Friday, October 29, 2004



Here comes your October Surprise everyone! Only it comes from a mind even more shady and evil than Karl Rove - Osama bin Laden! Osama was like "What y'all thought y'all wasn't gon' see me? I'm the Osiris of this shit!" I don't know what effect this might have on the election, but this is going to be the talk of the nation. And three days before the election! Whew. The plot thickens.


2004's Scariest Halloween Costumes

The Littlest Prisoner at Abu Ghraib
Your child will be the hit of the neighborhood costume parade in this recreation of the Abu Ghraib prisoner-abuse scandal's most indelible image. As an added bonus this easy-to-make costume will remind everyone on your child's trick-or-treat route of our national shame! Simply roll a cone from a sheet of 24"x38" black cardstock, making sure to cut out a hole for the face. Drape with two yards of black felt, and add leftover wires from your last lamp-rewiring project. Voila! So easy, so quick, and so terrifying!
It doesn't end there. Costume suggestions include: Florida's Electronic Touch-Screen Voting Machines, Arrested Protester, Nancy Reagan, Western Hostage in Iraq, Ralph Nader, Lyndie England, Jenna Bush's Liver, and of course, everybody's favorite Brit, "Shoe Bomber" Richard Reid.

Thanks to Amanda for sending this to me.


more Joseph Massad

Here are three more articles on the situation of Joseph Massad at Columbia University.

From Ha'aretz:
A Boston-based pro-Israel organization named The David Project recently produced a documentary in which Jewish students allege they were discriminated against by Massad and other Columbia professors. The film was screened on Wednesday in Jerusalem for participants of the Global Anti-Semitism Forum, headed by Minister Natan Sharansky. Columbia administrators had seen the film several days earlier.
From the New York Times:
The producers have shown it to several New York journalists this week....

One professor in the Middle East and Asian languages and cultures department mentioned in the documentary, Joseph A. Massad, said yesterday that he had not seen it but had read press descriptions of it.
It is quite troubling to me that the film has been shown to Columbia administrators, New York journalists, participants of the Global Anti-Semitism Forum in Jerusalem, but yet Joseph Massad has not seen it. If the film were available to the public, that would be one thing, but it isn't. And if the film is going to be show to a select few, here's who that few should be: Columbia administrators and Joseph Massad.

There is also an interesting article about the situation in the Jewish Week that throws a bit of a new light on the situation (as compared with the NY Sun, NYTimes, and Ha'aretz pieces).
But in interviews with four of the seven students who appear in the film, and more than two dozen others — mostly Israeli or American Jewish students who attended MEALAC classes over the last five years — a much different picture emerges than the one seemingly portrayed on screen.

The students most familiar with the MEALAC department, while noting that some professors are highly critical of Israel and its policies, defended the teachers as well within the bounds of academic give-and-take.

Most of the complaints on campus appear to be from pro-Israel activist students not in the MEALAC program, raising questions of where anti-Israel bias — which clearly unsettles some students — ends and intimidation begins, and who can best assess the situation.
It continues with quotes from students of Massad and a few quotes from Massad himself. Also this:
Since news of the film was made public, Massad has received several pieces of hate mail, some of which he forwarded to The Jewish Week, including one from a fellow Columbia professor saying, “Go back to Arab land where Jew hating is condoned. Get the hell out of America. You are a disgrace and a pathetic typical Arab liar.”
Now I seem to think that if anybody is going to get fired from Columbia for their racist views, the author of this kind of racist bullshit should be gone (but maybe that's just me). To sign a petition in support of Joseph Massad's freedom to be subject to the same guidelines and procedures as the rest of Columbia University (and not those imposed by the media or politicians), there is a petition here. On a more humorous note, it seems a spammer has taken to signing the petition, including once with the name "Litter B. Birmingham." I know my Aunt Deb would appreciate that.


The Succession Discussion

Amidst swirling rumination and speculation as to who will take over Yasir Arafat's role as leader of the PA, the PLO, and Fatah, Amira Hass writes that maybe the "war of inheritance" that many are predicting is more hype than substance.
No inheritance war is expected, said a senior Fatah member, because the inheritance is not that attractive. "What does this inheritance offer, after all? Ruling a frustrated, impoverished, hopeless nation that suffers daily military attacks?" he asked.
A good point (though very much towing the Fatah, "everything is okay" line).

Thursday, October 28, 2004


read Ariel Dorfman

Ariel Dorfman is a Chilean author and playwrite who lived through and has written about the Pinochet regime in Chile. His play Death and the Maiden was turned into a film by Roman Polanski starring Sigourney Weaver and Ben Kingsley. He has written an article that appears on CommonDreams entitled Memories of Chile in the Midst of an American Presidential Campaign.


Casual friday at the Muqata`a? Looks like nobody else got the memo!


More thoughts on Arafat

Two thoughts here. First, I think it's interesting that there is all this concern that chaos is going to break out if Arafat dies or cannot resume his position because of health issues. I think that people who are overly concerned about that either:

a) think too much of Arafat. I mean he is not ruling the West Bank and Gaza with an iron fist. His control is very limited (he's been cooped up in one room for the past 2 and a half years) and this idea that he is responsible for every terrorist attack, that he could stop them if he wanted, that he launched the intifada - well, they're convenient for attacking Arafat, but they don't stand up too well in reality. Or,

b) haven't been paying attention to the situation too closely recently. The post-Arafat chaos already happened. The burning and looting of PA buildings in Gaza and Jenin. The breaking up of meetings of PA officials. The kidnapping of security officials in Gaza. This is the chaos that people are talking about. It already happened. And it is still happening, but I do not think that we are going to see a large uptick in chaos and violence. At least not solely as a result of the Arafat situation. The mirage that Arafat was the one in control has been fading for a while.

Second, everybody is trying to guess as to whom will succeed Arafat. I got an email from Reuters with a link to a page with photos of the five possible successors to Arafat (Abu Alaa, Abu Mazen, Mohammed Dahlan, Marwan Barghouti, and Rawhi Fattouh). Peep the link and you'll have a hard time finding a photo of Fattouh. The fact that he doesn't even have any photos in the Reuters archives means that he is probably not going to be the successor. I just thought that was funny.


Marwan Bishara on US Policy

Yesterday I went to a lecture by Marwan Bishara on the US's Middle East agenda after the presidential elections. I must say that it was very good and that Marwan is a very engaging speaker with some great ideas. He said he is working on a book and I am very much looking forward to its release. One of the concepts that Marwan talked about was that part of the failure of the Bush Administration in the Middle East is the micromanaging of 1) the war on terror and 2) the efforts to democratize the region. Let's start with the idea of threats to the US. Terrorists start at a local level and, if they intend to attack the US, look to act on a global level. However, one cannot constitute a global threat from the local level. There is always a regional level that is crucial to the ability to move from the local level to the global level. Some examples of the regional activities of terrorists that allow them to move to the global level include: drug trafficking, arms trafficking, human trafficking (document forging, etc.), religious networks, and so on. And so the key is to involve the actors in the Middle East on a regional level (even though this would really mean sacrifice on the part of the US, to incorporate Syria, Iran, the Palestinians, etc.) such that everybody feels responsible and nobody feels threatened. Marwan suggested that the best way to do that is to have some kind of plan that encourages development and economic incentives for internal reforms, but also for opening up of borders for movement of trade, technology, culture, and labor. This would encourage pluralism, empower reformists and the great moderate majority that has been disenfranchised in the Middle East. This way you have some regional accountability. I mean it's a very sort of theoretical view and there are no easy solutions. But I do feel that the idea of looking at the current administration's take on the "war on terror" and encouraging democratic reforms in the Middle East as a micromanaging approach is an effective one. Instead of focusing on the local link in the local-regional-global chain, the next administration would be better served to focus on the regional link. I don't know if I am articulating this very well, but I thought it was interesting.


7th inning stretch

Watching the baseball game last night, I must say I was quite amazed when they announced that Scott Stapp, lead singer of Creed, would be singing "God Bless America" during the 7th inning stretch. And boy, was I ever not disappointed. The man gave it his all, with his breathy soul-grunge vocals hopelessly flat. I mean it was laughable. And I felt great!

You know who is not feeling great right now? That's right, Yasir Arafat (and you thought it would be hard to transition from Scott Stapp to Yasir Arafat). From what I can gather from the news, it is still pretty unclear what is actually going on with his health and how serious it is. It doesn't sound like he's doing too good now, but with the miracles of modern science and all that, who knows. Still, even if he lives through this and even gets better, I think that this could well be a major turning point: think about it - you have a Gaza withdrawal vote in the Knesset, the election of the US President, and Arafat taking ill - all within the space of a week. There is the possibility, the opportunity even, to set a very different dynamic in place. Hopefully, that will happen, as the old dynamic wasn't working out too well, if you know what I mean.

I recommend reading Ha'aretz to explore some of the issues at play. Currently there are 17 links to stories (news and analysis) about Arafat and the possible post-Arafat era on the Ha'aretz front page online.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004


Independent: US gave date of war to Britain 5 months in advance

From the Independent:
Secret plans for the war in Iraq were passed to British Army chiefs by US defence planners five months before the invasion was launched, a court martial heard yesterday.

The revelation strengthened suspicions that Tony Blair gave his agreement to President George Bush to go to war while the diplomatic efforts to force Saddam Hussein to comply with UN resolutions were continuing.
Five months before the invasion would have been sometime in mid-late October 2002. Hmmm... let's think about what happened in October 2002. Oh, wait, that's right: The Senate passed the Iraq war resolution, authorizing the President to attack Iraq if Iraq did not comply with the UN. Looks like the President thought he had himself a blank check and wasn't wasting any time in taking it right to the bank.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004


Condy vs. Arafat

Condy Rice, in a speech to an AIPAC audience, urged world leaders (or those that still talk to him) to tell Yasir Arafat to step down.
"People are going to have to draw together and say to Yasser Arafat, 'All right, the game is up. You really need to do the things you agreed to,'" Rice told several hundred people attending a meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the most powerful pro-Israel lobby in the country.
Hmmm... sounds like cheap talk to get votes to me. Every word the Bush administration says against Arafat only ensures him another 15 minutes of survival. It's sad but true. Not to mention that Arafat was finally given permission from Israel to leave his Ramallah compound to receive medical treatment and declined it (INSERT TURNING-DOWN-OFFER JOKE HERE). If the man isn't going to leave to get a gallstone removed, he's not going to be taking Condy Rice too seriously.


Jim Bunning Can't Find the Strike Zone

Yes, it's a stupid joke, but the man who used to be a major league pitcher, and is currently a US Senator from Kentucky, Jim Bunning, seems to be totally clueless. From the Louisville, KY, Courier-Journal:
U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning said yesterday that he was unaware of reports that a unit of Army Reserve soldiers in Iraq had refused an order to deliver fuel for reasons including that their trucks were lightly armored.

"I don't know anything about that," Bunning said during a news conference after a speech he gave to the Rotary Club of Louisville....

When reporters told him that the unit's refusal was a national news story and involved a soldier from Louisville, Bunning said, "Let me explain something: I don't watch the national news, and I don't read the paper. I haven't done that for the last six weeks. I watch Fox News to get my information."
A US Senator that hasn't read a newspaper or watched the national news in the past six weeks! This man is obviously not fit for office. Really, that's a disgrace.


Ha'Aretz articles

Avirama Golan has an article in today's Ha'aretz titled The Jews versus the Israelis that looks at how the debate over settlement evacuation is being framed as it relates to Israeli society. Definitely worth reading.

Danny Rubinstein has a short piece titled Much Ado About Nothing which looks at a general lack of Palestinian interest in the Gaza "disengagement plan" and the raging debates in Israeli society. The teaser paragraph pretty much sums it up: "For most Palestinians, the pullout concerns a few hundred families who get a lot of money."


Trouble in Paradise?

Having wrapped up the Iranian endorsement and the Vladimir Putin endorsement, you'd think that getting the coveted Ayad Allawi endorsement would be in the bag for George W. Bush. But today Allawi claimed that the execution-style killing of 49 Iraqi soldiers was the result of "negligence" by US-led forces.
"There was great negligence on the part of some coalition forces, " Mr Allawi told Iraq's national assembly. "It was a heinous crime where a group of national guards were targeted."
When Ayad Allawi is stating John Kerry's case against Bush, it seems like trouble. Oh, and I think Allawi called John Edwards's son a fairy. Still checking sources on that one.


Joseph Massad

There is currently a campaign to have Joseph Massad fired from Columbia University. You can read about it here in the Daily Star. Essentially, there is an underground film that alleges anti-Semitism on the part of Massad.
Produced by a two-year-old Israel-advocacy group calling itself the David Project, the film has yet to be distributed to the public. It seems a small audience of Columbia administrators - including Barnard College president, Judith Shapiro, and Columbia provost, Alan Brinkley - received a private screening. The Boston-based group has announced that it has sent a copy to Simon Klarfeld, head of the Hillel chapter of Columbia and Barnard, who plans to screen it for the organization's board of directors in November.
New York Congressman Anthony Weiner has written to Alan Brinkley asking that Massad be fired over this. What strikes me as dangerous is the fact that here we have an underground film that has been shown to some people involved and not to others (it is unclear whether Weiner has seen it, and I do not believe that Massad has seen it) and really pits the word of Massad against the word of those individuals (or individual) making claims against him in the film. Meanwhile, Columbia has been doing what most universities do (that is, carry out internal evaluations) and has found no evidence of misconduct by Massad.
In 2003, in fact, Bollinger convened a committee of Columbia professors devoted to drawing a more distinct line between academic expression and political activism. He told the New York Daily News that the committee found no evidence, indeed no claims, of classroom bias or intimidation.
Now, I have two things to say about this. First, Massad has said some things that push the envelope. He is a radical. But on the other hand, "evidence" of his anti-Semitism is mostly being propagated (if you do a web search you'll find this to be the case) by those affiliated with Campus Watch and/or far-right pro-Israel groups. Here is an online petition you can sign in support of Joseph Massad's academic freedom. The second thing I have to say is that one can support Massad's academic freedom, that is, his right to be held to the same standards as others within Columbia University and not be held to a different standard because of outside pressure groups, without necessarily supporting everything that Massad has said. I have posted this link to the petition neither as an endorsement of Joseph Massad and his statements nor as a condemnation of them, but simply as a vehicle by which you, the reader, can sign your name in support of academic freedom.

UPDATE: For interesting related background material, I recommend this piece by Sara Roy, Harvard historian, from the London Review of Books (forwarded to me by Amanda).

Monday, October 25, 2004


What the heck is going on here?

Two articles in Ha'aretz are pretty illustrative of the current chaos that exists in Israeli politics today. The first one is about Amram Mitzna, former leader of the Labor Party, who told residents of Alei Sinai, a Jewish settlement in the West Bank, that if the Gaza withdrawal were negotiated with the Palestinians they would not have to leave the settlement, as it and two other settlements, Dugit and Nissanit, could remain under Israeli control. So Sharon is promising to evacuate settlements and Mitzna is promising that he could have kept them? What is going on here?

Well, what's going on is that Mitzna is really making a mistake (in my estimation). Does he think that he can really convince settlers that Labor would be better for their interests? That they will hear him and suddenly tell the government that it supports negotiations, that it would like to see a meeting with Arafat? I do not think so. It comes across as only Mitzna suffering from delusions. It only plays into the hands of those who sit to the right of Sharon in the Likud party and of the far-right Israeli parties, who will say "Look, Sharon is even worse than Labor, how can we support him?" Also, it really reveals the mindset of the Labor party and is indicative, I believe, of why Barak did not achieve peace with the Palestinians. The idea that the Israelis can force the Palestinians into accepting the settlements if only you can continue negotiations.
According to Mitzna, Sharon's insistence on returning to the 1967 Green Line border could pose a problem in terms of the future of the peace process.
Yes, in the view of the Labor party a dangerous precedent is being set, whereby Israel may be expected to look to internationally accepted borders and standards instead of imposing its superiority on the Palestinians (whether through negotiations or otherwise). And Mitzna actually thinks that he could have achieved a year-long ceasefire with the Palestinians. I highly doubt it.

The second article is about Palestinians with Israeli citizenship. Danny Rubinstein writes:
[O]ne [might] think that if there were a referendum on the disengagement plan that involves uprooting settlements in Gaza, Israeli Arabs would all turn out to support it and give Ariel Sharon a majority of the popular vote. But that will almost certainly not happen.

Israeli Arabs, like some of the Israeli left, will not come to the polls at all. If it's hard to drum up enthusiasm for voting in favor of Sharon on any matter among supporters of the Labor Party and Meretz, then it's even harder among Israeli Arabs, who don't have the merest spark of such enthusiasm.

Experience with Israeli Arab voting patterns indicates that Arabs throng to the polls when something directly affects them - and are apathetic about wider public issues. The clearest example is the Arab turnout for municipal elections. The Arab turnout in local elections is very high. All the rival parties (most based on the big families) recruit every possible vote in order to take control of the local council. But when it comes to more general things, like the race between Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon for prime minister, Israeli Arab voter turnout dropped substantially to a virtual boycott.
And given what we've just seen from Mitzna's Labor party, is it really that surprising that they don't motivate the Israeli Arabs to vote for them? Much less Sharon? Rubinstein's central point is that even though a majority of Israeli citizens support the removal of settlements from the Gaza Strip and West Bank, a popular referendum on Sharon's Gaza "disengagement plan" would probably not reflect this. Indeed, the pro-settlement bloc is highly motivated to vote in opposition to the referendum whereas those who oppose the settlement enterprise in its entirety are not nearly as motivated with what Sharon has acknowledged will be a plan that leaves no settlers in Gaza but will be used to justify or deflect criticism resulting from continued or increased settlement activity in the West Bank.

So there we have it. The former head of Labor comes out seeming more pro-settlement than Sharon and the Palestinians with Israeli citizenship refuse to support the removal of settlements. I guess the lesson is that things are not always as simple as they seem, eh. Or maybe there is no lesson.


A foggy fountain at Villa Lante, Bagnaia, Italy. (Photo taken by my dad)

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