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Sunday, March 28, 2004

Christopher Hitchens has a positive review of Ian Buruma and Avishai Margalit's new book Occidentalism, subtitled "The West in the Eyes of its Enemies." The book does to Said's thesis what Marx was said to do with Hegel's -- turn it upside down. Should make for fascinating reading (once I get round to it).

Thursday, March 25, 2004
Oh NO!

Noam Chomsky has a blog.

(Sort of. See Pejman.)

Update: comments have been removed. I wonder why?

Tuesday, March 23, 2004
The Mind of a Socialist

Lt. Smash interviews a UCSD Philosophy major and anti-war protestor here.

Monday, March 22, 2004
Howard Zinn: Bad Historian

Michael Kazin at Dissent has an excellent article on Howard Zinn's People's History of the United States, now in its sixth edition. Writes Kazin:

Thus, a narrative about demonic elites becomes an apology for political failure. By Zinn's account, the modern left made no errors of judgment, rhetoric, or strategy. He never mentions the Communist Party's lockstep praise of Stalin or the New Left's fantasy of guerilla warfare. Radical activists simply failed to muster enough clear-eyed troops to pierce through the enemy's mighty, sophisticated defenses.

Friday, March 12, 2004
Were yesterday's terrorist attacks in Madrid the work of ETA, al-Qaeda...or both of them working together?

"Crazy, half-baked, and sometimes weird ramblings"

John J. Miller has an article in the Wall Street Journal on the intemperate behavior of one Robert J. Torres, an assistant professor of sociology at St. Lawrence University in New York. On December 13 last year, Prof. Torres wrote an entry on his personal blog entitled "Fascist, Racist College Republicans," and has since come under a lot of flak for it. Correctly, no action has been taken against him. But would that be the case if his vulgar, expletive-filled polemic had been directed elsewhere -- say, at the NAACP? Of course not.

You can read his response to the controversy here. I love the way in which he undermines his entire argument by calling his blog entries "crazy, half-baked, and sometimes weird ramblings."

Monday, March 08, 2004
Reasons to be positive

Fareed Zakaria writes in Newsweek that Islamic radicals are getting desperate:

Every few months we hear of a new "message" from Al Qaeda and analysts ponder what it portends. By now surely it is clear that Al Qaeda can produce videotapes but not terrorism. In fact, their poorly produced tapes, threatening spectacular attacks, are becoming a joke, much like Saddam Hussein's promises to fight "the mother of all battles."

Thursday, March 04, 2004
Weather Underground

Stefan Beck on Armavirumque draws our attention to a upcoming showing here at Dartmouth of the Weather Underground documentary, with a post-screening discussion by former Weatherman Bill Ayers. The Oscar-nominated film is here at Dartmouth courtesy of the Greens, the Government and Film Studies Departments, and the Free Press. You can read the thoughts of his fellow Weatherwoman Naomi Jaffe here.

As the film's official website states, the WU bombed government facilities across the country, including the US Capitol, broke Timothy Leary out of prison, and fought on the streets with Chicago police. All in the name of "idealistic passion" (which I'm sure Timothy McVeigh and Osama bin Laden possess in abundance).

Wednesday, March 03, 2004
Triumph of the Will (of the Neocons)

This review of The Norman Podhoretz Reader is emblematic of some problems in the political perspective of The New Criterion. The WSJ's William McGurn takes a man's life (the New Left turned neoconservative Podhoretz) in letters and inscribes a narrative of how the "inner conservative" finally emerged from behind the facade of a liberal intellectual figure.

There are many examples of liberals being alienated by the changes that took place in the New Left of the 60s (multiculturalism, feminism, et al.) and joining the neocons of the Reagan years (David Horowitz, for example). However, McGurn's position on why Podhoretz changed is an interesting one, interesting because he decides not to give concrete examples from the Reader to back up his points. He uses examples as a way of telling us that "even in his most leftist phases [Podhoretz] does not come across as a true believer," that Podhoretz is, after all, a conservative in liberal's clothing.

It is here that we get a sense of what McGurn believes: that democrats do not look at reality when they make "comfortable liberal abstractions" and that the refusal to ignore, as the article is called, "the nature of things," is what really led Podhoretz to his political crossover. The implication is that those who grow up "really" looking at things as they stand are conservatives at heart. I think it would be more honest of the writer to tell us what individual issues led to the alienation Podhoretz felt. The inferences that he knew that the "Negro problem" was not as bad as it really was, that blacks in his neighborhood terrorized others and were not terrorized, are reductive, possibly distorting, and suggest that no liberals are capable of complex thought capable of mediating between ideas about a problem and the perceived reality of that problem. It is also reductive to think that Podhoretz was inherently conservative to begin with (though it does assign a certain value of truth to the right); I would have preferred if we were told what he disagreed with about the Left and what he found appealing in the Right.

I don't want to write as an apologist for the New Left either. I am not the liberal McGurn. The problems he cites do exist in many publications -- and from my perspective, particularly The Nation. I've read far worse liberal screeds in literary criticism that install a preplanned argument on top of what a text really says. However, I think it is hypocritical and ironic (and perhaps journalistic) to write a commentary that generalizes about the left's generalizations. It is also self-congratulatory to write about the triumph of one's own particular political views, and the views of certain figures such as Roger Kimball and Hilton Kramer. Blowing one's own horn accomplishes nothing. Acknowledging problems on both sides of the political spectrum might just.