Ron Rosenbaum, Writer

November 30, 2007

Dems Let Abu Ghraib General Speak for Them!

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 8:17 pm

Despite being a lifelong, pro-welfare state, civil libertarian Democrat who’s never voted for a single Republican–or perhaps because of it–I tend to hold my party to a higher standard. Probably a mistake because it’s been my experience that lapses into ignorance and hypocrisy by Democrats can be far more disillusioning and demoralizing precisely because I’d always thought of it as the party with higher ideals.

But this latest exercise in ignorance and/or hypocrisy is almost beyond belief. I first learned about it listening to my friend Tara McKelvey the author of the important Abu Ghraib expose Monstering on Amy Goodman’s “Democracy Now” Pacifica Radio show on November 26. Ms. Goodman asked Tara what she thought about the Democrats’ pick to give a Democratic Party reply to President Bush’s Saturday radio broadcast on November 24th.

The choice: General Ricardo Sanchez, apparently selected because he now suddenly has discovered there are flaws in the war in Iraq he once presided none too successfully over..

Tara said she felt shock when she heard about it since she’d documented in her book the fact that Gen. Sanchez had formally approved the use of “harsh interrogation methods” at Abu Ghraib, including sleep deprivation, “stress positions”, dogs and Guantanamo-style “Tiger Team” interrogation methods–all of which border, and sometimes cross the border, into flat-out torture. The worst Abu Ghraib abuses (things worse than those he formally approved) occurred when Gen. Sanchez was in charge of intelligence gathering at Abu Ghraib. And yet somehow he never managed to gather the intelligence that those abuses happened while they were going on. He was totally ignorant of them. Or so he says.

Totally ignorant: that’s probably the way to describe the choice of General Sanchez to speak for the Democratic Party in this episode. Or worse: a party that would whore itself out for a uniform to hide behind. If you want someone to make the case against the conduct or continuation of the war, don’t pick as your front man, one of the leading military bunglers who enabled torture. Maybe I missed it, but why wasn’t there more outrage on the anti-war blogs about this? I’m ashamed of the stupidity or the opportunism (or both) of whoever made this execrable unprinicipled decision on behalf of my party.


November 22, 2007

U.S. Wonks, British Artists and the Saudi Rape Victim: Fear, Silence and Denial

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 12:02 pm

I’ve been thinking about the horror faced by the 18 year old Saudi rape victim who has been sentenced to to 200 lashes of a punitive whip for her “crime” (of being a victim}. Originally a benevolent Saudi jurist had only sentenced her to a mere 90 lashes for being a rape victim, the penalty was increased because she had the effrontery to appeal.

Perhaps this hideously cruel horror doesn’t have the impact of the stream of Saudi educated suicide bombers murdering people of all ages and genders all over the world. But while the Saudi government officially doesn’t sanction suicide bombers, this sick, perverted verdict is “official” Saudi justice. This insane barbarism is normative in Saudi society’s theocratic, sharia law, state. It is the kind of justice radical Islamists seek to impose through suicide bombers and more targeted murders (Theo van Gogh for instance) on the rest of the world when they succeed in exterminating enlightenment values and the world goes dark.

Why not a peep out of all the the self-styled sophisticates on the wonk blogs about this matter? I’m talking about the think-tank type twerps who take such pride in their profound intellectual discernment which finds it’s most supremely self-satisfied fulfillment in quibbling over the use of the word “Islamo-fascism”.

How would they characterize a movement which wants to impose this kind of hateful, woman-hating theocratic police state law–200 lashes for a rape victim!–on all humankind, by force if necessary? Would they consider it worth fighting whatever name it goes under? Would they consider even a priority in their policy obsessed discourse? No, not a word about the victim, but no loss of words about words like “Islamo-facism”. They’re all exercised about that. It’s a chance to show off their shallow and largely ignorant multiculturalism (at the expense of feminism. or at least any pretense at real concern for the plight of women in these societies, of course.)

Would they consider that system that whips rape victims has as much validity as ours? If not what do they propose to do about it. They don’t have the easy, albeit shameful muti-culti live and let live, out, because this ideology seeks to impose itself on the rest of the world. Precisely because it refuses to live and let live. Maybe they can come up with some ideas, they’re wonks after all.

But no, the real enemy is those who allegedly mischaracterize this noble native cultural tradition as “Islamo-fascism”. No words for the plight of this woman, but finger wagging self-congratulatory wonkish lectures for those who (allegedly) call it the wrong thing. Some of these people seem to have nothing to offer their readers but endless denunciations of Paul Berman and his vision of Islamo-fascism in Terror and Liberalism they’re so superior in their sophistiation!

i commmend to them a recent lecture by Mathias Kuntzel at the University of Leeds to be found on this blog before they embarrass themselves further with their historical ignorance of the connection between fascism and radical Islam.

But is it the wrong thing, Islamo-fascism or is it even too kind? Might theocratic police state enforcement of sharia law, in fact be worse in some respects, at least, than some forms of fascism. I have always argued that there are far more profound similarities to Western fascism in theocratic police state opression of the Islamist variety than there are differences. Equally capable of police state terror and mass murder as fascism of course. But in some respects, especially with regard to women, even more repellantly cruel.

But no, the callow wonks are quick to pipe up, to instruct us that the real danger is not in the phenomenon itself but in what they believe is the use of an inappropriate word to characterize it. Nothing gets the callow wonks in more of a lather than the use of the word “Islamo-fascism”. Oh the outrage! Speaking up about the differences between fascism and Islamo-fascism is far more important, they seem to believe, than the similarities.

They seem to have an endless supply of quibbling, mocking verbiage to make this point. But when it comes to speaking out against the Saudi rape victim verdict or the murder of Theo van Gogh by an Islamist, or “honor killings” of women in Iran, or the persecution of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, they have nothing to say. Silence.

Or worse, in the case of Ayaan Hirsi Ali they hide behind truly vile sophistry by calliing this courageous Somali woman threatened with murder for opposing genital mutilation, “an enlightment fundamentalist’. As opposed apparently to “enlightment sophisticates”, these male feminists who find ways to rationalize their failure to speak out in behalf of a brave feminist woman–to opt out of the struggle for the survival of enlightenment values.

The intellectual cowardice behind the position of such quibblers and the callow wonks who keep silent consists in their fearful focussing on the name “Islamo-fascism” as a way of avoiding confronting the deeds themselves and the Sharia law that threatens the enlightenment. After all Amsterdam (where Theo van Gogh’s throat was slit) is so far off and demonstrating their verbal sophicstication (however misguided) is more important than demosntrating a clear sense of moral outrage.

Why the silence? Isn’t it curious that so many of the wonkish quibblers about Islamo-fascism (you know who you are) are self-styled male feminists and yet so far as I can see have failed to utter a word of condemnation of the treatment of this woman and Ayaan Hirsi Ali? So easy getting feminist cred on the cheap, for being pro-choice if it allows you to avoid expressing a choice about the whipping of rape victims and the “honor killing’ of so called tainted women in other Islamist societies. Has relativism–cultural relativism engendering moral relativism–robbed them of the ability to condemn this horrid soul crushing practice? Is it because if they had to admit that the enlightment civilization that gives them their petty podiums, has real enemies, (among them Islamists who act like fascists) then they would have to admit the bankruptcy of their small, no midget-minded, political positions that don’t take this huge struggle into account.It’s just not on their radar for all their talk of human rights here. They’re blind as bats when it comes to this central question of our time. Couldn’t have this inconvenient woman, this rape victim, lead to recognition of that, right?

In this regard, the silent, shameful impotence of so many American intellectuals, in the face of this hideous gender hate crime, check out this item on Amy Alkon’s blog about the courageous and bold British artists.

It includes a remarkable quote from a story in the Times of London by Ben Hoyle:

“Britain’s contemporary artists are fêted around the world for their willingness to shock but fear is preventing them from tackling Islamic fundamentalism. Grayson Perry, the cross-dressing potter, Turner Prize winner and former Times columnist, said that he had consciously avoided commenting on radical Islam in his otherwise highly provocative body of work because of the threat of reprisals.
Perry also believes that many of his fellow visual artists have also ducked the issue, and one leading British gallery director told The Times that few major venues would be prepared to show potentially inflammatory works.

“’I’ve censored myself,” Perry said at a discussion on art and politics organised by the Art Fund. ‘The reason I haven’t gone all out attacking Islamism in my art is because I feel real fear that someone will slit my throat.’

“Perry’s highly decorated pots can sell for more than £50,000 and often feature sex, violence and childhood motifs. One work depicted a teddy bear being born from a penis as the Virgin Mary. “I’m interested in religion and I’ve made a lot of pieces about it,” he said. ‘With other targets you’ve got a better idea of who they are but Islamism is very amorphous. You don’t know what the threshold is. Even what seems an innocuous image might trigger off a really violent reaction so I just play safe all the time.’”

Amy’s conclusion:

“Got it. So, the rest of us will speak out against terrorism, and you can speak out against…cheap gallery opening wine?”

It’s the same thing with the U.S. wonks whose outrage is directed against alleged imprecision of verbiage and yet have nothing to say about rape victim whippings and “honor killings”. They don’t have to fear their throat being slit like Theo van Gogh. I was going to say “yet”. But when you think about it their silence now, portends even more cowardly British artist type silence later.

I think it’s because even more fearful to them is admitting they are wrong. Wrong in getting more worked up about a word like Islamo-fascism while staying silent about the human victims of the phenomenon whatever you want to call it. They lack what Keats and Fitzgerald called the distinguishing characteristic of a first rate intellect: the ability to hold two apparently conflicting ideas in their head at the same time. Bush may have been wrong about the threat posed by Iraq, but Paul Berman may have been right about the threat posed by “Islamo-fascism”.

November 20, 2007

Devastating New Revelation of Holocaust Warning and Missed Opportunity

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 7:44 am

My friend and former colleague Craig S. Karpel often e-mails me eye-opening links to stories that don’t get the attention they deserve.

This piece from the Jerusalem Post is an example, a true shocker:

it’s about a new book published in Hebrew that reveals that an explicit warning of Hitler’s plan for exterminationist death camps for Jews was passed on to British officials, perhaps even Churchill himself, in the summer of 1942, months before what had been previously regarded as the first explicit report of the industrialized mass murder the one that came in August of ’42.

But to my mind even more important than the timing is what the book reveals accompanied the warning: a proposed practical course of action that might–who knows now?– have made a difference in forestalling it.

The book–Pazner: The Man Who Knew–tells the story of Chaim Pazner an official of the Jewish Agency’s Palestine Office in Switzerland who was approached by a Swiss friend who wanted to pass on an explicit message from a German officer who made clear the gravity and urgency of the message:

“In the East, there are camps being prepared which will be used to destroy all the Jews of Europe and many of the Soviet war prisoners by gas,” the message read. “Please pass this message on immediately to Churchill and Roosevelt personally.”

But what makes this story even more devastating than the fact that it, like other such warnings resulted in no effective action, was the second half of the message:

“If the BBC broadcasts a daily warning to the Germans not to operate the gas chambers maybe they will not operate them, because the criminals are doing everything they can to prevent the German people from finding out what they are planning to do and it is clear that they will also do this.”

Here we get into one of the most controversial areas of Holocaust history: what could the Allies had done if they’d listened to the warnings and not largely dismissed them? Most of the debate has surrounded the question of whether they should have bombed Auschwitz or the railway tracks to the death camp. There are those who say yes, definitely, it would have saved lives, and there are those who say that the best way to save the most lives was to focus on winning the war more quickly and that the information about the camps and accessibility of them to bombing raids was not certain.

But this BBC idea is startling and new to me and has a certain plausibility. According to the book the warning was passed on to the BBC and to Churchill himself although the evidence on the latter is less strong. And of course, as we know, nothing was done. Would it have made a difference if the advice to the BBC had been followed?

From my reading of the situation in the course of writing Explaining Hitler (see left column), it’s true that Hitler had wanted to keep the death camps secret from the Allies because he feared (unnecessarily, alas) that such knowledge would provoke a fierce reaction.

On the other hand the evidence is less clear that the Final Solution was unknown to the German people. Yes, there is a well-known Himmler speech to the SS in which he celebrates their secret participation in the slaughter. But there is also evidence that German soldiers and civilian administrators knew very well what was going on. And Hitler had repeatedly made clear his goal of the destruction of the European jews in public speeches. But the fact that the process was actually going on in death camps in Poland (mainly) was not widely advertised in Germany. Which doesn’t mean the German people didn’t know.

I recall being on some panel with an official of the German consulate here who cited a poll showing that German civilians didn’t know and asking him: what did they think happened to all the Jews of Germany who disappeared from the cities and towns. Did the German people think they’d all decided to take a vacation? Of course a poll would elicit a “we didn’t know” response. And of course it’s an open question whether, if they knew, they’d care.

Still the idea of BBC broadcasts that might have warned any Germans who participated in the extermination process that they would be prosecuted as war criminals, broadcasts that left no doubt in the mind of every single German, every single European (since most European nations were complicit in the execution of the Holocaust) that they would be held accountable. Even if they weren’t, the fear of it might have had some effect, the putative broadcasts might have made a difference.

And–who knows–the widespread broadcast of the on going mass murder might have given more impetus to those few German officers and civilians wavering to go forward sooner with their plans to depose or assassinate Hitler. Or maybe I’m giving them too much credit for caring. Maybe it would have made no difference at all. We’ll never know.

Still among all the stories of warnings ignored, or disbelieved, rescue action denied or delayed till too late, this struck me as a not-impossible lost chance.

And a reminder that the time to stop a nation from committing genocide is before it starts not after it’s finished.

November 19, 2007

Told You So, Pt. 1

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 5:13 pm

I just want to point out that about a half hour AFTER I posted the item below, and days after I predicted an Obama Iowa win, when he was trailing Hillary in the polls, Chris Matthews just announced on Hardball that a new ABC/Washington Post poll showed Obama leading Hillary by 30% to 26%, a complete reversal of the last poll.

I don’t want to get too arrogant about it, I know things can change, but when you’re right, you’re right.

The Turning Point For Obama

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 2:47 pm

Maybe I’m out of touch, but I don’t think Obama made a gaffe of any sort when he forcefully responded to the anti-immigration, anti-terrorism woman in a clip that’s being widely shown the past 24 hours.

To me it was perhaps his finest spontaneous campaign moment and one of the reasons I think he’s going to win.

If you haven’t seen the clip the woman was badgering Obama about “getting rid of the illegal immigrants” and terrorists, language which–whatever your stance on immigration–is offensive. (And by the way aren’t you getting a little tired of these Iowans who–because of the ridiculously unbalanced primary timing situation–are getting so arrogant about their supposed folksy wisdom? No, sorry, Iowa people, you’re not smarter than the rest of us, you’re just sooner; it’s the mere accident of geography not any particular civic discernment you’ve shown that is the only reason you’re getting all the attention now. Stop putting on airs of being rural savants).

Anyway it’s not surprising the immigrants/terrorists question drew a heated response from Obama, a response of the sort the Conventional Wisdom of the media has lately coalesced into saying he’s incapable of. Too nice, not a fighter.

But here’s what he said to the immigrant/terrorist questioner: “don’t think that I care any less than Rudy Giuliani or Mitt Romney about making sure that my daughters don’t get blown up.”

Wow! That remark packed heat, intensity and a kind of gut level understanding of the issue (plus fierce family values!) that complements his more visible studied and soft- spoken side.

I think the media’s gotten it all wrong about Obama and that he’s been slowly building a bond of trust with voters, cumulatively begun to connect with them on some deep level. I think he’s earning their respect for his solidity and dignity, and with that one remark demonstrated he’s no distant Dukakis-like figure. I say this as someone who’s endorsed Hillary but has begun to waver.

I think that one remark, straight from the heart is going to win him the primary and maybe the nomination.

November 16, 2007

My Fearless Unprofessional Two-Month-Early Primary Predictions

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 1:59 pm

Okay I’ve spent too much time with the background noise of cable political analysts, wasted too much time watching pathetic excuses for “debates”. Too much time thinking about the nature of the campaigns and the candidates.

So I’m just going to risk, what, being wrong? I never pretended to be a professional political prognosicator so who cares if I’m wrong. If I’m right I’ll make sure to remiond everyone in the world.

Here’s the picks: Obama wins Iowa, Hillary second, Edwards third. Hillary narrowly beats Obama in New Hampshire, Edwards third. Edwards withdraws and endorses Obama before the South Carolina primary which Obama wins. I just don’t have a strong opinion about Nevada and I don’t think the race will be over after the early-state primaries, because Hillary’s got the big bucks to fight on through Super Tuesday. But I think in the end Obama wins the nomination. I’ll let you know who the next Prez will be once we know the GOP nominee.

Update. Here’s an idea: Predictions challenge! I challenge other, more well credentialed political bloggers to make their picks for the early Demo primaries as of now. (you’re free to change your minds, but let’s see what you’ve got to say now, just for the hell of it). Post them and link to mine. (Commenters welcome too.). Yes it’s (horrrors!) just horse race analysis, nothing profound so what’s the risk? What’s the harm of testing your instincts?

November 15, 2007

Ron Kuby: Unfortunate Casualty of Imus Return

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 11:18 pm

I have to say I can’t get excited about the return of Imus. I’ve come to like his MSNBC replacement, the “Morning Joe” traffic wreck, especially Mika and Willy. And when the radio’s on in the other room in my apartment I listened to the “Curtis and Kuby” morning radio show, an entertaining running debate between surprisingly witty, generally conservative old School Noo Yawker Curtis Sliwa, the Guardian Angels’ founder, and Ron Kuby the radical leftist former law partner of firebrand William Kunstler.

In the post-Imus return, in which he takes over the radio spot occupied by Curtis and Kuby, as I understand it Sliwa will stay with the radio station in some capacity but Kuby’s gone. Which is too bad because he was one of the few old leftists who could present his point of view with cheerful good nature and a sharp sarcastic wit. he was (is) a happy warrior.

I got to know Kuby a little bit while doing a story about Kunstler and though I disagreed with his unregenerate neo-marxism I always thought Kuby was a realist, a passionate believer in and defender of the Bill of Rights and a good lawyer. Of Kunstler it used to be said his “political defenses” could “get you the death penalty for a traffic ticket” and the cases of the oppressed he represented were often all about him. But Kuby seemed to have a commitment to win the case for them.

And as political cases thinned out he became a go-to guy for shrewd mobsters who didn’t care about his radical beliefs but knew if there was a way to get them off (and with mobsters he often proved the Feds overreached on civil liberties grounds) he’d find it. Of course this often brought him into contention with Curtis Sliwa who was the target of a botched hit by the Gotti family for bravely but foolishly baiting them them on another radio show).

As Kuby put it, after a career of defending victims of racism it was pretty ironic Imus’s “rehabilitation” from racially offensive remarks caused him to lose his job.

Anyway, the show was smart and fun (and highly rated) and I hope Kuby catches on somewhere else soon.

November 12, 2007

Mailer's Most Underrated Spookily Prophetic Novel or…

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 10:08 am

…the moment i made Mailer think he met his match in madness.

The one thing that troubles me in the posthumous discussion of Norman Mailer’s work is the widespread dismissal of what I believe was his finest work of fiction An American Dream.

Personally I was more a fan of Mailer’s non-fiction than his fiction. I recall the excitement I felt reading the original Harper’s version of The Armies of the Night in college and thinking I’d never read anything a magazine story that fused intellect and style so excitingly. And I thought The Executioner’s Song whether it called itself fiction or non fiction was a, if not the Great American Novel.

(Here’s something I wrote fairly recently for the New York Observer about Mailer’s influence and his idiosyncratic theology, which I think was at the heart of all his work.)

But the only unequivocally fictional novel I felt that kind of excitement about, the only one that truly transcended his novelistic work was that feverish Dream. To me it’s the one novel in which the dark side of Mailer’s psyche fused in a perfect mind meld with the dark underside of the American psyche.

It’s a novel about a wife-murderer who was an army buddy of John F. Kennedy and embodies the underside of the Camelot myth. One in which the wife-murder and its aftermath expose a phantasmagoric confluence of American demons. The way, fifteen years later, the extended investigations of the Kennedy assassination brought to light the Kennedy, CIA and Mafia collaboration in attempts to assassinate Castro.

CIA and the Mafia in bed with each other, and the Kennedys! Long before this unholy conjugation was exposed, indeed while it was happening, Mailer made this nexus the hidden heart of his Dream. Throw in sex, race, violence and rage and it fuses into a dizzying spiral of self-lacerating American nightmare.

Part of the reason for its unfair dismissal were the circumstances of its publication: in serial form in Esquire, in installments that ran from September 1963- to November 1964. He “churned it out” as one dismissive obiturist put it. An utterly obtuse dismissal by someone I suspect had not read the novel recently if ever.

And it’s not like great novels have not been written in serial form. There was this fellow Dickens for instance.

But the method of of publication is irrelevant to the final product which to me was Mailer’s most electrifying, compressed, visionary embodiment of his mind at the height of its powers and the depths of its psychotic vulnerability.

But there’s more than that to it. There’s an uncanny side. A “witchy” side to it to use a Mailerism in the novel. The prophetic element. And not just the JFK, CIA, M.O..B. nexus.

There’s the plumbers reference. The fatal post marital fight which results in the murder is climaxed by Mailer and the wife trading vicious sexual insults involving a kinky practice the wife says one of her lovers described as usually found only in Mexican whorehouses performed by specialists known as “plumbers”.

It’s fairly clear that what is being spoken of barely euphemistically is sometimes metaphorically known as “the Devil’s kiss”, the kiss required of witches by His Satanic Majesty.

In any case in earlier versions of the novel (it was later mysteriously elided) the phrase “plumber” was used for its practitioners.

This was ten years before Watergate. And when it turned out that the most serious crimes of Watergate iinvolved Nixon’s use of what became known as the “plumbers’ squad”, I thought to myself”: this is too strange. Is Mailer aware of this?

And so the next time I saw him (I knew him casually from Village Voice connections) at some crowded, gin soaked lit crowd party, I accosted him and asked him. Didn’t he think it was weird about the spookily prophetic elements of the Dream: JFK, CIA, Mob and now…plumbers!

He looked at me like I was slightly mad. he didn’t say anything to encourage me. He’d always been friendly but suddenly he seemed a little uncomfortable, sort of changed the subject quickly.

I had the feeling that I’d managed to do achieve something rare: say something too crazy for Norman Mailer. I felt proud. And I still think there’s something strange about it all.

Mailer had his faults, but some of the things he said, about the Holocaust and nuclear war unleashing the psychopath in the American psyche for instance, were insightful. And sometimes visionaries are so in synch with the undercurrents of things that it’s perhaps not surprising that they seem to anticipate the future. In an imaginative if not psychic way.

And then, when I went back to American Dream when preparing to write this, I was shocked to discover something hiding in plain sight. The middle name of the Joe Kennedy figure in the novel, who was the connection between the CIA and the Mob. The father of the murdered wife he accedes to a cover up of the crime because of what an investigation might disclose of the unholy devil’s kiss the CIA and the Mob shared.

Remember, the first installments of the novel containing the name were published in September months before the Kennedy assasination which would become a lasting preoccupation of Mailer as would the assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald and his CIA and Mob connections. That name, the name of the villain (to oversimplify), the Kennedy Sr. figure in An American Dreama name Mailer chose before part of it became notorious: Barney Oswald Kelly.

Whoa. Where did that Oswald come from? Somewhere in the etheric fusion of history and dream vision? Only Mailer knows, if he does, and he ain’t talking any more. One of the reasons I’ll miss him is that I’ll never get the chance to ask him, see if he’d give me That Look again.

Anyway don’t listen to the convention-bound dismissal of certain literati. Read An American Dream for yourself. Yes Mailer had his faults, fictional and non fictional, but he had some memorable peak moments too. he took some risks in prose that were inspiring. The least I can do for Mailer is to try to redress the injustice done to this eerily prophetic metaphysical thriller.

November 9, 2007

A New "Shakespeare War"!

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 1:06 pm

I got a call a couple weeks from Jumana Bozouky a correspondent from Time‘s London-based International Edition who was doing a story on what promises to be a lively debate about two near-contemporaneous playwrights Shakespeare and Thomas Middleton whose reputations have taken quite different paths in the past four centuries.

She was asking me for a comment on the claims made for Middleton by controversial scholar Gary Taylor who previously co edited the contentious Oxford University Press Complete Works edition of Shakespeare and has spent the last twenty years preparing an Oxford edition of Middleton, a brilliant and prolific Jacobean playwright most well known for The Changeling and the irresistably titled It’s a Mad World My Masters.

He’s long lingered in the shadow of Shakespeare admired by many but nothing like the vast culture behemoth beset by bardolators that Shakespeare has become.

Still Jumana told me, Taylor’s claim in the introduction to his edition is fairly breathtaking:

“Thomas Middleton (1580-1627), ‘our other Shakespeare’, is the only other Renaissance playwright who created acknowledged masterpieces of comedy, tragedy, and history…

“Our other Shakespeare”: ever since a famous (within the lit-crit trade)Times Literary Supplement essay in the late 90s Taylor has been arguing that Middleton is either Shakespeare’s equal or superior.

It’s a claim Jumana wanted to see if I’d comment on, as author of The Shakespeare Wars. (see panel on the left).

I decided I’d rather not get into the “who’s better “game since I’d not read all of Middleton’s copious output and instead recommended that Jumana get in touch with one of my favorite Shakespeareans, Jonathan Bate, editor of the recent Random House, Folio based Complete Works volume. Which she did as you’ll see with good results at the close of the piece in Time.

I do remember having read some more Middleton in the late 90s after the TLS piece by Gary Taylor, in which he argued Middleton only suffered obscurity because Shakespeare had been adopted for his political usefulness by the oppressive hegemonic forces of the time who suit him to the propaganda needs of British imperialism.

There seemed a political animus operating against Shakespeare which Shakespeare himself didn’t deserve.

And I didn’t find reading Middleton was like scales falling from my eyes and discovering “realms of gold” previously unknown. My interest tailed off, curbed I’m sure by the sinisiter boredom rays of the hegemony.

And while i had enormous respect for Taylor as a textual scholar, as you can see from my treatment of his work in The Shakespeare Wars. I was not convinced he was an arbiter of esthetic taste, since he had championed the crude doggerel verse “Shall I die, Shall I Fly”–since widely discredited–as Shakespearean. Nonetheless I thought the case Taylor made for Middleton in the Time interview was forceful and persuasive, although I think Jonathan Bate has the better of the argument.

But like all the Shakespeare wars, certainly the ones I’ve chosen to write about in my book by that name, it takes us deeper into the text and the undiscovered wonders within.

November 2, 2007

After the Deluge:Things I've Learned from Writing about a Rumor

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 3:08 pm

1) Sometimes people just refuse to actually read what you write or assume you’re writing something they’d like to read.

For instance Jonah Goldberg. “Ron Rosenbaum says he knows about a some enormous sex scandal…” Not exactly. I wrote that I heard from a DC media insider that his fellow insiders thought they knew about such a scandal. There’s a difference. I know what they think they know. I don’t know it for a fact myself. But the fact they think they know such a potentially devastating matter is significant

But yes, I was writing about a rumor and I think that in some cases, not all, this can be part of legitimate media criticism. I was writing about the fact a DC media insider told me he and his colleagues believe the LA Times has been sitting on a major presidential campaign sex scandal. The point was: people who write about politics can be influenced by what they think is about to be forthcoming and it can skew their coverage in a way that they can’t or won’t share with their readers. One person from the LATimes says he knows of no such story, that the paper of course runs down all kinds of leads and rumors, but doesn’t have any such story “in the can” as another DC insider who’s heard the rumor put it. But that doesn’t affect the fact that DC insiders may believe there’s a story out there, maybe about to break.

2) You can’t not write something you think worth writing–like about the way coverage of a presidential campaign can be skewed by rumors that sway insiders (see above) just because some people are going to misinterpret it, read it carelessly, use it to confirm their hatred of the media for being either “part of the Clinton smear machine” or “part of the Republican smear machine” or because other people are going to turn it into a a giant guessing game.

3)The “Depth Charge” effect. This post by Slate‘s Mickey Kaus argues for the salutary value of bringing things to the surface to be examined before the nominations are locked in:

“Depth Charge: Jonah Goldberg reports that his email box is filling up with theories about stories that would fit the bill of a “potentially devastating sexual scandal involving a leading Presidential candidate” that Ron Rosenbaum hears the LAT is sitting on. Rosenbaum’s post seems to be functioning as a sort of depth charge that threatens to bring all the various rumored scandals about all the candidates to the surface. It would be funny if they all turned out to be true! And then the initial rumor Rosenbaum wrote about–that the LAT is sitting on something–turned out to be not true! … I’m not saying that’s the case. I’m just saying that would be funny. … In any case, the campaign certainly needed a depth charge. … Let all the scandals that lurk in the mud hatch out. … [What’s to stop some blogger from doing this in every campaign?–ed Nothin’. I assume depth-charging will become a permanent feature of electoral politics. They tell me the Internet has changed things! Is there a problem? The true rumors will be confirmed and the phony rumors won’t be confirmed. But it will be harder to suppress the former. Isn’t the purpose of primary campaigns to find out everything about the candidates before they are nominated?]

4)Rumors can be worth writing about because they can tell us something about the psyche of the nation, its unconscious, its id. (And the psyche of the media who shape the psyche of the nation). .

I’d argue the study of rumors can be illuminating in the study of history and historical explanation. In researching my book, Explaining Hitler (see panel on the left) I spent some time analyzing why the rumor (false) that Hitler had “Jewish blood” was so appealing to some as an “explanation” for his exterminationist anti-semitism. (Because it allowed people to in a twisted way to blame the Jews, blame the victims, for Hitler with superficial, bogus psychologizing–as in he wanted to kill exterminate “the Jew within” himself

5) Thus: a rumor can be a Rorschach blot: people project onto it their own inner fantasies. Which means you can learn something about the national psyche you wouldn’t be otherwise able to access by studying rumors and the responses to them.

6) Rumors can be a spur to investigative reporting.

Thus in a recent Slate column I made a conscientious effort to separate a disturbing paranoid rumor (“Bush is plotting a coup to cancel the elections”) from a disturbing truth (the reality of emergency post attack “National Security Presidential Directive 51″ and the need to subject it to close scrutiny”.

7)) The acknowledgment of the role of rumors can be the sign of a healthy democracy.

Here’s an excerpt from a thoughtful letter my friend the writer and student of history, David Samuels whose work appears frequently in Harper’s and The Atlantic wrote me:

“I agree that rumors are a wormhole into the collective psyche. I’d
add — without wanting to push my pseudo-Freudian point TOO far —
that the surfacing and analysis of rumors is actually an important
sign of a healthy press, and that the repression of rumors (often the
precursors to news; all news is preceded by rumors) is usually a sign
that something is wrong with the press, and creates an opening for
purveyors of dangerous alternate realities. Taken too far, of course,
you end up with the Italian press, which consists, as far as my bad
Italian lets me figure, of drunk, crazy people spouting slanderous,
inane and entirely contradictory conspiracy theories from morning to

Today, in part because of the war on terror, and the ideological
rigidity that has made writing such a depressing chore, I think that
we are operating in a particularly weird landscape where the
“official story” of both the right and the left diverges from fact in
so many places that people are forced to construct a manageable
reality by walling off large areas of inconvenience from their ken.”

But the real threat to the press, he adds, are court decisions which cause over lawyered publishers to be too cautious about what they can publish:

“Another point I’d make is that the current repressive atmosphere is also backed by a sea-change in the legal climate in which reporting takes place. Where you
could once count on publicity-hungry publishers and editors spoiling
for a fight with the government or big corporations, we now have a
corporate-owned media with corporate lawyers who consciously and
subconsciously identify their own interests with those of their
parent corporations. As a result, there has been very limited
resistance to the ongoing criminalization of what used to be normal
reporting. I think the beginning here was the Food Lion case, where
the ABC reporters were fined millions of dollars for minor lies on an
application to work at a supermarket chain in order to film how the
company was deliberately dressing up rotten meat for sale and
endangering the health of its customers. Reporters today are caught
between lawsuit-happy corporations, who perceive that they can win
suits against journalists, an increasingly secretive government that
forces reporters to turn over their notes, and employers who see
themselves as corporations and would rather avoid the threat of a
lawsuit. One reason why so little investigative reporting takes place
these days is that lawyers simply won’t let it happen.

Which brings me to point number

8) It’s possible, but rare to have a reasoned discussion about legitimate media issues arising from, or provoked by, a rumor regardless of whether the rumor is true. The key thing, to repeat myself, is that media insiders may believe it true and allow it to affect their coverage. That was the point of my post.

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