism about the assertions of the United States government. We have all been burned by the folly of invading Iraq, so that more skepticism is required. But it does not seem that this is the place for it.

The case of the disputed bible passages underlines the need for more careful study of those ancient texts and the circumstances that gave them rise.

What strikes me about all these cases, though, is that there are not two competing versions of reality. The matter is not akin to the problem of deciding between quantum mechanics and relativity. In the instances cited above, there is one version that is false and another that is true.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

"They Told You So"

I rarely agree with the New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. An insufferably arrogant leftist, he sometimes cooks the numbers. This last ought to be a no-no for a Princeton economist--but apparently standards in that field are not as rigorous as they are in, say, literary criticism (not to mention astrology).

At last Krugman has written a column in yesterday's Times ("They Told You So") that I mostly agree with. At the time of the runup to the foolish invasion of Iraq several prominent political figures spoke out against it. Krugman cites Al Gore, Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Russ Feingold, and Howard Dean. Typical for Krugman, these are all liberals. He fails to cite the paleoconservatives Pat Buchanan and Bob Novak, who were more tenacious and biting in their critiques than the liberal opponents of the war. There were also a good many antiwar voices in the far Left, but that kneejerk response was to be expected.

At the end, Krugman makes this telling comment. "We should . . . ask why anyone who didn't raise questions about the war--or at any rate, anyone who acted as a cheerleader for this march of folly--should be taken seriously when he or she talks
about matters of national security."

Indeed. We should also ask why several million people, sitting in modest dwellings as I do, saw through the arguments for this disastrous war, while the experts in DC and elsewhere, supposedly equipped with sources of information denied the rest of us, should have fervently supported going to war.

It is significant that liberal journalists (as distinct from a few courageous liberal politicians) are essential absent from this all-too-succint honor roll. The answer lies, I think, in the numerous studies--perfectly valid as far as I can see--showing that journalists were at least 90% Democrats. Despite much denial, these findings had begun to sting. So the journalists had become defensive, and defensiveness tends to impair judgment. This fact is well known. In the hysterical atmosphere that gripped the country after 9/ll journalists did not want to face the charge that their undoubted liberalism had made them unpatriotic. (There were, of course, some prominent conservative journalists, as I mentioned. But, ironically, unlike their liberal confreres this small body of people was divided--some were for the war, others against it.)

Then there was the temptation, all too palpable for ambitious charlatans like Judith Miller, to break a story--even when there wasn't a story.

Once a view, however mistaken, takes on critical mass by attracting many seemingly well informed adherents, it becomes seductive. Groupthink takes over.

Another factor was obliquely cited by Barack Obama in September 2002. "What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other armchair, weekend warriors in this administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats." These weekend warriors were, of course, the Neocons. In this group a significant number were Israel Firsters.

With all the analysis that is rightly being undertaken as to why we were hoodwinked into undertaking this disastrous war, this factor is rarely discussed. As far as I can tell, Israel was the only country outside the United States where public opinion strongly supported the war. To be sure, Israel had genuine grievances against Saddam Hussein. We did not.

Now we have the curious spectacle of hearing Israeli leaders saying that their inransigence with regard to the Palestinians has nothing to do with our quagmire in Iraq. This is bull.

The appallingly successful effort by the Neocon cabal to manoeuvre us into undertaking a war reveals an important truth. A well organized minority can get its way over a confused and angry majority. We should not fall into this trap again. But since discussion of the undoubted role of the Israel Firsters remains taboo (it is "career destroying"), it is certain that more pitfalls lie ahead.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Two movies

I have not attended a showing of the pseudo-documentary created by Sacha Baron Cohen. However, I have seen the clips and read enough accounts to know that this is a specious, morally suspect product. As such I decline to give my money to it.

Evidently, the Borat film makes copious use of excrement jokes, a sure sign of comedic insecurity. Yet that is not the main problem. Repeatedly the movie purports to find evidence of rampant anti-Semitism in the United States. Some of the bigoted scenes are clearly phony in that they are staged, using personnel paid for this service. However that may be, there can be no doubt that anti-Semitism survives in the United States, along with many other countries. I need scarcely emphasize that this form of prejudice must be vigorously condemned.

Still, why is it that, in the film, anti-Semitism is wrong, but Islamophobia is just dandy? Over the years I have been critical of aspects of Islam and of Muslims. I have also looked askance at aspects of Judaism and Christianity. For one thing, all three have collaborated in fomenting homophobia. Recently we have been treated to a rare example of Jewish-Christian-Muslim harmony in Jerusalem, where representatives of all three faiths united to denounce a peaceful gay march.

In consequence the Borat film is hypocritical. Even as it opposes one form of bigotry, it fosters another.

Baron Cohen gets away with this by playing to the choir—or rather to two choirs. The first consists of the huge body of uneducated people, who still thrive in this country and abroad. The excrement jokes and the general boorishness of the character played by Mr. Baron Cohen delight these people. Call it the “Animal House” effect. In their defense, perhaps it could be said that these rubes do not know any better, and maybe should not be expected to.

The matter is quite different with the other choir. This consists of the “Secular Progressive” elites, all those people educated at Harvard, Yale, the University of Wisconsin, Berkeley, and tutti quanti-—not to forget Mr. Baron Cohen’s alma mater, the University of Cambridge in England. For these politically correct types, criticism of the Third World is normally out of bounds. Yet when it comes to a Muslim from a benighted Third World country this prohibition goes out the window.

The Borat film caters to two unfortunate tendencies. The first is simply an ignorant, “I don’t care” group. The second comprises educated hypocrites who decry Mel Gibson’s obvious prejudice, but find that of Mr. Baron Cohen to be incisive and appropriate.

Now I turn to a film of long ago, “Casablanca.” A few days ago a friend remarked that he had seen the movie twenty times. In viewing it again recently, he was heartened by the scene of the refugees singing the “Marseillaise.”

Why is this better than singing the “Horst Wessel Lied” in a Moroccan city?

Most viewers of the film have no idea of the history involved. The French annexed Morocco as a protectorate in 1912. The country retained its king as a nominal ruler, but the country was a colony in all but name. After the Germans overran continental France in June of 1940, Vichy officials readily collaborated with the Germans. That is why we see Colonel Strasser and his staff relaxing in Rick’s café.

After the war’s end the French resumed control of their Moroccan colony. But this attempt to turn the clock back did not last, and the Moroccans declared independence in 1957.

The question then is this. Why was it wrong for the Germans to occupy France, but perfectly OK for the French to occupy Morocco? In discussing this matter with another friend some years ago, he remarked: “Why don’t you know? Casablanca was a city built by the French on the Atlantic Coast. It was not Moroccan, but French.”

Just so. Then let's apply this principle elsewhere. Suppose the Nazis had built a purely German city—-let us call it Weisses Haus-—on the Atlantic coast of France. Would this creation have justified their continued occupation and subjection of the country?

Perhaps the standards for detecting hypocrisy are lower in movies than in other realms of cultural expression. If so, this is too bad, for the cinema has a lot of influence over the way most people think and feel.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Thinking the unthinkable

The following notes belong to what my friends in the mainstream standard media )MSM)term a "career-destroying move." But since I have no career to destroy, I will forge ahead.

I will present three related propositions.

1) It was never in the national interest of the United States to invade and occupy Iraq. After much resistance, this conclusion has become widely accepted. I will not argue it further here.

2) It is not in the national interest of the United States to ally itself with the state of Israel. As I have indicated elsewhere, this question is related to the first, because one of the reasons we invaded Iraq was that Israel and its influential supporters in the US sought this action. Since Saddam was rewarding the families of the suicide bombers with a bounty of $25,000 per bomber, and had attempted to send missiles to devastate Israel during Desert Storm, the Israelis had at least two reasons to want Saddam gone. We had no valid reason for taking this costly step, so that our interests did not coincide. But the tail wagged the dog.

I have no desire to see Israel disappear, or even to be damaged. My view, though, is that thanks to the determination, intelligence, and industry of its citizens, Israel can now take care of itself. There is no excuse for further US subsidies to that country, or for automatic support of its internal and foreign policies.

One might think that my detachment from the Israeli cause would lead to support for the Palestinians. Far from it. I saw something like that happening forty years ago when critics of the South Vietnamese regime, disgusted with what they saw, shifted to support for the Vietnamese Communists. In my view neither was worthy of support. This leads to the final proposition.

3) It is not in the national interest of the United States to support the Palestinians. Compare the Palestinians with the Kurds. The latter, after suffering hundreds of thousands of cruel deaths at the hands of Saddam Hussein, have nonetheless rallied and created a prosperous and viable polity. Iraqi Kurdistan is a state in all but name. Over a much longer time-frame the Palestinians have been unable to achieve this. They have had many chances, and they threw them all away.

Now the world community must say to the Palestinians. Time is up. You have failed and now must face the consequences.

I acknowledge that one of my reasons for distrusting the Palestinians is the homophobia that is rife there. They equate machismo with patriotism and "softness" with acquiescence to the Israeli occupier. And where has this machismo led them?

The homophobia that exists in various forms throughout the Arab world is a subset of their general backwardness. Backwardness has its consequences, and I don't see why these Middle Easterners should be shielded from it.

So I don't really care what the Israelis do to the Palestinians. Whatever it is, it will be a far cry from what Muslims are doing to other Muslims in Darfur.

One final comment. From the above one might assume that I am an isolationist. Far from it. But I believe that we must choose our battles. So far our choices in the Middle East have been the wrong ones.