Transference watch

I liked the speech and the Q&A at the Republican caucus meeting, but I’m not sure we have to depend on Obama, as opposed to ourselves, nurturing the best in us. The Dish today:

Because unless the tone changes, unless the pure obstructionism and left-right ding-dong cycle stops, we are on a fast track to catastrophe.
[…] Maybe over the long haul, the poison of the past has to be worked through with Obama as therapist in chief.

Maybe Andrew for his part can stop hectoring people at the Corner and start engaging them directly, without demonizing insults.

Joe Carter and Marty Lederman, conservative and a liberal respectively, manage to avoid vilifying the people they argue with, over the issue of “enhanced interrogations” and torture. Each of them have rejected the Sullivan approach, because the problem is too important to let insults put people into camps, always ready to marshal their collective resources for war.

… Maybe The Dish’s post is partly a cry for help: might the Therapist in Chief call him and ask to help him to work through his poison? … Hopefully, Andrew’s mantra “Know hope” doesn’t apply in that scenario.

Each of us will just have to control ourselves for the greater good; it’s the small-c conservative way. He wrote us a book about it.

BTW, the Nietzsche quote Andrew gave a C+ interpretation of is applicable here.


Political epistemology with Nietzsche, the Dish’s favorite!

I finished my last post about the instant interpretation, without questions, in Andrew’s discussion of the suicide bomb who killed 7 American CIA agents. Having said that Andrew was subordinating questions about facts to his desired interpretation, I thought it might be helpful to address the distinction between fact and interpretation, in light of one of Andrew’s favorite books of philosophy, Beyond Good and Evil.

Nietzsche famously wrote, in his notebooks, that there are no facts, only interpretations.

Andrew has quoted BGE recently, and several months ago, he put a couple lines from the book under a big picture of Dick Cheney’s grim face, giving Friedrich Nietzsche the Dish’s Quote of the Day:

“He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.”

In posting a huge picture of Cheney, The Dish implies that Andrew has a very shallow interpretation of this quote. This is one of his favorites books, but he has forgotten how it discusses subjectivity multiplying, inescapably, whenever we try to grasp so-called “reality,” as if the “world” and the “self” were distinct things. This is the context in which the book often uses the term “abyss.”

The quote is not so much about what the book calls, figuratively, the “outer world,” from which people want to find true knowledge, but about what the book calls the “inner worlds” of a person.

Where there are no definitive answers, Nietzsche thought we were instead looking long into an abyss. Therefore, our questions about “what is real” ended up saying more about the mystery of ourselves than the mystery of the world.

That’s when you might encounter the image of a monster in yourself, when you’re looking for images of monsters in the world, because there are no monsters in themselves, that’s only your interpretation. “There are absolutely no moral phenomena, only a moral interpretation of the phenomena,” as Beyond Good and Evil says.

Andrew was not warning Cheney not to define Bin Laden as a monster — which would be a heresy for both Andrew and myself, both of us disappointing Nietzsche — but simply not to become a monster.  The fact is Nietzsche’s idea here about “fighting with monsters” relates only shallowly to Cheney’s having sanctioned a degree of torture or undermined the limitation on powers of government, like his nemesis Al-Quaeda. The quote relates much more to the question of what Andrew’s identifying Cheney as a monster says about Andrew.

Andrew, as Nietzsche’s reader, is supposed to question more about the significance of passages like this on The Dish:

And then, of course, there is the total, rigid opposition to any reform and any cooperation at all from the nihilist Republicans. Obama is president for three more years. He will survive. He may even prosper. But this really would be a massive blow. To get this close and lose health insurance would embolden every enemy Obama has, from Netanyahu to Ailes.

That’s the only reason to vote for Coakley on Tuesday.

Is it? I think something’s missing there in the argument for having a Democratic majority in the Senate in the imminent future … But what? … Ah yes, the prospect of not getting health insurance to over 30,000,000 Americans.

If their lives are only secondary, that seems to make Andrew’s accusation of “nihilism” hypocritical. Of course, Andrew soon expanded his list of reasons for Health Care Reform to include health, while continuing to circle back to the meta-narrative where health care is important because Obama and the entire American system have internal enemies ( — who apparently are almost all Republicans, Fox-News-watching independents and miscellaneous supporters of “the Likud line on Israel”).

Perhaps aware of how blinkered his pairing of Netanyahu and Ailes, two weeks later he finally connected the passing of HCR to some foreign actors who actually would like to see the fall of the United States. Now, “Netanyahu and Khamenei and Chavez and Sarkozy [are] all watching to see what this guy is made of” … and I guess he’s implying that Khamenei and Chavez are watching like enemies do … meaning, like Netanyahu and Ailes do, I guess.

The Dish’s use of “nihilism,” as press turned to HCR rejectionism of House progressives, finally began to change over to the less demonizing and more verbally accurate “cyn

Realists and “Isrealists”: Why ask any questions when you can use Ockham’s razor?

I hadn’t thought much about the Dish’s linking to Daniel Larrison, of The American Conservative, on the relationship between jihadism and American support of Israel. Unlike Jeffrey Goldberg, I dismissed Sullivan’s saying this topic of discussion is where “angels fear to tread” as the Dish’s usual Israel-related provocateurism that Sullivan employs for many reasons — it’s “multi-determined,” as his shrink says — such as getting a charge out of touchy people questioning whether he has become anti-Israel/antisemitic.

Sullivan writes:

Jihadism has many causes. It is, as my shrink helpfully says, multi-determined. But the idea that Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and pulverization of Gaza can be bracketed entirely out of that dynamic is loopy (see how the CIA’s double agent turned again after Gaza).

I agree, it’s loopy. But just as loopy is the idea that a journalist would reflexively accept that someone would decide to blow-up a cadre of CIA agents in Afghanistan because of a jag of TV broadcasts about the Gaza “pulverization” (that’s what the Dish has been obsessively calling it). Really, we just have to “see how” an agent in Afghanistan was turned by Gaza — that simple, no questions asked?

Such a claim is simply too suspicious for us to be unquestioning and too good for “Isrealists” like Stephen Walt to be true. By “Isrealist,” I mean that Walt claims all his positions are natural extensions of the principles of “foreign policy realism,” when his forte (and financial provider) has become Israel’s conflicts, based on his blog at Foreign Policy. Its “Daily Reads” links are mostly Israel-centered (including the anti-Zionist blog MondoWeiss but not including even one Israeli newspaper).

Likewise, Andrew Sullivan should not be so eager to accept this interpretation of the facts, that intellectual curiosity becomes less important than patting himself on the back for his “realism” — the “realism” which he explains is behind the Dish’s counterattacks in “Netanyahu’s war against the Obama administration.”

It’s too convenient that this suicide bomb was motivated by “Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and pulverization of Gaza,” since these are precisely the two things that Andrew Sullivan has been fixated on, not necessarily the thrust of jihadists’ Israel-related fixations. For example, the retaliatory bombing of Southern Lebanon was much, much closer to a “pulverization” — do jihadists not care about that since Gaza? What about the Jews’ cunning violation of the unholy armistice between the West Bank and the Zionist entity, in the targeting of 3 Fatah shahids behind the murder of a settler?

With Iran, the Dish emphasizes, “It’s about them,” but when it comes to Palestine, it’s not about them as much as it is about Andrew Sullivan’s year-and-a-half-old revelations about Likud and Netanyahu, even when their policies overlap with Labour’s or Kadima’s.

Anyway, Sullivan links to Matt Yglesias’ identification of a quote in the NYT interview of the suicide bomb’s brother, saying that the operation in Gaza “changed” him (into a jihadist). Neither Yglesias or Sullivan raise the question of whether this remark might be part of family members’ customary, emotionally-raw apologism for a dead terrorist’s sins.

Moreover, Gaza was already playing a major part in lies the killer told his family. A humanitarian trip there was part of a nobilizing fiction he had been telling his relatives for over a year to account for his whereabouts while working for Jordanian intelligence. The scant news (actually, lies) they heard from him was only about Gaza.

It’s common for a terrorist to delude one’s relatives while he is alive, and for a dead terrorist’s relatives to delude themselves after his death. This is normal when Israel is not involved.  Surely, Yglesias and Sullivan know this, but now that Israel is involved, it’s more persuasive and more perfectly natural that Gaza helped “change” this man … so natural that the Dish doesn’t even take a single glance at the time sequence of his radicalism. That’s pretty bad for a full-time journalist, let alone a self-professed Zionist.

From an article in Ha’aretz:

For seven years he was known by the alias Abu Dujana al-Khorasani, an influential purveyor of jihad on the Internet. His writings, assessments, and sermons were widely disseminated on the web. His entries were often laced with evasive, slippery language rich with Koranic references and citations that he used to burnish his credentials as a supporter of violent resistance to the United States.

It became clear two days ago that behind the Internet persona lurked a 36-year-old doctor from the Jordanian village of Zarqa. Last week, he did with his body what he had been preaching for years: he killed American security personnel.

Really, “years”? Before Operation Cast Lead created 4168.5 non-Palestinian jihadists, even?

Andrew should have taken a pause and argued that this young man had been deeply attached to the plight of Palestinian refugees in Jordan for years. Seems like an angle that’s harder to conclusively refute, even if it ignores anything specific he had been doing for 6 years before Operation Cast Lead. From CBS News:

What landed him in jail was his online activities,” says CBS News’ Khaled Wassef, who monitors jihadist Web forums and chat rooms. “He says that he has always dreamed of being a martyr.”

“If the love of jihad entered a man’s heart, it will not abandon him, even if he wanted so,” al-Balawi said in an interview published by the Ana Al-Muslim, or “I, the Muslim,” Web site.

Jordanian intelligence was aware of these provocative statements when they arrested al-Balawi last March after he signed up for a humanitarian mission to the Gaza Strip with a Jordanian field hospital in the wake of Israel’s offensive there, the counterterrorism officials said.

Al-Balawi was jailed for three days and shortly after that, he secretly left his native Jordan for Afghanistan, they said, suggesting he had agreed to take on the mission against al Qaeda.

So  for the Daily Dish, and maybe for Matthew Yglessias, the Jordanians are some powerful psycho-spiritual reformers, so powerful that they can turn a man who was for 7 years obsessively blogging in favor of suicidal attacks across the globe — even writing plays about the jihadist struggle everywhere (except in Israel it seems) — into a pro-moderation Muslim … a pro-moderation Muslim who had no guilt, but on the contrary, unconflicted enthusiasm in helping Jordanian intelligence and Americans attacking Taliban sites in Afghanistan.

Damn, those Jordanians are good! … The only thing that would seem to screw up that kind of mojo, according to The Dish’s theory, is the powerful counter-mojo (AKA, “bad ju ju,” heh) of Israel.

Jordan, on the other hand, wouldn’t accept any such rave reviews from Andrew. They deny that the young doctor was a long-term double agent, and they don’t say that he was turned by Gaza — perhaps Netanyahu has directly pressured King Abdullah over Blackberry chat. CBS again, with the emphasis mine:

Anonymous Jordanian intelligence sources told TIME that Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi was not a double agent working for al Qaeda, as claimed by the U.S. government. They say the bomber had provided useful information exposing al Qaeda leaders and he only turned out of anger at the high number of civilians killed in U.S. airstrikes.

He had provided bona fide information, including the location of al Qaeda leaders killed by CIA drone strikes, but a U.S. intelligence official says “there were still questions” about his “reliability” and the “access” he claimed to have to senior al Qaeda leaders, reported CBS News chief national security correspondent David Martin.

Um, you’d think the most natural reason for the “turning back” (Andrew’s words) would be either (a) that the “turning” wasn’t real in the first place — it never touched his heart — or (b) that it was real, but involved a tremendous amount of guilt at self-betrayal. The Jordanians, shifting the blame to the U.S., imply that he felt guilt about getting civilians killed; and it’s also possible he felt guilt about killing potential Muslim heroes in the struggle for the faith.

With all Andrew knows about where torture regularly occurs, as well as his strong belief that the element of “coercion” is always involved in torture, we might see Andrew jumping to very different conclusions if Israel wasn’t involved. Andrew might conclude that in the 3 days the Jordanian authorities had him, this man was tortured (very possible), and/or threatened with long-term imprisonment, and/or threatened with persecution of his family. By being cornered into helping a fight against Muslims, which is prohibited by the Koran, Andrew might have noted that the Muslim doctor was coerced against his spiritual will according to the language of Gaudium Et Spes he has referenced on torture. (Also, BTW, according to the language of the papal bull Ad Extirpa, which in 1252 institutionalized torture to “coerce the spirit” to give up heresy, and which I hope to blog about soon.)

But the word Israel was somehow mentioned in the story of this jihadist, and for many pundits, when faced with any “multi-determined” situation, the word “Israel” becomes the Ockham’s razor at hand.

Is Israel so preeminent in determining the mindset of jihadists that it ruined the successful Jordanian reform of a 7-year obsessively blogging, true-believing jihadist? It seems to some people that Israel can ruin every attempt at constructiveness in the Middle East … Maybe even CIA agents have to sometimes die for it, according to Andrew.

Andrew is on potentially better footing here:

But it would help shift the paradigm in which they [the “more irredentist” jihadists] can use the daily humiliations of Arabs in the West Bank or the horror of the Gaza attack as ways to move the Muslim middle.

Here, we have the phrase “daily humiliations,” and it’s an instructive one. The phrase does not represent reality, in the sense that on any given day, most Palestinians will not see a Israeli soldier and consequently will not go through a daily “humiliating” colonial experience — unless Andrew wants to say that just living in the West Bank status quo (which Abbas and others admit is now leagues better) or just not being a citizen of any state constitutes such a humiliation.

In trying to identify the relationship between Israel and jihadism Andrew has, in fact, absorbed the the actual language of the Muslim majority and the jihadists. What’s happening is not merely an unacceptable status quo, with a demoralizing colonial dimension, that all parties have to struggle to put behind them, but a daily assault on the dignity of people for being Arabs.

By noting “daily humiliations,” Andrew is illuminating the inflated and selective anxiety for other Arabs or Muslims … and the reality-bending impressions (cf. Andrew’s “pulverization” of Gaza) that are meant to increase the righteous, if not vengeful, agony of one’s emotional soreness.

If Andrew wants to be a good “foreign policy realist” on the Middle East, he’ll understand where would-be jihadists are coming from, without adopting elements of their interpretations of the Palestinians’ situation, converting his frustrations with their hostility or anti-humanism into a corrupted empathy, and turning those frustrations on Israel. Otherwise, he’s being an “Isrealist,” not a realist, and he’ll have to sense

The slow cultural shifts in Israel – toward ever more arrogance, more fundamentalism, more Russian immigrant racism, contempt for the Muslim world, military adventurism, and the daily grinding of the Palestinians […]

— and have to try to feel more righteous about his anger and despair.

How can we change these tendencies, which seek out “daily humiliations” regardless of how prevalent they are, regardless of how they seem humiliating, regardless of why they are occurring and how long they will keep occurring?

Realistically, we can’t. We can hope they evolve away by 2060. A Palestinian state will not be sufficient — just as Malley and Agha have told us it will not be sufficient for the Palestinians, since it was never the core of their nationalism.

Without a literal “right of return,” we should expect many Muslims will feel enraged. What will Stephen Walt say then if the right of return shows up on a video confessional before a suicide attack on a U.S. embassy? That Israel should compromise and slightly modify its immigration policies, in order to maintain its favorable terms with the United States?

Furthermore, Muslims everywhere will reflexively point out any shortcoming — temporary or permanent, real or imaginary — in their statehood and take that as the new “daily humiliation.” The meme will spread that Palestine is a “pseudo-state,” the last, greatest, cruelest trick of Israel and the Americans … or of the Crusaders and the Zionists.

However, we can push for improvements in the situation that diminish jihadists and Islamist parties’ effectiveness in playing on this corrupted empathy complex. First and foremost, a Palestinian state on the West Bank, free of Israeli troop presence while they keep the Israelis free from war.

In the meantime, we can work to separate the populations, by pushing for dismantling settlements that are not on the Israeli border. (We can try to subsidize those settlers’ move into one of the main 3 blocs, where they will still feel they are not retreating in the face of Muslim maximalism.) Or, we can push for a settlement freeze WHILE — I’m looking at you, Andrew Sullivan, you fair-minded Zionist you — pushing for an end to the PA’s funding of anti-Israel, antisemitic incitement, such as in schools and on television, and in monuments to suicide bombs and killing sprees.

Our only hope for things to get better is long-term change. In the meantime, we need to keep our heads and our principles, and keep our minds open, by not looking for quick fixes — either dispensed by Israel for the Arabic news cycle or materializing alongside a Palestinian state — that will supposedly save our CIA agents from bloggers and playwrights in Afghanistan.

Anonymous Jordanian intelligence sources told TIME that Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi was not a double agent working for al Qaeda, as claimed by the U.S. government. They say the bomber had provided useful information exposing al Qaeda leaders and he only turned out of anger at the high number of civilians killed in U.S. airstrikes.He had provided bona fide information, including the location of al Qaeda leaders killed by CIA drone strikes, but a U.S. intelligence official says “there were still questions” about his “reliability” and the “access” he claimed to have to senior al Qaeda leaders, reported CBS News chief national security correspondent David Martin.

Andrew Sullivan: hockey dad or something even more spiritual?

“Now FIGHT!,” which keeps reappearing as a post title on The Daily Dish, is kind of strange for a happy refrain, though as Andrew has admitted during his live-blogging of the State of the Union:

He’s certainly a lot calmer than most of his supporters, including me. I was a bit of a wreck before this after such a depressing couple of weeks. But he is managing to lift that gloom – not by dazzling rhetoric, but by a form of realism that is reassuring.

Hmm… Is “hockey dad” a good metaphor for the relationship Andrew Sullivan imagines he has with the President’s initiatives … or with the staffers that forward Obama occasional posts from The Daily Dish?

“Hockey dad” helps explain the carping, the epithets hurled at the opposition, the interpretation of every hit as an attempt to prematurely end his favorite son’s career, the threat of withholding affection if Obama doesn’t perform correctly, the periodic adulation of his political pick as the Gretsky-like great one that saves the sport.

Today, Obama is a Tory in a hip Democrat’s drag …

9.57 pm. He is in so many respects a One Nation Tory. A reader notes:

“I was sitting watching the SOTU tonight, and it finally hit me – the man is a compassionate conservative.  A real one.  He is what Bush told us he was. He is an utterly, deeply serious man who is willing to stand in front of the country and take his share of the blame.  I miss that in a leader.”

… that’s heady praise for Sullivan. Tory comparisons mean that he’s so deliriously happy he’s ready to punch out another father on either team …

10.22 pm. This was the president I supported and still support and will support because he alone is calling us away from the cynicism, the ideology, the rhetorical poison, and the red-blue divide that keep us from the reform we desperately need.

… or start drinking if the kid disappoints.

9.54 pm. “I refuse to pass this problem on to another generation of Americans.” I desperately want him to get a bipartisan commission that cuts entitlements and defense and raises necessary taxes. And then demand the GOP live up to their commitments to cut spending.

That doesn’t bode well for Sullivan’s future emotional state. Neither does this, which gets us away from the hockey dad metaphor, and nearer to an even more out of control character, that of a messianic believer:

10.16 pm. Listen to the silence. It’s the silence that greets the truth.


[ UPDATE — 1/28/10 ]

Uh oh. According to The Dish at 2:40 this afternoon, the fate of the entire republic rests on one-man — I’m not exaggerating — otherwise, we will face … absolute cataclysm and evidentally, one British blogger’s hope to obtain American citizenship is entirely misplaced:

My foreboding sense is that America may have already passed the point of no return in terms of civil, constitutional governance. […]

So this fever feels to me like either the kind that precedes the final death of this republic into a carnival of FNC-directed war and debt and drama led by charismatic media-emperors or empresses – or the fever that finally ends the sickness, and restores some sense of civic responsibility and republican virtue. Last night, I saw one of the few men left able to see the depth of the crisis and not lose faith in this country’s ability to overcome it. My faith in this country – so strong in the past – is not as strong as Obama’s now.

But I sure as hell believe in fighting for it, and for him, against the forces at home and abroad that would truly end this experiment in self-government while pretending, of course, that everything is exactly the same. I believe our crisis is deeper than many now believe – because it is not just a crisis of economics, of debt, of over-reach, of an empire now running on its own steam and unstoppable by any political force,  but because it is a crisis of civic virtue, a collapse of the good faith and serious, reasoned attention to problems that marks the distinction between a republic and a bread-and-circuses Ailes-Rove imperium.

Those, in my view, are the stakes. Are you ready to get back into the arena and fight? And if you don’t, who will?

This ain’t Camus, writing about nihilism and addressing himself to an imaginary Nazi. From Combat, in July 1945:

Because you turned your despair into intoxication, because you freed yourself from it by making a principle of it, you were willing to destroy man’s works and to fight him in order to add to his basic misery. Meanwhile, refusing to accept that desire and that tortured world, I merely wanted men to rediscover their solidarity in order to wage war against their revolting fate.

Right now, on The Dish is a desperate ideologue, a mirror reflection of the Rovians, who raises the stakes to feel less petty.

Staring-into-the-abyss watch

Of the Nietzsche citations that should come back to haunt Andrew Sullivan, this quote is surely up there.

The man I supported in the 2004 primary …

… went on to achieve Sarah-Palin levels of megalomaniacal narcissism, if Andrew Young’s book is accurate.

This was Sen. John Edwards, who I think would have beaten Bush if he had won the nomination:

(major spoiler alert)

Lord save us from the worst men among politicians, Left and Right.

the King of the World has new clothes … and at least his loins aren’t naked

I gave in and saw Avatar last night. And although I winced from time to time, the sappy manipulation and computerized shock-&-awe did not make me want to escape the theatre. I even forgot about the quarter-of-a-billion dollar budget that could have been spent on Haiti relief … or for that matter, the Dish’s humanitarian intervention in Israel and the West Bank. Here’s a rough draft of my capsule review:

Say what you want about the dialogue, the blocky melodramatic structure or the imperialists-vs-militarized-innocents and white-savior-meets-nativism subtexts. Unlike most action movies, when a character got hit by a punch or fell off a cliff, I had a split-second of intense anxiety for them, which I guess had been magnified by the 3-D combat and the CGI-ed terrain. (WARNING to those who are afraid of heights.) It was an incredible theater experience to take in the full-range of 3-D design, and how the director tried to combine it with the regular film techniques that create depth.

The avatars and aliens still look video-gamish … but this blockbuster’s customary CGI disappointments help along a whole other subtext it has: “When was the last time you took a shower, Marine?” This is a movie for gamers who have been wishing they could see Hollywood and a quarter of a million dollars fully aestheticize their blurred-res humanoid world, with its vicarious thrills, powers and self-esteem.

I guess Cameron succeeded in that, if not in creating the culmination in the art of 3-D in a feature film … There’s none of the campy eye-poking of other 3-D movies, although more action sequences than average occur on the axis between the viewer and the screen. None of the 3-D effects felt cheesy, at first viewing, and the only evidence of technological shortcoming seemed to be some unwanted or failed soft focus and blurry edges in motion. The use of 3-D is wall-to-wall — err… wall-to-wall-to-wall? — until about 20 seconds into the final credits, when the movie finally gives up and goes plain old 2-D… probably saving the studio the huge sum of $100,000, showing us that they’re shrewd businessmen.

I don’t know how this movie could work on Blue-Ray, and I don’t know how the IMAX version will not help the finances of chiropractors everywhere