Monthly Archives: January 2009

“Be Seeing You”: R.I.P. Patrick McGoohan (1928-2009)

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“We want information! Information! Information! Who are you? The new #2! Who is #1? You are #6! I am not a number! I’m a free man! Hahahahaha!”

Actor Patrick McGoohan (Danger Man, The Prisoner, Braveheart, and many other films) passed away on January 13. McGoohan was born in Queens, NY but the family left the U.S. shortly after he was born for Ireland and eventually ended up in Sheffield, UK. At sixteen, McGoohan left school and worked as  a truck driver, chicken farmer, and bank clerk prior to landing a position as a stage manage at Sheffield Repertory Theatre. McGoohan filled in for an ill actor, launching his acting career.

Of all McGoohan’s works, The Prisoner has had the most lasting influence on me. I am not old enough to have seen The Prisoner when it premiered in 1968, but I was lucky to catch a rebroadcast of the series on public television in the 1970s when I was nine or ten. I possessed little understanding of the world of espionage, the Cold War, or the counterculture, but the show was incredibly intriguing to me.

For some reason none of my peers (with the exception of a few of my brother’s friends) watched it. When the song “The Prisoner” appeared on Iron Maiden’s “Number of the Beast” album I told my friends the introduction to the song was from an old British t.v. show. “Don’t any of you remember The Prisoner?” None of them did.

Looking back to my childhood, I think what I liked most about the show was its strangeness and emphasis on the cerebral. While most American shows focused on car chases and shoot-outs, the world of “the island” was much slower paced and the confrontations with nemesis “Number One” were always pretty wacky.

Looking forward to today, I can’t help but notice the show, like the writings of Orwell, helped shape my political ideas. Just as Animal Farm provided a glimpse of a dystopian society constructed on the basis of a utopian plan, Scott Thrill (Wired) writes, “The Prisoner was an allegory of the individual, aiming to find peace and freedom in a dystopia masquerading as a utopia.”

Read all of Thrill’s article/obit here.

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“Be seeing you”–McGoohan as #6 in The Prisoner.

Efraim Karsh: What’s Behind Western Condemnation of Israel’s War Against Hamas?

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What’s Behind Western Condemnation of Israel’s War Against Hamas?

Efraim Karsh

  • With a unanimity that has become all too familiar, politicians, the media, NGOs, and church leaders across the globe took their cue to denounce Israel’s legitimate act of self-defense against one of the world’s most extreme terror organizations. This chorus of disapproval is in stark contrast to the utter indifference to far bloodier conflicts that have been going on around the world.
  • Why do citizens in democracies enthusiastically embrace a radical Islamist group that not only seeks the destruction of a fellow democracy but is overtly committed to the substitution of a world-wide Islamic caliphate for the existing international order?
  • Decades of mistreatment of the Palestinians by the Arab states have gone virtually unnoticed. Only when they interact with Israel do the Palestinians win the world’s attention.
  • The fact that international coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict has invariably reflected a degree of intensity and emotional involvement well beyond the normal level to be expected of impartial observers would seem to suggest that it is a manifestation of longstanding prejudice that has been brought out into the open by the conflict.
  • The Palestinians are but the latest lightning rod unleashed against the Jews, their supposed victimization reaffirming the millenarian demonization of the Jews in general, and the medieval blood libel – that Jews delight in the blood of others.

Read it all here.

Immigrants and Immigration Policy, Part I

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[H/t to D.K. aka The Kvetcher]

The Kvetcher has been exploring some interesting and controversial territory regarding immigration. Reading his discussions with the people at the Nativist, paleocon VDARE website is like stepping into some strange yet familiar nexus where the tropes of radical left and extreme right meet.

Here is DK’s original post (Jewish Unease Towards Mass Immigration from Islamic Countries Spreads Left):

For a long-time in the mainstream Jewish community, it seemed only Stephen Steinlight was brave enough to publicly declare it wasn’t in the Jewish community’s interest to support mass immigration from Islamic countries. (In fact, Steinlight went further, questioning the wisdom of accepting mass immigration from Mexico, because he is a fearless and principled man, who treasures his country and his community more than being popular).

Well…it’s over seven years later, and finally the hawkish Left is coming round.

Marty Peretz writes on TNR,

As it happens, jihadism has less deadly manifestations than murder. As the Ku Klux Klan had less deadly manifestations than lynching. This morning I watched a frightening episode in the public life of America. It was a demonstration by, say, 200 Muslim immigrants in Fort Lauderdale against the Israeli air strikes over Gaza. Now, the first amendment protects such demos, and I would not for a moment want to curb them. But I ask each of you to pay attention to the details of what was being shouted. Especially by the young women screaming, “Jews to the ovens.” No jihad in America, huh? Do we want such immigrants in our country? Well, John, do we?

Most Jews on the social Left will continue to denounce our concerns as “fascist” and “racist” and will continue to give space-cadet reasons why we shouldn’t be concerned AT ALL about little inconveniences like terrorism, harassment, and a loss of power from say, an additional ten million religious Muslims immigrating to the U.S.

D.K. posted a follow-up titled “Jews and the Larger Mass Immigration Issues” where he notes:

I would ask the question like this: Is this a good time for mass immigration?

The answer is an unequivocal “no.” We are in a period of massive unemployment. Seeking a greater labor supply at this time is absolutely absurd, and cruel to our working-class countrymen. We already suffer from an acute and increasing labor surplus. And it is probably only going to get worse, perhaps much worse.

There are plenty of other reasons to object to mass immigration. The list is so long…but employment issues alone in today’s devolving economy suffice to warrant something approaching a moratorium on mass immigration, or at least, it presents an opportune time for reevaluation of current policies.

And that is legal immigration. That defense offered for amnesty or amnesty-like policies for illegal immigrants is a mind-blowing chutzpah. Maddeningly, there are Jews and Jewish groups who actually claim on our communal behalf that illegal immigration somehow parallels are own legal immigrant past.

So I posted some comments and questions at The Kvetcher, and, lo and behold, DK devoted a blog post to me. Here are my comments, condensed in some places and somewhat elaborated in others:

The labor economist Isaac Hourwich (Immigration and Labor, 1912) argued close to a century ago that American assumptions regarding immigration and the labor market are not correct i.e. that too many people were chasing too few jobs and this was driving wages down. The solution for critics of immigration was to limit or ban it altogether. However, rather than overcrowding the labor market and driving down wages, Hourwich contends the expansion of the economy far outpaced the pace of immigration. He supports his claims with economic data complied by the federal and various state governments.

The bottom line is immigration flows in open, free, capitalist economies respond to labor demand. As labor demand increases, immigration will increase. As labor demand decreases, immigration will decrease. Increases and decreases in labor demand result from the boom/bust cycles of the broader economy. Stated very simply:

Economy Labor Demand Immigration

Or, as as Hourwich notes:

The supply of immigrant labor is determined by free competition, like any other commodity. It may sometimes exceed the demand and at other times fall short if it; in the long run, however, supply adjusts itself to demand.

Regarding “own legal immigrant past,” the notion of “legal” and “illegal” immigrant is a fairly recent invention and our borders were much more porous in the past than they are today. It was actually much easier (politically and economically) to immigrate to the U.S. in the eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth centuries than the twenty-first. Travel by steamship back then was more dangerous than airplane today, but it was much less expensive.

Another critique is the language used by contemporary Nativist outfits like VDARE is almost identical to that used by Nativists in the eighteenth century, nineteenth century and twentieth century. The claims made back then were as false (Russians, Italians, Poles, etc. do not want to learn English, they are clannish and stick to their “own kind,” they do not want to assimilate, etc.) as they are today.

Given my familiarity with the radical (baroque, faux, rococco, leftover) left, I was also puzzled by one poster (“Jenny”) who claimed:

[T]here has been an alliance formed between the corporate elites and the far left.

I suspect Jenny has not been to any demonstrations over the past say, fifteen or twenty years or read much, if any, far left literature. The far left–anarchists, communists, etc.–are definitely not in alliance with corporate elites. They are against NAFTA just like the paleocons at VDARE. They even use similar (anti-capitalist) rhetoric. Extremists on the left and right both rail against what they call globalism (hard right) or globalization (hard left).

Jenny adds:

I read an article today that stated that even among Mexicans, three out of five aren’t religious any longer. There is a strong movement of radical Marxists in the pro-illegal alien community, and they are indoctrinating them. That’s the reason why there is such a huge antisemitic tendency in the illegal alien community, and no amount of ADL huckstering on their behalf is going to change that.

If you follow the link above Jenny’s arguments and the rhetoric she uses are almost identical to those used against Jews, Italians, Catholics, Russians and others who were part of “new immigration” wave in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These arguments were rehashed from the critiques made of those who arrived as part of the “old immigrantation” wave (Dutch, Germans and Irish) in the eighteenth century.

I recommended DK and Jenny (and readers, if interested) have a read of Isaac Hourwich’s “Immigration and Labor” (link below). It is eye-opening, if depressing, to see how little the arguments have changed.

The idea that immigrants of the past did not flock to communities dominated by their countrymen and countrywomen, that they did not create media in their own languages (newspapers, books, etc.), is simply not supported by the evidence. Take a look at the images of early American cities with storefront signs in Yiddish, Polish, Italian, Russian, etc. (not English) take a look at the names of the newspapers that were popular in immigrant communities, take a look at the languages they were published in.

This process of assimilation has been going on for a long, long, time. Critics of immigration said Jews would not assimilate. They said we were not interested in becoming American, we were only interested in making a “quick profit” and that increasing numbers of us were not even religious, instead informed and guided by foreign ideologies like Marxism, anarchism and communism. Sound familiar?

While not in favor of open borders, I am generally in the pro-immigration camp. I am also in favor of free trade as opposed to protectionism. Nevertheless, D.K.’s overarching concern with radicalism is something that concerns me as well. While worries of Europe turning into Eurabia are often overstated, there has been an alarming increase in political violence and anti-Semitism on the continent.

On a more subjective note, I have long felt that Jews, as the people who coined the term Diaspora and spent so much of our collective existence as outsiders in others’ lands, should be sensitive about the situation of immigrants. Remember, we were strangers in the land of Egypt (Leviticus 19:34):

The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.

One last thing, I know they would probably prefer not to know, but DK’s positions are not very far from Sultan Knish’s

More Info:

AFL-CIO page on Immigrant Workers

Center for Migration Studies NY

Change to Win Coalition on Immigrant Workers’ Rights

Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS)

Immigration and Labor by Isaac Hourwich (1912) via Google Books.

Jewish Labor Committee

New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE)

Ernest Sternberg: A Revivified Corpse, Left-Fascism in the Twenty-First Century

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Ernest’s Sternberg’s review of Bernard-Henri Lévy’s, Left in Dark Times: A Stand Against the New Barbarism (New York: Random House, 2008 ) in Telos (A Revivified Corpse: Left Fascism in the Twenty-First Century) is well worth reading (also check out Fred Siegel’s review in Democratiya here).

The review is a pithy summary of many of the issues that concern me today including the collusion and alliances of the extreme left and extreme right, the development of Islamist totalitarianism, and the increasing frequency of antisemitism cloaked as anti-imperialism. Observing events in his native France since the fall of the Soviet Union and especially after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, Lévy asks, “what happened to the secular, liberal, left?” In answering this question, Sternberg notes two ideas at the core of Lévy’s conception of contemporary neo-progressive thought:

One is the Good (a poorly chosen word, an insult to classical thinking about the good): the idea that here and now our troubled society can be upended to create a shining new and just society. It’s the end for which it’s worth sacrificing a generation to starvation, reeducation camps, and the police state (p. 66).

Perhaps a better term is “the perfect” as in “the perfect is the enemy of the good” or simply, utopianism.

The review continues:

The other is the Evil: that filth and corruption in which we are now trapped. Leading from one to the other is the “boulevard of history.” Driving us along it is that dialectical machine, that curative force, that “political medicalism” (Lévy quoting Foucault) that carries us from our miserable existence into this fabulous future, with such certainty that we need not fret about lives discarded along the way.

How far we have drifted from May ’68, Lévy mourns. It had seemed then that the Left had shorn itself of communism, devoted itself to anti-fascism and anti-racism, and agreed to work for human rights through imperfect liberal-democratic regimes. It is this non-Marxist Left that had Lévy’s allegiance. But after the collapse of communism and all the more so after 9/11, Lévy saw the coalescence of a new ideology, a new degenerate Left. It first seemed to him pointless, just something cobbled together from defunct ideologies. But then he understood that it was a revivified Left, which was once again acceding to totalitarian temptation. The outcome is today’s neoprogressivism.

Sternberg has more substantial critiques of Lévy’s analysis. In particular, his “failure to comprehend mainstream Anglo-American conservatism.” For Lévy:

conservatism brings to mind those martinets who persecuted Dreyfus: those whose highest values were Authority, Order, Nation, State, Tradition, and Social Body (his capitalizations) as against intellectuals, freedom, democracy, parliament, and rights of man (p. 24). Unable to extricate himself from hoary Left-Right dichotomy, even as he reveals its bankruptcy, Lévy claims the parliamentarian Edmund Burke, whose sin was to be a conservative, as one of the origins of the historical path to Nazism (p. 92).

The irony is that Lévy himself has taken a Burkean turn. Lévy identifies the essence of the anti-totalitarian spirit as one that conceives of politics “as a world of indecision, indetermination, which takes into account the complexity of human affairs, the need for deliberation and compromise” (p. 70)…

American conservatives aren’t interested in Burke because he admired the French queen but because he formulated a powerful argument for incremental reform in light of society’s overwhelming complexity, an argument not so far removed from Lévy’s own…

…Most versions of American conservative thought look for inspiration and tradition not to an ancien régime, but to the American revolution, the Founding Fathers, the constitution, Lincoln’s reforms, and incremental development of America as the original liberal, anti-absolutist state.

Intellectual historian George Nash covers this in The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America: Since 1945. Nash argues that the ideology of American conservatism is difficult to pin down. For European conservatives, things were (are?) much easier. Generally speaking, European conservatives were against radical political and social change—better known as revolution—and they supported a national church. In the United States, a country founded on revolution, such a political idea would be regarded as anti-American and the establishment of a state Church–whether Protestant or Catholic–also ran counter to American political culture.

A more serious deficiency is Lévy:

lacks an explanation for the rise of neoprogressive barbarism. Despite much intellectual name-dropping, the book is short on theory. Yet, his initial outline of totalitarian articles of faith gives a hint. The new totalitarians must envision a Good as well as an Evil, only Lévy is silent on what their Good might be.

Sternberg will discuss “Left Fascism” at the 2009 Telos Conference in NYC (Jan 17). Details below:

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From the conference website:

The conference topic will be New Administration: War, Class and Critical Theory, which will consider both the new administration in Washington and political shifts abroad, viewed in light of Telos‘s long-standing concern with “administered society,” expansive bureaucracies, and the role of the “new class.”

Conference Schedule

Saturday, January 17

9:00 Greetings: Mary Piccone, Introduction: Russell Berman

New Class and Capitalism:
Beyond Welfare and State and Neo-Liberalism

Chair: David Pan

9:15 Jim Kulk: “Political Divisions and the Financial Crisis”

10:00 John Milbank: “Revived Red Toryism: The New Political Paradox”

10:45 Break

11:00 Neil Turnbull: “Federal Populism and its Failure as Regionalism”

11:45 Michael Marder: “In the Name of the Law: Schmitt and the Metonymic Abuses of Legitimacy”

12:30 Lunch

Old Wars, New Wars

Chair: Tim Luke

1:30 Joseph Bendersky: “Horkheimer, ‘Militant Democracy,’ and War”

2:15 David Pan: “World Order and the Decline of U.S. Power: Soft or Hard Landing?”

3:00 Break

3:15 Adrian Pabst: “The Berlin Doctrine: Rethinking the Euro-Atlantic Community”

4:00 Ernie Sternberg: “Left Fascism”

4:45 Closing Discussion

Rabbis Bachman and Lerner on the Gaza Conflict

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Rabbi Michael Lerner is a clown and does not need any more publicity, but did you read his article, “It Breaks My Heart to See Israel’s Stupidity” a little over a week ago? Here is a choice bit:

Israel’s attempt to wipe out Hamas is understandable, but stupid…

Killing 500 Palestinians and wounding 2,000 others (at the time of writing) is disproportionate. Hamas can harass, but it cannot pose any threat to the existence of Israel. And just as Hamas’s indiscriminate bombing of population centres is a crime against humanity, so is Israel’s killing of civilians (at least 130 so far in Gaza, not to mention the thousands in the years of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza).

Lerner received a lot of heat for that piece. Some of the more thoughtful critiques were provided by Eric Lee (Labourstart) and Ami Isseroff (ZioNation).

But you may have missed these posts by Rabbi Andy Bachman of Congregation Beth Elohim in Brooklyn (and Brooklyn Jews). Rabbi Bachman was in Israel when the Gaza assault started. Like Lerner, he would probably describe his politics as progressive, but he is as far away from Lerner as you can get regarding his interpretations of this recent conflict.

Rabbi Bachman is not responding to Lerner directly in any of these posts but they really spoke to me. This post was, coincidentally, published the same day as Lerner’s op-ed (January 5):

As Israel’s incursion into the Gaza Strip moves well into its second week, most of us watch from the sidelines or a distance with a heavy, heavy heart over the loss of innocent life. No one deserves to die who has not brought death on to him or herself, least of all an innocent child.

So to be fundamentally clear: even those of us who support Israel’s efforts to break Hamas and seriously damage its ability to torment Israeli towns with terror mourn loss of every innocent life and grieve with those families. In addition, our hearts go out to those terrified by bombs dropping in homes, on streets, in mosques.

But Israel’s war, I believe, is a just war.

When Israel pulled out of Gaza, tearing deeply at the fabric of its own society to uproot families there (a disengagement I strongly favored and still do) the entire world was able to see if it chose to look that Israel was willing to risk the unity of the nation to take fundamental steps toward peace. The Hamas leadership took the exact opposite steps, took no risk, brutally murdered its own in waging violent and bloody civil war with the Palestinian Authority, and continued on its self-destructive path of trying to wage existential war against Israel. Never has it seriously addressed Israel’s justified existence; never has it accepted Israel’s RIGHT to exist; and never has it seriously sought to make peace. Rather, it has embarked on a hundred years plan, to wear down the psyche of the Israeli population with terror, kidnapping, and the selling of a religio-fundamentalist viewpoint that completely de-legitimizes any Jewish claim to the land.

It’s truly depressing.

You have leaders who deny that a Temple ever stood in Jerusalem–archaeological and historical evidence to the contrary; you have posters at rallies all over Europe, the US and the Arab world saying, “Palestine from the River to the Sea,” the implication being, of course, that in the final analysis, Israel will be an historical footnote, soon to be no more.

[read it all here]

I also recommend reading “Adapt and Live” and “Just the Nasty Business“.

Essentialism is Not Unique to the West

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[H/t Elder of Ziyon]

Essentialism views races, social classes or cultures as possessing a specific set of characteristics or properties. Back in my grad school days many of my colleagues associated essentialist ideologies with the Western world. They tied essentialism with capitalism, colonization and imperialism. Very few were able to grasp the idea that non-Western peoples also hold essentialist views. Here is a typical statement from the Essentialism Page (Emory University):

In a specifically postcolonial context, we find essentialism in the reduction of the indigenous people to an “essential” idea of what it means to be African/Indian/Arabic, thus simplifying the task of colonization.

How about when “the colonized” articulates a similar perspective? Abdulkhaleq Abdullah, a professor of political science at UAE University, writes:

The equation of victory and defeat between the Arabs and the Zionist state has always been and will remain zero equation. This means that when Israel is defeated, Arabs have the right to celebrate victory.

Hatred of Israel can be found in the genes of all Arabs. Although it is hereditary, its intensity varies from time to time. [emphasis mine]

Essentialism, it appears, is hardly unique to the West. As Elder of Ziyon reminds readers:

This is not some crazy member of the “Arab street”. This is someone who has a respected job as an intellectual, who is saying that anything that is bad for Israel is, by definition, good for the Arabs. The Arab world, and a large number of its supporters, look at the Middle East as a zero-sum game where when one side wins, the other loses.

History shows that this is not an isolated opinion; in fact, it is still mainstream Arab opinion. Even as pragmatic and moderate a leader as Jordan’s King Abdullah reveals that he still looks at the conflict the same way, that what is good for Israel is bad for the Arab world, although Abdullah is much more nuanced.

Westerners must understand this mindset. We grow up with the idea ingrained in us that the best solutions to problems are “win-win”, where each side can gain or at least compromise in ways where their losses are minimized. This is so obvious to most Westerners that we cannot conceive of a mentality that is exactly the opposite – that if I win, you must lose, and vice versa.