Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Top 10 Vacation Benefits for the Kids 

We're still on vacation. While it's totally obvious this vacation is recharging the parental batteries (how could it not?) I thought I'd give a quick list of some of the many vacation benefits our kids are also getting out of this trip to Israel's north:
  1. Chocolate cereal for breakfast and barbecued marshmallows for dinner.
  2. Local dogs that know how to suck up to little kids, hoping to merit dibs on any leftover barbecued chicken. I also notice the kids seem to have a heartier appetite, cleaning their plates more than usual even though I can't specifically remember seeing them actually eat much of anything. Aside: thank goodness these dogs showed up after we almost ruined the vacation by saying no when asked if it was possible to rent a dog for the trip.
  3. Cable TV with the same selection of channels the kids are used to, so they can have a little time each day that feels like home only farther away.
  4. A beach that has ROCKS. A lawn outside the cottage that has STICKS.
  5. New bunk assignments, seating arrangements, and bathroom protocols to negotiate -- using "negotiate" here in it's euphemistic, Hamas-ian sense.
  6. Microwave popcorn (it's good anywhere) and healthful granola cookies (Ok, they didn't actually fall for that but I give Sharon credit for trying).
  7. Air conditioner controls that are low enough for all three girls to reach, all the time.
  8. Lights with dimmer switches that really dim, even the 17th time.
  9. A whole new vista of questions to explore:
    • why is the cottage made of wood?
    • why are the worker guys not married?
    • are we there yet?
    • how much longer until we eat?
    • where did you put my shoes?
    • since it's vacation, do we have to brush our teeth?
    • can we watch TV before we brush our teeth?
    At least it must seem like a whole new vista to them.
  10. The thrill of swimming in Lake Kinneret (Sea of Gallilee) even though we had to give them strict instructions not to pee or sneeze in Israel's drinking water.
Good thing our vacation will be over in the next day or so -- I'd hate to accidentally overcharge anyone's batteries.

UPDATE (Thurs, 9pm): back from vacation and I've spiffed up the formatting from the original pile of Blackberry-posted refuse. I hope it's understandable now. Vacationing was great and I recommend it highly if you have the chance.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A 5-Year-Old's Perspective on the Weather 

Miriam and I were hiding under the shade of an umbrella at the beach.

"Right, Abba, on that planet closest to the sun it's too hot and we'd burn up?"

I turned to Miriam and nodded.

"And right, on the farthest away planet it's so cold we'd freeze?"

Another smiling nod.

"So in Eretz Israel (the Land of Israel) it's not so bad."

Interesting observation for a 5-year-old. I still thought it was a
tad warm for comfort, though.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Off to the North for a Little Vacation 

We're going to take a few days off for a family vacation in the north of Israel before the new school year starts. With any luck, a little time off will also refill my blogging tank, which seems to have left this site running on fumes for the last little while.

While there is a chance I may post some very small stuff from the Blackberry while we're away (just because I can) things will only get back to normal here later this week, on Thursday or Friday. Have a good week everyone, and hopefully we'll find the world closer to peace at the end of it. Hopefully.

The Council Has Spoken 

It's been another great week at the Watcher's Council, with some truly great posts nominated. I hope you follow the Council every week because its another way to find some of the best on the web all in one convenient location. You can check out the full results of this week's voting, but I'll whet your appetite first with a little taste of the top posts in both the Council and non-Council categories (that is, posts by members of the Council, and the broaded category for posts from anywhere on the web).

In the Council section, for the first time since I joined the council a little over a month ago, a post has won by a full point. This didn't surprise me though, because Iraq: Quit or Commit by Right Wing Nuthouse was one of the deepest and weightiest posts I've seen in awhile. Without wallowing in the reflexive tropes of either side in the debate, Rick Moran fearlessly explores what is working in Iraq and what is not and offers his advice. To quote a small piece doesn't do it justice.

The second place post is from Gates of Vienna's Dymphna, The Nation-State vs Anarchy and Imperialism:

I used to be sanguine about the pseudo-intellectuals' takeover of our academy, the press, an exponentially expanding governmental bureaucracy and an activist judiciary concerned with a "living" Constitution -- though the death of this document had escaped the notice of most of us.

I thought this change was a generational thing brought on by the silliness of the sixties and the historically, economically, and philosophically ignorant -- i.e., those who swallowed the Soviet line about the triumph of Marxism. After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the implosion of the Soviet Union, like many others I thought it was simply a matter of time before peculiar people like Ward Churchill and Noam Chomsky aged out and left the field to those who has seen the mistakes socialism had wrought, even in this country.

Of course, that was before 9/11 and the steep rise in the national consciousness of militant Islam, and the national argument about whether or not it represented a "real" threat to our country or to its sovereignty.
Gates of Vienna is one of the most consistently thought-provoking blogs I know of, and Dymphna's post is no exception. When you read the rest of her post, I hope you'll consider it an introduction to a blog that is worth your time on a regular basis.

In the non-Council section, the winning posts were also quite worthy (as were many of the others that were nominated).

The winner was the Buzzwords Blog from 3AM Magazine with an article called Bad Faith. Well written, well reasoned -- I have a feeling it wasn't actually written at 3AM:

This pretence of equivalence has come to define much of the ongoing debate on freedom of speech and the testing of ideas. But to assume moral parity between, say, the publishers of cartoons and the unthinkingly destructive reaction to them, and to assign equal responsibility for the deaths, intimidation and violence that resulted, is evasive and grotesque. It is, more to the point, a way of denying the moral incontinence of those who threaten to kill on the basis of a cartoon, or a film, or, of course, a novel. And it is a way of avoiding any serious analysis of Islamic theology in particular and religious hysteria in general.

Cultural equivalence also underlies the current fashion for religious protectionism, whereby reason and scientific methodology are depicted as equivalent to faith and merely a matter of lifestyle choice, as if logical enquiry had no attributes that set it apart from religious ideology and a priori belief. But to equate these very different phenomena requires one to flatten values and empty the mind in the ostensible interest of 'fairness' -- perhaps to spare the blushes of the less capable among us.
The second place post was Michael Totten's look at Israel's North after the war, Terror War:

Throwing high-speed ball bearings at random around an urban area is a great way to terrorize people and get them to hide in their shelters or seek refuge somewhere else. You can empty entire cities this way, and that's exactly what Hezbollah did. No Palestinian terrorist group had ever been able to accomplish so much. But forget trying to use Katyushas against an army, especially against a properly outfitted and trained Western army. While Northern Israel's civilian population retreated to the south, the military surged forward straight into Lebanon. [...]

Missile war may be replacing terrorist war. It's more effective than using hijackers and suicide bombers. Only missile war caused hundreds of thousands of Israelis to flee.

This war was a transition, the testing of a new doctrine. It's a disaster for Israel, but in the end it will be an even bigger disaster for those who think it's a terrific idea.

I don't know about some of the unhinged Lebanese Hezbollah supporters, but I wouldn't want to be anywhere near Lebanon if ten Iranian-made Zelzal missiles crash into the sides of Tel Aviv apartments and skyscrapers every hour.

War is coming again, and it's coming like Christmas. It will not resemble the Middle East wars we are used to.
Unless of course Kofi Annan and Jacques Chirac can save us all. Then, if we're lucky, it will just resemble the Middle East wars we are used to.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

A Pre-Vacation Book Meme 

I'd like to thank Snoopy the Goon from Simply Jews for tagging me with this meme. I know protocol demands that I whine and kvetch about having this indignity forced upon me, but actually, I don't mind that much.

1. Name one book that changed your life:

Jews, God and History by Max Dimont.

2. One book you've read more than once:

only technical books and little kids books (some of which I've read as many as seventeen times -- in a single night).

3. One book you'd want on a desert island:

Surviving Desert Islands for Dummies, or How to Build an Unsinkable Raft and SeaWater Distillation Unit, or something like that.

4. One book that made you laugh:

Snowcrash, by Neal Stephenson.

5. One book that made you cry:

I can't actually remember crying from reading a book. I suppose if I read some of my wife's books I might weep uncontrollably, but that's not my genre.

6. One book you wish you'd written:

I don't know what it's called because I haven't written it yet, but I wish I'd written it already. I know that Neal Stephenson's writing ability makes me jealous, so I'll say Diamond Age if I'm forced to answer in the spirit intended.

7. One book you wish had never been written:

Mein Kampf or the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, preferably both.

8. One book you're currently reading:

I'm about two and a half months into the third book in Neal Stephenson's Baroque trilogy, The System of the World. I still hope to finish it. Note: it is taking so long not because the book is boring, but because I don't spend much time pleasure reading anymore.

9. One book you've been meaning to read:

I have a lot of books in my book shelf with tissues marking a place somewhere in their middle pages, books long ago started and patiently waiting for completion. An example is Godel, Escher, Bach -- a really good book that I just haven't finished. Plus, if I ever finished all of them, I could reconstitute an entire package of tissues (in Israel they come in a plastic package, not a box) thus saving a little money.

10. Tag 5 people:

let's aim for some new blood. How about:
  1. Maksim Smelchak
  2. Seawitch
  3. Baka Diary
  4. Tikkun Olam
  5. Eye of the Eagle
Good luck everybody.

Karma, Crime or Coincidence? More Hasty Israeli Missile Allegations 

(UPDATE at bottom appears to indicate that, despite inconsistencies in reports and somewhat puzzling pictures, the attack in question may have indeed erroneously targeted a press vehicle without realizing it.)

AP has rushed to press with more wild, unrebutted allegations of intentional Israeli barbarity without waiting to learn the facts, check for plausibility, or even note that such charges in the past have been fabrications. Apparently the chance to accuse Israel of intentionally rocketing an occupied Reuters vehicle as some sort of Karmic payback is just too rich to pass up, even if only long enough to check available evidence for the likelihood such a direct missile strike really even happened.

AP reports (via MSNBC) as quickly and hysterically as it can of another "cold-blooded crime" as "Israeli aircraft fired two missiles early Sunday at an armored car belonging to the Reuters." AP confidently reports this because Palestinian witnesses told them so. As long as there is more than one Palestinian witness willing to make the same accusation, that anchors the story in the modern journalistic bedrock of 'multi-sourced' objectivity, wherein multiple unreliable or obviously biased statements can magically be combined into God's own testimony.

And just in case accusations from witnesses aren't enough to convince you of this horrible crime, AP also includes expert testimony from another Reuters employee who presumably wasn't even at the scene:

The Reuters cameraman, Fadel Shama’a, 23, and Sabah Hamida, 25, who worked for a local television company, had the doors open and were about to get out of the armored vehicle in the nearby Shajaiyeh neighborhood to film the raid when it was struck by the missiles, according to Shamas Odeh, chief of Reuters TV in Gaza.
Lest the nature of the propaganda AP is selling you not be clear enough yet to get you to hate Israel, let's clarify that this was allegedly a totally intentional Israeli attack, directly targeting a clearly marked press vehicle:

The white sport utility vehicle was emblazoned with the Reuters logo and had "TV" and "Press" written on it in English, Arabic and Hebrew.

"This is a cold-blooded crime," said Mohammed Dawdi, head of the local journalists union.
Clear enough? I would hate to think AP's propaganda-sponsoring effort was being wasted. It's not easy getting the accusations out there quickly enough to beat the Israeli denial deadline, while still carefully crafting text of sufficient quality to convey the full effect of the alleged barbarity. By denial deadline, I refer to the fact that it takes more than 30 minutes for the IDF to rebut allegations of having struck a press vehicle with missiles intentionally, if at all. So AP and others print the most inflammatory and quotable statements of biased observers without delay or context, sidestepping any difficult questions by inserting meaningless boilerplate anywhere facts from the accused might contradict the testimony -- the phrase "the army said it was checking the report" appears no less than three times in the article in spots where countervailing facts will be airbrushed in after a day or two, after the Israel-hating world has already been whipped into a phony frenzy.

Am I claiming there were no injuries to Reuters personnel? Frankly, all we have to work on are the early propaganda reports from the wire services, photographs of the damaged vehicle and injured occupants, and knowledge of how easy it has been to put out phony, stage-managed, or exaggerated allegations against Israel using the easily duped or quietly complicit news services, especially in the last month. So I can't and don't say I was a witness to what happened. But it's pretty obvious that Reuters employees driving around in an active area of conflict can get injured without having been targeted for journalistic assassination.

After even a cursory look at the pictures, I do find it amazing the wire service ran so quickly with the wildest of allegations without even checking the photos for plausibilty. Perhaps they enjoyed all the publicity from having been repeatedly used and abused as Hizballah's PR wing in Lebanon. It certainly looks pretty unlikely from the photos that any missiles actually struck the vehicle, as is so hysterically alleged:

(from Yahoo): A Palestinian looks at Reuters' armoured car after it was hit by an Israeli air strike in Gaza August 27, 2006. An Israeli air strike hit a Reuters vehicle in Gaza City on Saturday, wounding two journalists as they covered a military incursion, doctors and residents said. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem (GAZA)
They want to believe THAT is the result of an Israeli missile strike? Compare:

Israeli missile strike.

NOT an Israeli missile strike

For more comparisons between actual Israeli missile strikes and fraudulent allegations of a missile strike, see Section 3 of Zombietime's definitive deconstruction of the ambulance libel.

And what of the victims who were hit directly by missiles from one of the world's strongest and most barbaric militaries? The pictures of their charred and scattered remains must be too grotesque for even the newswires to publish. Or not:

(from Yahoo): Fadel Shanaa of Reuters TV is carried to hospital after a missile struck an armored jeep in Gaza city. Two Palestinian television cameramen were seriously wounded by a missile fired overnight by an Israeli helicopter in eastern Gaza City, hospital officials said. Fadel Shanaa of Reuters TV and a cameraman from the Palestinian Media Group were wounded when the missile struck their armored jeep. A woman and a child were also injured in the attack, said the hospital official.(AFP/Mahmud Hams)

Injured, certainly. Struck by Israeli missiles targeting his vehicle? What do you think?

There are other less histrionic possibilities that can explain the limited damage and injuries in these pictures. The pictures look much more consistent with a revised shade of the truth that emerged hours later; although, the new information is still not reflected in the AP report running on MSNBC. This might be understandable, since these later reports, sadly, undermine the anti-Israel message so conveniently supported by the earlier reports -- by earlier reports, I mean the ones that most readers actually see. Despite this obvious short-coming in anti-Israel content, I nonetheless link to these later reports here, just in case readers don't typically go back to read old MSNBC and AP stories a day later to see if anything has been changed. From Bangkok Post via LGF:

The eyewitnesses said that the two camera operators were in a Reuters jeep heading to the area to cover the Israeli Army incursion into eastern Gaza City. They said that an Israeli helicopter fired two missiles at people gathering in the Sheja’eya neighbourhood in eastern Gaza City as the Reuters’ car drove past nearby.

Shrapnel hit the car
, wounding Faddel Shana’a of Reuters and Sabah Hemeida, who works for Dubai Television.
There is a big difference between intentionally targeting journalists with missiles, and hitting their passing vehicle with shrapnel from a strike against a unrelated nearby target. Ignoring that difference is ignoring the difference between a "cold-blooded crime" and an accident.

When they said Palestinians in Gaza would learn from Hizballah, they weren't just talking about obtaining Iranian missiles.

UPDATE (2pm same day): Via Haaretz is information that the Reuters vehicle, not recognized as a press vehicle in the darkness of the early morning hours, may indeed have been the unfortunate target:

An Israel Defense Forces spokeswoman said the vehicle was hit because it was acting suspiciously in an area of combat and had not been identified as belonging to the media.

"During the operation, there was an aerial attack on a suspicious vehicle that drove in a suspicious manner right by the forces and in between the Palestinian militant posts," army spokeswoman Captain Noa Meir said.

"This car was not identified by the army as a press vehicle. This has been a combat area. It is not recommended for anyone to be around. We do not target the press. If journalists were hurt, we regret it," she added.
I still don't understand the moderate level of damage and injury -- what would be called minor if it were caused by a suicide bomber -- if indeed missiles struck the vehicle, nor do I understand the disagreement between the spokeswoman's statement and the witnesses in the Bangkok Post who said the Reuters vehicle was only hit by shrapnel while passing by.

Regardless of the circumstances and despite any running disagreement I might have with the work of Reuters' and other news agencies' stringers, I wish the same speedy recovery to the injured journalists and bystanders as to any other wounded non-combatants.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Quick Post for a Busy Friday: Basketball and Velvet Chicken 

My Fridays are usually very busy, overscheduled with preparing for Shabbat and caring for kids, and this one was no exception. So, sadly, lack of time coupled with Blogger server downtime, leaves me without anything verbose to offer today.

Instead, I'll just ruminate about one of the more enjoyable parts of my Fridays: basketball. During the rest of the week, the only exercise I get is the dancing of my fingers across the keyboard. Only on Friday does the rest of my body get to join in the fun by playing basketball.

Now I have to be honest, I'm not 15 anymore. Or 25 anymore. Or 35 anymore. Or even 40; I'm 42 now -- and yes that makes a difference. I can't slam dunk the way I used to, mostly because I don't have a super-low basketball rim nearby like when I was younger. My eyesight is also causing trouble, because when I jump to try a layup, invariably the basket looks so much farther away than it used to.

But I don't let these deficiencies stop me. My solution has been to find a group of guys that are somewhere close to my own age. I'm still often the loudest breather on the court, but so long as no one brings their teenaged sons to the game, I'm usually spared any obvious embarrassment.

Today, though, was embarrassing. I missed almost every shot I took, many of them from right in front of the basket. Many of the passes I threw also ended up far from their intended destinations. In short, despite the obvious signs of significant effort on my part -- the panting and wheezing, the sweat-drenched shirt, and a face that my 5 year old described as a tomato -- I didn't come home with many accomplishments to brag about.

But I did come home with excuses, which is a close second on any male's list of goals when playing competitive sports and having to talk about it later.

In this case, it was hot. I mean really hot. HOT, hot. It was hot enough to fry an egg on an ice cube. So it was understandable that with all that sweat on my hands it was really hard to hold on to the ball. And the steam from my boiling facial sweat fogged my glasses, which also made it very hard to excel athletically, as I otherwise most certainly would have done. Worst of all, the unrelenting sun just sapped the energy out of any muscles I have left, leaving me lethargic and slow. I had all the speed on the court of a migrating glacier -- which, looking on the bright side, probably was a little faster than normal because of the melting run off from the heat.

Thankfully, the most important thing is that I survived with minimal injury, and returned home red-faced and excuse-laden, ready to hit the courts again next week. Meanwhile, it was time to cool off in a hot kitchen all day, cooking up Shabbat dinner. (Today's innovation: making Chinese food with chicken that is tender like in the Chinese restaurants -- the secret turns out to be velveting. As soon as our guests arrive and we finish praying, we'll see if it worked.)

Thanks for reading this post, a post I've been longing to write for over a month. Not necessarily because I was so eager to write specifically about my basketball prowess, or velveting chicken, but because for the first time in a long while, I didn't mention Shiek What's-His-Name. May there be many more such posts.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Thoughts for Thursday, Not All Necessarily Mine 

First up, the obligatory thought about Hizballah, without which this just wouldn't be an AbbaGav post -- unless a substitute mention of Hamas would suffice instead.

Did you read about Hizballah's latest terrorist-endearment tactic?

Hezbollah has been handing out cash payments of up to $12,000 to people whose homes and business were destroyed by Israeli bombing during the 34-day conflict between Israel and Hezbollah that ended with a cease-fire on August 14.
That's a little curious, don't you think? Sure, hearts and minds, that part I understand. No, what puzzles me is how Hizballah -- an organization that depends on a foreign country for its weapons and that is presently being feted by much of the world's press for having fought off the great Goliath of Israel with little more than faith and pea-shooters -- is coming up with all this money. In cash. And it's not just any cash:

At a school in south Beirut's Bourj el-Barajneh neighborhood, Hezbollah on Friday started handing out crisp one hundred dollar bills to residents who lost their homes in the Israeli bombing campaign _ US$12,000 to each claimant.
Wow. Crisp new hundred dollar bills. Piles of them. I suppose it's possible the donation plate at Friday services was collecting a lot of big American bills fresh from the few ATMs that Israel hadn't already callously destroyed. Or maybe Hizballah has received some mail-order bill-crispeners from the geniuses at Khomeini Labs, and of course happened to have piles of old, un-crisp bills lying around just waiting for a little touching up before distribution.

It has to be something like that because certainly a humanitarian ambulance and kindergarten service like Hizballah would never do something like massively counterfeiting US currency and then passing off the bogus bills on needy villagers, would they?

Actually, check out Sticky Notes on the subject (and a second time too). It seems quite possible. And Sticky, a new and very prolific blogger, could use your help, if you have any ideas of how to verify this possibility. Remember, if you can help, you wouldn't just be sticking it to a terrorist organization -- you'd also be saving lots of needy villagers from trying to rebuild their homes with monopoly money when if they would just sit tight a little while the Euros would be arriving before the French troops do.

In other thoughts this fine evening, I've got a few links from blogs you might not have seen before. Why not try something new before the weekend?

New blogger -- or perhaps renewed blogger, if you count that one post from three years ago -- Rav Yehoshua Kahan sees the hidden truth behind one of those dreaded 11pm phone calls from the doctor. Keep an eye on his blog; it's really good.

Another renewed blogger is Akiva Micah from Minor Fast Days. The cause of his need for blogging renewal was the loss of his old blog a month or so ago due to the dreaded HR Department's Blog-phobia. Stop by and welcome him back, and give him a little support too as the birth of his first child is fast approaching -- no, no silly, his wife will be doing the actual birthing, not that he hasn't given the idea some thought, from a safe distance.

One last relatively new blogger is Lady-Light from Tikkun Olam (not to be confused with Tikun Olam, whose world view appears to be diametrically opposed in many ways). Lady-Light has been blogging for a few months and has quite a few interesting posts on issues large and small. She has poured her heart into standing up for Israel in the recent conflict with Hizballah, but also has some posts of a more general nature, including some pretty cool doodlings by her daughter.

If you run across some interesting new blogs, consider taking a few minutes to point them out to the rest of us. I can still remember those first few months of blogging and how hard it was just to get to the mountain before even beginning this long climb. Our ability to help each other out is one of the nicest things about the link-driven world of blogging, so take advantage of it.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Say Anything 

Will the gullible in the media ever tire of being used? Do they even care anymore?

The world's spokesmen, especially those anti-Western among them, have learned that they can say anything to the media, absolutely anything. They can ramble on about death and destruction. They can proclaim their eternal commitment to the violent pursuit of this or that goal by any means necessary. It really doesn't matter what they actually say, so long as they are savvy enough to shallowly bury a veiled reference to a more headline-friendly alternative -- no matter how baldly that alternative is contradicted by the rest of what is said.

Case in point: Iran.

The Iranian regime has learned that its radicals and moderates alike can fulminate freely, their every press release and news conference eagerly sanitized and publicized in the guise of missives for peace to credulous Western audiences -- this despite repeated Iranian boasts promising the imminent wiping of Israel from the map and solemn vows never to compromise on the nuclear development necessary to to do so. Despite these threats, many in the Western media instead print headlines about Iran's unrequited, peace-minded calls for negotiations -- so long as there is a small, quotable-in-rough-translation sound-bite on the topic hidden somewhere deep inside the diatribe. They "want to believe," and will find evidence of peace-loving moderation in almost any anti-Western agent, no matter how much frothy rabid foam has to be wiped away to reveal it.

Just yesterday Iran announced it wants the West to spend more time negotiating over nothing while Iranian nuclear development races down the home-stretch towards its ominous finish-line:

Iran on Tuesday handed over its response to a nuclear package aimed at allaying Western fears that Tehran seeks to build atomic bombs, state-run Arabic-language Al-Alam television reported. It did not give details of the reply.

Sources in the United Nations described the Iranian response as "ambiguous and evasive." The sources said the Iranians are seeking to renew negotiations but nevertheless refuse to halt enriching uranium. They also said Iran failed to respond to several aspects of the nuclear package. [...]

A top Iranian nuclear official said the response will provide "an exceptional opportunity" for Europe to return to the negotiating table for a compromise.

'Iran's response to the package is a comprehensive reply that can open the way for resumption of talks for a final agreement,' Mohammed Saeedi, deputy head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said in comments published Tuesday.
It might seem ridiculous to most of us to hear tantalizing calls for talks coming from the same guys who swear they'll never stop doing the very thing under negotiation, no matter the price. When an item is not for sale at any price, what's the point of haggling except to distract the frustrated customer's attention long enough for an accomplice to pick his pocket? Put that way, maybe it's not so strange they'd try it, but that any Western media -- and like-minded diplomats -- would play along, encouraging such a dangerous play.

But that's the game. They can say anything they want. They can repeatedly rant all their most toxic talking points. They know they must simply follow protocol which requires only that they eventually mumble an afterthought like, "Iran longs for comprehensive and time-consuming negotiations," anywhere at all in the speech -- even if the trailing words "until Israel's destruction" have to be carefully snipped out. That little fig leaf will get picked up and waved around by an eager western media as if it were actually an olive branch so potent it still had the rest of the tree attached.

Am I pathologically cynical? Let's ask MSNBC what they think:

There is of course an accompanying story, but who's going to bother reading that? MSNBC's headline has already reassured us that thanks to the Iranians there will finally be "serious talks" -- unless "skeptical Western diplomats" spit on Iran's peaceful request -- so we can all stop worrying about the impending Iranian apocolypse (which is now a day late arriving anyway).

Whatever the accompanying story does say, it doesn't just come out with what is really going on:

(AbbaGav's version)

Iranian officials today called for negotiations while at the same time insisting there was nothing to negotiate over except the nature and scope of the tribute they expect from the West.

While Iran continues to promise the destruction of the State of Israel, spokesmen refused to set a firm date for when they expect to achieve that goal. Nevertheless, Iran's proposal for talks does include a firm date by which negotiations must be completed so as to allow enough time for all Iranian leadership and their families to depart for a long-planned off-site training exercise in an unspecified distant country on the subject "Surviving Nuclear Retaliation: Tips and Strategies."
Of course MSNBC is by no means alone in its myopia:
I'm practically without a reaction to this because I don't know how to type the sound of sputtering.

To be fair though, there are other media outlets that did use terms like "Iran defies" and "Iran won't give promise." In fact, in this instance even Al-Jazeera (World powers study Iran's reply) and Reuters (Big powers study Iran's reply to offer) were a little more circumspect than some of their more fawning Western counterparts in the promotion of Iran's PR agenda.

The way the coverage is going, if Iran's Uranium is ever disposed of in any way other than using it to create a smoking, radioactive Israeli crater, it will be mournfully reported as the result of international arm-twisting led by American and Zionist hard-liners. Frankly, if it comes to that, while I'll object to the tone, I'll accept the result.

In truth this bad media habit is not just exposed by Iranian and other anti-Western spokesmen. Anytime a flack can identify a storyline the media wants to sell -- whether because it conforms to preconceived beliefs, or just because more dramatic and salacious headlines sell more papers -- that knowledge illuminates the media's marrionette strings which can then be pulled at will to obtain the desired coverage. This problem won't go away until the media begins covering what is actually said rather than what is selectively heard. Or, even better, until the media spends less time covering what is said  about what is going on, and more time telling us simply what is  going on.

The free world deserves the details of the deals that have been rejected, and knowlege of what is really happening on the ground in Iran -- not just that the words "we" and "want" and "negotiations" appeared somewhere within the text of a single speech read by some Iranian shill.


More on gullible media reporting of the ambulance incident at Zombietime.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Deciphering Photos of Palestinian Military Exercises 

I ran across a few new Yahoo News Photos showing Palestinian military training exercises and decided to do a photo analysis, in case it was possible to glean any useful intelligence from them. Let's take a look:

Palestinian security forces practice military skills during a training session in the West Bank city of Hebron August 22, 2006. REUTERS/Nayef Hashlamoun (WEST BANK)
Okay, something isn't right in this photo. My blogging-senses are tingling. Hmm, no, nothing photoshopped into the sky. What could it be?

Ah, I see it. We're supposed to believe we're being made privy to a Palestinian camoflauge drill. Ha! Fat chance. If you are going to camoflauge yourself in the middle of a sandy, scrubby desert, would you stuff a bunch of green leafy twigs in your shirt? No, that would be stupid -- especially if you're jumping out of a truck! A soldier jumping out of a truck should be camoflauged to look like a truck -- you know, with maybe a steering well around his head and a greasy crankshaft glued to his uniform.

No, there is clearly something else going on here.

I believe we are witness to the inaugural Palestinian Paratrooper Practice. Of course they can't jump out of an actual airplane, but jumping out of a truck is pretty scary too. And they certainly don't need real parachutes if they're only jumping out of the back of a truck just for practice. I'm sure they were told they'd be issued functional parachutes should they ever have to jump out of a real airplane. Probably. Assuming they aren't just being used as cutting-edge Shahid-class ballistic missiles, also known as gravity bombs.

Palestinian security forces practice military skills during a training session in the West Bank city of Hebron August 22, 2006. REUTERS/Nayef Hashlamoun (WEST BANK)
Indeed, practicing proper surrender skills is very important.

I'm curious whether the guys in the background -- the ones that look like they're wearing berets -- are possibly advisors from a foreign country come to explain how to surrender properly.

Just wondering.

No Power, No Post 

Just a brief post from work to promise that this blog has not gone dark, and that I'll be writing again soon -- hopefully by the end of the day. But the power in most of my house went out last night, just when I was trying to blog something. It still isn't fixed, but hopefully the electricians will be finished drilling and banging and replacing parts and emptying my bank account later this evening and then I'll... well, then I'll have to think of something to write.

The strangest thing about this is that I live in the Middle East, I'm unable to fully express myself (other than a quick note from work) because of some unfortunate, accidental circumstances, and the solution is out of my hands -- yet I don't really have anyone to blame for this catastrophe! This really sucks.

By all rights, I should be able to infer the existence of some vast conspiracy that seeks my silence. But I myself am Jewish, so there goes that line of thinking. I guess I'll just have to be patient and allow that we live in a world where sometimes things just happen, even without any Jews necessarily causing them.

There, that should be enough to give the comment trolls something to gnash their teeth about for the next few hours while I get back to work.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Another Batch of Winners, Courtesy of the Watcher's Council 

The results of another week at the Watcher's Council are in and once again the Council has honored some really great posts.

In the Council section, in which each of the Council's twelve submitting members nominates his or her best post of the week, the voting was once again exceptionally close.

The winning post this week is from Shrinkwrapped, A Questionable Assumption. Shrinkwrapped argues our shared assumption the West is obviously stronger than the forces lining up in opposition is a mistake. Our attachment to this assumption is lulling us into wasting our time rather than seriously defending ourselves, too busy reminding ourselves after each bloody nose that we really are much stronger and that our victory is inevitable as long as we are super-duper careful not to make our nose-bloodying opponent mad:

I believe that, in practice, the assumption that we can meaningfully effect the course of Islamic totalitarianism short of full scale war is unwarranted, and whether our policy is controlled by the left or the right, any actions short of full scale war will only delay the final confrontation. I also do not see any way to square the circle.
I'm sure we all wish this weren't the case, but wishing is the most effective policy toward avoding such a full scale war that I've seen so far. Even the use of the word 'avoid' which seems so desireable and natural to us, is probably just blood in the water to Ahmadinejad and friends. So far as I can see, we haven't really even tried to square the circle yet, still struggling to see if we can make it even just slightly oval first. Meanwhile, reality sinks in:

We are faced with an unpleasant realization: if we appease, we will get more war, and if we fight, we will get more war.
In our current mentality we hide from this realization, thinking it offers us a no-win proposition in which we get war no matter what we do. In fact, while it is an uncomfortable formulation for people who prefer peace, nevertheless, sometimes the only choice left to those who crave peace is to win the war. And it is not a foregone conclusion we will do so, especially if we are willing to continue pretending we aren't in a war, all the way until we lose it.

This week's second place post was only 1/3 of a vote behind, which is half of a whisker in horse racing terms. Right Wing Thinker wrote about A Hinge of History in which he points out how many dangers are lined up against the West right now, and the danger of not responding to them. It's a very good followup to ShrinkWrapped's piece, both in quality and theme.

In other council news, it's newest member, Soccer Dad, has an innovation for anyone interested in watching the Watcher's Council: he has installed links to the 10 most recent Council posts via Google Reader, immediately visible in his blog's left sidebar.

In the non-Council voting, this week's winning post was Muslim Musings on British Muslims by Eteraz. It is an unflinching look at the state of the radicalism with the British Muslim community. Obviously, not every British Muslim, etc., but a piece written by a former British Muslim really shouldn't require qualification and hedging. Read it and decide for yourself.

The second place post, behind by the gaping chasm of 2/3 of a vote -- a full horse's whisker -- is Flat Fatima, a hilarious post by the People's Cube which skillfully skewers the serious topic of media fakery and complicity to propaganda in recent war photography from Lebanon.

If you find yourself still hungry for more quality blogging after finishing off these great posts, you can read some of the other top nominated posts at the Watcher's Council site.

And if even that's not enough to more than whet your appetite, saunter over to this week's issue of Haveil Havalim, the Kosher (and Kosher-style) Smorgasbord of Jewish blogging, with something for every palate.

Saudi Hospital Errs in Cutting and Other Tidbits from ArabNews 

Saudi Arabia's online publication, ArabNews, is an often fascinating read. It presents news with the obligatory Saudi/Arab perspective, while at the same time showing amazing slices of Saudi life, with the pretty clear intent of exposing things which need to change. I often find myself torn between applauding and condemning their work, sometimes in the same article.

Given the present respite from the unrelenting focus on Lebanon and Gaza, I thought I'd take a few minutes to check out ArabNews, to see what I've been missing for the last month.

Commendably, they have not shied away from reporting the recent terror plot uncovered in London, even though there is a little ambivalence about fully accepting the obvious:

The BBC, quoting an "unofficial police source," said the martyrdom recordings — discovered on laptop computers — appear to have been made by some of the suspects being questioned. At least six laptops impounded by police during their searches, according to sources, have yielded a cornucopia of extremist literature including the martyrdom videos.

However, some observers caution against jumping to any conclusions for the simple reason that extremist literature is now common on the Internet and can be downloaded easily.
Loads of extremist literature indeed. Irrelevant I'm sure. Not to mention that we should also not jump to conclusions just because some of the suspects had actual martyrdom videos prepared -- you know, the ones where they say goodbye and tell everyone to be happy because they died while killing infidels and are going to heaven as a great reward. This is also quite common these days and so, like the "extremist literature" should be ignored. Doesn't prove anything.

One has to wonder who the "some observers" are; the article doesn't say. I do know that other observers cautioned against swimming less than 30 minutes after eating and that this might explain the whole mess. Even other observers -- thankfully unmentioned here -- probably blamed the Jews or George Bush or both, of course. This is not to imply that the entire article is unfair -- indeed, it gives a pretty frank description of the situation. Which is part of what makes me so curious of exactly who these "some observers" are, and how they got that little nugget of nincompoopery into an otherwise relatively sane article. Do Saudi censors or media monitors count as observers? We may never know.

But what is often more interesting than just getting the "other side's" view on the big stories of the day is the chance to see just a little of what the challenges are in Saudi society, and some of the amusing little things that capture the Saudi imagination. Take for instance the story of an 80 year old grandfather who had something very important accidentally cut off while he was in the hospital:

Relatives of an 80-year-old granddad, who is in intensive care at a hospital in Jeddah, were shocked to find the old-man's long beard had been shaved off by the hospital barber, the Al-Madinah newspaper reported yesterday.

The Saudi son of the man said his father is suffering from a serious illness and was in the intensive care unit at the hospital when his beard was shaved off. The man said that he came to visit his father and was shocked to see that the hospital barber had given the 80-year-old "the Gillette look."

The hospital issued a written apology to the family and said that the barber misunderstood instructions to trim the beard. The son, who has threatened to sue the hospital, said, "My father has never shaved his beard since he was born. This is so tragic, I can't believe they could be so careless."
No word on whether there is a way for concerned readers to make contributions toward beard transplant research.

In another story, we learn of a particularly radical new Saudi educational innovation:

"This unique and signature motivational tool is meant to encourage students to utilize their potential to the ultimate while enjoying the benefits of learning new skill sets, making them their own house heroes," Rami Abu Ghazaleh, CEO of Al-Baik, said in his address. "We've been truly humbled by the overwhelming response from parents and students alike. By continuously fostering and nurturing the students, we provide a platform for broadening their horizons and enhancing their skills that can be applied at home, school and the workplace," he added.
What is this "unique and signature motivational tool"? Money. They refunded 500SR to students with perfect scores and 400SR to students with 90% marks in a demonstration of skills learned. Some lessons last a lifetime.

Not surprisingly, there is also coverage of some big problems with the institution of marriage in Saudi Arabia. Polygamy? Spousal abuse? No. Foreigners:

Marriages between Saudi women and non-Saudi men produce a number of problems. Questions relating to the success and advisability of such marriages are common all over the Kingdom. According to some, the children of those marriages are doomed to a bleak future. Many people question the kind of education and jobs available to such children and ask whether they can grow up as integrated citizens.

The fact is that many Saudis take a negative view about Saudi women marrying non-Saudi men and they invariably cite examples of foreign fathers leaving the country and abandoning their wives and children.[...]

In the case of a Saudi woman marrying a non-Saudi, the children take the father's nationality. [...]

Nura Abdul Sattar, a psychiatrist, said that Saudi men drive women to marry non-Saudis by refusing to marry them. "Saudi men refuse to marry Saudi women for many reasons including unemployment, high dowries or because Saudi women are working in undesirable jobs such as nurses or in private companies..."
Despite all these marital woes, the focus is on not marrying non-Saudi Arabs? Without full knowledge on my own, I'm going to hazard a guess that for the ArabNews it is an accomplishment to get the actually objectionable problems even into print, camoflauged by the seeming attention paid to the foreign marriage cover story, and that they might not be able to print these things at all if they didn't encode the information properly.

Is there any chance that at some point in the distant future, there may be open consideration of the larger issues at play here, like the fact that Saudi men won't marry women if they are nurses or work for private companies? Or that demographic imbalances are almost inevitable in polygamous society? I'm not trying to be culturally insensitive, but in some cases I just can't help it.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Dr. Jack Badofsky Goes Hollywood 

I made the mistake over Shabbat of reading the newspaper, and now I'm so depressed that I'm reluctant to post anything for fear of bumming everybody out, majorly.

So rather than post anything myself, I thought I'd bring in a guest blogger to keep things moving around here. Does anyone still remember the ultra-famous Dr. Jack Badofsky?

About 20 years ago Dr. Badofsky made some ground-breaking appearances on one of America's most respected news programs -- SNL's Weekend Update, no less -- in which he described numerous cutting-edge diseases he'd personally discovered and named:

Dr. Jack Badofsky: A- A- A lot of doctors are telling you how dangerous the summer sun's rays can be. So here's my summer tip: watch out for creatures that are foaming at the mouth. That's right. Summer is a prime time for abdivorus, commonly known as rabies.

[holds up a stack of cards, which he reveals one at a time]

"Rabies." But I doubt that you are aware of the many strains of rabies that you can fall victim to. For example:
  • Should you be bitten by an ownerless dog, that's "Straybies."
  • And a foaming French poodle can give you "Qu'est-ce Que-C'estbies."
  • a crazed reindeer can inflict "Sleighbies,"
  • a spider bite can lead to "Curds- and-Wheybies,"
  • and a demented gorilla's a potential killer with "Fay- Wraybies."
  • A grandmother frothing at the mouth can inflict "Crochetbies,"
  • and being bitten by a stuttering bigot can lead to "K-K-K-bies."
  • Getting bitten by Elmer Fudd can give you a real painful case of "Waybies,"
  • A bite by a wry humorist can give you "Carawaybies." [more groans] That's a wry humorist...OK.
  • Being bitten by a rabid rabbi can get you "Oy-Veybies," [applause]
  • and if your leg gets chomped on by a crazy poet, that's "Edna-St.-Vincent- Milaybies."
  • And "Paraguaybies" is what you get if you're bitten by two mad Latin American homosexuals.
Well, Dr. Badofsky has finally emerged from seclusion after two decades of intensive retraining for a fabulous career as a Hollywood movie mogul, and he has requested the opportunity to appear here in order to advance his first Hollywood business venture. Doctor, the microphone is yours.

Dr. Jack Badofsky, Esq: Thank you very much Abba-ba-ba-Gav. For many decades, if you wanted to see a film that was like real life, only more so, you came to "Hollywood."

Then the muckity-mucks in Bombay got into the act so that if you wanted your entertainment to show authentic real life, but with unpredictable outbursts of singing and dancing thrown in, you would go to "Bollywood."

Recently, I've been seeing some even newer variations on the styles of real life that are presented to us on film. For instance, if you like to watch film that appears real, except that Palestinians are always victims of baseless and wanton Israeli aggression, you would enjoy "Pallywood."

Even more recently, if your tastes run to things like men in green helmets and your prefer your reality retouched, you should probably give "Hezbollywood" a try.

But there are so many more versions of reality to film, and I'm sure at least one or two will someday find a paying audience. So I am hereby legally claiming ownership of every possible future variation on the Hollywood theme in the hopes that I will eventually be able to afford a steak dinner at Denny's by suing someone:
If the situation should arise that you find a profitable commercial use for any of these terms -- completely owned and incorporated by me, Dr. Jack Badofsky -- please make out a check to Mr. AbbaGav and he will see that the funds are forwarded to me somewhere deep in the forest. Thank you.

Friday, August 18, 2006

The Snake, The Mouse, The Media and Hizballah 

Daled Amos had a post itemizing numerous points illustrating the media's predilection for ignoring Israel's point-of-view in its coverage of the war between Hizballah and the Jewish State. A few examples:

YNet News compares the CNN coverage of casualties in Israel and Lebanon and notes a:

Highly unbalanced report mostly ignores plight of Israeli civilians, portrays Israelis as soldiers and politicians in suits, while coverage from Lebanon features in-depth interviews with Lebanese civilians and images of children and ruins; no mention of large number of Israelis displaced from their homes in north [...]
BBC continued to produce one-sided reporting, going so far as to prominently feature anti-war protests in Israel on their website while ignoring Lebanese dissent against Hezbollah. [...]

Reuters is infested with faked and staged photos and has admitted to appeasing terrorists. [...]
I'm going to assume as you read this that you are also already well-versed in the ever-expanding fake photo scandal and all its many facets.

There are a lot of people who want us to ignore this -- people in the media, people who use the media, and a host of others who already know which truth the media should sell to its audience and who therefore resist anything that jeopardizes the sale. To them, each act of bias, enhancement, or exaggeration is not really a lie, since it merely accentuates what their world-view already requires to be true anyway.

And what's the harm in accentuating the truth?

Especially if it helps people identify with suffering. They tell us the media isn't inventing Lebanese suffering, only enhancing it a bit -- and if this has the side-effect of helping convince otherwise detached viewers of the favored narrative, so much the better. If Israel's suffering is disproportionately ignored, it is only because it is quantitatively less than Lebanese suffering, so ignoring it is relatively reasonable -- and it doesn't matter to the basic truth of the story which is about the suffering caused by Israel, not the suffering experienced by Israel.

But this does make a difference. Let me illustrate with a story from a family vacation two summers ago.

We were staying up north, right near Nahariya, and needed an activity for the kids to let off some steam for an hour or two. We stopped off and saw a place where the kids could see and touch some animals. It was called a "farm" but was really more of an indoor exhibit designed to teach about the creatures and give kids a chance to interaact with a few of them.

Just when we were ready to leave, two of the keepers put on a macabre demonstration for all the kids present: they used a special stick to hold down a mouse in the middle of the floor, and allowed a snake to capture it, squeeze it into submission, then slowly and laboriously unhinge its jaws and consume the little mouse.

Would you expect this to bother little kids? Would you expect little kids -- who have been raised on cartoons in which the little mouse is invariably the plucky underdog who ends up the hero -- to protest this treatment of little Mickey? Wouldn't you expect kids to identify with a cute, furry little creature and not want to see it eaten by a snake?

I know that's what I expected.

But the kids were fascinated, and more interested in hearing about how the snake was accomplishing its task than in saving what was left of the mouse from the snake's jaws. They wanted to know why the mouse was still being held with a little stick while the snake consumed it -- (so the mouse wouldn't hurt the snake with a stray paw while struggling).

But there was a good reason for their surprising response to what seems like a clearcut case of Nasty Snake Eats Cute Little Mouse. The kids ignored the mouse and wanted to know more about the snake because they were at a snake farm, not a mouse farm. We'd spent the previous hour or so in this snake farm -- I know it was approximately an hour because that was how long it took my wife to gas up the car before finally showing up -- seeing a wide variety of snakes, touching them, learning their names, hearing about what they eat, how long they live, when they sleep and more. In short, the kids were watching the death and consumption of the little mouse from the point-of-view of the snake's narrative, and adapted accordingly.

I have no doubt that, all else being equal -- even without having to resort to a mouse farm -- the kids would have been outraged to see any cute little mammal being squeezed to death and choked down a snake's gullet. I'm sure they would have begged to intervene. But such is the power of the narrative to alter the audience's sympathies, to get them to cheer for the mobster or the murderer, or at least to view his acts dispassionately, with an interest in understanding the character's actions rather than condeming them

Hizballah is perfectly aware of this. So his Hamas. In an all-else-being-equal world, do you really believe so many people would be cheering on those who utilize suicide bombings against enemy civilians, and endanger the lives of their own by firing from behind them? Do you really believe the world would be rushing to condemn a democracy that is fighting off such attacks while seeking an accomodation with its enemies that simply permits it to securely exist? But Hizballah and Hamas and their sympathizers have succeeded in flipping the media narrative that controls what many of us view as the truth.

The world's objective media has been used to present a narrative that reverses the seemingly natural interpretation, and leaves people viewing this conflict as if it were an episode of the Sopranos in which we focus on the narrative of the mobster and his family and peers, innocent and otherwise alike.

Some people challenge whether this bias, and the ongoing fakery that enhances it, is significant. They say that the reality was already bad, and ask why photographers risk getting caught photoshopping their pictures, or strategically placing children's toys on the ground before taking their pictures? I hope we won't give up and stop answering them, so that we don't just sweep the issue of media bias under the carpet, as if it is interesting but inconsequential. It makes a big difference.

Unless you want to live in a world where the mouse is eaten while a curious world merely stands by -- or even cheers the snake -- you won't let them get away with it.


Dave Bender has a fantastic image illustrating this particular narrative concept.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

What do Nicole Kidman and Adam Sandler Have in Common? 

In a perfect world, the political pronouncements of the denizens of Hollywood really wouldn't be televised, publicized, or blogged about. Just ignored.

Unfortunately, I've already sullied the purity of the AbbaGav brand by mocking and criticizing Hollywood and it's cast of rotating hunger strikers, not to mention Mel Gibson, Michael Moore, Sean Penn, Tim Robbins and a cavalcade of stars. So when Hollywood takes a different path -- supporting Israel rather than tut-tutting about it -- it's only fair I should take a moment to report the good news and not just the bad.

Which brings me to the connection between two of today's biggest stars, who go together like caviar and cotton candy: Nicole Kidman and Adam Sandler.

First, this morning via Instapundit I learned the following about Nicole Kidman and a group of Hollywood's heavy-hitters:

NICOLE Kidman has made a public stand against terrorism.

The actress, joined by 84 other high-profile Hollywood stars, directors, studio bosses and media moguls, has taken out a powerfully-worded full page advertisement in today's Los Angeles Times newspaper.

It specifically targets "terrorist organisations" such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine.

"We the undersigned are pained and devastated by the civilian casualties in Israel and Lebanon caused by terrorist actions initiated by terrorist organisations such as Hezbollah and Hamas," the ad reads.

"If we do not succeed in stopping terrorism around the world, chaos will rule and innocent people will continue to die.

"We need to support democratic societies and stop terrorism at all costs."
And while Nicole Kidman got the headlines for her participation, others worthy of mention include:

The actors listed included: Michael Douglas, Dennis Hopper, Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, Danny De Vito, Don Johnson, James Woods, Kelly Preston, Patricia Heaton and William Hurt.

Directors Ridley Scott, Tony Scott, Michael Mann, Dick Donner and Sam Raimi also signed their names.

Other Hollywood powerplayers supporting the ad included Sumner Redstone, the chairman and majority owner of Paramount Pictures, and billionaire mogul, Haim Saban.
While this doesn't mean that any of these people have had an earth-shaking change of world-view and are ready to sign up for the Gingrich School of Conservative Meditation, it's gratifying to see that at least a few big stars are starting to see the big picture.

And that includes Adam Sandler:

Adam Sandler is doing his part to help Israel following its 34-day war with Lebanon. The 50 First Dates star announced earlier this week he would donate 400 Sony Playstations to Israelis whose homes were damaged in the fighting. The 39-year-old made the pledge during a meeting in Hollywood with Ehud Danoch, Israel's consul general in Los Angeles.
Since it's not likely Adam Sandler would agree to stop churning out bad movies, this may be the next best thing he could do for world peace.

Now what would it take for Hollywood to sign on to an ad stating "George Bush is not Satan incarnate"? And what would it take for the LA Times to print it?


Mamacita finds some interesting and hopeful signs in these latest Hollywood developments.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Wisdom of the French Foreign Minister 

Via Haaretz, Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a new French Foreign Minister (FFM) pronouncement:

The French foreign minister on Wednesday called for Israel to lift is air, naval and land blockade of Lebanon, saying it was unnecessary with the UN cease-fire plan holding.
This is great news! I sure hope this one takes a little longer to unravel than the last one, lest we are denied the time mere mortals require to fully appreciate such multi-faceted sagacity, before Nasrallah's reality rudely tramples the fragile beauty of its reasoning.

So let's see if we are up to the task of extracting even a fraction of the exquisitely hidden wisdom subtly encoded in this superficially stupid pronouncement.

We now see minimal missile fire. Which means the cease-fire is holding, more or less. Which means all future problems can now be safely ignored. Hizballah isn't firing that many missiles today, so there is no need to worry about them acquiring more tomorrow. Tres bien.

If we were smart, FFM-level smart, we'd take this logic and use it to make the world a better place by issuing a few calls of our own:
I could go on. But I'd rather not.

To be fair the FFM, Philippe Douste-Blazy -- who is not a flammable feminine hygiene product -- believes it is obvious the UN cease-fire plan is enough to obviate the need for Israel to personally prevent Hizballah-bound missile shipments into Lebanon:

"The blockade imposed on the airport and Lebanese ports should be lifted. We ask Israeli authorities to lift the land and sea siege on Lebanon. And we ask the Lebanese government to strengthen monitoring" of points of entry to insure Hezbollah weapons are banned, said Philippe Douste-Blazy.
He understands that he merely needs to call on the Lebanese government to strengthen monitoring, and it will be done. Of course, the monitoring must be strengthened, because up to this exact moment in history it clearly has been insufficient. But from now on it will be different; after all, he just requested it.

Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul also arrived in Beirut on Wednesday to discuss the deployment of a 15,000-strong international force to south Lebanon, amid doubt over whether Hezbollah would lay down its arms or even withdraw them from the border with Israel.
So there is nothing to worry about and no cause for an embargo. Hizballah doesn't even need new arms, since no one is asking them to lay down the old ones -- at least no one with any sophistication that is. Nasrallah's men certainly don't need any more missiles until they've fired off the ones they've already got. What would they possibly do with yet more missiles with even longer range and larger payloads -- stuff them in a bunker until their expiration dates pass? No, it's a ridiculous thought. Impossible.

I wonder if I couldn't someday be a French Foreign Minister, too, aside from the part about not speaking French.

"Arms Embargo on Hizballah" 

According to the Jerusalem Post, Israel's Foreign Ministry is counting on keeping new missiles out of Hizballah's hands on the strength of an arms embargo on, well, somebody:

According to Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev, the two main tasks of the expanded force would be enforcing a "Hizbullah-free zone" in south Lebanon and an international arms embargo on Hizbullah.
What does an arms embargo mean when it is imposed on a group rather than a country? A group that is not in charge of the embargoed ports and points of entry, and which can always deny connection or responsibility for any incoming shipment that tests the embargo?

So let us consider what would happen if Hizballah decides to play along, giving the international community all the happy-time images it so badly needs by accepting this embargo, all the while still playing Arafat-ian games behind the scenes. What exactly is an arms embargo on Hizbullah, and how is it enforced?

Let us say that a shipment of about 500 Katyusha rockets shows up and one or another minister of the Lebanese government shows up certifying it was ordered and paid for by the Lebanese government, perhaps out of charitable donations contributed by the concerned citizens of Iran and Syria.

That is, the embargo-enforcers are told that a shipment of 500 missiles is not bound for Hizballah. They are just for government-authorized reserve defense forces, and will simply be stored in concrete storage bunkers somewhere in the south. That's all.

What will the international community do?

Where will these missiles end up after their time in the storage bunkers?

And how soon?


Elder of Ziyon presents some similar analysis pointing out that this embargo is likely to be enforced not with an iron wall, but wet tissue paper.

We're Unhappy with Olmert, Therefore...? 

I've read quite a few posts recently from bloggers upset with Ehud Olmert's performance in this latest conflict that is even now likely only temporarily dormant.

While each of these criticisms tears Olmert a new one in its own unique location -- not all of which I agree with -- I nevertheless concur with the overwhelming conclusion: the Olmert government has not done the job. Olmert portrays to the world, to the Israel-hating Arab world surrounding us, an Israel that is not entirely sure how to defend itself. And so as the calls for a change of government begin, I have to reluctantly admit that sounds like it might be a good idea. I say reluctantly because you really don't want to change airplanes mid-flight, unless you absolutely have to. And make no mistake, shaky cease-fire or not, this is one conflict that is definitely still mid-flight. Nevertheless, its sometimes better to jump and hope that thing on your back is a parachute, rather than wait for the sputtering plane you're presently plummeting in suddenly ceases plummeting.

What's wrong with Olmert? What could possibly be so bad? Regardless of Olmert's hesitancy to use it, Israel's enemies still know that we have great military might.

The problem is that, as with the United States, it's not our military might that jihadists like Nasrallah are questioning so much as our will, and those questions begin at the top. The Prime Minister's on-again off-again flirtation with the use of sufficient force was something maybe only two men could fully appreciate -- Nasrallah, because he was largely the beneficiary, and John Kerry, who would have to admire a man with the nuance required to send in the troops before he stops them but who really meant to use them all along unless there was a cease-fire but for sure he'd use them better next time.

For the moment, a majority of Israelis seem open to the idea of early elections and a new government; however, no matter how much I agree, I'm not sure elections are going to happen just because a majority is open to them. Sure, there are calls for Olmert to do the right thing and step down. Others plead with the Knesset to pull down Olmert's government by passing a no-confidence motion -- which would require at least some of Olmert's coalition members to jeapordize their own place at the government trough in order to reach the required majority of 61 out of 120 possible votes. Now there is even an online petition calling for new elections.

Despite all this, what must be remembered when calling for Olmert's replacement is that before a new government can take over, the previous government's fingers must first be pried from the reins of power. In order for the government to get the boot, Olmert or other parties will have to somehow believe they would benefit from immediate elections.

So which party in Olmert's coalition is going to bring the coalition down? Who in the coalition thinks the electorate would reward them if new elections were to happen tomorrow? In Israel it is not uncommon for parties to threaten the coalition over issues like transfer payments to the poor or whether businesses may open on Shabbat, believing that making a scene or even bringing down the government will get them a larger mandate in new elections from voters who care about those issues.

That is not the situation today. Any new elections would be about one thing and one thing only: the ability to lead Israel through this time of war, as Iran's nuclear ambitions are coming to fruition. Which party in Olmert's coalition would stand to gain anything in new elections in such an environment?
I just don't see anyone in the coalition who would be ready to flip the lifeboat just yet, confident a better boat is close at hand. They all realize they'd just be dumped into shark infested water, hoping to find a piece of driftwood to cling to. Maybe when regular elections are two years or less away, when politicians begin identifying their electoral liabilities and start to do the distancing dance, maybe then some will abandon ship, hoping to prove themselves worthy of a seat in another party's sturdier lifeboat.

I'm not generally a political horseracing handicapper, and I may be analyzing this wrong, but it looks to me like this government could limp along under heavy criticism for a year, maybe two before deciding it's had enough. The problem is that a lot of things can happen in those two years.

So what else can be done if Olmert's government won't be brought down?

There is still a chance that Olmert can be convinced he needs a new wartime coalition. When the coalition was formed, Olmert was making calculations based on who would support his disengagement plans. Now, with Qassams still flying out of disengaged Gaza, with Hizballah's Katyushas idling momentarily between rocket runs at Israel's north, and best of all with Ahmadinejad's approaching atomic arsenal threatening Israel's very existence, it is time for a wartime coalition more concerned with protecting Israel than giving it away.

While Olmert may not be convinced to step down himself, he should reconsider what he gets from Labor and Amir Peretz as his defense minister -- since Labor's support for disengagement and further, now-inconceivable West Bank withdrawals, once thought an asset by Olmert, is now all but worthless in practice. He should reconsider how important it is to keep militarily qualified right-wingers out of the coalition just to protect further West Bank disengagements that it is now clear would be resisted by massive numbers of Israelis, not just for ideological reasons, but out of real concern for Palestinian missiles that would suddenly threaten all of their lives, turning all of Israel into Sderot or Nahariya.

While we can differ over who is qualified for exactly what roles, today's opposition boasts of a number of candidates for top ministerial spots -- especially Peretz's defense post -- like Effie Eitam, or Binyamin Netanyahu. I'm sure there are others, and I'm not necessarily making specific recommendations. But it is hard to believe Amir Peretz is the best possible defense minister for an embattled State of Israel.

I would suggest Prime Minister Olmert shuffle his coalition and cabinet, before it is too late. The clock is already ticking.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Oh How They Hate Occupation 

The UN spent decades passing resolution after resolution demanding Israel leave Lebanon. The Lebanese government insisted the cease-fire include terms for the withdrawal of Israeli troops. Hizballah itself claims the sole purpose for its founding -- and its continued existence even after Israel's UN-certified withdrawal in 2000 -- is to fight Israeli occupation.

And now MSNBC shows us exactly how eager all three of these parties are to work together in respecting the UN cease-fire conditions intended to enable the much sought after withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanon:

Israel refuses to withdraw before U.N. peacekeepers and Lebanese troops arrive in the south and Hezbollah guerrillas move north of the Litani River.
Brief anti-MSM-spin interlude: Israel does not "refuse to withdraw" -- operative provision 2 of the cease fire specifically times Israel's phased withdrawal only in conjunction with the deployment of Lebanese and UNIFIL forces in the south of Lebanon.

This has nothing to do with Israel at all, and is purely about observing the terms of a cease-fire these parties all agreed to. Let's continue observing how they observe them:

The Lebanese army says it won't deploy to the region while Hezbollah remains armed there — but the guerrillas refuse to give up their weapons in the south.

The U.N. peacekeepers, meanwhile, won't go until Lebanese troops replace Hezbollah fighters.
Oh how they hate occupation. So much so that -- contrary to the cease-fire they all created and agreed to -- they each refuse to take precisely the actions required to achieve the goal they claim to share. Hizballah seems to think no one will notice that their only message to Israel is "keep your troops here, or we will rocket your civilians again."

While most people only get buyer's remorse once they realize they should have checked the fine print, it appears that Hizballah fraudulently signed off on the cease-fire without having read it at all.

But surrendering weapons held by fighters in the south would be politically difficult for Hezbollah. The U.N. cease-fire deal failed to address its key demands: the return of Lebanese prisoners in Israeli jails and an Israeli evacuation of the disputed Chebaa Farms territory.
If by "politically difficult" they mean "not gonna happen, no way, no how," then perhaps Nasrallah should have rejected the cease fire -- even at the risk of exposing his agenda of aggression. By accepting a cease-fire whose conditions he had absolutely no intention of honoring, yet whose failure is somehow expect to be blamed on the Israeli side that is honoring it, he makes a mockery of the UN and the international community -- not that this is such a difficult thing to achieve these days.

Israel wants to ensure Hezbollah no longer has the ability to fire rockets at its communities and is unable to rearm.
This is understandably an intolerable insult to an organization whose sole purpose for existing is to fire rockets at Israel's communities. Oh, and to run ambulance services, kindergartens, soup kitchens and weapons depots.

Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah on Saturday said he would abide by the cease-fire and cooperate with the U.N. force and the Lebanese army.
He used the term "abide by" here euphemistically, his actual meaning clearly being to "disregard" the terms of the cease-fire, other than those applying to Israel.

The Lebanese army, which has long coordinated with Hezbollah, now says it alone must be in charge of an area over which Hezbollah has held sway for years.

"There won’t be weapons except those of the state," Information Minister Ghazi Aridi told reporters after Saturday’s Cabinet meeting.
No reports yet on whether Lebanon's national policy of wishing real hard for Hizballah forces to become invisible has had any effect, but in coming days it is expected the Lebanese government may request everyone wish harder in a stepped up effort to observe the terms of the cease-fire.

A head-on confrontation with Hezbollah could split the military and lead to the collapse of Prime Minister Fuad Saniora’s government.
And a collapse of his government would obviously be a terrible thing. Of course a collapse from such appalling heights wouldn't actually hurt much, being roughly equivalent to falling out of a sleeping bag.

So many words wasted giving lip service to what everyone hopes will sound like moderation, without actually lifting a finger to actually do anything.

Last year's Cedar Revolution showed that when Lebanon's moderates actually give a damn, they are capable of standing up and by resolute force of sheer numbers driving Syria from their country. To suggest there is nothing that can be done is misleading. But it does require another courageous step by Lebanese people who have shown the world they are capable of it. And this time it could actually buy them an entire country of their own, and real peace.

Stand up to Hizballah now, Lebanon. Sure you are angry at Israel, but now is the time to take the one and only action that can actually create the free and peaceful country you deserve. The longer you wait, the harder it will be. Syria and Iran will only be expanding Hizballah's arsenal during this re-armament interval.

Might standing up united against Hizballah "collapse" your Prime Minister's government? Perhaps. If so, it would a pity, given its accomplishments.

You deserve better.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Cease-Fire Doesn't Mean Cease-Reading 

Here are a few items to keep you reading while we wait to see what happens next.

To start us off, the results of the latest Watcher's Council vote are in. The winning post among council members was a reflection on the meaning of recent films about 9/11 by Callimachus at Done With Mirrors, We Could Be Heroes:

In part, we want to honor those thousands of lives, whether they were the uniformed heroes of New York city or the civilian heroes of Flight 93. But in part we want to feel the measure of their bravery brought to life in front of us, the better to sense our common humanity: They were heroes, but the chance to be one could have been offered to any of us that day. Fates decreed it was them, not us.
Beautifully said. Coming in a close second was another post from that AbbaGav guy, who claims it is an honor just to be nominated -- even if Council member posts are self-submitted.

Meanwhile, the winning non-council post was the post ironically titled Israel Has No Right to Exist by Gagdad Bob at One Cosmos. In an elegant piece, Gagdad Bob truly does assert that Israel does not have the right to exist. To see how he squares that statement with his robust support for Israel, you'll have to "read the whole thing."

Second place among non-council posts this week was a tie. Adding context to the whole Reuters Fauxtography scandal, The Shape of Days scored an interesting interview with an AP photojournalist: A photojournalist weighs in on the Adnan Hajj scandal. In the other second place post Abu Aardvark provides us a look into the intra-Islamist politics of the Israel-Lebanon War, Islamist bandwagons, giving us a glimpse of a political world largely unknown to most of us.

While all of those are great reads, as you might imagine in these turbulent times, there is a lot more going on in the blogosphere. Take for instance the latest installment of the Jewish Blog Carnival, Haveil Havalim. The host of this weeks edition, 82nd in the series, is once more Soccer Dad, the Carnival's illustrious and hard-working founder. He's also the newest member of the Watcher's Council -- Mazal Tov to Soccer Dad on his selection!

Here are a few other links you might not have seen that might be worth a look:

We all need a good laugh, so it is for that reason I must insist you read Yael's post in which she provides an absolutely knee-slapping metaphor of Olmert's wartime performance. I really want you to read it at her site so I don't want to quote the best part here, but I'll give you one word: squirrel. Ooops, that did it, now I'm chuckling again.

Dave Bender from Israel at Level Ground has been doing a series of great podcasts. For his latest he went up North and interviewed soldiers working night and day right on the border. Listening even for a few seconds to the background noise of the artillery and explosions while Dave spoke with the soldiers gives one an appreciation for the magnitude of what is happening there, and the accompanying pictures show exactly how close he was to the border.

Meryl Yourish is asking for our help: she needs us to name specific events in Jewish history ("Crossing the Red Sea," "the Inquisition," "Rockets in Haifa") in her comments section. Hmmm. I'm drawing a blank at the moment, but maybe YOU could help. It's for a good cause -- parody.

You will not find a better photographic skewering of the Reuters motif than the masterpieces Banterist has created.

Isaac Schrodinger, commenting on a nice piece about religiousity in Pakistan, shares some of the real meaning behind the religious lingo, for instance, "Inshallah has basically become code for you're screwed." These two guys really know what they are talking about and can show you the inner workings of a part of the world you normally only learn about from Reuters photographs.

Common Sense America points you to Ahmadinejad's new blog, but BE CAREFUL before opening it. Yael points out that there appears to be a nasty virus embedded in the site. I haven't checked it myself because I'm allergic to evil dictators. (UPDATE - Monday AM: Christi, from Common Sense America, reports that she did a full sweep of the Ahmadinejad and the only toxic substance she found there was his words, so it appears to be OK for US visitors, probably non-Israeli visitors in general. Is there anyone else from Israel with any feedback on any security problems while wading through Ahmadinejad's online swamp from an Israel internet host?)

Idan at Pixane.net explains the secret sauce in Hizballah's recipe for destroying Israel -- without appearing to destroy Israel:

Hezbollah: I’ll take a hot dog with some Katyushas and a side of anti-tank missiles, hold the WMD’s please.
If you haven't read much from Pixane.net, give it a serious look -- there's a lot of great writing there, and you can tell more is on the way.

Sandy Cash, a fabulous folk musician who lives here in Beit Shemesh, has a website where she offers her music but where she also keeps a blog. Last week she wrote about her trip to the North, where she played a small concert in a bomb-shelter -- don't tell her kids so they don't worry. In other big Sandy Cash news, her song "The Real Thing" has emerged from preliminary compettion to reach the Annual Open Mic Finals, which is a pretty big deal. If you take a moment to register at Folk Alley, you can hear her song as well as the competition and cast your own vote. Good luck Sandy.

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