Roundup: Historian's Take
This is where we place excerpts by historians writing about the news. On occasion this page also includes political scientists, economists, and law professors who write about history. We may from time to time even include English profs.
SOURCE: Jacksonville Journal-Courier (11-30-10)
A few days ago, Glenn Beck accused George Soros, a Holocaust survivor, of turning in Jews to the Nazis. Now some people want his head, calling him an anti-Semite.
I don’t agree. His head is worth nothing. Beck’s history lesson shows exactly why.
Beck doesn’t like Soros. Soros is one of the world’s biggest donors to liberal causes, and he has lots to give. He reportedly made $1 billion in an English currency crisis by correctly predicting that the pound sterling would be devalued. The organization that Soros created and leads, the Open Society Institute, promotes democratic ideals and liberal practices in countries with authoritarian governments.
Beck hates the causes Soros funds.
But that’s all irrelevant to what happened to Soros in 1944 when the Nazis occupied Hungary. He was a Jewish teenager trying to avoid being sent to Auschwitz, where over half a million Hungarian Jews were murdered that year. To survive, Soros had to do some unpleasant things. He once told a journalist that he and other kids were called to the Jewish Council, a group of Jewish leaders forced to transmit the Nazis’ orders to their fellow Jews....
Posted on: Tuesday, November 30, 2010 - 17:47
SOURCE: LA Times (11-30-10)
It is the historian's dream. It is the diplomat's nightmare. Here, for all to see, are the confidences of friends, allies and rivals, garnished with American diplomats' frank, sometimes coruscating assessments of them. Over the next couple of weeks, newspaper readers around the world will enjoy a multi-course banquet from the history of the present.
The historian usually has to wait 20 or 30 years to find such treasures. But here, the most recent dispatches are little more than 30 weeks old. And what a trove this is.
It contains more than 250,000 documents. Most of those that I have seen, on my dives into a searchable database of the documents made by the Guardian newspaper, are well over 1,000 words long. If my sample is at all representative, there must be a total of at least 250 million words, and perhaps up to half a billion....
More broadly, what you see in all this diplomatic traffic is how security and counter-terrorism concerns have pervaded every aspect of American foreign policy over the last decade. But you also see how serious the threats are, and how little the West is in control of them....
Posted on: Tuesday, November 30, 2010 - 17:32
SOURCE: Weekly Standard (11-20-10)
The New York Times may be the paper of record, but its record leaves much to be desired when the issue is Soviet espionage in the United States. Where the Times is not obscuring the historical record, it is willfully obtuse. Consider Charles Isherwood’s recent review of the newly opened play After the Revolution. The glowing notice is indeed merited. The cast is superb, and playwright Amy Herzog has written a witty, morally complicated, and engrossing drama about the turmoil that engulfs a radical family when details emerge about their deceased patriarch’s role as a Soviet spy during World War II.
But the review also highlights the problems that continue to afflict the Times when the subject turns to the Soviet Union’s American spies. For instance, Isherwood speculates that “the play seems partly inspired by the recent revelations about Julius Rosenberg, whose culpability had been debated since his execution for spying, along with his wife Ethel, in 1953.” Debated? Julius Rosenberg’s guilt has long been established: He and Ethel were convicted in a court of law in 1951, and the evidence has been thoroughly documented. Among other publications detailing the proof are: The Rosenberg File (1983) by Ronald Radosh and Joyce Milton; the 1995 release of the National Security Agency’s decryptions of World War II Soviet KGB cables (21 of which report on Julius’s espionage); the 2001 autobiography of Alexander Feklisov, Rosenberg’s KGB controller; and Steven Usdin’s Engineering Communism (2005), which laid out the enormous extent of the Rosenberg ring’s espionage in the field of military technology. There are no more lingering doubts about the Rosenbergs’ “culpability”—except in the precincts inhabited by the employees of the New York Times....
Posted on: Tuesday, November 30, 2010 - 14:58
SOURCE: TomDispatch (11-30-10)
[Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute's TomDispatch.com. His latest book is The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s (Haymarket Books).]
It’s finally coming into focus, and it’s not even a difficult equation to grasp. It goes like this: take a country in the grips of an expanding national security state and sooner or later your “safety” will mean your humiliation, your degradation. And by the way, it will mean the degradation of your country, too.
Just ask Rolando Negrin, a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screener who passed through one of those new “whole body image” scanners last May as part of his training for airport security. His co-workers claimed to have gotten a look at his “junk” and mocked him mercilessly, evidently repeatedly asking, “What size are you?” and referring to him as “little angry man.” In the end, calling it “psychological torture,” he insisted that he snapped, which in his case meant that he went after a co-worker, baton first, demanding an apology.
Consider that a little parable about just how low this country has sunk, how psychologically insecure we’ve become while supposedly guarding ourselves against global danger. There is no question that, at the height of Cold War hysteria, when superpower nuclear arsenals were out of this world and the planet seemed a hair-trigger from destruction, big and small penises were in play, symbolically speaking. Only now, however, facing a ragtag set of fanatics and terrorists -- not a mighty nation but a puny crew -- are those penises perfectly real and, potentially, completely humiliating.
Failed Bombs Do the Job
We live, it seems, in a national security “homeland” of little angry bureaucrats who couldn’t be happier to define what “safety” means for you and big self-satisfied officials who can duck the application of those safety methods. Your government can now come up with any wacky solution to American “security” and you’ll pay the price. One guy brings a failed shoe bomb on an airplane, and you’re suddenly in your socks. Word has it that bombs can be mixed from liquids in airplane bathrooms, and there go your bottled drinks. A youthful idiot flies toward Detroit with an ill-constructed bomb in his underwear, and suddenly they’re taking naked scans of you or threatening to grope your junk.
Two bombs don’t go off in the cargo holds of two planes and all of a sudden sending things around the world threatens to become more problematic and expensive. Each time, the price of “safety” rises and some set of lucky corporations, along with the lobbyists and politicians that support them, get a windfall. In each case, the terror tactic (at least in the normal sense) failed; in each case, the already draconian standards for our security were ratcheted up, while yet more money was poured into new technology and human reinforcements, which may, in the end, cause more disruption than any successful terror attack.
Directly or indirectly, you pay for the screeners and scanners and a labyrinthine intelligence bureaucracy that officially wields an $80 billion budget, and all the lobbyists and shysters and pitchmen who accompany our burgeoning homeland-security complex. And by the way, no one’s the slightest bit nice about it either, which isn’t surprising since it’s a national security state we’re talking about, which means its mentality is punitive. It wants to lock you down, quietly and with full acquiescence if possible. Offer some trouble, though, or step out of line, and you'll be hit with a $10,000 fine or maybe put in cuffs. It’s all for your safety, and fortunately they have a set of the most inept terror plots in history to prove their point.
By now, who hasn’t written about the airport “porno-scans,” the crotch gropes and breast jobs, the “don’t touch my junk” uproar, the growing lines, and the exceedingly modest protests on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, not to speak of the indignity of it all?
Totally been there, completely done that; totally written about, fully read. Shouldn’t we move on?
Taking Off the Gloves (and Then Everything Else)
And yet there are a few dots that still need to be connected. After all, since the beginning of George W. Bush’s second term, Americans have been remarkably quiet when it comes to the national security disasters being perpetuated in their name. America’s wars,its soaring Pentagon budgets, its billion-dollar military bases, its giant new citadels still called embassies but actually regional command centers, its ever-escalating CIAdrone war along the Pakistani tribal borderlands, the ever-expanding surveillance at home, and the incessant “night raids” andhome razings thousands of miles away in Afghanistan, not to speak of Washington’s stimulus-package spending in its war zones have caused no more than the mildest ripple of protest, much less genuine indignation, in this country in years.
American “safety” has, in every case, trumped outrage. Now, for the first time in years, the oppressiveness of a national security state bent on locking down American life has actually gotten to some Americans. No flags are yet flying over mass protests with “Don’t Scan on Me” emblazoned on them. Still, the idea that air travel may now mean a choice between a spritz of radiation and a sorta naked snapshot or -- thrilling option B -- having some overworked, overaggressive TSA agent grope you has caused outrage, at least among a minority of Americans, amid administration confusion. (If you want evidence that Hillary Clinton is considering a run for president in 2012, check out what she had to say about her lack of eagerness to be patted down at the airport.)
Local authorities have threatened to bring sexual battery charges against TSA agents who step over the line in pat-downs. Some legislators are denouncing the TSA’s new security plans. Ron Paul has introduced the American Travel Dignity Act. And good for them all.
But here’s the thing: in our deluded state, Americans don’t tend to connect what we’re doing to others abroad and what we’re doing to ourselves at home. We refuse to see that the trillion or more dollars that continue to go into the Pentagon, the U.S. Intelligence Community, and the national security state yearly, as well as the stalemated or losing wars Washington insists on fighting in distant lands, have anything to do with the near collapse of the American economy, job-devastation at home, or any of the other disasters of our American age.
As a result, those porno-scanners and enhanced pat-downs are indignities without a cause -- except, of course, for those terrorists who keep launching their bizarre plots to take down our planes. And yet whatever inconvenience, embarrassment, or humiliation you suffer in an airport shouldn’t be thought of as something the terrorists have done to us. It’s what the American national security state that we’ve quietly accepted demands of its subjects, based on the idea that no degree of danger from a terrorist attack, however infinitesimal, is acceptable. (When it comes to genuine safety, anything close to that principle is absent from other aspects of American life where -- from eating to driving, to drinking, to working -- genuine danger exists and genuine damage is regularly done.)
We now live not just with all the usual fears that life has to offer, but in something like a United States of Fear.
So think of it as an irony that, when George W. Bush and his cronies decided to sally forth and smite the Greater Middle East, they exulted that they were finally “taking the gloves off.” And so they were: aggressive war, torture, abuse, secret imprisonment, souped-up surveillance, slaughter, drone wars, there was no end to it. When those gloves came off, other people suffered first. But wasn’t it predictable -- since unsuccessful wars have a nasty habit of coming home -- that, in the end, other things would come off, and sooner or later they would be on you: your hat, your shoes, your belt, your clothes, and of course, your job, your world?
And don’t for a second think that it’s going to end here. What happens when the first terrorist with a suppository bomb is found aboard one of our planes? After all, such weapons already exist. In the meantime, the imposition of more draconian safety and security methods is, of course, being considered for buses, trains, and boats. Can trucks, taxis, cars, and bikes be far behind? After all, once begun, there can, by definition, be no end to the search for perfect security.
You Wanna Be Safer? Really?
You must have a friend who’s extremely critical of everyone else but utterly opaque when it comes to himself. Well, that’s this country, too.
Here’s a singular fact to absorb: we now know that a bunch of Yemeni al-Qaeda adherents have a far better hit on just who we are, psychologically speaking, and what makes us tick than we do. Imagine that. They have a more accurate profile of us than our leading intelligence profilers undoubtedly do of them.
Recently, they released an online magazine laying out just how much the two U.S.-bound cargo-bay bombs that caused panic cost them: a mere $4,200 and the efforts of “less than six brothers” over three months. They even gave their plot a name, Operation Hemorrhage (and what they imagined hemorrhaging, it seems, was not American blood, but treasure).
Now, they're laughing at us for claiming the operation failed because -- thanks reportedly to a tip from Saudi intelligence -- those bombs didn’t go off. “This supposedly ‘foiled plot,’” they wrote, “will without a doubt cost America and other Western countries billions of dollars in new security measures. That is what we call leverage.”
They are, they claim, planning to use the"security phobia that is sweeping America” not to cause major casualties, but to blow a hole in the U.S. economy. "We knew that cargo planes are staffed by only a pilot and a co-pilot, so our objective was not to cause maximum casualties but to cause maximum losses to the American economy" via the multi-billion-dollar U.S. freight industry.
This is a new definition of asymmetrical warfare. The terrorists never have to strike an actual target. It’s not even incumbent upon them to build a bomb that works. Just about anything will do. To be successful, they just have to repeatedly send things in our direction, inciting the expectable Pavlovian reaction from the U.S. national security state, causing it to further tighten its grip (grope?) at yet greater taxpayer expense.
In a sense, both the American national security state and al-Qaeda are building their strength and prestige as our lives grow more constrained and our treasure vanishes.
So you wanna be safer? I mean, actually safer? Here’s a simple formula for beginning to improve American safety and security at every level. End our trillion dollar wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; set our military to defending our own borders (and no, projecting power abroad does not normally qualify as a defense of the United States); begin to shut down our global empire of bases; stop building grotesque embassy-citadels abroad (one even has a decorative moat, for god’s sake!); end our overseas war stimulus packages and bring some of that money home. In short, stop going out of our way to tick off foreigners and then pouring our treasure into an American war machine intent on pursuing a generational global war against them.
Of course, the U.S. national security state has quite a different formula for engendering safety in America: fight the Afghan War until hell freezes over; keep the odd base or two in Iraq; dig into the Persian Gulf region; send U.S. Special Operations troops into any country where a terrorist might possibly lurk; and make sure the drones aren’t far behind. In other words, reinforce our war state by ensuring that we’re eternally in a state of war, and then scare the hell out of Americans by repeatedly insisting that we’re in imminent danger, that shoe, underwear, and someday butt bombers will destroy our country, our lives, and our civilization. Insist that a single percent of risk is 1% too much when it comes to terror and American lives, and then demand that those who feel otherwise be dealt with punitively, if they won’t shut up.
It’s a formula for leaving you naked in airports, while increasing the oppressive power of the state. And here’s the dirty, little, distinctly Orwellian secret: the national security state can’t do without those Yemeni terrorists (and vice versa), as well as our homegrown variety. All of them profit from a world of war. You don’t -- and on that score, what happens in an airport line should be the least of your worries.
The national security state is eager to cop a feel. As long as Americans don’t grasp the connections between our war state and our “safety,” things will only get worse and, in the end, our world will genuinely be in danger.
Posted on: Tuesday, November 30, 2010 - 12:53
SOURCE: NYRB (12-9-10)
The weather cooperated with Glenn Beck on the August morning of his “Restoring Honor” rally. Or maybe it was a higher force. The skies were clear, it was hot but not Washington unbearable, and the crowd, prepared with lounge chairs and water bottles, was serene. He had also banned signs from the event so that he and his fans would not be easy targets for photojournalists, which was a canny way to introduce a kinder, gentler Beck.
He had been a busy man, publishing in June his dystopian thriller, The Overton Window, which has been selling briskly. In July he founded Beck University, a noncredit online education program that offers potted lectures on religion, American history, and economics. In August he was busy setting up his own Huffington Post–style website, called The Blaze. And now here he was, standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, looking out on a crowd of about 87,000 followers who had traversed the country in self-organized bus caravans just to listen to him. He did not rant, he did not rave. He did not, as I recall, mention Barack Obama or call anyone a “socialist” or even a “progressive.” Instead he talked about God and family, about repenting from our sins (including his own), about expressing hope rather than hate, serving others and our country, and tithing to our churches. He prayed, the clergy standing with him prayed, and his followers prayed, arms upraised, waving gently to the beat of some inner hymn.
Beck is the most gifted demagogue America has produced since Father Coughlin made his populist broadcasts during the Great Depression. In the course of one radio or television show he can transform himself from conspiracy nut and character assassin into bawling, repentant screw-up, then back to gold-hoarding Jeremiah, and finally to man of God, without ever falling out of character. Which is the real Glenn Beck? His detractors assume that his basest, most despicable moments reflect his core, and that the rest is acting and cynical manipulation....
...[A]s if to remind us of our national wrongs, he surrounded himself on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial with an enormous poster of a Native American warrior, another of Frederick Douglass, and one of what seemed to be a Mormon pioneer family heading west in its covered wagon. He also projected a video montage of images from the civil rights movement, invoking Martin Luther King Jr. whenever possible, and stressing, correctly, that King was a minister standing up for divinely bestowed human rights, not a secular activist. It was political theater of the highest order. And it was fresh. It’s impossible to imagine Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson or James Dobson sharing the stage with Frederick Douglass.
Beck skipped over the next part of his pitch, which he recounts in hair-raising language on his daily shows, and which his listeners know by heart—how, around the beginning of the twentieth century, power-hungry elites convinced “ordinary” Americans to abandon the Founders’ principles in the name of progressivism, eroding our rights in a steady process that has culminated in Barack Obama’s socialism. This loopy story would have ruined the atmosphere Beck was trying to create. Instead, he placed some blame on ordinary Americans themselves, who, he said, have grown spoiled and indifferent to their own liberty....
Abandoning the grab-it-all gospel preached by the Republican Party since the Reagan years, Beck chastises Americans for becoming a people who have forgotten that “capitalism isn’t about money, it’s about freedom.” In his sermon at the Kennedy Center, he proclaimed that America doesn’t need “change we can believe in,” it needs to be restored to its original principles. But that can only happen if individual Americans recover their private virtues and again place God, however they conceive Him, at the center of their lives. His congregation went wild....
Posted on: Tuesday, November 30, 2010 - 12:03
SOURCE: Vancouver Sun (11-27-10)
In the weeks since the Maclean's article ' Too Asian'? was published, there have been a lot of opinions expressed. As a historian, I would like to point out some problems of just having an opinion without understanding what has led to some of the emotional reactions to the article, especially among those who have grown up in Canada.
The problem was not just the simplistic racial profiling which served as the inflammatory lead. More disturbing to many was that in a seasoned newsroom at Canada's self-proclaimed only national news magazine, no one had the good sense to ponder whether publishing an article designed to incite racial profiling of Asians was a good idea. Judging by the continued insistence on the part of Maclean's that their story was good journalism and that they have nothing for which they need to apologize, their editors and publishers remain unclear about just what they did wrong.
So what is going on? These are not unintelligent people. The problem is that there are so few people in their newsroom (and indeed among many of our English-language daily newsrooms) who might through personal experience understand what it is like to grow up Asian-Canadian, and indeed to be a visible minority or an indigenous person in Canada. Like the misguided student quoted at length who kept insisting that she was "not a racist" even while expressing racist opinions, those people who have spent their lives enjoying the privilege of not having to think about their race often do not understand why non-whites are so "sensitive." It is one of the signal benefits of our racial hierarchy that being white is the norm and everyone else has to deal with being Asian, or native, or black. What an amazing privilege indeed to just be able to live....
Posted on: Monday, November 29, 2010 - 14:18
SOURCE: Boston Globe (11-28-10)
Worry about information overload has become one of the drumbeats of our time. The world’s books are being digitized, online magazines and newspapers and academic papers are steadily augmented by an endless stream of blog posts and Twitter feeds; and the gadgets to keep us participating in the digital deluge are more numerous and sophisticated. The total amount of information created on the world’s electronic devices is expected to surpass the zettabyte mark this year (a barely conceivable 1 with 21 zeroes after it).
Many feel the situation has reached crisis proportions. In the academic world, critics have begun to argue that universities are producing and distributing more knowledge than we can actually use. In the recent best-selling book “The Shallows,” Nicholas Carr worries that the flood of digital information is changing not only our habits, but even our mental capacities: Forced to scan and skim to keep up, we are losing our abilities to pay sustained attention, reflect deeply, or remember what we’ve learned.
Beneath all this concern lies the sense that humanity is experiencing an unprecedented change — that modern technology is creating a problem that our culture and even our brains are ill equipped to handle. We stand on the brink of a future that no one can ever have experienced before.
But is it really so novel? Human history is a long process of accumulating information, especially once writing made it possible to record texts and preserve them beyond the capacity of our memories. And if we look closely, we can find a striking parallel to our own time: what Western Europe experienced in the wake of Gutenberg’s invention of printing in the 15th century, when thousands upon thousands of books began flooding the market, generating millions of copies for sale. The literate classes experienced exactly the kind of overload we feel today — suddenly, there were far more books than any single person could master, and no end in sight. Scholars, at first delighted with the new access to information, began to despair. “Is there anywhere on earth exempt from these swarms of new books?” asked Erasmus, the great humanist of the early 16th century....
Posted on: Monday, November 29, 2010 - 14:14
SOURCE: CNN.com (11-29-10)
Princeton, New Jersey (CNN) -- A new restored version of "Modern Times," one of the greatest films in the Hollywood canon, has recently been released.
The film, which came out in 1936, vividly captured the anxieties that gripped industrial workers at the height of the Great Depression. Unfortunately, the comedy works as well today as it did over seventy years ago, another sign that all is not well with our economy....
"Modern Times" seems all too familiar for many Americans who are living through an economic nightmare in 2010. Although working conditions for many Americans have vastly improved since the 1930s and citizens can count on certain basic provisions upon their retirement, current economic conditions have created the same kind of despair captured by Chaplin in this film.
Other than the upper-income Americans who are enjoying the fruits of a rebounding stock market, most are struggling to survive with an unemployment rate hovering at 9.5 percent (and an underemployment rate, which includes the unemployed and those working part-time seeking full-time work, that is over 19 percent).
They are fearful about keeping their jobs if they have one, obtaining jobs if they don't, being able to pay for their family's needs, saving for retirement, and facing local and state governments cutbacks in essential services such as school programs.
Yet politicians are not dealing with this crisis and the private sector has not offered solutions....
Posted on: Monday, November 29, 2010 - 14:13
SOURCE: Salon (11-28-10)
...To most people today, Coolidge is little more than a cartoon. If he’s remembered at all, he’s the grim-faced "Silent Cal," the man said by Theodore Roosevelt’s daughter Alice to have looked as though he had been weaned on a pickle. His taciturn style provoked no end of jokes and anecdotes. One hostess, aware of the president’s laconic reputation, was said to beseech him at an event, "I made a bet today that I could get more than two words out of you." Not missing a beat, Coolidge replied, "You lose."
There’s no evidence in "America by Heart" to suggest that Palin has dug much beyond this familiar lore about Coolidge. It’s hard to believe that she’s well-versed in the achievements of his presidency, whether the Dawes Plan to aid a debt-ridden Europe or the unprecedented mobilization of federal resources to deliver relief to victims of the 1927 Mississippi flood. She may not know the finer points of his economic policies. Coolidge seems to appeal to her, rather, because of his talent for evoking the values of a small-town America that was disappearing even during his presidency. Three times she cites his speech on the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence ("I highly recommend it," she burbles) in which he swears by the timelessness of the ideals of equality and popular sovereignty that it uncontroversially avows.
Yet Palin’s name-checking of our 30th president is less corny than it seems. For decades, since the arrival in power with Ronald Reagan of so-called movement conservatives, Coolidge has been a patron saint to the right — a symbol of patriotism and piety, of hard work and thrift, and not least of low taxes and minimal government. When Reagan moved into the White House in 1981, he removed the portraits of Thomas Jefferson and Harry Truman in the Cabinet Room and put up those of Dwight Eisenhower and Coolidge instead....
Posted on: Monday, November 29, 2010 - 14:07
SOURCE: The New Republic (11-25-10)
John Judis has always been a shrewd reader of election returns. In “You’ve Got Them All Wrong, Mr. President,” his deconstruction of “independent” voters makes clear how meaningless it is for President Obama or anyone else to credit such a huge clump of undifferentiated leaners with the power to decide who runs Congress or gets to sit in the Oval Office. As Judis shows, the only true independents are white working-class men and women (actually, more the latter than the former) who “are susceptible to populist appeals” against “special interests” that “can include business as well as government.”
But, like many a political reporter, Judis focuses more on the messages politicians send out than on the factors that determine how these messages are received. His observations could use a bit less rhetoric and a bit more sociology. Specifically, he neglects one of the main reasons white Americans who lack a college education and make only a modest income now tilt toward Republicans and their right-wing populist talk: Few belong to an institution that counters those opinions....
Posted on: Friday, November 26, 2010 - 20:23
SOURCE: NYT (11-24-10)
The skirmish between North and South Korea over Yeonpyeong, an island in the disputed zone between the two sides, has brought new danger to a standoff that has been escalating for more than two years.
It happened just two days after North Korea revealed a sophisticated uranium enrichment program to three American visitors from Stanford University, and in the midst of its leadership transition from Kim Jong Il to his son, Kim Jong Un.
How can the international community respond in a way that will deter North Korea without pushing the situation into all-out war? None of the options is particularly attractive: Strong sanctions and displays of force have already been tried, and failed to stop the latest attack. Military retaliation could easily escalate into war involving the Koreas, the United States and possibly China, with devastating consequences....
Posted on: Friday, November 26, 2010 - 19:46
SOURCE: Al Jazeera (11-25-10)
If you don't have a child between 7 and 13 years old, you're probably furrowing your brow right now, wondering what the word "pone" could possibly mean.
It hasn't made it into respectable dictionaries yet; but it's taken over the elementary schoolyards and playgrounds where I live. And there's no better word to describe how well Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has played the Obama administration.
According to urban lore, "pone" was coined by young fans of the boy band the Jonas Brothers (who recently rocked Abu Dhabi in what was surely one of the stranger concerts in human history). In reality, the term comes from a common misspelling of the word "owned" as "pwned" in text and chat messages. It roughly translates into adult-speak as being completely "owning" by an opponent in a sport or game, to the point of humiliation. ("You got totally poned, dude," is a common refrain around my house after a particularly one-sided basketball).
Considering the President's well known skills on the hardwood, it's doubtful Netanyahu could 'pone' Obama in a game of one-on-one basketball. But on the field of diplomacy the Israeli continues to school his American opponent - and have no doubt about it, the US and Israel might be close "allies," but Obama is being treated as little better than an opponent to be vanquished rather than a patron to be respected....
Posted on: Friday, November 26, 2010 - 19:43
SOURCE: Columbus Dispatch (11-26-10)
There may not be a silver lining in every dark cloud, but it often seems that way in American politics. The outgoing 111th Congress, which a majority of American voters has judged to be one dark storm cloud, leaves behind it at least one silver lining: As a result of its actions, a serious political conversation began.
Alarmed by the sudden expansion of government into areas of their lives they did not imagine it could or would go — the health care and automotive industries, for example — many Americans took up the serious discussion of their republic and its constitutional principles.
They are now asking serious questions of their representatives. From what source does the federal government derive the sweeping authority it now claims? How do we determine the appropriate balance between government power and liberty? In times of political ferment, these problems merit reflection from all points on the political spectrum....
Posted on: Friday, November 26, 2010 - 19:42
SOURCE: NYT (11-25-10)
WHILE it is cowardly and foolish not to resist an act of aggression, the best way to deal with a provocation is to ignore it — or so we are taught. By refusing to be provoked, one frustrates and therefore “beats” the provoker; generations of bullied children have been consoled with this logic. And so it is that the South Korean and American governments usually refer to North Korea’s acts of aggression as “provocations.”
The North’s artillery attack on a populated South Korean island is now getting the same treatment, with the South’s president, Lee Myung-bak, vowing that Pyongyang will be “held responsible” and that “additional provocative acts” will be punished “several times over.”
There is no reason that North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jong-il, should take those words seriously. Mr. Lee made similar noises in March, when the North was accused of killing 46 South Korean sailors by torpedoing a naval vessel, the Cheonan, and what was the result? A pacifist South Korean electorate punished Mr. Lee’s party in regional elections, and the attack faded from the headlines....
Posted on: Friday, November 26, 2010 - 19:39
SOURCE: Truthout (11-24-10)
<em>An excerpt from <a target="_blank" href="http://www.gazaincrisis.org/">Gaza in Crisis: Reflections on Israel’s War Against the Palestinians</a>, by Noam Chomsky and Ilan Pappé, edited by Frank Barat</em>
The demise of the Oslo Accord at the very beginning of the twenty-first century gave special impetus to the old/new idea of a one-state solution. It seems to be with us again and the interest in it grows by the day. And yet it does not appear as an item on the agenda of any actor of significance on the Palestine chessboard. Neither major powers nor small political factions endorse it as a vision or strategy, let alone as a tactic for the future. Its attractiveness, however, is undeniable given the failure of the alternative solutions.
A Troubled History
The one-state solution has a troubled history. It began as a soft Zionist concept of Jewish settlers, some of whom were leading intellectuals in their community, who wished to reconcile colonialism and humanism. They were looking for a way that would not require the settlers either to return to their homelands or to give up the idea of a new Jewish life in the "redeemed" ancient homeland. They were also moved by more practical considerations, such as the relatively small number of Jewish settlers within a solid Palestinian majority. They offered binationalism within one modern state. They found some Palestinian partners when the settlers arrived in the 1920s, but were soon manipulated by the Zionist leadership to serve that movement's strategy and then disappeared into the margins of history. In the 1930s, notable members among them, such as Yehuda Magnes, were appointed as emissaries by the Zionist leadership for talks with the Arab Higher Committee. Magnes and his colleagues genuinely believed, then and in retrospect, that they served as harbingers of peace, but, in fact, they were sent to gauge the impulses and aspirations on the other side, so as to defeat it in due course. They existed in one form or another until the end of the Mandate. Their only potential ally, the Palestine Communist Party, for a while endorsed their idea of binationalism, but in the crucial final years of the Mandate, adopted the principle of partition as the only solution (admittedly due to orders from Moscow, rather than out of a natural growth of its ideology). So by 1947, there was no significant support for the idea on either the Zionist or Palestinian side. Moreover, it seems that there was no genuine desire locally or regionally to look for a local solution and it was left to the international community to propose one....
Posted on: Wednesday, November 24, 2010 - 18:47
SOURCE: LA Times (11-24-10)
And today, while people don't deliberately add the poison to their diet, we still encounter arsenic in our daily lives. It is still used as a pesticide. And we still eat it with our food, especially during holidays like Thanksgiving that make poultry a centerpiece of the celebration.
Most commercial-grade poultry feed today contains an arsenic-based pesticide. Like the Victorians, farmers use the poison because of its ability to improve appearances — in this case because arsenic's potent effect on blood vessels makes the chicken and turkey we buy look pinker and therefore fresher....
Posted on: Wednesday, November 24, 2010 - 18:11
SOURCE: I.H.T. (11-24-10)
SEOUL — Last week, Siegfried Hecker, a former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory was invited to visit the North Korean nuclear research center in Yongbyon. He was shown a uranium enrichment plant whose sophistication and likely output is well in excess of what most experts suspected about the North Korean uranium program. Then on Tuesday, North Korean artillery shelled a South Korean island, inflicting heavy damage.
The world is likely to say that the North Koreans are again acting “irrationally.” But this is not the case — they are a very rational regime, actually the world’s most Machiavellian.
North Korean leaders are sending a message. For the last two years, both Washington and Seoul have tried to ignore them, so now they use both artillery and centrifuges to say: “We are here, we are dangerous, and we cannot be ignored. We can make a lot of trouble, but also we behave reasonably if rewarded generously enough.”...
Posted on: Wednesday, November 24, 2010 - 17:23
SOURCE: The End is Coming (Blog) (11-23-10)
[Jonathan Tremblay is a historian and a Breaking News Editor for the History News Network.]
The Church of England lost fifty priests and as many as 600 of its faithful this week. These priests turned their backs on Canterbury and York and returned to the papacy in Rome. After centuries of schism between the Protestant Church of England and the Roman Catholic seat of power, these priests defected to the Vatican for one very simple reason, because the Church of England has accepted to ordain women as priests and now even as bishops.
This had me thinking on a topic that I never necessarily took a second to analyse. The Catholic Church upholds institutionalized discrimination towards women…in 2010. I wanted to know since when. I needed to know why.
Beginning in antiquity, women priestesses were mostly a novelty as the Greek and Roman worlds boasted about the inferiority of these “defective males”. Furthermore, although women held the highest sacred offices in ancient Egypt, it was still in a role of subservience as wives to Amun. The Middle East was no different with rare priestesses here and there; it was generally accepted in the ancient world that only men could dispense godly orders and favour.
In the first few centuries AD however, the Catholic faith gained momentum and shows many examples of women representatives. We even have actual epigraphic evidence showing women receiving the sacrament of Holy Orders (becoming clerics) up until the ninth century.
It is in the medieval period that theological interpretation established many of the unchangeable tenants of Catholic doctrine. Called “theological discrimination” and “Catholic misogyny” by women groups fighting for the right to represent God, the popes of Rome decided that not only were women not allowed to serve as priests, having them do so would be sacrilege of the most grievous nature.
The Vatican proposes that Jesus was a man, his apostles were all men, that a woman committed original sin and that females remain a sex of bothersome seduction. Furthermore, the Vatican holds firm that women would soil the holy functions with their monthly menstruations (seriously, women were not allowed in Catholic churches while menstruating up until the XXth century). Women’s groups such as womenpriests.org and Roman Catholic Womanpriests propose that Jesus never excluded women from his work and saw both men and women as being created in God’s image and thus worthy of Holy Orders. The Roman Catholic Womanpriests intensified their critique of Rome this year following an official Vatican decree that the ordination of women into the Church is one of the most serious crimes against the Church (same category as child abuse) and that women receiving Holy Orders, the cleric giving them Holy Orders and all those in attendance of such a ceremony are automatically excommunicated from the Catholic Church. The Womanpriests go above religion, and I completely agree, that it is “unjust and discriminatory that the males at the Vatican continue to deny us employment and decision-making within the Roman Catholic Church. This behavior is in violation of international law, our human rights, the example of Jesus and the integrity of conscience.” To conclude this discussion part with my own rebuttal, when the Vatican uses their preferred justification that Jesus was male and therefore only males can be priests, shouldn’t all priests also be Middle-Eastern, right-handed and relatively young like Jesus? Why focus on his sex when thousands of priests are black or white, two distinctive physical traits that the Messiah did not have (along with X-X chromosomes).
More progressive or more fair?
As for more recent developments and the Church of England defection, there were two very different administrations that led to this. In the Roman Catholic Church, unchanging
doctrine is actually often changing. There have been over 60 officially supported and papally-endorsed doctrines that no longer constitute Canon law. For instance, John Paul II eliminated the concept of Limbo from the faith but more terrifyingly, slavery was supported by the Vatican just until the last century when Pope Pius IX suggested that it may not be the most ethical part of the Doctrine. Womenpriests.org says it is their duty to stand up to the Church and even the pope when they know in their hearts that what they are doing is fundamentally wrong, just as a few refractory priests did in the 1800s against pro-slavery popes. Thus, Pope Benedict XVI strongly believes that Jesus said “no women priests” when choosing 12 male apostles and thus we will not get any change from Rome, at least not until the next administration. In the Church of England however, an actual committee was put in place in the early 2000 to study what Scripture says about the ordination of women. As a result, they found the Bible vague enough to allow progress and gave the right to women to become priests and now even Bishops.
After a few hours of reading, one thing is clear, or unclear, it is that the Bible does not explicitly exclude women from serving and thus the main question that has not been answered is: is the exclusion of women from becoming priests in the Catholic Church persistent and institutionalized discrimination or strict adherence to theological principles. My money is on a bit of both with a heavy lean towards the first part. The fifty priests that left England did so for one reason: to continue this policy of discrimination (against, it must be said, a sex half of the world population).
In conclusion, it has been said time and again that religions are the last to modernize but it cannot be an excuse for discrimination, prejudice and going against the Universal Declaration of Human Rights we proudly drafted up and signed in 1948 (the Vatican did not sign it). St. Peter’s has access to phones, fax machines, e-mail, a popemobile and I am pretty sure a wifi network; modernizing technology seems easy enough for the Faith but updating policy almost seems impossible because of intransigent sticking to century-old traditions that may or may not have been divinely endorsed. In the end, it comes as no surprise to me that the Catholic Church discriminates against women in what is basically their hiring policy because, like Iran, this nation state is a theocracy that does not give the right to vote to women yet. That being said, Iran is liberalizing its institutions to include women every year… It is 2010 and the Churches of Christianity have to get with the program, especially in respect to gender equality.
Posted on: Tuesday, November 23, 2010 - 19:19
SOURCE: NYRB (11-23-10)
Google represents the ultimate in business plans. By controlling access to information, it has made billions, which it is now investing in the control of the information itself. What began as Google Book Search is therefore becoming the largest library and book business in the world. Like all commercial enterprises, Google’s primary responsibility is to make money for its shareholders. Libraries exist to get books to readers—books and other forms of knowledge and entertainment, provided for free. The fundamental incompatibility of purpose between libraries and Google Book Search could be mitigated if Google were willing to contribute some of its data and expertise to the creation of a Digital Public Library of America (DPLA).
Google has demonstrated the possibility of transforming the intellectual riches of our libraries, books lying inert and underused on shelves, into an electronic database that could be tapped by anyone anywhere at any time. Why not adapt its formula for success to the public good—a digital library composed of virtually all the books in our greatest research libraries available free of charge to the entire citizenry, in fact, to everyone in the world?
To dismiss this goal as naive or utopian would be to ignore digital projects that have proven their worth and feasibility throughout the last twenty years. All major research libraries have digitized parts of their collections. Since 1995 the Digital Library Federation has worked to combine their catalogues or “metadata” into a general network. More ambitious enterprises such as the Internet Archive, Knowledge Commons, and Public.Resource.Org have attempted digitization on a larger scale. They may be dwarfed by Google, but several countries are now determined to out-Google Google by scanning the entire contents of their national libraries....
Posted on: Tuesday, November 23, 2010 - 16:18
SOURCE: ActiveHistory.ca (11-19-10)
Talking about race in Canada is a lot like talking about sex in the old days. There is so much imposed silence on the subject. We skip around it, pretend that it is not there, and pray that it will go away.
Those who break the silence are often chastised, labelled as “racist” (“pervert”!), or hastily dismissed. Others who tout half-truths indulge in self-congratulatory glory. Because heaven forbid, we insist, only Americans do “it.”
None of this has ever prevented people from being cognizant of the centrality of race and ethnicity to Canadian life, given the history of immigration and indigenous peoples in this country. From time to time, we rehash age-old biases and re-ignite familiar debates about the dilemmas of diversity and integration. Nevertheless, the cycle of silence, missteps, and occasional foreshortened discussion has done little justice to a complex and longstanding issue in multicultural Canada.
It is undeniable that some opinions about race are outright racist. But many others are just misconceptions and deserve serious attention. Yet, by failing to confront them in a sustained manner, we may be left without tools to understand difference and thus find ourselves in the same situation every few years. We are in danger of becoming so ignorant that we risk damaging the very foundations of tolerance, an ideal in which Canadians take enormous pride....
Posted on: Tuesday, November 23, 2010 - 13:57