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Friday, February 27, 2015

That Speech

I have never liked Netanyahu and I hold him partly responsible for the horrendous state of relations with Obama; however, I hold Obama equally responsible. "Bibi's" planned speech before Congress on Tuesday at the invitation on House Speaker John Boehner, planned as a deliberate snub to Obama, is a huge mistake and I agree that Netanyahu risks making support for Israel a partisan Republican cause.
That said, I think Bibi is right that the nuclear deal the U.S. administration is working out with Iran, as reported, would be catastrophic. (I think U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, an Illinois Democrat who is one of many planning on boycotting the speech because of its nakedly partisan tinge, is wrong to say Bibi wants the U.S. to walk away from talks; what he wants is a much tougher line.) A deal that would leave Iran with 6,500 centrifuges and the supposed ability to make a nuclear weapon within one year, and that moreover "sunsets" in ten years, would trigger a nuclear arms race in the Middle East that will leave everybody in the region, not just Israel, profoundly less safe.
I also think Obama is dangerously wrong-headed to think he can make Iran into some sort of strategic partner of the U.S. in combating the "Islamic State" and more broadly stabilizing the region. The Iranian regime regards itself as a mortal enemy of the United States; as if 36 years of history aren't enough to prove this, the symbolism of the Revolutionary Guards blowing up a full scale model of a U.S. aircraft carrier during the current crucial phase of the talks should make this clear even to wishful thinkers.

Religious Hazards

Friday, February 20, 2015

Standing Up for the Middle Ages

Over at Slate, a historian named John Terry has written an excellent, reflective piece on the foolishness of condemning ISIS as "medieval." It's long past time to retire "medieval" as some all-purpose insult anyhow. Historians date modern times from roughly the 16th century, which would include the Inquisition, the Holocaust, the Gulag and countless other atrocities no one in the "Middle Ages" could have dreamed of, while those centuries helped establish the foundations of Western ethical thought, with such towering figures as Aquinas and Maimonides.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Hand That Signed the Paper

"The hand that signed the paper felled a city," Dylan Thomas wrote eighty years ago, as Europe folded in the face of fascism. Is history repeating itself in the P5 + 1 negotiations with Iran?

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Prayer and Posturing

I have mostly refrained from commenting on the president's troubling remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast (an event U.S. presidents should probably skip altogether), but Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post, normally a very strong supporter of Obama's, has a very good column explaining how wrong the president was to frame things in these terms. The issue isn't really the historical record, it's the political use Obama is making of it. As Robinson says, the president "constructed an all-too-pat narrative that lets everyone off the hook, including himself."
I would add that referencing the Crusades in such a context seems to validate the jihadists' claims to be getting revenge for those long-ago events. (Need I add that, as a Jew and a historically literate person, I am hardly justifying the murderous Crusaders?) Robinson is correct that the implications regarding today's Muslims are extremely patronizing. He might also have said this incident is part of a pattern, going back to Obama's disastrous speech in Cairo in 2009, of the president thinking he can single-handedly reset the agenda of relations between America or even all of Western Civilization and the Muslim world--an outreach attempt that has failed and backfired spectacularly. We have now had two presidencies in a row that have completely mishandled what is turning out to be one of the central political, military, and moral issues of our times. Let us hope the next U.S. president does better.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Welcome to an Engaging Superheroine

I greatly enjoyed the first adventures of Gwen Maule, aka The Shrike, in Emmie Mears's The Masked Songbird. I like my heroines strong yet believably human, and that is what Gwen is, with her lousy accounting job she can't afford to quit, her scummy boyfriend she can't quite bring herself to dump, and the parents she hasn't visited in two years because she can't face watching her mother waste away with dementia. I liked the fact that even when she gets superpowers, she still needs other people, like the roommate who sews her costumes and the trainer who teaches her to fight, because having super-strength doesn't mean you know anything about martial arts... a point often overlooked in tales of this sort, along with the possible downsides of superpowers for a woman's body and various gritty physical discomforts that Mears describes vividly.
Now as to my critiques, cards on the table, I am not a supporter of Scottish independence, a crucial plot point in this novel. The reasons for my views aren't important here (and certainly aren't due to any dislike for the glorious land and people of Scotland). I was more than willing to root for a free Alba and to believe the worst of the Unionists for the sake of the story (and after all, the terrorist Orangemen in Northern Ireland certainly showed that supporters of Great Britain aren't necessarily civilized). But the bad guys in this novel behave in a way that isn't just one-dimensionally evil, it's also unbelievably stupid for people whose aim is for Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom. The Shrike deserves fully fleshed-out villains to fight in her next adventure, which I for one am looking forward to.
This review is cross-posted at Goodreads.
Two-and-a-half Phoboses out of three.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

We Apologize For This Apology

Inspired by Brian Williams's online apology for falsely claiming he was in a helicopter that was hit by enemy fire in Iraq, I want to apologize for a mistake I made in recalling the events of 9/11. When I told everybody, like, several million times that "I was in the Twin Towers and I personally carried twelve babies and a pregnant lady to safety," it was a bungled attempt by me to thank our brave First Responders and, by extension, everybody everywhere who has ever done anything heroic, which I have not.