Thursday, March 31, 2005
THE HOLY CITY
Why do Western journalists insist upon adding the words "the Holy City" to the name of Najaf every time they mention it. To the best of my knowledge, none of the Western news services reported that a Palestinian tried to cut the throat of a Jewish policemen [sic] in the Holy City of Jerusalem; or that the Palestinian bomers [sic] who were intercepted a few days ago were attempting to carry out an attack against hte [sic] Holy City of Haifa (it is the Bahai world centre); or that al-Qa'ida are threatening massive terrorist attacks in the Holy City of Rome.
Why does the Shi'ite Holy City merit this unique epithet?
A comment following up in his blog points out that the Arabic name is ("allegedly") actually "Najaf al-Ashraf," or "Holy Najaf". Fine, but that doesn't explain why western journalists call it that in English. After all, they don't write about the "Vapid State of California", even though that's what it's really called in Arabic.
But seriously folks, I've got my own media-language nitpick that I haven't seen mentioned. Here is one example, although I've seen it over and over and over in the mainstream media:
What the Jews call Temple Mount, Moslems call Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary).
Sometimes it says "What the Israelis call Temple Mount..." but there seems to be an agreed upon template that is slapped into every article to clearly explain how the religious fanatics on both sides of this pesky little conflict label the core of their irrationality.
There is one thing we are intended to take away from this sentence every time we see it (and we see it a lot): the Moslems actually have this place embedded in their language. To them it is noble. It is native. And that's even before we point out that its the 3rd holiest shrine in all of Islam!
The Jews, clearly, are colonialist interlopers who have come along and plastered up their quicky English-language signage, marking the spot like some tacky Disneyland exhibit -- when in reality, it is the ancient, noble, 3rd-most-holy piece of real estate in Islam. What will those Israelis do next, put up a Blockbuster right next door and turn the thing into a strip mall? Have they no respect for ancient peoples?
Oh wait a second, let me clear my head.
What needs to be pointed out, before we all rush over to the Haram al-Sharif and go bottoms up in admiration of its holy nobility, is that the Jews don't call it the Temple Mount (unless they are reporters for mainstream media of course). They call it Har haBayit. Which is Hebrew -- a little known language spoken only by an obscure religious sect. You see, the "Temple Mount" is kind of embedded in the Jewish language (and soul, and holy literature, and history) too.
The Jewish people have been attached to their holiest site (yes, actual Number 1) -- Har haBayit -- since before even those misty, ancient times when the word jihad still just meant talking back to your parents.
Technorati Tags: blog, israel, temple mount, media bias
Tuesday, March 29, 2005
Also has some collateral humor for Whitney Houston devotees.
Anyway, so I've got this blog, and I yak on and on about how I'm gonna be a bit political and what-not. So why don't I talk about this more?
1. I understand and feel for both sides.
2. I hate the thought of alienating myself from either half of my people.
3. The sides are entrenched enough that even if I regurgitated all the arguments I know of in favor of the position I marginally support today, I won't change anyone's mind.
I'd rather be an agent for goodness and reconcilliation. (Time for a group hug everybody!).
Oh what the heck. Let me make one comment on an argument made by Rabbi Smuley Boteach in the Jerusalem Post recently:
Eight thousand Jews living in the midst of 1.3 million Palestinians have no future. The military commitment of protecting the settlers is just too expensive and the potential loss of life too costly. It's time to pull out. It's painful, but logical. There are other places in Israel for the settlers to live and these brave pioneers dare not allow themselves to become obstacles to peace.
There is only one problem with this seemingly unassailable reasoning. Taken to its logical conclusion, it becomes an argument against the very existence of the State of Israel.
What future does a country of five million Jews really have in a region of 500 million Arabs? The military cost of settling those Jews in Israel has been astronomical, and the human cost incalculable. And the Jews who have settled in Israel indeed have other places to live. Whereas once there may have been a need for a Jewish homeland, today Jews live in peace and prosperity in dozens of countries from America to Australia. Why should Jews aggravate the Arabs and serve as obstacles to peace by insisting on cultivating a land that the Arabs claim has been theirs for generations and which the Jews only conquered through war?
I found the logic very appealing at first. A sort of slippery slope argument: if we say that adversity should cause us to flee from one place, then we will eventually flee entirely from all places, from the entirety of the state, and not just from this small piece of our choosing. The principles are the same, and we either support them everywhere, or nowhere. Nice.
But there are some problems with this slippery slope (surprise!).
First of all, the proposal to unilaterally pull out of Gaza is for the purpose of martialling resources to protect what is the essential and central goal: the entirety of the State. A military commander sometimes pulls forces from one outpost to fortify a more important bridge, even at the expense of losing the outpost. The same logic, of rearranging resources to serve a more critical purpose would not dictate that we abandon the entire state, since it would be in the service of no higher goal (unless the writer was accusing those in favor of disengagement from Gaza of nothing but cowardice, with their own skins the only goal, higher than the survival of State and People--which I don't believe he was).
Secondly, even if one did buy his logic (which would obviously be absolutely impossible after my first crushing argument, but what the heck, lets run with this a bit)...so, um, where was I? Oh yeah. Even if we buy his logic, then that slippery slope applies uphill as well as downhill, catch my drift? No? What I mean is: if the possibility of disengagement, of pullback, at any point leads inexorably to the justification of retreat all the way up to closing down the state itself, then we have a problem. What do we say to somebody who sneaks into Cairo, or Damascus, pitches a tent, and demands IDF protection claiming if we don't support him we are surrendering the entire state? If he tries to convince us our cowardice will make it clear to our enemy we have no staying power? It doesn't even have to be Cairo or Damascus, how about just Gaza City? Or the Muqata in Ramallah? Why don't we have tent outposts all over the place?
Clearly, we all have already shown the power to draw a line somewhere on this slippery slope, to make strategic choices. We have the capacity (most of us do). We should argue about where to draw the most strategic line, not about whether it is even possible to hold a crayon on a slippery slope without sliding all the way off before drawing any line at all.
Ok, so can you guess now which half of my family is going to disown me (at least as of today)? And to think I'm registered Likud! Its a shanda!
Technorati Tags: blog, israel, disengagement, gaza, boteach, slippery slope
Sunday, March 27, 2005
This from MSNBC:
The medical update came a day after the palace issued the most pessimistic report yet on his prospects for survival for the 81-year-old monarch, who remains on a respirator.
Prospects for survival?
First of all he is 81 and very very sick. But even more importantly (we seem to forget this sometimes), he is human. In short his prospects for "survival", whatever that means, are 0. We all die. Especially when we get very old, and even more so when we are very seriously ill.
I'm not arguing for pulling the plug (the advocates for that side of the argument don't need my help). Just that we remember a little bit of reality. Eventually we die. We make the most of our lives, and our children carry on.
I hope Prince Ranier's (and everyone else's) health is as good as it can be for as long as it needs to be, and that whatever end each person meets is bearable.
I hereby officially apologize to any 80 year olds who read this (hey, nobody reads this, let alone octogenarians). I originally pointed out above that Prince Ranier was 81 (and very, very sick) to explain that his "survival" might be for only days, or weeks, in who knows what condition--not the sense of the word survival we usually think of.
I realized the error of my thinking when I read Mark Steyn on the subject.
some years back I was discussing the death of a distinguished songwriter with one of his old colleagues. My then girlfriend, in her mid-20s, was getting twitchy to head for dinner and said airily, ''Oh, well, he had a good life. He was 87.'' ''That's easy for you to say,'' said his old pal. ''I'm 86.''
And then I became even more embarrassed by my post after reflecting on the dignity and importance of each of my own mother's last days. I was wrong to qualify the term survival and scoff at the importance of any day someone has left, to influence their children, right a wrong, who knows. This doesn't deny anyone the right to decide the value of their own days, but I was mistaken to try to decide it for someone else.
Its clear I was just totally wrong here. I'd delete the post, but it wouldn't be good "journalism", and I'll probably learn more from leaving it here than hiding it.
Web-based email, instant-messaging, it all required a nickname. Since we had just had our first daughter, my thought was the proud "RachelsDad", or better yet, "RachelsAbba" since I had made Aliyah (moved to Israel). And neither of those names was taken anywhere!
Then I realized I might have more children down the road (I'm prophetic at times). Of course it wouldn't be "fair" to the rest of my children! They would email me (when they learned to email at all) as "RachelsAbba". So for the sake of Tamar and Miriam, I genericized. I started with AbbaGavriel but it was a little verbose and long-winded (totally inappropriate for me). So I edited that down to the punchy AbbaGav. (Pronunciation guide: Ah-Buh-Gahv. Hit the 1st and the 3rd syllables when you say it.)
I've used it so much, some people at work actually address me as AbbaGav rather than Gavriel. Forget the fact that I forgot the password to the original AbbaGav chat account and now have to use AbbaGav2. And now the latest indignity. As I search around for my site on Google, typing in AbbaGav and looking at the results, expecting to get top-ranking on my own nickname, what do I find?
A UK-based fan of ABBA. Oh the indignity. Please, you've got to help me get my page rank up, somebody, please link to me!
[update: may 30, 2005--I've been blogging for a few months now and my slowly recovering level of dignity demands I lower the sense of pandering for links in the above text. So please consider the bolded plea for people to link to me to be reduced to simple italics now. Thank you. Oh, and thanks also to those of you who have linked to me so far, it's put a smile on my face.]
[update: july 16, 2006--Wow, I can't believe I left this pathetic plea for attention unmodified for so long. But it worked. Now I'm linked by lots and lots of people and I can't even keep track of it anymore, so please, please stop linking to me. Just kidding. You can still link; I won't complain.]
Saturday, March 26, 2005
Prices could soar past $100 a barrel, and the U.S. economy could go into a tailspin. As it is, high oil prices provide money for Saudi Arabia to subsidize hate-spewing madrasas and for Iran to develop nuclear weapons.
He specifically recommends transitioning to hybrids (as opposed to waiting for "magic bullet" cars).
He recommends doing the infrastructure work (and consumer re-education) needed to make those hybrids 120V wall-outlet-pluggable.
And he recommends upgrading the fuel distribution network (and the auto makers' designs) to accomadate alternate fuels as part of the fuel-mix. Once all the ethanol pumps and parking lot charging plugs are added, he projects automobiles that get 500 miles per gallon (of gasoline).
But most importantly, he recommends that the US approach this effort with an eye toward bringing the whole world along for the ride.
Sounds great. And I absolutely agree with him on the importance of fuel policy (coming in second in importance perhaps only to feeding tube policy). But as he acknowledges, there are some flies in the petroleum jelly. I agree with him that the politicians on both sides are aware of the problem, and one would have to presume that there is at least some awareness of, not to mention lobbying on behalf of, the solutions he identifies as being ready today.
So what gives? How can the politicos be so short-sighted and stupid again, with so much at stake? Or is it possible that there is more to this issue?
First off, simply increasing the fuel efficiency of vehicles doesn't necessarily solve enough of the problem. 500 miles per gallon of gas is great, reflecting about a 90-95% savings per vehicle. But the bottom line here isn't fuel efficiency, but gross fuel consumption. So while each vehicle may be go farther for each gallon of gas it guzzles, if we travel a greater number of vehicle-miles (more Indian and Chinese vehicles for example), part of our savings is burned right up.
In addition, we still need to generate and transmit the electricity that replaces the gas. To the extent that this supply is driven by diesel generators it is a compromised solution. More technological improvement in the electricity grid, more wind/solar/... is needed so that the gasoline is truly replaced, and not just shifted.
We also need to consider that fossil fuels are burned in lots of other ways besides getting from A to B. Consider some UK statistics on fossil fuel usage. Based on that (limited) data, at least in the UK, fossil fuel use for transportation is only, at most, 20% of total consumption.
Obviously, we can't sit around prepared to do nothing until we have every problem solved perfectly, but I hope these issues are on the table. But we do have to ask, in policy terms, is X billion dollars better spent on fuel efficiency? Or on other measures?
A second thought on the subject: how does a threatened industry respond to encroachment? I'm curious whether part of our policy reticence (sticking with the status quo) is based on an anticipated Saudi and Iranian reaction to clear steps aimed at rendering their oil swamps valueless.
Our goal must be to envision a solution, and then successfully get from here to there without wrecking the world economy in the process. In an age where suicidal mayhem is growing commonplace, it's not hard to imagine some nightmare scenarios of how the Saudis and Iranians could react in Year 2 or 3 of a 12 Year Plan.
What price per barrel would the Oilatollahs figure was needed to bring their erstwhile oil-junkies back for more? What threats to disruption of economic activity during the intervening years could be tolerated? What European beauracrat couldn't sympathize with the feelings of desparation conjured up in a Saudi Shiek or Iranian Mullah, strapping on that suitcase nuke as the only remaining response to a cruel, conserving America and its free market abominations.
I'm not sure there's any way around all that, but it might be worthwhile to build up your reserves and "insurance policies", maybe even counter-threat leverage (i.e. army in Iraq) before making public a clearly declared program of ending oil dependence.
Maybe its better if the politicos are just stupid and short-sighted. It's not worth it yet.
Technorati Tags: blog, fuel efficiency, oil
Tuesday, March 22, 2005
I'm the one with the hat.
Taken on summer vacation in 2004, north of Israel, at a snake farm. I think Sharon was out filling the car with gas at the time. For about 45 minutes.
Posted this from Flickr, testing out ways to host and post. Lots more (even better) pictures to come once I have it all ironed out. Prepare for enforced, family-picture-viewing!
Sunday, March 20, 2005
Meanwhile, many Palestinians are growing impatient with the PA's failure to provide them with jobs and financial assistance. In scenes reminiscent of Cairo's bread riots in 1976, thousands of unemployed workers earlier this week stormed the offices of the Palestinian legislature in Gaza City to protest against the ongoing crisis.
"We're starving, we want food for our children," the workers shouted as many of them pelted Palestinian policemen with eggs and stones. Banging away at empty plates, the protesters shouted, "Thieves, thieves!" as they forced their way into the building. Obviously, they were referring to corruption-tainted PA leaders and lawmakers who are among the few Palestinians to benefit from financial aid provided by the international community.
I'm struggling to come up with the right one-liner here. "Let them eat eggs." Nah. "Gotta break a few eggs to make an omelette." but that takes to long to develop.
Here's my best shot so far, feel free to improve it:
Hungry Palestinian rioters to Police: "Sticks and stones can break your bones, but eggs will never feed us."
Technorati Tags: blog, humor, palestinians, irony
Frist views video, disputes Schiavo diagnosis
Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), a renowned heart surgeon before becoming Senate majority leader, went to the floor late Thursday night for the second time in 12 hours to argue that Florida doctors had erred in saying Terri Schiavo is in a "persistent vegetative state."
"I question it based on a review of the video footage which I spent an hour or so looking at last night in my office," he said in a lengthy speech in which he quoted medical texts and standards. "She certainly seems to respond to visual stimuli."
and the response? Well, there really is no response, just counter-attack. The counter-attack accuses Frist of political grandstanding and not really caring about the patient.
His comments raised eyebrows in medical and political circles alike. It is not every day that a high-profile physician relies on family videotapes to challenge the diagnosis of doctors who examined a severely brain-damaged patient in person. Democrats were quick to note that Frist was getting rave reviews from conservative activists who will play a major role in the 2008 presidential primaries he is weighing.
"I suspect that Senator Frist has his eye more on the Iowa caucus than the Hippocratic Oath," said Marshall Wittmann, a senior fellow at the Democratic Leadership Council and former GOP Senate staffer. "This is clearly the politics of the Republican base."
Some medical professionals questioned the appropriateness of Frist challenging court-approved doctors who have treated Schiavo. Laurie Zoloth, director of bioethics for the Center for Genetic Medicine at Northwestern University, said she was surprised to hear Frist weigh in, given that he has not examined Schiavo. "It is extremely unusual -- and by a non-neurologist, I might add," Zoloth said in an interview.
Ok, great. Does anybody actually answer what he said? Nope. Not one word.
Could someone please just say something like: "Yes, well, it may appear like she is responding to visual stimuli in the video tape, but that is actually an illusion, much like the way in which George Bush's mouth appears to move on camera when Karl Rove is talking. Really, nothing to get excited about."
It would be so simple, but all we hear are accusations that Frist is playing political games with a woman's life.
It reminds me of this psychology principle that often times when someone is totally bothered by something they see in someone else, it is because it is really something they see about themselves. Those who complain about Sen Frist--for wanting to make sure she is actually in a vegatative state before cutting off her food--have only one frame of reference: their own all-encompassing political viewpoint, and how easily they can keep the Schiavo case in synch with it.
I'd rather get to the truth. I'm willing to believe that is what Bill Frist wants. Or at least willing to act as if it is, and hope someone is willing to answer him.
I'm not even saying I agree or disagree with the feeding tube and right-to-life and all the other things that go with it. Just let Bill Frist ask a question and then answer it. THEN you can charge him with politics.
Technorati Tags: blog, frist, schiavo
George Bush liberated the oppressed people of Iraq from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein. The people thank him (and us, at least everyone other than the "not in our name" crowd). But we are to realize it was a mistake, or not worth it, or whatever the complaint-of-the-day is. After all, Bush lied and "100000" died, (100000 Iraqi civilians--is that qualified with the word innocent, non-combatant? or does it include RPG-firing, Allahu-Akhbar spewing civilians?). And the democracy we have forced on them isn't working anyway. And meanwhile, we've dropped the ball on the real threat of our time, which must be greenhouse gases. And Halliburton. Enough said.
So what should George Bush do next?
It's clear he should "Free Tibet". Even if it didn't get him any gratitude from the Left-leaning Lovers of Liberty, he could at least have a chuckle. It would have to amuse him to watch an entire political movement contort itself into the world's largest pretzel. How else to explain the generation of bumper stickers plastered next to and over the "One Nuke..." and "...military holds bake sales..." wisdom? Don't tell me Karl Rove spent the last 20 years going car to car, just to make all the liberal autos look like little Nazi-mobiles?
Ok, I feel better now. I don't really recommend this as statecraft. Just a little daydream to let off steam.
But Free Tibet. Really.
Technorati Tags: blog, iraq, afghanistan, tibet, george bush, war on terror