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Posts For: December 27, 2011

Top 10 Literary News Stories of 2011

The year 2011 was another bad year for literature. Few distinguished books were published, book sales declined from month to month, booksellers shuttered their stores, and literary prizes (with a couple of exceptions) went to mediocrities. Before steeling ourselves for the inevitable disappointments of 2012, let’s review the top literary stories of the year:

#10. The Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature, an honor bestowed annually upon one of the world’s celebrated second-rate writers with agreeable politics.

#9. Little, Brown recalled 6,500 copies of the spy thriller Assassin of Secrets and turned them into pulp after revelations that Q. R. Markham had plagiarized much of the book. Protesting that he was suffering from an addiction, Markham advanced the Disease Theory of Plagiarism — his first original contribution to literature.

#8. “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior,” an excerpt from Amy Chua’s memoir Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, provoked nearly 9,000 comments at the Wall Street Journal and set off an international debate about child-rearing methods.

#7. The American novelist Philip Roth was awarded the International Man Booker Prize, igniting a controversy when the feminist publisher Carmen Callil walked off the prize jury, sniffing that she did not “rate him as a writer at all.”

#6. Jennifer Egan won the Pulitzer Prize in fiction for A Visit from the Goon Squad — a rare example of the prize’s going to the best book of the year (or nearly the best). HBO promptly announced plans to adapt the novel into a TV series.

#5. Judge Denny Chin, a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, rejected the $125 million settlement negotiated between Google and the Authors Guild, concluding that it “would give Google a significant advantage over competitors, rewarding it for engaging in wholesale copying of copyrighted works without permission. . . .” By the end of the year, Google was seeking to kick the Authors Guild out of the copyright suit.

#4. Literary history was made at the National Book Awards, at least according to the Washington Post fiction critic Ron Charles, when Nikky Finney and Jesmyn Ward, “[t]wo spectacularly powerful African American women,” were awarded the prizes in poetry and fiction respectively.

#3. After filing for bankruptcy in February, Borders was forced to close its last remaining stores and liquidate its inventory in July after failing to receive a single offer to save the bookstore chain.

#2. Amazon.com announced that, for the first time, sales of Kindle-ready ebooks on its website surpassed sales of hardback and paperback books combined.

#1. The courageous and contrarian essayist Christopher Hitchens, who taught an entire generation of young writers the virtue of truth-seeking in literature, died after an 18-month battle with esophageal cancer.

Hitchens’s was not the only important literary voice to be silenced in 2011. Other deaths in the literary world included:

Joe Gores, American mystery novelist (January 10).
Wilfrid Sheed, Anglo-American novelist (January 19).
Reynolds Price, American novelist (January 20).
Édouard Glissant, Martinican poet and novelist (February 3).
Bo Carpelan, Finnish poet and novelist (February 11).
Arnošt Lustig, Czech writer of Holocaust novels (February 26) [h/t: Erika Dreifus].
John Haines, American poet (March 2).
L. J. Davis, American novelist (April 6).
Stephen Watson, South African poet and critic (April 10).
Patrick Cullinan, South African poet (April 14).
Jeanne Leiby, editor of the Southern Review (April 19).
Gonzalo Rojas, Chilean poet (April 25).
Joanna Russ, American science fiction novelist and feminist (April 29).
Yannis Varveris, Greek poet (May 25).
Josephine Hart, British novelist (June 2).
Robert Kroetsch, Canadian novelist and co-founder of the journal Boundary 2.
Ágota Kristóf, Hungarian-Swiss novelist (July 27).
Eliseo Alberto, anti-Castro Cuban novelist and essayist (July 31).
Stan Barstow, British novelist (August 1).
David Holbrook, British literary scholar (August 11).
Samuel Menashe, American poet (August 22).
Susan Fromberg Schaeffer, American novelist (August 26).
Michael Hart, founder of Project Gutenberg (September 6).
Ida Fink, Polish writer of Holocaust fiction (September 27).
Hella S. Haasse, Dutch novelist (September 29).
Gerald Shapiro, American Jewish story writer and editor (October 15).
John Morton Blum, American historian (October 17).
Piri Thomas, American memoirist (October 17).
Allen Mandelbaum, American translator of Virgil and Dante (October 27).
Morris Phillipson, American novelist and director of the University of Chicago Press (November 3).
Tomás Segovia, Spanish exile poet (November 7).
F. Springer (pseudonym of Carel Jan Schneider), Dutch novelist (November 7).
Peter Reading, British poet (November 17).
Daniel Sada, Mexican poet (November 18).
Ruth Stone, American poet (November 19).
Christa Wolf, German novelist and critic (December 1).
Christopher Logue, British poet (December 2).
Russell Hoban, American novelist (December 13).
Joe Simon, American comic-book writer (December 14).
Paula Hyman, American Jewish historian (December 15).

The year 2011 was another bad year for literature. Few distinguished books were published, book sales declined from month to month, booksellers shuttered their stores, and literary prizes (with a couple of exceptions) went to mediocrities. Before steeling ourselves for the inevitable disappointments of 2012, let’s review the top literary stories of the year:

#10. The Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature, an honor bestowed annually upon one of the world’s celebrated second-rate writers with agreeable politics.

#9. Little, Brown recalled 6,500 copies of the spy thriller Assassin of Secrets and turned them into pulp after revelations that Q. R. Markham had plagiarized much of the book. Protesting that he was suffering from an addiction, Markham advanced the Disease Theory of Plagiarism — his first original contribution to literature.

#8. “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior,” an excerpt from Amy Chua’s memoir Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, provoked nearly 9,000 comments at the Wall Street Journal and set off an international debate about child-rearing methods.

#7. The American novelist Philip Roth was awarded the International Man Booker Prize, igniting a controversy when the feminist publisher Carmen Callil walked off the prize jury, sniffing that she did not “rate him as a writer at all.”

#6. Jennifer Egan won the Pulitzer Prize in fiction for A Visit from the Goon Squad — a rare example of the prize’s going to the best book of the year (or nearly the best). HBO promptly announced plans to adapt the novel into a TV series.

#5. Judge Denny Chin, a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, rejected the $125 million settlement negotiated between Google and the Authors Guild, concluding that it “would give Google a significant advantage over competitors, rewarding it for engaging in wholesale copying of copyrighted works without permission. . . .” By the end of the year, Google was seeking to kick the Authors Guild out of the copyright suit.

#4. Literary history was made at the National Book Awards, at least according to the Washington Post fiction critic Ron Charles, when Nikky Finney and Jesmyn Ward, “[t]wo spectacularly powerful African American women,” were awarded the prizes in poetry and fiction respectively.

#3. After filing for bankruptcy in February, Borders was forced to close its last remaining stores and liquidate its inventory in July after failing to receive a single offer to save the bookstore chain.

#2. Amazon.com announced that, for the first time, sales of Kindle-ready ebooks on its website surpassed sales of hardback and paperback books combined.

#1. The courageous and contrarian essayist Christopher Hitchens, who taught an entire generation of young writers the virtue of truth-seeking in literature, died after an 18-month battle with esophageal cancer.

Hitchens’s was not the only important literary voice to be silenced in 2011. Other deaths in the literary world included:

Joe Gores, American mystery novelist (January 10).
Wilfrid Sheed, Anglo-American novelist (January 19).
Reynolds Price, American novelist (January 20).
Édouard Glissant, Martinican poet and novelist (February 3).
Bo Carpelan, Finnish poet and novelist (February 11).
Arnošt Lustig, Czech writer of Holocaust novels (February 26) [h/t: Erika Dreifus].
John Haines, American poet (March 2).
L. J. Davis, American novelist (April 6).
Stephen Watson, South African poet and critic (April 10).
Patrick Cullinan, South African poet (April 14).
Jeanne Leiby, editor of the Southern Review (April 19).
Gonzalo Rojas, Chilean poet (April 25).
Joanna Russ, American science fiction novelist and feminist (April 29).
Yannis Varveris, Greek poet (May 25).
Josephine Hart, British novelist (June 2).
Robert Kroetsch, Canadian novelist and co-founder of the journal Boundary 2.
Ágota Kristóf, Hungarian-Swiss novelist (July 27).
Eliseo Alberto, anti-Castro Cuban novelist and essayist (July 31).
Stan Barstow, British novelist (August 1).
David Holbrook, British literary scholar (August 11).
Samuel Menashe, American poet (August 22).
Susan Fromberg Schaeffer, American novelist (August 26).
Michael Hart, founder of Project Gutenberg (September 6).
Ida Fink, Polish writer of Holocaust fiction (September 27).
Hella S. Haasse, Dutch novelist (September 29).
Gerald Shapiro, American Jewish story writer and editor (October 15).
John Morton Blum, American historian (October 17).
Piri Thomas, American memoirist (October 17).
Allen Mandelbaum, American translator of Virgil and Dante (October 27).
Morris Phillipson, American novelist and director of the University of Chicago Press (November 3).
Tomás Segovia, Spanish exile poet (November 7).
F. Springer (pseudonym of Carel Jan Schneider), Dutch novelist (November 7).
Peter Reading, British poet (November 17).
Daniel Sada, Mexican poet (November 18).
Ruth Stone, American poet (November 19).
Christa Wolf, German novelist and critic (December 1).
Christopher Logue, British poet (December 2).
Russell Hoban, American novelist (December 13).
Joe Simon, American comic-book writer (December 14).
Paula Hyman, American Jewish historian (December 15).

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Redeeming a Still Broken Glass

The question of whether a person who is a known liar is eligible to become a member of the bar is one of these dilemmas that seem to be as much the fodder for standup comedy as it is a serious philosophical inquiry. Since so many licensed lawyers are known to lie or at least aggressively shade and chip away at the truth for a living, depriving someone who has already done the same thing in another profession of a chance to join the ranks of legal eagles seems to be the height of irony, if not a bit unfair. Nevertheless, one must applaud the scruples of those solons that judged Stephen Glass, who gained infamy for spinning fictional yarns and passing them off as factual reporting in national magazines, as unworthy to be a member of the California bar.

That ruling, an appeal of which will soon be decided by the California State Supreme Court, is the subject of a piece by New York Times op-ed columnist Joe Nocera today in which the author presents the famous fabulist Glass as a classic case of redemption. Nocera portrays the would-be lawyer as the second coming of George Washington and Abe Lincoln. Nowadays, Nocera tells us without tongue in cheek that he won’t even “tell even the tiniest of white lies”). But the column, like Glass’s attempt to join the bar, is both unconvincing and unseemly.

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The question of whether a person who is a known liar is eligible to become a member of the bar is one of these dilemmas that seem to be as much the fodder for standup comedy as it is a serious philosophical inquiry. Since so many licensed lawyers are known to lie or at least aggressively shade and chip away at the truth for a living, depriving someone who has already done the same thing in another profession of a chance to join the ranks of legal eagles seems to be the height of irony, if not a bit unfair. Nevertheless, one must applaud the scruples of those solons that judged Stephen Glass, who gained infamy for spinning fictional yarns and passing them off as factual reporting in national magazines, as unworthy to be a member of the California bar.

That ruling, an appeal of which will soon be decided by the California State Supreme Court, is the subject of a piece by New York Times op-ed columnist Joe Nocera today in which the author presents the famous fabulist Glass as a classic case of redemption. Nocera portrays the would-be lawyer as the second coming of George Washington and Abe Lincoln. Nowadays, Nocera tells us without tongue in cheek that he won’t even “tell even the tiniest of white lies”). But the column, like Glass’s attempt to join the bar, is both unconvincing and unseemly.

One of the most curious aspects of this case has always been Glass’s ability to portray himself as a victim. As a takedown of his appeal by Reuters media critic Jack Shafer shows, his excuses for the lies he spun in the pages of The New Republic and other publications are a microcosm of a culture in which seemingly every offense can be rationalized. Though he claims to have taken responsibility for his lies Glass blames his parents a lot as well as humiliations in high school and the pressure of going to law school while also holding down a job in journalism. The only thing he left out was the Twinkies.

Glass has always seemed a poor candidate for redemption since his first public act after being drummed out of journalism was to write a pseudo-memoir in the form of a novel about his experiences in which he piled on the excuses and pro-forma apologies while also cracking wise at the expense of some of the people and publications he defrauded. As one of the editors he scammed wrote of the book:

Glass’ ability to apologize while simultaneously insisting that his wrongs were trivial; his sneering portrayal of journalists even as he begs our forgiveness; his insistence that his book is fiction even as he asks you to believe that his repentance is real; all this goes beyond chutzpah into self-delusion. Part of Steve Glass wants to give the world the finger; an equal part just wants to be hugged.

In the end, the more Glass’ apologies pile up, the more perfunctory they feel. It’s as if Glass knows this is what’s expected of him before he can progress through the cultural cycle of exposure, exile, repentance and rehabilitation.

Some of those who were his victims, like former TNR publisher Marty Peretz, support their former protégé. The argument seems to be that if Peretz can forgive him, who are the rest of us to question Glass’s sincerity? Indeed, why should any of us care whether the California bar or the one in New York (which has already rejected him) lets him practice law? Aren’t further sanctions on Glass hypocritical?

But unlike Nocera, I agree with Shafer. There may be, as Shafer says, “worse people practicing law in California than Glass,” but there is something unseemly about the desire of this fraud for a state stamp of approval on his attempt to recast his character. No one is saying that he isn’t entitled to make a living of some sort or to peaceably live out his life, but the idea of Glass parading in front of a court and forcing others to swear to tell the truth is a bit much. To let him into the bar is almost to imply that journalistic lies are to be expected and forgiven since someone, no matter how young, who committed similar frauds while practicing law could never hope to regain their license. Had he faded quietly into obscurity, there would be no need to retell the story of his lies. But with his novel and his campaign for the bar, Glass won’t let it go. Until he does, neither should we.

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How Inevitable is Romney?

With just one week to go before the Iowa caucuses, uncertainty is the word that can best describe the situation in the Republican presidential race. The polls have been all over the place in recent months as one candidate after another took turns trying on the mantle of frontrunner. Newt Gingrich’s moment appears to have come and gone. The affections of the social conservative and Tea Party wings of the party are split between three candidates who can’t seem to shake each other. Libertarian Ron Paul is making a splash — largely on the strength on non-GOP voters — but revelations about his extremist connections and hate-filled newsletters may limit his chances at a first place finish. Which leaves us with the same guy whom the media anointed as the frontrunner back in the spring as the most likely to be nominated: Mitt Romney.

New York Times statistical analyst Nate Silver asks today whether it is possible for Romney to lose. The answer is yes he can, but the odds still favor him for the same reason they have the past few months: none of the alternatives turned out to be viable. A poor showing in Iowa would be a setback for Romney, but it is still difficult to construct a scenario by which any of his rivals can chart a path to the nomination. For all of his manifest flaws as a candidate and his inability to convince conservatives that he is one of them, it’s hard to envision Romney losing at this point.

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With just one week to go before the Iowa caucuses, uncertainty is the word that can best describe the situation in the Republican presidential race. The polls have been all over the place in recent months as one candidate after another took turns trying on the mantle of frontrunner. Newt Gingrich’s moment appears to have come and gone. The affections of the social conservative and Tea Party wings of the party are split between three candidates who can’t seem to shake each other. Libertarian Ron Paul is making a splash — largely on the strength on non-GOP voters — but revelations about his extremist connections and hate-filled newsletters may limit his chances at a first place finish. Which leaves us with the same guy whom the media anointed as the frontrunner back in the spring as the most likely to be nominated: Mitt Romney.

New York Times statistical analyst Nate Silver asks today whether it is possible for Romney to lose. The answer is yes he can, but the odds still favor him for the same reason they have the past few months: none of the alternatives turned out to be viable. A poor showing in Iowa would be a setback for Romney, but it is still difficult to construct a scenario by which any of his rivals can chart a path to the nomination. For all of his manifest flaws as a candidate and his inability to convince conservatives that he is one of them, it’s hard to envision Romney losing at this point.

The worst-case scenario for Romney in Iowa would be for Newt Gingrich to finish first there. Such an outcome would undermine Romney’s argument for inevitability and give Gingrich momentum going into New Hampshire and South Carolina, the one state that the former speaker must win. But with Gingrich sinking in the polls as voters come to grips with his record, the next most likely first place finisher is someone who presents no long term threat to Romney: Ron Paul. Though a Paul victory would be embarrassing for Republicans and diminish the reputation of the Iowa caucus itself, the chances of the Texas congressman getting the nomination are nil.

The other possibility in Iowa is that one of the current members of the second tier was to pull off a last-minute upset victory. Given the volatility of the polls and the nature of the caucus, that is also not an impossible dream. Both Rick Santorum, who has shown some life after months of hard work in the state and Michele Bachmann, who won the Iowa Straw Poll back in August, have some ardent supporters, but they’re essentially competing for the same votes which may make it impossible for either to break through.

More intriguing is the possibility that Rick Perry, the third member of the conservative troika in Iowa, could somehow catch lightening in a bottle and vault to the top. A Perry win in Iowa could turn the race around and give him back some of the luster he lost virtually every time he opened his mouth in the GOP debates. But since he, too, is competing for the same voters as Santorum and Bachmann, it’s hard to see how he can do it. While it is not out of the question one of the three could ride a last-minute surge into third place all that would accomplish would be to prolong their campaigns. It would take a win in Iowa to make Republicans believe in any one of them, and that’s a long shot at best.

Which leaves us with just one more scenario: a Romney victory in Iowa. Silver estimates that the range of possible outcomes in the Hawkeye state for Romney to be from a high of 36 percent of the vote to a low of 8 percent. But the chances of him getting closer to the higher number are far greater than a lesser result. In the final days, enough Republicans may decide that voting for a loose cannon (Gingrich) or an extremist (Paul) is not the way to beat Barack Obama while the social conservative vote is split three ways. A Romney win in Iowa would not completely end the race before it has hardly begun, but it would take a lot of the mystery out of what would follow.

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Romneycare Blurb Not What Newt Needed

GOP Presidential candidate Ron Paul published bigoted newsletters in the 1980s. Now a much more recent, and not nearly as morally offensive, newsletter by Newt Gingrich will cause him problems with some conservative primary voters.

An April 2006 newsletter published by Mr. Gingrich’s former consulting company, the Center for Health Transformation, and discovered by the Wall Street Journal, included a two-page analysis, “Newt Notes,” which begins this way: “The most exciting development of the past few weeks is what has been happening up in Massachusetts. The health bill that Governor Romney signed into law this month has tremendous potential to effect major change in the American health system. We agree entirely with Governor Romney and Massachusetts legislators that our goal should be 100% insurance coverage for all Americans.”
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GOP Presidential candidate Ron Paul published bigoted newsletters in the 1980s. Now a much more recent, and not nearly as morally offensive, newsletter by Newt Gingrich will cause him problems with some conservative primary voters.

An April 2006 newsletter published by Mr. Gingrich’s former consulting company, the Center for Health Transformation, and discovered by the Wall Street Journal, included a two-page analysis, “Newt Notes,” which begins this way: “The most exciting development of the past few weeks is what has been happening up in Massachusetts. The health bill that Governor Romney signed into law this month has tremendous potential to effect major change in the American health system. We agree entirely with Governor Romney and Massachusetts legislators that our goal should be 100% insurance coverage for all Americans.”

Mr. Gingrich had some criticisms of the Massachusetts plan, including what he referred to as the state’s over-regulation of health insurers, and his full analysis is worth reading. But there’s no question that Gingrich was a strong supporter of RomneyCare. ”Massachusetts leaders are to be commended for this bipartisan proposal to tackle the enormous challenge of finding real solutions for creating a sustainable health system,” Gingrich wrote. The Journal reports that a follow-up newsletter in August 2006 called Mr. Romney’s plan “the most interesting effort to solve the uninsured problem in America today.”

The effect of this revelation is that it will undermine Gingrich with primary voters who want a candidate who provides a sharp conservative contrast with both Romney in the primaries and Barack Obama in the general election. Mr. Gingrich has already acknowledged supporting an individual mandate; the release of this memo substantially weakens his attacks on what Gingrich now calls Romney’s “big-government, bureaucratic, high-cost system.”

Until now, it’s been Mitt Romney who has had to justify to Republicans (not always persuasively) his support for RomneyCare. Now it’s Mr. Gingrich’s turn to justify his. Pretending he didn’t say what he said and invoking the Charles Barkley defense (Barkley once claimed he was misquoted in his autobiography) won’t do the trick.

Nobody said running for president is easy.

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Turkey, Israel and the Armenian Genocide

It goes without saying that had Turkey not spent the last few years doing everything it could to destroy its erstwhile alliance with Israel there would have been no debate in the Knesset yesterday about whether to commemorate the Turkish genocide of Armenians during World War I. But since the Turks have become the sponsors and perhaps even the financial backers of Hamas, the consensus within the Israel to stay away from anything touching the Armenian question has dissolved. Though there were some MKs who thought the commemoration should be shelved as part of a new effort to win back the affections of Turkey, most Israelis rightly understand the ship has sailed on good relations with its former ally.

The discussion will, it should be admitted, do nothing to ameliorate the now tense relationship, let alone revive the now shattered alliance between the two nations. With the Turks, as Max noted yesterday, willing to engage in name calling and accusations with France over the genocide issue, there can be no doubt that the Knesset’s session will only widen the breech between Ankara and Jerusalem. But rather than a mystery, the Turks’ decision to make a nearly century-old controversy a diplomatic litmus test can be understood in light of their history. Their unwillingness to bend even a little bit on the Armenians must be understood as something that speaks to their national identity and is unlikely to be dropped anytime soon.

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It goes without saying that had Turkey not spent the last few years doing everything it could to destroy its erstwhile alliance with Israel there would have been no debate in the Knesset yesterday about whether to commemorate the Turkish genocide of Armenians during World War I. But since the Turks have become the sponsors and perhaps even the financial backers of Hamas, the consensus within the Israel to stay away from anything touching the Armenian question has dissolved. Though there were some MKs who thought the commemoration should be shelved as part of a new effort to win back the affections of Turkey, most Israelis rightly understand the ship has sailed on good relations with its former ally.

The discussion will, it should be admitted, do nothing to ameliorate the now tense relationship, let alone revive the now shattered alliance between the two nations. With the Turks, as Max noted yesterday, willing to engage in name calling and accusations with France over the genocide issue, there can be no doubt that the Knesset’s session will only widen the breech between Ankara and Jerusalem. But rather than a mystery, the Turks’ decision to make a nearly century-old controversy a diplomatic litmus test can be understood in light of their history. Their unwillingness to bend even a little bit on the Armenians must be understood as something that speaks to their national identity and is unlikely to be dropped anytime soon.

Max is right that logically it makes no sense for the Turkish republic to be so uptight about criticism of the actions of the Ottoman Empire that it replaced. But the Turkish Army carried out the mass slaughter of Armenians. The army was the heart and soul of the Ataturk regime that succeeded the old empire. It was the same army, led by Ataturk, that defeated the Greeks in the aftermath of World War I and evicted the Greeks from Asia Minor.

Though we may see no connection between the Young Turk government that conducted the genocide and what followed, Ataturk’s modern republic is based on the idea of creating a Turkish national identity in which minorities such as the Greeks, the Kurds and, yes, the Armenians could play no real role. While the exodus of the Greeks from Turkey was more a matter of a mass ethnic cleansing than genocide, the intent was not dissimilar. So, too, was the decades-long Turkish campaign to eradicate the language, culture and political identity of the Kurds within their borders.

I agree that Turkish gestures toward the Armenians or just a decision to drop their perennial campaign to make other nations stop commemorating the genocide would objectively cost them nothing. But they can’t seem to do it because to admit that Turks were at fault with the Armenians might also mean they were at fault with the Greeks or the Kurds. Just as the political culture of the Palestinians is so obsessed with negating Zionism that it prevents them from doing the rational thing and making peace with Israel, so, too does Turkey’s history render them incapable of giving up the argument about the Armenians.

The one upside to the decision of Turkey’s Islamic government to betray their alliance with Israel and embrace Hamas is that it is no longer obligated to keep quiet about the Armenian genocide. The same goes for American Jews who understandably chose to make nice with the Turks for the sake of their backing of Israel. No longer need Israelis listen to lectures about the treatment of the Palestinians from a government that denies the Armenian genocide while oppressing Kurds in our own time.

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Best Option to Stop Nukes? The Military.

Matthew Kroenig, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who formerly served as a special adviser on Iran policy in the Defense Department, has an excellent article in Foreign Affairs on why a U.S. attack on Iran is the least bad of the available options. Kroenig lays out a detailed argument for why military action is feasible, why it’s preferable to a nuclear Iran and what the U.S. could do to minimize the inevitable fallout, and I sincerely hope Washington policy makers are reading it.

But there’s another argument that’s worth adding to Kroenig’s list: the relative track records of military versus nonmilitary efforts to stop nuclear proliferation.

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Matthew Kroenig, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who formerly served as a special adviser on Iran policy in the Defense Department, has an excellent article in Foreign Affairs on why a U.S. attack on Iran is the least bad of the available options. Kroenig lays out a detailed argument for why military action is feasible, why it’s preferable to a nuclear Iran and what the U.S. could do to minimize the inevitable fallout, and I sincerely hope Washington policy makers are reading it.

But there’s another argument that’s worth adding to Kroenig’s list: the relative track records of military versus nonmilitary efforts to stop nuclear proliferation.

In an article in the New York Times last week, another former U.S. official intimately involved in nuclear policy — Robert Gallucci, who served as chief negotiator with North Korea during President Bill Clinton’s administration — criticized the Bush administration for not taking a hard line on Pyongyang’s transfer of nuclear technology to Damascus. Syria, he noted dryly, might well have nuclear weapons today “had it not been for Israel’s version of a nonproliferation policy — aerial bombardment of the site.” And while Gallucci didn’t mention it, the same is true of Iraq.

In fact, Syria and Iraq are the only two countries where military action has ever been tried to halt a nuclear program. And so far, both are nuke-free. Moreover, in both cases, military action spared the world a nightmare. The current unrest in Syria would create a real danger of terrorist groups obtaining nuclear materiel had Israel not destroyed Syria’s reactor in 2007. And by bombing Iraq’s reactor in 1981, Israel made it possible for a U.S.-led coalition to go to war to reverse Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait – an invasion that, had it gone unchecked, would have destabilized the entire vital oil-producing Gulf region, but which the world would have had to swallow had Iraq had nukes by then.

By contrast, consider the track record in places where military action wasn’t tried, like Pakistan and North Korea. Both not only have the bomb, but have merrily proliferated ever since to some of the world’s worst regimes. And in Pakistan’s case, there’s the added fear that radical Islamists will someday take over the unstable country, along with its nukes.

In fact, nonmilitary sanctions have never persuaded any country to abandon a nuclear program: The few countries that have scrapped such programs did so not in response to sanctions, but to domestic developments (regime change in South Africa) or to fear of military action (Libya after the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003).

So far, the same is proving true in Iran, where years of nonmilitary sanctions have slowed its nuclear development, but have utterly failed to halt it, or to alter its leaders’ determination to pursue it. That confronts America with a stark choice: stick to nonmilitary methods that have never succeeded in the past until Iran becomes the next North Korea, or switch to military methods, which have worked in the past.

For if history is any guide, there is no third option.

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An Inside Look at Ron Paul’s Extremism

One of the interesting ironies of the current Republican presidential race is that anytime a website publishes articles discussing Ron Paul’s extremist connections, they are bombarded by a flood of e-mails from his supporters denouncing the premise of the piece while often expressing the same kind of rhetoric that the article mentioned. Paul’s surge in the polls has brought with it the kind of scrutiny that has brought his ties to hate groups such as the John Birch Society and 9/11 “truthers” out into the open. But for those wanting to learn a little bit more about the man’s own views, a former staffer has now written a piece that makes it clear that while he claims to abhor prejudice, Paul is not, as some of his backers absurdly claim, a friend of Israel:

He is however, most certainly Anti-Israel, and Anti-Israeli in general. He wishes the Israeli state did not exist at all. He expressed this to me numerous times in our private conversations. His view is that Israel is more trouble than it is worth, specifically to the America taxpayer. He sides with the Palestinians, and supports their calls for the abolishment of the Jewish state, and the return of Israel, all of it, to the Arabs.

It should be specified that the congressman has described the writer, Eric Dondero, as a “disgruntled ex-employee” who was fired. So perhaps we can take his words with a grain of salt. But Dondero, a Navy veteran who worked for Paul off and on from 1987 to 2003, does know a thing or two about the candidate. He turned on Paul because of his opposition to the war in Iraq and has become a virulent foe. Nonetheless, Dondero’s comments about Paul’s feelings about Israel ring true for two reasons.

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One of the interesting ironies of the current Republican presidential race is that anytime a website publishes articles discussing Ron Paul’s extremist connections, they are bombarded by a flood of e-mails from his supporters denouncing the premise of the piece while often expressing the same kind of rhetoric that the article mentioned. Paul’s surge in the polls has brought with it the kind of scrutiny that has brought his ties to hate groups such as the John Birch Society and 9/11 “truthers” out into the open. But for those wanting to learn a little bit more about the man’s own views, a former staffer has now written a piece that makes it clear that while he claims to abhor prejudice, Paul is not, as some of his backers absurdly claim, a friend of Israel:

He is however, most certainly Anti-Israel, and Anti-Israeli in general. He wishes the Israeli state did not exist at all. He expressed this to me numerous times in our private conversations. His view is that Israel is more trouble than it is worth, specifically to the America taxpayer. He sides with the Palestinians, and supports their calls for the abolishment of the Jewish state, and the return of Israel, all of it, to the Arabs.

It should be specified that the congressman has described the writer, Eric Dondero, as a “disgruntled ex-employee” who was fired. So perhaps we can take his words with a grain of salt. But Dondero, a Navy veteran who worked for Paul off and on from 1987 to 2003, does know a thing or two about the candidate. He turned on Paul because of his opposition to the war in Iraq and has become a virulent foe. Nonetheless, Dondero’s comments about Paul’s feelings about Israel ring true for two reasons.

One is that Dondero has not penned an all-out hit piece. He acquits Paul of racist sentiments as well as of anti-Semitism and homophobia. Though he admits the racist newsletters are troubling, he says the “liberal media” that is attacking Paul has it all wrong, because he thinks those are insignificant charges that don’t say much about the man.

Dondero believes the real problem with Paul is his isolationist foreign policy that led him to think the United States should not have fought in World War II.

He expressed to me countless times, that “saving the Jews,” was absolutely none of our business. When pressed, he often times brings up conspiracy theories like FDR knew about the attacks of Pearl Harbor weeks before hand, or that WWII was just “blowback,” for Woodrow Wilson’s foreign policy errors, and such.

As for 9/11:

He engaged in conspiracy theories including perhaps the attacks were coordinated with the CIA, and that the Bush administration might have known about the attacks ahead of time. He expressed no sympathies whatsoever for those who died on 9/11, and pretty much forbade us staffers from engaging in any sort of memorial expressions, or openly asserting pro-military statements in support of the Bush administration.

The problem with Paul is not just that he refuses to disavow the support of hate groups and other extremists, but that he is one himself. The fact that a liberal provocateur like Andrew Sullivan who despises Israel would endorse him speaks volumes about his appeal. As I have noted previously, Paul’s views about Israel seem very much of a piece with the anti-Semitic “America First” movement that tried to prevent U.S. involvement in the war against Nazism. His isolationism isn’t merely an expression of distaste for war but is part of a belief system that is ready to rationalize Islamist regimes and movements at war with America and American ideals. His extremism places him beyond the pale and renders him unfit for high office.

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