Saturday, September 02, 2006

Ant sampled

Anyone curious about Antony Loewenstein’s book, My Israel Question, but who hasn’t been able to get hold of a copy, can download a sample chapter – Chapter 3, “Journey into Israel” – from the publisher’s promotional page (see right panel).

Loewenstein has received some grief for his deeply critical views of Israel from right-wing and pro-Zionist sources since even before the book’s release. One of the points of contention has been Loewenstein’s assertion of “Jewish-only roads” that purportedly contribute to an apartheid-like gulf between Israelis and Palestinians in the occupied territories.

In Chapter 3, Loewenstein does indeed make reference to “Jewish-only roads” (pp. 51 & 57). But further into the chapter, Loewenstein interviews Gideon Levy, a “maverick journalist” for Haaretz, quoting him (p. 60) as saying:

When you drive a road in the West Bank which is a road for only Jews, what is it if not apartheid? When you cross a checkpoint which is only open for Jews, what is it if not apartheid? If you are an Israeli citizen of Palestinian origin who tries to find in this liberal neighbourhood an apartment to rent and you have terrible difficulties doing so because you are Palestinian, what is it if not apartheid?

Thus it appears that Loewenstein’s assertion regarding ‘Jewish-only roads’, and the overarching ‘apartheid’ theme, is not solely his own construction, but has been influenced significantly by his contact with Levy, and presumably others.

Another criticism of Loewenstein is that he has been perfidious with regard to relatives whose hospitality he enjoyed during his visit to Israel. After being “welcomed ... into their home” (p. 64), he portrays them, particularly his male host and cousin Ronald Green, as extremely chauvinistic and even racist towards Palestinians. Thus, Loewenstein has attracted criticism of bad faith towards, even ‘betrayal’ of, his ‘family’.

Describing his stay with his cousin, Loewenstein notes that: “His passion was violent and astounding. I tried to stop the conversation numerous times, but he refused, determined to convince me how wrong I was...” (my emphasis)

Interesting. Whatever one may make of Loewenstein’s apparent failure to secure his relatives’ consent to being held to public scrutiny in this way, it’s also apparent from Loewenstein’s account that they actively sought to influence the content and overall direction of Loewenstein’s book.

This could arguably somewhat mitigate Loewenstein’s alleged perfidy. Of course, it’s also arguable that Loewenstein ought nonetheless to have fictionalised the names – if only for his own sake.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Jack Robertson rant

An impromptu ‘rant’ by Webdiary veteran Jack Robertson is the latest piece to be featured on the WD frontpage. Robertson, it may be recalled, contributed an excellent chapter to Margo Kingston’s book, Not Happy, John.

As one commenter put it about Jack’s rant, “some of it’s sweepingly generalisingly wrong”. Quite right indeed, some aspects of it can be pulled apart like a roast chook. Then again there are some pearls of insight there as well. Anyway, it’s an interesting and often amusing read. The following is from a comment I posted on the thread.

One of Jack’s more pungent themes is the “scaredy-waredy” leadership with which the Free World has been encumbered. His take resonates somewhat with my own view of the sycophancy of the Prime Minister’s relationship with the US President, and by inevitable extension, of Australia with the USA.

For a central theme in the Australian pro-war narrative has been that JWH’s apparently visceral commitment to GWB’s ‘war on terror’ is due to the fact that JWH was in Washington DC on September 11 2001. What’s more, folks, he had visited the Pentagon a mere matter of hours before it was devastatingly struck by Flight 77.

But hey, give it a rest! Is the possibility that “JWH could’a died, mate” really a serious basis for surrendering any part of Australia’s foreign policy to a seriously flawed US administration?

Sure, as a relatively transient issue, it might give one pause to ponder whether JWH really is so indispensable as some of his marginal-seat backbenchers seem to believe. But to elevate JWH’s ‘brush with death’ as some kind of human-interest justification for bone-headed foreign policy is just too much altogether, a kiddies’ gross-out on fairy-floss.

The truth is that Mr Howard ‘blinked’. Our (then prospective) man-of-steel failed to exercise the ticker he claims to possess. Or, to borrow Jack’s idiom, JWH kacked his trackies and ran shrieking to GWB to “pwease make it aw bettah, Mummy Guvment”.

No, I don’t want to hear any more of Mr Howard’s puling whine about his weawwy fwightening existential cwisis. From 2001 on, I waited to hear him explain how his government would calmly and rationally assess the nature and extent of the threat. And what steps he would take to calmly and judiciously deal with a complex problem. And how he would project Australia’s middling but erstwhile-respected influence in the world to achieve real and decent outcomes. And to say “no” to Mummy Guvment when it was appropriate and sane to do so.

Instead we got disaster, ignominy and fragmentation. Disaster on two fronts, Afghanistan and Iraq, and the makings of it on several others. Ignominy in allowing the threat to change us.

And fragmentation? Well, to begin with, perhaps watch this thread, or visit others on this or related topics. One may catch frequent glimpses everywhere, for example, in arch-Howard supporter Paul Gray’s call for “someone” to actually apologise to Mark Latham, because the latter got it right on Iraq while the man-of-steel got it so wrong (The Australian, March 21 2006).

Hell no, folks, I’m not a Howard Hater. Just a Howard Sceptic. But it really is time for the old man to retire. No, not in favour of the dolt Costello; I reckon Turnbull could make a halfway-decent Head of Government – at least, quite possibly a lesser evil. Ahh, just a thought.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Goat Friday

Our goatly aspirant for this Friday is a blast from the past, who for some strange reason suddenly came to mind the other day. Most likely it was the theme of goatery that suggested this person. On the other hand, the comparison is probably rather unkind ... to goats, I mean.

Some years ago I went along to a meeting of the Philosophy Society at a ‘prestigious’ university in Melbourne. They’d advertised a speaker on abuses in psychiatric institutions (electric shock therapy, unlawful restraint, etc.). This seemed an intriguing topic, and wine and cheese were, of course, an added sweetener to be served after the proceedings.

Our speaker – I don’t recall the name – carried a full head of hair. By which I mean: hair falling halfway down his back, a wholly extravagant beard and whiskers, etc. Here hair, there hair, hair everywhere! Not that there’s anything wrong with that...

It turned out that he happened to be a member of the Church of Scientology. Not that there’s anything wrong with that... An unadvertised purpose of the meeting seemed to be to recruit suitable volunteers for the cause of ending psychiatric abuses.

The primary purpose, however, seemed to be for this man to give a withering dissertation on his view of life, people and everything. The matter of the cause seemed lost amid his copious condemnation of people, customs and practices which, in his view, were absolutely undesirable.

The objective of the rant apparently was to discourage anyone who did not measure up from volunteering their services to the cause. He told us he especially didn’t want anyone who imbibed in any measure any form of drug, including of course ‘legitimate’ drugs such as alcohol and tobacco. I don’t recall if stimulants such as coffee, etc., were included in the index of proscribed substances.

At the point of his denouncement of imbibers of alcoholic substances, I noticed the person who was the keeper-of-the-wine-and-cheese surreptitiously push the wine-cask further under his seat. A dry evening seemed assured.

At some stage our professor berated all young men who artificially removed their facial hair, i.e., anyone who shaved their faces. Invoking Freud, he insisted that such men were lackeys of the authoritarian, patriarchal structure, because in shaving their faces clean of facial hair they were deferring utterly to their fathers and/or elder males. Thus have they established their absolute inability for original thought or for dissent from authoritarian paradigms (which, it seems, were responsible for those psychiatric abuses).

As most of his audience were fresh-faced, clean-shaven undergraduates (no women, by the way), this must have went down a real treat. For my part, I felt something like disgust or anger towards the speaker on behalf of the younger blokes there, who couldn’t have helped feeling demeaned by this sort of treatment.

After the maledictions came question time, which elicited two enquiries, one of them from me. I don’t remember exactly what my question was, but it was to the effect that I thought our speaker was excluding so much talent from the cause with his absurd and pedantic proscriptions.

My question was more or less fobbed off with a grudging reference to something-or-other I should read, quite possibly by L. Ron Hubbard, in order to get my answer. Or maybe it was Orwell – every other crank with an axe to grind seems to invoke Orwell! Well anyway, perhaps he just couldn’t be bothered talking to people.

The meeting ended desultorily, with no wine or cheese consumed. In fact, the haste with which the gathering dispersed indicated that the evening had been less than a success for all concerned. Especially for those poor souls suffering abuse in psychiatric institutions.

Indigo Girls
(from Closer To Fine)
I went to see the doctor of philosophy
With a poster of Rasputin and a beard down to his knee
He never did marry or see a B-grade movie
He graded my performance, he said he could see through me
I spent four years prostrate to the higher mind, got my paper
And I was free

Collective punishment kind of works

Don’t try this at home. And try to keep it under your hat.

It seems that collective punishment kind of “works”. Well, up to some finite and fallible point, anyway.

In an article published in a Palestinian newspaper, Mr Ghazi Hamad, a former Hamas newspaper editor and the spokesman for the current Hamas Government, reportedly has “deplored the collapse of Gazan life into chaos and has said that much of the blame belongs to Palestinians themselves”.

It gets more interesting. No surprise, of course, that Mr Hamad, as a Hamas government spokesman, would “argue for armed groups to follow the Hamas decision to halt the rocket fire”. But then Mr Hamad questions “the point of firing rockets into Israel that cause few casualties but result in many Palestinian deaths when the Israelis retaliate”.

Mr Hamad’s frank admission of faltering resolve might be seen, from an Israeli perspective, as a vindication of Israel’s apparent policy of full-on over-the-top retaliation, which has often been criticised as disproportionate and/or amounting to collective punishment. The Israeli government is likely to be encouraged to continue or even increase this lethal pressure.

From a Palestinian point of view, Mr Hamad’s comments could be taken in essentially one of two ways. Hardliners will denounce his statement as defeatist and as giving comfort to the enemy. However, the more pragmatic of his compatriots may hear in his comments a wake-up call, that a renewal of the political process may be the only way to avoid an endless cycle of violence and stalemate, in which the prospects for the Palestinian people become ever more bleak.

If this pragmatic view seems “defeatist”, then perhaps it points to a reality in which hardline Palestinian nationalism is indeed all but defeated, given the overwhelming forces arrayed against it. A more pragmatic nationalism may well be the only hope that a viable and prosperous Palestinian state can be salvaged from the rubble of a half-century and more of brutal conflict. And a lasting peace?!

The catch to the apparent “success” of collective punishment, of course, is that the pain inflicted by the Israelis upon Palestinians seems in the main to ramp up the hatred towards Israel. Thus the unintended consequence is to hopelessly derail any progress towards a political solution.

And so it goes. Oh well, nothing really new in any of these observations. No doubt just another impotent lament for a lacerated tract of humanity.

Monday, August 28, 2006

A scene from our times

Sunday, just before 5 o’clock in the afternoon. I ease the car out of the drive-thru at a McDonalds on Melbourne’s outer south-east fringe.

Our younger girl is clutching a couple of bags containing allegedly freshly-prepared burgers, for which we have had to wait in the holding zone, and already-stale fries. A cardboard tray of soft drinks teeters perilously on her lap.

With these delights, we’re going to drive on to the display home where the missus is about to shut up shop after a rather uninspiring day of trade. There we will chow down on our ‘meals’, which a moment ago we’d been cheerfully instructed to ‘enjoy’. Based on long experience, the chances of successfully executing that directive are only slightly better than even, but for some reason we, sooner or later, always seem to go back for more. One of the great mysteries of our time.

As we slowly ease our way through the carpark, we see up ahead two cars parked opposite each other. A man and woman are briskly emptying the contents of one of the cars into the other, conveying these across the traffic lane, while a couple of tired-looking kids stand idly by. We catch brief glimpses of brightly, even outrageously, coloured bedding – doonas, pillows – and various other nondescript items. “Oh dear”, I intone.

Our girl giggles, “What the... Looks a bit suss!” I’m surprised at her confusion, since the broad outline of the plot should be instantly recognisable in this age of ours. As we drive out into the street, I explain...

That was a mum and a dad, either separated or divorced, who are discharging their tidal custodial arrangements, with their children’s bedding and sundry belongings following as flotsam and jetsam as the tide turns. They have met at McDonalds because either one or the other cannot, or is too tired, to cook, so the allure of McDonalds has won the day. Or perhaps the visit here is intended as a treat for the kids, by way of meager compensation for the non-custodial parent’s absence. Or...

On any Saturday or Sunday, lunchtime or evening, one may enter a typical McDonalds or similar franchise and usually manage to spot a non-custodial parent or two, most often dads, with their kids. Here they enjoy a ‘meal’ before perhaps going on to a footy game, or some other keenly anticipated family outing. They’re at a place where the expression “quality time” has lost its cliché status to become a fervent hope.