Sunday, March 27, 2005

Zachary on the washing machine


Zachary on the washing machine
Originally uploaded by reb-lesses.
And here's the man himself, lazing around as usual (when not catching mice, birds, or bats!)
I was out working in the garden today. I dug up all the old vegetables from last year, including some extremely large kale trunks, which were starting to stink. I also cleared out all the old tomato vines, and discovered things starting to grow underneath them. It's still a chilly early spring here in Ithaca, but the crocuses are starting to bloom - I have a couple of little purple ones putting their heads out. The daffodils and tulips are starting to come up. When I cleaned up everything, I discovered that in one vegetable patch, the oregano was coming back, and it looked like (smelled like too) there were little garlic shoots coming up. Other things starting to peek above the ground were the beginnings of day lilies and irises, and possibly some pansies (if the hard winter didn't kill them).

Other signs of spring are that the cat has taken to staying out all night and stalking little creatures. For the last few days I've gotten up in the morning and discovered a new mouse carcass on the kitchen porch (fortunately not inside the house!)

The Canadian geese are flying north in big v-shaped formations. We've had songbirds for about a month, now, if not longer, and I think that there are cardinals around too. Also crows, although I'm not sure they've ever left.

Now that the sun is setting later, it's more hazardous driving home from work. A couple of weeks ago I nearly hit a deer crossing the road at dusk.

And, we just had Purim! Lots of masks & funny costumes - one friend dresses as Mr. Potato Head. I came as an elegant flapper - my hair in a black and magenta wig, wearing my party dress & feather boa, as well as my grandmother's mink coat (which I probably wouldn't wear any other time in Ithaca, certainly not out walking around, given the presence of some fairly militant animal rights folks here).
Another good Washington Post editorial about Darfur: Don't Move On
The best shot at breaking this cycle of violence and hunger is to put a serious peacekeeping force into Darfur. But all sides are engaged in an outrageous pretense of seriousness. The African Union, which has provided about 2,000 peacekeepers when 25,000-plus are necessary, is infatuated with rhetoric about "African solutions for African problems"; the United States and its powerful allies defer to this slogan, partly out of a virtuous desire to see Africa develop its own capacity to manage crises but mostly out of a base desire to pass the buck. The Bush administration's policy is to draft U.N. resolutions and dispatch humanitarian assistance. But it refuses to spend real military or diplomatic capital to stop killings that, by its own admission, amount to genocide.
Don Cheadle and John Prendergast say about the genocide in Darfur: Enough excuses. The time to act is now. Reading this article, which criticizes the U.S. government for all the excuses it's making about not really doing anything to stop the genocide, reminds me of an article republished earlier this year on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, from the Dec. 11, 1942 edition of the (UK) Guardian. The article discusses the newly available information about the ongoing massacres of Jews in Poland, which the Polish government in exile in London made known to the countries of the United Nations and goes on to say:
The situation obviously calls for something more than a reaffirmation of principles or a condemnation of the indescribable deeds being done in fulfilment of a predetermined policy. There is a growing feeling that in spite of all the difficulties involved practical measures of help must be sought and found.

But it would seem that a change of outlook and approach to the problem must precede any undertaking of the kind. There should in the first place be a relaxation in the official methods which have hitherto so impeded the work of rescue as to make it almost impossible. In the case of countries still liable to an illegal influx of Jewish refugees certain assurances should perhaps be considered. It should be made clear to these States that they will not be left responsible for chance immigrants indefinitely but that provision will be made for them in the general reconstruction after the war.

The German scheme for total extermination can only be combated by radical means, and any plan of rescue must be evolved on a really broad and constructive basis. It is clear, therefore, that whatever body may be chosen to put into practice decisions made by the United Nations must start with a generous mandate, unfettered by petty limitations.

The Polish Note forms an important contribution to the documentation of this black chapter in history. The situation as outlined in the Note has already taken a turn for the worse, according to the most up-to-date information. It is feared that of the weekly average of 25,000 Jews reaching Eastern Poland from the countries of occupied Europe the vast majority are going to a ghastly death.


Emphasis mine. The article also says that since the German invasion of POland in 1939 over one million Polish Jews have been murdered and mentions "new methods of mass slaughter" - probably a reference to the death camps.

This article, if anything, shows that U.N. indecision in the face of genocide has a long and inglorious history, not that the U.S. has any better record. When will it be possible for us to learn from history, rather than simply babbling about "never again"?

Thursday, March 24, 2005

This is a good editorial on the Terri Schiavo case - Support for life, politics and money. The author points out that in a case in Texas last week, a boy named Sun Hudson was taken off life support against the wishes of his mother, because she didn't have money to pay for the care. "She also had to deal with a Texas law that allows the withdrawal of life support from terminally ill patients, even against the wishes of the family, if they don't have money to pay for the care. Ironically, this law was created with the signature of then-Gov. George W. Bush, who made an emergency trip back to Washington this weekend to sign a bill to help restore life support to Schiavo. Congressman Tom Delay called the removal of Schiavo's feeding tube "medical terrorism." But what would the congressman from Texas say about Sun Hudson? Wanda Hudson would like to know." So much for Bush's statement about Schiavo: "In cases like this one, where there are serious questions and substantial doubts, our society, our laws and our courts should have a presumption in favor of life."

As I said before, when has he ever had a "presumption for life" except where it helped him politically?

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

For extended analyses of the situation in Darfur and what is (not) being done to save people, read Eric Reeves. From the reading that I have done in the last few days for my class discussion of Darfur, it seems that the only way to stop the genocide will be an extensive military intervention of around 50,000 troops, in order to protect civilians and fight off the Janjaweed and Sudan army troops. Eric Reeves is arguing for this, as is Brian Steidle, the former U.S. Marine who was a ceasefire monitor in Darfur for several months. In order for this intervention to be approved by the U.N., the U.S. will have to exert vast pressure on the other members of the Security Council (including Russia and China, both of which have economic interests in Sudanese oil and don't want to see them threatened). Senators Sam Brownback of Kansas and Jon Corzine of New Jersey have introduced the "Darfur Accountability Act" which has gone the farthest toward advocating military intervention of this type, essentially by strengthening the presently-existing African Union force in Darfur (currently only at about 2,000 troops, and without a mandate to protect civilians).

And will this happen? The lives of hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people, hang on what we are willing to do.
Kevin Drum has a good post on "Terri Schiavo and the limits of cynicism," where he reports that of two recent polls, by ABC News and CBS News, large majorities of the American population oppose Congressional and Presidential interference in the case, and agree that Congress has gotten involved to advance its own political agenda. Feh.

One wishes that an equal amount of political attention could be devoted to the thousands of people who are dying in Darfur each week, as well as the thousands of other people in the Congo who are dying each week, not to mention the thousands of people in South Africa who are dying each week - almost all of them of PREVENTABLE CAUSES!

The triviality of American politics and American culture knows no bounds.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

I've just browsing the Net to find more information on Darfur for my Judaism class, which will be discussing Jewish responses to the genocide in Darfur this week (last week we discussed Elie Wiesel's Night and in both sections had very rich discussions that touched on contemporary issues as well). The United States has spent about $588 million since 2003 on Darfur. According to a report from USAID, we have given money to CARE, the World Food Program, the International Rescue Committee, and other groups for many different needs - for food security, health, shelter, management of refugee camps, emergency relief supplies, environmental protection (water safety), etc. The USAID information can be found at USAID: Sudan: Darfur Humanitarian Emergency. The latest report can be download in PDF format.
The latest report from Passion of the Present on the Crisis in Sudan. This is the transcript of a report on PBS's Newshour on Darfur - a conversation between Senator Sam Brownback and Refugees International President Kenneth Bacon.
And then let us consider this article from the Week in Review section of today's New York Times - Beyond the Bullets and Blades. In the last few years, 3.8 million people have lost their lives in the Congo. 2 million people have died in the southern Sudan in the 21 years of fighting between rebels and the government. In Darfur, around 300,000 people have died in the last two years (and 2 million people are displaced and living in refugee camps). 100,000 people have died in northern Uganda. And this is not to speak of the many thousands of people in other parts of Africa who have died of preventable diseases like malaria, AIDS, dehydration from diarrhea.

Have we no shame? Our government is exercising itself to "save" the life of one poor woman in Florida who should be allowed to die quietly, in dignity - and ignoring the many Africans who are dying horrible deaths, much too young. Of course, it's not just our government that is to blame. Why are Catholic bishops and the leaders of other conservative Christian groups seemingly so much more upset about the life of Terry Schiavo than they are about the killing and dying in Africa? Why is Randall Terry, the leader of Operation Rescue, the radical anti-abortion group, in Florida advising her parents, rather than trying to save lives in Africa?

For some of the details on the consequences of the wars in Africa, read on:
Horrible though the genocidal spasms in Rwanda and the aerial bombings in Sudan have been, the vast majority of those who die in African war zones are not done in directly by warriors. Rather, it is the disruption that a few thousand armed men in ragtag militias can create in the lives of millions of civilians that send so many innocents to their graves.

In recent months, aid workers have begun providing a clearer picture of exactly why so many Africans die when conflict flares. Studies of two different war zones, by Physicians for Human Rights and by the International Rescue Committee, concluded separately that the major blame lies with the conditions created by wars in extremely fragile societies.

The first killer is flight. Desperately poor people are driven from their subsistence existence into even more hostile environments as they seek safety - deep into the forest in the case of eastern Congo, across the desert into Chad to escape the unfolding violence in Darfur. Typically, the few hospitals that may exist are emptied, their supplies are looted and members of their staffs are forced to run, alongside everyone else. Fields that once fed families lie fallow. Livestock die. Relatives and neighbors who depend on each other become separated.

Dependency and depression can come to many who find their way to the relative safety of camps, and when these uprooted souls return to razed villages, there is little time to rest from the trauma. Life begins again, and now their social network of neighbors and health workers and people to trade with - the thin fibers that knit lives together for survival - may have been torn beyond repair. The numbers who die in Africa's wars are almost too high to contemplate. The fighting in Congo - an amalgam of rebel insurgencies, tribal rivalries, competition for resources and just plain butchery without a cause - has taken an estimated 3.8 million lives since 1998, making it the most deadly conflict since World War II, the International Rescue Committee estimated. Another two million lives have been lost in southern Sudan, where a war between the government and rebels ground on 21 years before a peace deal was signed in January. And Sudan's Darfur region, in the west, has lost more than 200,000 additional lives over two years of tribal pillaging. Fighting in northern Uganda, where rebels who purport to fight for the Ten Commandments abduct children to reinforce their ranks and chop off the lips and ears of those who dare resist, has taken an estimated 100,000 lives.

When I read articles like this I just feel despair. What can we do? What can I as an individual begin to work for to alleviate this vast human suffering? Any suggestions would be welcome!
Let us consider two articles in today's New York Times. On the front page is an article about Terry Schiavo, the woman in Florida who has been in a "persistent vegetative state" for over a decade after a heart attack. The U.S. Congress is in the process of passing a bill to "save" Mrs. Schiavo by restoring the feeding tube that has kept her alive all these years, and which a Florida court permitted to be removed on Friday.
Representative Tom DeLay, Republican of Texas and the House majority leader, who is at the center of the Congressional intervention, said on Saturday: "We should investigate every avenue before we take the life of a living human being. That is the very least we can do." In Crawford, the White House press secretary, Scott McClellan, said: "Everyone recognizes that time is important here. This is about defending life."

The hypocrisy of these men's statements is simply stunning - they have the unmitigated chutzpah to claim that "defending life" is their highest value, after having gotten the United States into a war that seemingly has no end, where over 1,500 American soldiers have been killed, hundreds of American civilian contractors have been killed, and many thousands of Iraqis, many of them just as innocent as Mrs. Schiavo. (And we don't even allow our military to try to figure out how many Iraqis have been killed, as if their lives had no meaning for us!)

(And I say this as a person who supported the Iraq war and I still - barely - think that at least we aren't as bad as Saddam Hussein and have done some good in Iraq, amid the suicide truck bombs and the shootings and the barbers in Baghdad who are being killed by Islamist hooligans because they are shaving off men's beards!)

Here's a voice of reason on the results of removing a feeding tube:
To many people, death by removing a feeding tube brings to mind the agony of starvation. But medical experts say that the process of dying that begins when food and fluids cease is relatively straightforward, and can cause little discomfort.

"From the data that is available, it is not a horrific thing at all," said Dr. Linda Emanuel, the founder of the Education for Physicians in End-of-Life Care Project at Northwestern University.

In fact, declining food and water is a common way that terminally ill patients end their lives, because it is less painful than violent suicide and requires no help from doctors.

Terri Schiavo, who is in a persistent vegetative state, is "probably not experiencing anything at all subjectively," said Dr. Emanuel, and so the question of discomfort, from a scientific point of view, is not in dispute.

Patients who are terminally ill and conscious and refuse food and drink at the end of life say that they do not generally experience pangs of hunger, since their bodies do not need much food. But they can suffer from dry mouth and other symptoms of dehydration that can be treated effectively.

Once food and water stop, death usually comes in about two weeks, and is caused by effects of dehydration, not the loss of nutrition, said Dr. Sean Morrison, a professor of geriatrics and palliative care at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. "They generally slip into a peaceful coma," he said. "It's very quiet, it's very dignified - it's very gentle."

Thursday, March 10, 2005

For more information on the dubious quality of Ward Churchill's academic writing, see this article from the Denver Post: CU prof's writings doubted.
University of Colorado officials reviewing Ward Churchill's writings and qualifications will find questions about his scholarship and accuracy dating back at least eight years.

"If he is going to get fired, it is going to be for making up data, and that's one thing you can't get away with in the academic community," said Thomas F. Brown, who holds a doctorate from Johns Hopkins and is an assistant professor of sociology at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas.

...But today, Churchill's intellectual rigor is the third area to face scrutiny in the academic and political world since his views about the Sept. 11 attacks - he called some of the victims "little Eichmanns" - became widely known.

It's about time his intellectual rigor is being questioned.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

On a completely non-political note - I'm sitting here in the quiet evening and listening to the calls of the Canadian geese flying high above, returning south for the spring. Yesterday I saw a big v-formation of geese flying south. And today it got up to about 60 F, and I could smell the wet, saturated soil! It's supposed to snow tonight and tomorrow, but spring is on the way!

Monday, March 07, 2005

More on the Ward Churchill controversy. It is becoming ever more clear that Churchill's "Indian" or "Native American" identity is very doubtful, and that his "scholarship" is even more dubious. An editorial in Indian Country Today, a Native American news service, casts doubt on Churchill's Indian identity and condemns his harsh language about the victims of the 9/11 attacks - Churchill's identity revealed in wake of Nazi comment.

We will defend a good Indian argument in these pages any time. But, again, there is no evidence that Churchill is Indian. Further, Churchill's statements are obviously devoid of even the most basic humanity that American Indian peoples hold dear. In no way does his insult reflect the views of Indian country. To know the response of Indian country to the 9/11 tragedies is to reflect on the humanitarianism shown by Eastern Native communities: from the Mohawk to the Oneida, the Pequot, Mohegan and many others who immediately put their people - ironworkers, ferry-boat crews and medical personnel - into the rescue and recovery operations, to the California Indian nations that expressed their solidarity with America and donated generously to the rescue efforts, to the Lakota families who brought their Sacred Pipe to pray at the site, leaving their quiet offerings early one dawn. This is always the preferred way of human beings - to understand the kind of empathy required to belong to the human race is essential in all political and economic discourse. To call the people who were murdered on Sept. 11 ''little Eichmanns'' is a hideous expression that when combined to Churchill's mistaken Native identity can only poison the public discourse concerning American Indians.


In an opinion piece in the Rocky Mountain News, Truth Tricky for Churchill, Professor Paul Campos of the University of Colorado law school points out how academically weak Churchill's position is.

Consider: Churchill has constructed his entire academic career around the claim that he is a Native American, yet it turns out there is no evidence, other than his own statements, that this is the case.

Churchill has said at various times that he is either one-sixteenth or three-sixteenths Cherokee, yet genealogical reporting by the Rocky Mountain News and others has failed to turn up any Cherokee ancestors - or any other Native Americans - in Churchill's family tree.

Why should we care one way or another? We should care because Churchill has used his supposed Indian heritage to bully his way into academia. Indeed Churchill lacks what are normally considered the minimum requirements for a tenure-track job at a research university: he never earned a doctorate, and his only degrees are a bachelor's and a master's from a then-obscure Illinois college.


Campos also cites evidence found by two other scholars of fabrications by Churchill in his scholarly work:

Thomas Brown, a professor of sociology at Lamar University, has written a paper that outlines what looks like a more conventional form of academic fraud on Churchill's part. According to Brown, Churchill fabricated a story about the U.S. Army intentionally creating a smallpox epidemic among the Mandan tribe in 1837, by simply inventing almost all of the story's most crucial facts, and then attributing these "facts" to sources that say nothing of the kind. . . . (Brown's essay can be read here).

Similar charges have been leveled against Churchill by University of New Mexico law professor John Lavelle, a Native American scholar who has documented what appear to be equally fraudulent claims on Churchill's part regarding the General Allotment Act, one of the most important federal laws dealing with Indian lands. (Lavelle also accuses Churchill of plagiarism).


This is the full citation for LaVelle's article on the General Allotment Act:
“The General Allotment Act ‘Eligibility’ Hoax: Distortions of Law, Policy, and History in Derogation of Indian Tribes” Wicazo Sa Review 14 (Spring 1999) (reference taken from Brown's article mentioned above).

Lavelle also wrote a scathing review of Churchill's book, Indians R Us, in the American Indian Quarterly 20/1 (1996). Lavelle says, among many other things:

Through the course of all his writings, Churchill gradually has emerged as a spokesman of sorts for those persons derisively referred to as Indian "wannabees"-individuals with no American Indian ancestry or tribal affiliation who nonetheless hold themselves out to the public as "Indians" by aggressively inserting themselves into the political affairs of real Indian people. Churchill's appeal among the "wannabees" lies both in the boldness with which he expresses contempt for Indian tribes, and in the scholarly facade he gives his anti-tribal propositions; indeed, many Churchill fans appear to have been won over by the mere fact that Churchill's books contain an abundance of endnotes. By researching those copious endnotes, however, the discerning reader will discover that, notwithstanding all the provocative sound and fury rumbling through his essays, Churchill's analysis overall is sorely lacking in historical/factual veracity and scholarly integrity.


One does wonder how the man ever got tenure!
I just received an e-mail from the American Jewish World Service about the U.S. House of Representatives eliminating $150 million of humanitarian aid for Darfur. Ruth Messinger, the head of AJWS, wrote: "Last Friday, the U.S. House of Representatives eliminated $150 million in emergency humanitarian aid to Darfur. Send your elected representatives an email demanding the aid be restored, by using our simple take action system." If you are outraged by this example of legislative indifference to human suffering, go to the AJWS web site to send a letter to your representative. The sample letter reads as follows:

I am horrified that, even as violence continues daily in Darfur, the House of Representatives is preparing to eliminate $150 million in emergency food assistance for Darfur from the emergency supplemental. Two million people in Darfur need food. Currently, only one million are receiving any food assistance, and nearly one quarter of children under the age of five living in refugee camps are malnourished.

As a supporter of American Jewish World Service, I call on Congress not to stand idly by as those in Darfur suffer. Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. will offer an amendment in the House Appropriations Committee to restore the funding for food aid. While it will not end the violence, $150 million for food assistance will save the lives of tens of thousands. The amendment also provides $100 million in funding for disaster and refugee assistance in Darfur, and other emergencies in the region. I ask that you vote in favor of the Jackson Amendment.


I added the following paragraph:

I write as a Jew who is aware of how the world "stood idly by" when Jews were being massacred by the Nazis. Can we, the United States, "stand idly by" when innocent people in Sudan, men, women, and children, are being murdered? The least we can do is offer humanitarian aid to the survivors. Please vote for the Jackson Amendment.


I urge all of my readers to send a letter to your congressman or woman expressing your support for the Jackson Amendment.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Why Jewish Students are really silent

I meant to blog about this earlier. Guy Spigelman at Ha'aretz wrote on Why Jewish students are really silent. He was writing about the lack of activism on university campuses about Israel. He says,
At universities across the world from Europe to Australia to the U.S., Jewish students - inclined, as are all students, to lean towards the left during this period of life - are in a bind. They are torn between the communal message of unquestioning support for the state of Israel and their real concerns about the corrosive effects of occupying another people. There has been no room for a middle ground, one that says: "I love and support Israel, our fundamental rights to settle in the land of our forefathers, to live securely, etc. And at the same time I do not and cannot support Israel's continued status as an occupier."

So these Jews remain silent. With no place to feel "at home" ideologically they feel there is no point in confronting their anti-Israel professors nor debating the leaders of official Jewish organizations, most of whom defend Israel's every action.

Isn't it amazing that pro-Israel advocates repeatedly shout from all possible podiums that we are the only democracy in the Middle East (even though this claim may be a little out of date), yet as soon as we go out into the world we are only allowed to express one point of view?
I feel this is true not just on the level of college students, but also of adults teaching on campuses or part of local Jewish communities.

His point is made even more strongly by a visit he paid to Australia, where he visited Australian trade unions and put forward a leftwing Zionist pro-Israel stance - which they had not heard before.
Recently I visited Australia and took the time to visit some powerful and militant unions. When I walked in the door at one union, the first thing I saw was a large poster that shows a boy about to be trampled by a tank and has "Free Palestine" plastered on the bottom. The general secretary of the union explained that they have had two presentations to their executive about the Middle East, one from the PLO and the other from the Palestinian Labor Federation. Needless to say their public statements about Israel aren't exactly filled with praise for us.

Not feeling bound by the policies of Ariel Sharon's government (it was before Labor joined the coalition) I told him that Israel would be a lot better off if we left Gaza and the West Bank and I pointed to the polls that said that a majority of Israelis would agree if they could be guaranteed peace and security. He was shocked....

By relentlessly attacking Israeli policies and our right to defend ourselves, unions, academics and politicians around the world are doing a disservice to the cause of peace, as it weakens the left camp in Israel. "Where is the solidarity for our suffering?" I challenged the union's secretary general. He hadn't heard this perspective. At the end of the meeting he invited me to address his executive: a first, the Australian Jewish community told me. This is not rocket science, it simply shows that presenting a plurality of views can convince opinion leaders, especially those on the left, that Israel has a complex story and outright rejection of everything Israel does is unjust and unhelpful.
I think that he is absolutely correct.
Further from Mahmood's Den on hopes for democracy in the Arab world. Mahmood writes about three Bahraini bloggers who have been imprisoned for their criticisms of the Bahraini royal family on their blog, (in Arabic) BahrainOnline.org. A web site has been put up to protest the detention and to call for their release - Free Ali.
David Adesnik at Oxblog, on liberals and Lebanon - what he said.

I find the political position that I'm in very strange. I did not vote for George W. Bush and did not want him to be re-elected. When I'm asked what my political beliefs are, they tend to fit into the "liberal" or "progressive" box. On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I fit pretty securely into the "left-wing Zionist" box. But when it comes to a lot of current American foreign policy, I find myself agreeing with Bush and Condoleeza Rice!

I'm thrilled about what's happening in Lebanon, especially if it leads to a Syrian withdrawal and a genuine democratic government there. I was pleased at how well both the Palestinian and Iraqi elections went. I'm glad that the U.S. government appears to be withdrawing its support for horrible Arab dictatorships. I found the events in Ukraine positively inspiring. Why aren't my fellow liberals as excited as I am? Just because George Bush might have had something to do with some of these moves towards democracy and political freedom? (Differing amounts in different places, of course - the death of Yasser Arafat was the major factor in Palestine, for example).

I do genuinely wonder what John Kerry would have done in foreign policy if he had been elected. I pretty sure I would have preferred his domestic policy (since he wouldn't be in thrall to the Christian Right, wouldn't have proposed an anti-gay marriage amendment to the Constitution, and probably wouldn't be trying to gut Social Security in the name of saving it), but would he have done what I wanted in foreign policy?
Another fascinating blog that I've just learned about, on the practice of taharat ha-mishpacha, or "family purity" - Mayim Rabim.
Miriam at Bloghead just mentioned a fascinating set of posts from Biur Chametz about the question of women and Torah reading at Orthodox synagogues - specifically Kehillat Yedidyah in Jerusalem. Mr. Biur just went to a halakhic forum on the issue at Yedidyah and reports on the discussion between Rabbi Henkin and Rabbi Sperber.

This discussion dovetails nicely with the topic we are now considering in my Gender and Sexuality in Judaism course - women and the mitzvot. I'm going to show the discussion to my students when we return to class in a week (we are now having our spring vacation).

Saturday, March 05, 2005

This Anne Applebaum article (from the Washington Post, Dec. 1, 2004), The Freedom Haters, illustrates the point I made in my previous post: "The larger point, though, is that the 'it's-all-an-American-plot' arguments circulating in cyberspace again demonstrate something that the writer Christopher Hitchens, himself a former Trotskyite, has been talking about for a long time:  At least a part of the Western left -- or rather the Western far left -- is now so anti-American, or so anti-Bush, that it actually prefers authoritarian or totalitarian leaders to any government that would be friendly to the United States. Many of the same people who found it hard to say anything bad about Saddam Hussein find it equally difficult to say anything nice about pro-democracy demonstrators in Ukraine.  Many of the same people who would refuse to condemn a dictator who is anti-American cannot bring themselves to admire democrats who admire, or at least don't hate, the United States.  I certainly don't believe, as President Bush sometimes simplistically says, that everyone who disagrees with American policies in Iraq or elsewhere 'hates freedom.' That's why it's so shocking to discover that some of them do." She was talking about the recent revolt in Ukraine that led to new elections and a new democratic government.
I am happy that Amnesty International has taken on the cases of the 75 men arrested and held in jail in Cuba for political dissidence, as the wife of one of them reports in this article in the Washington Post - Standing Up to a Dictator , but I eagerly await the opportunity to hear from the American left to protest against the Cuban dictator. It continues to be amazing to me that various groups, including ones in the Jewish community in America, sponsor "educational" trips to Cuba without protesting Castro's dictatorship. (See, for example, this 1998 press release from the president of the AJCongress, which nowhere mentions political repression in Cuba). Is oppression only really oppression if a right-wing dictatorship (for example, like the former Argentinian regime) engages in it, while a leftist dictatorship somehow escapes condemnation because of its universal health care?

Berta Soler Fernandez reports of her husband, "My husband, Angel Moya Acosta, is enduring his fourth detention since 1999, when he openly declared his dissent -- a not-so-frequent attitude among black people in Cuba. Until then, he was a simple technician earning his 135 pesos ($5) a month, although I must say that after fighting for a year and a half in Angola he was less convinced of the rightness of everything the Cuban regime was doing."

And where is the leftist condemnation of the Cuban regime's past military intervention in Angola?

I have to say that I have always found it disgusting when people on the left refuse to criticize leftist dictatorships, while people on the right refuse to criticize rightist dictatorship. It makes all of their agitating for human rights suspect, as if there is not a universal standard of human rights, but only one that is dependent on one's politics. Another version of the same thing is pro-Palestinian activists who condemn every human rights violation by Israel, but pay no attention to human rights violations by the Palestinian Authority, or pro-Israel activists who point out every murder of a Palestinian collaborator with Israel by Palestinians, but pay no attention to the torture of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

I think that if one is a partisan of a particular cause that one must be careful to hold one's own side to a high standard of human rights. As someone who is pro-Israel, it is important for me to see Israel act in a fashion that as much as possible safeguards human rights for Palestinians. Otherwise, it seems to me, Israel loses much of its ability to argue on its own behalf. And the same is true for people who argue against the U.S. embargo on Cuba - they must hold Castro and the Cuban regime to a high standard of human rights, rather than simply condemning the U.S. government for what it is doing.