Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Jimmy Carter's controversial book about Israel and Palestine

On Christmas Day, 1954 as I recall, at the age of 11, that all but one present that I got for Christmas was a book. I got maybe fifteen books that year. At the time, "the family" was going to church at the Jewish Community Center on 16th St in Washington while the new First Baptist Church facility at 16th and O was being built, to open Christmas Day, 1955.

Jimmy Carter has certainly inspired some controversy with one questionable word in the title of his latest book. I already talked about the issue on my movies blog with the review of Jonathan Demme’s “Jimmy Carter: Man from Plains” in November, here.

The book is "Palestine: Peace, not Apartheid." The publication details are as follows: New York: Simon & Schuster, 2007. ISBN 0-7432-8502-6 Historical Chronology, 17 Chapters, 7 appendices, indexed. 264 pages, hardcover.

The book is largely chronological, and Carter discusses all of the detailed series of negotiations and conflicts over the years. He prefaces the book with a history-text chronology of the area, and clarifies that, while Britain promised a Jewish homeland in 1917 with the Balfour Declaration, Britain was quite queasy about what would really happen with such a homeland until it turned the leash over to the United Nations and the state of Israel came into being in 1948 (the film “O Jerusalem”). The history with the surrounding states in the region is rather complicated, as is the influence of the Soviet Union until the end of the Cold War. (That’s a least a peripheral plot element in Tom Hanks ‘s recent film “Charlie Wilson’s War” about the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which started during Carter’s presidency.) Some of the most critical points came in 1967 and 1973 (the Yom Kippur War, leading to the Arab Oil Embargo) and in 1978 with the Begin-Sadat talks at Camp David brokered by President Carter. The history of the immediate relationship between Israel and the original Palestinians, with the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is also complicated, with many negotiations, cease fires, and re-escalations, all detailed in the chronology. His appendix supplements the history with documents, especially with the full 1978 Camp David accords text.

What is the basic problem? In sum, many elements of the Israeli governments have condoned taking of or expropriating Palestinian properties (usually without compensation), of evicting Palestinians, of separating and fragmenting their communities with The Wall, and with manipulating the legal system to justify the expropriations with all kinds of ruses and canards over the years. This is what amounts to “apartheid” ultimately mimicking the former South African experience (itself so much the subject of Ted Koppel’s reporting in the 70s and 80s). (Later Carter describes it as “two peoples occupying the same land but completely separated from one another, with Israelis totally dominant and suppressing violence by depriving Palestinians of their basic human rights.”) Some Palestinians, reacting to their own personal sense of shame, have become subject to manipulation and become suicide bombers, believing they will be rewarded in Islamic heaven.

Carter does state some major principles (the “Roadmap to Peace”, more or less) that must be followed to achieve peace, and privately many responsible citizens on both sides of the issue are likely to agree with him. These include (a) Guarantee the security of Israel (b) determine Israel’s permanent legal boundary (c) respect the sovereignty of all Middle Eastern nations

Carter praises the internal openness, democracy and freedom within Israeli society, but is critical of elements that insist on some sort of tribal or religious manifest destiny. A comparable determination, for different historical reasons, exists within various factions of radical Islam. History, as we study it, is often described in terms of the security and well-being of people as religious or national groups, with social structures within the societies allocating the rights and responsibilities to the individual people to protect the welfare of the society as a whole in potentially harsh external circumstances. The political and international debate needs to get beyond the religious and scriptural identities of the various groups and consider the rights of everyone as an individual. (Indeed, that would argue the idea of one state in the region with full citizenship rights for both Jews and Palestinian Muslims and Christians – with enormous potential for reparation issues comparable to what America could have considered with the slaves and native Americans – Carter mentions this a couple times.) Supposedly, though, this is the idea behind neo-conservatism, the overly optimistic attitude that the current Bush administration is criticized for. Carter can do this himself within the patterns of his own faith (often discussed on programs like Bill Moyers) but that is very difficult in this part of the world. Nevertheless, this seems to be the challenge. Carter says that the Bush administration has looked the other way on the behavior of some Israeli leaders out of pragmatic concerns (as did some earlier administrations -- "Charlie Wilson" again) in contradiction to its own political principles. His argument bears comparison to similar concerns about America's tendency to look the other way on Pakistan's nuclear behavior, as on a review on this blog Dec 2 (book by Armstrong and Trento).

Carter describes the work of the Carter Center in Atlanta as a body that can facilitate negotiations. It looks like an interesting place to work, to be sure.

Second picture: Anti-Israel demonstration in Minneapolis in April 2002, near the First Street Main Post Office.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Sebastian Junger reports from Afghanistan in Vanity Fair

Before getting to the main topic, I note first that the January 2008 issue of Vanity Fair has an interesting article by Cullen Murphy, “Lines in the Sand,” about what the Middle East would look like the political entities tracked to ethnic and religious reality. There is a map drawn up in 1918 by Lawrence from the British National Archives, on p 62, and a “Below the Surface” tribal map on p 63. The magazine does not give a direct link to this article and I suppose I can’t publish home photos of these, so you’ll have to buy the magazine (after all, they have to pay their employees, etc). But history teachers will love using this article.

However there is a direct link to Sebastian Junger ‘s report “Into the Valley of Death” about the current military activities in Afghanistan, which seem every bit as dangerous as those in Iraq, as when he discusses the harrowing risks of getting wounded soldiers to safety (also an issue in Tom Cruise 's new film "Lions for Lambs"). The link is here: and there is free "on location" video there to watch (appropriate when "Kite Runner" is finally in theaters). War correspondence requires real military skills. Junger had reported on Afghanistan even before the 9/11 attacks, when he reported about destruction of Buddhist shrines. He was heavily involved in reporting Massoud and the Northern Alliance just before 9/11. He is also known for his books “A Perfect Storm” (a movie in 2000), “Fire” (about dangerous occupations) and “A Death in Belmont” (a subject of a CNN 360 report). When I discussed “Perfect Storm” on an AOL movies message board in 2000, I drew angry comments from someone who resented the fact that I talked about the fact that the fishermen had to take their boat through the storm and deliver the fish or not get paid. (He thought I insulted working people. No, I just talked about what happens in the book and movie.) I met Junger at a booksigning party at an independent store in downtown Minneapolis in the summer of 1998 (for "A Perfect Storm"). I recall reading that he had “paid his dues” by working as a logger or tree trimmer, when he was once severely injured by a saw. He was interviewed on Larry King Live once in his NYC apartment, and I recall a cat jumping into the picture.

It’s interesting to look at the writing in professional articles. War can change our language. He uses Taliban as a plural noun (meaning a collection of individuals). Later he uses “Russian military” the same way. Wikipedia talks a lot about English as an analytic language, compared to all other major European languages, and how tricky it is to use word order, pronouns, particles, auxiliary or modal verbs to convey precise meaning that other languages accomplish with endings and inflection. It’s interesting to formulations (like “alright” instead of “all right” in a lot of foreign film subtitles) coming to be accepted as correct because they seem more natural in international use. Proofing in formal written English is still tedious and very tricky; grammar checks don’t catch everything when they don’t have inflection rules to go by. In my book I let this one get by: “"Algebra invokes the manipulation of symbols as surrogates for numbers or objects. As a child, it had sounded like a great mystery, doing arithmetic or `figuring' with `letters' rather than numbers,” when the “it” needs to be “the subject”.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Margaret Schwartz: The Pumpkin Patch: a story about international adoption

Author: Margaret L. Schwartz:
Title: The Pumpkin Patch: A Single Woman's International Adoption Journey.
Publication: Louisville: Chicago Spectrum Press, 2005. ISBN 1-58374-118-6, paper. 332 pgs, bw illustrations. Three Parts ("Planting the Seeds", "Tending the Garden" "The Harvest") and an Epilogue.

The Freddie Mac adoption expo in Washington DC last Saturday (Dec. 1) was giving away this two-year-old book free. The title is a transparent metaphor. Author Margaret Schwartz had a lucrative career in international marketing and decided that she wanted the experience of motherhood and lineage. In fact, she had always wanted it. She does not go into detail as to why she remained single, or believe that she should “apologize” for that.

The book is like a diary, with each little section starting with “Dear Journal.” That would give the writing a narcissistic quality, as does the great detail into which she goes about her whole process of adopting two boys from Ukraine, including her caring for them when she got home. One wonders how she had the time to document everything in so much detail, especially when she was in the Ukraine and often the hotel had only one computer, not always working, in its Internet room.

The ropes she had to jump are considerable, especially in a post-Communist country that still has a lot of corruption left over from Soviet days. She talks about traveling with $20000 in cash in fresh bills. She talks about the “moral dilemma” of adopting overseas when there are such needs (as with foster kids) at home. Later she faces the agonizing decision about having to make decisions point blank when presented small kids whom she suspects may be severely disabled. Eventually she takes two boys who have less severe medical problems, but back home the expenses become considerable anyway.

She discusses the physical parenting, even the potty training, in some detail, as a responsibility she took to quickly. Eventually she goes back to work and hires help, and considers herself fortunate enough to be able to afford it. She gives several charts in which she outlines the “moral choices” and lifestyle changes, including one chart where she compares her life with that of her mother, of a different generation and social mentality. (He mother used cloth diapers and depended on her husband for economic support.)

Readers may want to check out a book about a gay male couple in Maryland adopting, the book being “Getting Simon: Two Gay Doctors' Journey into Fatherhood” by Dr. Kenneth Morgen, from Bramble Books in 1995. In that book there was never any question that the male couple wanted to adopt.

Both books present adoption and families as something they wanted, not as a social “obligation.” Nevertheless, the media and politicians often present involvement in child care and rearing as something that everyone shares, because everyone befitted from it (“emotional karma”). Even President Bush talks about volunteering to mentor a child. Schwartz talks about the major rift in emotions within the adult world, and the emotions in dealing with kids, which are much more linear and fundamental, and deal with adaptive needs. Of course, many people, especially those with artistic temperament, feel that they must “accomplish” something publicly before they are prepared to raise children, and this does present a bit of a moral paradox. Artists talk about finishing a musical composition, painting or book as like having a baby, but it isn't (although musicians and authors have to "let go" of their work as others interpret it to perform it or adapt it to movies). Art is meaningful only because children are raised into adults able to be moved by it.

I've never felt the emotional connection of children the way the author relates it, but I can relate to the idea that another kind of "person" can make me aware of the world in ways I had not thought of. This may seem like a strange analogy, but being "adopted" by a stray cat did that. The cat, once imprinted, obviously knew who I was (even recognized the sound of my car), and would demonstrate an awareness of things in the environment that I would otherwise not notice but that define his world. It seems as valid as mine.

There is a blog posting about the Freddie Mac expo here.

Pictures: from bus stops in Minneapolis (2003), which encourage singles to adopt or become foster parents.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

New book on Pakistan's nuclear program, and it has a serious warning

One of the scariest things about Pakistan (“the Land of the Pure”) is its possession of nuclear weapons. It has about 20 or so small nukes ready to use (like the "suitcase nukes" in the Fox series 24), and some raw materials (HEU and centrifuges and various other devices) with which more can be made in time (these might be larger, like those if NTI's film "Last Best Chance" which focuses on loose stuff from the former Soviet Union). The United States is supposed have been secretly guarding all this for years, but this book will have you wondering what is to be believed. And the recent upheaval in Pakistan – the return of Bhutto, Musharraf’s suspending of the constitution, and so on, obviously increase the risk that some of this may fall into the hands of terrorists. And in fact, some of it could already have, given the double talk in the way Pakistan has been managed. Much of it, back to the Carter years and earlier, deals with enigmatic, eccentric scientist A. Q. Khan, who pursued his clandestine career with intense, single-minded focus.

The book is
Authors: David Armstrong and Joseph Trento. Armstrong is the bureau chief of the National Security News Service in Washington.
Title: America and the Islamic Bomb: The Deadly Compromise. A Project of the National Security News Service.
Publication: Hanover, New Hampshire: Steerforth Press, 2007. ISBN 1-58642-137-9; 292 pages, hardcover, indexed with endnotes. Has an Introduction, ten chapters, and Epilogue.

The duplicitous handling of nuclear issues goes all the way back to the period right after World War II, including the “Atoms for Peace” program. In more modern history, America has always had to find ways to “look the other way” on Pakistan’s undercover nuclear weapons program, often inventing paradoxical arguments, during the period of having to oppose the Soviets in Afghanistan, to the post 9/11 period where the tribal citizenry in much of Pakistan supports Osama bin Laden and where Musharraf’s hold on power becomes a delicate issue in protecting a nuclear cache that never should have been there. An important and disturbing factor is the clandestine involvement of operatives in other countries, including Dubai (UAE) and Libya, for supplying various machine parts.

The book documents all of the goings on in incredible detail (sometimes to the point of tedium), and it is amazing that the authors have discovered so much material on many of the shady characters like Peter Griffin and “B.S.A.” Tahir.