SELF-INSPECTION: A FARCE IN FARSI

On October 5, 2014, a huge orange fireball illuminated Tehran. The explosion took place at Parchin, an Iranian military installation used for testing nuclear weapon triggers. Witnesses reported that all trees in a hundred-yard radius of two neighboring villages were burned, while windows in the capital were shattered.

Last week, the Associated Press reported that this same Parchin facility will be subject to inspection – by the Iranians themselves.rouhani

Under a secret side agreement between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Iran, not the IAEA, will provide photographs, videos, and environmental samples of the site. The evidence will be furnished “using Iranian authenticated equipment.” In short, as two commentators have noted, the agreement leaves it to Iran to take an inspection selfie. The Director General of the IAEA will be permitted to visit the site but only “as a courtesy by Iran.”

Until now, opponents of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action could marshal their arguments with some degree of respect for its apologists. Granted this was difficult, with the Obama administration insisting – falsely – that Israel was the only nation opposing the treaty, and implying – deviously – that domestic opponents were guilty of double loyalty.  But the Parchin deal marks the point where tragedy turns into farce.

There is no historical precedent for such an arrangement. Or is there? Continue reading

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CULTURE AND COWARDICE

On July 4, Kevin Joseph Sutherland, a 24-year old political activist, boarded a Washington DC Metro train en route to a holiday concert at RFK Stadium. Jasper Spires, an 18-year old college dropout, approached Sutherland and tried to grab his cellphone. During the three minute ride to the next station, Spires punched Sutherland until he fell to the floor, and then stabbed him 30 to 40 times. After a brief pause during which he robbed other passengers, Spires returned and stomped on Sutherland’s body.  According to one witness, Spires “drop-kicked him in the head several times, like he wanted to kick his head off.”METRO

When the car arrived at the station, Spires walked off. He dropped his camouflage pants and a bag containing his knife. He jumped a turnstile and left the station.

Hours later, Sutherland was pronounced dead at the scene.

This essay is not about Mr. Sutherland. It is about the ten passengers who watched Spires murder Sutherland, and did nothing. Continue reading

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TOM BRADY AND THE PARADOX OF CHEATING

The New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft has decided not to appeal the penalties imposed on his team for the so-called “Deflate-gate” scandal. That leaves Tom Brady alone to pursue his appeal later this month of the four-game suspension imposed on him.

We’ll get to Tom Brady in a moment.Brady Balls

But first, put yourself in right field with one out in the top of the ninth inning, a runner on second, and your team leading by one run. The batter hits a line drive your way, and you race toward it, diving, and landing over the ball — a fraction of a second late. You’ve trapped it. The runner on second, with an unobstructed view, sees the trap and runs to third. What do you do?

Sprawling on the grass, you hold your glove aloft with a wondrous “hey, look, I caught it!” expression. Then you get to your feet and throw to second, doubling up the runner and ending the game.

You’ve cheated. You know it. The runner knows it. Possibly most of the cheering fans know it. But as long as the umpire doesn’t know it, you are a hero. The opposing manager is on the field screaming, but his anger is directed toward the umpire, not toward you. If roles were reversed, he would have expected his outfielder to do exactly the same.

The detour illustrates a point. In sports, there is cheating – and then there is cheating. Much of what we call cheating is not only accepted, it is admired. Continue reading

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THE UGLY AMERICANS

The Americans, an FX drama series about a Russian spy couple posing as seemingly normal suburbanites in Reagan’s America, is the “best show” on television, according to the Washington Post.  In 2013 and 2014, it was nominated for Critics Choice TV Awards for best dramatic series, best actor, and best actress. One critic applauded: “Not since The Wire worked its last corner has a drama series been as outright binge-able and richly satisfying.”

Well, cotton candy is outright binge-able and richly satisfying to sugar addicts. But no one would mistake cotton candy for serious food.The Americans

No one should mistake The Americans for serious television. Although co-stars Kerri Russell and Rhys Matthews — who are romantically involved in real life — deliver consistently compelling performances, the show is the television equivalent of junk food.  Its depiction of the Cold War between East and West is worse than worthless; it is dangerous to the mental health of viewers, particularly the distressingly large number of young viewers who get their history from television.  They will learn about as much about the history of the Cold War by watching The Americans as they would learn about the Ice Age by watching The Flintstones.   Continue reading

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GENIUS AND DUMBNESS

Watching The Theory of Everything, the biographical film about Stephen Hawking, one wonders: why do geniuses behave like jerks?

There is the jerkiness portrayed in the movie. In 1990, after 25 years of marriage to the devoted Jane Wilde, Hawking informed her that he was flying to America with Elaine Mason, his therapist. He has long since left the therapist for whom he left his wife.

There is also jerkiness unmentioned in the film, but widely known. In May 2013, Hawking, after initially accepting an invitation to speak at the President’s Conference organized to mark the 90th birthday of Shimon Peres, changed his mind and declared that he would not participate in any academic or cultural exchanges with Israel. He announced his support for the BDS – boycott, divestment, and sanctions – movement.

Now there are many reasons why ordinary people should oppose BDS. First, Israel, whatever its faults, is the lone democracy committed to individual rights in the Middle East, and therefore deserves support, not isolation. Second, Israeli Arabs and Palestinians have  greater freedom to protest and greater access to independent courts than any other Muslims in the Middle East. It makes no sense to boycott Israel and give a pass to the oppressive regimes ruling Syria, Iran, or Turkey, to name a few. Third, those attending international cultural and academic events tend to be the very Israelis most opposed to their government’s policies. BDS, ironically, undermines the Israelis most committed to change and entrenches those most resistant.Genius

But these are reasons for ordinary people. Stephen Hawking is not an ordinary person. He has an added reason to oppose BDS. Hawking suffers from ALS, which has left him unable to utilize any muscles functions except for his cheeks, whose movement is monitored by a sensor attached to his spectacles. He sole means of communication is through a computer Intel Core  i7-based communication system, which runs on a chip designed in Israel.

If BDS were universally adopted, as Hawking wishes, the very technology he  relies upon to communicate would be unavailable to him. Hawking, a supposed champion of logic, thus takes the absurdly illogical position of opposing the same kind of exchange that allows him to communicate his opposition in the first place.

A first grader would blush at the internal inconsistency of such a position. Continue reading

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GOD EXISTS AND ROOTS FOR NEW ENGLAND

Benjamin Franklin supposedly observed that beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.  Super Bowl XLIX is proof that God exists and roots for the Patriots.

We can now close the book on “Deflate-gate,” the non-scandal about the supposed under-inflation of the footballs used by the New England Patriots in their January 18 victory over the Indianapolis Colts. For we now know the cause of the reduced air pressure.

It was not Tom Brady. It was not Bill Belichick. It was not the anonymous locker room guy. It was not even Ben Affleck or Matt Damon or the many others who bravely stepped forward to take responsibility.

God deflated the footballs. god-w.-football Continue reading

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STOP THE TORTURE … OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE

Torture is a complex subject. Senator John McCain, who knows a thing or two about it, says torture is beneath us. “We are always Americans, and different, stronger and better than those who would destroy us.” That sounds good, but is it realistic? If a terrorist kidnapped a newborn baby, and left it to die of exposure at an undisclosed location, what mother would balk at using torture to force the terrorist to reveal the baby’s whereabouts? I suspect most mothers would eagerly torture a terrorist personally if necessary to save their newborns.

So the morality of torture comes down to a question of when, not whether, it is justified.

Torturing the English language, on the other hand, is never justified. It is always unpardonable.

That’s what makes the Senate report so disturbing. What kind of government manacles our language, rips into its verbal womb, and extracts such lexical malformations as “enhanced interrogation techniques” or “rectal rehydration”?

Truthful language“The truth is sometimes a hard pill to swallow,” Senator McCain said last week, presumably meaning orally, not rectally.  “But the American people are entitled to it, nonetheless.”

So here’s the truth, America. Our government is a serial torturer of the English language. Continue reading

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