While the administration puts the final touches to another pointless gab-fest on the Middle East, our enemies regroup. We’re supposed to be shocked that Israel is now producing documentary evidence of Arafat’s direct link to the terrorist mass-murder of Israeli civilians. Forgive my comparative equanimity. Anyone truly shocked at proof that the Palestinian Authority has direct links to Iraq, Iran and Syria, and is a de facto terrorist organization needs help. Some of these issues can be challenged, but some cannot. Here’s one aspect no one can surely dispute:

Several of the [PA] documents are requests to Arafat for funding from local officials of his Fatah movement or one of its armed wings, the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. One such request was made in April last year on behalf of 15 men, including five who Israel says took part in shooting attacks against Israelis near the West Bank town of Tulkarm, and one who helped kill two Israeli border guards last September. The request, from a local Fatah official, is for $2,000 for each of the men. Arafat authorized $800 for each, and signed the order, according to the documents. Palestinians had previously maintained the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades was more or less autonomous from Arafat and his top aides.

“More or less autonomous.” Lovely phrase that. The Washington Post also reports that

Israel offered other documents as evidence that Arafat’s top officials were actively involved in procuring mortars, artillery shells and antitank weapons, all of which are barred to the Palestinians. Under agreements with Israel, Arafat’s Palestinian Authority is allowed a limited number of sidearms and assault rifles but no heavy weapons.

Duh. My own view is that Arafat is a terrorist, a liar and impossible to deal with. But if dealing with him for a while can keep the other Arab despots quiet while we prepare to take out Saddam, I’m not so much of a purist to complain. I just hope to God no one in the Bush administration believes a word the guy says. Meanwhile, Time helpfully reminds us that time is running out if we hope to prevent an Iraqi use of weapons of mass destruction in the coming war. And Warren Buffett makes the obvious point that a nuclear dirty bomb exploding in New York or D.C. is a virtual certainty. I think he’s wrong in one respect. If we really want to stop such an eventuality, we can. If we keep dithering about Iraq, the “virtual” part of the certainty disappears.

RACE AND BIOLOGY: Terrific little piece by my friend Sally Satel in the New York Times magazine yesterday. (And yes, that stunning photo is really her. She’s way cute – and I say that with some objectivity.) Sally has the temerity to point out that there are actually some small, crude genetic markers that can be used to make rough and ready medical inferences about individuals depending on their race. Here’s what I found most illuminating:

What does it really mean, though, to say that 99.9 percent of our content is the same? In practical terms it means that the DNA of any two people will differ in one out of every 1,000 nucleotides, the building blocks of individual genes. With more than three billion nucleotides in the human genome, about three million nucleotides will differ among individuals. This is hardly a small change; after all, mutation of a single one can cause the gene within which it is embedded to produce an altered protein or enzyme. It may seem counterintuitive, but the 0.1 percent of human genetic variation is a medically meaningful fact.

Now, of course, almost all of us are mixture of races (and may that continue and intensify). And of course as a matter of moral and political equality, race should be utterly irrelevant. But that doesn’t mean that biological racial differences do not exist or cannot exist. That is simply an empirical question, to be empirically resolved, if useful (as it undoubtedly is in medicine). Alas, there are many forces and individuals that simply refuse even to look at data, evidence or even engage in a simple dialogue about these matters. All the more reason why Sally should be commended for speaking such sense – despite the ferocious hostility of some “liberals.” It shouldn’t take courage to say the obvious, but, alas, under today’s p.c. conditions, it sometimes does.

THE INDEPENDENT’S “REPORTING”: London’s Independent newspaper, as you might imagine, has been having a field day in the West Bank. Massacres, war crimes, you name it, were obviously being committed by the evil Israelis. Phil Reeves, a Fisk wannabe, sent home this despatch upon arriving in Jenin:

A monstrous war crime that Israel has tried to cover up for a fortnight has finally been exposed. …The sweet and ghastly reek of rotting human bodies is everywhere, evidence that it is a human tomb. The people, who spent days hiding in basements crowded into single rooms as the rockets pounded in, say there are hundreds of corpses, entombed beneath the dust, under a field of debris, criss-crossed with tank and bulldozer treadmarks.

He went on:

A quiet, sad-looking young man called Kamal Anis led us across the wasteland, littered now with detritus of what were once households, foam rubber, torn clothes, shoes, tin cans, children’s toys. He suddenly stopped. This was a mass grave, he said, pointing… A few days ago, we might not have believed Kamal Anis. But the descriptions given by the many other refugees who escaped from Jenin camp were understated, not, as many feared and Israel encouraged us to believe, exaggerations. Their stories had not prepared me for what I saw yesterday. I believe them now.

What a difference a week or so makes. In a subsequent piece in which Reeves details the lamentable attempt by the Israelis to defend their actions in Jenin, he bemoans the fact that the Israelis’ p.r.

efforts have been greatly helped by the Palestinian leadership, who instantly, and without proof, declared that a massacre had occurred in which as many as 500 died. Palestinian human-rights groups made matters worse by churning out wild, and clearly untrue, stories.

And the Independent made matters even still worse by uncritically reprinting such stories as news.

EVERYONE’S A CRITIC, PART DEUX: This has become too hilarious. The show started out with two brutal pans among the reviewers, one of whom actually advised his readers in a fit of pique (he had to wait in line for the bathroom) that there was “nothing in this production worth your time,” and that my performance was “one-note.” Two more followed. The Washington Blade’s reviewer wrote this weekend, “Regarding the repartee, Andrew Sullivan’s Benedick comes off more querulous than rapier. It’s in conveying the complexities of Benedick’s emotional journey that Sullivan is most impressive.” The Blade’s view of the entire show was that “most of the cast is very fine,” and that the production “honors the classic script, while being inventive and alive. Though not a thigh-slapping production, it’s fresh and delivered in high style.” The Washington Times gave us three out of fo
ur stars, calling the production “entertaining, outrageous and energetically acted… While others slink from the stage through trapdoors, Mr. Sullivan’s every step as Benedick is an act of power. He struts the stage like a stalking cat… Beatrice, drawn to Benedick’s sturdiness by her own inherent strength of character, is a treat. The sparks between these two are what shine most brightly in this play.” Now we’ve definitely gotten a lot better with more runs and I think we’re now doing the show as we should. But these reviews were written by reviewers who all came either to the same performance or on the same weekend. The joys of subjectivity. Next up: the Washington Post.

BEING JOHN MALKOVICH: Truly weird outburst from John Malkovich the other day. Asked at a debate at the Cambridge Union whom he’d like to fight to the death, Malkovich named anti-Zionist Scottish MP George Galloway, who never saw an Islamo-fascist terrorist he couldn’t sympathize with, and Robert Fisk, another fervently anti-Israeli fiction writer for the Independent. “I’d rather just shoot them,” Malkovich said. Malkovich, however, is no obvious Americanophile. He lives with his girlfriend and two children in the South of France in order to insulate his offspring from some of the puritanism he sees in American popular culture. Does this mean that Fisk and Galloway are even out of bounds for Francophile Hollywood exiles? Are these Saddam sympathizers so extreme in their pathological hatred of all things Israeli and American that even John Malkovich draws the line? Next up: Joe Conason offers mild criticism of David Brock.

ABSOLUTE ABSOLUTION: Some of you have complained that my whining about the Pope’s decision that people who are remarried Catholics or in committed gay relationships cannot be granted absolution was illogical. Since both post-divorce and gay relationships imply a continued commitment to what the Church regards as “sin,” why should the Church grant absolution to the impenitent? Fair enough. But my sole point was to contrast this with the extraordinary lengths to which the Church went to forgive, absolve. promote, enable, shelter child-abusers – as long as they were priests. The emphasis – and the timing of the subsequent statement – is surely off-base. And I dare say that most serious moral theologians (not to mention simple human beings) would regard the rape of a minor as a somewhat worse offense that a sincere attempt to re-marry after a failed first attempt. Not, apparently the Pope, in whom there is plenty else to admire. Wherein lies the diminution of his moral authority.

BOOK CLUB: I’m sorry to delay, but I need a little more time to finish “The Skeptical Environmentalist.” I’ve lost every weekend this month to the stage. But we’ll start the discussion in earnest tomorrow. Promise.