Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Older than Jesus

"Verily, that Hebrew died too early...As yet he knew only tears and the melancholy of the Hebrew, and hatred of the good and the just...Would that he had remained in the wilderness and far from the good and the just!  Perhaps he would have learned to live and to love the earth--and laughter too.  Believe me, my brothers!  He died too early; he himself would have recanted his teaching, had he reached my age.  Noble enough was he to recant.  But he was not yet mature.  Immature is the love of the youth, and immature is his hatred of man and earth.  His mind and the wings of his spirit are still tied down and heavy."  
--Thus Spoke Zarathustra, "On Free Death" (trans. Walter Kaufmann)

Spoiler Alert: Desultory Eclecticism saw "The Oath" last weekend.  The documentary focuses on Abu Jandal, the Yemeni equivalent of a grown up high school football star.  Jandal drives a cab around Sana'a, struggling to keep his young family clothed.  Customers sometimes recognize him, and groups of young men listen wide-eyed to his tales of the glory days.  Sitting in his cab reflecting, eschewing the documentarian's questions, dressing his son for school, Jandal's eyes too often remember and lament that the best times of his life are past.  

Abu Jandal--obviously--was not a football star.  Not a guitar hero.  Not even a soccer player.  In the mid-90s, at age 16, Jandal ran away from home to join the Bosnian resistance.  After that war, he moved on to Afghanistan and became a bodyguard to "Sheikh" Osama bin Laden.  In 2000, shortly before al-Qaeda (unbeknownst  to him) was to attack the USS Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden, Jandal abandoned the lesser jihad to start a family back home.  As a well-known al-Qaeda member, he was arrested and held for over a year.  He learned of 9/11 three days late when, standing at the window of his jail cell and straining to hear the sermon from a nearby Mosque during Friday prayers, an Imam praised the attack.      

Ali Soufan soon came to Yemen.  He gave Jandal, a diabetic, sugar-free snacks.  A few days later Soufan gave him photographs.  Jandal recognized 19 of the men pictured.  Soufan thanked him for tying the 19 hijackers to Osama bin Laden's Afghan camps.  Jandal cried.    

Jandal then revealed much more useful intelligence, was thanked for his forthcomingness, completed a "Dialogue" program designed to rehabilitate jihadists, signed a pledge to forsake violence, accepted government seed money, bought a taxi, and began a new life as a constantly-monitored former holy warrior.  He may still despise Western hypocrisy, but his beverage of choice is Coca-Cola.  

Blasphemy Alert:  Jandal, unlike Nietzsche's Jesus, did not die too soon.  He must sometimes look down at his soda belly, at his cheap taxi, at his son's red undershirt, and wish that he too had died a martyr.  He scolds the new generation for abandoning the old ways--in his day, al-Qaeda used violence as a tool; today, you kids just want to blow s**t up.  He is intelligent, charismatic, reflective, lonely.  He has lived long enough to understand the futility of the lesser struggle.  

Former "Manson Family" analyst Michael Scheuer would prefer that he be "taken out," or at least captured and tortured.  What's the point?  Jandal counsels aspiring jihadists against going to Iraq, against using violence.  He remains loyal to his memory of al-Qaeda, but laments that his al-Qaeda has disappeared.  He is an ex-hero whose past divulgence and current banality serve as a far better deterrent to the young than predator drones or enhanced interrogations.

After the film, director Laura Poitras fielded questions from the audience (Desultory Eclecticism <3 NY!!!).  She updated us on the status of Jandal and his recently-freed brother-in-law Salim Hamdan.  She discussed the challenges of filming in the Middle East and of returning home to the States.  

She talked about the prospective jihadists who consult Jandal.  As he was, they are--frustrated, idealistic, well-read kids--Peace Corps types.  They were amazed--and changed--to learn that Poitras did not conform to their stereotype of a colonizing infidel.  A little positive contact can go a long way.        

Autobiographical Aside Alert: While traveling in Egypt, Desultory Eclecticism paid the tourist price (nearly 80 cents) for a bag of tamarind juice after an older vendor corrected his younger business partner's initial quote.  Desultory Eclecticism continued on to a small square, sat, ate, got up, looked around, and, after well over an hour, finally returned the way he had come.  Waiting for an opportunity to tail a woman in a niqab and thus avoid being hit by a reckless driver on Cairo's busy, loosely-regulated streets, Desulotry Eclecticism felt a tap on his shoulder.  He turned around; a young man handed him the equivalent of thirty-five cents, made a gesture expressing his desire to avoid any argument, and ran back to his tamarind juice stand.  Should Jesus of Nazareth one day return to Earth on a chariot of fire, Desultory Eclecticism will petition that Cairo be spared for the sake of its one righteous inhabitant. 

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Go Los Suns

With the Pistons' season all over but the ping-pong ball, Desultory Eclecticism has shifted his casual allegiance to 'Los Suns', who last night wore their Hispanic appreciation jerseys in protest of Arizona's new immigration law, which the eminently sane Economist characterized as "Hysterical Nativism".  Governor Jan Brewer responded with an open letter on  If we twist Brewer's partisan selectivity and skip over both extended sections and bad sports metaphors, we can come out of this believing that she is a good-old-fashioned Southwestern libertarian.  Two examples of creative reading:  

"Put simply, history shows that boycotts backfire and harm innocent people. Boycotts are just more politics and manipulation by out-of-state interests...It is time for our country to act to resolve our border security problem; an economic boycott in Arizona would only exacerbate it -- and hurt innocent families and businesses merely seeking to survive during these difficult economic times."

We'll give Brewer a pass on Apartheid South Africa and move on to a contemporary example of boycotts and sanctions: Iran.  While an out-of-state boycott of Arizona would damage its tourist industry at a time when cheap labor is sure to be flowing out, doing real damage to its economy and hurting "families and businesses merely seeking to survive during these difficult economic times" leading up to Federal mid-term elections, Brewer sees the real futility of economic coercion--economic self-interest tends to triumph.  The Chinese like cheap oil, and the Iranians like cheap toys and DVD players.  Even if sanctions were to keep Iranian oil from flowing out, domestic outrage would likely be directed towards the Great Satan choking the Straits of Hormuz, not towards the Mullahs.  With so many unknown-unknowns out there, Brewer-the-friendly-libertarian is really saying that the United States should "abandon its attempts to act as policeman for the world and avoid entangling alliances" because "free trade with all nations is a time-honored prescription for an America that is at peace with the world."

"A boycott that would actually improve border security would be to boycott illegal drugs. Dramatically less drug use and production would do wonders for the safety of all our communities."     

Undoubtedly true!  However, when people are willing to pay rhodium prices for a gram or two of an easily concealable substance, it becomes unlikely that 1) people will voluntarily stop buying that substance, and 2) people will voluntarily stop profiting from its trade.  The Arizona Libertarian Party goes rhetorical: "If the government can't even keep drugs out of prison, how can it keep them out of an entire nation?  The simple answer is: it can't."  Desultory Eclecticism admires Arizona Governor Jan Brewer's political courage to come right out and say "Legalize it!" and will be rooting for her in-state Phoenix Los Suns throughout the remainder of the playoffs.  

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Finding Lost Time

Click on movie before reading on.

If you did not grow up in Michigan, then you did not spend the last 9 minutes 56 seconds in a gray '86 Buick LeSabre listening to AM 850 on your way to Meijers.  If you did, then Desultory Eclecticism hopes you enjoyed your Proustian moment too.

Farewell, Ernie Harwell. 

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

DAM it

Desultory Eclecticism is not wont to facilely surrender his physical movements to the rhythmic intoxication of any music whatsoever, making concert attendance a socially awkward displeasure to be avoided at most costs.  He regrets letting this get the best of him last Friday night.  DAM was in town, all the way from Lyd, Israel, and as usual Foreign Policy has the story.  Desultory Eclecticism first became acquainted with the group when his '48 Palestinian Arabic professor, arriving to a Friday morning class a few minutes late, appeased us by popping in a DVD.  A clip from Friday night's concert (featuring a handful of Arab groups--the DAM guys aren't the ones with the British accents) is posted below, and you can read the lyrics here.  DAM's first big hit--"Who's the terrorist?"--follows.  As with--DISCRETION ADVISED!--Immortal Technique (and, hard as it is to concede, possibly even Glenn Beck) you don't have to agree entirely with the platform in order to appreciate the discussion and the delivery.