January 2015
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by Jonathan Wallace jw@bway.net

North Korea

Like the Charlie Hebdo cartoons I discuss in the lead essay, The Interview movie comedy portraying the assassination of the North Korean despot seems to be a case of taunting a crazy, violent adversary-- a lack of common sense. I learned from long immersion in Lord of the Rings, which I still re-read every few years, that its not a good idea to summon malevolent forces more powerful than you, when you have no plan for defeating them. "He disagreed with something that ate him", was a sign that the evil adversary placed on the body of a murder victim in a James Bond novel. The First Amendment and all other free speech rulesets protect us against our own governments; it raises all kinds of other issues about law, force and diplomacy, but is not actually a free speech issue when someone who is not your government retaliates for speech. Some high percentage of the private murders that occur every day also happen because the killer didn't like something the victim said; we prosecute the killers for taking a life, not infringing free speech.

De Blasio and the police

Someone once explained to me that the proper way to view the NYPD was as the biggest, most successful street gang in New York, and there is an element of truth in that. The force is a powerful political player independent of any mayor. Giuiliani knew on which side his bread was buttered, to the extent of slandering a victim who was shot to death after throwing a punch at an undercover he didn't know was a cop. DeBlasio creditably said that a police officer applying an illegal chokehold to a nonviolent arrestee suspected of selling untaxed cigarettes seemed to be excessive. Because he dared urge the proposition that the police can't just kill whomever they damn please, cops politicized two funerals, turning their backs on the mayor. The strangest thing about this, a subtext no-one has expressed, is that the cops themselves are blue collar union workers who are being gentrified right out of New York City by the same billionaire developers who benefit from anything which weakens the Mayor.


Was I glad to see the embargo on Cuba end? Very much. Why? I still have a residual belief in community, diversity, communication, democracy. What will be the result? Cuba will become Just Like Anyplace Else. What does that mean? Domination by late capitalism, the growth of a dominant billionaire class, growing inequality, the treatment of the majority as means rather than ends--a Koch Brothers version of Cuba. Socialism doesn't work, but neither does capitalism. History, said Gibbon, is the record of human folly and misfortune.

Rush Limbaugh

It took me all these years to figure it out, but Rush Limbaugh is basically an Internet troll who made a billion dollars. I saw it when he said after the midterm elections that it wasn't the Republicans' mission to govern or anything like that, but just to trash Barack Obama. When you're a troll, you live in a troll universe, and you want everyone else to be a troll like you.


We treat it in public discourse as if it were sui generis; probably very few Americans ever ask themselves why we would have a base in the territory of a nation we regard as an enemy, and, even more strangely, how we live there peacefully. Guantanamo is one of the last of a particular kind of imperialist remnant, territory leased for a century or in perpetuity on cheap terms from a weak people we were dominating at the time. Guantanamo is a triple shame: first the way it was created; then maintaining it after the island became independent of us was another shameful choice; finally, choosing to stash prisoners there was insulting. The very premise that it made Americans safer to stash enemy combatants in Cuba includes, as simple logic, that we didn't mind endangering Cubans.

Palestinians and the World Court

Why shouldn't they join? Its a neat case study in how, once Israel is concerned, we enter bizarro-world and all normal ethical rules are suspended or reversed. If the people of any imaginable Pacific Island or minor Asian or ex-Soviet nation asked to join, we would see that as evidencing a new sophistication, appreciation of international law, willingness to take responsibility, internationalism, incorporating oneself into the world community. When the Palestinians join, its nasty, manipulative, violent, premature, because, heaven forfednd, they might sue Israel for, oh, killing women and children, bombing schools and hospitals, bulldozing houses, using white phosphorus, forcing Palestinian teenagers at gunpoint to open doors which might be wired with explosives, and the beat goes on.