Friday, August 23, 2013
Louise Gluck's Piercing Poetry
Here is an excerpt from her 2004 poem "October":
Come to me, said the world. I was standing
in my wool coat at a kind of bright portal--
I can finally say
long ago; it gives me considerable pleasure. Beauty
the healer, the teacher--
death cannot harm me
more than you have harmed me,
my beloved life.
Here is one more tasty, bittersweet Gluck morsel: "in childhood, I thought/that pain meant/I was not loved./It meant I loved."
Descriptive and Evocative Writing About Joao Magueijo's Varying Speed of Light Theory
Rogan's article could easily have been dull, esoteric and/or impossible for a layperson to follow. She took a different approach: conversational, sassy and brimming with indelible images and metaphors. This is her opening paragraph:
Thinking about the universe will fuck you up. Talking with Joao Magueijo won't help. He's the 34-year-old theoretical physicist who's about to take a bite out of Albert Einstein's ass. The more I talk with Joao, the more it feels like talking with Tom Toughey in high school after I've smoked a joint. Tom could shake his eyeballs. Not his eyelids or the corner of his eyes but both his actual eyeballs. He'd corner me in the hall and shake his elecric blue orbs until I'd run screaming into the girl's room to try and splash down my high with cold water. Joao is no Tom Toughey, but he's close. And right now he's poised to jack modern physics into overdrive. Fuck the speed limit of the universe. With Joao at the wheel, there are no speed limits. That'll set your eyeball shaking.
My writing style is much different than that--more formal, less vulgar--but I appreciate Rogan's rhythm and flow; that paragraph is energetic and intriguing: it demands that you keep reading.
The universe is so large--and it expanded so quickly--that a beam of light could not travel all of the way across it at Einstein's theoretical speed of light (186,000 miles per second). This means that far flung regions of the universe should have never been in contact with each other and thus should have differing properties but our observations suggest that this is not the case. This is formally known as the Homogeneity Problem but Rogan explains the concept informally by using a clever analogy:
The universe, despite its vastness, is remarkably similar. In scientific terms, this means the natural laws that govern the universe are the same all over. How is this possible? How can parts of the universe that are eons away from each other speak the same language? How and when were they all in the same room together? Imagine you grew up in the Bronx and someone else grew up in Africa. You're ten-thousand miles apart. You have no plane or boat. No teleporting machine. Presumably, you've never met. But somehow, you speak the same language, wear the same clothes, and eat the same food. That's impossible. That's fucked up.
VSL Theory solves the Homogeneity Problem by asserting that right after the Big Bang light traveled faster than it does now but as the universe cooled light slowed down. Or, as Rogan memorably puts it, "Like a fast and furious friendship, someone stops calling. Two days go by, then a week. Things slow down until you drift apart. Galaxies that were once close are now light years apart." Our universe is cold, vast and aloof, much like a friend who once seemed close but is now distant and unavailable.
Is Magueijo right? Einstein's Theory of Relativity is one of the most well-tested and successful theories ever; more than 100 years after Einstein published it in his annus mirabilis, researchers are still devising new ways to test it and it has yet to fail. It will be interesting to see if Magueijo's concept can similarly withstand such rigorous investigation. Rogan writes that Magueijo has a very pragmatic attitude about this: "Nothing lasts forever. Not an idea or a man. That's why Joao doesn't worry about taking Einstein down. He tells me it's a sign of respect to question everything. Einstein kept asking questions until he found one he couldn't answer. Then he died." Before Einstein penned the final draft of his theory, he toyed with the VSL concept; as a scientist he would approve of Magueijo's questioning and wondering, even if as a proud individual he would believe that his theory most closely mirrors the Old Man's thoughts (as Einstein might put it).
Near the end of the article, Rogan mentions that Magueijo asked her a question: Why did Holocaust survivor/respected writer Primo Levi commit suicide? Here is Rogan's description of that part of their conversation:
Now he's asking me something I can maybe answer. But I don't because before I can tell him what I think, he offers his own explanation. Maybe, after all those years of being at someone else's mercy, Levi wanted control. Wanted to fall down his own stairs before some Nazi pushed him. This idea seems to make Joao feel better. He's talked a lot about getting out of physics while he's still at the top of his game. Maybe get back to music or take up writing full time. He doesn't want to be like Einstein. By the end of his career, Einstein was frustrated and disappointed. He was pushing beyond his limits and he knew it.
I'm listening to Joao and figure I don't need to tell him my theory about Primo Levi. Besides, it's in direct contradiction to his. I imagine Levi was just exhausted. Adversity doesn't make you stronger; it just drains your tank. So by the time Primo Levi killed himself, the everyday insults that life throws at us probably felt like boulders falling on his head.
I will not presume to know what thoughts and emotions tormented Levi but I think that both Magueijo and Rogan may be correct in a larger, more general sense: Levi's final act may have been both a defiant assertion of control and an escape from a world that can be unbearably painful for the highly intelligent and highly sensitive. I suspect that many of the Holocaust survivors who committed suicide decades after the Event did so because they felt disillusioned by how little the world has changed, how little people have learned. If you devote your life to bearing witness to an atrocity and the world neither listens to your story nor heeds your message/warning then life could seem intolerably meaningless and hopeless, if not cosmically absurd.
Monday, August 19, 2013
Benjamin Netanyahu's Policies Threaten not Just Israel's Survival but the Security of the Entire Free World
Jonathan Pollard outlined the unprecedented and dangerous nature of Israel's concessions over the years:
• Israel is the only country in the world ever to voluntarily expel its own citizens from chunks of its homeland in order to hand over the land to its enemies.
• It is the only country in the world ever to voluntarily destroy the homes and businesses of its own citizens, leaving them with shattered lives and broken promises.
• Israel is the only country in the world ever to voluntarily dig up and transport the graves of its dead so that the land could be turned over to its enemies.
The State of Israel also holds unenviable world records for betraying those who serve the state, including the following:
• Israel is the only country in the world to restrain its military from rescuing a wounded soldier, for fear of provoking the enemy and risking its approval ratings with the world. The soldier, injured by enemy gunfire at a Jewish holy site, slowly bled to death needlessly while the IDF stood by and watched.
• Israel also remains the only country in the world ever to voluntarily cooperate in the prosecution of its own intelligence agent, refusing him sanctuary, turning over the documents to incriminate him, denying that the state knew him, and then allowing him to rot in a foreign prison for decades on end, cravenly forgoing its right to simple justice for the nation and for the agent.
• Additionally, Israel is still the only country in the world ever to violate its own system of justice by repeatedly releasing dangerous, unrepentant murderers and terrorists back into the civilian population with impunity. No other country in the world has ever done this!
In summary, Israel has the dubious distinction of being the only country in the world so befuddled by moral ambiguity that it is willing to dishonor its dead, betray its bereaved, and disgrace its citizens for the sake of political expediency.
It has been suggested, even by some commentators who disagree in principle with Netanyahu's policies, that Israel has no choice because the U.S. government is relentlessly pressuring Israel to capitulate to her enemies. Martin Sherman describes what Israel should be doing, regardless of outside pressure or persuasion:
Netanyahu has been in office for almost half a decade, during which he has done virtually nothing to establish robust, assertive and effective mechanisms, with adequate resources and a clear mandate, to confront, curtail and counter the delegitimization phenomenon.
This neglect, rather than any particular instance of failure of resolve, is his greatest transgression and gravest failing.
Instead of committing massive resources to the defense and promotion of Israel’s image abroad, he has allotted a mere pittance, and left the country almost defenseless against a well-oiled, well-funded assault on its legitimacy, which has critically jeopardized the government’s decision-making freedom.
With a GDP of almost a quarter-trillion dollars, a fraction of 1 percent would provide up to $1 billion for a strategic diplomacy offensive for world opinion, targeting US campuses and liberal Jewish communities and exposing the brutal nature of Israel’s adversaries.
In addition to displaying cartoon bombs on the UN podium, a formidable task force--comprised of top experts on Islam--could be set up to drive home to global opinion-makers the dangers of a nuclear Iran and the implications of the theological underpinnings of the regime and to mobilize international opinion against Tehran’s drive for weaponized nuclear capability.
But inexplicably, these eminently viable alternatives to appeasement have been studiously ignored.
Sherman is disgusted by the implications of the terrorist release policy:
For stripped to basics, it conveys a message that Judeocide is justified.
It reflects a disregard--or at least a diminished regard--for the value of Jewish lives, and does so in a dual sense: Both toward the known victims of the past and toward the unknown victims of the future.
With regard to the past: It cheapens the value of Jewish blood, because it signals that those who shed it will be exonerated; that even the most heinous slaughter of Jews can be overlooked and its perpetrators pardoned; that Jewish lives and their memory are in the final analysis a “barterable” commodity.
In a recent blog entry, David Horovitz, former Jerusalem Post editor in chief, succinctly encapsulated the futility and foolishness of the government decision: “Only Israel could be pressured by the free world to release convicted killers before the ends of their sentences (something that the US, UK and others would not dream of doing), agree to do so at the start rather than the culmination of peace negotiations, and still wind up looking like the bad guy the next morning.”
With regard to the future: Given precedent and probability, it is a statistical certainty that some of the releasees will revert to acts of terror that result in the death of Israelis.
In the past, scores of Israelis have been killed and maimed by terrorists released in “deals.” There is little reason to believe that this time will different.
Accordingly, the government’s decision is conceptually tantamount to firing a gun into a crowd without knowing who will be hit, but knowing that someone certainly will be.
The most perplexing thing about this situation is that Netanyahu, unlike many leaders who follow appeasement policies, knows better; in his writings and in his speeches he has eloquently articulated why such policies are both morally wrong and strategically flawed. Did Netanyahu never believe the truths that he conveyed, did he just say whatever he felt he had to say to get elected or is it true--as some have suggested--that the behind the scenes pressure applied against Israel by the U.S. government is more vicious than any outsider can imagine? Even if the latter is the case, it would be better for Israel to die in dignity--if such death is inevitable--than to attempt to survive by stripping herself of all morality and courage, for in the long run doing the wrong thing cannot possibly lead to the right outcome: if Israel ultimately cannot survive by being strong, courageous and morally upright then she surely cannot survive by being weak, cowardly and morally bankrupt. Pollard, discussing the reports that Israel was presented with three ultimatums by the U.S. government, put it best: "Did anyone at the helm ever consider that given three life-threatening choices, the only response is: 'No, no and no!'?"
Orthodox Jews rend a garment when they are in mourning, a visible and tangible reflection of how the death of a loved one rips the world apart. We should all rend our garments every day that Netanyahu remains in office, for his policies have already led to much suffering and they will result in the deaths of many innocent people around the world.
Monday, August 5, 2013
Hollywood's Obscene Ties to Adolf Hitler
Ben Urwand's book The Collaboration: Hollywood's Pact with Hitler provides chilling examples of the full extent to which Hollywood studios in the 1930s and 1940s permitted the Nazis to censor the content of American movies. The August 9, 2013 issue of The Hollywood Reporter contains an excerpt from Urwand's book and the magazine's Andy Lewis offers this summary of Urwand's findings:
The 1930s are celebrated as one of Hollywood's golden ages, but in an exclusive excerpt from his controversial new book, The Collaboration: Hollywood's Pact with Hitler (Harvard University Press, on sale Sept. 9), Harvard post-doctoral fellow Ben Urwand uncovers a darker side to Hollywood's past.
Drawing on a wealth of archival documents in the U.S. and Germany, he reveals the shocking extent to which Hollywood cooperated and collaborated with the Nazis during the decade leading up to World War II to protect its business.
Indeed, "collaboration" (and its German translation, Zusammenarbeit) is a word that appears regularly in the correspondence between studio officials and the Nazis. Although the word is fraught with meaning to modern ears, its everyday use at the time underscored the eagerness of both sides to smooth away their differences to preserve commerce.
The Nazis threatened to exclude American movies--more than 250 played in Germany after Hitler took power in 1933--unless the studios cooperated. Before World War I, the German market had been the world's second largest, and even though it had shrunk during the Great Depression, the studios believed it would bounce back and worried that if they left, they would never be able to return.
Beginning with wholesale changes made to Universal's 1930 release All Quiet on the Western Front, Hollywood regularly ran scripts and finished movies by German officials for approval. When they objected to scenes or dialogue they thought made Germany look bad, criticized the Nazis or dwelled on the mistreatment of Jews, the studios would accommodate them--and make cuts in the American versions as well as those shown elsewhere in the world.
It was not only scenes: Nazi pressure managed to kill whole projects critical of the rise of Adolf Hitler. Indeed, Hollywood would not make an important anti-Nazi film until 1940. Hitler was obsessed with the propaganda power of film, and the Nazis actively promoted American movies like 1937's Captains Courageous that they thought showcased Aryan values.
Historians have long known about American companies such as IBM and General Motors that did business in Germany into the late 1930s, but the cultural power of movies--their ability to shape what people think--makes Hollywood's cooperation with the Nazis a particularly important and chilling moment in history.
Brave Jewish screenwriters like Ben Hecht and Herman Mankiewicz urged the Hollywood studio leaders--many of whom were also Jewish--to defy Nazi censorship and to make movies that clearly portrayed the true nature of Hitler's regime but Hollywood resisted such entreaties not only when the Holocaust could have been prevented but even after the Holocaust happened and the Allies defeated the Nazis. Urwand writes that several Hollywood studio executives visited post-war Germany but that this tour did not affect the executives' feelings or cause them to alter their policies:
The executives had witnessed the devastation, and toured one of the most notorious concentration camps in Europe. They had seen firsthand one of the sites where the murder of the Jews had taken place. But they did not put it on the screen. Decades would pass before any reference to the Holocaust appeared in American feature films.
Urwand provides some stunning anecdotes. For instance, Urwand reports, "The head of MGM in Germany, Frits Strengholt, divorced his Jewish wife at the request of the Propaganda Ministry. She ended up in a concentration camp." Urwand also cites a January 1938 letter sent by MGM's Berlin office to Hitler's office that ends with the words, "Heil Hitler!" The fact that a corporation founded by people of Jewish descent and run by people of Jewish descent worked on such friendly terms with the Nazis defies the ludicrous assertion that some shadowy Jewish conspiracy controlled or controls Hollywood. All of this brings to mind the joke about the Jewish person who asks his Jewish friend why he is reading anti-Semitic magazines instead of more reputable publications, only to receive the reply, "In the newspaper all I read about is people persecuting the Jews but here I can read about how we are actually running the world!" The winking irony of the joke is funny but it is sobering to consider the dichotomy between the powerlessness of the Jewish community through the centuries compared with the power attributed to Jews by the Nazis and other anti-Semites.
Urwand's scholarship has not been questioned, but some critics assert that his tone is too harsh and that the Hollywood studio leaders in the 1930s could not have imagined the full extent of what the Nazis were about to do. The simple answer to that is that Hitler boldly declared to the world all of his plans not only in Mein Kampf but also in numerous widely disseminated public speeches. Anyone who did not know what Hitler stood for and what he intended to do was a fool.
There are interesting parallels between America's dealings with Nazi Germany during the 1930s and America's current reluctance to forcibly confront countries like Iran, Pakistan, North Korea and Syria. How could anyone know what these countries stand for and intend to do? We know because those countries' leaders have loudly and repeatedly stated their beliefs and intentions.
Friday, August 2, 2013
Appeasement Failed to Stop the Original Nazis and it Will not Work Against Their Modern Heirs
It's staggering stupidity to appear to own up, even if indirectly, to the rampant slander that has today replaced the medieval calumny of deicide.
By repeatedly conceding the basic assumptions against us, we aggravate our own distress and inevitably succumb to the inimical international axiom that we’re in the wrong and that those who would annihilate us are desperate insurgents against injustice.
Any means to which they resort are thereby legitimized and terrorism against Israel isn't entirely cast out of moral bounds. Our accommodating pragmatism effectively removes Israelis, even Jews, from what the world's anti-terror warriors define as terrorism. Insidiously, terrorism becomes the indiscriminate targeting of non-Jews.
We'd therefore do better to go back to basics, proclaim loud and clear that we are in our historical homeland by right; that we were attacked; that the Arabs only conjured Palestinian nationality in order to stake rival claims; that a Palestinian state never existed (i.e. we certainly didn't conquer and subjugate it); that we didn't drive out hapless refugees (who themselves launched the war); that they caused their own downfall by plotting genocide and ethnic cleansing against us; that our only sin is surviving. We can even remind the world of the Nazi legacy of "Palestinian hero" Haj Amin al-Husseini...
Poker, or what Obama/Kerry market as negotiations, can be a form of psychological warfare, a fact which behooves Netanyahu to remember that old casino adage: If you're playing poker and look around the table to see who the sucker is, it's doubtless you.
Haj Amin al-Husseini, who is widely viewed as a heroic figure in the Arab/Islamic world today, was a Nazi collaborator who met with Adolf Hitler and who recruited 20,000 Muslims to serve in Hitler's infamous Waffen SS. The deep ideological connections between Nazis and Islamic extremists extend back several decades but are largely ignored in mainstream media depictions of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Egypt and Syria are among the nations that gave sanctuary to Nazi war criminals after the fall of Hitler's Third Reich; Syria sheltered Alois Brunner, Adolf Eichmann's second in command, and he helped the Syrians form their secret police force.
Neville Chamberlain's appeasement policy toward the original Nazis had a disastrous outcome and Netanyahu's appeasement policy toward the Nazis' heirs will similarly end very badly.
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