Archive for July, 2014
27 Jul 2014

The Arab Problem

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Arabs

David Gutmann thinks he has figured out the Arabs’ real problem, why they are continually being moved to murderous rage.

I do not agree with many hawks that Islam by itself is the prime mover of Arab violence. When I consider the obsessions, the language and the actions of the extremists, it becomes evident that, perhaps even more than religion, overlooked aspects of national character contribute to the fevers of jihad. As a Jew who owns a Koran (Oh Imams, is this permitted?) it appears to me that the more lurid stanzas of that generally inflammatory text are being used, by Islamic extremists, to rationalize their fury over perceived insults that have nothing to do with Islam per se.

That fury is not a product of the Koran. Rather, it has to do with a prior, psychological cause: the vulnerabilities of Arab national character, which is centered on the maintenance of honor and the avoidance of shame. Some readers will probably accuse me of psychobabbling. Note, however, that some very smart observers—the Israeli anthropologist Rafael Patai, for instance—have already documented the Arab phobia against the experience of shame.

That sensitivity is now at fever pitch. The Arab world is suffering a crisis of humiliation. Their armies are routed not only by Americans, but also by tiny, Jewish Israel; and as Arthur Koestler once remarked, the Arab world has not, in the last 500 years or so, produced much besides rugs, dirty postcards, elaborations on the belly-dance esthetic (and, of course, some innovative terrorist practices). They have no science to speak of, no art, hardly any industry save oil, very little literature, and portentous music which consists largely of lugubrious songs celebrating the slaughter of Jews.

Now that the Arabs have acquired national consciousness, and they compare their societies to other nations, these deficiencies become painfully evident, particularly to the upper-class Arab kids who attend foreign universities. There they learn about the accomplishments of Christians, Jews, (Freud, Einstein, for starters) and women. And yet, with the exception of Edward Said, there is scarcely a contemporary Arab name in the bunch. No wonder, then, that major recruitment to al-Qaeda’s ranks takes place among Arab university students. And no wonder that suicide bombing becomes their tactic of choice: it is a last-ditch, desperate way of asserting at least one scrap of superiority—a spiritual superiority—over the materialistic, life-hugging, and ergo shameful West.

But this tactic is not, I suggest, a product of Islam. Rather, it is a product of the bruised Arab psyche. Remember that the Japanese also turned to suicide tactics in WWII to evade the humiliation of defeat. Though their religion was Shinto rather than Muslim, they too constituted a paradigm shame/honor culture, and defeat brought about, as with the Arabs, a furiously suicidal/homicidal response. After their armies had been defeated, their fleets sunk, their cities set aflame, and their home islands invaded, they launched the kamikaze bomber offensive, thereby committing a hi-tech form of hara-kiri, their usual remedy against intolerable shame. It is in this way that the modern Arab world resembles the Japan of World War II. In both cases it is not religions but psychic wounds, the wounds inflicted by defeat and evident inferiority, that inspire suicide bombers.

It is often asserted that the changes set in train by modernization are particularly toxic to the Arabs. No doubt this is true. But if we are going to be therapeutic, our diagnoses need to be more specific; we need to identify the particular pathogens that are released by modernization. Besides sharpening their sense of inferiority relative to the West, modernization threatens to bring about the liberation of women (as in Afghanistan and Iraq). I say “threatens,” because the self-esteem of Arab males is in large part predicated on the inferior position of their women. The Arab nations have for the most part lost their slaves and dhimmis, the subject peoples onto whose persons the stigmata of shame could be downloaded. But anyone who has spent time among them knows that Arab males have not lost their psychological need for social and sexual inferiors. In the absence of slaves and captive peoples, Arab women are elected for the special role of the inferior who, by definition, lacks honor. Arab men eradicate shame and bolster their shaky self-esteem by imposing the shameful qualities of the dhimmi, submission and passivity, upon women. Trailing a humbled woman behind them, Arab men can walk the walk of the true macho man.

Hence the relative lack of material achievement by Arabs: the Arab world has stunted the female half of its brain pool, while the men acquire instant self-esteem not by real accomplishment, but by the mere fact of being men, rather than women. No wonder, then, that the Arab nations feel irrationally threatened by the very existence of Israel. Like America, the Jews have brought the reality of the liberated woman into the very heart of the Middle East, into dar al-Islam itself. Big Satan and Little Satan: the champions of Muslim women.

Read the whole thing.

27 Jul 2014

Shakespearean Insults

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ShakespeareInsults

26 Jul 2014

Mary Poppins Minimum Wage Wars

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Kristin Bell (admittedy amusingly) propagandizes for raising the minimum wage as Mary Poppins.

Mary Poppins Quits with Kristen Bell from Funny Or Die

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Frederic Bastiat being dead, ReasonTV had to do the rebuttal:

Hat tip to Bulldog.

26 Jul 2014

1940 Pittsburgh

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StairwayPittsburgh
January 1940. “Long stairway in mill district of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.” Medium-format nitrate negative by Jack Delano for the FSA

From Shorpy via Madame Scherzo.

26 Jul 2014

American Culture

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Eric Fischl, The Old Man’s Boat and the Old Man’s Dog, 1982. –Our time’s version of The Raft of the Medusa.

Fred Reed is not impressed with what egalitarian progressive modernism has wrought.

The bleakness of American culture leads one to despair. Subtract technology and nothing is left. Music? Classical composition is dead. The symphony orchestras hold on by their teeth. Opera is unheard and almost unheard of. Book sales drop, and those that sell are mostly trash. Poetry is dead, Shakespeare a comic shorthand for ridiculous irrelevant pedantry.

Talented painters abound, but the nation has no interest in them. Sculpture means curious blobs and shapes said to be art and chosen by suburban arts committees. Theater? How many people have seen a play recently other than a high-school production?

In all the things that once marked civilization, the United States has become a desert, a waste of self-satisfied, pampered, arrogantly ignorant sidewalk peasants. This is curious, since anything the cultivated might want awaits on the web. One may think of Amazon as an automated fifth-century monastery, saving things of worth for an awakening centuries hence.

Read the whole thing.

Hat tip to Vanderleun.

25 Jul 2014

Yadome

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ArrowZen

Yadome no jutsu, the Japanese art of cutting or blocking a flying arrow.

25 Jul 2014

Offended Greeks

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YiaYia

One of Andrew Sullivan’s readers got his knickers in a twist over the above Athenos feta cheese advertisement.

I received my August Bon Appetit magazine and as usual, eagerly sat down to read it as soon as it was delivered. I was dumbfounded when I came across this advertisement. To me, it seems like an overt case of ethnic stereotyping. I can understand the use of a traditional “yiayia” figure to advertise Greek food products, but to also have her include arranged marriage and exorcism on her to-do list seems outrageous. And oh yes, there are others ads in a similar vein – apparently in one, the yiayia calls her granddaughter a “prostitute.”

When I went to Athenos website and Facebook page, I am clearly not the only person who is offended by these ads. Athenos’ explanation (and boilerplate response to Facebook posts) is that they “didn’t intend to offend anyone” and were trying for a lighthearted approach, using a character “set in the old ways.” Apparently that means the traditional yiayia is a disapproving grump, putting her seal of approval only on the Athenos food items. As one of the Facebook commenters (with a Greek surname) said: “The only thing my yiayia would force anyone to do is eat a big plate of food.” I don’t know what is more offensive to me – the ad campaign, or Athenos’ dismissive “we didn’t mean to be offensive” responses.

In the culture that reads Bon Appetit magazine, the culture of the progressive and aspirative crowd, which is determined even to maximize its enjoyment of its carefully calorically-and-nutritionally-calculated diet, transgressive humor aimed at traditional religion or at Republicans is worthy of federally subsidized art exhibitions, but… try indulging in some affectionate humorous ethnic stereotyping, and that sense of humor vanishes and you are dealing with the Grand Inquisitor.

25 Jul 2014

The Current Tsar

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Putin1

Ben Judah, in Newsweek, has an intriguing profile describing the private life, work habits, and outlook of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The President behaves as though he is made of bronze, as if he shines. He seems to know that they will flinch when meeting his eye. There is a silence around him. The voices of grown men change when they speak to him. They make their voices as low as possible. Their faces become solemn, almost stiffened. They look down: worried, ­nervous, alert.

“He doesn’t talk,” the interpreter says. “He feels no need to smile. He doesn’t want to go for a walk. He doesn’t want to drink… At anyone time there are 10 people around him… You cannot get more than 3m close to him because the space is guarded so carefully. He is endlessly surrounded by whispering aides, cameramen, bodyguards.

“The politicians whisper when he is in the room. They stay very attentive. There is next to nobody close enough to joke with him. When he enters a room the sound level drops. There was a time when I spoke loudly – ‘ladies and gentlemen of the delegation we must move to the next room for the signature’ – and a minister grabbed my hand. ‘Shut up,’ he hissed. ‘He is here.’”

The President has no time to think. He goes from gold room, to gold room, in an endless sequence of ceremonial fanfare, with the lightest ballast of political content. The photoshoot. The reception. The formalities that enthrall those new to the summit of power, but irritate those long enchained to it. He thinks very little on his feet: the speeches are all pre-written, the positions all pre-conceived, the negotiations mostly commercial in nature.

The ministers have arrived with him. There are very few close enough to address him directly, fewer still able to joke in his presence. But he takes little interest in them and the moment he can he retires to the sealed and secured bedroom. Because he has seen all this before.

The ministers like to imitate the ­President. They like to imitate his gestures and affect that world-weary air. They like to pretend they too disdain technology. They like to imitate his tone and parrot his scoffing remarks. But, unlike him, the ministers laugh and drink with the night. Their half-shadowed faces become puffy and garrulous. But he is nowhere to be seen.

“He looks emotionless, as if nothing really touches him,” the interpreter remembers. “As if he is hardly aware of what happens around him. As if he is paying little attention to these people. As if he is worn out… He has spent so long as an icon he is not used to anyone penetrating… He is not used to anything not being so perfectly controlled for him. He is isolated, trapped.”

“The impression… you get from being close to him is that he would have been quite happy to step down. But he knows he has failed to rule Russia in anything else but a feudal way. And the moment his grip falters… it will all come crashing down and he will go to jail… and Moscow will burn like Kiev.”

There are courtiers who claim to have heard him speak frankly. There was one who remembers one warm summer evening where he began to talk openly about the fate of his country. The President asked those, whose business it was to be with him that night at Nov-Ogaryovo, who were the greatest Russian traitors.

But he did not wait for them to answer: the greatest criminals in our history were those weaklings who threw the power on the floor – Nicholas II and Mikhail Gorbachev – who allowed the power to be picked up by the hysterics and the madmen, he told them.

Those courtiers then present, claim, that the President vowed never to do the same.

Read the whole thing.

24 Jul 2014

Tam O’Shanter

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SulkySullenDame

Over at her own blog, my wife Karen has posted one of my favorite poems:

WHEN chapman billies leave the street,
And drouthy neibors, neibors, meet;
As market days are wearing late,
And folk begin to tak the gate,
While we sit bousing at the nappy,
An’ getting fou and unco happy,
We think na on the lang Scots miles,
The mosses, waters, slaps and stiles,
That lie between us and our hame,
Where sits our sulky, sullen dame,
Gathering her brows like gathering storm,
Nursing her wrath to keep it warm.

Glossary: “chapman billies” sellers of chapbooks and broadsides; “drouthy” thirsty’ “bousing” boozing; “nappy” pub tablecloth; “fou” full; “slaps” slopes.

Continued here.

24 Jul 2014

Darth Vader More Popular Than Any 2016 Presidential Candidate

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read-my-mask-no-new-taxes

The Washington Post has some discouraging poll numbers.

[T]he legislative branch has been less popular than lice, brussels sprouts and Nickelback for some time now. What if we compared the favorability of 2016 presidential hopefuls and other political leaders with that of “Star Wars” characters?

Hillary Clinton currently has the highest net favorability of any 2016 White House contender. But to put her 19 percent favorable rating in context, she’s tied with Boba Fett, the bounty hunter who froze Harrison Ford in carbonite.

None of the 2016 hopefuls is polling higher than Darth Vader. You’ll recall that Vader chopped off his son’s arm and blew up an entire planet, but evidently in the eyes of the American public these are minor sins compared to Benghazi, Bridgegate and Gov. Rick Perry’s hipster glasses. These numbers suggest that if “Star Wars” were real and Darth Vader decided to enter the 2016 presidential race, he’d be the immediate front-runner.

Meanwhile President Obama is polling just two favorability points below Emperor Palpatine, Lord of the Sith. Make of that what you will.

VaderPoll

23 Jul 2014

Kazimir Malevich Perfume Bottle

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malevich-perfume

Russian Suprematist artist Kazimir Malevich (1879-1935) is currently enjoying a major retrospective at the Tate, devoted to “the fierce beauty” of his non-objective paintings, like Red Square (Painterly Realism of a Peasant Woman in Two Dimensions), 1915, nothing other than an in-fact red square.

‘Charles,’ said Cordelia, ‘Modern Art is all bosh, isn’t it?’

“‘Great bosh.’

“‘Oh, I’m so glad. I had an argument with one of our nuns and she said we shouldn’t try and criticize what we didn’t understand. Now I shall tell her I have had it straight from a real artist, and snubs to her.'”

Brideshead Revisited, Bk.II, ch.1

But Malevich was capable of more than great bosh. Just a few years earlier, needing money, the artist accepted a commission from Brocard & Co, a perfumier, to produce the above 8″ tall bottle.

23 Jul 2014

Deresiewicz Attacks the Ivy League

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Commons
Yale’s University Commons, the freshman dining hall

William Deresiewicz criticizes American elite education from what might almost be a conservative perspective, but in the end he thinks the answer has to be a Utopia in which “you don’t have to go to the Ivy League, or any private college, to get a first-rate education.” Good luck with that, Bill.

If there is one idea, above all, through which the concept of social responsibility is communicated at the most prestigious schools, it is “leadership.” “Harvard is for leaders,” goes the Cambridge cliché. To be a high-achieving student is to constantly be urged to think of yourself as a future leader of society. But what these institutions mean by leadership is nothing more than getting to the top. Making partner at a major law firm or becoming a chief executive, climbing the greasy pole of whatever hierarchy you decide to attach yourself to. I don’t think it occurs to the people in charge of elite colleges that the concept of leadership ought to have a higher meaning, or, really, any meaning.

The irony is that elite students are told that they can be whatever they want, but most of them end up choosing to be one of a few very similar things. As of 2010, about a third of graduates went into financing or consulting at a number of top schools, including Harvard, Princeton, and Cornell. Whole fields have disappeared from view: the clergy, the military, electoral politics, even academia itself, for the most part, including basic science. It’s considered glamorous to drop out of a selective college if you want to become the next Mark Zuckerberg, but ludicrous to stay in to become a social worker. “What Wall Street figured out,” as Ezra Klein has put it, “is that colleges are producing a large number of very smart, completely confused graduates. Kids who have ample mental horsepower, an incredible work ethic and no idea what to do next.” …

Let’s not kid ourselves: The college admissions game is not primarily about the lower and middle classes seeking to rise, or even about the upper-middle class attempting to maintain its position. It is about determining the exact hierarchy of status within the upper-middle class itself. In the affluent suburbs and well-heeled urban enclaves where this game is principally played, it is not about whether you go to an elite school. It’s about which one you go to. It is Penn versus Tufts, not Penn versus Penn State. It doesn’t matter that a bright young person can go to Ohio State, become a doctor, settle in Dayton, and make a very good living. Such an outcome is simply too horrible to contemplate.

Deresiewicz is right and he is also wrong.

Elite culture in America always worshipped money and success. What is different today is that elite culture no longer respects its past or feels any meaningful connection to the rest of the country or the rest of society, except for recognized victims groups, patronage of which is useful for credentialing of the elite.

He’s right that race-based affirmative action is silly, and efforts at egalitarianism ought to be based on family finances and geographic representation. But, he fails to recognize that the education of national elites is not, in the end, about leveling. It is about building a leadership class, and our problem today is that American society has lost touch with its own identity and has replaced everything including conservation and transmssion of culture and paideia itself with left-wing power games based upon ressentiment.

23 Jul 2014

Undine Drops By

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Undine
Johann Heinrich Füssli, Undine kommt in das Haus der Fischer [Undine comes into the house of the fisherman], 1821, Kunstmuseum, Basel.

Via Theo.

22 Jul 2014

James Garner Memorial Posting

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Americans were saddened this week by the passing of the good-looking and always affable James Garner. It seems appropriate to remember Garner with a look at a few of his best-known roles.

Bret Maverick takes on Clint Eastwood (1959):

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GarnerHartley

Garner’s late 1970s-early 1980s Polaroid commercials with Mariette Hartley were considered one of the advertising industry’s biggest hits. Garner tended to play the graceful loser in the battle of the sexes. Their badinage was so persuasive that a lot of people believed that Garner and Hartley were really married.

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