Saturday, June 24, 2006


Seems my little Friday sermon about Noam Chomsky and his liberal detractors ruffled many grey feathers, which does and doesn't surprise me. On the one hand, I operate from a tiny pulpit, and while I take what I say seriously (jokes included), I never really know how many people do the same. On the other hand, we're talking Chomsky here, the great Dracula figure of respectable American discourse. So any defense of the man usually elicits hysteria of varied tones, or if one is trying to Be Serious, a slow sad shake of the head, a few tsk tsks, and a seemingly sincere incredulity that anyone sane could take Chomsky seriously.

In my case, I got both styles. The Serious retort came from Michael Bérubé, clearly distressed in Happy Valley, and the hysterical (in every sense of the word) response from Captain Reality himself, Marc Cooper. I'll save the Captain's ravings for last (worth the wait), and will begin with Prof. Bérubé's concerns that my critique of his original post is somehow "beneath" me -- "or should be." In fact, I'll do what the wise Prof. didn't do with me, namely, respond to the points he makes.

"Dennis Perrin who’s smart enough to know better, accuses me of practicing 'guilt by association' in linking Chomsky to Herman, Johnstone, and Parenti. Please see comment 58 for my preternaturally patient rebuttal of this charge."

Okay. Scroll down to comment 58:

"Oh, well. I guess I look at things this way: I posted a complaint about Chomsky’s claim that the Kosovo war was the cause, rather than the consequence, of Serbian war crimes (as he also argues in Failed States), and about his ancillary claim that Milosevic was not responsible for Srebrenica, but, on the contrary, horrified by it. I then noted that these claims work to license still more foul claims made by people with whom Chomsky has worked intimately, and whose work he fully endorses. In support of my complaint about this kind of thing, I adduced findings that, prior to 1999, 'Serbian forces engaged in widespread killings of Albanians, destruction of villages, and expulsions of the civilian population' (No Peace Without Justice); that 460,000 people in Kosovo had been expelled from their towns and villages prior to the beginning of war on March 24, 1999 (UN High Commissioner for Refugees); that 'this pattern suggests a coherent policy aimed at a future partition of Kosovo following the decimation of its Albanian social and political fabric—where residents have not been killed or physically forced from their homes, they leave for fear of state terror that uses torture, mutilation, and degradation to achieve its ends' (International Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights); and that Chomsky’s reliance on the 2002 Dutch report ignores the 2003 report of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, which finds that 'Milosevic had a hand in the Srebrenica massacre.'”

Again, Chomsky's main crime is that he minimizes pre-NATO bombing body counts, while sticking to the Dutch report that claims that no one has yet proved that Milosevic knew about Srebrenica in advance, and that Slobo reportedly was "horrified" when he heard the news of the massacre. The Prof. prefers the IWPR account, in which there is iron-clad proof that Milosevic was in on the grisly deed. But five grafs in, we find:

"Whether Milosevic knew that his police were sent to participate in the attack on the town is unclear. If he did, then the document will play a key role in proving genocide charges. If he didn't, it will still provide important evidence of crimes against humanity. For the former, intent has to be established; for the latter responsibility is enough."

The Prof.'s trump card appears bent and torn at the edges. It's "unclear" that "Milosevic knew" about the impending attack? Not the most compelling counter-evidence I've seen employed in an argument, but no matter. The Prof. clearly believes that Milosevic knew, and I suspect that he also believes that, far from being "horrified," Slobo was gleeful about the carnage, perhaps dancing a jig when the first casualty figures rolled in. There's no real evidence to support this, but then, there's no real evidence to debunk it, either. And anyway, aren't all war criminals happy about death?

Chomsky, as I linked in my original post, not only concedes that Srebrenica was a massacre, but that "the Milosevic regime has committed many crimes." Since Chomsky's on the record, numerous times, about this, Prof. Bérubé's main beef seems bogged down in competing body counts, a no-win exercise for anyone climbing into a mass grave, calculator in hand. The Balkans of the 1990s was a killing field all around, on the ground and from the air. If only liberals like the Prof. were this meticulous about, say, East Timor or Turkish Kurdistan, the latter of which experienced its share of mass murder and population displacement during the same period, which in many ways was worse than what the Serbian state pulled off. The key difference, of course, is that the US, under Bill Clinton, backed and financed those war crimes, but curiously, Clinton and his wrecking crew have yet to be hauled off to the Hague to face charges, and no word from the Prof. as to whether NATO should have bombed itself, for "humanitarian" reasons, naturally.

But the Prof. has plenty of harsh words for Ed Herman, Diana Johnstone and Michael Parenti, and he insists that bringing them up in order to tar Chomsky is not a "guilt by association" tactic at all. Addressing one of his readers:

"As for RobW, accusing me of playing 'guilt by association; when I link Chomsky and Herman is like accusing me of playing 'guilt by association' when I link Mats Sundin and Tie Domi. They play on the same team; one is the star, the other is the goon. And it’s really kind of standard practice to link co-authors to each other. Thanks to Peter Ramus and Paul, above, for pointing this out. Those of you who want to believe that Chomsky’s enthusiastic endorsement of Johnstone’s work is not really an 'enthusiastic' 'endorsement' of Johnstone’s work, be my guests."

I'm guessing that Herman is Tie Domi, but I could be wrong. Still, it's true that he and Chomsky are friends, though the last book they co-authored, "Manufacturing Consent," came out in 1988, nearly two decades ago. Using the Prof.'s "standard practice" of linking co-authors, and keeping the sports analogy going, it's a bit like mentioning Maurice Lucas's many on-court fights and flagrant fouls whenever Bill Walton appears in public. They also played on the same team some time ago, though I don't think you can fully judge one for the actions of the other. As for Chomsky's "enthusiastic endorsement of Johnstone’s work," even if true (complete with confetti and kazoos), does nothing to undermine, in my view, the clear anti-Milosevic statements that Chomsky has always made. The only reason the Prof. brings Johnstone up is -- well, you decide. I think it's pretty obvious.


"Dennis also asks, searchingly, 'Why Serbia? Why now, when Milosevic is dead, the matter is pretty much at rest, whatever one thinks of it, and there are other, more pressing issues to deal with (I’m thinking here of that Iraq thing)?' and answers, 'Who the fuck really knows.' Can anyone help out Dennis on this one, say, by directing him to the June 19, 2006 dateline of the New Statesman article? Perhaps we can get him to ask Professor Chomsky this question."

Well, I did read that article, and it was Andrew Stephen, its author, who raised Serbia and Milosevic, to which Chomsky responded with the comments that so vexed the Prof. and got this little train chugging. No need to ask Chomsky why he answered a journalist's question. Isn't that what someone who is being interviewed does?

And finally:

"At least we are reassured that Ed Herman is 'a very soft-spoken, polite guy'! Not at all the kind of person who would accuse longtime lefty Bill Weinberg of employing a rightwing smear tactic, or who would dedicate years of his life to arguing that only a couple of hundred people died in Srebrenica. As for the rest of Perrin’s remarks about me, they are beneath him—-or should be."

I suspect that the Prof. considers my mini-take on Herman as endorsement for all things Herman. It's not. Like I said, I talked to the guy a few times many years ago, and he was indeed soft-spoken and polite. What he does when he's not talking to me in the past is really not my concern. It's obvious that Prof. Bérubé doesn't like Ed Herman, and he's welcome to his scorn, which may very well be justified. But that's the Prof.'s trip, not mine. As for the rest of my remarks that are or should be beneath me, the Prof. might wish to specify which words brought me shame. I'd be interested to know.

Now, to Captain Reality.

When we last left Marc Cooper, he crashed into the orchestra pit after trying too hard to execute the anti-Noam. He has since yanked his fat head from a dented tuba, crawled back onstage, grabbed the nearest mike and begun bellowing:

"What a magnificent surprise. Now pinch-hitting for Noam Chomsky and moving to the left field position is none other than Dennis Perrin. You can read his ramblings on your own time; he swipes at Berube and throws a dripping little mud pie at me. It's all so predictable. I'm supposed to jump out of my skin because he calls me a liberal (the worst insult within the ossified left). And I'm accused of just hating, hating, hating anyone to my left."

Wiping mud from his brow and squinting into the lights, he continues:

"Oh, I don't think so. Among the activist left this is, of course, a common malady. Dennis ought to know. 'Nobody could possibly be more left, more pure, more righteous than I,' muse many an activist as they walk in circles in the mid-day sun. But with all due respect to Cardinal Perrin of the Church of Latter Day Blogger Revvolutionaries, I really couldn't care less who is to my right or left as those categories have been seriously degraded."

"Cardinal Perrin"? Obviously, he caught wind of my Catholic upbringing. Mother, how many times have I told you not to accept collect calls from strangers?

"What most tickles me about Perrin is his cowardly dodge when it comes to Parenti, Herman and Johnstone. This college-educated guy, a long-time lefty intellectual who runs an opinionated blog all, of a sudden turns into a bumpkin know-nothing. He doesn't reallly know much about these folks, not enough to make a real judgement -- even though two of the three (Parenti and Herman) have near iconic status on the Left. Nope, not old Dennis Perrin. He's too busy shootin' stick and tunin' up Harleys and buying hot dogs at the Little League game or wanking over pictures of Christopher Hitchens and his wife to really know:"

This is some fine rantin', but a few corrections are in order.

First, I never went to college. Graduated high school with a C-average. Jumped immediately on the back of a garbage truck into which I dumped heavy cans of rural trash for over a year, then performed various blue collar jobs, mixing and carrying hod, installing gutters on houses, before joining the Army at 19. Moved to New York City after that, and got involved with FAIR, my first real political job, four years later.

It was at FAIR where I learned, worked, researched, and wrote about the media and politics; and it's true that I was first exposed to Herman, Johnstone and Parenti while in those offices. But as I said in my original post, my interest in them was limited, save for when Herman worked with Chomsky, whose co-authored books I did read. Of course I know who they are and what people say about them, but again, I don't really follow that trio, and have not immersed myself in their later work, especially their writings on Serbia, Milosevic and NATO. Clearly, Marc has and continues to do so, though I wonder why when it drives him nuts like this. I suppose every artist needs some negative material to prime their creative pump; and when Marc goes off on "the left," or whatever he wants to call it, this stuff does the trick. But I digress.

Stalking the stage, punctuating points with a pumping fist, Coop regales the house, and me, with the horrid histories of the above-mentioned trio. Parenti is a Stalinist. Herman is a smear artist whom Chomsky won't repudiate. Johnstone is a leading Slobo cheerleader. And so on. How can I not know this? Why won't I obsess over them the way Marc does? Simply put, I don't. I have no interest in their work. I read other writers and different books, sometimes about topics that have nothing to do with certain lefty causes or celebs. I got my fill of that back in the day and have no real appetite for it any more. If Marc wants to wallow in all that jazz, he's welcome to it. Without it, he'd be reduced to writing about poker and fishing, and who visits Coop's site for that?

Pointing to me in the wings, Marc says:

"Dennis, if times are rough and you can't afford to buy any of the books from these characters about whom you claim to know so little, let me know and I'll be happy to see if I have any dusty copies piled up somewhere."

Given all the noise Marc's made about "these characters," I rather doubt their books are collecting dust in forgotten corners of his home. Or maybe Marc has their arguments committed to memory. That would explain his free-flowing riffs on their various thought crimes. He's certainly seems comfortable with the material.

As a spotlight narrows the stage to a single, illuminated point, Marc lowers his head and finishes his performance on a plaintive note:

"Finally, it's plain false that I make any connection between Chomsky and the conspiracy theorizing going on over Pacifica. HOWEVER, Chomsky was a vocal supporter of the crew that took power in Pacifica five years ago and who is responsible for the current programming. He sure as hell had no problem back then putting up his name as an endorsement on their efforts to 'take back Pacifica.' Now that they've taken it back and ran into the ground, polluting the air with, indeed, conspiracy theory, Noam has become invisible on the issue. I had long, long private exchanges with him five years ago on this matter, urging him to reconsider his endorsement and encouragement of the Free Pacifica yo-yos. All I can say was how terribly unimpressed I was by his weaknes, his unwillingness to criticize in any way those who he considered his 'friends,' no matter how right or wrong they might have been. Noam Chomsky, you see, is a human being like the rest of us. And he shares many of our shortcomings and failures, regardless of his position on the Palestinians."

Well, it was Marc who segued from Chomsky the fascist apologist to the Pacifica conspiracists by writing, "On a related note." So he does suggest some kind of connection, and immediately reinforces it by stating that Chomsky was once in cahoots with that crowd. As for the rest of his final soliloquy, all I can say is that few carry the Pacifica cross quite like Marc Cooper. That it seriously fucked with his head is obvious and evident every time he rants about "the left." I will grant him his final point about Noam, since I said pretty much the same thing at the end of my original post.

Spotlight fades. Stage darkens. Cooper's silhouette exits through the curtains as the dented tuba plays "God Bless America."