Sunday, December 24, 2023

Speaking of Which

In a recent trawl through my Facebook feed, I came across a meme quoting Benjamin Franklin: "Life's biggest tragedy is that we get old too soon and wise too late." First thing I was reminded of was that documentary film about the five former Shin Bet chiefs, all of whom had, in their retirement, come to see their tenures as failures, as each had preserved and deepened conflict with Palestinians, instead of working to ameliorate injustice and secure a durable peace. But each in turn, in youthful vigor, had climbed the ranks of the security services by proving to be more aggressive than their predecessors.

The annals of Israeli history are filled with ambitious young men grabbing everything they could, only to turn into old men with regrets. Even Ariel Sharon ended his days with the admission that it's not good for Jews to rule over other people. Old David Ben-Gurion warned against launching the 1967 war, on grounds that have long seemed prescient -- not that he wasn't delighted with the way the war turned out.

My second thought is that this offers a prism for viewing Joe Biden. I quote Jeffrey St Clair below, placing Biden in the line of New Democrats from Clinton to Obama (and back again), which is certainly true of Biden when he was younger, but I can't dismiss the possibility that he's become wiser as he's aged. (Of course, he still has a long ways to go on foreign policy, which is the realm of American politics most completely wrapped up in myth and nonsense.) But also, he reminds us that a big problem with getting old is that you lose the ability to act on whatever wisdom you manage to garner. All the while, his declining polls remind us that the foolish young look for leaders with vigor, which Trump, despite his years and obvious incompetence, manages to fake with brash, reckless promises.

Again this week (no doubt next week as well), I'm mostly working on the Francis Davis Jazz Critics Poll, so have to limit my time here. I made a quick round of the usual sources, noted things that looked interesting, and mostly left it at that.

Top story threads:

Israel: Latest from New York Times, which can certainly be counted on to echo whatever Israeli leaders want it to say, is: Israel says it is intensifying its campaign against Hamas. That translates as "more genocide."

US, Israel, and a decaying empire:

Zionism, Antisemitism, and Palestinian rights:

Trump, and other Republicans:

The Colorado Supreme Court ruling: They held that Trump's name should be taken off the Republican primary ballot in Colorado, due to the 14th Amendment's prohibition against insurrectionist (i.e., secessionists) holding office. I've ridiculed that argument ever since it was first raised.

Biden and/or the Democrats:

Legal matters and other crimes:

Economic matters:

Ukraine War:

Around the world:

Other stories:

Bob Hennelly: [12-19] New York City is crumbling -- but officials don't "have enough oomph" to build it back up: "The least any city can do is make sure its buildings remain standing."

Hannah Natanson: [12-23] Half of challenged books return to shools. LGBTQ books are banned most.

Will Oremus: [12-23] Elon Musk promised an anti-'woke' chatbot. Grok is not going as planned.

Jonathan Shorman/Katie Bernard/Amy Renee Leiker/Katie Moore: [12-19] Across Kansas, police conduct illegal search and seizures 'all the time,' upending lives.

Jeffrey St Clair: [12-22] Roaming Charges: The sickness of symbolic things: Title from Fannie Lou Hamer: "I am sick of symbolic things. We are fighting for our lives." Pull quote:

Bill Clinton, Al Gore, HRC, Barack Obama & Biden all share the same New Democrat philosophy: hawkish on defense, pro-business & banks, punitive criminal justice policies and a desire to roll back Great Society social programs. Clinton and Obama had the rhetorical skills to sell symbolism to the base, to make people see what isn't there. The others don't and they paid the political price.

Rolling back "Great Society social programs" was less a desire than a chit they were happy to sacrifice to achieve their business goals. Biden seems less interested on that score, but that may just be because the Democratic base is getting more agitated, demanding not just defense but expansion of the safety net.

Jessi Jezewska Stevens: The relentless growth of degrowth economics.

Zephyr Teachout: [12-11] The big unfriendly tech giants: "We must ensure that corporations aren't able to pick and choose winners and losers in journnalism."

Siva Vaidhyanathan: [12-11] Elon Musk's real threat to democracy isn't what you think: "How the attention-starved CEO took over our communications infrastructure."

Selected obituaries:

I was surprised not to find an obituary for Arno J. Mayer, who died on Dec. 18 at 97. He was one of the very greatest historians of the last century, even since his landmark books Political Origins of the New Diplomacy, 1917-1918 (1959), and Politics and Diplomacy of Peacemaking: Containment and Counterrevolution at Versailles, 1918-1919 (1967). I especially recommend three later works: The Persistence of the Old Regime: Europe to the Great War (1981), Why Did the Heavens Not Darken? The "Final Solution" in History (1988), and Plowshares Into Swords: From Zionism to Israel (2008). He was the first I'm aware of to emphasize the continuity of the World Wars, referring to 1914-45 as "the 30-Years War of the 20th Century." Another item I recommend is Studs Terkel's interview with him in "The Good War". He was born in Luxembourg in 1926, his family reaching the US in 1941, and soon joined the US Army, where while still in his teens was assigned to babysit "high ranking German prisoners of war" (e.g., rocket scientists; Mayer was one of the Ritchie boys, as was Guy Stern, who also died last week). I expect we'll have more to link to next week. Meanwhile:

  • Enzo Traverso: [12-19] Arno J Mayer's 20th century.

  • Counterpunch: Articles by Arno J Mayer. E.g., Israel: The wages of hubris and violence. This was written in 2009, and posted in 2015, but remains insightful:

    Since Israel's foundation, the failure to pursue Arab-Jewish understanding and cooperation has been Zionism's "great sin of omission" (Judah Magnes). At every major turn since 1947-48 Israel has had the upper hand in the conflict with the Palestinians, its ascendancy at once military, diplomatic, and economic. This prepotency became especially pronounced after the Six Day War of 1967. Consider the annexations and settlements; occupation and martial law; settler pogroms and expropriations; border crossings and checkpoints; walls and segregated roads. No less mortifying for the Palestinians has been the disproportionately large number of civilians killed and injured, and the roughly 10,000 languishing in Israeli prisons.

    Despite the recent ingloriousness of Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, Israel's ruling and governing class continues to stand imperious. . . . Israelis must ask themselves whether there is a point beyond which the Zionist quest becomes self-defeatingly perilous, corrupting, and degrading.

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