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Posts For: September 28, 2007

An Interview with Jack O’Brien

Today, contentions presents an interview with theater director Jack O’Brien. Mr. O’Brien won the Tony Award this year for Best Director for his work on Tom Stoppard’s critically acclaimed play The Coast of Utopia, which received high marks from Terry Teachout in the April 2007 issue of COMMENTARY.

Mr. O’Brien made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera in April, with Puccini’s il trittico. He has won two other Tony Awards for directing (Hairspray, Henry IV) and is the Artistic Director at the Old Globe Theater in San Diego, California. His current project is a musical adaptation of the Steven Spielberg film, Catch Me if You Can.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2n8e8L78uI[/youtube]

Today, contentions presents an interview with theater director Jack O’Brien. Mr. O’Brien won the Tony Award this year for Best Director for his work on Tom Stoppard’s critically acclaimed play The Coast of Utopia, which received high marks from Terry Teachout in the April 2007 issue of COMMENTARY.

Mr. O’Brien made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera in April, with Puccini’s il trittico. He has won two other Tony Awards for directing (Hairspray, Henry IV) and is the Artistic Director at the Old Globe Theater in San Diego, California. His current project is a musical adaptation of the Steven Spielberg film, Catch Me if You Can.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2n8e8L78uI[/youtube]

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The Clash of the Titans

Yesterday, the controversial Regina Ip announced her candidacy for a seat in LegCo, Hong Kong’s Legislative Council. Opposing her is the formidable Anson Chan, dubbed by many as “Hong Kong’s conscience.” The December 2 contest, a by-election, is now called the “Clash of the Titans,” yet it is more important than that. At stake is nothing less than democracy in what is now a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China.

“I am now a different Regina Ip from the one before,” the candidate said in making her announcement. That’s good, because few in Hong Kong liked the old one. As the reviled Secretary for Security, she pushed aggressively in 2003 for the adoption of wide-ranging antisubversion legislation known as Article 23. Her hardline tactics triggered a protest of 500,000 citizens and ultimately led to the government’s dropping of the draconian proposal. Ip also made few friends when, arguing against democracy, she said, “Adolf Hitler was returned by universal suffrage, and he killed 7 million Jews.” The public reaction to her was so great that she had to resign. Ip then spent three years in Stanford and came back as a self-proclaimed democrat. The candidate began her campaign yesterday by offering “sincere apologies” to the public for making mistakes four years ago in trying to railroad passage of Article 23.

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Yesterday, the controversial Regina Ip announced her candidacy for a seat in LegCo, Hong Kong’s Legislative Council. Opposing her is the formidable Anson Chan, dubbed by many as “Hong Kong’s conscience.” The December 2 contest, a by-election, is now called the “Clash of the Titans,” yet it is more important than that. At stake is nothing less than democracy in what is now a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China.

“I am now a different Regina Ip from the one before,” the candidate said in making her announcement. That’s good, because few in Hong Kong liked the old one. As the reviled Secretary for Security, she pushed aggressively in 2003 for the adoption of wide-ranging antisubversion legislation known as Article 23. Her hardline tactics triggered a protest of 500,000 citizens and ultimately led to the government’s dropping of the draconian proposal. Ip also made few friends when, arguing against democracy, she said, “Adolf Hitler was returned by universal suffrage, and he killed 7 million Jews.” The public reaction to her was so great that she had to resign. Ip then spent three years in Stanford and came back as a self-proclaimed democrat. The candidate began her campaign yesterday by offering “sincere apologies” to the public for making mistakes four years ago in trying to railroad passage of Article 23.

“The by-election has come during a critical stage for democracy,” said Anson Chan earlier this week. There seems to be a consensus in Hong Kong that there should be universal suffrage by 2012, the year of the next election for the chief executive, the city’s top post. Beijing, which has consistently opposed broadening the electorate, is now trying once again to defer the issue.

Both Chan and Ip say they are in favor of 2012. Yet Ip wants universal suffrage only if Chinese leaders concur. She also argues that she will be better able to work with China. She’s undoubtedly correct because it’s clear she has the backing of both the Chinese leadership and Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing political party, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong.

Today, some argue that the election of Anson Chan will confirm Beijing’s fear that universal suffrage is dangerous because it will only lead to the election of “hostile forces.” Perhaps that is the case, but if pro-democrats are elected then at least China will have to make its position clear. Ip, if chosen, will never force the universal suffrage issue. The people of Hong Kong have a right to know where China stands on the most important issue they face.

Why elect Anson Chan even if she cannot bring about democracy? If for no other reason, then because of the work she will do to expose autocracy.

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Terrorism and the Palestinian Economy

Those who have taken it upon themselves to be the permanent caretakers of the Palestinian cause have found, in the abysmal condition of the economies of the West Bank and Gaza, their latest mission. The U.N., the World Bank, and a new British government report are all in agreement that a major obstacle to peace is the Palestinian economy, and the major obstacle to its improvement is, of course, Israeli security measures.

The saviors of Palestine never wish to deal with the behavior of the Palestinians themselves; thus, they have come forward with a set of economic development proposals that predictably avoid addressing the central problem with the Palestinian economy: Palestinian terrorism. Last week, the British government released a much-anticipated report that had been commissioned by Gordon Brown in 2005. It proposes five “building blocks,” the third of which states that “the right balance must be struck between short-term security and allowing movement and access,” and goes on to argue that Palestinian economic development will increase Israel’s security. Yet who, exactly, is going to decide for Israel the “right balance” between its own security and Palestinian freedom of movement? If the authors of the British study had their way, this “right balance” would involve many more buses and restaurants blowing up in Tel Aviv. Thankfully, however, the British do not set Israeli security policy, so their nattering on about it is almost totally irrelevant. The rest of the British study, a full version of which is available here, is a similarly unimpressive recitation of platitudes.

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Those who have taken it upon themselves to be the permanent caretakers of the Palestinian cause have found, in the abysmal condition of the economies of the West Bank and Gaza, their latest mission. The U.N., the World Bank, and a new British government report are all in agreement that a major obstacle to peace is the Palestinian economy, and the major obstacle to its improvement is, of course, Israeli security measures.

The saviors of Palestine never wish to deal with the behavior of the Palestinians themselves; thus, they have come forward with a set of economic development proposals that predictably avoid addressing the central problem with the Palestinian economy: Palestinian terrorism. Last week, the British government released a much-anticipated report that had been commissioned by Gordon Brown in 2005. It proposes five “building blocks,” the third of which states that “the right balance must be struck between short-term security and allowing movement and access,” and goes on to argue that Palestinian economic development will increase Israel’s security. Yet who, exactly, is going to decide for Israel the “right balance” between its own security and Palestinian freedom of movement? If the authors of the British study had their way, this “right balance” would involve many more buses and restaurants blowing up in Tel Aviv. Thankfully, however, the British do not set Israeli security policy, so their nattering on about it is almost totally irrelevant. The rest of the British study, a full version of which is available here, is a similarly unimpressive recitation of platitudes.

The just-released World Bank report stipulates three “preconditions for growth” for the Palestinian economy: “(1) a drastic improvement in the security environment; (2) dismantling restrictions on the movement of Palestinian people and goods; and (3) clear progress on Palestinian reform and institution-building.” The authors seem unaware that preconditions (1) and (2) are at war with each other: any serious fulfillment of point two will have the immediate consequence of undermining any progress on point one.

The World Bank report details how terribly the Palestinians have damaged themselves. Since the start of the terror war in 1999, per capita GDP has shrunk by one-third; “GDP is being increasingly driven by government and private consumption from remittances and donor aid, while investment has fallen to exceedingly low levels”; public sector employment has increased by 60 percent, as “workers have been hired as part of a trend to bolster political support”; already-low private investment decreased by over 15 percent between 2005 and 2006; and on, through a litany of indicators of economic decrepitude.

Amazingly, the World Bank also says: “The main challenge for Palestinian economic recovery remains the comprehensive restrictions on movement and access imposed by GoI [the Government of Israel]…that combine to stunt Palestinian economic growth.” A more accurate way to formulate that statement would be: “The main challenge for Palestinian economic recovery remains the ongoing support for terrorism against Israel, which cause comprehensive restrictions on movement and access to be imposed by GoI.” But never mind.

This is how these kinds of things always seem to go. The same people who lobby on behalf of the Palestinians are unfortunately those who tend not to take the Israeli commitment to its own security very seriously. These are people who, in theory, would be well-suited to deliver the message to the Palestinians that any hopes they have for economic or political development are forever doomed so long as their terror war against Israel continues.

My own humble recommendation to the many advocates for Palestine is to insist that a Palestinian rejection of terrorism be a precondition for aid. I realize this is an unrealistic proposal, but so be it—nothing the British government or World Bank is proposing is any more realistic. It’s worth mentioning that, after the Six Day War, when the dark night of Israeli occupation descended on the Palestinians, but before the start of the first Intifada, the GNP of the West Bank grew, from 1968 to 1980, at an average rate of 12 percent per year, and the per capita GNP increased by 10 percent. I wonder if the people who write about the Palestinian economy today know that?

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Cartoons After Columbia

Unctuous bows, veiled threats, and smug mockery do not an edifying speech make, but Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s performance at Columbia University offers at least one consolation: the cartoons. The utter absurdity of the event has drawn forth a pageant of arresting editorial cartoons, some quite amusing. But only one managed to capture its essential grotesqueness—the ostentatious display of tolerance to a man whose most notable characteristic is his murderous intolerance, killing with roadside bombs today and atomic weapons tomorrow.

Presumably because of the pressure of deadlines, most cartoonists did not deal with the substance of the Iranian president’s talk, and depicted the event only in generic terms. Ed Stein of the Rocky Mountain News, for example, simply showed the worm in the Big Apple. Others focused on the theme of free speech. Pat Oliphant showed a disdainful Statue of Liberty, holding a diminutive Ahmadinejad at arm’s length as he jabbers away harmlessly; for Tom Toles, Columbia gave its speaker a rope long enough with which to hang himself, the noose labeled “free speech.”

Those who waited until after the speech to draw produced more penetrating images. Jerry Holbert of the Boston Herald had Ahmadinejad telling a politically incorrect joke (“a bunch of American infidels, a rabbi, and a suicide bomber walk into a bar”), which, while amusing, was not enough removed from reality to be truly funny. Far less amusing was the smattering of cartoonists who evidently have no objection to Ahmadinejad at all. Some like Tony Auth, the graphically inept cartoonist of the Philadelphia Inquirer, did not even think the event worthy of note. But then this discreet silence is preferable to the work of Lalo Alcaraz, who writes the daily comic strip La Cucaracha. His cartoon showed the Iranian under a sign labeled Republican Party Dept. of Homosexual Control, sitting between a photograph of President Bush and a sign “22 days gay free.” In other words, the only real problem Alcaraz finds with Ahmadinejad, whose regime enforces the public execution of homosexuals, is that the Iranian leader reminds the cartoonist of Republicans—whose actions might just conceivably remove the death threat from those same homosexuals.

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Unctuous bows, veiled threats, and smug mockery do not an edifying speech make, but Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s performance at Columbia University offers at least one consolation: the cartoons. The utter absurdity of the event has drawn forth a pageant of arresting editorial cartoons, some quite amusing. But only one managed to capture its essential grotesqueness—the ostentatious display of tolerance to a man whose most notable characteristic is his murderous intolerance, killing with roadside bombs today and atomic weapons tomorrow.

Presumably because of the pressure of deadlines, most cartoonists did not deal with the substance of the Iranian president’s talk, and depicted the event only in generic terms. Ed Stein of the Rocky Mountain News, for example, simply showed the worm in the Big Apple. Others focused on the theme of free speech. Pat Oliphant showed a disdainful Statue of Liberty, holding a diminutive Ahmadinejad at arm’s length as he jabbers away harmlessly; for Tom Toles, Columbia gave its speaker a rope long enough with which to hang himself, the noose labeled “free speech.”

Those who waited until after the speech to draw produced more penetrating images. Jerry Holbert of the Boston Herald had Ahmadinejad telling a politically incorrect joke (“a bunch of American infidels, a rabbi, and a suicide bomber walk into a bar”), which, while amusing, was not enough removed from reality to be truly funny. Far less amusing was the smattering of cartoonists who evidently have no objection to Ahmadinejad at all. Some like Tony Auth, the graphically inept cartoonist of the Philadelphia Inquirer, did not even think the event worthy of note. But then this discreet silence is preferable to the work of Lalo Alcaraz, who writes the daily comic strip La Cucaracha. His cartoon showed the Iranian under a sign labeled Republican Party Dept. of Homosexual Control, sitting between a photograph of President Bush and a sign “22 days gay free.” In other words, the only real problem Alcaraz finds with Ahmadinejad, whose regime enforces the public execution of homosexuals, is that the Iranian leader reminds the cartoonist of Republicans—whose actions might just conceivably remove the death threat from those same homosexuals.

In compensation for this, the event has produced at least one instant classic. In the cartoon by Sean Delonas of the New York Post, Ahmadinejad is shown at the podium as he calls on a questioner, saying “One last question, yes, the gentleman in the back.” Our point of view is from behind Ahmadinejad, and we must peer deep into the crowd to see the questioner, a skeletal concentration camp victim, in his stripes and yellow star. He wears a mournful and weary expression, and we are not even certain if he is dead or alive.

In every sense it is a masterpiece. Most editorial cartoonists think schematically, like Toles or Stein, placing cut-out figures on flat backgrounds. But Delonas typically employs dramatic perspective, as here with the haunting juxtaposition of foreground and background. Rather than a self-contained visual pun entailing a single joke, Delonas’s image implies much more than it shows, and we can’t help but imagine what is about to be said. Whatever the reason, it does what all successful graphic art must do: present an unforgettable image that resonates in the mind. It is a work of great dignity that almost washes away the vicious agitprop of Alcaraz.

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The Evasive Democrats

At Wednesday night’s Democratic presidential debate, Tim Russert asked a very simple question of the major candidates, beginning first with Hillary Clinton:

Senator Clinton, in 1981, the Israelis took out a nuclear reactor in Iraq. On September 6, to the best of our information, Israel attacked Syria because there was suspicion that perhaps North Korea had put some nuclear materials in Syria. If Israel concluded that Iran’s nuclear capability threatened Israel’s security, would Israel be justified in launching an attack on Iran?

Any presidential candidate serious about the American-Israel relationship, who also understands the boon to humanity that was Israel’s 1981 Osirak attack, would answer in the affirmative, preferably just “yes.” A bit verbose, Mayor Giuliani’s answer is nonetheless a good example:

Iran is not going to be allowed to build a nuclear power. If they get to a point where they’re going to become a nuclear power, we will prevent them, we will set them back eight to ten years. That is not said as a threat. That should be said as a promise.

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At Wednesday night’s Democratic presidential debate, Tim Russert asked a very simple question of the major candidates, beginning first with Hillary Clinton:

Senator Clinton, in 1981, the Israelis took out a nuclear reactor in Iraq. On September 6, to the best of our information, Israel attacked Syria because there was suspicion that perhaps North Korea had put some nuclear materials in Syria. If Israel concluded that Iran’s nuclear capability threatened Israel’s security, would Israel be justified in launching an attack on Iran?

Any presidential candidate serious about the American-Israel relationship, who also understands the boon to humanity that was Israel’s 1981 Osirak attack, would answer in the affirmative, preferably just “yes.” A bit verbose, Mayor Giuliani’s answer is nonetheless a good example:

Iran is not going to be allowed to build a nuclear power. If they get to a point where they’re going to become a nuclear power, we will prevent them, we will set them back eight to ten years. That is not said as a threat. That should be said as a promise.

Meanwhile, here were Hillary’s responses:

CLINTON: Tim, I think that’s one of those hypotheticals, that is…

RUSSERT: It’s not a hypothetical, Senator.

CLINTON: …better not addressed at this time.

This back-and-forth went on for several minutes.

Russert then asked the same question of Barack Obama, who, after asking to “back up for a second,” replied:

I think what Mayor Giuliani said was irresponsible, because we have not yet come to that point. We have not tried the other approach.

Next, Russert asked Edwards, who, like Clinton and Obama, simply refused to answer a yes-or-no question with a “yes” or “no.” The essence of his response?

Carrots being, we will help you with your economy if, in fact, you give up your nuclear ambitions. The flip side being, there will be severe economic sanctions if you don’t.

Imposing “severe economic sanctions,” is what the Bush administration has been trying to do for years. This effort has been unsuccessful, of course, thanks to our friends the Chinese and the Russians. Senator Edwards has an excellent record of convincing juries in the South to award his clients millions of dollars; perhaps he’s counting on his effortless charm to work in Beijing and Moscow. Either way, it’s unsettling to witness the Democrats’ abject refusal to answer properly a question of critical importance to American security.

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