Randy's Corner Deli Library

30 June 2008

John McCain's War Record

I am not one to question records of or in war. I am among the fortunate sons who did not get carted off to war. Now, I fear only that my son may not be so fortunate, what with the popularity of wars based on politics and not of absolute, dire necessity. Yes, I know the old saw about war being politics by other means, but I've also seen and read first hand accounts of the results of war: broken and missing limbs and spirits. So much gore and blood that after awhile, one starts to look at mangled bodies bodies like they were tomatos smashed on concrete.

I know of no-one in my father's WWII generation who would have thought that being taken prisoner and being tortured would qualify you thereafter for anything but a Section 8 discharge. It could cause a person to call their wife a c**t in front of reporters. Or to drop f-bombs on Senate colleagues. It could make a person angry for the rest of their lives. It could be what present day psychiatrists call "Post Traumatic Stress Disorder" or what the WWII generation called "shell shock". It would make anyone a little crazy or something. Is there a reason the WWII generation -- or even Holocaust survivors had not, until they were quite advanced in age, been willing to talk about their experiences? They were so horrible that they did not want to remember what they experienced by talking about it.

I were to ask you to accept the proposition that being captured and tortured does not qualify you for the highest elected office in the United States, you would probably not disagree with me. But that is what General Wesley Clark is being raked over the coals for. By pointing out the obvious: that John McCain's harrowing experience at the Hanoi Hilton does not qualify him to be President. And he's right.

What this shows, more poignantly, is that the entire topic has been taken off the table for McCain by, among others, Bob Schieffer of CBS News who yesterday was stunned, literally, by Gen. Clark's comment. The rest of the Washington Press estasblishment is now up in arms and there are the now ubiquitous calls for Mr. Obama to "distance, reject, renounce, denounce" General Clark and his statement.

Mr. Obama should do no such thing. As a General, Wesley Clark knows about military service just a wee bit more than the Press Corp in Washington which seems to be bent on cutting the curmudgeonly Mr. McCain every bit of slack available, even if they have to make it up themselves.

It is no dishonor (even among politicians) to state the truth. And the truth is that Mr. McCain's time in Hanoi does not, of itself, qualify him to do anything more than what he was trained to do before he got shot down and what he trained to do thereafter.

General Clark's comment, while fair, was not thought out well enough. He stated a conclusion without offering up the reasons that would support it. He would have done better to give a more full accounting of what exactly he meant by what he said. And in that regard, General Clark needs a little more polish.

Lest you think that it is only a certain sector of the population who thinks that Mr. McCain's "war record" does not qualify him to be president, a large amount of Conservatives have been letting it be known that Mr. McCain, while he was in captivity, made propaganda videos, albeit under duress, for the North Vietnamese. I am not saying this to paint Mr. McCain as a collaborator. He most assuredly was not that. But it does show that he was only another in a line of POWs whose treatment and life could not be assured and who suffered horribly under their captors. But suffering under the North Vietnamese: the physical pain, the humiliation, embarrassment, the shame and the loneliness that he must have suffered does not qualify him to be President. The experiences qualify him to be a human being. Not better than one or one that cannot be questioned about his life. And if the Washington Press Corps wants to keep John McCain's life off-limits to questions, then at least give some reciprocity to Mr. Obama. That circumstance is not likely to happen, given that some of the themes of the race are (besides race) the alleged naivete and inexperience of Mr. Obama. If it is fair to question inexperience, then it is fair to question the value of experience on some reasonable level. And questioning exactly how, taken in a vacuum, Mr. McCain's time locked up in a POW camp makes him more qualified than someone else who was fortunate enough to escape that fate, is fair.

Randy Shiner

29 June 2008

Israel funding Hamas, Olmert admits

Let's see. This is dated June 26, last Thursday. Did YOU see anything about this in this country on this? I will be interested to know the motivation behind this policy. There has to be a rationale for this funding to happen. It may not be a good reason, but a reason nonetheless.

Randy Shiner

Headline News
Thursday, June 26, 2008 Israel Today Staff

Israel funding Hamas, Olmert admits

The office of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert admitted on Wednesday that it is allowing the transfer of hundreds of millions of shekels to the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip every month.

Most of the funds enter Gaza in currency exchanges for the dollars and euros Hamas smuggles into the territory following fund-raising trips to Iran and other supportive Middle East regimes.

In a letter to the Prime Minister's Office earlier in the week, the Shurat Hadin Israel Law Center warned that the government was actively aiding the perpetuation of Hamas rule in Gaza, despite its own stated policies.

Shurat Hadin director Nitsana Darshan-Leitner explained that without the influx of Israeli shekels, the currency of record in Gaza, Hamas would be financially unable to rule. By allowing the entry of shekels into Gaza, Darshan-Leitner noted that Israel is breaching an economic embargo of Gaza by Western powers that Israel itself insisted upon, and is helping a terrorist organization to launder money, a direct violation of the Terror-Funding Act of 2005.

Worse, said Darshan-Leitner, is the fact that " the Israeli government's policy of transferring shekels is assisting the Hamas terrorists with their missile attacks on the Negev communities."

In response, Olmert's office wrote that "due to conclusions that there is an Israeli interest that the transfer of funds continue, a decision was made to continue to transfer certain sums of money to the Gaza Strip."

Shurat Hadin has threatened to sue the government both in local and international courts if the transfer of funds does not cease.

The Taliban's Advance Threatens Pakistan

While US forces are bogged down trying to keep Shi'ia in Iraq from killing each other and keeping Sunni from killing Shi'ia and vice versa, 25% of Pakistan - the Peshawar province - is months from falling to the Taliban. You remember them, right? They and like thinkers crashed planes into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. This is most disconcerting. The below is from an Abu Dhabi outlet.

Randy Shiner

The Taliban's advance threatens Pakistan
Paul Woodward, Online Correspondent

Last Updated: June 29. 2008 5:13PM UAE / June 29. 2008 1:13PM GMT "The security situation in Peshawar is grim. Officials in the home department, who evaluate the situation on an almost daily basis, believe declaring a state of red alert is now only a matter of time," Pakistan's Dawn newspaper reported on Tuesday.

"With militants knocking at the gates of the capital of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), even the more circumspect government and police officials now grudgingly concede that Peshawar, too, could fall in a few months.

"'Peshawar is in a state of siege and if Peshawar falls, the rest of the districts in the NWFP would fall like ninepins', a worried senior government official told Dawn."

Pakistan's Daily Times noted: "These days Taliban fighters do not sneak in to Peshawar. They arrive in broad daylight on the back of pick-up trucks, brandishing automatic weapons, and threatening owners of music stores to close down. 'They had long hair and flowing beards, and were carrying Kalashnikovs. They told me to close down the shop or face the consequences,' said Abdul Latif, a clean-shaven 20-year-old, whose video store received a visit from the vigilantes last week. 'I asked police for help but they said they are helpless,' he said."

The New York Times said: "With the militants crowding in, the national government called a special meeting in Islamabad on Wednesday to address the rapidly deteriorating security situation.

"The day before, a sympathizer of the Taliban, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, shocked the National Assembly when he said that the entire NWFP, including Peshawar, was on the brink of being engulfed by extremism.

"The government's control, he warned, was 'almost nonexistent' in the province, an integral part of Pakistan and one of just four in the country. The specter of the fall of Peshawar threatens the fabric of the country."

McClatchy Newspapers reported: "Baitullah Mehsud, based in South Waziristan in the tribal areas, heads Pakistan's version of Afghanistan's Taliban, with a following of warlords across the tribal belt and in Swat, but some Islamist militants such as Mangal Bagh are independent operators.

"Mangal Bagh and his Lashkar-e-Islam movement, which appears to have thousands of militia members, most immediately threatens Peshawar from the Khyber area to the West, while the Taliban-infested districts of Mohmand and Darra Adam Khel lie to the city's north and south.

"Until the bolstering of security this week, 25 villages around Shabqadar, that lie between Peshawar, Mohmand and Charsadda, had become too dangerous to patrol, said [Malik Naveed] Khan, the [provincial] police chief."

Pakistan's The News said Mr Mehsud: "has threatened to end the peace talks and scrap accords if the government does not stop action against the Taliban and launches fresh military operations in the settled areas of the NWFP and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata).

"Through his spokesman Maulvi Omar, he said in a statement conveyed to The News that the Taliban were not planning an attack on Peshawar. He accused the government of sponsoring propaganda about an impending attack on the city to justify new military operations against the Taliban.

"'Peshawar isn't Srinagar that we want to capture it. Taliban cannot think of damaging their beloved Peshawar, which is the capital and identity of our province,' Baitullah Mehsud claimed in his statement."

Nevertheless, Mr Mehsud said that the Taliban would not tolerate any new military operations against them in the NWFP and the Fata and that if the government continued such actions they would face retaliatory attacks in the cities of Pakistan.

The New York Times said: "The threat to Peshawar is a sign of the Taliban's deepening penetration of Pakistan and of the expanding danger that the militants present to the entire region, including nearby supply lines for Nato and American forces in Afghanistan.

"For the United States, the major supply route for weapons for Nato troops runs from the port of Karachi to the outskirts of Peshawar and through the Khyber Pass to the battlefields of Afghanistan. Maintaining that route would be extremely difficult if the city were significantly infiltrated by the very militants who want to defeat the Nato war effort across the border.

"Nato and American commanders have complained for months that the government's policy of negotiating with the militants has led to more cross-border attacks in Afghanistan by Taliban fighters based in Pakistan's tribal areas."

On Saturday, in an operation aimed at pushing militants back from Peshawar's perimeter, Pakistani security forces shelled two bases of Lashkar-e-Islam leader, Mangal Bagh. The operation was limited to the locally-manned Frontier Corps while the army was being held 'in reserve,' according to a military spokesman.

US moves to impose sanctions on Zimbabwe
"President Bush announced Saturday that the United States was moving to broaden its sanctions against Zimbabwe, for the first time aiming at the government itself as well as a lengthening list of members of its governing elite, because of what he described as 'a sham election'," The New York Times reported.

"The president said in a statement released by the White House that he was instructing the State and Treasury departments to develop sanctions against what he called 'this illegitimate government of Zimbabwe and those who support it.'

"The United States will also be pushing at the United Nations for an arms embargo against Zimbabwe and a ban on travel by officials of its government. These proposals are virtually certain to run into opposition from South Africa and other governments, but the American sanctions against the government can be carried out unilaterally."

The Independent, reporting from Harare said: "Two lines of people at dawn yesterday told the story of an unwanted election in Zimbabwe. The first queue stretched in an L-shape, more than 200 strong, waiting for bread. In the adjacent lot four policemen guarded a polling station where three people waited to vote.

"The crowds that gathered from dawn til dusk three months ago in the hope of voting freely stayed away yesterday from a 'one-man election' that has been almost universally condemned as a charade."

In The Guardian, Chris McGreal wrote that the ruling party: "Zanu-PF set up tents close to some polling stations in Harare where people were expected to show their identity cards so their names could be ticked off as having voted.

"But some people remained defiant. 'I refuse to vote,' said Blessed Manyonga in Chitungwiza. 'If they ask me I will say I lost my identity card. I will not vote for my own oppression.'

"Others said they spoiled their ballot papers. 'I put a question mark next to Robert Mugabe,' said a man who gave his name only as Tendai. 'It's a joke.'

"In Harare, one man said he had not voted at all and instead smeared his finger with ink from a ballpoint pen. But in many rural areas people were being driven en masse to the polls and left in no doubt about what they were expected to do."

The New York Times said: "Ronnie Mamoepa, spokesman for South Africa's Foreign Ministry, explained that while South Africa's own liberation movement sought international sanctions against the apartheid regime, Zimbabwe's opposition has not asked for them.

"Mr Mamoepa said it did not make sense to impose sanctions now when both sides were already willing to enter negotiations for a political settlement.

"Zimbabwe's opposition spokesman, Mr Chamisa, asked if his party favored sanctions, would say only that it sought intensified international pressure.

"It seems likely that the opposition is reluctant to demand sanctions for fear of playing into Mr Mugabe's hands. The state media incessantly, daily, in story after story, blames the limited sanctions imposed by the United States and Britain on the Zimbabwean elite for having led to the country's economic ruin."

US eases sanctions on North Korea
"With a formal announcement in the Rose Garden that he is easing sanctions against North Korea, President Bush on Thursday marked a milestone, albeit mostly symbolic, in the years-long struggle over the communist nation's nuclear weapons programmes," the Los Angeles Times reported.

"Pyongyang, in an orchestrated exchange of concessions, provided details about its main nuclear efforts. In turn, US officials will no longer brand North Korea a sponsor of terrorism and will free it from a few economic restrictions.

"The most dramatic gesture of all was set for today in view of foreign TV crews, when North Korean officials were to demolish the cooling tower at the main nuclear reactor at Yongbyon, the heart of the country's decades-long march toward becoming a nuclear power."

The New York Times noted: "The tower is a technically insignificant structure, relatively easy to rebuild. North Korea also has been disabling - but not destroying - more sensitive parts of the nuclear complex, such as the 5-megawatt reactor, a plant that makes its fuel and a laboratory that extracts plutonium from its spent fuel.

"Nonetheless, the destruction of the tower, the most visible element of the nuclear complex at Yongbyon, 60 miles north of Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, affirmed the incremental progress that has been made in American-led multilateral efforts to end North Korea's nuclear weapons programmes.

Helene Cooper said: "In the internal Bush administration war between the State Department and Mr Cheney's office over North Korea, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her top North Korea envoy, Christopher R Hill, won a major battle against the Cheney camp when President Bush announced Thursday that he was taking the country he once described as part of the 'axis of evil' off the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism.

"The administration sought to portray the move as a largely symbolic, reciprocal move, made in return for North Korea's long-delayed declaration of its nuclear program to the outside world. It is the first step in what will be a long, drawn-out diplomatic process that is meant to lead eventually to establishing a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula."

28 June 2008

Taking a cue from Israel

View from the booth: Well, well. What have we here? What this discussion portends for the future depends upon the level of sway that moderates in both Fatah and Hamas hold over the types cast amongst Fatah of "eradicateurs" - those within Fatah who think that Israel will invade Gaza, get rid of Hamas and hand the whole thing over to Fatah (and like obverse thinkers among Hamas). It isn't going to happen that way. If Israel invades Gaza, the price to pay for Fatah, Hamas and the rest of the involved Arab world will be quite large and is probably, from an Arab viewpoint, too high a price to pay to Israel to take care of this internal matter. In the end, any stable, reasonably powerful (that is, enough to control its own people without worrying overly so about radical factions) and responsible government with which Israel can negotiate a peace between itself and the Palestinians, is a good thing.

Randy Shiner

Taking a cue from Israel
Fatah's change of tune is better late than never, reports Khaled Amayreh in Ramallah


Despite continued blame-casting, Hamas and Fatah are getting themselves ready for Arab-mediated reconciliation talks aimed at restoring Palestinian national unity and ending the year-long rift between the two largest political factions in the occupied Palestinian territories.

No concrete date has been designated for the intensive talks, but reliable sources in the Gaza Strip have intimated that Egypt is about to extend the invitations to both Hamas and Fatah for the resumption of the inter-Palestinian dialogue. The sources said the commencement of the talks was only a matter of days or one week at the maximum.

Efforts to end the enduring crisis between Fatah and Hamas acquired a new momentum recently when Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas announced his willingness to restart reconciliation talks with Hamas without any preconditions. Hamas welcomed the announcement, made on 6 June, saying it was willing and ready to sit down with Fatah any time and in any place to end the long-standing rift between the two sides.

Moreover, the recent Egyptian- brokered ceasefire agreement between Hamas and Israel in the Gaza Strip is having a positive impact on the prospects of restoring Palestinian national unity.

There have been some tangible signs indicating that the thick fog separating Gaza and Ramallah is beginning to dissipate, slowly but surely. Last week, a high-level Fatah delegation headed by former PA minister Hikmat Zeid visited the Gaza Strip and met with Fatah leaders and some low-level Hamas operatives. The delegation was welcomed by the authorities in Gaza and full security escorts were provided to facilitate its meetings and lodgings. And while the delegation didn't meet with the Hamas government Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh or any high-ranking official, the visit itself was viewed as a step in the right direction.

More to the point, the PA security agencies, apparently acting on orders from Abbas, released dozens of suspected Hamas sympathisers from jail. This coincided with a significant reduction in the number of Hamas sympathisers being detained in PA custody.

On Tuesday, a representative of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), which is making its own mediation efforts between Fatah and Hamas, said he had received a list of 54 Hamas detainees in PA jails in the West Bank and 44 Fatah detainees in Hamas custody in the Gaza Strip. The DFLP representative, Talal Abu Afifeh, said he would press both sides to release all political prisoners in the coming days or weeks and turn the page on a shameful episode of Palestinian history under the Israeli occupation. If the DFLP succeeds, it will have removed one of the most contentious problems generating ill-will between Gaza and Ramallah.

Concomitantly, there has been a noticeable de-escalation in the propaganda war between Hamas and Fatah, with the respective media of each side generally refraining from using harsh epithets to describe the other.

Furthermore, there are unconfirmed reports that Abbas will meet with the Damascus-based Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal. Abbas is slated to visit the Syrian capital next month. While the prospective meeting won't necessarily be a breakthrough in itself, it would be the strongest and clearest sign that the ice between the two erstwhile enemies was beginning to melt.

Moreover, PA officials in Ramallah confirmed that Abbas was planning to visit the Gaza Strip. Ahmed Abdul- Rahman, a senior Fatah spokesman, was quoted as saying that, "the visit might take place soon because the president is determined to put an end to the state of division in the Palestinian arena."

According to Hassan Khreishe, an independent lawmaker who heads the Popular Committee for National Reconciliation (PCNC), both Hamas and Fatah as well as a host of Arab mediators including the Arab League, Egypt and Qatar, have already accepted the general outlines of a prospective agreement between the two Palestinian factions.

Khreishe said the PCNC initiative consists of two parts; the first calls for ceasing mutual incitement and releasing all political detainees, followed by the formation of a transitional government made up of technocrats and independents, whose main task would be to prepare for the organisation of early presidential and legislative elections. The second part deals with the "hard files" including reforming and reconstructing the Palestinian political system, the security agencies and the PLO.

It is likely that any prospective agreement between Fatah and Hamas will be based on the National Reconciliation Accord reached between the two sides two years ago. The accord was based on a carefully-worded document prepared by the leaders of Palestinian political and resistance prisoners in Israeli jails. It calls, inter alia, for the creation of a Palestinian state on 100 per cent of the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel in 1967 with all of East Jerusalem as its capital as well as a just resolution of the refugee plight pursuant to UN Resolution 194. The agreement also called for the rebuilding of the Palestinian security forces on a national rather than factional basis.

The ceasefire agreement in Gaza, however fragile and uncertain it may be, is generally perceived to have enhanced the overall position of Hamas vis-à-vis Fatah. Many within the Fatah camp and its allies, especially the so-called eradicateurs wing, had hoped that Israel would eventually overrun the Gaza Strip, destroy Hamas and hand the coastal territory over to Fatah on a silver platter.

Now, the more pragmatic Fatah leadership, especially elements loyal to imprisoned Fatah leader Marwan Al-Barghouti, who advocates national unity with Hamas, seems to be resigned to the fact that Fatah has no choice but to talk to Hamas. The Gaza tahdia (calm) also seems to be changing minds within the erstwhile enemies of Hamas.

A member of the ultra- secular party, Feda, has privately accused the United States and Israel of betraying the Palestinian Authority. "They wanted us to be more American than the Americans by insisting that we boycott and fight Hamas. Well, if Israel could hold talks and reach a ceasefire agreement with it, why should the PLO continue to adopt a hostile attitude towards Hamas. We can't be more Israeli than the Israelis," said the man who asked that his name not be mentioned.

Such disappointment, observers suggest, is likely to be rife among many Fatah and PLO hawks who until recently adopted a gung-ho attitude towards Hamas.

Think Again: The enduring legacy of Samson Raphael Hirsch

Think Again: The enduring legacy of Samson Raphael Hirsch

Jun. 26, 2008
Jonathan Rosenblum , THE JERUSALEM POST
Today marks the bicentennial of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, whose vision dominated German Orthodoxy from the early 19th century until its destruction by the Nazis.

When Rabbi Hirsch first burst on the scene, as the 27-year-old author of The Nineteen Letters, German Orthodoxy was in full flight. In the first decades of the 19th century, for instance, nearly 90% of Berlin's Jews made their way to the baptismal font. The Nineteen Letters was the first work to address the modern age from the perspective of Torah. That work and its successor Horeb arrested in mid-flight thousands who had all but turned their back on traditional Judaism.

One rabbinical contemporary wrote, "Anybody who reads The Nineteen Letters will find that until now he did not know Judaism as he knows it now, and literally becomes a new being." Rabbi Hirsch's writings provided the initial inspiration for Sarah Schenirer, the founder of the Bais Yaakov network of schools for women, and the lay leaders of the original Agudath Israel movement were almost all drawn from the ranks of his disciples.

Because of his openness to secular studies, Rabbi Hirsch is sometimes described as the founder of modern Orthodoxy. That is a mistake. In the context of German Orthodoxy of his day, Rabbi Hirsch was considered a zealot. His insistence on a complete separation from the government-recognized communal bodies, on the grounds that they bore the taint of institutionalized heresy, divided the Orthodox community of Frankfurt that he had almost single-handedly built. Every page of the voluminous Hirsch corpus cries out his intense fear of Heaven.

Rabbi Hirsch is more accurately described as the architect of Torah Judaism for the modern world (the subtitle of the definitive biography by Eliyahu Meir Klugman.) He wrote for a modern world lacking the protective insularity of the ghetto, one in which every Jew simultaneously lives in a broader non-Jewish society. Though he recognized the dangers of Emancipation and repeatedly stressed that participation in the larger society could never justify the slightest deviation from one's duties as a Jew, Rabbi Hirsch saw Emancipation as allowing for a fuller Jewish life.

The narrow constraint of Jewish life in the ghetto had, in Rabbi Hirsch's opinion, robbed Jewish learning of its intended vitality, through actual application to life situations. "The goal of study," he lamented, "has not been practical life, to understand the world and our duty in it."

Rather than approaching the broader society in an exclusively defensive posture, Hirsch viewed it with optimism. He saw the historical circumstances of any period as the raw material upon which the ideals of the Torah must be impressed to the extent that the larger society provides the opportunity to do so. His writings are filled with an enormous confidence in the power of Torah to uplift and transform every period of history. Accordingly, he addressed the entirety of German Jewry on a monthly basis on the major issues of the day. No Torah scholar of comparable stature fills that role today.

THE LAND OF ISRAEL has not provided fertile soil for the Hirschian tradition. Orthodox refugees from Germany, or at least their children, have virtually all gravitated either toward Mizrachi or to the mainstream yeshiva world. It is often pointed out by the latter that the past 150 years of German Orthodox life have produced no more than two or three Talmudists or poskim (legal decisors) of the first rank, compared to hundreds in Eastern Europe. For that reason, the Hirschian tradition will never become the dominant one within the Israeli haredi world.

Nevertheless, Rabbi Hirsch's writings still have much to offer both to the haredi world itself and the broader Jewish society. Indeed it is hard to think of any 19th-century Jewish thinker who speaks with such astonishing contemporaneity. More than 100 years after his passing, new translations of his work, particularly his commentary on Humash [the Pentateuch], continue to appear regularly. On any issue to which he set his pen, his word continues to be not just the first word but the last.

As more haredim enter the marketplace and, as a consequence, seek some form of advanced secular education, Rabbi Hirsch's writings on the confrontation between modernity and Torah will gain many new readers. His corpus is already standard reading for ba'alei teshuva drawing closer to the world of Torah study and observance.

Rabbi Hirsch described the prevailing religious observance of his day as preserving outward forms without the animating inner spirit. His life task was to reverse that "uncomprehended Judaism." For Hirsch, the Torah is "Divine anthropology" - an account of man from the vantage point of the Divine. The mitzvot must be understood not as arbitrary rules that demand only obedience but as the tools through which God seeks to shape the ideal human being, whose self-perfection is the goal of Creation.

In his commentary on Humash, Rabbi Hirsch demonstrated the meaning and life lessons that each detail of observance, including that of the Temple service, seeks to inculcate. Even those who find themselves unmoved by a particular explanation will never again doubt, after reading Hirsch, the relevance of each word of Torah to daily life.

The awareness of mitzvot as educational tools for the formation of the ideal human being is closely linked to another key Hirschian concept: the imperative of sanctifying God's Name through one's every action. One of the miracles of the Tablets of the Law was that they read the same from whichever direction one looked. And so, Rabbi Hirsch taught, must it be with every Jew. From whichever direction he is perceived - whether at home, in the study hall, or in the marketplace - he must bear the stamp of a Jew shaped by Torah.

The glory of German Jews raised in the Hirschian tradition was their emphasis that one must not only be "glatt kosher but glatt yosher (straight)." A member of the Hirschian community of Washington Heights in upper Manhattan told me this past Shabbat that he has never experienced the temptation to cut a corner on his taxes or in business dealings.

I have no doubt that an exposure both to Rabbi Hirsch's writings and to Orthodox Jews raised in his tradition would go a long way toward drawing non-observant Israeli Jews nearer to their traditions.

But there is another aspect of Rabbi Hirsch that is crucial to the entirety of Jewish society in Israel today. Absent some understanding of why the continued collective of the Jewish people is a matter of universal significance, those with the talents and wherewithal to go elsewhere will do so. Indeed the statistics on Israel's brain drain make clear that many already have.

Hirsch's writings provide perhaps the fullest account of the Jewish national mission. "To reestablish peace and harmony on earth... and to bring the glory of God back to earth," he writes in his Commentary to Humash, "is proclaimed on every page of the Word of God as the result and aim of Torah."

Elsewhere he described Emancipation as a step toward "our goal - that every Jew and Jewess, through the example they provide in their own lives, should be priests of God and genuine humanity."

Why men are running away from Judaism

View from the booth:

Perhaps if Reform Judaism (the one I grew up in, anyway)offered more of a spiritual dimension that is based on halacha, none of this men/women stuff would be of much pertinence, as men would presumably then have an outlet for faith. Having spent the first 17 years of life in Reform Judaism, I am grateful for the start: I learned Buber and Heschel but not Halacha. Fortunately, Buber and Heschel led me back to where they started - in Hasidism and Jewish mysticism.

If you go behind the major German Reform thinkers, you find a desire to assimilate into the main Protestant culture so much so that services were patterned after classic Protestant liturgy, complete with pipe organ and choir. There was a mad delusion that a Jew could be a German. That delusion was answered starting in 1933. I was a member of "The Church on the Lake" -- as Temple Sholom in Chicago was formerly known by. The reverence of and the reliance on "reason" -- that is, to bend halacha so out of shape as to be unrecognizable -- instead of using reason to use halacha in every day life (or at least try) was the undoing of Reform Judaism for me. The only thing that Jews have to call our own is halacha. The rest of our history as a people is connected to the countries and the history of those countries where we have found ourselves over the course of past 2000 years. The moves within Reform Judaism to cleave a tad closer to Halacha over the course of the past 10-15 years bear this out. The same is true of Conservative Judaism. What is Conservative Judaism conserving? We are not preserves. We are Jews. That the JTS in New York is running a $2 million deficit and the recent intra-movement controversy tells me that Conservative Judaism is by definition a movement without the possibility of a firm foundation. What and who decides which halacha will be followed and which not? Or is this simply Orthodox-lite? What is the single defining factor of all of Jewry? In my mind, it's halacha. And that's whether you agree with the Halacha or not. The important part is its pre-eminence in Jewish life on a daily basis. So let's argue about it, disagree and grow it. That's Judaism to me. It's why you can't put two Jews in a room and not come out with at least three opinions. The culture, the nation, the everything, is or should be based on the Halacha. Without Halacha, we are nothing, and end up worshipping ourselves. That is a narcissism that I cannot personally abide.

Randy Shiner

Why men are running away from Judaism

Rabbi Brackman contemplates reasons why Jewish men, boys are less and less attracted to Jewish activities

Rabbi Levi Brackman

According to a study just released by the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute and the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies in the Reform Movement, today's women are far more connected to Judaism than their male counterparts are. “When it comes to gender equality or gender balance, contemporary American Jewish life is caught between a rock and a hard place,” says the study’s co-author Daniel Parmer. “Boys and men as a group are not attracted to feminized Jewish activities and environments” the study found.

Commenting on this, in a just published article, Professor of American Jewish History at the Jewish Theological Seminary Dr. Jack Wertheimer concludes that “Reform today resembles liberal Protestantism, where men form a dwindling minority in the pews, in congregational leadership, and in the seminaries. Even within Reform few count this fact as a sign of success.”

What we really have here is the law of unintended consequences. As Wertheimer notes the Reform Movement wanted to include those who were perceived to have been marginalized by traditional Judaism. They therefore gave women the same roles as men within synagogue services. This strategy has now backfired terribly and as women became more involved, men started to move away. Ironically we have now come full circle with the Reform Movement experimenting with all men synagogue services to attract the men back.

'Inflicting more damage than good'

The problem the Reform Movement is facing is simple. They dismissed the possibility of there being deep wisdom within traditional practices. This lack of respect caused them to do away with many of them. In doing so, however, they ended up inflicting more damage than good. In fact there is wisdom in having men run synagogue services.

It is now almost universally accepted that whilst men and women are equal they are different. There are always exceptions, but, one can safely say that for men public recognition and a feeling of being needed is a great motivator especially when it involves doing something voluntarily.

Despite some exceptions, on the whole it can be argued that women simply do not need the same amount of communal acknowledgment to be 'Jewishly' involved and inspired. This assertion is backed up by the abovementioned Hadassah-Brandeis study which found that within Reform families, fathers participate much less than mothers in the Jewish upbringing of the children

In light of this there is tremendous wisdom in having only men lead synagogue services. The Reform experiment of allowing women that position has made men feel that they are no longer really needed in the synagogue – women can take their place as part of a Minyan. In addition the male sense of being uniquely acknowledged by the community has been taken away from them—women can lead the services, read from the Torah instead. Add to this the fact that the Reform movement fails to offer a spiritual dimension and male motivation to be involved with synagogue life and therefore Judaism has been completely removed.

While it is certainly important for women to have leadership roles within the Jewish community – and tradition acknowledges and supports that, room must be given for men to gain religious recognition that is uniquely their own. For centuries leading synagogue services was how they did this.

This study should be yet another wake up call for all of us who care about Judaism and its future. We must initiate a back to basics campaign for Jewish life in the United States and Europe and educate people about the immense wisdom inherent in the wonderfully rich and beautiful practices that are traditional Judaism.

Rabbi Levi Brackman is executive director of Judaism in the Foothills . His upcoming book , "Jewish Wisdom for Business Success", is set to be published in late 2008.

Judaism and Psychology


Judaism and Psychology
Jews have engaged with and steered psychological inquiry since its inception.
By Jessica Kraft

Jewish psychologists and the influence of Jewish tradition have been instrumental in creating the field of modern psychology. The fundaments of several psychological movements can be traced directly to Jewish values, ideas, and practices, and Jews in the 20th century were at the forefront of research about the psyche and the varieties of human behavior.

Jewish psychologists founded several branches of psychological inquiry. All of the major theorists of the Gestalt school, except Wolfgang Kohler, were Jews. Max Wertheimer, Kurt Koffka, Kurt Lewin, and Kurt Goldstein posited theories of perception and understanding based on holistic understanding, rather than a previous model based on the computation of parts.

Psychoanalysis was founded by Sigmund Freud and, with the notable exception of Carl Jung, most of its early proponents were also Jews.

Why the Jews?

Some intellectual historians speculate that it was particular Jewish personality and cultural traits that led Jews to lead the field of psychology in its early days.

In a social psychology study of Jewish families, researchers F.M. Herz and E.J. Rosen found that in contrast to some other ethnic groups, Jews on the whole tend to choose verbal expression as a way of expressing emotions, particularly negative or painful experiences. Historical circumstances of oppression, segregation, and confined living conditions often resulted in close-knit communities of Jews who felt their pain deeply and expressed it to one another plainly.

According to studies conducted by Mark Zborowski, an anthropologist who investigated cultural aspects of pain, Jews respond more quickly to physical discomfort than non-Jews. Jewish families often discuss issues and problems in great detail, and suffering individuals are encouraged to "let out" their feelings and achieve catharsis through communication.

According to Peter Langman, "Jews differ from many cultural groups in that they place less value on self-reliance and are less suspicious of taking their problems to professionals." Thus, the traditional role of rabbi/rebbe involves extensive counseling or psychotherapy.

Traditionally, there was even what today we would call an "intake." The gabai (rebbe"s assistant) met with people before they met with the rebbe, and then: "After interviewing the supplicant about his family, his background and his troubles, the gabai delivers the kvitl [written description of the presenting problem] and an oral report to the rebbe" (Zborowski & Herzog, 1995, p. 172).

Psychoanalysis and Freud

But it took Josef Breuer, an assimilated Jewish doctor living in Berlin, to apply this "talking cure" with his Jewish patient, Bertha Pappenheim, to ignite the practice of psychoanalysis. These two understood that when they talked about her symptoms, and particularly their origin and emotional side effects, she would feel better. Pappenheim, a notable figure on the scene of Berlin's intellectual salons, is also well-known as Freud's case study about Anna O.

Sigmund Freud's Jewishness is a hotly debated subject. He always described his father's background as Hasidic, and his mother was raised traditionally Jewish. Though by the time he was growing up the family had partially assimilated, Freud acknowledged how influenced he was by Jewish thought, and the mystical tradition in particular.

David Bakan, in his 1958 book, Sigmund Freud and the Jewish Mystical Tradition showed that Freud was familiar with, and interested in Kabbalah. Bakan advanced the idea that Freud's psychoanalysis was a secularization of Jewish mysticism.

According to Langman and Dana Beth Wasserman (1990), Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams was based on interpretive methods used to understand dreams in the Talmud. The aspects of Freudian dream psychology that seemed perhaps shocking to the gentile public were already part of Jewish text: symbolism, word play, enactment of taboos, and numerology.

Psychoanalysis, as it then developed into a standardized practice, was dominated by Jewish men; Sandor Ferenczi, Karl Abraham, Max Eitingon, and Hans Sachs were a few of the 17 initial members of the Psychoanalytic Society in Vienna. Peter Langman has written that, contrary to a prevailing notion of this group's secular orientation, "the analysts were aware of their Jewishness and frequently maintained a sense of Jewish purpose and solidarity."

Later contributors to the practice of psychoanalysis also included a disproportionate number of Jews: Alfred Adler, Erik Erikson, Erich Fromm, Otto Rank and Bruno Bettelheim.

In fact, the practice had become so dominated by Jews that Sigmund Freud based his decision to hand over leadership of the movement to Carl Jung partially because he was not Jewish and would therefore refute the position that psychoanalysis was a Jewish conspiracy. Jung, however, became very interested in Kabbalah and continued to pursue this interest, ultimately linking kabbalistic beliefs with his understanding of the "collective unconscious."

Other Major Contributors

Erich Fromm evinced a particularly Jewish ethos in his studies of ethics, love, and human freedom. Fromm had studied Talmud extensively in his youth in Germany, and was guided by his father and grandfather, both rabbis. Though he became largely secular in his interpretations of Hebrew scripture, the influence of biblical stories, particularly in Genesis, greatly impacted his work.

In the realm of popular psychology, Joseph Jastrow, whose father authored the well-known Talmud dictionary, was the first recipient of an American Ph.D. in psychology in 1898 and established a psychology lab at the University of Wisconsin. With a syndicated advice column and a talk radio show, he was the first psychologist to stir up public interest in psychological inquiry.

During the same time period, Hugo Munsterberg founded American applied psychology and became a well-known figure in America with his numerous books and magazine articles. Boris Sidis pioneered personality studies, entertaining the public with his spectacular cases of split personalities.

Abraham Arden Brill and Isador Coriat brought Freud beyond the European urban centers by translating his work into English. Influential psychoanalyst Alfred Adler also fed the public's hunger for in-depth knowledge of their inner lives by going on lecture tours and giving numerous interviews in which he was helped by his translator, the psychiatrist Walter Beran Wolfe.

Jewish Texts and Ideas

All of these psychologists received a solid Jewish education, at least during their childhood years, and for some of them, this exposure to Jewish mores and stories influenced their later work by providing archetypal human relationships, such as the conflict between son and father, represented in Abraham and Isaac, and the lament of childless women like Sara.

In particular, Adler used the original family networks of the Torah to illuminate contemporary family dynamics. Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, along with other forefathers and mothers, provided models for kinship behavior.

Furthermore, Jewish involvement in the development of psychology in the early 20th century helped to create a more tolerant culture than in Western Europe. As Jewish psychologists participated in researching and defining human nature, they also sought scientific justifications of the role of the Jew in modern society.

Many of them popularized aspects of their studies and advocated against prevailing conceptions about hereditary intelligence, ethnic stereotypes, and particularly Christian interpretations of the unconscious. They also delved into previously taboo aspects of human behavior, producing classic studies of the social psychology of sexuality, deviance, and immorality.

Capitalizing on the wide appeal of their ideas, Jewish psychologists articulated a state of mental health and social cohesion that served the dual purpose of benefiting the Jewish and other immigrant communities, particularly in America.

Jewish understanding of the roots of human behavior as communicated in the Talmud are often more in tune with the revelations of psychological science than other religious frameworks. In Jewish tradition, the impulse to do good, the yetzer hatov, is balanced out by the yetzer hara, the evil inclination. This complex idea that every individual embodies productive and destructive instincts allows for a more nuanced self-development process than a moral compass that sees the pure individual tainted by sin and in need of salvation.

Issues in Jewish Psychology Today

Some Jews have since seized upon the insights of modern psychology to address issues of mental illness in the Jewish community. Their specifically Jewish psychology infuses a scientific understanding of the functioning of the mind and emotions with an appreciation of God and Jewish history.

Rabbi Abraham Twerski, for example, has done much to educate these communities about addiction and domestic abuse, even drawing specific parallels to the practices of Alcoholics Anonymous and wisdom in the Talmud. Other practitioners like Rabbi Harold Kushner and Dr. Joyce Brothers have applied Jewish wisdom and insight to modern relationships, and have gained a huge following among Jews and non-Jews alike.

And yet many observant Jewish communities have been slow to take on the insights of psychology, remaining in denial about specific mental health issues. This might be because psychological theories can conflict with traditional Jewish ideas. The Jewish system of mitzvot, commandments, presumes that individuals have agency and free will. Classical psychological concepts like the unconscious and contemporary approaches that stress psychopharmacology and the physiology of psychological disorders may challenge traditional Jewish notions of "freedom."

In the secular world, however, Jews have assumed a central role in the formation of new psychological theories and applications to this day, and the continuing contribution of Jews to the field of psychology is a testament to the perceptive position of the Jewish people and the emotionally astute cultural heritage that binds them.

Jessica C. Kraft writes about art, design, and culture for several publications in the United States and the UK.

27 June 2008

26 June 2008

Standard Operating Procedure - Book and Film Review

View from the booth:

Did YOU sign up to have this stuff done in YOUR name? Ya gotta wonder about a culture that puts up with this stuff. While the issue of these "enemy combatants" is a difficult one, it's clear that what happened at Abu Ghraib was the logical conclusion of what the mood is/was at the White House toward prisoners of "the war on terror". One can only hope that at some point, justice (whether of the earthly or heavenly variety) will come to those people in the upper echelons of the armed forces and the government which it is supposed to serve. Do none of Socrates' "just men" exist at those levels?

The only thing we can hope is that if we should ever get engaged again in fighting the Taliban and the rest of the jihadis, they do not reciprocate. But then, last I checked, they weren't treating our guys with too much TLC, either. But we're better than that, aren't we?

Randy Shiner

Volume 55, Number 11 · June 26, 2008
By Ian Buruma
Standard Operating Procedure
a film directed by Errol Morris
Standard Operating Procedure
by Philip Gourevitch and Errol Morris
Penguin, 286 pp., $25.95

Two photographs, taken by digital camera at Abu Ghraib prison, on the night of November 5, 2003. The first picture shows a person in a ragged black poncho-like garment standing precariously on a tiny box. Hairy legs and arms suggest that this person is a man. His head is covered in a pointed black hood, his arms are spread, and his fingertips are attached to wires sticking from the concrete wall behind him. The pose hints at a crucifixion, but the black poncho and hood also suggest a witch or a scarecrow.

The second picture shows a young woman hunched over the corpse of a man. The corpse lies in a half-unzipped black body bag filled with ice cubes wrapped in plastic. His mouth is open; white bandages cover his eyes. The young woman grins widely at the camera. She holds up the thumb of her right hand, encased in a turquoise latex glove (see the photograph).

The photographs look amateurish, a crude mixture of the sinister and lighthearted. When they were published, first in The New Yorker magazine, we were provided with some background to them, but not much. The anonymous man in the first picture had been told that he would die of electric shock if he fell off the box. Hence the wires, which were in fact harmless. Information about the second picture was sketchy, but the woman seemed to be gloating over the man's death. The bandages suggested serious violence. There were other Abu Ghraib photographs, published widely on the Internet: of terrified Iraqi prisoners, stripped of all their clothes, being assaulted and bitten by dogs ("doggie dancing"); of a naked prisoner on all fours held on a leash by a female American guard; of naked men piled up in a human pyramid; of naked men made to masturbate, or posed as though performing oral sex; of naked men wearing women's panties on their heads, handcuffed to the bars of their cells; of naked men used as punching bags; and so on.

The photographs evoked an atmosphere of giddy brutality. The reputation of the United States, already tarnished by a bungled war, hit a new low. But interpretations of the photographs, exactly what they told us, varied according to the observer. After he was criticized for failing to apologize, President Bush said in a public statement that he was "sorry for the humiliation suffered by the Iraqi prisoners, and the humiliation suffered by their families." But he felt "equally sorry," he said, "that people who have been seeing those pictures didn't understand the true nature and heart of America." Donald Rumsfeld deplored the fact that the pictures had been shown at all, and then talked about charges of "abuse," which, he believed, "technically is different from torture." The word "torture" was carefully avoided by both men. President Bush, confronted much later with questions about a damning Red Cross report about the use of torture by the CIA, spelled out his view: "We don't torture."[1]

Susan Sontag, writing in The New York Times Magazine, had a different take on the pictures. She thought the "torture photographs" of Abu Ghraib were typical expressions of a brutalized popular American culture, coarsened by violent pornography, sadistic movies and video games, and a narcissistic compulsion to put every detail of our lives, especially our sexual lives, on record, preferably on public record. To her the Abu Ghraib photos were precisely the true nature and heart of America. She wrote:

Soldiers now pose, thumbs up, before the atrocities they commit, and send the pictures to their buddies. Secrets of private life that, formerly, you would have given anything to conceal, you now clamor to be invited on a television show to reveal. What is illustrated by these photographs is as much the culture of shamelessness as the reigning admiration for unapologetic brutality.[2]

Many liberal-minded people would have shared instinctively not only Sontag's disgust but also her searing indictment of modern American culture. One of the merits of Errol Morris's new documentary on the Abu Ghraib photographs, and even more of the excellent book written by Philip Gourevitch in cooperation with Morris, is that they complicate matters. What we think we see in the pictures may not be quite right. The pictures don't show the whole story. They may even conceal more than they reveal. By interviewing most of the people who were involved in the photographic sessions, delving into their lives, their motives, their feelings, and their views, then and now, the authors assemble a picture of Abu Ghraib, the implications of which are actually more disturbing than Sontag's cultural critique.

At first no one knew the dead man's name. He was one of the "ghost prisoners," brought into the "hard site" of Abu Ghraib by anonymous American interrogators, dressed in black, also known to the MPs as "ghosts." These ghosts belonged to the OGA, Other Government Agency, which usually meant the CIA. Ghost prisoners were not formally registered before their interrogation in shower cubicles or other secluded parts of the prison. They disappeared as swiftly as they came, after the ghost interrogators were done with them. All that the MPs heard of their presence were screams in the night. If the Red Cross visited, the ghost prisoners were to be hidden away.

The man who would soon die arrived in the night before the photographs published in The New Yorker were taken, with a sandbag over his head, and nothing but a T-shirt on. MPs were told to shackle his hands to a window behind his back in "a Palestinian hanging position" (a technique allegedly used but certainly not invented by the Israelis). The man was breathing heavily. Then the MPs were dismissed. An hour or so later, they were called back in to help. The prisoner was no longer responding to questions. They hung him higher and higher, until his arms seemed at breaking point. Still no response. A splash of cold water. His hood was lifted. The MPs noticed that his face had been reduced to a bloody pulp. He had been dead for some time. The ghosts quickly left the scene. Medics were called in to clean up the mess, bandages were put over his puffed-up eyes, and the corpse was zipped into an ice-filled body bag and left in a shower room until it could be removed. The officer in charge of the MPs at Abu Ghraib, Captain Christopher Brinson, declared that the man had died of a heart attack.

Meanwhile, in the same prison block, another torment was taking place. Another nameless prisoner had been brought in, suspected of having killed an agent from the US Army's Criminal Investigative Division (CID). He refused to divulge his name, so he was handed over to Specialist Charles "Chuck" Graner, an army reservist. Graner, a hulking mustachioed figure, seen laughing at the misery of Iraqi prisoners in many Abu Ghraib pictures, was not trained as an interrogator; nor did he have more than the vaguest idea of the rules and conventions that are supposed to guide interrogations. A corrections officer in civilian life, Graner enjoyed a "bad boy" reputation, with a taste for sinister pranks and an eye for the girls. He should never have been put in charge of terror suspects. He did not even have the security clearance to be a military policeman with custody over prisoners.

Nonetheless, Graner was put in charge of the nameless prisoner and told by CID agent Ricardo Romero to "make his life a living hell for the next three days and find out his name." Graner did his best, aided by Sergeant Ivan Frederick and other members of their Maryland reserve unit who happened to be around and were equally untrained in interrogation work. The prisoner was stripped of his clothes, yelled at, made to crawl on the floor, deprived of sleep, forced to stand on a tiny box, hooked up to wires sticking from the wall and told he would die if he so much as moved. This last game lasted for about fifteen minutes, long enough for Graner to take his photographs.

Morris didn't manage to interview Graner. He is still in a military prison. But other witnesses of what happened that night, such as Specialist Sabrina Harman, claim that not much harm was done to the prisoner they nicknamed "Gilligan." She said that he ended up laughing at the Americans, and actually became a popular guy of sorts, being given the privilege of sweeping up the prison cells. "He was just a funny, funny guy," she said. "If you were going to take someone home, I definitely would have taken him."

Sabrina Harman also happens to be the young woman in the second picture, hunched over the corpse. Like Graner, she worked as a guard on the night shift at Abu Ghraib. Harman is described by other interviewees in Morris's film as a sweet girl who, in the words of Sergeant Hydrue Joyner, "would not hurt a fly. If there's a fly on the floor and you go to step on it, she will stop you." The reason she joined the army was to pay for college. Her dream was to be a cop, like her father and brother. Not just a cop, but a forensic photographer. She loved taking pictures, with a special interest in death and decay. Another prison colleague, Sergeant Javal Davis, said: "She would not let you step on an ant. But if it dies, she'd want to know how it died."

So when water started seeping out of the locked shower cell, and she and Graner uncovered the dead man in his body bag, her first instinct was to take pictures. She told Morris and Gourevitch that she kind of realized right away that there was no way he died of a heart attack, because of all the cuts and blood coming out of his nose. You don't think your commander's going to lie to you about something. It made my trust go down, that's for sure.

This is when Graner asked her to pose with the body. Harman adopted the pose she always did in photos, with her friends, with prisoners, in the morgue, and now in the shower: she grinned and stuck her thumb up.

Later, she returned to the same place alone, curious to find out more. She took off the gauze over the dead man's eyes and "just started taking photos of everything I saw that was wrong, every little bruise and cut." She realized how badly the man had been beaten up:

It looked like somebody had either butt-stocked him or really got him good, or hit him against the wall.... I just wanted to document everything I saw. That was the reason I took photos. It was to prove to pretty much anybody who looked at this guy, Hey, I was just lied to. This guy did not die of a heart attack. Look at all these other existing injuries that they tried to cover up.
In her interview with Morris, Harman looks rather impressive: intelligent, articulate, plausible.

The interviews are actually more like monologues, for with rare exceptions Morris's questions are never heard. His genius is to get people to talk, and talk, and talk, whether it is Robert McNamara in The Fog of War or Sabrina Harman in Standard Operating Procedure. The fact that he paid some of his interviewees for their time has been held against Morris by some critics. It seems of little importance. There is no reason to believe that cash changed their stories. If only the film had stuck to the interviews. Alas, they are spliced together with gimmicky visual reenactments of the scenes described in words, which take away from the stark air of authenticity. But perhaps that is Morris's point. Authenticity is always elusive. Nothing can be totally trusted, not words, and certainly not images, so you might as well reimagine them.

But I think we are meant to believe that Harman is telling the truth. Her letters from Abu Ghraib to her lesbian partner, Kelly, suggest as much. On October 20, 2003, she wrote about a prisoner nicknamed "the taxicab driver," naked, handcuffed backward to the bars of his cell, with his underwear over his face:

He looked like Jesus Christ. At first I had to laugh so I went on and grabbed the camera and took a picture. One of the guys took my asp and started "poking" at his dick. Again I thought, okay that's funny then it hit me, that's a form of molestation. You can't do that. I took more pictures now to "record" what is going on.

Two pictures, then. The first one, of Gilligan and the electric wires, was analyzed by Brent Pack, a special forensic expert for the CID. After much thought, he concluded:
I see that as somebody that's being put into a stress position. I'm looking at it and thinking, they don't look like they're real electrical wires. Standard operating procedure—that's all it is.
He was technically right. A memo drawn up by the Pentagon's general counsel, William J. Haynes, on November 27, 2002, recommending authorization of interrogation techniques in Category II—which included humiliation, sensory deprivation, and stress positions—was formally approved by the secretary of defense. Donald Rumsfeld even scribbled his famous quip at the bottom of this memo, stating: "However, I stand for 8–10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours? D.R."[3]

And yet this picture, more than any other, including the ones featuring attack dogs and wounded naked bodies, became the most notorious, an icon of American barbarism, the torture picture par excellence, perhaps because, as Gourevitch writes, it left so much to the imagination. That, and its evocation of the crucifixion, Christ at Abu Ghraib. And Sabrina Harman? She was sentenced to six months in prison, a reduction in rank to private, a forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and a bad conduct discharge. None of the men who were responsible for her subject's death were ever prosecuted. No one above the rank of sergeant was even tried. As Morris said in an interview to promote his film, Harman and her friends caught in the photographs
were punished for embarrassing the military, for embarrassing the administration. One central irony: Sabrina Harman was threatened with prosecution for taking pictures of a man who had been killed by the CIA. She had nothing whatsoever to do with the killing, she merely photographed the corpse. But without her photographs we would know nothing of this crime.
It was just another death of a ghost delivered by ghosts.


Morris has been faulted for not pointing his finger more directly at people more senior than Harman, Graner, Frederick, or Lynndie England, Graner's girlfriend at the time, who held the naked prisoner on a leash. But this is missing the point of the film. For it is not about Washington politics or administration lawyers, or at least not directly, but about a particular kind of concealment, the way photographs which seem to tell one story actually turn out to hide a much bigger story. Compared to what was really happening at Abu Ghraib, where men were tortured to death in hidden cells, where children were incarcerated with thousands of other prisoners, most of them blameless civilians, exposed to daily mortar attacks, living in unspeakable conditions of filth and squalor, where there was no way out even for men who had been declared innocent, where unarmed prisoners were shot dead by nervous guards—compared to all that, the photograph of Gilligan was just fun and games.

The first thing human beings do when the unspeakable becomes standard operating procedure is to change the words. Even the Nazis, who never seemed to have been unduly bothered by what they did, invented new words, usually of a cold bureaucratic nature, to conceal their crimes: "special treatment" and so on. In public, the US policy toward "security detainees" or "unlawful combatants," to whom, according to White House and Pentagon lawyers, the Geneva Conventions did not apply, was couched in the kind of language favored by Vice President Dick Cheney: "We need to make certain that we have not tied the hands, if you will, of our intelligence communities in terms of accomplishing their mission."

The phrase "the gloves are coming off" gained currency. As in an e-mail, quoted by Gourevitch, sent to MI unit commanders in Iraq by Captain William Ponce of the Human Intelligence Effects Coordination Cell: "The gloves are coming off gentlemen regarding these detainees. Col. Boltz"— Colonel Steven Boltz, the deputy MI commander in Iraq—"has made it clear that we want these individuals broken." The likes of Harman, Graner, England, and Frederick were at the very bottom of the chain of command. They were told to "soften up" the prisoners, to make their lives hell. They should "treat the prisoners like dogs," in the words of Major General Geoffrey Miller, commander of the prison and interrogation camp at Guantánamo Bay. He said this before the photographs were taken, during a visit to Abu Ghraib, where he felt the prisoners were treated too well. His methods, honed at Guantánamo, were soon adopted. One of Morris's (or Gourevitch's) more arresting ideas is that the photographs of the treatment meted out to the prisoners are evidence that the people who were ordered to take their gloves off, if you will, had not entirely lost their moral way. Gourevitch writes:

Even as they sank into a routine of depravity, they showed by their picture taking that they did not accept it as normal. They never fully got with the program. Is it not to their credit that they were profoundly demoralized by their service in the netherworld?

Credit is perhaps not the mot juste. Nazis who took pictures of naked women lined up in front of their own mass graves might not have considered the scene quite normal either, but this does not mean that they were not with the program. Heinrich Himmler was well aware that what he was asking from his SS men was not normal. That is why he told them to steel themselves against any feelings of humanity that would hamper them in their necessary task.

That Harman, for one, was often disgusted with what she saw at Abu Ghraib is indeed clear from her letters to her partner, Kelly. And even Graner, the baddest of the bad apples, was apparently taken aback when he was told by "Big Steve" Stefanowicz, a contract civilian interrogator, just how roughly prisoners were to be "broken." Graner was reminded of 24, the popular television series, starring Kiefer Sutherland, about the necessity of using any means, including torture, to stop terrorists. Graner claims that he told Big Steve: "We don't do that stuff, that's all TV stuff." Graner was surely unaware that 24 had actually been discussed in all seriousness at brainstorming sessions at Guantánamo led by the staff judge advocate, Lieutenant Colonel Diane Beaver. She recalled the mounting excitement among her male colleagues, including men from the CIA and the DIA, as different interrogation techniques were being bandied about. She told Philippe Sands, author of Torture Team: "You could almost see their dicks getting hard as they got new ideas."

That was in Guantánamo, where ideas were hatched, noted on legal pads, recorded in memos, debated in air-conditioned offices. Now back to Graner in the filth, noise, and menace of constant violence in Abu Ghraib prison. As the authors point out, there is a kind of pornographic quality to many of the pictures which would indicate that Susan Sontag's cultural critique was not entirely off beam.

The deliberate use of women, for example, in the humiliation of Arab prisoners is striking. Graner may have asked his girlfriend, Lynndie England, to pose for a picture holding a prisoner on a leash. This might have given him, and possibly her, an erotic frisson. And Sabrina Harman, too, is seen to have been a grinning accomplice in several of Graner's pranks with naked prisoners. That is why she ended up being convicted. But in fact these games—some clearly staged for the camera as cruel photo-ops—were also part of the program. The women's panties, the nudity in front of women, the poking of the genitals, the enforced simulation of sexual acts, were all part of the program. Graner was told in writing by his commander, Captain Brinson, that he was "doing a fine job." He was told: "Continue to perform at this level and it will help us succeed at our overall mission."

The MPs at Abu Ghraib, as Gourevitch rightly observes, knew little about Middle Eastern culture, but they were given "cultural awareness" training at Fort Lee, before being flown out to Iraq. They were told that sexual humiliation was the most effective way to "soften up" Arab detainees. A person does not have to be corrupted by the popular culture deplored by Susan Sontag to be vulnerable to feelings of pleasure when the sexual humiliation of others is officially sanctioned, even encouraged. Graner's real sin for the administration was not that he went too far (which, measured by any moral yardstick, of course he did), but that he took pleasure in what should have been a grim job. As Dick Cheney said: "It is a mean, nasty, dangerous, dirty business out there, and we have to operate in that arena." Hard dicks should have been kept strictly out of sight, under conference tables. But Graner turned the dirty business into his own pornographic fantasies; and what is worse, he recorded them on film, for all the world to see.

Lynndie England played a walk-on part in these fantasies. She loved Graner. She would have done anything he wanted. That was her tragedy. England was sentenced to three years in a military prison for maltreating detainees. "All I did was what I was told to do," she said, in the oldest defense of men and women landed with the dirty work. "I didn't make the war. I can't end the war. I mean, photographs can't just make or change a war."

Harman, too, acted out her fantasies, of being a forensic photographer, of recording death. As a result, she made the program public, and forced the president of the greatest power on earth to issue a public apology. As Morris says, in his interview: "Under a different set of circumstances, you could imagine Sabrina winning a Pulitzer Prize for photography." Instead, she was charged not only with dereliction of duty and maltreatment, but with destroying government property and "altering evidence," by removing the bandages from the dead man's eyes. She told Morris: "When he died, they cleaned him all up, and then stuck the bandages on. So it's not really altering evidence. They had already done that for me." Since her pictures revealed the truth of this statement, these particular charges were eventually dropped.

Both Morris's film and the book based on it by Gourevitch are devastating, even without going into detail about the complicity, or indeed responsibility, of top officials in the Bush administration. The photographs embarrassed the United States, to be sure. But for the US government, this embarrassment might have actually helped to keep far greater embarrassments from emerging into public view. Preoccupied by the pornography of Abu Ghraib, we have been distracted from the torturing and the killing that was never recorded on film and from finding out who the actual killers were. Moral condemnation of the bad apples turned out to be a highly useful alibi. By looking like a bunch of gloating thugs, "Chuck" Graner, Ivan Frederick, et al. made the law-yers, bureaucrats, and politicians who made, or rather unmade, the rules—William J. Haynes, Alberto Gonzales, David S. Addington, Jay Bybee, John Yoo, Douglas J. Feith, Donald Rumsfeld, and Dick Cheney—look almost respectable.

And Gilligan, by the way, was probably not the man anyone thought he was after all, but an innocent who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Just like up to 90 percent of the men and boys locked up in Abu Ghraib.

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[1] White House press conference, August 9, 2007.
[2] "Regarding the Torture of Others," The New York Times Magazine, May 23, 2004.

First OSU Ph.D. in Yiddish studies a trailblazer in field

First OSU Ph.D. in Yiddish studies a trailblazer in field
Jennifer Hambrick :: The New Standard :: Other Articles by this author
Posted: Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Colleen McCallum-BonarColleen McCallum-Bonar may be the first African-American ever to receive a Ph.D. in Yiddish literature when she marches in Ohio State University’s spring commencement this month. She believes she is the only African-American scholar currently active in Yiddish literature studies.

“I can count on one hand the other African-Americans doing Yiddish: none,” McCallum-Bonar said. “Maybe there are some others out there and maybe we just haven’t crossed paths, but I don’t know any.”

McCallum-Bonar, 41, is the first student to complete a Ph.D. in Yiddish and Ashkenazic studies in OSU’s Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures.

Her doctoral dissertation, “Black Ashkenaz and the Almost Promised Land: Yiddish Literature and the Harlem Renaissance,” compares the Yiddish-language poetry of Jewish immigrants to America and the poetry of African-American writers between 1915 and 1935.

“I looked at the different kinds of representations of African-Americans in Yiddish poetry, but also at what Harlem Renaissance authors were writing about Jews during the same time period,” McCallum-Bonar said.

Emily Budick, professor of American literature at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and author of “Blacks and Jews in Literary Conversation,” says McCallum-Bonar’s field of specialization is unique.

“I don’t know of anybody who’s talked about the connection of Yiddish literature and African-American literature,” Budick said. “American Jewish literature and African-American literature have been talked about together, but in the tradition of American Jewish writing, it’s been only recently that people have included Yiddish literature in the category of American Jewish writing.”

Many of the Yiddish language writings McCallum-Bonar researched expressed how European immigrants processed new experiences in a new land.

“They’re writing about their experiences in America, and that American experience includes African-Americans,” McCallum-Bonar said. “It makes sense that they would write about African-Americans because that would be part of their new experience in the New World.”
Yiddish-language and black writings McCullum is comparing emerged against the backdrop of early 20th-century Harlem, a place far more racially-diverse than many imagine Harlem to be today. According to the Jewish Communal Register, a census of the time, Harlem was home to 178,000 Jews in the 1920s. The Register calculated that the community to contained the third largest Jewish population in the world.

Some of the themes that recur in the Yiddish-language writings of authors of the period, such as Jacob Glatstein and Leivick Halpern, include the idea that African-Americans and Jews in America have a mutual understanding of their histories of oppression at the hands of a white majority.

“Authors say that blacks are our brothers in arms essentially, that we have this kind of shared experience in terms of being in the U.S., being poor in the U.S., being minorities in the U.S. and being mistreated in the U.S.,” McCallum-Bonar said.

Side-by-side black and Jewish writers in Harlem also grappled with how to live in a predominantly white society that viewed their minority group with suspicion. African-Americans, including Marcus Garvey, looked to Jews in America for a model to establish a self-sufficient black community, she said. At the same time, Jews saw how American-born blacks were treated by their white countrymen, and struggled to come to terms with the role of race in American life.

Race issues have, of course, by no means been eliminated from American culture. Although studying certain ethnic groups in America may shed light on their histories, Budick also warns that it runs the risk of further fragmenting American society.

“America consists of communities,” Budick said. “What the communities share and what they have to take on as an obligation is that they’re American communities. In the end, the bid for power that goes along with ethnic identification destroys the possibility of American identity, at a cost to the United States. I think the dominance of something called American culture on all of these communities is something that shouldn’t be dismissed as insignificant.”

McCallum-Bonar has felt all too plainly the racial divide that exists even today between the black and Jewish worlds. “You know the saying ‘Siz schwer tzu zein ein Yid?’—It’s difficult to be a Jew? It’s difficult to be a black woman studying Yiddish. There are people I’ve come across who look at me with suspicion, or will have absolutely nothing to do with me,” McCallum-Bonar said.

Though she says OSU’s Germanic Languages and Literatures department and Melton Center for Jewish Studies have given her “nothing but support,” McCallum-Bonar says she is often excluded from informal gatherings of Yiddishists at academic conferences and programs beyond Ohio State’s campus.

She says she first realized her “outsider” status while attending the Oxford Institute for Yiddish Studies in Oxford, England, one summer while completing her graduate work at Ohio State. A large group had been invited to have dinner, but she and other non-Jewish students had been excluded.

Usually, she says, her colleagues include her at events. But when they don’t, McCallum-Bonar suspects difficulties in negotiating cultural differences are to blame.

“Not being Jewish, and then being black on top of that, maybe it is too much of an oddity,” McCallum-Bonar said.

As an undergraduate at the University of California-Riverside, she studied German and Russian and became interested in Yiddish and Austrian dialect. McCallum-Bonar met Neil Jacobs, a Yiddish linguist at Ohio State, at a conference and came to Ohio State initially to work on Yiddish linguistics. She learned to read Yiddish at the Oxford Institute for Yiddish Studies the summer before starting her graduate work at OSU, where she fell in love with Yiddish language and literature poetry courses.

“I enjoy what I do, and I think that Yiddish literature is interesting,” McCallum-Bonar said.”If I didn’t enjoy it, I’d be gone because it hasn’t been the friendliest place.”

25 June 2008

A Conversation With Barack Obama

Sad reality: I am old enough to be listening to the same music as the Democratic Nominee for the Presidency of the United States. Not only that, but our tastes in music run toward the Dylanesque. Go figure. This is just shameless homering on my part: It's damn cool that the guy from Chicago made the cover of The Rolling Stone. Just because of that am I going to vote for Mr. Obama. Politics is the art of the possible.

Randy Shiner

A Conversation With Barack Obama

The Candidate Talks About The Youth Vote, What's On His iPod and His Top Three Priorities As President

Posted Jul 10, 2008 3:28 PM
Barack Obama: Audio From the Rolling Stone Cover Story
Barack Obama: The Stevie Wonder Geek Returns to the Cover of Rolling Stone
Photo Gallery: Barack Obama, a History in Pictures

Shortly after Barack Obama claimed victory in the fight for the Democratic nomination, I joined him aboard his chartered 757 campaign plane as a member of the press corps. He was flying from Chicago to Appleton, Wisconsin, for a town-hall meeting, one of a series he was doing in Midwestern and swing states to address constituencies he might have missed during the primaries — and, of course, to get some warm-up practice for any town-hall debates he has with John McCain.

The first thing I notice about the plane is how low-key it is, all coach seating from back (the press) to front (the candidate). There is no separate compartment for this potential president; he just holds down the second row for himself and his newspapers. There are no more than 10 staffers on the plane, and a dozen or more rows are empty, separating the senator from the Secret Service contingent and two dozen members of the traveling press corps. It's not a big day or a big event: The primaries are done, and none of the media big names are along.

So far in this campaign, despite their evident admiration, Obama has held the press at a respectful distance. The limit for our interview is going to be 50 minutes, which I think says a lot about him and his campaign. Most every other presidential candidate I've met and interviewed has tended to be gregarious, talkative almost to a fault, eager to please and eager to impress.

Obama, by contrast, is quiet, collected and effortlessly precise.

His calmness is reflected in the smooth and controlled campaign he is overseeing. In conversation, his thoughtfulness is punctuated by an easy wit, much as his clockwork campaign is a stage for his eloquence and charismatic gifts as a leader.

I am often asked, "What's he like?" If you really want to know, read Dreams From My Father.

It's all in there, and it's a wonderful piece of writing in its own right.
When we are done, his parting words are delivered with a dazzling smile: "OK, brother — take care."

You were endorsed by Bob Dylan a few days ago. What's that mean to you?I've got to say, having both Dylan and Bruce Springsteen say kind words about you is pretty remarkable. Those guys are icons.

Do you have any favorite Dylan songs?

I've got probably 30 Dylan songs on my iPod. I think I have the entire Blood on the Tracks album on there. Actually, one of my favorites during the political season is "Maggie's Farm." It speaks to me as I listen to some of the political rhetoric.

When did you begin to think you could or should be president? At what stage in your life did that idea first dawn on you?

I would distinguish between thinking that, in the abstract, I could make some better decisions being president than the current occupant, and believing that, in a very concrete way, being president was something I would pursue. I would say that it wasn't until I won my Senate primary and then went to the Democratic convention in 2004 that I had a sense that the message I was delivering might resonate with a broad cross section of the American people.

So it was that response at the Democratic convention that year?It wasn't just at the convention. We had gotten a pretty powerful response while I was running in the primary in Illinois. After I won, there was a real sense that people were eager to move beyond some of the old arguments.

Read the entire interview in the new issue of Rolling Stone, on stands June 20, 2008.

'Weeds' role grows on Albert Brooks


'Weeds' role grows on Albert Brooks
By Lynn Elber
The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES - Albert Brooks' mordant onscreen neuroticism has lifted his films and characters to comedic heights, with "Defending Your Life," "Lost in America" and his Oscar-nominated turn in "Broadcast News" among the prime examples.

But it's difficult to find evidence of personal torment during an interview prompted by Brooks' guest role on Showtime's "Weeds." He's relaxed, congenial and wears no furrowed brow, looking younger than any true worrywart has a right to.

"I'll be honest with you," said Brooks, 60, in that familiar, rhythmically whiny cadence that can presage a riff, or a meltdown. "I've always felt that the word 'neurotic' was really 'Jew.' ... It's a legal way of saying, 'That Jew over there.' "

He's on a roll: "I thought of it years ago, when someone said, 'You dirty neurotic. Get the hell out of here.' Then there was the sign at the Los Angeles Country Club: 'No neurotics allowed.' I knew what that meant."

Brooks, who is Jewish, is busting up now and it's impossible not to do the same. He's an ex-comic who still revels in leaving 'em laughing, even when he has an audience of one.

Brooks' reputation, as recently and lovingly detailed in "Comedy at the Edge," Richard Zoglin's book on groundbreaking 1970s comedians, is of a brilliant standup whose departure from the field left a void.

It's a talent Brooks acknowledges but one he pursued to get what he really wanted. Watch "Weeds," which features him in a four-episode arc Mondays at 10 p.m., and you see where his heart lies.

An actor, he said, "is all I wanted to be."

"Weeds" marks Brooks' first return to series TV since he made short films for the inaugural 1975-76 season of "Saturday Night Live," excepting a handful of voice-over turns on "The Simpsons." (He also had voice roles in "The Simpsons" movie and in "Finding Nemo.")

As Lenny Botwin, father-in-law of single mom and pot merchant Nancy (Mary-Louise Parker), Brooks is a key part of the drama's relocation from suburbia to the fictional Southern California border town of Ren Mar.

His work on "Weeds" was as satisfying as being in a fine independent film, Brooks said. He's a fan of the show's writing and the cast, especially Parker ("at the top of her game; everything she does is interesting") and Justin Kirk, who plays brother-in-law Andy Botwin.

And, he said, the role of the grizzled Lenny was a welcome change.

"He's not the part I normally play," he said. "He's a gambler, a guy who never made anything of his life and hates his son. He's a fusty curmudgeon. If you isolated the part and said, 'Is this going to be a movie, or on Showtime?' it doesn't matter because the part is great."

A Surprise Negotiation

A Surprise Negotiation

By David Ignatius

Wednesday, June 25, 2008; A13

What's going on between Syria and Israel? Are the indirect peace negotiations through Turkish mediators that were announced last month for real? I've been talking with sources on all sides, and they present an upbeat view of a peace process that has taken many people (including top Bush administration officials) by surprise.

As with any secret diplomatic initiative, this one is surrounded by mysteries and riddles. So I'll examine the Syria-Israel dialogue as a series of puzzles and offer my best guesses about what's happening:

(1) How did these negotiations begin?

The channel opened in the fall of 2006, just after the summer war in Lebanon that had made both Damascus and Tel Aviv nervous about the destabilizing role of Hezbollah, Iran's proxy in Lebanon. Syria proposed indirect "proximity" talks and insisted on Turkey, a rare friend of both countries, as intermediary.

For many months, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert wasn't sure he trusted the channel. The Bush administration was skeptical about whether the process would lead anywhere, but it didn't try to stop it. About a year ago, Olmert decided to test the Syrian track. He had strong encouragement from the Israeli defense establishment -- the defense minister, Ehud Barak; the army chief of staff, Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi; and Israeli military intelligence.

(2) What's in it for the two sides?

The Israeli military brass favored engagement with Syria because they didn't think the status quo in the region was sustainable. Lebanon had become a surrogate battleground between Israel and Iran, and the Israelis arguably had lost the first round. Meanwhile, the Syrians were increasing their arsenal of missiles and other weapons. The judgment in Tel Aviv was that Israel stood to lose strategically by letting things continue as they were.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad favored an opening to Israel to counter attempts by the United States, France and Saudi Arabia to isolate his country. Syrian confidence in the Turkish negotiating channel increased after Israel indicated informally that it was prepared to accept terms for return of the Golan Heights (and related issues, such as water rights) that had been reached in direct Syrian-Israeli negotiations during the 1990s.

(3) Can Syria be decoupled from Iran?

Israel's overriding goal has been to draw Syria away from its alliance with Iran. So far, the
Israelis see no sign that the peace talks have achieved this goal. Syria-watchers caution that this sort of decisive transfer of loyalties is unlikely. But eventually, Syria may move away from Iran (and toward Turkey) because the Baath regime in Damascus is secular to its core -- and mistrusts the religious fervor of the mullahs. The decoupling would be cultural and political, rather than a matter of security policy.

(4) Who assassinated Imad Mughniyah in Damascus in February?

The car bomb that killed Iran's key covert operative in Hezbollah is still echoing in the Middle East. Suspicion immediately focused on Israel. But on Feb. 27, a London-based newspaper called Al-Quds Al-Arabi, with very good sources in Damascus, alleged that several Arab nations had conspired with Mossad to assassinate Mughniyah.

Adding to the speculation are reports that shortly before his death, Mughniyah was attempting to heal a split within Hezbollah between the group's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, and its former leader, Subhi Tufaily. Tufaily's power base is the Bekaa Valley, which has lost influence in Hezbollah to Shiites from southern Lebanon. According to one Arab source, Mughniyah -- traveling under his longtime pseudonym, "Haj Ismail" -- paid a visit shortly before his death to Tufaily's village of Britel, just south of Baalbek.

Mughniyah usually traveled without bodyguards, believing that his protection was the surgical alteration of his features, which prevented even old friends from recognizing "Haj Ismail." For that reason, the Syrians insisted they weren't at fault. But a sign of tension was Tehran's announcement that a joint commission would investigate the killing, a statement that Damascus promptly denied.

(5) What about Syria's secret nuclear reactor, which was destroyed by the Israelis on Sept. 6, 2007?

Oddly enough, that attack on what CIA analysts called the "Enigma Building" may have helped the peace talks. The Israelis felt that their decisive action helped restore the credibility of their deterrence policy. The Syrians appreciated that Israeli and American silence allowed them time to cover their tracks. Finally, the fact that Assad kept the nuclear effort a secret, and that he managed the post-attack pressures, showed Israelis that he was truly master of his own house, and thus a plausible negotiating partner.
The writer is co-host ofPostGlobal, an online discussion of international issues. His e-mail address isdavidignatius@washpost.com.

More Phony Myths

June 25, 2008
Op-Ed Columnist
More Phony Myths

Karl Rove was impressed with Barack Obama when he first met him. But now he sees him as a “coolly arrogant” elitist.

This was Rove’s take on Obama to Republicans at the Capitol Hill Club Monday, according to Christianne Klein of ABC News:

“Even if you never met him, you know this guy. He’s the guy at the country club with the beautiful date, holding a martini and a cigarette that stands against the wall and makes snide comments about everyone who passes by.”

Actually, that sounds more like W.

The cheap populism is really rich coming from Karl Rove. When was the last time he kicked back with a corncob pipe to watch professional wrestling?

Rove is trying to spin his myths, as he used to do with such devastating effect, but it won’t work this time. The absurd spectacle of rich white conservatives trying to paint Obama as a watercress sandwich with the crust cut off seems ugly and fake.

Obama can be aloof and dismissive at times, and he’s certainly self-regarding, carrying the aura of the Ivy faculty club. But isn’t that better than the aura of the country clubs that tried to keep out blacks? It’s ironic, and maybe inevitable, that the first African-American nominee comes across as a prince of privilege. He is, as Leon Wieseltier of The New Republic wrote, not the seed but the flower of the civil rights movement.

Unlike W., Obama doesn’t have a chip on his shoulder and he doesn’t make a lot of snarky remarks. He tries to stay on a positive keel and see things from the other person’s point of view.

He’s not Richie Rich, saved time and again by Daddy’s influence and Daddy’s friends, the one who got waved into Yale and Harvard and cushy business deals, who drank too much and snickered at the intellectuals and gave them snide nicknames.

Obama is the outsider who never really knew his dad and who grew up in modest circumstances, the kid who had to work hard to charm whites and build a life with blacks and step up to the smarty-pants set.

He might be smoking, but it would be at a cafe, hunched over a New York Times, an Atlantic magazine, his MacBook and some organic fruit-flavored tea, listening to Bob Dylan’s “Blood on the Tracks” on his iPod.

Rove was doing a variation on the old William Buckley line: “I would rather be governed by the first 2,000 names in the Boston telephone book than by the 2,000 members of the Harvard faculty.”

Conservatives love playing this little game, acting as if the “elite” Democratic candidates are not in touch with people like themselves, even though the guys doing the attacking — like Rove, Limbaugh, O’Reilly and Hannity — are wealthy and cosseted.

Haven’t we had enough of this hypocritical comedy of people in the elite disowning their social status for political purposes? The Bushes had to move all the way to Texas from Greenwich to make their blue blood appear more red.

Everyone who ever became president was in the elite one way or another, including Andrew Jackson.

Rove and Co. are nervous because they see that Obama, in rejecting public financing, is not going to be a chump, like some past Democratic candidates.

For some of Obama’s critics, it’s a breathtaking bit of fungible principles, as though Gandhi suddenly donned a Dolce & Gabbana, or Dolce & Mahatma, loincloth.

But even as the Republicans limn him as John Kerry, as someone who is too haughty and too “foreign,” Obama is determined not to repeat what Kerry thinks was a big mistake: not having enough money to compete against the Republicans in 2004.

Charlie Black crassly argued in Fortune that a terrorist attack would “be a big advantage” for John McCain. And what’s scary is, Black is the smartest adviser McCain’s got.

It’s hard to believe that if Americans get attacked after all these years of getting strip-searched at the airport, they’re going to be filled with confidence at the performance of the Republicans on national security. And at least Obama wants to catch Osama and doesn’t think he’s getting his directions on war from “a higher Father.”

Rove’s mythmaking about Obama won’t fly. If he means that Obama has brains, what’s wrong with that? If he means that Obama is successful, what’s wrong with that? If he means that Obama has education and intellectual sophistication, what’s wrong with that?
Many of Obama’s traits are the traits that people in the population aspire to.

It looks as if Rove is on the verge of realizing his dream of creating a permanent position for the Republicans.

Unfortunately for him, it’s in the minority.