Friday, December 22, 2006

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Five things you don't know about me

Eszter Hargittai has tagged me with the "Five-Things-You-Didn't-Know-About-me" meme. So, here goes, in chronological order:

1) From the ages of eight to sixteen, I wore glasses before switching to contact lenses. Not a big deal, except that my glasses were housed in the most hideous-looking square peuter frames you could possibly imagine.

To this day my parents insist that those frames were "cute." After showing picture of myself from that era to many, many people, I have yet to find anyone who agrees with them.

2) In the seventh grade, I placed third in the Connecticut State Science Fair.

3) In the early eighties, my brother and I used to drive our mother crazy by our near-religious devotion to The A-Team. A few minutes before it would come on, we would loudly hum the theme song and then listen to Mom complain about the decline and fall of Western civilization.

4) As a grad student at Stanford, I had a thoroughly pleasant lunch with Jennifer Connelly. [Um, that's it?--ed. Alas, there's nothing else to report.]

5) A few years later, I was on a date with a woman who was not Jennifer Connelly. I found myself in the rare circumstance of being less interested in her than she was in me. Fortunately, the conversation turned to politics. At this point, I went out of my way to mention my membership in the Republican Party.

The date ended early.

OK, I tag Jacob Levy, Laura McKenna, Dan Nexon, Kevin Drum, and Megan McArdle.

posted by Dan on 12.22.06 at 08:01 PM


dan, i know this is not related to this post, but since it is clearly an important issue, would you be willing to post about the text quoted below? If you agree or disagree, or thing the quotes are a misunderstanding of Arendt... whatever. Just as an issue to debate.

I doubt you will, but it would be very interesting to hear your views on this passage, or on Hannah Arendt in general.

joe m.

"Though [Hannah] Arendt had a long, often sympathetic involvement in Zionist politics, she was wary of the project almost from the start. ‘I find this territorial experiment increasingly problematic,’ she wrote in a 1940 letter, just one of the fascinating documents gathered by Jerome Kohn and Ron Feldman in their splendid collection of Arendt’s Jewish writings, many of which have been translated for the first time. In 1948, she confessed to her complete ‘opposition to present Zionist politics’. Her opposition was rooted in three concerns: the correspondence she saw between Zionism and Fascism, the Zionists’ dependence on imperialism, and her growing awareness of what she called ‘the Arab question’.

Of all the co-optations of Arendt for contemporary political purposes, none is more outrageous than the parallel, drawn by Power and others, between Palestinian militants and the Nazis. Arendt firmly rejected that analogy (in a 1948 letter to the Jewish Frontier), and few of the protagonists in the struggle over Palestine so reminded her of the Nazis as the Zionists themselves, particularly those of the Revisionist tendency, whose influence Arendt was among the first to notice.

From its inception, Arendt argued, Zionism had exhibited some of the nastier features of European nationalism. Drawing ‘from German sources’, she wrote in 1946, Herzl presumed that the Jews constituted neither a religion nor a people but an ‘organic national body’ or race that could one day be housed ‘inside the closed walls of a biological entity’ or state. With its insistence on the eternal struggle between the Jews and their enemies, she wrote in the 1930s, the Zionist worldview seemed ‘to conform perfectly’ to that of ‘the National Socialists’. Both ideas, she added in 1944, ‘had a definite tendency towards what later were known as Revisionist attitudes’.

Initially a minor current, according to Arendt, Revisionism poured into the Zionist mainstream in the 1940s. The Revisionists knew what they wanted and used guns to get it. Far from denying them legitimacy, their violent audacity provoked only token disapproval from mainstream Zionists, who secretly or unwittingly supported their initiative. Revisionist violence spoke to a new dispensation among the Jews, which Arendt described in ‘The Jewish State’. After centuries of settling for ‘survival at any price’, the Jews now insisted on ‘dignity at any price’. Though Arendt appreciated the shift, she also detected a secret death wish in the spirit of machismo: ‘Behind this spurious optimism lurks a despair of everything and a genuine readiness for suicide.’ Many Zionists, she claimed two years later, would rather go down with the ship than compromise, fearing that compromise would send them back to the humiliating days of silent suffering in Europe.

In 1948, the leader of Herut, Israel’s Revisionist party, travelled to America. Arendt drafted a letter of protest to the New York Times, which was signed by Einstein, Sidney Hook and others. Herut was ‘no ordinary political party’, she wrote. It was ‘closely akin in its organisation, methods, political philosophy and social appeal to the Nazi and Fascist parties’. It used ‘terrorism’, and its goal was a ‘Führer state’ based on ‘ultra-nationalism, religious mysticism and racial superiority’. The letter also decried those ‘Americans of national repute’ who ‘have lent their names to welcome’ the Herut leader, giving ‘the impression that a large segment of America supports Fascist elements in Israel’. The leader of Herut was Menachem Begin.

The second failing of Zionism, according to Arendt, was that its leaders looked to the ‘great powers’ for support rather than to their future neighbours. Her disagreement here was both moral – ‘by taking advantage of imperialistic interests’, she wrote in 1944, the Zionists had collaborated ‘with the most evil forces of our time’ – and strategic. At the very moment that imperialism was being challenged throughout the world, Zionism had attached itself to a universally maligned form. ‘Only folly could dictate a policy that trusts distant imperial power for protection, while alienating the goodwill of neighbours,’ she wrote. In a 1950 essay, she declared that Zionists simply ignored or failed to understand ‘the awakening of colonial peoples and the new nationalist solidarity in the Arab world from Iraq to French Morocco’. Self-styled realists, they were profoundly unrealistic. They ‘mistook decisions of great powers for the ultimate realities’, she wrote in 1948, when ‘the only permanent reality in the whole constellation was the presence of Arabs in Palestine.’

Arendt did allow for one imperial future, however. ‘The significance of the Near East for Britain and America,’ Arendt wrote in a 1944 article entitled ‘USA – Oil – Palestine’, ‘can be expressed nowadays in a single word: oil.’ With America’s reserves dwindling, control over the world’s oil supply would ‘become one of the most important factors in postwar politics’. After the war, America would control roughly half the world’s shipping, and ‘that fact alone will force American foreign policy to secure its own oil hubs.’ Because of Europe’s reliance on Arab oil, she added, ‘America’s future influence on intra-European matters will depend to a large extent’ on its control over an intended pipeline in the Middle East. Though she hoped that America would not pursue an imperial policy, she had no doubt that oil would be a key factor in its deliberations. And with Israel responsible for the ‘caretaking of American interests’ in the Middle East, she wrote in ‘Zionism Reconsidered’, ‘the famous dictum of Justice Brandeis would indeed come true: you would have to be a Zionist in order to be a perfect American patriot.’

While Arendt had worried about Zionism’s darker tendencies and imperial dalliances from the beginning, her awareness of the Arab question came slowly. By 1944, however, she had come to see it as the ‘most important’ challenge. Without ‘Arab-Jewish co-operation,’ she wrote in 1948, ‘the whole Jewish venture in Palestine is doomed.’ Zionism left the Palestinians with no options other than emigration or ‘transfer’, which could be accomplished only using Fascist methods, or second-class status in the land of their birth. This last option, she remarked in 1943, assumed ‘that tomorrow’s majority will concede minority rights to today’s majority, which indeed would be something brand new in the history of nation-states’. In the mid-1940s, she warned that the Arabs would soon ‘turn against the Jews as the Slovaks turned against the Czechs in Czechoslovakia, and the Croats against the Serbs in Yugoslavia’. ‘In the long run,’ she added, ‘there is hardly any course imaginable that would be more dangerous.’"

posted by: joe m. on 12.22.06 at 08:01 PM [permalink]

Jeez, Joe--troll much?

Arendt is an excellent example of why intellectuals are so often limited, to put it mildly, in dealing with practical politics. The passages quoted above illustrate, for example, left-wing paranoia about any non-left political movement, a paranoia which peaked in the 1950s and 1960s (remember how political scientists argued that conservatives had deranged "authoritatrian" personalities?) but continues to this day. Herut was not fascist, nor was Begin, as his record as an opposition leader and a prime minister attest. Arendt was completely wrong in this assessment.

As far as imperialism and oil go, she was equally full of...gas, I guess. The US policy for developing oil supplies in the Middle East was to kiss up to the Saudis, and the more "imperialistic" power-politics types in the establishment always were hostile to Israeli interests. None of the "realist" types ever favored Israeli independence, and the State Department is famously dominated by Arabist careerists. (And the ranks of former diplomats are filled by people on the Saudi payroll.)

As for Israel being an instrument of European imperialism, one need only note that it was Britain which was most hostile to the foundation of Israel (going so far as to engage in military action against the Jews both before and after independence). It was the Soviet Union that supported Israeli independence because it was clearly a wedge against traditional European influence in the Middle East. This is not a point of merit for Israel--quite the reverse, actually--but it is a fact that much of the material and moral support the nascent state needed came from the Communist bloc (e.g. their Czech Messerschmidt variants and some Skoda machine guns).

Finally, it didn't take a rocket scientist to see that the Arabs were not going to accept the presence of a self-governing Jewish entity, no matter how much money the Yishuv paid for land or tried to form a united anti-British front with the locals (and there were de facto alliances before independence was attained). True, some of the far-left parties in Israel had romantic ideas, but the center of Mapai, and certainly Herut, had few illusions.

What's remarkable is that Arendt's contempt for the victims of the Holocaust ran so deep that she ignored the continuing oppression and murder of Jews in Europe that took place after the fall of the Nazis. The idea of going back to Poland and living happily in the ancestral shtetl was simply not going to happen, because the Gentile population wae pretty happy to be Jew-free and in possession of Jewish property. But Arendt's ideological blases blinded her to these realities.

Personally, I would be just as happy if most of the Jews had come to the US instead of Israel. It would have strengthened this country. But the American public was not ready to take such a step then, and many of the refugees prefered to join the Jewish community that had maintained a continuous presence in the ancestral homeland. So they moved into a crappy neighborhood, surrounded by backward and hate-filled societies whose leaders found them convenient scapegoats. No one was ever able to come up with a more practical solution.

But the really important question for this thread is: Who was Dan's favorite A-Team member? Dan's eye for the ladies suggests Face, but his love of well-planned policy points to Hannibal. He's not enough of a mad-scientist type to identify with Murdock, and i pity the fool who sees Dan as a Mr. T groupie.

posted by: srp on 12.22.06 at 08:01 PM [permalink]

Well, I knew all these things about you! Wonder whether I can come up with some interesting-but-still-bloggable ones you didn't know.

posted by: Jacob T. Levy on 12.22.06 at 08:01 PM [permalink]

At this point, I went out of my way to mention my membership in the Republican Party.

Which would probably ruin your chances with Salma Hayek as well.

posted by: Randy Paul on 12.22.06 at 08:01 PM [permalink]

Show us the glasses, Dan!!

posted by: TW Andrews on 12.22.06 at 08:01 PM [permalink]

I love the A-team, thanks for the link to the theme song. It was one of my favorite shows growing up.

On my super Dish package, we get this network called Sleuth, and it has the A-team on every morning at 10am. Its great. Just great.

I love it when a plan comes together.

posted by: peter, on 12.22.06 at 08:01 PM [permalink]

Thanks for playing! You do realize that at this point you have to show us a picture with your glasses, right?:)

What was your science fair project?

Funny about the date!

posted by: eszter on 12.22.06 at 08:01 PM [permalink]

To this day my friends call me "Crazy Murdock."

I too, love it when a plan comes together.

I had pewter frames, but very stylish compared to the black geek frames I replaced.

Where I grew up, being a Repub got me girls. Nothing hotter than a conservative babe.

posted by: save_the_rustbelt on 12.22.06 at 08:01 PM [permalink]

A Team trivia:

My father went to Alva (Oklahoma) High School with Jack Ging, who played General Fulbright.

My father was a lousy football player, Ging was, if I remember correctly, an All-American at Oklahoma, which got him an introduction in Hollywood.

Ging did a lot of television (usually a supporting character, often a police officer) and did some movies with Clint Eastwood.

Boomer Sooners!

posted by: save_the_rustbelt on 12.22.06 at 08:01 PM [permalink]

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