Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Oskar Schell Goes to the Movies

I read Jonathan Safran Foer's novel "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" four and a half years ago. I absolutely loved it. I even posted a review on this blog (which I don't remember ever doing with other books), and discussed the question of whether or not Oskar is autistic (I said no, most commenters said yes). For some reason, the latter post is the most popular one on my blog, with people reaching it through Google searches every day. Apparently, the question is on the minds of many (though it seems like often it has been assigned to them for a school paper).

Now there's a movie adaptation out, which is even nominated for a Best Film Oscar. I have only seen a couple of trailers, since the movie itself hasn't opened in Israel yet. The reviews are mixed, with some critics saying it is a manipulative weepy.

From the trailer and other things I've read, the movie has done away with any ambiguity about autism/Asperger's, and even mentions that Oskar was assessed for Asperger's but the diagnosis was inconclusive. I'm not too happy about that. I think it would have been better to let moviegoers decide for themselves, just like the novels lets readers decide for themselves. Of course, I have no way of knowing whether or not that hurts the film.

I'll certainly write about the movie again after I see it.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Newt Gingrich: America's Netanyahu

Conventional wisdom about the presidential elections looks like it may be wrong again, just like it was wrong in 2008. Newt Gingrich just might end up being the Republican nominee, rather than Mitt Romney. Even scarier, the guy might get himself elected president.

If this happens, my two countries, Israel and the United States, will have chief executives who are each other's clones. Politically, they're both on the extremely conservative side (though in Netanyahu's case, that's mainly true about economics and hawkishness, and less about social issues). That's probably why both of them are backed by Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson: Adelson has given millions to a pro-Gingrich SuperPAC and owns a free Israeli daily, "Yisrael Hayom", which many consider Netanyahu's unofficial spokesman.

The differences don't stop there. Netanyahu and Gingrich are both married to their third wives. Gingrich cheated on Wife No. 1 with Wife No. 2, and then on Wife No. 2 with Wife No. 3. As far as I know, Netanyahu was already divorced when he met Wife No. 3, Sarah, but in the early 90's he admitted to cheating on her when he thought a sex tape was about to be made public (in an interview with Sarah, which everybody compared to Bill and Hillary Clinton's famous interview).

In today's New York Times, Frank Bruni writes about many of Gingrich's negative character traits. When I read the article, all I could think of was the fact that it almost sounded like Bruni was talking about Netanyahu. Gingrich and Netanyahu like to falsely insert themselves into important events of the late 20th century (for example, Netanyahu once reminisced about Rehavam Ze'evi's time in his cabinet, even though Ze'evi never joined Bibi's government; other times, he claimed his first government proposed all kinds of initiatives that were actually started under other prime ministers). Also, Netanyahu and Gingrich regularly attack the elites, and just as Bruni can't find a definition of "elite" where Gingrich isn't part of it, I can't find a definition of the word that doesn't include Netanyahu.

As Bruni notes, Gingrich trumpets his Roman Catholicism and attacks secularists, despite having had a six-year affair with his current wife. Netanyahu, too, has whispered in the ears of rabbis that the left has "forgotten how to be Jewish", although he himself is far from being a righteous religious Jew.

I could go on: their animosity toward the media, except when it helps them; their love of deregulation; their de-facto opposition to the two-state solution, and much much more.

Oh, and there's one more similarity: I really would like neither one to be in government.

Hacker Wars

In today's Haaretz (Hebrew edition only), Assaf Ronel criticizes the Israeli hackers who published the credit card details of innocent Saudi civilians in retaliation for a Saudi hacker revealing innocent Israelis' credit card information. He also argues that Israeli police should investigate the Israeli hackers.

Ronel is absolutely right. Responding to criminal acts with criminal acts of our own should not be our way. The police should arrest and prosecute those who hacked into Saudi websites and stole credit card numbers.

There is a lot of idiocy in this whole affair. Calling hacking Cyberterrorism, as our genius Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon has, is just stupid. It's a nuisance, a crime and might cost credit card companies money, but it isn't terrorism. You don't fear for your life, and there are very easy ways to avoid falling prey to hackers (like using PayPal, for instance, or only very trustworthy Israeli websites). So chill, Ayalon.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

"The West Wing" Holy Land Map

A Palestinian friend of mine linked to the clip above on Facebook, and I later saw it pop up on various anti-Israel sites. In case the video disappears due to copyright infringement, here's a description: The clip shows the fictional President Bartlett of "The West Wing" receiving a 1709 map of what is now Israel, which is titled "Palestine/Canaan/Holy Land", but does not mention Israel. The president loves the gift and wants to put it up on the wall, but his staff members are afraid of the political and diplomatic fall-out.

The anti-Israel crowd seems to love this clip. I love this clip, too, but not for the same reason. Anti-Zionists might see this clip as suggesting that the area doesn't belong to the Jews, because Israel didn't exist before 1948, but the geographical designation "Palestine" did. Also, they might see it as suggesting that the Israel Lobby is so powerful that the president can't put up such a benign map.

I don't think the clip is necessarily suggesting any of that. It's brilliant because it shows how politically charged history and geography can be. The way you teach history and the way you draw maps (both in how you label them and the boundaries you mark) is bound to piss someone off. It could have been a map of the UK, showing all of Ireland as part of it, or a map labeling present-day India, Pakistan and Bangladesh as one united India, or any other explosive situation. Perhaps they chose Israel as the best-known example, or because it would make sense for a Christian to want to put up a map of the Holy Land, but not of another foreign region of the world.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

1948 vs. 1967

Prof. Asher Susser of Tel-Aviv University was interviewed on the news show "London and Kirschenbaum" last week. He said interesting things that are worth repeating. The gist of it was that there are two "cases" in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict: the Case of 1948 and the Case of 1967. The latter is easier to resolve, and indeed, the two sides have come closer on '67-related issues over the years: the two-state solution, borders, and even the question of Jerusalem. The Case of 1948, however, seems harder to resolve, if it is even possible at all. Over the last few years the gaps have even widened over the issues stemming from the very birth of the State of Israel: Palestinian refugees, the Jewish character of Israel, the question of Israeli responsibility for the Nakba, etc.

So if we realize that this is the reality, what is to be done? Susser suggested in the interview that Israel should withdraw unilaterally from most of the West Bank, except for the large settlement blocs just on the green line. I strongly disagree with this solution. I opposed the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, and in hindsight, I was absolutely right. Unilateralism is a disaster that awards and encourages terrorism like the rocket fire from the Strip.

It is exactly this inability to resolve the Case of 1948 that makes unilateralism dangerous.  If we leave the West Bank and semi-solve some of the 1967 problems without any agreement, the Palestinians will be encouraged to keep fighting for 1948. We need an agreement - not because it will absolutely prevent Palestinians from reigniting the flames of conflict, but because it will be our insurance in case they do. If Palestinians violate the agreement, the world will hold them responsible.

So what's the solution? That's the million dollar question and I don't have an answer.

Since the interview was in Hebrew, I looked for a similar link in English. Here is a lecture Prof. Susser gave at a conference at Tel-Aviv University a few months ago, where he pretty much discusses the same issue. It's almost 20 minutes long, but it is worth it. He talks more specifically about 1948 vs. 1967 near the end, at the 1 hour 7 minute mark, if you don't want to hear the whole thing.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Tel-Aviv: Gay Capital of the World

Those who like to scream "pinkwashing" (i.e., using gay rights to cover up Israel's human rights violations) are going to blow a gasket. Tel-Aviv has won a competition for best gay city in the world. The contest was run by American Airlines. Congrats Tel-Aviv!

Is it the most homosexual-friendly place in the world? Probably not, but it is one of the top, and though I am neither gay or live in Tel-Aviv, I assume it is the best, most accepting place in Israel and in the Middle East in general.

Those who claim this is pinkwashing don't seem to understand that Israel is a complicated country. We have both positive and negative sides, and talking about the positive doesn't excuse the negative.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Predicting 2012

The first week of January is almost over, and I haven't done the futile annual ritual of trying to predict the future. Let me guess what might happen, some of it wishful thinking, some of it I hope won't come true (you figure out which is which):

  • Israel's Attorney General will make a final decision to indict Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Lieberman will resign from the cabinet, but will stay chairman of Yisrael Beitenu and will not resign from the Knesset. Faina Kirschenbaum will become Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister in his place. Lieberman will decide to stay in the coalition instead of bringing about early elections.
  • It will be Ehud Barak's last full year as a member of the government. That will be the case for all ministers from his Atzmaut (Independence) Party.
  • Benjamin Netanyahu will win the Likud leadership elections, since he won't have any serious opposition. In Kadima, Tzippi Livni will be forced to have leadership elections, which she will lose to Shaul Mofaz. Livni will leave Kadima with a few other MKs and form a new party. And here's a prediction for 2013: this split will lead to neither Kadima or Livni's new party winning any seats in the 19th Knesset.
  • In the United States, Mitt Romney will be the Republican presidential nominee. He will pick Mike Huckabee as his running-mate (Romney-Huckabee was also my erroneous prediction in 2008). They will lose to the Obama-Biden ticket, but Republicans will gain control of the Senate and retain a majority in the House of Representatives.
  • Iran will develop a nuclear warhead. Nobody attacks them before or after this happens.
  • The new elected president of Egypt will put the peace treaty with Israel to a referendum, scheduled for around the same time as Mubarak's execution. The people will decide to declare the treaty null and void. The United States will halt all aid to Egypt, while Avigdor Lieberman, now the former Foreign Minister, will threaten that Israel will conquer the Sinai Peninsula for a third time in history.
  • Syria's civil war will drag on all year with no foreign intervention and no end in sight.