The Peace Process Delusion

Like the proverbial emperor and his nonexistent clothes, the ‘Process’ has no ‘Peace’

Abbas_olmert_88A serious pandemic of delusion is gripping the world.  Ground Zero for the spread of this scourge was in Annapolis, Maryland in late November.  Within hours, millions of otherwise intelligent people started exhibiting the symptoms of this horrible affliction: uncontrollable optimism, abrupt failure of reasoning, oblivious disregard of reality, and a deeply religious faith in a fictional ‘Peace Process’ that will be the New Messiah that will deliver the world from all evil.

It would be fun to watch this mass hysteria unfold as it infects more and more people, but unfortunately, there are real human costs to the continuation of this delusion.   It is time for sane people everywhere to rise to confront this delusion and break the news to the millions of devout Peace-Processians springing up around the world: like the proverbial Emperor and his nonexistent clothes, this ‘Process’ has no ‘Peace’.   This fictional god you have been worshipping exists only in your brains; just because you insist on seeing it in spite of all evidence does not in any way change the cold hard reality that it is simply not there.

There is utterly no evidence to suggest that any prospects for ‘Peace’ exist from this charade of a ‘Process’.   Israel is finishing the construction of its apartheid wall, the world’s only religiously-segregated road network, and thousands of watch-towers from which it observes everything going on in the life of all Palestinians. Complete towns are locked up behind gates that open arbitrarily according to the whims of callous soldiers. Israeli illegal colonies are growing more than ever—mere days after the conclusion of the Annapolis conference, Israel announced it would expand a crucial colony outside Jerusalem.   More than 400,000 illegal Israeli settlers still litter the West Bank, having benefited from 40 years of expansionist colonialism and generous subsidies from every single Israeli government elected by the Israeli populace. The Gaza Strip remains legally an occupied land, though effectively it is the world’s biggest prison.   Normal service will by all means continue.

It is quite clear to anyone who would care listen to Israeli leaders themselves that Israel has absolutely no intention of giving away anything meaningful in the West Bank—certainly nothing on which anyone could establish a viable state.   It is also painfully clear to anyone who cares to reason that the American government has no intention whatsoever of pressuring the Israelis into any form of concession.   Seeing as these issues are the main issues standing between us and a peaceful solution, one can be sure that there will be no way for a peaceful solution to be achieved.

So why do so many people continue to believe in this mythical ‘Peace Process’?  Like other fictitious beliefs, there are the few who benefit, and then there are the masses who are deluded.   There are also, of course, the many that are harmed.

The biggest beneficiary from this delusion is the Israeli government.  That is why its leaders have gone around the world trumpeting the importance of achieving peace. Olmert claimed that failure to achieve peace would doom Israel; Haim Ramon, his deputy, even beseeched American Jewish groups to work for a peaceful solution for the sake of Israel.   There is a desperate attempt to make sure that Israel appears desperate for peace.  But of course, actions speak louder than words. If Israel really meant any of this, they wouldn’t have approved an illegal colony on stolen Palestinian land in East Jerusalem hours after Annapolis.   It is this hypocrisy that has come to accurately define the past few years, and will be the hallmark of the future: Israeli actions that solidify and perpetuate the occupation, along with Israeli statements desperate for peace.   All that Israel has to do is to play pretend and everything will be fine.  It just needs to pay some lip-service to the possibility of potentially starting some sort of a ‘Process’ that might, with a few miracles, result in something or the other, someday, somewhere, and the entire world will applaud in awe.   Any Peace-processian fundamentalist who still has faith needs to ask themselves the honest question of how they can maintain this delusion in the face of this hypocrisy and this disparity between actions and rhetoric.

As for those who are harmed, they are the millions of Palestinians living under apartheid, repression and murder in Gaza and the West Bank, with their hopes of ever seeing normalcy in their lives evaporating; and the millions of refugees whose legitimate right to return to their homes the world is happy to forget.

The worst thing about this sorry state of affairs is its indomitable sustainability.  Israel will continue expanding settlements, oppressing Palestinians, and murdering an unborn nation with complete impunity.   The Palestinians, left to their fate by the world, will continue to suffer completely unable to do anything to alter Israel’s position.  And the world will cheer on, and assure the Palestinians that all they need is just a little more ‘Process’.   So long as the ‘Process’ goes on; no one pressures Israel to do anything, and Israel won’t do anything. So long as Israel does nothing; the tragedy of the Palestinians continues. So long as the tragedy of the Palestinians continues, the mirage of ‘peace’ will become more unattainable.

What the Peace-Processians don’t realize is that not only is the status quo here to stay, their cult-like enthusiasm for it is the main reason why it is here to stay.   If the hordes of ‘Peace Processians’ want ‘Peace’ and not ‘Process’, they should be condemning Israel’s colonies and occupation, not applauding its empty statements.   So long as the masses continue to convince themselves the emperor is dressed in splendid clothes, he will continue to parade his hideous crotch all over the world, from Jerusalem to Annapolis and beyond.

What Science Can Teach Us About Morality

Eyja M. Brynjarsdóttir reviews Can Science Help Us Make Wise Moral Judgments? (Paul Kurtz, ed.) in Metapsychology Online Reviews (via Political Theory Daily Review):

What, if anything, does science have to contribute to morality? Is it ever worth the effort to look to science in our search for answers to moral dilemmas? The goal of this anthology is not only to give affirmative answers to these questions, but to explain how and why. This is done from a secular humanist perspective; the editor, Paul Kurtz, is the founder and chairman of the Council for Secular Humanism, and many of the authors write as humanists as well. Several of the papers in the book have previously appeared in Free Inquiry, a bi-monthly publication of the Council for Secular Humanism edited by Kurtz. The book covers a variety of issues, ranging from accounts of biological processes to abstract philosophical arguments. While most of the contributors are philosophers, some of the papers are written by scientists who offer their insights.

The questions raised in the beginning can be understood in different ways and answered accordingly. One way to construe them is to ask whether science can give us useful information on which to base our moral decisions. If informed moral decisions are better than uninformed, and if science does yield information, it seems inevitable that the answer is yes for the relevant cases. The bulk of the first six sections of the book is dedicated to illustrating this.

How Peaceful are Hunter-Gatherers?

The Economist looks at hunter-gatherers:5107ho1

In 2006 two Indian fishermen, in a drunken sleep aboard their little boat, drifted over the reef and fetched up on the shore of North Sentinel Island. They were promptly killed by the inhabitants. Their bodies are still there: the helicopter that went to collect them was driven away by a hail of arrows and spears. The Sentinelese do not welcome trespassers. Only very occasionally have they been lured down to the beach of their tiny island home by gifts of coconuts and only once or twice have they taken these gifts without sending a shower of arrows in return.

Several archaeologists and anthropologists now argue that violence was much more pervasive in hunter-gatherer society than in more recent eras. From the
!Kung in the Kalahari to the Inuit in the Arctic and the aborigines in Australia, two-thirds of modern hunter-gatherers are in a state of almost constant tribal warfare, and nearly 90% go to war at least once a year. War is a big word for dawn raids, skirmishes and lots of posturing, but death rates are high—usually around 25-30% of adult males die from homicide. The warfare death rate of 0.5% of the population per year that Lawrence Keeley of the University of Illinois calculates as typical of hunter-gatherer societies would equate to 2 billion people dying during the 20th century.

At first, anthropologists were inclined to think this a modern pathology. But it is increasingly looking as if it is the natural state. Richard Wrangham of Harvard University says that chimpanzees and human beings are the only animals in which males engage in co-operative and systematic homicidal raids. The death rate is similar in the two species. Steven LeBlanc, also of Harvard, says Rousseauian wishful thinking has led academics to overlook evidence of constant violence.

The Year in Robots

Larry Greenemeier in Scientific American:Robot

Last week’s announcement of Japan’s “Robot of the Year” for 2007—a mechanical arm capable of grabbing 120 items-per-minute from a conveyor belt—marked an anticlimactic end to what has otherwise been a good year in the advancement of artificial intelligence.

The three Fanuc Ltd. assembly-line mechanical arms—which beat out competitors such as Fujitsu’s 24-inch-tall (61-centimeter) dancing humanoid HOAP and Komatsu Ltd.’s tank-shaped, fire-extinguishing robot—won for their practicality; they are optimized to work efficiently and accurately on food and pharmaceutical manufacturing lines.

Still, 2007 offered plenty of other significant, if less heralded (and immediately useful), developments and pushed robotic technology to new levels, or at least promised to in the near future.

As part of NASA’s plans to send peopled missions back to the moon (and then on to Mars), the space agency, in September, performed a series of tests to determine if robotic technology could be used to provide medical care for astronauts during extended spaceflights. On board a military C-9 aircraft flying in parabolic arcs over the Gulf of Mexico, four surgeons and four astronauts performed simulated surgery both by hand and using a robotic device developed by SRI International to determine if the robot’s software can compensate for errors in movement caused by turbulence and varying gravitational conditions.

On Condoleezza Rice

Adam Shatz in the LRB:

Condoleezza Rice, like everyone else, is ‘worn down and discouraged by the war’, the New York Times reporter Elisabeth Bumiller writes in her new biography (Random House, $27.95). Early morning work-outs on her ‘elliptical trainer’, shopping at expensive boutiques and American Idol provide some relief. But Rice has found her greatest ‘escape from the anxieties of her day’ – the anxieties she’s done so much to foster – by playing the piano with her chamber ensemble, whose recitals in the capital have ‘attracted a bipartisan audience’. ‘It’s the time I’m most away from myself, and I treasure it,’ Condi explains, and we wish she’d do more of it. She once dreamed of a career in classical music, and although she gave it up to study Soviet politics, you could say that she never stopped being a performer. Here she is in a red Oscar de la Renta gown, sashaying down the stairs of the British ambassador’s ‘palatial residence on Massachusetts Avenue’; there she is appearing before American troops wearing ‘a long, military-style black coat that blew open to reveal a skirt just above the knee and a pair of sexy, high-heeled black boots.’

Condi was, notoriously, one of the ‘Vulcans’ who presided over Bush’s various foreign policy disasters, but she was never a neocon. She wrote ‘leftist’ papers in graduate school and voted for Jimmy Carter before joining the Republican Party. Throughout the 1990s, her views on foreign policy were defined by a cautious realism, bearing the heavy imprint of her mentor, Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser under Bush père. In a Foreign Affairs article widely read at the time as a position paper for the son’s presidency, she chastised the Clinton administration for its ‘Wilsonian’ impulses and said there was no reason to panic about Iraq or North Korea since both governments were ‘living on borrowed time’. But that was before 9/11, when everything changed, including Rice’s belief in a foreign policy tempering ‘strength’ with ‘humility’.



He is interested in how the intelligible confounds us – ‘Sometimes the drums would actually let us play/ between beats and that was nice’ – and how, in our craving for the authoritative statement, which poetry all too easily panders too, there are always ironies in play that we would rather disregard: ‘All this,’ he writes, ‘because I meant to be polite to someone’ (‘Has To Be Somewhere’). His wonderful titles, among other things, make us suspicious of entitlement.

Ashbery has taken Robert Frost’s dictum ‘Look after the sound and the sense will take care of itself’ to its logical (and illogical) conclusions. He has found a language for poetry that is evocative without being informative. Because he never claims to speak on the reader’s behalf, we can overhear ourselves as we read them. In the words of these late, remarkable poems, reading him is ‘like practising a scale: at once different and never the same’. There are no poems like these.

more from The Observer Review here.

clive james considers reconsidering


In recent times I have gone back to Pound’s Cantos to find out if I was correct in so thoroughly getting over my initial enthusiasm for them, or it. (Whether the Cantos is, or are, a singular or a plural, is a question that I believe answers itself eventually, but only in the way that a heap of rubble gradually becomes part of the landscape.) Fifty years ago, when the mad old amateur fascist was still alive and fulminating, I fell for the idea of his panscopic grab bag the way that I was then apt to fall for the idea of love. As that sweet-if-weird moment in that sad-if-stilted passage in the Pisan Cantos has it: “What thou lovest well remains,/The rest is dross.” I especially liked the sound of that at a time when my knowledge of eternity was nineteen years long.

more from Poetry here.



10/4 Larry King asks about Iraq. Naturally. There is a scurry in the dim back corridors of his studio. (His producers are proud of him.) Television is the box in which we hope to capture our religious needs. Here is shame! Here is redemption! Don’t you understand, Mr. King? I am Iraq. This flesh, this pearlescent lipstick, the bundling of my bosom under secret snaps and fabrics. Every war is fought for virgins, for delusions of the innocent made corruptible. I am the daughter of the president of the United States of America, the sweet nexus of all imperial pornography. If you dream of defiling me, sir (as you do), war must be made on the barbarians.

Snowfall on another tarmac. The buildings look like ornate cakes. Only Bottoms remains. In the limo, I ask him about despair: is it fate or a kind of sickness? But Bottoms never speaks. His face is a pale blade. For a moment, I want to pound his chest, rip his heart free, lick the blood clean. Instead, I sleep away the day. Later, the lights come on. An audience assembles before me. I open the book of my life. Is there no one so happy as I am?

more from McSweeney’s here.

Benazir Bhutto’s son Bilawal to lead party

From The Telegraph:

Bilawalbhutto Bilawal Bhutto, who is reading history at Oxford, will chair the Pakistan People’s Party with his father, Asif Ali Zardar, as co-chairman. Party officials made the announcement after the reading of Miss Bhutto’s will following her assassination last week. It has also been announced that Pakistan’s parliamentary elections are likely to be delayed by up to four months in the wake of the assassination, according to the country’s ruling party.

Tariq Azim, a spokesman for the party backing President Pervez Musharraf, said conditions had made it too difficult to go ahead with the Jan 8 polls in the wake of the death of the opposition leader and former prime minister.

More here.

How a ‘Wisp of a Girl’ Conquered Pakistan

Bhutto_2 MOHAMMED HANIF in The New York Times:

WITH half her adult life spent either in exile or in prison, Benazir Bhutto might have lived like a medieval princess, but she died like an ordinary, modern Pakistani. When the assassin struck, Ms. Bhutto, the former prime minister, was doing what so many Pakistanis most love to do: electioneering. Two months earlier, when she had arrived in Karachi after eight years in exile, there were legitimate questions about her democratic credentials. Even her die-hard supporters were embarrassed by her blatant deal with Pakistan’s military ruler, President Pervez Musharraf, the very man who had publicly vowed that she would never return to the country.

Yet when she arrived at the Karachi airport, her reception was spectacular — the biggest street party the city had seen in decades. My friend Moeen Qureshi, a lapsed Bhutto supporter, took his children to the rally “just out of curiosity, to relive my youth.” Fortunately, he left before two suicide bombers struck her convoy, killing more than 130. “This woman,” Mr. Qureshi told his children as they later watched Ms. Bhutto on TV being sped away from the devastation, “is bulletproof Bhutto.”

More here.

Sunday Poem

From NoUtopia:

“(Physicist) Stephen Hawking, … admitted that he had given up his quest for a “grand unified theory of everything” on the grounds that we are part of it. Any explanation which tries to include the observer doing the explaining must necessarily be incomplete.” –John Habgood

“At its most profound, faith is not an answer to life’s questions but a willingness to inhabit the darkness of knowing there are some things we cannot know.” –Tina Beattie

“Faith is the substance of things hoped for…” –Saul of Tarsus

But Hope
Jim Culleny

When in a mirror I see
what I take to be me
looking back, I realize
this is a feedback of light
looping off yellow kitchen walls
and the startled animal
that stands and stares
like the famous head-lit deer

Any thought of what it sees,
any imagination,
does not reflect as well.
No spark of intellect is seen
doubling up in the silvered glass,
nothing not known made known,
no recycled revelations appear,
only the seeable bouncing back and forth
echoing and echoing.

Beyond this is no other evidence
but hope

Daughter of Courage

Ruchira Paul in Accidental Blogger:

Screenhunter_17In my reading of numerous articles about Benazir Bhutto in the last 24 hours, I came across a common thread running through several columns by journalists who knew or had met her in person. All mention Bhutto’s remarkable and unusual physical courage. It is interesting that Indian journalists have noted this fact prominently, perhaps because they are well acquainted with the bloody nature of politics in that part of the world. Compared to most security conscious politicians, Bhutto’s disregard for her own physical safety struck the journalists as singularly brave and now in hindsight, also a bit reckless. It is possible that women leaders in male dominated societies must prove not just their political acumen but also the lack of physical fear in order to be taken seriously by their supporters as well as detractors. Elected women leaders in the west like Angela Merkel, Margaret Thatcher and any future female US president must bear heavy political burdens and exhibit unwavering resolve in times of crises.  But women like Corazon Aquino of the Philippines and Bhutto in Pakistan have to additionally walk into physically perilous situations to earn their leadership spurs.

In the event of violent and untimely death and in the spirit of de mortuis nil nisi bonum, post mortem tributes can sometimes tend toward hagiography. Benazir Bhutto was far from perfect. But the repeated references to Benazir Bhutto’s steely nerve and lack of physical cowardice is entirely credible.

More here.

A Bhutto Successor?

From Time:

Bilawal2 A senior official of Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) told TIME late Saturday that the slain former prime minister’s 19-year-old son, Bilawal, will likely be named as her political heir and the new party leader on Sunday. PPP members are due to meet to discuss the party’s future and to give Bilawal, a student at Oxford, a chance to read his mother’s last will and testament.

Other possible runners include Benazir’s sister Sanam, though she seems incredibly reluctant to join the family firm, or Fatima Bhutto, the daughter of Zulfikar Ali’s eldest son Murtaza. Fatima, however, had split with her aunt Benazir, whom she once described as “the most dangerous woman in Pakistan.” The decision to go with Bilawal appears to have come after his father turned down the job in deference to the slain Benazir’s expressed wishes. The senior PPP official, who requested anonymity to allow him to speak more openly, told TIME that Bilawal will head the party, and that the party’s deputy leader and longtime Benazir loyalist, Mukhdoom Amin Fahim, is likely to become the prime minister, assuming the party wins a majority in parliament. Bilawal would take over as the parliamentary leader once he finishes his studies and once he has more experience, the official said. Earlier in the day PPP Senator Awan told TIME that Bilawal was a natural future leader. “Yes, of course,” he said. “he has to be groomed and trained but that will happen.”

More here.

gay’s modernism


Thomas Mann was an archmodernist, and this was his favorite story: One day, Gustave Flaubert was out walking with his sister. Ferociously antibourgeois, Flaubert lived alone, unconsoled and unencumbered by marriage or family. His novels mocked and maligned the French middle class, ironizing it into oblivion. He was a great frequenter of brothels and had fornicated his way through Paris and Cairo. And yet here he was out for a stroll, suddenly stopping in his tracks before a small house surrounded by a white picket fence.

In the yard, a solid middle-class father played with his typical middle-class children while wife and mother looked lovingly on. The enemy! Yet instead of holding his nose, Flaubert gestured toward the house and exclaimed, without irony: “Ils sont dans le vrai!” (“They are in the truth!”) For Mann, the delightful incident illustrated the tension between the outrage at conventional life and the yearning to be part of it that tore at modernist psyches. There is more to aesthetic rebellion than offends the eye.

Surprisingly, the anecdote doesn’t appear in Peter Gay’s “Modernism: The Lure of Heresy,” a massive history of the movement in all its artistic forms — painting, sculpture, fiction, poetry, music, architecture, design, film (though, bafflingly, not photography, one of the chief catalysts of the modernist revolution).

more from the NY Times Book Review here.

the second avenue deli


When I first heard about the rebirth of the Second Avenue Deli, I had a feeling the place was stalking me. For years when I lived downtown, this pastrami palace—one of New York City’s last iconic, non-tourist-attraction temples of schmaltz (not the metaphoric kind but the liquid chicken fat that infuses so many of its dishes)—was a siren song. For this nonobservant Jew it was perhaps the most tangible aspect of my Jewish identity, a Proustian connection to the vision of shtetl life one finds in Isaac Bashevis Singer’s work.

Not just the food but the whole aura of the place, the locale in the heart of the former Yiddish theater district where you could find gold stars with the names of the one-time luminaries of that once thriving, now virtually vanished world, embedded—in imitation of the Hollywood Walk of Fame—in the gritty sidewalk of lower Second Avenue in front of the deli.

more from Slate here.

the living cosmos


Impey has written a wonderfully readable book about the chances of life existing elsewhere in the universe (pretty high, in spite of the universe’s appalling violence). But “The Living Cosmos” is not about just that. It is an overview of everything you need to know about the fundamentals, including how we got here and where we’re probably going. More important, the science — a word that often causes eyes to glaze over — is laid out with uncommon clarity and panache.

The field of astrobiology (only about 50 years old and ill-named; it used to be called exobiology, which makes a lot more sense) has been criticized as “a subject with no subject matter.” But there’s plenty to speculate on. Impey begins with 40 pages’ worth of basic cosmology, in which he manages to make the big bang almost visualizable, noting that the brief inflationary period immediately following the bang increased the size of the universe “from a proton to a grapefruit.” It also homogenized everything, so that everywhere we look, the universe (now, 14 billion years later, a great deal larger than a grapefruit and getting larger and larger, faster and faster) looks pretty much the same.

more from the LA Times here.

A Year of Books Worth Curling Up With

From The New York Times:

Books190_2 The 10-favorite lists that follow are not 10-best lists. They’re not based strictly on merit. They don’t cite books we admired in the abstract but didn’t particularly like. Nor are they based on comprehensiveness; with so many books afoot, none of us can hope to have a complete overview. Each of us has stayed within the confines of our own reviews published in 2007 and picked the 10 books we covered most avidly — though there is one exception. Because Times critics do not review the work of their Times colleagues, Michiko Kakutani did not review Tim Weiner’s “Legacy of Ashes.” She recommends it nonetheless.

Think of these as lists that leave off the broccoli, figuratively speaking — though we have nothing against broccoli at all. (Michael Pollan’s new pro-vegetable manifesto, “In Defense of Food,” might be on my list were it not for a technicality: Its publication date is Jan. 1, 2008.)

Michiko Kakutani

HOUSE OF MEETINGS by Martin Amis. This harrowing, deeply affecting novel recounts the story of two brothers interned at one of Stalin’s slave labor camps, taking the reader on a frightening journey deep into the heart of darkness that was the Soviet gulag.

THE SECOND CIVIL WAR: HOW EXTREME PARTISANSHIP HAS PARALYZED WASHINGTON AND POLARIZED AMERICA by Ronald Brownstein. A veteran political reporter provides a shrewd election-year assessment of the growing partisanship in American politics, looking at the roots of this polarization and its alarming consequences for the country at large.

More here.