Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 10, 2007

Caveat Emptor

Are there people out there who take Wikipedia seriously as a source of objective information? There shouldn’t be, but unfortunately there are. In fact, lots of students use it a source of first resort. It’s so popular, that whenever you type almost any subject into Google, the first hit is usually for a Wikipedia entry.

Yet disinformation abounds, often motivated by animus or prejudice. There is, for instance, the by-now famous story of a former assistant to Robert F. Kennedy who was brazenly—and completely without foundation—accused on Wikipedia of complicity in the assassinations of both JFK and RFK. (For this sorry tale, see his article.)

A friend has now called my attention to another bizarre distortion, this one an attempt not to besmirch the character of one man but of an entire country. If you look up the Philippine War (1899-1902) you get this entry. And in the very first paragraph you get this statement: “The U.S. conquest of the Philippines has been described as a genocide, and resulted in the death of 1.4 million Filipinos (out of a total population of seven million).”

I was pretty startled to read this. I have written a whole chapter on the war in my book, The Savage Wars of Peace, and I have never once heard that the U.S. was guilty of genocide. How could it have entirely escaped my attention?

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Are there people out there who take Wikipedia seriously as a source of objective information? There shouldn’t be, but unfortunately there are. In fact, lots of students use it a source of first resort. It’s so popular, that whenever you type almost any subject into Google, the first hit is usually for a Wikipedia entry.

Yet disinformation abounds, often motivated by animus or prejudice. There is, for instance, the by-now famous story of a former assistant to Robert F. Kennedy who was brazenly—and completely without foundation—accused on Wikipedia of complicity in the assassinations of both JFK and RFK. (For this sorry tale, see his article.)

A friend has now called my attention to another bizarre distortion, this one an attempt not to besmirch the character of one man but of an entire country. If you look up the Philippine War (1899-1902) you get this entry. And in the very first paragraph you get this statement: “The U.S. conquest of the Philippines has been described as a genocide, and resulted in the death of 1.4 million Filipinos (out of a total population of seven million).”

I was pretty startled to read this. I have written a whole chapter on the war in my book, The Savage Wars of Peace, and I have never once heard that the U.S. was guilty of genocide. How could it have entirely escaped my attention?

There is, needless to say, not a scintilla of evidence that Presidents McKinley and Roosevelt made any attempt to wipe out the population of the Philippines. There is no doubt that a lot of Filipinos died in the course of the war, but most of those deaths were the result of disease, not American bullets. In my book, I cite the generally accepted casualty totals: 4,234 American dead and, on the other side, 16,000 Filipinos killed in battle and another 200,000 civilians killed mainly by disease and famine. My sources for these estimates are books written by William Thaddeus Sexton, an historian writing in the 1930’s, and two more recent accounts written by Stanley Karnow and Walter LaFeber. Neither Karnow nor LaFeber is exactly an American imperialist; in fact, both are well-known liberals. Yet their casualty counts are seven times lower than those claimed by Wikipedia, and they make no mention of any genocide.

Where does the Wikipedia figure come from? The footnote refers to an online essay, “U.S. Genocide in the Philippines” by E. San Juan Jr., posted on an obscure website. The author is described as follows: “E. San Juan, Jr. was recently Fulbright Professor of American Studies at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium, and visiting professor of literature and cultural studies at National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan, Republic of China.” Not exactly a pedigree that instantly screams out that he has any special expertise on the Philippine War.

In his short essay (1,046 words), E. San Juan Jr. concedes that his claims of genocide and of 1.4 million dead do not come from any mainstream sources. He writes: “Among historians, only Howard Zinn and Gabriel Kolko have dwelt on the ‘genocidal’ character of the catastrophe.” But even these ultra-left-wing “revisionist” historians (who also have no expertise in the Philippine War) have, in his telling, cited no more than 600,000 dead Filipinos.

So whence the figure of 1.4 million? According to Mr. San Juan, “The first Filipino scholar to make a thorough documentation of the carnage is the late Luzviminda Francisco in her contribution to The Philippines: The End of An Illusion (London, 1973).” I confess to never having heard of Ms. Francisco (whose works are cataloged online by neither the Library of Congress nor the New York Public Library), but Amazon does contain a link for one of her books. It’s called Conspiracy for Empire: Big business, corruption, and the politics of imperialism in America, 1876-1907 and it was published in 1985 by something called the Foundation for Nationalist Studies, which doesn’t have a web page (or at least none that I could discover).

I am, to put it mildly, underwhelmed by the historical evidence gathered here to accuse the U.S. of having killed 1.4 million people in an attempted genocide. This is not the kind of finding that would be accepted for a second by any reputable scholar, regardless of political orientation. But it is the kind of pseudo-fact that is all too common on the world’s most schlocky wannabe “encyclopedia.” Caveat emptor.

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Old Gould

The Canadian pianist Glenn Gould (1932-1982) would have celebrated his 75th birthday on September 25, had he not died of an untimely stroke on October 4, 25 years ago. These two anniversaries have sufficed for a great deal of worldwide hoopla, from the naming in his honor of a plaza in his native Toronto, to a commemorative envelope issued by the Canadian post office. Ottawa’s Canadian Museum of Civilization is offering a major exhibit, “Glenn Gould: The Sounds of Genius,” which runs through August 10, 2008. Sony/BMG, Gould’s longtime record company, is reissuing an 80-CD “complete original jacket” box set as an import. This offers a good occasion for an evaluation of Gould’s contribution, not a “re-performance” of “The Goldberg Variations”—which, in any event, already has been attempted, as I described in a previous post for contentions.

Setting aside the endless stories of his personal eccentricity and hypochondria, Gould’s musicianship could be brilliant when bizarreness did not intrude, making him the Bobby Fischer of classical music (before Fischer’s latest, definitive dip into darkness). Although Gould is unmistakably linked with Bach, whom he played with a jittery, edgy verve, he claimed to prefer the music of Orlando Gibbons (1583–1625), and indeed, his CD of Gibbons and other English masters like William Byrd has an entrancing dignity and poise absent from many of his other recordings. Gould’s very lack of empyrean calm may have helped in the modern romantic repertoire, and he was an invigoratingly dramatic performer of Prokofiev and Scriabin, as well as of Richard Strauss. Franz Liszt’s piano transcriptions of Beethoven’s symphonies, long dismissed as arid, were rediscovered with unsurpassed dazzle by Gould. In neo-classical works by Paul Hindemith, which can seem all too Apollonian in other hands, Gould’s storm and stress add contemporary, improvisational skittishness, also ideal for chamber works by Francis Poulenc and Dmitry Shostakovich.

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The Canadian pianist Glenn Gould (1932-1982) would have celebrated his 75th birthday on September 25, had he not died of an untimely stroke on October 4, 25 years ago. These two anniversaries have sufficed for a great deal of worldwide hoopla, from the naming in his honor of a plaza in his native Toronto, to a commemorative envelope issued by the Canadian post office. Ottawa’s Canadian Museum of Civilization is offering a major exhibit, “Glenn Gould: The Sounds of Genius,” which runs through August 10, 2008. Sony/BMG, Gould’s longtime record company, is reissuing an 80-CD “complete original jacket” box set as an import. This offers a good occasion for an evaluation of Gould’s contribution, not a “re-performance” of “The Goldberg Variations”—which, in any event, already has been attempted, as I described in a previous post for contentions.

Setting aside the endless stories of his personal eccentricity and hypochondria, Gould’s musicianship could be brilliant when bizarreness did not intrude, making him the Bobby Fischer of classical music (before Fischer’s latest, definitive dip into darkness). Although Gould is unmistakably linked with Bach, whom he played with a jittery, edgy verve, he claimed to prefer the music of Orlando Gibbons (1583–1625), and indeed, his CD of Gibbons and other English masters like William Byrd has an entrancing dignity and poise absent from many of his other recordings. Gould’s very lack of empyrean calm may have helped in the modern romantic repertoire, and he was an invigoratingly dramatic performer of Prokofiev and Scriabin, as well as of Richard Strauss. Franz Liszt’s piano transcriptions of Beethoven’s symphonies, long dismissed as arid, were rediscovered with unsurpassed dazzle by Gould. In neo-classical works by Paul Hindemith, which can seem all too Apollonian in other hands, Gould’s storm and stress add contemporary, improvisational skittishness, also ideal for chamber works by Francis Poulenc and Dmitry Shostakovich.

Some readers may be allergic to the Second Vienna School, but Gould was one of the rare pianists (like Italy’s Maurizio Pollini, who played Arnold Schoenberg’s works with genuine love. A 1960’s meeting with violinist Yehudi Menuhin in the Schoenberg “Phantasy,” has a feeling of affection (tied to Gould’s admiration for Menuhin) unmatched in the discography. A gentler version of Schoenberg’s modernist investigations came from the Norwegian composer Fartein Valen (1887– 1952). Gould found spooky poetry in Valen’s work, too.

All of these achievements are essential elements of Gould’s artistry, and those who love—or dismiss—Gould based on his Bach recordings alone are missing the forest for the trees. Some who admire Gould’s Bach have missed his obsessively intense recording of Johann Sebastian’s “Art of Fugue” on the organ. Yes, Gould’s “Goldberg Variations” from 1955 and 1981 are both remarkable, but they are not the summa of all things Gouldian. Yes, there are bad recordings by Gould, like his Mozart sonatas (music he despised) or his famously ungainly 1962 Brahms’s First Piano Concerto with Leonard Bernstein. Yet the best of Gould is splendid indeed.

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Bookshelf

• Time was when the writer who published his own book was by definition an amateur and, more often than not, a crank. Vanity-publishing outfits like Vantage Press existed to divert the life savings of literary innocents into the printing of unreadable, amateurishly designed volumes that promptly vanished without trace, leaving their hapless authors thousands of dollars poorer. A visit to Vantage’s website is guaranteed to make the hardest of hearts sink (“We believe that you and all other authors have the right to express your ideas in print . . . if funds are needed for basic living expenses, this program may not be for you”).

But times have changed, and so has the book business. Nowadays most major publishers are less and less willing to take a chance on promising manuscripts that are deemed unlikely to sell in reasonably large numbers. At the same time, the simultaneous emergence of online booksellers and computerized print-on-demand technology (which allows books to be printed, bound, and shipped to buyers one copy at a time) has made self-publishing economically feasible for professional authors who know how to market their own books.

This new style of self-publishing is already having an effect on the availability of out-of-print titles. Two weeks ago, I wrote about a paperback edition of Mary McCarthy’s Theatre Chronicles published by the Authors Guild Back-in-Print Bookstore, a service of iUniverse, the biggest and most influential print-on-demand service in America. Will living authors be equally quick to embrace self-publishing—or is it destined to remain as marginal and disreputable as vanity publishing? For what it’s worth, I suspect that in the short run, we’re more likely to see the adoption of print-on-demand technology by new, independent publishing houses that will use it to slash their overhead, thus making it possible for them to gamble on worthy but hard-to-market manuscripts that the major houses are no longer willing to consider.

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• Time was when the writer who published his own book was by definition an amateur and, more often than not, a crank. Vanity-publishing outfits like Vantage Press existed to divert the life savings of literary innocents into the printing of unreadable, amateurishly designed volumes that promptly vanished without trace, leaving their hapless authors thousands of dollars poorer. A visit to Vantage’s website is guaranteed to make the hardest of hearts sink (“We believe that you and all other authors have the right to express your ideas in print . . . if funds are needed for basic living expenses, this program may not be for you”).

But times have changed, and so has the book business. Nowadays most major publishers are less and less willing to take a chance on promising manuscripts that are deemed unlikely to sell in reasonably large numbers. At the same time, the simultaneous emergence of online booksellers and computerized print-on-demand technology (which allows books to be printed, bound, and shipped to buyers one copy at a time) has made self-publishing economically feasible for professional authors who know how to market their own books.

This new style of self-publishing is already having an effect on the availability of out-of-print titles. Two weeks ago, I wrote about a paperback edition of Mary McCarthy’s Theatre Chronicles published by the Authors Guild Back-in-Print Bookstore, a service of iUniverse, the biggest and most influential print-on-demand service in America. Will living authors be equally quick to embrace self-publishing—or is it destined to remain as marginal and disreputable as vanity publishing? For what it’s worth, I suspect that in the short run, we’re more likely to see the adoption of print-on-demand technology by new, independent publishing houses that will use it to slash their overhead, thus making it possible for them to gamble on worthy but hard-to-market manuscripts that the major houses are no longer willing to consider.

In the meantime, though, there are still a few smaller-than-small houses that are continuing to take chances on off-center books. A case in point is Doug Ramsey’s Poodie James (Libros Libertad, 151 pp., $19.95 paper). Jazz aficionados know Ramsey as a distinguished critic, whose previous books include Take Five, the definitive biography of Paul Desmond. In recent years, though, Ramsey has also embraced the possibilities of new media, launching a blog called “Rifftides” that lets him write as he pleases, instead of being restricted to the fast-shrinking roster of print publications whose editors care about jazz. Now Ramsey has written his first novel, which was brought out not by a mainstream house but by a new, independent Canadian publisher who puts out serious, well-designed books, whose authors were unable to place them elsewhere. You probably won’t find Poodie James at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore, but you can order it easily from Amazon or directly from Libros Libertad. You’ll find that the cover and typography are as elegant-looking as anything published by Knopf in its salad days.

Why did Ramsey go to Libros Libertad? Undoubtedly because no major publisher would take a chance on a Gatsby-length novella by a first-time novelist who is no longer young. Worse yet, Poodie James is about a small-town deaf-mute, and it’s written in an old-fashioned, determinedly non-experimental style not unlike that of Jon Hassler. What could be less sexy?

No doubt you already know where I’m going, so I’ll cut to the chase: Poodie James is a very good book. Not only is it handsomely and lyrically written, but Ramsey’s snapshots of small-town life circa 1948 are altogether convincing, and he has even brought off the immensely difficult trick of worming his way into the consciousness of a deaf person without betraying the slightest sense of strain. I especially like the scene in which he tells us how it feels for the title character to “listen” to Woody Herman’s big band at a local dance:

A man with a big smile walked out holding a clarinet. The musicians sat up and brought their horns to their mouths. The man raised his hand and brought it down. The force of the sound hit Poodie and traveled through his chest as a tingle…. Poodie wondered if the dancers got the same sensation from hearing the music that he did from feeling it, radiance in the belly, warmth around the heart.

I wish I’d written that.

Ramsey is no less adept at sketching the constant tension between tolerance and suspicion that is part and parcel of the communal life of every small town. I grew up in a place not unlike the Washington town where Poodie James is set, and so can testify to the knowing skill with which it is portrayed here.

A quarter-century ago, Poodie James would have had no trouble finding an East Coast publisher, and it might even have made its way into the hands of a Hollywood producer, since it could easily be turned into a very nice little movie along the lines of The Spitfire Grill. That Ramsey had to travel another route to get his first novel into print says more about the postmodern culture of publishing than it does about his gifts as a writer of fiction. I commend it to your attention, and I hope its author has another novel or two—or three—up his sleeve.

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Bloomberg’s PR Problems

Michael Bloomberg has been a PR genius as New York’s chief executive. The press, as in a Time magazine story, has been known to swoon over the grandeur of his ideas and give him credit for promises alone. But the press-savvy mayor has had a monkey wrench thrown into his undeclared presidential campaign.

While he was running Bloomberg L.P., the mayor was accused of sexual harassment by a female employee. The matter was settled out of court, and it never became a serious issue when Bloomberg first ran for office in 2001. While the New York Times reports that “Bloomberg’s aides have collected data on the requirements for getting on the ballot in all 50 states,” the mayor has been slapped with a lawsuit from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Washington on behalf of three women who argue they were discriminated against when they asked for maternity leave. “The EEOC said the women’s claims of discrimination due to gender and pregnancy “were echoed by a number of other female current and former employees who have taken maternity leave.”

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Michael Bloomberg has been a PR genius as New York’s chief executive. The press, as in a Time magazine story, has been known to swoon over the grandeur of his ideas and give him credit for promises alone. But the press-savvy mayor has had a monkey wrench thrown into his undeclared presidential campaign.

While he was running Bloomberg L.P., the mayor was accused of sexual harassment by a female employee. The matter was settled out of court, and it never became a serious issue when Bloomberg first ran for office in 2001. While the New York Times reports that “Bloomberg’s aides have collected data on the requirements for getting on the ballot in all 50 states,” the mayor has been slapped with a lawsuit from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Washington on behalf of three women who argue they were discriminated against when they asked for maternity leave. “The EEOC said the women’s claims of discrimination due to gender and pregnancy “were echoed by a number of other female current and former employees who have taken maternity leave.”

The irony here is that, as two recent New York developments make clear, Bloomberg masterfully has used public relations to obscure his less than impressive managerial record. In 2003, with cameras rolling, Bloomberg opened the City Hall Academy in the Tweed Courthouse, which houses the department of education. “The opening,” declared the mayor, after alighting from a school bus carrying the school’s first group of children, “demonstrates our commitment to excellence, achievement, and innovation in the public school system.” City Hall Academy was to be a model of the kind of innovation the administration wanted to bring to the schools. Yet, last year the school was moved to Harlem, and recently, without fanfare, it was closed. “It was,” says Sol Stern, who writes on education for City Journal, “just another little gimmick…one of those ideas that was rolled out with press releases for them to prove that they are shaking things up.” “Others,” noted the usually Bloomberg-friendly Times, “say it is, in a way, a parable for the educational experiments of the Bloomberg years, with yesterday’s enthusiasms making way for new imperatives. At several critical junctures the academy had to bow to the next programs in vogue.”

Similarly, when Bloomberg began ramping up his presidential campaign, he unveiled a new plan to reduce traffic and pollution in New York through congestion pricing. It was designed to show that he was the sort of bold, problem-solving leader the country needs. Under the plan, motorists who came into Manhattan during business hours would be charged a fee electronically. Leaving aside the virtues or vices of such a proposal, it is a plan that requires extensive planning to accommodate the increased number of people who use mass transit. But the buses and the subways are already overcrowded, and no such planning was in place. The Metropolitan Transit Authority has been put into hurry-up mode to establish a plan for upgrades in time for Bloomberg to jump into the race next October if he so chooses. But the New York Sun reports that the MTA “is warning in a new report that Mayor Bloomberg’s congestion pricing proposal would cost the agency hundreds of millions of dollars more than the city has estimated.” “There’s no explanation of where they’re going to get that money,” said Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, a Democrat of Westchester. The congestion pricing plan “is in complete disarray. We’re at a point now where the transition from concept to plan has not been made.”

It was perhaps Bloomberg’s bad luck that the EEOC suit came out just after a jury found against New York Knicks coach and general manager Isaiah Thomas in a civil case also involving sexual harassment. But with a bit of good fortune, the sexual harassment case against Bloomberg could be settled before he has to decide whether openly to campaign for the presidency as an independent. If that time comes, it would be nice if the national press began to connect all the dots outlining the discrepancies between Bloomberg’s rhetoric and his substantive record.

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The Coming Dirty-Bomb Attack

I had some x-rays taken by my dentist yesterday and I glanced nervously at the triangular radiation-caution marking on the device. For the Defense Science Board, a government-run panel composed of military and industry experts, has just issued a report that there are more than 1,000 irradiation machines used in hospitals and research laboratories across the United States that could be used by terrorists as a source of radioactive materials to construct a dirty bomb. “Any one of these 1,000-plus sources could shut down 25 square kilometers, anywhere in the United States, for 40-plus years,” the Washington Post quoted from the report yesterday. (Dental x-ray machines do not present a similar problem.)

The Defense Science Board is recommending that the hospital and laboratory radiation devices, typically left unguarded, either be secured or replaced with irradiators that use other less lethal materials. That is an excellent (if costly) idea and an urgent matter. But what about the thousands of such devices that are not in the United States? Is anyone worrying about them?

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I had some x-rays taken by my dentist yesterday and I glanced nervously at the triangular radiation-caution marking on the device. For the Defense Science Board, a government-run panel composed of military and industry experts, has just issued a report that there are more than 1,000 irradiation machines used in hospitals and research laboratories across the United States that could be used by terrorists as a source of radioactive materials to construct a dirty bomb. “Any one of these 1,000-plus sources could shut down 25 square kilometers, anywhere in the United States, for 40-plus years,” the Washington Post quoted from the report yesterday. (Dental x-ray machines do not present a similar problem.)

The Defense Science Board is recommending that the hospital and laboratory radiation devices, typically left unguarded, either be secured or replaced with irradiators that use other less lethal materials. That is an excellent (if costly) idea and an urgent matter. But what about the thousands of such devices that are not in the United States? Is anyone worrying about them?

One country—or set of countries—of particular concern is Russia and the rest of the former USSR. The intelligence community’s primary concern with Russia has been the possibility that some of its nuclear weapons will come loose and fall or be sold into terrorist hands. While that danger remains a theoretical possibility, another, more realistic menace has been with us already for a long time.

Way back in 1990, in “Rad Storm Rising,” an article I wrote for the Atlantic (which at my request has courteously posted it on the web for all to read for free), I took note of lax practices regarding nuclear materials and nuclear waste across the still extant USSR. In the Siberian city of Novosibirk alone, a radiation map prepared by the authorities indicated 84 separate “radiation anomalies.” Fourteen of these had been caused by radioactive ampules from scientific and industrial instrumentation that should have been interred at a radioactive-waste disposal site but, according to the Soviet press, “were mindlessly and recklessly thrown out into streets and yards.”

“Even allowing for the Russian penchant for hyperbole,” I observed, “the latest revelations in the ever more candid Soviet press make clear that Soviet problems in the area of nuclear pollution and safety continue to be extraordinarily severe.”

A decade and a half has elapsed since then. The public-health implications of such carelessness are no longer our primary worry. Terrorism is. Even if the United States can do little about radioactive ampules in faraway lands, the Russian authorities, at least as far as protecting their own territory is concerned, can and must.

Dirty bombs are the most likely approach to an al Qaeda follow-on attack to 9/11. And if terrorists are now actively plotting a dirty bomb attack, my bet is that Moscow, the capital of a land where radioactive materials have been treated with appalling recklessness, is a far more vulnerable target than Washington or New York.

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Fair Play at Oxford

This month the same Oxford Student Union that, in 1933, famously passed a motion declaring ‘”this House will under no circumstances fight for its King and Country,” is being true to the legacy of its forebears. As British blog Harry’s Place reports, on October 23 the Union, in its annual Middle East debate, will put forth the following motion: “This House Believes that One State is the Only Solution to the Israel Palestine Conflict.”

There are no surprises in the Union’s choice of the three speakers seconding the motion. Avi Shlaim, Ilan Pappe, and Ghada Karmi have for many years been anti-Israel agitators whose writings had only a shallow pretense of academic impartiality. If debate is meant to be shrill rather than thoughtful, venomous rather than witty, the Union chose the perfect line-up.

Karmi, a medical doctor moonlighting as an academic, has the dubious record of having voiced some of the same opinions on Israel as those of Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, before Ahmadinejad emerged from obscurity. In 2004, Karmi wrote that

The truth is that the West, which created Israel, cannot bear to see what it has done. In trying to solve the problem of Jewish persecution in Europe, which culminated in the Holocaust, Western powers helped to establish the Jewish state as a refuge for the Jews and their own consciences.

While Karmi clearly is not a Holocaust denier, she would nevertheless underwrite Ahmadinejad’s suggestion that Israel’s birth was the Western answer to guilt over the Holocaust. She would also support the idea that Israel should be relocated to Europe or Alaska.

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This month the same Oxford Student Union that, in 1933, famously passed a motion declaring ‘”this House will under no circumstances fight for its King and Country,” is being true to the legacy of its forebears. As British blog Harry’s Place reports, on October 23 the Union, in its annual Middle East debate, will put forth the following motion: “This House Believes that One State is the Only Solution to the Israel Palestine Conflict.”

There are no surprises in the Union’s choice of the three speakers seconding the motion. Avi Shlaim, Ilan Pappe, and Ghada Karmi have for many years been anti-Israel agitators whose writings had only a shallow pretense of academic impartiality. If debate is meant to be shrill rather than thoughtful, venomous rather than witty, the Union chose the perfect line-up.

Karmi, a medical doctor moonlighting as an academic, has the dubious record of having voiced some of the same opinions on Israel as those of Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, before Ahmadinejad emerged from obscurity. In 2004, Karmi wrote that

The truth is that the West, which created Israel, cannot bear to see what it has done. In trying to solve the problem of Jewish persecution in Europe, which culminated in the Holocaust, Western powers helped to establish the Jewish state as a refuge for the Jews and their own consciences.

While Karmi clearly is not a Holocaust denier, she would nevertheless underwrite Ahmadinejad’s suggestion that Israel’s birth was the Western answer to guilt over the Holocaust. She would also support the idea that Israel should be relocated to Europe or Alaska.

Shlaim enjoys a celebrity status as an anti-Israel historian, who holds an Israeli passport and briefly lived in Israel during his youth. His take on Israel, as an interview with Haaretz two years ago reveals, is tinged with deep personal resentment. As Meron Rapoport, his interviewer, wrote, “since he was a child, Israel has looked to him like an ‘Ashkenazi trick’ of which he doesn’t feel a part. ‘I’m not certain even now that I know how that trick works.’”

In the past, Shlaim has made some tepid efforts not to burn his own credentials as a serious scholar by occasionally distancing himself from his more radical fellow-travelers of the post-Zionist Left. As late as January 2005, Shlaim defended Zionism before 1967. Still, at an Intelligence 2 debate in London, Shlaim sided with the motion that “Zionism today is the worst enemy of the Jews.” Ilan Pappe, for his part, is consistent in his hatred for the Jewish state—so much so that he has abandoned Haifa University for the more pastoral environs of Exeter University in the U.K., where, with his department colleague Ghada Karmi, he can pursue peacefully what academics of his kind do best: promote the boycott of Israeli universities.

For the three speakers seconding the motion on Israel, the Union got the most extreme voices one could imagine. And for the other side? As the blog Harry’s Place notes,

Surely the Oxford Union, that bastion of fair and open debate, will have chosen some unflinching supporters of Israel to balance this motley collection of bigots and fanatics? Of course not! If one side includes virulent enemies of Israel and supporters of terrorists and anti-Semites, then so must the other.

To be fair, not all three members of the other side are anti-Semites and supporters of terrorists. Sir David Trimble truly is sympathetic to Israel, and has never supported terrorists—in fact, he has spent a great deal of time pleading with his fellow Brits to halt communication with his country’s home-grown brand of thugs. But the selection of the other two speakers indicates that Trimble will be lonely that night. They are Norman Finkelstein (who, clearly, after his early retirement from academia must have time on his hands) and Peter Tatchell, a British gay activist who recently commented that, had the Jerusalem World Pride parade been sponsored by the “Israeli state,” he would have boycotted it. Thankfully, the evil Zionists had no hand in the organization, and so Tatchell felt that, for once, he could approve of something happening in the Jewish state.

This is how the “bastion of fair and open debate” and the “world’s most prestigious debating society” understands fair play. As in 1933, not Britain’s finest hour.

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Frank Rich’s Minstrels

In his most recent New York Times column excoriating Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Frank Rich wrote:

The “compassionate conservative” [President Bush] who turned the 2000 GOP convention into a minstrel show to prove his love of diversity will exit the political stage as the man who tilted American jurisprudence against Brown v. Board of Education. He leaves no black Republican behind him in either the House or Senate.

That there are so few black Republicans is hardly for President Bush’s—or the Republican Party’s—lack of trying. In 2006, the GOP ran several black candidates for major office. Former NFL star Lynn Swann ran unsuccessfully for governor of Pennsylvania, and is now running for Congress. Ken Blackwell, a former Ohio Secretary of State, also ran for governor but lost (perhaps this is the reason why Rich only makes mention of the House and Senate, and not state-level offices). And in Maryland, former lieutenant governor Michael Steele ran for Senate and lost. At a 2002 gubernatorial debate, audience members allegedly rolled Oreo cookies on the floor to signify their disgust with a black man who would dare join the Republican Party. Granted, two of these three men ran for state, and not federal offices, but Rich’s point is to impute racism and “tokenism” onto Bush and the GOP.

To those who truly believe in the principles of the Civil Rights movement, the skin color of candidates should not matter. But this is something that obviously matters very much to Frank Rich—except, (or, perhaps, especially), when those black candidates are Republicans, and thus need to be defeated.

In his most recent New York Times column excoriating Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Frank Rich wrote:

The “compassionate conservative” [President Bush] who turned the 2000 GOP convention into a minstrel show to prove his love of diversity will exit the political stage as the man who tilted American jurisprudence against Brown v. Board of Education. He leaves no black Republican behind him in either the House or Senate.

That there are so few black Republicans is hardly for President Bush’s—or the Republican Party’s—lack of trying. In 2006, the GOP ran several black candidates for major office. Former NFL star Lynn Swann ran unsuccessfully for governor of Pennsylvania, and is now running for Congress. Ken Blackwell, a former Ohio Secretary of State, also ran for governor but lost (perhaps this is the reason why Rich only makes mention of the House and Senate, and not state-level offices). And in Maryland, former lieutenant governor Michael Steele ran for Senate and lost. At a 2002 gubernatorial debate, audience members allegedly rolled Oreo cookies on the floor to signify their disgust with a black man who would dare join the Republican Party. Granted, two of these three men ran for state, and not federal offices, but Rich’s point is to impute racism and “tokenism” onto Bush and the GOP.

To those who truly believe in the principles of the Civil Rights movement, the skin color of candidates should not matter. But this is something that obviously matters very much to Frank Rich—except, (or, perhaps, especially), when those black candidates are Republicans, and thus need to be defeated.

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