Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 8, 2012

Vin Scully, the Sisters of Charity, and the Jewish Doctor

There was a time at Dodger Stadium, back during the days when Vin Scully called the entire game, where fans would bring their transistor radios to the stadium to listen to him call the game they were watching. Even if you didn’t have a radio, you could pretty much follow along, as there were so many radios around you. Everyone knew the best part of the Scully broadcast were the stories he would tell about baseball history, or the stories he would weave out of the game happening in real time in front of him, often with a touch of irony or humor. When he would tell a story, pretty much the whole section around you would smile or laugh.

Last week, Hugh Hewitt interviewed Vin Scully, and the transcript is worth reading in its entirety. At one point, Hewitt asked him if he had gone to parochial schools or public schools when he was little. Scully answered that he “was parochial all the way,” starting with Incarnation Grammar School at 175th Street in Manhattan. He asked Hewitt if he “might bore you with a little story” about the Sisters of Charity who were his teachers. Here is the story:

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There was a time at Dodger Stadium, back during the days when Vin Scully called the entire game, where fans would bring their transistor radios to the stadium to listen to him call the game they were watching. Even if you didn’t have a radio, you could pretty much follow along, as there were so many radios around you. Everyone knew the best part of the Scully broadcast were the stories he would tell about baseball history, or the stories he would weave out of the game happening in real time in front of him, often with a touch of irony or humor. When he would tell a story, pretty much the whole section around you would smile or laugh.

Last week, Hugh Hewitt interviewed Vin Scully, and the transcript is worth reading in its entirety. At one point, Hewitt asked him if he had gone to parochial schools or public schools when he was little. Scully answered that he “was parochial all the way,” starting with Incarnation Grammar School at 175th Street in Manhattan. He asked Hewitt if he “might bore you with a little story” about the Sisters of Charity who were his teachers. Here is the story:

VS: There were times when they were not too charitable to this red-headed kid, and the reason was that I was very, very left-handed. And every time I would use my left hand, the good nun would hit me across the back of the knuckles with the flat of the ruler. And if I insisted upon using my left hand, occasionally she would turn the ruler so that she would hit me with the edge of the ruler, which broke the skin. And one night at dinner, passing the bread or whatever, my mother saw this cut up hand, and she assumed that I had been punished for talking in class or whatever. And she would have been correct 99 percent of the time. But in this instance, I explained no, it’s because I’m using my left hand. Well, our family doctor, and I only use this because it works out very well, our family doctor was Jewish. And he sat down and wrote a letter to the Catholic nuns. And in the letter, he explained, among other things, that if you force this little boy to become right-handed, it might very well cause him to stutter, which would have changed my life dramatically. And then the last line of the letter, it said and besides, dear Sisters, why in the world would you want to change God’s work?

HH: Wow.

VS: So he hit a grand slam with that line, and they allowed me to stay left-handed. And I was very, very familiar, long before the movie, with King George in England who stuttered. I bet I read a book about him, because I was left-handed, maybe 40 years ago. And the reason he stuttered was because he was basically and originally left-handed, and they made him right-handed. And from that book and from that story, they made the beautiful movie “The King’s Speech.”

HH: Yes.

VS: But they only alluded to the fact that he was left-handed, forced to be right-handed, in one quick throwaway line. But I really understood, and was very empathetic to the King.

And now back to the game.

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Goldfinger’s Dictum and the Democrats

Correlation can be coincidence. But the greater the correlation, the less likely it is to be coincidence. As Ian Fleming explained in words he put into the mouth of Auric Goldfinger after his character encountered James Bond for the third time, “Once is an accident. Twice is coincidence. Three times is an enemy action.”

How about 17 times?  That’s the number of states that elected Republican governors in 2010, thanks to Tea Party demands for fiscal conservatism. And as Breitbart reports today, 17 is the number of those states that have seen a drop in unemployment since January 2011. While the national unemployment rate has dropped .9 percentage points since then, these 17 states have dropped an average of 1.35 percentage points. States that elected Democratic governors in 2010 tracked the national decline in unemployment. And some of those states have had increases in the level of unemployment.

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Correlation can be coincidence. But the greater the correlation, the less likely it is to be coincidence. As Ian Fleming explained in words he put into the mouth of Auric Goldfinger after his character encountered James Bond for the third time, “Once is an accident. Twice is coincidence. Three times is an enemy action.”

How about 17 times?  That’s the number of states that elected Republican governors in 2010, thanks to Tea Party demands for fiscal conservatism. And as Breitbart reports today, 17 is the number of those states that have seen a drop in unemployment since January 2011. While the national unemployment rate has dropped .9 percentage points since then, these 17 states have dropped an average of 1.35 percentage points. States that elected Democratic governors in 2010 tracked the national decline in unemployment. And some of those states have had increases in the level of unemployment.

So it could be a coincidence or it could be that Democratic policies don’t work. Me, I’m going with the latter.

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Paying the Price in Afghanistan

Most officers, now deploying to Afghanistan often for their third or fourth time, are far more attuned to political developments and the problems facing that country than the politicians who are ordering them into battle. Based on my experience teaching classes to deploying officers before each unit departs, there is an overwhelming consensus that governance in Afghanistan is fatally flawed. While officers recognize that a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan is inimical to American security, few officers see how propping up Hamid Karzai’s corrupt plutocracy is a U.S. interest.

Alas, the problem that Karzai has become today is the direct result of a strategy that traded short-term gain for long-term ills. Without doubt, it was important that the United States unseat the Taliban. Simply put, the Taliban can never be a partner for peace and it should have no role in Afghanistan’s future; it must be eliminated. The Clinton administration had tried a negotiated solution with Taliban leaders; the same Taliban representatives with whom Obama’s team now engage promised any number of resolutions, but then as now always failed to deliver.

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Most officers, now deploying to Afghanistan often for their third or fourth time, are far more attuned to political developments and the problems facing that country than the politicians who are ordering them into battle. Based on my experience teaching classes to deploying officers before each unit departs, there is an overwhelming consensus that governance in Afghanistan is fatally flawed. While officers recognize that a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan is inimical to American security, few officers see how propping up Hamid Karzai’s corrupt plutocracy is a U.S. interest.

Alas, the problem that Karzai has become today is the direct result of a strategy that traded short-term gain for long-term ills. Without doubt, it was important that the United States unseat the Taliban. Simply put, the Taliban can never be a partner for peace and it should have no role in Afghanistan’s future; it must be eliminated. The Clinton administration had tried a negotiated solution with Taliban leaders; the same Taliban representatives with whom Obama’s team now engage promised any number of resolutions, but then as now always failed to deliver.

When Operation Enduring Freedom began, the problem was not just the Taliban but rather, more broadly, the warlords or, in diplomat-speak, “regional power brokers.” When Operation Enduring Freedom began, Afghanistan had been without an army or professional police force for years. Warlords ruled the country. The United States was not in a position to subdue every single warlord; Afghanistan was not logistically capable of handling the huge numbers of U.S. forces that would be necessary for such a mission; the country did not have the extensive networks of bases such as those Saddam Hussein had left behind in Iraq.

The strategy hatched by Zalmay Khalilzad, an Afghan American on Condoleezza Rice’s National Security Council (and future ambassador to Afghanistan), was to co-opt as many Afghan warlords as possible by giving them posts in the new Afghan government, thereby removing them from their regional power base, all the while building up the new Afghan security forces. To enable this strategy to work, American officials needed a strong central government, with a president able to appoint not only ministers, but also governors and other regional officials.

Karzai certainly did not object to a strong presidency, and played along. He appointed Ismail Khan—a major Iranian-backed warlord from Herat—to be minister of energy. Notorious Afghan Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum became chief of staff to commander of the Afghan National Army, a largely ceremonial position.  The new Afghan government transferred Gul Agha Sherzai to be governor, first of Kandahar and then Nangarhar. Initially, the strategy paid off. By the time the warlords recognized their power had been surpassed by the national army, it was too late for them.

The payback, however, is now: The central government has become a major source of grievance. Karzai is mercurial and his family notoriously corrupt. If a basis of the U.S. counterinsurgency is to win hearts and minds at a local level, then Karzai and the centralized model implemented during the Bush years becomes the major problem. Afghan villagers and townsmen want leaders to whom they can turn who look like them, speak like them, and are representative of the population in the district in which they live. But, if the appointees and decisions are coming from above, then ultimately the only way to fight city hall is to fight the central government.

So what to do? The short-term strategy achieved its goal—the power of the warlords was undercut—but the bill is now coming due. Unless there is a concerted effort by all international partners to encourage a new loyal jirga to reconsider the structure of government, then Afghanistan is headed once again to chaos. Success will depend on empowering local officials beneath the banner of a loose central government. Alas, the United States has no standing now to rectify either problem, nor does Karzai have an interest in loosening the grip of his family. Obama’s timeline for withdrawal has undercut what little leverage American policymakers have.

The whole situation adds up to a frustrating mess for our soldiers, who are putting their lives on the line for a noble goal betrayed by a diplomatic fiction they all can see through. It is time our politicians treated our troops with the respect they deserve. They are willing to answer the call, but they must see that the problems so glaringly obvious in Afghanistan are being addressed rather than swept under the rug.

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Sicko Revisited: CastroCare and Cholera

The Miami Herald has a startling story about Michael Moore’s model healthcare system, down in Cuba: “The first cholera outbreak in Cuba in a century has left at least 15 dead and sent hundreds to hospitals all but sealed off by security agents bent on keeping a lid on the news, according to reports Friday.”

The country’s time-warp politics and infrastructure now match its diseases. Cholera was supposed to have been wiped out in Cuba around 1900. And this is only one of many Cuban health crises. Apparently Cuba has become something of a Petri dish since Russia stopped subsidizing Castro’s island prison in the 1990s. The Herald reports that  “During one 24-hour period in January, three flights from Cuba to Toronto arrived with groups of passengers suffering from nausea, vomiting and fever.” There’s also “an acute soap shortage,” and “rumors of an increase in dengue, a disease transmitted by mosquitoes that thrive during the hot and rainy months of summer.”

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The Miami Herald has a startling story about Michael Moore’s model healthcare system, down in Cuba: “The first cholera outbreak in Cuba in a century has left at least 15 dead and sent hundreds to hospitals all but sealed off by security agents bent on keeping a lid on the news, according to reports Friday.”

The country’s time-warp politics and infrastructure now match its diseases. Cholera was supposed to have been wiped out in Cuba around 1900. And this is only one of many Cuban health crises. Apparently Cuba has become something of a Petri dish since Russia stopped subsidizing Castro’s island prison in the 1990s. The Herald reports that  “During one 24-hour period in January, three flights from Cuba to Toronto arrived with groups of passengers suffering from nausea, vomiting and fever.” There’s also “an acute soap shortage,” and “rumors of an increase in dengue, a disease transmitted by mosquitoes that thrive during the hot and rainy months of summer.”

The people of Cuba can’t get proper treatment because they are being penalized for the worst precondition going: Communism. The same pre-condition has prevented them from even speaking of their misery: “a hospital employee reported that doctors are signing death certificates saying that the victims died from ‘acute respiratory insufficiency’ rather than cholera.”

It would be the height of reckless hyperbole to say ObamaCare will lead to CastroCare. Socialist healthcare regimes throughout the West have inflicted all sorts of disasters on their participants but it takes a special kind of state monstrosity to resuscitate dead pandemics and gag the victims.  Rather, the story out of Cuba highlights the pathetic and disingenuous depths to which anti-American activists have sunk in the debate over American healthcare. In his 2007 film, Sicko, Michael Moore took ailing 9/11 relief workers for treatment in a Havana hospital in order to point out the comparative failings of the U.S. healthcare system. The “even in Cuba…” line of argument has since become a common trope among the pro-universal care set. If Moore plans on pulling a similar stunt anytime soon at least there will be health-related grounds to stop him from re-entering the United States.

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Can Class Warfare Sink Romney?

With a sinking economy and few accomplishments to his credit, President Obama has been doing the only thing an incumbent in his position can do: trash his opponent. Democratic attacks on Mitt Romney’s business record have taken a toll on the Republican candidate, but the assault on his record as an investor can only go so far. The president’s base may buy into the claims that Romney’s wealth was gained only by outsourcing American jobs abroad, but most are not that gullible. The line between throwing mud at Romney and trashing capitalism is very thin. If the president is going to go to the polls as the champion of propping up doomed businesses with bailouts as opposed to creating wealth and jobs by promoting those that can succeed, Romney will win. However, Romney’s problem is not so much his record at Bain Capital as it is the idea that he is an out of touch rich guy. And that, rather than Bain, is the real Democrat target, as today’s front page story in the Sunday New York Times rightly points out.

Seen in that light, Democratic strategists had to be pleased this week when photos of a shirt-sleeved President Obama on his working class bus tour of Ohio were contrasted with pictures of Romney jet-skiing on a New Hampshire lake while on a July 4th vacation with his family. Republicans who remember the points they scored when photographers caught John Kerry windsurfing during the 2004 campaign probably winced when they saw Romney cavorting on the water. But it remains to be seen whether Barack Obama–the candidate of Hollywood elites and who recently was hosted at a gala fundraiser in New York by Sarah Jessica Parker where his candidacy was touted by Vogue editor Anna Wintour–can convince wavering independent voters he is the champion of the working class. The question for the country is not so much who’s the rich guy in the race as who is the one who is out of touch with the country’s economic dilemma. While Romney’s weakness has always been his inability to connect with ordinary voters, Obama’s is that he is the guy in charge of an economy where employment is shrinking rather than growing.

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With a sinking economy and few accomplishments to his credit, President Obama has been doing the only thing an incumbent in his position can do: trash his opponent. Democratic attacks on Mitt Romney’s business record have taken a toll on the Republican candidate, but the assault on his record as an investor can only go so far. The president’s base may buy into the claims that Romney’s wealth was gained only by outsourcing American jobs abroad, but most are not that gullible. The line between throwing mud at Romney and trashing capitalism is very thin. If the president is going to go to the polls as the champion of propping up doomed businesses with bailouts as opposed to creating wealth and jobs by promoting those that can succeed, Romney will win. However, Romney’s problem is not so much his record at Bain Capital as it is the idea that he is an out of touch rich guy. And that, rather than Bain, is the real Democrat target, as today’s front page story in the Sunday New York Times rightly points out.

Seen in that light, Democratic strategists had to be pleased this week when photos of a shirt-sleeved President Obama on his working class bus tour of Ohio were contrasted with pictures of Romney jet-skiing on a New Hampshire lake while on a July 4th vacation with his family. Republicans who remember the points they scored when photographers caught John Kerry windsurfing during the 2004 campaign probably winced when they saw Romney cavorting on the water. But it remains to be seen whether Barack Obama–the candidate of Hollywood elites and who recently was hosted at a gala fundraiser in New York by Sarah Jessica Parker where his candidacy was touted by Vogue editor Anna Wintour–can convince wavering independent voters he is the champion of the working class. The question for the country is not so much who’s the rich guy in the race as who is the one who is out of touch with the country’s economic dilemma. While Romney’s weakness has always been his inability to connect with ordinary voters, Obama’s is that he is the guy in charge of an economy where employment is shrinking rather than growing.

Obama’s ordinary guy pose is as phony as the image of Romney as the top-hatted plutocrat from the Monopoly board game. Obama is as comfortable cavorting with the rich as Romney, and were he a Republican rather than a Democrat and the first African-American president, the mainstream liberal press would be roasting him over his frequent golf breaks and hobnobbing with the coastal elites. Moreover, Obama is misguided if he thinks economic rhetoric stolen from Occupy Wall Street protests is a political winner. While the Times may think this is no longer an aspirational society that admires rather than resents success, there is no evidence the majority of Americans agree.

While the Bain attacks have scored some points, Democrats are actually fighting on Romney’s ground when they seek to determine the election on the question of who is the better economic steward or job creator. Romney’s gaffes and general awkwardness have beguiled them into thinking his wealth and business success is a weakness. But, as Friday’s latest jobs report shows, this vulnerability on the GOP standard-bearer’s part is nothing when compared to the president’s failures. Class warfare tactics may rouse the liberal base, but they are bound to fall flat with swing voters who want to know why the president is still blaming his predecessors for the state of the country.

Thus, the Democrats’ harping on Romney’s money and what Bain did is actually a trap they are setting for themselves. Romney’s campaign has been rightly criticized for a strategy that appears to be aimed at playing it safe and avoiding the bold proposals that would provide a clearer alternative to Obama’s dependence on big government solutions. But as long as the campaign is being fought on the question of job creation and the economy, the Republican has the upper hand. Trashing the challenger is the only way to go when you can’t run on your record, but so long as Romney can point to the country’s economic decline on Obama’s watch, his business acumen remains an asset rather than a defect.

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No Vote Fraud? New Twist in Rangel “Win”

A few days ago, I noted the irony in the unfolding controversy involving the results from the New York Democratic primary. At a time when Democrats around the country, including Attorney General Eric Holder, have been vociferously claiming there is no such thing as voter fraud in the United States and that efforts to uphold the integrity of elections are a form of racism, the senior member of the Congressional Black Caucus appears to have engaged in a variety of forms of fraud himself. The latest results from the June 26 election show Rep. Charles Rangel holding a more than 900-vote edge on challenger Adriano Espaillat. But Espaillat is screaming bloody murder over the way Rangel’s party establishment followers may have cooked the results.

Rangel’s people disqualified hundreds of ballots from presumed supporters of Espaillat as well as a number of other dirty tricks aimed at keeping the ethically challenged incumbent in office. But the latest twist shows the brazen nature of the plot to commit fraud. According to the New York Daily News, a few days before, city election workers engaged in some slippery manipulations that helped Rangel:

Timothy Gay, the deputy chief clerk for Manhattan’s Board of Elections — and the person currently supervising the count of the votes in the Manhattan part of the 13th Congressional District — held a meeting in Harlem with key Rangel campaign operatives, and with district leaders supporting Rangel.

Asked about the meeting, Gay said he attended at the request of state Assemblyman Keith Wright, the Manhattan Democratic chairman, to provide “district leaders with lists of their Democratic inspectors assigned to their specific districts” and to “discuss election matters in general.”

So why did candidate Rangel’s campaign staffers attend, while no Democratic district leaders who supported Espaillat were invited?

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A few days ago, I noted the irony in the unfolding controversy involving the results from the New York Democratic primary. At a time when Democrats around the country, including Attorney General Eric Holder, have been vociferously claiming there is no such thing as voter fraud in the United States and that efforts to uphold the integrity of elections are a form of racism, the senior member of the Congressional Black Caucus appears to have engaged in a variety of forms of fraud himself. The latest results from the June 26 election show Rep. Charles Rangel holding a more than 900-vote edge on challenger Adriano Espaillat. But Espaillat is screaming bloody murder over the way Rangel’s party establishment followers may have cooked the results.

Rangel’s people disqualified hundreds of ballots from presumed supporters of Espaillat as well as a number of other dirty tricks aimed at keeping the ethically challenged incumbent in office. But the latest twist shows the brazen nature of the plot to commit fraud. According to the New York Daily News, a few days before, city election workers engaged in some slippery manipulations that helped Rangel:

Timothy Gay, the deputy chief clerk for Manhattan’s Board of Elections — and the person currently supervising the count of the votes in the Manhattan part of the 13th Congressional District — held a meeting in Harlem with key Rangel campaign operatives, and with district leaders supporting Rangel.

Asked about the meeting, Gay said he attended at the request of state Assemblyman Keith Wright, the Manhattan Democratic chairman, to provide “district leaders with lists of their Democratic inspectors assigned to their specific districts” and to “discuss election matters in general.”

So why did candidate Rangel’s campaign staffers attend, while no Democratic district leaders who supported Espaillat were invited?

The answer to that question is obvious. The chutzpah displayed here is breathtaking. The New York Democratic Party wasn’t content to just steal the election for Rangel; they actually held a meeting with the officials charged with ensuring a fair result to make sure it was crooked. As the News concludes:

Everyone knew the entire Democratic Party leadership of the Bronx and Manhattan was behind Rangel. But it is now clear that the Board of Elections had a horse in the race, too, which is why any count the board produces needs to be checked — and then double-checked.

But, of course, the problem of voter fraud, whether committed by individuals acting at the behest of campaigns or efforts to alter the results by officials, is real. Politicians and their supporters have been trying to steal elections in the United States since before there was a United States. Cheating takes place in the country as well as urban settings. Republicans have done it and so have Democrats. And you can be sure that in any place where those charged with monitoring the vote are in the pocket of those running for office the results cannot be trusted.

That is why all efforts to ensure the integrity of the vote, be it by requiring voter ID or measures seeking to prevent the kind of fraud practiced by Rangel’s supporters is not only not racist, it is absolutely necessary to protect American democracy.

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Those Stupid Arafat Conspiracy Theories

I honestly can’t believe we’re expected to take seriously the Al Jazeera “scoop” about Yasir Arafat being murdered. Disgraceful innuendo-filled articles of the type being written by the AP and published by the Washington Post are reporting “evidence” to the effect that Arafat might have been poisoned with Polonium 210. The proof, such as it is, comes from unusual levels of Po 210 reportedly detected on Arafat’s clothing and toothbrush by a Swiss lab in the last few months.

But given how math works, and taking into account the isotope’s 138 day half-life, that’s inane.

The minimum amount of Po 210 that’s fatal when ingested is about 50 nanograms (ng). Alexander Litvinenko, widely thought to have been poisoned with the radioactive element by the Russians in 2006, ingested around 10,000 ng, or 200 times the minimum lethal dose. That’s a tiny amount, but nonetheless there was so much Polonium in Litvinenko’s system that his sweat left a car permanently unusable and his house uninhabitable for six months. As a diagnostic matter, it was obvious to doctors he had been poisoned.

None of that was true for Arafat. Doctors couldn’t tell by looking at him whether he had been poisoned and he was not irradiating entire cars and buildings. So he would have had to ingest less Po 210 than Litvinenko. Let’s peg the amount at 5,000 ng, which is 100 times more than the fatal dose but still half of what Litvinenko ingested. As you’re about to see, the math works out in such a way that the actual amount doesn’t matter as long as it’s kept reasonable.

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I honestly can’t believe we’re expected to take seriously the Al Jazeera “scoop” about Yasir Arafat being murdered. Disgraceful innuendo-filled articles of the type being written by the AP and published by the Washington Post are reporting “evidence” to the effect that Arafat might have been poisoned with Polonium 210. The proof, such as it is, comes from unusual levels of Po 210 reportedly detected on Arafat’s clothing and toothbrush by a Swiss lab in the last few months.

But given how math works, and taking into account the isotope’s 138 day half-life, that’s inane.

The minimum amount of Po 210 that’s fatal when ingested is about 50 nanograms (ng). Alexander Litvinenko, widely thought to have been poisoned with the radioactive element by the Russians in 2006, ingested around 10,000 ng, or 200 times the minimum lethal dose. That’s a tiny amount, but nonetheless there was so much Polonium in Litvinenko’s system that his sweat left a car permanently unusable and his house uninhabitable for six months. As a diagnostic matter, it was obvious to doctors he had been poisoned.

None of that was true for Arafat. Doctors couldn’t tell by looking at him whether he had been poisoned and he was not irradiating entire cars and buildings. So he would have had to ingest less Po 210 than Litvinenko. Let’s peg the amount at 5,000 ng, which is 100 times more than the fatal dose but still half of what Litvinenko ingested. As you’re about to see, the math works out in such a way that the actual amount doesn’t matter as long as it’s kept reasonable.

After having planned and launched Intifada II and been militarily defeated, Arafat died in November 2004. The Swiss lab had his clothing for a few months. so let’s round down to 7 years as the interval between his death and the tests. That’s 2556 days (one leap year) divided by a half-life of 138 equals about 18.5 iterations. Put everything together – 5000 ng/(2^18.5) – and the result is about 0.0135 ng of Po 210 that should have been detectable on Arafat’s possessions today. That’s 0.0000135 micrograms. Four zeros of padding.

If we double the dosage to what Litvinenko ingested, the amount left over today would double to 0.0000270 micrograms. Double the dosage again – so now it would be twice as much as received by Litvinenko, who was visibly poisoned and who leaked radiation across half of London – and the amount today should be 0.0000540 micrograms. There’s just no way to get a reasonable amount of Polonium left over because the denominator, representing halving every 138 days for 7 years, overwhelms everything else.

The conspiracy mongers, however, have found a solution. They simply assert that given how much Polonium was found at the Swiss lab, whatever the math says should have been the original amount, that’s ipso facto the amount Arafat ingested. QED. As Elder of Ziyon pointed out, that amount of Po 210 contradicts the only thing we do know, which is that Arafat died slowly in a not-obviously-poisoned condition. Al Jazeera has been trying to dodge the obvious point by blandly inventing the idea we just don’t know what Polonium poisoning looks like. The dearth of knowledge will be news to the Swiss lab investigator who flatly stated that “the clinical description of Chairman Arafat’s symptoms prior to his death is not compatible with Polonium poisoning.”

This tripe is the worst anti-Israel conspiracy theory since the tourism-destroying Zionist attack sharks, and more’s the pity. I was really looking forward to following Newsweek’s suggestion that I “get smarter in 2012″ by watching Al Jazeera. Now it turns out the network would rather indulge in feverish conspiracy mongering than carry out junior high school arithmetic before running stories. One begins to really worry that Hillary Clinton was wrong about Al Jazeera’s vaunted news ethics.

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Mahmoud Abbas, Serial Liar

Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas has consistently refused to negotiate in good faith or to make peace with Israel since he succeeded the equally obdurate Yasir Arafat in 2004. He’s also been consistent in another way: he lies a lot. Abbas’s mendacity isn’t the garden-variety white lies, exaggerations and obfuscations that are the routine fare of American politicians. Instead, he is given to telling the barefaced lies we tend to associate with the heads of dictatorial regimes. Which is, of course, the sort of government the Palestinian Authority has more in common with than democratic systems such as that of Israel and the United States.

The latest example of this came in an interview Saturday night with Israel’s Channel Two in which Abbas was reduced to claiming that some well-documented statements of his never actually happened. According to Abbas, he never discussed Israel’s offer to allow some Palestinian refugees into the country with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. He also claimed he never told respected Washington Post editor and columnist Jackson Diehl that he had no intention of negotiating with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. That both of those figures can prove he did say those things goes without saying. But the point here is not just that Abbas is a liar, though that is exactly what he is. Rather, it is that Palestinian political culture is such that Abbas knows he has no choice but to lie about these things. To do otherwise would place him in opposition to the overwhelming sentiment of those opposed to peace or to even the appearance of compromise with Israel.

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Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas has consistently refused to negotiate in good faith or to make peace with Israel since he succeeded the equally obdurate Yasir Arafat in 2004. He’s also been consistent in another way: he lies a lot. Abbas’s mendacity isn’t the garden-variety white lies, exaggerations and obfuscations that are the routine fare of American politicians. Instead, he is given to telling the barefaced lies we tend to associate with the heads of dictatorial regimes. Which is, of course, the sort of government the Palestinian Authority has more in common with than democratic systems such as that of Israel and the United States.

The latest example of this came in an interview Saturday night with Israel’s Channel Two in which Abbas was reduced to claiming that some well-documented statements of his never actually happened. According to Abbas, he never discussed Israel’s offer to allow some Palestinian refugees into the country with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. He also claimed he never told respected Washington Post editor and columnist Jackson Diehl that he had no intention of negotiating with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. That both of those figures can prove he did say those things goes without saying. But the point here is not just that Abbas is a liar, though that is exactly what he is. Rather, it is that Palestinian political culture is such that Abbas knows he has no choice but to lie about these things. To do otherwise would place him in opposition to the overwhelming sentiment of those opposed to peace or to even the appearance of compromise with Israel.

Abbas is, after all, in a difficult position. In order to maintain the pose of moderation he has cultivated with the West, he has had to engage in talks with American and even Israeli leaders and say things about peace terms that he wouldn’t dare mention to an Arab audience. But conversations such as the one Rice documented in her memoir are not the sort of thing he can admit. Doing so will weaken his already shaky popularity among Palestinians at a time when his Hamas rivals are seeking to poach on his West Bank fiefdom.

As for his controversial interview with Diehl, Abbas’s candor about his unwillingness to talk to Israel in 2009 was as much the fault of President Obama as it was the Palestinian’s intransigence. In those early months of the Obama presidency, the hostility of the new administration for Israel was palpable, and Abbas figured it made no sense for him to accept Netanyahu’s offers of talks. With the president trying to extract concessions from Israel without the Palestinians having to do anything in return, Abbas’s stance made sense, especially because he may have shared the delusion held by many in the White House and State Department they could topple the newly elected Netanyahu.

In retrospect, Abbas probably regrets thinking that Obama would hand Israel to him on a silver platter as much as the administration may (or at least should) regret banking on the PA be willing to take advantage of all the help they were trying to give. Thus, Abbas must lie about his talk with Diehl as well as his conversations with Rice.

But lest you think Abbas’s fibs are merely the function of diplomacy, elsewhere in the interview, Abbas played to his Palestinian base with another lie about the events of 1948. He claimed that nearly a million Arabs left the territory of Israel during the fighting and they now numbered five million, among whom he counts himself. In fact, the number he cites would have included almost the entire Arab population of the Palestinian Mandate at the time. Because almost 200,000 remained inside the territory of the new state of Israel and hundreds of thousands more remained in their homes in Gaza and the West Bank (which were illegally occupied by Egypt and Jordan), the numbers don’t add up.

Of course, Abbas has experience lying about numbers. His doctoral thesis claimed six million Jews were not killed during the Holocaust. What are a few lies about conversations with Rice and Diehl when compared to Holocaust denial?

If this is Israel’s peace partner, there’s no mystery about why the peace process has been dead in the water for years.

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