THE END OF ARAFAT?

We’re in an end-game here, aren’t we? However you feel about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it seems clear to me that Yassir Arafat is perilously close to being irrelevant. He can’t deliver peace, as we found out at Camp David. He can’t deliver even a semblance of order in the Palestinian territories, let alone Israel. So what use is he as an interlocutor or even protagonist in the bloody conflict? This piece in the Washington Post is as gloomy as it is hard-headed. Even Colin Powell is apparently refusing to lecture the Israelis on what they should do next. Here’s my prediction: a brutal finale that re-establishes some semblance of order in Israel and on the West Bank at the cost of even greater Palestinian bitterness and further conflict. Who’s responsible? Ultimately the majority of Palestinians who still cannot reconcile themselves to a viable Zionist entity in Palestine. They’d rather suffer and die and be pummeled than concede Israel’s right to exist. The tragedy is ultimately theirs’.

MY SWEET BEATLE: Here’s a nicely arch paragraph from Philip Norman’s biography of the Fab Four about their first encounter with the Maharishi Yogi: “Amid the small audience of the faithful, four Beatles garbed as flower power aristocrats listened while a little Asian gentleman, wearing robes and a gray-tipped beard, described in his high-pitched voice, interspersed with many mirthful cachinnations, an existence both more inviting and more convenient than mere hippydom. The ‘inner peace’ which the Maharishi promised, and which seemed so alluring to pleasure-exhausted multimillionaires–not to mention the “sublime consciousness” so attractive to inveterate novelty seekers–could be obtained even within their perilously small span of concentration. To be spiritually regenerated, they were told, they need meditate for only half an hour each day.” Okay, so that’s a bit mean. It’s a little easy to condescend to Harrison’s eastern-influenced spirituality and Steve Waldman does a decent job on Beliefnet.com of explaining why. Seeking the presence of God is not at its core an intellectual exercise; what Harrison looked for in the 1960s was a practice of belief, that could lead to the experience of belief. Pascal explained this best – and I think most post-Vatican II Catholics who long for the ritual robbed from us have yearnings for something like Eastern meditation. Like Harrison, I believe such practices can at some point lead to a kind of spiritual calm – which is why I had a pretty intense Buddhist phase in my 20s, which had me disappearing into temples in Burma at one point. I even believe, as Harrison bravely confessed, that some types of recreational drugs can help elevate the consciousness artificially to give you a glimpse of what a higher state of being feels or looks like. If that leads to a deeper sense of the divine, then no one should scorn it, let alone make it illegal.

CONSERVATIVES AND HIPPIES: Besides, conservatives who deride “hippies” are missing something, I think. They’re missing the inherent weirdness and experimentalism of true religion. It should surely be possible to affirm a stringent conservative politics, while leaving space in civil society for all types of experimental religious practices – especially those that do not adhere to the exigencies of fundamentalism. In fact, one of the reasons to affirm the principle of a limited but active government is to create the safe social space for all types of experimental living that over-weaning government crowds out. To paraphrase Oakeshott, I’m a conservative in politics so that I might be a radical in many other human activities. It’s sad that so few contemporary liberals or conservatives understand this point – especially religious conservatives. Jesus was a hippy, after all, and the 1960s performed a useful service in reminding us of this. So was Saint Francis. As for Harrison, “My Sweet Lord,” will always be a deeply religious song to me; and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” my favorite later Beatles composition. At least Harrison didn’t descend to the hideous banality of Lennon’s “Imagine.” And at least he had the presence of mind to bestow us with the following sentence repeated by Waldman: “I’ll tell you one thing for sure, once you get to the point where you’re actually doing things for truth’s sake, then nobody can ever touch you again, because you’re harmonizing with a greater power.” I pray he is right now.

MY SWEET POWERBOOK: Speaking of religion, the several hundred emails inquiring how I’m doing in MacLand deserve a response – and I simply couldn’t respond to them all individually. Simply put, I’ve been working on this sleek little thing for a day or so now, and I’ve had no problems to speak of, just a little adjustment to figure out what goes where. In general, the organization seems far more intuitive than Microsoft. If you love aesthetics, there’s also no comparison. I’ve been blissing out to the new New Order album, Get Ready, on my iPod at the same time. Now all I need is a Segway to jump on and I’m all set. Seriously, thanks for all the offers of help, support and spiritual solidarity from my new friends in MacLand. You also helped boost our visits last Friday to a cool 36,000 in one day. I think that’s a record.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: “War is repugnant to the people of the United States; yet it is war that has made their nation and it is through their power to wage war that they dominate the world. Americans are proficient at war in the same way that they are proficient at work. It is a task, sometimes a duty. Americans have worked at war since the seventeenth century, to protect themselves from the Indians, to win their independence from George III, to make themselves one country, to win the whole of the their continent, to extinguish autocracy and dictatorship in the world outside. It is not their favoured form of work. Left to themselves, Americans build, cultivate, bridge, dam, canalise, invent, teach, manufacture, think, write, lock themselves in struggle with the eternal challenges that man has chosen to confront, and with an intensity not known elsewhere on the globe. Bidden to make war their work, Americans shoulder the burden with intimidating purpose. There is, I have said, an American mystery, the nature of which I only begin to perceive. If I were obliged to define it, I would say it is the ethos—masculine, pervasive, unrelenting—of work as an end in itself. War is a form of work, and America makes war, however reluctantly, however unwillingly, in a particularly workmanlike way. I do not love war; but I love America.” – John Keegan, Warpaths.