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1. A few thoughts, recycled from twitter, about Rob Ford and gangsterism. 2. This Josh Marshall post gives good summary of where things stand in Ford case: http://talkingpointsmemo.com/edblog/mystery-phone-call-emerges-in-rob-scandal. 3. Based on Josh Marshall post & Toronto Star reporting, it looks like there is a lot of circumstantial evidence that Ford unleashed Lisi. 4. Evidence is circumstantial, so it’s entirely possible that Ford won’t face criminal charges. 5. But if we look at evidence we already have, Ford is best understood as a gangster (rather than just a buffoon). 6. Ford-as-gangster helps explain not just his behavior in trying to find crack video but also his political support. 7. Think of the Godfather: his power is not just based on violence but also in providing services to local community. 8. The mafia boss is the padrone. He looks after the little people. He helps you and when the time comes you support him against his enemies 9. Mafia-style governance flourishes in marginalized (often immigrant) communities where centralized state is distrusted or distant. 10. The mafia boss both provides services (in good times) but can also threaten violence (when things get rough). 11. Ford-as-gangster explains both his style of governance (small favors for those who call), his base (in marginal communities) & loyalty he expects and gets from follower. 12. Loyalty is key to the mafia boss system: you have to stick with the padrone no matter what. 13. “You can’t teach loyalty” — Doug Ford. The Godfather would understand. 14. Rumors about “dirty cops” who did Ford’s bidding are the most troubling thing about Ford story. 15. Mafia governance flourishes where people don’t trust the state — so “dirty cops” have a double function in Ford story. 16. If we take Ford-as-gangster model seriously, then Rob Ford represents much more serious crisis in Canadian politics than people realize 17. The mafia boss stands for “family values” despite his criminality — hence Ford’s strain of social conservatism. The family is all. 17. Ford doesn’t exist in isolation. His family are part of fabric of Canadian conservatism, both provincially and nationally. 18. We have a mafia mayor whose dad was a member of the provincial parliament, whose family friend was until recently cabinet minister. 19. Are we willing to think seriously about the unanswered questions? 20. To what degree has Ford family been shielded over the decades from consequences of their criminality by family connections? 21. How many “dirty cops” does Rob Ford know, and what have they done for him? 22. To what degree has investigation into Ford been hampered by possible “dirty cops” in Toronto Police Department? 23. Will any of the elite political figures who participated in rise of Rob Ford (everyone from John Tory to Harper) be held accountable? 24. We criticize immigrant communities for “no snitching” ethos. What about “no snitching” among the Canadian elite?

Socrates and Alcibiades by Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg (1816)

Socrates and Alcibiades by Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg (1816)

 

I did a series of tweets about Leo Strauss, homosociality and homoeroticism. Because people expressed interest in seeing them in one place, I’ve reprinted them (in slightly edited form) below:

1. Trigger warning. I’m starting a twitter-essay on the sexual politics of Leo Strauss.

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Wajeha Al-Howaider

Wajeha Al-Howaider

The Saudi human rights activist Wajeha Al-Huwaider and her colleague Fawzia Al-Oyouni, who have fought for such causes as the right of women in her country to drive, have been sentenced to 10-months in prison along with a two-year travel ban forbidding them from leaving the country. Their case should be of particular interest to Canadians because their supposed offense was trying to help an Canadian woman Nathalie Morin, who has repeatedly complained about being trapped in abusive marriage in Saudi Arabia.

Katha Pollitt explains the details:

They were accused of kidnapping and trying to help Nathalie Morin, a Canadian woman married to a Saudi, flee the country in June 2011. Morin, who has said her husband locks her in the house and is abusive, has been trying for eight years to leave Saudi Arabia with her three children. (There’s a so-far-unsuccessful campaign, spearheaded by her mother, to get the Canadian government to intervene.) Al-Huwaider says they were responding to a frantic text message from Morin, who said her husband had gone away for a week and left her locked in the house without enough food or drinkable water. When they arrived at the house with groceries, they were arrested.

Both the Morin case and the Al-Huwaider and Al-Oyouni case are clear examples of human rights transcending national borders. The group Muslims for Progressive Values (MPV) has been doing excellent activism on these cases, pressing the Canadian government to stand up for human rights. Here is the MPV  statement on the Morin case and here is their comments on the Al-Huwaider and Al-Oyouni case. Both statements contain a helpful list of government officials to contact. The Pollitt column should also be read in full, as an extremely valuable background report. I’m writing to Thomas MacDonald, Canada’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, about these cases, and would encourage readers of this blog to do the same.
Norman Podhoretz: for the greater good he'll accept swarthy grand-kids but won't be happy about it.

Norman Podhoretz: for the greater good he’ll accept swarthy grand-kids but won’t be happy about it.

Fifty years ago, Norman Podhoretz wrote a profoundly stupid article called “My Negro Problem – and Ours.” The article was published in Commentary magazine, which is marking the anniversary.

I say “profoundly stupid” advisedly because Podhoretz himself, despite his reprehensible politics, is not a dumb guy. In fact, he’s a gifted editor and polemicist. The article itself is sometimes praised for being an honest attempt to describe the seriousness of racism.

Yet, what other phrase than profoundly stupid can apply to an article that argues that the best solution to racism is miscegenation. At the end of the essay Podhoretz writes:  “I cannot see how [the dream of erasing color consciousness] will ever be realized unless color does in fact disappear: and that means not integration, it means assimilation, it means—let the brutal word come out—miscegenation…. in my opinion the Negro problem can be solved in this country in no other way.”

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The Ezra Klein Generation

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Ezra Klein.

Brian Morton, a fine novelist and engaging public intellectual, recently tweeted: “Leftists should stop sneering at @ezraklein. If we’d had liberal policy wonks as solid as Klein in the 1970s neoconservatism would never have attained the stature that it did. It would have been intellectually checkmated.” These tweets elicited some responses from me and a few other interested parties but my thoughts on this are a bit more complex than can easily be fitted into 140 characters, so I’m posting a longer argument here.

I understand the impulse behind Brian’s tweets. One of the most heartening developments in recent American politics is the emergence of a generation of passionate young left and liberal writers who have been very effective in challenging the lazy hegemony of conservatism that has dominated elite opinion since the 1970s. Ezra Klein is a convenient synecdoche for this generation. To see him go after blowhards like David Brooks or Bob Woodward is a rare example of a witnessing a salutary public service that is also bracing and delightful.

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In the two decades before his death in 1915, Booker T. Washington was far and away the most admired black man in America. He was almost unique in having many supporters in both black and white America. This was a period when black America reached its post-slavery nadir in virtually every area of life – socially, economically, politically. In the South — where 90% of black Americans lived — the successful counterrevolution against Reconstruction meant that Jim Crow was firmly and ferociously in place. In the north, blacks enjoyed more political rights but socially and economically were at the bottom of the ladder.

To this dire situation, Washington offered a path for progress for improving race relations which was designed to appeal to both blacks and whites. In his famous 1895 speech in Atlanta, Washington advocated a compromise whereby African Americans would give up the demands for equal political rights in exchange for assistance in a mutually beneficial program of education and economic improvement. In words of Washington’s most intellectually rigorous critic W.E.B. Du Bois, this program consisted of “industrial education, conciliation of the South, and submission and silence as to civil and political rights.”

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The Case for Trollope

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David Frum and I have had an interesting twitter debate about the merits of the Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope (you can read the dialogue here). I have a much higher regard for Trollope than Frum does and I thought it might be useful to spell out at greater than 140 character length why he’s one of my favorite novelists (and also quote some sharp critics on Trollope).

I’ve had a soft spot for Trollope ever since I started reading his novels a teenager. It’s good to start young when delving into Trollope because it takes a lifetime to survey his work. He was one of the most prolific writers of good fiction. He had 47 novels under his belt, many of them hefty tomes weighing in around the length of Bleak House, Anna Karenina or The Brothers Karamazov. As if those novels were somehow insufficient there are also five volumes of (quite excellent) short stories and miscellaneous but still voluminous books of (solid, informative) travel writing and other non-fiction (including an excellent, rewarding memoir). All of which adds not just to an oeuvre but almost a mountain range, a formidable requiring time and perseverance to conquer.

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