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Sunday, 17 December 2006
Carter's apartheid
Topic: politics

With its recent (and belated) review of Jimmy Carter’s new book, the downstate daily that veteran journalist John Hess used to call “The Nouveau York Times” plumbed new depths of rag-dom.

Carter’s Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid has generally brought out the worst in American journalism, which is pretty lame under the best circumstances. You’d think this book – by a former president who’s won the Nobel Peace Prize, garnered praise worldwide as an election observer and stateside as a benefactor of low-income housing, and on the flip side, jettisoned a strongly pro-military and interventionist record as president in favor of a touchy-feely-preachy image as born-again conscience of the nation – would inspire deep respect, if not genuflection. But no. Carter has really stepped in it this time, mostly because he dared to use the “A” word in his subtitle. References to apartheid, and extended analogies with the South African racist regime, appear frequently in Israeli media, but such daring is not allowed in the US.

Which brings us back to the Times, whose review of the book (12/14) was dominated by concern over the admittedly provocative term. The reviewer used five named sources who trashed Carter – including the centrist Michael Kinsley, the faintly liberal Dennis Ross (who specializes in distorting the record of Clinton-era talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders), and the far-right contortionist Abraham Foxman of the justly discredited Anti-Defamation League (whose latest caper was a covert attack on esteemed historian Tony Judt). And for balance? Well, the reviewer quoted Carter himself.

The review also quoted The Jerusalem Post, surely one of the worst of Israeli papers – certainly overrated among US readers, though in this regard it can be seen as a worthy companion to the NY Times. For a better grasp of informed Israeli opinion, one can turn to Ha’aretz of 12/15 and historian Tom Segev’s largely positive review of the book.

After a few quibbles, Segev, one of the pioneering “new historians” whose reality-based recasting of Middle East history is now unexceptionable, addresses “the uproar… over the word apartheid”:

“That's another thing I would have recommended that Carter forgo, if he'd asked me,” says Segev. “It's  not necessary; the situation is terrible as it is.” But Segev’s take on terminology is much different than that of Kinsley, Foxman, et al. “Now everyone's busy arguing about the use of the term `apartheid` instead of focusing on the horrors of the occupation in the territories… But [Carter’s] principal argument is well-founded, and backed up by the reports from B'Tselem, Peace Now, Israeli newspapers and even many articles that appear in The New York Times (as opposed to the theory, which Carter cites, that says Israel's critics are being silenced). Like many others, Carter points out the ongoing and systematic violation of the Palestinians` human rights; the injustices of the oppression perpetuate the conflict. It's bad for everyone, the United States included.”

I believe the apartheid analogy is right on – and that the American people need precisely this kind of wake-up call. Analogies are intrinsically and notoriously inexact, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have great value. For many years the Israeli left has drawn comparisons between Israel/Palestine and the old South Africa – not just with the “A” word, but by using the word “bantustans” to describe the archipelago of West Bank cantons that Israeli and US negotiators want the Palestinians to accept in lieu of a viable, governable state.

I’ve long been critical of Jimmy Carter, from way to his left. And frankly, his thesis about Israel/Palestine, as opposed to his book’s bracing title, doesn’t move us leftward enough from the “moderate” consensus. But I’m glad to see the “A” word entering the American lexicon in this context, where it surely belongs.

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 12:54 EST
Updated: Sunday, 17 December 2006 12:58 EST
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Sunday, 10 December 2006
Slipping and sliding
Topic: urban issues

As tests of our transportation system go, this week’s snowfall wasn’t even a pop quiz. Yet for pedestrians, the forgotten ones who are assumed to have no place to go, the system still flunked.

I took a stroll up Mt. Hope Ave. the day after the snow, and here’s what I found. The long stretch of sidewalk at the edge of Highland Park was unshoveled – thanks to inattention from the Monroe County parks department, whose administrative offices are in the park a quarter mile east, near South Avenue. By contrast, the sidewalk on the west side of Mt. Hope, under the control of the city-owned cemetery, was nicely cleared, as were some short stretches near The Distillery sports bar and some other businesses. (The Distillery maintains an additional parking lot a few doors down Mt. Hope, so its management has an obvious interest in helping patrons get from their vehicles to the front door.)

Things got chancier south of Elmwood Ave. The University of Rochester presumably is responsible for the sidewalks by the former Towne House, which it has long owned. But the walks there were innocent of shovel or plow. Up by the parking lot where the old Wegmans used to stand (property the UR acquired when Wegmans ditched the neighborhood) I found a couple parallel tracks through the snow that must have been made by a power wheelchair. Maybe this is a sign that the UR - which I cited a few years ago for the wretched job its subdivision, the Memorial Art Gallery, did with sidewalks on University Avenue, Prince St. and Goodman St. – plans to mount blades on wheelchairs from Strong Hospital around the corner and deploy a volunteer plowing service. (N.B.: MAG did clean up its act eventually; I hope they’re still doing the walks in a timely manner.)

People often figure I have a tough time getting around in winter on my bike. Not at all. Especially since studded bike tires came on the market, winter riding has been a breeze, a pleasure, and generally easier on the body than riding in summer heat and blazing sun. (Cf. a favorite website of mine, No, it’s the pedestrians who have a tough time in winter. But that’s not because of the weather. It’s because of the privileged classes' persistent failure to treat pedestrian routes and facilities as important links in the transportation system - a failure which puts an annual freeze on the most vulnerable population’s mobility rights.

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 21:33 EST
Updated: Sunday, 10 December 2006 21:39 EST
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Thursday, 7 December 2006
A butcher, a Baker...
Topic: antiwar

After months and years of Bushisms about Iraq – Stay the course, Batten the hatches, Damn the torpedoes, etc. ad nauseam – lots of people sense fresh air in the Baker, Hamilton, and Co.,  report on Iraq. But I smell a rat or two.

The report is just perfume on a policy of continued mass murder. You don’t even have to search the fine print; the headlines make it clear that even under the terms the Wise Elders have dictated, US forces would remain in Iraq in large numbers well past 2008, and whether our soldiers and Marines were explicitly ordered into combat or kept back as “advisers” and “trainers,” they’d keep killing Iraqis. Thus we could see the toll of “excess deaths” in Iraq rise to a cool million very quickly – still far from what we wrought in Southeast Asia a while ago, but certainly a number worthy of a great power.

Nothing in the Baker report or on its pundit-ridden fringes should distract us from the plain truth. The US invasion and occupation of Iraq were and are illegal and immoral, and as such must be stopped immediately. And let’s not take refuge in the passive voice: We are the ones who must end this war and call the “leaders” to account. That includes Baker - who did yeoman service with the Reagan administration and then George H.W. Bush’s dirty little war council, and thus is no rose himself.

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 22:51 EST
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Thursday, 30 November 2006
Autumnal thoughts
Topic: urban issues

The other war is almost over.

I mean the little but very dirty War on Deciduousness.

All over town, battalions of fighters have been deployed in defense of the precious American lawn, which for weeks has been under assault by falling leaves.

The leaves, you see, hate everything we stand for – our way of life.

They think nothing of doing violence to all that Chemlawn hath wrought. Every gently tumbling leaf is actually an attempt to smother the pure, deep monocultures that surround our homes, dominate our campuses and office parks, embellish our Big Box shoppotopias, and pour “non-point” pollution into our waterways. And so the leaves, though they're a key feature of varied ecosystems at this latitude, must go.

And in fossil-fool America, they, like everything else, must go with maximum noise. All spring and summer, crews of laborers, long ago pushed out of the factories into this new “green,” low-paid job sector, drove the powermowers and spraying rigs and handled the weed-whackers seemingly to drive you out of your mind. But they, or at least their employers, were on a mission - to the golf-course aesthetic to Everyman and Everywoman. (Not to mention Everychild, who will carry the burden of chemical residues far into his or her medical future.

Then the trucks and payloaders and leaf-blowers, along with the occasional leaf vacuum big as a hay baler, became an occupying force. But now as fall winds down, the machine brigades are almost done – they've removed almost all the maple, linden, oak, and sycamore leaves to a Better Place (dump), where someday a neighbor may retrieve a tiny portion of the compost and truck it back to apply to a lawn or garden.

And thus, with another heaping helping of fuel, the biological material will make another costly trip, this time back to its roots, ultimately to do what should come naturally: decompose and enrich the soil.

The next time you hear somebody say “urban forest” - after you get done laughing - consider how odd is our transformation of a highly localized bio-cycle into a deafening microcosm of global trade. I mean, couldn’t the leaves and twigs be composted where they fall, or pretty close to it?

Which is another way of asking: Couldn’t we ditch our lawns and make our urban environment a lot more like the sustainable woodlands we have largely destroyed?

I know that sounds un-American. But considering the nation's recent accomplishments, maybe that's what we must be. 

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 02:22 EST
Updated: Thursday, 30 November 2006 12:21 EST
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Saturday, 18 November 2006
After all, what are we, barbarians?
Topic: politics

I’ve always thought Condi Rice was the worst possible advertisement for piano playing since H-bomb-father Edward Teller. They both have made the instrument sing with hypocrisy – making all too obvious the vast moral distance between art and their devoted but lethal “public service.” But at least Teller, when he wasn’t at the keyboard, told it like it was, to his diabolical mind. Condi is just a liar.

Recently, for example, our Secretary of State was criticizing China for its ongoing military build-up. Not that militarization is ever pretty. But according to, China’s 2004 expenditures came to $65 billion, while US expenditures that year (Pentagon spending only) totaled $466 billion. And the US population is about a third of China’s.

Meanwhile, US Senator Harry Reid, giving us a taste of the Democratic Party “reform” to come, has been talking about spending $75 billion to upgrade our military readiness. However this proposal may turn out, the message is yet another shot heard round the world: under the “doves,” we’ll end up being as militaristic as ever, or more so.

Forget the Red Army. We have met the barbarians at the gate, and they are us.

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 14:35 EST
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