• Culture Clash,  The Political Animal

    The Firing of Melissa Click

    This is where the faculty case against firing Melissa Click, otherwise correct in every respect, falls apart: But no one on the campus filed a complaint against the professor, Ms. Henrickson said, a step that would have triggered the university’s own procedures. “No one took the opportunity to avail themselves of that process,” she said, so the board began its own. This is why the federal government becomes involved in local cases, when local government and law enforcement prejudicially does not do its job. The faculty was not supplanted or overruled. It did not do its job when it should have. Why it did not is perhaps at the very heart of…

  • The Political Animal

    The Causes of ISIS

    Establishing what caused ISIS has become, for many, something of a cause. I have not researched exactly when the debate began – what was, as it were, the cause of the debate over the cause of ISIS – but certainly soon after its sweep from Syria into Iraq began, and unsurprisingly if even earlier, people began to seek to account for it. Aside from the customary ambient smoke of conspiratorial accounts, an immediate choice was the Obama administration’s obvious utter failure, post withdrawal from Iraq, to anticipate and clandestinely target the organization. Soon enough, another “cause” came to supersede that one, that of the Iraq War, and the forces it…

  • Creative

    from FOOTNOTE 1 — “Minnie”

    (The following is the Excerpt from The Twentieth Century Passes, a memoir of my father’s life) By the time I was born, three of my grandparents were already dead. They had died young, in their early 60s, just before and after the birth of my sister ten years before me. My parents had had me, their third child, late for those days, my father at 42. The only grandparent my brother and I knew was Minnie, who had left Dad in infancy, as had her husband, Yoina, to travel to a new life in America. During my first decade, Minnie had already entered her 70s, but she looked, to a…

  • Creative,  On The Road

    from FOOTNOTE 1 — “Route 66: The American Road”

    (News came two days ago that Martin Millner, along with George Maharis, one of the two stars of the legendary television series Route 66, has died, at 83. As a young boy, my own introduction to the adventure of road travel and the romance of the route came from the series and the experience of new places and people each week of Milner’s Tod and Maharis’s Buz. It seems the right time, then, to offer this excerpt of my “Route 66: The American Road,” originally published, along with the photography of Julia Dean, in the final issue of the also legendary, documentary journalism magazine DoubleTake, and republished now in the inaugural…

  • Creative,  On The Road

    From FOOTNOTE 1: “Place … traveling”

    (I thought I might offer here, complete, one of my ten works of poetry, essay, creative nonfiction and documentary journalism in the inaugural issue of Footnote. When I travel, every moment is a flight in the weightlessness of the journey, against the gravity of destinations and origins and belonging.) Place traveling It’s a road, behind and before. I wander it like dust with wind for a will. Arizona, now, ranges over mountain and pass desert brush and Geronimo’s ghost for, once a watchful youth while Los Angeles is leaving, spinner and lure for a hungry eye, hooked, but never caught. They’re soft winds over those ocean dreams. They blow they blow. Soon Oklahoma,…

  • Creative

    From FOOTNOTE 1: “Bordello Rooms” (excerpt)

    (The last of my ten works of poetry, essay, creative nonfiction and documentary journalism in the inaugural issue of Footnote is “Bordello Rooms.” Its ending offers a basis for understanding its closing placement, but its beginning offers a different explanation, for why I choose it to introduce the series of excerpts I will be offering here on the blog.) Bordello Rooms The way I do it is I stand in the middle. I’ve done it all over the world. I stand in the midst of an historic environ, and I conjure. I go to museums. I eat in the restaurants. I sit in the squares and inhale, with the lift…

  • The Political Animal

    La Habana Nueva

    (It is a historic day — the American flag raised over the American embassy for the first time in 54 years. It seemed a good time to share my poem, La Habana Nueva, composed in 2002.) In the new Havana which is the old Havana but older, as Dylan was younger than that now Cesar – one eye now forever lost and spinning in centerfield, glove and bare hand waiting and reaching calmly beseeching the sky for the ball – used to play for Industriale who are the Yankee invasion that took. When he sees your eyes search the cathartic saline sick facades, as his eye still seeks high drives…

  • The Political Animal

    Announcing the Release of FOOTNOTE #1: A Literary Journal of History

    It has been a long time in gestation, but Footnote, a new literary journal with a unique focus is now here, and I am pleased to say that I am a featured writer in its inaugural issue, which includes ten pieces of my poetry, creative nonfiction, and documentary journalism. Over the coming days and weeks, I will be showcasing excerpts from my work in the journal. In the meantime, here is what its publisher, Alternating Current Press, an endlessly enterprising, two-decade old small press has to say about it. Within our pages, you will find contemporary outlooks on history right alongside little-known public domain works that feel as fresh and…

  • The Political Animal

    Discrediting Arguments on the Iran Deal

    Argument and persuasion are not the same thing. An argument is a series of statements, or premises, arranged and propounded to entail a conclusion – to support a claim. Persuasion is the attempt to influence and change minds. Ideally, the former plays the major role in the latter, but in politics and policy, as in life, this is not always so. Armed robbery is an act of persuasion. The barrel of a gun makes a weak argument that its holder is entitled to your wallet, but it makes strong case that you should hand it over. At the point of a gun, one is persuaded to give up the goods.…

  • The Political Animal

    Arguments in Defense of the Iran Deal and Their Implications

    There are many areas on which to focus one’s attention in the Iran deal. My own has been consistently drawn to the administration’s arguments in defense of the deal. Attended to, they are remarkably revealing in their implications about administration thinking, while not, in fact, actually being much remarked upon. It is a tediously if necessarily repeated truism that negotiation requires compromise in positions about which the parties were previously uncompromising. Thus there will always be opportunity for absolutists not at the table to carp and condemn. Negotiators are charged with perfidy by those they represent only a little less often than battlefield turncoats. However, when the very subject of negotiation…

  • On The Road,  The Political Animal

    Penelope’s Last Day

    When this blog was in its heyday, Penelope had a featured role on it. Julia photographed her. I wrote about her. Now that I prepare to modestly revive the blog, I feature Penelope one last time. Two months ago, after seventeen years, we lost Penelope, an eventuality I anticipated back when I was celebrating her. Julia and I had both put dogs to sleep before, suffered more loss of them than that. We knew the experience. But Penelope, a Shiba Inu mix – Penelope was different. Penelope had surpassed them all. We had loved her brother Homer, gone nearly two years before her, and he had loved us, in his…

  • Israel

    Practicing Anti-Semitism, in Theory

    Just over a week ago, on August 17, the Los Angeles Review of Books (LARB) published a review of Deconstructing Zionism: a Critique of Political Metaphysics, a collection of essays edited by Gianni Vattimo and Michael Marder. Vattimo is the Italian philosopher who, during the current Israel-Hamas conflict, has made clear once again his sympathy for Hamas and expressed his desire to “shoot those bastard Zionists,” who he considers “worse than Nazis.” His anti-Semitic tendencies are on record (a reevaluation of the claims of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion). The collection brings together the less and the more well-known voices who theorize anti-Zionism and make of the Jew,…

  • The Political Animal

    Iraq and “Last Days in Vietnam”

    At the Los Angeles Film Festival I caught Rory Kennedy’s powerful and moving Last Days in Vietnam. If you think you are familiar with the story of the botched and frantic – and heroic – American evacuation of Vietnam, with the fall of Saigon, including some many tens of thousands of lucky Vietnamese, this film will set you straight. There is an iconic photo from that time of desperate Vietnamese climbing a spindly ladder to the narrow roof top of the American Embassy and the last helicopter out. In truth, it was not the American Embassy (rather the home of the assistant CIA station chief) and there were many more…

  • Culture Clash

    Thumbs Up for “Three Masters”

    My latest film criticism, “Three Masters: Spielberg, Anderson, Haneke, and Their Audience,” excerpted in the previous post, is recommended reading for the week at RogerEbert.com. If that doesn’t get you to read, I don’t know what to do with you. (But I’ll think of something.) A further excerpt: In Saving Private Ryan, the film’s ultimate sentimentality, which sets it apart amid all of the hyperrealistic violence that is one mark of the anti-sentiment of the anti-war film,9 is Captain Miller’s dying charge to Ryan to “earn this.” Though Ryan expresses doubt in the final moments by asking his wife if he did, the audience has little doubt of the judgment. It is…

  • Culture Clash

    Three Film Masters

    My latest film criticism is available now at Bright Lights Film Journal. “Three Masters: Spielberg, Anderson, Haneke, and Their Audience” addresses the question, as the tag line has it: “Is the filmmaker tyrant, aesthete, ringmaster, or hermit?“ It is commonly claimed by artists that they create for themselves. Wrote Stanley Fish, to whom I respond,”If a reader feels consoled or comforted, that’s all to the good, but it’s not what writing is about.” Fish called the consolation and comfort of art a “rationale for the act that was not internal to its demands, a rationale that could take the form of an external justification.” “Of course,” said Fish, “the words…

  • Israel

    The Third Narrative: Not So Third, Not a Narrative, Not New

    (This essay originally appeared in the Algemeiner on April 3, 2014.) I regret to say that a fair number of people I respect (and some not so much) have signed on to a statement about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that, evince as it may the best of intentions, is nonetheless, in truth, very considerable twaddle. I speak of the statement of principles of the Third Narrative Academic Advisory Council. The council, we are told, [w]ill function as an advisory body to The Third Narrative (TTN), facilitated by Ameinu.  The Council will seek to create a unique, middle ground, organizing space at TTN for progressive academics and will engage academics from across North America. The…

  • The Political Animal

    Ave Atque Vale

    from Ave Atque Vale by Algernon Charles Swinburne XVIII For thee, O now a silent soul, my brother,       Take at my hands this garland, and farewell.       Thin is the leaf, and chill the wintry smell, And chill the solemn earth, a fatal mother,       With sadder than the Niobean womb,       And in the hollow of her breasts a tomb. Content thee, howsoe’er, whose days are done;       There lies not any troublous thing before,       Nor sight nor sound to war against thee more, For whom all winds are quiet as the sun,       All waters as the shore.

  • Culture Clash

    Let Your Soul Stand Cool and Composed

    From the National Portrait Gallery in Washington comes an exhibition on one of my favorite subjects: the cool. “American Cool” offers up its representative icons of cool in portraits by renowned photographers, such as Avedon, Arbus, and Henri-Cartier Bresson, who are sure to add to the alure of the exhibit, but that I don’t  think necessarily give us their subjects at their – how shall I put it – coolest. This Steve McQueen definitely does the trick. Here is a companion Paul Newman, not part of the exhibit, atypically bearded. According to the curators, Cool carries a social charge of rebellious self-expression, charisma, edge and mystery. Cool is an original American sensibility…

  • The Political Animal

    Ukraine and Legitimacy

    It is fascinating to witness with events in Ukraine an enduring controversy of history in the making. Controversies arise all the time, of course, but some are drawn in more dramatic relief than others, and one of those is Ukraine, 2013-14. Most Western exponents of liberal democracy, of both right and left – by no means all – are adamant that Ukraine represents one more natural social outburst of the desire for freedom and democracy, and a rejection of the democratically-styled authoritarianism that is just one form of corrupt oligarchism. One needn’t dissent from this view to find many of the forces for good in these events, as they zealously…

  • The Political Animal

    The Revolution with No Name

    When it seemed to some at the end of the Cold War that we had also reached the end of history, more than ever, every act of rebellion and revolution seemed cause to celebrate an elevated human spirit. After a long winter of merely staving off an enemy’s further success, now freedom was rising with people uprising, and cheer was in the air. We got, relatively peaceful and colored (orange and rose), revolutions and “springs” that sprang of the hope – so richly did the sap of it rise in great municipal squares around the world – that all that is necessary to topple tyranny is for good people to…

  • Israel,  The Political Animal

    A Misguided Argument About Anti-Semitism

    (This essay originally appeared in the Algemeiner on February 11, 2014.) In the Wall Street Journal of February 3, Harvard’s Ruth R. Wisse published an Op-Ed titled “The Dark Side of the War on ‘the One Percent.” In the article, Wisse argues for a “structural” connection between “anti-Semitism and American class conflict.” First tracing the rise of nineteenth century European anti-Semitism in the accusation that Jews took “unfair advantage of the emerging democratic order in Europe, with its promise of individual rights and competition, in order to dominate the fields of finance, culture and social ideas,” Wisse proceeds to find like grounds for potential anti-Semitic outbreak in President Obama’s and…