I have a lot I would like to write about. I just have no spirit or energy to do so. I've been busy at work getting ready for a meeting next month. And at home I have been dealing with S.O.'s increasingly frivolous views of life and doing her womanly duty. Long story-best not gotten into here. Bottom line is she better change…..soon. Don't even think about asking me to change; zero sex is not an option. I am getting laid one way or another.
I've done a lot of reading on planes and trains lately. I thought I would pass on some of my observations on the books I have read recently. First on the block is my reading of a book about an American in Paris.
The story of this book is simple. A writer in a rut in New York, basically citing a language ability higher than his real skill in French-bluffs his way into an a job as a copywriter in an advertising firm in Paris. The ensuing chapters regal us with the story of his running hard into the wall of believed ability in French vs real ability in French. Something I can relate to. ( See previous post, "I can totally speak Nihongo".) Like me he rapidly discovers that he understands what is being said to him reasonably well-however his ability to turn that into a spoken response that doesn't make him seem like a complete idiot is a rather daunting task. ( One I overcame when actually living in Japan, however now-thanks to 4+ years away from the promised land-is atrophying. As for my spoken German-the less said the better).
The book is an enjoyable read and at the beginning you are quite enthralled with the experiences that he relates that anyone who has lived overseas has experienced. The typical American frustration that things don't work the same as they do back home; trying to communicate basic needs; culture shock at a different value system ( although by the end he quite correctly points out that the French are not as different from Americans as we think they are) and finally the challenge of keeping a relationship alive when you partner is even more at a disadvantage than you are. ( Which quite accurately describes my issue with the SO in Alabama and here).
Unfortunately, in this book you ultimately end the read with a bad taste in your mouth. That is mainly because, just about when you get to the point where you are rooting for Rosecrans Baldwin, he goes and figuratively kicks you in the nuts. After a mere 12 months of living in the city of light-he abandons it, for a pretty crass reason-he sold his book. And he decided to go home. After that point I had no sympathy for the guy. A year and you pack it in? In Tokyo that person would be considered a wimp of the first order. And he didn't even have to deal with Japanese toilets. A year in Tokyo is just scratching the surface of the city and the people-I have no doubt its the same in Paris. That this cretin was allowed to turn it into a book that made him some money ( this was not the book he sold BTW) just grated me to no end. Add on to that the fact that he was getting to do some good traveling and meet some high powered people and you have to ask yourself one question, " Who the fuck does this guy think he is?" It reminds me of a satyr who goes to Bangkok and whines about the quality of the cuisine. You are in the middle of a steak banquet and don't know it.
There are some interesting anecdotes in the book-but in the end I was disappointed. It was your typical expat "nose in the air story". Basically the European version of " I came to Asia and can't believe all these Western men who went nuts over the women. I didn't come to Japan for the women." Yea, well screw you pal-I did and they lived up to expectations. Clearly Bangkok would be wasted on this guy.
So, I am glad I read the book-but I won't be reading it again. Take you highbrow attitude back to New York. And come to an overseas country when you can stay a while.
The other book I have read recently was much more satisfying intellectually-and quite depressing professionally and emotionally. I read Peter Beinart's The Crisis of Zionism. Its good for me professionally since I am having to deal with Israelis in real time in my day job-which is both fulfilling and frustrating at the same time.
In June 2010, Peter Beinart published a long article in the New York Review of Books with a provocative title: The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment." The article caused a storm of protest. There had been increasing reluctance from the Jewish establishment to criticize any aspect of Israeli policy. This assault was all the more shocking because it came from "inside the tent.'' Mr. Beinart is a committed Zionist and an observant Jew
Beinart's book was useful for me, because it exposed many of the the falsehoods that lay at the core of the beliefs of the Israelis that I have to deal with. If you spend any time with members of the IDF they will consistently remind you that Israel is a small country surrounded by enemies. What they conveniently leave out of course is that many of the enemies have been created by the IDF themselves-and by Israelis schizophrenic settlement policy in the west bank. Beinart correctly points out that Israeli policy is at least in part life-threatening. With continued hostility from the outside, Mr. Beinart is convinced that the best solution would be the establishment of a Palestinian state. But recent peace proposals have been accompanied by conditions that make acceptance impossible. Above all, Jewish settlement in the West Bank has made the creation of a contiguous Palestinian state increasingly unlikely.
And it is that point I part ways with Peter Beinart. He supports the core belief of Zionism-that such a state is ultmately necessary. My point is that religion-whatever its form-is a lousy basis on which to build a nation state. If Israel were not so tightly wedded to the Jewish faith-and to its really radical Haredi practioners it could probably come to a reasonable accomdation that would servie the interests of both Jews and Arabs. But that is at odds with Israel's very core-and thus the problem we live with. As a Mandate supporter -albeit retrocactively- I understand both points of view very well.
But Beinart is right-there is no going back to that, and there can be no denying Israel's Jewish character. So ultimately it is in Israels interest to solve the Palestinian problem.
Except-under Netanyahu-it does not want to. A point Mr, Beinart makes quite well.
Beinart does the math that most conservative evangelical Christians don't want to-nor do the most ardent supporters of AIPAC.
Most experts believe that if Israel does not disengage from the Palestinian territories, the number of Arabs living under Israeli control will soon outnumber the number of Jews, forcing Israel to make a difficult choice: Either maintain the status quo, in which Palestinians can't vote, and stop being a democracy, or grant Palestinians the right to vote and end the country's status as a democracy with a Jewish majority.
"The big question for me is can Israel survive as a democracy and a Jewish state?" he said.
"We are moving toward the day in which Israel's occupation will be permanent, when it will be impossible to create a viable Palestinian state," he added. "When we wake up to the reality that that's happened, it will force my children to make the choice that I don't ever want them to have to make: between being a Zionist and being a believer in democracy."
If you don't believe him, spend some time reading Israeli newspapers-which is a part of my daily work-and you will see he is closer to the mark than we care to admit.
I'd love to write some more about US politics, but to tell you the truth, it really depresses me right now. The stark truth is that country is slowly, but surely, heading off the rails. Its legislative branch is not functional and it has primarily to do with one party only. Please spare me the both sides do it bullshit. Only one party clings to a brand of idealism totally out of sync with the ideas of the world these days. And its aided by a hack group of enablers called the Roberts Supreme Court:
Underscoring the point, a Bloomberg poll of 21 constitutional scholars found that 19 of them believe the individual mandate is constitutional, but only eight said they expected the Supreme Court to rule that way. The headline nicely conveys the reality of the current Court: "Obama Health Law Seen Valid, Scholars Expect Rejection."
How would you characterize a legal system that knowledgeable observers assume will not follow the law and instead will advance a particular party-faction agenda? That's how we used to talk about the Chinese courts when I was living there. Now it's how law professors are describing the Supreme Court of the John Roberts era.
Ezra Klein writes quite skillfuly how this happened.
The first step was, perhaps, the hardest: The Republican Party had to take an official and unanimous stand against the wisdom and constitutionality of the individual mandate. Typically, it’s not that difficult for the opposition party to oppose the least popular element in the majority party’s largest initiative. But the individual mandate was a policy idea Republicans had thought of in the late-1980s and supported for two decades. They had, in effect, to convince every Republican to say that the policy they had been supporting was an unconstitutional assault on liberty.
But they succeeded. In December 2009 every Senate Republican voted to call the individual mandate unconstitutional. They did this even though a number of them had their names on bills that included an individual mandate. (For more on the political history of the mandate, see this post.)
The unity among Senate Republicans reflected a unity among all the institutions associated with the Republican Party. Fox News and right-wing talk radio pushed the idea that the mandate was unconstitutional. Republican attorney generals began pushing the idea that the individual mandate was unconstitutional. Conservative think tanks — including the Heritage Foundation, which arguably brought the mandate to Washington and the Republican Party in 1989 — began releasing a steady stream of material arguing that the mandate was unconstitutional. Conservative legal scholars began developing arguments showing the individual mandate was unconstitutional. Within a matter of months, the fact that the individual mandate was unconstitutional was as much a part of Republican Party dogma as “no new taxes.”
All of this forced the controversy over the individual mandate into the mainstream media, too. After all, if one of America’s two major political parties thinks the most significant health reform since Medicare is unconstitutional, well, that’s a story! And, as most Americans are not constitutional law scholars, it made the individual mandate look like questionable policy. As Yale law professor Jack Balkin put it to me in the New Yorker, “If you’re reading articles in the Times describing the case against the mandate, you assume this is a live controversy.”
This was in great part due to all the months of coverage of “grassroots” town halls with people screaming that “Obamacare = Socialism”, endlessly covered by networks like CNN, had something to do with the message being muddled. Then when White House officials go out to correct the narrative, they get shouted down by Village types who say “But clearly the people are against this, so why are you doing it?” It is clearly wrong-as most smart Constitutional Scholars point out. But what it says about the stupidty of the American people and the dysfunction of a government that should know better is glaring.
And so the founding fathers weep from heaven. And I remain comitted to living away from those besotted shores because of that stupidity.