Saturday, May 11, 2013

Rhetoric of the Porcelain Throne

Another semester has come and gone in Berkeley, rife with the standard talk of divestment and revolution. As ever, accompanying both is the anti-Semitism that has infested campus since long before my tenure began, and which will, thanks at least in part to the half-hearted efforts of the administration, continue to pervade Berkeley as long as there are people living there. This time around, the graffiti in question was found in the fourth floor men's room of Moffitt Library, adorning the walls of the first stall (in an unprecedented violation of the traditional, high-minded values of toilet wall poetry erudition and manners). The images have been posted below, so as to provide a permanent record of the issue - one stretching so far back that it's less an ongoing problem than simply the continual state of affairs.

The usual Nazi insignia...

...followed by an incorporation of Jews specifically into the artwork. Presumably Jews are either responsible for sticking the Government's proverbial penis into the mouth of "me & you," or else just standing by enjoying it.

A less subtle presentation of the author's thesis is presented here...

...followed by a case of poor pensmanship detracting from what would otherwise presumably have been a trenchant piece of political insight involving the Zionist power mill.

I hope that the students of UC Berkeley continue to be as hardened to this aggressive brand of hatred as I was when I attended the school, and that the administration will pause to reconsider before powering ahead anyway with the next wave of ads promoting my alma mater as a elysium of open-minded inclusion.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Revisitation Rights

Video surfaced this afternoon from the latest wave of inane student-led protests in Berkeley of members of the University of California Police Department jabbing protesters with batons. It's first worth noting that objectively, accounts of the November Massacre have been exaggerated in two ways. First, the purportedly angelic protestors were plenty hostile themselves, and if they were warned to back off, showed no intention of doing so. Second, referring to the underhand thrusts of the points of the batons as "police brutality" is an insult of the victims of real excessive force: a navel bruised - no matter how thoroughly - doesn't remotely compare to the broken bones the LAPD has become notorious for handing out. That said, this was clearly egregiously inappropriate behavior, and you'll be hard pressed to ever find me standing up for the UCPD, who time and again have proven an insult to real police nationwide.

My main purpose in this brief return from the dead was to offer the following choice image as a follow-up on old posts about the last two and a half years of extended "civil disobedience":

As the price of education inevitably continues to rise and students spend more and more days skipping their own classes and disrupting others at campuses across the country (my own included), I've been left wondering what exactly it is that they're looking for. A good number of them, of course, are socialists, whose arguments that the eradication of capitalism would result in an efficient, even distribution of wealth and an end to unemployment indicate that they've never looked into the histories of China, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Korea, Poland, the Soviet Union, or Vietnam. Others are satisfied with the idea of capitalism but repulsed by the lack of taxation thrown at the cream of the crop. (Side note: the IRS reports that in 2009 the top ~0.7% of the country paid ~30.32% of the nation's total income taxes, and that they paid an average of 28.8% of their income in taxes compared to 11.6% for the rest of the country - a number which drops down to 10.4% not including the $200-500K households that make up another 2.3% of income tax filers.) Others that I've talked to don't know what the solution is to the financial crisis they find themselves in, they just know it needs to be fixed and that their voices have the right to be heard.

Ultimately, the only common theme I've been able to draw from the demonstrations is that people are tired of life being unfair. I sympathize with them. College degrees aren't automatically worth jobs anymore, as a consequence of the unprecedentedly high modern rate of college attendance. Healthcare is a more pressing concern now than ever before, because our population is larger and an unprecedented majority of Americans fully intend to live past 65 (requiring ever-spiraling costs for unprecedentedly complex healthcare procedures). The challenges of contemporary living could fill an entire post, to no purpose.

In the end, I see two possible solutions for individual students. One is to accept that life is as difficult as it always has been, and to pursue an expensive and potentially unpleasant load of continued schooling to ensure future employment, taking solace in the knowledge that the enormous majority of the lauded 99% is literate, has access to food, water, shelter, and vaccinations, and is protected from the marauding bands of murderers, rapists, and even kidnappers that so much of the world has to live in daily fear of. The second is to "speak your voice" along with the rest of the herd - the majority of which is as empty-headed and self-interested as the occasional policeman that jabs first and asks questions later. I lived in Berkeley long enough to know it will always choose the latter, using the grainy, black-and-white icon of Saint Savio to cover or accentuate whatever motives really do lie beneath. I like to think that a slim minority can see through the sound and fury and are doing their best to plan as best they can for what perpetuity has shown will be a challenging future.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Throwback Hatred

On Friday, the Daily Cal published a rather shocking op-ed by one Matthew Soldad concerning the possibility of future war with Iran. The publishing in and of itself, of course, was little surprise: the managerial staff of the newspaper notoriously is as efficacious in weeding out offensive material before printing as a basketball hoop would be in straining linguini. Neither was it the article's anti-Semitic sentiments that caused this particular piece to stand out. Instead, it was the well-read, almost traditionalist tenor of Mr. Soldad's anti-Semitic argumentation that has led even the most cynical of Berkeley Jews (yours truly) perplexedly to furrow his brow. Ordinarily in such instances, the most appropriate course of action is to take the high road, and rather than lending credence to the inflammatory discharge by analyzing its logical flaws, instead demanding to know how such nonsense could have been given the floor in a public forum to begin with. In this case, though, the piece itself demands specific attention, not to issue rebuttal, but to explore context.

The purpose of Mr. Soldad's article is to unmask and berate an influential cadre of Neoconservatives who successfully demanded and orchestrated the American invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, and who plan to launch war against Iran to reinvigorate the flaccid American economy and protect Israel. He grants said cadre an unusually all-encompassing sphere of influence for a Berkeley political theorist, going so far as to relieve George W. Bush and Dick Cheney of some of their ordinary moral culpability by arguing that their road to warpath was Google mapped by Neoconservative "slight of hand." He also takes the unusual (though by no means original) approach of relating Neocons to Trotskyites, whom, he argues, are their Soviet analogues. Soldad's piece takes the leap from contentious – and bizarrely placed – to objectionable when it defines Neocons as a "group of largely Jewish members who follow the teachings of the Jewish academic and neo-Machiavellian Leo Strauss." He accuses them of employing a "fog with which [they] disguise themselves," and cites Joe Klein (political writer for that bastion of governmental theory, Time magazine) in placing them among "people out there in the Jewish community who saw [Iraq] as a way to create a benign domino theory and eliminate all of Israel's enemies."

Of course, the notion of Jewish conspiracy stretches back centuries, at least as far as the Jewish Emancipation of the Enlightenment. The famous manifestations of these theories are widely recognized, and even, to some minds, excessively taken advantage of: the dissemination of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and the echoes of its vitriolic fear in the Beilis Trial and Doctors' Plot; the danger of the "Jewish peril" as described in Mein Kampf and the enacting of the Holocaust; American assertion that Jews were responsible both for the abandonment of the gold standard and for communism; and the recurring ideas of Zionist Occupation Governments, political lobbies, and control of the media. Though one would be irresponsible in comparing Soldad's powerless missive to these historical atrocities, one would be hard-pressed to miss the parallel arguments. What's described is nothing more or less than a concealed group of Jews, united behind a perverse code (some Straussian take on The Prince), manipulating world affairs to suit their own greed- and ideology-driven agenda.

Briefly, in anticipation of claims that these arguments are based not on racism, but on modern political exigencies: why mention Judaism here at all? Why describe Leo Strauss – with his city-first (i.e., tradition-unfriendly) philosophy and his profoundly uncertain stance on the truth of religion – as a "Jewish academic," unless you believe his ethnicity to be central to his appeal to the apparently Jewish Neoconservative alliance? For that matter, why label the Neocons "largely Jewish" to begin with? Is it to suggest that the vocal, rich, Fundamentalist Christian sector of the Israel Lobby has, like Bush and Cheney, been manipulated by Jewish slight of hand? Or to return to the lead-in of the article – and the oldest anti-Semitic chestnut in the canon – and imply Jewish conspiracy aimed at pecuniary gain?

One can only wonder what purpose the editors of the Daily Cal believed Mr. Soldad's op-ed would serve in the context of their (very) local newspaper. Presumably, they intended to give much-needed voice to the community, and possibly, to spread awareness of an alarming growing trend in the modern world. Yet what they've demonstrated most palpably is that as long as the fire of bigotry rages on within the hearts of small, hateful men, racist tropes need not necessarily adapt themselves to the times. It is, in fact, these oldest and most grizzled trees whose foundations bind the soil of this toxic forest, and we must be vigilant never to let our callous familiarity with their thorny branches distract us from our duty to uproot them.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Look Out Below

The internet has negated the severance formerly granted (or forced, depending on your point of view) by graduation. True, it's made it easier to follow the humiliating exploits of your alma mater's rudderless football program, and easily possible to keep contact with a bevy of friends who would otherwise have been lost to the ages. But along with those blessings, the internet has also made it easier than ever to keep in visceral touch with the worst parts of your undergraduate experience – a particularly damning situation when you attended as spectacularly moronic an institution of higher learning as Cal.

Former readers of this blog will remember my disgust at the mass protests against university budget cuts that happened last year. My basic criticism boiled down to the following points:

--that students protested higher tuition by cutting one of the few remaining days offered at the old tuition rate;
--that protests against tuition hikes were used as overarching forums to complain about all the world’s ills, restricted to the University of California or otherwise; and finally,
--that protesters used the rallies as an excuse, at best to satisfy their own needs for indignation and attention, and at worst, to break storefront windows and roll burning dumpsters at cop cars.

Suffice it to say, like the producers who brought you Scary Movie 12, the powers that be are stirring up another unwarranted sequel – in this case, another day of communal rhetorical masturbation aimed to change the system from within. And suffice it to say, the plan is exactly the same as it was last time. In fact, this time they're even more open about it: the Facebook event for the “October 7th Strike & Day of Action for Public Education” calls for a united front composed of “a mosaic of communities that recoil from the unbearable.” Accordingly, the Facebook community has organized other factions whose lives are being ruined by the man. These include teenagers who can no longer abide the fact that getting high is, strictly speaking, illegal, as well as outraged citizens intent on taking a stand on Arizona's “fascist” SB 1070 by demonstrating against the University of California.

I understand the ethical dilemma of the Berkeley radical. For one thing, it’s easy to lose self-confidence under the withering guiding light provided by such patron saints of public condemnation as Mario Savio and that homeless guy with the John Lennon glasses on the corner of Telegraph and Bancroft who yells at you when you don’t give him what he considers enough of your spare change. For another, where students of Savio’s day ostensibly had some legitimate complaints – widely prevalent national racism (only 7 years removed from Little Rock, for chrissake) and an administration actually denying students the right to say whatever they wanted on Sproul Plaza – the modern-day indignant Golden Bear has little more to complain about than a nationwide financial crisis and the persistent encroachment of such vanguards of capitalism as Panda Express. After four years of feeble high school rebellion against one’s parents spent dabbling in coke and figuring out which hole you can let him put it in before people start calling you a ho in public, the lack of an immediate opening to change the world with your original stance on troubling issues must be hugely sobering. In that light, it's hardly a surprise that such a large collection of angsty youth would happily gather their multifarious grievances into one slimy package and spew it forth at the first convenient opportunity. And of course, it must be said that the purported central focus of the get-together - education, something many of the people to be involved no doubt care deeply about - is obviously something worth holding on to (my hard-earned diploma affirms my sincerity on that count).

On the other hand, the setup of the modern world dictates that the road to practical educational reform doesn't run through soapbox pedagogy or mass demonstrations: it's a battle that can only be fought - much less won - armed with a ballot and valiant enough to trudge through a dark, bureaucratic swamp. More importantly, the sort of juvenile, potentially dangerous bullshit this bastardization of free speech will inevitably engender simply shouldn’t be allowed. So this ultimately powerless call for overdue change goes not to the perennially hopeless student body or the polio-stricken administration, but to Berkeley and UC police: if and when the impending rally is about to get out of hand, please see to it that all soon-to-be-rioters are arrested before they set poor, powerless Chancellor Bob’s house on fire, rip the copper wiring out of the walls in Durant Hall, or break more of the windows of innocent Southside business proprietors. Because the longer you wait to restore order, the more blatantly you’re going to be proving the need for vigilante justice to counteract vigilante idiocy. And I live too far away to be your goddamn Superman.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Quick One

In response to the swastikas posted at Clark Kerr, the Daily Cal editorial staff urges the student body of UC Berkeley to "Ignore the Ignorance." I urge you all to do just that by not clicking on that link.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Writing on the Wall

To the surprise of no one with their cognition fully intact, three swastikas were recently discovered drawn on the walls at the Clark Kerr dorm compound. According to the UCPD, the first one was drawn last Wednesday night (4/21), followed shortly by two more early Saturday morning (4/24). They stand as the latest in what has been an unbroken series of incidents over my four years here – many of which I’ve been party to firsthand – of open, casual anti-Semitism. And lest you preempt me, in case you’re one of those indignantly callous Berkeley jerkoffs who considers any Jew crying anti-Semitism an act of inbred cowardice or overpreened sensitivity, allow me to define my terms: by an “act of anti-Semitism,” I mean some hateful resident of this monstrous wasteland employing racial epithets or traditionally anti-Semitic imagery to harass local Jewry.

As I said, though, that swastikas were drawn on University-owned walls came as a surprise to no one. After all, Berkeley is a hotbed of generalized sociopathy with a more-than-casual history of dalliance with anti-Semitism. What’s most irritating about the affair to date is the Daily Cal article covering the action, published on Monday. As ace journalists Jordan Bach-Lombardo and Javier Panzar reported, “though campus officials have condemned the drawings, classifying them as “hate incidents,” the drawings have elicited little student response.” They go on to note that “no students attended a community meeting hosted Thursday to discuss the incident, according to [dorm magistrate Marty] Takimoto.”

Since Bach-Lombardo and Panzar seem so confused by the apparent lack of student response, here’s mine: try asking anyone in the Jewish community, for whom this is nothing more than another bump in the proverbial untended San Francisco back alley of a road to their degree. You’ll find that used to such incidents though we may be, we were, as usual, unhappy to learn of the presence of yet another sociopath who took it upon himself to remind Berkeley Jews they’re not welcome here. As far as the unadvertised “community meeting” hosted less than 24 hours after the first swastika was drawn – and days before either of the other two were – take it from me when I assert that the lack of student turnout there was as representative of reaction to the swastikas as a freckle is to skin cancer.

In past posts, I’ve made perfectly clear my feelings about Nazi imagery in modern life. I recently assembled a Holocaust memorial issue of the Berkeley Jewish Journal, and encourage interested readers to check it out here. I’d offer some final, hopeful comment here that someday we wouldn’t be exposed to this sort of racist misanthropy, but I'm not inclined towards that kind of hope. So it goes.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

What More Can I Say?

On my way to Friday night services at Chabad this evening, as I was watching my feet while walking down Prospect St. with my kippah exposed, some asshole in a Nissan Sentra shouted “Jew Bastard!” at me as his friend drove by. What more indignities and ethnic slurs do I need to endure in this gangrenous hemorrhoid of a city before I leave?

It’s telling that this bastion of liberal thought is so engrained with the racism it vehemently denounces that I – an enormous kid with light brown hair who looks as little Jewish as any Jew I’ve ever met – have suffered the indignity of “drove-by” ethnic slurs at least 3 times since I arrived in Berkeley, when I’ve chosen to go outdoors with a kippah on. These actions can no longer be denounced as solitary assholes ruining some socialist utopia for the rest of us, nor can I ever again even entertain the notion of the hatred endemic to this modern-day Sodom being a ghoulish figment of my tormented imagination.

This city is a disgrace to its country; may all of its hateful bigots burn in the hell they so richly deserve in perpetuity.