Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Is Liberal Zionism an Option?

Sounds like a "yes or no" situation, right?-- until you realize that the answer to the title question of this post can only be, of course, that it depends on what you mean by "liberal," and on what you mean by "Zionism."  As in the case of the infuriating mystery-Protestant who, in response to the question "Do you believe in God?", asks us to define "God" and "believe" and "in," this is one of those times when the artful evasion is actually more honest than the so-called "straight answer."  You can't say whether or not the liberal Zionist position is coherent until you know what it is.

Monday, July 21, 2014

More on Gaza, Israel, and Krauthammer

With the civilian death toll in Gaza now twice what it was when I wrote on this subject three days ago, I feel duty-bound to lodge a few more objections against Charles Krauthammer's exculpatory column from July 17th.  You may say that there is a certain "Why bother?" factor to this quest, but I assure you that I don't have any illusions about changing Krauthammer's mind.  He has followed the Israel-Palestine conflict closely enough over the years to know already that much of his column is roundly untrue, and anyone else pointing this out to him will not make a difference.  I do have some hope, however, that I might preserve some of the as-yet unconverted from being taken in by Krauthammer's assertions, delivered as they are with such apparent confidence.  This I will try to do.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Gaza, Israel, and the Lone Intellectual

There is a sickening scriptedness to the latest ramp-up in violence between Israel and Hamas -- one that, to those of us who don't have to live in its presence directly, can impart to the whole set of events a nimbus of unreality.  Ten hours into the conflict and I knew the names of all the articles I'd be reading on the subject over the next few days, and what they would say.  Obviously, for people whose loved ones are killed or whose homes are obliterated, these events have a terrible freshness.  But for those of us whose only daily experience of violence comes through the blogosphere or the airwaves, it is easy to succumb to a feeling of deja-vu, and with it, a certain callousness.

Friday, July 11, 2014

"Samurai Cop" (1991) and the Good Bad Movie

My friends and I realized long ago that if you're going to do a movie night, you should never go for the good movie.  A good movie can be seen on your own time, whenever you like, and the effect will be undiminished.  It's for the bad movie that you really need company.  Now, unfortunately for some, fortunately for aspiring hosts, bad movies are not hard to come by-- movies that exhibit some utterly warped and debased value system, movies that gratuitously exploit our deepest instincts and feelings for a cynical end, movies that are just plain grueling and boring and odious; these are plentiful, and I am willing to watch any of them with you on a dull evening.  But what the host truly desires and seeks, with unerring if at times futile purpose, is the good bad movie-- a phenomenon on which much has been written, but of which there are always too few examples.

Saturday, July 5, 2014


Let's pretend for a minute that you're a longterm Scientologist, and you have just decided to read Lawrence Wright's 2013 opus Going Clear, on the history of that movement.  Why are you reading it?  You have perhaps been warned not to do so by your other friends in the Church.  You have been informed that the book is nothing but lies, fabricated by people who left Scientology and who now want to validate their new existences on the outside by telling journalists whatever they want to hear-- whatever accusations against the Church will sell.  This is still your consciously-held belief.  

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

History Has Still Not Ended

I owe to my friend Isaac May the observation that title is everything in academic publishing.  That is to say-- the quickest path to ensuring that your latest work will be referenced for decades to come in every bibliography and introduction from the academic presses is to give it a simple title that conveys an absolutely unmistakeable thesis.  "The End of Ideology," "Anti-Intellectualism in American Life," and so on.  The simplicity of the thesis, and its instant accessibility on the cover page, will ensure that no one feels compelled to actually read your book before referring to it, and they will reward you for the effort you have saved them with instant notoriety.  I can't promise that the references they make will always be positive.  The one-dimensionality of your title-thesis may delight and prove memorable simply for how easy it is to refute.  But you will at least avoid scaring off all those bottom-feeding footnoters and bloggers (like yours truly) by demanding that they actually spend time with your book before assessing it.