The Nation, 22 Oct/ 29 Oct/ 5 Nov 2007

Three issues in one posting.

The most notable pieces in both of the October issues were book reviews.  In the 22 October issue, Daniel Lazare reviews Mearsheimer and Walt, concluding that their methodology is incoherent, their assumptions about US foreign policy naively optimistic, and their work as a whole a specimen of “a new form of nativism that sees foreigners and their domestic allies as a big source of America’s problems and believes that the country would be better off if it could eradicate such influences.”  The 29 October issue reviews Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic, the latest book by Vthunderlad’s favorite Chalmers Johnson (author of Blowback.)  Stephen Holmes finds Johnson’s comparison of the USA with ancient Rome far-fetched and the concept of “blowback” marred by an “inherent slipperiness.”  These weaknesses, Holmes claims, make it difficult to take Johnson altogether seriously, for all that “Nemesis is a serious contribution to contemporary debates, richly repaying careful study.” 

In the 5 November issue, Alexander Cockburn cites the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Al Gore as yet another example of the moral bankruptcy of the Swedish Academy; James Ledbetter hails the publication of a volume of Karl Marx’ columns for the New York Tribune; and Russ Baker and Adam Federman look at one of Hillary Clinton’s more alarming moneymen.

Hosting A Posting

Well, it’s really a pleasure to be hosting this posting.  I translated the first couple pages of a pamphlet which I think could be a transcription of an orally-delivered sermon.  Such sermons are often recorded on audio cassettes.  I guess this one was so darn good, it had to be issued in the form of a printed pamphlet.  I think what I’ve got here is long enough that you start to sense a vague moralistic sermonizing tone.  I hold people in particular regard if they resort to accusing other people that they don’t agree with, of having some type of moral “disease,” which can only be cured by the shining “remedy”:  a platform of religious attitudes / baggage, to be swallowed & accepted wholesale…er er that is if one wishes to exonerate oneself from *evilness*…or at least from some sort of grievous misguidedness…  [The world needs more such discourses.]

Praise belongs to God, the lord of the worlds and the goal of the godfearing.  And prayers and peace upon His slave and messenger and the trustee of His revelation and of the bounty of His creation:  our prophet and leader and master Muhammad bin Abdullah bin Abdul-Muttalib.  And also upon his family and his associates, and upon whoever follows his way and is guided by his right guidance to the Day of Judgment.  Now then: The lords of Islamic thought, and the adherents of Islamic zeal, and the adherents of plentiful speculation – all are concerned with the condition of the Muslims and with what their affairs are leading to. These affairs preoccupy them much, and they engage in much pondering about the causes for the weakness of the Muslims, their underdevelopment in the face of their enemy, and their disunity and their differences.  They also consider the causes behind the exertions of the enemy against the Muslims, to the point of having taken over some of the Muslim lands. Then, having established these causes – these being clear – they are also concerned about establishing the treatment for these causes of underdevelopment and weakness – and it too is well known.  But it is necessary for the causes to be spread and explained.  For, if the disease is described, then the remedy will be a great means for healing and well-being. Once the sick individual has established his disease and its remedy, then it is suitable to move without delay to accepting the remedy and then imposing it on the disease. This is the nature of the reasonable man who loves life and loves rescue from illnesses.  It is important to him to know the disease and the remedy. But some people have mastered the disease and taken possession of it until they are satisfied with it and find it pleasant and until their clear perception has perished.  They are not concerned about who describes the remedy to them, because the disease has become character and nature to them.  They like it and are content with its continuance.  They have a deviation in their temperament and a weakness in their discernment.  The victory of whim over them and over their reason and their heart and their behaviors – such is the case with most people as regards religious diseases and their treatment.

The American Conservative, 22 October 2007

The highlight of the issue is a piece by psychotherapist Jim Pittaway analyzing American nationalism in terms of the therapeutic model of “Criminal Thinking.”  Pittaway explains that “the unholy triad at the core of antisocial thinking is narcissism, impatience, and need for control.”  “The narcissistic predator carries senses of special entitlement and deep grievance.”  Because his view of himself is so exalted, he cannot recognize that his behavior has brought unjust suffering upon anyone else.  As an example of this kind of pathology, Pittaway quotes United States Senator Jon Tester.  “Refereeing a civil war in Iraq has distracted us from fighting a war in Afghanistan.”  As if our troops were just minding their own business, quietly making their way to the home of Taliban/ al Qaeda, when they took a wrong turn and wound up in the middle of this mysterious conflict in Iraq. 

In the context of a disordered nationalism, impatience and the need to control others combine to create a sense that one’s leaders are in fact omnipotent, and that if there is evil in the world it can only be because those leaders have defaulted in their duties.  “In this construct, any failure to control must necessarily be failure on the part of whoever was supposed to do the controlling; the core idea of America’s potential to control everything can never be questioned.  This logically absurd notion is an irreducible component of both the criminal personality and our New Nationalism.  So, like the habituated criminal, nationalist America does not have to accomodate society around us and instead must pursue ever more desperate measures to control things that cannot, and ought not, be controlled.”  These “ever more desperate measures” form a “kind of progression of increasingly less desirable outcomes experienced by the Criminal-Thinking offender when he tries to take control of the situation, loses it, escalates, and winds up dead or in prison for crimes he never intended to commit when he started out.  As long as he cannot self-regulate, and the criminal thinker cannot, he is doomed to play out to the end.” 

Pittaway gives two ways out of nationalistic Criminal Thinking.  As you would expect in a magazine called The American Conservative, one way out is an appeal to such American exemplars of the republican tradition as Lincoln and Jefferson, claiming that they both preached and exhibited self-restraint.  “Self-control — not controlling others — is at the heart of American patriotic tradition.”  The grimmer way out is the path Germany traveled after the Third Reich.  “When you’re living in the rubble you’ve created, narcissism is difficult to sustain.  When you have to engage in a daily struggle to survive, impatience is useless if not deadly.  When you have been defeated so thoroughly that you lack both capability and will to resist those who beat you, you don’t control anything.  By 1950, those same German people and their leadership reverted to pro-social thinking in government.”

In the same issue Dave Lindorff reports on a bizarre incident that occurred this August 29, when without authorization a crew loaded a B-52 with six cruise missiles armed with live nuclear warheads and flew across the country.  Even more bizarre, six airmen connected with the incident have died in the weeks since.  Most bizarre of all, the story has barely received notice in the mainstream press. 

The cover story argues that conservatives will need to share more than hatred of Hillary Clinton if they are to win the 2008 elections.  An article about Graham Greene expresses amazement that G. W. Bush recently mentioned The Quiet American when he himself so obviously embodies the worst traits of that novel’s two protagonists.  Uri Avnery reviews Mearsheimer and Walt’s The Lobby,  Neil Clark decries the British Conservative Party’s leftward drift, and Pat Buchanan expresses nostalgia for Richard Nixon’s Southern Strategy.

Glittering With Sweetness

Here is another post, to rival my last one in pointlessness and ridiculousness.  This time it is a translation of a modern poem.  For maximum pretentiousness, I’m including the original in transliteration.  As an additional bonus, there is also a paragraph from the back of the book, which provides some insight into the particular qualities of this poet’s oeuvre, not to mention its glittering sweetness.

“Another Flowerpot”

This is what you want, thus

The rifle of the hunt,

and the horse’s saddle

and the bag of tobacco suspended from the ceiling.

This, therefore,

is what has called you to return, friend.

Take also,

the colorful bundle of papers.

(You still attend to the lighting of firewood.)

And the shaving implements – those – that are on the shelf.

And the jacket of hide..

And also bottles of wine buried in straw.

Do not grieve, friend,

for your flowers grow, now,

in another flowerpot.


aSiiSun aaxaru

 haaðaa maa turiidu-hu, iðan

bunduqiyyata al-Saydi,

wa-sarja al-HiSaani

wa-Surrata al-tibği al-mu<allaqata fii al-saqfi.

haaðaa, iðan,

maa da<aa-ka ilaa al-<awdati ayyuhaa al-Sadiiqu.

xuð ayDan,

Huzmata al-awraaqi al-mulawwanata

fa-maa tazaalu tuSliHu li-ish<aali al-HaTabi.

wa-adawaati al-Hilaaqati – tilka – allatii <alaa al-raffi.

wa-sutrata al-jildi..

wa-ayDan zujaajaati al-nabiiði al-maTmuurata fii al-qašši.

laa ta’sa ayyuhaa al-Sadiiqu

fa-azhaaru-ka tanbutu, al-aana,

fii aSiiSin aaxara.


The first of what he discloses to you (in this collection by Amjad Nasir) are his conditions of mind, which flourish, isolated from language’s protection:  very naked poems, with far-reaching sensitivity.  Some are natural compositions, while others enlist technical skills.  Each poem is a short idea, an idea like a brief gleam of light, intelligent and compassionate.  Amjad paves the way for them with spare introductions, with just a minimal flavor, through which he leads you into the snare of a conclusion glittering with sweetness.

When Language Ceases To Have Meaning

I’ve decided to post a translation I did.  It consists of three paragraphs from an editorial in a Yemeni newspaper.  It does not make sense, on the whole.  This translation probably represents about a quarter of the original article.  I’m beginning to develop a theory that translation is impossible between certain languages.  For example:  Arabic to English.  I attribute this to two reasons:

(1)The dictionary meanings of words do not convey how a given word is truly used in a context.  There tends to be some subtlety of meaning, some particular requirement of how a word should be used, which the dictionary just cannot explain.

(2)Writers of different languages not only use entirely different sets of conventions but employ completely different textures of expression.  Arabic seems to have the ability to pile clause upon clause in run-on, nay “runaway” sentences which English could never replicate without severely violating some of its most cherished constitutional pillars…and we’re sure not abrogating those after more than 200 years! 

[Intro / Summary]

The people who are debating [the disputants] about the political rights of women consider that the most [an end-point] that can be arrived at [of what it is possible that he / it ?? arrives at] is the opening [the horizon] of a standing dialogue between the political decision-makers.  This would be in conformity to [it is agreement about] the relative shaping of the existing female scope in situations of authority and [strength of work ??].  [This is] in accordance with what they [??] view as a transformation in a direction of [availability] of new [growth] pertaining to female bearing, as long as they [had proceeded] within the narrowest margins of their political program.


“The Disconcerting Impetuosity in the Direction of Women”

In the shadow of the debate like this or the horizon like that, which they’re sketching for the future of women, the most remote thing that can be predicted at the present time is the disconcerting impetuosity which forces some of the nationally politically strong into riding the wave of keeping away from the animosity about the general direction.  It is a fact that it is necessary to have in mind its [cautions] before the declaration of any document of national work which Yemeni parties and arrangements obtain access to.


[Skip SIX PARAGRAPHS; last paragraph:]

What we hope for is a detailed, logical reading of the Yemeni reality, from whose horizons spring forth clear political visions.  It is defined by its reason better […] political strengthening for the woman, by which it makes her with good thought of the leadership of the brother and president Ali Abdullah Salih who […] its great trust in its expansive and humanistic stage.

America’s Most Powerful Lobby

The Nation, 15 October 2007

Two pieces deal with the likelihood that rightists will spend the next few decades trying to convince themselves and the voting public that the reason the war in Iraq was such a disaster was that the left stabbed America in the back.  A column by Eric Alterman compares the rumblings to this effect that we have already heard to the Nazi movement’s claim that Germany’s defeat in the 1914-1918 War was due to a Jewish plot to stab the country in the back.  A review essay by Rick Perlstein takes on recent books claiming that the USA was at some point close to success in Vietnam, dismantling the scholarly pretensions of these books and using Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ theory of the stages of grief to argue that when an American military intervention turns out badly, hawks “begin with denial, anger, and bargaining, just like you and me.  And that’s where they stay- forever paralyzed by a petulant refusal to acknowledge their fantasy’s passing, a simple inability to process reality.” 

 The article that made me the angriest documented a systematic effort on the part of the army to pressure doctors to misdiagnose wounded Iraq vets so that they would not qualify for disability benefits.  Hardly less angering was an article about the immunity that mercenary gangs like Blackwater Corporation enjoy for murders and other crimes committed in Iraq. 

The closest thing to light entertainment in the issue was Jane Smiley’s review of the memoirs of Frank Schaeffer, son of Francis and Edith Schaeffer, two of the founders of the contemporary Christian Right.  Schaeffer’s rebellion against his parents’ beliefs and his horrifying descriptions of the personalities of leading evangelists seem to be part of a lively, interesting personality.

The American Conservative, 8 October 2007

Andrew Bacevich, a retired colonel best known as the author of The New American Militarism, excoriates General David Petraeus’ recent Congressional testimony, pointing out that if Petraeus were correct and the “surge” were working, then his recommendation that it be discontinued would be preposterous.  Bacevich argues that the elite in Washington is driven chiefly by the fear of admitting that it was wrong.  After reviewing Petraeus’ arguments and contrasting his views with the more cautious pronouncements of other senior commanders, Bacevich concludes:

Politically, it qualifies as a brilliant maneuver.  The general’s relationships with official Washington remain intact.  Yet he has broken faith with the soldiers he commands and the Army to which he has devoted his life.  He has failed his country.  History will not judge him kindly.   

American debates on foreign policy are usually conducted in terms of two, and only two, historical analogies: Munich and Vietnam.  Not only do these analogies grow tiresome, but their use in debate rests on an absurd set of oversimplifications.  Those tired of this idiocy may welcome Paul W. Schroeder’s “Fire Fight.”  Schroeder compares the current position of the USA in Iraq to the position of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in Italy in the period 1848-1859.  Not only does Schroeder draw out intriguing parallels between the way the Hapsburgs weakened themselves by wasting their resources in an unwinnable war in Italy and the way in which America is weakening itself in Iraq, he also acknowledges what the Munich–Vietnam shouters usually overlook, that an analogy is a comparison between things which are in other respects dissimilar.  Given that definition, a “perfect analogy” is a contradiction in terms.  Schroeder specifies the limits within which analogy is useful. 

 Other highlights include Philip Weiss, keeper of the mondoweiss blog, on the apparent inability of the organization Freedom Watch to specify its relationship with the Bush administration or its policy towards Israel; Kelley Beaucar Vlahos on neoconservatives among the top advisors to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama; and Pat Buchanan on the future of Belgium.

Oxford Etymologist

Here’s a blog on the Oxford University Press website.  Linguist Anatoly Liberman takes on a variety of etymological questions.  His post about the origin of words like “east” and “west” is particularly fun.