Wednesday, January 31, 2007

An Important Paper from AJC

About left-wing academics (Jews) helping anti-Semtism:
"Progressive" Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism by Alvin H. Rosenfeld
Backpost finished 2009-11-29. Another one totally done by stamped date. Historical note - I actually was assigned this essay in one of my graduate classes.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Princeton and the Military

This is a nice New Republic article by Prof. Tony Grafton (whom I knew from school but he would have no reason to know me - and I'm quite impressed that his son went into the service, whoa) about Princeton's relationship to military service. It's yet another reason I love my alma mater - it was good to be an Orthodox Jew there, they were decent towards Israel and they were good patriots. Yay Princeton.
Military Academy
by Anthony Grafton
Post date: 01.23.07, Issue date: 01.29.07

A few weeks ago, Andrew Delbanco wrote eloquently in The New Republic about the strange silence of his university in this time of war ("War College," December 11, 2006). Most people don't think of Columbia University as an island of stillness and detachment. In Morningside Heights, as in Israel, any four people usually have eight opinions and express them with articulate fury. Yet Columbia holds its peace about Iraq--and, according to Delbanco, shows few traces of its active participation in America's other wars.

Princeton University, where I work, does feel like an island, "rising," as F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in 1927, "a green Phoenix, out of the ugliest country in the world"--an idyllic haven, quiet and Gothic. At its best, it resembles the ideal college Lionel Trilling longed for, where students and faculty can ignore the present and study something serious and lasting, such as Linear B. At its worst, it's a bubble--which is how the students often describe it.

Yet Princeton has always played its part in America's wars. The Battle of Princeton left cannonball scars in the stone walls of Nassau Hall. In its entrance corridor, marble tablets record the names of Princetonians who have died in America's wars (equal numbers, famously, died for the North and South). Bronze stars outside the windows identify the onetime residences of those who died in the twentieth century. We have a ROTC unit--a very good one. Our students have joined, and continue to join, the military. The 2005 salutatorian, a gifted and modest historian, did so. The Alumni Weekly carries articles not only about General Petraeus, who took his doctorate here some years ago, but also about undergraduate alumni who have flown fighter planes over Afghanistan and fought throughout Iraq.

Talk to support staff and secretaries, custodians and craftsmen, and you hear at once of loved ones in the military. Despite the stereotypes, the war touches professors as well. One colleague's son, an infantry officer in the Marines, was badly wounded in Iraq. Another, who joined the Army as an infantryman, came back uninjured from a long period in the Sunni Triangle, where he saw--a lot. My son joined the Marines when he graduated from college in 2002. He's a helicopter pilot, and, until now, he has served in Asia. But his friends from the Basic School have gone everywhere, including Falluja and Ramadi. Some of them are dead.

So what's our duty, as professors, in this time of war? What should we say and do? We can vote for and support politicians who opposed it, as I have, if we think it's a debacle. But now, and in the future, we will have soldiers and officers in the field--strange fields where they engage in asymmetrical warfare with populations they don't know. Sometimes this will be the right thing to do. Can we help our soldiers do their job--and explain that job to their civilian bosses?

Those of us who have never served in the military usually don't know a lot about it. In 1975, when I arrived at Princeton, many older members of the faculty had served in World War II or the Korean war. Nowadays, by contrast, few members of the faculty have military experience--and those who do are likely to be Canadians or Israelis. Of course, some scholars study the military, past and present, but the base of direct knowledge that most of us have is not very deep--compared with what we know about, say, the federal government.

I have tried to remedy my ignorance in the professor's age-old ways: reading and asking questions of knowledgeable colleagues, including a former Army officer and an Israeli former student. Whenever I can, I talk to my son and his friends. I have learned a little. I know, now, that when politicians speak of war as something that can be clean and simple, that won't demand terrible actions of those who fight and terrible suffering from civilians, they lie. But I'm still very ignorant, and most of my fellow professors know even less than I do. We who teach young men and women need to know more about what we ask some of them to do on our behalf and what it takes to do their jobs.

It wouldn't hurt to ask how they and their commanders have done better than the university at some tasks that really matter for the United States. My son has taken a lot of orders from people of color--every color. The colonel who commanded the group with which he initially trained wore a size-24 flight suit when he met her, since she was pregnant with her third child. I can't be the only old white male professor who would like to see universities look more like the military, in these respects, than they do now.

But I also suspect that the military needs us--especially those of us who work not in policy studies or international relations but in the humanities and soft social sciences. I don't mean that we should become amateur pundits. One lesson of the last few years, surely, is that we should ignore pundits and listen to people who know what they're talking about.

Well, we humanists know a few important things. We know that language is more powerful than any other weapon and that you can't change the ideas of someone you can't talk to. We know that local history and lived culture shape men and women in ways that no amount of violence can change. We know that many of our policies have not, in recent years, given foreigners good reasons for associating the United States with enlightenment and liberty. We need to make these things clear to those who fight and die in our name and to the civilian authorities who send them into battle. We won't achieve that by pulling up the hems of our garments and refusing to have anything to do with them.

Recent stories suggest that important people in the military have grasped some of these points. It's time, and past time, to start more conversations: time for each of these institutions, and its inhabitants, to learn more about the other. Above all, it's time to find factual, substantive ways of talking about what the military can and can't do and about how it could be more effective and less destructive when it must wage war. Here in Princeton's bubble, where America's wars are never all that far away, it seems possible that we could do this.

Anthony Grafton is a contributing editor at The New Republic.
Backpost finished 2009-11-29. Don't know why, again, I had to wait so long to put up a basically finished post.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

TNR About Bernard Williams

The TNR book review section gushes all over Bernard Williams (the philosopher, not the football player).

This is what I mean when I use the term 'gush:'
"When Bernard Williams died, in 2003, the loss was felt well beyond the refined world of academic philosophy. In a succession of obituaries and affectionate memorial events at Cambridge, Oxford, and Berkeley, distinguished contemporaries from many fields testified to the inspiration he had given them. All spoke of his terrifying brilliance, his dazzling speed of mind and extraordinary range of understanding, his zest and his glittering wit."
Except, uh, Williams was an idiot. I read his facile and paper-thin philosophy as a freshman, in Philosophy 202. My preceptor (who was named Elijah, no joke) could have written the line I quoted from the TNR. And every precept the 19-year-old Styx would tear William's arguments into individual twizzler pieces. Elijah didn't like that.

My counter-Williams insurgency taught me two things that have kept with me till today:
  1. I am a halfway decent philosopher,
  2. Moral philosophy should not be taught in University.
Philosophy is about thinking on your own, not about what well-credentialed idiots have to say. If you are right, and they are wrong, the ideas should stand on their own. Philosophy lives and dies every moment of every day. It lives whenever and wherever there is still the unknown or unknowable; it dies when it's replaced by science.

Remember this about Williams, and academic philosophy. Moral Philosophy, as it's taught in grand academic centers, is on a lower level of sophistication than a High School Yeshiva mussar schmooze.

No surprise, I guess.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

After Two Months, He Used My Quote

Andrew Sullivan will frequently post a 'quote of the day' (or two). On Oct 22, 2006 I sent him this email:
Dear Andrew,

Naturally, as a classically trained, ivy educated, doctoral level pseudo academic, I frequently read quote books as a substitute for real books. I recently acquired "The New Penguin Dictionary of Modern Quotations" ed. Robert Andrews (London, 2001) [ISBN 0-14-051443-0] at a used book store. On page 240, there is this gem:

"Vietnam presumably taught us that the United States could not serve as the world's policeman; it should also have taught us the dangers of trying to be the world's midwife to democracy when the birth is scheduled to take place under conditions of guerrilla war."

By? Jeane Kirkpatrick, in "Dictatorship and Double Standards" (Commentary magazine, November 1979).

And if that's not enough, later on the same page, from a fellow K quotable:

"The American foreign policy trauma of the sixties and seventies was caused by applying valid principles to unsuitable conditions." - Henry Kissinger, from the "Guardian" 16 December 1992. According to the editors, the context was "Arguing against a role for the USA as 'world policeman.'"

Thought you would like such grist for your mill.

All the best,
[The Styx]
So today, I see this post: Andrew Sullivan | The Daily Dish: Quote for the Day II:

'Vietnam presumably taught us that the United States could not serve as the world's policeman; it should also have taught us the dangers of trying to be the world's midwife to democracy when the birth is scheduled to take place under conditions of guerrilla war,' - Jeane Kirkpatrick. Commentary, 1979."
It's nice to be able to make some contribution.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Exactly as I Predicted.

A few weeks ago, I predicted about the next few months vis-a-vis impeachment and the subsequent Executive Branch shuffle: "My prediction of impeachment, now that the Democrats won, is that as soon as the water starts to boil, Cheney will bail. Health reasons, ya know." As a result, I claimed that the next VP - who will be the President when Bush is impeached or resigns, will be Gonzales or Rice: "All this means that we may be looking at a President Gonzales or Rice in a year."

Michael Crowley in yesterdays New Republic says this:
Because standards are lower on weekends... here's a new rumor straight from an insidious "Washington cocktail party": John Negroponte is becoming deputy secretary of state as preparation to replace Condi Rice when she leaves her job. Why would she do that? To take over for an "ailing" Dick Cheney as vice president.
We'll see if I'm right and if so, may God have mercy on us all.

{2009: Boy, was I wrong.}

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Cowher Retires

Friday, evidently when I was busy preparing for Shabbos, I read:
"Pittsburgh head coach Bill Cowher, who was the longest tenured coach in the NFL, officially announced his resignation on Friday, leaving the Steelers after 15 seasons."
The Steelers have been my family's team for as long as I can remember and he has been the face of my team for so very long. My eldest son watches last year's Superbowl over and over (he's doing so now) and one of the phrases he repeats from the telecast is "Billcower!" I don't know how to break the news to him [sniff]

Friday, January 05, 2007

Stay Tuned for Death Death Death

Over the past few weeks there have been quite a few significant deaths that require my extensive scrutiny.

Dec 25 - James Brown
Dec 26 - Gerald Ford
Dec 30 - Saddam Hussein, yimach shemo
Jan 2 - Teddy Kollek.

Four kings: a godfather, a president, a tyrant, and a mayor. The Godfather of Soul and the King of Funk, The 38th President of the US, the tyrant of Iraq and the Butcher of Bahgdad, and Mayor of the greatest city the world has ever known.

{2009 Update: The picture is Gustave Dore's depiction of the River Styx... how appropriate for the blog!}

Bookcloseouts Alert is one of my favorite online stores. It's a remainder bookstore, online, that I visit about 3 times a year and receive a big box of cheap books in return. They have a great selection of comic-strip books (e.g. Dilbert, Get Fuzzy).

This month they have a coupon sale. Enter these in and shop away (all expire Jan 31, 2007).

Coupon #1:
Deal: Get $5 off an order of $25 or more
Coupon code: 5off25
Coupon password: bookcloseouts

Coupon #2:
Deal: Get $10 off an order of $50 or more
Coupon code: 10off50
Coupon password: bookcloseouts
Expires: Jan 31, 2007

Coupon #3:
Deal: Get $20 off an order of $100 or more
Coupon code: 20off100
Coupon password: bookcloseouts
Expires: Jan 31, 2007


There are those who claim they have a 'gay-dar:' a secret skill to determine if a stranger is a homosexual. This skill - born from extensive watching of musicals, living in New York City, being in a High School band, or living in the closet - is largely a crock. Skill is developed only through testing for outcomes and since strangers don't ever reveal their sex-lives, there's no way to confirm a positive or negative test. Many of the gay-dar operators are the same type who claim they are 'an excellent judge of character.'

The absurdity of the Dar system is seen in this great Onion piece (I Can Instantly Tell Whether Someone Is African-American With My Amazing 'Blackdar').

All that said, I think I have developed a special skill along the same lines as the vaunted Gay-Dar and the mysterious BlackDar: a Craze-Dar. I have a highly trained sense for who's nutty as a fruitcake. As a communal professional this comes up often and has a real-world effect because most people just don't seem to know when they are dealing with a nut-ball.

Suuure, the obvious crazies are no contest. Most people can spot the looney if said nut wears stinky denim, carries his wallet in a plastic bag and screams regularly at squirrels. But only a well-trained Craze-dar operator like myself knows the yellow-flag difference.


Woo, my brain is clogged from not blogging in a month. Ever since the birth of my second child (another boy, woo-hoo), I've been unable to muster the strength to clear the brain-blog barrier. But I took some Mental-Kaopectate and I will post some stuff today.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Sinatra is truly my man

When Sinatra died in the late 90s I went into heavy Sinatra mode. He is the song-man for any true-blue American male (and all that). Just now, reading the obit for Teddy Kollek by Martin Peretz, I see this:
[Kollek] was also a smuggler, a smuggler of weapons during the state's gestation period and directly afterwards. He was the Jewish defense army's man in New York, the representative of the Haganah, headquartered in Hotel 14 on East 60th Street where the Copacabana was housed. I don't know whether it is there that Teddy met Frank Sinatra. But, someplace, he (and Frank's lawyer Mickey Rudin, but that's another story I'll tell you sometime) lured Sinatra into the illegal gun running racket to Palestine and then to Israel.

Italian mafiosi, bound to the longshoremen in Hoboken, ran the contraband. The FBI was tapping everyone's phones. So Sinatra became their ongoing live cross-Hudson contact to shun the feds. He was a faithful friend of Zion till the end. Many years later, I presided at a Jerusalem Foundation dinner at which Sinatra was presented with a medal for his dangerous work. After all, he could have gone to jail. We gave him a renaissance map with the four spheres of the earth converging with Jerusalem at the apex, the center of the world. Here's what the presentation said, "From Jerusalem, city of David, sweet singer of Israel. To Frank Sinatra, sweet singer of America."
That's all I need, baby. He's mine forever. I am truly proud that Joseph was born to his music - because, in addition to being cool, its now frum.

Backpost finished on 5/1/08, 12:51 AM