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A detail from Jackson Pollock’s Out of the Web: Number 7 (1949)

The method of painting is the natural growth out of a need. I want to express my feelings rather than illustrate them. Technique is just a means of arriving at a statement…. I can control the flow of paint: there is no accident, just as there is no beginning and no end.

— Jackson Pollock, 1960

Chomsky on Gaza

Noam Chomksy spoke about the current situation in Gaza to a packed audience at MIT on Tuesday. Among other things he said, “Supporters of Israel are in reality supporters of its moral degeneration.” For a report, you can go here and for a video of Chomsky’s talk here.

Chomsky turned 80 last month. He still seems in good health although he’s had his share of personal troubles lately. Not long after his last birthday Carol Chomsky, his wife of 5 decades, died after a long bout of cancer. Much can be said about Chomsky pro and con, but he’s an irreplaceable voice. When he’s gone, the world will be a poorer place.

When the Israeli Government Loved Hamas

If you write anything critical of Israel’s actions in the West Bank, you’re immediately inundated with letters complaining about Hamas. “Hamas is a death cult,” these letters run. “They’re religious fanatics. They use children as human shields. How can you defend Hamas?” Along these lines, in  a widely noted New York Times op-ed Jeffrey Goldberg argues that the US and Israel should try to strengthen the secular Palestinian party Fatah and work to weaken Hamas.


Yet it’s worth reminding ourselves in the not too distant past, the exact opposite strategy was followed. In the 1970s both the United States and Israel thought that secular left-wing Arab nationalism was a bigger threat than religious fundamentalism. For that reason, Israel worked strongly to empower Hamas and undermine Fatah.


In his 2006 book The Iron Cage, historian Rashid Khalidi describes “the transformation of the Palestinian branch of Muslim Brotherhood and its offsprings, Hamas, from the protégés of the Israeli occupation into Israel’s fierce enemy.” As Khalidi notes, “For well over two decades after the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, Israel …[used] the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood and its offshoot Hamas in Gaza as a counterweight to the nationalist Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). This reached the point where the Israeli military occupation encouraged Brotherhood thugs to intimidate PLO supporters.”

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Best Comics of 2008




Lynda Barry’s What It Is.


In the comic book world, everyone is offering up their list of the best book of 2008. My own list is necessarily partial and personal, and there are some books that look great which I haven’t read yet, like the new issue of Kramer’s Ergot. But with all these provisos in mind, my list  would include:


What It Is by Lynda Barry (Drawn and Quarterly). A book about creativity which is also an outburst of creativity:  an organic, breathing book, as thick with life as a jungle. Many of the pages do have a jungle-like feel thanks to Barry’s collage method (pasting her art on old school projects done decades ago by school kids) and her tropism for bright colors. Instructive yet completely free of any lecturing tone of superiority, Barry teaches us that art is play, that play is an essential part of mental health, that we all have multiple personalities, and that memories are living things within us. Bringing all the threads together we can say: Creativity is mentally healthy play that brings to the surfaces the personalities and memories that live within us.  

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Global Zero


Following my recent thoughts on nuclear energy expansion and disarmament, I was heartened to run across Global Zero. In December 2008, one hundred global leaders met in Paris and launched an effort to eliminate nuclear weapons worldwide. The idea is to phase out the world’s 27,000 or so weapons over the next 25 years (96% of them are in Russia and the United States). It will be easier said than done, of course, and there will be major game theoretic issues to sort out, like how to respond to a violator with a secret cache in a world in which all other countries have eliminated their weapons. Still, I admire the simplicity, clarity and moral resolve of the initiative.

Signatories include the likes of Zbigniew Brzezinski, Gro Harlem Brundtland, Jimmy Carter, Mikhail Gorbachev, Yoriko Kawaguchi, Robert McNamara, Desmond Tutu, and Muhammad Yunus; Canada’s Lloyd Axworthy is also among them. Building on this high profile support, events are planned for 2009 culminating in a World Summit in early 2010.

Will this initiative open space for Obama to advance a disarmament agenda, notwithstanding how much else he will have on his plate? In July 2008, he said “as long as nuclear weapons exist we will retain a strong deterrent.” But he also said, intriguingly, “We will make the goal of eliminating all nuclear weapons a central element in our nuclear policy.”

If you want to sign the declaration, as I have done, you can do so here.

Alan’s War



In the world of graphic novels one of the unexpected surprises last year, for me at least, was Alan’s War , a memoir of the World War II drawn by Emmanuel Guibert and based on the life story of Alan Cope, an American GI. More than any other comic book I can think of, and indeed more than any other book, Alan’s War captures the mundane ness of war, the everyday trials a soldier has to deal with. What keeps you hooked is the voice of the book, Alan Cope’s voice, matter of fact, diffident, honest. Cope is not so much the unknown solider as the average, unremarkable, ordinary grunt, the plain young man thrown into an institution much larger than him. It takes a while to figure out the true story of the book, which is how Cope held on to his humanity in the institutional setting he found himself in.


For more on Alan’s War, see this radio report  done by Cyrus Farivar; it includes a brief clip of me talking  more about the book.




Post-Zionism Comes to America

In a very smart response to my National Post piece about how young Jews are becoming disenchanted with Israel, Dana Goldstein zeroed in in on the word “post-Zionist.”


Heer calls us “post-Zionist,” and that just sits better with me. “Anti-Zionism” is not always anti-Semitic, but it sometimes is. “Non-Zionism” implies a lack of support for Israel in any form. Post-Zionism, I think, acknowledges Zionism’s place in modern Jewish history while urging a pretty radical rethinking of the Zionist project itself — and whether the actions of today’s Israeli government, and its Diaspora supporters, are really best suited to accomplish the original Zionist goal of making the world and the Promised Land safer for Jews.


I want to say a bit more about the word post-Zionist because I think it really does describe the moment we’re experiencing right now.

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Come out, come out

Sean Penn in Gus Van Sant's Milk
Sean Penn in Gus Van Sant's "Milk"

Not being a card-carrying progressive — by which I mean only that I’ve long suffered from an instinctive pessimism about what humans are capable of achieving, though it’s a reflex that I’ve gradually gotten better at keeping in check — I’m occasionally struck with a deep sense of amazement (and related feelings of both gratitude and guilt) at the amount of social change that has in fact occurred in the past century. My amazement can be triggered by something as simple as the visual memory of a British pub filled with a thick haze of cigarette smoke (a memory that takes me back only to 1990), an image that feels almost barbaric in comparison with the clear-aired restaurants of today, or by something as shocking — in fact, as forgotten — as the black and white news footage playing behind the initial credits of Gus Van Sant’s Milk, which shows gay men being herded out of taverns and, their faces turned away from the cameras, into police paddy wagons. North American society has travelled quite a distance from that time to this.

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