Saturday, May 13, 2006
Friday, May 12, 2006
Beloved isn't good. Underworld is good, but not as good as White Noise, although it tries mightily to be better. Updike proves an unreadable physical manifestation of masturbatory excess. Phillip Roth doesn't deserve so many mentions. Michael Chabon isn't mentioned, even though Kavalier and Clay succeeds everywhere that Underworld was slack. Anyhoo...
For my part, the best American novel of the last 25 years, with an emphasis on the American, is Joan Didion's The Last Thing He Wanted.
There's a man named Marshall Whittman, a once and future Republican who in the Bush interregnum has self-nominated to the position of Scion of Rooseveltian Bull-Moosery. Like the majority of professed Centrists, his political ideology boils down to just a few truisms-as-tenets, namely, that George Bush is not particularly competent and that the Democratic party is in general insufficiently bellicose. It's his stock and trade to hurl molotovs at the Democratic Party for failing to endorse the Conservative program but competently. I confess that idiocy well-executed is not my idea of a positive political movement, but à chacun son goût.
Once again the battle lines are drawn on another controversy over liberty vs. security in the war against terrorism. Cries of Big Brother and fascism are being heard."Cries are being heard." By whom? Presumably by the Moose, who disapproves. "As of yet," he tells us, "there is no evidence that the government was eavesdropping on private conversations of innocent citizens." It's curious to see a fellow who claims that George W. Bush disabused him of his Republicanism employing the same trick of language favored by the currently-empowered GOP: to claim that since no evidence as yet exists, ergo no evidence will emerge to the contrary. As every competent adult must by now have noted, such pronouncements invariably precede new evidence that whatever it was that wasn't happening is happening.
It is time for some reasoned clarity.
This is not a program intended to deprive us of our liberty, but rather one that attempts to employ twenty-first century technology to stop seventh century theocratic killer fascists.
But that's a secondary point of interest. The threat assessment is much more interesting. Seventh-century theocratic killer fascists? The seventh-century bit is presumably meant to invoke the dread memory of a little-known seventh-century figure named Mohammed, or something like that, although it sits at odds with cries of "killer fascism," which isn't exactly the model for the world-bestradling ummah, nor for any theocracy.
But fine. Yes. Fine. I don't disapprove of name-calling in principle, least of all when monotheisms are involved. They deserve what they get, even if in the service of tendentious, militaristic nationalisms. (Touché.)
What I disapprove of is this silliness:
Has it been a mere coincidence that the American homeland has not been attacked since 9/11? It is likely that the hard and innovative work of dedicated patriots at the NSA and other national security agencies has kept our nation safe.Leave aside the egregious misuse of the word "coincidence." Americans like to presume total preeminence in the world, for good and for bad. So the fact that our so-called homeland has escaped attacks, even as many of our Western allies, and certainly many, many non-Western nations have experienced quite terrible attacks, and in many places alarming rises in the frequency thereof, is taken by Whittman as proof positive that our plan, whatever it is, is working. Isn't it more plausible that the moment for such attacks has simply not yet arrived, and that if and when it does, it won't be reflective of whatever terrorist timetable Marshall and the Deep Thinkers have conceived at whatever roundtable on seventh-century killer fascist Nazi space-surfer Demon Spawn at whatever Institute for Hysterical Policy Over-Reactions.
In the meantime, I must join with Jim Henley in endorsing this fine bit of common sense by Gene Healy. In the words of tough guys everywhere: Man up, America.
Thursday, May 11, 2006
We're not surprised to find out that they were all lies, damned lies, and deceptions. And what did we expect? For sixty years we've quite fatuously consumed warnings about the world-devouring rapacity of our enemies-designate--from the now infamously overestimated military and economic prowess of the Soviet Union to the "civilizational" threat of today's international terrorism. We consent to a caretaker government, and we only express our shock and outrage when it follows its security prerogatives to their logical conclusions.
The most depressing part is not that the Peeping-Tommery offends my theoretical libertarian sensibilities, but that it sacrifices liberty in pursuit of a chimera. "Social Network Analysis"? Despite the predictable official denials, the clear intention of this program is to collect the calling patterns of as many citizens as possible and develop from these some sort of predictive model whereby patterns of contact alone can indicate potential behavior.
Well, there's a panoptical fallacy for you. It's a science-fiction dream, Asimov's psychohistory repackaged as intelligence work, a misbegotten belief that computational power, sufficiently large and advanced, will essentially tell us the future, so that we can, at every point, plug the damn and prevent every crime or attack from even being committed, obviating the need for judicial messiness. Will it work? Of course not. Sociological guesswork isn't real science, and we should hesitate before conferring on the government the right to guess who will and won't commit a crime, who is and isn't a terrorist, based on some algorithm. Our government has spent all these years being wrong about so much. Why should we trust them now to be right about who is and isn't a danger?
Wednesday, May 10, 2006
Over at a magazine called Tapped, in which a number of what Joe Pesci's Cousin Vinnie called yutes conduct an ongoing dorm rap of liberal conventionalisms, there's a bit of a friendly dustup over what precisely constitutes a genocide, if there's anything precise about it at all, and about what we--that's the good ol' US of A, presumably--ought to do about it, if anything at all.
Now, no one is able to express what we, Nato, the UN, or anyone else is meant to do in Darfur, which is the locale of the genocide in question. "Keep the peace." "Stop the killing." "Broker a cease-fire." Liberal interventionists like to believe that these motives, applied to some destitute people in a continent once beset by brutal imperialisms and now suffering--probably for centuries--in their aftermath, are somehow nobler, purer, and (least believable of all) more practicable than the high-flown democratization rhetoric that the War Parties slapped up over the Iraq debacle as soon as it became clear that Saddam and his minions weren't exactly the clear and present danger trumpeted in the run-up to war. But prettier poetry isn't necessarily more true, and just because humanitarian intervention and its attendent bromides are more sonorous than preemptive war and the same doesn't mean that a nation can successfully affect military solutions to extranational conflicts through platitudinous repetition of stock phrases alone.
Let's correct a misconception that haunts the febrile minds of interventionists, whether Wolfowitzians arguing for democratization or various liberal factions arguing for peacekeeping forces in the Sudan. The misconception is an old stand-by: if only we (the West, the Allies, the US, whomever) had intervened in Europe at some non-specified point prior to the real eruption of World War II, then surely we could have prevented the near destruction of European Jewry.
But this is silly. It's firstly a fatuous projection-in-hindsight of military certainty where none could exist. Although Jews were being killed or ghettoized in great numbers throughout German-controlled Europe, it was only in 1942, that the Wannsee Conference decided the Final Solution for European Jewry. The point: that the mechanized slaughter that we think of as the Holocaust began concurrently with the arrival of American combat troops in Europe. And still, six million jews and untold homosexuals, communists, gypsies, Catholics, Jehovah's Witnesses, and on and on died, despite the Western Allies on one side and 20 million dead Russians on the other.
And still the myth persists that we could somehow have preempted the German genocide of the Jews. That myth--"never again"--in turn drives talk of preemption, prevention, and intervention now, as if by garrisoning Euro-American troops in every cobbled-together postcolonial psuedonation on Earth we might atone for our failure to foresee the vicious Einsatzgruppen transmogrify into the Ovens.
I fear a nation sick of preemptions will vote in a political party intent on turning us into a nation of intercessors.
Monday, May 08, 2006
The Party of the First Part Shall Be Known in this Contract as the Party of the First Part Shall Be Known in this Contract as . . .
Seablogger Alan Sullivan points indirectly to a George Weigel article in Commentary on . . . something. Culture Wars A and B, or some such matrix. There's an edge of barely suppressed pre-hysteria to the Weigel piece, which could easily be reduced to a single sentence: The European project is doomed by demographics and by the elevation of the myth of tolerance. That's a debatable point. I'm obviously no optimist, but as I've noted elsewhere on this blog, the eschatological imagination is essentially narcissistic--what generation, after all, is more important than the final one? Hence the delusion among Christian millenarians, various socialists, and pre-repentence Fukuyamans that each stand at the edge of the end of history.
Nonetheless, I'm struck by the same passage as Mr. Sullivan, which I'll also reproduce here:
Earlier this year, five days short of the second anniversary of the Madrid bombings, the Zapatero government, which had already legalized marriage between and adoption by same-sex partners and sought to restrict religious education in Spanish schools, announced that the words "father" and "mother" would no longer appear on Spanish birth certificates. Rather, according to the government’s official bulletin, "the expression 'father' will be replaced by 'Progenitor A,' and 'mother' will be replaced by 'Progenitor B.'" As the chief of the National Civil Registry explained to the Madrid daily ABC, the change would simply bring Spain’s birth certificates into line with Spain’s legislation on marriage and adoption. More acutely, the Irish commentator David Quinn saw in the new regulations "the withdrawal of the state’s recognition of the role of mothers and fathers and the extinction of biology and nature."You can see what I mean about the hysteria: "the extinction of biology and nature!" Gracious.
However. Friends, acquaintances, and colleagues routinely express shock when I, as a gay man, express my disapproval of gay marriage and my discomfort with the notion of gay parenthood (by which I mean, the "married" same-sex couple with child(ren) acting out a facsimile of so-called traditional marriages and parenthood). Do I not wish to be equal?
To which I reply: not particularly. Regarding marriage, it seems odd to on one hand grant the institution social primacy and eternality, as if the union of two coequal partners for life till death were indeed the principle foundation of all things good, decent, and fair, while on the other hand arguing for the revision of that relationship by pointing out the dramatic changes in institutional marriage from the days of the Patriarchs through the days of Rome through the various Medievalisms and on down to the present day, Mormons and other sidetracks y compris. Leaving lesbians aside, I have my sincere doubts about the capacity of two men to live in monogamous matrimonium for their entire lives, and I certainly see no reason to tether myself or my shield-carrier to a life of sexual repression simply so as to acquire a swifter and less expensive means to assuring hospital visitation rights or durable powers of attorney.
As for parenting, I only know that my life and the lives of every gay couple to whom I'm close are distinctly incompatable with good or successful parenting. What advantages the children of gay parents have are entirely matters of class, since it's principally upper-class, well-educated gays who acquire children. Upper-class, well-educated gays practicing an extraordinary self-denial. Let's be frank: orgies, drinking, and drugs are no way to raise a child, at least not until she's well into her teens! Is that essentially selfish of me? Yes. But it seems far less selfish than demanding all society hew to my personal paternal desires, for which I make the reciprocal promise to reinvent myself as a moral monogamist.
Sunday, May 07, 2006
In an otherwise unremarkable Kulturkampf piece in the New York Times Magazine, this bit caught my eye:
Dr. Joseph B. Stanford, who was appointed by President Bush in 2002 to the F.D.A.'s Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee despite (or perhaps because of) his opposition to contraception, sounded not a little like Daniel Defoe in a 1999 essay he wrote: "Sexual union in marriage ought to be a complete giving of each spouse to the other, and when fertility (or potential fertility) is deliberately excluded from that giving I am convinced that something valuable is lost. A husband will sometimes begin to see his wife as an object of sexual pleasure who should always be available for gratification."Ah bon?
As a realtively early-blooming fag, my experience with the elusive female orgasm is essentially nil, though I managed to feel up a fair number of high school titties in my time. Still, I generally give credence to the idea that, yes, even women, with the Big Complicated Icky down there, are capable of orgasm.
So I find it pretty silly that so-called conservatives should tether their moralizing to the notion that men will use their wives instrumentally for mechanical gratification wherever and whenever desire for a warm hole presents itself, whereas women, being anorgiastic by nature, must simply lie their and take it, cut off from their Virgin Mary, earth-mother, soul-gaia whatever and how have you by men grown tired of self-stimulation (also, I'm told, an evil).
Then again, I suspectan implicit and certainly unconscious acknowledgement in Dr. Stanford et al.--that hetero men are, at the end of the day, so lousy in bed as a general rule that their wives would never view them as an opportunity or availability for gratification in the first place, preferring the gardner, the poolboy, or, pace Queen Vicotria, the instrumental presence of their fellow fecund vessels.