Saturday, August 27, 2005

It is Never Going to Be Enough!

By Arlene Peck

Living here in Los Angeles, in the very heart of the entertainment industry and having a celebrity television talk show myself, I have become used to the excessive behaviour that passes for normal around here! I know women who are plastic surgery freaks. They seem to always be going back to a better surgeon for yet another nip and tuck. The same priorities consume the crowd at the gym. They pump iron for hours, live on lettuce and are always striving to lose that delusional last five pounds!

That, folks, is exactly how I perceive the attitude of the Arab world to be, when it comes to any and all concessions that have or are ever likely to come out of Israel. Nothing is going to make a difference! It will never be enough! The Arab world has a plan for Israel. And the rest of the world, and all the “nips and tucks” the so-called Palestinian State receives by way of concessions, cannot make a silk purse from a sow's ear. Their local plan, of course, is Israel's destruction, their global plan is world domination and submission of any and all religions to theirs!

Already, the rabidly anti-Semitic Los Angeles Times is publishing its ‘editorials': “Israel Leaves but Gaza is Hardly Free!" and articles decrying “ isolated they are in Gaza now, from the outside world, (not to mention the West Bank and Jerusalem) and as subject to Israeli domination as before”. Further on in their propaganda, the dreaded concept ‘collective punishment’ is invoked “Nearly half of all Palestinians live below the poverty line of $2 a day. The World Bank’s assessment of the cause of this dramatic deterioration in Palestinian living standards is unequivocal.”

In other words, following their impeccable logic, the fault lies, as always, with the usual suspect, Israel! Because the limited work force entering Israeli is no longer as infiltrated with terrorists, sabotaging everything in sight, blowing themselves and countless civilians to pieces with monotonous frequency, Israel has caused suffering to the Palestinians.

Wow, could it be that the Jewish state really doesn’t have responsibility for seeing that Arab living standards are raised and maintained? Maybe someone should have a serious talk with Suha Arafat, Abbas, and their cronies and somehow convince them to open up the secret Swiss vaults, take out some of that 8-11 BILLION dollars still hidden from the US, EU and United Nations 'donors' and do something constructive towards aiding the plight of their own people. Palestine does not need any more rocket manufacturing plants, it needs sewerage and water treatment plants. They don't need any more schools, they just need to clean up the ones they have. They do need hospitals if only to improve the lives of their people, rather than have the Israelis fix up the broken bodies. Actually, these donations in Suha's purse have come from nearly everyone but the Palestinian's own wealthy Arab brothers, who, for so long, have decried the deplorable refugee camps they placed them in, yet continue to do nothing about them except urge more killing.

The L.A Times article further states, “The Separation Barrier prevents the free flow of Palestinian economic transactions; they raise the cost of doing business and disrupt the predictability needed for orderly economic life.” Well, gol-ley, do you think that somewhere we just might want to mention that this ‘separation fence’ also keeps the residents of Israel (both Jewish and Arab) a lot safer than before? How about grasping that it’s not Israel's responsibility to do what their Arab brothers have never done, that is, share some of the oil money they have by virtue of location and not invention. Correct me if I am wrong but it certainly seems that everyone is concerned about the Palestinians except their "concerned" Arab brothers, their own kind and kin, who have never come to their aid in showing some of that compassion they force on the rest of the world. Recall last year's tsunami? Who gave the least? The Muslims nations, particularly the Arab ones! Who needed money the most? Other Muslims! Who gave first? Israel. But, I digress.

Interesting, though, how they portray the situation. “The Precipitator of this economic crisis has been ‘closure’, a multifaceted system of restrictions on the movement of the Palestinian people and goods, which the government of Israel argues is essential to protect Israelis in Israel and the settlements.” Well, yeah, it does tend to keep down the savage barbaric actions of their Arab neighbors who seem to now be giving that same 7th century lifestyle to the rest of the world, which, incidentally, doesn't seem to like it on their home grounds (but found it OK on Jewish soil).

Could I just ask, where does it say that Israel is legally obligated to conduct business with a known enemy? Surely a free nation like Israel can decide who it will support or not? Hell, Jews aren't even allowed in their countries, yet the United Nations meets regularly to censure Israel for "collective punishment" for not hiring these terrorists and bringing them into Israel. What in the world is this about creating employment opportunities for people who want you dead and are at war with you?

Media like the L.A. Times are always looking for the “bottom line”, so here’s my take on it. Bottom line, all the press statements issuing from Arab leaders and much of the world press is constantly declaring, “This is not Enough”, it is only the beginning. Dr. Condoleezza Rice is in full press conference mode, saying how nice the Israeli gesture was, but it is just not enough. Well, yeah, it’s not enough. It’s never going to be enough, until they have the entire country of Israel under Muslim control and things are back the way they were when Jerusalem was under Arab control way back when. They liked it when they were able to use the marble headstones from Jewish cemeteries to pave their roads and line the toilets of their new hotels, as the Intercontinental Hotel once did.

This is acceptable behaviour, apparently, and the people who consider it acceptable have the weight of the world’s press behind them, screaming, “Now the West Bank, now your ancient Capital, the Holy of Holies”. Of course, that would satisfy them….wouldn’t it?

Can I ask, where is the Palestinian strategic plan for evacuating the Israelis they displace? There is one, isn’t there? Of course there is. The PA has shown how sacred it considers even one Jewish life. Mass burial, that’s the PA Plan for Israel, extermination and deja vu all over again.

I remember visiting Israel before 1967 and not being able to visit the Jewish holy places. Oh, “The Wall” was still there but under Jordanian control and, what a surprise, Jews were not allowed in! Now, their cry is Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital! And, the terrorist-biased media is running headlines demanding that Gaza must not be isolated and that Israel must allow them free rein and unfettered access into Israel to do what they have to do. That being, of course, more terrorism! I fully expect the cry to be “Good-bye Gaza. Hello Hamas!”

One of the more recent L.A. Times headlines informed its shocked readers, "Israel says it will annex Palestinian Land!” Could they have been talking about the homes belonging to the residents of the settlement of Maale Adumin, which is only a rifle shot away Jerusalem?

Has anyone ever looked at a map of the surrounding 22 Arab nations, which, between them, possess vast tracts, literally millions of acres, of uninhabited land and enormous wealth-generating deposits of oil? Is anyone else unable to refrain from bursting out in hysterical laughter when they see that Palestinian leaders are now calling emergency meetings over the "seizure of 22 acres in the village of A-tur, where Israeli homes are to be built.” In their own land and country!

I wonder, has the word "thank you" ever been in the vocabulary of this "peaceful culture"? Because I’ve never heard it uttered once where Israel is concerned. Now, as the Arabs are getting ready to move into the fertile oasis that the Jews' passion carved out of barren land over the past generations, Saeb Erelat, their 'wonderful' Palestinian chief negotiator, is already criticizing how "...we are looking for hope and peace, but the step (the annex of 22 acres), this disastrous decision, undermines any attempt to resume meaningful negotiations." Sound to me like an excuse, that being to justify the violent terrorism that is surely on the way.

Hey, maybe I’m wrong. At last, the ball is in their court. It’s their choice. They can get cooking and actually set up a democratic government; build roads, infrastructure, and factories; tear down those wretched refugee camps they've been milking for PR purposes all this time; and even print their own stamps. They certainly have the money for it. However, want to make a bet on how long it's going to be before we see them rampaging through the streets, cheering their black-hooded Hamas terrorists in lock-step?

As I said, I could be wrong. In this instance, I really, really, really want to be wrong, I really want my Israeli brothers and sisters to finally be at peace with their new neighbor. Having said that and hoping it will happen, I doubt it will come to pass. Why? Because, in the case of these vermin, killing and death are more important than living and life. I’m all for giving them the death they revere.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005


When American journalist Steven Vincent was murdered in Iraq, American academic Juan Cole wrote as follows:

"Was American journalist Steve Vincent killed in Basra as part of an honor killing? He was romantically involved with his Iraqi interpreter, who was shot 4 times. If her clan thought she was shaming them by appearing to be having an affair outside wedlock with an American male, they might well have decided to end it. In Mediterranean culture, a man's honor tends to be wrought up with his ability to protect his womenfolk from seduction by strange men. Where a woman of the family sleeps around, it brings enormous shame on her father, brothers and cousins, and it is not unknown for them to kill her. These sentiments and this sort of behavior tend to be rural and to hold among the uneducated, but are not unknown in urban areas. Vincent did not know anything serious about Middle Eastern culture and was aggressive about criticizing what he could see of it on the surface, and if he was behaving in the way the Telegraph article describes, he was acting in an extremely dangerous manner."

Steven Vincent's Sicilian-American wife replied:

Mr. Cole -

(I refuse to call you professor, because that would ennoble you. And please change the name of your blog to "Uninformed Comment", because that is precisely what the above paragraph is.)

I would like to refute this shameful post against a dead man who can no longer defend himself against your scurrilous accusations, a dead man who also happened to be my husband. Steven Vincent and I were together for 23 years, married for 13 of them, and I think I know him a wee bit better than you do.

For starters, Steven and Nour were not "romantically involved". If you knew anything at all about the Middle East, as you seem to think you do, then you would know that there is no physical way that he and she could have ever been alone together. Nour (who always made sure to get home before dark, so they were never together at night) could not go to his room; he could not go to her house; there was no hot-sheet motel for them to go to for a couple of hours. They met in public, they went about together in public, they parted in public. They were never alone. She would not let him touch her arm, pay her a compliment, buy her a banana on the street, hyper-aware of how such gestures might be interpreted by the mysogynistic cretins who surrounded her daily. So for you brazenly claim that she was "sleeping around," when there is no earthly way you could possibly know that, suggests to me that you are quite the misogynist as well. Cheap shot, Mr. Cole, against a remarkable woman who does not in any wise deserve it.

This is not to say that Steven did not love Nour - he did. And he was quite upfront about it to me. But it was not sexual love - he loved her for her courage, her bravery, her indomitable spirit in the face of the Muslim thugs who have oppressed their women for years. To him she represented a free and democratic Iraq, and all of the hopes he had for that still-elusive creature. And he loved her for the help she gave him - endangering herself by affiliating with him because she wanted the truth to come out about what was happening in her native city of Basra and the surrounding area. Perhaps you are unaware of the fact that it is possible to love someone in a strictly platonic way, but I assure you, it can happen - even between men and women.

And yes, he was planning to to convert to Islam and marry Nour, but only to take her out of the country to England, where she had a standing job offer, set her up with the friends she had over there, divorce her, and come back to New York. He had gotten her family's permission to do so (thereby debunking the "honor killing" theory), but more importantly, he had gotten mine. He called one night to say that it had been intimated to him that Nour's life was essentially going to be worthless after he left; since he was an honorable man (a breed you might want to familiarize yourself with), he then asked what I thought he might do to help her. I told him to get her out of the country and bring her here to New York. However, the only way she could have left Iraq was with a family member or husband. Since her family had no intention of going anywhere, Steven was her only recourse, and it would have been perfectly legal for him to convert, marry her, then take her out of Iraq to give her a chance at a real life. (Now that that avenue is closed to her, I have made inquiries to the State Department about the possibility of my sponsoring her in America. Do you perhaps labor under the misapprehension I am such a spineless cuckold that I would do put myself out thusly for the woman you believe my husband was traducing me with? If so, I'm guessing you don't know much about the Sicilian female temperament.)

As to your claim that "In Mediterranean culture, a man's honor tends to be wrought up with his ability to protect his womenfolk from seduction by strange men", it may perhaps have escaped your notice that Iraq does not abut, in any way, shape or form, the Mediterranean Sea. Italy is a Mediterranean culture, as are Spain, Greece, Southern France. In none of them is "honor killing" an accepted form of "protecting womanhood". As to the southerly lands like Morocco and Algeria, they are not, in the general scheme of things, considered Mediterranean cultures - they are considered Arabic, a whole different beast. For you to seemingly be unaware of this, and then to say that my husband "did not know anything serious about Middle Eastern culture" again begs the question, just where do you get off? If you cannot differentiate between Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cultures, how is it you feel qualified to pontificate so pompously?

How often have you been to the Middle East, Mr. Cole? In 2000 Steven and I spent almost a month in Iran on vacation. In 2003 we spent 10 days over Christmas in Jordan. In the last 2 years he had made not one, not two, but three trips to Iraq, and at the time of his death had about 7 months of daily living there under his belt. Can you offer comparables?

How much Arabic do you speak, Mr. Cole? Steven had been learning Arabic for the last two years, and was able to converse simply but effectively with the people he came into contact with. He had many expatriate friends in the Muslim world from whom he was always learning. As I sit here writing this at what was his desk, I can look at the literally dozens of books he devoured about Islam and the Middle East - each one thick with Post-It notes and personal observations he made in the pages - as he sought to comprehend and absorb the complexities of the culture and the religion he felt, and cared, so deeply about. If you would like a list of them, please email me back and I will be happy to send you a comprehensive accounting.

Yes, Steven was aggressive in criticizing what he saw around him and did not like. It's called courage, and it happens to be a tradition in the history of this country. Without this tradition there would have been no Revolutionary War, no Civil War, no civil rights movement, no a lot of things that America can be proud of. He had made many friends in Iraq, and was afraid for them if the religious fundamentalists were given the country to run under shari'a. You may dismiss that as naive, simplistic, foolish, but I say to you, as you sit safely in your ivory tower in Michigan with nothing threatening your comfy, tenured existance, that you should be ashamed at the depths to which you have sunk by libeling Steven and Nour. They were on the front lines, risking all, in an attempt to call attention to the growing storm threatening to overwhelm a fragile and fledgling experiment in democracy, trying to get the world to see that all was not right in Iraq. And for their efforts, Steven is dead and Nour is recuperating with three bullet wound in her back. Yes, that's right - the "honorable" men who abducted them, after binding them, holding them captive and beating them, set them free, told them to run - and then shot them both in the back. I've seen the autopsy report.

You did not know him - you did not have that honor, and you will never have the chance, thanks to the muerderous goons for whom you have appointed yourself an apologist. He was a brilliant, erudite, witty, charming, kind, generous, silly, funny, decent, honorable and complex man, who loved a good cigar, Bombay Sapphire gin martinis, Marvel Silver Age comic books, Frank Sinatra, opera and grossing me out with bathroom humor. And if he was acting in a dangerous manner, he had a very good excuse - he was utterly exhausted. He had been in Basra for 3 months under incredibly stressful conditions, working every day, and towards the end enduring heat of 135 degrees, often without air conditioning, which could not have helped his mental condition or judgment. He was yearning to come home, as his emails to me made crystal clear. But on August 2nd, two days before my birthday, he made the fatal mistake of walking one block - one - from his hotel to the money exchange, rather than take a cab, and now will never come back to me. I got a bouquet of flowers from him on August 4th, which he had ordered before he died, and the card said he was sorry to miss my birthday, but the flowers would stand in his stead until he made it home. They are drying now in the kitchen, the final gift from my soulmate.

I did not see your blog until tonight. I was busy doing other things - fighting the government to get Steven's body returned from Basra days after I was told he would be sent home, planning the funeral, buying a cemetary plot, choosing the clothes to bury him in, writing the prayer card, fending off the media, dealing with his aging parents, waking and then burying him - but I could not let the calumnies you posted so freely against two total strangers go unchallenged.

You strike me as a typical professor - self-opinionated, arrogant, so sure of the rightness of your position that you won't even begin to consider someone else's. I would suggest that you ought to be ashamed of yourself for your breathtaking presumption in eviscerating Steven in death and disparaging Nour in life, but, like any typical professor, I have no doubt that you are utterly shameless.


Lisa Ramaci-Vincent

The above letter is to be found in the "Comments" here, together with more background on the matter.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

The sentimental value of wealth

The article by Bina Brown below appeared in the Saturday, August 20th issue of "The Australian" newspaper but does not appear to be available online other than here

We have never been wealthier, but does that mean we are happier? Happiness and what drives it might have been exercising the minds of philosophers for years, but economists? It seems there is a growing debate among economists on the possible link between and the implications of, economic growth and consumerism.

For several years now our Government and others have focused on improving gross domestic product (GDP) or economic growth, in part because of the long-standing belief a strong economy will help generate jobs. If people have a job from which to generate income they can then go out and spend it on things that make them feel good, be it a house or a new car.

But it has been well researched that despite obvious material gains in developed countries over the past 50 years, happiness or people's feeling of general well-being have not improved commensurately. Richard Layard, the founder-director of the British-based LSE Centre for Economic Performance, has for years been studying happiness and the insights of economics, psychology, neuroscience and philosophy. His research on what makes people happy includes income, work, private life, community, health, freedom and a philosophy of life. He says GDP is a "hopeless" measure of welfare. This is because since World War II GDP has shot up by leaps and bounds, while the happiness of the population has stagnated - where stagnant happiness is confirmed by rising trends in crime rates. the diagnosis of depression. suicide rates and drug abuse.

Shane Oliver, head of investment strategy and chief economist at AMP Capital Investors, believes it is more than a coincidence that the debate on happiness has grown with the increasing interest in spiritual pursuits and awareness of environmental impacts at an individual level. The big question is that if consumption is not associated with increased happiness, then is the focus on economic growth and consumerism misplaced? Oliver says a shift away from consumerism and economic growth would have major implications for investors. Slower growth would make it harder for growth assets to provide good returns.

Then there are wider issues. "While economic growth may not contribute to increased happiness in rich countries, and the focus on consumption could possibly be distracting people from attaining lasting happiness, it is highly debatable whether government policy should be used to make people work less, stop competing and seek enlightenment." Oliver says.

"While seeking enlightenment or inner contentment may have merit. this is up to individuals, not government." He also believes that rising material wealth may not permanently boost happiness beyond a certain level because we adapt to it. "When we get a new car we might love it initially, but then we get used to it. As living standards rise, so do expectations."

Oliver says there is evidence to suggest that we are born with a genetically determined level of happiness to which we invariably gravitate after both good or bad events.

The problem is this process of adaptation may apply to many other things such as leisure, marriage (the honeymoon effect) or even religious activity. "Hence, policies designed to reduce work and the focus on income in order to boost happiness could flounder if they just redirect people to other things that have the same problems as money, that is, people just become accustomed to them," he says.

Then there is people's desire for advancement and the inquisitive nature of humanity. "For many. motivation stems from the sense of achievement derived from work effort as opposed to the material goods it provides. "Adopting policies to reduce effort - by suppressing the desire to produce something better, work hard or simply advance -- may actually reduce happiness by denying a sense of achievement." Oliver advocates that the growing debate on happiness, along with the increasing interest in spiritual pursuits and awareness of environmental impacts, may be a pointer to where rich countries might go next.

One theory is that if investors become more mindful about what they buy, then they will be helping companies who are more environmentally or socially aware. Only time will tell if this logic will drive investors to increasingly favour socially responsible investing.

Closer to home, there is evidence that consumption is starting to slow after a period of record spending and borrowing, although it could take a while to affect economic growth.

Craig James, chief equities economist with CommSec, says if happiness is measured by consumer sentiment then Australian's look to be upbeat. "Consumers are happy about the state of their finances and the overall economy," James says. "Unemployment is at the lowest levels in a generation, inflation is well contained and interest rates are stable. Income and wealth levels are healthy and people are starting to take stock after a bit of a binge. "Whether that puts a smile on their dial is another question."

Wednesday, August 03, 2005


In 2004, more than 40 tech companies staged public offerings of their stock on Wall Street. Ten were domestic Chinese firms. A microchip company led the way; in one of the largest initial public offerings of the year, China's Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp. raised $1.8 billion. If chip industry experts across the globe weren't already obsessed with China, SMIC's IPO riveted the attention of the remaining holdouts. Five years ago, China hardly had a chip industry to speak of. Each year since then, led by SMIC, production has exploded. Today, China makes about 8 percent of the world's chips; by 2010, that number may be up to 20 percent.

From nowhere to world domination has been the story of China and globalization for the past decade. Textiles, toys, televisions and cellphones -- one global industry after another has been battered by Chinese competition. Why should chips be any different? Because the chip industry can be an example where globalization works right.

Predictably, China's increasing economic power has sparked a sustained anti-China backlash in the United States. In the last week of July, the House of Representatives approved a bill that would make it easier for U.S. companies to seek restrictions on Chinese imports into the United States. And over the past month, U.S. politicians mounted an extraordinarily successful campaign to oppose a Chinese energy company's bid to buy the U.S. oil and gas company Unocal. There's no mystery why: If you're looking for examples of the downside of globalization, China offers them in abundance. China's low-cost workers are depressing wages for manufacturing employees all over the world. Its incredible appetite for raw materials and energy has warped commodity prices and raised fears of a global struggle for resources that could lead to the 21st century's defining showdown.

China's emerging push into chips would seem to jack up the stakes and has fed the growing backlash. Chips are a crucial link in the global tech economy, essential to nearly every modern electronic device but also critical to national defense and the entire global digital infrastructure. The chip industry's health is symbolically resonant, a marker for high-tech prowess. In the 1980s, Japanese inroads into chip manufacturing provoked an orgy of alarm and self-criticism in America. Today, the Chinese high-tech push is being compared to the Soviet Union's launch of Sputnik, which set off the fabled space race in the 1960s.

Defense hawks are now warning that the United States may soon be dependent on a potential enemy for the production of next-generation chips and are calling for increased controls on the export of advanced technology to China. (Last week, the Bush administration appeared to heed those calls as it announced plans to significantly tighten such restrictions.) U.S. chip company executives, even as they pack their bags to move yet another part of their operations offshore, decry Chinese government help for domestic chipmakers (while holding out their hands begging for their own government's assistance). Labor advocates fear that more good, high-paying jobs for American workers are set to vanish.

But there's a little fact that gets lost in the larger to-and-fro over China: Right now, in the face of a vast trade deficit with China, chips are one of the few sectors in which the United States enjoys a surplus. Thanks to China's emergence as the world's manufacturing headquarters for high-tech devices -- computers, DVD players, cellphones, iPods and just about everything else -- U.S. companies currently sell far more chips to China than they buy from that nation. The United States is at the top of the food chain in both chip design and chip-making equipment, and China is potentially its largest growth market.

It is entirely true that Chinese ambitions have no limit, and given China's astonishing surge forward as a high-tech powerhouse, perhaps one day China will rival the United States. But increasing controls on technology exports or pumping up protectionist tariffs is likely to do little more than slightly slow China down, say economists and China experts, while simultaneously hurting American consumers and companies doing business with China. In the meantime, the anti-China crusaders may be missing the real threat, the enemy who lives at home rather than across the Pacific.

In a perfectly working global economy, each country prospers by doing what it can uniquely do best, by, in technical terms, relying on its "comparative advantage." For decades, the United States' comparative advantage has been the excellence of its own science and technology. The chip industry offers a classic example -- U.S. chip makers maintain their edge by pouring high percentages of revenue into research and development.

But federal spending on basic science and R&D in the United States, as measured by its percentage of the gross domestic product, has been flat or in decline for 30 years. So too has federal support for science and engineering education. As a result, the basic infrastructure that supported fantastic achievements in science and technology for generations is fraying.

At the same time, U.S. corporations and investors are pouring billions of dollars into China. And if last year's IPO statistics are a sign of what's to come, the flow will only increase. By itself, that might not be a bad thing. But in conjunction with the U.S. failure to nurture its own comparative advantage, the China gold rush presents quite the paradox of globalization. The United States has done more to push global markets and free trade than has any other nation. But now it seems to be forgetting how to play its own game. Instead of looking to punish China for doing well, policymakers should be looking at the U.S. chip industry, figuring out why it is thriving and applying those lessons to the rest of the economy.

(The above article originally appeared in Salon -- showing that not all Leftists are economically illiterate)