Posted by Avi Davis
For more than 35 years it has been de riguer among American editorialists to talk of Israeli settlements in the West Bank as an obstacle to peace. After all, there are now 121 of them sporting a population of more than 300,000 – a direct intrusion on claimed Palestinian territorial rights and the prospects of Palestinian national sovereignty.
Recent editorials in the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post and New York Times have once again reinforced the central canard in peace plan orthodoxy – for there to be peace, settlements must go.
Most of these editorialists would be deeply surprised to discover that Israeli settlements occupy less than 3% of the area known as the West Bank.
They have perhaps failed to account for the fact that no settlements existed in the first twenty years of the State’s existence and cannot be isolated as one of the reasons five Arab armies invaded the State in 1948 or three did so in 1967.
They forget that Israel has returned nearly 94% of the territory it captured in 1967 to Arab control.
They sidestep the reality that as recently as five years ago, Israel removed 18 settlements in Gaza and 4 in Samaria and only receive rocket attacks in response.
They are historically blind to the existence of records which prove a Jewish presence in several settlements which pre-date not only the establishment of the State but have roots deep in Jewish history. Hebron, Gush Etzion and many suburbs of East Jerusalem are cases in point.
They reject any notion that Jerusalem, Israel’s united capital, should be excluded in the definition of a settlement and not subject to the same routine pummeling that other settlements receive.
They seem oblivious to the impact of Palestinian terrorism on the Israeli psyche and the abiding knowledge that for the past 17 years territorial concessions have not resulted in peace but in campaigns of terror causing death and maiming to thousands of Israeli citizens.
All of this would be sufficient to call into question the editorialists commitment to veracity and truth.
But more than any of this, they fail to consider the impact of either a settlement freeze or the removal of the settlements on the Palestinians themselves.
Perhaps they should be reminded that for the two decades following the Israeli victory in the Six Day War, mortality rates among Palestinians improved by 95%; 27 tertiary education institutions were built; roads were paved; non-existent electricity, plumbing and sewage lines were introduced and the West Bank economy boomed with largely friendly relations existing between the growing settler movement and the native population.
That was until the PLO inspired Intifada set a match to the whole thing and the region went up in flames.
Today tens of thousands of Palestinians depend on jobs in the settlements. The decision of the Palestinian Authority to outlaw such employment will ultimately render 220,000 Palestinian men and women completely dependent on foreign aid.
Settlements sell nearly $500 million in goods to the Palestinians and the Palestinian economy revealed a whopping 10% growth in 2009 largely because of a growing cottage industry which provides inexpensive goods to the settlements.
So “settlement fatigue?” Yes, indeed – fatigue from those editorialists and opinion makers who so cavalierly condemn settlements as ” obstacles to peace” without the slightest notion of how the absence of historical memory subverts the peace process and how mutual growth and cooperation assists both communities.
11.15.10 at 1:46 pm |
10.26.10 at 11:08 am | It seems that the State of Israel also has its. . .
10.11.10 at 10:44 am |
10.6.10 at 10:07 am |
9.13.10 at 11:24 am |
9.13.10 at 11:09 am |
October 26, 2010 | 11:08 am
Posted by Avi Davis
It seems that the State of Israel also has its thought police.
In early October, Dr. Gabi Avital, the Chief Scientist of the Ministry of Education, was fired from his job after giving an interview in which he said, among other things, that computers were sometimes a crutch for children, preventing them from learning math skills, and that Darwinism was an unsatisfactory explanation for how the world came to be.
Avital’s views were apparently well known in the scientific community but Maa’ariv, the country’s second largest Hebrew newspaper, decided to give them a sensational spin. He got the front page treatment and was subject , over the next several days, to a unending stream of abuse through letters and follow up editorials.
Compounding Mr. Avital’s sins was his insistence that there is no established scientific nexus between global warming and carbon emissions. In the same interview he stated:
“There is no evidence to correlate between the concentration of carbon dioxide and the rise in temperature. On the contrary, Al Gore’s movie (“An Inconvenient Truth”) showed how the rise in temperature preceded the rise of carbon dioxide.”
One cannot imagine running afoul of three more sacrosanct scientific certitudes. Under unrelenting pressure Avital’s boss, Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar, felt compelled to relieve him of his responsibilities but not before explaining that Mr. Avital’s dismissal had nothing to do with the expression of his views. This , of course, retains the quaint facade that freedom of expression on these central issues regarding our past and future existence is still widely tolerated.
Avital’s experience parallels that of hundreds of other scientists throughout the West who have dared challenge ‘the consensus’ and state contrarian positions against mainstream views.
But the crackdown on Avital, one of the most senior scientists in a government position anywhere in the world to be summarily dismissed in this manner, is a warning sign of creeping intolerance that will end up not only stifling scientific debate but almost any debate at all.
For the fact is that Darwinist theory and anthropogenic global warming theory are both full of holes and science has not fully supported nor vindicated them. To challenge either does not make you either a supporter of intelligent design nor of creationism. Nor does it make you a brain dead skeptic, as so many supporters of the two theories may wish to paint you. In fact it makes you part of an ongoing tradition of inquiry and free thought.
It is not going beyond the bounds of scientific decency to state that challenge to generally accepted scientific theories is healthy and necessary for any vigorous, progressive democracy.
Answering the questions of the origins of life in particular is one of the most important scientific inquiries that could be conducted in a democracy – for to know where we are going as a species, it is vital to know where we came from. How something arises from nothing; how inorganic matter transforms into organic matter or where the ‘information’ which builds our DNA arises, cannot be questions that scientists or laymen turn away from for fear or crossing a illusory boundary between science and religion. Is God – or some higher intelligence- to be found on the other side of the fence. Who knows? But the journey there cannot be derailed because of the fear of what might be discovered.
Obtaining the truth must be the ultimate goal of any civilized society. In that quest, we defeat ourselves by silencing the voices of those who question, prod and challenge. Many of our scientists, grown fat on grants, public acclaim and government handouts have become too comfortable with supposed accepted science. Shaking them out of their lethargy is certainly a job for a chief scientist of a Ministry of Education. It is too bad that political leaders in Israel do not recognize it.
October 11, 2010 | 10:44 am
Posted by Avi Davis
The resumed Israeli-Palestinian peace process is not four weeks old and it seems to have already been reduced to the realm of a Gilbert and Sullivan farce. Utilizing the issue of the West Bank settlement construction freeze as a point of contention, the two sides now appear to be negotiating over whether to negotiate, with U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell, acting as a harried go-between, frantically seeking a breakthrough, just on the issue of whether the two sides can be coerced to meet face to face again.
The reasons for the impasse are ostensibly clear: neither the Israeli leadership nor the Palestinian wishes to be seen as weak by bowing to the others’ demands on settlements. But a more incisive observation would be that progress in talks will not occur because the results might actually shatter the peace.
This might sound like an absurdity to some, but the facts are on the ground: Besides the murderous assault on an Israeli family near Hebron on September 5, violence on the West Bank has been so minimal over the past two years that Israel has willingly reduced the strength of its security apparatus there. Palestinians can now travel more freely between the territories and Israel proper. In fact, not since the mid-1980s has there been such freedom of movement on both sides.
This is set in the context of the unprecedented economic boom occurring on the West Bank and Gaza. Housing prices in Ramallah have risen nearly 30% in the past twelve months and housing starts are the envy of any Western country. The Nablus stock market, after Shanghai, was the second best-performing in the world in 2009. Both Nablus and Ramallah boast gleaming new cinemas, where the latest Hollywood hits are played and the Nablus venue even hosted a film festival in June of last year.
On September 6, Dr. Oussama Kanaan, the International Monetary Fund’s chief of mission and resident representative for the West Bank and Gaza, reported that West Bank growth in the first quarter of 2010 was a staggering 11%.
Even more astounding are the figures for Gaza. According to Kanaan, the Gaza Strip is undergoing a similar boom with a 14% growth for the first quarter. Contrary to media reports of destitution and mass starvation, the urban areas of Gaza are bustling with life, with new restaurants and hotels opening and over the summer, the coast filled with beach goers. No one has produced credible evidence of mass shortages of anything.
In June 2009, the Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl related how Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in a moment of rare candor, had told him why he had turned down Ehud Olmert’s offer in 2007 to create a Palestinian state on 97% of the West Bank. “In the West Bank we have a good reality,” Abbas explained. “The people are living a normal life.”
He might have also added that the maintenance of the conflict is good for business. The new housing boom benefits mostly not ordinary Palestinians (the Palestinian jobless rate still hovers around 25% and is supported by foreign aid) but rather elite leaders who own the major Palestinian trucking, cement and construction companies in the region. The reinvigorated construction industry in the Jewish settlements, dormant now for ten months, is also a harbinger of business for the Palestinians who provide sizable construction supplies and labor for these projects.
It is clear then that the Palestinians have entered into a comfortable, if less than open modus vivendi with their Israeli adversaries. It is only the guileless Obama Administration that fails to appreciate this reality. Insisting that the two sides work out their political differences, only serves to irritate open wounds and harden entrenched positions from which neither side, for domestic political reasons, is ever likely to retreat.
With the threat of a nuclear Iran giving rise to tacit military cooperation between Israel and other moderate Arab states, Hamas hemmed in and the West Bank Palestinian leadership in thrall to their new found prosperity, the Arab-Israeli conflict is beginning to look more manageable – and even more harmonious – than at any time in recent memory.
Is that peace? Perhaps not. But it is a long way from open conflict. And in a region of the world where the dogs of war are ever ready to tear each other to shreds, these sleeping dogs might be best left to lie.
October 6, 2010 | 10:07 am
Posted by Avi Davis
It would be fair to say Roger Waters knows a thing or two about walls. After all, he has been singing about one in particular for nearly thirty years.
The Wall, Waters’ 1980 opus with his former band Pink Floyd, was designed as a study in rock star alienation. Over the course of 26 songs and nearly two hours of music, Waters (whose songwriting dominates the album) pours out his contempt for aga parenting, fame, consumerism, the British education system, the judiciary, the police, the British government- in fact, just about everything and everybody that moves and breathes.
This “wall,” however, was not conceived as a physical object (at least, as revealed in the album’s printed lyrics) but a metaphorical barrier that the album’s protagonist ( cloyingly referred to as ” Pink”) builds to protect himself against the assaults on his dignity.
Needless to say, the album is unremittingly bleak and a difficult listen for even the most dedicated of Pink Floyd fans.
Just as well, because the album has never made too much sense. Waters is unable to cleave to a single concept and loses track of his theme as his emphasis shifts from an exploration of personal crisis to ascerbic political commentary.
The Wall, in short, is a self indulgent mess and should have been pared down by at least an hour to make any cogent sense.
Nevertheless, Waters remains remarkably uncritical of his vaunted masterpiece – mainly because he continues to squeeze such great artistic and political mileage out of it.
For instance in the 1980s, he used The Wall to symbolize the the Berlin Wall and until this day pompously believes that his album – and its great coda- ” Tear Down the Wall” had quite a lot to do with the fall of that cold war monument. He regularly invokes the Wall’s imagery to defy the policies of Western governments, whom he seems to believe are as iniquitous as any dictatorship, building walls of their own to spiritually imprison their people.
That peculiar facility, to discern the seeds of fascism flowering in the bosom of every democracy, does not belong to Roger Waters alone. In fact, almost every rock star who has something political to say about the West, regularly inveighs against democratic governments and their leaders.
But no rock star of Waters’ stature has quite used his art to so pointedly to attack the Jewish state. From the early 80s onwards, Waters was a vocal opponent of the State of Israel’s policies, decrying the first Lebanon War, Israel’s defensive policies during the First and Second Intifadas and most recently Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.
Of course ‘the Wall’ imagery comes in mighty handy in Israel too. At his concerts (and one in particular in the West Bank in 2006) he demanded the Israeli government tear down the security barrier that has effectively barred Palestinian suicide bombers from entering the country for the past five years. He has turned a deaf to the statements of his own Israeli fans who have pleaded with him to examine the other side of the story.
He has now taken his objection to Israeli policies to high art. In a video montage during the song Goodbye Blue Sky performed on his current tour, a bomber is seen deploying it payload in the form of crosses, crescents, Stars of David and then dollar signs. The fact that the dollar signs follow the Stars of David has enraged many Jewish organizations who see in it an invocation of an old antisemitic trope.
When confronted in a recent (September 14) Rolling Stone interview that this coupling might be considered a violation of acceptable speech codes, Waters just shrugged it off, suggesting it was a mere coincidence.
Yet Waters was not so blase about other aspects of his show or its promotion that might have been viewed as crossing the line.
In an incident in the Silver Lake district of Los Angeles, Waters’ crew apparently defaced a memorial to the late Los Angeles singer Elliot Smith with a wheat paste slogan decrying war. The rock star was soon full of apologies: “It was absolutely an accident,” Waters said. “I didn’t want to disrespect Elliott Smith’s fans, and I’ve instructed (the team) to remove the wheat paste immediately. It was a random pasting in the normal course of this, and I want to make it public that we had no intent to offend or cover up something precious.”
Similarly, just before opening night on the U.S. leg of his tour, Waters was alerted by his crew and set designer that if the singer was seen strutting about in a trench coat evoking the Third Reich, it might appear that his character had actually turned fascist. It was quickly decided to put a tailor’s dummy on stage, allowing Waters to remove the coat and step out of his imaginary persona.
Oh, so sensitive is Roger Waters. Isn’t it a wonder that being so contrite over tarnishing the legacy of a dead singer or of implying that he endorses fascist behavior, that this altruistic rock star cannot yet bring himself to address the sensitivities of the Jewish people or consider both sides of the story in the Arab-Israeli conflict?
It should really be no surprise. Most of our rock stars remain quietly and determinedly ignorant of actual facts – whether it be Bono ( of U2) whose incessant campaign for African debt relief flies in the face of abundant evidence that debt relief would only enrich African oligarchs – or Paul McCartney, who two months ago suggested that former president George W. Bush, while in office, rarely read anything (despite being married to a librarian and having read, by his own admission, several hundred books during his eight year tenure).
Wonder of wonders then it is Roger Waters, as far as Israel goes, who has truly built a wall around himself. On his visit to Israel in 2006, he reportedly refused to meet with Israeli leaders and disregarded any attempt by his own Israeli fans to provide him with extra information that might contribute to a balanced view of the conflict.
Tear down the wall, indeed.
September 13, 2010 | 11:24 am
Posted by Avi Davis
Benjamin Netanyahu might feel the ground around his feet getting a little colder these days. Palestinians are demanding that a ten month freeze on settlement construction (due to expire on September 26) be extended and will halt peace negotiations without it. Netanyahu’s right wing will bolt his coalition if that happens, leaving him with no option but to call new elections.
With the second round of peace talks about to begin in Egypt next week, the pressures from both sides – as well as the U.S. Administration, which is staking its reputation on the talks’ outcome – is high. No one ever said that negotiations on this level would be easy as it has been clear for months that a extension of the freeze is the sine qua non for any advancement in peace talks.
The wonder of it all this is how much clout the Palestinians have been able to muster as legitimate interlocutors. Without having to do very much at all, other than issue a few tepid videos expressing regrets to Israelis for not having advanced the peace process forward, Palestinian leaders have demonstrated little to no resolve for moving the ball forward.
This makes perfect sense. They have little at all to gain from it. The prospect of Palestinian statehood would not give Palestinian leaders much they don’t already have but might add substantially to their headaches of how to incorporate Hamas’ growing support base within a government.
Needless to say, the respect they have been able to garner, is way out of proportion to the level of respect they deserve.
The more important question remains – what does Israel have to gain or lose by acceding to such a demand? The previous ten month freeze, which allowed for the completion of projects already under construction, was a hard won compromise for the Netanyahu government. It will be tough to ask it to go through that kind of horse trading again, particularly for so little return.
As for the Obama Administration, it is well aware that Netanyahu is the only player in the Israeli spectrum of leadership capable of delivering concessions. By allowing the Palestinians to exercise a veto on new settlement construction, they are effectively cutting him off at the knees.
Given these realities, the Obama Administration would be far wiser to apply pressure where it might have some effect. Obama should impress on the Palestinian president that without concessions of his own, American support cannot be guaranteed and any international credibility achieved in the past several months will once again evaporate.
Whatever they feel about the prospect of statehood, the one thing the Palestinians have no interest in doing is losing American support. Such support is necessary in sustaining the the level of aid received from around the world and maintaining the diplomatic pipelines to broader international constituencies.
No freeze, in construction in either the West Bank or East Jerusalem, will necessarily guarantee progress in the peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians. But a threatened freeze in relations between the United States and the Palestinian Authority might be enough to stimulate a potential thaw.
Coddled for too long, the Palestinian Authority must begin to learn what its like to play ball in the grown up world of diplomatic relations. It might just inspire the warming necessary to prevent yet another episode of cold feet.
September 13, 2010 | 11:09 am
Posted by Avi Davis
Could there be a more provocative cover story for a major U.S. magazine?
The cover of this week’s TIME, set in a blue background and emblazoned with the image of a Star of David constructed of daisies, blares the vitriolic question ” Why Israel Doesn’t Care About Peace.”
The cover story, by Karl Vick on page 36, is titled The Good Life and Its Dangers and proceeds to report on the seeming indifference of Israelis to the prospect of peace. By interviewing a handful of Israeli real estate developers, entrepreneurs and academics, Vick comes to the conclusion that Israelis have become so obsessed with material progress and economic success that they have little time left over to focus on the prospects of peace.
“In the week that three Presidents, a King and their own Prime Minister gather at the White House to begin a fresh round of talks on peace between Israel and the Palestinians, the truth is, Israelis are no longer preoccupied with the matter. They’re otherwise engaged; they’re making money; they’re enjoying the rays of late summer. A watching world may still define their country by the blood feud with the Arabs whose families used to live on this land and whether that conflict can be negotiated away, but Israelis say they have moved on.”
The four page article/argument is such a hatchet job in gathering evidence to buttress a foregone conclusion ( otherwise known in logic as petitio principii or begging the question) that any high school student could see through it.
First, is the cover story tagline, which actually has little do with the content of the article. Why don’t Israelis care about peace? According to Vick’s piece itself, Israelis certainly do care about peace, but don’t have much faith in the peace process. That is a very important distinction. Peace as a goal, is surely never beyond anyone’s mind in Israel. How could it be, when every family knows a friend or a relative who was maimed or killed in one of the country’s eight wars. Which mother – religious, secular, Jewish, Druze or Bedouin wishes to see their son placed in harm’s way in an unending conflict? But after 17 years of failed promises and an adversary who refuses to take even minimal steps toward peace in recognizing their country’s right to exist, why would any citizen of Israel not be cynical about Palestinian intentions?
To present any idea that Israelis don’t care about peace, is simply fatuous.
Second, the author himself fails to give his story much historical context, neglecting to measure the true shock and anger Israelis experienced time and time again over the past 17 years as territorial concessions were met with Palestinian violence. He quickly glosses over Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s offer at Camp David in July, 2000 to Yasser Arafat of 97% of the West Bank and Gaza – and even the division of Jerusalem – an offer met two months later by a fusillade of bullets in the second Intifada. One thousand Israelis dead and 4,000 maimed ( many disabled for life) later, it provided convincing grounds for most Israelis to believe that the Palestinian leadership was preternaturally disposed to a violent resolution of the conflict and not a viable peace. The IDF retreat from the Israeli security zone in Lebanon in May, 2000 and an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in August, 2005 – huge concessions by Israeli standards, left vacuums which were soon filled by violent Islamic thugs who proceeded to rain down rockets on Israeli southern and northern towns.
Who would blame any Israeli for believing that peace negotiations and concessions are just the precursors to a new round of violence?
Third, Vick just get some things just plain wrong. He quotes leftist political scientist Tamar Hermann who claims that Israelis are watching less and less news :
” They read the political sections of newspapers less. They say, it spoils my day, so I don’t want to see it.”
Really? Anyone who has been to Israel and traveled on public transportation or even in any taxi, knows that Israelis are news obsessed. It is built into the culture and fundamental to the security of a nation ever on the alert for a terrorist strike ( or “pigua” as it is more colloquially known). The realities of life are simply glossed over in a fanciful acceptance of one academic’s point of view.
The greatest problem with the entire piece however, is the way it supports an antisemitic stereotype without daring to acknowledge it. The ultimate images of profligacy and dissipation that remain- ‘oh those rich Jews, sunning themselves on their beaches and counting their shekels while the Palestinians waste away in abject poverty’ could have been taken directly from the pages of Der Sturmer and drives home the notion that this country of Jews may be no more than an actualized collection of Fagins drawn from English literature.
It shouldn’t be any surprise, then, that this is the same magazine , who when introducing the newly elected prime minister Menachem Begin in 1977, transliterated his name as ” Bay -gin – rhymes with Fagin.”
One has to wonder whether the magazine would ever commission a parallel cover story about internal Palestinian life? Would it have the nerve to expose the seething Jew hatred in the Palestinian media and in its education system or the manifest hypocrisy of leaders such as Saeeb Erekat who bray about peace but do all they can to prevent actual negotiations?
Probably not. To portray the Palestinians as anything other than victims and underdogs would be to upset a fundamental value of liberal magazines such as TIME – strong equals wrong; weak equals right. Far easier, it would seem, to render a portrait in keeping with accepted dogmas and age- old stereotypes.
Maybe this is, after all, what sells papers.
September 8, 2010 | 6:09 pm
Posted by Avi Davis
Stephen Hawking is one of the most remarkable of living human beings. Afflicted by neuro-muscular dystrophy (Lou Gehring’s Disease), today he has the use of only his cheek and a finger. And yet despite his affliction, this man has become one of the giants of the scientific world, producing books, movies, maintaining a rigorous schedule of speaking (through a vocoder) and even flying into space as history’s first quadriplegic astronaut.
Many have turned to Hawking to determine his views of the interaction between science and religion. And as one of the most significant proponents of Big Bang theory, his views on ultimate cause have naturally generated intense curiosity.
For the main, the 68 -year-old scientist has remained fairly equivocal about his views on God. In an interview with Reuter’s News Service in 2007 he said :
“I believe the universe is governed by the laws of science. The laws may have been decreed by God, but God does not intervene to break the laws.”
Where “Nothing” ends and “God” begins has never been made clear by Hawking.
Until now. In his new book, The Grand Design, written with Leonard Mlodinow, Hawking gives great comfort to atheists everywhere when he proclaims that it is not necessary to have a God of the Universe to explain the origins and development of the universe.
On September 3rd inthe Wall Street Jounal, he explained:
“As recent advances in cosmology suggest, the laws of gravity and quantum theory allow universes to appear spontaneously from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.”
In The Grand Design he explains why, according to quantum theory, the cosmos does not have just a single existence, or history, but rather that every possible history of the universe exists simultaneously. The authors question the conventional concept of reality, posing instead a “model-dependent” theory of reality. They discuss how the laws of our particular universe are extraordinarily finely tuned so as to allow for our existence, and show why quantum theory predicts the multiverse—the idea that ours is just one of many universes that appeared spontaneously out of nothing, each with different laws of nature. M-Theory, they offer, is an explanation of the laws governing the multiverse, and the only viable candidate for a complete “theory of everything.”
The central question that arises out of reading Hawking’s book is not the theory of everything, but the nature of ” nothing.” What are the constituents of “nothing” because for something to come from nothing, there has to be matter or energy available to combine.
M-theory, which forms the core of the book, is an attempt to explain the basic substance of the universe and provide an understanding of ” nothing”. It attempts to unify the five existing string theories about the nature of matter by examining certain identifications and dualities. Thus each of the five string theories become special cases of M-theory.
But M- Theory has one huge problem. For unlike the Theory of Relativity, which was demonstrated and proven in a variety of places and locations in the early 20th Century, M- Theory cannot be shown to be demonstrably true. That is because M- Theory relies on the existence of other dimensions ( 11 to be exact), six of which we can intuit but never experience. Unfortunately, until we can find some way to observe these higher dimensions, M-Theory has a very difficult time making predictions which can be tested in a laboratory. Technologically, it may never be possible for it to be proven at all.
That essentially leads science back to the same essential starting block as religion. Unable to prove the validity of M-theory, science is rendered helpless by the need to express faith in it - until, such time that is, as we develop either the technology or human capacities to establish its essential truth.
No quantum physicist would want to be labeled a practitioner of a faith, but that is exactly, in this field at least, what they are. Empirical research into quantum physics can only take you so far. Everything after that is achieved only through leaps of belief and imagination.
Sounds familiar? It should. All religion is based on exactly the same philosophical premise.
At the beginning of their book, Hawking and Mlodinow proclaim philosophy (aka religion) dead in that it has failed to adequately explain the origins of the universe. Only science, they declare, is now equipped to assume such a task.
Yet as long as human beings can think they will continue to wonder about the extraordinary symmetry of our world and the way the forces of nature appear perfectly aligned to produce life. They will gaze at the night sky and ponder how all those stars appeared and where the forces that caused them to be, came from. If M-theory demonstrates anything, it is that the human mind is only capable of understanding so much about the nature of creation. Everything else may well exist in a sphere well beyond human comprehension.
So for the time being, we humble non-scientists are left guessing. And in this relativistic world, frankly Professor Hawking, your guess is as good as mine.
September 6, 2010 | 5:53 pm
Posted by Avi Davis
Encomiums have poured in from around the world today for the celebrated former Los Angeles Times cartoonist Paul Conrad. The three time Pulitzer Prize winner, who died on Saturday at the age of 86, won renown as a political satirist, whose liberalism was worn as a badge of honor and who never shied away from confronting men and women in power.
But I can’t count myself as one of his admirers. While Conrad, more than almost any other political cartoonist of modern times, gave the concept of the ” editorial cartoon” a certain elan, freeing it from its image as a misplaced comic, he also did considerable damage to the image of the journalist as the objective reporter of truth.
The editorial cartoonist possesses great power. Among us few remaining newspaper readers, with our increasingly strained attention spans, there is a respect for the editorial cartoonist that stretches beyond his real powers of persuasion. We readers might scan images such as photographs and photo-sketches to obtain our opinions on any given subject. With one glance we believe we can absorb the full import of an editorial position, which may well have some bearing in forming our own ideas.
But in this way, complex issues are often reduced to fairly simplistic statements, stripping the issue of a certain gravitas and balance that is achieved in good editorial writing.
The political cartoonist, who does not have many words with which to convey an opinion and is often consigned to a single panel of images, must therefore be careful that his or her positions do not cross the line from commentary into propaganda – a tempting option in such a format.
Conrad rarely exercised this kind of restraint. Inflamed by his liberal sense of injustice he railed at the big and mighty often simply because they were big and mighty.
No more was that the case when it came to the Arab- Israeli conflict. He was unable to appreciate or understand Israel’s need for self defense and repeatedly made provocative comparisons between the IDF and Nazis. After a particularly meaningful use of the Star of David in a cartoon depicting Soviet prisoners of conscience as the equivalent of Jewish prisoners of concentration camps ( September 24, 1972) , he rarely ever employed it again except as a symbol of hate, repression and violence. His cartoon in the Los Angeles Times following the Sabra and Shatila massacres in Lebanon in 1982 ( where he arranged the Palestinian corpses in the shape of Star of David) was beyond the bounds of decency, considering that it was not the Israelis who had perpetrated the killings but the Christian Phalange. As his comment on the Palestinian intifada of the late 80s , he drew a Star of David made of barbed wire and billy clubs. He was a particularly vitriolic enemy of West Bank settlers, whom he often depicted as deranged gun-toting Messianists, bent on killing Palestinians and uprooting olive groves – an accusation which has absolutely no basis in reality. He gave very little time to exploring the violence inherent in Arab society and the emergence of the suicide bomber as the Palestinian weapon of choice.
Years ago I heard a prominent journalist bemoan the fact the journalists no longer seem as concerned with reporting objective truth as with seeing their own idiosyncratic form of justice achieved. This agenda Conrad embraced with gusto. “Don’t ever accuse me,” he once said, “of being objective.”
Given this position it is hard for me to agree that Paul Conrad was one of the giants of Western journalism in the last half of the 20th Century. His brand of “personal journalism” actually did far more damage to the practice of his craft than good. His greatest legacy is not a fearless approach to confronting men and women in power, as much as it is a profound cynicism which now pervades his profession and has brought it increasingly into disrepute.