Monday, January 31, 2011

Fastmoving events in Egypt

The current unrest in Egypt calls for an analysis with a longer perspective. After 1945 the British sought to maintain their hegemony in the Arab world. In the 1950s, however, this system sustained a major setback when the corrupt King Farouk was deposed in Egypt, eventually being replaced by the charismatic Gamal Abdel Nasser. For a time, Nasser maintained a union, more in name than in fact, with Syria (1958-61). The two states became the standard bearers of Arab Socialism, which in those days enjoyed the same sort of insurgent popularity that Islamism does today.
Having taken over Britain’s imperial role, the US sought to organize a counterbloc centered on Baghdad, where the monarchy was upheld by a strongman, Nuri as-Said. On July 14, 1958, inspired by Nasser, officers known as "The Four Colonials" overthrew the Hsshemite regime and proclaimed a republic. The Baghdad Pact ceased to function. The US interest in the Arab world was then perforce limited to backward feudal states, headed by Saudi Arabia.

Since 1958, however, our government has sought by various means to restore the kind of hegemony to which it aspired before the “loss” of Egypt and Iraq. From a realpolitik point of view this restorationist strategy has obtained some successes. Disappointed with the Soviet connection, Sadat's Egypt came over to our side. After enormous expenditures of blood and money, Iraq is in our corner--sort of. But now Egypt, a much bigger prize, is slipping away. Israel is shrouded in gloom and anxiety.

The whole house of cards is collapsing, and no amount of hypocritical commentary by Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama can conceal this fundamental realignment. The US dream of controlling the Arab world, so dear to the neocons, is over.

CONCLUDING (DEFINITELY UNSCIENTIFIC) POSTSCRIPT. For almost 30 years Mubarak's Egypt has been receiving 1.5 billion dollars in annual US "aid." What does that amount to? Answer: a sustained commitment to national prostitution. And the US government is the john. Israel, of course, gets even more $$. What is its status? Answer: dominatrix.

POSTSCRIPT NO. 2. Particularly absurd is the notion, promoted by that appalling media ghoul Charles Krauthammer, that the events in Egypt justify the bloody interventions of George W. Bush. Absurdly, James Woolsey has claimed that the people in Cairo are all neocons. What planet are these people living on?


Saturday, January 29, 2011


A friend of mine has about 150 cats. He doesn't actually know how man). My friend is resigned to living in the basement of his large house in Boston, with the cats occupying the upper two floors. He makes no effort to neuter the animals, so that they continue to proliferate. At one time, helped by friends, he was careful about acquiring and disposing of the cat litter. Of late, though, as he has become somewhat more vague mentally, he has neglected this responsibility. I have not visited him for some time, but I can imagine that the sanitary conditions are appalling.

My friend is not alone. A current series on cable TV deals with animal hoarding. It is usually of dogs and cats, but one man had 150 or more rats. It is postulated that these individuals have had some traumatic occurrence in their relations with other human beings, and so seek consolation with animals. In some cases, their spouses have fled, or are planning to do so. Often the animal hoarders are overweight, suggesting that they seek to compensate for their lack of love in other ways.

Animal hoarding is a subspecies of hoarding in general. The Collier Brothers, who died in East Haarlem a good many years ago, oppressed by their weight of paper (mainly books and newspapers), are a famous example.

Naturally, with my 14,000 books the thought has occurred to me that I might suffer from this malady. However, over the last three years I got rid of some 6,000 items and I keep getting rid of more. In addition, the books are all neatly shelved, and I keep the apartment clean (at least by bachelor standards). So I do not seem to fit the fill.

In fact, the urge to collect is virtually a human universal. And this passion has proved socially useful. Many important private art collections have made their way to museums, where we all can enjoy them.

Still, there seem to be fuzzy edges. What about collecting human beings? Not too many examples spring to mind, though the collectives of the 1970s might be an example. How about nursing homes, though? This is a type of collecting that one cannot easily dispense with. After all, in this society at least, one cannot simply call up animal control to deal with the problem.

Well, I fervently hope that it won't come time for me to be "collected" in this way.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Political personalizing

In my view some people, otherwise quite intelligent, watch altogether too much television. In particular, they spend a lot of time in admiring contemplation of the careers and utterances of such TV commentators as Keith Olbermann (well, not any more now, as that firebrand has been fired from MSNBC), Rachel Maddow, and John Stewart. By contrast, they excoriate Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and Bill O’Reilly. I am not sure that any of these six people matter very much.

However, the fixation on them reveals a curious obsession among liberals with regard to personalities, as seen (to take the matter up a notch or two) in ratings of the presidents. Ronald Reagan, bad; Bill Clinton, good. George W. Bush, bad; Barack Obama, good.

Surely this binary thinking ("root, root for the home team") is simplistic, for politics involves much more than getting the right people before the airwaves and in political office. The grubby work of politics encompasses many things: the influence of lobbyists and interest groups; the policies of international corporations; unexpected events such as 9/1. Still, we can all appreciate the interest in colorful individuals, especially those who have, or are thought to have, an important effect our lives.

What is striking about this tendency to personalize is that it plays a major role in a world view that, outwardly at least, is nonelitist and favors process over against contingency. I refer to the Whig concept of history, which views that great narrative as essentially the story of progress, however obstructed it may be from time to time. Today this view survives mostly among people who term themselves, not inaptly, “progressives.” Some are liberals who believe in advance through a gradual process of beneficial change. They differ from the radicals, otherwise their fellow progressives, in that the latter envision that at some points a more forceful, even violent intervention may be required.

Looking at the pattern in its largest terms, the Whig view is that human progress is inevitable. So it has been and so it must be in the future. However, some benighted individuals seek to hold progress back; these are the “reactionaries.” Unfortunately, it seems, this band of would-be wreckers is particularly numerous of late, embracing such figures as Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, John Boehner, Newt Gingrich, and of course all the assorted Tea Party folks. There are also the egregious radio personalities of Rush Limbaugh. Mark Levin, and Michael Savage, as well as the television pundits mentioned above, Beck, Hannity, and O’Reilly.

In the progressive view, none of these villains is particularly smart, though they enjoy a great deal of influence because their conservative audience is even dumber.

Of course many conservatives are not particularly intelligent. To view all of them in this way, though, represents a misunderstanding that has, over the years, brought many disappointments to the progressives. First, it is not at all self-evident that the arrow of time points in only one direction--towards the liberal-left nirvana. In their infinite self-assurance progressives exempt themselves from any study of conservative thought.

All that is necessary, in this view is to get rid of all the Limbaughs and Becks, the Palins and Gingrichs--get rid of them once and for all.

However, to achieve progressive ends, the ones who must be disposed of are an entirely different crew, consisting of such thinkers as Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, Michael Oakeshott, and Milton Friedman. These giants cannot be easily disposed of, because they live on through their books.


Sunday, January 23, 2011

The left in the wilderness

Admittedly I haven’t been following this issue very closely, but at his site Freddy deBoer has been pounding away at the relative dearth of left-leaning bloggers. To be sure, there are plenty of liberal sites, such as the Huffington Post, Salon, and Slate, but these are not what deBoer is seeking.

This absence is part of the general occultation of the left. One could invoke Schadenfreude, and say, like the comic strip character in days of yore: “they brought it on themselves." But actually this is a serious loss. It is as if one looked for the moon on successive nights and found that it was just not there. (Of course, some leftists are “loony,” but this is not what I mean.)

In the run up to Bush’s deplorable invasion and occupation of Iraq, I attended as many protest rallies as I could, noticing that most of the participants were old folks like myself. Where were the young people.

The current leftist cause in NYC seems to be to prevent Walmart from establishing stores in Gotham City. We already have K-Mart, Target, and Ikea--so how would this ban make a difference? Moreover, the ban won’t change Walmart’s bottom line much.
It is a purely symbolic issue, and most people outside the ranks of the protesters can see that.

The result, making the left look silly, is the opposite of the one intended. But that effect has never deterred ideologues of all stripes.


Saturday, January 22, 2011


This piece addresses a debate that has been simmering for some time among the GLBT intelligentsia. Tentatively, one can label the exponents of the opposing positions the Integrationists and and the Resisters.

The Integrationists (sometimes termed Assimilationists) hold that working within the system has been effective--it is the right way to proceed. In 2003 the US Supreme Court got rid of the remaining sodomy laws. And at the end of 2009 the Congress voted to end DADT, preparing the way for full and open participation by gay and lesbian service personnel in the nation’s military. And the acceptance of same-sex marriage throughout the land is only a question of time. In the light of these achievements, the gay movement, which started in this country only sixty years ago, is nearing the end of its historic mission. It will soon be time to disband it.

The Resisters (sometimes termed the Radicals) strongly disagree, pointing out that the above achievements are scarcely the fruits of a simple policy of “going along to get ahead.” Plausibly enough, they hold that power never retreats voluntarily, but only responds to well organized pressure. Social prejudice against GLBT people is still strong in some quarters, particularly some religious denominations. The tradition of resistance needs to be maintained because there is no certainty that present advances will continue. In fact complacency may endanger what has already been accomplished.

There is no doubt that some of the thrill of the outlaw status has gone, now that we are officially “legal.” However appealing thrill-seeking may seem, it is not a good reason for seeking social change. That search has its own rationale. Moreover, not everything is copacetic even today, witness the bullying that openly gay students must endure in the high schools.

Some thinkers in the Resister camp hold that our scope must be enlarged to include trans people. Under present circumstances, that is a formidable assignment. But the assignment reflects the sense that we must keep moving forward, and not just rest on our laurels.

There is also the matter of documenting and preserving gay culture. As the current controversy regarding the exhibition of gay art entitled “Hide/Seek” in Washington shows, it is not easy to mainstream the distinctive achievement of our people in the aesthetic sphere. For their part, some important writers, whose personal lives are known reflect a same-sex orientation, shun the label of “gay literature.” They fear that to embrace this concept would be “ghettoizing.” As this example shows, the work that needs to be done is not just with hostile straights, but must also be directed to our own community. At all events, the issue of gay culture must be left to another essay. Suffice it to say here that I do not think that this important phenomenon can be easily expunged. Nor should it be.

There are both political and cultural dimensions. There are also contributions in the sphere of what might be termed social practice. Among these is the gay-male tradition of sexual pluralism that threatens to be overwhelmed by the brouhaha about gay marriage.

Some historical perspective may be helpful. A hundred years ago, Israel Zangwill, Theodore Roosevelt and others advocated the principle of the melting pot. That is to say, assimilation. All the ethnic groups that came to the US were encouraged to discard their own traditions in favor of Americanization. And many of the immigrants headed this advice. Parents discouraged their people from learning the language of their forebears; English only was the rule. Even African Americans, who faced the multiple restrictions of the color line, were encouraged to adopt, as much as possible, the norms of mainstream Caucasian society. The early Civil Rights movement, it should be remembered, favored integration, not separatism.

Despite the continuing injustice towards African Americans, it was clear that by 1960 or so assimilation had achieved some victories. While some prejudice lingered, Catholics and Jews were no longer simply on the outside looking it. At the same time it became clear that a counter-trend was emerging that emphasized group distinctiveness. The sociologist Stephen Murray has aptly termed this process “deassimilation.” It has been with us ever since.

Today we witness a kind of dialectic between assimilation and deassimilation. As far as one can tell, victory is not in the cards for either side.

It is perhaps unfortunate that polemicists in the gay Integrationists have turned “assimilationist” into an epithet. Yet there is a real sting in the allegation. And the possibility of a retreat to the imperative of “conformity”--1950s style--seems almost too horrible to contemplate. I know about those horrors because I was there.

In the larger society there are other considerations that tend strongly to tell against Integrationism. Our government is conducting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan--wars that never should have have been started. In the name of “national security” the federal government is making all sorts of inroads in the sphere of personal liberty.

A friend points out that there are also considerations of social justice, which involve a serious tackling of the issues of poverty and homelessness that confront us every day. I confess that I am somewhat nervous about the expression “social justice,” because it seems to incorporate a case for massive governmental intervention. It may be that if the social programs that begun under Lyndon Johnson’s administration had been more carefully tailored and monitored to achieve results among the beneficiaries, then that approach would not have fallen into disrepute. But that is what has happened. Moreover, the economic profligacy of the last few years is going to require a lot of belt tightening. But there is no reason that one cannot encourage action among individuals and groups about the plight of those who have been essentially abandoned by society.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Libertarians: are they back from the dead?

One of the main concerns of the Cato Institute, and a number of other branches of the Libertarian Movement, over the last few years has been to reduce the role of government regulation. With the financial crisis two years ago, this policy seemed to have come a cropper. Not necessarily, though, for today the President has said that he is reviewing the huge corpus of government regulations to see what might be dropped. Well, I am not sure that this is possible--at least not without hundreds of thousands of researchers working for forty years or more--such is the vastness of this behemoth. It is also not certain that Obama really means it--any more than Sec'y Gates really means to reduce appropriations for the military.

The fact that such a thing can be discussed, though, shows that the resurgence of governmental regulation is not inevitable--though we are probably stuck with the huge number of items we already have.

There is also renewed attention to Ron Paul and his son Rand. To be sure, they are often seen through the lenses of the Tea Party. Still that very comparison may be useful to Libertarians, who can assume the mantle of a sane alternative.

UPDATE (January 21, 2011)

Yesterday's edition of the Daily Dish contains Andrew Sullivan's useful summary of some pertinent remarks by Tim Lee ( I reproduce these comments in part:


Tim Lee says that despite their complaints, libertarians are on an impressive winning streak over the last several decades. I think he's dead-on:

"Income tax rates are way down. Numerous industries have been deregulated. Most price controls have been abandoned. Competitive labor markets have steadily displaced top-down collective bargaining. Trade has been steadily liberalized. Simultaneously, the intellectual climate has shifted to be dramatically more favorable to libertarian insights. Wage and price controls were a standard tool of economic policymaking in the 1970s. No one seriously advocates bringing them back today. The top income tax bracket in the 1950s was north of 90 percent. Today, the debate is whether the top rate will be 35 percent or 39 percent."

[Lee] goes on to note that "what’s happened is that liberalism in general has internalized key libertarian critiques of earlier iterations of liberal thought, with the result that a guy with a largely Friedmanite policy agenda can plausibly call himself a liberal. And actually, this shouldn’t surprise us at all, because Friedman called himself a liberal too." The fact that Brink Lindsey and Will Wilkinson are no longer afforded the platform of the Cato Institute doesn't mean their ideas won't win out in the end.

The truth is: the Thatcher-Reagan revolution endured because their critiques of welfare-liberalism and foreign policy drift had real cogency. But the flipside is that to recreate the passion of the 1970s today is to fail to acknowledge one's own successes. It is to see libertarian ideas as an ideology, not a useful way to critique excessive and counterproductive government intervention, when appropriate depending on the circumstances. Again, Reagan did not say "government is the problem," he said, "In our present crisis, government is the problem." The present crisis of 2010 is not the present crisis of 1981. And the failure of the conservative imagination in understanding this is one of the right's deepest current problems.

[END of Sullivan excerpt.]


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

"This just in"

Further study of the case of the Arizona shooter known as Jared Lee Loughner reveals that his real name is Jelal al-Lakhman. He was acting in accord with his Islamist beliefs.

Learning of this fact, many liberal and left commentators have changed their point of view. The shooter acted alone and not in connection with any particular ideology.

The above is a satire, of course. But is does point up the way that the politically correct Excuse Machine springs into action whenever any jihadist outrage occurs. But in cases like this, these commentators are immediately primed to blame Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, and tutti quanti on the right.

I have no enthusiasm for Palin and Beck; I wish that they would just go away. But it seems like partisan opportunism to blame them for the actions of this confused, demented individual, Jared Lee Loughner.


Monday, January 10, 2011

"Palestinian Queers"

There are several valid reasons for questioning the policies of the state of Israel. However, the status of gay men and lesbians in the Jewish state is not one of them. To be sure, some rabbis fulminate against us, but so do Christian ministers in this country.

Very different is the situation in the Palestinian territories, where gay men in particular are regularly harassed, tortured, and even killed. Some flee to Israel itself, where they live clandestinely.

A hopeful sign, it would seem, is the formation three years ago in Jerusalem, of Al-Qaws, the Palestinian Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Trans and Queer (LGBTQ) community project of the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance (JOH). The group describes itself as the first-ever official Palestinian LGBTQ organization.

Unmentioned is the fact that this group had to be based in Israeli-controlled Jerusalem, instead of the Palestinian territories themselves.

Now, I have learned, a off-shoot of Al-Qaws, billed as Palestinian Queers, is beginning a transcontinental US tour in February. Will the speakers expose the terrible situation of gay men in the Palestinian territories? Given the leftist auspices of the group's tour, I would doubt it.

The choice of the word “queer” is also significant. While Queer Theory has gained some foothold in academia, the q-word is generally avoided when it comes to serious social issues. We do not speak of “queer marriage” or “queers in the military.”

Why then this off-putting nomenclature? The answer is that it may reflect a view dominant among some “progressive” intellectuals, who hold that the concept of homosexuality is alien to the Middle East. It was introduced there by meddling imperialists, currently represented by the mythical “Gay International.’ If only the imperialists had abstained from this particular form of interference, everything would be just dandy with same-sexers in the Middle East. Alas, this claim is simply a fairy tale.


Sunday, January 02, 2011

Demise of gay bookstores

In 1968 I moved to Manhattan's Morningside Heights ("ColumbiaLand"), where I still live. This neighborhood is the northern extension of the Upper West Side, reputedly one of the most liberal areas in the country. Yet, when, back in 68, I checked a local bookstore for volumes on homosexuality, I found little, most of it junk written by homophobic shrinks.

There was a remedy. A year before, Craig Rodwell had opened his Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookstore in Greenwich Village. In earlier decades there had been a class of sleazy bookstores selling semicontraband items, sometimes brought out from under the counter, but nothing like Oscar Wilde, with its well-stocked shelves and engaging proprietor.

Alas, Craig died several years ago, after having sold the store. The store itself closed last year. For a while, it was owned by the more prosperous DC bookstore, Lambda Rising, which tried valiantly to maintain Rodwell's business, the first gay bookstore in the history of the world. But the effort at historic preservation failed. In fact Lambda Rising itself closed last year.

So have most others. Glad Day struggles on in Boston, helped by subsidies from the owner, who benefits from a legacy. Some gay bookstores seem to survive in Canada and Europe--for how long it is hard to say.

At first sight it seems that the problem is competition by the big chains, Barnes and Noble; and Borders in particular, which now do have gay sections and are more convenient, sometimes with better prices. Big fish eat little fish. Bu then they are eaten in turn. Amazon, where I must admit I am a devoted customer, devours all. The flagship Barnes and Noble store near Lincoln Center is now a melancholy ruin, soon to close.

As for the gay stores, maybe (as Deacon Maccubbin of Lambda Rising suggests) they have served their purpose. From 1967 to the early years of the twenty-first century they were needed. Not any more it seems.

I confess that I am addicted to books. We bibliophiles seem to be a decreasing tribe, but at least we are still around.