Sunday, July 31, 2005

It's What He Doesn't Say 

The Jerusalem Post has some nice observations by Daoud Kuttab in the wake of the Sharm e-Sheikh bombings:

There was an eerie sense about the hotel and surrounding areas. No one wanted to talk about what happened, but it was clearly on everyone's mind. The signs would come in various ways. A person on the phone talking to a hospital. An makeshift sign saying "no to terrorism" in English; another in Arabic saying that the brave people of Sharm will not be deterred by terrorism.
Good for them.

But in amongst the things I'm glad to learn, are some little puzzles. There are two punches the author pulls that leave this Israeli scratching his head a little. The first is the discussion of theories of what happened and why:

One of the main topics of discussion was why the attack netted so many Egyptian casualties.

Reportedly, relatively few foreigners were among the dead. A theory was postulated by a Bir Zeit University professor who was staying at our hotel.

Returning to the hotel just minutes before the explosions, he had been stopped at a checkpoint and recalled that the security people looked very worried, examining everyone in the face as if they were looking for someone.

So perhaps Egyptian security had received a tip minutes before the blast, which explains why they fortified protection outside the main hotels frequented by foreigners. The bomber reportedly drove past one of these checkpoints and detonated his device near the old market, killing many Egyptians.

Another theory which is given credence is that the attack was connected to angry Sinai Beduin. They had it good during the years when Israel controlled the peninsula, so the theory went, and once Egypt regained sovereignty most of the best hotel and resorts jobs went to mainland Egyptians, leaving only menial work for the Bedouins.
Interesting. He doesn't mention that other little theory floating around. Maybe he hopes we in Israel haven't heard it and politely prefers not to disturb our complacent slumber. I would have guessed a reporter visiting Egypt looking into the explanation of a bombing would have heard the (Zionist) conspiracy theories being brought forward on the TV's around him. It would have been nice to have heard from him that the theory, while broadcast by a few nutcases on state-run TV, was dismissed as beneath contempt by everyone else. Or at least that he personally didn't believe it, which I hope and assume is the case. Instead, only deafening silence.

In fact, not only is the theory of Israeli/Jewish conspiracy absent from his commentary, there is no non-peripheral mention of Israel in any context. Given that his column appears, as it regularly does, in the Jerusalem Post, it is strange that he leaves the big questions hanging in mid-air unanswered, indeed, unasked. I'll ask though. In the Egyptians' growing recognition of the dangers of "terrorism", did anyone show the slightest awareness of Israel as the proving ground, the exercise yard for those who finally set their sights on their erstwhile Egyptian allies? Crickets chirping give more insight than our reporter chose to convey. I'm left to guess that he either fears being blackballed from the journalist's union and losing all access to P.A. sources should he mention the Emperor's New Suicide Vest, or else the answer was so ridiculously obvious that no one even considered the question.

Well, I hope Egypt will eventually realize that a doctor who found cancer in a patient would be sued for malpractice if he removed only a little piece here or there, while leaving a mass to fester malignantly in the organ next door. Not that malpractice lawsuit money ever helped a dead body.
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Saturday, July 30, 2005

Negotiation Lessons 

I'm not an expert on the problems between Israel and the U.S. over the sale of arms technology to China, but a recent development reported in Haaretz struck me as in important lesson:

After Israel raised a white flag and acquiesced to most of the demands, the U.S. made additional, harsher demands, and was said to have shown contempt for the Israeli delegation.
The next time Israel is pressured by the U.S. and other 3rd party powers to make concessions to the Palestinians in exchange for the good will and expected compensatory concessions, this should be brought up. We already see a history of concession after concession in this very conflict being received with contempt and aggression in return. But now the U.S., probably Israel's most reliable and important friend in the world, treats Israel's white-flag concession in this issue as an admission of weakness and invitation to pile on. We have to remember that the rules of inter-personal relationships we all carry around, gleaned from our years of interacting with fellow individuals, do not always apply at the level of states. States are not people, and to count on the idea of mercy or kindness from them as if that is what they were is dangerous. I'm sure there are tons of links from Bismarck or Machiavelli out there if I had the energy to google for them.

One caveat: this is not an anti-disengagement lesson since there is no expected return from the other side in this unilateral concession. There are plenty of other challenges to the wisdom of the move, but I'm not saying this is one of them.

But if the idea of Disengagement II starts picking up steam, the U.S. should realize we're done taking IOU's written in invisible ink.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Another Useful Exercise 

A Palestinian security officer jumps over his colleagues, Wednesday, July 27, 2005 during a visit by Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia at the training camps of the newly recruited Palestinian security forces in Gaza city, who will be deployed in the Jewish settlement area following the disengagement plan. The Palestinian Authority's security apparatus is bloated in manpower but underarmed, and it suffers from professional apathy and abuses of power despite fundamental changes since the death of longtime leader Yasser Arafat, an independent group said Tuesday. However, the Palestinian Authority's decision to reform its security services ahead of Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip next month can lay the groundwork for further reform, the report stated.(AP Photo/Karel Prinsloo)
Note: click on picture for full size original.

Cool. Nice reform. This should do the trick. Extra practice to supplement the usual training regimen of burning tire leaps and barbed-wire crawls. This will get the troops ready to control Gaza after the disengagement, no problem.

Has it not occured to them that Palestinian society might settle into a more civilized pattern, better for its own people, if they tried a few other exercises, like maybe:
I know some of you might object to such criticism based solely on this picture. After all, isn't it misleading to characterize the entirety of PA security training and reform based on one PR picture?

Actually, yes it is. But what is completely fair is to say that this PR photo-op is the leadership's planned and intentional response to serious charges against the security apparatus. After all, they went out of their way to invite the photographers and plan a photogenic schedule of events. In effect, by showing their troops practicing for the International Law Enforcement Circus rather than training for effective policing of their community, they are telling us:

Nonsense! We're not bloated and corrupt! We're unfocused and disinterested.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

So Many Variations of Condemnation 

President Bush is mocked for having stated that one is either with us in the fight against terrorism or with the terrorists.

This does not mean one is automatically labeled a terrorist simply for not having condemned them. But it is clear that to defeat terrorism, we must stand united against it, with no room for bystanders giving it their hidden or silent assent. The terrorists consider any failure to actively oppose and condemn them and their acts as a boost to their cause. It is their goal to create, through intimidation and obfuscation, a reticence to resist their violence. At this stage in the conflict it's all about choosing sides. This is most critically true for those in whose name the terrorists shoot and bomb and behead.

Unfortunately, with some exception, the response of the "moderate Islamic community" is not yet sufficient to convince terrorists, and many of the rest of us, that terror lacks mainstream support. While listening for condemnations, mere words, that would meet this goal, sadly, I find all too frequently certain common patterns of evasion that undercut the credibility of the speaker.

I'd like to start with what I would like to hear, notwithstanding the risk of CAIR spokesmen googling to my site and calling me racist for presuming to dictate. Actually, they probably wouldn't be so heavy-handed as to come right out and say that, but the implication, while deniable, would be clear. But I am not telling them what to say. I'm only doing them a service, basically handing over to them a gift-wrapped template for what it would take to convince me they have chosen a side in this fight, the right side. That should save a lot of intellectual struggle and guesswork when it comes time to prepare for the press-release and speaking engagements after the next attack.

What I'd like to hear goes something like this.

The "Condemnation" Condemnation:

We unreservedly condemn all terrorist attacks. There can be no justification whatsoever. None. We call on anyone who shares our faith in Allah to stand up and fight back against these criminals who would kill in our name. Let us not shy away from helping the police fight this scourge, including refusing support to anyone with terrorist intentions and reporting suspicious information, for the terrorists are not our "brothers" as they claim. They attack all of us, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, for we are all citizens of (this country) and we will stand together.
Not Churchillian by any means, but we don't need Churchill here, at least not yet. As long as the statement stops there, short of the "but", and actions follow, I believe it is enough. We just need widespread, consistent, unqualified, believable statements. I'm sure there are spokespeople who find my benchmark burdensome and probably Islamophobic, and sadly but cynically, I think I can understand what would lead them to say that.

To give credit, I do come across statements along these lines from time to time, sometimes even unadorned by the "but". More typically though, a few nice elements of the condemnation are used merely as a bridging device, a segue to the "but":

The "Threat Amplification" Condemnation

Yes, we condemn terrorism and yadda yadda, but, America occupies Iraq, and Israel occupies, well, Israel, and until these problems are fixed, there will be no peace.
Statements that say "Yeah but...." followed by a reiteration of the supposedly condemned terrorists' demands remove the need for the terrorists to even have to write their own ransom notes. Obviously, in the hands of a pro, this comes out much more delicately than I've managed here.

The "Too Tired of Condemning to Condemn" Condemnation:

We've condemned every act of terrorism, again and again. Why we Muslims continue to be singled out for this burden after every attack is beyond me.
This line can either appear in place of a condemnation, or accompany it so that the focus is on the burder carried by the speaker, rather than the value of the condemnation or its likelihood of making any difference.

The "Of Course We'll Condemn (Israel)" Condemnation:

We condemn all terrorist acts, wherever they are committed, including by the Israelis when they blow up innocent Palestinians using American-supplied advanced weaponry, and occupy Palestinian land...
This hearty condemnation can go on for quite awhile.

The "Inflate in Order to Pop" or "Not Gonna Condemn It" Condemnation:

I’m Not Going to Apologize
These are but a few examples that could be mentioned. I could go on and on. However, what I would like to ask is why are we told that we have not done enough to condemn the terrorist attacks? Why have not our clerics come out in full force and vilified the perpetrators of terror? They ask us to come out in full force against suicide bombers in Israel. They ask a whole nation to accept the guilt for Sept. 11. They ask us to atone and pray for sins committed by our young men. They ask that we wring our hands and show remorse — maybe go a step further and flagellate ourselves. In short, the principle of collective guilt is being applied to Muslims the world over.
Hey, no one was asking you to apologize, self-flagellate, or, God-forbid, engage in hand-wringing. We just want to know that you believe it is wrong to blow people up and that you will help stop or discourage your (few, misguided, fringe) co-religionists from doing so whenever you find it in your power to do so. No one has asked every Muslim to admit guilt, rather to seize the opportunity to be a part of the problem's solution. No hand-wringing required whatsoever.

The incredible proliferation of variations on these themes is what makes the field of "Islamist Terror Apologetics" such an exciting growth industry. I hope that will change, so that someday soon it will be clear to everyone that all terror deserves only one answer, and zero support.

Update, Jul 28, 7:57 PM
this looks like a step in the right direction. Based on what is reported in the article I'm very encouraged and my hat is off to them. I'll even disagree with one concern expressed in the article:

Islam has no central authority and the council serves an advisory role for American Muslims, who could number as high as 6 million. But some question whether the panel’s statements would sway extremist.
I don't expect their fatwa to stop the extremists in mid-detonation. But this is still a very good thing if it provides cover and support and courage to the great mass of Muslims who aren't speaking up. One fatwa won't change things over night. But one billion vocal Muslims might make an impression. Well done, Fiqh Council of North America, may others follow your example.

Updated Update, Jul 29, 2:00 PM
Then again, maybe not. While the fatwa sounds good, it apparently comes from people with terrorist connections. So let's just say it sounds good, and hope that others pick up the ball and run with it legitimately, even if these guys are trying to pull one over on us.

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Spammer Beaten to Death -- Is It "Murder"? 

Sad tale of a Russian spammer's demise:

One of Russia's best-known spammers has been found beaten to death in his apartment in central Moscow, according to police reports.
Fame is greatly desired in today's world, but perhaps being a "best-known spammer" isn't healthy anymore, at least in Russia.

Nevertheless, I'm glad to see that the article, in true News-speak fashion, doesn't slap a barrier to understanding like the word "murder" on this particular incident of being beaten to death. After all, when we can use terms like "insurgent" instead of "terrorist", and "mobile self-demolition experts" instead of "suicide bombers" (yes that's satire, but barely), then surely we can do better than murder here as well.

My suggestion for the beating death of a noted spammer is "unsolicited violent death".

Wait for it... here it comes... ba dum bum!

Yarmulke tips: Chainik Hocker and Common Folk Using Common Sense.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Prisoners Plugging Own Toilets? No Way! 

So now that the final disposition of Newsweek's Koran-abuse allegations seems to have settled down on the side of the prisoners' having flushed their own Korans, there may still be a few people who can't believe anybody would do such a thing. Who would go out of their way to plug their own toilet? Can it possibly make sense?

Would prisoners go to great lengths to flood their own toilets? I don't know, so I turned for answers to someone with experience.

Ledge End is a great blog, written by a guy with the inside scoop based on 15 years working inside a maximum-security prison. His blog shows a little of what it's like trying to control the chaos inside these facilities where some of humanity's finest are warehoused, at least until the day they are returned to our company. Here's a little background he had on the subject of prisoners plugging their own toilets:

One of the favorite past-times of disgruntled segregation inmates is flooding the walk. They stuff whatever is handy: books, newspapers, clothing, sheets, pillows, mattresses, spare body parts, into the toilets and flush, flush, flush! Voila! We now have instant waterfalls adorning the otherwise drab cell house. This is loads of fun and hours of pleasure for all staff involved, I assure you.
I guess if we can take comfort from anything here, it's that the jihadis housed at Guantanamo Bay aren't so different after all. Sure they believe they've been commanded by God to kill anyone who knows the theme song to Gilligan's Island, but at the same time, they do love flooding the walk just as much as the next hardened criminal.

Ledge End is worth following for all the other amazing stories of even crazier things the inmates pull -- or at least try to. When they make the next great prison movie, it will likely be based on his (as yet unwritten) screenplay or novel (hint hint Ledge). And when it tops the box office charts, you'll be able to say you 'knew him when'.

More than that though, in these days when the debate is so heated over how prisoners of non-Martha-Stewart provenance are treated, its important to get a little perspective from people who know what it's really like in there.

Reuters ambush: Only one funeral worth mentioning 

The sisters of Targ Yassen, a Palestinian militant from al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades who was killed by Israeli troops, cry during his funeral in Gaza City July 26,2005. Yassen was one of two Palestinian gunmen killed in an ambush at the Gaza border on Sunday shortly after U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ended her mission to shore up a fragile truce before Israel's Gaza pullout. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah

Ok, look, I see pictures of crying children, and I feel their pain just like the next guy. Really. I've got little girls, and I can imagine the great sadness these two little kids feel at the loss of their poor, young brother. If you believe the Reuters report, the brother, Targ Yassen, was killed by Israeli troops in an ambush, just as Condaleeza Rice's efforts to shore up that fragile truce were ending.

But the truth, as anyone reading this blog is likely to know, is far, far from what Reuters has reported. Because the ambush in which poor young Targ was killed was not set by the IDF, but by Targ himself and his 'co-activist', Yahya Taha. Nor was this ambush set to attack the armed troops they despise. No. Targ's ambush, successful as it was, was aimed at causing a different, Israeli funeral, one not mentioned by Reuters:

Moshe Mizrahi, the father of Rachel Kol, 53, prays during the funeral of his daughter and her husband Dov Kol, 58, in the Givat Shaul cemetery in Jerusalem, Sunday, July 24, 2005. Gunmen of the Islamic Jihad and the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades of Fatah killed the two Israelis while they were driving on a road that links the Kissufim crossing to the settlement bloc in the southern Gaza Strip early Sunday. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

These kids are crying, but don't worry, they will be consoled by their relatives. They'll be told that brave young Targ is in heaven, receiving his reward of 72 nubile virgins for the daring and noble slaughter of two grandparents in their automobile. And lest anyone should worry Targ's memory will fade away down here, by fortunate coincidence, a photographer just happened to snap a picture of the two brave young lads shortly before they were gunned down (what are the odds of that?):

A picture released by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement, shows Yahya Taha (R), a militant of the Al-Quds Brigades, the armed wing of Jihad, and Tareq Yassin from the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, posing with their rifles prior to an attack against Israelis. The two militants were shot dead by Israelis after raking with gunfire a convoy of cars near the Kissufim main border crossing between Gaza and Israel, killing an Israeli couple and wounding a settler and two Israeli soldiers. AFP

Please don't think I'm angry at these two sad little kids, who've lost their grandparent-murdering brother. No, I'm angry at Reuters, who've lost their mind.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

PA security, on the march, recaptioned 

Via Haaretz:

PA security forces marching during a training session on Tuesday in the Gaza Strip. (Reuters)

Some more clarifying captions might be:
  1. Sweat stains? What sweat stains? PA security forces do not sweat, they perspire, and they do NOT perspire.
  2. Someone had to be last in line when they handed out hats.
  3. Voted "Most likely to be involved in a hazing accident" by his peers.
  4. PR Photo-op for the Palestinian Chris Farley's first day in basic.
  5. Career options for those who just can't close the velcro on the semtex vest.
  6. Proof that PA security forces have access to cable news and a sense of humor: the perfectly synchronized, squadron-wide imitation of former-President Clinton's pointing-without-pointing debating gesture.
  7. New security recruit marching, still recovering emotionally from the debacle of the morning's barbed-wire crawl.
  8. Private Hassan, on parade, proudly demonstrates his thumb-on-detonator technique.

Beware Unintended Consequences 

Michael Barone on the (expected) upcoming battle over confirmation of President Bush's Supreme Court nominee, John Roberts:

They [Democrats] may try to argue that Roberts is 'out of the mainstream.' But the vote on Roberts's nomination to the appeals court was 14 to 3 in the judiciary committee. Who is in the mainstream now?
A perfectly logical point: how can the Democrats help overwhelmingly support the guy in one vote and then turn around and bash him in the next? But will Michael Moore's Democrats learn the lesson Barone thinks he's teaching?

He probably hopes they'll realize their vulnerability to this unassailable logic and support Roberts's nomination, if only grudgingly. But in today's heated environment, his logic could just as easily be taken as a call to arms, an example of what happens when Democrats are flexible on even the tiniest, most reasonable point. We may never see another 14-3 vote in our lifetimes. On anything. Democrats could just as easily opt for an all-nuclear-all-the-time-no-matter-what strategy. We could see fillibusters in small town city council meetings over garbage pickup schedules. I can even imagine a completely gutted judiciary, berift of any sitting judges, all of them busy waiting in the green room for confirmation. Surely I jest, I hope.

But something's got to give, and solid logic might not be enough to do the job.

Better True or False? 

Via Jpost:

Some settlers slated for evacuation have threatened to commit suicide if they are not provided with viable relocation options, Disengagement Authority head Yonatan Bassi said Monday.
Notice that the article cites no sources for Bassi's stated belief. So now we have to decide which we hope is true: that there really are settlers who would kill themselves over insufficient compensation and accomodation, or that the government's disengagement representative would invent such a horrible accusation.

Not good either way.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Ricky Martin is a Misguided Tool 

Ricky Martin is, at best, well-meaning in his offer to help fight stereotypes:

Puerto Rican rock icon Ricky Martin, on his first ever visit to the Middle East, pledged Monday that he would try to change negative perceptions of Arab youth in the West.

"I promise I will become a spokesperson, if you allow me to, a spokesperson on your behalf. I will defend you and try to get rid of any stereotypes," he told youngsters from 16 mainly Arab countries attending a youth conference. The children, aged 14 to 16, expressed concern about being labeled as "terrorists" by the West.
That's so sweet. Hey, I don't want to stereotype Arabs as terrorists -- or insurgents, activists, freedom fighters, or bombers -- either. Of course, it would help if Arab leaders stopped sending their young people out strapped with explosives.

In the meantime, I hope Ricky will also help fight the stereotyping of Israelis/Jews as a bunch of landgrabbing, Palestinian-kid-murdering Nazis who have been voted most likely to destroy world peace.

Martin posed for photos with fans at the youth conference, at one point draping over his shoulders a traditional Palestinian keffiyeh scarf with the slogan 'Jerusalem is ours' written in Arabic on it.
I guess we shouldn't count on Ricky's support. If Ricky's new pals shake their bomb-bombs until they've rendered Israel's capital judenrein, it looks like that's good enough for Ricky. Just don't call them terrorists.

(Were rumors of Ricky's involvement in this unfounded?)

UPDATE, Aug 6: I take it back.

Oddly Enough, I Didn't Puke 

So Sharon went ahead with her plan and ordered sushi to break yesterday's fast of the 17th of Tammuz. Typically we eat something with the power to resuscitate, like lasagne or bagels, after not having eaten since the night before. But for some reason, Sharon was struck by the urge to eat fish and seaweed this time. Go figure.

I had planned on abstaining from the sushi, on the grounds that my empty stomach might be incapable of generating sufficient regurgitory force. But I gave in and partook for two main reasons: 1) in the end, it appeared the sushi we received may not have been raw after all, and, more importantly, 2) Tamar and Rachel (ages 6 and 8) shamed me into it by trying it themselves.

Actually it wasn't that bad, and I didn't even have to add ketchup.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Nushworld Exposes Stinky Stats 

Check out Nushworld for some fantastic analysis of the reliability of the recently popularized "25,000 killed in Iraq" figure.

The desired result is only achieved by starting with a faulty definiton of what deaths are "Bush's fault", then subcontracting Al Jazeera and friends to count them up however they see fit, before finally serving up these cooked numbers to a ravenous media.

Read the whole thing before you take the numbers too seriously.

YAB: Yet Another Bomber 

Yet Another Bomber:

Israel Defense Forces soldiers on Friday caught a terrorist from Fatah's military wing en route to carrying out a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv. The man was arrested in Israeli territory, near the Gaza Strip.

The IDF sector brigade commander, Colonel Avi Levy, told Haaretz that the terrorist was wearing a five-kilogram explosives belt, which also contained nails and metal scraps intended to maximize the force of impact.
I'm so glad he was from the military wing of Fatah. When the political wing starts strapping on the belts, then you know the cease fire is really over. Once the "political" guys start blowing themselves up, there's nobody left in the Fatah press room to do their job: telling the media the bombing was a natural response to this-or-that Israeli faux-pas, and that the cease fire is still being honored so the IDF shouldn't hit back.

And that would be a real loss.

More Barbed Wire? 

A Palestinian security officer exercises during a training session in a compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Thursday, July 21, 2005. The Palestinian Authority is training 5,000 new officers who will be deployed in areas that Israel will evacuate during its planned withdrawal from the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip later this summer. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)
The Palestinian "security officer" is supposedly being trained to be a glorified security guard, making sure nobody takes anything from the abandonded property that PA mucky-mucks have already allocated to themselves. The job should include standing around, holding a gun, and not saying anything stupid about anyone important.

So what's with all the barbed-wire crawling drills? It seems there isn't a PA policeman or security guard alive who hasn't been highly trained in this critical discipline. Where exactly are they expecting this skill to come in handy?

NOTE: this is a rhetorical question, but if you need a hint, try this for a start.
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Saturday, July 23, 2005

Top Ten Dates in My Blog's History 

November 2003: Curious what this "B" button is on my new Google toolbar, I click it and then naively fill in all the resulting forms, becoming the proud, clueless owner of a new blog -- whatever that is. Unsure of the ominous looking publish button, I dismiss the page leaving my new blog empty.

Dec 31, 2004: Over a year later, I tie the record, shared by many, for fewest blog posts in a calendar year with 0. Oddly enough, I fail to recognize the opportunity to blog this amazing achievement.

Feb 15, 2005: I am possessed by the sudden urge to share the first official opinion of my entire life. The purity of my hitherto empty blog has yet to recover.

Feb 27: My nascent blog and its two initial posts receives its first link. I immediately email my brother to thank him.

Mar 28: Suddenly overwhelmed by my ego's need to monitor the masses as they flock to my blog, I install my first StatCounter.

Mar 29: I resist the urge to complain to StatCounter tech support that their stupid counter doesn't work, and instead just thank my brother for visiting.

Apr 3: My first of many top ten lists, a cheap gimmick I fall back on whenever the cupboard is bare. Of course, this one here is different.

Apr 4: I notice my first returning visitor, someone who read my blog and still came back again. By the way, check out his blog, it's really good.

Apr 19 [approx]: Noticed my first blog-roll link from a non-family member. It's an ominous sign of the creeping addiction that I know how to find this out.

Apr 20: I finally appear in Google's cache. Something I'd done to offend the Google-gods had kept their spidery-minions from finding my site until this point. Are they truly so omniscient they could tell my links had only been from family members until recently?

May 22: My first discovery of the power of Little-Green-Coattails to give a temporary boost to readership with one well-placed comment. Soon followed by the internal conflict over whether such comments are anything more than Little-Green-Spam.

Jul 17: I finally make the big time. After laboring in the obscurity of a page rank of zero for all these months, I finally got page rank! And I didn't even do any Google suck-up posts to get it. I wonder if I can get that ranking any higher than 4/10? Google! Google! Google! (You never know, it's worth a try).

Jul 20: While I have yet to receive my first Instalanche, I did get my first Dov-alanche. Not a big deal to many bloggers, but its the first big-traffic day for my site that I didn't have to spam someone to get. Ah, dignity!

Thanks to everyone with the fortitude to wade all the way through this self-absorbed post. And special props to those who can count to thirteen. I meant to stop at ten, really.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Quick Quotes 

My wife, Sharon, reported a conversation she had with our six year old, Tamar, about Tamar's summer camp's evening bonfire and cookout...

Sharon: You're so lucky, I wish I could go to your cookout too, but it's only for kids.
Tamar: But Ima, you know marshmallows aren't on your diet.

It's always good to be reminded.

While at a wedding tonight, Sharon filled me in on her plans for the first meal after the upcoming Jewish fast day, when everyone will be super hungry after not eating anything all day...

Sharon: I've ordered sushi for the break-the-fast meal on Sunday night.
Me: Oh good, it's always best to throw up on an empty stomach.

Love that sushi. What ever happened to bagels and cream cheese?

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Revered Leader's Bag Lunch 

Click picture for original caption. (Korea News Service/Reuters)
  1. The general's last words were: "No, Great Leader, please, it was a joke... you know... our Korean Choco Pops reminded me of the American Cocoa Puffs... I would never call the Supreme Commander of the Korean People's Army cuckoo!"
  2. North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il and Chief-of-Staff seek advice and pay homage to his father, the Great Sun, Kim Il Sung, as they re-seal the colorful plastic bag containing the Glorious Ashes.
  3. The director of North Korea's nuclear facilities is reassured by leader Kim Jong-Il that it is perfectly safe to store plutonium in a plastic bag.
  4. Kim Jong-Il, visiting the foodstuff processing factory run by Korean People's Army Unit 534, eagerly opens one bag of instant rice after another, looking for the hidden "Songun Grand Prize Lottery Ticket" promising one lucky winner a new toaster, as factory staff looking on wish their Heroic Leader greatest luck.
  5. Rice factory director Kim reassures the Great Leader that he can indeed keep the white coat.
  6. North Korean scientists, proving once again that Songun ingenuity and fighting socialist spirit triumphs over Western decadence and ignorance, impress the Dear Leader with their latest innovation, something they call the zip-lock bag.
  7. Kim Jong-Il castigates General Yong, confiscating a month's worth of his family's food rations for suggesting the Leader remove the Revered Sunglasses indoors.
  8. General Song watches remorsefully after an unfortunate comment about the Divine Sun's hair day has led to his tongue's being sealed in a plastic bag.
  9. "You say you just add water? Remarkable! Surely the American enemy possesses no such technology!"
  10. General Pyong waits patiently for leader Kim Jong-Il to figure out for himself how to open the bag as the body of General Hwang is dragged away.
Of course, try Caption This to see a similar picture in the hands of an expert.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

What's all this fuss I hear about ... 

News Anchor: And now here to say a few words about the latest sensation that's lining up kids and grownups alike at the bookstores and keeping them awake late at night, Miss Emily Litella

Emily: "So what's all this fuss I hear about a Hairy Plotter? It's like, every day somebody different: shoe bombers, head choppers, and now...hairy plotters! What the dickens is going on here?"

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a hairy plotter, at the time of his capture
Emily: "Why this is terrible! First everyone's lining up at the bookstores, and now it's the airport too. Lines everywhere! And what with all these code oranges and terror watches, who can even tell when to panic anymore? Why I was just at the airport the other day, and I was telling the young man not to take my clippers because I hadn't done my toenails in ages and he..."

News Anchor: "Emily..."

Emily: "Just a minute. So I hadn't done my toenails, and I'm telling him he shouldn't even be checking me since I'm not one of those..."

News Anchor: "Emily! It's not 'Hairy Plotter'. It's 'Harry Potter'. Boy wizard. From the book..."

Emily: "Oh. That's very different. Never mind."


We interrupt your regularly scheduled political fulmination to bring you the following rustic meditation on...

Sunflowers. Outside my office. It's kind of strange that they should be right outside my office since I work as a programmer. Realistically, a programmer should only be surrounded by chrome and glass and an artificial pond. But our office is located right in the middle of a farm -- a kibbutz actually -- just upwind of the cows.

Here are the sunflowers as they looked almost 2 months ago, just after they were first planted:


They were beautiful then. I made a point to bring my camera to work and snap off a few pictures when I had the chance. Sadly, the photo I missed was the next day when an old crop duster swooped low along the side of the road, skimming the last row of sunflowers, and laying down a cloud of, well, I'm sure it was some sort of aerosol vitamin spray. Watching the plane pass maybe 20 feet away made me long for the day I'll have a great camera in my cellphone and always carry it with me so I can get all the shots I miss today.

I was very curious to see how they would harvest these guys. I watched. And watched. Nothing much happened, day after day, week after week. Nothing except for the slow droop and dry of the majestic stalks. To the best of my knowledge, even now, almost two months after they were fresh and yellow and beautiful, the flowers have still not been harvested for their seeds:


They look really awful, like the scorched remnants Sherman's army left behind. But despite appearances, the sunflower seeds are still there:


Each flower's dried out carcass contains about 100 seeds. What's not clear is why they haven't covered the flowers with something like cheesecloth to prevent birds from pilfering the seeds. The flowers I checked were already missing about half their seeds.

Obviously, I'm just a humble blogger, so I wouldn't presume to tell real farmers how to do their job. But they really ought to consider harvesting these guys while there's still something left, or at least covering them. Maybe I should find the Central Farming Office and tell them to Google their crops before planting them, so they'll be educated about it like me. I'm sure they'd appreciate my advice.
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Sunday, July 17, 2005

You're Taking Blogging Too Seriously If... 

  1. You evaluate the likelihood of new acqaintances ever finding and reading your blog, in case you might want to post your take on the outrageous things they'll someday say [don't worry friends, *I* don't do that, I'm just guessing that it happens].
  2. You can type your blog's url faster than your own name, and compose a valid link tag in your sleep.
  3. You consider "Fisking" a section of commentary that troubles you in the Stone Chumash (popular volume of Torah and commentary).
  4. You put more time and effort into managing your blogroll than your phonelist.
  5. You secretly consider a garbage strike on your street to be good news since you've been looking for a theme to blog about your local government
  6. You use the "babysitter" explanation to excuse yourself from a party at 11:30 pm so you can rush home and sneak in a "light blogging today" pseudo-post before midnight to keep your consecutive-days streak alive.
  7. You find yourself frequently confusing non-blogging relatives who think MSM is a food additive and pajamas media refers to Hugh Heffner's empire.
  8. You're more likely to color-coordinate your style sheet than your clothes.
  9. You scrounge through your food cabinet looking for misleading package labels to critique.
  10. Your mind wanders while watching "The Heffalump Movie" with your kids, wondering whether or not it's bloggable.
I'm so glad this doesn't describe me, but if you see yourself here, please, seek help.
[ADDED: #11: You feel compelled to add to your post, welcoming the DovBear readers you notice stopping by. Thanks for visiting.]
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Friday, July 15, 2005

And One I Didn't Expect 


The Palestinian Authority declared a state of emergency in Gaza on Thursday night following fierce clashes between PA police and armed Hamas men in the north of the Strip. The move also came after a woman was killed by a Qassam rocket in the Negev moshav of Nativ Ha'asara. Hamas took responsibility for the attack.

Palestinian sources reported that a PA police force opened fire at a car carrying a number of Hamas activists, who were on their way to carry out more rocket launches at Israeli targets Thursday night. The driver of the car ignored orders to pull over, and the PA police then opened fire on the vehicle, wounding six of its occupants, one seriously.

In response, Hamas sent dozens of armed men out into the streets of northern Gaza in a show of strength, which included the firing of an RPG at a base of the PA's national security forces. Clashes between Hamas militants and PA police also took place in other areas of the Strip.

A state of emergency was subsequently declared by PA Interior Minister Nasser Yousef, in coordination with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. PA police reinforcements were deployed to the north of the Strip and curfews were imposed on a number of areas.
Given past experience, it's probably just an accident, something to be quickly smoothed over. But if Abbas finally realizes he has to fight the "idiots" or hand in his badge, things could get interesting.

Commence breath holding.

Here's one I expected 

Haaretz :

Israel Air Force helicopter gunships fired missiles at targets in the Gaza Strip in the early hours of Friday morning, witnesses said, in retaliation for a rocket attack on a Negev moshav that killed a woman. The army also cut the Strip into three, severely limiting Palestinian movement.
The questions remain: is this enough, and can it be sustained as long as needed?

Thursday, July 14, 2005

The Test Starts Now 

I have supported the right of the sovereign government of Israel to disengage from Gaza, as painful as that is. Nevertheless, the decision must still pass muster practically. Having the right to decide, and the wisdom to decide correctly, are two separate things.

The government appears to have successfully established and defended its right to disengage, protests notwithstanding. Today, however, the second test has begun in earnest, the test of whether disengagement can actually be carried out safely.

The government now must prove it knows how to handle this, a fatal Kassam attack from the Gaza strip against surrounding Israeli communities. Otherwise, it leaves unanswered two lingering challenges:
  1. Will the disengagement end up a frantic flight under a hail of Palestinian bullets and rockets?
  2. Will the armed forces be able to preserve normal life in communities finding themselves suddenly within Palestinian rocket range?
The assumption on the part of many pro-disengagement supporters (like me) has been that the government has answers for these questions and all will be well. It doesn't have to be perfect, but there need to be clear answers. Otherwise, popular support for the disengagement could easily start to whither, and that would be a big problem.

In reality, today's attack isn't even the full test. After all, disengagement hasn't begun yet, and the IDF still maintains its positions within Gaza. Of course, it could be said that the attack doesn't really test disengagement's wisdom, since it obviously could have happened anyway. But if the govenrnment can't respond today, when it still maintains the advantages it has yet to surrender, it will be hard to expect it to do any better a month from now.

The Palestinian terrorists who fired this rocket know this, and are emboldened by the possibilities. An iron fist pounding the source of this murdering rocket would be a good start. After that, maybe we'll see what other plans the government has been readying. I hope it's enough.
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PA promises 'Protocols' amendment 

Yippie!!! Hurray!!! Now can we please drop it and pay attention to the important stuff, like keeping our place in the Harry Potter book line? After all, the P.A. has promised to clean up it's textbooks:

Following The Jerusalem Post's report Tuesday that Palestinian textbooks contained references to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion as an "integral part" of Zionist history, the Palestinian Authority has promised to remove the mention from future textbooks.
Great, they promise. So I promise to commend them when they fulfill the promise. Until then, I'll just leave this latest oath in the steaming pile with the rest they've extruded over the years:
Meanwhile, one other point I found amusing in the article was the Belgian government's difficulty in figuring out how the problematic sections weren't caught before publication:

The government has begun reevaluating why the mention was not caught by the "screening process," which included an Arab-speaking staff that read through the textbook and approved them as not being anti-Semitic.
Hmmm. How could it possibly have happened? I guess I'll join in the puzzled head-scratching about this one and just hope it doesn't happen again, Inshallah.
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Asking for Family Flicks, Watching Friskier Fare 

The L.A. Times seems to find symptoms of hypocrisy in America's taste in movies:

This trend speaks volumes about the tendency in America to say one thing but do another. People claim they want wholesome family entertainment, but the big money on the Internet and in pay TV comes from pornography. In the rare instances when a studio puts out a feel-good valentine, like 'Because of Winn-Dixie' or 'My Dog Skip,' the movie dies on the vine. For all the talk of our country's obsession with moral values, nothing succeeds with the American people like the salacious promise of a little extra nudity or hanky-panky in their DVD packages.
They seem to think that anyone who calls for more family-oriented movies is a hypocrite for subsequently watching racier fare. I think the misunderstanding arises because the author chooses to believe in the reality of his own strawman argument. Having decided that everyone more conservative than latte-sipping arthouse afficionados is out to Disnify every last nook and cranny of American culture, he then must figure out what to do when the facts don't match up with this bogeyman of his own creation.

These people who "claim they want wholesome family entertainment" really do want that. But not only that. Their complaint is when an R-rated romp is packaged as fun for the whole family. Or when they are looking for a single movie for the whole family, and find nothing but slasher flicks and sex comedies. What people want is choice and enough information to choose responsibly. They want family viewing for viewing with families. And apparently, there are a select few who are also interested in adult entertainment for adult viewing. They're even willing to see the slasher flicks and sex comedies, just not with the kids.

So please, in general, let's limit the strawman arguments and try to deal with reality, since that's where we actually live. I'm sure I resort to the old scarecrow more than I should as well. Let me know when I do.
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Volleyball's Reward 

I used to be a not-too-stinky volleyball player, back in the day when I could get both feet off the ground simultaneously. In college, I was on the school team, playing several times a week (don't get all excited, I was the worst player and my college was noted athletic "powerhouse", Caltech). After graduation, I continued playing regularly and seriously on the beaches every weekend, all throughout my twenties and into my thirties. Volleyball was my lifeline to sanity and exercise.

Then, nine years ago I made aliyah (moved to Israel) and volleyball suddenly ceased. While there are some Israeli volleyball players, there just isn't a widespread volleyball culture here to tap into. The beaches for the most part don't even have volleyball poles. I guess that's about what you'd expect in a country where the local translation of the name of the game is "kadur aff", or literally, "nose ball". If you've ever played you'll know that's not the idea.

Anyway, I've really missed the game. I still practice my setting with my kids' bouncy balls when they're not looking, just to keep the touch, even if I don't get to apply it on the court anymore.

Then, out of the blue, while taking the kids on a trip last Friday, I ran into an impromptu game starting on the sands of Nitzanim beach. [context: near the place where the temporary homes for families from Gaza are being set up]. Despite a little trepidation about the effects of nine years of inactivity, and the fact that I'm now as old or older than my coaches were, I joined the game.

I can say I didn't embarrass myself. Well, at least not much. But only because I had joined a group of people who didn't know to rotate positions and who took cellphone calls on the court while the ball was in play. Nevertheless, it was fun to get out, "jump" a little, and bump the ball around a bit.

Inevitably, as in the recent case of my ill-considered attempt at swimming, I got a little extra reward for my effort: a tetanus shot and blood tests. While playing, I managed to cut my foot on a metal fork buried in the sand where the court had been set up. I guess a true devotee of the sport would say, "It was worth the price." But I think I'll wait for the test results to come back before making that declaration.

In the meantime, I've been reminiscing about my old bowling league days. What's the worst that could happen?.
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Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Hamas and the Pretzel Technique 

I've always wondered what a Hamas condemnation of suicide bombing would look like:

'Hamas condemns the bombings that took place in London and that resulted in hundreds of innocent casualties,' said a statement issued by Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip. Like many Palestinians, Hamas blamed Israel's practices in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the war in Iraq and Afghanistan for the terrorist attacks against US and European countries.

'We in Hamas call on the international community to stop all forms of occupation and aggression against the Arabs and Muslims, especially in Palestine, Iraq and Iraq [sic],' said the statement. 'The continuation of the occupation and aggression will lead to more tensions, hatred and bomb blasts.'
This perfectly executed "pretzel technique" translates roughly to: "We condemn the attack, but you deserved it, and if you don't obey us there's plenty more where that came from." Here's a quick breakdown for those of you who are new to the pretzel technique:
It would make a fun party game. You have two hats and everyone contributes a slip of paper into each:
Players in their turn draw a slip of paper from each hat and compete to deliver the most rousing and convincing condemnation/threat.

Just be careful if you're ever at a party and invited to play a round with any Hamas P.R. flacks. They're very, very good.
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He's got to be kidwa-ing 

Haaretz brings us the P.A. Foreign Minister's latest seethe:

'We want to see some concrete measures,' Kidwa said. 'We are proposing completely punitive measures against entities, companies and individuals that contribute to the construction of the wall and other illegal activities in the occupied Palestinian territory.'
Cool. I guess his use of the word concrete must be a Freudian slip, since I doubt he is hoping for sanctions against Palestinian cement companies.

And I assume by "other illegal activities" he isn't just referring to "anything done by Israel". Of course he is concerned with the creation of a just Palestinian state that is safe for all its citizens, and is worried about the roving gangs of armed thugs kidnapping, extorting and murdering their fellow Palestinians. And of course the bombers, but maybe not as much.

Ok, whatever.

Hat tip to my friend Larry.
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Monday, July 11, 2005

A man, a gun, and a red mask 

A masked member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) attends a rally in the West Bank city of Nablus July 6, 2005. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told a London-based Arabic newspaper he expected to hold a summit with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon before Israel's pullout from the occupied Gaza Strip in mid-August. REUTERS/Abed Omar Qusini
This picture shows just how tough it is to be a good Shahid. There are so many little details to get right, like remembering to aim the pistol, keeping your finger on the trigger, all at the same time. It requires dedication, and a lot of practice, practice, practice. Or at least practice followed by a raucus funeral.

So inspired, I offer a few more captions:

Sunday, July 10, 2005

What are they waiting for? 

My wife asked me a good question in the wake of the London bombings: did I think Britain was attacked (and Spain before it) because America is too well protected? I would have loved to answer that question with utter certainty, but since I don't have Osama Bin Laden's ear, and therefore can't pound a tent spike through it, I'll have to settle for speculation. Take it for what it's worth.

Having visited the U.S. a few times since 9/11, and walked her malls and crowded places, I'd have to say that the U.S. could quite easily be attacked as it stands today. Visit a mall yourself, bring a backpack, and imagine you have a few kilos of really explosive stuff in there. Imagine you are wearing a bulky jacket, maybe even with a loose wire sticking out. I would imagine you could nevertheless succeed in getting yourself to a very lethal position before yelling out the old "Allahu Akhbar" and etc.

What is stopping the Suicide Drones from taking advantage of America's remaining weakspots? After all, there are Al Qaeda or affiliated sleepers in the U.S. who could be activated for such purposes . What stops them?

My guess is that the terrorist leadership knows their U.S. resources are limited in numbers. To burn them all up making a few pinprick strikes in a few malls or gas stations like they do in Israel would not be strategically effective. In Israel, there are thousands of self-declared martyrs who have already taken a number and are patiently waiting their turn, so burning a few of them in miscellaneous work accidents and crater operations in the middle of vacant fields is no big hit to operations.

But in the States, I believe they are hording the resources for truly over-the-top carnage. Until they get the nukes, or biological weapons, or crop dusters, or anti-matter particle beams or whatever in place, they bide their time. Given this as my assumption, my answer to the original question is then a definitive "kinda-no, kinda-yes".

Kinda-no: Despite hard-fought victory in the Battle to Keep Tweezers off Flights, the U.S. is still vulnerable in a few other areas. To call it safe and protected would be slightly misleading. Nevertheless...

Kinda-yes: The vulnerabilities, at least so far, are not tempting or valuable enough for the enemy to exploit. This can remain true as long as the borders are enforced strictly enough to prevent truly damaging weapons from entering the mainland, and as long as airplanes and at-risk installations (water, power, fuel, food) are sufficiently protected.

Unfortunately, the effort required to turn that kinda-yes into a hell-yes is prohibitive, and the effort may not even be feasible. To protect every mall entrance, every theatre, every restaurant, every meeting of Amnesty International, while still maintaining the commercial fabric of American life, just isn't realistic. It is for this reason that keeping the enemy busy in far-off lands is critical. Otherwise, they'd be free to busy themselves with the intricacies of Fedex-ing lead-lined pouches and tunneling under the Canadian border.

Let the cynics whine about creating terrorists in Iraq. They are going to be created somewhere, because our enemy's hatred of us predates any specific excuse other than our existence. If terrorists are to be created, let it be in Iraq, in the cross-hairs of freedom's defenders, rather than at America's doorstep. Or Britain's.

Perfect protection isn't possible. But good enough should be good enough, if the goal is to preserve Western Civilization -- assuming we end up agreeing it's worth saving.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Egypt too must decide 

The barbarians (sorry, protestors) weren't only busy in England yesterday. They had a message for Egypt as well:

Egypt has confirmed its ambassador to Iraq has been killed, five days after he was kidnapped in Baghdad.
As London recovers from the blasts, and gathers its resolve, Egypt too must now choose its path. Of course, Egypt and England are not standing at the same spot on the road, but they are on the same road, choosing a direction: toward a fight for freedom, or surrender and partnership with murderous fundamentalism. I have far more confidence in England's choice, but I hope Egypt too realizes that sitting on the fence near the road is not the same as walking purposefully toward freedom. For that one must fight.

Egypt itself is host and source of many terrorists -- for instance, not all 19 on 9/11 were Saudi. To join the fight against terrorism, Egypt must end its selective support of terrorists when they kill in the name of a cause Egypt likes. This must change. One can't be allowed into the fireworks factory with a pack of matches and a promise to only light a cigarette.

Mubarak has announced his government would not be deterred from supporting Iraq. Since I'm not exactly sure what he means by supporting Iraq, I can't tell if this is a good thing or a bad thing. I guess I should just be glad he didn't announce his immediate replacement with a new Al Qaeda government. But if Egypt is to choose freedom, it won't happen with just more-of-the-same.

Good luck, Egypt, assuming you make the right choice.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Al Queda Attacks London 

First of all, my prayers are with everyone affected by this attack:
Two people have been killed and scores have been injured after three blasts on the Underground network and another on a double-decker bus in London.

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair said it was 'reasonably clear' there had been a series of terrorist attacks.

He said it was 'particularly barbaric' that it was timed to coincide with the G8 summit. He is returning to London.

An Islamist website has posted a statement - purportedly from al-Qaeda - claiming it was behind the attacks.
The quote is a report from first hours after the attack. It is not yet clear what the full and final impact will be. Most importantly, while I haven't heard it mentioned, I hope the response teams are aware of non-conventional issues (biological especially), and that there will not be anything beyond the already outrageous results.

Never forget, Al Queda has erred before, attacking New York while expecting America to fold up its tent in surrender. But America did not break.

If there is another people on Earth, other than we Israelis, that has proven it cannot be broken with bombs, it is the British, and especially the people of London. Al Qaeda has proven once again with this barbaric act that they would love nothing more than to realize Hitler's broken dreams, to succeed where even the blitz failed.

Like Hitler, Al Qaeda may manage to kill innocent British citizens. However, also like Hitler, they will not break the British. As England mourns its dead, we mourn with her. And as England stands up to her attackers, we who value freedom and liberty and civilization stand with her. Some are already standing, others are welcome to rise now; it's not too late to leave your seat.

And no, the Mossad did not do it.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Photography in Public Places to Be Allowed! 

Arab News reports on a new head scratcher from Saudi Arabia:

Saudi Arabia announced yesterday that photographing in public places will be allowed except in prohibited areas. The new decision, which was revealed after a meeting of the Supreme Commission for Tourism's (SCT) board, will be implemented within a year.
So, let me get this straight. In a year, I'm going to be allowed to take pictures whereever I want, except where I'm not allowed to? This one will rank right up there with all firearms being expressly prohibited except for those which are allowed, and the law outlawing U-turns except where they're permitted. I know there's some sense here somewhere, I'm just not sure where.

I first thought that perhaps all photography in public places was presently prohibited, and this new law was a serious innovation. But I couldn't find anything (on Google) to support that. Reading the Arab News article further, it appears to be related to the Saudi jihad against terrorism, trying in some ill-defined way to make it clearer precisely where photography is and is not allowed for tourists. As if it could be any clearer.

In my Googling for Saudi Arabian laws banning public photography, I chanced upon a few other interesting cultural tidbits about Saudi Arabia. For instance:

Do not openly show anger or curse in any fashion; you can be jailed for this.

Do not voluntarily get involved in social incidents or accidents, even to give first aid. This can lead to complications.

Should you accidentally jostle or bump into someone on the street, you should try not to say "Excuse me," since this is considered unnecessary and somewhat odd.

[regarding cars:] If a dealer is involved in the sale, he will probably expedite that process for a small fee. [I think we call this bribery.] The registration should be kept with the vehicle at all times. In the event of a serious accident, wait at the scene until the police arrive. Be prepared to accompany them to the local station for detention, pending investigation, determination of responsibility, and assessment of compensation. [Cool, they lock you up and assess how much you have to pay while you are held in detention. I think we call this bribery too, but I'm not a lawyer so it's possible bribery has the wrong nuance for this particular example. Some cultures have as many subtle variations on the concept of bribery as there are words for snow in Eskimo.]
You know, given all these guidelines, and the confusion over how much photography is allowed before you're locked up, I'm slowly cheering up about those Israeli arrival/departure stamps in my U.S. passport.

Israel: Airspace Key for Existence 

IMRA quotes Israel's Air Force Commander:

Key to Israel's Existence is Continued Control of Airspace After Disengagement

...[control of the airspace] is one of the keys for the security and existence of the state.
All I can say is I hope this commander wasn't telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. It's hard to imagine a defense against implacable existential threats that is based on publically announcing the precise location of your Achilles Heel.

Actually, if they were taking my advice, the commander would have quietly announced that Israel's existence depended completely on continued control of the Briar Patch, lest the Palestinians throw us in there and we perish. At least it would be fun to watch the Palestinian position slowly evolve over the ensuing days or weeks to insist that Palestinian rights can only be served if the Briar patch is restored to them.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

New Gaza-West Bank Rail Link Agreement: Pluses and Minuses 

Haaretz announces that Israel and the Palestinians have reached agreement on safe passage between Gaza and the West Bank via an eventual rail link once the disengagement is completed. Here are some of the pluses and minuses I see in the agreement:

PLUS: Palestinians will finally be able to increase their economic activity.
MINUS: High priced arms deals between smugglers in Gaza's Egyptian tunnels and West Bank terror cells isn't quite the economic activity we were looking for.

PLUS: It may be possible to limit the smuggling by somehow arranging for Israeli security checks of all passengers and cargo using the safe passage.
MINUS: To the best of my knowledge, any delay caused by Israeli security searches is a blatant human rights violation, unless you count purse checks for grandmothers entering malls with their grandkids inside Israel. Israel will probably reap less abuse if it simply disallows the passage altogether.

PLUS: Development of the rail link may bring international funds into the region.
MINUS: Any international money would likely be diverted to the usual causes, bribes and bombs, leaving the rail link to fester as another unfulfilled Israeli obligation anyway.

PLUS: Israel will no longer be accused of trapping Gazans in a crowded little prison.
MINUS: Israel will now be accused of trapping Gazans together with West Bankians in adjoining cells of a larger prison with limited visitation rights.

MINUS: Palestinian trains, like their Israeli counterparts, run the risk of explosives being smuggled on board.
PLUS: The Palestinians won't suffer onerous Israeli-level security expenses trying to keep the bombs off the trains. A few helpful signs mounted in the passenger cars should be sufficient: "Shahid, have you checked your safety switch? Have a nice day."

MINUS: Palestinians are getting the rail link without first demonstrating suffient progress toward democracy in their present totalitarian leadership.
PLUS: The trains ought to run on time.

MINUS: There is no guarantee the rail link, or any other Israeli gesture, will forestall future Intifada-style violence.
PLUS: At least Israel can threaten to blow up the tracks when it happens.

MINUS: Firing weapons and rockets from the train will allow Palestinians to attack previously unreachable places within Israel.
PLUS: Their accuracy is bad enough already without firing from a moving platform, so they probably won't hit what they're aiming at -- this should at least keep schools and hospitals safe.

Norman Mailer and Affirmative Action 

From Lloyd Grove's Lowdown at the New York Daily News (hat tip Salon.com):

The 82-year-old novelist [Norman Mailer] - who in an interview with Rolling Stone called the Japanese-American critic [Michiko Kakutani] 'a one-woman kamikaze' and 'a token' minority hire - received a spanking yesterday from Dallas Morning News reporter Esther Wu, president of the 2,000-member Asian American Journalists Association.

'Calling out Norman Mailer as a racist ... would be easy,' Wu wrote to Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner.
Please, don't let that stop you...

'But that's not why we're writing. We take greater offense at his reference to her as a 'two-fer' and a 'token' because she's 'Asiatic, feminist,' which essentially diminishes the accomplishments of all women and journalists ... To Mr. Mailer, we'd simply like to say: Shame on you.'
Aw, why'd you let it stop you? Oh well, that "shame on you" bit ought to do the trick just as nicely. Waving a self-righteous finger in the face of an 82 year old curmudgeon is practically guaranteed to exorcise any latent racist demons lurking in what is left of his mind. Well done Ms. Wu. Brace yourself for the apology:

From his summer home on Cape Cod, Mailer dismissed Wu's letter as 'an excellent example of high-octane political correctness.'
What in Hemingway's name is high-octane about political correctness? Someone please correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't Norman Mailer a writer, once upon a time, long, long ago? I'm starting to think Ms. Kakutani might have been right in those reviews that got him so riled up in the first place.

Wu fired back: 'Perhaps if Mr. Mailer were a little more politically correct, he would not be making such racist remarks.'
It appears Ms. Wu didn't get the memo from the PR department announcing that the term 'politically correct' lost its liberal luster back when Bill was still sleeping with Hillary.

In an exclusive statement to me, Mailer repeated his 'token' charge and added that 'authors do like to reviewed on publication day, not two weeks earlier with a heinously bad review ... This is what Ms. Kakutani has been doing to my books for many years now, and that may not be politically correct, but it sure is foul.'

Wu retorted: 'But this has nothing to do with political correctness and everything to do with character assassination of two whole classes of people (women and minorities) by Mr. Mailer.'
Finally, we reach the heart of the matter, the point without which I'd never have bothered setting finger to keyboard. If Ms. Wu had merely condemned Mr. Mailer as a racist, I'd have just nodded and moved on. His comments presented in the article, his gratuitous use of the term 'kamikaze', do carry a slight odor of racism. I don't know Mr. Mailer, nor am I familiar with his greater body of work, so I won't judge his heart, but I can see how his comments could be judged.

What I don't see is why anyone should be so surprised and shocked by Mailer's "token" charge. Affirmative action, as it has been implemented, has done nothing to support successful minorities against this charge. And this little side-effect has been difficult to overcome while the charge of racism is used so freely to discredit those who oppose the manner of affirmative action's implementation. Sure, some may be racists. But it is still possible to support the idea of affirmative action in terms of "equal opportunity" while opposing it as a mandate for "equal outcomes". Had we only eschewed the bean counters' preferences for quotas and tokens that is causing so much trouble here, and instead taken a serious shot at improving the starting conditions -- education, housing, support for families -- successful minorities would have to be accepted simply as that: successful minorities.

Finally, I'll end with the one bit of good news:

Kakutani, through a Times spokesman, declined to comment.
She has already reaped the free publicity as being the critic whose opinion Normal Mailer cares about, and is wise enough to leave it at that. Well played.
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Monday, July 04, 2005

Top Ten Arafat Police Academy Techniques 

I get such a tickle out of the idea of the "Arafat Academy for Police" that I couldn't resist revisiting the topic one more time:

Top 10 Law Enforcement Techniques Taught at the Arafat Academy for Police:

  1. Masked students assist in training by pretending to be "culprits", working out numerous invasion and hostage-taking tactics appropriate for capturing the Occupier's governmental offices, while other students sit and take notes in case the information is ever needed in the future.
  2. Students are taught the proper use of Rocket Propelled Grenades, mortars, and other crowd control devices.
  3. Effective techniques are passed on for quickly and silently snipping through barbed wire while crawling through muddy darkness, and still keeping the explosives dry.
  4. Proper procedures for cuffing and charging a suspected....aww who are we kidding? How often do we actually really arrest anybody other than collaborators? And if they're not worth a bullet or a noose, they're not worth handcuffs and a cell.
  5. You will receive important guidance about what to do with lost Israeli motorists who turn to you for help. [NOTE: this hasn't come up as much recently as Israeli motorists have become less inclined to become lost, much less come to us for help.]
  6. Advanced students are taught the important "Mississippi Rule": If, while on patrol in areas near Israeli enclaves or borders, you run into a group of masked men gathered around a long tube aimed into the sky, you should immediately begin counting "one Mississippi, two Mississippi,..." and so forth, quite loudly, until you reach one hundred and twenty Mississippi. If there are any men still in the area when you reach one hundred and twenty, you should assist them in moving their equipment to any waiting vehicle so their presence in the area doesn't present a further disturbance. Important Note: Stand well back from the men while counting, especially if you hear helicopters.
  7. It is essential students learn how to secure Israeli-forfeited assets against vandalism or damage until they can be transferred to a deserving P.A. official, his family, his friends, his bodyguards, or other annointed recipient.
  8. You will learn how to guard prisoners, at least until they decide to escape. Emphasis is placed on helping charge their cell phones, and making sure their weapons and camoflauge are safely tucked away before sunrise each morning.
  9. Linguistics experts will help you cultivate the ability to call out "I've come to fix the satellite dish" in pefect, unaccented Hebrew.
  10. Oops, I think there are only 9 techniques taught at the Arafat Academy, but that's enough.

In the end, the thing that seriously strikes me about all the P.A. security drills we see pictured over and over at Yahoo and elsewhere is how much they focus on flashy kung-fu moves and leaps through flaming rings, while ignoring the mundane things involved in "keeping the peace". Either the photographers are all politely ushered out when the class sits at the blackboard and reviews how to hand out tickets for jay-walking, or the focus isn't really on "keeping the peace".

Any AP or Reuters photographers out there holding back pictures of P.A. cops practicing administering breathalizer tests, please step forward. I'd love to see them.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Abbas Adjourns for Lunch 

Mahmoud Abbas temporarily adjourns cabinet meeting of the Palestinian Authority as caterers arrive with lunch. Saturday, July 2, 2005. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
Of course I'm kidding! Those aren't really caterers.

No seriously, here's the real caption:

Palestinian masked gunmen members of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a militant group linked to the Palestinian mainstream Fatah faction, occupy the Palestinian Legislative Council offices in Rafah, southern of Gaza Strip. Saturday, July 2, 2005. They said the four hour occupation was designed to draw attention to their desire to be incorporated into the Palestinian police. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

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