Empty threats

Indignity Vol. 4, No. 70

Empty threats
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 22: Pro-Palestinian supporters set up a protest encampment on the campus of Columbia University on April 22, 2024 in New York City. All classes at Columbia University have been held virtually today after school President Minouche Shafik announced a shift to online learning in response to recent campus unrest. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)


Send the National Guard to Columbia to Do What, Exactly?

THERE'S A HELICOPTER throbbing somewhere outside as I type this in the afternoon. There was a helicopter when I recorded the podcast this morning. The helicopters have been buzzing the neighborhood in response to the protests at Columbia University, if that can even properly be called a response. The campus protests are by most accounts, including that of the NYPD after it made mass arrests, peaceful; the reports of hostile and abusive behavior from the streets outside the campus are not something a helicopter can do anything about. The helicopters are props in an extremely stupid kind of immersive theater. 

My older son takes an enrichment class with other high school kids at Columbia on Saturdays. This past Saturday, he had to stay home and do the class via Zoom, because Columbia wasn't allowing the high school kids on campus. The course is a chemistry lab, so there wasn't really much to accomplish over Zoom. 

Nothing in the news has made it sound as if it would be unsafe for a teenager to go onto the Columbia campus—except the fact that most of the gates are locked, so that it might be hard to evacuate if some actual emergency happened. The next day, high school seniors who'd been admitted to Columbia were allowed to attend a limited version of their scheduled visiting day, but their parents were barred. I was outdoors within two or three blocks of Columbia for a few hours and at one point someone walked by chanting "Free Palestine," and a couple of other people went by chanting "No justice, no peace," and beyond that it was like any other day. 

In Rafah, a few hours later, Israeli nighttime airstrikes reportedly killed 24 people, mostly women and children. There was real danger and terror abroad in the world, just not in Morningside Heights.

Today, Sens. Josh Hawley and Tom Cotton demanded that the National Guard be deployed to Columbia. It was one more bit of putrefaction on the long-dead argument that Cotton's infamous "Sent in the Troops" New York Times op-ed had been anything but an obvious call for violence; Cotton last week was urging people whose cars might be blocked by pro-Palestinian protesters to "take matters into your own hands."  

It was brutish yet also grimly, unnervingly phony. If the NYPD couldn't find anyone's head to bust, it's hard to picture what the Guard would even be sent to do. The students are sitting around on the lawn. Yet Hawley and Cotton were fantasizing about oiling the triggers for a new Kent State. Cotton was holding forth about "nascent pogroms at Columbia." 

The act of even stringing together the words "nascent pogroms at Columbia" should be facially anti-Semitic, an insult to every victim of actual pogroms around the world. No one is starting a pogrom on an elite university campus on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. It is not happening. It is a fantasy. And who fantasizes a thing like that?

Last week, in the New Yorker, Manvir Singh wrote about the problem of misinformation and belief. Singh described the work of the "philosopher and cognitive scientist Dan Sperber":

Staying with the Dorze people in southern Ethiopia, he noticed that they made assertions that they seemed both to believe and not to believe. People told him, for example, that “the leopard is a Christian animal who observes the fasts of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.” Nevertheless, the average Dorze man guarded his livestock on fast days just as much as on other days. “Not because he suspects some leopards of being bad Christians,” Sperber wrote, “but because he takes it as true both that leopards fast and that they are always dangerous.”
Sperber concluded that there are two kinds of beliefs. The first he has called “factual” beliefs. Factual beliefs—such as the belief that chairs exist and that leopards are dangerous—guide behavior and tolerate little inconsistency; you can’t believe that leopards do and do not eat livestock. The second category he has called “symbolic” beliefs. These beliefs might feel genuine, but they’re cordoned off from action and expectation. 

The bloodthirsty mobs of Columbia don't exist. No one anywhere, including the people warning about the mobs, is acting as if they do. But the vision of incipient violence has them in its grip anyway. 

Last month, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced that she was deploying the National Guard to the New York City subway, to reassure people worried about crime in the system. This was alarming and provoking, but the essential thing about it a month later is that the National Guard isn't really in the subway. Somewhere there might be a couple Guard members standing around with the cops who are also standing around, but I haven't seen them anyplace I've gone. It was the idea of the Guard that was meant to be attractive. That it was a bad idea, for these purposes, just made it more attractive. 

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"Blurrily variegated blue and white" sky

New York City, April 21, 2024

★★ Blurrily variegated blue and white stretched over the walk to the pastry shop. Shadows were sharp but a little thin. The heavy hoodie felt a little stuffy on the body and around the cuffs, but where it didn't cover the chill was biting. The wing of a large crushed roach, angled up from the sidewalk, caught the luster of the light. The shadows went away as the sky went all gray, and the cold stayed. Though the restaurant was overrun for lunch, there was plenty of space in the curbside dining shed, under the heat lamp.

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Indignity Morning Podcast No. 259: A spectacularly credulous look.

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INDIGNITY MORNING PODCAST Episode 259: Indignity Morning Podcast No. 259: A spectacularly credulous look.

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WE PRESENT INSTRUCTIONS in aid of the assembly of the final three sandwiches selected from Original Cooking Recipes, by Carnol Limited. Published in 1924, and now in the Public Domain and available at archive.org for the delectation of all.

Ottawa, April 28, 1924.

Dear Sirs: —
This is to certify that CARNOL has saved my life, and I want everyone to know. If I had not taken CARNOL, I would be dead sure, as I was so run down I could not work or sleep. CARNOL helped me at once. I had lost my eyesight, pains across my head and temples, in sheet form; my nerves were all undone; I was completely useless. Some one left a book about CARNOL, at my door. I felt it should do me good. I purchased a bottle at once, and have been getting better ever since, and am working. I have taken four bottles of CARNOL. I hope it will help others as well as me. I have given small doses to my to my children; it makes them eat and sleep; their cheeks have got all rosy. You can use this if you wish, in any form.

Wishing you every success with your CARNOL. You can have my affidavit, if you wish.

(Signed) E. M. HUNTER,
78 Queen St., W. Ottawa, Ont.

Scraped Beef

Choose lean beef cut from top of round. Wipe off with damp cheesecloth. Place on board. Hold firmly. Scrape with sharp knife until only connecting tissue is left. Spread scraped beef on a thin slice of bread, either buttered or plain, and cover with another slice. Dry toast may be used for making sandwich if desired. Season with salt and pepper, if permitted.

If you decide to prepare and attempt to enjoy a sandwich inspired by this offering, be sure to send a picture to indignity@indignity.net. 


The second printing of 19 FOLK TALES is now available for gift-giving and personal perusal! Sit in the strengthening sunshine with a breezy collection of stories, each of which is concise enough to read before the damp ground seeps through your blanket.

HMM WEEKLY MINI-ZINE, Subject: GAME SHOW, Joe MacLeod’s account of his Total Experience of a Journey Into Television, expanded from the original published account found here at Hmm DailyThe special MINI ZINE features other viewpoints related to an appearance on, at, and inside the teevee game show Who Wants to Be A Millionaire, available for purchase at SHOPULA.