Tuesday, February 28, 2006

After Neoconservatism

Francis Fukuyama explains the mess we're in: how we got here and what we can do next. See especially his history of Neoconservatism, the political vision that has done the planetary equivalent of Hades on four dark horses rushing out of Etna.

Rape of Proserpina
The Rape of Proserpina by Luca Giordano

Friday, February 24, 2006

Academic Dhimmi Award Nominee

Dr. Stanley Fish for his New York Times editorial A Cartoon in 3 Dimensions: Our Faith in Letting It All Hang Out. This is not a free article, so let me share my free commentary below.

Just in case you thought the ideals of liberal democracy were the evolution of careful thinking and planning carried out over generations by the best minds of Enlightenment Europe and established in this nation only with much bloodshed and courage on the part of ordinary men and women, with extraordinary minds, and the leadership of a potent group of some of the strongest intellects ever to assemble in any part of the world at any time in history...Just in case you appreciated the accidents of history and fate that created the conditions for this liberal democracy to erupt on North American soil by finally breaking the bonds of servitude to a mad raving lunatic King George, and to open its shores to a world of immigrants for over 200 years, many of whom repeated the original accomplishment of our nation’s founders...Just in case you thought more of your political and religious freedoms, personal dignity, economic opportunity, and your inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, than to derisively write them off as nothing more than a vacuous, inane, and morally relative “liberal religion”...Just in case you treated the hopes you invest in the US Constitution for your situation in life with any amount of reverence, literary critic and Florida International University Professor of Law Stanley Fish would like to disabuse you of that notion.

On the whole, Stanley Fish is a thinker with some good ideas, some of which I share, and one of which is that university professors should not use their posts to propagate political dogmas and contrarian attitudes on a political spectrum. But outside the classroom, Fish lets his contempt for the rest of us really sizzle. Here’s Fish from his February 12th editorial:
“The first tenet of the liberal religion is that everything (at least in the realm of expression and ideas) is to be permitted, but nothing is to be taken seriously...strongly held faiths are equally and indifferently authorized (????) as ideas people are perfectly free to believe, but they are equally and indifferently disallowed (????) as ideas that might serve as a basis for action or public policy.

Should one of (the strongly held faiths) ask of us more than we are prepared to give -- ask for deference rather than mere respect -- it will be met with the barrage of platitudinous arguments....One of those arguments goes this way: It is hypocritical for Muslims to protest cartoons caricaturing Muhammad when cartoons vilifying the symbols of Christianity and Judaism are found everywhere in the media of many Arab countries. After all, what's the difference?

The difference is that those who draw and publish such cartoons in Arab countries believe in their content; they believe that Jews and Christians follow false religions and are proper objects of hatred and obloquy.... for (Arabs) the content may be life itself.... the difference, I think, is to the credit of the Muslim protesters and to the discredit of the liberal editors.”
I personally think much of Arab and Middle East culture is gorgeous. But the Arabs of Fish's article and of this episode are Muslim fundamentalist extremists: they get no credit from me except for rational complaints about US foreign policy in the Middle East. To be blunt to Stanley Fish, he overplayed his hand and showed us the cards he’s holding: the fantasy at the core of his screed is there in his own words: “deference” to fundamentalist believers - the content of whose faith “may be life itself.”

Fish exemplifies a class of mentally, emotionally, and spiritually depleted academics who exalt the exotic Muslim fundamentalist because “he believes” and because of the content of his faith may be “life itself.” This fetish is the work of capture bonding on the academic mind. Stanley Fish is writing like a man whose mind is captured by an exciting and fiery faith, felt more nearly and deeply than his own, that makes the domestic ideals of the rational Enlightenment seem dull and uninteresting to him, even worthy of contemptuous caricature. As a next step, Fish could eagerly accept his second class status as Dhimmi in a tribe of true believers, and he seems to think we should accept ours too: he closes his article by evoking a contest of wills between Muslim Fundamentalism and Liberal Democracy and nearly dares us to abandon our “faith” in (his caricature of) our “liberal religion”:
“...a firm adherent of a comprehensive religion doesn't want dialogue about his beliefs; he wants those beliefs to prevail. Dialogue is not a tenet in his creed, and invoking it is unlikely to do anything but further persuade him that you have missed the point -- as, indeed, you are pledged to do, so long as liberalism is the name of your faith.”
This the best that Nihilist academics can offer us...tie our hands with accusations of moral relativism, exalt the fundamentalist, celebrate a contest of wills, and dare us contemptuously to lose our nerve.

Liberal Democracy deserves more from our academics. In my next post, I point to a thinker with ideas for what we can do to get ourselves out of this UNHOLY MESS that Bush and neoconservatism have gotten us into.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Happy Birthday Nina Simone

Nina Simone (1933-2003)
EAGER: Love me, love me, love me, say you do / Let me fly away with you .... / Give me more than one caresse. / Satisfy this hungriness. / Let the wind blow through your heart.
INSATIABLE: I want more, more, and then some. / And do you know what I want to hear? / "I want some more and then some / I love you only dear."
POSSESSIVE: I put a spell on you / cause you're mine.
SUBLIME: Black is the colour of my true love's hair.

Thank you Nina.

Nurse, I'll take my coffee in a cup please.

Don't ask me what I'm reading...
"During WWI, a nurse discovered that patients who received coffee grounds in their enemas recovered from serious wounds at a much faster rate than those who received regular enemas....CAUTION: Do not use coffee enemas for more than six weeks at a time."
Just in case you were wondering I guess.
(Clearly this nurse had issues.)

Friday, February 17, 2006

Rhapsody on Crash (2004)

Allow me this rhapsody on Crash (2004) which I finished last night well after midnight. I have two votes for the academy's consideration.

I tap Don Cheadle for best actor in Crash. Spot-on performance as this generation's martyred man. A truly decent person beset by the demons in other people. His brother, momma, partner, the system, all dragging down a morally strong man. Somebody please buy that man a drink!

I give Thandie Newton a best actress tap in Crash. The girl is gorgeous. I first noticed her in The Truth About Charlie where she played next to Mark Walberg in a remake of Charade (1963) starring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn....so going off topic...I would tell you that Thandie channeled Audrey in Charlie, but that cannot begin to describe what she did with Audrey's original persona...so pardon me while I offend Audrey's fan base...but Thandie raised the bar over Audrey's juvenile charm by doing the impossible. She added to Audrey's feminine innocence just a touch of something naturalistic and amoral - a very wet and incendiary secktual energy - all the while capturing Audrey's sweetness, vulnerability, and effervescence. She was incredibly seductive next to that secks hammer Marky Mark. And how charming was it to end this movie with Charles Aznavour serenading the couple while they danced through the closing credits on the sidewalks of Paris? OMG!

Now back to Crash. Imagine Thandie playing Audrey as Martha in Virginia Woolf, and you've got her character in Crash. She played out the contradictions of an hysterical and married secktual libertine by bringing her good man down. Now...good movies get me talking to the screen...so you could have heard me last night telling her, "Honey, you can't pork a ham and have it say grace at the dinner table! So sistuh, you better treat your man with a little respect!" lol

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Nothing happened but everything changed

Personal mythology, an attempt to account for the accidents of birthplace and time? My place, a town named La Moure. Probably a French surname, La Moure looks and sounds like love, and that spelling has a queer "e" on the end. My time, 45 days after the French student and worker rebellions of May 1968. I get a tingly feeling looking at the political posters of the time. My favorite had a sense of humor: "We are all undesirables!"

More than 30 years later, the French remember May '68 strangely as a time when "nothing happened" but "everything changed." Or so writes Kristin Ross in her book May '68 and its Afterlives. I'm reading Ross, because thinking about that time is one of my silly hobbies about personal mythology, but also because the times, they are a changin.