:: Saturday, November 23, 2002 ::
James Bond against the Axis of Evil
The new Bond movie, Die Another Day, involves a plot of world domination with a North Korean connection. As expected, there are lots of inventive gadgets and some very sexy women (Halle Berry and a young Englishwoman, Rosamund Pike). Some of the action scenes go on a bit too long, and some of them briefly break into completely gratuitous slow motion. Bond goes to Cuba in the guise of an ornithologist, which is a reference to the real-life bird-specialist whose name was appropriated by Ian Fleming for his books. Overall, it's a solid entry in the series and definitely worth seeing if you want a fun action movie with a few thrills.
A witty, albeit unsettling, word
:: Friday, November 22, 2002 ::
The Economist described Al Gore's recent appearance on "This Week" with former Clinton advisor George Stephanopoulos as "Clincest."
Maybe it won't work, but can things get any worse?
:: Thursday, November 21, 2002 ::
I see the plan of action I have in mind for Israel, detailed below, as a win/no-lose proposition. If it works and the world applies the necessary pressure on the Palestinians to renounce terror and make peace, then great, problem solved. If the world fails once again and the Palestinians keep on using terror, I don't think Israel would be any worse off than it is now. The key point in that argument is that the Palestinians have already hit rock bottom in terms of their support for terror. Their society-wide glorification of child sacrifice and mass murder is, I strongly believe, not going to be affected much one way or the other by evacuating settlements. As for what the final agreement would look like, none other than right-wing icon Victor Davis Hanson agrees with me (despite not being a conservative, I'm a big fan of his as well):
All agree about the general outlines: an autonomous state with 90-95% of the West Bank, security guarantees for Israel, an end to quite crazy ideas about rights of returns that are designed to overthrow the Jewish state, etc. The building of the wall along the general 1967 border suggests the Israelis are moving toward such a stance. Contrary to popular punditry, such walls can work. And they at least clarify the issues: why would Palestinians object so loudly to being walled off in their native and autonomous land from their hated enemies? Where we differ from the Europeans is that many of us in America believe that a necessary Palestinian state will be unfortunately seen by many on the West Bank as step 1, followed by step 2 of attacks on Israel itself. And unlike the Europeans, we in the United States will never let a second holocaust transpire, so the trick is to allow a state that is seen as the end, not the beginning, of the problem.I think Hanson's last point also serves my argument. By making it absolutely clear to the world that Palestinian statehood will come after an end to the violent conflict but only when a credible leadership emerges, the pressure for ending the conflict shifts to the Palestinians. Right now, the dolts in Europe think that the conflict is continuing because the Palestinians don't have their own state yet. Putting forth an unambiguous plan for Palestinian statehood, along with unambiguous demands about what they have to do in order to get there, would make the truth a lot more clear: that the only things standing in the way of Palestinian statehood are their own belligerence and terrorism.
I didn't know that!
Oliver Sacks, the behavioral scientist and writer famous for the book "Awakenings" among several others, was Abba Eban's cousin, although they didn't get to know each other until the mid '70s. His obituary for Eban is on Ha'aretz.
Too insane to be dealt with on any rational level--a new approach is required
:: Wednesday, November 20, 2002 ::
This is what Israel is dealing with:
The father of the suicide bus bomber who took 11 lives and wounded 50 in Jerusalem Thursday morning has nothing but praise for his son.
Nothing new here, just more religiously-inspired hatred that leads to mass murder. But lots of well-meaning Israel supporters on both sides of the debate about what to do are missing some important points.
Police identified the bomber as Nael Abu Hilail, 23, from Bethlehem.
Abu Hilail's father, Azmi, said he was pleased with his son. "Our religion says we are proud of him until the day of resurrection," Abu Hilail said. "This is a challenge to the Zionist enemies."
To those who support negotiating without pre-conditions and/or unilateral withdrawal of all Israeli forces from the territories: How do you propose to protect people from this indiscriminate, cold-blooded killing? How will leaving the Palestinians to their own devices do anything to alleviate their murderous hatred? Checkpoints and closures, as awful as they can be, prevent more of these bombs from going off every day. Until the Palestinians start respecting human life, Israel can't afford to let up an inch in defending itself.
To those who think that any concessions in the face of terror will only invite more terror: Would evacuating settlements from the Gaza Strip cause Azmi Abu Hilail to hate Jews any more than he already does? Would not evacuating them, or even building more of them in Hebron or wherever, deter him from encouraging his son or others to become suicide bombers? Does he rationally respond to what Israel does or doesn't do by adjusting his level of support for Jew-killing? For moral and political reasons, it's impossible to keep the Jewish settlements that are planted deep in the most densely populated Arab areas. It's also a drain on Israel's security forces. Waiting for the Palestinians to come to their senses before dealing with that issue is to wait forever.
Israel needs to change the terms of the debate. Start getting rid of the problematic settlements right away, while fighting terror everywhere it comes from for as long as it's necessary. Announce up front that a fair agreement along the lines of Camp David will be on the table, but no negotiations or letting up in the fight against terror until the Palestinians produce a leadership that dismantles every last terror group and de-nazifies the schools and media fanning the flames of suicidal hatred. No timetables, no road-maps, no confidence-building measures, none of that nonsense. Put the international pressure back where it should be anyway--squarely on the Palestinians. Force the world to face up to the truth that it so complacently refuses to see: this fight is not about settlements, occupation, colonialism, or anything else besides the survival of the Jewish state.
A biased claim of bias
:: Tuesday, November 19, 2002 ::
The Washington Post excerpts from Bob Woodward's book "Bush at War" mentioned a memo of advice that Fox News president Roger Ailes sent to Bush just after 9/11, in the part that I quoted in a post below. The New York Times had a couple of stories yesterday which mentioned that as proof of Ailes' sanctimoniousness in claiming to be "fair and balanced." Inveterate Times basher Andrew Sullivan weighs in with this confusing passage:
I'll say it here loud and proud: Fox News is obviously biased toward the right. It's simply loopy to pretend otherwise. Ailes' attempt to deny the bleeding obvious is just pathetic. It's like listening to [Fox News commentator Bill] O'Reilly pretend he's in a no-spin zone. It's embarrassing, and undermines their credibility on everything else. But I see no difference between Fox's bias and, say, the New York Times'. And if you want evidence for that, then today's two-story gloat is Exhibit A. Sullivan frequently claims that the Times is biased left, and some of his evidence certainly supports that conclusion, but this example makes no sense at all. If Ailes is indeed full of it when he claims not to be biased right, then the Times is correct to point it out, so how is it "Exhibit A" that they're biased left? Sullivan agrees with their stories on the matter, yet he certainly doesn't use that as evidence of leftward bias on his part!
A great documentary and a discussion with the director
Last night on campus here at Michigan, the Hillel had a screening of Promises, a very moving documentary about some Palestinian and Israeli kids discussing their lives and the conflict, several of whom meet each other and become friends. It was filmed during the late '90s, before the current intifada started. After the screening, the narrator and co-director B.Z. Goldberg spoke and answered questions. He gave updates on what all of the kids from the film are doing these days. Moishe, an Orthodox Jewish kid living in a settlement, became more radical in his politics and speaks out in favor of transfer. Goldberg said that when he asked Moishe where the Palestinians would go, Moishe said "back where they came from." When prodded about that, Moishe disdainfully answered, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world, "Algeria!" Disturbing but funny. Sanabel, a very pretty Palestinian girl living in a refugee camp, told Goldberg in recent months that she couldn't come with him to a peace rally in Tel Aviv because it would make things really difficult for her and her family, who had already been accused of treason for having participated in the movie. Apparently she's become an expert in Palestinian PR whenever she talks to journalists. Interestingly, two Palestinian boys with radical views have gone in different directions from what you'd expect if you saw them in the movie: the Hamas supporting Mahmoud is largely apolitical and spends a lot of time looking for girls in web chat rooms, while ardent right of return activist Faraj moved to America and was basically adopted by a family in Massachussetts, and he doesn't want to go back. Secular Israeli twins Yarko and Daniel are finishing high school in Jerusalem and preparing for the army, ready to serve but anxious about combat. I don't think the movie's out on video yet, but I highly recommend checking it out if you get a chance.
At least give her a chance first
:: Monday, November 18, 2002 ::
E.J. Dionne points out that in the midst of the media rush to bash Nancy Pelosi, her record on human rights has some deserved bi-partisan support:
Consider the following reaction to her election from one of her colleagues. "It's good news for human rights," this congressman said, "and it's good news for people living under repressive regimes around the world."
Let's hope they step up the pressure on Arab regimes, particularly Saudi Arabia, with lots of help from Congress.
These thoughts come not from another San Francisco liberal but from Rep. Chris Cox, a conservative Republican from California's Orange County. Cox, one of the staunchest and smartest conservatives in the House, knows Pelosi better than most people. For more than a decade, Cox and Pelosi have constituted a two-person congressional freedom squad fighting for the rights of dissidents all over the world.
They have been tough on dictatorships everywhere, and a special thorn in the side of China's Communist apparatchiks. Cox can offer a long list of Chinese dissidents on whose behalf he and Pelosi have made appeals -- to our government, to the Chinese government and to the world -- and with some success.
The two of them also wear a special badge of honor: They've taken the same view of human rights, and human rights in China in particular, whether the president was a Republican or a Democrat. Pelosi was willing to fight President Clinton even as Cox has been willing to annoy both Presidents Bush.
You think Pelosi is a rigid partisan who doesn't even know what Republicans look like? Just two weeks ago, Cox and Pelosi sat down together over dinner at the Capitol Hill Club, a Republican haunt not much frequented by Democrats, to consider how to advance the cause of Chinese dissident Wei Jingsheng. "What I found over time," Cox says, speaking of human rights, "is that we are in very nearly perfect agreement on this issue, and it made it very easy to work together."
Saudi-funded extremism: the difference between Northern Ireland and the Middle East
:: Sunday, November 17, 2002 ::
David Trimble, the Northern Irish Protestant leader who shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1998, did an interesting interview with Ha'aretz recently. He knows a thing or two about religiously-fueled violent conflict, and he explains that peace in the Middle East will be tougher than in Northern Ireland because of the terrible influence of America's "ally," Saudi Arabia:
Trimble does not envisage Israel reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinians any time soon because the most fundamental condition is missing: a complete turnabout in Palestinian ideology, which is how he describes the process undergone by Catholic nationalists in Ireland.
"Among Northern Irish nationalists, there were two main streams," explains Trimble. "The militants in the IRA and the moderates in the SDLP. South of the border, the Irish republic consistently supported the moderates. If the southern state had supported the IRA, we could never have had an agreement. Because the moderates would never have been able to make an agreement against the wishes of the state, which they regarded as their state.
"The analogy I would draw from that, looking at Israel and the Palestinians, is that you have Hamas as the equivalent of the IRA. You might look at Arafat as the equivalent of the SDLP. But the states toward which [the Palestinians] look for support - the Saudis, the Iraqis - all support Hamas. So Jordan might offer support, and Egypt might be more moderate, but Jordan is too small to matter, and Egypt is in the wrong place vis-a-vis the West Bank ... With the neighboring supporting states more supportive of the militants than the moderates, you have very little chance of progressing.
"We also need to point to the mindset, because the other thing that happened here was the undermining of the ideology of militant nationalism. While the southern state of the Republic of Ireland felt that it still owed something to northern nationalists, it was no longer supportive of the military project because old-fashioned 1930s territorial nationalism is inappropriate here. It is over, as far as Western Europe is concerned. The ideology that motivates the attacks on Israel - attacks which take place, in part, because of its identification with Western values - has not been neutered in the way that the ideology of the militant Irish republican has been neutered. So, changing the outlook of the Saudis and changing the ideology are the same thing. Persuading the Saudis that they should support moderates rather than militants is the same as changing their ideology. Until that ideology changes, and the Muslim Middle Eastern states are modernized, I don't see the siege of Israel ending. The prospects are not very encouraging. There's so little driving them in the right direction at the moment."
To achieve this, one would have to remove the Wahhabi tradition, with its militant interpretation of Islam, from the equation, which would lead to the collapse of the Saudi kingdom. Trimble thinks that "it might change the region for the better."
Wise words from a great man
Abba Eban, one of Israel's founding fathers and greatest public servants, passed away today at 87. His dovish views about the Palestinians took full account of the extremism and incompetence of their leadership, which he famously accused of having "never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity." A less famous quote of his, but just as clever and accurate, was that the Six-Day War resulted in a diplomatic situation unique in the history of war, where "the victors sued for peace while the vanquished demanded unconditional surrender."
He argued that nations should always see diplomatic relations as a useful means of pursuing their interests, and not as a prize for moral behavior to be bestowed upon friends and rescinded from enemies. As an example, he described the exchange he had with the Soviet ambassador to Israel just after the Six-Day War. The ambassador said that because of the serious policy differences between them, the USSR had decided to break ties with Israel. Eban replied that, on the contrary, those differences should prompt them to increase their diplomatic ties with more in-depth discussions and exchanges of memoranda to work out the problems. The Soviet ambassador answered that "what Your Excellency says is logical, but I have not come here to be logical. I have come here to break ties with Israel."
This is why I like The Economist
Sly British humor strikes again, this time in an article doubting the justification for space station funding based on the claim that it can be used to perform experiments in useful conditions:
It is true that science can be done in the space station. But science can also be done dressed in a clown suit atop a large Ferris wheel. The argument ought to be over where is the best place for it. Performing experiments in microgravity does not require a $100 billion platform.