Friday, October 26, 2007 My Latest Favorites

Here are some more of my favorites that aren't currently in the top 10: a question about free market health care, science, and medical marijuana.

So far, the top questions are fairly diverse, except for two questions about corporate rights, which ask basically the same thing.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Colbert, Be Fake All the Way

I don't understand the point of Stephen Colbert's candidacy in the South Carolina presidential primaries. The comedian is actually taking steps to have his name listed on the ballots of both the Republican and Democratic primaries, which will take place on January 19 and 26, respectively.

A fake run for office could be entertaining. Other comedians and satirists have done it in the past. It's the official part that I don't get. Is it going to be any funnier if Colbert will actually get some votes? I don't know how the delegate selection process works exactly, but at least in the Democratic primaries, it isn't a winner-take-all system. What if Colbert actually gets a delegate or two elected to one of the parties' nomination convention? Hypothetically, it could happen.

Also, now Colbert will actually have to adhere to campaign laws, which, considering the fakeness of his run, is kind of ridiculous. The Colbert Report production team has already hired lawyers to make sure they don't violate election law. What if some smart-ass decides to go to court to take his show off the air in SC till the day after the primary because of equal time laws? The officialness will put restraints on him that a truly fake campaign wouldn't have to deal with.

If Colbert wants to run a fake campaign, it should be fake all the way. As it is, he's only pretending to run in SC, without any hope or aspiration to win, so he should really pretend. He should do all his crazy stuff without having to pay thousands of dollars to the political parties to become an official candidate.

Here's an entertaining thought: maybe President Bush will now try to get a United States Attorney to prosecute Colbert for election violations as vengeance for Colbert's White House Correspondents Dinner speech. Nah, that would never happen...

Monday, October 22, 2007

President Bush Tells a Joke

I just saw this quote from a presidential press conference on a New York Times blog:

Q: Mr. President, following up on Vladimir Putin for a moment, he said, recently, that next year, when he has to step down according to the constitution, as the president, he may become prime minister; in effect keeping power and dashing any hopes for a genuine democratic transition there.

BUSH: I’ve been planning that myself.

Sunday, October 21, 2007 My Favorites So Far

In my opinion, these are the two best questions so far:

And this next guy, I'm not even sure what he means...

He's probably referring to TV networks like Fox News, but he could also be talking about something like open Wi-Fi networks for all. Who knows. Anyway, I don't really see what the president has to do with the contents of television broadcasts. Questions I Won't Ask

These are some questions I thought of posting on, but then came to the conclusion they aren't important or original enough:

1. Every president since Jimmy Carter has thanked his predecessor in his inaugural address. Will you thank President Bush during your inauguration? Why does he deserve or not deserve the nation's gratitude?

At first I thought this might be a tricky question for candidates from both parties under the guise of a trivial question. Then I realized that it is just a trivial question. Candidates would either say Bush is a good man even if he made mistakes, or that they'd thank him only out of common courtesy.

2. Would you elevate the EPA to the status of a full cabinet department under a Secretary of Environmental Protection?

I tried to think of an original "green question", but what I came up with is too technical.

3. As an American in Israel I live in what is probably the only country that still likes the United States. Americans living abroad in other countries can feel the rising contempt toward us. How would you change that?

Questions about America's standing in the world have been already asked in the debates.

4. How do you see the Middle East is the year 2020 and how would you make that vision a reality?

This is the closest to a good question I've come up with so far, but it is too broad. Besides, I'd get the same response from every candidate - two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side, and a more stable, democratic Arab world, blah blah. The idea of how to achieve that wouldn't be much more original either.

Anyway, check out my next post where I'll show you what my favorite questions are so far.

No Constitution for Israel

Last week Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced to the Knesset that a proposed constitution will be brought to a vote this year. Different teams, both official and unofficial, have been working separately on different proposals to replace Israel's Basic Laws with a constitution, and it isn't clear which proposal Olmert has in mind. One of the proposals is being prepared by the Knesset's Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, whose chairman, MK Menachem Ben-Sasson, told Ha'aretz that a constitution would probably hurt minority rights. The thing is that in order to gain the support of the religious parties, the religious status-quo must be maintained, or rather restored to what it was in the past. That means getting rid of some of our more liberal laws and Supreme Court rulings.

Politicians think a constitution would be a magical cure to the problems of unstable governments and frequent elections (every two or three years instead of four). Proponents say the rules of the political game must be clear and hard to change, unlike the current Basic Law that can be easily changed (some with 61 out of 120 votes, others with a simple plurality). That is true, but that can be addressed by changing specific Basic Laws, especially the ones about the political system, but a constitution which would hurt Israelis' rights is worse than no constitution at all.

And in a semi-related story, a group of ultra-orthodox men attacked a male soldier and a religious woman for sitting next to each other on a bus and then attacked police officers who were called to the scene. These guys would probably like Ben-Sasson's constitution, wouldn't they?

Saturday, October 20, 2007

A Depressing Peace Index

Most Palestinians wouldn't think that what I am willing to give up in exchange for peace with them is enough, and most Israelis aren't willing to give the Palestinians as much as I am. I was reminded of that sobering reality when I read the latest results of the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research's latest Peace Index, a monthly survey of Israeli opinion regarding the peace process.

While most Israelis generally favor peace talks and don't think either side can continue on like this much longer, there is a huge gap between Israelis and Palestinians regarding the two most important issues, the ones that will make or break a future peace treaty.

54% of Israelis (59% of Jews) are opposed to giving the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem to the Palestinians to be their capital. I'd do this in a heartbeat. Even ultra-right winger Avigdor Lieberman has no problem with this. Maybe some respondents took this to mean giving up all of East Jerusalem, including the Western Wall, which might explain the resistance.

On the question of refugees 76% of all Israelis (87% among Jews) aren't willing to allow even one refugee into Israel. 7% are willing to let up to 100,000 refugees return, and 11% are willing to let them all return. Most of the support for a full right of return comes from Israeli Arabs, since only 3% of Jews support it. Here I'm in agreement with the vast majority of Israelis.

Here's a question I'd like the next surveys to include: would you agree to accept responsibility for the Naqbah and the refugee problem, at least partial responsibility, and to compensate the refugees in exchange for peace? I'd agree to that if the Palestinians gave up on the right of return, but I don't know if most Israelis would.

You can read the report here in pdf or Word (doc) format.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Presidential Elections:

Take a look at, an interesting new attempt at getting politicians running for president to actually listen to voters and answer their questions. Here's the video that explains the concept:

So far there are only 33 questions but hopefully the site will gain enough popularity so the candidates will pay attention to it.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Goodbye, Kevin Leitch

I was surprised to find out that Left Brain/Right Brain, Kevin Leitch's blog about autism, is shutting down. Kevin explains the reason:

The reason LB/RB is shutting is because I cannot continue to allow my beautiful eldest girl to be exposed to the hatred and bullying she is recieving from John Best. John has seen fit to compare my beautiful child to a trained monkey because he didn't like the fact she was progressing. He has made numerous jokes at her expense on that theme. He has assumed her identity online. He has encouraged others to do the same.

At first glance, this may seem like an overreaction, but I can understand Kevin's decision. I don't know much about John Best, and Kevin has become quite acquainted with him over the years. If he feels his daughter is in danger I can't criticize him for shutting down. It is too bad that Best's extremely aggressive tactics have been successful. This amounts to cyberbullying, as one blogger put it.

LB/RB was an interesting blog. Though I found it repetitive at times, with the same arguments between the two sides repeating themselves, the blog's posts usually looked at different arguments from new angles, as well as other information that was new to me. I hope Kevin will change his mind one day.

It is unfortunate that a debate between people whose main concern is the well being of their children often turns ugly. Whether you think thimerosal in vaccines causes autism or you think it is genetic and support Neurodiversity, your arguments should be based on facts, not personal attacks.

By the way, this is my 300th post. Too bad it wasn't devoted to something more positive.

The Turkish-Armenian Dilemma

The non-binding Armenian genocide resolution set to come before the United States House of Representatives has the odd quality of being totally right and totally wrong simultaneously. It is right because the Armenian genocide should be recognized as such. Not many outside of Turkey dispute this. Why is it wrong? Because it comes at a very bad time.

Democrats are shooting themselves in the foot, as would the United States as a whole. Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the resolution's author, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi are making Democrats vulnerable to accusations of not caring for US troops in Iraq. Pissing off Turkey right now is a bad move, even though it is immoral not to recognize one of the first genocides of the 20th century.

Now there is indication the House resolution may be dead because of the backlash. This is good, for now. This should come up again when the United States is out of Iraq and Afghanistan and doesn't depend on Turkey for logistic support, and when a Turkish invasion of Iraqi Kurdistan wouldn't be such a threat to Iraqi stability. Maybe if most countries of the world agreed to recognize the genocide, Turkey would not be able to punish anyone for such a move.

Both the United States and Turkey come out bad from this affair. Turkey brazenly decided to impose sanctions on Armenia, punishing it for lobbying in favor of the resolution. Punishing the descendants of the genocide is shameless. Turkey should definitely be rebuked for that.

Turkey also should be rebuked for how it dragged Israel into this. Their foreign minister was here last week and he demanded that Israel prevent Congress from adopting the resolution and said that it would not only harm relations with the United States, it would also harm relations with Israel. They didn't say the same thing about relations with another American ally, the UK. Why? I guess because the Brits don't control America, but the Turkish government thinks that Israel, through the vast Jewish conspiracy, could get Congress to vote any way the Elders of Zion want. Fuck them. The foreign minister also threatened that the Jewish community in Turkey would suffer from a backlash if the genocide were recognized. If Israel had any guts we'd say, "you know what, if that's how you're trying to fight this - with anti-Semitic threats, we might as well adopt our own resolution recognizing the Armenian genocide".

The President Who Cried Wolf

In hindsight, going to war in Iraq was a grave mistake. Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction. There's nothing new or groundbreaking about that statement.

Now the world is abuzz with talk of Iran developing nuclear weapons. A lot of people feel like this is deja vu all over again, and in a way they are right. President Bush and most of the presidential candidates seem to be on a war footing with Iran, but people don't believe the WMD argument anymore. Bush used it up in 2003 and it turned out to be false. Why believe in the Iranian nuclear threat this time around?

I believe Iran is developing nuclear weapons. I admit I believed the same thing about Iraq four years ago, but this time around I'm more convinced. For one thing, Ahmedinijad has made several statements about Iran's nuclear program, though he claims it is for peaceful purposes. Why does this oil rich country need nuclear power? Have the ayatollahs suddenly become environmentalists? Second of all, a lot more countries are warning of Iranian nukes than there were countries that supported an invasion of Iraq. Changes of leadership are not the only cause of this major difference. Both France and Germany have said they are truly concerned.

President Vladimir Putin is trying to play against the United States and Europe in this matter. He's shortsighted here. Though he acknowledged Iranian nukes would be a threat to Russia, he doesn't think they are being manufactured. He thinks it is in Russia's best interest to side with Iran on this issue, but that is extremely dangerous for his country, exactly because Iranian nukes are also threats to Russian national security.

Having said all this, I still oppose a war against Iran at this point. A war is the second worst option on the table, only being better than letting Iran get nukes. A war would be disastrous for everybody. Even with a large international coalition, such a war would be devastating to many countries and wouldn't assure the destruction of Iran's nuclear program. The United States military is stretched thin and Israel would be bombarded by missiles from the east and north, courtesy of Iran and their Lebanese subsidiary, Hezbollah.

The best option is harsh sanctions until Iran allows sufficient inspections. This is the only option that would avoid disaster, but countries like Russia and Venezuela are making the success of such a move doubtful.

A Racist Nobel Laureate

James Watson, who was one of the scientists to win the 1962 Nobel Prize for Medicine for the discovery of DNA, may be a talented scientist but he's also an idiot. He said in a recent interview that the West's foreign policy toward Africa was wrong, since it's based on the assumption that black people are intellectually equal to white people. He says tests have shown that this isn't the case. He also said that anyone who has spoken to a black person could see that blacks aren't as intelligent as white folks.

As a world renowned geneticist, not-so-dear Watson is a very dangerous racist. His bogus scientific proof can sound convincing to many. Never mind that in the past there were advanced and successful African civilizations, including black African civilizations, which were destroyed by European colonialism. In fact, in ancient times, black people were treated equally in the Greek and Roman cultures. This concept of black inferiority came only later, when Africa became the main source for slaves. But racists don't know this and won't acknowledge it.

There's a chance British authorities will indict him for hate speech. I hope they do, even if he goes back to the United States, where he'll be safe from prosecution. It won't bother him much, but at least it will inconvenience him.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Surprising Hezbollah Swap

Israelis were surprised yesterday by the sudden swap of one Israeli dead body in exchange for two dead Hezbollah fighters and one 50-year old Lebanese prisoner. Not only did we not know there was a deal in the works, we never even heard of the dead Israeli before, even though he had been missing since January 2005. Gavriel Davit apparently drowned in Israeli waters near Haifa and his body was swept away by the currents of the Mediterranean into Lebanon. The deal also included information about the whereabouts of Israeli Air Force officer Ron Arad, who was captured in Lebanon in 1986. Apparently the info was neither new nor useful.

This is quite an odd deal. It's supposed to be a trust-building step on the way to a bigger prisoner exchange which would include the return of Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, the two Israeli soldiers whose capture by Hezbollah on July 12, 2006, triggered the Second Lebanon War. But Hezbollah is still insisting that a precondition to any information about their condition is the release of hundreds of prisoners. Unfortunately, this probably means that Regev and Goldwasser are already dead, so there isn't any real reason to keep talking to Hezbollah. Prisoners should not be released in exchange for information or dead bodies - only in exchange for live captives.

The release of one prisoner yesterday is not that bad compared with the release in 2004 of four hundred terrorists in exchange for three dead soldiers and one Israeli drug dealer, but it isn't that great either. The Israeli government says that since he's in his 50's and apparently lost his sanity in prison, he's not a threat to Israel. Alright, I'll give them the benefit of the doubt.

Unless I'm wrong about the two soldiers being dead, I don't see how yesterday's exchange is a positive move in any direction. It isn't as if we're in peace talks with Hezbollah. Peace is not on their minds.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Annapolis 1786 and 2007

Here's an interesting bit of American history. The Annapolis Convention of 1786, which was convened after the Articles of Confederation proved inadequate for the United States, was a failure. Eight states snubbed it. The five states that showed up did achieve one thing - they called for another convention in Philadelphia, which would eventually produce the constitution and create "a more perfect Union".

Why the history lesson? Because it seems like the Israeli-Arab peace conference scheduled to take place in Annapolis next month is doomed to be snubbed by most Arab states, and quite possibly by the two main parties - Israel and the Palestinians. Every day the newspaper headlines show warnings from different countries warning about things that may doom the Annapolis conference to failure. Israel is complaining about rockets from Gaza and the Egyptians allowing arms and terrorists into Gaza. The Palestinians are complaining about roadblocks within the West Bank. The Egyptians and Jordanians, as well as other Arab countries have issued warnings of their own that if this or that will not be fixed they will not attend. Even the host, the United States, is thinking of postponing the conference.

At this point, it seems Annapolis will fail in achieving a settlement. The most I'm hoping for is a repeat of the 1786 Convention in the form of an agreement to hold another conference, which would be more successful. This can be achieved. The two sides can get as close as possible to an agreement but realize they don't have the political capital at home to get it approved, so they'll announce they've made progress but need another conference, possibly in a few months from now, when the outcomes of the criminal investigations against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will be clearer, and thus the political scene more stable.

The most irritating thing about this ongoing conflict is that there is a consensus between Israelis and Palestinians regarding most of the issues, but two main problems stand - refugees and Jerusalem. Both sides have to be very creative in finding solutions here, because currently the two sides' positions are the exact opposite of one another.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Bill Clinton's Gore-ish Nightmare

Step 1 of Bill Clinton's nightmare is coming true. He had a dream of winning a Nobel Prize for Peace for his efforts to bring peace to the Middle East. Now his former Vice-President, Al Gore, has gotten the nod while Clinton himself is empty handed. The next steps in the nightmare are as follows:
  • Gore's Nobel convinces him he should run for president.
  • Gore defeats Hillary in the primaries.
  • Since Hillary is not elected president, Bill is not appointed Special Envoy to the Middle East, which would have been his best chance to earn his own Nobel.

So, Gore, December in Norway, January in Iowa? That would be interesting...

But enough about presidential politics. Do Al Gore and the United Nations' Panel on Climate Change deserve the prize? The Nobel committee certainly gave in to a trend. It's very fashionable to talk about global warming these days. That doesn't mean that it was wrong. It was right to address this issue this year.

Are Al Gore and the UN panel the climate change advocates most worthy of a prize? Yes, they are. Al Gore is not only the most prominent advocate, he's also been addressing the topic for decades. He didn't hop on a trendy bandwagon - he created it. The worthiness of the UN panel is less clear cut. On the one hand it didn't say anything that other scientists haven't been saying for years. On the other hand, it is the most high-level official panel to say these things, and that is their importance and that is why, in the final analysis, the panel is worthy of the Nobel.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Bad Movies, Free of Charge

Israeli satellite TV company Yes has opened up its pay-per-view service, DVDBox, to all customers for free. This comes as compensation for serious disruptions in service in some parts of the country. Fortunately for me, I have not experienced these disruptions at all but I still get free access to DVDBox. All in all, I can't complain, though those who actually couldn't watch television for whole days certainly can.

I expected to find the best movies playing on DVDBox. After all, these are movies that should be worth paying extra for, the cream of the crop, right? Wrong. There are some good movies, like "The Illusionist", "Children of Men", and "Alpha Dog", as well as a few children's movies that might be good. Other than that, I found most of the movies to be worse than those on the usual movie channels. First, there was the hour and a half I wasted on "The Contract", a stupid movie making absolutely no use of the talents of its two wonderful actors, Morgan Freeman and John Cusack. I later learned it was a direct-to-video flick. There were other stupid movies which I didn't even watch - "Step Up", Paris Hilton's "Pledge This", "Stick it" and "End Game".

Anyway, broadcasts are still being disrupted in other areas of Israel. Foreign spy ships have been mentioned as possible culprits, though oddly enough, they're Dutch ships. The folks at Yes have promised that further compensation will be given to customers, and again, I hope to benefit from the woes of others, getting compensated for something that didn't happen to me. I'm thinking free access to all channels for 3 months would ease my non-suffering just fine.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Nobel Week

With the announcement of the winners of the Nobel Prize in Medicine tomorrow, the 2007 Nobel Week will be upon us. Aside from the annual question of whether any Israelis will win any prizes (David Grossman and Amos Oz are always mentioned as top contenders for a Literature Nobel), which applies to all categories, I'm most interested in which political controversies will be conjured up by the various Nobel committees.

I don't expect controversies in the first three prizes to be announced, unless they involve embryonic stem cell research or cloning. The picks for medicine, chemistry and physics might cause debates among scholars as to whether or not the winners were the most worthy scientifically, but the winners there are usually selected truly because of scientific merit. The last three prizes, literature (to be announced Thursday), Peace (Friday) and Economics (next Monday) are the interesting ones. The peace prize is purely political. No matter who is chosen, controversy will quickly follow. Bloggers will start analyzing what message the Norwegian committee is sending President Bush. It could be someone big and famous (a world leader, Bono, Bill Gates etc.) or it could be someone relatively unknown, like when Shirin Ebadi and Wangari Maathai were awarded the prize in 2003 and 2004, respectively.

Literature and economics are less political. Economic research has more direct political impact than the exact sciences, though usually this prize is awarded according to merit. I'm sure the committee didn't give Robert Aumann the prize in 2005 for his extremist right-wing views. It will be interesting to see if the winner of the literature prize will be a critic of President Bush like 2005's Harold Pinter, or a persecuted writer like last year's winner, Orhan Pamuk.

Anyway, brace yourselves for some international discontent this week.