Archive for July, 2011

Love, Afghan style

What a terrible story about the romance between the two teenagers in Afghanistan. This is a slam-dunk for political asylum. In France, above all. If BHL leads the campaign, I’ll support him on it.

Read Full Post »

Ibish on Goldberg

Hussein Ibish, whose analyses I invariably find myself in complete agreement with, has a post on his blog defending Jeffrey Goldberg, whose analyses I often—though do not always—agree with. Ibish observes, among other things, that Goldberg is the subject of vitriolic hatred from both right-wing Zionists and the Palestinian amen corner. Likewise with Ibish himself. I’ve heard attacks on the two from friends whom I respect and have never understand them. They strike me as visceral and not entirely rational. (In Goldberg’s case, I suppose that if I had read him during the Iraq invasion, which he supported, that he would be on my sh*t list, but I didn’t know him back then, so don’t care). In any case, all I can say is that if someone gets it from both aforementioned camps on the toxic Israeli-Palestinian issue, he or she must be doing something right.

Read Full Post »

Last week I posted a piece (via Paul Krugman’s blog) by Bruce Bartlett—a moderate Republican—on President Obama’s negotiating style, which Bartlett correctly sees as being weak. Bartlett contrasted Obama with presidents who had to deal with the American labor movement in its heyday, which was a redoubtable force at the negotiating table. À propos—and as I have learned—, the recent agreement ending the National Football League labor dispute turned out to be a big victory for the NFL players union. I didn’t follow the details of it that closely but I don’t think this is how it was reported in the mainstream media. But as Dave Zirin, sports correspondent of The Nation—and who thus knows of what he speaks—tells us here, the NFL players won a “remarkable victory.” Cool.

Okay, NFL players, with their seven figure salaries, may not exactly be les damnés de la terre. Then again, with the brain and other traumas they suffer after their careers are over, maybe they are. This piece from TNR discusses the labor agreement in the context of the players’ health issues (à propos, I remember Dave Duerson from the great Chicago Bears team of the mid-80s).

On the subject of labor unions, a week ago my wife and I watched the 1979 movie ‘Norma Rae‘, which I had a seen a couple of times but way back then. It’s held up as a film, though does indeed depict a bygone era. An era before Barack Obama came of age politically.

As for the title of this post, listen here.

Read Full Post »

[update below]

For those who don’t see the New York Review of Books, Elizabeth Drew has a piece (dated July 19) in the latest issue entitled “What were they thinking?,” on the political strategy of the Obama White House since the 2010 midterm elections, and particularly in its dealings with the congressional GOP. Personally, I would really like to know WTF Obama is thinking. Deep down. Drew’s article is so dismaying. E.g., on Obama’s negotiating strategy during the congressional debate in April to avoid a government shutdown, she writes

Boehner hadn’t realized at first that he’d have so many Republican defectors—fifty-four—who voted against the continuing resolution he’d negotiated with Obama in early April, on the ground that it didn’t cut spending enough, though Boehner had, in effect, taken Obama to the cleaners. This established in both Democrats’ and Republicans’ minds the thought that Obama was a weak negotiator—a “pushover.” He was more widely seen among Democrats and other close observers as having a strategy of starting near where he thinks the Republicans are—at the fifty-yard line—and then moving closer to their position.

I posted an item the other day by Bruce Bartlett (via Paul Krugman) on Obama’s weak negotiating style. There seems to be a consensus forming on this. But that’s not the worst of it. Drew continues

The question arises, aside from Obama’s chronically allowing the Republicans to define the agenda and even the terminology (the pejorative word “Obamacare” is now even used by news broadcasters), why did he so definitively place himself on the side of the deficit reducers at a time when growth and job creation were by far the country’s most urgent needs?

It all goes back to the “shellacking” Obama took in the 2010 elections. The President’s political advisers studied the numbers and concluded that the voters wanted the government to spend less. This was an arguable interpretation. Nevertheless, the political advisers believed that elections are decided by middle-of-the-road independent voters, and this group became the target for determining the policies of the next two years.

That explains a lot about the course the President has been taking this year. The political team’s reading of these voters was that to them, a dollar spent by government to create a job is a dollar wasted. The only thing that carries weight with such swing voters, they decided—in another arguable proposition—is cutting spending. Moreover, like Democrats—and very unlike Republicans—these voters do not consider “compromise” a dirty word.

This is just such bullcrap. In regard to the 2010 midterms and the supposed “shellacking,” there are only two sets of numbers that are of real interest. The first is the total number of votes the candidates received in the 2008 presidential election. Obama got 69.5 million, McCain a shade under 60 million. No one would have ever predicted such a number for a Democratic candidate (which was 10 million more than John Kerry in ’04). Obama’s margin of victory was due, of course, to an exceptional mobilization of the Democratic base—actual and potential—, and particularly black voters, who, for the first time in American history, voted in proportionally equal numbers to white voters.

The second set of numbers is the vote totals in the 2010 midterms: 44.5 million for Republican candidates, 38.9 million for Democrats. The “shellacking” the GOP administered to Obama occurred with it receiving 15 million fewer votes than its presidential candidate two years earlier. What was noteworthy in 2010 was the exceptional demobilization of a demoralized Democratic base. Of course we know that there is always a falloff in midterm elections, but it was significant for the Dems in 2010, who received 3 million fewer votes than in the 2006 midterms (whereas the fired up Republicans improved on their ’06 figure by 9 million). So how Obama and his political advisers could possibly think that the way to go politically was not only not to remobilize the Democratic base but to ignore it altogether is beyond me.

Obama hasn’t lost me (yet). He could still save the day by vetoing an inevitably awful bill that Congress may vote on the debt ceiling, letting the default happen, invoke the 14th amendment, and then dare the House and/or Supreme Court to do something about it. In other words, show some cojones. I’m not getting my hopes up but you never know…

UPDATE: The deal is a disaster, of course. A catastrophe, calamity, capitulation to the Tea Party, etc, etc. Instead of linking to a whole slew of commentaries (Krugman, TNR, et al) that everyone has read by now, I offer just this one, by Robert Kuttner, “A Disgraceful Deal.” The money quote

Obama turns his back on his own party’s principles and then expects a docile party to do his bidding. House Democrats are now expected to provide something like a hundred votes to get this appalling deal approved. It would be far better for them to vote down the deal and force the president to turn to the 14th Amendment to honor the debt of the United States, which he should have done all along.

Will the congressional Dems follow this wise advice? Dream on.

Read Full Post »

This is hilarious. The follow-up too.

Read Full Post »

[update below] [2nd update below]

Paul Krugman links to an article on his blog by Bruce Bartlett for those who didn’t see it, so I’m linking in turn to Krugman for those who didn’t see him. Bartlett writes about “Obama’s effective conservatism.” I originally thought of Obama as a milquetoast liberal, though with possible progressive impulses. Now I think he’s a squishy centrist. But Bartlett, who is a moderate Republican (a dying breed), does in principle know how to recognize one of his own…

And to think that there are rightwingers out there—and with Harvard Ph.D.s to boot—who have written whole books on Obama being a socialist… 😀

UPDATE: A friend, who often has good insights into these matters, wrote the following in response to the post: “Obama is not that enigmatic. Obama is a center-left Democrat on the socio-economic role of state issues and a liberal on social issues. He is a kind of J.S. Mill rationalist who, at times, foolishly believes that his opponents mean [well] and can transcend their deep ideological convictions. That view is, in part, drive by his narcissistic conception of his own transcendence. Krugman does not take into account the degree of opposition Obama has to deal with!”

2nd UPDATE: On his NYT blog Krugman links to another piece by Bruce Bartlett, this one on Obama’s weak negotiating style. Bartlett chalks this up to Obama’s youth and inexperience, and notably to the fact that he did not come of age during a period when American presidents had to deal with two redoubtably tough negotiators, the Soviet Union and Big Labor. Bartlett observes that

One reason why Ronald Reagan was such a successful president is that he had been president of the Screen Actors Guild, the labor union for movie actors. Not only did this mean that he was the primary negotiator on labor contracts with the studios, but he was also deeply involved in opposing a serious effort by communists to infiltrate Hollywood and take control of its unions after the war.

Interesting perspective and worth reading.

Read Full Post »

I just have to post this item from Paul Krugman’s blog, on the vanishing US-EU employment gap. I know that the workforce participation rate in the US has been dropping over the past decade but I’ve had it in my mind that it was still higher than the EU average. But it’s not. Amazing.

Read Full Post »

Le Tour de France…

…à côté de chez moi. Cinq minutes à pied. A five minute walk from my place.

La caravane publicitaire arrive (vers 13h30).  The advertizing caravan arrives (toward 1:30 pm).

En attendant les coureurs (ils devaient passer vers 15h15). Waiting for the cyclists (who were supposed to (more…)

Read Full Post »

[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below] [4th update below] [5th update below] [6th update below] [7th update below] [8th update below]

In regard to the Oslo massacre and the psychopath who committed it, a friend wrote the following on Facebook this morning

This description of the worldview of the Norwegian terrorist aligns perfectly with the worldview of the tea party and other extremist militant Republicans: “The police identified him as a right-wing fundamentalist Christian, while acquaintances described him as a gun-loving Norwegian obsessed with what he saw as the threats of multiculturalism and Muslim immigration.”

A quick, though hardly exhaustive, search of the web sites of major US hard rightwing blowhards (Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter) shows nothing so far on the massacre. Radio silence. But what happened in Oslo will in no way undermine the Tea Party world-view. Au contraire, it will no doubt reinforce it. This is likely to be their response: (1) Norway has strict gun control laws but Anders Behring Breivik still obtained his guns. Ergo, liberty-killing gun control laws do not work. When guns are outlawed, only the outlaws will have guns. (2) Following from this, if those summer campers had all been armed, then the massacre would have never happened. Ergo, laws should be enacted obliging citizens not only to own a firearm but to carry it on them at all times. As for teenagers, if they can obtain drivers licenses and legally have sex at 16, why shouldn’t they be allowed to carry guns too? (3) Mr. Breivik was exasperated by Muslim immigration in Europe. The poor man was pushed over the edge by all those Muzlims and mosques in his midst. Ergo, if Muslim immigration had been stopped before it started and mosque construction banned—and why not Islam too while we’re at it?—, then the massacre would have never happened. Logical, no? (4) Following in this vein, Norway is a socialist country and with an elaborate liberty-killing welfare state. This also quite certainly caused Mr. Breivik to snap. Okay, we don’t approve of what he did but still. Ram socialism down people’s throats and bad stuff can happen. Socialism can cause massacres. Obviously. And you remember how Sweden has the highest suicide rate in the world? You see, socialism not only causes people to kill others but to kill themselves as well! Ergo, keep socialists out of power, get rid of welfare states, and normally upstanding, right-thinking conservatives like Mr. Breivik will not go crazy. And we will have fewer suicides to boot. (5) We note that Mr. Breivik, in massacring those young socialist campers, decapitated Norway’s future socialist elite. His act was of course regrettable. We do not condone it. Then again, what an interesting idea! Hmmm…

This will be the Tea Party GOP narrative, I guarantee it. As Tea Partiers live in an alternate reality, nothing, absolutely nothing, will shake their world-view one iota. While I’m thinking of it, one Tea Partier I know has reminded me (via email), when railing on against Obama and the Democrats, that “we are armed” (the “we” being Americans of his persuasion, who are the majority so he is convinced). He delights in recounting stories of his Glock pistol, no doubt thinking that I’ll be shocked, horrified, and indignant. Nah, it just confirms to me that he’s a nut. Now I think he may be dangerous too. Well, maybe not him personally—he is a good family man and has his law practice to think about—but his political-ideological milieu. It just takes one, après tout.

UPDATE: Roger Cohen, whom I’ve skewered on more than one occasion, has a good commentary on Anders Breivik and “his enablers,” on how his world-view overrlaps with the European-North American populist hard right. Maybe Cohen was inspired by my post 🙂

2nd UPDATE: And then there’s this by Patrick Buchanan, who says that Anders Breivik may be evil but “may be right,” in his world-view if not in his acts.

3rd UPDATE: Glenn Beck, for his part, compares the massacred Labor Party campers to Hitler Youth.

4th UPDATE: Anne Applebaum, who is hardly a leftist, links the world-view of Anders Breivik with that of rightwing “illegitimists.”

5th UPDATE: From Al Jazeera English: Islamophobes distance themselves from Breivik.

6th UPDATE: NYT reporter/blogger Timothy Egan has a post on “A Madman and His Manifesto,” where he mentions, among other things, Glenn Beck’s web site The Blaze. As it happens, this post was linked to on The Blaze—which I hadn’t heard of and didn’t know was linked to Beck—on Tuesday. So that explains the exceptionally high number of hits on this post, not to mention some of the crazy Tea Partyish comments I got (a few of which were so crazy I had to trash them).

7th UPDATE: And there’s this op-ed by two Norwegian contributors on “A Blogosphere of Bigots.”

8th UPDATE: Now we learn that Anders Breivik purchased high-capacity gun clips from the US. But as the NRA will no doubt remind us, guns don’t kill people, people kill people…

Read Full Post »

Meek’s Cutoff

Saw this at a Saturday matinée near the Place de la Bastille. An indy Western but more than that (and not really a Western). It’s a very good film. Quoting one critic

Insisting on nothing, ‘Meek’s Cutoff’ operates on faith in our concern for understated yet complex issues of trust, fear, empathy, ignorance versus evil, the mystery of authority and the role of The Other in an encounter between civilizations.

Couldn’t have said it better myself. Sortie en France sous le titre ‘La Dernière Piste‘. Trailer is here.

UPDATE: For those who have seen the movie, here’s an informative piece on “What’s the Native American Man Saying in ‘Meek’s Cutoff’?”

Read Full Post »

I’ve hardly seen anything on this in English—and not much in French either—but Tunisia’s Higher Political Reform Commission, led by the eminent jurist Yadh Ben Achour—I saw him speak in early May; he was very impressive—, approved the country’s Republican Pact in late June, which will serve as the basis of Tunisia’s future constitution (to be drafted by the constituent assembly that will ensue from the election on October 24th). It has some worthy provisions, notably on “the separation between the political and religious domains” and the “preservation of the acquis of Tunisian women” (which presumably refers to the 1956 personal status code, by far the most progressive in the Arab world). But there’s one stipulation in the pact that stands out and that has been highlighted in every news article I’ve seen on the subject, that “refuses any form of normalization with the Zionist entity” (i.e. Israel). I first heard about this the week before the pact was concluded, from Tunisian intellectuals Abdelwahab Meddeb and Najet Mizouni, who thought it totally scandalous that such nonsense could even be raised at a round-table negotiation on the principles of Tunisia’s future constitution. The stipulation was put forward, so I was told, by Al-Nahda, Arab nationalists, and elements of the extreme left (though not Hamma Hammami’s PCOT), and who were insisting on it. The response of Yadh Ben Achour and others on the Commission was a categorial no, which was apparently the main reason Al-Nahda walked out of the Commission’s deliberations on the pact. It is apparent that in order to get Al-Nahda and the others back to the table and win their agreement, Ben Achour et al ceded on this.

The issue is mainly symbolic, of course, as there is no chance that Tunisia will establish diplomatic relations with Israel before a final peace agreement with the Palestinians is concluded, and which won’t happen anytime soon (though there was an Israeli liaison office in Tunis from the Oslo accords to the second Intifada, there were contacts between the two countries, and Israelis can and do visit Tunisia). The symbolism is terrible, however. For Tunisia to insert such an archaic Arab nationalist provision—and contemporary Islamist one—in its constitution is a big regression. It is a signal that Tunisia—which has been solidly in the Western camp since independence in 1956—is symbolically reorienting itself away from Europe and the US. Apart from the fact that such a provision has no business figuring in a constitution in the first place, what will the practical consequences of it be, notably on the relationship with the large Tunisian Jewish community in France, which maintains close ties with Tunisia? Many Franco-Tunisian Jews own property in Tunisia and/or visit the country during the summer months. If this provision makes it into the constitution, it could have a chilling effect on the relationship not only with French Jews but also larger sectors of the French political class and intelligentsia. And, of course, what will be the reaction of the US Congress when it gets wind of this? Having such rubbish in its constitution is really not in Tunisia’s interest, certainly not at this stage in its history. Tunisia needs the good will of the West. (For tiersmondistes out there: sorry, that’s just the way it is). Gentle, behind-the-scenes pressure should be put on the Tunisians to get rid of the stipulation against normalization (lā lil-taṭbiya‘) with Israel. If Rached Ghannouchi & Co gain the upper hand in the upcoming elections, good luck.

On this question and the Republican Pact more generally, Abdelwahab Meddeb and other Tunisian intellectuals launched a petition earlier this month, “For civil responsibility” (no English translation available yet). It’s an important declaration and deserves to be supported.

Pour la responsabilité civile

Depuis la révolution du 14 janvier la Tunisie est à la croisée des chemins. Maintenant elle est sur le point de choisir la voie qui déterminera son futur. Aussi sommes – nous amenés à alerter l’opinion citoyenne sur les menaces qui risquent de ruiner cet avenir. C’est dans la vie de tous les jours que nous avons été confrontés à des atteintes à la liberté dans tous les domaines. Des fanatiques et des obscurantistes usurpant l’islam ont visé la liberté de culte en manifestant contre la synagogue de Tunis. Ils ont bafoué la liberté d’être en prenant pour cible les signes de la sécularisation des mœurs  (tenue vestimentaire en ville et sur les plages, mixité dans les lieux publics, interdiction de visite pour des mosquées intégrées au circuit touristique, espaces de loisir qui va jusqu’aux maisons familiales où la consommation des boissons alcoolisées est pratiquée). Ces militants de l’extrême s’en sont pris à la liberté de création en saccageant une salle de cinéma projetant le film d’une cinéaste qui a le droit d’être iconoclaste. Ils malmènent la liberté d’opinion en menaçant de mort ceux qui portent un regard désenchanté sur la tradition religieuse. Plus grave encore, ces mêmes séditieux nient la nation tunisienne en rejetant le drapeau qui la symbolise pour lui préférer l’étendard qui détourne la profession de foi à des fins idéologiques totalitaires. Bref nous recensons en cette liste de méfaits tous les indices tendant au rétablissement de la hisba, cette police des mœurs dont le retour constituerait une régression funeste pour une Tunisie qui, au delà de sa modernisation, l’a ignoré depuis des siècles. Nous refusons cette violence qui entame l’intégrité du corps,  le libre  choix de l’individu et la liberté de conscience.  Si nous laissons faire  viendra le moment où sera contesté l’acquis historique des femmes et l’égalité citoyenne qui ne souffre aucune discrimination de genre, d’ethnie ou de croyance.

Face à cette situation dégradée et aux incertitudes qu’elle suscite, il est impératif de ne pas perdre de vue les principes de la vie démocratique. Nul doute est-ce à la Haute Instance de jouer le rôle d’éveilleur. Or les derniers documents qui en ont émané laissent entrevoir des ambiguïtés qui entravent l’allée vers la démocratie. Nous savons que l’un des ressorts de la politique est la négociation qui concilie des points de vue divergents. Mais le compromis est irrecevable s’il aboutit à l’abdication des principes.

De telles ambiguïtés qui encouragent les dérives apparaissent dans le Pacte Républicain. Pourquoi ses rédacteurs ont-ils associé aux deux fléaux que sont le despotisme et la corruption, l’alignement sur l’Occident ? Par cette expression nous rendons explicite la notion de taba‘iyya. Telle explicitation montre à quel point cette notion engage un anti-occidentalisme stérile. Car tous les non-Occidentaux savent que leur désir démocratique est inspiré par les Lumières européennes qui n’appartiennent plus à l’Occident mais à l’humanité entière. Ceux qui ne le reconnaissent  pas s’égarent dans le labyrinthe des alibis identitaires. Aussi n’est-il pas étonnant que dans la foulée de cet anti-occidentalisme est évoquée l’identité du peuple surajoutée à celle de l’État. Cette identité est présentée d’une manière exclusive, unidimensionnelle, enfermée dans une structure close se suffisant à elle-même. Elle abolit la diversité et amoindrit le rapport à l’autre. Le contour d’une telle identité ne peut qu’encourager la manipulation. Cette  mention n’a pas sa raison d’être car l’identité du peuple n’a pas à être l’objet d’un texte prescriptif. C’est pourquoi nous n’en décelons la présence ni dans le Pacte de 1857, ni dans la Constitution de 1959. Sa mention dans le présent document est le signe d’un compromis idéologique qui dévoie le caractère principiel du texte.

Et le même fil idéologique est tiré lorsque les rédacteurs du Pacte  recommandent le refus de «  la normalisation avec l’entité sioniste » (tatbî‘i). Cette évocation confirme le culte de la pureté identitaire qui mobilise en sa faveur un langage et un lexique inopérants, intempestifs et obsolètes. Cela remet dans notre mémoire le temps où l’idéologie nationaliste arabe a dominé la vision politique au prix des pires défaites. Voilà un des errements qu’apporte la substitution du conjoncturel au principiel. Pour avoir la portée d’un Pacte, ce texte devrait se concentrer sur les seuls principes politiques et sociaux essentiels pour notre temps et pour les générations futures. Il n’a pas à s’attacher à l’accidentel s’il ambitionne la pérennité.

Ces éléments du Pacte procèdent de la maladie de l’identité et de ses chimères qui figent l’action et voilent le jugement. Elles occultent au nom de l’origine arabo-islamique la diversité de la mémoire nationale qui compte en son sein les apports de la berbérité, de Carthage, de la latinité, de la judéité, de la négritude. Sachez que sur notre territoire veillent ensemble les ombres tutélaires d’Augustin et d’Ibn Khaldûn.

Dans un autre communiqué la Haute Instance renforce aussi les tabous autour de l’adhésion religieuse, elle leur donne un statut sacré, intouchable (muqadassât). De ce fait, elle limite la capacité d’intervention de la nécessaire pensée critique, gage et condition du processus de modernisation et de démocratisation.

Nous savons que durant cette période transitoire nous vivons un moment de fragilité politique et institutionnelle. Néanmoins nous appelons les autorités de l’État à agir pour que notre lendemain ne soit pas compromis. Et nous appelons tous les démocrates à la vigilance citoyenne afin de raffermir la paix sociale.

Tunis, le 3 juillet 2011

Ce texte reste ouvert à la signature.

Premiers signataires :

Abdelwahab Meddeb

Ali Mezghani

Fadhel Jaziri

Hammadi Redissi

Faouzia Charfi

Khadija Cherif

Sophie Bessis

Tahar Bekri

Sélam Hajri

Read Full Post »

No state, no taxes, guns galore. See for yourself here. Send the congressional GOP there. Grover Norquist too.

Read Full Post »

Schadenfreude so thick…

Joe Nocera has a great column in today’s NY Times on the schadenfreude so many are feeling at the sight of Rupert Murdoch and his evil media empire in the hot seat. This is one instance where I delight in the misfortune of others. Let’s hope Murdoch and his minions are hauled before a court of law and convicted for their evil deeds. I wouldn’t want to see them waterboarded in the process, or spend the rest of their days in a supermax prison (though the Murdoch media has certainly supported the practice or existence of both). But any punishment short of that will be fine by me. I will drink a toast to it.

Read Full Post »


Ce film ne me disait rien et je n’avais pas l’intention de le voir, mais puisqu’il se joue au cinéma municipal près de chez moi, et a eu de bonnes critiques en France et aux USA, je me suis dit, bon, pourquoi pas ? J’ai bien fait. C’est un très beau film, et émouvant. Je l’ai beaucoup aimé. Et Mélanie Laurent—la Française en Amérique—est ravissante.

I wasn’t going to see this film, which didn’t seem interesting based on the trailers, but as it’s playing at my local theater and has received good reviews, I decided what the hell. No regrets. It’s a wonderful film and very moving. I really liked it.

Read Full Post »

Arab archives

There’s an op-ed in Haaretz by Emanuele Ottolenghi entitled “Let truth spring forth,” where Arab democrats are called upon to “begin the process of dispelling myths by lifting censorship and opening their state archives.” Ottolenghi—a right-wing think tank type I hadn’t heard of before—argues that

Hoping to deflect criticism, for decades, [Arab regimes] fed lies and distortions to their public, demonizing enemies – Israel, in particular – in order to hide their failures and avoid taking responsibility.

The Arab Spring now offers a chance to set the record straight. Insofar as the upheavals now shaking the Middle East and North Africa are genuinely democratic revolutions, they can illuminate a dark past. Arab governments had no interest in opening their archives to public scrutiny even to sympathetic researchers – for they knew that there was much to lose in revealing truth to a public so accustomed to their lies.

Here’s a challenge, then, for the forces of change in the Arab world: Open the archives and let truth spring forth.

Continuing in this vein and rubbishing Israeli “new historians” (Ilan Pappé et al) while he’s at it, Ottolenghi backhandedly contrasts Israel—whose “previously classified documents in [its] state archives” are now open and which have enabled the offending historians to speciously buttress their arguments—with Arab states, whose state archives remain closed, or so he says.

The notion that Arab state archives—notably on the 1948 war—remain closed to historians has been around for years. I’ve read it countless times by supporters of Israel. I have a question for Mr. Ottolenghi and others who make this assertion: Is this true? Are Arab state archives—and official documents pertaining to the 1948 war in particular—really closed? Do you know this for a fact? More to the point, have you, Mr. Ottolenghi, or anyone else making this assertion actually tried to do archival research in Cairo, Damascus, Amman, or Beirut and been rebuffed, found doors closed, and/or gotten nowhere?

In his op-ed Ottolenghi makes reference to historian Jeffrey Herf’s recent book Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World. The book, which I haven’t yet read (I’m sure it’s most interesting), is based on archival material in Germany (as Herf doesn’t know Arabic, I rather doubt he even tried to access state archives in the Arab world). Germany, like all Western states, has laws on the classification and declassification of official documents. The laws of some states are more restrictive than others (e.g. France is relatively restrictive, the UK and US are more liberal). To my knowledge Arab states do not have specific laws or decrees on the question. Official documents are off limits. Except when they’re not. And many are in fact accessible to researchers.

A number of years ago I read something on this by Robert Satloff—who is not exactly an anti-Zionist—, who recounted his experience in conducting archival research in Jordan. He wrote that he had no problem finding what he was looking for, that much was available, and that the staff at the national archives in Amman was most helpful (I seem to remember Satloff writing this in the context of a polemic with Benny Morris, who doesn’t work with Arabic documents). Friends who have done research in Cairo and Damascus have told similar stories. In my own experience in Algeria, I can say that when one tries to gain access to documentation in places necessitating prior authorization for entry, the default answer is no, except when one does in fact have that authorization: which is to say, that when one knows what one is looking for, has the proper institutional affiliation and with a letter of introduction on official letterhead (with all the stamps and seals), and possesses the necessary linguistic skills, that the doors will open. And once one is in the door, one will have access to all sorts of invaluable material. The staff will invariably be courteous and helpful, and give you what you ask for if it’s available, as you have authorization to be there. Their rear ends are covered and that’s all that matters to them. In fact, I’ve penetrated the heart of the Algerian Ministry of Interior with no authorization at all—just by talking my way in—and obtained data no other academician or journalist has ever laid eyes on. These regimes may be authoritarian but they’re not always efficient, even in surveillance and repression, and whatever laws and decrees may exist—if they’re even understood by state agents—are often honored in the breach.

And there’s something else. Often the documents or archives one is looking for are not available, because no one knows where they are. They may not have been archived at all. They may be in an unlabeled folder in a room or basement somewhere, piled helter-skelter to the ceiling in a mountain of paper just tossed in there, yellowed, collecting mold, or water damaged. Who knows? You’re dealing with Third World countries here, remember, whose archives and documentation centers have not always been staffed by people with degrees in library science.

In any case, the next time Mr. Ottolenghi or someone else of his bent writes about closed Arab state archives, I will ask them to either back up their assertions with concrete evidence or to just STFU drop it.

Read Full Post »

Haro sur Rupert Murdoch !

[updates below]

i.e. down with Rupert Murdoch! Off with his head! Terminate him with extreme prejudice! I already posted on the SOB the other day and am recidivating, now that I read that the rats are jumping ship some of his top executives have resigned on account of the hacking scandal. According to the NY Times, “Mr. Murdoch has become an increasingly isolated figure, not only in Britain but within his own company.” Let’s hope he becomes so in the US as well. If he does, you’re not likely to read about it on the Weekly Standard web site, which is maintaining radio silence on the affair. Wouldn’t it be nice if the unspeakable William Kristol jumped overboard as well? And all of Fox News? In addition to the news reports today’s NYT also has a column on the affair by Joe Nocera—who I guess has the libertarian slot on the paper’s op-ed page—, where he writes about how the Wall Street Journal “has been Fox-ified” under Murdoch’s ownership. Nocera says he didn’t think this would happen when Murdoch bought the paper but admits he was dead wrong and offers his mea culpa. Good for him.

On the subject of NYT columns on Rupert Murdoch, Roger Cohen had one the other day, entitled “In Defense of Murdoch.” It’s a doozy. Cohen thus begins with a

Fair warning: This column is a defense of Rupert Murdoch. If you add everything up, he’s been good for newspapers over the past several decades, keeping them alive and vigorous and noisy and relevant. Without him, the British newspaper industry might have disappeared entirely.

This has to be the biggest bucket of bullcrap I’ve read in a week. Is Cohen seriously suggesting that the British press, which has long had one of the largest readerships in the world—in the pre-Internet era (and also the pre-Murdoch one) several London dailies had circulation figures into the millions (rivaling only Japan on this score)—, would have vanished? That there would be hardly any newspapers left in Britain? That Fleet Street would be no more? How can he make such an asinine statement? But let’s be clear. If rags like The Sun, Daily Express, and Daily Star were to disappear, it would be no loss for anyone apart from the employees of the said rags. How would the British press, or the nations of the United Kingdom itself, be poorer as a result? And how, pray, did Murdoch alter the fortunes of the so-called serious press for the better? If Murdoch had never existed the Financial Times, Telegraph, Guardian, Independent, and even The Times would be doing just fine, or at least no worse than they are now.

Cohen made another assertion that got me going

[Murdoch’s] love of no-holds-barred journalism is one reason Britain’s press is one of the most aggressive anywhere.

Aggressive in what respect? Revealing the sex lives of football stars? Offering breathtaking scoops of Prince Harry’s latest girlfriend? Forgetting about the tabloids and focusing only on the so-called serious (ex-)broadsheets, let me make an assertion: British newspapers are terrible. The FT is okay but the others are crap. And I mean all of them: Telegraph, Guardian, Independent, Times. Even in their heyday these papers could not hold a candle to the great American dailies in their heyday (NY Times, Washington Post, LA Times, the many fine regional papers). Not a single British broadsheet could claim to be a “newspaper of record” à la NY Times, Le Monde in France, FAZ in Germany, or El País in Spain. Some of the best known British reporters would not find employment with an American daily, not if they continued to write the way they do. E.g. Robert Fisk, who may have an intimate knowledge of the Middle East but is simply too partial in his reporting and too freely gives vent to his emotions. His dispatches would never get by the editor of an American daily (or a French one for that matter). The reportages of a journalist like Fisk more properly belong in an outlet like The Nation, a magazine of opinion with a well-known point of view. And then there’s the agit-prop of John Pilger, who still makes it on to the news pages of The Guardian. Lest one think I’m singling out leftists here, there have also been prominent journalists of the right, e.g. Brian Crozier and Robert Moss, whose articles—reflecting their political parti pris—were regularly published on the news pages of The Times and The Telegraph. Again, this could not happen in an American daily worthy of the name (which excludes, e.g., the Washington Times, NY Post et al).

But worse than this is the trashy reporting that makes it on to “serious” British dailies. To give a single representative example, in the late ’90s-early ’00s there were feature articles—presented as scoops—in The Observer and—if my memory serves me right—The Independent of massacres committed by the Algerian army during the nasty Islamist insurgency/Algerian state counter-insurgency in that country, as well as of heinous acts of the Algerian security services. The sources for these articles were single defectors from the Algerian military or security services and whose veritable identities were not revealed. There was no corroboration. The accounts were simply presented as fact, or meant to be taken as such. Needless to say, these articles would not have passed muster with an American editor (and if they had—editorial breakdowns do occur—, a major stink would have been made of it sooner or later, as was, e.g., the case with Judith Miller’s reporting on fictitious Iraqi WMD in 2002-03). In the late ’90s Le Monde published a similar type scoop on Algeria based on a single army defector. The paper quickly issued a retraction. One of Le Monde’s journalists told me at the time that the article had inexplicably been published without going through the usual editorial filters and that it had been an embarrassment for the paper. But in Britain? Nah, no problem.

Back to Roger Cohen, he concludes his defense of Murdoch with this

The guy’s a force of nature and his restless innovations have, on balance and with caveats, been good for the media and a more open world.

A more open world? Oy vey. No comment.

UPDATE: Oh my, even Larry Flynt thinks Rupert Murdoch went too far.

2nd UPDATE: The Economist has a piece on “Life in the global gutter: The popular press: Tabloids are a phenomenon worldwide, but they come in different varieties,” and which has this subtle put down of the snooty elitist French

The French press has always catered to elites, notes Olivier Fleurot, former chief executive of the Financial Times Group: Le Figaro is for the wealthy, Libération for the cultured left, Le Monde for intellectuals. “They have not properly understood what a mass audience wants to see in a newspaper.”

The three national dailies cited do indeed cater to “elites” but also to anyone with an interest in public affairs and who presumably went to university. (e.g. people like myself, and if I’m a member of an elite no one has yet told me about it; à propos, does The Economist—or Financial Times, Times of London, NY Times, Wall Street Journal, and the like—have any regular readers—any at all?—who did not continue their education after high school?). But in addition to these “elitist” Parisian papers there is also Le Parisien (and its national edition Aujourd’hui en France), which caters to the popular classes (and while in a tabloid format it is a big cut above its London counterparts quality-wise; it’s not a bad paper for what it is). There is also the once-venerable France-Soir, which has gone way downmarket but mysteriously still survives. And then there’s the regional press, which is read by all social classes in the French heartland.

On the subject of the (overrated) Economist, I am reminded of a fine article by Andrew Sullivan from 1999, on “Why Americans go soft in the head for The Economist.” Check it out here.

Read Full Post »

[update below]

Eva Joly, Europe Écologie-Les Verts‘ presidential candidate contre toute attente, says she would like to abolish the Bastille Day military parade on the Champs-Élysées, replacing it with

a citizens’ parade where we would see school children, students, and also senior citizens marching in the happiness of being together, of celebrating the values that unite us… [my translation]

Is there an emoticon for moaning, groaning, and rolling one’s eyes? I happen to like the Bastille Day military parade, as I posted earlier today. Mme Joly just lost my vote, not that she had it in the first place. I admired her during her magistrate days in the ’90s, when she went after some of the big time corruption in French politics (Elf-Aquitaine, Bernard Tapie), but she’s a bit out of her depth in the political realm. Une erreur de casting (though no more so than Nicolas Hulot if he had won the EELV primary). As Jacques Chirac would say, elle a perdu une bonne occasion de se taire. Also, Mme Joly is Norwegian. Norway and military parades don’t go together in the same phrase. It’s cultural.

Now I see that my blogger confrère Arthur Goldhammer shares Joly’s sentiments here. Art’s American. Maybe he prefers American-style Fourth of July parades. I don’t know. One thing’s for sure: if you like your parades with floats, baton twirlers, pom pom girls, and the high school marching band, then Bastille Day on the Champs-Élysées is not for you. Question de culture aussi, sans doute…

UPDATE: Laurent Joffrin, now at Le Nouvel Obs, advises Eva Joly to “tend to her organic garden” rather than shoot off her mouth about the Bastille Day parade. Money quote:

Sauf à transférer notre politique de défense au Pentagone et notre politique étrangère à la Maison-Blanche, la France et l’Europe doivent être en mesure de dissuader tel ou tel ennemi qui pourrait se déclarer contre nous, de combattre telle ou telle organisation terroriste dont le fanatisme nous prendrait pour cible (cela s’est vu…).

Si l’on considère ces quelques réalités élémentaires, le défilé du 14 juillet est parfaitement légitime. On ne peut demander aux soldats français de secourir telle ou telle révolution démocratique, de protéger nos ressortissants à l’étranger ou de couvrir telle ou telle opération humanitaire et les cacher ensuite comme si nous en avions honte. Eva Joly devrait y réfléchir.

N.B. Joffrin is on the left.

Read Full Post »

Vive la France !

I love the Bastille Day parade on the Champs-Elysées. The greatest parade in the world, hands down. I never miss it when in Paris (watched on TV from chez moi, bien entendu, and where I can see the fighter jets, AWACS, and other aircraft from my balcony). The haka, performed by the army’s Polynesian rugby team, was particularly cool. First time they’ve ever had that. And then there’s the singing of La Marseillaise, the world’s greatest national anthem. All I can say today is Vive la France !

Read Full Post »

[updates below]

I like Bradley Burston’s columns in Haaretz and almost always agree with him, though think he exaggerates in suggesting that the boycott law just voted by the Knesset risks sending Israel down to the road to fascism. Which variety, Mussolini or Hitler? Come now. One understands the temptation to invoke the f-word here but it really should be avoided. The new law is what in French is called a loi scélérate, the kind of scandalous, liberty-undermining law that democratic legislatures, in moments of fear-driven nationalist hysteria, sometimes enact—e.g. American Patriot Acts—but which do not bring down the republic or usher in dictatorship. The law, which is manifestly unconstitutional, will likely not pass the Israeli supreme court. If it does, then Israeli democrats will just have to fight it (as, e.g., Wisconsin Democrats fought back against the GOP legislature there last winter). What other choice will they have? In doing so, they’ll have Abe Foxman’s ADL on their side. In any case, the law will surely not be implemented and will ultimately be repealed. I guarantee it.

UPDATE: +972 has the boycott bill roll call.

2nd UPDATE: +972 has a piece that uses the f-word. I still think it’s misplaced but if the Likud initiative in question succeeds, democracy in Israel will be undermined in a serious and alarming way.

3rd UPDATE: American Jews rally against the boycott law.

4th UPDATE: Hussein Ibish on the “Knesset of fools.”

(photo credit: AFP)

Read Full Post »

Italy and the euro

So now the European debt crisis is hitting Italy. If Greece finally goes down the tubes and has no choice but to quit the euro, that will be bad enough. But if Italy goes, that will be something else altogether. Not even Krugman saw Italy being swept up in the contagion. I did, though. Really. Not that I’m particularly brilliant or have expert knowledge on the question. But four years ago I taught a course on the European Union, in which there was a section on the euro and where I had students debate the pros and cons of  it (of whether or not the euro was a good idea; I had always thought it was, though respected the serious arguments against it). In reading up on the subject I came across a report by Simon Tilford of the Centre for European Reform, a London-based think tank devoted to the EU, entitled “Will the eurozone crack?” In the report, dated September 2006, Tilford identified Italy as the weak link in the euro, arguing, among other things, that the Italian lira had been locked in at too high a rate and which was rendering Italian industry uncompetitive. With no recourse to devaluation, a public debt ratio over 100%, low productivity, and the banana republic nature of Italian politics, the risk of a catastrophe in Italy was real, and with equally catastrophic consequences for the euro. Reading the report sent a chill down my spine and caused me to rethink my position on the euro. In class I talked about the report and told the students to be afraid, very afraid, for Italy and the future of the euro. Here it is (in PDF).

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: As far as I’m concerned this mess is all France’s fault. Italy clearly did not qualify for the common currency—on account of its public debt ratio and budget deficits—and the Germans did not want the Italians in, but the French (Chirac) insisted on it and for purely political reasons, to have a Mediterranean (and presumably more pro-French) counterweight to Germany. It was likewise with Greece, which not only should not have been admitted to the euro but should probably not have been brought in to the EU in the first place, at least not when it was (1981). But the French (Giscard d’Estaing) led the campaign for early Greek membership and later on (Chirac) for admission to the common currency. And then there was the whole EMU project, spearheaded by the French (Mitterrand and Delors) and for primarily political—not economic—reasons: to give France a say on monetary policy (a total illusion), which it had ceded away to the Bundesbank in the late ’80s under the policy of the franc fort. The Germans were perfectly happy with their Deutsche Mark. It was the French who wanted EMU. Will the French political class ever take responsibility for the mess it was instrumental in creating? Il ne faut pas trop rêver…

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: