Friday, April 29, 2005

Israel's stray cat problem at our door 

I am not a cat-blogger; nevertheless, I have to post this picture of "our" cat Sumi and her two new kittens (please, no mazal tovs):


Sumi's not really even "ours", and never will be if I have my cruel, cold, heartless way. She is a stray kitten herself, less than a year old, and has been hanging out near our home for a while. She wouldn't even have a name except that my kids, having seen her around long enough and recognizing her, insisted that she have one. At first, I thought they were talking about an imaginary pet lawyer, "Sue-Me". While they have taken her under their little wings, I've tried to keep my distance. I don't really need cats in my life. I'm already taking care of three kids and that's plenty of work, thank you.

But I have come to think differently. Israel has such a stray cat problem that we all just filter them out, pretending they're not there. That's a lot of filtering out. There are whole packs of cats living off every garbage bin, and others staking out turf around our homes. It's gotten to the point where almost every time I drive anywhere around town, I pass over the remains of at least one organic speedbump. I've trained myself to just ignore the problem, to shrug and say "It's just part of living in Israel."

But now the problem has given birth right outside my window. Sumi's kittens will live (or die) around our house, just as she does. And so will their kittens, and their kittens, and so on and so on. All of them yowling, fighting with each other, competing for food and garbage, and eventually dying after first reproducing a few more times. These two new little suckers are cute, and I don't wish them harm, but I also don't want the rapidly multiplying troubles they represent.

Fortunately, there are steps we can take to reduce this problem. I say "we" rather than just "I" because none of us can solve this alone. Even though each of us can plausibly claim it's not our problem, we all need to work at it together to make a difference.

Believe it or not, the Israeli Ministry of the Environment has put out some helpful guidelines on this very subject. Who knew they were even aware of the problem? I sure didn't. The Ministry first makes one thing absolutely clear, that we all should know:

Moving cats from their natural environment may be an offense under the law, but it is also likely to exacerbate the overpopulation problem since it creates an ecological vacuum. When existing cats are removed from a cat colony, new strays, which are not neutered, simply move in and the breeding population explosion continues.
This solution is indeed tempting. It's a simple thing to just drop kitty in a box and drive it a few miles down the road (I might have experience on this one, but don't tell my kids). But it doesn't do anything to permanently solve the problem (as our case proves). In fact, even killing cats won't do the trick, since it doesn't close the ecological niche the cats were exploiting, and new cats quickly replace the old ones.

What does the Ministry recommend doing?

First, they give clear advice about controlling cats' access to food and garbage:

The following solutions should be seen as part of an overall approach, and not as recommendations that can be selectively implemented:

  • Street cats must be fed in accordance with guidelines provided by the local veterinarian, according to municipal by-laws and guidelines for dealing with feral cats prepared by the Veterinary Services of the Ministry of Agriculture.
  • In authorities where it is permitted by law, cats should be fed in public areas.
  • Feeding requires good quality food that doesn’t spoil, doesn’t litter and doesn’t disperse in the area (dry food is recommended).
  • Water should be provided.
  • It is important to collect any leftover food as well as dishes at the end of the feeding period and to ensure that the area is clean.
  • Medical treatment should be provided when needed to ensure the health of the cats.
  • The cats should be fed at regular times, to the extent possible, and in a demarcated area.

Dealing with the Problem in Local Authorities

  • Providing information and instructing the public on maintaining cleanliness.
  • Scrupulously ensuring that animals have no access to garbage, improving the level of environmental sanitation, and ensuring that garbage disposal units are intact.
  • The Ministry of the Environment encourages spaying and neutering by local authorities. In recent years the Ministry has provided matching funds to local authorities for this purpose. We believe that spaying and neutering street cats in accordance with the recommendations of research on the subject will preserve the ecological balance in this area. The cat population will remain stable, and both the intrusion of new cats and proliferation of pests will be limited.
  • The Ministry of the Environment encourages cooperation between regular cat feeders and local authorities through the establishment of feeding stations and their support.
So we can all help by controlling our garbage, and by feeding cats properly when we do feed them.

But their biggest recommendation here regards spaying and neutering, the Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) approach. While many have religious objections to interfering in the reproductive life of cats, Ministry-sponsored studies in Israel make clear that this approach has the potential to truly control the problem. Anyone who feeds stray cats ideally should take the responsibility for that cat's spaying, even if it doesn't become a house cat. Even still, there are hordes of other felines no individual will be able to humanely handle alone. It is here where local authorities must cooperate, and we can help by pressuring for action in this area. Remember, the Ministry mentions matching funds for this activity, and I'm pretty sure local authorities love matching funds.

More info on TNR:

Today there is an alternative to traditional stray cat population control that is gaining support around the world. It is called Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR). It is based on the spaying and neutering of the cat colonies which are maintained by caretakers who continue to feed and care for the colonies.
  • Since they are sterilized, they can't contribute to the over population problem.
  • The fighting, the screaming and yowling are greatly reduced.
  • They are content to stay within their own territory but they still follow their own instinct to defend their territory from outside cats that they see as intruders.
  • The cats are healthier and look healthier.
  • The population is stabilized.
The Cat Welfare Society of Israel has more on the subject.
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Thursday, April 28, 2005

You first. No, after you. But I insist... 

We may be witnessing the opening rounds in a "you first" standoff of the kind not seen since the days of Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat at Camp David:

This time, it isn't two leaders standing at a door, but their respective constituencies, and this time a lot more than a photo-op is riding on who blinks first. Here's an arm-chair, Monday-morning pundit's view. Take it with a truck load of salt.

If Abbas goes first, as is presently scheduled, he will lose any options he might have had should elections give a large piece of the Palestinian pie to Hamas, which seems likely today. Meanwhile, Sharon should be about as eager to load up those disengagement trucks as my kids are to get started on their homework.

Delay is already in the air in both cases. The Palestinians already discuss delaying their elections now that Hamas threatens a jihad on the ballot box:

Palestinian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Information Nabil Shaath cited the ongoing Israeli occupation as well as the intended Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip as reasons for holding off the elections.

"The question really has to do with the Israeli pullout of Gaza during that time, and our fear that the Israelis might make it difficult for people to do real election campaigns and have real freedom of movement," he said.
While Shaath can't stop himself from spinning these excuses for delay as being more bad Israeli behavior, the thinking behind that spin is clear: delay until after the disengagement suits the ruling party just fine. Why? It gives them time to play the disengagement as a Fatah victory in time for elections.

Sharon has already moved the disengagement back three weeks. His desire to keep the withdrawal from being presented as a "victory for terrorism" (even if it is one) certainly could bring him to simply reschedule the date as "a few days after Palestinian elections" and then just hunker down until then. This lets him avoid Abbas campaigning on a platform of having pushed Israel out, and allows him to keep his finger near the emergency stop button in case of a Hamas-ruled government. This could even be a potential planned offramp to get himself off the path of disengagement -- "I can't turn Gaza over to Hamas" -- but he certainly can't count on that.

There are a couple of other forks in the road if involved players want to change direction.

The first is that Sharon may not wish to risk his "peace legacy", since any process of negotiation will be placed on Terry Schiavo's feeding tube for a few decades even if Hamas simply does well in the elections without actually winning. If so, Sharon could play along with Abbas, letting the disengagement happen before elections, and coordinating things with the other side so that Abbas can lead the victory parade.

Would Hamas sit still for this, continuing the present tactical and temporary reduction in violence, waiting until after the disengagement to light the fuses once more? Is it conceivable Hamas could march at the back of an Abbas-led parade without squeezing off a few shots or lobbing a couple grenades to stop it? Only if you believe the people whose motto is "better living through suicide" wants to slip into organizational senility, slowly decaying into nothing but a network of kindergartens and ambulances (with empty explosives compartments).

Will Abbas stop them? Only if "pretty please" is enough to get the job done. Otherwise, while the summer may begin with Sharon and Abbas dancing the "you first, no you" tango, Hamas will likely have the last dance. The question will be which dance will that be: a Hamas election victory, followed by cancellation of the disengagement and the cryogenic freezing of negotiations, or the resumption of all out hostilities.
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Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Done camping with the jugglers 

I survived camping with the jugglers.

We just got back from the 2005 Israeli Juggling Festival at Gan Hashlosha National Park near Beit Shean. Everyone in attendance, including Yours Truly, had to camp in order to participate in the multi-day event. Since there were hundreds of participants, there were on the order of hundreds of tents.

Ok, since I'm a software engineer, I can understand if you want to check my math. So here is the rigorous proof (the non-mathematical, or equationally queasy may skip this part with no reduction in final exam score):

I was there, you weren't, so just take my word for it: there were a lot of tents. If you're worried about my journalistic standards, I'll get my 3-year-old to look over my reasoning and clap excitedly, then show it to the cat living outside our house (I will take her silence as an all-clear) and finally run it by a spell-checker. This should give my reporting the LA Times multi-level validation seal of approval. So there!

Ok, as further proof, I offer a photo.

Again, you will have to take my word for it that this photo is indeed of the event in question, and that there were actually a whole lot more tents set up there than you can see in this picture.

Our tents don't really show up in the picture, but trust me, they were nearby. We set them up in a circle, together with another family, to help ward off the encroaching hordes. This strategy didn't completely work because as we completed the circle, we noticed an outsider's tent was included. That interloping tent was occupied by a young couple whose minimalist style of camping made me feel older, and more desparately attached to my comfort and belongings, than I've felt in a long time. The only competition comes from those moments when my ever-bushier eyebrows, and sprouting ear hair, make me think I may someday need them for an elaborate combover. But until that day arrives, the sobering effect of the contrast between that little tent, and our elaborate fortifications, will stand unchallenged.

We were camping with 20% of our worldly possessions, distributed amongst a series of tents: air mattresses (electric pumps to fill them of course), gas burners, and all the medications we could get a prescription for. In the meantime, while we were roughing it, this young couple had only a single tent -- about as big as my three year old's bath towel -- a tea kettle, and a single change of underwear between them. Camping means something entirely different when you're young.

On the other hand, however, the young man was kind enough to explain to my 3 young girls all about his tattoos, the needles and ink, and how much it hurt. He might have even slipped them the phone number of a good shop, but I can't be sure. In case he reads blogs, I address these personal words of gratitude to that kind young man:

Dear young man, thank you, SO MUCH. May you be blessed with daughters of your own someday.

Once I managed to pry my daughters away from the tattooed camper and his concumbine, we found that the other campers were indeed juggling. Or at least they were watching others juggle if they themselves weren't. There was one big contest portion (pictured) involving the many clever and difficult ways to juggle 3 clubs -- I always thought it was easy, who knew?

The kids were crowded in front while the adults relaxed up in the bleachers behind. Sadly, although I was eager to prove my journalistic mettle in covering this event -- or at least the 5% of it that I actually attended -- I missed filming the one moment that actually had any sense of drama or intrigue. While the juggler was tossing his 3-club salad, a little 2 year old in the front row crawled right out under him and could have caused the juggler to flub a club and lose valuable points. Fortunately a rescuer, concerned for the child's welfare of all things, sprang up and dragged the little tyke squeaking across the gym floor to safety. In another journalistic lapse, I failed to secure exclusive interview rights with the tot, but I assume AP got her on record as blaming coalition forces for her near-fatal ordeal.

Most jugglers kept juggling approximately 23 hours a day, doing breath-taking shows, or practicing their skills during open gym time. My family, however, did not do this. They spent most of the time swimming or begging for ice cream. That doesn't mean we aren't jugglers, at least at heart. During one of the open practice sessions in the gym, I got my two youngest girls out there to practice their technique. I flinched a few times when they were almost run over by a unicycle, or whacked with one of the many varieties of airborne objects in the gym, but the were really little troopers.

Pictured is Miriam, aged 3, and a prodigy if there ever was one. You can't tell from the still photo, but her technique was sublime. You might be noticing, as I did shortly before I purchased her equipment, that it is just a long ribbon on a stick. You might be wondering if this qualifies as juggling at all. Well, take it on good authority (mine, and the salesperson who sold me the stick) that this indeed does count in today's world of juggling. In fact, there are now so many ways of juggling that almost everything more difficult than rolling out of bed would qualify.

Swinging little beanbags around on strings? Counts. Spinning one or more batons, any length? Yup. Balancing a ball on your arm? You bet.

There were also jugglers on stilts. And unicycles. And perched on boards, carefully balanced atop freely rolling tubes (although far more of this type of juggler actually ended up sprawled on the floor, rubbing their bottoms and staring at the few who really were perched, carefully balanced on their boards).

And most importantly to at lest one proud papa, was the "Waving a Ribbon on a Stick" juggling.

Probably the most exciting juggling, however, was the segment where you combined any of the above methods... with fire! Especially the "Flaming Jump Rope of Death" -- again, not what old-school purists think of as juggling, but trust me here, it counts. Once more, I must sadly report I am unable to bring you any pictures of these near-death experiences. Not that I didn't try, but they insisted flash bulbs might distract a juggler. Granted, as a photojournalist, I could have turned off the flash and gotten cool picures of bright smears showing moving fire being juggled, but I wasn't sure which button turned the flash off and which fired an immediate test flash.

Next time we go, we'll improve on all that we learned. I'll figure out that flash thing. My kids will probably volunteer for the "Flaming Ribbons of Death on a Stick" section of the fire show. But absolutely, positively no tattoos.
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Monday, April 25, 2005

Gone Camping with Jugglers 

I'll be back on Wednesday with lurid tales of living amongst bugs, brushing dirt off my food before eating it, and sleeping on the ground with just a little bit of canvas propped up over me.

And jugglers. Camping and jugglers, an unnatural pairing that just gets better every year it is attempted. (Here is some publicity for the juggling convention from a couple years ago, I guess it's outgrown the need to advertise since then.)

We aren't exactly a juggling family, but I can keep 3 balls airborn for about 20 seconds. We can also juggle three kids, two jobs and eight laundry baskets all at the same time.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Fundraising Ideas for the U.N. 

I was ruminating recently on the U.N.'s never-ending budget problems. It must be sad for an organization with such lofty ideals to find, year-in-year-out, that it can't find the budget for any teeth. Of course, many of us prefer this toothless beast's slobbery gum job to the ripping and shredding we might otherwise receive.

Nevertheless, in the spirit of fair-play, and just to give my thinking cap a quick romp out in the sunshine, I figured I might take it upon myself to solve the U.N.'s budgetary woes. Perhaps the clever bureaucrats over at www.un.org will find my ideas with a quick Google for "raise quick cash now", assuming they can afford Google. Of course, once they do, they can immediately install me on Kofi's high throne, hopefully only after kicking him off it first. Then I can really solve the organization's problems, once and for all. So, without further ado -- I think this has been quite enough ado, don't you? -- I present ... (drum roll please):

"AbbaGav's Global Plan to Save the U.N. from the Budgetary Cesspool of its Own Making"

Let's start, appropriately enough, with a no-brainer. How about selling advertising on the peace keepers' helmets? Blue Cross, Blue Shield seems like an obvious play. Or maybe plugging the Al Jazeera network... who knows what will sell. And who cares, as long as it finances Kofi's Kids.

Here's another one. Why does the U.N. give away seats on the Security Council for free? How stupid is that?! I propose they sell lottery tickets for these temporary seats. And the drop of the ping pong balls could make very lively viewing, especially if they don't figure out some way to ensure a certain little country never wins.

How about collecting big-time expansion fees, NBA-style? The U.N. could build up a valuable pool of potential new members by really throttling up its policies supporting the right of "ethnic self-determination." This will contribute to the gradual fragmentation of existing member states into lots of smaller (dues-paying) member states. In fact, to really hit the accelerator on this one, other forms of self-determinism could be encouraged as well: the right for independence based on cheese preference (Gouda lovers unite!), or the right to territorial contiguity for left-handed peoples. This idea wouldn't be truly maxed out until every "Global Citizen" was paying individual U.N. membership dues at least twice over. Of course, then every neighborly dispute over loud late night parties would have to be taken to the Security Council -- but that's what's it's there for!

Presently, the U.N.'s Quick Units Assisting Crisis (the mythological QUACs) are performing abysmally, and more importantly, generating little revenue. QUACs should hit the ground in problematic areas and immediately identify and secure prime real estate for the construction of "Easy-Build Modular Casino Domes". These UN turn-key casino installations can be up and running within days of any earthquake, flood, or other natural inconvenience. Once up, they will immediately start collecting much needed revenue from off-duty aid workers, reporters, and various other U.N. employees who may have accidentally wandered into the crisis area. Of course, some negotiated fraction of the house take will go to local governments, warlords, brothel operators and such. But the rest of the revenue is all U.N. loot, plain and simple.

But let's not overlook some of the fine services (for fee) the U.N. could be providing on American soil. Imagine U.N. peace keeping troops and observer forces, on the ground at the Neverland Ranch. This would be the assignment of a lifetime for many of these guys, and who doesn't believe they wouldn't pitch right in with a helping hand.

Then there's my wildest idea: try imposing sanctions on some lucky tyrant (they love this stuff) and set it up so that the only way around the sanctions requires every transaction to leave a little piece of the pie in the U.N.'s refrigerator, I think you see where I'm going with this one, wink wink. Of course, that could never fly, couldn't possibly work with all those checks and balances and layers of accountability and what-not. Still...
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Friday, April 22, 2005

Have a Great Passover 

For those of you have Passover at all, have a great one. Enjoy your seder, or seders.

I'll be back early next week with more inane commentary, hopefully something a little more substantial than the silly little posts I've been slapping up the last couple days. I might also post some photos from our 2 day camping trip at the juggling convention.

Chag Kasher V'Sameach.

Top ten reasons to read my blog 

  1. Helps prevent tooth decay
  2. To learn so much more about me, my fears and deepest feelings, and for the poetry.
  3. So you can jump on the bandwagon before it gets crowded -- while its basically empty in fact.
  4. Because the odds are that if you are reading this, you are either my mother-in-law, my brother, or my wife, and it's only polite to read a relative's blog.
  5. To have fun watching that little hit count thingy get higher and higher as you continue hitting your browser's reload button as fast as you can.
  6. To indirectly pump up your own blog's traffic, sincy you know that I check my hit log way too often and will immediately check out the referring link.
  7. So you can learn to think exactly like me and essentially become part of my puppet army as I slowly build up to world domination.
  8. Because you are a fan of ABBA (are there any left?) and accidentally clicked the wrong link in Google, but since you're here: "See that girl, watch that scene, dig in the dancing queen..." (Don't let it be said I'm not willing to pander to my audience.)
  9. It beats writing that boring financial summary your boss asked you to write two hours ago -- it can't be that urgent.
  10. Because if you got this far, it's too late to turn back now.
  11. And finally, best of all, because... oh wait, I said top ten. Never mind.

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Thursday, April 21, 2005

Top ten reasons to write your own blog 

  1. Because you can say snarky things about your friends and relatives and they'll never know, unless they find your site by accident.
  2. So you can make tons of money selling your opinions and ideas, and... wait, that's what I was going to do and, well...
  3. To learn to manage your expectations.
  4. To come to grips with the unexpected enormity of your ego's hot-air balloon, and then slowly deflate it, post by post, in flatulent little bursts of wannabe wit.
  5. For the opportunity to express your opinions in bright fushchia over a purple background and still expect to be taken seriously.
  6. Because the new Google Mind Control Bot demands it.
  7. To really give your line of "Laser Hair Removal" products a boost, with a tight, well-designed web presence.
  8. You don't have enough ways too waste the all-too-copious amounts of free time otherwise festering away while you try to think of something to do.
  9. Because you are a Laker, or a member of the Laker's front office and want to post daily inside scoops on the team's progress during the offseason. I'd read it.
  10. It's got to beat reading my blog, so get to it.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Google Found Me! 

It took a long time, but now I appear in Google's search results. So I guess after two months of blogging, I'm finally off to a good start. Thanks to all who have managed to find and read this site without the help of Google-crutches.

Now the bad news. If I google my own blog's name, I still don't appear until the second page. And if I search for my old blog description (Ramblings of a dad. Also, the political musings I can't keep bottled up) it's even worse. I don't show up then until page 6, right ahead of a site called SmoochDog. And now that I've given old SmoochPooch a link, she'll probably pass me too. Oh, this isn't good.

Oh well, not to worry. This gives me just a little more time to hone my craft, safely wrapped in the cocoon of obscurity. And of course to learn a lot more about how to get a higher google ranking. I may be page 6 today, but they can't hold me down for long.
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Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Whom to Believe? 

Well, given the choice, I know whom I prefer to believe.

Former Iranian President Rafsanjani, translated from Arabic in an oft-quoted speech a few years ago:
If one day, he said, the world of Islam comes to possess the
weapons currently in Israel's possession [meaning nuclear weapons] - on that day this method of global arrogance would come to a dead end. This, he said, is because the use of a nuclear bomb in Israel will leave nothing on the ground, whereas it will only damage the world of Islam.
or Uzi Landau, quoted yesterday in Haaretz:
In answering a question from a reader in Baghdad during the Haaretz.com Q&A, Landau added that Israel's military deterrence factor would likely head off an Iranian nuclear attack.

'If [Iran] knew that on the one hand, the chances to really penetrate our air defense systems with a missile are very small, while on the other hand the price it would pay for it would be disproportional - turning them back to the Stone Age - I guess they would be much more hesitant,' Landau said.
Pretty fundamental disagreement here. One claims he won't be deterred, even by the threat of complete nuclear retaliation, because he believes the wounds to the greater body of his people will not be fatal while his enemy will be completely destroyed. The other the first will in fact be deterred by the chance of getting caught, not succeeding and perhaps suffering retaliation and punishment.

Obviously I hope Uzi Landau is correct. I'm just trying to understand why that would be the right conclusion. Surely he was aware of Rafsanjani's words when he spoke. So one wonders what is his basis for announcing that the Iranian Theocracy can be deterred?

Maybe he has inside information? Or the Israeli government is passing him important intelligence?

I don't think so. Uzi Landau is not the Prime Minister. He is not the Defense Minister. He is not the Foreign Minister. He is not even the Deputy Minister of Tourism. He is, best I can determine, a Plain Vanilla Member of Knesset -- and at that, one involved in a running battle with Prime Minister Sharon over the coming disengagement, and who hints at opposing Sharon in elections. The idea that he is Sharon's specially chosen mouthpiece, or receiving significant information that is not announced by other parts of the government, well, it's silly.

Perhaps he actually believes Rafsanjani, but prefers to keep that belief to himself?

It's possible to imagine rationales that might lead him to do this. We Israelis have developed a penchant for lining up at gas mask stations whenever the word Scud appears in the news. But Israel's best answer to Arab/Islamist threats is a resolute populace. So his statement could be interpreted just as a morale booster, regardless of his true beliefs.

If so, his reassurance is tepid at best. Note that the deterrence he postulates in his response, "turning them back to the Stone Age", isn't a likely deterrence available to Israel, as Rafsanjani's remarks indicate. The gap between what Iran would do if it believed there would be no price to pay, and what they would do if being drop-kicked back to the Stone Age would be the result, leaves plenty of political wiggle room. If he seeks to calm the public by calling Rafsanjani's bluff, he needs the conviction to simply and directly call the bluff, not talk around it.

So does Landau truly believe the Iranians are bluffing?

It's a comforting thought. But it would be more comforting to understand what would make him think so. Of course, one could rely on the fact that the Russians (and Americans for that matter) were deterred throughout the Cold War, so why not the Iranians? After all, in this age of assymetric non-state warriors, Iran does present an address for response.

But the Cold War offered deterrence by means of Mutually Assured Destruction. However, the Iranians are obviously not assured the destruction will be mutual this time. Sure, they might lose an arm and a leg, but they'll live. Not so Israel. On top of that, even if Israel could somehow assure Iran's destruction, that still would not deter, since Iran presents itself as just an agent of the wider Islamic world. And their jihad mentality, the conviction that death in the service of Allah, killing the infidels, is the highest calling, may further innoculate them against any Israeli threat of reprisal. A country that sent a generation of their children to the Iraqi front as human minesweepers isn't easily deterred.

So does this leave us with no answer? Are we left with some sort of "Landau is an idiot" conclusion? Before reaching that point, let's bear in mind we've only looked at the thought process of one side here.

Let's consider why Rafsanjani would say what he said.

Presume Iran knew it would definitely obtain WMD of sufficient quantity to wipe out its sworn enemy in a few years, and that it hated this enemy (or feared it) sufficiently that it felt it must go ahead in the use of the WMD, even at threat to its own well-being. What would motivate Rafsanjani to announce this in advance?

Is there deterrent value to Rafsanjani's statement, discouraging Israel from using its own weapons?

No, for Iran's threat is not one of certain overwhelming response. Instead, they promise undeterrable first use, which only provokes the opposite of deterrance, making it more logical for Israel to consider their own first strike or pre-emptive attack.

Perhaps it is a statement meant merely for internal consumption?

Rattling the sabres of war to keep the populace focused abroad is a time-tested strategy. But does it really make sense to try to pacify one's population by assuring them you plan to cause nuclear devastation to rain down on them? Sure, the promise of Israel's annihilation at the same time may comfort the unhinged, but I think even the Ayatollahs would see this isn't a winning strategy.

So why say anything, if you hold all the cards?

Well, one can never feel truly comfortable gauging the Ayatollahs' capacity for rational analysis, but they have maintained power for a few years, so they certainly must have some sense for the rules of the game. Since Rafsanjani's announcement doesn't make sense for an Iran that believes itself on the cusp of the ability to wipe out its enemy, and willing to withstand the consequences, then maybe the assumpton should change.

Are there any scenarios where making wild first-strike threats actually would make sense?

What if getting all the pieces in place to develop, produce, and even deliver nuclear bombs sufficient to destroy Israel isn't quite so simple, perhaps beyond Iran's means? But if Iran follows through as if it has the ability, the world is likely to believe. The US believed the USSR long after it was but a husk of its industrial self. And look at Iraq.

Why would Iran do that? Try coupling this idea with first-strike threats aimed at nudging Israel into pre-emptive action. Could Iran believe it would stand to gain by provoking Israel into knocking out supposedly nearly-ready nuclear sites? Maybe. Israel, depite the justice of its actions in preventing threatened annihilation, would surely suffer internationally and economically. And the cost to Iran would be cheap, since the strikes would be at isolated sites. The odds of Israel managing to resist the bait aren't good, given the cost of showing weakness in a tough neighborhood.

Maybe this is how Landau explains Rafsanjani's kooky threats, and how he can confidently reassure Israeli's that Iran will be deterred.

Hmmmm. Yeah, it all adds up. I want to believe.

I feel myself foaming at the mouth just contemplating such convoluted scenarios. And I still can't figure out how to piece Elvis into the whole thing.

Realistically, the simplest explanation is probably the right one: Rafsanjani is an insane Ayatollah issuing apocalyptic threats as his holy duty, and Iran is carrying out all this nuclear-appearing activity because it truly is striving to reach its genocidal goals. Meanwhile, Landau probably is speaking as an Israeli politician, presenting a strong face as he prepares for approaching leadership elections, confident that regardless of what he says in a newspaper Q&A, the defense planners carry on.

But there's a lot of hooey being heaved around here, and I for one am not buying it.

If I'm missing possibilities please let me know with a comment. While you may think I'm merely a sarcastic right wing mouthpiece, I'm actually a sarcastic right wing mouthpiece who wants to learn the truth. So I take serious comments seriously.

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Monday, April 18, 2005

Michael Kinsley 

Michael Kinsley today fails to feather what he has tarred:

Ronald Reagan had swooned over a 1979 article by Kirkpatrick in Commentary, the neocon house organ, and he made her his U.N. ambassador when he became president. She gave the big speech at the 1984 GOP convention, leading the massed Republicans in a chant of: 'They always blame America first.'

Kirkpatrick's article, 'Dictatorship and Double Standards,' was a ferocious attack on President Carter for trying to 'impose liberalization and democratization' on other countries. She mocked 'the belief that it is possible to democratize governments anytime, anywhere, under any circumstances.' Democracy, she said, depends 'on complex social, cultural and economic conditions.' It 'normally' takes 'decades, if not centuries.' Kirkpatrick thought that American power should be used to shore up tottering but friendly dictators, like Anastasio Somoza of Nicaragua and the shah of Iran. Her complaint was that Carter sat on his hands.

Now we have an administration that -- wisely or foolishly, sincerely or cynically -- claims to have the aggressive pursuit of democracy everywhere as the focal point of its foreign policy. And the Bush Doctrine is said to have the fingerprints of neoconservatives all over it.

This is quite a reversal by the most influential group of American intellectuals, yet it has received surprisingly little comment or explanation.
Apparently for Mr. Kinsley, this demonstration of reversal should be enough to convince all of us just how wrong today's "neocon" leaders are.

The problem is he ignores whether what they are doing is right or wrong. Instead, the accusation of policy reversal (gasp) stands on its own, a sort of teenage charge of hypocrisy aimed at parents who won't let Junior stay up as late as the grownups.

But what of this hypocrisy? Mr. Kinsley is sitting at his typewriter, holding his breath and turning threatening shades of blue, waiting for a neocon "admission of error", that their present course proves they were oh-so-very-wrong before. Or is it that they were right before and wrong now? Who knows? It's hard to tell exactly what he needs to hear before his brain gets its next whiff of oxygen.

Perhaps if the neocons actually believed an admission of error was appropriate, it might be given.

(Oh boy! Just so typical! Here comes the neocon arrogance. Good heavens, AbbaGav, you're one of them!).

However, those Mr. Kinsley chooses to label as neocons today owe no apology for not upholding the policies of those similarly labeled yesterday. No more so than they would have to apologize for not upholding policies of central planning and socialism if the tar had come from the brush of "Neo-Commie-Pinkoism" instead.

Rather, Mr. Kinsley himself ought to offer an admission of error, for having so totally changed his definition of the policies he stigmatizes with the label neocon. For if it is consistency he demands, all we find here is that he consistently stigmatizes the party that isn't likely to hire him as chief speech writer, regardless of their policies. Great leadership recognizes that foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of oxygen-starved minds, especially when the rules of the game have changed.

Hopefully he can stop holding his breath now.
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Sunday, April 17, 2005

A Kid Story 

A brief electroshock from the overseers of the Republican Mind Control Network, and a pointed message from the Committee for Surreptitious World Domination, have reminded me that I am remiss in not humanizing my blog more. Some of you reaching these humble pages have already had your frontal lobes removed and replaced with official Karl-Rove sponge inserts, and are easy marks for the brand of cynical, evil drivel spewed out here.

But there may be a few others who are a bit shocked to be reading a site where the word democracy is used without scare-quotes. It is to these precious few that I address this heart warming tale of an interaction with my children, in the hopes it will encourage them to absorb the rest of my blog in a warm and fuzzy frame of mind -- and so be enticed one more step down the path to complete enslavement in service of the House of Halliburton. (evil laughter....)

Last Shabbat, I was "resting" on the couch while the kids were bouncing on my stomach like it was a trampoline. Oh, they were having a grand old time, jumping and laughing at the wierd sound effects it brought out of poor old Dad. Then Sharon cautioned them not to jump on my belly too hard, or it might make me throw up on them.

So dear little Miriam, almost 4 but not quite, came up to me, a gentle look in her eye and reached up as if to caress my face. She grabbed by lips with her little fingers and squeezed really hard, pinching them shut, and ordered me, "Keep your mouth closed Abba, so we can keep jumping on you." I was impressed by her intrepid spirit.

Now, before that happy tingle wears off, go read the rest of my blog. Believe everything. That is all.
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Thursday, April 14, 2005

Great Many Gifts to Kim Il Sung from World People 

From (North) Korean Central News Agency of DPRK:

Great Many Gifts to Kim Il Sung from World People

Pyongyang, April 13 (KCNA) -- President Kim Il Sung received more than 165,950 gifts on at least 27,000 occasions from heads of political parties, states and governments of over 170 countries and regions, political and public figures, international organizations, organizations for the study of the Juche idea, compatriots overseas and in south Korea from right after the national liberation up to this date. He received gifts from I.V. Stalin including the passenger coach presented to him by the latter in August Juche 34 (1945) in the hope that he would use it for the nation-building.

On various occasions he also received gifts carrying best wishes from heads of political parties, states and governments, famous political and public figures, businessmen and individual figures. They include Chairman Mao Zedong, Vietnamese President Ho Chi Minh, Cuban President Fidel Castro Ruz, Egyptian President Mohamed Hosni Mubarak, Cambodian Great King Norodom Sihanouk, the general secretary of the Central Committee of the Spanish Communist Party, the general secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Portugal, the general secretary of the Irish Workers' Party and Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his wife.
Wow, look at that Hall-of-Fame list. Good company to be in.

On April 15, Juche 84 (1995) the head of the Umoji Community of Nigeria arranged a grand ceremony of electing Kim Il Sung as tribal chief of the Sun at which the dress and chair of the chief, etc. were sent to the President as gifts.

He also received such precious gifts as oil painting "Portrait of the Great Leader Comrade Kim Il Sung", metal craftwork "Immortality Tower" and a crystal vase from figures of various countries including China and Mongolia and overseas compatriots on the occasion of his 90th birth anniversary.

Members of the delegation of the All-China Journalists Association visited the DPRK last summer and presented to him a hanging-roll containing an art work widely known as the world's masterpiece, saying that though he passed away, he always lives in the hearts of the Chinese people.
You may not be aware of this, but this dictator died in 1994 (that's Juche 83 by the North Korean calendar, where years are counted from his birth). So we have foreign visitors coming to North Korea and giving gifts to suck up to a dead guy. Charming what little rituals the diplomatic game can come up with.

Here are some enlightening details on Kim Il Sung, and his son, the current leader, Kim Jong Il. It's a little salty in language, but if you can handle that, it's worth a look to get an idea what North Korea is about. Pay special attention to Kim Jong Il's biography to get a feel for who it is the Jimmy Carter Fan Club wants us all to negotiate with.

Thanks to Mick Hartley for leading me into the belly of the beast in the first place.
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Germany: Dresden was a holocaust 

In the Telegraph, via LGF:

German Ruling Says Dresden was a Holocaust

German prosecutors have provoked outrage by ruling that the 1945 RAF bombing of Dresden can legally be termed a "holocaust".

The decision follows the refusal by the Hamburg public prosecutor's office to press charges against a Right-wing politician who compared the bombing raids to "the extermination of the Jews".

German law forbids the denial or playing down of the Holocaust as an incitement to hatred.
Wait, isn't there a right to free speech? Isn't this just an internal matter of free speech rights for Germans? I don't think so. After all, there are exceptions. It's clear that free speech doesn't include the right to jump up in a crowded theatre and shout "Kill the Jews!" Even rights have limits.

So if you can't play it down, then just raise everything else up, until it's all the same height, and nothing's any better or worse than anything else. If PETA can moralize about a holocaust of fried chickens, then all the more so Germans should be allowed to refer to their own Dresden holocaust, right? Since the term actually means so little now.

And that's really what's going on here (and not just here, but there, and there, and even over there as well). Aside from a few cranks, and a large chunk of Israel's putative peace partners, few today deny there was a Holocaust. This inconvenient piece of history is proving very hard to make disappear. But it isn't really necessary to work that hard. No. Really, all you need to do is make the term so meaningless, so globally applicable that when someone says, "Holocaust", everyone just yawns, or asks "Which one?"

Does it matter? Why can't we globalize the term, make it a generic testimony to man's inhumanity to man (and chickens)? Why does it always have to be about the Jews? After so many years, can't they just drop it?

First, let's be clear. It's not the job of the Jews to drop it, or not drop it. It's simply everyone's job not to forget. Jews never wanted it to be about them. They didn't ask for this, like some conventient wedge issue to extort a political windfall.

More importantly, current events bear out the continuing particular Jewish importance of the Holocaust. It doesn't appear likely that the present generation of Germans is likely to rise up and slaughter its few remaining Jews. Nevertheless, Germans must not minimize the stigma of attempting genocide, not while new candidates rise to take their place.

And make no mistake, calling Dresden a holocaust makes it all the easier for others to consider trying once more to wipe out the Jews. We live in an age when Arab leaders indoctrinate their people to believe there wasn't a Holocaust--or that at least what happened in Jenin is equivalent. Meanwhile, they strive to obtain nuclear weapons, and threaten to incinerate the entire Jewish state.

I suspect the Arabic dictionary doesn't include the word irony.
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Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Hard cheese on the way? 

Haaretz reports on the furtive beginnings of deregulation of the Israeli dairy industry:

The chairman of the public committee examining dairy price regulation recently wrote to Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Agriculture Minister Yisrael Katz, that "deregulating milk prices will lead to substantial streamlining in the dairy sector, prevent double-dipping in subsidy tills and encourage new producers."

Ran Karol, a former treasury budget director, said the committee's primary conclusion is that the dairy market is competitive enough to support deregulation of milk and dairy product prices. Karol said the extensive government intervention in the dairy sector depresses its functioning.

Karol added that streamlining the sector is contingent on easing import restrictions.
Dairy sources believe certain prices could rise with wide deregulation. However, increased competition will drive prices down in the long run and create a new balance of power in the sector.

The committee suggested 3 percent milk sold in bags and Emek cheese should remain under regulation, as the antitrust commissioner has declared foodstuffs giant Tnuva a monopoly in those two areas. It also recommended that hard cheese and butter prices be deregulated in the future, after import restrictions on those products are lifted.

In notes on the report, the committee comments that price regulation in its current configuration mandates low return on capital for dairies producing certain milk products, which encourages cross-subsidies. The committee determines that over time, this situation damages efficiency in the sector and curbs competition.
Why do I care? Well first of all, as a member in good standing of the "Capitalists 'R Great" club, I'm required to care. It was part of the oath. Surely your remember the oath? Every good capitalist is responsible for following three simple rules:

Forgetting the poor and the workers for a moment, opening up the market so it reaches a rational price will, in the long run, benefit the consumer--and the economy as a whole. Throwing perfectly good money at failing industries is just bad poker. And if an industry isn't failing, it doesn't need money thrown at it.

Please feel free to immediately deluge my comments section with great, steaming gobs of "Socialist Wisdom" about ... about... well, whatever it is, post it all there and I'll figure out what to do with it later. I'll have to check the BlogSpot FAQ to see if it comes with a blog-shovel.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, I'm licking my chops at the possiblity they may finally deregulate hard cheeses, and maybe I can get some good old US cheddar here. And please, not the yellow, plastic bricks, just the good stuff (and yes, it's kosher).

I may even have to blog my cheese dip recipe.
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Tuesday, April 12, 2005

A bit of culture 

Please read this post with a very educated and carefully cultivated British accent. Imagine me, holding a snifter of whatever it is that goes in snifters, sitting in a high backed leather chair, a literary tome open in my lap, as I regale you with my thoughts on the ballet I saw last night.

Yeah, you heard me, I went to the ballet. Ok, cut the masterpiece theatre bit. Let's be real. We both know I haven't got a clue about the ballet, and that I just went to have a nice night out of the house with my wife. We could have parked at the side of the road and counted the cars going by and I probably would have enjoyed it. Nevertheless, I actually have some thoughts I'd like to share with you about the ballet.

Especially if you have kids and are expecting to take them with you to see "Written in the Sand", a new ballet being performed here in Israel. If you want to get right to the bit about taking kids to this ballet, you can skip the rest of my erudition by clicking right over here.

Sharon and I entered the ballet on an emotional high. She had managed to cobble together a tag team assembly of baby sitters at the last minute, and we'd made it to the theatre just as the lights dimmed. Being on time was quite a feat because we had to park the car, eat a light dinner at a hotel restaurant, and walk to the theatre in under 32 minutes.

As the curtains went up, I had already decided I would review the ballet here, but I was going to do it as a "Sports Fan review of the ballet". I figured that would help cover my ignorance. As the dance begin, I was mentally collecting ideas, how I would refer to halftime, and go-to moves, and role players, and ask why they didn't keep score or put numbers on the uniforms so you could tell who was who. If this is all I was thinking about, that should give you an idea how dull the first section was. Very repetitive, standard moves that I'd seen countless times watching my kids' Angelina Ballerina videos.

As the curtains came down on that first segment, I tried to figure whether it was halftime or just the end of the first quarter. We checked the program and found out there were three parts. Sharon translated the little synopses of each of the segments to me, and my eyes kind of glazed over, but I don't think she noticed. I kept nodding my head with interest. I'd like to tell you what each segment was, but frankly, I can't remember. All I know is the first and third were parts of other, bigger pieces, but the second part was some special new piece "written" (conceived? designed? produced? choreographed? what do you do to give birth to a ballet?) by some European guy, maybe from Finland, I'm not sure. It was this piece from which the title "Written in the Sand" was taken.

At this point, Sharon was also not so impressed. She was especially wondering why there was no set, no story line, and especially no sand. The ballet was called "Written in the Sand" and she wanted the sand, and frankly, I don't blame her.

Sharon got part of her wish as the curtains opened once more: there was now some set. It consisted of 3 rocks on the left side of stage (about the size of basketballs) and a screen at the back of the stage on which was projected the video of waves breaking on the beach.

Some dancers came out and started doing very relaxed, wavy kind of stuff, clearly going with the beach theme. They were now wearing beach dresses, and shirts and tshirts, instead of the frilly foppery of the first act. As they danced around the beach, it was much better than the first act, the moves they were doing were more varied and had some point to them, dancers interacting with each other, very beachy, much more sensual than the first act. Enough so that I was imagining if we had brought the kids as we had briefly considered (they love ballet), my oldest, Rachel, would be telling me not to look because it wasn't tzanua (modest). Rachel has her sensors set to a very low modesty threshold.

It was precisely at that point, smack in the middle of the sensual frolick of the beach dance, that the "Gang Rape Ballet" began. Up to that point, there had been little one-minute dance vignettes of lovers flirting, sea horses floating, waves breaking. But now a lone women dancer lay down on the "beach", innocently napping on the sand. Four male dancers entered across the stage and one woke her up, scaring her. She ran/danced around as they started to chase her, surrounding her. As the men grabbed her and started tossing her around, I was suddenly glad we hadn't brought the kids because I would have been marching them right out of the theatre. The scene continued growing in intensity to the point that the ballet dancers actually simulated the final outcome quite explicitly.

I was thinking of the Junior Ballet Cadets, all the skinny little girls I'd seen prancing around in the lobby, waving their arms around and twirling during the intermission, now sitting there with their parents watching a gang rape on the stage, and I cringed. No one walked out. There were kids as young as four in the audience; there'd been no warning of any problematic content. I could picture the smug smirk on some backstage artistic director's face, probably hoping angry parents would come back and complain so he could say "You see? But it was an 8 oclock show, no? What are zee kids doing at an 8 oclock show?" (I imagine he's French, and a he, but he is probably not really French, and may not even be a he).

So, to be clear, if you have children who love ballet, or are even aspiring little ballerinas, do not take them to this ballet, unless you feel that watching the stylish interpretation of a woman being gang raped by four men on stage would be an important formative experience in their artistic careers.

However, addressing the adults now.

I'm not a prude, and do not shelter myself behind the walls. Nevertheless, this scene was quite shocking to me, and I know I wasn't alone because you could hear the reactions from the crowd as the scene played out, little gasps of breath and tongue clucks of disapproval. As dance, it was very well done: they tossed the woman around and it was quite athletic. But as art, it struck me as gratuitously provocative. It had no connection to the rest of the dance, and was apparently done just to shock, which it succeeded in doing. It also managed to suck the life out of the rest of the act, as it meandered on with two or three more little dances in the beach segment before bringing the curtain down once more. As the dancers bowed and took their applause, the largest hand was for the woman who played the rape victim, although I'm not sure why. Sure, she was chased around, thrown around, tossed around. She was the center of attention, but I couldn't remember what she had actually danced, but I thought she should have tried the Nutcracker. Maybe I just missed it.

The third act was a little tamer. In this one, all the dancers, male and female, wore almost the same costume. They looked like aerobicisers, and the dance was a bit like that as well. There was more frolick, this time including two men who danced a little flirt between them, until a woman came between them, and then one of the men danced with her instead. This part of the show was somewhat gender confused, and seemed (to my highly untrained and uncultured eyes) to have the message that it's the beauty of the body, not the gender of the body that matters. But I think by this point I was a bit cynical about the show. It might have just been some nice dancing, with no message. I wouldn't really know the difference.

So, for kids, this is a horrible show. Don't bring them. For adults, it is an adequate evening out, but nothing extraordinary.

That's all for this edition of "A bit of culture". I return you now to the usual lowbrow fare that is posted here.
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Monday, April 11, 2005

What would be a moral solution? 

I just read an interesting article I found while googling the terms (foreign & policy & study & deter & crazy & leader). I had been looking for something I'd remembered from the previous century which had addressed how it might be strategically wise for US leaders to adopt a slightly crazy and unpredictable stance in an effort to deter the new threats in the post-Soviet world. Found this instead:

Attacking Iran: I Know It Sounds Crazy, But...

Intriguing title, very tempting, since I've been kind of Iran-watching for the last few years, trying to figure out how it will eventually all play out. The article presents some political and intelligence background, and some anecdotal evidence for their theory that they believe GWB will attack, or is at least willing to attack, Iran. The analysis they attach to this theory is basically "anti-Israeli" garbage, in my Israeli opinion.

I've never "Fisked" anything before, so I thought I'd give it a try. Feel free to read the article, just make sure you are aware of its biases (as I presume you are aware of mine). I'd like to address a few of the more dangerous points that arise from the latent bias of the auther, and also point out what I found worthwhile, despite the bile.

The article carries an introduction which I'll ignore for the most part because its my blog and I can do what I want. I just wanted to highlight the report of a congressional staffer actually asking the question with regard to Iran and US military options, "What would be a moral solution?" Aside from the trite dilemna of who's morals, its refreshing that such a question can be even be asked.

Enough introduction, now let's eat some red meat!

But Bush administration policy toward the Middle East is being run by men -- yes, only men -- who were routinely referred to in high circles in Washington during the 1980s as "the crazies."
Well, sir, if by "crazies" you refer to the lunatics who, through their psychotic and paranoid behavior accidentally brought down communism, while simultaneously keeping most of the population of the US in some sort of stuporous state of obedience, then I see what you mean. Since you come from an intelligence background, I assume you are annoyed by these poor souls because they changed your enemy on you, just when you'd built up a comfortable dossier on the best places in Moscow to buy duty-free Vodka. Pity that. But what I can't see is how you'd mistake Condoleeza Rice for a man, unless I'm missing a certain obnoxious subtext of subservience. Perhaps you assume she's just there to administer the meds.

If further proof of insanity were needed, one could simply look at the unnecessary carnage in Iraq since the invasion in March 2003. That unprovoked attack was, in my view, the most fateful foreign policy blunder in our nation's history...so far.
You raise grandstanding to an artform here, as surely you would have to consider either entering or leaving Vietnam to have been a bigger blunder, depending on how long your hair was in 1970. But I do applaud your leaving the door open with the "so far", since you never know what might happen given that the Bush family just keeps spawning.

"The crazies" are not finished.
And thank God for that, because the bad guys aren't finished yet either.

They calculate that, with a docile, corporate-owned press, a co-opted mainstream church, and a still-trusting populace, the United States and/or the Israelis can launch a successful air offensive to disrupt any Iranian nuclear weapons programs -- with the added bonus of possibly causing the regime in power in Iran to crumble.
Wow, its quite an achievement to make this sound like a bad thing!

During his term in office, George H. W. Bush, with the practical advice of his national security adviser Gen. Brent Scowcroft and Secretary of State James Baker, was able to keep "the crazies" at arms length, preventing them from getting the country into serious trouble.
So George the Senior is now a model of restraint? Well perhaps so, if by restraint you mean a stability fetish stronger than Saddam Hussein's aroma after a stay at the Chateau-de-Hidey-Hole.

Unlike in the eighties, they are the ones crafting the adventurous policies our sons and daughters are being called on to implement.
"Our sons and daughters." So begins the careful descent into the dark pit, as if your sons and daughters are somehow more American than those of your reviled "neo-Cons" (that's pronounced "Jews", the N and E and O and C and O and N and S are silent). Nevertheless, perhaps foolishly, I read on.

Why dwell on this? Because it is second in importance only to the portentous reality that the earth is running out of readily accessible oil – something of which they are all too aware. Not surprisingly then, disguised beneath the weapons-of-mass-destruction smokescreen they laid down as they prepared to invade Iraq lay an unspoken but bedrock reason for the war -- oil.
Oh please! We won already. Twice! We controlled the oil fields, OURS OURS OURS, we're rich!! rich!! Halliburton-wealthy!! But for the fact that we keep giving that oil right back to the locals every time.

Now, apparently, they keep saying Iran; and that appears to be what they mean.

Anecdotal evidence like this is hardly conclusive. Put it together with administration rhetoric and a preponderance of other "dots," though, and everything points in the direction of an air attack on Iran, possibly also involving some ground forces. Indeed, from the New Yorker reports of Seymour Hersh to Washington Post articles, accounts of small-scale American intrusions on the ground as well as into Iranian airspace are appearing with increasing frequency. In a speech given on February 18, former UN arms inspector and Marine officer Scott Ritter (who was totally on target before the Iraq War on that country's lack of weapons of mass destruction) claimed that the president has already "signed off" on plans to bomb Iran in June in order to destroy its alleged nuclear weapons program and eventually bring about "regime change." This does not necessarily mean an automatic green light for a large attack in June, but it may signal the president's seriousness about this option.
Promises, promises. Rumor for now, but I hope the Iranians know how to google for these articles too. Then again, I imagine all Iranian ISPs are legally bound to block any google query that links the words "crazy" and "leader" in the same request.

So why would Iran think it has to acquire nuclear weapons? Sen. Richard Lugar, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was asked this on a Sunday talk show a few months ago. Apparently having a senior moment, he failed to give the normal answer. Instead, he replied, "Well, you know, Israel has..." At that point, he caught himself and abruptly stopped.
Why'd he stop? Did he spot the skulking figures in the shadows and clam up? What a brave soul. No, in actuality, I suspect his brain cramp passed and he wanted to change the word "has" to the word "exists", but knew it was too late to avoid being quoted out of context in articles like these.

Is alleged to have…? Lugar is chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and yet he doesn't know that Israel has, by most estimates, a major nuclear arsenal, consisting of several hundred nuclear weapons? (Mainstream newspapers are allergic to dwelling on this topic, but it is mentioned every now and then, usually buried in obscurity on an inside page.)
Geez! This huge conspiracy involving all the newspapers and media outlets! Keeping Joe Little-Guy from learning about Israel's UkeNays! It doesn't seem to be going too well, does it? I've seen profiles on this all over the place. It's like alleging there's a big media conspiracy to hide their opinion that Dubya's an idiot. Oh, and who is this Vanunu chap they nominated for the Nobel Prize?

If the truth be told, Iran fears Israel at least as much as Israel fears the internal security threat posed by the thugs supported by Tehran. Iran's apprehension is partly fear that Israel (with at least tacit support from the Bush administration) will send its aircraft to bomb Iranian nuclear facilities, just as American-built Israeli bombers destroyed the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak in 1981.
So, Israel and Iran, parallel fears. Iran fears Israel might try to blow up its nuclear weapons production facilities. That's oh so very scary. And Israel is just afraid that Iran will incinerate the entire country the moment if succeeds in creating those weapons. Totally equivalent.

The nuclear issue is indeed paramount, and we would do well to imagine and craft fresh approaches to the nub of the problem. As a start, I'll bet if you made a survey, only 20% of Americans would answer "yes" to the question, "Does Israel have nuclear weapons?" That is key, it seems to me, because at their core Americans are still fair-minded people.

On the other hand, I'll bet that 95% of the Iranian population would answer, "Of course Israel has nuclear weapons; that's why we Iranians need them" -- which was, of course, the unmentionable calculation that Senator Lugar almost conceded. "And we also need them," many Iranians would probably say, "in order to deter ‘the crazies' in Washington. It seems to be working for the North Koreans, who, after all, are the other remaining point on President Bush's ‘axis of evil.'"
This seems to be the winner of the "stupidest point of the article" contest, in a very tight race for that prestigious award. The issue is not how many people believe the other side has the bomb. The issue is what will they do with it.

The point is that Israel is a democracy, which has (allegedly) possessed the bomb for decades and has not used it (except as an unused, barely advertised deterent to being conventionally obliterated).

On the flip side, the Iranians clearly advertise their desire to use any nukes the moment they get them.

Now which side should have you more worried? Well, I guess you might just think the world would be better off if Israel and its nefarious Jewish inhabitants were blown off the map, so we could return to the peaceful, all-Arab, all-dictator Middle East, with all the liberal values that entails.

It is not difficult to understand why the first leaders of Israel, with the Holocaust experience written indelibly on their hearts and minds, and feeling surrounded by perceived threats to the fledgling state's existence, wanted the bomb.
Perceived threats. Perceived existential wars of annihilation against Israel. All those perceived armies perceived to cross the perceived border and perceived to attack the nascent state. I guess we have to try to understand the frothing paranoia of an immature state.

Preaching to Iran and others about not acquiring nuclear weapons is, indeed, like the village drunk preaching sobriety
Perhaps so, but giving the village drunk an open bottle of vodka and hoping he won't drink it isn't a good bet either.

Has everyone forgotten that deterrence worked for some 40 years, while for most of those years the U.S. and the USSR had not by any means lost their lust for ever-enhanced nuclear weapons?
Ah, deterrence. The Iranians, those shahid-lovin' mullahs, just like the Russians, will be deterred. What was that Sting song about the Russians loving their children too? Well the Iranians coaxed theirs out to the Iraqi border as human mine-sweepers. I'd like to believe the Iranians love their children too, but I love my own too much to fall for that without some evidence first.
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Sunday, April 10, 2005

Stupid Airport Security Tricks 

Walter Williams did a column recently on Stupid Airport Security.

What about the TSA confiscation of "dangerous" personal items such as tweezers, hat pins, sewing scissors, knitting needles, etc.?
Of course this is nothing new, but it did remind me of a few anecdotes of my own in this genre.

My favorite was the time I decided to take the questioning of the guards at the gate a little too seriously. It was post-9/11, so I figured I'd give them accurate information and let them make the security judgements. I come from Israel, where we count on judgement of security services. I forgot that hiring security from qualified former military and intelligence personnel isn't the only model. In fact, sometimes it appears security is outsourced to high school work study internships.

I was asked as I prepared to board the flight if I had any weapons. No. I was asked if I had anything that could be used as a weapon--and here there was a pro-forma list read out along the lines of Walter Williams' example.

I thought a moment.

I volunteered that I didn't really have a weapon or anything like it, unless you counted the still wrapped plastic silverware from my previous flight's kosher meal, stowed away in my backpack. I grinned, confident that my good humor would indicate to them that I clearly understood the issues and they'd let me go on the plane without a strip search.

And perhaps my volunteering this incriminating info did save me a strip search. It's hard to be sure. Because they confiscated the stuff without a strip search. I tried to tell them that it was from another plane. That it was actually given to me on another airplane, and that I hand't used it on anyone, and that I was just keeping it in case I needed it on this upcoming flight ("Need it for what, buddy?" they must have wondered).

Yup, they took it. Without a struggle, I surrendered my plastic spoon, fork and knife, still wrapped in the plastic. Then they let me on the plane, where they promptly handed me a new set.

The serious note here is that the security still focuses so much on secondary objects rather than the primary danger: people. And much of this is because, at least in the US, it is practically a hate crime to screen people bordering a flight for any of the factors most correlated with the risk.

I still remember the sight of my little daughters, aged 2 and 4, and my pregnant wife, being frisked. The girls actually loved the experience, all the attention and excitement -- having their shoes checked -- but it was a waste of time.

While the terrorists have not succeeded in attacking the US again, they have succeeded in distorting economic activity through the imposition of stiff security costs, and we are willingly complicit in this. At some point we have to choose.

And I say this as someone who is searched "randomly" on every domestic flight in the US (approx 15 in a row now), essentially because my trips all originate in the Middle East. Just like my little girls. And so many grandmothers. Meanwhile, terrorist fly out of Boston.

And while I'm writing about Walter Williams, let me suggest a truly excellent series of his called Economics for the citizen. Truly inspired and amusing at the same time, read them all.
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A reason for space exploration 

As I read blogs, newspapers, op-eds, and various and sundry other venues for the venting of spleens, I'm struck by the polarization of opinion on almost every issue. I wonder to myself, is this new?

And I reflect.

In centuries past, when groups didn't like the prevailing opinion, and refused to bow to it, they didn't have the opportunity to post scathing blog entries. Instead, they were packed on wooden ships and sent off to populate new continents, far enough away that their dissenting whine wouldn't bother the quiet status quo at home.

That has worked for awhile. But we're running out of places to send the people who disagree with us, all the continents are basically settled and idealogically contentious already. What do we do? How do we siphon off those bothersome voices (always of course assuming that we are on the deciding end of this question).


Friday, April 08, 2005

Giving Bin Laden the Arafat 

Israel would love to have killed, or captured and tried Arafat. But you can't always get what you want. Instead, they declared him "irrelevant", hemmed him in, dimmed his spotlight, and left him to fester in the remains of his slowly rotting guerilla image. Eventually he died, but his image died before he did.

The US would love to have killed, or captured "and tried" Bin Laden. But you can't always get what you want. Instead, he hobbles around the rocky hills, occasionally sending out audio tapes or messages scribbled hastily on the back of toilet paper wrappers (if he even has any toilet paper left). And try as Al Jazeera might, we just don't hear the word Fatwa as much as we used to on the news. Bin Laden might or might not be dead, but with any luck, his image will be dead even if he isn't.

But if you try sometimes you just might find
You just might find, that ya

Get what you need
Oooh, yeah!
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Thursday, April 07, 2005

Blog in a Bottle - 1st Generation 

Ever play message in a bottle?

Let's blog it. Our links are our bottle, the blogosphere is our ocean. Lets see how far our links get and where they go.

This post played from:
(paste your source's permalink in place of my link)

Everyone who played off this post should have a link in the comments. Feel free to click and follow the chain to its start, or follow it out to see how far its gone.

Here's how to play:

1) Make a game post in your blog. Ideally, it should have a copy of these game rules copied from the site you are playing off of so that anyone finding your game post and wanting to play will know how. The title should be "Blog in a Bottle - Nth Generation" where you pick N as being one more than the number in the site you are playing off of.

2) Take a permalink from the site you are playing off of, and copy it into the "Parent Post" slot in your game post. Do the best you can to make sure when you paste the permalink that it is a link, so that it is easy for everyone else to click on it and follow it back to the source.

3) Publish your game post--but you're not quite done yet. We need to let players find each other and follow the chain, so...

4) Take a permalink of your just published post.

5) Copy your permalink into the comments section of the post you played from. This lets every player find all the branches that came from his or her post, and allows us to click forward and backward through the game links.

It is ok to have more than one person build off the same link, it will just make a tree-like structure out it.

IMPORTANT: the game expires at the end of April 2005. If it is after April 2005, don't copy and paste. We are not trying to create an infinite bandwidth suck, just watching how far the bottle floats from shore by the end of the month.

And feel free to explore the blogs you meet along the way and pass on a kind word or two to the other players.

Some people will prefer to play off the blog where they first found it (maybe your site), even if others have also already branched from your post. This creates branches in our game tree.

And some will prefer to follow from your comments section out to the farthest end of one of your branches, trying to get the farthest, highest numbered post possible. Either one is fine, it's all fun!

Suggestion: When you play of a link, also copy your permalink into any "ancestor link" (clicking each parent, and parent's parent, etc.) where your generation is higher than any generation noted in the comments in that post already. That way, if you look back to the original post, at http://abbagav.blogspot.com, you will see the farthest out post recorded there all the time (hint for those who prefer to go for a higher generation number). And each post along the way will also know what is the farthest out post to have played off of it.

What are the requirments to play? Just a blog that supports permalinks and accepts comments from anyone (if you don't have those two things, you won't be able to link into the game).

Short Johnny Cochrane Obit 

Johnny Cochrane's obit from last week

If he doesn't stir, you must inter.

[UPDATE: ughhh! can't believe it. Just googled my line here and found two others already did it! I gotta think of them faster. Or maybe funnier.]
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Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Here's a savvy marketing site 

See if you want to buy what these guys are selling on the web:

You will find Cruise Ship Illness right here Cruise Ship Illness

The Best Source Of Cruise Ship Illness on the Internet. Click below to find out more information on Cruise Ship Illness.

Cruise Ship Illness
Yeah, I feel my hand already reaching for my credit card. Noting puts me in the mood to book a cruise like a healthy dose of Cruise Ship Illness information.
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Top ten reasons for Iran to have the bomb 

  1. we don't want to break any European promises already made behind closed doors.
  2. as a growth opportunity for the Religion of Peace.
  3. what!? you mean Iran doesn't have the bomb, and Israel does!?
  4. well, surely they wouldn't use it!
  5. that Arrow missile defense system could use a bit of field testing.
  6. after George W Bush's death in the glowing ashes of the White House, a new, less belligerent government, more sensitive to Shariaa, can be formed in Boston or San Francisco.
  7. its what John Kerry would have done
  8. it might head off a harshly worded resolution in the UN General Assembly.
  9. to convert the Negev into the world's largest glowing-glass factory.
  10. the russians have probably already sold them a missile that can reach Paris.

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Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Great Scandinavian Islam-Blog 


A blog about Islam in Scandinavia, Eurabia, Norwegian affairs, leftist stupidity, global politics and whatever else interests me.
Great stuff from someone who appears to really know what he's talking about. Check it out and spread the word.

Time to consider "Pie Control Laws"? 

Via Michelle Malkin:

Drudge linked last night to a story and video of Pat Buchanan getting attacked by a deranged college student while giving a speech. The assailant doused Buchanan's face completely with salad dressing. He screamed, "Stop the bigotry!"before charging within inches of Buchanan and nearly hitting him in the head with the bottle as well.
These physical attacks targeting conservatives on campus and in the public square are getting more frequent. (See Kristol, Coulter, Perle, Harris, and the conservative kid who got kicked by a left-wing nut professor, for starters.) The Left continues to snicker about it. The MSM makes light of it (CBS: "A Dressing-Down For Pat Buchanan"; NPR: "What's a little pie in the face?").
Bainbridge sez, "It's only a matter of time until they start using guns."
All these pies in the face! And by peace loving leftists!

It does lead one to think, as Professor Bainbridge suggests, that the natural progression from pies to guns could be an easy one to make. How do we save these left-wingers from their own violent impulses?

Clearly, we must speak their language. We need a law. Maybe several. Some regulations too.

To start, it is imperative that we legislate a ban on all pies. It would be nice to ban cake as well, just to be safe, but realistically, as a practical matter, we may first need to negotiate down to banning only cream-pies, as the fledgeling step to an eventual utopian pie-free society.

But, of course it may not be that easy to pry the pies away from them. In that case, how about some measures which, while leaving pies technically legal, will serve to reduce the harrowing danger:

I can't wait for the response. "Pies don't splatter people, people do." And of course, if they use cherry pie, ala mode, I could alway volunteer to be a human shield.

Hoping to lose 

Joseph Schmoe owns stock in a company. He also has options to buy stock in the same company at a given price, say $20. The price of the stock today is less than $20, say $15. Obviously, those options to buy stock at $20 aren't too useful today, but Mr. Schmoe's lotto dreams have long hinged on the idea of the company's stock soaring to, oh, say $100, and then cashing in those $20 shares and making a quick $80 on each. Unfortunately, after hearing a lot of bad news, Mr. Schmoe has decided the stock is going to only go down from here, not up.

What should he do?

Sell his stock, of course! Make as much money on the shares he owns as he can. And the options? Well, they're basically worthless today, so he does nothing.

Now that he has sold his shares, how does Mr. Schmoe feel each morning when he checks the stock price in the paper? If the price goes down, does he smile at his own wisdom, pump his fist and yell "Yes!"? If the price goes up, does he grumble in embarrassment, feeling like a fool for having sold?

Or does he let go of his emotional investment in the shares he has already cashed in, and focus on the options he still holds, cheering each uptick in price?

I think it is easy to make the mistake of rooting against your own best interests in order to reassure yourself that past decisions were correct. It is easy to imagine Mr. Schmoe making that mistake.

Sometimes the "rooting against your own best interests" can even drift into "acting against your own best interests." Here I'm thinking about all those who decided we shouldn't be in Iraq fighting to free their people, or at least that George Bush shouldn't be the one doing it. When they make that decision, they are basically selling their stock in the idea of freeing Iraq. But they forget, as American citizens (or dare I say, as "World Citizens?"), they still hold options in Iraq's future, and America's role in it.

I think in the old days people were somehow more sensitive to this and managed to really support their troops -- and not just "support the troops" but actually mean it. Not anymore. Too many would rather see their country sink into failure, dragging themselves, their children, family and friends down with it, just to prove they were right.

I'm curious what other scenarios map to a similar psychological choice, and how we're doing in those scenarios these days?

Monday, April 04, 2005

The smartest cat I've ever seen 

Sorry Blacky, that includes you too, wherever you are.

Please take a moment to say hello to Jasper the Cat.

If you really, really liked this -- or even really, really hated it -- there's lots more: