Sunday, April 24, 2011

With Obituarists Like That . . .

This remarkably gristly piece of meat cooked to toughest inedibility and served up in the Guardian on a chipped and discolored stoneware dish by Martin Amis on the subject of his dear dying friend Christopher Hitchens—so tight are they, in fact, that Mr. Amis has packed up his family and moved from England to America to watch Mr. Hitchens undergo a last-ditch experimental cancer treatment—suggests Mr. Amis has had not a little difficulty eulogizing his best beloved—the one, at any rate, he doesn’t look at in the mirror every day—which, when you think about it, makes sense because a) Mr. Hitchens hasn’t as yet kicked the bucket and therefore will be perusing Mr. Amis’s obituary of him before it has earned the title in actuality, and b) Mr. Amis appears to envy Mr. Hitchens with such a simmering desperate intensity that something rather more akin to hatred than admiration—and this about a man whose own encomia of him have come awfully close to reading like love letters—rises from the page like the rancid stink of days-old mutton.

This: “Lenin used to boast that his objective, in debate, was not rebuttal and then refutation: it was the ‘destruction’ of his interlocutor. This isn’t Christopher’s policy—but it is his practice.”  Whoa. Sounds like a man who’s been at the splintered-door end of the Hitchensian verbal battering ram more than once.

And this:

As a young man, Christopher was conspicuously unpredatory in the sexual sphere (while also being conspicuously pan-affectionate: “I’ll just make a brief pass at everyone,” he would typically and truthfully promise a mixed gathering of 14 or 15 people, “and then I’ll be on my way”). I can’t say how it went, earlier on, with the boys; with the girls, though, Christopher was the one who needed to be persuaded. And I do know that in this area, if in absolutely no other, he was sometimes inveigled into submission. 

Golly, Mr. Serial-Philanderer-and-Betrayer-of-Women! What’s a guy—your BFF—gotta do to measure up?

And this, on “Christopher’s baffling weakness for puns,” which

. . . doesn’t much matter when the context is less than consequential (it merely grinds the reader to a temporary halt). But a pun can have no business in a serious proposition. Consider the following, from 2007: “In the very recent past, we have seen the Church of Rome befouled by its complicity with the unpardonable sin of child rape, or, as it might be phrased in Latin form, ‘no child’s behind left’.” Thus the ending of the sentence visits a riotous indecorum on its beginning. . . . But puns are the result of an anti-facility: they offer disrespect to language, and all they manage to do is make words look stupid.

On the contrary: That particular play manages to make words look quite the opposite of stupid. But Mr. Amis, culling like an enemy, does succeed in making many others of Mr. Hitchens’s words look very stupid, indeed, while claiming for them a “magisterial expansiveness.”  Some of the “insights that lead the reader to a recurring question: If this is so obviously true, and it is, why did we have to wait for Christopher to point it out to us?”:

There is, especially in the American media, a deep belief that insincerity is better than no sincerity at all. . . . One reason to be a decided antiracist is the plain fact that “race” is a construct with no scientific validity. DNA can tell you who you are, but not what you are. . . . [I]n America, your internationalism can and should be your patriotism. . . . It is only those who hope to transform human beings who end up by burning them, like the waste product of a failed experiment.

Before he passes on to that atheist’s great post-life nothingness in the sky, Mr. Hitchens might ask himself how he ended up with so unloving and unforgiving a man as Mr. Amis as his kaddish, and whether there isn’t a special place in Hell for friends like that.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Worse Than Jimmy Carter

“Every country is different, and every situation is different.” That is the kind of deep foreign policy mystery some of us might not have puzzled out on our own but for the little tutorial delivered by the president’s press secretary this afternoon on the mowing down of demonstrators across Syria, and the difference between Bashar al-Assad’s bloody mercy and that of Muammar Qaddafi. We could still be swimming like protozoa in the primordial soup out of which Mr. Obama fished us upon ascending to office in 2009; thanks to today’s instructional offering, though—and others very much like it over the long months—we are all kitted out for fathoming many of the worlds riddles, including the delicacy with which he and his secretary of state have greeted the ongoing slaughter, in Syria as elsewhere.
Q:  On Syria—do you have anything to say on Syria today?  Lots of violence and—

MR. CARNEY:  As we have [said] consistently throughout this period, we deplore the use of violence and we’re very concerned about what we’ve—the reports we’ve seen from Syria.  We are monitoring it very closely; call on the Syrian government to cease and desist from the use of violence against peaceful protestors; call on all sides to cease and desist from the use of violence; and also call on the Syrian government to follow through on its promises and take action towards the kind of concrete reform that they promised.

Q:  Jay, even though the U.S. and other countries keep condemning what’s happening in Syria, the situation there just gets worse.  So is there any discussion in the administration about taking any further action, since the situation there is starting to look like it was in Libya when the U.S. took action?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I mean, I have no updates on that, except to say that every country is different and every situation is different.  And the circumstances that presented themselves in Libya were actually quite unique to Libya in terms of the imminent assault on a town with a sizeable population which Muammar Qaddafi had promised to show no mercy; the opportunity to prevent that kind of slaughter of civilians; the unified international consensus that action should be taken that was not just Western but included Arab League and other support; the request from the opposition there for the kind of assistance that was provided through—and has been provided through U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973. . . .  So those circumstances were quite unique.

Really? Muammar Qaddafi “promised to show no mercy”; Bashar al-Assad is showing no mercy. Where is the outraged call for him to go? A despot in a dress may be more than our president can take. If you’re a pants-wearing dictator, though, you apparently pass muster.

These champions of pusillanimity would be dismissible enough—the Adlai Stevensons or Michael Dukakises of our day—if they were at the Institute for New Economic Thinking or the UN or the U. S. Institute of Peace, and we were safely out of their way. But they’re in office, they’ve spent this amazing gift from the American people attempting to deconstruct our musculature and armature, and their awful display of timorousness here is the actual expression of U.S. foreign policy as it is now. What’s more, their refusal to distinguish between oppressor and oppressed—“we . . . call on all sides to cease and desist from the use of violence”—shames us in the world and endangers us.

This is worse than Jimmy Carter at his presidential worst, and as bad as ever he has become.  

Friday, April 15, 2011

At the Straussian Picnic

Does one don white gloves and boater
A mask, a whip
A boa floater?
What, I wonder, does one wear
When invited to appear
Among the denizens of Athens
(Well, Athens as they’d like to see it,
Chicagified and monotheist)?

They’re chowing down on Hebrew Nationals
Someone asks: Is Bellow rational?
Should Pericles have lowered taxes?
Was Hobbes the Father of the Axis?
(Will Nietzsche please get off our backses?)
Did Montesquieu invent our Nation?
Can Hegel save his reputation?

Is man-boy love the wrong persuasion?

Oh, thanatos and thanatopsie
Will I break bread with Seth Cropsey?
Will Baumann and McClay be there?
Will Francis Fukuyama share
His thoughts about Robespierre?
Will I learn at last to grasp
The meaning of Pythagoras?
Will I understand the Good
And tease out just where Plato stood
On sophistry and eidoshood?

Mais non, helas
I’ve not been asked.
Nor will I be.
It’s purdah-land you see for me.
Pariahville’s my destiny.
I guess I’ll never get to Know
What I don’t Know.
Ah, well, to hell,
No, to Hellas,
With that bloody show. 

First, Do No Good

Once we Americans stood up for victims of the world’s vilest human rights abusers; while they sat, bent, starved, crawling with vermin, cold, light-deprived, in the prison cells and torture chambers of murderous religious autocracies, vicious tyrannies, and cruel dictatorships, we said their names—and the names of their tormenters—out loud and in outrage, and on the quiet, too. The knowledge that we were doing so—and they did know—helped prisoners draw courage and hope, and overcome despair, whatever they suffered. When they were freed, those who hadn’t died of their injuries, anyway, and when it was our pressure that had made release possible, they said so. They put their faith in our greatness, and so did we. We believed in the desire of subjugated people everywhere to share in it and benefit from it, and we manfully shouldered burdens and shed our own blood in the name of it.

Once we stood with our friends and allies and went after our enemies even though—and sometimes because—the rest of the world found our doing so an inexplicable affront to its fine pusillanimity.

Once we were men.

Now we are chilly, effete, feminized, Europeans manqués—or that, at any rate, is what the man who is currently the face of our nation is—and to hell with anyone crying out for our protection. Even the voices of that repugnant collection of primitive Jew-hating anti-Western misogynists who are interned in the infamous prison complexes of Egypt, Syria, Iran, and Libya, or whose blood is at the moment staining the streets of Tehran, Cairo, Damascus, Dara, and Benghazi—yes, even those barbaric humanoid brutes might, under the right circumstances and with the most careful and attentive re-education, be redeemed one day to full humanness in actuality—call out to us. They lick their wounds and bury their dead while they wait for us, more and more hopelessly, or, worse, find themselves, some of them without knowing quite how it’s happened, suspended in the sticky silk of a new colony of religious autocrats—an old-new colony, really; the Muslim Brotherhood has lurked a very long time indeed, spinning, black-widow-like, in hungry anticipation of encasing and devouring them.

And little wonder: So deformed is Mr. Obama’s worldview by the moral equivalence he sucked at the teats of his various masters, that he is able to expel in the same breath a condemnation of “the abhorrent violence committed against peaceful protesters by the Syrian government today and over the past few weeks,” and a warning against “any use of violence by protesters.” But these struggles interest us less and less; they are France’s business now (Toujours la Résistance!), and the EU’s, and NATO’s, and the Arab League’s.

The self-satisfied man who finds the non-perkified aspects of the presidency—the actual work of being the world’s primer inter pares—increasingly irksome, and his constituency—the rest of us Americans, his aggrieved leftist base no less by now than the tea-partiers for whom he has so often evinced such sneering contempt—an increasingly irritating interruption of his fun; the fishy-cool man who casts aside alliances of longstanding with no second thought; the mendacious man who is not above claiming credit for securing deals he’s vocally opposed and pretending to oppose deals he means to make—that is a man who has never betrayed the oath he apparently swore just after he’d finished promising to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States” and just before he and his resentful bride were installed in the White House: First, Do No Good.