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In The Beginning

In the beginning there was Eschaton, and Atrios was its prophet.

Then in the first Great Summer of Exploration of Iberian Seafood, the Atrios did depart from his people but left The Four to sustain the people in his stead. The Four–Leah, Lambert, Tresey and the Farmer–did hold forth at such length that after Atriosreturn they went and started their own land. They called it Corrente and it was good.

Time passed and things changed. Now in the winter of the Great Change, after the summer of Hope, the natural order of things calls for another group to come forth and blather for the good of Mankind and the improvement of its lot. Some of us came forth from the land of Corrente and others have been gathered in directly from the House of Tasteless Music Videos, and I think at least two snuck in the back door while somebody was taking out the empty liquor bottles, but at any rate here we are.

The masthead includes such awesome names as Chicago Dyke, Professor Womat, Sarah, Moe Syzlak and, well, me (Xan) whom you might already know. There are some names which might be new to you (some of them new people, others new names on old people–wait, that doesn’t sound nice. Never mind that now.) We’ve laid in the best in food and beverage imagination and long experience can select, and built one hell of a set. Now it’s time to put on a show, kids–it’s all improv, so let’s have at it.

curtain up, light the lights, we’ve got nothin’ to hit but the heights. Welcome aboard.

I like watching the odd ballgame, though I have trouble with the culture of the sport. But it’s getting harder to deny that there’s a real problem with football players, their brains, and the play-through-pain, paramilitary culture of the game:

In a discovery that is bound to reverberate through the nation’s youth football community, clinical researchers reported yesterday that the brain of a recently deceased 18-year-old high school football player showed the earliest signs of an incurable debilitating disease caused by the kind of repetitive head trauma he experienced on the field…

“The findings are very shocking because we never thought anybody that young could already be started down the path to this disease,” said Dr. Robert Cantu, a clinical professor of neurosurgery at BU Medical Center and a co-director of the brain study institute. “It should send a powerful mes sage to people at every level of football that they need to care about this issue and treat concussions with respect.”

http://www.boston.com/sports/sch…ll_head_trauma/

This, on top of a story yesterday that documented traumatic brain injury in six of six football players’ brains examined post-mortem:

Doctors at Boston University’s School of Medicine found a condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy in the brain of Tom McHale, an N.F.L. lineman from 1987 to 1995 who died in May at 45. Known as C.T.E., the progressive condition results from repetitive head trauma and can bring on dementia in people in their 40s or 50s.

Using techniques that can be administered only after a patient has died, doctors have identified C.T.E. in all six N.F.L. veterans between ages 36 and 50 who have been tested for the condition, further evidence of the dangers of improperly treated brain trauma in football…

Dr. Ira Casson, a co-chairman of the N.F.L. committee that has studied concussions since 1994, said he could have no reaction until the McHale case and other recent C.T.E. findings appear in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

“It’s very hard to react to things and to case studies that are not presented in appropriate, scientific form and have not gone through peer review,” said Casson, a neurologist at Long Island Jewish Medical Center.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/28/sports/football/28brain.html?_r=1

It’s getting to the point where a tort lawyer will say that they knew, or should have known, that a duty was breached. There’s always been denial about the consequences of the brutality any given football game treats its fans to, and a simultaneous celebration of it. It’s bad enough to have short careers, compromised joints, broken bodies. Brains are for keeps. Those who love the game are, sooner or later, going to have to confront the uncomfortable fact that they love it, in large measure, because of its brutality, and that there’s a price to it.

Irrational Manliness

William Kristol this morning offers a thinking rational person the rare treat of observing someone take Harvey Mansfield seriously:

Lest conservatives be too proud, it’s worth recalling that conservatism’s rise was decisively enabled by liberalism’s weakness. That weakness was manifested by liberalism’s limp reaction to the challenge from the New Left in the 1960s, became more broadly evident during the 1970s, and culminated in the fecklessness of the Carter administration at the end of that decade.
In 1978, the Harvard political philosopher Harvey Mansfield diagnosed the malady: “From having been the aggressive doctrine of vigorous, spirited men, liberalism has become hardly more than a trembling in the presence of illiberalism. … Who today is called a liberal for strength and confidence in defense of liberty?”

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/2…ol.html?_r=1& hp

Mansfield, you may recall, wrote a book called ‘Manliness’, which no less a feminist icon than Christina Hoff Somers thought ‘refreshing’. He advances there the thesis that manliness is a good thing, even when Margaret Thatcher has it, that manliness ‘seeks and welcomes drama and prefers times of war, conflict and risk…brings changes or restores order at moments when routine is not enough, when the plan fails, when the whole idea or rational control by modern science develops leaks.’ From this promising beginning, he decries what he sees as our ‘gender-neutral society’, and hopes ‘to convince skeptical readers–above all, educated women–…that irrational manliness deserves to be endorsed by reason.’ Tough agenda, that.
Then there’s Mansfield on politics more directly. Glenn Greenwald admirably summarizes his atrocious positions:

In particular, (Mansfield) makes crystal clear that the so-called devotion to a “strong executive” by the Bush administration and the movement which supports it is nothing more than a belief that the Leader has the power to disregard, violate, and remain above the rule of law. And that is clear because Mansfied explicitly says that. And that is not just Mansfield’s idiosyncratic belief. He is simply stating — honestly and clearly — the necessary premises of the model of the Omnipotent Presidency which has taken root under the Bush presidency.
This is not the first time Mansfield has expressly called for the subordination of the rule of law to the Power of the President. In January of 2006 — in the immediate aftermath of revelations that President Bush had been breaking the law for years by spying on the telephone conversations of Americans without warrants — Mansfield went to The Weekly Standard and authored a truly amazing article, which I wrote about here (see item 2).

http://www.salon.com/opinion/gre…5/02/mansfield/

Hecate, my favorite feminist witch, hasn’t turned Mansfield into a newt yet, probably because it’d be a step up…

A good first week

I’m puzzled, when I read the paper in the morning, at the possibility that I might read about my president and actually approve of his work. His repeal of the ‘gag rule’ yesterday means that many organizations that include abortion in services offered to women can now receive federal funding. These provide not just abortion, of course, but family planning, contraception and a panoply of health services. The last paragraph of the Times story is well worth thinking about:

“It is actually a great day for those who oppose abortion,” said Steven W. Sinding, a past director-general of the International Planned Parenthood Federation and population adviser to the World Bank. “This will help many of the most effective providers of family planning services to enable women to avoid unwanted pregnancies.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/24/us/politics/24obama.html?hp

I’ve often observed that the foes of abortion might be expected, thereby, to approve entirely of contraception and substantive sex education, surely the most demonstrably effective means of preventing abortion. Those who hold that human life and ensoulment begin at conception, too, might lead one to expect them to oppose IVF clinics, which dispose of fertilized embryos by the thousand, as vociferously as they oppose abortion.

But this isn’t where they’re consistent. That’s because the point of their stance isn’t abortion. It’s power over women’s bodies, and denying them reproductive freedom. Period.

Pete Seeger, American

The inaugural concert yesterday was wonderful on many levels, but none struck your correspondent, the 59 year old son of classic old lefties, with more depth and resonance than the appearance of Pete Seeger, singing for a president-elect and 750,000 of his closest friends.

The man’s pushing ninety.  For most of his life, he’s been protesting, placing, music, and his life, sometimes at personal risk, in service of peace, justice, tolerance and progress.  He’s been Red-baited, marginalized, called a traitor, a pinko, a tree-hugger, a nigger-lover,  censored, blacklisted.  And he’s been, throughout, decent, honorable, committed, and almost entirely correct on the merits, while speaking truth to power.

As he did, yet again, yesterday.  This land was made for you and me.

Splendid Isolation

Stnley Fish, in today’s Times, bemoans the end of higher education as he’d like to understand it, an exercise almost entirely self-referential, ‘distinguished by the absence of a direct and designed relationship between its activities and measurable effects in the world’. He applauds what he calls its ‘determined inutility’, decries the substitution of career skills for a dream of disinterested humanism, the for-profit universities, the ascendancy of new media over dead trees and so on:

http://fish.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/01/18/the-last-professor/

There are many ways to argue on the facts. For instance, many have got PhDs in the past few decades, so the mean level of faculty in many places is higher than it was; the grad student who might have taught a section has oft been replaced by a post-doc or junior prof. The education at schools once viewed as middling probably is superior today to that which many more pretentious places back then. And vastly more students actually go to college, with vastly more varying levels of preparation and purpose. And the alleged inutility of much learning is a precious illusion. Anyone who reads, writes, speaks, reasons, and interacts with human beings, while mature enough to view him/herself as a work in progress, will not find any learning at all useless, irrelevant or solely self-referential. Even determined attempts to make, say, mathematics abstract to the point of absurdity have been useless before the ingenious uses physicists find, sometimes centuries after the fact. And anyone who reads, writes, analyzes or thinks does so in the context of a life, and a world. An entire literary genre explores the human vicissitudes of campus or ecclesiastical life, allegedly cloistered, as a microcosm in which the full panoply of human behavior plays out, for good or ill.

But the subtext, seems to me, is a dream based on class: that intelligence and culture should be a goal in themselves, pursued by those with the means to attend elite institutions and, essentially, make no economic, political, ethical, moral or other contribution to the world beyond the sight of the dreaming spires. This is a strange fantasy, and one which doesn’t bear much examination. Even in England, famously, it’s said that the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton. Elite institutions such as Oxford and Cambridge, France’s Ecole Polytechnique and Sorbonne, Tokyo University, Harvard/Yale/Princeton and so on, have always intimately been involved with the world outside. For a sizable proportion of their students, the opportunity to be socialized into what will become a governing/business/law/academic elite is the very raison d’etre of their educational experience.

Fish’s dream does him no credit, either as apprehension of reality or aspiration, seems to me.

Goodbye to All That

A year or two ago, I bought a keychain countdown clock, which now reads not much time at all until 20 Jan 2009.  As the day approaches, I find myself more and more aware of just how much I loathe Bush, Cheney, their works, their enablers, their philosophies; how much I’ve fought over the past eight years to retain a bit of optimism about the human condition, a bit of love for my country.  It’s almost viscerally uncomfortable, without parallel in a lifetime including Johnson in Vietnam, Nixon, Kissinger, Reagan and too many others.

And not least is the sheer shallowness.  They aren’t even a fit subject for a tragedy.  They’re absurd, farcical, trivial in their evil.  The only constant in their rule was the pursuit of unaccountable power as its own end..  The results they obtained should forever damn such a philosophy to the backwaters of discourse.  It won’t, of course; the very nature of the damned human race will see to its cropping up again with monotonous regularity.  But maybe, just maybe, there’ll be a change for the better, a little sunlight.  It need not be perfect…

Happy 20 Jan, everybody

Be careful out there

Gaza

Israel, which once made the deserts bloom, is now more associated with school bombings, pictures of dead children. They have helped a forgetful world forget the school bus bombing at Ma’alot, the Sbarro bombing, on and on. They are a first-world economic, scientific, and medical power as well as a first-world military power. Were they to pursue peace with the vigor, commitment and energy with which they wage war, they would contribute far more to Israel’s security than with force of arms, which only generate more hatred, more Palestinians willing to kill and to applaud killers.

It’s far too late for Israel to reap any political capital, domestically or on the world stage, out of their action. Their short-term military dominance will only yield to long-term insecurity, as Hamas gains prestige and Arab hatred of Israel solidifies in the face of Israeli might indiscriminately and disproportionately applied. Those Palestinians willing to kill Israelis will be emboldened, those willing to take risks for peace ridiculed.

Much, but not all, of the blame for the current horror rests with Israel, by far the stronger party economically and militarily. Much, but not all, of the responsibility for ending the conflict and the killing rests with Israel. And American involvement in the conflict, which has never been more necessary, is utterly absent in the last days of Bush’s term, and perception of American even-handedness, which has never been more necessary, entirely lacking.

The complete loss of moral capital the state of Israel has suffered over the past forty years is utterly astounding, and, in retrospect, has done nothing for Israeli security.

I never thought I’d have lived, for instance, to see Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley at the same table. I hope to be similarly astounded by events between Israelis and Palestinians. No greater contribution to American or Israeli security could be imaginable than an equitable peace between Israel and Palestine. Naked self-interest alone, seen in the light of endless catastrophe, increasing polarization, and ever-worse distortion of domestic and international politics, should carry the day, much less that it’s the right thing to do to stop the killing, help the poor and recognize common humanity.