August 31, 2012 § Leave a Comment
I spent most of yesterday being inundated with Minnesota and Minneapolis-St. Paul corporate and government propaganda (for those of you who aren’t regular readers, this is why), so you’ll excuse me if I sound as if I work for the Twin Cities Chamber of Commerce, but it occurred to me over the course of the day that there are actually some important lessons for Turkish politics that can be gleaned from observing the North Star State, and that bringing a group of emerging Turkish leaders here is a good thing.
First, Minnesota has an unusually high level of civic engagement and corporate innovation. We were told a couple of times that it has the highest voter turnout rate of any state, and I checked every election from 2000 through 2010 and that held true for all of them. Minnesota voters turn out to the polls in larger numbers than their fellow citizens and the lesson of civic engagement and the important of voting is a good one, particularly given that the small and nonrandom sample I took today of my Turkish colleagues indicates that they do not feel terribly connected to their politicians. A number of the people we spoke with today waxed effusive about a sense among Minnesotans that politics is not only important but that politics can be a real driver of change and that local politics here is extremely responsive to its citizens. It is a good model for the Turkish visitors to observe, because it shows the importance of political engagement and the less cynical side of what can be accomplished through the political system. Minnesota also has the largest number of Fortune 500 companies per capita, which is a good reminder that innovation and corporate success do not have to be limited to the east and west coasts. Much of Turkey’s economic growth over the past decade has come from outside the big cities, and Minnesota mirrors that while illustrating that economic dynamism will flourish with an educated populace (which Minnesota has, with Minneapolis-St.Paul having the highest percentage of any metropolitan area in the country of adults with a diploma at 90%).
Second, Minnesota state politics is a great example of a diverse system that is not captured by one party and that tolerates, and even embraces, divided government. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, represents a district right next door to Michele Bachmann, who is currently notorious for her anti-Muslim witch hunt targeted at Huma Abedin. Two years ago, a Republican governor and Democratic legislature flipped completely, and Minnesota now has a Democratic governor and Republican legislature. Minnesota votes for Republican governors like Tim Pawlenty and complete wildcard governors like former pro wrestler Jesse Ventura at the same time that it votes for extremely liberal senators like Paul Wellstone or Al Franken. The state is hard to characterize politically and reveals a real openness to a wide spectrum of political ideas and personalities. Turkey, on the other hand, is a country that right now effectively operates as a one-party state given the AKP’s dominance and the CHP’s feckless impotence. As I’ve noted in the past, an unhealthy political system is ultimately going to hamper Turkish economic and political development and harm Turkey’s status as a geopolitical power. Minnesota presents a great demonstration for this next generation of Turkish political, business, and press leaders of a political system that is not captured by any one party or set of policies and that does not stagnate as a result of stale politics or a static political environment.
(This post has been brought to you by the State of Minnesota. The brainwashing will cease soon.)
August 29, 2012 § 3 Comments
One of the themes that I continuously harp on in the course of writing this blog is the vital importance of the U.S.-Turkish relationship. The U.S. and Turkey are strategic partners and have been for decades and cooperate on a host of security and trade issues. While U.S.-Turkey ties rest on a shared foundation of common interests, they are ultimately sustained by government officials, business leaders, and opinion makers in both countries who are committed to keeping the relationship strong. Starting today, I am officially going to be part of this group.
For the next two weeks (and then again for two weeks in Turkey in the spring) I will be participating in the Young Turkey Young America program, which is run by the Atlantic Council and sponsored by the State Department and aims to connect 30 young professionals from the United States and Turkey to examine key foreign policy issues and build a group of emerging leaders committed to bilateral cooperation. This year’s group has a bunch of really impressive Americans and Turks who are, among other things, government advisers, journalists, non-profit executive directors, CEOs, local elected officials, and academics, and I can’t help but feel that I kind of snuck in the back door. We are starting off in Minneapolis today, then moving on to New York and finally Washington, and will be having meetings and panels with members of Congress, executive branch officials in charge of Turkey policy, corporate leaders, academics, and policy experts. The agenda looks great, and I am really excited to spend the next two weeks constantly thinking and speaking about the current and future state of the U.S.-Turkey relationship with smart and talented folks from both countries.
Keeping up my usual daily blogging schedule over the next two weeks is going to be tough, but I am going to try to blog as often as possible. Many of the conversations and meetings the group will be having are going to be off the record and so I am not going to be able to write about them specifically, but I plan on writing about the general insights that I glean from my colleagues – particularly the Turkish ones – about the opportunities and challenges in the bilateral relationship, and some thoughts about where U.S.-Turkey ties are headed. So basically, the blog is going have a changed tenor for the next two weeks and will not be as news-focused as usual, but hopefully it will be just as interesting (to the extent that it is ever interesting) in a different way. And don’t worry, if something big happens in Israel or Turkey I will make sure to leave all of you with my two cents.
August 28, 2012 § 1 Comment
Dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians was dealt a big blow yesterday with the announcement that bitterlemons.org was shutting down after twelve years. For those who aren’t familiar with Bitter Lemons, it is a website that publishes Israeli and Palestinian views across the spectrum on the peace process and wider Middle East issues, and it was founded and run by Yossi Alpher and Ghassan Khatib. In explaining why they are ending their website, Alpher and Khatib both emphasized that dialogue and cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians are at their lowest ever point, and that not only is there no peace process at the moment but there is not even a prospect for one to emerge. More disturbingly, both asserted that this freeze at the top has filtered down to society. Khatib informed us that in the past, “despite the feeling among many in the Arab world that contact with Israelis is tantamount to accepting Israel’s occupation, seldom did authors decline an invitation. Lately, we have observed that this has changed, that even once-forthcoming Palestinians are less interested in sharing ideas with Israelis just across the way.” Alpher echoed this theme, writing, “Here and there, writers from the region who used to favor us with their ideas and articles are now begging off, undoubtedly deterred by the revolutionary rise of intolerant political forces in their countries or neighborhood.” When an outlet dedicated to advancing a wide and diverse array of ideas and perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict feels like it has reached a dead end, it is a terrible sign of things to come.
While the Israeli-Palestinian front grows increasingly dire, there are a couple of encouraging reasons for optimism when it comes to the polarized environment that exists between Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs. Following the attempted lynching of Jamal Julani, an Israeli Arab teenager, last week, eight suspects have been indicted for racially motivated aggravated assault and a ninth suspect has been indicted for inciting violence. The indictments and investigations are important but are also the ordinary course of the justice system at work, so this is neither uncommon nor unprecedented. What is, however, is that Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar ordered all Israeli junior high schools and high schools to dedicate a special lesson on the first day of school yesterday to the Julani beating and to discuss racism and violence in Israeli society. The treatment of Israeli Arabs is an uncomfortable topic in Israel, as they enjoy full citizenship rights but are routinely discriminated against, and the attack on Julani in the heart of Jerusalem exposed a dark undercurrent of racial violence that exists in some quarters. Ordering a national discussion in schools about the incident is a small step but an important step nonetheless, and it shows a heartening willingness on the part of the Israeli state and society for introspection. Certainly this will not heal all wounds or eliminate the problem of racism and violence toward Israeli Arabs, but it is a start toward building a more tolerant and aware Israeli polity.
In this vein, a friend directed me toward this remarkable interview with Forsan Hussein, an Israeli Arab who is currently the CEO of the Jerusalem YMCA. Hussein grew up in Sha’ab a small Arab village near Acco, managed to win a full scholarship to Brandeis (where he was two years ahead of me, although I didn’t know him), and later got a masters from SAIS and an MBA from Harvard. It is mind-boggling that he accomplished all this despite the fact that Sha’ab had no high school and Hussein spoke almost no English when he came to the U.S. to start college, but that is not what is most remarkable. What is most remarkable is that despite growing up in Israel as a clearly disadvantaged minority and in a community that feels very little connection to the state, Hussein spent his teenage summers establishing and running a peace camp for Jews and Arabs and then returned to Israel after working for an investment fund in the U.S. and is emphatic about the need for Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs to work together to improve their country. Despite his background and growing up with what he describes as a one-sided narrative, he is proud to be an Israeli and wants to improve Israel rather than tear it down. He ends the interview as follows: “My dream and vision is to work on the business side of peace — to be an ambassador for Israel in the Arab countries, and for the Arab countries in Israel. One day.” That someone like this exists provides me with hope that Israel is not as lost as its detractors claim, and that there are many more Forsan Husseins out there who embrace their country despite its faults and are able to overcome their understandable resentments in working toward building a stronger and more integrated Israel.
August 24, 2012 § 1 Comment
Suat Kiniklioğlu wrote a clear headed column in Today’s Zaman on Wednesday in which he argued that Turkey is effectively at war with Syria and that the only solution to ending the Syrian problem is a military one. Given that Turkey is supporting and arming the Free Syrian Army and Kiniklioğlu contends that Syria is responding with increased support for the PKK, he wrote that Turkey has two basic options before it. Option one is to engage in direct war with Syria and set up a no-fly zone or buffer zone, and option two is to continue Turkey’s indirect war through supporting the opposition. After laying out the inherent problems with both approaches, Kiniklioğlu implied that he favors the first option of a more direct war:
The Syrian crisis and the concomitant rise in PKK terror have bitterly reminded us of the need for a professional fighting force. It is inconceivable that after three decades of fighting against the PKK we are still fighting with non-professional forces. Whether we like it or not the Syrian crisis has turned into a regional imbroglio. We must bring an end to the Syrian crisis — that can only be done through military means. Our government has the responsibility of holding to account those responsible for bombing our cities on a Ramadan holiday evening in Gaziantep.
This sentiment is an understandable one. The longer the mess in Syria drags on, the more it brings Turkey’s foreign policy credibility down with it. Things have become so bad that there are now calls for Ahmet Davutoğlu, who many assumed would replace Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as prime minister, to step down from his post as foreign minister. Turkey’s demands on Assad have fallen on deaf ears, Syrian provocations such as the downing of the Turkish reconnaissance jet have gone unanswered, and in the midst of all this the PKK has ramped up its attacks and made this the bloodiest summer for Turkey in decades. Arming the opposition has not gotten Turkey anywhere, and as Kiniklioğlu writes, the problem with a more direct military approach is that the Obama administration and NATO have shown close to zero willingness to intervene, which makes a unilateral Turkish intervention a far more difficult task. Turkey is in such a bad position at the moment that it almost seems as if there is no other choice but direct military confrontation with Syria, if for no other reason than to take the fight to the PKK. To paraphrase one of President George W. Bush’s more memorable lines, it’s better for Turkey to fight the PKK over there so it doesn’t have to fight the PKK over here.
The problem with this approach is that Turkey is having an enormous amount of trouble handling the PKK on its own territory, and I shudder to think about what will happen should the Turkish military chase the PKK over unfamiliar ground while adding the Syrian army into the mix. Nobody has any idea what is really going on in Hakkari, and just yesterday another six soldiers were killed in PKK bombings and assaults. As many PKK terrorists as the Turkish army is taking out, the military is suffering significant casualties of its own, and this despite sealing off an entire swath of southeastern Turkey and having the benefit of fighting on its own turf. Let’s say that Turkey decides to invade Syria with the dual purpose of eradicating as much of the PKK as possible and hastening the end of the Assad regime. How well would such an operation possibly go? Turkey has already sadly been on the wrong end of Syrian air defenses and would be fighting on foreign soil against the PKK, the PYD, some part of the Syrian army, and one cannot discount Iran at that point entering the mix. I get the bind that Turkey is in and the frustration at feeling impotent to control events despite having the second largest army in NATO, but stepping up overt military operations against Syria is a bad idea at this point. Turkey is in a terrible mess at the moment – albeit one partially of its own making given its years of supporting Assad and its complete lack of any Kurdish policy – but an invasion of Syria would only make things worse. There aren’t really any good options, which is what Kiniklioğlu’s column is getting at, but I think that the only real course Turkey has for now is to keep fighting the PKK at home, hope that Assad falls soon, and pray that whatever replaces him will be able to contain the fallout from migrating across Turkey’s borders. Intervening in Syria alone will not lead to a positive outcome, and in fact would have a high chance of creating even more headaches and security problems for Ankara than it already has.
August 21, 2012 § 3 Comments
Bibi Netanyahu and Ehud Barak have run into the problem that they appear to be virtually alone when it comes to deciding whether to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities. The two are so out on a limb at the moment that Shai Feldman, writing in Foreign Policy, declared the debate over attacking Iran to be over because Netanyahu and Barak lack the minimum consensus that would be required for military action. The defense and intelligence establishments are united in wanting to wait for the U.S. and not wanting to attack Iran unilaterally, and until Avi Dichter was added to the security cabinet formerly known as the Octet last week (which means that it is no longer a shminiya but a tishiya), the vote to attack Iran was reportedly split 4-4. A lot was made of the fact that Dichter is presumed to be on Netanyahu and Barak’s side and that adding him to the mix breaks the logjam, but I didn’t write anything about that last week because it is a faulty and ill-informed argument. A 5-4 vote is not going to be enough to launch a strike given the heavy opposition that exists to such a move; Netanyahu and Barak need to do some serious convincing and make real headway with the holdouts, who are Benny Begin, Dan Meridor, Moshe “Boogie” Ya’alon, and Eli Yishai.
It is this last name that is perhaps the toughest to move, because Begin, Meridor, and Ya’alon are all members of Likud and presumably Netanyahu has some more sway with them since he is their party leader (although my hunch is that Meridor, and to a lesser extent Begin, would never flip). Yishai, however, is a member of Shas, and that’s how we get to the outrageously cynical ploy that Bibi tried yesterday. For the uninitiated – although since you are reading a niche blog about Israeli politics right now, you probably don’t need this background – Shas is an ultra-Orthodox Sephardic party whose spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, controls how its members vote despite not being an elected official of any kind. I wrote about this dynamic back in May, when Rabbi Yosef ordered Yishai to change his opinion on being willing to consider alternatives to the Tal Law. What you have in Shas is a theocratic party, in which the elected politicians are beholden to the party’s rabbinic leadership and dare not contravene rabbinic orders when it comes to taking public positions or voting on issues in the Knesset or the cabinet. With this in mind, yesterday Rabbi Ovadia Yosef – who holds no elected or official position in the Israeli polity and has zero to do with Israeli national security – was the recipient of a national security briefing on Iran. Not only was he briefed, but it was done by Yaakov Amidror, the head of the Israeli National Security Council, lest anyone think that this was not a big deal or little more than a courtesy for a former chief rabbi of Israel.
Make no mistake about what is going on here in case it isn’t already abundantly clear: Netanyahu is trying to swing a vote to launch a strike against Iran by convincing a religious leader to order an acolyte to vote a certain way. He is not trying to convince Yishai by making a cogent case for military action – or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that he has given up trying to do it this way – but is going above his head to Yishai’s rabbi, whom he knows Yishai is bound to follow, and telling a man with no national security experience at all and no training or education in evaluating intelligence or threat assessments that it is crucial to bomb Iran. Does anyone think that Amidror, a general and Israel’s equivalent of Tom Donilon, had any trouble at all convincing Rabbi Yosef about the urgent need to strike now in order to prevent Israel’s annihilation? For all of the outrageous things that go on in politics, and Israeli politics in particular, this represents an absolute low. It is a naked appeal to religious authority made to a theocratic party in which politicians serve as mouthpieces for rabbis. The reason that Shas has never taken an interest in foreign affairs is because its spiritual leaders don’t care about the issue, and to prey on that ignorance in order to influence a crucial position on national security is nothing short of abominable.
There are two conclusions to be drawn from this sorry and craven episode. First, Netanyahu is desperate since he realizes that he is fighting a steep uphill battle and he will resort to anything, no matter how blatantly insulting and undemocratic, to get an advantage. Second, Netanyahu and Barak’s argument for an attack is not only falling on deaf ears but is so weak on its face that they both know it cannot win on its own merits. Briefing Eli Yishai’s rabbi is not a move made out of strength, but one made out of a position that is even weaker than anyone could have realized. If this svengali routine is the best that Netanyahu can come up with, I hope for his sake that he has something better when it comes to the rest of his security cabinet, since unlike Yishai, the three Likud holdouts do not answer to a higher authority.
August 20, 2012 § 1 Comment
SEE BELOW FOR UPDATE
Over the weekend, the news emerged that an Israeli delegation of Shas MKs, European Haredi rabbis, and Bar-Ilan University professor of Arabic and Islam Moti Kedar made a secret visit to Turkey last week. According to the reports in the Israeli press, the group was led by Shas MK and deputy finance minister Yitzhak Cohen and had approval from Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office, although it appears that the Foreign Ministry was not on board with the trip and even tried to sway Cohen from attending some of the meetings. It also appears as if the group was invited to Turkey by “local interfaith organizations” and met with Turkish parliamentarians, including some from the AKP.
There are a number of strange things going on here. First, I can’t find any mention of this secret visit in the Turkish press. As of last night there were zero references to it in either the English language Hürriyet Daily News or Today’s Zaman, or in the Turkish language Hürriyet, Zaman, or Radikal. The Turkish press might not be reporting the story because the government does not want it to get out that members of the AKP have been meeting with Israeli officials, or it might be that the Turkish press finds this to be a non-story, but it’s odd to me that nobody in Turkey has any original reporting on this and that the Turkish papers haven’t even picked up the story from the Israel press.
Second, I’d love to know the identity of the unnamed interfaith groups that invited the Israeli delegation to Turkey and presumably set up meetings for them with Turkish MPs. The first group that comes to mind, of course, is the Gülen movement, and Gülenists certainly have the sway to set up meetings between Cohen and AKP officials, but then we run into the problem that the Gülenist newspapers – Today’s Zaman and Zaman – have been completely silent about the trip. One would think that if the Gülenists had arranged the trip, their press outlets would be touting it. It’s also a strange mix of people that the unnamed interfaith groups invited, with its combination of Israeli Haredi Knesset members, non-Israeli European rabbis, and Moti Kedar, who is a rightwing academic known for his willingness to tangle with al-Jazeera hosts in Arabic but to my knowledge is not an expert on Turkey. The Shas MKs would certainly have a reason to talk to the AKP and try to improve official ties between Israel and Turkey, but the Europeans and Kedar have no purpose for being there in this regard, and so it almost looks like the point of the trip was indeed about some sort of interfaith dialogue and that any political meetings Cohen had were entire ancillary to the whole thing.
Third, the reported disagreement between Netanyahu’s office and the Foreign Ministry is intriguing. Avigdor Lieberman is a vocal hardliner when it comes to Turkey, and reiterated that Israel has no intention of apologizing to Turkey during his meetings with Turkish journalists in Israel last month. That the Foreign Ministry under Lieberman would not want Israeli MKs traveling to Turkey and meeting with the AKP with no strings attached and without embassy supervision is not at all surprising. This incident might signal a real split between Netanyahu and Lieberman over repairing the relationship with Turkey. In this light, the fact that Shas members are the ones who went to Turkey takes on greater significance, since there is outright hostility between Shas and Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu, and between Lieberman and Shas head (and Interior Minister) Eli Yishai. If there is any party that would have no hesitation at all over crossing Lieberman and going against the wishes of the Foreign Ministry, it would be Shas. On the other hand, if this was a delegation explicitly sent by Netanyahu, it would strange to send Cohen and Nissim Zeev rather than Likud MKs or even one of Bibi’s personal advisers. Shas is not known for its expertise or even interest in foreign affairs, and using Shas MKs to act as diplomats would be highly unusual.
So in sum, something about this whole thing seems off to me. It doesn’t seem like it was orchestrated or initiated by Netanyahu even though he seems to have had no problem with it, and the veil of secrecy also makes little sense if it was not a delegation empowered to do much of anything. There would be no reason for the cloak and dagger routine over an attempt at interfaith dialogue, but there would also be no reason to have European rabbis and Kedar on the trip if it were anything but that. If the trip was actually planned as an interfaith dialogue but Cohen and Zeev were instructed to carry out a side mission of talking to the Turkish government, then the secrecy surrounding the trip was even more ill-conceived since once the story leaked it would ruin any efforts at plausible deniability. Basically, I can’t quite figure out what is going on here. If anyone has any ideas, I’d love to hear them.
Somehow I missed that Today’s Zaman ran a short piece yesterday quoting Ynet on the Shas visit to Turkey (thanks to Claire Berlinski for alerting me to that), but after I wrote this post last night, the Turkish language dailies this morning ran with the story of the Israeli delegation’s visit, so ignore my speculation above on why the Israeli press had this story but the Turkish press didn’t. The Turkish press did make a big contribution to our knowledge though by reporting that the Israeli delegation met with, among others, the notorious Adnan Oktar (otherwise known by the honorific Adnan Hoca or by his
real assumed name, Harun Yahya), who was presumably the “local interfaith organization” that invited Cohen and his cohort to Turkey. If you’ve never heard of Oktar, take ten minutes and read this right now, and you will have gotten your fill of daily entertainment. For those who want the short version, Oktar is a Turkish televangelist known for being a Holocaust denier and for keeping what is literally a harem. He has also been charged with a bevy of crimes including rape, blackmail, theft, and cocaine possession. He is currently popular with the Israeli rabbinical crowd as he has denounced his former views on Jews and the Holocaust and defends Jews as vigorously as he used to denounce them. He has in the past scored a meeting with Israel’s Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau and has a long-standing relationship with Kedar, which explains how Shas MKs would be coming to Turkey at his invitation but does not even come close to explaining why Israeli rabbis and officials are granting Oktar any shred of legitimacy. Is Israel really so desperate for a friendly face that it can’t find anyone with a more stable background than Oktar? It also sheds some new light on why the Foreign Ministry, which is presumably more familiar with Oktar’s exploits than the prime minister’s office, might have had reservations about the whole thing.
August 17, 2012 § Leave a Comment
You know the gallimaufry drill by now. I read a bunch of interesting or infuriating things this week that either required too little commentary for a separate blog post or have absolutely nothing to do with Israel, Turkey, the Middle East, or foreign policy, so let’s get started.
First is the essay on Jim Lobe’s blog by Marsha Cohen loathsomely titled “Protocols of the Elders of Las Vegas” which should have been more accurately and self-referentially named “Protocols of the Elders of Morons” given Cohen’s line of reasoning. Cohen’s argument – and I use that term loosely – is that there is a conspiracy afoot in which billionaire Republican Sheldon Adelson wants to “devote a small portion of his vast wealth to a neoconservative agenda determined to thwart negotiations between the Israeli government and the Palestinians; prevent the reelection of an incumbent U.S. president; engineer the destruction of political liberalism; and reshape the political environments of the U.S. and Israel by funding the election of politicians who serve his own corporate and ideological interests.” Cohen outlines Adelson’s myriad of immoral and illegal activities such as establishing a conservative think tank and a right wing newspaper in Israel, donating money to AIPAC, contributing money to political campaigns, devoting his time to political and philanthropic causes rather than concentrating solely on his business interests…wait, what’s that you say? None of this is immoral or illegal in any way? But Marsha Cohen claims that Adelson is orchestrating a vast illicit conspiracy! What Cohen is either too dim to see or too partisan to acknowledge is that under the First Amendment and the Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United, Adelson has every right to do all of these things, and in fact the only one that Citizens United specifically enabled him to do is donate tens of millions of dollars to Super PACs. Adelson has lots of money and is entitled to use it as he sees fit, and the real problem that Cohen has is not that Adelson is doing these things, but that he is doing them for Republicans. The implication is that right wing ideas, and particularly neoconservative ideas – which believe it or not have a long tradition in American political thought and discourse – are illegitimate and thus can only be advanced through nefarious means. I don’t agree with Adelson’s views on much of anything, and I think that Citizens United was a poorly decided case that has negatively reverberated in the exact way that the majority dismissed out of hand, but none of that is the point. The point is that Marsha Cohen thinks it appropriate to play on the most anti-Semitic of conspiracy theories about Jewish puppet masters using their money to control the world (and if you think I am being overly dramatic, go back and read again the verbatim quote where she describes what Adelson is doing) and has no problem retching venomous illiberal bile regarding free speech because she doesn’t like Adelson’s views. Someone please explain to me why a person willing to stoop to such an abhorrent low should be allowed in polite company.
Moving from unsubstantiated attacks to those with a little more substance, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe and erstwhile presidential candidate General Wesley Clark has a new gig hosting a reality show on NBC called Stars Earn Stripes in which B-list celebrities perform simulated special forces military challenges, and it has a bunch of people upset on the left because it glorifies violence and a bunch of people upset on the right because it cheapens the military. Spencer Ackerman wrote an absolutely devastating putdown of Clark’s post-Army career, accusing Clark of being an unprincipled corporate shill, a failure as a general, and an idiot to boot. Clark’s son, Wesley Clark Jr., then emailed Andrew Sullivan with a defense of his dad that vociferously defended him from all of Ackerman’s charges and explained his decision to become a temporary reality show host as a way to get some much needed rest and spend time with his grandchildren. The entire exchange is really quite extraordinary, and you should read Ackerman’s critique and Clark Jr.’s retort.
From the Department of Comically Entertaining Miscellany, the New York Times had a great piece about a guy living on the North Shore in Massachusetts named John Archer who has constructed a 13,000 square foot mansion out of architectural salvage. Archer is clearly a unique kind of eccentric who has spent what has to be millions of dollars constantly buying and building and renovating, and the article about him is fascinating, but what you really want to look at is the accompanying slide show of pictures of Archer’s house. It is weird and stunning and beautiful and confusing all at the same time. Make sure to check out picture 13, in which there is a house in the background that looks like it was plucked from a medieval storybook and then you realize that it is actually the Danvers wing of Archer’s own house, and picture 16, which could pass for an Oxford dining hall.
Finally, I can’t let the opportunity pass without linking to something about the Mars Curiosity rover, which has to be the most impressive feat of science, creativity, and engineering in the history of mankind. Don’t believe me? Watch this 5 minute video simulation showing how Curiosity plunged through the Martian atmosphere at 13,000 miles per hour, slowed down to 200 mph with a supersonic parachute, hovered above the surface of Mars by basically turning itself into a jet-pack, and was then lowered to the ground on a sky crane. Then contemplate that there are people walking this Earth who not only imagined that such a thing could be possible but figured out how to do it, and then made it work despite the fact that it takes 14 minutes for signals to travel from Mars to Earth but 7 minutes for Curiosity to get from the atmosphere to landing, so that this was all done completely blind (!). It is literally the most incredible science fiction come to life, and I challenge anyone to watch this video and then tell me that not every single penny spent on the space program is completely and entirely justified.