Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Strange Pee-Wee Herman Trivia 

In googling for Pee-Wee Herman info for a recent post, I came across a strange piece of trivia about the comic man/child. While it isn't about Iraq or Mideast conflict, or even Fillibusters, I did find it an interesting example of Hollywood's values at work.

When Pee-Wee contracted to do his children's show "Pee-Wee's Playhouse" for CBS in 1986, the network gave him complete creative control with 3 exceptions. What were they?
  • he was forbidden to say, 'If you show me yours, I'll show you mine,'
  • to stab potatoes with pencils, or
  • to walk around with toilet paper stuck to his shoe.
Source: Paul Reuben's biography

Monday, May 30, 2005

Wacky World of Yahoo Mideast Photography 

I decided to wade through the swamp of pictures Yahoo has available on the "Mideast Conflict." Not unexpectedly, I found the collection of pictures overall to take an incredibly negative view. The Reuters and AP photographers, both in Israel and Iraq, seem attracted only to pictures of corpses, bombed out cars, wailing widows, and power politicos throwing their weight around. Very few pictures (maybe none) of cooperation, US or IDF soldiers helping anyone as is wont to happen once in a while. This phenomenon is well-documented already, however, so I won't dwell on it too much. Instead, I'd like to present a few photos that caught my attention, together with their captions. I have corrected a few captions (any marked with a *) to more accurately capture the context of the photo, but the attribution remains, and clicking on the photo will lead to the original photo and caption at Yahoo.


The father of one of two Palestinians killed in a blast in Gaza, cries in Shifa hospital in Gaza City May 29, 2005. Two militants from the Fatah-linked al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades died and three were critically wounded in a blast in an orchard in Gaza city when a Palestinian bomb exploded prematurely, a Palestinian security source said. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
Ouch, that's gotta hurt. The anguish as this man realizes his son has screwed up, detonating himself without taking any Jews with him. The promise of the heavenly virgins had been so close, and now -- bupkis. Of course, Reuters is right on the scene to publish and preserve the misery: one more grieving Palestinian father, his son lost to the struggle against brutal Israeli occupation. The fact that Israelis had nothing to do with this man's grief, except for failing to die in great numbers, is secondary.


Palestinian children collect body parts of two Palestinian militants of the Al Aqsa Martyrs brigades killed east of Gaza city, Sunday, May 29, 2005. the two militants were killed and three seriously wounded when explosives they were carrying detonated in their car, Palestinians said. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)
Well, here's one more game for the kids at home: while most kids are playing hide-and-seek, or doing scavenger hunts, the Palestinians have their kids out playing spot-the-spleen. The goal is to climb the tree and whoever collects the most body parts gets a few jellybeans and a colorful "I hate the Jews" sticker. I hope the winner washes his hands before he eats his candy.


In this picture released by the Palestinian Authority, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, foreground right, reviews an honor guard with King Mohammed VI of Morocco during an official visit to Rabat, Morocco Saturday, May 28, 2005. (AP Photo/Palestinian Authority/Omar Rashidi)
In the US, bloggers are portrayed in the media as the End Of Truth In Reporting, a pajama-clad army mobilized by the forces of darkness. But it appears that Morocco knows how to treat the pajamahadeen properly: white pajamas freshly laundered, invitations to meet "heads of state", fancy blue caps, and even slippers -- not to mention handing out guns!


An elderly Palestinian woman attending a rally supporting the Fatah movement is overwhelmed by intense Woodstock flashbacks and the spirit of universal peace.(Nayef Hashlamoun/Reuters) *


The President, in response to a question as to how the 50 million dollar aid package to the Palestinians came about, demonstrates his new diplomatic strategy: the Bush Pucker. *(AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)


An officer acting as a protester leaps as he kicks Palestinian security force officers dressed in riot gear as they practice crowd control during training at the Arafat Academy for police in Gaza City, Sunday, May 29, 2005. The Palestinian Authority is training security force officers to help secure the coastal Gaza Strip area that Israel is to evacuate this summer, an Interior Ministry spokesman said Saturday, May 28, 2005. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)
I'm sorry, this is just too rich. Are they joking? The Arafat Academy is teaching crowd control? Ok. Then follow up lessons will be held for these students at the Hannibal Lechter Cooking School.
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Fun Day at Superland 

A few days ago we made our annual schlep to Superland, an Israeli amusement park. These yearly family trips are my chance to track my kids' progress against the fixed measure of all the thrill rides they are slowly growing into, and to compare their experience with my own memories.

Most importantly, the kids seem to have every bit as much fun as I remember having.

Of course, Israel's Superland manages to squeeze its share of thrills into a much tinier package than super-sized Disney, the benchmark of my childhood. The primary technique for keeping Superland small is having fewer rides. This isn't such a great loss because there really are only 3 basic rides -- rollercoaster and its variations, teacups and its variations, and bumper cars. The rest are variations on these primordial themes. Superland gets by with a sparse mixture that is sufficient to explore the realm of possibility without exhausting the novelty. Disney, on the other hand, mines the micro-gaps between clockwise and counter-clockwise teacups, differentiating each with subtle changes of pallette in the decorations and scenery. Fundamentally, though, once you've puked on one of these rides, you've puked on them all, which is why I no longer go on most of them anymore. Somewhere in my mid-20s I learned to value my lunch.


Kid stomachs, on the other hand, are impervious to spin, no matter how much popcorn, soda and candy they've managed to pack in. Even little Miriam, still only perched on the cusp of her fourth birthday party, feels nothing but excitement at the prospect of being whipped around inside the gut of a cheaply painted woodpecker. This is a universal truth, and does not depend on how the woodpecker is decorated. All the money Disney wastes creating foam models of real cities and skylines for the woodpecker to fly around would be better spent on padded benches placed around these rides for parents to collapse into. Superland, in its efficiency, gets some things right.

Another clever Superland innovation for packing more fun into less space is to leave out most of the surrounding marketing. Disney is chock full of gift shops, each screaming to the children, "You NEED these mouse ears, dolls, videos and replicas of the Matterhorn," a commandment they eagerly pass on to their parents. Disney operates its entire complex to reinforce this basic marketing message. Living, breathing Disney characters walk the enchanted streets, showing the kids that their dreams can come to life, with the proper parental investment. Superland, on the other hand, doesn't really have any magic to sell, and even if it did, their performers are dressed more in badly sewn handmade Halloween costumes than modern marvels of marketing technology.


That's not to say Superland doesn't make their costumed characters fun for kids. In the picture, you can tell Tamar is enjoying herself. Who wouldn't be thrilled to meet a pink elephant, while a giant yellow duck whacks you in the back of the head? Especially if you know the day's lunch is going to be all the cotton candy you can eat!

Nevertheless, it's quite true that Superland has less entertainment, less spectacle and smaller parades. There is no Bear Jamboree, no America Sings, and no animatronic Ben Gurion. But at least on the day we were there, they had stilt walkers and drummers marching around the park. They even had stilts for the guests to try out, something I'm sure Disney's lawyers would never allow. [update: pulled out some off-topic thoughts into their own post here]

In the end, though, despite the Superland efficiency, I could see my kids didn't get the same Disney experience I grew up with. But I can let go of that. It was obvious they loved Superland, because they only measure against last year's experience, not against my memories. As long as they continue getting one year older with each annual visit, there will always be a new ride to try, to challenge their sense of grownup-ness.

I saw this most clearly in Rachel. As an eight year old, she now has access to a few "real" rides. One of her favorites is the "Spinning Sky Chairs". The ride is perfect for her; she dreams of flying almost every night. Watching her, barely buckled into her seat, I could see her joy was positively aerodynamic. She leans into the wind in a way unlike the older kids on the ride, eager for her wings to sprout and carry her into the sky.


I'm sure someday those wings will sprout and she really will fly away. But no matter how ready for flight she feels today, watching my kids at Superland makes it clear to me, I won't be ready for a long time.
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One Man One Wheel One Time 

While at Superland amusement park, I saw some unicycles lying next to a pile of stilts, ready for guests to try out. I immediately flashed back years ago to my single previous unicycular encounter, feeling my blood pressure thumping skyward as I considered whether my y-chromosome would demand I give it one more try. But I quickly concluded: one man, one wheel, one time.

Warmed by the relief of not having to face serious injury, my brain rolled that catchy phrase over and over a few times and I drifted into a blog-centered frame of mind, lost in the exercise of trying to come up with enough variations on its simple truth to create another top ten list. I managed:
Sadly, that is where it ended, the rest of my ruminations consigned to the tripe heap. I shook my head a few times, forcing myself back into the moment, and hurried to catch up to my kids before they could get in line for anything that spun too fast and required adult supervision.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Top 10 Reasons Bush Threw Wads of Cash at Abbas 

You might be wondering why President Bush not only met with P.A. President Abbas, but also greased his palm with 50 million smackers. Trust me, he had good reasons:
  1. Because his Zionest puppetmasters told him to
  2. Abbas showed him a killer proposal to turn the Palestinian capital into Ramally-wood, recruiting Iraq's decapitation cinematographers as the nucleus of a nascent film industry. The first few films will be in the action and documentary genres, crowd-pleasing, money-making gore-fests, and should earn Bush a quick return, as well as the executive producer credits and cameo he craves.
  3. Wanted to spot Abbas for a clean suit and teeth whitening treatments to take care of the nicotine stains ahead of filming campaign spots for upcoming Palestinian elections.
  4. Astonished to learn he'd promised 50 milion rather than 500 thousand, Bush vowed to do all paperwork wearing his reading glasses from now on.
  5. After not getting past first base with Crown Prince Abdullah, this time the President is covering all the bases.
  6. Abbas presented Bush with the official bill covering costs of parking tickets, late-payment penalties and interest for ex-President Clinton's motorcade on his last visit. Bush announced the payment as aid to avoid publicly embarrassing his new buddy.
  7. Bush, never one to welch on a bet, was down for 50 million with Abbas on the Houston Rockets as NBA champs.
  8. Hey, if Saddam managed to buy so much foreign support with a little cash, Bush is willing to give it a try
  9. Abbas told him that Putin gave him 40
  10. Unless you're willing to blow yourself up, that's the going rate for getting a plaza in Ramallah named after you.

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Friday, May 27, 2005

Top 10 Amnesty International Recommendations 

The recent Amnesty International report condemning US human rights violations included a number of demands for improvements in how prisoners are treated at the Guantanamo facility:
  1. No fake beheadings
  2. Female guards to wear burka
  3. It's called the Holy Koran
  4. No spinning blindfolded prisoners around before prayertime and pointing them at D.C instead of Mecca
  5. It is improper for an Arabic-speaking guard to enter a room with two or more prisoners without first announcing his understanding, especially if the conversation is about good flight schools or the number of security cameras at the White House.
  6. Definition of torture includes hanging an Israeli flag or a poster of Paris Hilton in full view of a prisoner
  7. The television must pick up AlJazeera, and the BBC, not Playboy After Dark and Fox News Channel.
  8. If during security checks a prisoner announces he has a Koran in that pillow case, it is a human rights violation to inspect it, no matter what the bomb-sniffing dog thinks.
  9. When prisoners extol the virtues of Allah, it is blashphemous for the guard not to at least feign interest
  10. "Priest, Rabbi and a Mullah" jokes are grossly insensitive, implying the Mullah would fraternize with a Zionist and his Papist lapdog.

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Thursday, May 26, 2005

Sure, they've got 12,000 rockets 

JPost informs us:

[Nasrallah] also issued a direct warning to Israel that the organization has more than 12,000 rockets that were capable of reaching all of northern Israel.
Oh, like I'm so scared.

When he's got the 12,000 suicide bombers strapped to the rockets, then we'll talk.


AbbaGav is Building Character 

The NBA held its Draft Lottery this week. As a Laker fan, I've rarely concerned myself with this demeaning spectacle, other than to make snide remarks about how it must be the highlight of the year for fans of habitually losing teams like Atlanta, Cleveland, and the "other" L.A. But this year, I was forced to swallow my pride and fasten my bandwagon seatbelt for a rough stretch of road, because it was my team's turn to toss their lot in with the rest of the losers for the first time in a decade.

They say losing builds character. Maybe so, but in the NBA character is overrated. Until they start adding incentive clauses for helping old ladies across the street and signing autographs with a smile, that isn't likely to change. However, the character of a team's fans is still a valued asset, except in Detroit.

My own brush with character started with my years as a Packer fan, watching them lose year after year, with only fading memories of prehistoric success, Super Bowl victories I'd never seen. The 70s and 80s witnessed rapid expansion of my character as the Packers totally sucked. The beauty of all this is that when they finally turned things around in the 90s with Brett Favre's arrival, I had all this surplus character built up to help me appreciate how truly special and unexpected the success was. Although the Lakers are my "first love" within the sports world, I have to say that the Packers' single Super Bowl victory in 1997 was probably more uplifting to me than the countless championships won by the Lakers. For decades the Lakers have been expected to win, which kind of puts a cap on how special the eventual victory can actually feel.

If people really wanted their teams to win every game, with little risk of ever losing, then Harlem Globetrotters jerseys would be the top-sellers and Meadowlark Lemon would have his own sports drink. When the Globetrotters win their "championship", no one cares, they've proven nothing except that the old "bucket of confetti" trick still works. Without risking defeat, they gain little in victory. It's like that Twilight Zone episode where the guy is magically winning at everything he tries and starting to get tired of it, and only then does he find out he's in hell, and will never do anything but win for eternity.

So, if any NBA fans out there want to tease me a little bit about the awful season my Lakers had, and point out how pathetic it is to pin my hopes for a better future on the 10th pick in the draft, I say go ahead. It will just make the Lakers' coming championship next year that much sweeter.
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Wednesday, May 25, 2005

There are no terrorist groups in Syria 

I thought there were no terrorist groups based in Syria.

There are no terrorists inside our country and Syria is in full control of its borders," said a Syrian official.
Only media offices, and those have all been closed.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Powell specifically mentioned three groups -- Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, General Command -- and quoted Powell as saying the United States will watch closely to determine whether the offices are indeed closed.
As it turns out, Bashar didn't close them. Instead, they eventually closed down of their own accord because of the pressure on Bashar.

Later, the offices were closed, at the initiative of the Palestinian organizations themselves, who did so after they saw the pressure on Syria, and this was their own initiative.
So there are a few little puzzles to solve in these AP pictures (via Yahoo):


Khaled Mashaal, centre, the head of the Hamas militant group, shaking hands Sunday, May 22, 2005 with Farouk Kaddoumi, the head of the Fatah movement during a rare meeting held in Damascus comprising prominent leaders of Palestinian opposition groups. Ramadan Shalah, the head of the Islamic Jihad militant group, appears smiling at right. Syria once allowed Palestinian militants to run media offices from Damascus, but those were closed after a visit by then U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell in May 2003. (AP Photo/Bassem Tellawi).
Here is the first obvious question: given that there are no terrorist groups in Syria, if these guys aren't terrorists, who is? (Bush=Hitler fans, please keep the barking down).

The picture's caption reassures us that these really aren't terrorist groups; they are opposition groups. That's a nice new euphemism. I'm sure the victims of bus bombings will be pleased to know they haven't been terrorized but oppositionized. This labeling confusion is an inevitable part of the Global War on Opposition. Whether these men represent terrorists groups, or opposition groups, isn't so important really, since the office closings requested by Secretary Powell were of specific groups (Hamas, Islamic Jihad, PFLP) rather than those associated with the slippery term 'terror'.


From right, Nayef Hawatmeh, the leader of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Ramadan Shalah, the head of the Islamic Jihad, Khaled Mashaal, the head of the Hamas militant group, Farouk Kaddoumi, the head of the Fatah movement, and Khaled al-Fahoum, the former head of the Palestine National Council, during a rare meeting held in Damascus Sunday, May. 22, 2005, to discuss inter-Palestinian issues and the latest developments in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian lands. Syria once allowed Palestinian militants to run media offices from Damascus, but those were closed after a visit by then U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell in May 2003. (AP Photo/Bassem Tellawi).
Next obvious question: if the "media offices" were closed, where are these guys meeting? Did Bashar just give them the keys to an office down the hall? As long as they don't go back into the closed offices, I guess Bashar doesn't really care where they meet.

This leads to the question that is more than just cute blog-venting. After voluntarily closing their own offices to reduce the pressure on the young optometrist, why have these terrorist leaders decided to openly meet in Damascus now?

Since the offices' closings, Mashaal and other Damascus-based Palestinian leaders have kept low profiles, speaking to reporters from other Arab countries to avoid embarrassing Syrian authorities.
[Hawatmeh] said Sunday's meeting was held to prepare for another broader meeting either in Damascus or in Cairo. He did not say when the meeting will be held.
Sounds like they've held this first meeting, and after a few days standing back to watch which way the wind blows, will try to meet again in Damascus, slowly reestablishing the old status quo if no one objects.

What changed in the calculation? Why do they feel now is the time to try this? It could be they've stopped worrying about Bashar. Or it could be they no longer care what Colin Powell threatened them with, if they ever did in the first place.

Either way, I think someone should object.
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Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Tears of the Sun 

I'd like to tell you a little bit about a movie I just watched, Tears of the Sun. While a 2005 review of a 2003 movie is admittedly a little stale, the movie had enough heart to demand I comment on it, even belatedly.

I would love to review movies before they come out. Unfortunately, I'm not generally invited to premieres and screenings -- my only invite was to a test screening of "Pee Wee's Big Adventure" back in the day. In the end, my reviews generally have to wait for the distribution lag to reach Israel, then for the film to leave theatres since we rarely make it to The Cinema, and then to show up on cable at which point I can record it and then watch it several months later when I have time. Which, in the case of Tears of the Sun was a mere two weeks ago -- the review itself had to wait in line behind a bunch of top ten lists and mocking screeds I had to write first.

Before we dive in, please note this SPOILER ALERT: for those who haven't yet seen the film and would like to watch it without knowing the details of exactly how the good guys save the day (mostly), or the outcome of other intrigues along the way, please turn off your monitor now -- I'll tell you when you can turn it back on.

Great, now that they're gone:

First, the plot summary in one breath: Bruce Willis leads a commando team into fictional unrest in Nigeria to rescue Doctor Monica Belluci from cruel, butchering rebels, but she refuses to go until he agrees to also save her patients, which he does, but only after much dithering and night walking in the jungle, eventually leading these refugees to the border, where they intervene on behalf of a village in the process of being slaughtered, and eventually are saved despite mass carnage by the timely arrival of a bunch of air-support bombs.

Is the movie as entertaining as I make it sound? Yes, and perhaps 15% more. This thing has got it all: thought-provoking violence, Monica Belluci's cleavage, authentic-looking jungle mud splattered everywhere. And Bruce Willis carries the film, fully utilizing that amazing emotional range of his, honed at the Mount Rushmore Thespian Academy. With all this going for it, I found Tears of the Sun to be easily worth the price of admission -- especially since blank video cassettes were on sale last month.

Sure, there are a few glaring, cosmetic problems. Actually the main problem, literally, is glaring cosmetics. When Bruce Willis saves "Doctor" Belluci, he also has to save her makeup artist, stylist and cleavage consultant, all of whom appear to make the full trek through the jungle with her. The refugees successfully plod through the dark jungle, even on a moonless night, thanks only to the light reflected from the good Doctor's lip gloss. The only reason they come so close to being caught is that the whole crowd has to stop periodically to refresh the light spritz of faux sweat misting her lovely forehead, and ensure that her blouse is properly unbuttoned.

However, the Hollywood cliches serve primarily as a commercial skin, layered over the serious issue troubling the movie's director, Antoine Fuqua. His obsession with the slaughters that have ravaged Africa drives the film and its characters. When Bruce Willis makes his key transformative decision, to abandon his literal orders and risk everything to save whatever he and his men can, we receive little dramatic justification. Bruce Willis is not so much a character in the film, as a stand-in for the director's conscience -- and ours. While that is a weak point in the film's story-telling, it is the source of whatever energy the film does have. In translating to film his anguish over American inaction in Africa, Fuqua forces us to look at the uneasy feelings we'd rather forget, the sense we should have done something.

Sure, the recipe he shows us for what could have been done is positively Bruckheimer-esque. Watching Willis in action, it's easy to believe that even the world's toughest problems could be solved if we would just send in a team of US commandos with enough ammo. But Fuquaa does toss in small hints of what else is needed: the integrity of Willis and his men, the courage to not look away, and the hope democracy can bring a better day. In the end, his rather muddled fantasy of how things should have been better fails to convince, because he doesn't fully transmit his faith and understanding in his proposals. For instance, the original, good Nigerian dictator apparently was about to bring democratic change to his people, except the rebels murdered him before he got around to it. We learn this from his only surviving son, whom we find hidden amongst the refugees, zealously guarded from rebel wrath. In the end, the son is saved and almost worshipped by the mass of survivors as the one true hope of restoring their lost tribal dictatorship. Fuqua seems blind to the irony. He can't bring himself to choose between the democracy his brain knows is needed, and the tribal monarchy his heart still admires despite the misery it engenders.

All this notwithstanding, as Hollywood films go, it's a not a bad start. Ok, the rest of you can turn your monitors back on now.
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Monday, May 23, 2005

Rolling Stones throw it in the toilet 

Rush & Molloy (hat tip: Salon.com) have the story of how Guitar World Magazine polled some rock bands for their real life Spinal-Tap-worthy stories. This one pegged my laugh-meter at 11:

As the Rolling Stones get ready to head out again on the road, Ron Wood can laugh about it - the night he and the lads thought they were all going to be busted.

"We were doing drugs in the dressing room," says Wood, remembering a concert in the early '80s. "Suddenly the tour manager stuck his head around the door and said, 'The police are here!' We all panicked and threw our drugs in the toilet.

"Then Sting, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland walked in."
I hate when that happens.
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What Could Have Been 

Sigh. I always wanted to be a big league baseball player. Might have made it too, except for a glaring lack of talent. But now I see what the problem must have been, too much email:

Cubs right-hander Carlos Zambrano has been told to cut back on his computer time because the hours he's spending typing could be contributing to his elbow problems.
If only I'd hired a typist all those years. If only...

Someone Didn't Get the Memo: Two Hands! 

AP, via Yahoo, shows the picture of a "Muslim Preacher" embarrassingly holding the Koran with only one hand:


Muslim preacher Maher Haraz holds a copy of Islam's holy book, the Quran, during an anti-American demonstration in the West Bank town of Nablus Friday May 20, 2005. Hundreds of demonstrators, unmollified by a now-retracted magazine allegation that U.S. soldiers desecrated a copy of the Muslim holy book, streamed out of mosques Friday chanting 'Death to America, death to Israel'. (AP Photo/Nasser Ishtayeh)
Well, I'm sure the preacher's heart is in the right place, but chants of "Death to the Enemy" don't excuse disrespect to the holy book. Maybe he feels entitled, after all his years as a preacher, to a few advanced, one-handed carrying techniques -- kind of like drivers: nobody drives with two hands once they're out of driving school. But doesn't he realize he's a role model? What about all the knuckle-dragging Guantanamo guards, surfing the net for prisoner porn, who might stumble across the good preacher's pic? Once they lay their eyes on his stylish carry, all the rules in the world might not be enough to control them:

"Two hands will be used at all times when handling Korans in a manner signaling respect and reverence," the rules state.
I think somebody needs a few hours of sensitivity training.
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Sunday, May 22, 2005

BBC: US 'could win over Muslim world' 

The BBC reports that:

The US-based Council of Foreign Relations surveyed college-educated people in Egypt, Morocco and Indonesia. It found a lot of hostility towards the US, but also concluded that there was a chance for change.
What are some of the main things the U.S. needs to do differently?

The support of the educated elite in the Muslim world - the group surveyed - is vital for US-backed reforms, the report's authors say.

"Although many Muslims are angry at what they perceive America does, the right efforts to communicate can produce significant shifts in attitude.

"Such efforts would involve listening more, speaking in a humbler tone, and focusing on bilateral aid and partnership, while tolerating disagreement on controversial policy issues."
Well, this is really great. It's like they're just handing us a a step-by-step manual for how to win their affection. That's tremendous news. So let me get this straight, all we have to do is

Come on guys! That's waaay too easy. If that's all it takes, I think the Islamic world isn't going to just like us, they're going to abolutely adore us! Are you sure there isn't something else we could do?

-- Well, now that you mention it, there are one or two other little details, almost not worth mentioning. But, since you asked, we might as well just say it, what with all this listening and humility and tolerance in the air. So, in addition to those big ones, if you could also take care of these last few minor little points, we should be able to wrap up this Jihad in no time:

There now, that's not so bad is it? What's all the fighting for?
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These are the Other Koran Allegations? 

Newsweek shines a little light into the further corners of all the supporting allegations of Koran abuse. This is to their credit, assuming it's intentional.

In fewer than a dozen log entries from the 31,000 documents reviewed so far, said Di Rita, there is a mention of detainees' complaining that guards or interrogators mishandled their Qur'ans. In one case, a female guard allegedly knocked a Qur'an from its pouch onto the detainee's bed. In another alleged case, said Di Rita, detainees became upset after two MPs, looking for contraband, felt the pouch containing a prisoner's Qur'an. While questioning a detainee, an interrogator allegedly put a Qur'an on top of a TV set, took it off when the detainee complained, then put it back on. In another alleged instance, guards somehow sprayed water on a detainee's Qur'an. This handful of alleged cases came out of thousands of daily interactions between guards and prisoners, said Di Rita. None has been substantiated yet, he said.

In December 2002, a guard inadvertently knocked a Qur'an from its pouch onto the floor of a detainee's cell, Di Rita said. A number of detainees protested. That January, partly in response to the incident and partly to provide precise guidelines for new guards and interrogators, the Guantanamo commanders issued precise rules to respect the "cultural dignity of the Koran thereby reducing the friction over the searching of the Korans." Only chaplains or Muslim interpreters were allowed to inspect detainees' Qur'ans. "Two hands will be used at all times when handling Korans in a manner signaling respect and reverence," the rules state. "Ensure that the Koran is not placed in offensive areas such as the floor, near the toilet or sink, near the feet, or dirty/wet areas..."

Di Rita said that the Pentagon may look further into the reports found in the logs. The Pentagon is not ruling out the possibility of finding credible reports of Qur'an desecration. But so far, said Di Rita, it has not found any.
I'm trying to think of something clever, inciteful and witty to say about this. But I'm not sure I can top the simple text. When people are justifying the false reports by pointing out all the other allegations, they'd best check out what they're talking about before playing for double or nothing with their credibility.

What have we got?

We have a false report. We have numerous ridiculous cases of inadvertent, meaningless, or even staged "desecrations". We have training manuals from the inmates' organization teaching them to stage this theatre of the absurd for political advantage.

Please stop giving it to them.
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Saturday, May 21, 2005

Top 10 Signs it's Time to Retire from P.A Security 

  1. Started cutting the fuses too short.
  2. Photographed by Reuters without your scarf over your face
  3. Rashid Abu Shabak just asked if he could speak with you alone for a few minutes.
  4. Can't afford to lose your remaining hand in another work accident
  5. John Lennon's song "Give Peace a Chance" stuck in your head.
  6. Finally want time for pleasure reading, "Mein Kampf" and "The Protocols" have been sitting on your nightstand too long.
  7. Can't remember the proper ratio of nails to ball-bearings any more
  8. Want more free time to attend your kids' school presentations, son is first leaper in this year's "Flaming Rings of Death" show
  9. Rest of the family voted Hamas.
  10. Starting to wonder what Arafat did with all that aid money.

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Friday, May 20, 2005

IMRA: Joint Hebrew U-Al Quds U. statement 

From IMRA - Thursday, May 19, 2005, Joint HU-Al Quds U. statement to counter British boycott:

In reaction to the academic boycott of Israeli academic institutions declared by the British Association of University Teachers (AUT), Hebrew University of Jerusalem President Prof. Menachem Magidor and Al-Quds University President Prof. Sari Nusseibeh today signed a joint statement in London calling for academic cooperation. The statement comes in affirmation of the continuing academic cooperation between the two universities.
AUT is now more Catholic than the Pope? Calling for boycotts that Al Quds University doesn't support? I'm sure Prof. Nusseibeh will be condemned for this (and not just by Hamas). But I can only offer my admiration for a principled stand.
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Thursday, May 19, 2005

Jerusalem Mufti Unhappy with Catch-and-Release 

From an AFP story, via Yahoo (hattip to IMRA)

Israeli security services revealed they had arrested nine people suspected of plotting to attack the third holiest site in Islam as Jewish militants stepped up their bid to wreck the Gaza Strip pullout. [...] The arrests of the nine, who have all been released, followed an operation led by the Shin Beth internal security agency on suspicion that a group intended to buy one or more anti-tank missiles to attack Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, police sources said.
Well that was close. Apparently they thought about taking the mosque down, maybe planned on trying it, but were caught well before they could do anything serious. Good work all around.

Here's the reaction I find interesting though:

The Palestinian mufti of Jerusalem, Ekremah Sabri, accused the Israeli government of conspiring with extremists for failing to put them in preventative custody.

'Their release is a tell-tale sign of a kind of complicity. How can they be released when they are planning to attack the Al-Aqsa mosque? There is complicity and a lack of seriousness,' Sabri told AFP.
Geez that really sounds familiar. Like I've heard of this catch-and-release thing somewhere before.

Personally, I'd like the mufti's words printed up and posted on every wall in Ramallah and Gaza, maybe even a copy stapled to Mahmoud Abbas' desk. Abbas, like Arafat before him, has been engaged in this "kind of complicity", arresting and releasing, for years. The difference between the Palestinian and Israeli revolving doors is that the Israelis released people who were arrested before they could attack a building. The Palestinians agree to wait until after the murder of innocents before locking up killers for the weekend.

When it comes to "consipiring with extremists", no one does it like the Palestinians.
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Woman Finds Hate Message in Koran 

I know, I know, this is old news. Every blogger who can read Arabic, link to Daniel Pipes, or get their own English translation of the Koran has posted some variation on this topic. But it's not the hate message you think.

From Reuters, via Wired (also independently at LA Times):

L.A. woman finds hate message in copy of Koran

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A Muslim group on Wednesday demanded a public apology from online bookseller Amazon.com for its part in delivering a used copy of the Koran with the words "Death to all Muslims" scrawled across the inside cover.

Los Angeles graduate student Azza Basarudin, who ordered a used copy of the holy book through Amazon.com from a third-party, said that when she discovered the message "I actually dropped the book."

"I was taken back to after Sept. 11 and my fear of even leaving my apartment," Basarudin told a news conference.
That is a nasty surprise. As a Jew, I can sympathize -- I'm sure if I had a Koran shipped to me and opened it, I would find some variation on the message, "Death to the Jews". No, seriously, she is entitled to this reaction, and Amazon should do something to make it up to her, and to ensure that it won't happen again. So let's see, how should she go about bringing this to Amazon's attention so they can handle it? An email to the customer service department? Perhaps a phone call?

The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) said Basarudin brought the matter to them about two weeks ago. The Council contacted Amazon.com who have apologized to Basarudin, refunded her money, sent out a new copy of the Koran and issued her a gift certificate.

Amazon said it had also suspended Pennsylvania-based Bellwether Books, which packaged and mailed the Koran in question, from selling the Koran and had asked for an internal investigation.
Well pardon my skepticism. She went right to a 4-letter interest group, which generally is a sign to me of agenda rather than problem solving. But it all worked out fine. Isn't that great? Amazon apologized. They refunded her money and sent her a new Koran as well, and even gave her a gift certificate to boot. With that kind of haul, I hope the next Dr. Seuss book I order through Amazon has "Death to Star Belly Sneetches" scrawled on the cover. And on top of that, Amazon has brought the hammer down on the distributer responsible for the mistake. I'm always happy to report the stories with a happy ending.

It is a happy ending isn't it?

But the MPAC said it wanted Amazon to issue a public apology and condemnation and establish a zero-tolerance policy toward sellers and employees.
Oh. Amazon did apologize, and their actions have been exceptionally responsive. But MPAC needs this thing called a zero-tolerance policy. Hmmm, what would that be? Would that be like Arab states' policies toward decapitation of Westerners -- almost as bad as writing death threats in a book, except the victim isn't scared, since he's dead. Or maybe the zero-tolerance of stabbing renegade film-makers to death -- that one is actually working, since after Theo Van Gogh's death, he hasn't been stabbed again at all.

I'd like Amazon to take MPAC up on the offer. A fair trade, zero-tolerance for zero-tolerance. When the head chopping and bus bombings stop, we'll know they mean it. Or if MPAC and its fellow travellers would simply condemn these acts, consistently and without excuse, that would be good too. Note how no one at Amazon says, "Sorry. But... you have to understand the book-packing employee's rage at customer arrogance."

"It is important for business leaders to come out with a zero tolerance policy. Amazon has a responsibility to make a public apology and condemnation," said spokeswoman Edina Lekovic.

Lekovic said the desecrated Koran was part of a "cult of hate that may exist and may be on the rise."
Yeah, that Koran is a part of a "cult of hate that may exist" and be "on the rise". The cult just might not be the one she's thinking of.
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Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Iraq Al Qaeda Leader Defends Slaying of Muslims 

I suppose this will cheer up all the grieving relatives of Muslim-Iraqi terror victims:

Al Qaeda's leader in Iraq defended the killing of "innocent Muslims" in suicide bombings against U.S. forces, saying it was legitimate under Islam for the sake of jihad (holy war), according to an audio tape attributed to him today.

"The killing of infidels by any method including martyrdom (suicide) operations has been sanctified by many scholars even if it means killing innocent Muslims. This legality has been agreed upon ... so as not to disrupt jihad," Abu Musab al-Zarqawi said on the tape posted on an Islamist Web site.
One can only hope that the "mainstream" Muslims in Iraq, and throughout the world, will someday realize that embracing Islam is a death sentence. There is no "volunteering" for Jihad. Jihad will come to you.

"Protecting religion is more important than protecting (Muslim) lives, honour or wealth," said the man who sounded like Zarqawi. "The shedding of Muslim blood ... is allowed in order to avoid the greater evil of disrupting jihad."
In case anyone thought being Muslim would protect them as their correligionists go after the Jews and infidels, they'd best think again. Zarqawi and his Jihadis are playing a game of death in which everyone else is just a pawn to be sacrificed.

He said Muslims killed unintentionally in such attacks were "martyrs who died for Islam".
What he means is "Don't worry, if you are blown up on your way to the supermarket, at least you will have a street named after you somewhere in Ramallah." Who wouldn't be comforted by that?

And if they tell you that Israel shouldn't worry about Iranian nukes, because it would be impossible for the Ayatollahs to drop them on the Jews without killing all the Israeli Muslims, well...
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Next Newsweek Story I Expect to See 

I'm having nightmares:

Blogger Fans the Flames
A sensitive NEWSLEAK report about disrespect to Islam in the Blogosphere results in a surge of deadly unrest in the Islamic world.

By Bud Gisser

May 30 Issue - Reports from Sudan and Afghanistan confirm a renewed wave of deadly anti-American riots. Crowds of Islamic worshippers surged through the streets after prayer with cries of "Protect the Holy Book" and "Kill the Infidels". Scores have been killed with hundreds more injured in the swell of anger, triggered by a NEWSLEAK report of an inflammatory blog posting by obscure Israeli blogger, AbbaGav.

At a press conference earlier this week, Shiek El Fareeq, a popular and fiery Imam, wildly waved a copy of NEWSLEAK magazine and jabbed his finger in the air as he denounced the Jews [ed: he means Zionists] and their American lackeys. The Shiek and his community were outraged by the NEWSLEAK report exposing the disrespect contained in one of AbbaGav's posts, in which he repeatedly failed to capitalize the word Qu'ran, at times even resorting to the more disrespectful "K" spelling [ed: which for issues of liability we may not reprint here].

Talking about the inflammatory AbbaGav website reported in NEWSLEAK, the Shiek, well-versed in western media issues, thundered, "The Islamic Nation will rise up and punish this infidel, and his Blogosphere cohorts, who live in a journalistic cesspool, lacking the many layers of fact-checking and responsibility, and respect for Islam, of reputable media outlets, like our good friends at NEWSLEAK."

Related Stories in this Issue:
Licensing Bloggers -- An Idea Whose Time Has Come?
Franken: I Told You Bloggers Were Nuts
Carter to Fly AbbaGav to Afghanistan for Negotiations

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Let Jimmy Carter Babysit For You 

Some Important Reasons Why Jimmy Carter Should Babysit For You
-- From the Carter Center for Decency in BabySitting

  1. His compassionate work with some of the world's leading tyrants leaves him well-equipped to deal with your "terrible two". Some sample techniques:
    • "My what a talented screamer you are!"
    • "Is five enough lollipops?"
    • "Have you ever spanked an ex-President?"

  2. Your kids took a vote and, in a close race supervised by Jimmy himself, they picked him as their new babysitter. We know you didn't ask for his help, but he thought it was important.

  3. He is a Nobel Prize winner, how many parents have a Nobel Prize winner babysitting for them?

  4. The lust thing was only in his heart.

  5. You won't come home to children all riled up from arguing with the babysitter about that 8pm bedtime, as Jimmy's negotiating skills will have helped everyone mutually agree on an 8:30pm compromise. Of course, the kids will likely still be awake at 11:30pm, but that should allow you quality time to get in that last nurturing hug.

  6. His Nobel Prize was for seeking peaceful methods to solve conflict, not warmongering like some presidents, and that's got to be good for kids, right?

  7. He's full of great stories that kids love:
    • He can tell your kids about the little green men.
    • The story of how he fought off the giant killer rabbit with nothing but a boat oar and bravery is always a favorite.
    • The amazing tale of his trip to Africa to battle worms

  8. As a trained nuclear engineer, he will be able to recognize any early signs of radiation sickness in your kids, should they develop while he's on duty -- peace of mind few babysitters can offer.

  9. Did we mention the Nobel Prize?

  10. He'll work for peanuts.
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Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Wanted: Courageous Anti-Religious Artist 

I don't want to add too much fuel to the Newsweek fire, since it's already blazing pretty hot. But, given the ease with which so many seem to accept the idea that Muslims should riot and slaughter over allegations of a Koran being mistreated, I do have one thing I'd like to see now.

I'm waiting for a visionary, Bush-bashing, West-hating, latte-sipping artiste with the courage to drop a Koran in a jar of urine, call it "Pisslam" and display it with pride in the Museum of Pretentious Art. I'm sure it would be VERY popular, even more popular than Piss Christ was. Heck, a life spent behind a living wall of bodyguards would be worth all the publicity.

When we can find an artist willing to tackle such a project (and survive more than a few days after), then I'll be ready for the lectures about the Religion of Peace vs. Judeo-Christian intolerance.

Until then, I wonder why Andres Serrano picked the crucifix instead? Bad PR move if you ask me.
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Monday, May 16, 2005

My New Title: Free Market Czar 

Don't get me wrong, I'm no socialist, but when I glimpse all the goodies I'm missing out on, I want to have my free market cake and eat it too. You see, I often hear things like, "The market is smarter than any individual." All I know is, whatever individual made up that one wasn't exactly tooting his own horn. But if the market is so smart, how do you explain things like: peanut butter jelly beans, noodle fans, and main stream media?

So I hereby annoint myself Czar of the Free Market. From now on, market forces will still drive most goods hither and thither, but with a few Czar-mandated improvements added to wise the market up:

  1. Henceforth, NBA game video will be distributed over the internet so I can watch my Lakers, no matter where I live. BitTorrent would already do this legally today if it weren't for a local burp in the free market's digestive system. The NBA suits can charge some money for it; in fact, I hereby decree the price to be 52 cents per game. Why not? Or, if they were as smart as I am -- I have to be smart, I'm the Czar -- they would realize that the extra international exposure would increase global sales of Lebron James' jerseys enough to cover the costs all by itself. And the rest of that revenue, my friends, is all green gravy. How smart is that free market looking now?

  2. Good American cheddar cheese must be made available in Israel, immediately. I haven't had a decent plate of cheese-covered nacho chips in ages. I don't know exactly how this should be done, whether you have to ship American cow embryos to Israel so we can raise proper cheddar herds, or if it is just a matter of a continuous FedEx airlift dropping nightly coolers by parachute. These details I delegate to the free market, let it do the dirty work, that's what it is for. I, meanwhile, have to move on to more important matters -- but please, someone ping me when this one is solved, I'm really hungry.

  3. Now, for my important decision: from now on, we will all drive electric or hybrid vehicles. The market can make these, it even does to a certain extent, and is starting to slowly build up a customer base. But it is waaaay too slow. Do you really think our pushers, the mullahs, shieks, princes and ayatollahs, are going to just sit around, waiting decades for us to detox at our leisure? No, we need a Petrol-anon intervention, and we need it now -- and I'm just the Czar to bring the cold turkey.

Bottom line: I really want to trust the free market, but will it always find the answers we need? Maybe for NBA Games, and Cheddar Cheese, we have room for error and can afford to wait while the market settles into successive equilibriums. But some questions are almost existential in their importance, with little room for error; for instance: how to manage our oil depency. Do we really let the market just pick the lowest cost solution at each moment in time, sucking every last subsidized drop out of the ground while it's cheap, and then choosing horse and buggy as the cheapest solution the next day?

Oil's impending demise has long been foretold, so it has become a prophecy easily ignored. Meanwhile, we allow the cheap price of oil to seduce us away from taking steps to protect ourselves, apparently content to wait for Hollywood-style scientists to invent magic solutions the day before the oil runs out. When you consider the risks we face in oil markets, mostly controlled by interests inherently inimical to us, it strikes me as unbelievable that we simply pocket the cheap prices and guzzle until we're glutted. At the risk of sounding like a peanut farmer, if I truly could be "Czar for a day", I'd be sorely tempted to nudge the market for oil consumption toward hybrid and electric cars, with nuclear power generation for the grid and drastically improved battery technology for delivery. Of course, as a Czar, I'd be clever enough to avoid past mistakes.

The market doesn't seem to see it my way. I hope it's smarter than I am.
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Inquiring Palestinians Want to Know 

Inquiring Palestinians want to know, and they will have their answer. You see, their rotting, diseased bastard of a leader finally croaked after 75 years. For much of that time, the only thing uglier than his face had been his health: he had long suffered from Parkinsons' tremors, gall stones, rumors of stomach cancer, amd even taken numerous AIDS tests for some strange reason. So naturally, his last wheezing breath now just a memory, a question lingers in the air amongst polite Fatah society. They just want to know, now that the burying and fumigating is over: Who killed Arafat?

Entitled "Who killed Arafat," the campaign is being launched on one of Fatah's official sites (www.Fateh.tv). A statement issued by the organizers said their goal was to force the PA leadership to launch a serious investigation to end the mystery surrounding Arafat's death.
We need to be clear. We just want the truth. This is to be a serious investigation, with no preconditions, every option on the table. Of course, it's obvious that the cause of death is murder, assassination. But in finding out who, and how, we want to leave no stone unturned. After all, it might not simply be the Mossad. The Shin Bet can be a nasty bunch of buggers as well, and you can never rule out rogue settlers, or even Ariel Sharon himself. And then there is trying to figure out how they did it. Sure, sure, the Israeli death ray is the obvious culprit, but we cannot, a priori, rule out poisoned takeout pizza, or any other insidious Zionist methods.

Wait. You say you don't understand why it's so obvious it was murder? That maybe he just simply died?

Ha! Please! Anyone with the survival instincts of Arafat, able to cling so desperately to the last tenuous wisps of health for so long, a man who basically worked from his death bed for decades, surely a man like that couldn't just fly off to Paris and die in his bed. Obviously, the Martyr of Martyrs was murdered, that much goes without saying.

Watch your local mainstream media for future results of this serious investigation.

My leading candidate for cause of death: blood loss, from all the AIDS tests.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Try Huffington's Toast 

First, in case you haven't checked out what Arianna Huffington's mega-all-star Blog is all about, pop over to her old site, get a feel for the original. But don't waste too much time poring over the old site in detail, unless you're so amped up you're sure you won't nod off and break your nose on your keyboard.

Now check out new and improved, Huffington's Toast. You'll be glad you did.
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Friday, May 13, 2005

Memory of my confidence-building encounter 

I still remember naivete, and the day I lost a lot of it. Of course, many of you to my right will disagree, claiming I never lost it. While those to my left will say it wasn't naivete I lost. So be it, I welcome your comments.

The day was in January 2001, early in the most recent intifada. My aunt and uncle were visiting and wanted to see famous sites in the Old City, including places in Arab dominated sections. I was definitely a bit nervous, not wanting to be stupid and dead, but also not wanting to give in to the fear of terrorism. I agreed to take them, with a nervous eye watching everyone suspiciously, and incredibly self-conscious of my kippa.

Obiously, we weren't killed, in fact, almost no one paid us any attention at all. I do remember the exception: a little boy walked into a bathroom as I was washing up, and stared at me, tugging on his dad's shirt sleeve, apparently shocked to see someone like me. I assume based on Arab Propaganda he was worried I would kill him and use his blood for matzah.

Another thing that surprised me was the belligerancy of the grafitti on the walls. I had comforted myself in those years with the knowledge that Zionism was no longer Racism, at least officially, so I hadn't expected stuff like this:


After walking and sight-seeing for awhile, we stopped to purchase cheap souvenirs, otherwise known as "Proof I was There". The merchants in the area were overjoyed to serve us, as almost no tourists were venturing into the maze-like walkways leading to their shops. One particular merchant was especially inviting and polite, rushing over to a neighboring kiosk to get some bottled water for us while my aunt and uncle browsed the various knick-knacks he had on display. I had a feeling his politeness was genuine, because after a few minutes talking to my relatives, trying to distinguish his chotchkas from the identical chotchkas next-door, he spent the rest of the time chatting with me, even though I wasn't the tourist with the wallet.


It was a good conversation, perhaps one we both needed to have at that time. We quickly found that we both desired peace, but I wanted to nail down what his definition of peace was.

I proposed a hypothetical land-for-peace swap, asking if he could imagine such a thing. He nodded, "Sure, sure." I smiled, and he continued, "sure, we could have such a peace for a little while, but that could not be the end. For Muslims cannot agree to Jewish sovereignty forever here."

I tried to maintain the smile. "Well, I could handle that," I said, "if we have peace for a few hundred years, and work the rest out later." I felt sure that two such polite fellows, desiring peace, could agree to let future generations live and flourish, letting trust grow slowly, and down the road count on them to make any peace permanent.

"Oh, no, not centuries, certainly not."

Ok, centuries might be an exaggeration, I thought. Changing the relationship between Palestinians and Israelis wouldn't have to take centuries, just maybe a few generations, after all, Israel had only been a state for 50 years. "Well, ok, not centuries, of course, but decades, 50 years, something like that."

"Oh, no, certainly not that long." He was still smiling as he shook his head, but my smile was starting to slip.

I wouldn't give up. The violence had to stop, the dove of peace needed some oxygen to rest up and try again. "How about twenty years?" I probably should have known better than to think I would get anywhere haggling with a professional haggler.

"No. no."

I was growing frustrated, I wanted the seller to name his price. "Ok, so tell me, what do you think is possible? We can make a peace agreement, land for peace, then what?"

"It could last a couple years. But it is inevitable, Muslims cannot allow this Jewish rule to continue. We will have to fight until eventually Jews leave." I don't know if he was expecting Jews would just pull up stakes and get the heck out of Anatevka, or if it was a coded euphemism for slaughter. His words words were all so polite, all with a civil smile, serving me bottled water, yet promising expulsion or worse.

But at least I had my answer. It seems the definition of peace to a good many Arabs is a land free of troublesome Jews. After that, what's to fight about?

Since that time, when I read of the Arab strategy of stages, I believe they mean it. I know it's sometimes hard for lovers of peace to understand not everyone shares that outlook, but not everyone does. I still love peace, yearn for it. But it's going to take a long, long time. And a quicky deal isn't going to bring peace, just maybe a year or two of quiet, if that. What is needed is the fortitude to stand up to the challenges, year after year, decade after decade if need be.

How can you be willing to let Sharon "disengage" from Gaza then, isn't it just a quickie deal?

I can support the disengagement in so much as it will strengthen us for the decades of struggle ahead, putting resources where they are most needed, preparing for coming new struggles which also need attention. It will not bring peace. It is not part of a negotiation. It is a realignment of forces, a general's repositioning of troops on the battlefield.

My support is not carte blanche. If the government eventually concludes the risks are too great, or that factors on the ground turned out in a way that increased the danger unacceptably, I for one will not complain if the disengagement is called off -- I'm sure there are some who would. And I support those who dilligently identify the risks, demanding the government's decision be fully informed. But until then, call me naive, I will trust that in a democracy, all of the risks are identified, and the leadership makes decisions. If our nation of armchair generals can't trust even this government to run the country -- that is, raise its objections without accusations of treason and govenmental anti-semitism -- then Israel is essentially ungovernable; there isn't going to be a "better" government. At that point, the alternative is anarchy, each of us feeling entitled to rule based on the correctness of our opinion, rather than the ability to gather a majority.

And that would put a nice big smile on the polite merchant's face.
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Thursday, May 12, 2005

More moral leadership, less bad science 

MSNBC has an AP report that makes a huge deal out of a study that purports to show that brain responses are different in gay and straight men. We'll start with a look at the story's claims (they don't all stand up), then try to understand why AP and MSNBC felt this merited such spin and publicity (can you say agenda), and finish with a look at what has led the media to this pablum-pumping point (this part is the tragedy).

First the story:

The brains of homosexual men respond more like those of women when reacting to a chemical derived from the male sex hormone, new evidence of physical differences related to sexual orientation.
The story goes on to give some interpretation of what this result might mean:

Biological basis to sexual orientation?

In the Swedish study, when sniffing a chemical from testosterone, the male hormone, portions of the brains involved in sexual activity were activated in gay men and straight women, but not in straight men, the researchers found.

When they sniffed smells like cedar or lavender, all of the subjects brains reacted only in the olfactory regions that handles smells.

The result clearly shows a biological involvement in sexual orientation, said Sandra Witelson, an expert on brain anatomy and sexual orientation at the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada.
So AP summarizes this study as showing a "biological involvement in sexual orientation,"

Unfortunately, such a conclusion is premature at best. It relies on a quote solicited from the prestigious DeGroote School of Medicine at McMaster University in Ontario -- which hopes to someday be one of the top two or three medical schools in Canada -- rather than present the conclusions of the study itself. To see what's wrong, let's look at a non-AP source, which does present the conclusions of Dr. Savic:

Alternatively, Savic's finding may be just a consequence of straight and gay men using their brains in different ways.

"We cannot tell if the different pattern is cause or effect," Savic said. "The study does not give any answer to these crucial questions."

But the technique may provide an answer, Hamer noted, if it is applied to people of different ages to see when in life the different pattern of response develops.
Dr. Savic has not concluded whether the study shows built-in brain structure cause homosexuality, or whether some factors related to homosexuality cause changes in the brain. Clearly, these views inconvenience reporters who understand the research better than the researchers themselves do. Dr. Savic is willing to wait, why aren't the reporters? What's the rush? Are they worried President Bush and his Falwell Friends have already picked next Tuesday as "National, Round up Gays and Ship them to Guantanamo, Day"? Hmmm, don't answer that, they might really think that.

This leads us to the next question. Is it really that important? Why not just leave the story open-ended, waiting for future research, as Dr. Savic does?

Well, because without the reporter's conclusion, this story doesn't make the paper. Sure, this is fascinating stuff, but is it going to lead to miraculous, new treatments for testosterone poisoning? Doubtful. It's got no angle. But if it is further proof that gays smell things differently because that is how God made them, then the story gets a free pass from the bouncer to jump ahead in line, right to the front page, where it fits in quite nicely at the special table reserved for "Proving Homosexuality is not a Choice".

For many Americans, the issue hinges on the question of whether homosexuality is a choice or an innate characteristic with which people are born.

Advocates of gay rights say sexual orientation, like race or disability, can’t be changed, and therefore homosexuals should be protected like any other minority group. Opponents argue that homosexuality is a lifestyle choice that shouldn’t be rewarded.
Sadly, it seems proponents of gay rights believe they won't carry the day unless they win a bar bet over biology, by any means necessary.

That brings us to the tragedy. It appears that the (left-leaning) media has lost faith in the morality of its position, and argues now based on biology, thus binding itself in the trap of needing certain scientific outcomes to validate their position. What happened to supporting gay rights simply because it is the right thing to do? Marchers in Alabama didn't carry newspapers announcing phony scientific results of racial studies. They inspired America to change through the courage of their conviction.

Consider this: what will happen to gay rights if all the chips now riding on the biological bet are lost? After all, you can only get away with phony science for so long.

At the risk of losing readership, or of gaining a lot of angry comments, I will say that I support many gay rights (including partnership rights), regardless of whether it is a lifestye choice or a genetic necessity. And those I oppose (partnership rights being called marriage, for instance), I oppose regardless of the scientific results.

So please, stop the bad science. Stop the media distortion. Can we bring the arguments back to what is right or wrong? Or has the Left so given up on the morality of its convictions that it can't? The Left may say it has instead given up on the Right's moral convictions, but if so, they should know bogus science won't change the opposition's values.

I know the Bible says homosexuality is a sin, even an abomination in the jargon. I do not argue that we should white-out parts of the Bible and pencil in "not a sin" instead. However, we should remember there are many sins, some products of human nature and biology, and some simply defects of character. The sinners are still human beings who deserve fair treatment and compassion, life-style choices or not.

Just because the left oozes compassion to a fault, doesn't mean compassion is a fault.
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Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Memorial Day exposes true Palestinian agenda 

On the day sirens blare throughout Israel, calling Israelis to stand in silent memory of their fallen, soldiers and civilian terror victims alike, the Jerusalem Post's Khaled Abu Toameh reports on what the Palestinians will be mourning when their own siren sounds a few days later. Obviously, it must be the occupation, right? The occupation is source of the conflict, the raging, desperate justification of all the suicide bombings. After all, doesn't "Land for Peace" mean Israel surrenders occupied land in exchange for peace, and an end to grievance and fighting?

Well, not exactly. While the Palestinian line on CNN and the BBC is that the occupation is the problem, the thorn which must be removed from their side before there can be peace, this is a lie which obfuscates deeper, implacable demands. For the Palestinian Memorial Day siren mourns not the occupation and its toll, but Israel's very existence.

The Palestinians are planning to mark Israel's Independence Day by sounding a siren as an expression of mourning. The siren will be sounded throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip at noon on Sunday, and Palestinians have been asked to stand still for one minute to protest the establishment of Israel.
They don't protest the occupation, they protest Israel's existence. If this is how they try to inspire confidence in the underlying idea of Land for Peace, it's going to be a long, long negotiation. In the meantime, when you are told that terrorism is caused by the events of 1967, that Palestinian grievance is with occupation, remember what the Palestinian siren's wail means to them: Israel should not exist.
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Frist flatters and flirts with Abbas 

I'm trying to fight the instinct to run to my blog everytime I disagree with something I find published, so eager to expose even the slightest contradiction. But the urge is so strong, especially when my longer, more thoughtful piece isn't quite ready, and I haven't hung any fresh meat on the blog hook for a while. So...

The Jerusalem Post carried a piece by MJ Rosenberg that shows some, well, interesting thinking. Rosenberg effusively praises Senator Bill Frist for his conciliatory attitude to Mahmoud Abbas, regardless of whether it is justified:

Frist knows Abbas's limitations. For instance, last Tuesday Palestinian police arrested two men from a suspected Hamas rocket squad after a gun battle in the Gaza Strip, but freed them soon after. The good news, of course, is that the terrorists were arrested; the bad news is that they were let out.

But Frist's comments were designed to emphasize the first half of the story.
I would like to take this moment to mention to Mr. Rosenberg that I too was thinking of sending a sentimental E-Card to the Palestinian leader about that first half, except I think I misplaced his email address and abbas@frees.terrorists.pa didn't work. Seriously, I think more people would have praised that first half if Abbas hadn't cut them off mid-sentence with the second part. Abbas observed Arafat for many years, did he learn nothing? Always wait for the praise shower to finish before freeing the killers. Well, at least he still has Senator Frist as an admirer, and that's got to count for something.

Then Mr. Rosenberg whines by proxy on behalf of the Palestinians about the insulting and humiliating financial aid the US is sending:

But Finance Minister Fayyad also told Frist that the United States can make a big difference. "He discussed how important foreign assistance is to providing basic services for the Palestinians," Frist said. He also said that Palestinians appreciate the $200 million aid package requested by the president and appropriated by Congress.

But a funny thing happened to that $200 million on the way to the Palestinian Authority. It isn't $200 million anymore. The Senate gave $50 million of that sum to Israel (to build new terminals at the borders). Other "earmarks" reduce the Palestinian aid package even further. In fact, after all is said and done, the $200 million is now $139.5 million.

It is hard to know what the House and Senate were thinking. Rather than viewing Palestinian aid as a way of shoring up Abbas against Hamas, they went out of their way to cut the rug out from under him. This is not to say that there is anything wrong with putting conditions on foreign aid (why not?) or providing for independent audits of aid recipients – but why would Congress attach more conditions on aid to Abbas than it did on aid to Arafat?
So let me get this straight. The Palestinians are getting $139.5 million, tax free (that's more than Kobe Bryant makes, I think), and they are whining about it? They can't stand that Israel will be getting $50 million earmarked specifically to upgrade the border terminals and improve the flow of goods to and from PA territory?

This is absurd. The US could have just played it like a used car dealer, taping up an obscene sticker price on the old jalopy and then seducing prospective buyers with deep discounts.

The President, instead of requesting $200 million for the Palestinians, could have requested $50 million for Israel. When the Palestinians whined, he then could have slapped the conditions on Israel's money, and bought off at least a few minutes of quiet with the $140 million offer which would now look like the gift it is. Would this have satisfied Mr. Rosenberg and the Palestinians? I suspect President Bush knows the answer to that question, and that is why he didn't bother with the farce.

If the money is that humiliating, Abbas should reject it and get the Saudis and other oil-rich nations to chip in instead. At least he would have his dignity, if not the cash. And if he really needed the cash, he could always talk to Suha.
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Tuesday, May 10, 2005

BBC: Hamas and Elections 

The BBC covered the recent Palestinian municipal elections in which Hamas did fairly well. The first part of the piece was the usual precincts-and-percentages soup, with only a few little nuggets for the discerning palate.

The Fatah faction that Mr Arafat founded and led dominated the political scene for decades.

Under his leadership elections were rare. But now a phase of democratisation has begun, and Fatah is being put to the electoral test.
Wonderful description: "elections were rare". But I thought the BBC style-guide mandates Arafat as a "democratically elected leader," so what's to democratize? Ah well, bygones.

The surprising thing was that there was no purple finger angle to the story, showing how well the democratization is going. I guess the nasty Israelis intercepted all the purple ink shipments at the custom's terminals.

Then, there was the closing analysis, putting it all in perspective:

In Israeli eyes, Hamas is the worst kind of terrorist enemy.

Its charter still speaks of ultimately seeking to destroy Israel, and its suicide bombers have struck repeatedly.
So Hamas wants to "destroy Israel", does that really make them the worst kind of terrorist enemy? Only in Israeli eyes. In BBC eyes, I guess they're only a tad annoying.

Looking on the bright side, Hamas' intentions were quoted without words like "allegedly", so perhaps this is a step forward, now that the prestigious BBC is on record as noting without compromise their unvarnished intentions.

But its supporters regard Hamas as merely hitting back in retaliation for decades of dispossession and occupation at Israeli hands.

If the movement is able to exert significant influence over parliament and the decision making process here it will do everything it can to ensure that the Palestinian side drives the hardest possible bargain in any dealings with Israel.
I can't tell you how relieved Israelis are to hear that Hamas merely wants to drive the hardest possible bargain. Every shopper loves to find a great deal; it's only natural.

Wait a minute. Something is nagging at me, some important piece of BBC investigative journalism I read in the last, oh, 6-10 seconds. What was it again?

Oh right, "destroy Israel".

Is it possible that "hardest possible bargain" is a euphemism for that "seeking to destroy Israel" and "suicide bombing" business? As if Hamas's idea of the hardest possible bargain in the market of Land for Peace is actually the Palestinians getting all the land, and the Israelis getting a piece of the Meditteranean. The BBC seems to have a pretty unassailable position carved out for itself here, logic can't touch it: Hamas announces it wants to destroy Israel, which means if they are in power they will be good negotiators.

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds, but blithering inconsistency requires the BBC.

Dear British readers, do you consider your BBC fees well spent?
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Monday, May 09, 2005

New Palestinian Summer Camp Activity 

Please don't let the Palestinian Summer Camp Activity Director see this:

Indian army officers blow fire and perform in Bangalore as part of an exhibition designed to encourage young Indians to join. (via BBC)

Summer is already tough enough for the little Palestinian campers without having to learn the dreaded "Fire Breathing Pole Walk of Death". Of course, it does teach important life lessons, like... like... well, like learning to risk your life for no purpose, with complete self-disregard, just because you're told to. Of course, the typical camper's schedule's already chock-a-block with other important opportunities to prepare for adult life, should the campers actually grow up. Like:
A Palestinian boy jumps through a ring of fire in front of U.S. and Israeli flags during an Islamic Jihad movement anti-Israel rally, in Gaza, April 15,2005. Thousands of Palestinians attended the Islamic Jihad rally in Gaza. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem (hat tip: lgf)
It is impossible to understate, or is that overestimate, or even understand, just how critical it is to learn the dreaded "Leap Through the Flaming Ring of Death" drill. All too often, the children of weaker societies, when confronted with a Flaming Ring of Death, will balk at the critical moment and not leap through, merely walking around the ring instead. But years of summer camp prepare these kids to do it right, in later years even mastering advanced techniques like sticking marshmallows on each finger before jumping for that satisfying but gooey post-exercise treat.

Palestinian policemen take part in a drill in the West Bank city of Tulkarem. Close to 10,000 Israelis marched through Tel Aviv in a show of mass support for the proposed withdrawal of all troops and Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip in July as preparations gathered pace for the controversial evacuation.(AFP/Jaafar Ashtiyeh) (hat tip: lgf)

It's also impossible to imagine a stay at summer camp without the dreaded "Disgusting Pipe Crawl of Death". I won't dwell long on its pedagogic benefits, since if you've never done plumbing the hard way, you simply have no idea how difficult it is without proper training. Especially if you're doing it on an Israeli settlement. Surrounded by barbed wire. In camoflauge paint. Dragging an AK47 and a belt full of grenades. At night.

Two young Palestinians practice with unloaded weapons during a rally of the Al Aqsa Martyr’s Brigades militant group, in Gaza City Friday April 8, 2005. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa) (hat tip: lgf)

A few eager and very flexible campers are always selected to train for the Jihadiad, an event which is to the Summer Olympics what the biathalon's combination of skiing and shooting is to the Winter Olympics. Of course, the Jihadiad, combining gymnastics with marksmanship, hasn't yet been accepted as an official sport, but when it finally gets recognition, these kids should be ready to absolutely dominate.

Palestinian scouts play music in front of the Dome of the Rock mosque as they march in the Old City of Jerusalem. Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon plan to meet next month, officials said.(AFP/Atta Hussein) (hat tip: lgf)

Lastly, what camp experience would be complete without the "Blaring Bagpipes of Death". Sure it might just look like a simulated exercise in goose slaughter, but there is a method to the madness here. Each bagpipe is filled before the parade with sand equivalent to 2 kilos of semtex, just for practice. Sure, some of these kids may never be called on to put these important lessons to use, but the learning is important for its own sake.

Every society should raise such well-rounded kids.
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