Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Can't finish writing about my trip to Salt Lake City without putting in plug for the website of artist Kate Birch, who does paintings featuring floral motifs. We saw her and the family in Salt Lake, proud to be able to say she's my cousin. Her daughter Morgan is also a talented young artist, although she doesn't seem to have her own website--yet. Don't know which side of the family the talent comes from--hope some of it, at least, is in my line...

The Dinesh D'Souza Controversy

Dinesh D'Souza certainly knows how to sell books...

A few years ago, when I was between jobs, I almost got a job working for him as a research assistant at AEI. I wasn't hired, and a short time later he left AEI for the Hoover Institution. I don't know him that well, but he's a bright guy and a persuasive writer--which might be why his new book has gotten everyone into such a snit. I was struck by his comment to me that he came to America to study, rather than Britain, because as an Indian he felt that British racism and historical colonialist attitudes would never permit him to be recognized as British, while America offered an opportunity to become accepted as an American in his adopted country. For those who accuse D'Souza of anti-Americanism, I can only answer, "he voted with his feet."

However, his analysis appears to be both provocative in its stress on the importance of culture, while simultaneously pointing out an apparent marriage of convenience between the American left and Osama Bin Laden. Where he errs, I believe, is in his view that a conservative, Christian America would be any less offensive to Dar-al-Islam than a liberal, Secular America. As Christopher Hitchens has pointed out, there can be no compromise with Islamist extremists, it doesn't matter what Americans do, the enemy must be decisively defeated--their goal is our destruction.

Nevertheless, the debate he has sparked may prove interesting.

In The Enemy at Home D'Souza arguest that America's cultural left is responsible for the attacks of 9/11. Here's an excerpt from the introduction on his website:
Thus we have the first way in which the cultural left is responsible for 9/11. The left has produced a moral shift in American society that has resulted in a deluge of gross depravity and immorality. This deluge threatens to engulf our society and is imposing itself on the rest of the world. The Islamic radicals are now convinced that America represents the revival of pagan barbarism in the world, and 9/11 represents their ongoing battle with what they perceive to be the forces of Satan.

I have focused so far on American cultural depravity and its global impact. But there is a second way in which the cultural left has helped to produce 9/11. In the domain of foreign policy, the left has helped to produce the conditions that led to the destruction of the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. First, under Jimmy Carter, the liberals helped to get rid of the Shah of Iran and thus install the Khomeini regime in Iran. The pretext was the Shah’s human rights failings, but the result was the abdication of the Shah and the triumph of Khomeini. The Khomeini revolution, which has proved the viability of Islamic theocracy in the modern age, was the match that has lit the conflagration of radicalism and fundamentalism throughout the Muslim world. It is Khomeini’s success that paved the road to 9/11.

During the Clinton administration, liberal foreign policy conveyed to Bin Laden and his co-conspirators a strong impression of American vacillation, weakness, and even cowardice. When Al Qaeda attacked and killed a handful of Marines in Mogadishu in 1993, the Clinton administration withdrew American troops from that country. When Al Qaeda orchestrated the bombings of the American embassies in East Africa in 1998 and the attack on the U.S.S. Cole in 2000, President Clinton responded with a handful of desultory counterstrikes that did little harm to Al Qaeda. These American actions, Bin Laden has confessed, emboldened him to strike directly at America on September 11, 2001.

Now that America is fighting back, seeking to uproot the terrorists and transform the political landscape in the Middle East, the left is fighting hard to prevent that campaign from succeeding. It does so not simply by resisting at every stage whatever actions are proposed and implemented to win the war, but, just as importantly, it unceasingly fuels the hatred of American foreign policy among Muslims. It is a common belief among Muslims, for example, that the main reason America consistently sides with Israel is that Americans hate Muslims. A Muslim lawyer I interviewed in Tunis puts the matter this way. “I keep hearing,” he says, “that countries base their foreign policy on self-interest. The self-interest of America is in obtaining access to oil, and we are the ones who have all the oil. The Israelis don’t have any oil. So why is America always on the side of Israel and against the Muslims? Please don’t tell me it’s because Israel is America’s only friend in the Middle East. After all, Israel is one of the main reasons why so many Muslims are America’s enemy. So I am forced to conclude that there is only one reason why America acts against it self-interest and backs Israel against the Muslims. The reason is that Americans hate Arabs. America is violently opposed to Islam. So the Christians are making allies with the Jews to get rid of Islam.”

This is a relatively articulate expression of one of the central themes of fundamentalist propaganda. This is the argument that America is a bigoted nation that wants to take over Muslim countries and steal their oil. In reality this claim is absurd. Americans do not hate Muslims, and America does not want to occupy the Muslim world or seize its natural resources. America supports Israel for complex reasons of history, common ideology, and the domestic political influence of Jewish Americans. So this Islamic perception of American foreign policy is utterly wrong. But it is routinely confirmed by the American left. The writings of leading leftists affirm that yes, America is a racist power that wants to conquer and plunder non-Western peoples. Anne Norton writes that anti-Muslim bigotry is now “the unacknowledged cornerstone of American foreign policy.”[xxxiii] Legal scholar Mari Matsuda insists that “the history of hating Arabs as a race runs strong in the United States” where Arabs are “reviled even more than blacks.”[xxxiv] Rashid Khalidi contends that America’s actions are based on “wildly inaccurate and often racist stereotypes about Arabs, Islam, and the Middle East.”[xxxv] Writing in the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram, Edward Said claims that “for decades in America there has been a cultural war against the Arabs and Islam” and that Americas Middle East policy is based on blind hatred for stereotypical “sheikhs and camel jockeys.”[xxxvi] By confirming Muslims in their worst prejudices, the American left has strengthened their conviction that America is evil and deserves to be destroyed.

To repeat—because this a point on which I do not wish to be misunderstood—I am in no sense suggesting that the left is disloyal to America. To say this is to confuse the success of the Bush administration, or even of American foreign policy, with the interest of the country as a whole. As we saw earlier with Senator Byrd, the left has its own view of what’s good for America, and it is fiercely loyal to that ideal. So disloyalty is not the issue. The issue is why the left is so passive, reluctant, and even oppositional in its stance in the American war on terrorism. My answer is that the cultural left opposes the war against the radical Muslims because it wants them to succeed in defeating President Bush in particular and American foreign policy in general. Far from seeking to destroy the movement that Bin Laden and the Islamic radicals represent, the amazing fact is that the American left is secretly allied with that movement to undermine the Bush administration and American foreign policy. The left would like nothing better than to see America in general, and President Bush in particular, forced out of Iraq. Although such an outcome would plunge Iraq into further chaos and represent a catastrophic loss for American foreign policy, it would represent a huge win for the cultural left, in fact the left’s greatest foreign policy victory since the Vietnam War.

The notion that the American left seeks victory for Islamic radicals in Iraq may at first glance seem implausible. One person who does not think so, however, is Bin Laden. In his October 30, 2004 videotaped message, apparently timed to precede the presidential election, Bin Laden drew liberally from themes in Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 911 to condemn the Bush administration. Bin Laden denounced Bush for election-rigging in Florida, for going to war to enrich oil companies and defense contracts like Halliburton, for curtailing civil liberties under the Patriot Act, and for reading stories to school-children while the World Trade Center burned.[xxxvii] Apart from the rhetorical flourishes of “Praise be to Allah,” Bin Laden sounds exactly like Michael Moore. And why not? In opposing President Bush and American foreign policy, they are both on the same side.
I may not personally agree with everything Dinesh has to say, but I'll defend his right to say it. He deserves a high-minded point-by-point response from his opponents, rather than the crude attacks that have been levelled at him. If you want to decide for yourself, you can buy the book from here:

Leon Aron on Glasnost at 20

From AEI's Russian Outlook:
On January 27, 1987, at the end of the first working day of the Central Committee meeting, the general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), Mikhail Gorbachev, strode to the podium and declared that the people should be given an opportunity to have “their say on any subject of the society’s life.”[1] From then on, he avowed, the “outside-criticism zones” of Soviet life were a thing of the past. “People must know the whole truth,” Gorbachev told the startled functionaries of the one-party dictatorship, which for seventy years had maintained total control of mass media, employing deafening and unchallenged propaganda, censorship, and terror to suppress the emergence and dissemination of independent thought. “As never before,” Gorbachev continued, “we need the Party and the people to know everything. [We need] [m]ore light!”[2]

To describe this new policy, Gorbachev used the nineteenth-century word “glasnost.” Derived from the old Russian word glas (voice), it had come to mean the ability to voice one’s concerns openly. Along with perestroika (reconstruction), it would soon enter all the major languages as a label for the mammoth transformation of the Soviet Union that was underway.

There were many perfectly valid tactical explanations for introducing glasnost. One of them was to avoid the fate of the previous reformist Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev (1954-64), who was overthrown by the party establishment. By quickly giving people a stake in the liberalization, Gorbachev dramatically expanded the political base of the reforms. The ploy succeeded brilliantly and made Gorbachev invulnerable to the party conservatives. Yet from its beginning as a tactic in the service of a reform, glasnost quickly evolved into the primary engine of a revolution that destroyed the political and economic systems--as well as the very state--that Gorbachev had intended to modify.

Judy, Judy, Judy...

Most interesting of all was today's Times story about Judith Miller's testimony at the trial of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby. The reporters and editors seemed confused--because they can't discredit Miller and Libby at the same time! If Miller is telling the truth, then Libby is guilty. And if she's not, then Libby may walk.

My view is colored by the fact that Judith Miller reported on my activities during last century's controversy over the National Endowment for the Arts. I found her to be among the most honest reporters around--fair, objective, factual, and straightforward. I also loved her book, GOD HAS NINETY NINE NAMES : Reporting from a Militant Middle East, a sober report on Islamist extremism--that was denounced by Edward Said when it came out. Said, btw, engaged in some of Professor Rosenfeld's "Progressive Anti-Semitism" when he denounced Miller for being a Jew in the pages of The Nation.

Anyhow, Miller's testimony appears central to the Libby case. Whichever way things turn out, Miller clearly has some material for another best-selling book...Meanwhile, you can buy God Has 99 Names from Amazon here:

Byzantine Podcasts a Big Hit

Another interesting story in today's Times featured Lars Brownworth, a history teacher at Stony Brook School who has some 140,000 subscribers to his series of lectures on the Byzantine Empire. You can download them from iTunes via his website.

"Progressive" Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism

For a change, The New York Times published some interesting stories in today's paper. For example, this article about Indiana University Professor Alvin Rosenfeld's controversial study criticizing witers like Tony Kushner and Tony Judt (maybe they are trying to atone for the Magazine's publication of James Traub's attack on the Anti-Defamation League). The account was a little vague, and I thought some people might want to read the original--so so here's a link to the PDF download.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Bernard Lewis: Europe Has Surrendered

From the Jerusalem Post (ht LGF):
"Europeans are losing their own loyalties and their own self-confidence," he said. "They have no respect for their own culture." Europeans had "surrendered" on every issue with regard to Islam in a mood of "self-abasement," "political correctness" and "multi-culturalism," said Lewis, who was born in London to middle-class Jewish parents but has long lived in the United States.

The threat of extremist Islam goes far beyond Europe, Lewis stressed, turning to the potential impact of Iran going nuclear under its current regime.

The Cold War philosophy of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD), which prevented the former Soviet Union and the United States from using the nuclear weapons they had targeted at each other, would not apply to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Iran, said Lewis.

"For him, Mutual Assured Destruction is not a deterrent, it is an inducement," said Lewis of Ahmadinejad. "We know already that they [Iran's ruling ayatollahs] do not give a damn about killing their own people in great numbers. We have seen it again and again. If they kill large numbers of their own people, they are doing them a favor. They are giving them a quick, free pass to heaven. I find all that very alarming," said Lewis.

Lewis acknowledged that Ahmadinejad had made the notion of Iran having the right to acquire a nuclear capability an issue of national pride, and that this should be borne in mind in trying to thwart Teheran's nuclear drive. "One should try to make it clear at all stages that the objection is not Iran having [a nuclear weapon] but to the regime that governs Iran having it," said Lewis.

Stories in Stone

The highlight of my whirlwind West Coast trip had to be a visit with my mother and someone I know to the Getty Museum's Malibu Villa, which has re-opened with a terrific display of antiquities from Greece and Rome--as well as a temporary exhibition from Tunisia called Stories in Stone. It featured mosaics from a number of buildings that were just stunning--including fragments from a floor mosiac depicting the leftovers from a banquet that I had read about in Courtesans and Fishcakes by James Davidson, which you can order from here:If you want to see them in their country of origin, here's a link to a website featuring Mosaics of Tunisia.

Icons from Sinai

While in Los Angeles, had a chance to see the Getty Museum's exhibition of Icons from Sinai, which were of particular interest after having lived in Russia. These Byzantine illuminated manuscripts and painted icons had survived the fall of Constantinople, and preserved by the monks of St. Catherine's Monastery at the foot of Mt. Sinai, provided a glimpse into the mysteries of Byzantium. There was also a short video, where Father Justin--who spoke perfect English with what sounded like an American accent--mused on the irony that monks gathered at the foot of Mt. Sinai to preserve icons, while the 2nd commandment delivered to Moses at Mt. Sinai forbids the worship of graven images. (Not sharing Father Justin's sense of irony, the museum organizers had posted an explanation why icons are not, technically, graven images).

My Trip to the Sundance Film Festival...

...was very short. Last weekend, I drove my rent-a-car from Salt Lake City airport into downtown Park City, saw a parking lot, read the sign saying "All Parking $20 Flat Rate"--and drove on up the mountain to Deer Valley Ski Resort, where someone I know and I hiked up a snowy closed mountain road, saw paw prints from deer and mountain lions, and watched skiiers schuss down slopes carefully designed for the 2002 Winter Olympics. We followed that experience with the famous "Chili Fries" at the Deer Valley Resort cafeteria, and then sunned ourselves in deck chairs planted in the snow. Then we went to visit relatives of someone I know, and enjoyed a view of the mountains at sunset from their home on what the locals called "Polygamy Hill." A very relaxing and enjoyable experience--with free parking...

Monday, January 29, 2007

Ken Livingstone Debates Daniel Pipes on The Clash of Civilizations

Daniel Pipes sent out an email calling attention to the YouTube upload of a debate that apparently has been censored by mainstream media outlets. You can watch the whole thing on Willy at YouTube.

And you can read Pipes' account on his blog, Daniel

Kudos to Ken Livingstone's call for debate--and to Daniel Pipes for taking part...

The Long Tail

A friend of mine recommended this website.

Start the Week

Ever since someone I know got an iPod, we've been listening to downloads of BBC Radio Four's Start the Week. Today's program was outstanding: Hermione Lee on Edith Wharton, Nick Cohen on the failure of the left to confront Islamist extremism, John Kampfner on the paradox of Britain in Europe, and Claire Fox on the crisis of the universities. I wish we had such lively and intelligent debates on American radio programs. Here's the official blurb:
For many, Edith Wharton is one of the great chroniclers of ‘Gilded Age’ New York. Her classic works such as The Age of Innocence and The House of Mirth conjure an image of social delicacy and moneyed snobbery from which Wharton herself is rarely divorced. But renowned biographer HERMIONE LEE has produced a comprehensive new take on this remarkable author which shatters the enduring stereotype. Edith Wharton emerges in full colour as a bold, passionate and determined woman, a keen social observer with a sharp eye and much to say on the follies of American society and custom. Edith Wharton is published by Chatto & Windus.

‘To be good, you had to be on the Left.’ These are the words of journalist and political commentator NICK COHEN, brought up in a strictly Leftist family. But in the aftermath of the Iraq war, the liberal-Left, once defined by its rigid anti-fascism, seems to have turned on its head, adopting many of the arguments and attitudes of the ultra-Right. In a world where the Left are now far more likely to excuse the behaviour of totalitarian tyrants than the Right, Nick Cohen asks not only what, but who, the Left are fighting for? What's Left?: How Liberals Lost their Way is published by Fourth Estate.

Tony Blair proclaimed a more positive European policy to be one of his premiership goals; he wanted Britain to be at the heart of Europe. JOHN KAMPFNER, Editor of the New Statesman, questions what has happened to that European dream and looks ahead to a Europe post Blair. Dangerous Liaisons will be published next year.

The Government wants more young people to go to university. Critics argue that this expansion has led to a decline in standards. Are too many people going to university? This is the subject of the latest Intelligence Squared debate and CLAIRE FOX, Director of the Institute of Ideas, is for the motion, arguing that universities have lost sight of their purpose. Academics have lost confidence in their role as intellectual leaders, the centre of academic life has moved from expertise and subject knowledge to students themselves and, as a result, the status of universities as centres of excellence has been eroded. Too Many People Go to University is at the Royal Geographical Society in London tomorrow.
Now, if the BBC would only put downloads of Radio Four's Stop the Week online, as well...

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

On Travel

Will be travelling for the next week or so, so blogging may be lighter than usual...

Monday, January 22, 2007

A Bride Without a Dowry

The other night we watched A Cruel Romance. Based on Ostrovsky's play, The Bride Without a Dowry, Eldar Ryazanov's film adaptation was about as sad a story as one could imagine, sadder somehow than Anna Karenina. The cast was just great, the scenery beautiful, and the story compelling. An American film might have had a happier ending, but this is a Russian film of a Russian play with a Russian cast, filmed in Russia. It's a real tragedy. And well worth watching. You can order the DVD from here:

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Apalachee Hills Landscapes

An old family friend has started a landscaping business in Florida, and just put up a website with some pretty pictures of his flowers, plants, and trees. I thought they looked nice. So here's a link to Apalachee Hills Landscapes...

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Zev Chafets on the Israeli-Evangelical Christian Relationship

I usually don't like Terry Gross's NPR interview program, but today I listened to the whole thing--it was just fascinating, you could feel the emotion in her voice, as Gross interviewed Zev Chafets, author of a new book about Israeli-Evangelical relationships. I couldn't figure out how he got on NPR (Chafets let us know it has been ten years since he last appeared on Gross's program), until Gross started grilling Chafets about Jimmy Carter's personal update of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Then I figured out that probably NPR may have heard some protests, as well as demands to put on someone not dedicated to the demonization of the Jewish state, after Carter appeared with Gross to plug his book...

Result: Chafets plugging his book.

And you know what? The system worked. After listening to Gross v. Chafets, I'm interested in Chafets' book (Barbara Tuchman wrote about the 19th Century version of this relationship in Bible and Sword). Chafets sounds like a smart guy, who knows what he's talking about. You can listen for yourself here at NPR's Fresh Air website. Or buy A Match Made in Heaven: American Jews, Christian Zionists, and One Man's Exploration of the Weird and Wonderful Judeo-Evangelical Alliance
from Amazon here:

Igor Rotar on Religious Conflict in Central Asia

I've just posted an account of journalist Igor Rotar's recent visit to Washington to report on Islamist activity in Xinjiang, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan for

Small Town, USA

It's Washington, DC, our nation's capital, according to this article in today's Washington Post:
To see how small a town Washington really is, drop in on jury selection at the trial of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, where so far nearly every juror candidate seems to have a connection to the players or events surrounding the leak of an undercover CIA officer's identity.

There is the software database manager whose wife works as a prosecutor for the Justice Department, and who counts the local U.S. attorney and a top official in Justice's criminal division as neighbors and friends. A housecleaner who works at the Watergate and knows Condoleezza Rice, not by her title of secretary of state, but as the "lady who lives up on the fifth floor." And a former Washington Post reporter whose editor was now-Assistant Managing Editor Bob Woodward; he went to barbecues at the house of NBC's Tim Russert, a neighbor, and just published a book on the CIA and spying.

Art Buchwald Dies At Home

In Washington, DC, aged 81. From the AP story on
Among his more famous witticisms: "If you attack the establishment long enough and hard enough, they will make you a member of it."

Meanwhile, Back in Afghanistan...

From Joshua Foust's weblog, The Conjecturer:
Troops aren’t the only reason Afghanistan is falling. It is also governance. Since at least 2003, the use of unrestrained foreign aid, which is a significant percentage of the country’s GDP, moving outside the bounds, controls, and supervision of Kabul has been systematically undermining confidence in the national government. This ignores the very real problems of corruption spurred by the drug trade; from a fundamental policy level, the system of governance in Afghanistan denied President Karzai any say in how his country was to be administered. Doing something as simple as channeling all foreign aid through official government channels would go a long way toward establishing Kabul as the actual center of political and government life in Afghanistan.

That’s why I was pleased to see Karzai make a move to establish more control over PRTs, the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (like that USAID dam project). Doing so, despite their severe limitations in manpower and resources, will help to stabilize the central government. That being said, they have to have more Afghanis, and a far more visible connection to Kabul; otherwise, they’ll remain as untrustworthy foreigners telling the locals how to run themselves.

Here’s the trick: these PRTs are supposedly going to be tasked with eliminating opium production—a strategy that is doomed to strengthen the Taliban. Fighting poppy, which is another way of strangling the only real way Afghanis have of making any money, will not curtail the influence of the drug runners. A more realistic policy would be partial legitimation, coopting the drug lords and their Taliban allies out of the trade entirely. If a farmer gets the same price for his opium, but one buyer is legal and affords him police/NATO protection, while another buyer is not legal and affords him nothing but their vague promises of security and retributions, it is likely the influence of the drug lords, and their corrupting influence on the outlying provinces, will be deeply curtailed.

Furthermore, why is it taking them until 2007 to realize they need to train their PRTs, and be sensitive to local concerns? Robert Perrito, of the US Institute for Peace, actually wrote in a 2005 report that a learning process resulted in the fairly common sense conclusion that local language and cultural training, and a deep regard for local concerns, is the most effective way to rebuild an area. Why this was a revelation escapes me, though it does point to a darker conclusion: no one had any idea what they were doing, and didn’t think to find out for years.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

More on James Traub's Jewish Problem

*From James Kirkick's "The Plank" in The New Republic:
James Traub has a profile in this week's New York Times Magazine of Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. Traub had a great time making fun of a man he views as an old-fashioned chicken little obsessed with Jews. He sullies Foxman as "the hanging judge of anti-Semitism" who is a "one-man Sanhedrin doling out opprobrium or absolution for those who speak ill of Israel or the Jews." Foxman's demands for an investigation into the murder of a young French Jew last year was an example of his proclivity to "stage public rituals of accusation." The piece amounts to little more than a hit job.

Traub accuses Foxman of frequently (and presumably erroneously) smearing individuals as anti-Semites. Other than Professors John Mearsheimer and Stepehn Walt (who have written of their belief in a Jewish conspiracy reaching into the highest levels of the press and the government), Traub does not once name a supposed victim of Foxman's descriptive wrath other than Jimmy Carter, whom Foxman never labeled anti-Semitic--just "bigoted."

Another prominent victim of Foxman's Inquisition is the oft-persecuted Tony Judt, whom Foxman allegedly prevented from speaking at the Polish Embassy last year. Yet Traub ends up exonerating the one-man Sanhedrin and shows that it was the Poles themselves who eventually realized that, given their own history with Jews, hosting a man who has called for the end of Israel might not be the greatest idea for a diplomatic mission.

Traub writes that it is "tempting to compare Abe Foxman with Al Sharpton, another portly, bellicose, melodramatizing defender of ethnic ramparts." Has Foxman ever instigated race riots, used bigoted language to describe blacks, or libeled police officers?

Yes, Foxman can be shrill. But even Traub confesses that his heart is in the right place. And at least Foxman errs on the side of vigilance. At one point in the piece Traub writes tiredly of Foxman's "shouting about Auschwitz and six million." How obnoxious!

What's more telling is that the paper of record - which ignored the first Holocaust - decided to devote 5,000 words to maligning and mocking a man who has made it his life's work to avert a second.
*From Soccer Dad:
James traub has a semite problem
(h/t Judeopundit, My Right Word)

James Traub profiled Abe Foxman in this week's NY Times magazine in piece titled Does Abe Foxman Have an Anti-Anti-Semite Problem?.

Assuming a mocking and dismmissive tone toward his subject, Traub paints Foxman as a petty autocrat who's looking for antisemites under every bed. If one sentence sums up Traub's opinion of Foxman it's:

The A.D.L., for all its myriad activities, is a one-man Sanhedrin doling out opprobrium or absolution for those who speak ill of Israel or the Jews.

In contrast, Foxman's critics and opponents are described in complimentary terms. Tony Judt is "highly regarded"; J. J. Goldberg, is the editor of a "leading" American Jewish weekly; Mearsheimer and Walt are "distinguished figures."

Aside from the snide tone pervading the article, it's filled with mistakes and omissions.

One of Traub's themes is that antisemitism is no longer problem. The need for the ADL is therefore diminished if not gone therefore:

The A.D.L.’s world became increasingly binary — “good for the Jews,” “bad for the Jews.”
with Foxman becoming sole arbiter and - shock of shocks - moving to the right.

To dispove the notion that antisemitism is a problem Traub writes:

And yet a Pew Global Attitudes Poll in 2004 found that anti-Semitism had declined in much of the West and was lowest in the United States. A Pew poll last year found American support for Israel as strong now as at any time in the last 13 years.

According to the FBI's uniform crimes statistics for 2005 there were 900 hate crimes classified as anti-Jewish and 3200 hate crimes classified as anti-Black. Given that there are roughly 7 times as many Blacks as Jews, that means that Jews suffer hate crimes at nearly twice the rate as Blacks in the United States according to the most recent statistics.

And while anti-semitism has clearly not disappeared in the United States, it is mild compared to the rest of the world. Three years ago a survey in Europe chose Israel as the biggest threat to world peace. And let's not forget the Durban conference on racism. There is plenty of antisemitism still around and citing two Pew polls doesn't refute that.

Traub like any good liberal finds fault with Foxman for making common cause with evangelical Christians while being cool to Black leaders and ignoring the great alliance between Jews and Blacks.

While it is true that at one point Foxman did foster evangelical support for Israel, that seemed to come to an end in 2005.

And as far as the black-Jewish alliance it's folly to blame it on Foxman for moving right and away from civil rights. In recent years, the civil rights movement has made common cause with the likes of Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and Louis Farrakhan. All have shown varying degrees of antipathy to Jews.

(In a particular inapt comparison, Traub equates Foxman with Sharpton. Yes, I remember when Foxman led a threatening protest outside a Black owned business in Flatbush that ended in a massacre.)

But what's really bothering Traub isn't Foxman. It's Walt and Mearsheimer. It's not that Walt and Mearsheimer were antisemitic, but that they were right and no one seems to realize that except for objective observers like Tony Judt and Jimmy Carter.

Traub describes the effect of the publication of the Israel Lobby like this:

“The Israel Lobby” slammed into the opinion-making world with a Category 5 force. The article loosed a flood of fevered editorials, labored rebuttals and bare-knuckle debates.

In truth it came in like a whimper. Yes the New York Sun and New York Post weighed in right away. But the NY Times and Washington Post were very circumspect. The Times for its part published an article buried on page B8 about "The Israel Lobby." It followed with an essay defending Walt and Mearsheimer by Tony Judt and then about 8 letters.

(One letter, by a Chad Levinson put it brilliantly:

Taboos are things people avoid out of fear of ostracism. Here, it seems to me, people proudly proclaim their intention to criticize Israel, noting the dangers they face in shattering this supposed taboo, reminding everyone that it's not necessarily anti-Semitic to do so.

Quite the opposite of being a taboo, criticizing Israel resembles a kind of intellectual ritual, with its distinct pattern and style.

And then they congratulate themselves for their self-proclaimed courage.)

Traub overstated the impact that "The Israel Lobby" had. I suspect that even the editors of the NY Times and Washington Post realized how indefensible the paper was and so avoided it. The Post eventually did an in-depth article on The Israel Lobby in the middle of the summer and it was quite unsatisfying.

He also neglected to mention that David Duke gave an enthusiastic review to the Israel Lobby. It would have been a lot harder for Traub to argue that the paper wasn't antisemitic if Duke's inconvenient endorsement was taken into account.

Traub spends a lot of time arguing that Foxman more or less proved the point of Walt and Mearsheimer by getting the Polish consulate to cancel a talk to be given by Tony Judt. He never mentions that Foxman claims that he never demanded that the talk be canceled.

Though Foxman is not above criticism, the viciousness with which Traub goes after Foxman is astounding. . Given the sloppiness of his reporting, it's fair to ask whether it is Traub who has a problem. With semites.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Happy Martin Luther King Day!

Here's a link to Dr. Martin Luther King's biography, from the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize website. And here's a link to his Nobel Prize Lecture.

Agustin Blazquez on Why He Is "Unbalanced"

Our favorite Cuban-American filmmaker has sent us this "manifesto":
From Revista GUARACABUYA, January 12, 2007

by Agustin Blazquez with the collaboration of Jaums Sutton

My forty years of life in the U.S. have given me reasons galore to dissent from establishment conventions. Specially now days when the despicable “political correctness” has been forced down the throats of Americans depriving them of their old-time, sacred, freedom of speech given by the Constitution.

When you have to stop, think very carefully and spin what you are going to say in order to open your mouth, that isn’t freedom. You are auto-censoring yourself, just like the obedient citizens of North Korea, China, Vietnam or that little, forgotten, fiefdom of the decrepit, now sickly, Fidel Castro and his alcoholic brother.

I don’t mean that people should be impolite and give Miss Manners vapors causing her to faint in her boudoir. No!

Let’s be civil but truthful and sincere and not feel oppressed to speak freely. After all, the U.S., supposedly, is a free country. Or, is it? Please let me know, so I can plan my escape on time, because I don’t like tyrannies from the right or left.

Increasingly, as a writer and as a filmmaker, I have been feeling oppressed in my own country. I have been a naturalized American citizen for over 30 years, but I had the misfortune – literally – of being born in Cuba, which was converted into the hellhole-Jurassic park of the Caribbean by Castro’s Communist Fascist Reich.

My biggest crime was to escape that “paradise” like the million and a half Cuban exiles that now live in the U.S. Clearly, we have become the most openly hated minority in this country even though we have been the most productive, prosperous and law-abiding minority in recent history. The Cuban exiles have not organized gangs like some other minorities.

The hatred toward us came from the vindictive Castro – a trait he displayed since his school years. With his supposed charisma, he conquered the intellectuals, artists, reporters and fools from all over the world.

Castro placed himself as a demigod, a hero of all the leftists, progressives, socialists and useful fools everywhere, magically without generating the panic of a bygone era in which communism was feared for the aberration that it actually was and still is.

Note that “progressive” is a key word that used to mean “advancing” that now can be used to identify hidden communists and sympathizers since Castro and his ilk claim that their suppression of freedom, etc., is “progressive.”

The cold war is not really over. Snap out of that stupid, implanted thought! Wake up to take a look at what is going on in Latin America! Has China, Vietnam, North Korea or Castroland changed? No, they are still very dangerous communist countries. And China is not a friend but an adversary of the U.S. Snap out of that stupor if you want to continue singing “God Bless America!”

Continuously, the anti-U.S. left, and the “progressive” elements that are in control of most of our learning institutions, print and television media, are censoring information.

They were the first to adopt “political correctness” – which is a communist technique (read my article at: in order to manipulate, change and brainwash the masses.

Their goal is to eventually “socialize” this country according to obsolete Marxist postulates that have been a dismal failure in all communist countries and put themselves in charge.

Before I make the statements that follow, I must clarify that I am not a Democrat or a Republican since I believe that neither party represents me as a Cuban American and as a victim of Castro’s version of tropical communism-fascism.

I am an Independent and a real Liberal in the true sense of the word: which means that I am for real liberty. I don’t have anything in common with the American Liberals, which I believe have degenerated much too close to socialist ideology.

The hypocrisy of the U.S. media is such that it doesn’t inform the American people that many members of the Democratic Party are also members on an International Socialist Organization. Isn’t that revealing?

And now my statement, which in no way, shape or form is an endorsement of the Republican Party, but based on my observations and experiences in Cuba and the U.S., the Democratic Party has been sliding too far to the far-left and anti-U.S. side of the spectrum. I am very concerned about them and what that party will end up in the not so distant future.

Orestes Lorenzo, (the Cuban pilot who rescued his wife and children by landing a small plane on a Cuban road) referring to the ideas of the liberal and academic crowd in the U.S., wrote that they are “not only dishonest but being supported by pure intellectual shit.” I think that is an accurate description of those repulsive, despicable people and I congratulated Orestes for exercising his freedom of speech.

So, why am I “unbalanced?”

Well, that’s what the reigning paranoid left in control of the information media said about my documentary work. They of course reject my work and don’t allow what my documentaries expose to reach the American people.

The American Film Institute (AFI) in Silver Spring, Maryland, said that my documentary about 5-year old Elian Gonzalez – the child that miraculously reached the south Florida shores while his mother gave her life for him to have freedom in America – was “too controversial.” However, they immediately choose to show Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 911” over and over. I guess an anti-U.S., anti-war and anti-President movie was not controversial in their twisted minds full of “pure intellectual shit.”

The AFI’s bozo, made the mistake to make that statement to my face thinking that I would take it lightly, which was not the case. I gave him hell in his very own little office and told him how Cuban American filmmakers feel about it. Later, he lied and denied what he said. I am “unbalanced” but not crazy.

Film festivals and other venues systematically reject my documentaries about Cuban issues. And I am not alone. I am just one more Cuban American reject. This is part of our history in this “land of freedom.”

That’s why I don’t even bother to send submissions to film festivals, because they take my money up front and then they reject me. To hell with them! I only show my films in festivals and other venues where I am invited because of the merits of my work. If anyone wants to take up that battle for my documentaries, let me know.

Cuban Americans can do and say whatever we want, but the censors of the left don’t let us play and don’t let us offer a different viewpoint to the American people to insignificantly try to “balance” the barrage of pro-Castro propaganda present in the U.S. media and academia.

On PBS, of course, we cannot even try. They are a lost cause and a bastion of the left.

Ed Koch, three-time elected Mayor of New York City who, like me, isn’t “politically correct”, said in his published New Year’s Resolutions, “I will no longer lend financial support to New York’s Channel Thirteen public television station. That station recently showed a documentary that was blatantly biased against Israel and has refused to acknowledge the bias to try to correct it.”

Cuban Americans are constantly subject to that and no one of any importance complains about it.

On November 28, 2006, I received a very decent letter (I say so because the person was really very nice and I appreciate the answer) of rejection of my documentary “The Rats Below” from a well-known television channel.

Among other things, the letter said, "The subject is intriguing, however, and includes some great sound bites from seemingly very knowledgeable sources. What might be problematic for most broadcast and cable networks is that the film includes no one representing the side of the company, or Elian's family. Without that, there may be some issues of fairness.”

About "Elian's family" I have Delfin Gonzalez, Elian's great uncle in the U.S.

About "includes no one representing the side of the company" and the issue of "fairness," I've yet to see a documentary or film about the Holocaust, the Nazis, Hitler or about apartheid in South Africa or about Chile's Augusto Pinochet (and the list goes on) that shows the other side.

But even if I make in my lifetime 1,000 documentaries of our point of view it will not even begin to balance the eschewed coverage of the U.S. media in relation to the Cuban tragedy. My goal is to try to balance the unbalanced coverage about Cuba, the country of my birth, which I happen to know about and they obviously don’t.

And that is my final answer as to why I am “unbalanced.”

I make my documentaries without any grant or financial help from any U.S. institution (they don’t give grants to projects that expose the nature of Castro’s regime) or Cuban American organization. I made my productions with my own money, effort and heart. I dedicate uncounted hours working alone on my projects.

Always with the frustration that there are not enough hours in a day to complete my goal. Knowing that so far, after 12 years of dedicated labor, I am not reaching my intended audience, Americans, not Cubans – we all know and understand the Cuban tragedy very well.

The Americans are the ones left in the boonies by the disservice of the media and the learning centers in the U.S. who are not telling the truth about what has been going on there for decades.

I get to put in my documentaries whatever I want. I am certainly not going to capitulate and interview the same types of American “Cuban experts”, who are not, and who have been lying and distorting information constantly in newspapers, television and pro-Castro documentaries 99.99% of the time.

I, the “unbalanced” one, continue to try to bring some balance to the story where there isn’t any.

Did I answer the question?

Agustin Blazquez, producer/director of the documentaries
COVERING CUBA, premiered at the American Film Institute in 1995, CUBA: The Pearl of the Antilles, COVERING CUBA 2: The Next Generation, premiered in 2001 at the U.S. Capitol in and at the 2001 Miami International Book Fair COVERING CUBA 3: Elian presented at the 2003 Miami Latin Film Festival, the 2004 American Film Renaissance Film Festival in Dallas, Texas and the 2006 Palm Beach International Film Festival, COVERING CUBA 4: The Rats Below, premiered at the Tower Theaters in Miami on January 2006 and the 2006 Palm Beach International Film Festival and the 2006 Barcelona International Film Festival for Human Rights and Peace, Dan Rather "60 Minutes," an inside view , RUMBERAS CUBANAS, Vol. 1 MARIA ANTONIETA PONS and COVERING CUBA 5: Act Of Repudiation premiered at the Tower Theater in Miami, January 2007.

For previews visit:
Author of more that 300 published articles and author with Carlos Wotzkow of the book COVERING AND DISCOVERING and translator with Jaums Sutton of the book by Luis Grave de Peralta Morell THE MAFIA OF HAVANA: The Cuban Cosa Nostra.

2007 ABIP

This and other excellents articles by the same AUTHOR appears in the electronic magazine REVISTA GUARACABUYA at:
Este y otros excelentes artículos del mismo AUTOR aparecen en la REVISTA GUARACABUYA con dirección electrónica de:

Tucker Carlson v. Freelance Genius

This story from the Washington Post caught my eye, because it featured my favorite video store:
Clerk's Blog Spells Trouble

It all started with a simple video rental. Who knows where it will end?

Potomac Video store clerk Charles Williamson, 28, posted a message on his blog, Freelance Genius, Dec. 23 that described how he set up a movie rental account for MSNBC host Tucker Carlson at the MacArthur Boulevard store the day before.

"I could tell you what he and his ridiculously wasped-out female companion (wife?) rented if you really want to know," he wrote. "I won't tell you where he lives, though. That would be wrong and stupid." Williamson also joked that he wouldn't send 10,000 copies of Jon Stewart's best-selling political satire, "America (The Book)," to Carlson's home; Stewart ridiculed Carlson on "Crossfire" before the 2004 election.

A week later, Williamson had forgotten all about it, he told us yesterday. That is, until Carlson, 37, reappeared at the video store and, said Williamson, "got pretty aggressive." According to Williamson, Carlson confronted him about the blog and said he viewed the post as a threat to him and his wife. "He said, 'If you keep this [expletive] up, I will [expletive] destroy you,' " Williamson recalled.

Williamson said he agreed to remove the blog post and did so later that night: "All I remember thinking was I was worried about what this guy was going to do." He consulted a lawyer friend and was told he had probably not broken any laws. "What I said was pretty juvenile, I'll admit," he said.

In a phone interview Thursday, Carlson acknowledged that he approached Williamson in the store and said he was "very aggressive" because he wanted the post removed: "I don't like to call the police or call his boss. . . . I'm a libertarian. I'm not into that."

On Monday, Williamson said, his Potomac Video manager called and fired him. Williamson said he was told the company was threatened with legal action "and the owner doesn't like that." He re-posted the original Carlson item later that day. Williamson said he later learned that a man who identified himself as a lawyer for Carlson had been in the store and asked Potomac Video employees questions about him.

Carlson told us that he was concerned for the safety of his family, but did not threaten legal action against the company or push to have Williamson, who still has his office-manager day job, fired.

"He implied he was going to come and do something to my house," Carlson said. "I've got four kids at home and I've had serious problems with stalkers twice. . . . This guy is threatening to come to my house and I'm on the road all the time. What would you do? This guy is threatening my family."

Carlson said he took no further action and said he couldn't have called his lawyer because he doesn't have one.

"He's trying to make it sound like I'm this big, bad guy trying to hurt the video store clerk," he said. "I don't understand why he's hassling me. I just wanted to rent a Woody Allen movie."

A manager at Potomac Video told us the situation was "absurd" but refused to answer questions. The company's lawyer, Steven Kramer, said he is investigating the matter, but would not comment further.

Williamson told us Thursday that before the incident his blog usually received a handful of hits a day from friends and a few other bloggers. linked to the post on Tuesday and, as of yesterday, over 6,700 readers had checked in.

"I'm just a guy with a blog," he said. "I live over MacArthur Boulevard and I go to work and sometimes I see famous people. . . . I blogged about seeing Karl Rove, and the Secret Service didn't knock down my door."
You can read Williamson's minute-by-minute account of the story on his personal blog, Freelance Genius:
I have been asked to write a timeline of all the interactions and incidents surrounding the Tucker situation. I am worried that too much more on this is going to turn my ego space into a one trick pony, but I do take requests on occasion. The real problem with ponies is that I don't know how to ride ponies and they are enemies of the state.

Between 8 and 9:30 pm on Friday, December 22, 2006: Tucker comes to store, opens account and rents unspecified movie.

Approximately 12:15 am Saturday, December 23, 2006: Chuckles publishes blog about encounter.

Between 6:30 and 8 pm on Friday, January 5, 2007: Tucker enters store, threatens Chuckles, leaves. Chuckles resumes working and tries not to let shit get to him.

Approximately 11:15 pm on Friday, January 5, 2007: Chuckles takes post down from site in order to be a basically nice guy, even though he doesn't like being threatened in his place of business.

Between 12:30 and 1:30 pm on Monday, January 8, 2007: Chuckles receives call that his employment at the unnamed video store has been terminated due to threats of legal action against the store.

Approximately 2:31 pm Monday, January 8, 2007: Chuckles reposts the original offending post, updates it, updates the explanation post, then posts his statement of the entire affair.

Between 7:00 pm and 8:15 pm Monday, January 8, 2007: A man identifying himself as a lawyer for Tucker Carlson enters the video store and asks questions of employee (whom we shall call EmpAlpha) about Chuckles such as Chuckles' full name, blog address, home address, current employer, whether the post was removed, whether the blog was deleted, etc. Chuckles arrives at video store shortly after this person has left.

10:40 pm Monday, January 8, 2007: Chuckles updates the post about the whole thing.

Sometime after 5 pm Wednesday, January 10, 2007: A person enters the store asking an employee (now called EmpBeta) questions about EmpAlpha. It is currently not known whether the questing person on Wednesday was the same as the person on Monday. The questing person on Wednesday did not identify himself as a lawyer for Tucker Carlson so far as Chuckles knows. Chuckles receives word of this incident from EmpAlpha, not EmpBeta. EmpBeta has not read Chuckles' blog, apparently.

Between 2:00 and 2:30 pm Thursday, January 11, 2007: Chuckles gives interview to Washington Post Reliable Source column.

3:14 pm, Thursday, January 11, 2007: Chuckles receives word that Tucker Carlson is denying having a lawyer and Tucker also states that he is not pursuing any action against The Genius.

You all may make your own conclusions from the facts of the situation. Personally, I doubt the person that had been asking questions about me will ever show up again. The simplest answer is that Tucker called the lawyer off as soon as he received a phone call from the Post. It is almost too bad that moron of a lawyer couldn't figure out how to either find me or contact me, even after I posted an email address on this blog. I doubt that guy is worth the money, but what do I know? I am just a member of the peasant class.

I wonder if he's going to sue? If so, we'll follow the story here...

Is James Traub a Jew-Hater?

Reading today's New York Times Magazine profile of ADL chief Abe Foxman by James Traub, I couldn't help wonder if Traub is a Jew-Hater. He repeated anti-Semitic stereotypes about rich and powerful Jews, he mocked Foxman's experience as a Holocaust survivor hidden by a Polish nanny, he suggested that the US could have avoided 9/11 by dropping support for Israel, and he appeared to give credence to the "Jewish Lobby" arguments of Walt and Mearshimer, while defending the views of Minister Farrkhan and Jimmy Carter. OK, if it appeared in an American Nazi publication it would make sense--or even in the Nation. But the New York Times Magazine? Do they really want to lose the rest of their subscribers?

I'm no fan of the ADL, I've criticized Foxman for Koshering Borat, but Traub's article a real slime job, a crude and ugly smear that reeked of was so over-the-line, so ugly, so cruel, and so dishonest, that it may be the most disgraceful thing I've seen in print yet at the Times, which might perhaps think about changing its motto to: "All the News NOT Fit to Print."

As for James Traub, if he's not a Jew-Hater, unless the piece was some sort of Borat-like parody designed to fight anti-Semitism, I'd say Traub does a remarkable literary imitation of presenting the very tendencies the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai Brith was established to combat.

Senator Jim Webb: Bush Should Fly to Iran

On the Democratic side, Sen. Jim Webb also had an idea, expressed at a hearing on C=Span, that President Bush fly to Tehran to confront the Mullahs personally.:
And I personally think it would be a bold act for George W. Bush to get on an airplane and go to Tehran in the same manner that President Nixon did, take a gamble, and not give up one thing that we believe in, in terms of its moving toward weapons of mass destruction, our belief that Israel needs to be recognized and interests need to be protected, but to maybe start changing the formula here.

Again, I don't know whether it would work (Neville Chamberlain's 1938 meeting with Hitler in Munich sprang to mind), any more than Giuliani and Gingrich's proposal, but again, at least it is an idea. Webb's cracked open the taboo on discussing Iraq policy options. One good thing about crisis, the famous Chinese "danger plus opportunity," is that it opens things up for ideas, which makes life more interesting.

Bush's failiures may not be due to a lack of will--but to a failure of imagination.

Giuliani & Gingrich: Stop Using Contractors in Iraq

Hizzoner Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich published a plan in the Wall Street Journal on Friday, calling for an Iraqi CCC to rebuild Iraq. I don't know whether it might work, or if is too late. But at least it is an idea.

In any case, I think the main point of the op-ed was buried towards the end--so I'm highlighting it here. The two Republican leaders want to drop private contractors like Halliburton, Kellogg Brown & Root, BearingPoint, Booz Allen Hamilton as well as NGOs--in favor of the military and Iraqi government:
One word of caution: The program should be overseen by the U.S. military, not private contractors, to avoid unnecessary delays in deployment or accusations of cronyism in the bidding process. Our military will still be devoted to its primary role of hunting down terrorists and patrolling the streets, but administering a jobs program would be a direct extension of their effort to secure law and order. After the program has been started and becomes successful, it can be transferred to a civilian authority within the Iraqi government.
I'd go even further--and ask that private for-profit and non-profit contractors return to US taxpayers the money Congress and the President gave them in order to rebuild Iraq. It might go towards paying for the 20,000 troops President Bush has asked for...

Thursday, January 11, 2007

How to Eavesdrop on Bill Moyers' Phone Calls

I was amazed to hear a 1966 telephone call between Bill Moyers and President Lyndon Johnson, while driving in my car the other night. If I only had heard them when I wrote the "Rev. Moyers" chapter in my book, PBS: Behind the Screen, I could have quoted from them. In any case, Moyers sounded just like the kind of guy people said he was. No wonder Johnson stopped talking to him...

You can listen to Moyers talk with LBJ, for yourself at C-SPAN's LBJ White House Tapes Archive.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

My Favorite Video Store

Why do I love my local, neighborhood video store, Potomac Video?

Maybe because they usually have whatever film I'm looking for--classic old movies, new releases, international films.

Maybe because the manager will chat with me and ask me how I liked the film.

Maybe because the manager has ordered swashbuckler and western films for me, after I've seen all one the ones in stock.

Maybe because they still have a large collection of VHS cassettes.

And most of all, because they still stock my film on VHS, even though it came out 25 years ago, and hasn't been rented since 2003...

Christopher Hitchens on Thomas Jefferson & Religion

Hitchens is on a roll, taking on both Congressman Keith Ellison and his Christian fundamentalist critics, in Slate:
A few years later, in 1786, the new United States found that it was having to deal very directly with the tenets of the Muslim religion. The Barbary states of North Africa (or, if you prefer, the North African provinces of the Ottoman Empire, plus Morocco) were using the ports of today's Algeria, Libya, and Tunisia to wage a war of piracy and enslavement against all shipping that passed through the Strait of Gibraltar. Thousands of vessels were taken, and more than a million Europeans and Americans sold into slavery. The fledgling United States of America was in an especially difficult position, having forfeited the protection of the British Royal Navy. Under this pressure, Congress gave assent to the Treaty of Tripoli, negotiated by Jefferson's friend Joel Barlow, which stated roundly that "the government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion, as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen." This has often been taken as a secular affirmation, which it probably was, but the difficulty for secularists is that it also attempted to buy off the Muslim pirates by the payment of tribute. That this might not be so easy was discovered by Jefferson and John Adams when they went to call on Tripoli's envoy to London, Ambassador Sidi Haji Abdrahaman. They asked him by what right he extorted money and took slaves in this way. As Jefferson later reported to Secretary of State John Jay, and to the Congress:

The ambassador answered us that [the right] was founded on the Laws of the Prophet, that it was written in their Koran, that all nations who should not have answered their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as prisoners, and that every Mussulman who should be slain in battle was sure to go to Paradise.

Medieval as it is, this has a modern ring to it. Abdrahaman did not fail to add that a commission paid directly to Tripoli—and another paid to himself—would secure some temporary lenience. I believe on the evidence that it was at this moment that Jefferson decided to make war on the Muslim states of North Africa as soon as the opportunity presented itself. And, even if I am wrong, we can be sure that the dispatch of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps to the Barbary shore was the first and most important act of his presidency. It took several years of bombardment before the practice of kidnap and piracy and slavery was put down, but put down it was, Quranic justification or not.

Jefferson did not demand regime change of the Barbary states, only policy change. And as far as I can find, he avoided any comment on the religious dimension of the war. But then, he avoided public comment on faith whenever possible. It was not until long after his death that we became able to read most of his scornful writings on revelation and redemption (recently cited with great clarity by Brooke Allen in her book Moral Minority: Our Skeptical Founding Fathers). And it was not until long after his death that The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth was publishable. Sometimes known as "the Jefferson Bible" for short, this consists of the four gospels of the New Testament as redacted by our third president with (literally) a razor blade in his hand. With this blade, he excised every verse dealing with virgin birth, miracles, resurrection, and other puerile superstition, thus leaving him (and us) with a very much shorter book. In 1904 (those were the days), the Jefferson Bible was printed by order of Congress, and for many years was presented to all newly elected members of that body. Here's a tradition worth reviving: Why not ask all new members of Congress to swear on that?


Someone I know is a fan of Hugh Laurie, and while I was teaching last night, she watched his Fox medical drama, HOUSE. She reported that he is completely changed from Jeeves and Wooster days. Dr. House is a testy, irritable drug addict, who chews vicodin, percodan, and other controlled substances like M&Ms. He calls everyone an idiot. Everytime he's supposed to go into rehab, he has to take care of another medical emergency--so his visit to the Betty Ford Center slips between the cracks.

What kind of specialist is he? I asked.

All of them, she answered.

Is it believable?


Did she like the it?


Given recent news reports about the release of FBI files documenting Chief Justice Rehnquist's long-term Placidyl habit, a tv-drama about a drug-addicted doctor may be in keeping with the Zeigeist. It sounds interesting, though I wonder if Dr. House's fictional medical center's fictional administrator ever worries about legal or medical liability... In any case, when I get a Tuesday night off--or a TiVo subscription--I may take a look myself.

Meanwhile, I'm working on my spec script for a series pilot about a drug-addicted Chief Justice of the United States, who believes that the CIA is spying on him. He's diagnosed as suffering from paranoia and a persecution complex during a withdrawal episode.

"He must be going crazy, to think that the CIA is spying on him," says a doctor in one scene set at a Washington, DC hospital, after the Chief Justice attempts to escape the grounds dressed in pyjamas.

"Why do you say that?" asks a concerned young intern.

The doctor looks him straight in the eye, pauses, and mumbles: "Everyone knows it's the FBI."

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Sunset Boulevard, Reconsidered

We watched Sunset Boulevard (1950) the other night on DVD, thanks to Netflix. It struck me that Gloria Swanson's character of Norma Desmond was at the time supposed to be 50 years old--ancient enough to be a washed-up old bag desperate for her comeback. In some way, Swanson's scenery-chewing performance reminded one of Madonna...

In any case, the film is funny, especially as an inside joke about Hollywood, which hasn't changed much, it seems. Norma Desmond had a pet chimp--so did Michael Jackson. Norma Desmond believed in astrologers--so did Nancy Reagan. Norma Desmond had her first spouse work as her domestic servant--so did the owners of a Hollywood bookshop where someone I know toiled in the 1990s.

Swanson's life was apparently as melodramatic as Norma Desmond's--minus the murder of William Holden. Here's a list of Swanson's real-life romances from Wikipedia:
Marriages and Relationships
She married actor Wallace Beery (1885-1949) in 1916. They divorced in 1919 with no children but according to Swanson she miscarried after Beery, encouraged by his mother, secretly gave her a poison intended to induce a miscarriage.

She married Herbert K. Somborn (1881-1934), then president of Equity Pictures Corporation and later the owner of the Brown Derby restaurant, in 1919. Their daughter, Gloria Swanson Somborn, was born in 1920. Their divorce, finalized in January 1925, was sensational. Somborn accused her of adultery with 13 men including Cecil B. DeMille, Rudolph Valentino and Marshall Neilan. During this divorce in 1923 Swanson adopted a baby boy named Sonny Smith (1922-1975). She renamed him Joseph Patrick Swanson in tribute to her then lover, Joseph Patrick Kennedy Sr., the Kennedy family patriarch.

Her third husband was French aristocrat Henry de la Falaise, Marquis de la Falaise whom she married in 1925 after the Somborn divorce was finalized. He became a film executive representing Pathé in the United States. She conceived a child with him but had an abortion which she said (in her autobiography, Swanson on Swanson) she regretted. This marriage ended in divorce in 1931.

In August 1931, Swanson married Michael Farmer (1902-1975). Although frequently described as a sportsman the only evidence of the Irishman's prowess was his frequent betrothals. Unfortunately Swanson's divorce from La Falaise had not been finalized at the time, making the actress technically a bigamist. She was forced to remarry Farmer the following November, by which time she was four months pregnant with Michelle Bridget Farmer, who was born in 1932. The Farmers were divorced in 1934.

In 1945 Swanson married William N. Davey and they divorced in 1946. Little is known of Davey except that single mother Gloria married this rich man because young Michelle had been nagging her about wanting a father. According to Swanson, she and Davey actually cohabited forty-five days.

Swanson's final marriage was in 1976 and lasted until her death. Her sixth husband, writer William Dufty (1916-2002), was the co-author of Billie Holiday's autobiography Lady Sings the Blues and the author of Sugar Blues, a best-selling health book. Swanson shared her husband's enthusiasm for macrobiotic diets.
There's an interesting review of the film by D.K. Holm on DVD Journal.

Friday, January 05, 2007

A New Year's Plug

Before heading off for the holidays, I went to a book party at the Hudson Institute for John O'Sullivan's memoir of life with Margaret Thatcher (he was her speechwriter). I didn't have a chance to plug the book then, so I want to do it now. O'Sullivan gave a fascinating glimpse into Thather's behind-the-scenes personality, and if the book is even half as good as his talk, it's worth buying.

Most telling anecdote: After the Pope and Reagan had survived assassination attempts, they reportedly said they thought they had spared by Providence for a special purpose. O'Sullivan asked Thatcher, did she think she had been spared by God for a special purpose -- after surviving the IRA's Brighton Conservative party conference bombing on October 12, 1984.

The Iron Lady's answer was brief:


You can buy the book from

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Frederic Martel on American Culture

I was interested to read Alan Riding's interview with Frederic Martel, a French intellectual with a new book explaining American culture, De la culture en Amerique. Here's an excerpt from the article that sparked my interest:
What France's cultural elites have rarely done, however, is examine how both serious and pop culture actually work in the United States.

Rather, in the view of Frédéric Martel, a Frenchman and author of a recently released book on the topic, they have preferred to hide behind "a certain ideological anti-Americanism."

Now Martel, 39, a former French cultural attaché in Boston, has set out to change this. In "Culture in America," a 622-page tome weighty with information, he challenges the conventional view in Paris that (French) culture financed and organized by the government is entirely good and that (American) culture shaped by market forces is necessarily bad.

"My first idea was to compare France and the United States," he recalled, "but when I arrived in America, I realized things were much more complicated. The United States is a continent, and you can't compare a continent with a small country or a decentralized country with one that is highly centralized."
Sounds a little bit Michel Schneider, whose La Comedie de la culture critiqued the French Ministry of Culture; or Marc Fumaroli, author of L'Etat Culturel, whom I interviewed in 2000 while he visited Washington. Unfortunately, the book hasn't been translated into English yet, but as soon as it is, I'll get my copy. Meanwhile, for those who read French, here's a link to his website...

UPDATE: Frederic Martel writes:
Dear Laurence Jarvik,

Thanks a lot for your email and for the nice comment on my book. I think you are right on your comments. I just think you miss one important point when comparing my work with Michel Schneider or Marc Fumaroli (books that I know pretty well). First of all there are both very polemics (especially Schneider) and on France. I'm not talking about France at all and I'm not polemic. Second of all, I'm from the left, so it's a book by a kind of social-democrat guy not by a center right or a conservative perspective. At least, I think on my project this way. Just for your information and as a friendly reader on you own work.

Affectueusemet, frederic martel

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Act of Repudiation

Cuban-American filmmaker Agustin Blazquez has another picture coming out for the New Year: Act of Repudiation. It sounds truly shocking. Here's the description he sent:
(in English with Spanish subtitles/en ingles con subtitulos en español)
produced & directed by Agustin Blazquez

Presented by Miami Dade College

Es la historia de un Acto de Repudio dirigido contra el guitarrista clasico Carlos Molina y su familia

Las artes y la politica son inseparables en Cuba

La realidad de la vida cubana bajo el regimen de Castro!

Lo que la prensa de EE.UU. no dice

No se pierda este documental

Saturday, January 20, 2007 at 8 p.m.
Sabado 20 de enero de 2007, a las 8 p.m.
1508 S.W. 8th Street, Miami, Florida

Contacts/contactos: Juan Mendieta, Director of Comunications, 305 237-7611,Beverly Counts Rodrigues, Director of Public Relations with the Press: 305-237-3949 y Alejandro Rios: 305-237-7482 & 305-989-1701

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Konstantin's Russian Blog on Anna Politkovskaya

Konstantin explains how some Russians saw the recently assassinated Moscow journalist:
That's exactly what Anna Politkovskaya was – a war journalist fighting on the side of Chechen rebels. And she did her job fine. I believe her books and articles helped dozens of Chechen men and women to become guerillas and suicide bombers. During proper wars like WW2 nations don’t have war correspondents writing “truth” about their soldiers but in case an army is fighting guerillas like in Chechnya or Iraq things are different. First, such wars are mostly distant and don’t disturb everyday activities of ordinary citizens. Second, we live in a very politically correct world where big transnational NGO’s keep a close eye on human rights and power abuses. This way it’s normal that there’re many Politkovskayas both in Russia and in America. Only people both in Russia or America have very little interest to read books where their sons are described as sadistic orcs from Mordor. Enemy war correspondents are almost always marginal figures to the general public in there native countries but are extremely popular in countries that support their enemies. This is why Politkovskaya was so popular in the West and Gore Vidal is so loved in Iran.

The Accomplices

This season, New York's New Group Theatre (which appears to be a regular venue for plays by Wally Shawn, among others) presents the world premiere of playwright Bernard Weinraub's drama, The Accomplices, based on the real-life story of Hillel Kook (aka Peter Bergson), Ben Hecht and the work of the Emergency Committee to Rescue the Jewish People of Europe during World War II. Having dealt with this topic on film--and as an acquaintance of the playwright--I'm looking foward to seeing the show when it opens on 42nd Street's Theatre Row in March...

Monday, January 01, 2007

Ann Althouse on The Liberty Fund

Happy New Year!

A change of topic for 2007:

Ann Althouse recently attended a Liberty Fund conference, and made some striking comments on her blog, here: Althouse: Where I was when I was out of my milieu.
I am struck -- you may think it is absurd for me to be suddenly struck by this -- but I am struck by how deeply and seriously libertarians and conservatives believe in their ideas. I'm used to the way lefties and liberals take themselves seriously and how deeply they believe. Me, I find true believers strange and -- if they have power -- frightening. And my first reaction is to doubt that they really do truly believe.

One of the reasons 9/11 had such a big impact on me is that it was such a profound demonstration of the fact that these people are serious. They really believe.

I need to be more vigilant.
And here: Here's the post where I take on Ron Bailey of Reason Magazine.
My friends, in all honesty, what made me cry -- and I'm not too sentimental, as you may have noticed -- was the realization that these people didn't care about civil rights.

I was also astonished by the poise with which my tablemates handled Althouse. Our companions did not raise their voices nor dismiss her (as I would have), but tried to calm her down. In fact, Althouse made the situation even more personal by yelling repeatedly at one of my dinner companions (who is also a colleague) that she was an "intellectual lightweight" and an "embarrassment to women everywhere." In fact, in my opinion, with that statement Althouse had actually identified herself. Before Althouse stalked away, I asked her to apologize for that insult, but she refused.

I don't think I said "embarrassment to women everywhere." That doesn't sound like my language. But I really was very angry at this young woman for her smiling and for her incessant justification of racial discrimination. I left the table because Bailey himself yelled at me in an extremely harsh way. He just kept saying "You don't know her. I know her." Basically, they were colleagues, and he was vouching for her. He didn't respond on the substantive issue. How could he? He agreed with her about private discrimination. At that point, I was so offended by these people that I got up and left. I felt terrible about causing a scene and being part of any ugliness. But on long reflection, I think I would have felt far worse if I had sat through all of that without saying anything.
And here: Are we having Fund yet?
Idea geeks. Okay. Well, my experience in legal academia is that people who try to get into the idea geek zone need to get their pretensions punctured right away. The sharp lawprof types I admire always see a veneer on top of something more important, and our instinct is to peel it off. What is your love of this idea really about? That's our method.

We are here to harsh your geek zone mellow.
I am interested in Althouse's reactions, because a few years ago I was invited to a Liberty Fund event, and found it a mixed bag. The Liberty Fund does some good things, has republished works by the Founding Fathers, copies of which they donated to my Russian and Uzbek universities. In addition, there were some very interesting people at the conference on aesthetics I participated in--I got to meet Canadian painter Alex Colville, whom someone I know and I later visited in Nova Scotia, as well as critic Roger Shattuck, whose writings on Proust are worthwhile. Nevertheless, I think that Althouse has picked up on something that was in the air. In her verbal confrontation with Ron Bailey (not my favorite person--he once came up to me at an AEI event to berate me for my publications on PBS, demanding that I should criticize C-Span, instead, because C-Span is part of a lobbying effort by the cable industry--I answered something like, "So what?" Which ended the conversation), in any case, it comes out that Althouse didn't go to the Liberty Fund "hospitality suite" for cocktails after dinner. I did go to one of those late-night "bull sessions." What I heard wasn't pretty, and not fit to print. (Neither Colville nor Shattuck appeared to be there.) Not used to this sort of thing, I excused myself soon after arriving. So, I tend to conclude that if Althouse had gone drinking with the boys and girls, she might have encountered even more evidence for her case... I do agree with Althouse that certain cult-like aspects undercut the seminars' potential for making more of a useful contribution to intellectual discourse and dialog. There should be a place for more robust debate. Unfortunately, Liberty didn't fully rise to the challenge, in my experience--or Althouse's.