Monthly Archives: June 2010

Some Time This Fall…

William Galston, writing in the New Republic:

I visit Israel at least once a year, so I have an opportunity to observe changes in the country’s concerns. Never before have I sensed such a mood of foreboding, which has been triggered by two issues above all—the looming impasse in relations with the United States and a possible military confrontation with Iran…

…most Israelis—including many who are very dovish vis-a-vis the Palestinians—believe that only military force can prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power in the near future, and they cannot understand why the United States resists this conclusion. According to Ha’aretz, eyewitnesses on the ground support a recent report from the Times of London that Saudi Arabia has agreed to open its airspace to Israeli aircraft “as part of preparations for a possible attack on Iran.” (Israel refused to comment on this report, which the Saudis of course have denied.)

A few months ago I participated in a day-long exercise, organized by the Brookings Institution, simulating the aftermath of a surprise Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities. The outcome wasn’t pretty—a forceful Iranian attack on American allies throughout the region and a serious rift in relations between Israel and the United States. The Israeli team hoped that the United States would back them with military measures against Iran that the American team refused to initiate.

In both these areas, the Obama administration has been playing for time. But the sand in the hourglass is running down quickly. Some time this fall, an administration headed toward a midterm election with a faltering economy and negative developments in two war zones may confront a genuine Middle East crisis. We can only hope that its contingency plans are in place and that they’re better than BP’s.

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You Don’t Need a Weatherman

Robin Shepard on the inevitability of an Israeli attack on Iran:

Silvio Berlusconi, prime minister of Italy, is an unconventional politician and he is difficult to predict. But even Berlusconi is surely too well versed in the customs of international diplomacy to make predictions about Israel attacking Iran without very good grounds for doing so. On the sidelines of the G8* summit in Canada on Saturday he said the following:

“Iran is not guaranteeing a peaceful production of nuclear power [so] the members of the G-8 are worried and believe absolutely that Israel will probably react pre-emptively.” (My italics)

Unless Berlusconi is being completely irresponsible, this sounds like a warning that something may be imminent. It is also worth noting that Berlusconi’s remarks came the day before CIA director Leon Panetta said Iran probably has enough uranium to build two nuclear weapons within the next two years.

It is highly unlikely that Panetta would have gone public on such a sensitive issue for no good reason. The same goes for Berlusconi. So, my guess as to what is going on is as follows: Either Israel is about to attack Iran and all of this is designed to prepare the world for what is coming; Or, this is a last ditch attempt to frighten the Iranians into compliance by explicitly putting the imminent use of force on the table.

Obviously, I have no inside track on what is going on. But you don’t need a sixth sense to recognise that something significant is afoot…

Israel’s ambassador to the U.S.Michael Oren lends credence to the above:

…“According to the Israeli diplomats, Oren said …’Relations [between the U.S. and Israel] are in the state of a tectonic rift in which continents are drifting apart,’” Haaretz said.

“Oren noted that contrary to Obama’s predecessors — George W. Bush and Bill Clinton – the current president is not motivated by historical-ideological sentiments toward Israel but by cold interests and considerations,” Haaretz reports. “He added that his access as Israel’s ambassador to senior administration officials and close advisers of the president is good. But Obama has very tight control over his immediate environment, and it is hard to influence him. ‘This is a one-man show,’ Oren is quoted as saying.”…

And Mark Steyn on the Toronto cops:

I may have to revise my old line about the British police being “the most monumentally useless in the developed world”. For the G20 summit, the Toronto coppers ordered up a ton of new body armor, weaponry, gas masks, etc – and then stood around in their state-of-the-art riot gear watching as a bunch of middle-class “anarchists” trashed the city. Streetcars were left abandoned, and even police cruisers were seized, vandalized and burned. …

The Toronto PD are your go-to guys if you want a fetching police escort for the Queers Against Israeli Apartheid float in the Pride Parade, but they don’t otherwise seem to perform any useful function.

Mocking Mockingbird

I read the novel To Kill a Mockingbird (and saw the movie) at least two dozen times over the years, not because I wanted to, but rather because, as a high school English teacher, I had to. I thought the book boring and obvious, although somewhat less boring than the movie. Thus I assumed that its reputation had more to do with political correctness than literary merit.

Allen Barra, writing in today’s Wall Street Journal:

Georgia had Flannery O’Connor and Carson McCullers; Mississippi had William Faulkner and Eudora Welty; Louisiana inspired the major works of Kate Chopin and Tennessee Williams. Alabama had. . .

Well, while Zora Neale Hurston and Walker Percy were born in Alabama, those two great writers didn’t stick around my home state for long. And as for Harper Lee—Alabama born, raised and still resident—she doesn’t really measure up to the others in literary talent, but we like to pretend she does.

Ms. Lee is at the head of the Southern class in one big way, however: The numbers are imprecise, but according to a 1988 report by the National Council of Teachers of English, her novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” was required reading in three-quarters of America’s high schools…

One estimate credits the book with over 30 million copies sold—many, no doubt, due to the enduring popularity of the hugely successful 1962 film version, described by The New Yorker’s Pauline Kael as “part eerie Southern gothic and part Hollywood self-congratulation for its enlightened racial attitudes.” (Gregory Peck’s Atticus, Kael wrote, was “virtuously dull,” surely a phrase that can be accurately applied to Ms. Lee’s model.)…

Atticus [the character based on the author’s father] is a repository of cracker-barrel epigrams. He actually seems to believe the fairy tale about the Ku Klux Klan that he tells Scout: “Way back about nineteen-twenty, there was a Klan, but it was a political organization more than anything. Besides, they couldn’t find anyone to scare.” They gathered one night in front of a Jewish friend of Finch’s, Sam Levy, and “Sam made ’em so ashamed of themselves they went away.”

It’s impossible that anyone who grew up in Alabama in the mid-1930s, when the book is set, would believe that story, but it’s a sugar-coated myth of Alabama’s past that millions have come to accept.

In all great novels there is some quality of moral ambiguity, some potentially controversial element that keeps the book from being easily grasped or explained. One hundred years from now, critics will still be arguing about the real nature of the relationship between Tom and Huck, or why Gatsby gazed at that green light at the end of the dock across the harbor. There is no ambiguity in “To Kill a Mockingbird”; at the end of the book, we know exactly what we knew at the beginning: that Atticus Finch is a good man, that Tom Robinson was an innocent victim of racism, and that lynching is bad. As Thomas Mallon wrote in a 2006 story in The New Yorker, the book acts as “an ungainsayable endorser of the obvious.”

It’s time to stop pretending that “To Kill a Mockingbird” is some kind of timeless classic that ranks with the great works of American literature. Its bloodless liberal humanism is sadly dated, as pristinely preserved in its pages as the dinosaur DNA in “Jurassic Park.”…

Hatred and Self-Esteem

Canadian columnist David Warren on Israel, public relations and “world opinion”:

…Countries are like companies in some limited sense, trying to preserve the polish on a brand name. There is a whole school of thought, in contemporary Israel for instance, that holds by the classic PR strategy: no news is good news. And indeed, it is hard to argue that a day without Israel on the world’s front pages is like a day of sunshine, whatever the weather happens to be in Tel Aviv.

There is an alternative school that tries to call attention to underpublicized facts: that Israel is the one fully functional constitutional democracy in a region of sordid, murderous tyrannies; the only fully open society, in which Muslims, Christians and Jews are equal before an independent judiciary; that it has the only economy in the region not entirely dependent on foreign aid, and foreign resource extraction technology. But no one is listening, so why bother?

Of course, public relations departments would not exist if managers could not foresee days without sunshine. Things “just happen,” for which one must be prepared. For instance: the flotilla that was sent, nominally to test Israel’s Gaza blockade, really to give Israel a huge black eye, courtesy Turkey’s Islamist-leaning ruling party.

There was no good response. Once you have psychopaths like the ones aboard the Mavi Marmara prepared, nay, hoping to become “martyrs” in the cause of hurting Israel — there is no “nice” way to see them off.

Compare, if you will, the PR operation of Turkey’s new ally, Hamas. It is quite the opposite of the classic strategy. The organization’s propaganda states unambiguously that it exists to remove Israel from the face of the earth, by every means within its power. Meanwhile, it will control the lives of the Palestinians in its custody, executing any who get out of line.

And the world queues to supply them with food and clothing and construction materials, thus freeing their budget for the acquisition of more weaponry…

And Shelby Steele,writing in the Wall Street Journal:

…[There] is something new in the world, this almost complete segregation of Israel in the community of nations. And if Helen Thomas’s remarks were pathetic and ugly, didn’t they also point to the end game of this isolation effort: the nullification of Israel’s legitimacy as a nation? There is a chilling familiarity in all this. One of the world’s oldest stories is playing out before our eyes: The Jews are being scapegoated again.

“World opinion” labors mightily to make Israel look like South Africa looked in its apartheid era—a nation beyond the moral pale. And it projects onto Israel the same sin that made apartheid South Africa so untouchable: white supremacy. Somehow “world opinion” has moved away from the old 20th century view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a complicated territorial dispute between two long-suffering peoples. Today the world puts its thumb on the scale for the Palestinians by demonizing the stronger and whiter Israel as essentially a colonial power committed to the “occupation” of a beleaguered Third World people.

This is now—figuratively in some quarters and literally in others—the moral template through which Israel is seen. It doesn’t matter that much of the world may actually know better. This template has become propriety itself, a form of good manners, a political correctness. Thus it is good manners to be outraged at Israel’s blockade of Gaza, and it is bad manners to be outraged at Hamas’s recent attack on a school because it educated girls, or at the thousands of rockets Hamas has fired into Israeli towns—or even at the fact that Hamas is armed and funded by Iran. The world wants independent investigations of Israel, not of Hamas.

One reason for this is that the entire Western world has suffered from a deficit of moral authority for decades now. Today we in the West are reluctant to use our full military might in war lest we seem imperialistic; we hesitate to enforce our borders lest we seem racist; we are reluctant to ask for assimilation from new immigrants lest we seem xenophobic; and we are pained to give Western Civilization primacy in our educational curricula lest we seem supremacist. Today the West lives on the defensive, the very legitimacy of our modern societies requiring constant dissociation from the sins of the Western past—racism, economic exploitation, imperialism and so on…

Israel does not seek to oppress or occupy—and certainly not to annihilate—the Palestinians in the pursuit of some atavistic Jewish supremacy. But the merest echo of the shameful Western past is enough to chill support for Israel in the West.

The West also lacks the self-assurance to see the Palestinians accurately. Here again it is safer in the white West to see the Palestinians as they advertise themselves—as an “occupied” people denied sovereignty and simple human dignity by a white Western colonizer. The West is simply too vulnerable to the racist stigma to object to this “neo-colonial” characterization.

Our problem in the West is understandable. We don’t want to lose more moral authority than we already have. So we choose not to see certain things that are right in front of us. For example, we ignore that the Palestinians—and for that matter much of the Middle East—are driven to militancy and war not by legitimate complaints against Israel or the West but by an internalized sense of inferiority. If the Palestinians got everything they want—a sovereign nation and even, let’s say, a nuclear weapon—they would wake the next morning still hounded by a sense of inferiority. For better or for worse, modernity is now the measure of man.

And the quickest cover for inferiority is hatred. The problem is not me; it is them. And in my victimization I enjoy a moral and human grandiosity—no matter how smart and modern my enemy is, I have the innocence that defines victims. I may be poor but my hands are clean. Even my backwardness and poverty only reflect a moral superiority, while my enemy’s wealth proves his inhumanity.

In other words, my hatred is my self-esteem…

Judgment In The Fullness Of Time

Stanley Fish, writing in the on-line New York Times, says something very true about the pernicious practice of having students evaluate their teachers, and by extension, the question which everyone seems to believe they know the answer to: What is good teaching?:

A number of responses to my column about the education I received at Classical High (a public school in Providence, RI) rehearsed a story of late-flowering gratitude after an earlier period of frustration and resentment. “I had a high school (or a college) experience like yours,” the poster typically said, “and I hated it and complained all the time about the homework, the demands and the discipline; but now I am so pleased that I stayed the course and acquired skills that have served me well throughout my entire life.”

Now suppose those who wrote in to me had been asked when they were young if they were satisfied with the instruction they were receiving? Were they getting their money’s worth? Would they recommend the renewal of their teachers’ contracts? I suspect the answers would have been “no,” “no” and “no,” and if their answers had been taken seriously and the curriculum they felt oppressed by had been altered accordingly, they would not have had the rich intellectual lives they now happily report, or acquired some of the skills that have stood them in good stead all these years.

The relationship between present action and the judgment of value is different in other contexts. If a waiter asks me, “Was everything to your taste, sir?”, I am in a position to answer him authoritatively (if I choose to). When I pick up my shirt from the dry cleaner, I immediately know whether the offending spot has been removed. But when, as a student, I exit from a class or even from an entire course, it may be years before I know whether I got my money’s worth, and that goes both ways. A course I absolutely loved may turn out be worthless because the instructor substituted wit and showmanship for an explanation of basic concepts. And a course that left me feeling confused and convinced I had learned very little might turn out to have planted seeds that later grew into mighty trees of understanding.

“Deferred judgment” or “judgment in the fullness of time” seems to be appropriate to the evaluation of teaching…

The Emotionally Maimed Type?

An astute analysis of the Obama personality by the usually vapid New York Times columnist Charles Blow:

…Obama — solid and sober, rooted in the belief that his way is the right way and in no need of alteration. He’s the emotionally maimed type who lights up when he’s stroked and adored but shuts down in the face of acrimony. Other people’s anxieties are dismissed as irrational and unworthy of engagement or empathy. He seems quite comfortable with this aspect of his personality, even if few others are, and shows little desire to change it. It’s the height of irony: the presumed transformative president is stymied by his own unwillingness to be transformed. He would rather sacrifice the relationship than be altered by it.

Mort Zuckerman:

…Obama clearly wishes to do good and means well. But he is one of those people who believe that the world was born with the word and exists by means of persuasion, such that there is no person or country that you cannot, by means of logical and moral argument, bring around to your side. He speaks as a teacher, as someone imparting values and generalities appropriate for a Sunday morning sermon, not as a tough-minded leader. He urges that things “must be done” and “should be done” and that “it is time” to do them. As the former president of the Council on Foreign Relations, Les Gelb, put it, there is “the impression that Obama might confuse speeches with policy.” Another journalist put it differently when he described Obama as an “NPR [National Public Radio] president who gives wonderful speeches.” In other words, he talks the talk but doesn’t know how to walk the walk. The Obama presidency has so far been characterized by a well-intentioned but excessive belief in the power of rhetoric with too little appreciation of reality and loyalty…

Israel: Up For Grabs

Mark Steyn:

…North Korea sinks a South Korean ship; hundreds of thousands of people die in the Sudan; millions die in the Congo. But 10 men die at the hands of Israeli commandos and it dominates the news day in, day out for weeks, with UN resolutions, international investigations, calls for boycotts, and every Western prime minister and foreign minister expected to rise in parliament and express the outrage of the international community.
Odd. But why?

Because Israel is supposed to be up for grabs in a way that the Congo, Sudan or even North Korea aren’t. Only the Jewish state attracts an intellectually respectable movement querying its very existence, and insisting that, after 62 years of independence, that issue is still not resolved. Let’s take a nation that came into existence at precisely the same time as the Zionist Entity, and involved far bloodier population displacements. I happen to think the creation of Pakistan was the greatest failure of postwar British imperial policy. But the fact is that Pakistan exists, and if I were to launch a movement of anti-Pakism it would get pretty short shrift, and in Canada a “human rights” complaint or three.

The “Palestinian question” is a land dispute, but not in the sense of a boundary-line argument between two Ontario farmers. Rather, it represents the coming together of two psychoses. Islam is a one-way street. Once you’re in the Dar al-Islam, that’s it; there’s no checkout desk. They take land, they hold it, forever.

That’s why, in his first post-9/11 message to the troops, Osama droned on about the fall of Andalusia: it’s been half a millennium, but he still hasn’t gotten over it, and so, a couple of years ago, when I was at the Pentagon being shown some of the maps found in al-Qaeda safe houses, “the new caliphate” had Spain and India being re-incorporated within the Muslim world. If that’s how you think, no wonder a tiny little sliver of a Jewish state smack dab in the heart of the Dar al-Islam drives you nuts: to accept Israel’s “right to exist” would be as unthinkable as accepting a re-Christianized Constantinople.

To this fierce Islamic imperialism, the new Europeans, post-Christian, post-nationalist and postmodern as they are, nevertheless bring one of their oldest prejudices—that in the modern world as much as in medieval Christendom Jews can never be accorded full property rights. On a patch of the Holy Land, they are certainly the current leaseholders, but they will never have recognized legal title. To be sure, there are a lot of them there right now. But then there were a lot of them in Tangiers and Baghdad and the Bukovina and Germany and Poland, for a while. Why shouldn’t Tel Aviv one day be just another city with some crumbling cemeteries and a few elderly Jews?

That’s the reason the “Palestinian question” is never settled. Because, as long as it’s unresolved, then Israel’s legitimacy is unsettled, too.

Still, the impatience of the new globalized Judenhass is now palpable. I used to think that, when Iran got the bomb, it wouldn’t use it. I wouldn’t take that bet now. The new anti-Semitism is a Euro-Islamic fusion so universal, so irrational and so fevered that it’s foolish to assume any limits.

Alvin Greene: Democratic Man of Mystery

Ann Coulter on Alvin Greene, the Democratic Party’s Senate candidate in the wacky state of South Carolina:

…MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann interviewed Greene as if he had Lee Harvey Oswald in the dock. Chris Matthews asked guests: “Do you think this has the look of a dirty trick — sort of a Watergate number?” Watergate, you’ll recall, involved the Nixon White House trying to persuade a mildly retarded black man to run for the Senate.

Obama senior adviser David Axelrod said Greene was not a “legitimate” candidate and called his victory “a mysterious deal.” (Yes, how could a young African-American man with strange origins, suspicious funding, shady associations, no experience, no qualifications, and no demonstrable work history come out of nowhere and win an election?) …

For the irony challenged, she’s talking about you-know-who in that last bit.

No More Mr. Nice Guy

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Group Hug! Works Every Time

Mark Steyn on the bravest woman in the world, Dutch ex-patriot Ayaan Hirsi Ali:

…Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s great cause is women’s liberation. Unfortunately for her, the women she wants to liberate are Muslim, so she gets minimal support and indeed a ton of hostility from Western feminists who have reconciled themselves, consciously or otherwise, to the two-tier sisterhood: when it comes to clitoridectomies, forced marriages, honour killings, etc., multiculturalism trumps feminism. Liberal men are, if anything, even more opposed. She long ago got used to the hectoring TV interviewer, from Avi Lewis on the CBC a while back to Tavis Smiley on PBS just the other day, insisting that say what you like about Islam but everyone knows that Christians are just as backward and violent, if not more so. The media left spends endless hours and most of its interminable awards ceremonies congratulating itself on its courage, on “speaking truth to power,” the bravery of dissent and all the rest, but faced with a pro-gay secular black feminist who actually lives it they frost up in nothing flat.

The latest is Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times. Reviewing Ayaan’s new book Nomad, he begins:

“She has managed to outrage more people—in some cases to the point that they want to assassinate her—in more languages in more countries on more continents than almost any writer in the world today. Now Hirsi Ali is working on antagonizing even more people in yet another memoir.”

That’s his opening pitch: if there are those who wish to kill her, it’s her fault because she’s a provocateuse who’s found a lucrative shtick in “working on antagonizing” people. The Times headlines Kristof’s review “The Gadfly,” as if she’s a less raddled and corpulent Gore Vidal…

But Kristof decides to up the condescension. Of the author’s estrangement from her Somali relatives, he writes: “I couldn’t help thinking that perhaps Hirsi Ali’s family is dysfunctional simply because its members never learned to bite their tongues and just say to one another: ‘I love you.’ ”

Awwwww. Group hug! Works every time…