Saturday, February 24, 2007

Oscar Predictions 2007

As many of you avid readers know, my Oscar predictions have been getting so unreliable that I'm statistically less likely to be correct than a monkey on crack. And cheap crack, too. But I am compelled to keep predicting - even though my methods have not changed from previous years; there's no reason to change because even though I know what knowledge I lack to make accurate decisions, I have no access to the correct knowledge. I'm flying blind with no clue, no good data, and no monkeys to help me.

Given that, the big question this year is whether Martin Scorsese will finally win the Best Director award. Working against him is an obvious enduring hatred by many people for him (why, I don't know). Another strike against Marty is that this year's movie, "The Departed" is a remake (of a recent Hong-Kong flick) and is clearly not his best work. Does it matter? Does the fact that the art is not up to snuff have *any* regard to the legion of unknown morons who get to vote on the awards?

Giving backing to my 'unknown moron' comment is Stanley Kaufmann, movie reviewer for the New Republic. He was asked by some yacko why he hasn't entered into the discussion on TNR's temporary Oscar's blog. Here's his quoted response:
I'm sorry to disappoint, but I simply can't take seriously an affair that is presented as an artistic evaluation of the past year but is principally a commercial enterprise which deliberately disregards films, however good, that are not exploitable. Besides, who are the judges who make the selections? And who are the voters other than every Tom, Dick and Harriet who happens to have a job in the movie business? (The National Book Awards, though hardly faultless, are much more sensible.)

Oh, I always watch the Oscar broadcast. I wouldn't want to miss the irritation--or the laughs. I'll never forget the year that Marisa Tomei beat out Vanessa Redgrave as best supporting actress.
Oooh, that's a good slapdown.

Anyway. I have long hoped that Scorsese would be recognized for his skill, even if it means recognizing a cruddy film. But the Academy keeps defying my expectation (see the 'Aviator' vs. 'Million Dollar Whatever' and 'Gangs of New York' vs. 'Chicago'). So, my brain tells me that just as they snubbed him before - even when he made good films - they'll keep doing that. BUT. I'm generally wrong on these things. So while I'm saying he won't get it, that means he will.

I'm blogging from this ballot, for ease of use.

Aw cripes. It's crazy hard this year. Babel could win because of the political sympathies of Hollywood liberals (exhibit A - Clooney winning for an anti-Administration movie last year; Best Picture going to a hack movie about racism in LA). Babel is about how we all can't get along and it stars Brad Pitt. It's also increasingly hip to support non-American movies (when was it not hip to do that)

The Departed is part of the Scorsese backlash or not question. If no then yes, if yes then no.

Letters from Iwo Jima If there's a backlash against Scorsese, then Eastwood may receive the numbers. However, he can have his own backlash (he won Best 2 years ago). But he made *two* movies of grand scope last year (at age 75!) and this one is also pretty foreign/hip: trying to understand war from the enemy's perspective.

While I've heard excellent things about The Queen (so much so that besides Sunshine, it's the only of the 5 that I can imagine watching to enjoy). But besides the acting caliber (see below) and the residual Diana hunger, what makes this movie tick?

Then there's the comedy, Little Miss Sunshine. I honestly couldn't imagine that it even got nominated - it's so random! - but that it is should cause consternation. It's an ensemble movie - which have done well recently (Crash, Sideways) but I just don't see it having the gravitas to win. The buzz is heavy and in the first draft of this blog entry I had said Sunshine would win - but the director wasn't nominated for Best Director! I see that putting this movie under the bar

I'm going to go for "Babel." Because of the politics (and because of last year's "Crash"). Given the Scorsese losing streak, the unnecessary-ness of honoring Eastwood and despite the rise of musicals and ensemble comedies in the past 10 years which would propel Sunshine.


I've felt Forest Whitaker [for The Last King of Scotland] has been overlooked for years. Even before the nominations were announced, I thought he'd win.


Most people are hawking about Helen Mirren, so I'm not even going to protest.


A lot of buzz is about Eddie Murphy for this... but how can they vote for him after he just made Norbit?! I've also heard many actors don't like working with him. And he's been so celebrated in other media that why would they give him an Oscar for sentimentality's sake? Mark Wahlberg also has a lot of buzz and I've liked him in many movies, but I'm banking on a Scorsese backlash. My feeling that it's going to be Alan Arkin (for Sunshine). If he wins that, then it's an earlier indicator for the Best Picture. Arkin has been nominated only three times but he is an awesome, and funny, character actor. Just think: "Serpentine! Serpentine!"


Crazy buzz about Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls) and that's likely what it will be. If the munchkin Breslin wins this then "Sunshine" is in the bag for Best Pic.


Again, the whole Marty backlash theory. And while Eastwood probably deserves this - because of the monumental achievement of two massive war pics - he has won recently. There's a statistic that no director won Best Director if his movie wasn't nominated for Best Pic, so Greengrass is out. As I said above for Best Picture, I think the Babel director, Alejandro González Iñárritu, will get this. If Scorsese wins this - which I'd like to see - then maybe the Best Pic is back up for grabs.

Well, that's all I have strength for. I'm going to a professional conference tomorrow and will miss seeing the Oscars (or having email/Internet access). Let's see how I do now that I'm making the predictions nearly a day early.

Obama About Iraq in 2002

For those who are confused about Obama's record on opposition to the Iraq war - as opposed to Bill Clinton's claim that it's a fairy tale, see the video. Things to notice:
  1. In 2002 he knew the difference between Sunni, Shi'ite and Kurd (something that McCain still does not know)

  2. He would have voted against the war resolution despite the obvious fact that Saddam Hussein is a bad guy, but because he didn't want to give the administration a carte-blanche. Smart dude.

h/t: TPM. Backpost finished 4/10/08.

2007 Purim Torah: Funny Kosher Announcements

Funny Kosher Announcements

Compiled by JC, February 24, 2007, as a fun by-product of my rabbinic duties. Note: all these are from the website and are 100% true. Honest!

I. You Can't Always Believe What You Read - Truth In Advertising

From the OK on November 1, 2006. "HEALTHY DAIRY TROPICAL FRUIT SMOOTHIE" was inadvertently labeled missing the "D" designation. This product is kosher, Dairy, cholov stam. There is only a one-month supply and future labels have been corrected.

From the OU on Oct. 31, 2006. Walden Farms Blue Cheese Dressing, Blue Cheese Dip, Ranch Dressing: These products have been reformulated and will now bear an OU pareve symbol.

From the CRC on February 16, 2006. Certain packages of Cheese Danish from Bagel Country, Skokie, IL, are dairy as indicated on the ingredient panel. However, the label mistakenly states that the product is pareve. The product is indeed cRc kosher/dairy, and is Cholov Yisroel, Pas Yisroel, and Yoshon. Future packages are being corrected.

From the Kof-K on February 24, 2006. Streit's Chunky Chicken Soup is certified as Kof-K Meat/Glatt. the word "pareve" was inadvertently printed on the label and was obliterated with black ink. Due to defective print, the word "pareve" may be visible on some cans. The product is Kof-K Meat/Glatt.

[And a twist]

From the OU on January 23, 2007. IGA Country Gravy Mix and Turkey Gravy Mix, IGA, Inc., Chicago IL: Product correctly bears an OU symbol and is certified as Kosher pareve. Ingredient panel incorrectly lists dairy ingredients.

II. Don't you wish?!

From the OU on August 29, 2006. Archer Farms (Target Corp.) Meat and Poultry Seasoning UPC #085239025932, Target Corp. Minneapolis, MN: This product, which bears the OU symbol, contains dairy ingredients as listed on the ingredient panel. The dairy designation was inadvertently omitted and the mislabeled product is being withdrawn from the marketplace.

From the OU on September 14, 2006. Archer Farms Steak Seasoning (UPC #085239025352), Target Corp. Minneapolis, MN: This product, which bears the OU symbol, contains dairy ingredients as listed on the ingredient panel. The dairy designation was inadvertently omitted and the product has been withdrawn from the marketplace. The Orthodox Union does not certify dairy products which are exclusively used with poultry or meat. This product will no longer bear the OU symbol.

From the COR of Greater Detroit on February 9, 2007: Carolina Broccoli with Cheese Rice Mix with Seasonings contains non-kosher cheese and chicken fat, but mistakenly had a Star-K symbol on the package. The manufacturer had attempted to cover up the Star-K, however, this has not been totally successful.

From the OU on February 21, 2007. America's Choice Sixteen Bean Soup Mix with Ham Seasoning UPC #75480753595: The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company-Montvale, NJ: This product bears an unauthorized OU symbol and is being withdrawn from the marketplace. Individuals spotting this product are requested to contact the Orthodox Union at 212-613-8148 or via email at

And the finest error ever:

From the OU on February 21, 2007. Pocahontas Pork and Beans in Tomato Sauce- Food Service (#10 can), Progressive Group Alliance Inc.: This product mistakenly bears an unauthorized symbol. The product is being withdrawn from the marketplace. From the OU on Oct. 18, 2006.

Pic self-made. Backpost finished 2009-12-13.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Drop Everything And Read This Link!

Oh baby. First a cast of characters. Hugh Hewitt is a right-wing Christianist blowhard. He started as a speechwriter for Nixon, worked for the DOJ under Reagan and gives Conservative and Christian litmus tests to his radio show guests. Unlike Rush Limbaugh, Hewitt has held real jobs, is well educated, and may actually know how to formulate a correct thought. Not recently, probably, but give the devil his due.

General William Odom was the head of the NSA under Reagan. He has been openly critical of the Iraq war and the warrantless-wiretaps of the current NSA.

Odom wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post where he called for an immediate withdrawal from Iraq. Hewitt, needing to protect the hand that feeds him and the butter than adorns his bread, had Odom on his radio-show. Hewitt tried to slap Odom with the standard stupid talking points of the Fox-News/Cheney crapthink. Instead, Odom smacked Hewitt around so thoroughly that Hugh may actually be dead. Or he wishes he were.

Read the transcript. Read Every Word. Because if you oppose this corrupt government, the Iraq policy, the idiocy of the right-wing machine, then you can quote Odom over and over.

I don't know why every Democrat in Congress doesn't quote this interview. Odom should be brought into the Senate to address every committee, every day, until Cheney, Bush, Rice et al. are hounded from office with fury.

Please, read, enjoy, and use.

What Did I Think About the Iraq War

Many of the center-left pundits who supported the Iraq war have come clean with apologies and explanations for why they made the mistakes they made (e.g. today's TNR by Beinart). Sure, some of the pundits will never admit an error, and I will take back some nasty things I've said about Hillary when she actually says the line "I was wrong to vote for the Iraq War," but most decent people have had to reckon with their mis-punditry.

So what about The Styx. Lord knows my reputation depends on either never being wrong, spinning data to make it sound like I'm always right, or dancing around errors by distracting ya'll with Onion & Simpson's quotes.

My clearest statement about the Iraq War comes from July 17, 2003 (found on the archaic archive):
The President Lied??!

I can't believe that this is a doubt in anyone's mind. The President needs to actually know what he's saying to be called a liar. Give the guy a break, plunging the country into war on false premises against nearly universal international opposition isn't nearly as bad as what Clinton did. If you recall, Clinton was almost impeached for lying about a heinous act of taste. It's not the same thing, people! You need to be blind and stupid to consider Bush Inc. as bad as Clinton.

Now, had we happened to find a scrap of WMD, or weren't getting our pasty white rumps kicked every single day in Iraq, then maybe we'd cut Bush some slack. As it is, we have descended into [text missing from original]

I was all for the war in Iraq. But not for any of the Bush reasons. And good thing too. I supported taking out a tyrant and for showing the world that the U.S. was as crazy as Israel (meaning that just as Israel will go into any place on the world, kick A and take names, so now America will too). Bush was for the war so he could look like a chief executive and not as a plundering, retrogressive misanthrope.

Maybe the tanking economy, the grotesque deficit, the abandoning of the State governments, and now the idiocy of our Iraq policy will show Americans that we need to kick these bums out.
To clarify the key line: "I was all for the war in Iraq. But not for any of the Bush reasons. And good thing too. I supported taking out a tyrant and for showing the world that the U.S. was as crazy as Israel" I was for the Iraq war even though I knew the president was lying and I strongly suspected there were no WMDs. I am on record (I have to search old emails, which may have been deleted) but I also claimed that when I saw that the Army 3rd Division was not allowed to leave Texas because Turkey refused to allow us entry to set up a camp, I knew the war was lost. If we were unable to bring enough troops in, we would lose.

Not that I'm a military genius; but I read the book and saw the movie "Black Hawk Down." Major military failures occur when the military isn't given enough material to factor in Murphy's Law. Small tactical forces are fine as long as everything goes as planned. But, as I learned from Bill Maudlin (among others), nothing goes to plan in war. When we couldn't move our troops in, yet we continued the attack nonetheless, I knew we were going to fail.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Krugman Rediscovered

Paul Krugman is a great pundit (he was right about Iraq, doncha know). Yet I can't read him from the NYTimes because, darn them, they started charging for the best parts of the paper. Sure, I've done without the Bridge column for years, but when they took away my Krugman, there was no one left to complain. Ahem. Anyway, I swore off giving money to the Times in 2001 when I joined the NY community's boycott, so I had no Krugman source for a while.

However, the wacko liberal website Truthout were surreptitiously carrying the NYT columnists but were told to cease and desist. But sometime around the 2006 election they started carrying some of them again. And now Free Krugman is back!

Here are some recent columns
Jan 5
Jan 8
Jan 15
Jan 19
Jan 22
Jan 29

So far, I'm Still with Edwards

2008 is still a ways away; but the field is filling up quick and the two top Democrats - Hillary & Obama - are getting money and donors and attention, so it's time to restart the '08 topic I blurbed about a few months ago. While I find Obama intriguing (and Hillary disgusting), I'm still putting my oomph behind John Edwards. Right now, I think an Edwards-Obama ticket would be very powerful. It'd match Southeast & Midwest, a moderate hawk & a social liberal, and two attractive (physically and emotionally) men who create a lot of voter excitement.

Then, after 8 years of Edwards we can plausibly have 8 years of Obama (by then people will be used to his name).

On the GOP side, I'm frightened of a Giuliani-McCain (or vice versa) ticket because they both have appeal to Independents. But McCain looks like death warmed over (and will be 72 in November '08) and Giuliani is massive S.O.B. - which is an asset for the NYC mayor's seat, but doesn't play well anywhere else.

While there's a funny symmetry to have a Giuliani-Clinton race - when's the last time the major party candidates came from the same state, probably Lincoln-Douglas - I am praying that Hillary will implode before the year is through. And Giuliani is a ticking bomb of an even higher degree (and remember he ducked out of their first fight in 2000 blaming is naughty prostate... like having cancer could keep you from the Senate; just ask Tim Johnson]

In any case, I will comment more about this issue as time permits. I do like that Krugman gave some support to Edward's bona-fides here (praising his health plan).

{2009 Update: Pic from Edwards' endorsement of Obama in 2008; my how things change.}

Lincoln & The Republican Party

I've been catching up on my Lincoln reading and considering that today we're somehow we're supposed to be celebrating his birthday (or Washington's, or all Presidents', or Mattresses), it seems appropriate to deal with a recent controversy about the man.

In my Rosh Hashanah sermon this year I mentioned how three men seem to be so great, so inclusive, that every possible adherent group wants to claim the man as their spiritual ancestor: Abraham the Patriarch, Maimonides, and Lincoln.

For Abraham's legacy, see any of the bazillion major and minor religions that use the Bible. For Maimonides, see how his pronouncements are used by Modern Orthodox, Reform, Charedi, and Chasidic groups.

Lincoln is our American Abraham. [Side note for a true story; up until when I was in kindergarten, I thought Abraham the Patriarch and Abe the President were the same person; they were talked about in the same manner, and how many people are called Abraham anyway? Name another one in American history and I'll give you a coke]

Anyway. Last week, Congressman Don Young (R-AK) while voting for the "surge" quoted what he thought were words from Lincoln:
"Congressmen who willfully take actions during wartime that damage morale and undermine the military are saboteurs and should be arrested, exiled, or hanged."
It should be obvious to anyone who knows Abe that he could never have said such drivel. He fought a war to preserve the rights of the Constitution and was constantly pardoning people from the death penalty - how could he call for people to die just for expressing their constitutionally protected beliefs?

Thankfully, it was quickly shown that Abe never said it. The quote was invented by some right-wing stooge. The full story of the quote can be seen here from Editor & Publisher:
But Lincoln never said that. The conservative author who touched off the misquotation frenzy, J. Michael Waller, concedes that the words are his, not Lincoln's. Waller says he never meant to put quote marks around them, and blames an editor [at the magazine Insight] for the mistake and the failure to correct it. We also note other serious historical errors in the Waller article containing the bogus quote.
It takes a special kind of idiot to think that the greatest president who ever lived, possibly the greatest American (besides my Mom) who ever lived, would be able to say filth invented by a right-wing crank.

It gets better when you see what Lincoln actually did say. I love this (h/t Sullivan):
"Allow the President to invade a neighboring nation whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to do so whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such purpose, and you allow him to make war at pleasure. Study to see if you can fix any limit to his power in this respect, after having given him so much as you propose. If to-day he should choose to say he thinks it necessary to invade Canada to prevent the British from invading us, how could you stop him? You may say to him, Â? 'I see no probability of the British invading us;' but he will say to you, 'Be silent: I see it, if you don't.'

"The provision of the Constitution giving the war making power to Congress was dictated, as I understand it, by the following reasons: Kings had always been involving and impoverishing their people in wars, pretending generally, if not always, that the good of the people was the object. This our convention understood to be the most oppressive of all kingly oppressions, and they resolved to so frame the Constitution that no one man should hold the power of bringing this oppression upon us. But your view destroys the whole matter, and places our President where kings have always stood," - Abraham Lincoln, in a letter to William H. Herndon, Feb. 15, 1848.

(Herndon, Lincoln's law partner, had written him arguing that the president as commander-in-chief possessed the right to initiate a war against Mexico without specific Congressional authorization.)"
To clarify Lincoln - while in Congress - criticized the sitting President's rationale for the Mexican War. Which means that the Lincoln of the Republican-stooges would call for the hanging of the real Lincoln.

Lincoln is not a Modern Republican

But here's the bigger point: why do we keep associating Lincoln with the Republican party? Sure, I know, he was the first of that party to be president, but by that logic we should say that James Buchanan is indicative of the Democratic party. The parties of 1860 have no resemblance to what they are now. The 1860 Democrats were about racism and entrenched power - the very same stuff represented by the Republicans of today (and except for the amazing Teddy Roosevelt, pretty much every Republican from 1868 on).

I want to call for a moratorium on labeling Republicans "the Party of Lincoln" and that all references to Lincoln being a founder of the current party to be considered irony.

Lincoln fought and died for freedom, dignity, and equality. He was a bleeding-heart liberal, a supporter of the common laborer against the wealthy, a staunch opponent of the anti-immigrant Know-Nothing party, a supporter of civil rights, an opponentnt the death-penalty, and unaffiliated with any religious denomination. He is a liberal and just as James Buchanan would be a 2007 Republican, Lincoln would be 2007 Democrat.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

What Kind of Lies Constitute Anti-Semitism?

Another response to the werid TNR/Judis argument about the Israel Lobby:
What Kind of Lies Constitute Anti-Semitism?
by Jeffrey Herf & Andrei S. Markovits
Post date: 02.13.07

John B. Judis minimizes the radicalism of John Mearsheimer and Steven Walt's arguments about the Israel lobby in their now much discussed attack of 2006 ("Split Personality," February 8). In a letter to the London Review of Books at the time, we wrote that Walt and Mearsheimer's assertions did evoke comparison to an older tradition of anti-Semitic argumentation. Judis recognizes that Mearsheimer and Walt argued that an "Israel lobby" exerted influence not only over American policy toward Israel but toward the Middle East as a whole and thus was instrumental as well in the decision to invade and occupy Iraq. Yet Judis then writes that Mearsheimer and Walt's case would be "similar to older anti-Semitism" only if they had claimed that the Israel lobby "controls, rather than influences, foreign policy and that its reach extends to all regions and not merely the Middle East."

With use of this dubious redefinition of what constitutes an anti-Semitic argument, Judis minimizes the extent to which Mearsheimer and Walt ignored elementary facts. American foreign policy in the Middle East has been and remains a balancing act between support for Israel, on the one hand, and support for various states--most of whom are deeply inimical toward Israel, to say the least--upon whom we and the world economy depend for oil. The assertions that an Israel lobby also controls American policy toward Saudi Arabia or Egypt, or that it was pushing for an invasion of Iraq are blatantly false. For Mearsheimer and Walt to have made them in March of 2006--when more than 2,000 Americans had died in Iraq, thousands more had been wounded, billions of dollars had been spent, and the war was going badly--was also dangerous. It amounted to saying that Jews are at least partly, if not fully, to blame for these losses. Judis now wants to raise the bar for calling an argument anti-Semitic by insisting that it refer to control over American policy toward the whole world. We think elementary distortions of the facts regarding American policy in the Middle East suffice.

Further, contrary to the claims of Israel's critics, we do not see evidence that criticism of Israel is being stifled anywhere in the United States. It is not suppressed in the universities, in the print or electronic media, or in Congress. To the contrary, it is expressed frequently and with vigor in prominent places by people with influence, including tenured full professors at the University of Chicago, Harvard University, and New York University, as well as a former president of the United States. These critics have access to the op-ed pages of The New York Times and The Washington Post. They have been able to write long essays critical of Israel in The New York Review of Books, probably the most widely read bi-weekly intellectual review in this country, as well as in the London Review of Books and many other leading newspapers in Europe. They have done so without having incurred the danger of losing their jobs, their voices, their prestige, or their incomes. To invoke, as some have, the specter of McCarthyism for the purpose of delegitimating the criticism that their views rightfully engenders conflates critique with persecution and represents an effort to stifle perfectly legitimate objections to their views. We have never tried to prevent anyone from using their constitutional right to free speech to make what we regard as outrageous claims about Jews or anyone else. Many people criticize Israel without anyone suggesting that either their intentions or arguments have any link to anti-Semitism.

It is ironic that Judis, a senior editor at The New Republic, lends credibility to accusations of dual loyalty. If this is the case, then TNR is certainly guilty, for, more than any other journal of opinion, it has made the case that support for Israel should be a key component of U.S. foreign policy. Judis lends credence to a double standard. When some Jewish intellectuals in the 1980s made the case in favor of NATO's hard line in Europe in the face of the Soviet Union's "peace offensive," no one accused them of having dual loyalty to the NATO countries of Western Europe, even though they were supporting policies of extended nuclear deterrence. Then, as now, they argued that it was in the vital interests of the United States to take these measures. Moreover, on many occasions, the two of us, like many other liberal supporters of Israel, including the editors of this magazine, have criticized Israel's policy of settlements in the West Bank.

Israel's critics in this country have the freedom to say what they wish, including the freedom to exaggerate vastly the power of Jews and the Israel lobby. We who criticize some of their views also have the freedom and obligation to explain why we think such arguments are false, dangerous, and bear comparisons to older anti-Semitic traditions. In a period in which Iran's president threatens to wipe Israel off the face of this earth and Hezbollah, Hamas, and Al Qaeda seek its destruction as well, a weakening of American support for Israel would be a catastrophe of the first order not only for Israel, but for its supporters in this country. It would also be both a strategic blunder and moral debacle from the perspective of U.S. national security in the conventional sense of that term.

Jeffrey Herf teaches Modern European history at the University of Maryland, College Park. His most recent book is The Jewish Enemy: Nazi Propaganda During World War II and the Holocaust (Harvard University Press, 2006). Andrei S. Markovits is the Karl W. Deutsch Collegiate Professor of Comparative Politics and German Studies at the University of Michigan. He is the author of Uncouth Nation: Why Europe Dislikes America (Princeton University Press).
Backpost finished 2009-12-13.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Anti-anti-Semitism Defended

This is a very good TNR piece by Bret Stevens (former editor of the JPost and now at the WSJ) about the current fog of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism:
"Anti-anti-Semitism Defended: Loyalty Oath"by Bret Stephens
Post date: 02.12.07

John B. Judis calls the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, an anti-Semite ("Split Personality," February 8). But how does he know this?

Certainly not from any of Ahmadinejad's public utterances. I've searched high-and-low for any instance in which the Iranian speaks specifically of Jews, and can find nothing overtly anti-Semitic. Yes, he has raised questions about the Holocaust, and further questions about why a Jewish state was not established somewhere in Europe. But that's just a matter of establishing historical facts and assigning historical responsibility, right? Yes, he has called for Israel to be "wiped off the map," or, if you prefer another translation, "vanished from the page of time." But this, as a columnist in The Guardian has pointed out, is nothing more than an expression of anti-Zionism that admits of interpretations not embracing acts of genocide. Then, too, Ahmadinejad has boasted about the inclusion of Iranian Jews in the Islamic Republic's parliament. He's even been seen embracing the ultra-orthodox rabbis of the anti-Zionist Neturei Karta sect.

So, again, on what grounds does Judis accuse Ahmadinejad of anti-Semitism?

The question is asked partly tongue-in-cheek. Of course Ahmadinejad is an anti-Semite, and anyone who doubts it is either a knave or a fool. Yet it also cuts to the heart of the argument Judis and many others have made about the so-called "anti-anti-Semites," myself included, which is that we brandish the charge of anti-Semitism too freely. "Anyone who criticizes Israel's actions or argues that pro-Israel groups have significant influence over U.S. Middle East policy ... stands a good chance of getting labeled an anti-Semite," complain professors John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt in their notorious paper on the "Israel Lobby." For his part, Judis believes that we anti-anti-Semites "are attempting to suppress an important debate on American foreign policy toward Israel and the Middle East." More about the latter below. The first point is to establish how it is we all just "know" Ahmadinejad is an anti-Semite. There aren't many anti-Semites today who will actually come out with it and say "I hate Jews." Even the Muslim Brotherhood's Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, who ministers to the Sunni masses via his pulpit on Al Jazeera, tends to be careful with his utterances about Jews. Spotting an anti-Semite therefore requires forensic skills, interpretive wits, and moral judgment. Judis's theory is that the distinctive, tell-tale feature of real anti-Semitism is that it contains a "large element of pure fantasy." Thus Ahmadinejad's Holocaust-denial/skepticism would qualify as anti-Semitic to Judis, as would the allegation, common in the Arab world, that Jews were behind the attacks of September 11. By contrast, to suggest that Israel is practicing apartheid, as Jimmy Carter has, or that the Israel lobby all-but runs U.S. policy in the Middle East, as Walt and Mearsheimer have, contains just enough by way of reality or plausibility to acquit them of the charge of anti-Semitism.

Yet plenty of anti-Semitic stereotypes are not simply fantasy-based. Do Jews run Hollywood? I haven't exactly made a study of it, but I'd wager Jews are disproportionately represented among studio executives and sundry movers-and-shakers. Wall Street? I'm guessing the same. Yet of the man who says "the Jews run Hollywood," or "the Jews run Wall Street," most of us would say he is probably an anti-Semite. To what end does he make the claim? Why, if Jews really do run Hollywood, should the fact be significant? Would Hollywood be a better place if Jews didn't run the place? And so on.

In other words, racial, religious, or ethnic prejudice is not so much a matter of libel as it is of malice. Take dual loyalty. "Critics of the new anti-Semitism are engaged in a flight from their own selves," writes Judis, noting the apparent contradiction between American Jews simultaneously denouncing accusations of dual loyalty while insisting that Jews everywhere support Israel. Yet what rankles about the charge of dual loyalty is not that it doesn't contain its share of truth--of course American Jews generally have strong, if subsidiary, loyalties to Israel. What rankles is that it is leveled as a charge. When given voice by the likes of Walt and Mearsheimer, it suggests that the loyalties of millions of American Jews are evenly split and that, in extremis, the Israeli loyalty could win out over the American one, posing a permanent risk of betrayal or treason.

Nor is this the only way in which Judis gets things wrong. Regarding Tony Judt, he writes that what most provoked the critics was Judt's call for the Jewish state to be replaced by a binational one. Please. Binationalism is too obviously stupid an idea to qualify as vile. What made Judt's polemic uniquely nasty was its curious indulgence of Arab youth whose violence against Jewish persons or property he defined as a "misdirected effort ... to get back at Israel." No anti-Semitism there, just legitimate anti-Zionism with the wrong mailing address! As for the Walt-Mearsheimer paper, Judis fails to understand that its real smear does not lie in its claims about The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Rather, it is in its claims that Israel is a nation based "on the principle of blood kinship," that it is a faithless ally to the U.S., that it was born by way of theft and ethnic cleansing and so on. The argument about AIPAC is offered merely by way of explanation for the premise that Israel is a rogue state.

Finally there is Judis's point about the supposed attempt to "suppress debate." How does joining a debate become an effort to suppress it? I am not aware that Mearsheimer and Walt have been sent from the field to cower behind the bleachers. Indeed, nothing so perfectly gives the lie to their claims about the vast power of the Israel lobby as the fact that they have now been contracted--by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, no less--to turn their article into a book.

Still, were it up to me Judt, Mearsheimer, Carter et al would be run out of polite society. What's wrong with that? A decade ago, Judis himself tried to do the same to Charles Murray for the "ominous racial theory" suggested by The Bell Curve. The plain fact is that some ideas simply foul our public discourse. Some "controversies" open doors to scoundrels. Some small truths serve as vehicles for big lies. It is not a resort to censorship to ask of the people who hold the keys to magazines like The New Republic or newspapers like The Wall Street Journal to exercise judgment and discretion. Indeed, it is the essence of our responsibility.

Bret Stephens is a Wall Street Journal columnist and a member of the paper's
editorial board.
Backpost finished 2009-12-13.

Friday, February 09, 2007

In Front of Our Nose

The body of a letter to Andrew Sullivan, re: this.
First of all, congratulations on the move to the Atlantic. I guess as a resident of both sides, you're an Oceanic expert.

Second, re: In Front of Our Nose: I always thought that Cheney's attack on Wilson was a small piece of Cheney's antagonism to the CIA.

The CIA didn't play ball when Cheney tried to paint Iraq as the answer to Bush's weaknesses - even before 9/11 - and after 9/11 (when the pretext for an Iraq attack was folded into the war on Al-Qaeda) the CIA was still giving insufficiently politicized intelligence. Cheney eventually succeeded in forcing the CIA to bend to his will - as we saw with George "Slam Dunk" Tenet - which set them up to be the scapegoat for any future failure. The result was a public humiliation of the CIA's effectiveness - shaming the whole professional intelligence officer class. Then Cheney replaced the disgraced Tenet with a hack appointee. This led to a large number of professionals resigning. Then the CIA was demoted in role, yet still being held as the scapegoat for whatever abuses Cheney has ordered (secret prisons, torture).

All in all, Cheney's outing of Plame was part of a plan to cow the heads of the CIA so that Cheney could use them as his cover/victims for all the crimes he intended to commit in the name of national security.

[I just re-read that last paragraph and it makes me sound like a bug-eyed loony, but that is the type of life we're living nowadays.]
Backpost; put up 3-23-2009. I had everything below, why don't I publish these at the time??

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Quiz: Are You a Liberal Anti-Semite?

[note to people without a sense of humor: this test is absolutely real.]

Take this test. I got, actually, a negative number: Are You a Liberal Anti-Semite?

[note to people with a sense of humor: take a look at all those people who don't have a sense of humor, they think the test is for real!]

Brief: Space Madness

Found a fun link to wav-sound files of some of my favorite insanity. Like Ren & Stimpy. Site's called "Frogstar" which is evocative enough. Enjoy.

This is a backpost finished 4/10/08, but who cares really.