Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 18, 2007

Ridley Scott’s Final Cut

The fifth and final cut of Ridley Scott’s 1982 science fiction classic, Blade Runner, comes out this week in a variety of overstuffed DVD packages. Anyone interested in the film should read Gary Giddin’s very eloquent New York Sun piece on the film’s somewhat awkward juxtaposition of marvelous visuals and clunky storytelling. He gets the otherworldly quality of Scott’s compositions just right:

Every inch of the screen is answered for, indoors and especially outdoors, as horizons disappear into matte paintings, smoke pots, shimmering neon, giant screens, airborne vehicles, and crowds as opaque and variously dressed as in a Halloween parade in Greenwich Village. From the justly celebrated opening shot — a grotesque metropolitan hell with fireballs shooting into the starless night — we are drawn into an alternate world.

Giddin comes down hard on the story (maybe too hard), saying the script and characterizations “suggest directorial incompetence,” but his basic point stands: Blade Runner succeeds on the power of its meticulously created world. It’s a triumph of visual ingenuity that, even in the age of limitless CGI possibility, few films can match.

More than that, however, the film is a landmark because of how it opened up the genre of cinematic science fiction. Much science fiction, especially the low-grade junk that flourished in the decade before Blade Runner hit the screen, was cheap, rough, and carelessly assembled. That’s not to say that none of it was enjoyable in some adolescent way, but it was hardly serious; even the best efforts (Star Wars) rarely transcended their pulp origins.

Blade Runner, though imperfect, sought to be something more, something grand and thoughtful, and if its fraught production process (exhaustively detailed in Paul Sammon’s book, Future Noir) resulted in a less-than-focused final product, its outsized ambitions, and the talent behind them, were always completely clear. In the end, simply looking as stunning as it did was enough of an accomplishment, for it gave the often raw and jagged science fiction genre permission to be something more than a juvenile stomping ground—to be haunting, elegant, and yes, even beautiful.

The fifth and final cut of Ridley Scott’s 1982 science fiction classic, Blade Runner, comes out this week in a variety of overstuffed DVD packages. Anyone interested in the film should read Gary Giddin’s very eloquent New York Sun piece on the film’s somewhat awkward juxtaposition of marvelous visuals and clunky storytelling. He gets the otherworldly quality of Scott’s compositions just right:

Every inch of the screen is answered for, indoors and especially outdoors, as horizons disappear into matte paintings, smoke pots, shimmering neon, giant screens, airborne vehicles, and crowds as opaque and variously dressed as in a Halloween parade in Greenwich Village. From the justly celebrated opening shot — a grotesque metropolitan hell with fireballs shooting into the starless night — we are drawn into an alternate world.

Giddin comes down hard on the story (maybe too hard), saying the script and characterizations “suggest directorial incompetence,” but his basic point stands: Blade Runner succeeds on the power of its meticulously created world. It’s a triumph of visual ingenuity that, even in the age of limitless CGI possibility, few films can match.

More than that, however, the film is a landmark because of how it opened up the genre of cinematic science fiction. Much science fiction, especially the low-grade junk that flourished in the decade before Blade Runner hit the screen, was cheap, rough, and carelessly assembled. That’s not to say that none of it was enjoyable in some adolescent way, but it was hardly serious; even the best efforts (Star Wars) rarely transcended their pulp origins.

Blade Runner, though imperfect, sought to be something more, something grand and thoughtful, and if its fraught production process (exhaustively detailed in Paul Sammon’s book, Future Noir) resulted in a less-than-focused final product, its outsized ambitions, and the talent behind them, were always completely clear. In the end, simply looking as stunning as it did was enough of an accomplishment, for it gave the often raw and jagged science fiction genre permission to be something more than a juvenile stomping ground—to be haunting, elegant, and yes, even beautiful.

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More on Haaretz

David Hazony is actually too kind to “Israel’s paper of record,” Haaretz, when in an earlier post he says one of its editorials exposes the paper’s “severe disconnect with the Israeli public.” Haaretz is not disconnected; rather, it is connected—fiercely so—to its vision of what Israel should be.

Two recent stories serve as perfect examples. First, an op-ed column by Tom Segev on the 60th anniversary of the United Nations vote to partition Palestine into two states—one Jewish and one Arab. Segev is one of Israel’s preeminent historians and a regular Haaretz contributor. On this occasion, rather than express any sense of celebration, gratitude, or even mild happiness that the UN voted in favor of a Jewish State, Segev decides to question the legitimacy of his own country. “With every settler who moves to the territories and with every Palestinian child who is killed by Israel Defense Forces fire, Israel loses some of the moral justification that led to the decision on the 29th of November 60 years ago,” Segev explains. The editors of Haaretz publish such opinions—and worse—on a daily basis.

But Haaretz’s ideological crusade is not limited to the editorial or opinion pages. Its editors are only too happy to publish defamatory feature stories as well. On November 30, the weekend section of Haaretz (the equivalent of the New York Times’s Sunday Magazine) featured a cover story on the Shalem Center, a Jerusalem think tank that, incidentally, used to employ Mr. Hazony. A shorter English version of the article is available here. So egregious were the mistakes and so blatant the inaccuracies that the Shalem Center posted the following response on its own Web site. Haaretz has thus far issued no correction nor has it provided space to rebut the claims made in its original article. And for good reason: The sole purpose of the story is to disparage a think-tank whose world-view the editors of Haaretz oppose. But instead of a feature analyzing the center’s stated beliefs versus its accomplishments, or even questioning the legitimacy of Shalem’s Zionist mission, the story deals in gossip, supposed improprieties, and the personal habits and salaries of Shalem’s founders. This is worth 4,500 words? It is when your goal is to defame an organization whose success you envy and whose vision you loathe.

Haaretz is often described as Israel’s New York Times, and when it comes to ideological crusading, the two papers do resemble one another. Except that the New York Times doesn’t stoop this low.

David Hazony is actually too kind to “Israel’s paper of record,” Haaretz, when in an earlier post he says one of its editorials exposes the paper’s “severe disconnect with the Israeli public.” Haaretz is not disconnected; rather, it is connected—fiercely so—to its vision of what Israel should be.

Two recent stories serve as perfect examples. First, an op-ed column by Tom Segev on the 60th anniversary of the United Nations vote to partition Palestine into two states—one Jewish and one Arab. Segev is one of Israel’s preeminent historians and a regular Haaretz contributor. On this occasion, rather than express any sense of celebration, gratitude, or even mild happiness that the UN voted in favor of a Jewish State, Segev decides to question the legitimacy of his own country. “With every settler who moves to the territories and with every Palestinian child who is killed by Israel Defense Forces fire, Israel loses some of the moral justification that led to the decision on the 29th of November 60 years ago,” Segev explains. The editors of Haaretz publish such opinions—and worse—on a daily basis.

But Haaretz’s ideological crusade is not limited to the editorial or opinion pages. Its editors are only too happy to publish defamatory feature stories as well. On November 30, the weekend section of Haaretz (the equivalent of the New York Times’s Sunday Magazine) featured a cover story on the Shalem Center, a Jerusalem think tank that, incidentally, used to employ Mr. Hazony. A shorter English version of the article is available here. So egregious were the mistakes and so blatant the inaccuracies that the Shalem Center posted the following response on its own Web site. Haaretz has thus far issued no correction nor has it provided space to rebut the claims made in its original article. And for good reason: The sole purpose of the story is to disparage a think-tank whose world-view the editors of Haaretz oppose. But instead of a feature analyzing the center’s stated beliefs versus its accomplishments, or even questioning the legitimacy of Shalem’s Zionist mission, the story deals in gossip, supposed improprieties, and the personal habits and salaries of Shalem’s founders. This is worth 4,500 words? It is when your goal is to defame an organization whose success you envy and whose vision you loathe.

Haaretz is often described as Israel’s New York Times, and when it comes to ideological crusading, the two papers do resemble one another. Except that the New York Times doesn’t stoop this low.

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Gaza Heats Up

It’s been a bad couple of days for Islamic Jihad and Hamas. In response to increased rocket fire from IJ and mortar fire from Hamas, the IDF has conducted air and ground operations in Gaza that demonstrate an impressive combination of precision firepower and deadly accurate intelligence.

Ten Islamic Jihad terrorists were killed in two airstrikes Monday night and early this morning, including Majed Harazin, a high-value target, the head of IJ’s kassam rocket squads. You can watch infrared UAV video of his car getting blown up here (and note that the secondary explosions are larger than the explosion caused by the air strike—no doubt about what was in the trunk). Good riddance.

Meanwhile, four members of an IJ rocket crew were killed by IDF ground forces, and another high-value target, IJ’s Jenin commander, was killed in the West Bank. As a contributor to the Israellycool blog points out, the IDF has accomplished all of this without causing a single Palestinian civilian casualty. What other military in the world takes such pains to operate like this?

Islamic Jihad has of course threatened a terrible response:

“We have a long arm. You will soon [experience] strikes similar to those we carried out in Tel Aviv, Netanya, and Eilat,” Abu Hamza said in a message to residents of the towns broadcast on Hamas television, warning that his organization would step up Kassam attacks on Sderot, Ashkelon, Yad Mordechai, and Netivot.

Earlier, in an e-mail sent to reporters, Islamic Jihad said it would retaliate for its losses with suicide attacks inside Israel, threatening “a wave of martyrdom operations.”

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It’s been a bad couple of days for Islamic Jihad and Hamas. In response to increased rocket fire from IJ and mortar fire from Hamas, the IDF has conducted air and ground operations in Gaza that demonstrate an impressive combination of precision firepower and deadly accurate intelligence.

Ten Islamic Jihad terrorists were killed in two airstrikes Monday night and early this morning, including Majed Harazin, a high-value target, the head of IJ’s kassam rocket squads. You can watch infrared UAV video of his car getting blown up here (and note that the secondary explosions are larger than the explosion caused by the air strike—no doubt about what was in the trunk). Good riddance.

Meanwhile, four members of an IJ rocket crew were killed by IDF ground forces, and another high-value target, IJ’s Jenin commander, was killed in the West Bank. As a contributor to the Israellycool blog points out, the IDF has accomplished all of this without causing a single Palestinian civilian casualty. What other military in the world takes such pains to operate like this?

Islamic Jihad has of course threatened a terrible response:

“We have a long arm. You will soon [experience] strikes similar to those we carried out in Tel Aviv, Netanya, and Eilat,” Abu Hamza said in a message to residents of the towns broadcast on Hamas television, warning that his organization would step up Kassam attacks on Sderot, Ashkelon, Yad Mordechai, and Netivot.

Earlier, in an e-mail sent to reporters, Islamic Jihad said it would retaliate for its losses with suicide attacks inside Israel, threatening “a wave of martyrdom operations.”

On the diplomatic front, Israel is doing something shrewd in response to the ongoing Gaza terror offensive—it is bringing hard evidence of Egyptian complicity in weapons smuggling to the U.S. Congress:

The video footage—which allegedly shows Egyptian security forces assisting Hamas terrorists cross illegally into Gaza—is being transferred to Congress through diplomatic channels and is intended for senior congressmen and senators who can have an effect on the House foreign aid appropriations process. Israel believes this can be an effective way of pressuring Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak into clamping down on Hamas smuggling activities.

The House and Senate agreed late Sunday on a 2008 foreign aid bill that would hold back $100 million in military aid for Egypt, out of a $1.3 billion allocation, unless US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice certifies that concerns about smuggling weapons into Gaza and human rights abuses have been addressed. It is the first time that Egyptian military aid, supplied since the Camp David Accords, would potentially be restricted.

Israel is trying desperately to delay having to undertake a large-scale ground invasion of Gaza, given the current diplomatic circumstances. President Bush is expected to arrive in the region on January 8 to prod Israeli and Palestinian leaders further down the Annapolis rabbit hole, and an Operation Defensive Shield-type incursion into Gaza would be most unwelcome and disruptive to such efforts.

I suspect that Israeli strategists are pursuing a rather clever policy of eliminating Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror leaders in order simultaneously to suppress rocket and mortar fire, and to pressure the terrorists to engage in face-saving, but ineffective, retaliations. The Israelis do not want to deal such a devastating blow that Hamas seeks a cease-fire, which Israel would be pressured to grant, and which would only be used as a hudna, or quiet period, for re-arming and re-organizing. Hamas and IJ will want to mount serious attacks in the weeks preceding Bush’s visit so as to discredit the peace process and steal media and diplomatic attention from the Bush-Olmert-Abbas love-in. We’ll know soon enough if the terrorists’ strategy will work, or whether the IDF will be able to keep Gaza, working externally, at bay.

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Kike Wisse Like Me

Yesterday, the New York Times ran a piece called “Vexing Questions about Jewish Identity” that was the talk of the town, its subject being a documentary with the outlandishly provocative title Kike Like Me. Its director and star, Jamie Kastner, travels from Lubavitch headquarters in Brooklyn to Pat Buchanan’s house outside Washington to a Paris suburb to a Berlin Holocaust memorial to a Krakow synagogue and finally inside the gates of Auschwitz in an exploration of Jewish identity and what being a Jew means today. The movie is made Michael Moore style, with Kastner playing the role of ingenuous naif lost in the woods and looking for help trying to get himself out. The influence of Moore, combined with Kastner’s seemingly cutesy refusal in interviews to say whether or not he is in fact Jewish and its appearance on a cable channel associated with the reflexively leftist Sundance Film Festival, led me to expect Kike Like Me would be a standard-issue work of self-examination in which Jews and Jewry would effectively be put on trial, not anti-Semitism.

And…I was very, very wrong. Kike Like Me is bracing and tough-minded, and is, in fact, a study not of “Jewish identity” but of 21st century anti-Semitism. When Kastner, a Canadian with a modest and inoffensive manner, asks Pat Buchanan about a paragraph in one of his books that calls the patriotism of neoconservatives into question, Buchanan takes a quick look at the curly-headed Kastner and instantly terminates the interview. In London, he interviews Richard Ingrams, the odious one-time editor of Private Eye who has famously declared that he glances at the bottom of letters he receives to see whether its author has a Jewish name for, if so, he will simply not read it. An American expat in London tells him she has decided to return home because she is unable to have a single conversation with English friends in which the supposed perfidy of Israel is not referenced.

He wanders through Krakow looking for a Jew but finding only restaurants that cater to Jews, Israelis primarily, who have traveled there to see evidence of Polish Jewry before its destruction. Even the old woman in the Krakow shul who hands him a yarmulke isn’t a Jew, and once he discovers the fact, he takes back the $5 he gave her.

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Yesterday, the New York Times ran a piece called “Vexing Questions about Jewish Identity” that was the talk of the town, its subject being a documentary with the outlandishly provocative title Kike Like Me. Its director and star, Jamie Kastner, travels from Lubavitch headquarters in Brooklyn to Pat Buchanan’s house outside Washington to a Paris suburb to a Berlin Holocaust memorial to a Krakow synagogue and finally inside the gates of Auschwitz in an exploration of Jewish identity and what being a Jew means today. The movie is made Michael Moore style, with Kastner playing the role of ingenuous naif lost in the woods and looking for help trying to get himself out. The influence of Moore, combined with Kastner’s seemingly cutesy refusal in interviews to say whether or not he is in fact Jewish and its appearance on a cable channel associated with the reflexively leftist Sundance Film Festival, led me to expect Kike Like Me would be a standard-issue work of self-examination in which Jews and Jewry would effectively be put on trial, not anti-Semitism.

And…I was very, very wrong. Kike Like Me is bracing and tough-minded, and is, in fact, a study not of “Jewish identity” but of 21st century anti-Semitism. When Kastner, a Canadian with a modest and inoffensive manner, asks Pat Buchanan about a paragraph in one of his books that calls the patriotism of neoconservatives into question, Buchanan takes a quick look at the curly-headed Kastner and instantly terminates the interview. In London, he interviews Richard Ingrams, the odious one-time editor of Private Eye who has famously declared that he glances at the bottom of letters he receives to see whether its author has a Jewish name for, if so, he will simply not read it. An American expat in London tells him she has decided to return home because she is unable to have a single conversation with English friends in which the supposed perfidy of Israel is not referenced.

He wanders through Krakow looking for a Jew but finding only restaurants that cater to Jews, Israelis primarily, who have traveled there to see evidence of Polish Jewry before its destruction. Even the old woman in the Krakow shul who hands him a yarmulke isn’t a Jew, and once he discovers the fact, he takes back the $5 he gave her.

But the most stunning scene in the movie takes place in a Paris suburb called Sancerre Sarcelles, when with his digital camera rolling he finds himself in the middle of an outraged argument between two Jewish women and five male Muslim youths. As the woman argue heatedly, the boys claim Jews own all the businesses in France, that the local synagogue is a palace — this after Kastner has been taken to a nondescript shul hiding inside a Paris building that was nonetheless firebombed — and that Jews “dominate us. They’re dominators.” Kastner asks the boys what they think of him. “If you’re a Jew,” one says, “then we don’t like you…If you get a chance, you’ll screw me over…Because they’re bastards. They’re traitors.” As the boys get more and more revved up, Kastner’s translator quietly suggests it’s time for him to leave, and in a state of some alarm, he and his cameraman climb into their rental car and speed away.

Once Kastner arrives at Auschwitz, he has a negative epiphany — the gift shops and tourist stops all seem to be trivializing the enormity of the crime. “Strange to see it here like a movie set preserved for our benefit,” Kastner says. His cameraman says he needs to see the ovens, that the film needs a shot of him looking into the ovens. He has had enough. In a state of revulsion, he declares as he storms off, “This is f—ing horrible and I don’t need to see anything else. You can call me yellow, you can call me a lily-livered Y-d…this whole f—ing place should be blown up and the people who did it with it. How’s that for Jewish identity?”

(Now how would we call him a “lily-livered Y-d” if he weren’t a Jew?)

In the end, it seems, the real influence on Kike Like Me isn’t Michael Moore but COMMENTARY’s own Ruth Wisse. Now, I have no idea whether Kastner knows who Ruth is or has read her work. But in her passionate exploration in the recent Jews and Power of the threat posed to Jewry by its own historic passivity, and in other writings in which she has expressed her deep concern about the sentimentalization and pseudo-sacralization of the Holocaust (she has an unforgettable memoir on the subject in the upcoming issue of COMMENTARY), she has given intellectual voice to many of the concerns expressed in Kastner’s scorchingly honest and literally provocative documentary. (For those with TiVos and DVRs and a cable package that includes the Sundance Channel, it airs again on December 27 at 5 am.)

Review of Jews and Power from the September issue of COMMENTARY.
COMMENTARY Onscreen: An Interview with Ruth Wisse

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Thanks, MoveOn!

Here are words I never thought I’d write: I am grateful to MoveOn.org. They really brightened my day. In fact I was chuckling out loud this morning as I read their newest ad in the New York Times. In case you missed it, it features a comic-book style conversation between President Bush and Karl Rove.

Bush: Karl, after Iraq, they’ll never elect a Republican in ’08.

Rove: Threaten Iran. Talk about World War III.

Bush: But now everyone knows they’ve stopped developing nukes.

Rove: We never let the truth stop us before.

Pretty clever, huh? The MoveOn folks need a course in remedial ad-writing if they think that’s either witty or catchy. It’s funny, all right, but only inadvertently, because it’s so lame. At least it’s not as offensive as their last foray, which branded General Petraeus as “General Betray Us.”

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Here are words I never thought I’d write: I am grateful to MoveOn.org. They really brightened my day. In fact I was chuckling out loud this morning as I read their newest ad in the New York Times. In case you missed it, it features a comic-book style conversation between President Bush and Karl Rove.

Bush: Karl, after Iraq, they’ll never elect a Republican in ’08.

Rove: Threaten Iran. Talk about World War III.

Bush: But now everyone knows they’ve stopped developing nukes.

Rove: We never let the truth stop us before.

Pretty clever, huh? The MoveOn folks need a course in remedial ad-writing if they think that’s either witty or catchy. It’s funny, all right, but only inadvertently, because it’s so lame. At least it’s not as offensive as their last foray, which branded General Petraeus as “General Betray Us.”

Beneath this witless exchange there is a headline: “The Bush Legacy: Waging War for Political Gain.” Naturally the group can’t remotely substantiate that allegation. Do they really think that Bush invaded Iraq in 2003 because he thought that would be the best way to win re-election? Oh yeah, fighting Iraq really did wonders for the re-election prospects of his father.

Now, MoveOn.org has the gall to claim, Bush is plotting war on Iran for political gain—even though he doesn’t face re-election again and even though it’s perfectly obvious to anyone that, even under the best of circumstances, any political gains from an attack on Iran would prove extremely fleeting.

The ad concludes with a ringing call: “George Bush Must Be Stopped.” Of course, Bush will be stopped from attacking Iran—not by Moveon.org but by the National Intelligence Estimate. But perhaps Moveon.org can claim credit and continue fleecing its credulous donors for more funds to run ads like this. At least I certainly hope so, because more from Moveon.org is the greatest gift its political adversaries on the right could possibly receive this holiday season.

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Missile Defense, Asian-Style

Yesterday, a Japanese destroyer, equipped with the Aegis battle-management system, shot down a dummy missile over the Pacific. This is the first time that an American ally has done so, according to Japanese and U.S. officials.

The medium-range missile destroyed in the test resembles ones in the North Korean arsenal. That was no coincidence: Pyongyang’s August 1998 launch of its Taepodong missile, which arced over Japan, spurred Tokyo to cooperate with the United States in building a defensive system. “This was a monumental event in the Japan-U.S. security relationship,” a Japanese Defense Ministry official said at a news conference in Hawaii, where the target was launched.

Yes, it is monumental. A layered defense will protect the United States from North Korea. Despite a failed launch last July—a Taepodong exploded about 40 seconds into its flight—this type of missile can hit Alaska and Hawaii today. With expected improvements, within five to seven years the Taepodong will be able to reach any portion of the United States. Japanese help on missile defense may enable the Pentagon to defeat an attack from North Korea, which is unlikely to develop an arsenal much larger than the one it has now.

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Yesterday, a Japanese destroyer, equipped with the Aegis battle-management system, shot down a dummy missile over the Pacific. This is the first time that an American ally has done so, according to Japanese and U.S. officials.

The medium-range missile destroyed in the test resembles ones in the North Korean arsenal. That was no coincidence: Pyongyang’s August 1998 launch of its Taepodong missile, which arced over Japan, spurred Tokyo to cooperate with the United States in building a defensive system. “This was a monumental event in the Japan-U.S. security relationship,” a Japanese Defense Ministry official said at a news conference in Hawaii, where the target was launched.

Yes, it is monumental. A layered defense will protect the United States from North Korea. Despite a failed launch last July—a Taepodong exploded about 40 seconds into its flight—this type of missile can hit Alaska and Hawaii today. With expected improvements, within five to seven years the Taepodong will be able to reach any portion of the United States. Japanese help on missile defense may enable the Pentagon to defeat an attack from North Korea, which is unlikely to develop an arsenal much larger than the one it has now.

Russia, which possesses almost 800 missiles, can defeat any defense Japan and the United States can mount. Yet that has not stopped the Kremlin from complaining. “We are opposed to the construction of a missile defense system aimed at securing military superiority,” said Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on the eve of his trip to Japan. China, with many fewer ballistic missiles, has long voiced its opposition to joint U.S.-Japan cooperation.

The Chinese have two concerns. First, the People’s Liberation Army actually thinks about launching missiles against the American homeland. Its last public threat to incinerate the United States was made as late as July 2005. Second, Beijing worries that Washington may adapt defenses developed in Japan to protect Taiwan. This June the Taiwanese expressed their desire to join the American-Japanese system.

At present, the United States is merely upgrading Taiwan’s Patriot missiles. Yet yesterday’s successful test should persuade Washington to ask the Taiwanese to participate in the joint American-Japanese efforts. Taipei acknowledges that such an extension of missile defense would be “politically sensitive.” Yet why should we be concerned about offending autocrats who think nothing of threatening to destroy American cities?

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Your Tax Money at Work

In what’s unlikely to be a surprise even to casual observers of the United Nations, an internal audit conducted by the international organization has discovered corruption involving hundreds of millions of dollars regarding the disbursement of contracts for peacekeeping missions. The UN these days seems to be little more than an elaborate racketeering organization for wanna-be crooks and gangsters—too cowardly to participate in actual crime in their home countries, and thus taking advantage of the miserable and oppressed people entrusted into the organization’s care. This latest scandal is only rivaled by the Oil-for-Food heist of some years prior.

The results of this latest investigation are the latest fruit of the Volcker Commission, established in 2004 to investigate similar kickbacks and bribes disbursed under the ill-fated UN program in Iraq. The task force that uncovered the peacekeeping abuse had hired some of Volcker’s investigators, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, to his credit, has requested that the investigative body’s mandate be funded further. Unsurprisingly, developing nations are using parliamentary tactics to hold up the reauthorization process.

The details of this latest scandal surround Abdul Karim Masri—a procurement officer for the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo and a Syrian national (why a citizen of a terrorist sponsoring state is given such a prominent position at the United Nations has not yet entered into the conversation)—who has a long trail of corruption accusations behind him. The internal audit found an “extensive pattern of bribery” up to and including taking $10,000 from a boating company, diverting a contract to a friend, and getting contractors to paint his house and give him a discounted Mercedes. Your tax money at work!

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In what’s unlikely to be a surprise even to casual observers of the United Nations, an internal audit conducted by the international organization has discovered corruption involving hundreds of millions of dollars regarding the disbursement of contracts for peacekeeping missions. The UN these days seems to be little more than an elaborate racketeering organization for wanna-be crooks and gangsters—too cowardly to participate in actual crime in their home countries, and thus taking advantage of the miserable and oppressed people entrusted into the organization’s care. This latest scandal is only rivaled by the Oil-for-Food heist of some years prior.

The results of this latest investigation are the latest fruit of the Volcker Commission, established in 2004 to investigate similar kickbacks and bribes disbursed under the ill-fated UN program in Iraq. The task force that uncovered the peacekeeping abuse had hired some of Volcker’s investigators, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, to his credit, has requested that the investigative body’s mandate be funded further. Unsurprisingly, developing nations are using parliamentary tactics to hold up the reauthorization process.

The details of this latest scandal surround Abdul Karim Masri—a procurement officer for the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo and a Syrian national (why a citizen of a terrorist sponsoring state is given such a prominent position at the United Nations has not yet entered into the conversation)—who has a long trail of corruption accusations behind him. The internal audit found an “extensive pattern of bribery” up to and including taking $10,000 from a boating company, diverting a contract to a friend, and getting contractors to paint his house and give him a discounted Mercedes. Your tax money at work!

None of this is to say that the mission of UN peacekeeping isn’t worthy; it’s the very worthiness of international conflict resolution that makes this latest episode of corruption so devastating. Yet once again it has been shown that the United Nations cannot be trusted with anything beyond providing political theater. Those serious about the notion of international peacekeeping could do worse than seriously to consider Max Boot’s proposal of using mercenaries for such missions. Unlike UN peacekeeping forces—which consist almost entirely of poorly trained and ill-equipped soldiers from third world countries whose governments offer them up to the UN in order to make a quick buck—mercenaries are expertly skilled warriors. Moreover, they have no pretensions about who they are or what they are fighting for—money, which they will earn only if the mission is completed successfully.

No doubt this story will garner the usual outcry from the international bureaucrats who feed off the teat of Western nations. These sorts of people swarm Washington and New York City with little to do, it seems, other than to attend think-tank functions and cocktail parties, and to undermine the United States. With this latest bout of bad news for the United Nations, it’s become increasingly difficult for the organization’s lonely defenders to explain why the body deserves American time or attention.

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A Different Christmas Story

This holiday season, while other stocking stuffers hash out the comparative merits of J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, J. K. Rowling, and Philip Pullman, why not cut these confections from your diet and go straight for the meat and potatoes (or bangers and mash) of Middle English poetry? I don’t mean the new Beowulf in 3-D—though that poem is in Old English, of course, which is why it looks like somebody dumped a sack of Scrabble tiles on the floor. If O.E. is your poison, Alex Nazaryan has posted some thoughts on the new Beowulf at Armavirumque. It would seem that this poem is unfilmable: Here on the horizon, Peter Suderman wrote that “[c]omparing it to its source material is of little use. It’s been streamlined and modernized, and now bears more resemblance to a computer game than an ancient epic.”

Whether or not you check out Beowulf, have a look at Simon Armitage’s new verse translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, a poem whose hairy green villain gets less attention than Grendel for the simple reason that he rarely appears on high school curricula. Paul Johnson wrote, “No one ever reads Beowulf unless forced to do so (in schools or universities) or paid to do so (as on the BBC). Gawayn and the Green Knight is little more attractive.” I disagree vehemently on both counts. A few days ago, the poet Edward Hirsch explained in the New York Times what makes Gawain so great:

In 1967, Ted Hughes’s third book, “Wodwo”—raw, spooky, elemental—sent me scurrying to find out the meaning of this strange Middle English word. The figure of “wodwo,” which Hughes elsewhere characterized as a sort of “half-man, half-animal spirit of the forests,” seemed to have loomed up out of the unconscious of English poetry. The book’s epigraph came from a ferocious passage in “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” and soon I was parsing the somewhat resistant Middle English text and bounding through J. R. R. Tolkien’s faithful translation. I was transfixed. I had stumbled upon the underground alliterative tradition of English poetry. . . .

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is one of the founding narratives of English literature. The storyteller nods to the Aeneid, thus invoking his epic lineage, and then settles down to tell his tale, which begins in the court of King Arthur, “most regal of rulers in the royal line.” It is Christmastime at Camelot, and the chivalrous Knights of the Round Table are carrying on and carousing when suddenly an enormous stranger appears, a hulking interloper, “a most massive man, the mightiest of mortals.” The astonishing stranger is green from head to foot, a kind of emanation from nature. Even his horse is “a steed of pure green stock.”

You can read the poem “Wodwo” here, but I suspect you’ll get more out of Gawain. It’s stranger than just about any Christmas story you’re likely to encounter—after all, it does substitute “You’ll lose your head” for “You’ll shoot your eye out“—and of course it shows us what English literature looked and sounded like it its infancy. As Hirsch writes, the poem “still wields an uncanny power after 600 years. We’re fortunate that ‘our coffers have been crammed/ with stories such as these.'”

This holiday season, while other stocking stuffers hash out the comparative merits of J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, J. K. Rowling, and Philip Pullman, why not cut these confections from your diet and go straight for the meat and potatoes (or bangers and mash) of Middle English poetry? I don’t mean the new Beowulf in 3-D—though that poem is in Old English, of course, which is why it looks like somebody dumped a sack of Scrabble tiles on the floor. If O.E. is your poison, Alex Nazaryan has posted some thoughts on the new Beowulf at Armavirumque. It would seem that this poem is unfilmable: Here on the horizon, Peter Suderman wrote that “[c]omparing it to its source material is of little use. It’s been streamlined and modernized, and now bears more resemblance to a computer game than an ancient epic.”

Whether or not you check out Beowulf, have a look at Simon Armitage’s new verse translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, a poem whose hairy green villain gets less attention than Grendel for the simple reason that he rarely appears on high school curricula. Paul Johnson wrote, “No one ever reads Beowulf unless forced to do so (in schools or universities) or paid to do so (as on the BBC). Gawayn and the Green Knight is little more attractive.” I disagree vehemently on both counts. A few days ago, the poet Edward Hirsch explained in the New York Times what makes Gawain so great:

In 1967, Ted Hughes’s third book, “Wodwo”—raw, spooky, elemental—sent me scurrying to find out the meaning of this strange Middle English word. The figure of “wodwo,” which Hughes elsewhere characterized as a sort of “half-man, half-animal spirit of the forests,” seemed to have loomed up out of the unconscious of English poetry. The book’s epigraph came from a ferocious passage in “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” and soon I was parsing the somewhat resistant Middle English text and bounding through J. R. R. Tolkien’s faithful translation. I was transfixed. I had stumbled upon the underground alliterative tradition of English poetry. . . .

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is one of the founding narratives of English literature. The storyteller nods to the Aeneid, thus invoking his epic lineage, and then settles down to tell his tale, which begins in the court of King Arthur, “most regal of rulers in the royal line.” It is Christmastime at Camelot, and the chivalrous Knights of the Round Table are carrying on and carousing when suddenly an enormous stranger appears, a hulking interloper, “a most massive man, the mightiest of mortals.” The astonishing stranger is green from head to foot, a kind of emanation from nature. Even his horse is “a steed of pure green stock.”

You can read the poem “Wodwo” here, but I suspect you’ll get more out of Gawain. It’s stranger than just about any Christmas story you’re likely to encounter—after all, it does substitute “You’ll lose your head” for “You’ll shoot your eye out“—and of course it shows us what English literature looked and sounded like it its infancy. As Hirsch writes, the poem “still wields an uncanny power after 600 years. We’re fortunate that ‘our coffers have been crammed/ with stories such as these.'”

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My Crack-Cocaine Problem

Was it great news when the United States Sentencing Commission voted unanimously earlier this month to lighten punishments retroactively for crimes involving crack cocaine?

The shift will eliminate a disparity in the legal treatment of this drug as opposed to the powdered form of cocaine, which was erroneously assumed to be less dangerous when the sentences were written into law. The result of this softening of the glove is that some 19,500 inmates may win freedom within months.

In Coney Island, my gritty neighborhood, which Mayor Bloomberg has talked grandiloquently about reviving even as he lets it further decay, we continue to have a drug problem. The well-meaning people who run The Salt And Sea Mission Church have set up a homeless shelter along the main street — Mermaid Avenue –which, whatever else it does, is a magnet for alcoholics and drug addicts who congregate aimlessly on the sidewalks and menace passersby.

How many of the 19,500 newly released crack-heads will migrate to this charming spot? I am so eager to greet multitudes of them on the sidewalks as I walk to and from the subway.

Which raises a question that arises out of a reversal of that favorite slogan of the Left: “think local and act global.” What is the best way to deal with homeless rogues menacing you on the street. Typically, I keep a wide berth. I do not engage them in dialogue or lecture them about following the rules of the road (or the sidewalk).

This in turn makes me wonder all the more why the United States government is now talking to rogue states all around the world–North Korea, Syria, and Iran–trying to engage them in dialogue and get them to follow the rules of the road. “Seven years of President Bush’s Don’t-Talk-to-Evil policy are over, even under the helm of the administration that crafted it,” the New York Times is gloating.

This is the foreign-policy equivalent of talking with crack-addicts in one’s neighborhood with the idea of getting them to reform. Unsurprisingly, the Times is in favor of that, too. Its editorial page describes the prospective release of 19,500 crack-cocaine users as “a positive development, one with much potential for advancing justice.”

The editors of the Times evidently do not live in Coney Island, and it shows in their understanding of both local and international affairs.

Was it great news when the United States Sentencing Commission voted unanimously earlier this month to lighten punishments retroactively for crimes involving crack cocaine?

The shift will eliminate a disparity in the legal treatment of this drug as opposed to the powdered form of cocaine, which was erroneously assumed to be less dangerous when the sentences were written into law. The result of this softening of the glove is that some 19,500 inmates may win freedom within months.

In Coney Island, my gritty neighborhood, which Mayor Bloomberg has talked grandiloquently about reviving even as he lets it further decay, we continue to have a drug problem. The well-meaning people who run The Salt And Sea Mission Church have set up a homeless shelter along the main street — Mermaid Avenue –which, whatever else it does, is a magnet for alcoholics and drug addicts who congregate aimlessly on the sidewalks and menace passersby.

How many of the 19,500 newly released crack-heads will migrate to this charming spot? I am so eager to greet multitudes of them on the sidewalks as I walk to and from the subway.

Which raises a question that arises out of a reversal of that favorite slogan of the Left: “think local and act global.” What is the best way to deal with homeless rogues menacing you on the street. Typically, I keep a wide berth. I do not engage them in dialogue or lecture them about following the rules of the road (or the sidewalk).

This in turn makes me wonder all the more why the United States government is now talking to rogue states all around the world–North Korea, Syria, and Iran–trying to engage them in dialogue and get them to follow the rules of the road. “Seven years of President Bush’s Don’t-Talk-to-Evil policy are over, even under the helm of the administration that crafted it,” the New York Times is gloating.

This is the foreign-policy equivalent of talking with crack-addicts in one’s neighborhood with the idea of getting them to reform. Unsurprisingly, the Times is in favor of that, too. Its editorial page describes the prospective release of 19,500 crack-cocaine users as “a positive development, one with much potential for advancing justice.”

The editors of the Times evidently do not live in Coney Island, and it shows in their understanding of both local and international affairs.

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Response on Huckabee

In his post yesterday, John Podhoretz writes:

Of course Mike Huckabee can win the Republican nomination. I dismissed the possibility a few weeks ago by saying he had no “path to the nomination,” and I was foolish to do so. Huckabee’s path is evident—with surprising victories in early states, he steamrolls faltering campaigns and pushes them aside until he is the only guy left standing.

I can, as perhaps John can, see any of five men win the Republican nomination: Giuliani, Romney, McCain, Thompson, and Huckabee. I don’t dismiss any of them, particularly since this race is getting more jumbled and less clear the closer we get to it. Each campaign can put forward a plausible scenario in which they win (though some are obviously more plausible than others). But of course only one candidate will win, and I don’t think it’ll be Huckabee.

I say that as someone who has been impressed with his debating and speaking ability; he possesses, along with Barack Obama, some remarkable political skills. His climb in the polls is testimony to that. At the end of the day, though, I suspect Huckabee is simply too much at odds with the base of the GOP on too many issues, both in the realm of economics and national security. Beyond that, his folksiness and glibness, which can make a good early impression, don’t wear as well over time. His intellectually silly comments—as embodied in his Foreign Affairs essay, in which he likens dealing with Iran to a dispute between parents and friends—are mounting up. So are his more offensive ones, like his claim that his rise in the polls is based on divine intervention (“There’s only one explanation for it, and it’s not a human one. It’s the same power that helped a little boy with two fish and five loaves feed a crowd of 5,000 people”).

Read More

In his post yesterday, John Podhoretz writes:

Of course Mike Huckabee can win the Republican nomination. I dismissed the possibility a few weeks ago by saying he had no “path to the nomination,” and I was foolish to do so. Huckabee’s path is evident—with surprising victories in early states, he steamrolls faltering campaigns and pushes them aside until he is the only guy left standing.

I can, as perhaps John can, see any of five men win the Republican nomination: Giuliani, Romney, McCain, Thompson, and Huckabee. I don’t dismiss any of them, particularly since this race is getting more jumbled and less clear the closer we get to it. Each campaign can put forward a plausible scenario in which they win (though some are obviously more plausible than others). But of course only one candidate will win, and I don’t think it’ll be Huckabee.

I say that as someone who has been impressed with his debating and speaking ability; he possesses, along with Barack Obama, some remarkable political skills. His climb in the polls is testimony to that. At the end of the day, though, I suspect Huckabee is simply too much at odds with the base of the GOP on too many issues, both in the realm of economics and national security. Beyond that, his folksiness and glibness, which can make a good early impression, don’t wear as well over time. His intellectually silly comments—as embodied in his Foreign Affairs essay, in which he likens dealing with Iran to a dispute between parents and friends—are mounting up. So are his more offensive ones, like his claim that his rise in the polls is based on divine intervention (“There’s only one explanation for it, and it’s not a human one. It’s the same power that helped a little boy with two fish and five loaves feed a crowd of 5,000 people”).

More fundamentally, though, I suspect what we’ll see is increasing concern about Huckabee’s political character. His head-snapping change on immigration, from lecturing other Republican candidates about how his sympathetic policies toward illegal immigrants while he was Governor embodied the generosity of America, to his embrace of Jim Gilchrist, the founder of the anti-immigrant group the Minuteman Project, was a key insight into Huckabee. To move from the immigration position of the Wall Street Journal to that of National Review in the blink of an eye demonstrates Clintonian flexibility. Speaking of which: Huckabee’s effort to argue that he wasn’t in favor of quarantining AIDS patients in 1992 even as he argued they should be “isolated” (“we need to take steps that would isolate the carriers of this plague,” Huckabee said fifteen years ago) is reminiscent of the equivocations of another politically ambitious fellow from Hope, Arkansas.

Huckabee is not the only candidate to move away from his past positions, including Romney on abortion and other issues. But I increasingly get the sense that Huckabee is a man who is smooth, shrewd, and a good deal more calculating than he first appears. At the end of the day Huckabee, who surged out of nowhere, will return back to earth. It may not be until after Iowa—but eventually (like, say, in New Hampshire) political gravity will prevail. And in the race for the GOP nomination, Huckabee will not.

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Peres’s Poodle

I am always impressed by the particular fondness for critiquing the New York Times shared by writers on contentions. Without judging one way or another, from my perch here in Jerusalem all I can say is: If you think that’s bad, you should read Haaretz. Today there’s an editorial offering a fawning political eulogy for Yossi Beilin, the last remaining luminary of the Israeli far Left, whom Yitzhak Rabin famously called “Peres’s Poodle.” Beilin has just declared he is out of the race for leadership of Meretz, Israel’s peace party. According to a recent poll for the daily Yediot Aharonot, the peace camp in Israel has been so devastated by the sobering conflicts with the Palestinians and Hizballah of the last few years, that if an election were held today, Meretz would receive five seats in Israel’s 120-seat Knesset—half its strength from the heady early ’90’s. (More broadly, parties on the Left are expecting a drubbing, with the Likud the current heavy favorite. Olmert’s centrist Kadima party, too, is in freefall, with the poll giving them just twelve seats, as opposed to their current 29.)

But Haaretz, Israel’s newspaper of record, reveals the extent of its disconnect with the Israeli public when it calls Beilin a “brave” leader who “managed to carry away the center of the political map and get it to adopt his political path.” Meretz now has, the editorial concludes, “an important role to play in setting the public agenda and in fighting for values which tend to be easily neglected because of a too-heavy security agenda.” Read the whole thing here.

I am always impressed by the particular fondness for critiquing the New York Times shared by writers on contentions. Without judging one way or another, from my perch here in Jerusalem all I can say is: If you think that’s bad, you should read Haaretz. Today there’s an editorial offering a fawning political eulogy for Yossi Beilin, the last remaining luminary of the Israeli far Left, whom Yitzhak Rabin famously called “Peres’s Poodle.” Beilin has just declared he is out of the race for leadership of Meretz, Israel’s peace party. According to a recent poll for the daily Yediot Aharonot, the peace camp in Israel has been so devastated by the sobering conflicts with the Palestinians and Hizballah of the last few years, that if an election were held today, Meretz would receive five seats in Israel’s 120-seat Knesset—half its strength from the heady early ’90’s. (More broadly, parties on the Left are expecting a drubbing, with the Likud the current heavy favorite. Olmert’s centrist Kadima party, too, is in freefall, with the poll giving them just twelve seats, as opposed to their current 29.)

But Haaretz, Israel’s newspaper of record, reveals the extent of its disconnect with the Israeli public when it calls Beilin a “brave” leader who “managed to carry away the center of the political map and get it to adopt his political path.” Meretz now has, the editorial concludes, “an important role to play in setting the public agenda and in fighting for values which tend to be easily neglected because of a too-heavy security agenda.” Read the whole thing here.

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Andrew Sullivan Declares Defeat

For someone who couldn’t stop advertising his post-invasion humility, Andrew Sullivan sure got over any trepidation about sweeping pronouncements. This is from his endorsement of Ron Paul yesterday:

Let’s be clear: we have lost this war. We have lost because the initial, central goals of the invasion have all failed: we have not secured WMD’s from terrorists because those WMD’s did not exist. We have not stymied Islamist terror—at best we have finally stymied some of the terror we helped create. We have not constructed a democratic model for the Middle East—we have instead destroyed a totalitarian government and a phony country, only to create a permanently unstable, fractious, chaotic failed state, where the mere avoidance of genocide is a cause for celebration. We have, moreover, helped solder a new truth in the Arab mind: that democracy means chaos, anarchy, mass-murder, national disintegration and sectarian warfare. And we have also empowered the Iranian regime and made a wider Sunni-Shiite regional war more likely than it was in 2003. Apart from that, Mr. Bush, how did you enjoy your presidency?

There’s been almost nothing but good news out of Iraq for about six months. Moreover, coalition forces have just ceded control of Basra, the eighth and so far most critical province to do so, to Iraqi security forces. The banner atop Andrew Sullivan’s blog displays the George Orwell quote “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.” Sullivan has courted the fringe for a long time now; that he’s embraced it by endorsing Ron Paul isn’t so remarkable, though his total helplessness in this Orwellian struggle is.

For someone who couldn’t stop advertising his post-invasion humility, Andrew Sullivan sure got over any trepidation about sweeping pronouncements. This is from his endorsement of Ron Paul yesterday:

Let’s be clear: we have lost this war. We have lost because the initial, central goals of the invasion have all failed: we have not secured WMD’s from terrorists because those WMD’s did not exist. We have not stymied Islamist terror—at best we have finally stymied some of the terror we helped create. We have not constructed a democratic model for the Middle East—we have instead destroyed a totalitarian government and a phony country, only to create a permanently unstable, fractious, chaotic failed state, where the mere avoidance of genocide is a cause for celebration. We have, moreover, helped solder a new truth in the Arab mind: that democracy means chaos, anarchy, mass-murder, national disintegration and sectarian warfare. And we have also empowered the Iranian regime and made a wider Sunni-Shiite regional war more likely than it was in 2003. Apart from that, Mr. Bush, how did you enjoy your presidency?

There’s been almost nothing but good news out of Iraq for about six months. Moreover, coalition forces have just ceded control of Basra, the eighth and so far most critical province to do so, to Iraqi security forces. The banner atop Andrew Sullivan’s blog displays the George Orwell quote “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.” Sullivan has courted the fringe for a long time now; that he’s embraced it by endorsing Ron Paul isn’t so remarkable, though his total helplessness in this Orwellian struggle is.

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