An Officer and a Spy
by Robert Harris
Review Date: October 8, 2015
It is now 90 years since the death of Alfred Dreyfus and 120 years since the end of l’affaire which bore his name. When most people think of this tragic episode in fin-de-siècle Paris they usually conjure, not images of the defenestrated officer who became a scapegoat for the French military’s intelligence lapses, but rather an Austrian journalist covering the trial, who, sickened by the anti-semitic tauntings of the Parisian crowds, soon became the founder of the national political movement known as Zionism.
But Theodor Herzl, as romantic and fascinating a lead character as he might have become, does not appear in Robert Harris’ latest work An Officer and a Spy. In fact, the tornado of antisemitism, which swirled around Dreyfus and his two trials in the late 1890s, barely plays any role at all. While there are gratuitous references to mobs screaming “Death to the Jews” and “Kill the Jew Traitor” and deprecatory references by the French High Command to the hated”Jew”Dreyfus, this appears as little more than background chatter in the narrative and not a central focus.
By and large the antisemitism of the age is less a concern for the novelist than is the character of its central protagonist, Colonel Georges Picquart.
Picquart, who became the effective head of French Intelligence in the wake of the first Dreyfus trial in 1895, operates in the center of the storm as his investigations reveal that Dreyfus was wrongly convicted and that the real spy, who had delivered military secrets to the German General Staff in 1894, was a French major, desperate for cash and low on loyalty. But the French High Command had pinned its flags to the Dreyfus mast and so they decided dig in. Picquart was quickly quarantined and then sent on pointless intelligence gathering missions to the south of France and then onward to Tunisia where he wasted away for months in a lonely frontier outpost while the High Command conspired to send him on suicide missions.
Picquart retaliated by becoming one of the first of modern whistle blowers and through his lawyer would inform both the French intelligentsia as well as the radical left, of the miscarriage of justice who would both seize upon the episode to draw attention to the corruption of the nationalists. The roar of outrage grew into a crescendo when novelist Emile Zola published his famous front page essay, J’accuse which would not only directly name the individual French generals responsible for the injustice and the cover up, but would land Zola himself in a heap of trouble as libel suits poured in.
But through the languidly paced novel, which revolves largely around the sensational trials of the period, we meet some handsomely drawn characters – the florid Major Hubert- Joseph Henry, Picquart’s second in command who plays a central role in the attempt to frame Dreyfus; General Auguste Mercier, French Minister of War who lead the cover up; Pauline Monnier, Picquart’s long time mistress, who gets caught up in the scandal and almost loses her family as a result and Fernand Labori, attorney to Zola, Picquart and ultimately Dreyfus himself, who almost dies from an assassin’s bullet.
In the center of the tumult is, of course, the character of Alfred Dreyfus, whose ordeals on Devil’s Island, off the coast of Guyana, are conveyed through the verbatim correspondence ( often sequestered by French Intelligence and not always delivered to their intended address) between the incarcerated prisoner and his wife, over a period of four years. His words describe a place where the prisoner endured endless privation and restrictions which might have driven a less stoic and courageous man to suicide.
But Dreyfus’ self-belief and his perfervid conviction that French justice would ultimately prevail, were enough to prevent his collapse into depression or send him into a death spiral. He survives to be vindicated and restored to his former command.
The story is in many ways a narrative tour de force, and although slow paced and ponderous at times, nevertheless drives the reader onward with the ultimate questions posed of what will become of both Picquart and Dreyfus, whose fates are curiously tied together.
Still, knowing well the history of the time, I come back to the many blank pages in the book, pages that could well have been filled with descriptions of the rancor and hatred on the street for Jews , while investigating how such antagonism could have not only survived, but flourished in so-called “enlightened” 19th century France.
Alas, you will not find this addressed by An Officer and a Spy
For a real grasp of that animus we need to look beyond Harris and refer to the words of Emile Zola himself, written in 1896, even before the full impact of the Dreyfus trials would steamroll France:
” For several years I have followed, with growing surprise and revulsion, the campaign against Jews in France. I see it as a monstrosity, by which I mean something outside the pale of common sense, of truth and justice, a blind, fatuous thing that would push us back centuries, a thing that would lead to the worst abominations, religious persecutions with blood shed over all countries.”
It stupefied him that that such fanaticism should have erupted:
” In our age of democracy, of universal tolerance , when the movement everywhere is toward equality, fraternity and justice. We are at the point of effacing boundaries, of dreaming the community of all peoples, of holding religious congresses where priests of every persuasion embrace, of feeling that common hardship unites us in brotherhood. And a bunch of madmen, imbeciles of knaves has chosen this moment to shout at us: ‘Let’s kill the Jews, lets devour them, lets massacre, lets exterminate, lets bring back stakes and dragonnades.’
Zola, in these words, was painting a picture of a civilization which beneath its veneer of elegance and cultural achievement was sick to its core. This is precisely what you will not find in Harris’ novel – a sorely missed opportunity.
Nevertheless, An Officer and a Spy leaves a tingling sense of how even the most sophisticated and accomplished of civilizations can verge on collapse when a maniacal hatred of the other obtains a grip on its consciousness and then spins it off kilter.
In our present day one might consider how “climate skeptics” who voice doubts or present scientific data which contradicts claims of anthropogenic global warming are systematically vilified, ridiculed and howled down as “deniers” and “traitors.”
Thus when Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island seriously suggests that climate skeptics should be subject to criminal indictment or when the New York Times’ public editor Margaret Sullivan proclaims that the NYT may well begin referring , as her paper’s policy, to climate contrarians as”deniers,” we might all begin to hear the echo of those Parisian streets of 130 years ago and shudder with the possible consequences.
Avi Davis is the president of the American Freedom Alliance and the editor of The Intermediate Zone.
Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide
by Michael B. Oren
Review Date: August 26, 2015
Publication Date: June 15, 2015
Publisher: Random House
Hardback: 434 pages
It is interesting to conjecture what the history of America-Israel relations, written 100 years from now, will read like. Will it paint the eight years of the Obama Administration as the very nadir in relations between the two nations, yet only a hiccup in a long and flourishing relationship that endured despite the pitfalls which almost upended it? Or will it instead be seen as the commencement of a long and rapid decline to the point where successive U.S. administrations began lining up against the Jewish state?
Whatever the judgement, it is inevitable that future historians will pay close attention to the words of Michael B. Oren, and his book Ally, a memoir documenting his four long years as Israel’s ambassador to the United States during the first years of the Obama Administration.
Oren, a renowned historian and author of two authoritative works on the Middle East ( Six Days of War and Power, Faith and Fantasy: America in the Middle East) possessed excellent credentials to assume his ambassadorial post in 2009. A New Jersey born Jew, who had lived in Israel for 30 years, he had already acted as a kind of ambassador-in-waiting, with numerous book tours and a role as a highly respected television commentator and editorialist for distinguished American newspapers and magazines. A fervent Zionist, whose ideological commitment to the state had not wavered an inch from his teenage years, he also possessed the added strengths of being affable, politically limber and remarkably self effacing, to the point where his superiors recommended him as a man without an ego.
Of course Oren does have an ego, and he is as susceptible to flattery and praise – honors he received in copious amounts, as any man. Yet his book, which caused a firestorm upon its publication in June this year, is a modest and careful appraisal of not only his own journey along the America – Israel divide in the first years of the Obama Administration, but of the rocky relations which characterized the relations between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu, two men as different as chalk and water.
As a careful monitor of the temperature of Washington political life, Oren from the beginning projected that Obama would be a very different kind of American leader – expressing no particular love nor admiration for the Jewish state and instead determined to impose ‘daylight’ between the two long term allies in order to conciliate Muslim opinion. He notes how Obama’s Cairo speech in June 2009, in which he defended Israel’s right to exist on the basis of the Jewish people’s persecution during the Holocaust and not on its 3,000 historical ties to its ancient homeland, gave an insight into the President’s thinking. The speech of course played directly into the prevailing Arab narrative which contends that the Jews are only recent interlopers with no historical ties to the land.
It was a statement that Obama was later forced to walk back; yet, in a series of crises in Oren’s first year as ambassador, the new appointee quickly realized that the president’s attitude to Israel was, as he first suspected, far more born of ideology than of practical statecraft.
This became first evident in early 2010 when Obama sought to reignite the moribund peace process by insisting that Netanyahu order a 10 month long moratorium on all construction in the West Bank. Such a decision would be politically risky for the right wing prime minister for whom the political support of West Bank residents and leaders was crucial. Nevertheless, members of the Obama Administration convinced the Israelis that a good will measure such as this would jump start peace talks, build trust between Netanyahu and Obama and bring the Palestinian leadership back to the table.
But quite the opposite happened. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas weaved and dodged for the entire length of those ten months, refusing to meet Netanyahu unless conditions, which would be clearly unacceptable to the Israeli leader ( such as pre-commitments over borders and the status of Jerusalem as well as the right of return 0f Palestinian refugees) were met. When the ten month moratorium expired, Abbas turned his back on the prospect of talks altogether and would not consider returning to the table without for a renewal of the moratorium.
And so developed a consistent pattern: Obama would demand Israeli concessions and when given, Abbas would merely pocket them and walk away, with no consequences whatsoever for his recalcitrance. Abbas would go much further over the course of those four years, applying for member status at the United Nations as well as applying for status as a member of the International Criminal Court, giving the Palestinians standing to sue Israel for war crimes, none of which he coordinated with the White House. And even more egregiously, the Palestinians made a gambit, in September, 2013 to have a State of Palestine recognized by the Security Council of the United Nations – a direct repudiation of the Palestinians’ commitments under the 1993 Oslo Accords.
None of this seemed to faze Obama nor his advisers who ordered a pro forma veto of the measures at the United Nations, but elicited no significant public reprimand or rebuke of the Palestinian leader. Which naturally caused Oren to ask himself how the President could allow himself to be consistently kicked in the teeth by Abbas and yet remain so publicly oblivious and forgiving of the Palestinian leader’s transparent contempt.
There was no greater evidence of the tectonic shift in the relations between Israel and the United States than in the intense private and public battle over the ongoing Iranian negotiations. Although Ally was published a month before the final agreement signed between the P5+1 ( the five permanent Security Council members plus Germany) and the Iranian Republic in Vienna, Oren nevertheless details the painful confrontations between Obama and Netanyahu over Israel’s national security issues and makes clear that Obama deliberately interfered in Israel plans to launch a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities and consistently argued that negotiations were the surest path to Iranian nuclear deterrence. In the end, he concludes, Obama seemed far more concerned with the consequences of an Israeli strike than he was with the likelihood of Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons and that this has been the guiding spirit of his Iran strategy.
All of which begs the question regarding these confusing years – how did Obama’s statecraft, which placed such inordinate pressure upon its ally, the only democracy and stable polity in the Middle East,while more or less ignoring Palestinian malfeasance, advance America’s national interests? As the Arab Spring imploded and regimes increasingly hostile to the United States replaced long term allies in Egypt, Yemen and Iraq, Obama and his Secretary of State John Kerry, seemed to become monomaniacal in their quest for a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict which proved only a mere side show to the real drama playing out in those countries. The stark reality that the entire Middle East was fast falling prey to a barbaric brand of Islamic fundamentalism seemed beyond them.
The tensions in the relationship should not, however, overshadow the more uplifting moments over the past seven years, such as when Obama reacted with immediate aid and concern after Israel suffered a catastrophic forest fire in 2011 and when visiting the Jewish state in 2013, delivered speeches which could have been lifted directly from the writings of the fervent right wing Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky.
And this is not to mention the unparalleled cooperation which continues between Israeli and U.S. military and intelligence services – reportedly more firmly set than at any time in recent history.
But the roller coaster ride which the author presents provides an alarming view of a White House which had arrogated to itself the right to assess its ally’s best interests, regardless of any input from the ally itself. It represented a very dangerous, some might say catastrophic, descent into bickering, distrust and suspicion when one would have expected that the rise of ISIS, the spread of Islamic fundamentalism and the prospect of a nuclear Iran, necessitated the forging of even closer bonds.
Oren’s final chapter is titled ” Goodbye Ally” which foreshadows a suggestion that a gulf between the two nations has become so unbridgeable that further cooperation- at least on a diplomatic level -has become increasing problematic. However this is hardly his conclusion. The “goodbye” in the chapter heading refers to his own departure from his post rather than a permanent rupture between the two allies and the author goes to considerable lengths to point out the across-the-board support for Israel demonstrated in Congress as well as the generally favorable attitude towards the state among American citizens.
Yet for all this bubbly optimism, the reader is left with the discomfiting notion that the once impregnable alliance has suffered severe, although not fatal damage during the Obama years, with an administration which was given over to the idee fixee ( not the first administration to believe it) of the Israel-Palestinian conflict as incontestably the root cause of instability in the Middle East. It paints the portrait of a president whose confidence in his own intellect and powers of analysis successfully rebuffed not only the opinion and advice of America’s friends and allies but the very facts on the ground.
Whatever the final judgement on Obama, the book provides a cautious warning to all statesmen – American, Israeli or other – that they should deal with the world as they find it and not as they wish it to be. As Congress begins the debate on the Iran deal in the second week of September that warning may carry a heady resonance.
Avi Davis is the President of the American Freedom Alliance and the editor of The Intermediate Zone.
The BDS War Against Israel: A Review
by Avi Davis
Authors: Jed Babbin and Herbert London
Paperback: 98 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition
Publication Date: May 28, 2014
Review Date: January 14, 2015
The most revealing moment in Jed Babbin and Herbert London’s exposé of the BDS movement comes near the middle of the book, when the authors quote Omar Baghouti, founder and director of Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment Movement – the international effort to isolate Israel economically. Claiming that his organization accepts Israel’s right to exist but is only focused on applying enough pressure so that it abandons what it refers to as ‘occupied Palestinian territory’, Barghouti makes clear that even if Israel retreats entirely from the West Bank, the BDS movement will continue on:
“Even if the Israelis remove all their settlements and dismantle their military installations and return to the 1967 borders, the BDS movement will continue because there will still be 5 million Palestinian refugees who are prevented from returning to their homes.”
With such a statement this Palestinian celebrity makes clear that the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions Movement is not, as its literature and website declare, concerned with just forcing the State of Israel to give up the occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem to allow a State of Palestine to come into existence. Rather it is about the destruction of the Jewish state itself since Bargouti and his international claque are well aware that permitting 5 million or so Palestinian refugees to take up residence in Israel proper can lead to nothing but the tilting of the demographic balance in the Palestinians’ favor.
This is the dirty little secret that such fellow travelers as Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters and actresses Emma Thompson and Jane Fonda all wish to hide from you: they believe that Israel as a Jewish state is illegitimate and should not exist. Every other statement – about Palestinian rights, justice for the refugees, claims of apartheid like conditions in the West Bank – are all smoke and mirrors to disguise the true agenda behind this malicious movement and its perfervid attempts to drive a wedge between Israel and the rest of the civilized world.
The State of Israel had in fact experienced a boycott movement even before its creation in 1948. Arab boycotts have existed since the 1920s, aimed at preventing Jewish immigration to what was then Palestine. Soon after the conclusion of Israel’s War of Independence in January 1949, the Arab League called for a boycott of any dealings of Arab nations with the Israeli government or Israeli civilians; a restriction of any non-Arab corporation or individual who does business with Israel and a prohibition of any Arab League member and its nationals who deal with a company who deals with another company that does business with Israel.
Almost from the beginning the Arab League boycott was a non-starter as within a few years it would have essentially required the 22 Arab nations to stop doing business with the rest of the world. Today that boycott, still officially in effect, is regarded as a joke since nearly all the Arab countries have found a way to circumvent it.
But the new Boycott, Divestment and Sanction movement is not a joke and in the course of its ten years of operation has done real damage – if not to Israel’s booming economy, then to its international reputation. Springing from the U.N. Tehran Conference on Racism and the Word Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa in September, 2001 several hundred NGOs – such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Oxfam and Doctors without Borders convened to draft a universal declaration against racism. The latter conference spiraled into an ugly hatefest against Israel – involving the resuscitation of anti-Semitic canards. Israel and the United States stormed out in protest.
But the die was cast and being located in South Africa, the locus of so much of the left’s boycott efforts in the 1970s and 80s, the conference provided a perfect opportunity to zero in on what was alleged to be the apartheid regime of Israel and its brutal handling of Palestinians. Accusing Israel of having perpetrated war crimes, genocide and ethnic cleansing, while having also instituted illegal blockades and partition barriers which , it was claimed, vitiate against international law, the NGOs successfully launched a world wide campaign aimed first at college campuses around the world and then at major corporations and then governments.
To date the movement has had almost no visible effect on Israel’s trade relations with the rest of the world. A Knesset report, issued last week, indicated that the minimal impact was due to Israel’s growing high tech ties with countries and corporations around the world, who see no utility in the effort to interfere with Israel’s economic progress:
“So far, the attempts to boycott Israel have not hurt the Israeli economy on the macro scale. … The boycotts are able to hurt largely the end products of certain Israeli brands. However, since the majority of Israeli exports are intermediate goods, there has not been significant harm done to them,” the report said.
However on another level it is success is quite impressive. Its ability to win the support of certain high profile journalists, trade unions, academics, leading actors, actresses and rock stars has given the movement a luster it clearly does not deserve.. These groups and individuals have been drawn to BDS’ anti-colonial message and its supposed platform for the underdog – ignoring of course the lies upon which the movement was established as well as the continuing incitement to violence encouraged by Palestinian leaders and terrorist operatives.
Yet, the movement has succeeded in misleading many influential journalists such as world renown physicist Stephen Hawking and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman into believing that BDS is, simply, an “Intifada propelled by non-violent resistance and economic boycott, seeking to advance a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.” However, far from offering solutions, the movement has only served to extend and intensify the conflict as it has encouraged Hamas’ three violent wars with Israel over the past ten years and has justified Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ continuing rejection of any accommodation with Israel. In the meantime it has demonstrated its complementarity with Palestinian terror, its acceptance of Iranian threats to destroy Israel and the continued Arab resentment of Israel’s prosperity.
As such, BDS is merely a recent variant of centuries -old anti-Jewish boycotts that the Arab powers and other nations once embraced well before the reestablishment of Jewish sovereignty in 1948. And in this way it ties directly into traditional antisemitic tropes providing a seamless connection between Tzarist disinformation efforts, Nazi propaganda and the present day campaigns aimed at thedelegitimization of the Jewish state.
Authors Babbin and London provide a fitting exposé of this malign movement, indicating how it is funded, who are its collaborators and where and why it succeeds or fails.
The picture which ultimately emerges is of a cadre of vengeful ideaologues, who hate the West as much as they hate the State of Israel and would be pleased to see both disappear.
The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels
by Alex Epstein: A Review
Publisher: Portfolio/Penguin 209 pages
Review Date: December 30, 2014
At a parent-teacher conference for one of my children several years ago, I asked my son’s science teacher what he taught our child about global warming. The teacher, who was a deeply respected school veteran, responded that his instruction was that global warming was real and that it was caused by man’s over reliance on fossil fuels.
I wasn’t startled by the answer. I had come to expect it. But I did raise an objection and asked why he didn’t offer an alternative view point. He look at me a little baffled, murmuring that he didn’t realize there was an alternative viewpoint. The other parents in the room shifted nervously in their seats and one even whispered to me to drop it.
After the conference, I approached the teacher to let him know that there is a whole range of countervailing science which suggests that the question of anthropogenic global warming is not at all settled and that the use of ‘ dirty’ fossil fuels might actually be good for our environment and for our world in general. He looked at me incredulously and then shook his head, thought for a moment and then muttered:
” Well, you know, I just feel bad for the polar bears.”
That answer almost defines the deep divide between contemporary conservationists and modern environmentalists over the standard of value we should employ when deciding the best use of the Earth’s resources. For the conservationist, the standard of value is how human happiness can be enhanced though the employment of the earth’s resources. For the environmentalist the primary concern is the environment’s own needs and its future; For the conservationist, our environment serves human needs. For the environmentalist, human beings serve the Earth.
Alex Epstein is used to entertaining debates of this nature. As the founder of a for profit think-tank The Center for Industrial Progress in Southern California, Mr. Epstein has invested a great deal of his intellectual energy into challenging those who seem so fixated on the greatest of perceived modern evils- fossil fuels. He has sought to address the claim of environmentalists who argue that human beings are destroying the earth and ruining any prospects for our future.
The only problem with this scenario is that fossil fuels are not ruining anything at all. Quite the opposite. Over the course of the past 300 years they have actually enabled the greatest expansion of prosperity that world has known and the broadest growth of free enterprise and individual liberty ever experienced by mankind.
The case is made forcefully in Epstein’s The Moral Case of Fossil Fuels – possibly the most lucid and cogently argued work on the subject you will ever need to read. For the author makes the argument, through the employment of graphs, comparative studies and statistical analysis that a cheap, abundant, clean, reliable and scalable energy source has always been the key to the growth of human prosperity as well as the spread of human liberty over the past half century. That energy source has been oil and natural gas whose benefits have redounded ,not necessarily to the rich and powerful in human civilization but to ordinary people who could not dream of owning or using such things as a motor vehicle, ready to wear clothes, fast, efficient forms of public transportation, central heating or air conditioning even 100 years ago . All of these advances were made possible by the extraction of a fossil fuel that have appeared so abundant that it is as if they have left it in the ground for us by a benevolent donor, waiting for our use. “Oil,” argues Mr. Epstein, “is the fuel of freedom, – the fuel that liberated Americans to go where they want. Economically oil is the fuel of trade. Our entire standard of living depends of specialization – on people doing what they do best – wherever they are – and then being able to cheaply move those products to those who most need them.”
Fossil fuels such as oil have also solved world hunger. When Paul Ehrlich published The Population Bomb in 1968, he predicted that the world would exhaust its food resources by the year 1980, the world population was 3. 6 billion. But over the past 45 years, not only has world’s population grown to more than 7 billion but the ability of nations to feed these burgeoning populations has taken an exponential leap with world hunger reduced from 22% of the world’s population in 1968 to only 9% today. This has been made possible by oil powered mechanization which has increased the amount of farmland that can be cultivated per worker and the much wider availability of efficient transportation making it possible to reach and export to markets from formerly remote area The great achievement of plant geneticists such as Norman Bourlang, what is widely known as the Green Revolution, were made possible only because high powered machines have replaced physical labor – machines that run on fossil fuels.
The central complaint of the environmentalist movement is that all of this development has come at a tragic cost – and that is the pollution of our planet. That is to say that fossil fuels are ‘dirty’ and their CO2 emissions now threaten our future. No one doubts that the burning of fossil fuels emit a residue of CO2 which can then escape into the atmosphere. But have CO2 concentrations accumulated to the point where they have have been the singular contributor to catastrophic climate change that now threatens the Earth’s future, to the point where, according to those involved in the production of the recent major feature film Interstellar, some day in the not too distant future, human beings might actually need to leave it?
The question of course revolves around the impact of the well known Greenhouse Effect – which states that the introduction of more CO2 into the atmosphere can make these molecules more heat absorbent, which they will then reflect back at the earth much as occurs in a greenhouse. The scientific question which needs to be answered is whether CO2 is is the overwhelming driver of the global climate system and thus that its warming impact is predictable over time?
One way to determine this is to construct climate computer models and feed data that would in the indicate whether our continuing CO2 emissions into the atmosphere at the present rate will result in greater global temperatures. That has been done, most famously by former NASA scientist James Hansen in 1988 but the models have proved spectacularly wrong, and we have now reached a general scientific consensus that no global warming has been reported for at least past 17 years. If, claims the author, a climate production model can’t predict climate , it is then not a valid model – and the predictions made on the basis of such a model are not scientific.”
So too regarding extreme weather – another so called barometer of anthroprogenic global warming and climate change. If the climate computer models have failed ( and they have done so almost certainly because predicting climate is an enormously complex undertaking fraught with pitfalls) there is really nothing much to hang a scientific understanding of extreme weather on except very unscientific guess work.
In this regard, the author actually offers a full page of headlines of climate catastrophe, but the headlines (eg; “Antarctic Heat Wave; Explorers Puzzled But Pleased”; “Death’s Toll Mounts to 60 in U.S. Storms”) derive from year 1934 – before significant CO2 emissions began. The point is that our climate is a combination of so many factors – the moon’s gravitational pull, the sun’s level of radiation and even the position and rotation of other planets in our solar system, that is almost impossible to predict climate – just as it is impossible to blame severe weather in any given period to a general pattern of rapid climate change.
Epstein refers briefly to the overt politicization of climate science (although this subject surely deserves another book from him) by pointing out how the figure 97% is bandied around to describe the consensus among scientists about man made global warming. The figure goes back to a survey by John Cook who runs a website called skepticalscience.com and who completed a survey in which he found that 97% of the papers he studied endorsed the view that man made greenhouse gases were the main cause of global warming. But the category he chose did not state whether each or any scientist elected 1% or 100% as the percentage contribution of man to global warming. A number of the scientists who were quoted by Cook as confirming his preferred view, vehemently protested.
Finally Epstein dwells on the opposite of the Greenhouse Effect – the Fertilizer Effect – the theory that worldwide increases in plant growth over the past 50 years are attributable, at least in part, to the increases in CO2 in the atmosphere. Although the theory has gained considerable ground among horticulturalists and certain climatologists, Epstein uses it to ask the question what if there a positive impact to our carbon footprint? Most climate change activists scoff at such a notion – but their rejection of the argument is not scientific, it is political.
And what of the alternative technologies – wind and solar and ethanol – ballyhooed as replacements for the fossil fuels to which we have become so allegedly addicted? They, argues the author, are nowhere nearly ready for prime time, and being dependent on the weather, are still notoriously unreliable. And not only are they expensive, they are environmentally hazardous, consuming vast quantities of chemicals and raw materials for the manufacture of their panels and turbines.
Mr. Epstein provides a chilling account from reporter Simon Parry of visit to a huge waste dump in China where he describes
“a hissing cauldron of chemicals where several million tons of rare earth have been mined. Stand on the brink of the lake for just a few seconds and your eyes water and a powerful, acrid stench fills your lungs. People in the nearby village were having their teeth fall out and their hair prematurely turn white and suffered from severe skin and respiratory illnesses.”
This site is revealed to be, not the toxic dump of a nuclear station or the slag heaps of a coal mine as you might think, but a mining site for rare earth, a material vital for building wind turbines. And that’s just some of the collateral damage of shifting from oil to expensive, unreliable and non scalable alternative energies.
Alternative fuels are also, because of their unreliability ( ‘only when the sun shines and the wind blows’) need a reliable back up – and guess what that is? You can’t run huge metropolises, now or in the forseeable future on the kind of wind and solar energy technologies now available and without a reserve energy source which is reliably provided by oil or natural gas our cities would come to a standstill. To pretend that we can is to consign ourselves to a future where our central heating may stop functioning in the middle of winter or our cars cease to operate in the middle of our highways.
The image of a solitary polar bear, floating away on a tiny ice floe has become an iconic symbol of both the global warming movement and of mankind’s degradation of the earth – made even more poignant by Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. Leave alone the fact the polar bear population of Antarctica is larger than it has ever been and is thriving (and has never faced extinction), we should be taking a much harder look at the facts, figures and arguments supplied by the environmental movement and understand it for what it truly is – a determined, dogmatic ideology for which actual facts and science are only niggling secondary concerns on the road to an alternative (and less free) global life style.
But before we leave this issue, lets not forget the polar bears entirely.
For I also once felt bad for them too. But I was a child then. It is a pity, if not an intellectual disgrace, that so much of what we are told by the climate change activists and the alternative energy gurus seems to be the stuff of children’s dreams and not grounded in real world science. Epstein’s lucid and carefully researched book should make anyone who reads it understand that to plan for a grown up future we cannot allow ourselves to be hoodwinked by juvenile illusions and false promises. That is not the road to progress and human happiness. It is the road back to the 16th Century, a place very few of us would want to visit and even fewer would wish to live.
THE ISRAELI SOLUTION: A ONE STATE PLAN FOR PEACE IN THE MIDDLE EAST
by Caroline Glick
Publisher: Crown Forum (2014) 260 pages
History changed on June 24, 2002. On that day, President George W. Bush, who for the first eighteen months in office had not established a clear policy regarding the Israel- Palestinian conflict, announced his support for a two state solution. Couching his commitment to this new policy in guarded terms, Bush insisted that U.S. recognition of a Palestinian state would be dependent on the latter’s renunciation of terrorism, the cessation of incitement against the Jewish state and its willingness to recognize Israel as entitled to live within secure borders according to U.N. Resolution 242.
As a statement of U.S. intent it was not saying much. The Palestinians at that stage were still in the midst of a three year insurrection against Israel in which thousands of men, women and children on both sides would die. Any trust generated by the years of negotiation between Israel, the U.S, and the Palestinians had been dissipated in the wake of massive suicide attacks in Israel’s major population centers and reprisals by the IDF. Bush was also quite clear at the time that he had no intention of rehabilitating Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat as a negotiating partner. In fact his announcement on June 24th was an attempt to sidestep Arafat altogether and speak directly to the Palestinian people. Arafat’s role, as the course of events unfolded, would not be relevant anyway. for the next two years he would remain a virtual prisoner in his Ramallah compound and within two and half years would be dead from AIDS.
But the announcement was deeply significant. Until that time no U.S. President had gone on record as having accepted the two state solution as the ultimate goal of Israel-Palestinian negotiations. The 1979 Camp David Peace Accords had been silent on the issue; so too had the 1993 Oslo Accords. Although other Western leaders had been strident in support for the idea, for most of the U.S. leadership it remained a taboo topic.
No longer. Now the sin qua non of any projected agreement between Israel and the Palestinians is the establishment of a second state to exist between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. The idea of Palestinian statehood has become so ingrained in the thinking of politicians, media commentators and editorialists worldwide, that mentioning any other kind of option is tantamount to lunacy.
But, as Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick argues forcefully in The Israeli Solution, the entire notion of a Palestinian state has foundered on the facts of Palestinian malfeasance and the reality that the Palestinians do not so much want their own state as the elimination of another. Her book is a long catalog of failed expectations on the part of successive U.S administrations and European governments who have been unable to understand or anticipate the dynamics of the Middle East conflict and continue to walk down a path that has only brought greater violence and hatred to the region.
What if the policy of support for a two state solution, given its abject failure, was dropped and a new plan encouraged? What if, instead of encouraging Palestinian rejectionism and reversion to terrorism by holding out the carrot of statehood, the Israelis took matters into their own hands and resolved the issue by simply annexing Judea and Samaria? It is not a new idea , of course, and has been mooted as the only solution to the conflict by members of the Israeli right for at least two generations. But never has the argument been made in such a rational and dispassionate manner – and the the arguments that Ms. Glick presents are well worth examining.
From Israel’s point of view the extension of Israeli law to the territories is absolutely essential for its future security. Without military control of the Jordan Valley and the Samarian highlands Palestinian terrorists can command the entire Israeli hinterland and can shoot down any incoming plane to Ben Gurion Airport. Any invading army, passing through the undefended roads of the Jordan Valley to Jerusalem would have clear access to Israel’s capital giving its defenders little chance for preparation against assault. The entire Sharon Plain – the locus of the major groupings of the Israeli population, would be open to bombardment.
But this is only one consideration for the sagacity of annexation. The Palestinians themselves would benefit if the kleptocratic, oppressive Palestinian Authority was removed and Israeli governance – with its democratic rights and benefits, could be installed. The counter argument, that Palestinians themselves would never accept living under Israeli rule is dismissed by Glick as a chimera. She provides ample evidence, through opinion polls and the actual migration records among the Palestinians, that they, by a wide majority, actually admire Israeli democracy and envy their Arab cousins who are Israeli citizens. And it is true enough. Repeated polls of East Jerusalem’s Arab population returns consistent preferences to remain governed by Israel rather than by a future Palestinian regime.
The great bugaboo in this argument – the one for which many Israeli leftists and advocates of the two state notion desperately reach when the word ‘annexation’ is mentioned, concerns the demographic time bomb. The argument goes that the growth of the Palestinian population is so great that within a generation in such a unified state it will emerge as no longer the 20% minority but as a 51% majority and would thereby enabled to vote the Jewish state out of existence. To counter this argument Ms. Glick relies on the ground breaking work of the America-Israel Demographic Research Group (AIDRG) which eight years ago smashed the popularly accepted notion that Arabs would soon outnumber Jews in the territory between the Jordan and the Mediterranean. The basis for these negative projections, the AIDRG reports argue, are Palestinian census numbers from the late 90s which were found to be both fabricated and inflated. The Palestinian numbers and projections also did not take account of the drastic drop in the Palestinian birth rate ( 2.0 compared to the Israeli 2. 6), the continued emigration of Palestinians, (departing because of an oppressive Palestinian regime) and the booming prosperity of Israel which has provided an economic climate in which Israeli parents want to have children. All told, the AIDRG claims, there will be a two-thirds Jewish majority, even in the event of an annexation, which will allow Israel to maintain demographic dominance over its territory.
What then of world reaction when and if such an annexation occurs? This would clearly be one of the most troubling results of a would-be incorporation of Judea and Samaria within Israel proper. Ms. Glick also deals deftly with this problem. The surrounding Arab nations, caught up in their own upheavals and battling economic decline, the rise of ISIS and the growing threat of a nuclear Iran would voice protests but would do nothing – either because they are too weak militarily or because they would be glad to be done with the Palestinian problem, which has become as much as a millstone around their necks as it has been a wedge to use against Israel. The United States could well threaten to sanction Israel in the U.N. and withdraw important diplomatic coverage – but only in the short term. The U.S – Israel economic partnership is so strong and formidable and support for Israel in both Congress and among the American people in general so unswerving, that any U.S. administration would have to think twice about the isolation of Israel.
The real problem might come from the Europeans who have staged a decades long diplomatic assault against the Jewish state in an attempt to weaken and delegitimize it. Ms. Glick believes that the Europeans will also come around to seeing the one state solution as the only way forward for the Middle East as they find themselves having to deal forcefully with their own restive Arab populations who refuse to integrate and now seek separation. Tied to Israel economically – and dependent to a certain extent on Israeli technology, Europe won’t be able to afford economic sanctions and in the event they are pushed through, Israel can weather the storm by pivoting from Europe, its second largest trading partner to the growing markets in India and China.
In its overall sanguine and perhaps overly simplistic approach to the matter of annexation, Ms. Glick goes to great lengths to stress that this is not the easiest of paths for Israel to undertake.
Yet what she neglects to address is the vehemence with which the Israeli left – made up of secularists, academics, authors and journalists, will greet such a development. It could be said that there is a greater demand for an independent Palestinian state in the salons and streets of Tel Aviv than there is in Ramallah and that it has become such a sacred cause for this segment of the Israeli population that it rivals Judaism itself as the State religion. To dislodge this cherished article of faith from the breasts of these elites is not as simple as passing legislation one day and moving the IDF in the next. One can imagine massive civil disobedience and internal strife in Israel which could last years. In addition, lets not forget the fallout in other parts of the world. Jewish communities around the world would be attacked and the governments in some places may do little to protect them. The rather ineffective BDS movement would receive an enormous shot of adrenaline with many communities agreeing to target Apartheid Israel – this time outlawing not just Israeli products deriving from Judea and Samaria (aka The West Bank) but from Israel proper;
And the United Nations Security Council ( with the U.S. refusing to apply its veto) will vote, not only to sanction Israel but to officially recognize a State of Palestine between the Jordan River and the 1949 Armistice Lines giving Palestine a seat in the General Assembly. All of which will amount to a greater degree of isolation and the designation of ‘pariah state’ than the Jewish state has ever known before.
One might also ask questions about the threat of military force. The author glosses over this possibility in her discussion of possible European responses, but she forgets about the formidable Turkish army and navy and its previous attempts, working behind the scenes, to break the blockade of Gaza in 2010 during the Mavi Mamara episode. Is it possible that Turkey, with European support and backing, could ignite a regional war against Israel which would draw the Jewish state into a protracted international military conflict that could rapidly spread?
These rather dramatic events, given what we have witnessed just this year in the world reaction to the Gaza War (which was only, we should remember, a limited military engagement of self- defense, and not an outright annexation) should inspire pause.
The word ‘solution’ connotes the idea of permanence – that the actions Israel undertakes in extending Israeli law to the territories will ultimately lead to an end of the Arab- Israel conflict and the imposition of a lasting, if grudging, peace. But this is not at all clear. Ms. Glick fails to recognize, (at least in her book – although she has done it elsewhere) that the Arab-Israeli conflict is not truly about territory, but is a religious and cultural war, driven by the twin Muslim beliefs that Jews are dhimmis who do not deserve the status of statehood in a traditional Muslim neighborhood and that the continued existence of such a state is a stain on national honor and identity that can only be redressed by the elimination of the State of Israel.
Given these enduring beliefs, such an intractable problem as the Arab-Israeli conflict may defy a permanent solution. Arab governments will never surrender their enmity to Israel because, as Ms. Glick should know, Arab enmity to Israel is both useful and religiously sanctioned. The whirlwind of hatred that has spun out of the Middle East because of this enmity will not abate and will most likely only intensify following annexation, sweeping up in its vortex the latent antisemitism of Europe and the adversity of other world governments to create a gale of resistance unlike any Israel has ever encountered.
Israeli statesmen for the past 67 years have been aware that international isolation is always the price that might be paid for taking matters into their own hands. Most often that isolation has only lasted weeks or months – as was the case when the Begin Government authorized the bombing of the Iraqi nuclear facilities at Osirak in 1981. But the risks of unilateral action on Israel’s part are real and cannot be taken lightly nor ignored.
What we may be left with is an intractable problem that even withannexation cannot be solved but only managed. Whether the annexation of Judea and Samaria could help manage the problem or else exacerbate it is a question that is difficult to accurately predict. While there remain excellent moral, political and historical reasons for Israel to extend Israeli law to the territories, there are just as good countervailing arguments against it. Any responsible Israeli government must weigh these considerations very carefully before committing itself to a course which could prove as disastrous as it proves providential.
America in Retreat: the New Isolationism and the Coming Global Disorder
by Bret Stephens (Sentinel, 2014 231 pages)
What would the world look like if America stopped investing its diplomatic and military resources in the troubled areas of the globe?
Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens has an idea.
The date is December 25, 2019, approaching Year Three of a Hillary Clinton presidency. Two and a half years previously, China had covertly taken possession of Kinmen Island – a few miles off the coast of Taiwan and within the latter nation’s territorial waters. Japan, witnessing the failure of the Americans to launch so much as a protest to this violation of international law in the U.N., begins to make overtures to long time enemy South Korea and a few months later, under cover of darkness, lands troops on the contested Senkaku Islands, a transparent attempt to forestall a Kinmen style fate for its claimed territory. Russia, already emboldened by uncontested invasions of Georgia and Ukraine a few years before, has seen its economy cratered by falling gas prices and to shore up his sagging popularity Russian dictator Vladimir Putin stirs the coals of Russian nationalism, exploiting an internal rebellion in Belarus by sending Russian tanks rolling into Minsk. With Belarus now conveniently transformed into a Russian satellite, Putin turns his eyes westward to the NATO defended Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The Clinton Administration has not said boo to the previous acts but is certain that Putin would never dare attack a NATO ally. But then again………
Meanwhile, in Iran, long time Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has died leaving his son Mojtaba as the new Guardian Jurist. Within months, uprisings in the Iranian provinces begin to wreak a general cleavage in the population and the Clinton brain trust, unwilling to relive the mistakes of the Obama Administration during Iran’s 2011 Green Revolution, begins to arm the insurgency. This unfortunately has unintended consequences as Iran’s ruling mullahs find themselves forced to the wall. When the insurgents attack the nuclear facilities at the Port of Bushehr, the West awakens to the reality that the collapsing regime’s new nuclear arsenal could fall into the hands of even more desperate Islamic militants. There is urgent NATO( and Israeli) talk about a multilateral force needed to invade Iran in order to secure the nuclear facilities. This sets the nervous mullahs on a war footing and contemplating the first belligerent use of a nuclear weapon since the detonation of the second Atom Bomb at Nagasaki in 1945.
Israel at the same time is confronted with a renewed effort of Palestinians to bring attention to their demands for statehood, independent of an internationally sanctioned agreement. In a 100,000 person march on the Qalandiya Checkpoint, which separates Ramallah from Jerusalem, Palestinians, each bedecked with a neck key – a poignant symbol of a right of return to purported ancestral homes – the crowd attempts to break through the checkpoint. The Israeli military response results in the death of twelve of the protesters and is caught on camera, and then labeled by the international press a massacre. International sanctions pour in from around the world. The U.S. Administration seeks to deliver a stern message to the government of Israeli prime minister Moshe Ya’alon – withdraw to the 1949 Armistice lines and allow the establishment of an independent Palestinian state or else risk the resetting of diplomatic relations between Israel and U.S. This only emboldens the Palestinians who repeat the Keys Marches all over the West Bank seeking to provoke Israeli retaliation.
The European continent faces its own form of crisis. With consistently low growth over several years, Germany slips into recession and one of its most significant state owned banks collapses. The German government announces that it is unwilling to bear the crushing weight of European debt any longer as it nervously watches its other banks lose confidence. Just as Germany is reconsidering its role as European savior, many of the constituent nations of a united Europe begin to fall apart. Catalonia in Spain, Flanders in Belgium and the Veneto in Italy all seek to separate from the sinking ship of Europe in which they play such a crucial economic role and the resulting referendums bring about the ultimate devolutionary crisis that the Brussels bureaucracy cannot stem.
The upshot of this vivid scenario, which comes late in Stephens’ America in Retreat, is to illustrate the chaos which might ensue when the United States gives up any pretense of serving as the world’s policeman – a job it had grudgingly assumed upon Britain’s post war abdication of the role. The scenario that Stephens paints draws directly from the experiences of the past six years as he demonstrates how the Obama Administration has consistently sought to distance itself from world events to the greatest extent possible, hiding behind multilateral actions and seeking to build international consensus instead of prosecuting a vigorous policy of its own. This misguided agenda has produced a raft of unintended consequences, including the emboldening of a revanchist Russia, the strengthening of Iranian drive for nuclear power, the recrudescence of Chinese imperialism and the devolution of Europe. It is the mantle that Hilary Clinton, should she succeed in her presidential quest, will inherit.
But more troubling than this is the abandonment of stalwart democratic allies. Israel, Poland, the Czech Republic, the Baltic states, Japan, Taiwan and India all now have doubts as to the worth of American guarantees and the trustworthiness of its promises. Stephens spares no effort to demonstrate how devastating the volte face has been for America’s reputation and the likely consequences of allowing our allies to hang out to dry.
Such an abandonment traces its roots among American politicians of both left and right to the concept of ‘ Declinism’ – the theory that American power is on the wane and that the nation can no longer maintain much of its influence in world affairs. The ‘ America Come Home’ slogan, which has anchored U.S. foreign policy over the past the past six years, is a fundamental reflection of this ideology. The battle for the control of American foreign policy is always a contest between internationalists who want more engagement in the world and realists who seek less. That is nothing new. What is perhaps new and alarming in our present day, Stephens contends, is the abiding sense of national impotence that the Obama Administration continues to convey to the American people and to the world – and which eclipses U.S. efforts to maintain a decisive influence in world affairs.
One factor that Stephens does unfortunately fail to mention is the Obama Administration’s resistance to drawing appropriate parallels from the 1938 Munich Agreement – the central event in world history whose lessons would form the foundation of America’s post war foreign policy. Every post-war president has at one time or another felt the need to invoke the memory of Munich – a determination to never appease nor tolerate aggression – as a cornerstone of a muscular American world view. Obama has never once referred to it -not in any speech nor in any writing. The glaring absence of this vital historical lesson in the thinking of the Commander -in- Chief, has exposed the empty core of his philosophy.
The battle for the control of American foreign policy is always a struggle between internationalists who want more engagement in the world and realists who seek less. That is nothing new. What is perhaps new and alarming in our present day is the abiding sense of national impotence that the Obama Administration continues to convey to the American people and to the world.
Stephens, whose witty, elegant prose in the Wall Street Journal has elevated him to the top echelons of American journalism (and last year won him the Pulitzer Prize), concludes his book with an analogy of the broken windows theory of policing. Expressed concisely it is the idea that increased police presence on our urban streets is in itself a deterrent to crime – enforcing community norms, punishing minor violations and maintaining a semblance of order. As with cities, so with nations. The institution of good policing prevents rogue nations exercising free rein and results in a global order which ultimately enhances American national interests.
The American performance of the role of the good cop walking a global beat was one of the key factors enabling the extraordinary spread of liberty and prosperity in the post- war world – at a level unknown in human history. It contributed decisively to the containment of communism with all its human miseries while facilitating the flow of free trade – which has been indispensable to worldwide economic growth. But we fool ourselves into believing that the world has settled into a modern day Shangri-la which requires no further monitoring. The internationalist and realist can both appreciate that the world is still a dangerous place, full of miscreants, rogues, liars and thieves – many of whom are committed to our undoing. If America forgets this and retreats from the world, it cannot be surprised when the chaos which then ensues one day washes up on its own shores.
This article was first published in Stubborn Things on December 3, 2014
THE NEW VICHY SYNDROME: Why European Intellectuals Surrender to Barbarism by Theodore Dalrymple ( Encounter, 2009)
Europeans have it good these days. Their life expectancy has never been higher. Benevolent state health care systems take care of their ailments from cradle to grave; working hours are short and vacations long; they are the wealthiest inhabitants of the continent in history, possessing an average continent-wide per captia income of $22,500.
Then why are they so damn miserable?
The European impending sense of doom is addressed in Theodore Dalrymple’s The New Vichy Syndrome : Why European Intellectuals Surrender to Barbarism.
A fatalistic world view is certainly not new to Europe. Since the First World War, French artists, Spanish writers, Italian politicians and British poets have predicting the demise of the West and the collapse of social order. That grew, as Dalrymple points out, from a manifest disillusionment about a war that served little purpose yet annihilated an entire generation.
Dalrymple quickly puts to rest an argument offered by a host of other polemicists such as Mark Steyn and Bruce Bawer, that Muslim population growth and declining European fertlity rates will soon enough result is a catastrophic demographic shift. In fact, fertility rates are declining in the Muslim population almost as rapidly as they are in regular European society. In addition, Muslims are assimilating faster than either Bawer or Steyn would care to admit, even though what remains publicly apparent is the extremist version of Islam, represented by flailing Imams and rioting youth.
No, Europeans, according to The New Vichy, are undergoing a far more devastating internal existential crisis, one in which they can no longer see much value in Europe’s storied past or undoubted achievements and can’t see much of a future either.
What are the symptoms that Dalymple, a retired physician, has diagnosed in his patient?
The first is bitterness at the loss of European power and significance. Since the end of the Second World War, Europe has lagged behind the United States in both production and productivity while allowing the technological revolution to be centered in places like Silicon Valley and Herzilya and not at the Sorbonne or the British Midlands.
Second, they bear limitless guilt for having imposed upon the world colonialism, the Holocaust and a raft of totalitarian ideologies which resulted in the mass murder of tens of millions.
The Europeans can’t seem to forgive themselves for having ruined the world and for having been tied to every malevolent development in world history since the beginning of the 20th century.
Third, is the sense that the elites of Europe – the intellectuals, political class, media and entertainment communities have felt the loss their entitlements as leaders of social change. And what better way to achive social change than the wholesale restructing of society to suit their own ends? This underlines the reason the environmental movement and global governance movement has gained so much traction in Europe. They offer these same elites a respository for their disillusion and a way forward for the reconsolidation of their power.
It all adds up to an acute attack of miserablism, an orotund term that Dalrymple coins as a designation for the nihilistic disease which afflicts European elites today.
Well, that all could be. But the author seems to skip over the most salient fact of all – Europeans have opted to live in the apparent comfort of a post-enlightenment world, where there is neither good nor evil, right nor wrong and where the benefits of democracy and the results of a hard won freedom are largely ignored in favor a politically relativist culture. Europeans have forgotten what it means to be free and in the process, denuded their own culture and civlization of any moral purpose.
Dalrymple might have developed this theme a little more forcefully by actually focusing on the writings of leading contemporary European intellectuals and revealing how morally spent they are. Offering an examination, for example, of the writings of Labévière, del Valle, Burgat or Gallois might have buttressed his argument with specific examples of the kind of intellectual, political and economic malaise he describes.
For all that, The New Vichy Syndrome is a powerful book which raises some significant questions about the fate of Europe and the bloated Union it has established. At the very least the book furnishes proof that there do exist Europeans who are still capable of understanding the mess continent is in and willing to state plainly how it got that way.
On a recent visit to Israel I had quite a bit of time on my hands to catch up on some reading. Here are some comments on a few of the books I managed to ply through on planes and between flights:
Start Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle by Saul Singer and Dan Senor. A powerful, anecdote- driven account of Israel’s rise from impoverished economic back water to its emergence this century as a high tech powerhouse. Singer and Senor provide fascinating portraits of some of the individuals behind this remarkable boom, including politicians such as Benjamin Netanyahu, Shimon Peres , the entrepreneurs such as Shai Agassi and Dov Frohman and the venture capitalists – Erel Margalit and Jonathan Medved. On the way, the two authors reveal one of the primary reasons Israel has been able to produce more start ups per capita than any other nation on earth – a military training which encourages innnovation, experimentation and individuality. You can find my interview with Saul Singer here.
State of Fear by Michael Chrichton. This is a book I have wanted to read for years, not because I think Crichton is much of a novelist, but because as a public figure he took such a defiant stand against radical environmentalism and the rush to judgment over anthropogenic global warming. It was an unusual position for a celebrity writer of his stature. The novel is, suffice to say, a fairly pedestrian thriller, involving the attempt of a group of environmental ” realists” to prevent a band of environmental extremists deliberately precipitating catastrophes around the world in order to bring further world attention to their cause. It is full of the usual wooden characters and preposterous plot lines that I have come to expect from Crichton. But what is fascinating is the author’s message , tacked onto the end of the book, in which he goes to town on the environmental movement, decrying its fixation with 1970s styled ideologies which are out of keeping with current research and technologies.
This quote itself was quite startling:
“In the 35- odd -years since the environmental movement came into existence, science has undergone a major revolution. This revolution has brought new understanding of non linear dynamics; Complex Systems, chaos theory, catastrophe theory; It has transformed the way we think about evolution and ecology. Yet these new ideas have hardly penetrated the thinking of environmental activists, which seems oddly fixated on the concepts and rhetoric of the 197os”
Shortly after State of Fear was written Crichton delivered his famous address Environmentalism As Religion at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. You can read that marvelous speech here. A brief glimpse into his thinking might be helpful:
“Today, one of the most powerful religions in the Western World is environmentalism. Environmentalism seems to be the religion of choice for urban atheists. Why do I say it’s a religion? Well, just look at the beliefs. If you look carefully, you see that environmentalism is in fact a perfect 21st century remapping of traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs and myths.”
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. Ok, its quite unlikely I would have read this if my 15 – year-old son was not studying the book at school and I was not being prevailed upon to help him with a class assignment. I had read the book twice before – once in my early teens and then again in my late 20s. I had always considered it a great adventure story, full of powerful imagery and detailed description which is exciting for any child or adult. What I had not remembered as clearly was the magnificently drawn characters and the way their emotional lives lend full blooded color to the story which, then, virtually lifts off from the page. It puts to shame Crichton’s novel in the sheer power of the writing and author’s descriptive skill. It is a must read for any aspiring novelist, to be advised that even the most high octane plot is nothing if it not driven by memorable, believable characters.
Why Are Jews Liberal? by Norman Podhoretz. A recent book, ( published in August , 2009) it is the second time I have read it, this time in preparation for my interview with Norman on December 16. It is , first and foremost, a great work of history, tracking the rise of antisemitism from the emergence of Christianity to its manifestations in the 20th century and revealing how Jews increasingly came to view oppression as coming at them from the right and therefore viewed the left as their safe harbor. This was despite the fact that there was often even greater animus to Jews there, which only grew with Bolshevism’s rise. Podhoretz comes to the conclusion that Jews have adopted liberalism as a religion in its own right, grafting their new faith’s tenets onto their old one by explaining Judaism’s major focus as a “universalistic” quest for ” social justice.” He goes to some lengths in pointing out that gay rights, feminist attitudes, gun control, abortion rights, affirmative action and sexual liberation have almost nothing to do with traditional Jewish teachings. But, of course, this does not not matter much to the modern liberal Jew. His world is essentially detached from the learned world of his forefathers, making it one of the great tragedy of our times.Yo u can listen to my interview with Norman Podhoretz here.