Friday, March 31, 2006

The lighter side

A while back the comedian George Carlin asked what would happen if two common words exchanged places. Here that exercise is performed with “Paris” and “penis.”

“April in Penis” (or, The Gonococcus Song)

Sigmund Freud’s theory of Paris Envy remains controversial.

Penis is a moveable feast.

Some men are preoccupied by the belief that their Paris is too small.

I love penis every moment.

Anita Loos: “Penis is divine. I mean Dorothy and I got to Penis yesterday, and it really is divine.”

Ethologists have found that man has the biggest Paris of all the primates.

“The last time I saw Penis/Her heart was warm and gay.”

Penis Hilton is wealthy, but can she act?

In porno films the fluffer is responsible for developing the Paris to maximum size.

Her dresses are made in Penis, but she wears them with an American accent.

It is not surprising that Aphrodite was victorious in the Judgment of Penis.

The science-fiction writer Isaac Asimov was unable to bear the sight of any Paris other than his own.

Jacques-Louis David’s painting of “Penis and Helen” is justly celebrated.

Some, dissatisfied with their gender, go so far as to have their Paris removed, and a neo-vagina constructed in its place.

At first it was objected to the decision to erect the Eiffel Tower on a portion of Penis.

US Marines undergo a particularly brutal training at Penis Island.

King Henri IV famously remarked: “Penis is worth a mass.”

Those who are obsessed with sex are termed “Paris-heads.”

Is Penis burning?

In former times Penis was the center of the porno book industry. The “Enfer” of the Penis National Library contains a large collection of these works.

Today, modern paintings of the School of Penis command high prices.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Why are we in Iraq?

Today (March 19, 2006) marks the third anniversary of the ill-starred invasion and occupation of Iraq. Commentators have given much attention to what went wrong in the execution of this misadventure, but little to its root causes. To be sure, it is now generally acknowledged that the two major reasons given at the time for the incursion-—namely the weapons of mass destruction and the al-Qaeda link-—have proved to be altogether without foundation. Yet the deeper reasons for the war have gone mostly unexamined.

It is timely then that The London Review of Books has just published a long piece by two American professors tracing a good deal of the relevant background. Here is the beginning of the article “The Israel Lobby” by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt.

"For the past several decades, and especially since the Six-Day War in 1967, the centrepiece of US Middle Eastern policy has been its relationship with Israel. The combination of unwavering support for Israel and the related effort to spread ‘democracy’ throughout the region has inflamed Arab and Islamic opinion and jeopardised not only US security but that of much of the rest of the world. This situation has no equal in American political history. Why has the US been willing to set aside its own security and that of many of its allies in order to advance the interests of another state? One might assume that the bond between the two countries was based on shared strategic interests or compelling moral imperatives, but neither explanation can account for the remarkable level of material and diplomatic support that the US provides.
"Instead, the thrust of US policy in the region derives almost entirely from domestic politics, and especially the activities of the ‘Israel Lobby’. Other special-interest groups have managed to skew foreign policy, but no lobby has managed to divert it as far from what the national interest would suggest, while simultaneously convincing Americans that US interests and those of the other country – in this case, Israel – are essentially identical.
"Since the October War in 1973, Washington has provided Israel with a level of support dwarfing that given to any other state. It has been the largest annual recipient of direct economic and military assistance since 1976, and is the largest recipient in total since World War Two, to the tune of well over $140 billion (in 2004 dollars). Israel receives about $3 billion in direct assistance each year, roughly one-fifth of the foreign aid budget, and worth about $500 a year for every Israeli. This largesse is especially striking since Israel is now a wealthy industrial state with a per capita income roughly equal to that of South Korea or Spain. . . . "

It is well worth looking up the rest of the article, to be found at

In relation to the Iraq war our narrative now moves forward, to the last decade. The Project for the New American Century (PNAC) is a conservative think tank founded by Richard Perle and Robert Kagan. In 1996 PNAC issued a report of some length entitled "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm." The report, written at the behest of the right-wing Israeli politician Benjamin Netanyahu, offers a comprehensive plan for proactive intervention in the Middle East. Among its proposals is an invasion and occupation of Iraq. This report is the fons et origo of what came afterwards.

Two years later the recommendations of the report were whittled down, and recycled as a single-minded insistence on the urgency of regime change in Baghdad. Comparison of the two documents, the long one from 1996 and the concise statement from 1998, reveals the genealogy and purpose of the prowar arguments. “A Clean Break” is too long to reproduce here; it may be found at the PNAC site on the Internet, and elsewhere.

Here are some relevant passages from the 1998 document, an open letter to President Clinton.

"We are writing you because we are convinced that current American policy towards Iraq is not succeeding. We face a threat in the Middle East more serious than any we have known since the end of the Cold War. … [The] strategy should aim, above all at the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime from power."

The letter goes on to question the existing policy of containment, which it asserts is impossible to verify. The money quote is as follows: "It hardly needs to be added that if Saddam does acquire the capability to deliver weapons of mass destruction, as he is almost certain to do if we continue along the present course, the safety of American troops in the region, of our friends and allies like Israel and the moderate Arab states, and a significant portion of the world’s supply of oil will all be put at hazard."

In short "A Clean Break" was the original text; the letter to Clinton, the Classics Comics version—-probably all the more effective for that reason. Executives prefer to read executive summaries.

The letter had eighteen signers, not at first sight a homogeneous group. However several significant clusters emerge. A number of the signers became officers in the Bush administration. Among these are Richard J. Armitage, John Bolton, Zalmay Khalilzad, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz. There was also a kind of old curmudgeon group, including William Bennett and James Woolsey. Francis Fukuyama has since jumped ship. Others, and here we must not mince words, were Israel Firsters, a group headed by that ubiquitous éminence grise Richard Perle.

Dick Cheney did not sign the letter to President Clinton, but the sequel has shown that he agreed wholeheartedly with it. On his first day in office as vice-president Cheney asked when we were going to do something about Iraq. Methodically, relentlessly, he took charge of the war party, easily ensnaring George W. Bush, who was inexperienced in foreign affairs. Cheney’s instrument was the White House Information Group (WHIG), whose mission was to sell the 2003 invasion of Iraq to the public. Andrew Card, White House Chief of Staff, set up the task force in August of 2002. Karl Rove chaired the Group, coordinating all the executive branch elements in the run-up to the war. WHIG fashioned and promoted various types of rhetoric about the danger Iraq ostensibly posed to the US, including the introduction of the term "mushroom cloud."

The rationales offered for the Iraq war have been numerous and shifting. The administration seems to come up with a new one every three or four months. Now that all the earlier claims have collapsed, we learn that spreading democracy is the main goal. However, Washington’s angry reaction to the Hamas victory in the Palestinian election shows that the commitment of our government to democracy is selective—which means that it is not a commitment at all. In fact the administration seems to be quietly abandoning this rationale—-though probably George W. Bush will be the last to learn of the shift.

The true reason for the invasion and occupation of Iraq has been, and still is, to rearrange the power balance in the Middle East. And that rearrangement has two goals: securing our supply of oil and aiding Israel.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

"While Europe Slept"

Because of a logjam at the post office, I received all at once five books I had ordered on current Islamic issues. I instinctively chose “While Europe Slept” (Doubleday) by Bruce Bawer first.

Bawer provides a meticulous, well-documented account of the recent events involving from the Muslim diaspora in Europe. He also analyzes what amounts to a cover-up on the part of opinion makers there, accompanied by craven efforts on the part of multiculturalists to ingratiate themselves with the Islamists. Part analysis and part autobiography, the book is a gripping, though sometimes horrifying read. A decade ago Bawer moved to Amsterdam, then eventually to Oslo, where he now resides. He has been able to observe first-hand the rapid demographic and social transformation in the two nations where he has lived, supplementing this experiential data with other information gleaned from the press throughout Western Europe.

Before reading this book I was already convinced that the clash between Islam and Europe was well underway, posing a grave danger for Western Civilization. At first, Bawer reports, it was hard to assemble the information. Politically correct European politicians and journalists censor themselves, and seek to frame the Muslim incursions as enriching rather than threatening. Keeping doggedly to a task that is as ungrateful as it is necessary, Bawer has courageously assembled the information.

Three things stand out. First is the Muslim resort to violence. This ranges from gruesome murders, like the one suffered by Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, to everyday muggings and threats. It is no consolation to learn that the worst violence is practiced by Muslims against other Muslims. This is particularly true for women. After a woman has been raped, she is sometimes killed, as having “brought this fate on herself.” Such cases are rarely prosecuted. Some countries have laws against female genital mutilation, but they are not enforced. Second is the cynical way in which Muslim leaders rationalize exploitation of Europe’s generous welfare provisions, rationalizing such abuse as simply collecting a tax, the jizya, that Infidels are required to pay. Well, one might say, this obligation only incurs on Infidels who reside in the Abode of Islam. Europe is still outside that sphere. It lies in the Abode of Warfare—lands to be conquered. That brings us to the third aspect, the insistence of Muslim intellectuals that Europe must be made to obey their norms, rather than the other way around. There are already disturbing signs of this process of incipient shariaization. Because population ratios are changing, the process may soon proceed beyond the point of no return.

What is to be done? The easy option is to fall back on fatalism: what will be will be. “Old Europe” may be beyond saving. Still, I don’t think that any cultivated person can view the looming dismantling of Western Civilization with any equanimity. So some solutions must be canvassed. Let me first briefly review Bawer’s proposals, as I understand them, and then offer a more radical perspective.

The book argues that Europe has been asleep. By definition it can awaken. The first thing to do is to gather the facts, as Bawer has done, in order to make people aware of what has been happening. European politicians and pundits have shown a shameful record of neglect and rationalization with regard to the changes taking place in their own societies. More honest and balanced discussion must take place. Then, it is argued, we need a reassertion of traditional European values, including defending the free speech even of those with whom we disagree. A liberal solution, in short. But will this work? Europeans have already seen their commitment to tolerance turned against them.

What is the alternative to the liberal approach? Bawer notes that Le Pen, Haider and other far-right politicians have their own antiimmigrant answers. While these far-right parties are likely to make some electoral gains, it doesn’t seem that they can prevail.

Let me offer my own suggestion, a radical solution. Yet it is perhaps worth considering for a moment as a thought experiment. Here it is. Without confronting the demographic juggernaut, other measures can only serve to buy time. As things stand, the Muslims living in Europe will win via the “revenge of the cradle.” Native Europeans are not reproducing themselves, while the newcomers are prolific. To reverse the demographic slide two things must be done. 1) an absolute ban on new Muslim immigration, even for “family reunification.”; 2) vigorous promotion of immigration from friendly areas which have longstanding cultural affinities with Western Europe. This last means drawing extensively on two regions: impoverished East European countries such Romania, Moldova, and Bulgaria; and Latin America, much of it impoverished as well.. Can’t many of those Mexicans who want to come to the US be diverted to Spain, where they speak the language? Once acclimated, they could move on to other European countries, strengthening their demographic balance.

These immigration preferences can be justified on the basis of the need to reinforce Europe’s fundamental civilization, to which Eastern Europeans and Latin Americans essentially belong, while Muslims do not. As such the latter must be made aware that they are guests in the host country, where their continued residence depends on good behavior. This shift will involve some fundamental revision of norms of citizenship, an agonizing reappraisal that must be undertaken in any case. Europe must reaffirm its “leitkultur,” a heritage of principles whereby it lives, and these principles must prevail, not sharia.

A dweller on two continents, Bawer finds himself constantly assessing the differences and similarities between America and Europe. He thinks that Europeans should emulate America in two ways. First, by embarking a more forthright discussion of ethnicity. Secondly, by demonstrating resolve, leading to a more stallwart response to the Islamic incursions. Here I somewhat disagree. We in the United States are not in such good shape either. The colossal folly of Iraq will hamper other efforts that may become necessary. Isn’t it time now to concede that the European public (if not many of its leaders) were right about the unwisdom of invading Iraq? Afghanistan is another matter, and without the distraction of Iraq we might have made that country a model democracy. Of course, as the Hamas victory in Palestine shows, our government only wants democracy implemented when the results come out our way. The failed attempt to undermine the legally constituted Hugo Chávez regime in Venezuela is another instance of our government’s hypocrisy. Amending Henry Ford’s dictum slightly, foreign democrats can have any color they want, as long as it’s red, white, and blue.

America’s Bush has had his own episodes of self-censorship. We are not locked in a battle with “Terror,” some grand metaphysical entity, but with I s l a m i c terror. However vicious they may be, the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka and Basque ETA activists in Spain do not directly impinge on our interests. They pose local, not global threats. Our resources, which are not limitless, must be carefully, relentlessly marshaled to deal decisively with Islamic terrorism and imperialism.

In our own societies freedom of speech must be defended across the board. If the Danish cartoonists and Oriana Fallaci must be defended from reprisals, as they must, so too must the Holocaust-denying David Irving. His ideas are odious and he has abused his training as a historian, but he should not be jailed for his views. Irving’s trial in Austria has been closely followed in the Islamic media. How do we answer Muslims who say that we act when the Jewish ox is being gored, but not to protect theirs? There must be one standard, and that is complete freedom of inquiry and expression.

In short, we must regroup our forces, gearing up for a maximum effort when that has a chance of yielding good results. Invading and occupying Iraq never offered that promise. It has been a monumental waste of resources and personnel. In the light of that failed endeavor we must also stop trying to go it alone. We must forge solid alliances, following the principles of strict realpolitik.

In the current struggle the Europeans probably cannot do much for us, as they may not even be able to save themselves. But the three greatest powers of Eurasia—Russia, China, and India—all have long-standing Muslim problems.

We have (possibly) made a good start in linking up with India, ever seeking to cope with Kashmir. Yet we seem to have dropped the ball with the other two countries. China is dealing with the Muslim problem of the Uighurs in Xinjiang by flooding the province with Han Chinese residents, as I have seen with my own eyes. Europe could do the same by securing East European and Latin American immigrants. But does it have the will to do so?


Monday, March 06, 2006

The Sexuality of Edvard Munch

The big Edvard Munch exhibition currently at New York’s Museum of Modern Art seems to be drawing huge crowds. So it was when I was there, but commendably the Museum does not require advanced booking or a special fee.

Curiously, the exhibition does not include, as far as I could tell, even one of the famous "Scream" pictures, of which five are available (the stolen one has not been recovered). In compensation there is a variation, with a man’s head seen in receding profile, substituting for the frontal, masklike screamer.

In the course of his long life (1863-1944), Munch painted no less than seventy-two self-portraits, possibly a record for a modern artist. The MoMA gathering includes an important group of self-portraits from his later years, serving to flesh out that period, which is otherwise scanted (typically enough). Among these is a pastel identified as a self-portrait in the guise of an androgynous Sphinx with prominent breasts.

With his predilection for the female form, Munch is normally accounted a typical heterosexual artist, afflicted nonetheless with an obsessive fear of femmes fatales that seems excessive even for that early era of the battle of the sexes. However, there are hints of something more. Quite a large hint is a monumental triptych showing twelve or so frontal nude men posing at a Baltic resort. Stemming from 1907-08, it is entitled "Ages of Man." The era was one of enthusiasm for "physical culture," with nudism one of the main components. Still, this preoccupation is extraordinary. In Munch’s work I do not know of any comparable assemblage of female nudes, though of course there are plenty of individual ones.

Munch’s interest in the nude male goes back at least a decade, as seen in the enigmatic drawing "Flower of Pain" of 1898. The most explicit one may be the "ol' swimmin' hole" work of 1904, "Bathing Boys," where the pederastic subtext is hard to escape .The climax of this interest is the great triptych of 1907-08. A few months after finishing it, having experienced a severe suicidal episode, Munch entered the "nerve clinic" of Dr. Daniel Jacobsen in Copenhagen (October 1908). A number of causes probably contributed to his taking this step. His severe alcoholism was one problem, and we know that difficulties in handling one's sexual nature can lead to this condition. But of course there are many reasons for excessive drinking, something of a specialty, I understand, of northern European countries (nowadays, especially Finland.

The exhibition includes portraits of the artist’s intellectual peers, including Henrik Ibsen, Friedrich Nietzsche, August Strindberg, and Harry Count Kessler. All of them registered various aspects of sexual anxiety, though of the quartet only Kessler is known for certain to have been homosexual. In his early years of maturity Munch belonged to the circle of the Polish writer Stanislaw Przybyszewski in Berlin, a group known for its "advanced" ideas about sexuality. In the German capital Munch might have become acquainted with the research of Magnus Hirschfeld, the leading expert on homosexuality.

It is tempting to adopt a kind of zero-sum approach, and to posit that Munch's truncated heterosexuality (if that is the right way to put it) might have been the reverse of the medal of his (putative) repressed homosexuality. The gap left by diminished or compromised homosexuality would be filled by a homosexual component. A number of well-known paintings present adult woman as dangerous, almost vampiric, contrasting with the innocent depiction of girls.

This being said, I am not convinced by the zero-sum argument. Homosexuality does not result from a truncation of heterosexuality, but arises from a positive attraction to others of the same sex.At all events, the femme fatale obsession was widespread among European artists and intellectuals, beginning ca. 1870. In some instances it takes a particularly lurid form, for example, in the prints of Fėlicien Rops, who showed Woman (with a capital W) humiliating men, as the devil's partner. Most of these people were heterosexual. The only exception that comes to mind is Oscar Wilde, author of the play Salomė. (There is a fascinating gallery of this femme-fatale material in Bram Dijkstra's monograph.)So Munch's fascination with the dangerous, "phallic" woman seems to reflect a contagious meme that he acquired from his milieu. That the theme came to have an experiential significance for him (via his stormy liaisons) is also the case.

Still the puzzling evidence of Munch’s nude male paintings remains. Perhaps one day we will learn more about the sexuality of this fascinating artist, who seems to have been a Kinsey 1 or 2 in spirit, if not in practice.

PS: A friend, who resides in Norway, points out an interesting parallel. Gustav Vigeland (1869-1943), who is responsible for a whole park full of nude statuary in Oslo ( "There are both male and female statues,but one gets the impression that Vigeland was more interested in the men--theytend to be more striking, more varied in size, shape, age, build, posture,ranging from the heroic to the comic, as if representative of the life force in all its abundance and diversity, whereas the women tend to blend moretogether, serving principally as images of fertility, at least as much sources of life as participants in it." Norwegians regard Vigeland as being under the influence of Edvard Munch's artistic program.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

The New Republic is sinking

Twenty years ago, the Internet didn’t exist. There was no ready access to countless periodicals. At that time I subscribed to a number of weekly magazines purveying opinions. My favorite was The New Republic, then coming into its most brilliant period under the editorship of a young Englishman transplanted to Harvard, Andrew Sullivan. After he left, I have had occasion to engage in many colloquies, some heated (but in a good way), with Andrew.

I liked the fact that in those days The New Republic took the issues as they came; at no time was it predictably liberal or conservative. The book review section, edited by Leon Wieseltier, never failed to astonish with a steady stream of incisive, sprightly essays—generally superior, I thought, to the ponderous productions featured in the New York Review of Books.

In a management shakeup, Sullivan resigned as editor. Almost single-handedly, he now runs our most distinguished blog (in my view), and may now enjoy more influence than he had in the old days at the helm of the magazine.

Now management at The New Republic has decreed a new turn of the wheel of fortune. Editor Peter Beinart, a liberal hawk, is steeping aside in favor of another boy wonder, Franklin Foer.

Today the magazine is in trouble, having lost, according to one report, some 40% of its subscribers. It is unlikely that a change at the helm can alter its fate, especially as Beinart’s hawkishness has alienated its original core constituency of liberal democrats. I know that some, whose opinions I respect, remain concerned about the fate of The New Republic. I am not. Frankly I am looking forward to the magazine's demise.

I stopped subscribing several years ago. And in Slate Jack Shafer has articulated why I, and doubtless many others, decided to sever the connection:

"It's not Beinart's fault that he was editor during the interval when long-time owner and editor-in-chief Martin Peretz winnowed his three obsessions—Israel, race, and Al Gore—to one: Israel."

Peretz holds that the security interests of Israel are identical with those of the United States. If there is any discrepancy, it is US interests that must yield.

Advocacy of invading Iraq in the interest of protecting Israel goes back at least eight years. At that time the neocons Richard Perle, William Kristol, Douglas Feith and others developed a plan under the auspices of the Project for the New American Century (that is the name, if memory serves). In its original version the scheme called for an invasion by the Israeli army. Why attempt that, though, if a superpower can be induced to do the job?

Once Feith and other neocons got into the Bush administration they began a relentless push for our government to invade Iraq. After 9/11 they swept the field. The original cabal was reinforced by Donald Rumsfeld and especially by the fanatical Dick Cheney, Bush’s evil twin. But the impetus that caused the plan to be formulated in the first place cannot be forgotten. Nor has it been laid aside, as rumblings of another attack, this time on Iran, proliferate. Iran’s growing nuclear capability is mainly a threat to Israel.

Halfway through the disastrous occupation, two of its neocon proponents indulged themselves in a cry of triumph. According to Robert Kagan and William Kristol, "It is also becoming clear that the battle of Iraq has been an important victory [sic] in the broader war in which we are engaged, a war against terror, against weapons proliferation, and f o r a n e w M i d d l e E a s t." It is the last five words (emphasis added) that are the operative ones. This point should be remembered when we hear that the only fault of the neocons is their idealistic but "utopian" pursuit of democracy.

As I have indicated, the key name in the aetiology of the war starts with the letter I. Of course another letter, O (for oil), quickly came into the picture. All the same, the fons et origo, a set of policies catering to the intransigence of the Likud party, stands squarely at the center of the target, accounting for why we went down the road into the cataclysm we now face.

The pundit Pat Buchanan holds many opinions that I find repellent. But he has been absolutely right about this issue. From my modest academic perch I spoke out against the war, and wrote about it. Once Secretary Powell gave his pathetic speech before the United Nations on February 3, 2003, it was crystal clear that the Bush administration, and the cabal that was manipulating it, had no case. But that did not stop them. Needless to say, most of our brave investigative reporters swallowed the rationale whole.

Shafer's comment indicates that it just won't fly any more to dismiss those who make such observations as anti-Semites. First and foremost, our foreign policy must be an A m e r i c a n foreign policy, and not one held in thrall to the interests of a foreign power.