Doing Time as a Protestor

Tents on the Columbia Lawn

It’s not really déjà vu because the Vietnam era was different. But this week’s massive protests over Gaza on more than 30 campuses brought back heavy memories, mostly illustrating how the principles of protest have changed. I got involved in these early-‘60s protests against the war at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. I was in graduate school studying French Symbolist poetry and its influence in England, enjoying being a bit of an intellectual snob and teaching a course in jazz. Smoking a little pot with friends. Not the profile of your typical bomb-thrower.

But we started marching in local protests around 1963. In those days many on the UW campus were fired up, with the protests getting more violent each time they occurred. Cops gassed protestors in the 1967 campus uproar over Dow Chemical’s production of napalm—which made earlier events look like a cakewalk. Then came the Sterling Hall bombing in 1970, killing a researcher.

By 1965 at age 31 when I moved to New York City, the war had become hugely unpopular and caused angry protests in the city and on many college campuses. One’s status in the culture reflected the growing split between those who opposed the war (the elites, by and large) and those who supported it (the working classes, by and large). And those divisions to an extent have persevered regarding the Gaza conflict. The 1960s gave birth to modern identity politics on a large scale.

I was teaching English at NYU and later at City College, marching in the streets with my colleagues and thousands of others, listening to Mailer and Sontag and Spock speak at rallies. It was a very heady and disconcerting time. Columbia was in the throes of protest and takeovers and, just as today, they spread to City College. When many of our classes were cancelled, my students wanted to keep meeting, in my apartment and other places. But discussing 19th century French poetry while the war was raging and anger in the streets was rising just seemed futile and absurd.

We talked about what was happening at Columbia, and I asked the kids what they thought the leaders like Mark Rudd hoped to accomplish. “They shut down the school, but they don’t have any real agenda,” I declared. Today, it’s all agendas and no real leadership. Maybe the issues with Palestine and Israel are too complex. But we all know the bombing has got to stop.

Now 76 and a pacifist, Mark Rudd says: “They don’t have the violent rhetoric we had, like calling the cops pigs and ‘Up against the wall, motherfucker,’ that kind of craziness,” he said. “I think they’re a lot more careful. I think they’re smarter.” He also says his identity as a Jew used to be based on Israel. “It took me a long time to get over that.”

As I said in my memoir, Vietnam and its turmoil constituted a major reason why I finally quit teaching. After Kent State (1970) I decided to get out of academia and find something more relevant to my interest in media, communications and the world at large. I was not the Peace Corps type; I had a family to support. But I wanted to write and do some good in the world.

It’s easy to forget how much violence was in the air. On March 6, 1970, the townhouse at 18 West 11th Street in Greenwich Village blew up. Working at home just a block and a half away, I heard and felt the enormous boom, ran out to witness the chaos and later learned that the place was a Weatherman bomb factory in which three people had been killed. Homegrown terrorism, right around the corner and heretofore unimaginable despite the constant rhetoric that was feeding it. I had written and marched against the war and helped a few kids go to Canada, but this event took the steam out of my protest, as it did for a lot of people. The unpopularity of the war was growing into a very popular and sometimes vicious cause.

Perhaps the same thing can be avoided now, as thousands of young people across the country protest the criminal actions of Hamas and Israel. Their tactics are very different and their numbers are yet nowhere near those who rioted and bombed in the ‘60s. But Mr. Biden, despite his platitudes about protest (It’s OK if it doesn’t get violent) is totally missing the boat on how significant and powerful their numbers will be for the forthcoming election. If the Gen Zs sit it out and/or fail to vote for him, he will be toast, as I wrote in my little protest here.

As of now, 57 Democrats in Congress have signed a letter urging Biden to withdraw the billions in aid and arms he still quietly permits to flow to Israel. Some 66 percent of the “41 million eligible ‘Gen Z’ voters in 2024 have opposed aid to Israel.” The New York Times is generally conservative about such matters. Yet they write:

Just as students then could no longer tolerate the horrific images of a distant war delivered, for the first time, in almost real time by television, so many of today’s students have found the images from Gaza, now transmitted instantly onto their phones, to demand action. And just as students in ’68 insisted that their school sever ties to a government institute doing research for the war, so today’s students demand that Columbia divest from companies profiting from Israel’s invasion of Gaza. And students then and now have found their college administrators deaf to their entreaties.

Even the deaf administrators and Mr. Biden should be able to read the handwriting on the wall.

Meshugenah

For you nonbelievers, this is Yiddish slang for someone who is or acts crazy. Four years ago, I claimed in a book, “Trump is the certified end of America as we know it.” Since then and even before, more evidence has piled up that the ex-president has moved from being an annoying but flagrant narcissist schmuck to someone with severe mental problems.

The press has seemed unwilling to recognize this. “Day after day the press was gaslighting the American people: Pathologizing Biden’s normal signs of aging, such as forgetting names, and normalizing Trump’s flagrant signs of dementia.” So says John Gartner who has been tooting this horn (his shofar, as religious Jews would call it) since 2017 as founder of the group Duty to Warn and a large group of concurring mental health professionals. Others contributed to a book about this a few years ago.

Read Gartner’s piece especially if you think you understand Trump. He looks at four areas of growing decline into dementia. The samples below are from Gartner’s essay. Trump’s language and usage, if you hadn’t noticed, has long been decaying: “A Boston Globe study found in 2015 that Trump was speaking at a 4th grade level, much lower than the other candidates, but more importantly much lower than his former self.” He used to be fairly literate, but in the last years the decline has accelerated. Of many examples: he confused Nikki Haley with Nancy Pelosi. He has claimed, eight times, to be running against Obama. “He uses non-words to replace real words: “space capsicle,” “liberalation,” “U-licious S Grant,” and so on. He posted this: “Joe Buden DISINFORMATES AND MISINFORMATES”

He drifts from one lunatic thought to another, and we’ve all heard him do it. “They’re weaponizing law enforcement for high-level interference against Joe Biden’s top and only political appointment. A guy named me. A guy named me.” He falls asleep in his recent New York hearings, and his outbursts outside of court become “ever more paranoid, aggressive and confused.” Judge Merchan can’t control him.

Now, you might say, the poor man has been under tremendous pressure. Yes, and if his behavior is disquieting now, what will it be like under the pressures (and the freedom) of the presidency? If he can’t think coherently now, what then?

Perhaps the infection is coming from fellow bizarro Republicans. You may remember this totally meshugenah remark from Marjorie Taylor Greene: “A wildfire in California was started by a laser beamed from space and controlled by a prominent Jewish banking family with connections to powerful Democrats.” Last month Trump noted: “Any Jewish person that votes for Democrats hates their religion, they hate everything about Israel and they should be ashamed of themselves because Israel will be destroyed.”

Or maybe the problem is simply his diet: see A Junk Food Diet Can Cause Long-Term Damage to Brains. A recent USC study on rats confirmed this. King Rat did not participate.

My Disaffection with Biden

In a nutshell it’s this: He is still arming Israel to the teeth while that country commits flagrant genocide in Gaza. A recent story in the New York Review puts it this way: “Hundreds of thousands of people in Gaza are at the brink of famine—a human-made disaster with roots in Israel’s history of using food as a weapon.”

Many, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren and the United Nations, have accused Israel of genocide in Gaza, deliberate and planned. We’ve all heard statements by the jingo Netanyahu and other Jewish leaders to that effect. Sen. Schumer calls for new elections but still supports military aid to Israel. Some Jews like me think this is a spectacularly wrong approach.

Others in Congress oppose the aid or at least question it. Outrage over the murder of food aid workers by the IDF has made the situation much more volatile. President Biden wants the House Foreign Affairs Committee

to approve a package that includes 50 new F-15 fighter jets valued at $18 million [each], 30 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles and a number of Joint Direct Attack Munition kits, which turn dumb bombs into precision-guided weapons . . . .

Last month,

the State Department authorized the transfer of 25 F-35A fighter jets and engines worth roughly $2.5 billion, U.S. officials said. The case was approved by Congress in 2008, so the department was not required to provide a new notification to lawmakers.

And then there are the US-made 2000-lb bombs that have caused that horrific death toll in Gaza. Most countries proscribe them.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin recently told the committee: “’We don’t have any evidence of genocide being [committed]’ by Israel in Gaza.” This from the man who could not admit he had a prostate problem. Biden has a reelection problem, and he’s alienating thousands of voters, including me. Do you want to placate Israel’s right wing, Joe, or lose in November? For many, it’s become a Hobson’s choice.

Jewish agitprop organizations like AIPAC and the AJC will rise at every opportunity to defend anything Israel does. I’ve written before about this: “One does not expect proportionality in warfare but Israel’s violent response has cost it dearly with a preponderance of people around the world. The conflict has pushed many down the rabbit hole of partisan madness.”

If Biden doesn’t come to his senses about the rearming, he will turn off a great many voters in November. The growing protests, particularly among younger people, show that many will sit out the election if the president doesn’t change course. AIPAC’s talking points in fact support exactly what many Republicans are saying about the conflict. Read them here.

Jewish support for Israel has always been a fraught issue for those who have observed the country’s history with the Palestinians. Peter Maass, a journalist, recently wrote a fine piece about this in the Washington Post that resonated with me. “My Jewish identity was always a bit vague because my ancestors were German Jews who assimilated at the speed of cultural sound; when I was growing up, we even had a Christmas tree.“ Same here, Peter, and I’ve written about that too.

Some of the protests against Israel’s actions have been antisemitic. Still, many if not most Jews recognize the idea that it is not only legitimate to defend the lives of innocent Palestinians; it’s part of what we recognize as the morality of being Jewish. One continues to hope Biden will come to his senses.

Life in 2025

When Trump was reelected last year, his supporters finally came to their senses, except for the true cultists, of course. The common folk began to realize they needed to divorce themselves from all their former misconceptions of power and control. MAGA was no longer a political fantasy or, as some would call it, a delusion. It was dead.

In its place was simple tyranny as the president exercised his newly-given powers to control aspects of their lives that these poor simps never believed they had given him.

It was as if Trump had finally become Putin, the only person he ever respected. You couldn’t call it neofascism. It was nothing so preplanned as that. The president had simply fallen down the rabbit hole of his own psychopathic predilections. He had always just said whatever came into his contorted mind, attacking one judge’s daughter, another’s wife, defying all gag orders, making everything political into a personal attack. The poor simps sleepwalked into this approach because, like the president, they had no grasp of policy or political procedures. They enjoyed the power of the threat.

Congress, or what was left of it, rubber-stamped whatever the president wanted because they knew their indulgence would bring them favor and fortune. Government by bribery, some called it. The predictable result was entropy and random disorder. And judicial corruption continued—a pattern set some time ago by Clarence Thomas and his insider trading with those privileged associates who controlled what we used to call the levers of power.

Society Blues

Preparing a small dinner party for her older friends, Moira worried that her table was not set properly—forks on the left, wine glasses on the right, the way her mother had taught her. “Finally, who gives a shit anymore?” she muttered, opening her door to the guests who had all had several drinks before arriving.

Don Perignon came in first, a black man wearing gloves and a tattersall vest, complaining as usual about his boring existence as a major hedge fund investor. “I just go along with whatever they recommend and turn on Bloomberg TV.” Enter Marie Osmond who had just undergone a new round of plastic surgery. Proud of the result, she talked about the benefits of Soma (marketed here as Instaflex), the new anti-aging drug that had greatly benefited her sex life.

Sarah and Jorge followed, she talking endlessly about local politics and her garden, why aging was such a horror, and how her kids excelled in school. These people are not cartoons. They come with the new political and social territory, yet their non sequitur comments at dinner resurrected the same themes that we heard years ago in Evelyn Waugh’s great novel, A Handful of Dust (1934). The point of such parties is always to mix up the participants.

It was, transparently, a made-up party, the guests being chosen for no mutual bond—least of all affection for Mrs. Beaver [the hostess] or for each other—except that their names were in current use—an accessible but not wholly renegade Duke, an unmarried girl of experience, a dancer and a novelist and a scene designer, a shamefaced junior minister who had not realized what he was in for until too late, and Lady Cockpurse; “God, what a party,” said Marjorie, waving brightly to them all.

Soma and the New Media

AI has now facilitated production of a new anti-aging drug called Soma. It doesn’t necessarily enable people to live longer. It just takes away some of the ill effects of aging, like Alzheimer’s. Old people can now recover their knowledge, experience and health—well, to some degree. Youth is devalued politically, and clowns like Matt Gaetz are being voted out. Doddering old fools become founts of wisdom, and there are no more Mitch McConnells. Wolf Blitzer was made president of CNN.

Older and fatter people are now venerated on TV and in the media culture. Soma’s media ad budget is enormous, spent on a preponderance of medical ads in which happy fat people and jovial blacks are made healthy by some unpronounceable drug. They act out unreal jaunts and camping trips without ever consulting their doctors (which the voiceover always recommends). Some viewers, however, ignore the media because they can’t afford the drug. As in earlier years, these folks follow the social network that reflects their partisan proclivities, though heavy partisanship has been mostly hibernating since the new president’s administration. Alex Jones is in prison; Steve Bannon will be next.

There is still much underground activity dedicated to defying Trump. It’s kept in check by a new security agency, TURDS (Team for Unwholesome Radical Suppression), patterned on Russia’s KGB and just as vicious. There are only two big media companies now, Google and Apple, since they bought up The New York Times, Washington Post, and others which still function under their own names and serve up the same vapid entertainment diet they purveyed during the Biden years. So some things have not changed.

Losers and Winners in 2025

Losers

Biden, Blinken, Boeing, DeSantis, Harvard, Musk, Netanyahu,  Zelensky

Winners

Greg Abbott, Alabama Supreme Court, Maria Bartiromo, Aileen Cannon, Google, Putin, White People

The Blog Returns

Well, I never promised to dump it forever. But it will take a somewhat different tack and I may not post regularly. I’ll cover some set subjects, namely: politics, music, media, business, aging, culture, etc. And the tone may be more acidic and whimsical, which seems to be the only way I can deal with current affairs.

 I may also redo a few old pieces if they seem worthwhile and, if things work out, make a book out of all this. So we’ll start, naturally, with politics. Anyhow, please keep reading and hit me with your comments. 

Dispatches from the Fantastical Political Front

Biden and Trump Both Killed in Drone Attack

Well, the shock for some was countered by celebrations around the world. A missile struck during the two candidates’ recent debate in a hall at Wake University, a woke stronghold. There was no warning and fourteen students in the audience also lost their lives. (Only seventeen had bothered to attend, and faculty boycotted the event.)

The White House confirmed that Russia was likely responsible, though others blamed Kim Jong Un, who had lately been making loud warlike noises. The White House press room, you know, moves at its own glacial pace even in a case like this. As Kamala Harris took the oath of office, a massive protest materialized at the Capitol. Both racist and antisemitic shouts filled the air. Harris’s Jewish husband waved his fist, and the new mixed race President vainly called for order.

And yet there were many joyous fiestas in countries from Denmark to Lesotho. “We are so damn glad these two have been vaporized,” said former prosecutor Jack Smith, the man recently fired by Merrick Garland, who in turn was due to be sacked by President Biden. Special Counsel Bob Hur was not available for comment.

Eric Trump instinctively fulminated, “We’re going to get the bastards who did this, string ‘em up by their balls.” Other Republicans were incensed that their leader, who was smearing Biden at every opportunity in the debate, had lost the opportunity to win it. Jim Jordan called for an investigation. A few Biden supporters were secretly glad the aging issue had ended. “Martyrdom for neither of these clowns is appropriate,” said John Bolton, whose hawkish views and soup-strainer mustache have made him the constant butt of Washington jokes.

Where will all the MAGAs go now? Prices for Trump’s gold sneakers are going crazy. The stock market drops 80 points. Jim Cramer proclaims a buying opportunity. Putin cheers.

As most of you know, Trump had several serious cases pending against him. Maybe he will be tried in absentia, maybe not. What will happen now is anyone’s guess, and one might say the jury is still out. The November election is still on, of course, though the GOP is at a total loss on who to nominate. Once again, they have no credible candidates, though Elon Musk has offered to run for president.

Democrats have begun bitching at Kamala and each other. “What happened to our air defenses? Was Austin in the hospital for his goddamn prostate again?”

Many unaffiliated voters are celebrating, getting drunk and firing their guns in the air and sometimes at people. They are thrilled that the perplexing decision of who to vote for is now off their table.

Fani Gets Fired

It all came down to what Charlie Parker (and Tiny Grimes) said years ago on a jazz record in 1944, “Romance without Finance.” This could have been Prosecutor Nathan Wade’s theme song.

You so great and you so fine
You ain’t got no money you can’t be mine
It ain’t no joke to be stone broke
Baby, you know I’d lie when I say
Romance without finance is a nuisance
Please, please baby give me some gold.

Instead we got a bravura court performance by District Attorney Willis, whose tough-broad testimony in the Georgia case against Donald Trump and friends went sour with many, finally including the judge. Some prominent Democrats spoke up to support Willis to no avail. She blew it by downplaying her affair with Nathan Wade, the sharp-dressed but unqualified prosecutor she appointed and financed with a lot of public money.

Fani pompously defended her private life, paying for fancy foreign trips with cash and leaving no records. The two of them spent wildly. This was not only unseemly but dumb for a public prosecutor in the most high-profile of cases. As they say, what was she thinking? She was thinking, I suppose, about defending her own fading reputation.

Judge McAfee was not unsympathetic but found her unfit to continue this scatter-shot case against Trump and his eighteen allies, even though the principal target was now of course dead, which in itself could blow up the case. During the trial Fani observed, “I don’t need anything from a man. A man is not a plan.” Nobody’s quite sure what that meant.

Fani’s big mouth did her in. At a historic black Atlanta church she told the crowd that the defendants in the case (the Trumpists) had raised questions about Wade because of his race. Jesu Maria, aren’t we tired of black people playing the race card when they get in trouble? As Toni Morrison once put it, “The very serious function of racism is distraction.” And this whole schmear was a total distraction from the one case that could have put the big blowhard in the slammer.

Political writer Ed Kilgore summed up the debacle:

By admission of the parties, Willis hired an underqualified lead prosecutor (though, without much evidence, she has described him as a “legal superstar”) for the most important case her office has ever pursued; compensated him disproportionately (over $728,000); had (even if it wasn’t earlier initiated) an intimate relationship with that attorney, taking a number of vacations with him; and then stonewalled inquiries into that relationship until the judge forced testimony on it.

Now new phone records reveal that Fani and Wade were playing around long before she claimed in her testimony. Her big case, a slam dunk against the man who called to demand 11,780 votes from Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger, is now likely as dead as a doornail. You know how dead that is?

Nikki Haley and the “Dog Sperm Is a Puppy” Argument

By my logic the decision of the Alabama Supreme Court—that frozen embryos are children—should well apply to all mammals, even though we don’t freeze dog embryos. “Human life cannot be wrongfully destroyed without incurring the wrath of a holy God.” So wrote the Court’s Chief Justice, Tom Parker. OK, Tom, so why not animal life too?

God doesn’t like animals, I guess, as much as He favors humans. The Judge wrote that “human life is fundamentally distinct from other forms of life and cannot be taken intentionally without justification—[and] has deep roots that reach back to the creation of man ‘in the image of God.’” You’ll be glad to know that even Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin were so created.

Nikki Haley did have a child by artificial insemination. Politically, she has become well known for her fence-straddling. After proclaiming that “embryos, to me, are babies” and thus endorsing the Alabama edict, she said that parents and their doctors need to make their own decision about IVF and so forth: “Every woman needs to know, with her partner, what she’s looking at. And then when you look at that, then you make the decision that’s best for your family.” But since she’s not about to endorse homicide this is a classic example of catch-22. What kind of decision can one make if it’s against the law?

If Nikki gave birth to a dog after she had artificial insemination, that might have changed the picture.

Flaubert Predicts Trumpworld

Flaubert circa 1865

“The whole dream of democracy is to raise the proletarian to the level of stupidity attained by the bourgeois.” He also wrote, “Nothing is more humiliating than to see idiots succeed in enterprises we have failed in.”

Such thoughts are part of Gustave Flaubert’s lifelong diatribe against the bourgeoisie and the society brought about by the 1848 Revolution in France. I’m now reading his letters which are fascinating on several levels. Many are oddly relevant to our present sociopolitical troubles.

(I devoted much of my academic study to French literature, particularly the 19th century poets. My dissertation focused on how Symbolist poetry came to be absorbed in England. And its forebears, including Flaubert and Baudelaire, always pervaded my thoughts. Maybe I unduly glorified French rationalist thinking and its artistic renderings, but they have become subsumed into my life.)

I consider the MAGA fanatics to be part of the new bourgeois society that has come to dominate much of the American scene. These folks are the newest iteration of how capitalism and its aspirations and fantasies have transformed middle-class life. The zealots now want to break the system that gave them strength. Stupidity is their dominant characteristic.

By now, we all know what they believe. That’s summed up here. In an explanation of why they believe this way, one author attributes it to basic white supremacy:

Many of these bigoted beliefs and attitudes represent implicit biases that are outside the level of conscious awareness. It couches the rhetoric of white supremacy in the language of individual freedom and individual rights. Hate speech is justified as “free speech,” gun control is an attack on “the right to bear arms,” criticism of offending marginalized group members is seen as “political correctness” and vaccine mandates are seen as governmental intrusion.

These people, in other words, have romanticized their deceptions just as the characters in Madame Bovary did. In that book Flaubert crucified the delusions of his characters through irony, evocative description and, at the same time, narrative detachment. This brought a new kind of realism to the novel. Its withering portrayals of small-town life and its stultifying effects have all kinds of echoes in today’s MAGA followers.

The people of Madame Bovary are limited intellectually and culturally; they are sometimes sincere and well-intentioned, sometimes petty and vulgar, sometimes pathetic and confused, and sometimes unaware of the most obvious things or unable to take the most obvious action.

One of these characters struck me as a sort of analogue for Donald Trump. Homais, the garrulous pharmacist in the book, is forever making egotistical and pompous speeches, always inspired by his self-esteem. He indulges in shady medical practices but never gets caught out. In the last line of the novel Flaubert wryly records that Homais was finally awarded the Legion of Honor he had always sought.

If only the force of art and the achievements of a powerful style could protect us from such real charlatans. Flaubert brilliantly maligned them in his day; as writers we must continue the struggle.

“History is not the past. It is the present.”

Salvador Dali, The Persistence of Memory

So said James Baldwin in that fine mashup movie (2017) I Am Not Your Negro. It’s the most penetrating thought I know about how time works in the human mind. We never consider that everything we experience in this life is immediately relegated to the past. What we think of as the future is merely a projection of what we know. And the present is a kind of phantasm that, we think, gives us creative power over the ravaging effects of time.

So, as Einstein observed, our concept of time is essentially a fiction. Of course we need that fiction to survive and to manipulate the reality we create for ourselves. Part of that fictional reality is the notion that time always moves forward, that one facet of human life is the spurious notion of progress. In an earlier post I talked about this and referenced Carlo Rovelli’s wonderful book, The Order of Time.

But none of us are physicists like Einstein or Rovelli. We rely on some notion of an instantaneous present to exert control on human events. In Gaza, Israel’s reaction to Oct. 7 appeared to take no account of how it had created over time an intolerable situation for the Palestinians. When a country (or a movement) feels its survival threatened, statecraft and history go out the window. One sees this happening globally now.

I’m reading Naomi Klein’s recent book Doppelganger, which I recommend if you like good intellectual theorizing about why the world is so fucked up. She offers a way to reckon with not only the historical crimes of neoliberalism but a sense of how we are all looking in the warped mirror of doubleness.

Part of what she’s telling us is that we’ve lost our sense of history. If history is indeed what makes up our present, it’s no mystery why the world is floundering. Nations and people have forgotten who they are and how they got there.

Another rather more highfalutin piece by Thomas Mallon explores the ramifications of nostalgia and the social-political pain inflicted on those who believe in it, “a mental quicksand” at least for some. He also talks about the vagaries of memory and the permanence of the past in our lives as we age.

What we are always most nostalgic for is, in fact, the future, the one we imagined only to see it turn into the past. . . . But then comes the growing realization that short-term memory has nothing like the staying power of the long-term variety. Mentally, the seven ages of man speed up their full-circling, until the past’s sovereignty over the present is complete. The further along one gets, the more one understands that the past is indeed another country, and that, moreover, it is home. Long-term memory’s domination of short may be a hardwired consolation that nature and biology have mercifully installed in us.

Let me attest to the power of long-term memory as we age. Oldsters typically are bugged by short-term memory loss—forgetting your keys, blanking on a name, etc. But amazingly we remember the lyrics of old pop songs when we were kids, names of World War II battles, the food we ate at a long-past dinner, and so on. Long-term memory becomes an integral part of one’s present—a typical and surprising result of getting old. Our “present” has expanded.

Down the Rabbit Hole in Gaza

I guess I’m one of those Jews who doesn’t support Israel in its mad recriminative effort to uproot Hamas at all costs. Yet the terrorists may have provoked their own eventual demise. So thinks Netanyahu and his government. Or maybe, as others have said, they are just creating more terrorists.

These butchers brutally murdered some 1,200 Israelis on October 7, and one month later over 10,000 Palestinians in Gaza had been killed. One does not expect proportionality in warfare but Israel’s violent response has cost it dearly with a preponderance of people around the world. The conflict has pushed many down the rabbit hole of partisan madness.

I grew up in a 1950s environment of strong anti-Zionist feeling, when the establishment of the new nation and its purpose were hotly debated. I could never understand why some Jews were so against establishing a homeland, given the horrors of the war just ended.

In the many years since, the messy history of Israel’s relations with Palestine has rendered Israel dominant at every turn, and there have been countless rabbit holes in that adventure. The Guardian just published a strong piece on how the West (mainly the G7 countries—Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK, the European Union, and the United States) “represents a long history of racial and imperial arrogance.”

When the Israeli defence minister declared on 9 October a “complete siege” in which “no electricity, no food, no water, no fuel” would be allowed into blockaded Gaza, and called its 2.3 million inhabitants “human animals”, there was not a single protest from an official in a western capital.

Leftists everywhere are now protesting en masse, and so is much of the rest of the world, some calling Israel an apartheid state. To them, President Biden, staunch defender of Israel, has fallen down his own rabbit hole.

I think we’re all victims of very partial media reportage about this war. Just contrast what you see on CNN and Al Jazeera. I watch a lot of CNN but often mute or turn off much of its constant, repetitious coverage of Gaza and the endless interviews with survivors and the hostage families. Some would say these people are being exploited. Others just love the CNN coverage. Al Jazeera is less biased but still avoids any such interviews, and the Israeli stance is hardly mentioned. Arab media is for the Arabs.

A former CNN’er, Arwa Damon says:

Space needs to be made for Jewish and Israeli voices on such [Arab-funded] outlets. Not all Israelis support their government’s policies, the illegal settlements, or the oppression or occupation of Palestine. And not all Jews across the world support Zionism or what Israel has done.

The pictures and the accounts of the war on most American media are repetitive and sometimes just played for their histrionics. Such images are appalling but that approach seems to work, as most Americans are sympathetic, believing the Israeli response to Hamas is in some degree justified. While a large, growing contingent—and not just those on the left—judges quite differently. The world faces another huge moral challenge.

“Political power grows out of
the barrel of a gun.”

Thus spoke Mao Zedong back in 1927, and I heard this aphorism used a lot by radicals in the 1960s. The phrase was also in Mao’s “Little Red Book,” a sort of bible for revolutionaries. We know how all that worked out.

The obsession with guns in America is long and deep, and you’ll be happy to know I won’t go into it here. We do know that the GOP is in the throes of it and has been for years. Their defense of guns takes many forms, but mostly they want to talk about the mental health of those who perpetrate mass shootings.

After the horrific Lewiston shootings, the newly-minted House Speaker, Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La), told Sean Hannity the following:

Saying that it was “not the time” to talk about gun control, he told Hannity, “The problem is the human heart. It’s not guns, it’s not the weapons. At the end of the day, we have to protect the right of the citizens to protect themselves, and that’s the Second Amendment, and that’s why our party stands so strongly for that.”

This man, after all, is an authority on the human heart since he’s a devout Christian and has shown a total avoidance of rationality about guns. In the past he “has blamed abortion and the teaching of evolution on mass shootings.” Governor DeSantis also announced that red flag laws wouldn’t have worked in Lewiston. Just use involuntary commitments to get the killers off the street. And yet the law has worked in Florida and likely would have worked in Lewiston.

Let these imbecile GOPers look to their own mental health. As far as guns are concerned, the inmates are running the asylum. Sometime someone may take up arms against these fanatical deniers. Maybe Mao was right.

“Rouse Yourself and Pay Attention”

I used to hear admonishments like this in my high school English class. Miss Morgan was a fine teacher who brooked no nonsense in her classes. Edward and I used to sit in the back row and he’d draw detailed pictures of hot rods and race cars. This did not go down well: Morgan demanded close attention and once kicked us out of class.

Kids like me sometimes flouted the rules and conventions of school learning. This would often persist even into my college years. Finally, for most of my later life, I learned the value of attention, concentration and focus. That’s how one learns about the world and masters a subject, after all.

Now in my later years I find it hard to pay strict attention to a number of things, some of them formerly precious and engrossing. Listening to music can be absorbing or boring, depending on my mood or its former involvement in my life. Sometimes a piece that I loved no longer appeals or moves me as it once did. Is my memory disengaging? Why have I lost interest?

Yesterday I put on an old and valued CD of Mahler’s 9th Symphony, a long and meditative piece that evokes thoughts and feelings of death and dying. Not quite up for that, I quit after the first two movements which dealt with lighter things. I play regular poker with good friends but often lose my concentration on a hand and the game. I came to realize I really don’t like poker but don’t want to lose contact with my buddies.

Getting old means you sometimes lapse out of boring conversations—or ones you just choose not to hear. Getting old means that more conversations fit into this category. Namely, how interested are you in another person’s travel stories? How much more repetitive carping about Trump et al. can one attend to? How much local gossip?

I talked about some of these withdrawal symptoms in this post. Here, it seems to me a function of how memory changes as we age. The specter of Alzheimer’s is often in the back of one’s mind. NIH says in fact not to worry and offers this comparison:

Normal agingAlzheimer's disease
Making a bad decision once in a whileMaking poor judgments and decisions a lot of the time
Missing a monthly paymentProblems taking care of monthly bills
Forgetting which day it is and remembering it laterLosing track of the date or time of year
Sometimes forgetting which word to useTrouble having a conversation
Losing things from time to timeMisplacing things often and being unable to find them

In our later years, memory often becomes the source of much pleasure, contemplation and resurgent knowledge. This is not a withdrawal into the past. One’s memories can enrich the present and permit you to detach from matters that have less meaning in your new life.