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.
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.
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.
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.
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.