Sunday, January 19, 2014

Media Celebrate Michelle Obama’s 50th Birthday.

Media celebrate Michelle Obama’s 50th. Video. Media Buzz. Fox News, January 19, 2014. YouTube.

NBC, ABC Gush Over Michelle Obama’s 50th Birthday: “Hottest Party In Town.” By Jeffrey Meyer. NewsBusters, January 19, 2014.

Happy 50th Birthday, First Lady Michelle Obama! See Her 50 Best Fashion Moments Ever. InStyle, January 17, 2014.

Region Boiling, Israel Takes Up Castle Strategy. By Jodi Rudoren.

An Israeli security coordinator near Kiryat Shmona stood by the remains of a rocket fired from Lebanon last month. Ancho Gosh/Jinpix, via Reuters.

Region Boiling, Israel Takes Up Castle Strategy. By Jodi Rudoren. New York Times, January 18, 2014.


JERUSALEM — After a Katyusha rocket fired from Lebanon landed in Israel last month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed Hezbollah, the Shiite militia, and its Iranian backers. But Israeli security officials attributed the attack, as well as a similar one in August, to a Sunni jihadist group linked to Al Qaeda.
That disconnect is representative of the deepening dilemma Israel faces as the region around it is riven by sectarian warfare that could redraw the map of the Middle East.
Mr. Netanyahu and other leaders continue to see Shiite Iran and its nuclear program as the primary threat to Israel, and Hezbollah as the most likely to draw it into direct battle. Still, the mounting strength of extremist Sunni cells in Syria, Iraq and beyond that are pledging to bring jihad to Jerusalem can hardly be ignored.
As the chaos escalates, Israeli officials insist they have no inclination to intervene. Instead, they have embraced a castle mentality, hoping the moat they have dug — in the form of high-tech border fences, intensified military deployments and sophisticated intelligence — is broad enough at least to buy time.
“What we have to understand is everything is going to be changed — to what, I don’t know,” said Yaakov Amidror, who recently stepped down as Israel’s national security adviser. “But we will have to be very, very cautious not to take part in this struggle. What we see now is a collapsing of a historical system, the idea of the national Arabic state. It means that we will be encircled by an area which will be no man’s land at the end of the day.”
Mr. Amidror, a former major general in military intelligence, summed up the strategy as “Wait, and keep the castle.
Israeli leaders have tried to exploit recent events to bolster their case for a long-term military presence in the Jordan Valley, a sticking point in the United States-brokered peace talks with the Palestinians. In a speech this month, Naftali Bennett, head of the right-wing Jewish Home party, ticked off violent episodes in Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon, and concluded sarcastically, “A really excellent time to divest ourselves of security assets.”
Mr. Bennett, who opposes the establishment of a Palestinian state, might seize on any excuse to undermine the talks. But Israeli officials, and analysts with close ties to the government and security establishment, said the argument also had traction in more mainstream quarters. The deterioration in Iraq, which borders Jordan, has revived concerns about vulnerability on Israel’s eastern flank.
“From the Straits of Gibraltar to the Khyber Pass, it’s very hard to come by a safe and secure area,” Mr. Netanyahu told reporters here on Thursday. “Peace can be built on hope, but that hope has to be grounded in facts,” he said. “A peace that is not based on truth will crash against the realities of the Middle East.”
Michael Herzog, a retired Israeli general and former peace negotiator, said that “what you hear in Israeli government circles” is that the regional chaos “highlights the need for solid security arrangements.”
“The U.S. accepts the basic Israeli argument that given what’s happening in the region — suddenly jihadists are taking over Syria, and there’s no telling what will happen elsewhere — there is a legitimate cause for concern,” said Mr. Herzog, who has been consulting with the American team. “How to translate that into concrete security arrangements is something the parties are right now coping with.”
Israeli security and political officials have been unsettled by the rapid developments on the ground and in the diplomatic arena in recent weeks. Washington’s gestures toward Iran, not only on the nuclear issue but also with regard to Syria and Iraq, underscore a divergence in how the United States and Israel, close allies, view the region. At the same time, Saudi Arabia, which shares Israel’s concern about an emboldened Iran, is financing Sunni groups that view Israel as the ultimate enemy.
More broadly, the intensified fighting has convinced many Israelis that the region will be unstable or even anarchic for some time, upending decades of strategic positioning and military planning.
“Historically, Israel has preferred to have strong leaders, even if they’re hostile to Israel,” said Jonathan Spyer, a senior research fellow at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, citing President Bashar al-Assad of Syria as an example.
“It’s a problem without an address,” Mr. Spyer said of the Islamist groups often lumped together as “global jihad.” “Israel always likes to have an address. Assad we don’t like, but when something happens in Assad’s territory, we can bargain with him. These guys, there is no address. There is no one to bargain with.”
Maj. Gen. Yoav Har-Even, director of the Israeli military’s planning branch, said in an interview published this month in the newspaper Yediot Aharonot that global jihad had already “taken control of some of the arms warehouses” in Syria and established a presence in the Golan Heights. He called it a “central target” of intelligence efforts.
“I don’t have, today, a contingency plan to destroy global jihad,” General Har-Even acknowledged. “But I am developing the intelligence ability to monitor events. If I spot targets that are liable to develop into a problem, I take the excellent intelligence that I am brought, I process it for the target and plan action. And I have a great many such targets.”
Since the Arab Spring uprisings began in 2011, there have been two main schools of thought in Israel. One argues that the instability in the region makes resolving the Palestinian conflict all the more urgent, to provide a beacon on an uncertain sea. The other cautions against making any concessions close to home while the future of the neighborhood remains unclear. The camps have only hardened their positions in response to the recent developments.
“The most important lesson from the last few weeks is that you cannot rely on a snapshot of reality at any given time in order to plan your strategic needs,” said Dore Gold, president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and Israel’s former ambassador to the United Nations, who recently rejoined Mr. Netanyahu’s team as a freelance foreign policy adviser. “The region is full of bad choices. What that requires you to do is take your security very seriously. And you shouldn’t be intimidated by people saying, ‘Well, that’s a worst-case analysis,’ because lately, the worst is coming through.”
Efraim Halevy, a former director of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, views the landscape differently. Iran’s involvement in Syria and Iraq could distract it from its nuclear project, he said. Hezbollah has lost fighters in Syria and faced setbacks in its standing at home in Lebanon. Hamas, the Palestinian militant faction that controls the Gaza Strip, has been severely weakened by the new military-backed government in Egypt and its crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood. Syria’s military capacity has been greatly diminished.
“If you look all around, compared to what it was like six months ago, Israel can take a deep breath,” Mr. Halevy said. “The way things are at the moment, if you want to photograph it, it looks as if some of the potential is there for an improvement in Israel’s strategic position and interests. It’s more than ever a see and wait, and be on your guard, and protect yourself if necessary.”

For Arabs in Israel, Curriculum Choice Is Politically Charged. By Kate Shuttleworth.

For Arabs in Israel, Curriculum Choice Is Politically Charged. By Kate Shuttleworth. New York Times, January 19, 2014.

Obama, Melville, and the Tea Party. By Greg Grandin.

Obama, Melville, and the Tea Party. By Greg Grandin. New York Times, January 18, 2014.


IN 2009, shortly after Barack Obama’s successful campaign for the White House, the McNally Jackson bookstore in Manhattan organized a display of about 50 books that Mr. Obama had read as a young man. The titles were eclectic, with a good number by African-American authors, including Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin and Toni Morrison.
As a candidate, Mr. Obama demonstrated a remarkable rhetorical ability to present himself as both inhabiting and escaping from the worlds created by these writers. He even modeled his much praised memoir, “Dreams From My Father,” on Ellison’s 1952 novel, “Invisible Man.” Yet where Ellison’s young, idealistic black protagonist remains anonymous — the book ends with him alone in his underground apartment — Mr. Obama won the White House, inaugurating what many at the time hoped was a new, “postracial” America.
That optimism turned out to be premature. Today, anti-Obama signs with racist language accompany Tea Party rallies; a Confederate flag is unfurled in front of the White House to protest the government shutdown.
Looking back, there was one book in the McNally Jackson display, overlooked at the time, that could have helped us anticipate all this. That book was “Benito Cereno,” a largely forgotten masterpiece by Herman Melville. In today’s charged political environment, the message of Melville’s story bears rehearing.
“Benito Cereno” tells the story of Amasa Delano, a New England sea captain who, in the South Pacific, spends all day on a distressed Spanish ship carrying scores of West Africans who he thinks are slaves. They aren’t. Unbeknown to Delano, they had earlier risen up, slaughtered most of the crew and demanded that the captain, Benito Cereno, return them home to Senegal. After Delano boards the ship (to offer his assistance), the West Africans keep their rebellion a secret by acting as if they are still slaves. Their leader, a man named Babo, pretends to be Cereno’s loyal servant, while actually keeping a close eye on him.
Melville narrates the events from the perspective of the clueless Delano, who for most of the novella thinks Cereno is in charge. As the day progresses, Delano grows increasingly obsessed with Babo and the seeming affection with which the West African cares for the Spanish captain. The New Englander, liberal in his sentiments and opposed to slavery as a matter of course, fantasizes about being waited on by such a devoted and cheerful body servant.
Delano believes himself a free man, and he defines his freedom in opposition to the smiling, open-faced Babo, who he presumes has no interior life, no ideas or interests of his own. Delano sees what he wants to see. But when Delano ultimately discovers the truth — that Babo, in fact, is the one exercising masterly discipline over his inner thoughts, and that it is Delano who is enslaved to his illusions — he responds with savage violence.
Barack Obama may have avoided the fate of the protagonist of “Invisible Man,” but he hasn’t been able to escape the shadow of Babo. He is Babo, or at least he is to a significant part of the American population — including many of the white rank and file of the Republican Party and the Tea Party politicians they help elect.
“Benito Cereno” is based on a true historical incident, which I started researching around the time Mr. Obama announced his first bid for the presidency. Since then, I’ve been struck by the persistence of fears, which began even before his election, that Mr. Obama isn’t what he seems: that instead of being a faithful public servant he is carrying out a leftist plot hatched decades ago to destroy America; or if not that, then he is a secret Muslim intent on supplanting the Constitution with Islamic law; or a Kenyan-born anti-colonialist out to avenge his native Africa.
No other American president has had to face, before even taking office, an opposition convinced of not just his political but his existential illegitimacy. In order to succeed as a politician, Mr. Obama had to cultivate what many have described as an almost preternatural dominion over his inner self. He had to become a “blank screen,” as Mr. Obama himself has put it, on which others could project their ideals — just as Babo is for Delano. Yet this intense self-control seems to be what drives the president’s more feverish detractors into a frenzy; they fill that screen with hatreds drawn deep from America’s historical subconscious.
Published in late 1855, as the United States moved toward the Civil War, “Benito Cereno” is one of the most despairing stories in American literature. Amasa Delano represents a new kind of racism, based not on theological or philosophical doctrine but rather on the emotional need to measure one’s absolute freedom in inverse relation to another’s absolute slavishness. This was a racism that was born in chattel slavery but didn’t die with chattel slavery, instead evolving into today’s cult of individual supremacy, which, try as it might, can’t seem to shake off its white supremacist roots.
THIS helps explain those Confederate flags that appear at conservative rallies, as well as why Tea Party-backed politicians like Sarah Palin and Rand Paul insist on equating federal policies they don’t like with chattel bondage. Believing in the “right to health care,” Mr. Paul once said, is “basically saying you believe in slavery.”
As for Mr. Obama, he continues to invoke fantasies that seem drawn straight from Melville’s imagination. One Republican councilman, in Michigan, attended a protest carrying an image of Mr. Obama’s decapitated head on a pike, which happens to be the very fate that befalls Babo once his ruse unravels. Another Republican ran for Congress in Florida with a commercial featuring Mr. Obama as the captain of a slave ship.
Over 60 years ago, Ralph Ellison began “Invisible Man” with an epigraph drawn from “Benito Cereno.” It’s a pleading question that Delano asks Cereno after the revolt is put down and Babo is executed: “You are saved: what has cast such a shadow upon you?” Though Ellison purposefully omitted it from his epigraph, in today’s America it is still worth recalling Cereno’s answer: “The Negro.”

At Last, Conservative Reform. By Ross Douthat.

At Last, Conservative Reform. By Ross Douthat. New York Times, January 18, 2014.

Former NYT Editor Bill Keller Mansplains to Cancer Patient Lisa Bonchek Adams to Shut Up and Die the Right Way. By Katie Halper.

Former NYT editor mansplains to cancer patient to shut up and die the right way. By Katie Halper. Feministing, January 14, 2014.

Emma Keller Wonders: Does This Cancer Patient Tweet Too Much? By Hamilton Nolan. Gawker, January 9, 2014.

Bill and Emma Keller Wish You Would Just Shut Up About Your Cancer Already, Lisa Adams. By Snipy. Wonkette, January 13, 2014.

A note to Bill and Emma Keller: Tweeting about cancer isn’t over-sharing if it helps someone. By Mathew Ingram. Gigaom, January 13, 2014.

Lisa Bonchek Adams and the Problem with Criticizing a Woman Who Documents Her Cancer Treatment Online. By Lisa Belkin. The Huffington Post, January 13, 2014.

On Live-Tweeting One’s Suffering. By Megan Garber. The Atlantic, January 13, 2014.

No Shame: Bill Keller Bullies Cancer Patient. By Greg Mitchell. The Nation, January 13, 2014.

Bill and Emma Keller Write Matching Cancer Columns, Face Internet Wrath. By Joe Coscarelli. New York Magazine, January 13, 2014.

Bill and Emma Keller’s bizarre pieces about cancer patient Lisa Adams. By Daniel D’Addario. Salon, January 13, 2014.

Forget funeral selfies. What are the ethics of tweeting a terminal illness? By Emma G. Keller. The Guardian, January 8, 2014. [cached at the Internet Archive.]

Heroic Measures. By Bill Keller. New York Times, January 12, 2014.

Why an article on Lisa Bonchek Adams was removed from the Guardian site. By Chris Elliott. The Guardian, January 16, 2014.

Lisa Bonchek Adams, Tweeting Cancer and Loneliness. By Francesca Kaplan Grossman. The Huffington Post, January 16, 2014.

Lisa Bonchek Adams website.

Lisa Bonchek Adams Twitter.

Lisa Bonchek Adams Facebook.

Lisa Bonchek Adams

Hillary’s Hit List. By Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes.

Hillary’s Hit List. By Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes. Politico, January 12, 2014.

How I Gave Up on Snark to Become a Canadian Politician. By Chrystia Freeland.

How I Gave Up on Snark to Become a Canadian Politician. By Chrystia Freeland. Politico, Jan 14, 2014.

Abandoning “snarky” media for politics. Video. Chrystia Freeland interviewed by Howard Kurtz. Media Buzz. Fox News, January 19, 2014. YouTube.