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.

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