The purpose of art is to delight us; certain men and women (no smarter than you or I) whose art can delight us have been given dispensation from going out and fetching water and carrying wood. It's no more elaborate than that. — David Mamet

Aug 21 1 2021

Fellow Democrats

Fellow Democrats,

Yesterday afternoon, a now-former member of the Malden (MA) Democratic City Committee’s disciplinary committee sent an email mentioning me to a number of people. In doing so, she violated a written promise of confidentiality.

This was an astonishing and deplorable breach of faith. The former member was right to submit her resignation, but should have addressed herself to the Ward Chair or Secretary alone.

That she saw fit to broadcast her remarks was wrong. That she communicated them to all save myself was cowardly.

The context of this entire matter has been my effort over a span of years to bring our local Democratic Party into more active opposition to American fascism and Republican totalitarianism, to be more than a social club. The former member had insisted that I adopt Reinhold Niebuhr’s “serenity prayer.” In this context, to require an atheist Jew to conform to this Protestant invocation is inappropriate and un-American.

Inchoate antisemitism is rife in our little neighborhood branch of the Democratic Party, to an extent that would have astonished me only a few years ago. People complain that I talk funny and use big words. Richard Wagner (in “Music and Jewishness”, 1856) started from the question, “Why do none of us like Jews?” One answer for Wagner was that Jews use weird words and they talk like they're not from here: “Words and constructions are hurled together in this jargon with wondrous inexpressiveness... the sole concern is talking at all hazards, and not the object which might make that talk worth doing.”

People sometimes complain that I am loud and angry. In the face of caged children and murderous police, they would prefer cringing acceptance. It makes for better barbecues. Hannah Arendt (in The Origins Of Totalitarianism) observed that “As far as the Jews were concerned, the transformation of the ‘crime’ of Judaism into the fashionable ‘vice’ of Jewishness was dangerous in the extreme. Jews had been able to escape from Judaism into conversion; from Jewishness there is no escape.”

This appalling antisemitism aside, it is absurd to expect no disagreements or disputes within our vast party. People will disagree, sometimes profoundly. Styles differ. Rights do not depend on being likable. Amity is nice, but not if the peace it brings is a well-tended grave in some corner of totalitarian America.

I have worked hard for the Democratic Party of the United States and for the ideals it represents. I have donated more than I could afford, and driven thousands of miles to attend hundreds of meetings, rallies, and conventions. Many of you have eaten some of the hundreds of election-day kolaches I baked at 4am, or served yourself from the gallons of vegetarian posole I have cooked for you.

I deserve better of you. Your neighbors who were not your schoolmates, neighbors who grew up in Chicago or Chengdu, deserve better of you. So does The Democratic Party.

Jul 21 26 2021

The Plot

by Jean Hanff Korelitz

This is a very strange book, almost a thriller and almost a mystery, but not quite.

Jacob Finch Bonner teaches writing at an inferior low-residency MFA program in Vermont. His first novel was mildly successful; his short story collection was not, and now he is badly blocked and dispirited. His students are unpromising, and one of this year’s students is an annoying, arrogant jerk. The first chapter’s of this jerk’s projected novel are, if not very good, not terrible. Bonner tries to offer good advice, but the annoying student tells him not to bother: the plot of this novel is so good, he doesn’t need writing tips. The student is insufferable — but right.

It’s a good premise, and the execution is not bad. One difficulty is that Jake is a dolt. It’s like watching a slasher movie: one is constantly shouting at the protagonist, “No! Don’t do that!” This isn’t played for laughs; it's entirely earnest. It’s not bad.

by Eliot Ackerman and James Stavridis

A retired admiral indulges in strange, sentimental daydreams of noble soldiers and perfidious policy-makers. All high-ranked civilian officials are stupid, ineffectual, or treasonous. Every soldier and sailor is noble. This book is a recipe, and excuse, for the sort of coup that Trump attempted and for which his supporters still dream.

All speculations on future warfare rest on sand, but this one is often ridiculous. “They have better cyber!” is the problem, and that can be interesting: Tom Clancy did that in Debt Of Honor, his entertaining of implausible effort to imagine a second war between the US and Japan. Here, apparently, someone in China presses a button and nothing works: it neutralizes every communication system in three Aegis destroyers (and every US satellite) just like that. Everything else, too: the destroyers never get off a shot.

The US solution? Tear out the avionics in their fighter planes so everyone can use WW2 tech and fly by the seat of their pants.

Oh — and someone else, it turns out, has even better offensive cyber capability than the Chinese do.

This is an admiral’s book. The lowest-ranked individual with a speaking part is a single chief petty officer who is on hand — in the radio room, on the flight deck, in CIC. We never learn the name of the President. We never meet China’s civilian leaders. We contrive to break an Iranian brigadier general and make him a lieutenant commander in the Iranian Navy because establishing a new character would be too much work.