February 25, 2005

iPods, Henry, and B.D's Sad Nightlife

Amidst all the talk of late of iPod People, have I mentioned that I often blog with the i-Pod on? I've found the music keeps me put-putting along a wee bit longer into the evening hours (and also, doubtless, explains the bad prose, mammoth run-ons, tiresome regurgitations of the latest deep-think from Foreign Affairs, and so on). I'm still living out of a hotel room (its been a long four months now) and, alas, I've got a tremendously underwhelming dial-up connection to grapple with of late (not good for a blogger). Fox or CNN will typically be on in the background. Tonight, a particularly gruesome parade of horribles appeared on Fox across the room (David Duke discoursing on Ward Churchill; O'Reilly hyper-ventilating about jihadis run amok in Fairfax County; domestic Florida intrigues high on bovinity and fake blonde hair, etc).

And then, on Greta van Susteren's show, Henry Kissinger's vibrant and steely visage beckoned! Dutifully, of course, off went the i-Pod and the mute button was unclicked with dispatch. Is it just me, or is it amusing to see anchors fawningly interview the great Doctor? He always seems to be beamed in from his home in Kent, CT (read: playah status, no hauling ass to studio-land in midtown like the mortals)--the faux Anglophilia-infused surroundings almost reassuringly in sight behind Kissinger's shoulder (this montage has, by now, taken on the familiar trappings of your favorite anchor's chair). The interviewer will then try, but often stumble, to string several sentences together that are meant to appear gravitas-laden and of some geopolitical import: Putin! Mubarak! NATO! and Henry, of course, patiently and dutifully bestows his wisdom upon the lumpenproleteriat arrayed in the Atlanta and New York studios. It's a peculiarly American scene, with Kissinger's foreign-accented, gravelly voice holding court around the dinner tables of Peoria, interspersed with the breathless interrogatories about the 'region' clumsily and obsequiously delivered to the ever serene (unless it's the Beeb interviewing), steely-miened Kissinger. Kissinger increasingly appears incongruous amidst the MTVish "news" shows, of course, that are more and more becoming entertainment channels filling us in on Paris Hilton's latest exploits. My point? There is none, really, save that I probably need to get out and about more. Excuse the late night ramblings..

P.S. A final aside, re: the Sunday circuit, one wonders what Wolf Blitzer will do when Zbig and Henry are no longer available to hold court on the region amidst all the homme serieux beard-stroking and tut-tutting? OK, back to regularly scheduled programming soon...

Posted by Gregory at 04:31 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

February 02, 2005

How Wide the Blogosphere

A blog, Waiter Rant, dedicated to assorted shout-outs and grievances afflicting New York City's oft-disgruntled bars and restaurants workers...

Snippets from the front lines:

I was thinking about writing this long involved essay on tipping. I struggled with it for hours and then gave up. You know why? Because most of you are smart enough to know a waiter is supposed to get at least a 15% gratuity. Just let the following horror stories speak for themselves...

--A table’s bill is $208.85. It’s a four top. They have a $100 gift certificate. They ask me to deduct the gift amount and split the remainder between two credit cards. I present the men with credit card slips for $54.42 and $54.43. The tips are $8.16 and $8.17 respectively. They screw me down to the penny...

--A couple’s on a first date. The check is $150. The man leaves me $12. I’m pissed. His date passes me on the way to the ladies room.

“Just out of curiosity what did he leave you as a tip?” she asks.

I happily show her the credit card slip.

“What a cheap *^*&^,” she exclaims. She goes back to the table and angrily tells her date what a cheapskate he is. I guess he’s not getting lucky tonight. Come to think of it I saw her at the bar alone later.

--My all time favorite. A Birkenstock shod hippie couple’s check is $55. I present them with the bill.

“Waiter we don’t tip because we believe that would force owners to pay you a living wage,” Deadhead proclaims proudly.

I stare at him silently. My look says, “And you should tip me if you want to keep on living.” He squirms uncomfortably.

“Well maybe just this once” he says counting out a few bills.

“Thank you sir.”

Posted by Gregory at 03:27 AM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

February 01, 2005

The Churchill Chronicles

My brother Michael was killed in the World Trade Center on September 11th. I am absolutely disgusted that Hamilton College would invite and pay a person with the hurtful views of Ward Churchill to address your student body. He is on the record for having written horrible things about the victims who are in no position to defend themselves. Does one deserve to be killed for working for a profit making company? If so, 90% of Americans are not innocent and deserve to be murdered. This is absurd and the fact that Hamilton College would support the dissemination of this type of view point does a great disservice to your school and lowers the school's reputation in the eyes of many. As a lawyer I have always been a big supporter of the First Amendment and I am all in favor of the free exchange of ideas. Mr. Churchill is protected in speaking as he has on this topic. However, this has NOTHING to do with the First Amendment. The First Amendment does not require you to invite, pay and give a stage and an audience to someone whose views are so hurtful to so many. I feel horrible for poor Matt Coppo, a Hamilton student whose father was killed in the attacks. Your blatant disregard for your own students is appalling! It is really unimaginable the hurt that he must feel to have his own college do such a thing. I have many friends who are Hamilton Alumni. They have heard from me on this issue and have told me that they are equally appalled. This type of thing can hurt a college's reputation for many years. I hope you think better of following through with this.

Hundreds more passionate E-mails over at Hamilton's main website. Is Ward Churchill really getting paid to give his little talk? Why not invite some Neo-Nazis and Klansmen too, while they're at it? And give 'em a few greenbacks to boot. Regardless, whether or not he's getting paid is a side show. The campus is atwitter, free speech is being defended! They're moving the speech to a big hall for all the extra curiosity-seekers! Another great moment in the annals of the dumbing down of higher education...the Jerry Springerization of the Academy.

Oh, don't miss this website publicizing "The Kirkland Project for the Study of Gender, Society and Culture" as they present their little “Limits of Dissent?" shindig. Of Ward Churchill, it is said: "According to audience members, Churchill, who is known for his fiery style of delivery, 'tells it like it is' and can shake up the received opinions of many." You can't make this sh*t up.

Meanwhile, Churchill has resigned (under pressure) as department chair of the "Ethnic" Studies department at U Colorado. Good, but not enough--as he's a deeply disingenuous scoundrel. Check out his statement today defending himself:

I am not a "defender" of the September 11 attacks, but simply pointing out that if U.S. foreign policy results in massive death and destruction abroad, we cannot feign innocence when some of that destruction is returned. I have never said that people "should" engage in armed attacks on the United States, but that such attacks are a natural and unavoidable consequence of unlawful U.S. policy.

Really? What's this then?

In sum one can discern a certain optimism – it might even be call humanitarianism – imbedded in the thinking of those who presided over the very limited actions conducted on September 11. Their logic seems to have devolved upon the notion that the American people have condoned what has been/is being done in their name – indeed, are to a significant extent actively complicit in it – mainly because they have no idea what it feels like to be on the receiving end. Now they do. That was the "medicinal" aspect of the attacks. To all appearances, the idea is now to give the tonic a little time to take effect, jolting Americans into the realization that the sort of pain they're now experiencing first-hand is no different from – or the least bit more excruciating than – that which they've been so cavalier in causing others, and thus to respond appropriately. More bluntly, the hope was – and maybe still is – that Americans, stripped of their presumed immunity from incurring any real consequences for their behavior, would comprehend and act upon a formulation as uncomplicated as "stop killing our kids, if you want your own to be safe." Either way, it's a kind of "reality therapy" approach, designed to afford the American people a chance to finally "do the right thing" on their own, without further coaxing.

Sounds like cheerleading the 9/11 attacks to me.

Still, not convinced? Don't miss this 2004 interview with Ward Churchill:

Q: What are some of the solutions? Extreme events, like 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq, have mobilized people out of such complacency, albeit temporarily.

A: I don’t have a ready answer for that. One of the things I’ve suggested is that it may be that more 9/11s are necessary. This seems like such a no-brainer that I hate to frame it in terms of actual transformation of consciousness. ‘Hey those brown-skinned folks dying in the millions in order to maintain this way of life, they can wait forever for those who purport to be the opposition here to find some personally comfortable and pure manner of affecting the kind of transformation that brings not just lethal but genocidal processes to a halt.’ They have no obligation—moral, ethical, legal or otherwise—to sit on their thumbs while the opposition here dithers about doing anything to change the system. So it’s removing the sense of—and right to—impunity from the American opposition.

Ah, he never said "should." He only "suggested." And described 9/11 as an act of "humanitarianism". As I said, a disingenuous scoundrel of the lowest order. Oh, don't miss Churchill's very own "Eichmann defense":

Finally, I have never characterized all the September 11 victims as "Nazis." What I said was that the "technocrats of empire" working in the World Trade Center were the equivalent of "little Eichmanns." Adolf Eichmann was not charged with direct killing but with ensuring the smooth running of the infrastructure that enabled the Nazi genocide. Similarly, German industrialists were legitimately targeted by the Allies.

It is not disputed that the Pentagon was a military target, or that a CIA office was situated in the World Trade Center. Following the logic by which U.S. Defense Department spokespersons have consistently sought to justify target selection in places like Baghdad, this placement of an element of the American "command and control infrastructure" in an ostensibly civilian facility converted the Trade Center itself into a "legitimate" target. Again following U.S. military doctrine, as announced in briefing after briefing, those who did not work for the CIA but were nonetheless killed in the attack amounted to no more than "collateral damage." If the U.S. public is prepared to accept these "standards" when the are routinely applied to other people, they should be not be surprised when the same standards are applied to them.

It should be emphasized that I applied the "little Eichmanns" characterization only to those described as "technicians." Thus, it was obviously not directed to the children, janitors, food service workers, firemen and random passers-by killed in the 9-1-1 attack. According to Pentagon logic, were simply part of the collateral damage. Ugly? Yes. Hurtful? Yes. And that's my point. It's no less ugly, painful or dehumanizing a description when applied to Iraqis, Palestinians, or anyone else. If we ourselves do not want to be treated in this fashion, we must refuse to allow others to be similarly devalued and dehumanized in our name.

Do you feel like taking a long, hot shower after reading this? You're not alone. B.D. does too.

Posted by Gregory at 04:10 AM | Comments (20) | TrackBack

January 29, 2005

More Reader Mail on Ward Churchill

Zena Hitz writes in:

I meant to write to you earlier today about your Churchill post, but others I see have beat me to it. Still, I have somewhat different criticisms. So I agree with you about the shocking degree to which views like Churchill's are widespread. I remember similar conversations after 9/11. But I disagree a) that they all originate in a love of irony and b) that this attitude is behind Bush hatred. First of all b) I know so many people who had the same reaction to 9/11 that you and I had, and who hated the Churchill people as much as anyone, who are clear and violent Bush-haters. As I remember it the Iraq war was really what set the fire. These people are not overly ironic or cynical or relativistic. But they felt (rightly or wrongly) that the Iraq war was wrong and worse, that it was dishonestly pursued and exploited 9/11 for purposes quite foreign to it. I don't agree with this view, but it doesn't fit into your picture, and anecdotally speaking it is extremely common.

Secondly, a lot of opposition to Bush like anti-Americanism generally is actually very idealistic and un-ironic. Take all the world's human rights activists for instance. They hate Bush to a man, but you would hardly call them ironic or cynical or relativistic. They hate him because they see him as an enemy of human rights. Likewise, a lot of al-Qaeda's tacit and explicit supporters are ideological; they are Third-Worldist in some form or other and so basically America is seen as a quasi-colonial power that exploits the third world to feed its own materialist capitalist appetites etc. etc. and so deserves what it gets. Plenty wrong with this view, but not a love of irony or hatred of straightforward idealism, at least not obviously.

Still, I have to say I'm glad to see that the Ward Churchill's of the world can still ignite the outrage they deserve.

I didn't mean to indicate that the prevalence of irony in the postmodern millieu was the only variable causing much of the Bush hatred. Far from it, of course. Still, I take Zena's points. (NB: Speaking of irony--isn't it ironic that cretinous Ward's surname is Churchill?)

Meanwhile, another reader writes in from Ann Arbor:

I live in Ann Arbor, Michigan, home of the Univ. of Michigan, and people here are very proud of the fact that the SDS and Tom Hayden got their start here at the univ. There are quite a few morons like that [Ward Churchill] here in University faculty, and among the grad and undergrad students, plus among this town's population of ageing hippies.

Can't say I'm surprised...send in your war stories from Cambridge and Berkeley too!

Posted by Gregory at 11:55 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

January 28, 2005

Moronic Tales from Academia

Who is this man?

Via Andrew Sullivan, we hear of this (quite photogenic!) Professor at the University of Colorado, a Ward Churchill, who had some particularly noxious comments to make about 9/11. Churchill has a scheduled speaking engagement at Hamilton College on February 3rd that some there are protesting to have cancelled. Sullivan quoted Churchill as saying:

"As for those in the World Trade Center, well, really, let's get a grip here, shall we? True enough, they were civilians of a sort. But innocent? Gimme a break." He also called the victims of the WTC disaster "little Eichmanns." This was all way beyond the pale, and more shocking than Sullivan's typical "Moore Awards," so I did a little further googling out of morbid curiousity.

It turns out these passages come from an essay (if we can call it that) that Ward Churchill penned called "Some People Push Back." Despite Sully just blogging it yesterday(it's making headlines now because of the controversial Hamilton speaking engagement), Churchill penned this nasty piece on--I kid you not--September 12, 2001. Sullivan, truth be told, probably didn't point out the most galling passages. There are many, but this one left me incredulous. It's from a section of the essay entitled "The Makings of a Humanitarian Strategy":

In sum one can discern a certain optimism–it might even be call[ed] humanitarianism–imbedded in the thinking of those who presided over the very limited actions conducted on September 11. Their logic seems to have devolved upon the notion that the American people have condoned what has been/is being done in their name – indeed, are to a significant extent actively complicit in it – mainly because they have no idea what it feels like to be on the receiving end.

Now they do.

That was the "medicinal" aspect of the attacks.

To all appearances, the idea is now to give the tonic a little time to take effect, jolting Americans into the realization that the sort of pain they're now experiencing first-hand is no different from–or the least bit more excruciating than–that which they've been so cavalier in causing others, and thus to respond appropriately.

More bluntly, the hope was – and maybe still is – that Americans, stripped of their presumed immunity from incurring any real consequences for their behavior, would comprehend and act upon a formulation as uncomplicated as "stop killing our kids, if you want your own to be safe."

Either way, it's a kind of "reality therapy" approach, designed to afford the American people a chance to finally "do the right thing" on their own, without further coaxing.

Oh, you ask, why is B.D. wasting his time with this washed-out, Grade A ass? He's clearly out of the mainstream, underwhelming in the extreme, and barely worth the attention Sully has already given him. And, really, who cares if the person who equates the intentional mass murder of innocents with "humanitarianism" occupies a Department Chair at an American university of some repute? Or that he would be invited on speaking tours to bestow his words of wisdom on impressionable undergrads? Or that the slaughter of 3,000 individuals is, for this imbecile, a form of "reality therapy", "medicine," "coaxing" even. And, of course, it has become tired to point out the capacity for soi disant intellectuals to so breezily rhapsodize in grotesquely relativistic fashion. Still, let's look at the full passage that Sullivan had quoted from while we're at it:

There is simply no argument to be made that the Pentagon personnel killed on September 11 fill that bill. The building and those inside comprised military targets, pure and simple. As to those in the World Trade Center . . . Well, really. Let's get a grip here, shall we? True enough, they were civilians of a sort. But innocent? Gimme a break. They formed a technocratic corps at the very heart of America's global financial empire–the "mighty engine of profit" to which the military dimension of U.S. policy has always been enslaved–and they did so both willingly and knowingly. Recourse to "ignorance"–a derivative, after all, of the word "ignore"–counts as less than an excuse among this relatively well-educated elite. To the extent that any of them were unaware of the costs and consequences to others of what they were involved in–and in many cases excelling at–it was because of their absolute refusal to see. More likely, it was because they were too busy braying, incessantly and self-importantly, into their cell phones, arranging power lunches and stock transactions, each of which translated, conveniently out of sight, mind and smelling distance, into the starved and rotting flesh of infants. If there was a better, more effective, or in fact any other way of visiting some penalty befitting their participation upon the little Eichmanns inhabiting the sterile sanctuary of the twin towers, I'd really be interested in hearing about it.

The relativistic mish-mash and garbage contained above, the laughably simplistic narrative underpinning talk of some nefarious "global financial empire,"--all are shibboleths of 60's group-think, prevalent among a significant number of baby boomer generation academics, taken to parodic extremes (American capitalism bad, the nefarious "military-industrial" complex a product thereto, anyone working in lower Manhattan near evil Wall Street therefore complicit (part of a nefarious "technocratic corps" with blood on their hands), and thus getting their just deserts (does Ward Churchill even know that the WTC was a 'back-office', of sorts, servicing the Gordon Gekko "Master of the Universe" players more likely to work on the 30th floor of 85 Broad or in office buildings lining Park in the high 40s and low 50s?)

But let's put all this aside. The reason I blogged this tonight, is because, truth be told, these views (if somewhat less extreme manifestations) are much more widespread than we might think. In New York, just a month after 9/11, a leftist female acquaintance of mine (an American!) admitted (with some shame, it should be said) that she felt a tinge of joy in her stomach when she digested the news. America had humiliated so many societies, her thinking went, here's a comeuppance, of sorts. Relatedly, I remember talking about what percent of Chinese and Russians and assorted other countries, on some level, were, shall we say, not unhappy that the 9/11 attacks took place. A buddy fluent in Mandarin had been cruising Chinese Internet chat forums. It was party time over in those chat-rooms, he relayed, with nationalistic, smart Chinese youth pretty psyched that the Towers were taken down. Another day, around a Kazakh friend (of Russian ethnicity), clumsily, I speculated that maybe 25%-33% of Russians likely felt we got our "just deserts" on 9/11 (I had a poll to that effect at the time, I seem to recall, that I had seen on Johnson's Russia List, though I honestly forget). The Kazakh didn't speak to me for weeks--so angry that I would so intimate.

Those were emotional times in the city. Stupidly, I had gotten dragged to a dinner in the Village where the talk of the night seemed to be whether UBL was really culpable for the 9/11 attacks. Elite big firm lawyers were demanding I provide more convincing proof that he was responsible. I couldn't help feeling they felt real sympathy for Osama and his varied projects. Why, I wondered, (quite angrily, truth be told)? Beyond Russia and China (or the Village), a French woman told me that within a day of the attacks, at an elite U.S. law firm's office in Paris, ironically known for helping foster Franco-American ties because Atlanticist George Ball had worked there (Cleary Gottlieb), the joke was that UBL and Bush were playing chess. And that Osama was up two rooks (the word for rooks in French is "tours" or Towers). Funny, eh?

What of the Middle East? In October '01, I had to travel to Dubai on business. It was a pretty surreal flight, starting at Kennedy (for a while, you really did check in 3 hours before, and they opened and all but squeezed the toothpaste out of your toiletries bag), with the flights more than half-empty, stewardesses still looking freaked out--a sense of angst and Something Really Big Just Happened still very palpable. Once in Dubai, things got even stranger. Of course, everyone wanted to ask the visiting New Yorker about what had just gone down. But I felt less sympathy, really, than a clinical curiousity--one tinged with a good dose of remove and chillness. The wife of a locally prominent lawyer, of Pakistani extraction, told me that the attack on the Pentagon was legitimate. Oh, hell, I thought--let her call it legit as an attack on a military target without too much of a fuss. But, I asked, what of the massive slaughter of civilian innocents at the World Trade Center? She paused, mulled that over a bit, and, incredibly, in near perfect English, said: "maybe they should have attacked [the Towers] on a weekend when there would have been less people there." Boy, I thought, get me on the next flight outta here! (As Bob Dylan once put it, "I’m going back to New York City, I do believe I’ve had enough.”)

How are all these little vignettes connected to the idiocy and amoral musings of a Ward Churchill? Only to the extent that I suspect that a byproduct of the 60's, that is to say a heightening of a postmodern condition characterized by incredulity to metanarratives, rank skepticism regarding the existence of Truth capital T; the moronic obsession with political correctness and debunking the baddies of the dead, white, male canon, the obsession with rights, rights rights! (but never talk of corollary responsibilities), and so on--all contribute to an intellectual climate characterized by Derrida-like gaming about, pastiche and bricolage, relativism and innate distrust of 'power structures', a detached, ironic stance. You see much of such trends, taken overboard in cretinous fashion, in Ward Churchill's 'essay' quoted above. But, and this is a somewhat different point, I firmly believe that one of the reasons that Bush is so unpopular is, simply, that he is so totally unironic. To Clinton's glib, smirkily-delivered "it depends on what the meaning of is is"--Bush speaks of the United States' mission as ending tyranny on the planet (and he really means it!). In an era permeated by cynicism (Peter Sloterdijk has, in another context, talked about an "enlightened false consciousness")--Bush is unabashedly appealing to what seems like a philosophically incorrect and almost embarrasingly retro idealism to marshall against fanatical terrorists. And, complicating the sell and task, and unlike the struggle against communism under Reagan, terrorism is not considered as pressing a challenge as the Soviets were by many in large swaths of Europe, Latin America, and Asia.

So Bush is attempting to hoist a bold, meta-narrative on a highly dubious international community (who breezily equate, carping from the sidelines at the primitive antagonists--his robust idealism with the fanatical nihilism of our foes--as too many have become overly unmoored from making value judgements as they dwell in a cynical, postmodern millieu). Put differently, such broad, meta-narratives aren't even supposed to exist anymore. Whether the destabilizations borne of WWI or, relatedly, Picasso's cubism, or, much later, Watergate-era cynicism, or even the late 19th Century developments with Nietzsche, Kierkegaard or Dosotoesky's revolutionary subjectivism--the canvas is supposed to be disconcerted, chaotic, ever-changing--John Coltrane to a Beethoven Symphony. And, like some odd Prophet from another era, Bush bangs on about freedom in our time and an end to tyranny--appearing an odd relic (almost like Solzhenitsyn did at Harvard in '78 when he gave his famous commencement address). It's just not how things are supposed to be per the vantage point of East Berlin, say, (see a recent Tom Friedman op-ed on this), where the hip, young Berliners expect the Hollywood vision of a loose, hyper-secular, pop culture obsessed, inward-looking America--one not meant to be waging a concerted ideological struggle in Mesopotamia. So, to put in vernacular, Bush is freaking people out, to a fashion, because of some of the above factors (though there are others, of course, of which more another day).

One last thing, though, about those "little Eichmanns" that the aforementioned cretin from U Colorado called the victims of 9/11. Here's one of them--from my high school class. I didn't know him well--but remembered him to be of generous spirit and with a kind heart. He worked his way out of the Bronx to a bright career at Cantor Fitz. The result of the "humanitarianism" of Mohammed Atta is that he is dead today. What was his crime?

Posted by Gregory at 03:07 AM | Comments (51) | TrackBack

January 12, 2005

Annals of Modern Culture Department

As it turns out, an important moment in the annals of modern culture may have occurred when Jon Stewart of Comedy Central went on CNN's "Crossfire" last October and decided to be serious.

From a New York Times masthead of a couple days back.

An "important moment in the annals of modern culture"? Heh. Sad, sad times we dwell in. Would that the NYT's unintentional hilarity been meant intentionally. Alas, they were deadly serious.

Posted by Gregory at 05:55 AM | Comments (2)

December 20, 2004

Hitchens on the Hippies...

... here:

If you look back to the founding document of the 60's left, which was the Port Huron statement (also promulgated in Michigan), you will easily see that it was in essence a conservative manifesto. It spoke in vaguely Marxist terms of alienation, true, but it was reacting to bigness and anonymity and urbanization, and it betrayed a yearning for a lost agrarian simplicity. It forgot what Marx had said, about the dynamism of capitalism and ''the idiocy of rural life.'' Earlier 18th- and 19th-century American communards had often been fleeing or preparing for a coming Apocalypse, and their emulators in the 1960's and 1970's followed this trope as well, believing everything they read about the impending crash, or the exhaustion of the world's resources.

A not uninteresting contrarian take from Hitchens. In addition to this possible conservative influence, the Haight-Ashbury gaggles, as Hitchens suggests elsewhere in his piece, were infused with a very healthy dose of solipsism and narcism. Amidst all the tiresome clamor for 'rights rights rights!' there was very little by way of broaching responsibilities and the like. The legacy of much of the 60's movement, all told, has proven to be a net negative, imho. Political protest as carnival and entertainment, probably as much as anything else, has done its level best to dumb down our political discourse (but hey, much of the music was good!).

Posted by Gregory at 03:52 AM | Comments (10)

December 02, 2004

The Crobar Follies

If it isn't a parlor game already, Gawker or someone should make it one. It seems that every year or so--the NY Observer puts up an article so hugely embarassing to the person featured so as to cause some major blow-back for the poor soul in question (the interviewees usually appear blissfully unawares that the piece will be greeted with widespread, round derision). One year it's a hyper-arrogant I-banker showing off his toys (check out my Plasma flatscreen!) and getting the heave-ho from mothership Deutsche Bank or such for his gauche display, another year some newbie B list hipster/rocker--who thinks he's the next Mick Jagger--and ends up getting roundly mocked for his risibly effervescent folie de grandeur--another year, another sucker.

Well, here's this year's entry--perhaps not surprisingly--it comes from an "artist"!

Sample grafs:

Mr. Tunney gets up at noonish, walks his pit bull Britney Spears, then has a long, leisurely lunch at Cipriani on West Broadway, where pretty girls flock to his table.

"I’m a hundred percent an artist now. That’s it," he told me. "I’ve got my heart and soul in it: every molecule, every second, every minute—all the time!"

He said he thought he could be the best living artist soon.

"Throughout the history of art, there was always someone who was the Man," he said. "Picasso was the Man. It wasn’t Matisse, it was Picasso! When it was Velásquez, it was Velásquez! When it was Rembrandt, it was Rembrandt! So who is the greatest living artist right now? I’ve been asking everyone for 10 years, and no one can even answer."

Mr. Tunney said Damien Hirst was an artist he respected, then challenged him to an "art-off."

"Get a gallery, put a big red stripe right down the middle and put the exact same stuff on both sides," he said. "Two basketballs, 10 canvases, a gallon of paint, some forks, some salad. You make your shit, I’ll make my shit. Let’s see what you got, big boy! I want to tell you something: I think I’m going to blow him out of the water."

I offered to pay the bill.

"It’s impossible—not here," he said. "No one’s ever paid for a check when they’re with me."


This part almost makes me like the guy, however:

Mr. Tunney, who has no cash, no credit card, no bank account, trades art for food and rent. He doesn’t have to pay for drinks at his various downtown haunts like the Pink Elephant, One, Capitale, because his art is on the walls. In a jam, he’ll find a piece of paper, doodle something, sign it "Peter Tunney" and give it to the maître d’, the cab driver, the doctor, the deli owner. He calls it "Tunney Money."

"I could just sign this plate and maybe that would pay for my lunch," he said. "I sell everything I make, amazingly, or I give it away to girls. I’m basically off American currency right now. I usually walk around with no money. I’ve been broke for the past year. I’m on a different paradigm, in a different life structure. My money’s no good in this city any more."

Only in NY folks.

Posted by Gregory at 05:36 AM | Comments (6)

November 30, 2004

The Granddaddy of Trot Studies

If you've never had occasion to read Isaac Deutscher's magisterial Trotsky trilogy--well, what the hell are you waiting for? And how better to understand the man that has inspired political figures as disparate as Lionel Jospin and Irving Kristol?

Trotsky is mostly an affliction of youth, of course. I too fell under his spell after reading Deutscher's (quite friendly) biography as a high school student. Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, and Pound (not to mention two very dispiriting years in the Balkans) pulled me rightwards quickly indeed, however.

And so did this espying this phenomenon:

Trotsky was one of the first revolutionaries to denounce the temptation of ‘substitutism’. Back in 1904, he had warned that if the Party substituted itself for the working class, then ‘the Party organisation would . . . substitute itself for the Party as a whole; then the Central Committee would substitute itself for the organisation; and finally a single dictator would substitute himself for the Central Committee.’ Few prophecies have been fulfilled with such ghastly precision. But Trotsky himself was complicit in its fulfilment. Within a year or so of the Revolution, he adopted – with typical enthusiasm – the principle that in crisis the Party must substitute for the proletariat. In 1923, as he fought for ‘proletarian democracy’ against the triumvirate led by Stalin, he changed his mind again, but by then he was too involved to speak decisively.

As Deutscher writes, neither side in the controversy

"could say that they were condemned to pursue the proletarian ideal of socialism without the support of the proletariat – such an avowal would have been incompatible with the whole tradition of Marxism and Bolshevism . . . Trotsky, while he sought to reverse in part the process of substitution and struggled to tear to shreds the thickening fabric of the new mythology, could not help being entangled in it".

Still, who cannot but feel moved by a Trotsky, exiled to Siberia at age 22, proclaiming with such unvarnished earnestness:

As long as I breathe, I shall fight for the future, that radiant future in which man, strong and beautiful, will become master of the drifting stream of his history and will direct it towards the boundless horizon of beauty, joy and happiness.

Such broad vistas seem long gone--replaced by rampant consumerism and dumbed-down culture. Perhaps we are just all wiser now. But the "false consciousness" born of the prevailing and near-constant ironic, cynical millieu we inhabit surely showcases some of the perils borne of "value-emptying."

Still, perhaps Ezra Pound said it best in his poem, "An Immorality":

Sing we for love and idleness,
Naught else is worth the having.

Though I have been in many a land,
There is naught else in living.

And I would rather have my sweet,
Though rose-leaves die of grieving,

Than do high deeds in Hungary
To pass all men's believing.

Posted by Gregory at 04:07 AM | Comments (7)

November 20, 2004


"The feeling of helping God" in the struggle with evil is "excellently fitted to aid and fortify that real, though purely human religion, which sometimes calls itself the Religion of Humanity and sometimes that of Duty," and which "is destined, with or without supernatural sanctions, to be the religion of the Future."

John Stuart Mill, in his "Essays on Religion."

Er, sound familiar (no, this doesn't mean I now think Dubya is a religious nutter...)?

Posted by Gregory at 04:05 AM | Comments (7)

Tired Tina

Does this tiresome tripe bother others too, or is just me? I find it so lame. But maybe it's just me being cranky after a long week?

The psychiatrist Hadassah Brooks Morgan says that John Kerry's defeat, coming on the heels of the Yankees' collapse in the playoffs against the Red Sox, plunged many of her patients into near-catatonic distress. "In my whole 40 years of practice here I have never heard patients as bereft by a result as this," she told me on the phone. "There was a feeling in session after session of the insult to one's tribe, a loss of purpose and direction. For men, their sports team being beaten at the same time made them feel New York is no longer the command center, no longer the winning city they identify with or that so many people move here to find...

...What makes it worse is all the political news booming away out there. The Bush Cabinet reshuffle is like a percussion band playing in the room next door when you're trying to sleep. All that crashing and banging of big careers and exiting reputations -- will somebody please turn it off? Don't they know politics is over? Can't they take a damn breather from running the world.

I wish I could just say that this is just a case of my B.S. detector booming--Tina Brown just full of it. Alas, however, Brown does represent and/or describe a certain Manhattan zeitgeist with somewhat broad reach. Call it Central Park West with certain limousine liberal enclaves of the Upper East Side thrown in (not to mention bourgeoisie & boutique laden parts Tribeca and central Soho). In these precincts, how dare the Texan chimp ruin the good times with his war-mongering? And those dastardly dangerous old men Antonin, Dick and Don. They are conspiring to keep utopic, post-Kantian conditions at bay. Well, again, how dare they!

Maureen Dowd is their spokeswoman--and Tina so kindly takes their pulse for us--thinking she's being so cute and amusing. OK, so people just want to "turn off" politics; and take a "breather from running the world." There's another V.F. party to go to, after all! Graydon's hair looks great--and another B actress is all porned out in Galliano. Whoppie! So enough already about dullards Colin and Condi.

Yawn. My favorite city in the world (Manhattan, particularly) has gotten somewhat boring, hasn't it? The days of intellectual ferment appear long gone. A search for the "Truth", of course, is passe and considered risibly ancien. Hipness is the new religion and collective pursuit. And artists have become, so often, rank pimps and hustlers--bustling about west Chelsea looking for the next con (no, I'm not talking about the many valiant ones toiling away in anonymity). If I move back someday--shall I have to hunker down in Brooklyn--far from the cretinous hullaballo Brown chronicles? Probably, all told. Pull up the drawbridge 'cross the river...Still, and worth recalling, the epoch-shaping event of 9/11 happened in lower Manhattan, of course. It remains a key and sober firmament (especially for those living there that day) in the life of the City. And therefore many of the city's residents realize, very much so, that politics still matters a helluva lot. All those people taking the subways every day, trapped in midnight work marathons, downing a couple Scotches after a hard week--they have real moorings, real perspective. What do I mean? I mean that these teeming masses of city-dwellers have more back-bone, more character, more spirit than the flabby, whiney, shrink-at-the-ready world Brown describes. They don't need to rush to the neighborhood psychiatrist because the Yankees lost, or because the buffoonish Red Stater trumped Kerry, or because La Caravelle closed (OK, this last a pity, it should be noted). They keep plugging away with near manic intensity through myriad industries and walks of life--making New York the premier city on the planet--and ultimately proving a stolid rebuff to the vapidity of the millieu Brown sketches. Amen for that, and excuse the rant. (And, er, don't worry. I'm actually a pretty relaxed guy. We'll be returning to our normally scheduled programming soon...)

Posted by Gregory at 01:06 AM | Comments (28)