Archive for International Herald Tribune

“Clarion of Faith?!”: another unpublishable letter to the International Herald Tribune

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on March 7, 2012 by spinoza1111

The fact that this is unpublishable is, in my opinion, the problem.

5 March 2012

To whom it may concern:

In “From ‘Nominal Catholic’ to Clarion of Faith” (Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Laurie Goodstein, New York Times 3 March 2012) the article uncritically narrates Rick Santorum’s “spiritual journey” in a way that your choice of words implies is from “bad to good”.

This is serious bias. This is serious journalistic malpractice.

The notion of a “return” from an out of control Modernism (coexisting in Santorum’s case with religion at room temperature, as your article claims) to dat ole time religion originated almost one hundred years ago as an aesthetic gesture, linked to but distinct from Fascism. TS Eliot claimed to be an Anglo-Catholic and royalist in later life, and CS Lewis narrated a similar reverse journey in “Surprised by Joy”. In painting, Pablo Picasso “returned” to classicism although not to religion in the 1920s. In music, Serge Prokofiev made this gesture at the same time.

The narrative was that the Bright Young Things had found their former lives gay but empty whether they were agnostics, atheists, or in your word “nominal” in their faith. So they return to “faith” and “traditional values” in art and in life.

Dostoevsky’s comment on this is interesting. In The Tale of the Grand Inquisitor, in The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky writes: “But then the beast will crawl to us and lick our feet and spatter them with tears of blood. And we shall sit upon the beast and raise the cup, and on it will be written, ‘Mystery.’” Dostoevsky may have thought that the return might be hard to impossible, and involve something more than joining a wealthy parish, church or temple, and “adoring the Eucharist” for twenty four hours…such mitzvots, for Dostoevsky and Jesus himself, might be useful but also beside the point.

I realize youse guys got a paper to get out. But note that the very phrase “to clarion of faith” can hardly be parsed, and as your lack of objectivity and journalistic malpractice is beginning to generate nonsense. Is Rick Santorum a “clarion”? What is a clarion? A clarion call? But even if Rick Santorum were not a politician and is instead John the Baptist, he would not be a clarion call, he would be making a clarion call for all of us sinners to repent.

But that is not his message; conservative politicians do not call upon us to repent, thankfully; instead, they tell their constituents that they are a “remnant” fleeing the Pandaemonium brought about by liberalism.

No attempt at suasion is made. In the Founders vision, and American practice until recently, the general idea was that the political candidate would attempt, like Lincoln or Stephen Douglas, to convince voters of the justice and wisdom of their cause.

Modern, poll-driven politics assumes on the other hand that our views are autocthonic, somehow pre-formed somewhere, and the Republican politician’s job is to get us to vote those views, including religious views, by persuading us that he will best represent, not something so crude as our interests, but those views.

The voter is either one of the Elect who doesn’t believe in abortion or contraception, or one of Satan’s herd.

Therefore, Santorum claims that because he’s a conservative Christian, he will be a better President of all the right-thinking people, and the rest can go jump in the lake. There is no Constitutional basis for this claim: quite the opposite. The Republicans have created a religious test for high office.

What’s troubling in the article is your use of the word “faith”. First Amendment jurisprudence has long recognized world-views which dispense with religious faith as forms of “religion” deserving protection alongside orthodox religion. Language such as “politician x considers himself a man of faith” creates a divide and implicitly favor the man of faith, although our best Presidents probably had, in secret, a humanistic world view and little “faith”.

But such is the power of the TS Eliot/CS Lewis narrative as to make it fashionable, among people who can afford to be fashionable, to narrate their lives as being enhanced by a return to church or temple observance.

This is said to “ground” ordinary decency although Santorum’s Catholic church does not teach that “ordinary decency” flows from religious belief: instead, it acknowledges that prior to the Christian message, men have both the capability and duty to follow the natural law.

“Faith” becomes a monstrous combination of Blaise Pascal’s terroristic wager (that even if the Christian revelation is false, it’s too risky of eternal damnation not to have faith) and a reason for being a good person…an excuse, as it were.

We need excuses for being bad. Another drink would be good for my weary bones, and a little bit of adultery would help my marriage, so reasons the scamp.

But it is a strange sort of person who needs an excuse for being good. Indeed, Chinese philosophy takes, not a sky-god, but Benevolence itself as logically prior to everything, an enabler of coherence of life and thus, ordinary decency. This belief in the natural law, the order of things, is why multiconfessional societies are possible.

Santorum, and other self-proclaimed men of faith who in such an unseemly way wear their hearts on their sleeves for daws to peck at, project their constituency’s fear that their own lack of a super-ego, corroded as post-modern super-egos are, being systematically replaced over time with advertising, will cause them to do as they wilt. To lose control.

Lack of “faith” is interpreted as somehow less than “faith”, and your newspaper enables this nonsense.

Edward G. Nilges

Oh let us push for an end to the freeze, or something: Letter to International Herald Tribune on the US’ end to the push for a freeze

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on December 9, 2010 by spinoza1111

Edward G. Nilges, Detail from “I can no longer teach you kids”, Nov 2010, pencil, ink and Gimp modifications, A4 size

This is a new subgenre of Letter to the Editor, in which the writer either is, or believes himself to be, a better writer, journalist, and human being than the creatures he addresses, and as such the Letter is completely unpublishable. I publish these here when I send them to the International Herald Tribune (which is simply the international edition of the New York Times): if you don’t usually buy the NYT/IHT, don’t bother to do so on my account, since the letter will probably be unpublished. Some of my letters to the IHT have been, brutally cut down to length appropriate to my station. But this one takes the cake, and such a feu de joie is probably unacceptable to the editors.

Edward G. Nilges
Lamma Island
Hong Kong

9 Dec 2010

To whom it may concern:

Reading Ethan Bronner’s “Why the US ended push for Israeli building freeze” (IHT 10 Dec 2010), I have the feeling associated with childhood, that a key word or phrase in putatively grown up discourse is so often repeated as to drain it of meaning.

The grave wise child, like Alice in Wonderland, finds herself repeating the word to herself until it becomes a pure object, something rich, and strange, and rather sad.

I’ve also had that childhood feeling as a grown-up in the corporation, in boring meetings convened to solve some iatrogenic cock-up or other where Job One is making sure that Mr. Big is indemnified against Looking Bad.

That key word is “freeze”. It appears nine times in Bronner’s short article.

Reification is the Word Become Thing, isn’t it. “Freeze” as a word, as a goal, deliberately obscures a crime under international law, which is violating the territory of a nation, or a country, or a region, that ain’t yours, whatever the status of that land you violate.

You don’t “freeze” criminal behavior, although I guess cops are expected to say “freeze!” when apprehending a suspect. You end it.

The international laws which establish national sovereignity as both bounded and inviolable within those bounds are not a joke. As the late Senator Moynihan pointed out, they form part of US domestic law under the Senate’s “advise and consent” powers, and theoretically, the DC cops could be called when the US countenances Israel’s continuing disregard of international law.

But: criminals of all sorts would rather pitch pennies, play cards, or shoot people who don’t count than actually discuss what it is they do. This would force them to face up to what they are, to look in the mirror.

Likewise, Bronner makes the discussion eerily abstract as if the US nobly pushed for a freeze in Israel’s venial, recreational and rather ruggedly charming behavior only to find that, gosh, the situation is pretty complicated because elements of the current Israeli leadership might get stroppy, and the Palestinians won’t be happy anyway, being, well, Palestinians…you know how those people are.

Let’s tell the truth, for a change. Like Joe Pesci in Goodfellas, the players are sitting around their hideaway. One of them is engaged in a criminal affair: he’s building houses without a permit in Jersey. The big man doesn’t like it, but funds it because the houses encroach on land he covets, and his client thug is his only marker in Jersey, where he needs a foothold.

In walks some servant who displeases, and he is shot, casually, even as Palestine’s kids are “wasted”.

The big man wants his client to stop but his client don’t want to stop, and the big man cannot completely control his client as so often happens in gangland.

Certainly would make for a more readable story, and would be on balance, true. Might even start selling enough papers and generating enough traffic to save the New York Times from its coming bankruptcy.

The world will perceive the US end to a push for a freeze for what it is: the cowardly act of a big thug whose children can no longer succeed at simple tests, unlike kids in Shanghai, who has lost three wars in the past fifty years, who has used nuclear weapons on civilians, and which no longer makes anything useful except iPods and pornography.

The US can no longer control even Israel’s behavior. In either pushing for a freeze, or in ending its push for a freeze, or pushing for an end to the push for a freeze, no matter what combination of signifiers need be dreamed up by apologists and hacks, those combinations drained of meaning by abstraction and evasion of the law, the US is, in the final analysis, pushing on a string.

Israel is grabbing as much land as it can in a vain attempt to overcome the demographics of the Middle East, in which Muslims will always outnumber Jews, and the United States lacks the will to stop Israel’s criminal behavior. But not even the Nazis thought of building a country club next to a concentration camp. And not even the Nazis thought to so torment the inmates of the camp in this way, by negotiating in bad faith and talking utter nonsense!

The phrase “an end to the push for a freeze” is what happens to language when it is abused by Goodfellas. Everybody who’s anybody knows, even in elite circles in the USA, that TS Eliot was the source of the phrase “the hollow men” in reference to the appeasers and warmongers of his day alike.

But unless these gliterati happened to elect the right class at Princeton, they won’t know how the poem, The Hollow Men, ends: with a sort of surrealism uncharacteristic of the later Eliot. The last canto starts:

Here we go round the prickly pear
Prickly pear prickly pear
Here we go round the prickly pear
At five o’clock in the morning.

Eliot knew that talking nonsense is a regression to the nightmare of childhood, especially when the adult has forgotten the insights of childhood.

The abstraction attendant on a lack of basic decency in this language causes the sensitive word-smith, perhaps as a flunky’s own flunky in one of those interminable meetings, to become rather confused, and to fall into a dream. Even in Serious cables, “an end to the push for the freeze” might be mistakenly expressed as “a push for the end to the freeze” and so, dreaming, we fall into the abyss, or the rabbit hole.

As in the corporate meeting, language becomes a throwback, in “a push for an end to the freeze”, more pleasant as an iamb and two anapests than as anything meaningful. Let’s see, if we exchange “push” and “end” in the title of Bronner’s piece we get what Likud wants, right?

A push for an end to the freeze
Is pushed because Netanyahu da Freeze don’t please
Hey, we’re dip low mats
And as such, we’re pretty cool cats:
Despite Julian Assange and wikileaks
We’re not a bunch of outsiders, nor a bunch of the freaks
So let’s not push for an end to the freeze,
I mean, let’s push for an end to the freeze,
No, let’s end the push for the freeze
That was merely a come-on: that was merely a tease.

Language’s glory and language’s misery is that language, save perhaps for some indigenous languages of the Amazon, is recursive. In the title of Bronner’s piece, there is one too many layers of recursion and a pernicious abstraction which simply allows comfortable people to forget what is actually happening: settlers are murdering Palestinians because they are emulating their criminal government.

Edward G. Nilges

International Herald Tribune letter re “trolling” and “bullying” on the Internet

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on December 1, 2010 by spinoza1111

Edward G. Nilges
Lamma Island
Hong Kong
1 Dec 2010
International Herald Tribune

To whom it may concern:

While I found Julie Zhuo’s thoughts (in “Where Anonymity Breeds Contempt”, IHT 1 Dec 2010) interesting and generally spot-on, I don’t think Internet abuse should be labeled “trolling”.

“Troll” is somewhat racist, since it appears to have been used originally to refer to indigenous inhabitants of northern and western Europe by their conquerors, in what became fairy stories. It also conceals the basic evil of Internet abuse, the victimization, anonymous or otherwise, of others.

“Troll” is in fact used by Internet abusers and the merely ignorant quite freely. For example, in my experience, my literacy (often confused with verbosity), gets me labeled a troll even though I’m not anonymous, in a world in which in-group membership is often displayed in making grammatical errors. The fact that I sometimes reply to bullies in metrical verse does not help.

“Troll” is a catchphrase of abuse used by Internet bullies, anonymous or not. While it is used properly by Ms. Zhuo and elsewhere in the New York Times, it is on the Internet street used typically with a sneer, like “Jew” in Hitler’s Germany. Therefore, “troll” should be retired.

“Bully” is a more accurate term, for it’s not Internet abuse unless a person is harmed; system administrators are about the only sort of people to actually complain about harm to computers other than viruses. Merely taking up server space is not, in itself, a crime, save to a geek.

Furthermore, bullying is not a childhood phenomenon. It starts in the adult world; Phillip Roth, growing up on the mean streets of New York in the 1940s, noted how bullying followed international politics, with Italian kids whaling on Jews because the Fascist grownups back home did so.

Bullying has increased in recent years as a result of American aggression in Iraq, Russian aggression in central Asia, and the smash and grab bailout of the wealthy in 2008, followed by today’s assault on the middle class, all of which have relegitimated brutality towards the apparent weak.

Unfortunately, to label all or most Internet abuse “bullying” might make some people and some institutions uncomfortable, insofar as the latter can be comfortable or not. This is because bullying is a vector of power, the fear of which causes conventional behavior as opposed to speaking out. Like rape as an institution for the subordination of women, bullying doesn’t have to occur in an adult office as long as the threat exists of humiliation.

Kudos to Ms Zhuo’s Facebook for developing a safe way to meet your friends, which for the most part forces its users to take responsibility for their online conduct. But let’s call the major form of Internet abuse by its proper name.

Edward G. Nilges

George Tooker, “Subway”, 1950

Letter to International Tribune re the Plight of the Oil Traders

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on June 29, 2010 by spinoza1111

And the merchants of the earth shall weep and mourn over her; for no man buyeth their merchandise any more:
The merchandise of gold, and silver, and precious stones, and of pearls, and fine linen, and purple, and silk, and scarlet, and all thyine wood, and all manner vessels of ivory, and all manner vessels of most precious wood, and of brass, and iron, and marble,
And cinnamon, and odours, and ointments, and frankincense, and wine, and oil, and fine flour, and wheat, and beasts, and sheep, and horses, and chariots, and slaves, and souls of men

Revelations 18:11

Edward G. Nilges
Hong Kong

29 June 2010

International Herald Tribune

To whom it may concern:

I find your coverage of the poor unfortunate BP traders getting new jobs in “BP traders lose market edge because of oil spill” (Nelson D. Schwartz, IHT 29 June 2010) to be journalistic malpractice if such a concept may be said to exist any more.

This is because the real story is on YouTube: of screaming children on beaches with oil on their feet.

Is writing so consistently from the point of view of the most well off supposed to reassure us that we are, too, men of wealth and taste?

The man in the nice suit walks upon the fouled beach, wearing Eddie Bauer’s boots bought for the occasion the day before. Is it a photo opportunity or a token clean up? Or is this the way the world ends?


Edward G. Nilges


International Herald Tribune letter re Haiti

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on January 15, 2010 by spinoza1111

Edward G. Nilges
15 Jan 2010

To whom it may concern:

In “Flawed building practices are widespread in country” (IHT 15 Jan 2010), Henry Fountain reports with a basic factual accuracy and genuine compassion that “flawed building practices, inadequate materials and shoddy construction practices most likely contributed to the collapse of many buildings” in Haiti’s tragic earthquake.

However, engineering even in developed countries is a matter of tradeoffs and even in the most advanced countries, in my experience, it is like sausage making or legislation: the details are rather unpleasant, because just as in Haiti, costs as well as science dictate decisions.

And, in Haiti, costs must be minimized because ever since Haiti had the bad taste two hundred years ago to take The Rights of Man and Citizen seriously while black, it has been locked in a cycle in which victim blame plays a major role. As to earthquake engineering, it was never a consideration since Haiti does not have frequent earthquakes.

In software engineering in the United States, I saw the most vicious forms of corner cutting in which developers who spoke up for reliability were sidelined and fired, and as a result of poor financial engineering, overly complex software systems for assembling “tranches” of bad loans collapsed like a Haitian building in 2008, impoverishing thousands of ordinary people while making bankers rich and loth to part with bonuses even today.

The good intentions of Henry Fountain and other observers will unfortunately be used by the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Pat Robertson to blame Haiti and this will perpetuate a 200 year cycle that started with forced reparations to the French slaveowners in the 1820s…reparations that the slaveowners should have paid the slaves.

The engineering wasn’t “poor”. The country is.


Edward G. Nilges

Letter to International Herald Tribune re Iran

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on June 19, 2009 by spinoza1111

Edward G. Nilges
Hong Kong

19 June 2009

To whom it may concern:

Regarding your editorial “Cynicism and fear in Iran’s non-republic”, [IHT 19 June 2009] , I would exercise self-restraint before in effect interfering with Iran’s internal affairs. Some interference (such as the request by the State department to Twitter to delay maintenance) constitutes official interference by one state in the internal matters of another, and this is a violation of the UN charter and traditional international law.

Imagine the brouhaha had France encouraged Americans to question their own disputed election of 2000, an election which many people in the US questioned, but without the support of a foreign power with a known track record of, and present interest in, destabilizing their country.

Furthermore, I do not know why the use of hand-held electronic gadgets should lend any credibility to the protestors. The Iranian revolutionaries of 1978 did not need Twitter to overthrow the (American-sponsored) Shah, any more than we needed Speak and Spell to end the Vietnam war. Furthermore, the Internet is more a site of online bullying, resurgent religious fundamentalism, and ethnic overdefinition than some sort of revolutionary tool.

To encourage demonstrations in favor of a Mousavi who is also part of the existing power structure when people are dying, despite the glamor of primary colors and electronic toys, is recreational politics when you’re not on the streets of Teheran.

Edward G. Nilges

Je ne sais wtf: liberal irony doesn’t fight fascism

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on June 17, 2009 by spinoza1111

Often, the only way you know you’re in a fashionably liberal neighborhood such as Lincoln Park or Russian Hill is that the successful alpha males will be at such pains to tell you that they admire, ironically to be sure, guys like Cheney or Reagan, even as it was fashionable, amongst the gliterati, to admire Hitler before Sep 1 1939 because he was so je ne sais wtf.

Here’s my IHT letter re an instance of this phenomenon.

Edward G. Nilges
Hong Kong

16 June 2009

International Herald Tribune

To whom it may concern:

In “The new ‘Tricky Dick’” (Alex Beam IHT 16 June 2009), Alex Beam tells us that he “loves” Cheney because Cheney is God-fearing Christianity as opposed to God-tolerating, Cheney doesn’t brake for small animals, and Cheney doesn’t want to save the whales.

Mr. Beam: who, any more, is a liberal Protestant or Vatican II Catholic? Who brakes for small animals? Who wants to save the whales? It appears from my long residence in fashionable arondissements that most men who “should” be liberal, men with fancy degrees, are overanxious (like David Mamet) to reassure all and sundry that they shoot guns (or admire men who shoot guns), that they don’t brake for small animals, that Netanyahu is an unfortunate necessity…etc. It’s as if the disease of liberalism, like HIV, is detectable in the fashionable arondissements by its antibodies: the anxiety of men like Beam to ironically rejoin the ape in us all.

Since it has long been an unwritten rule of etiquette never to use the f-word “fascism” in any way, Beam literally has no way of talking about Cheney except as some sort of cartoon Trickster. But as Beam knows, Cheney is engaged in a death struggle for his reputation and possibly his freedom, one which he will wage, as Beam knows, by any means possible.

It is childish to recast this in terms of Bugs Bunny. For one thing, Barack Obama is not Elmer Fudd. Hitler was satirized in this way in Weimar, and this merely made him more powerful.

It can happen here, and liberal ironists need to stop being cute and start using words like “fascism”.


Edward G. Nilges