Tuesday, September 26, 2006

AbbaGav Goes To Crossing-Guard School 

All right, so Rosh HaShannah explains why I didn't blog for the weekend.

But what about Sunday night? What's my great excuse for that, for leaving you all for a third straight day with nothing but an elaborate "Jews are the problem" puppet show in my comments section for entertainment? (The kind of puppet show where lots of puppets seem to be talking, but there are really only one or two puppeteers doing all the work.) What could I possibly think would excuse THAT?

Yeah, that's right. I had to go to crossing-guard school.

Hey, seriously, despite what you might think, they managed to stretch out what should have been 15 minutes of hand-waving demonstrations into a full hour-and-a-half extravaganza, and that's 90 precious blogging minutes I'll never get back. So, barring some seriously interesting near-term developments in faster-than-light physics, I'll just have to reconcile myself to the loss and salvage what I can of the evening by sharing with you a few crossing-guard pointers I picked up tonight.

Hey, it's either that, or more puppet-show comment theatre. Your choice.

That's what I thought.

The main thing I learned about being a crossing-guard is that it is seriously dangerous, and the odds are quite good that I could be killed by a derelict driver or angry and impatient parent whose kid is going to be late unless I stop traffic NOW. Looking on the bright side, though, I learned that under such sad circumstances, I would in fact be fully insured, provided I was killed wearing the proper, police-issued vest.

At first I thought this simple fact of my likely demise might rescue me from a longer evening of instruction -- after all, if I'm just going to get run over, what more do I have to learn? But it turns out that there is only a CHANCE I'll get killed, and that if I approach the dangerous cars and pedestrians with the proper sense of paranoia coupled with a bit of false bravado, I might somehow make it. The trick, as I understand it, is getting the mix of paranoia and bravado just right. After watching maybe a half hour demonstration about eye contact, hand-waving, and dominance rituals, I can now say that a good-crossing guard (one who plans to survive) has to approach his or her cars and kids the same way a lion tamer would deal with four simultaneously advancing lions while armed with nothing but a large salami to scare them back into the corners of the cage. It can work, as long as we keep the salami moving. And if not, so they reminded us, at least we're insured.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. All of those specifics only came after a good half hour of filling out forms that, oddly enough, didn't even request next-of-kin.

However, they did want to know how many years in the classroom we eager new crossing-guards were bringing with us to our intersections. I couldn't quite figure out what this had to do with standing in front of cars and expecting them to stop because you are holding up your hand but I did my best to answer anyway. I briefly thought about writing down a really low number, hoping maybe to save my miserable hide by forcing them to reject me, but I couldn't be sure how low was low enough. So I wrote down the honest sum of my high school and college and grad school years, hoping here still might be enough other candidates with vastly superior years in the classroom to render my own human sacrifice unnecessary -- for instance, maybe some retired pre-school teachers were applying who could probably claim a good 50 or 60 years in the classroom. Alas, I was accepted anyway.

There were other useful questions, too, because apparently they only have one form for all of the various volunteer activities coordinated by the police unit, including those like border patrols and other armed assignments. So we crossing-guards had to indicate whether we had any problem with carrying a gun on duty -- of course we did, since after watching the drivers at our intersection over the years, we knew we'd need grenades instead. And of course they wanted to know if we were willing to use our private vehicles if necessary to fulfill our duty -- as crossing guards, we felt using our own cars while trying to shepherd kids safely across the street might send a bit of a mixed message, so we all said no.

Finally we got our forms filled out in duplicate -- well, actually I had to fill them out twice in singlicate because I hadn't quite realized how that prehistoric piece of black paper sandwiched between the two copies was supposed to work. But the forms were filled out, and then we got the thirty minute hand-waving demonstration I had expected, followed by a recitation of many of the 30 or so legal points written in fine print on the 8 sided card they gave us to keep folded up in our wallets for quick, emergency consultation should we find ourselves about to be run over by a speeding taxicab.

That final 30 minute recitation included a few more key points, namely, that we have all the authority of the police except we aren't allowed to use any force -- basically we have the ability to write down license plate numbers if we remember to bring little Snoopy notepads with us, which is a power the police normally reserve for themselves. Also, we heard more about the insurance -- apparently those vests really are that important. I'm also pretty sure -- although I must confess I believe a few of us were beginning to doze by this point -- that they reminded us that shooting people is a LAST RESORT. Maybe I missed something in the middle, but I think I got most of the point -- I know I, for one, won't shoot unless it's really a last resort, like if I forget my Snoopy notepad.

And that's about it, I think. Ninety minutes of survival tips. I hope I remembered enough of them, because my next morning on duty is this Friday, and I'm really hoping I'll still be around into next week to find out how the puppet show ends. But in case I don't make it, I just wanted to formally thank everyone who chipped in and spoke truth to puppets while I was away.

P.S.: If your children attend Uziel elementary school, and you can't keep them home sick on Fridays, don't worry. I'll stare down the cars, my hand raised fearlessly in the air to keep our kids safe (my own included). I'm insured.

Friday, September 22, 2006

It's Not Actually "Holocaust Denial" 

Calling it Holocaust denial makes it sound almost benign to me.

Take Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, for instance. When people call him simply a Holocaust denier, it sounds to me as if he is inadvertantly being misdiagnosed as being merely in psychological denial, unable to believe something so horrible could actually have occurred -- heck, I think a lot of us would prefer that kind of Holocaust denial for ourselves too. But Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial is not just a compassionate inability to comprehend the truth of certain historical facts; he is not simply asking for a review of the footnotes in our kids' history books.

At least for Ahmadinejad, it's not "Holocaust denial." It's Holocaust envy.

In case anyone doubts it, let's look at what Israeli Foreign Minister,Tzipi Livni, had to say about this Holocaust envier recently at the U.N (follow the links to see that her words clearly include Ahmadinejad specifically):

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni warned the UN General Assembly on Wednesday that Iranian leaders pose the biggest threat to international values as they 'speak proudly' of their wish to destroy Israel and pursue weapons to achieve that objective.

Speaking at the annual General Assembly session, Livni said that the international community must stand up against Iran, which she claimed is pursuing the weapons to destroy Israel, a reference to its nuclear program.

'There is no greater challenge to our values than that posed by the leaders of Iran,' Livni said. 'They deny and mock the Holocaust. They speak proudly and openly of their desire to wipe Israel off the map. And now, by their actions, they pursue the weapons to achieve this objective, to imperil the region and to threaten the world.'
Why does Ahmadinejad deny there was a Holocaust? Does he feel that the attempt to systematically wipe out an entire people is so wrong that he wishes it had never occured? It seems kind of doubtful, since he openly and proudly speaks of his own desire to accomplish the very thing he denies having happened, the very Holocaust he envies.

No, his Holocaust envy is a tactic designed to divide those who otherwise would be reminding themselves never to forget. He speaks to Germany, selling himself as one who would absolve that nation's historical record, and free it to ignore if not actually support with a newly clear conscience his efforts to destroy Jews once more. He speaks to nations that still, if only tentatively, shy away from their hidden hatreds that scant decades ago led them to complicitly load their Jews onto trains and transports, further emboldening diplomats who find it once more fashionable to disparage the Jews' sh***y little country at their sophisticated soirees. He speaks at anti-Semitic rallies throughout the Islamic world where he is greeted like a rock star, leading chants of "Death to the Jews," offering himself as the annointed harbinger of those hateful hopes. In short, while there are those who claim Muslims are the new Jews, Ahmadinejad begs to differ: he'd prefer the Jews to be the new Jews.

The irony in the Iranian President's competing positions is almost too much to bear. He simultaneously claims there wasn't a Holocaust -- not that there's anything wrong with Jewish Holocausts, mind you -- and that he'd also like the chance at pulling off one of those Holocaust things himself, if the world would kindly just stand back and give him the chance.

In a world already slowly sinking beneath a sea of ridiculous irony, the Iranian President arrives on the scene like a rhetorical Hurricane Mahmoud. (Are we even allowed to use Arab or Islamic names for hurricanes anymore? In a list of hurricane name assignments from 2002 to 2007, there has been only one -- Omar -- and that one all the way back in 2002. Although, in fairness, they didn't use George or Dick either.)

The only arguably good news I see in the recent U.N. gathering, and Ahmadinejad's speech among the many worrisome words uttered there, is that at least this time he made no claim of possessing a golden aura that religiously and prophetically transfixed his infidel audience while he spoke. Perhaps he is finally beginning to realize God is not backing the side that wants to kill masses of Jews yet again. But then again, and no less likely, maybe he believes his plans are now far enough along that he no longer feels he needs God's help.

But I know the rest of us could use a little heavenly help. As Rosh HaShannah approaches, let's pray God guards us all against the approching threat of a world with Iranian nukes in the hands of Holocaust enviers.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Wanna Watcha Weasel? 

It's fun, and educational too! In case you're not sure whether a little weasel watching would be for you, here's a little sample of what the Weasel Watching Council came up with last week.

We weasel watchers, as you know, vote each week on two categories of the week's best writing: one winner selected from posts by members of the Watcher's Council, and another non-Council winner from posts anywhere on the web. This week's winning Council post was by Matt Barr of the Socratic Rhythm Method, Your chance of dying in a terrorist attack:

There's a chance, I acknowledge, that the people who compare their chance of dying in the next terror attack to their chance of dying of avian flu have a non-selfish point to make, about perspective and allocation of effort and resources. To the extent they sound maddeningly unserious, that's my fault for overstating the terror threat. Fine. We've already established that they're smarter than I am.

But maybe on the fifth anniversary of the attacks, we can take some time to mull over whether September 11 might have been important for reasons beyond the threat to our individual lives. The awe and horror, the hole ripped in the New York skyline, the stories of phone calls from the planes, the heroism of the passengers of Flight 93.
He makes some great points and it's well worth reading the whole thing.

Second place was a tie between Soccer Dad and Shrink Wrapped. Soccer Dad wrote about various 9/11-related aspects of ideology in a post called Three Strands Not Easily Broken, while Shrink Wrapped weighed in with another 9/11 piece called 9/11 Ambiguities

The non-Council results also featured a tie -- a big one. The single winning non-Council post was And At Night, I Dream Of You... by Villainous Company, a tribute to 9/11 victim Lydia Estelle Bravo. Second place, however, was split four ways:
Full results are available at the Watcher of Weasels site. It's worth a look because I can tell you trying to pick even two posts to vote for this week was difficult, there were that many good submissions.

Another worthwhile site to check out if you're looking for a great collection of the week's finest posts all in one place is Haveil Havalim, the Jewish Blog Carnival. This week's host was Greetings From French Hill -- who was coincidentally also one of the top posts in this week's Watcher's Council voting, so congratulations are in order for a terrific week. Stop by and check out the 87th edition of this carnival, Haveil Havalim #87 - Chicken Soup for the Brain. Enjoy.

"Muzzling" Rosie 

Salon.com's gossip column echoes a weighty question: GOP trying to muzzle Rosie?

Over at her blog Deadline Hollywood, Nikki Finke reports that the Republican National Committee's (maddeningly unreadable) Web site is out for Rosie O'Donnell's blood, perhaps signaling the beginning of some kind of campaign against the new 'View' co-host. Under a headline 'Dems' 'Rosie' view on the war on terror. Cut-and-run Defeatocrats across the country take their cues from Hollywood friends and advisors,' (ed: note the distortion of punctuation in the headline to make the GOP's site seem "maddeningly unreadable." The actual headline: Dems' "Rosie" view on the war on terror -- which is a bad pun, but not maddening unreadable. But they changed the double quotes to single quotes and then quoted it further with single quotes to create the maddeningly unreadable mess they complain about. Nice work, very nice work.)  the site lists O'Donnell's recent antiwar quotes from the show, followed by a list of her 2006 campaign contributions. 'Clearly,' writes Finke, 'the GOP's intent is to get ABC to fire newcomer-to-the-network, O'Donnell, or, barring that, muzzle her.' (Deadline Hollywood Daily)
So apparently Republicans' options these days are restricted to either shutting up, or being accused of shutting others up. There is no middle ground, no healthy testing of ideas through dialogue, no patriotic option of disagreement and getting all views expressed for Republicans. If they do not allow Rosie O'Donnell to say anything and everything she wants, no matter how disagreeable, on a national media outlet no less, and without criticism or even awkward silences that might imply criticism, then out come the charges of Repulican muzzlement.

At the risk of overgeneralizing, and perhaps even accidentally muzzling someone, it occurs to me that it is primarily a certain segment of the political spectrum -- and technically, it may not actually be a segment, but a 'ray' starting at a particular point somewhere west of center and then extending leftward to infinity -- that has lost much of its ability to hear criticism of its views without complaining that the criticism is an attempt to muzzle them and deny their free speech rights. No doubt I will hear from a few commenters informing me that right wingers are just as prone to exaggerating the slanders and calumnies arrayed against them, but, BUT, please bear in mind that when the right does it, there is not the charge of muzzling or denying freedom of speech. They generally prefer simply to use use the exaggeration to strengthen their charges that their critics are wrong and stupid. This loss-of-free-speech -- or perputually impending loss-of-free-speech -- paranoia isn't coming from the right.

I wish I were a psychologically attuned blogger like Dr. Sanity, Dr. Helen or Shrink Wrapped. Then I'd probably be able to explain this strange behavior -- inflating simple criticism into a Stalinesque attempt to stifle one's free speech -- as the obvious manifestation of an underlying desire to muzzle their own critics, projected onto ideological opponents who disagree with them.

Alas, I'm not, so I won't.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Looking On the Bright Side... 

Sure, Iran may be only several months away from acquiring a nuclear weapon. And of course that means Iran may also be precisely several months and one day away from using it.

Sure, the Pope has sent a message that religion and violence don't mix, and been greeted with an Islamic response not unlike the retort one would expect from Moe if Curly complained he was too violent -- pick two fingers.

Sure, U.S. Democrats and Republicans appear about as capable of forming a coherent policy on the War in Iraq as Unger and Madison were of settling on a single style of interior decoration.

Sure, more people in the world believe in the tooth fairy than believe that the Twin Towers were brought down by Muslim dissident, Osama Bin Laden -- especially since Islam is known to be a Religion of Peace such that no Muslim would ever do such a thing; although, Muslims would of course have no problem celebrating such an act and threatening more of same.

Sure, Israel still has Hizballah's missiles to her north, Palestinians busy digging smuggling tunnels for Hamas-bound advanced rockets to her south, that giant glowing Iranian missile to her east, and, looming somewhere off to Israel's west, Jacques Chirac, the French Foreign Minister and even farther off, Kofi Anan.

But look on the bright side. With all this other troubling news to dwell on, at least we've been able to ignore that scary old Bird Flu for awhile. Which means I can temporarily pause in my stockpiling of water bottles, surgical masks, and miniature pigeon-pooper-scoopers.



Dave Bender points out the obvious video that I unbelievably forgot to link. But look on the bright side: it's never too late to add something to a blog post.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

The "Death to the Pope for Calling Us Violent" Protests 

The Pope's statement that there is no place for violence in religion and his corresponding pointing to Islam's ideology of Jihad has well and truly ticked off a few people, from New York Times editorialists to rank and file Palestinian terrorists. Many Islamist activists are so perturbed that they've taken to the streets to proclaim their seething anger at the Pope for questioning their pacifism.

[Palestinians] from the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade attend a rally in Gaza to protest against remarks regarding Islam made by Pope Benedict XVI September 15, 2006. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem (GAZA)
Of course al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade would abhor the Pope's intimations that there is any threat of violence behind the Jihadists' push for Islamic supremacy. Their greatest aspiration in life, obviously, is martyrdom. And, equally obviously, the Brigade's active members have not yet achieved that dream, and don't really want the Pope's preachy pontifications against "violence in religion" jeapordizing their chances at dying a violent death while nobly dragging a few infidels with them.

But it's not just the Martyrs Brigade exploding (figuratively) in spontaneous, peaceful-ish demonstrations of their anger at the Pope. Even the moderate Islamist organization Hamas -- they're moderates now, right? -- even they're violently peeved with the Pope about this. Peeved enough to shout peaceful, non-violent slogans proclaiming Islam's distaste for any violence perpetrated in its name -- or at least distaste for having such violence criticized:

Can you feel the vibe? You can almost hear the chants, can't you?
Clearly, 60's-era peace activists should immediately charter an emergency planeload of tie-dyed shirts to support their peace-protesting brothers.

Islamic Jihad protests have apparently been delayed until leaders can reprint the usual banners, flags, and Death to the Jews™ headbands that don't feature the words "Islamic" and "Jihad" so close together.


At the risk of re-stating the obvious one too many times, please let me clarify: I am not anti-Islam; I'm anti-Jihad. The fact that so many AK-47 wielding masked Muslims object to the second position as if it is identical to the first is a big problem -- one I believe the Pope has properly identified, and for which he should be congratulated rather than called to apologize.

Wouldn't you think this would be one of those times when angry Muslim protest would be limited to the calm and reasoned appearance on television of every moderate, Western-dressed Muslim able to clearly explain that Jihad means internal struggle and that the masked militants are an extremist fringe that don't represent them?

Instead we are treated to one protest image after another showing a particular face of Islam that does little more than confirm the Pope's words. And the most moderate voices we hear are those shouting down the Pope rather than the men with the rifles and suicide belts.

If many in the West tire of waiting for moderate Muslims to wrest their religion away from those intent on stripping it down to little more than a violent death cult, and begin to doubt their desire to fight that internal Jihad for a peaceful version of Islam that can coexist with modernity, it wouldn't surprise me. It would sadden me, though.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Muslim anger grows over Pope’s remarks 


Pakistan's parliament unanimously condemned Pope Benedict XVI on Friday for making what it called "derogatory" comments about Islam and demanded he apologize.

The Vatican has said Pope Benedict did not mean to offend Muslims with remarks he made in Germany this week about Muhammad and holy war.

In a speech, Benedict quoted a 14th-century Byzantine emperor as saying,"Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."
This isn't the only Islamic outrage that has been registered against the Pope's quote. But what struck me in reading the article was that none of the Muslim condemnations bothered to clarify exactly what they felt was derogatory or wrong with the remarks:

Muslim clerics, organizations and Web sites have expressed outrage at the pope's remarks.

Turkey's top Islamic cleric asked Benedict to apologize and unleashed a string of accusations against Christianity, raising tensions before the pope’s planned visit to Turkey in November on what would be his first papal pilgrimage to a Muslim country.

Religious Affairs Directorate head Ali Bardakoglu, a cleric who sets the religious agenda for Turkey, said he was deeply offended by remarks about Islamic holy war made Tuesday during the pilgrimage to the pontiff's homeland, calling them "extraordinarily worrying, saddening and unfortunate."

Bardakoglu said that "if the pope was reflecting the spite, hatred and enmity" of others in the Christian world, then the situation was even worse.
Perhaps the MSNBC article isn't telling us the part of Bardakoglu's statement where he explains exactly what offends him about the statement quoted by the Pope. But so far, despite looking quite a bit, I haven't seen anything clarifying his criticism. Let's see a couple other impassioned papal smackdowns from the article:

In Egypt, Mohammed Mahdi Akef, the leader of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, also called for an apology.

"The remarks do not express correct understanding of Islam and are merely wrong and distorted beliefs being repeated in the West," Akef said.

The 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference, based in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia said it regretted "the pope's quote and for the other falsifications." It expressed hopes that "this sudden campaign does not reflect a new trend for the Vatican policy toward the Islamic religion."

Militant Islamic Web sites also unleashed a scathing campaign against the pope.
It's no big surprise that Islamic militants would object to anyone drawing reform-minded attention to their principles of Jihad. What is puzzling is why the others quoted so blandly in the article, presumably spokesmen who would hope to be identified to the West as "moderates," would openly support the militants in quashing non-Muslim statements that raise awareness of Jihad's historical and present goals. The quoted objections don't even bother raising the usual point that when rioters raise signs calling for Jihad against the West until Islam dominates, they are only speaking about a Jihad of self-improvement. Perhaps focus groups have shown that argument has grown tired and lost its persuasive power after the Jihad fever that has violently gripped much of the world in recent years.

So what exactly is there in the Pope's words that has so bothered these guys? What is so "derogatory" or "wrong and distorted"?

Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.

Is it the claim that Muhammad ordered the faith of Islam be spread even by the sword? They don't say. If that was indeed their objection, I'd love for them to speak of it loudly and at length and quite explicitly, crafting their peace-loving message especially for their sword-wielding co-religionists. Alas, no such entreaties asking the Jihadists to lay down their sword is found in these criticisms of the Pope.

But, aside from the fact that the statement is basically true -- Muhammad did spread the faith by sword, but apologists speaking to modern Western listeners hasten to obscure the interpretation of the Koran's positon on such jihad == Perhaps none of the quoted spokesmen wanted to come out and object to this phrase explicitly right now, trying to somehow claim Islam does no such thing, because they recognize it would be a pretty hard sell. Aside from the growing worldwide popularity of the Jihad brand right now, and public claims of Islam fighting to create a global Islamic world under a single ruling Caliphate, they would also have to compete with the recent forced videotaped conversion of two kidnapped Fox reporters in Gaza; although, technically, in the case of the Fox reporters Islam was spread at gunpoint not by sword.

Perhaps the objection is to calling "evil and inhuman" the jihad practice of spreading the Muslim faith by force -- that any practice of Muhammad, no matter how objectionable to us infidels, must by definition be discussed with respect and admiration. They very well might believe such an objection, but I suspect they know speaking openly of it would give up the game to a vast number of listeners in the West, who do believe that spreading faith by force is evil.

Of course Bardakoglu and others are quick to point the finger back at the Pope, saying that the world should be focusing on the Christian world's history of spreading religion by the sword centuries ago, rather than talking about the ongoing and insufficiently opposed practice alive and well in much of the Islamic world today. Obviously not every mosque in Ohio advocates congregants running around in the street with swords looking to smite the necks of those who don't accept Allah and Muhammad as his prophet. But they aren't registering any sort of effective or even perceptible objection to the practice being done on their behalf in numerous other parts of the world either -- and they appear to have no trouble condemning as Islamophobes those non-Muslims who insist on insensitively pointing this out.

The only points I see where an objection I might accept could be lodged against the Pope's literal words are against the two words: "new" and "only":

Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.

Clearly Muhammad did not invent religious coercion, even if he did advance the state of that art a few centuries. And claiming he only brought things evil and inhuman is incorrect. On that basis, while I do share a strong concern for the part being played by Jihad in the world, I would personally not back the 14th century emporer's statement as being fully correct. But those are only the words of a 14th century emporer, not the Pope himself, who quoted them only in order to draw attention to Islam's practice, even today, of Jihad in the name of spreading the faith. The words "new" and "only" were not his point. His point was that Islam has not reformed this violent and coercive tendency in itself, even in all the centuries since the 14th. The Christian church, once a similar practicioner of violent coercion, long ago gave up this practice.

While Islamic spokesmen use Christianity's ancient history to challenge the Pope's right to speak on this topic, it is precisely Christianity's reform that qualifies the Pope to speak on the issue.

(FOLLOWUP POST on the subject, The "Death to the Pope for Calling Us Violent" Protests, "...I am not anti-Islam; I'm anti-Jihad. The fact that so many AK-47 wielding masked Muslims object to the second position as if it is identical to the first is a big problem...")

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Obvious Prisoner Abuse -- Withholding Hair Care Products 


I hope you didn't think that was natural, because...


Palestinian Hamas lawmakers during an Israeli military court hearing in the West Bank town of Ramallah, September 12, 2006. (Stringer/Reuters)
Oh the inhumanity!

Looks like Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch is going to have to come down here and give a certain Zionist somebody a little talking to about obligations under International Humanitarian Law to provide cosmetic hair products to Israel's Palestinian prisoners.

Obviously no corresponding condemnation of Hizballah or Hamas treatment of Israeli prisoners is needed, since no one has been allowed to so much as see whether Eldad Regev, Ehud Goldwasser and Gilad Shavit are even alive -- as would be required under International Humanitarian Law for most other prisoners in the world -- let alone whether they are dissatisfied with their grooming options.

Haniyeh Is an Idiot, or Thinks Somebody Else Is 

Haniyeh is an idiot, or thinks somebody else is -- maybe even us readers. How else to explain the reactions he seems to expect to some of his pronouncements? I say this based on his recently announced agreement to the general idea of talks with Israel (or whatever), so long as those talks don't involve his Hamas government in any way:

Asked by Reuters if the new administration would negotiate with the Jewish state, Haniyeh said: 'No. Negotiations have to do with the PLO and not with the government.'

Haniyeh, who is likely to head the new government, has previously said he would not object to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas negotiating with Israel. A spokesman for the current Hamas government reiterated that position earlier on Tuesday.
Actually, it's such a relief he came out and said that. This will make it so much easier now for Ehud Olmert to go ahead with the plan to send a delegation from the Nahariya Rotory Club to the talks, instead of having to roll Shimon Peres out there yet one more time.

It would have been so embarrassing for the Palestinian Prime Minister to have actually sent a group of Hamas (hopefully unarmed) negotiators out there, ready to make real concessions on issues like Israel's right to spell its name with the 'a' before the 'e', when the other side was only going to send out a powerless token entity incapable of speaking on behalf of any national authority willing and able to deliver on its promises.

Imagine if Haniyeh's guys actually conceded Israel could be allowed to exist for, oh, say another 2 years, and then had that concrete concession met by a promise to discuss it after dessert and speeches at the next year's Rotary awards banquet, presuming a quorum could still be assembled after the bar was closed. Perhaps the Rotarians could then have declared Haniyeh an honory member of the club and granted him a red felt fez for his magnanimity, assuming he doesn't already own one.

Yeah, that would have been really, really embarrassing. I'd hate to see any prime minister do anything that stupid.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Council Has Spoken! 

Last week's results from the Watcher's Council are now available at the Watcher of Weasels site.

In the council competition for posts by members of the council, there was an incredible three way tie for first place that had to be broken by the Watcher. The eventual worthy winner was Sundries Shack with "It’s Not a War. It’s a Trendy Buzzword!" If you haven't used the word "fascist" with intent since your high school days when the principal imposed a two-item limit on the cafeteria's dessert line, this post could be worth a look. It could also be worth a look if you are trying to make a careful decision over whether any particular society or religiously-based terror movement in the modern world fits the definition:

1 often capitalized : a political philosophy, movement, or regime (as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition
Also worthy of mention in the same breath (or post) as Sundries Shack's winning entry are the two runner's up. JoshuaPundit made the case that it is time for Jews to think about leaving Western Europe, and Right Wing Nuthouse notices that 9/11 tin foil hats are melting -- probably because they were too close to the Super-Thermite.

The non-council competition had a clear winner, with Mere Rhetoric's post, "Hezbollah Probably Lost the War, But They May Never Have Been In It To Win," lapping the competition. Mere Rehtoric supplies a number of insights into the motivations and ramifications of Nasrallah's recent war, this example among them:

It's obvious that Hezbollah never intended this kidnapping to have military consequences and it's at least tenable that Nasrallah is more or less indifferent to rising levels of anti-Hezbollah Lebanese sentiment. His strategy was, if not more subtle, then at least more careful. It was the same strategy that Nasser used when he closed the Straits in 1967, and it's quite similar to the strategy that drives Ahmadinejad's seemingly clownish Holocaust denials. The goal is to change the kind of terms of the relationship that either Israel's enemies or the rest of the world have with Israel. At least according to Abba Eban, Nasser's goal was the humiliation and slow economic strangulation of Israel without conflict. Ahmadinejad's strategy is to undermine Israeli legitimacy by changing what is OK to say out loud and what isn't.

In the same vein, Nasrallah's hope was to make kidnapping of Israeli soldiers just one more thing that Israel's Arab enemies more or less routinely do - to make it a routine part of the conflict.
One last bit of Watcher's Council news: In case you haven't heard yet, Soccer Dad has had a Soccer baby (his wife might phrase that slightly different, but I hopy you get the idea). Somehow, he still managed to compile this week's edition of Haveil Havalim in his "spare time" so why not go over and wish him a Mazal Tov or congratulations, or just let him know he has some baby cheese on his shoulder -- and enjoy a collection of some of the finest Jewish blogging of the last week while you're there.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Angel M. Pabon and the 2996 

A few months ago I told you about a memorial project to honor the memory of 2996 souls stolen from us five years ago today, on 9/11. Today, on the anniversary of his death, as my part in this memorial, I honor Angel M. Pabon.

I never met Mr. Pabon. Angel. But I've learned a bit about him in preparing this tribute. Enough to feel his loss. Enough to remember that everyone who died that day had such capacity for goodness and such ability to touch others. Among the many tributes to this Angel I found this one:

When Angel Pabon gave up Marlboro Lights six years ago, his 5-foot-8 frame grew from 185 pounds to 205 pounds. "He had these chubby cheeks that I used to love to grab," said his wife, Yvette. "When he gained that weight, it made me love him just a little bit more."

Mr. Pabon, 53, a manager of international equities at Cantor Fitzgerald, achieved his position through will and talent. A native of Puerto Rico, he loved to defy ethnic stereotypes. More than 30 years ago, an employment agency sent him to interview for a position as a teletype operator at Drexel Burnham Lambert. He got the job, but was intrigued by traders, who were screaming in a nearby office. He asked an Anglo colleague what was going on, Mrs. Pabon said.

"The guy told him not to worry about it because he would never work there," Mrs. Pabon recalled. "My husband was furious. He wanted to say something to him, but he didn't. But within a year, my husband was trading for the company on the Japanese market. That was his response to the guy."

Profile published in THE NEW YORK TIMES on November 2, 2001.
America lost something great the day Angel died. But America is filled with greatness, and I would hope that each of us will reach a little higher, and think of Angel's memory when we do. Angel clearly never sought the comfort of complaint, but set about letting his deeds and accomplishments speak for him. We can all do that too.

Too many tributes to read them all. Some so painful even one seems like too many:

On the morning of September 11th, as I watched the terrifying news on TV, I kept saying to myself "Elvin's with Chiqui, he'll be safe. They'll be OK as long as they're together." To me, they were invincible. To me, they will always be invincible. My relationship with the Pabon family started two weeks after I got married, at the wedding of my husband's cousin. I only remember Elvin saying how he was going to work for that man some day. He was so honored when Chiq gave him that chance, and every opportunity after that over the next seven years. There was a special bond between them that Elvin truly cherished. Chiqui became a second father to him, and he respected him and loved him dearly. I will forever be honored to say that Chiqui was my friend, and my children will grow up knowing how special he was to us all. Yvette, Vaness and Angel, you were truly blessed to have been loved by such a man. I know your pain because I live it too--we had the best. You will always be part of my family, and I am always just a call away. When I think of heaven now with all of our loves there, my one and only consolation is knowing that wherever my Elvin is, Chiqui is standing tall next to him. Gabi actually believes they are up in heaven golfing, I have a feeling she's right. Rest in peace, Angel.

Diane Romero (Old Bridge, NJ )
Amazing how much it hurts. Just taking the name of a perfect stranger, knowing only that his life was cut short that day, and then looking deeper, searching for what I can learn about him. It really put a lump in my throat just to read the little details of his life -- that he was an impeccable dresser, his love of golf, the positive effect he had on even passing acquaintances -- and knowing he was there that day, a victim representative of all of us.

His nickname, "Chicky"; how much he helped others in the business he himself struggled so hard to enter -- all of that taken away. It reminds me he was real and he was here and such a valuable presence in our world, not just part of a number, not just a fragment of an anonymous 2996. None of them were anonymous.

They were all so real and alive, and now they are gone. Missed, but not forgotten. Even by those of us who didn't know them.

More tributes to Angel, including comments from people who knew him:
My sympathy goes out to his family and friends, and to all who miss his presence in their lives. May his memory endure. May we never forget.

Please take a few moments if you can to honor the memories of more of the 2996. Just read about them, and remember. (If the link isn't working, here is an alternate link.)



For more, here are some more of the 2996 tributes I've come across on or near my blogroll:

Jameel at the Muqata honors Nancy Morgenstern, whose memory truly has been for a blessing in the form of an ambulance here in Beit Shemesh among other things.

Miri at Yiddishe-Kop 2.0 honors Yuji Goya, who died making sure his employees could get out.

Boker Tov Boulder honors Jeffrey Nussbaum, and remembers his final calls on the cell phone.

Frank J. at IMAO honors Gregory Sikorsky, one of the brave men who went up while everything was coming down.

Ellison honors Lt. Geoffrey Guja, a fireman who didn't have to go, but went anyway.

Meryl Yourish honors Abe Zelmanowitz, who died with his parapalegic friend who couldn't go down the stairs.

Point Five honors Christina Donovan Flannery, who never got to live in the house on Cranberry Lane with her husband.

Seawitch honors Stephen Poulos, who loved the opera.

Smooth Stone honors Welles Remy Crowther, who saved so many others and died a hero.

Oceanguy honors Captain Gerald Deconto, his naval academy classmate known by the name "Fish".

Mark at Knockin on the Golden Door honors John G. Coughlin, one of New York's finest, who left behind a wife and 3 daughters.

Scottage honors Angela Susan Perez, who was taken from her three little kids.

LindaSoG honors John Chipura, who survived the barracks bombing of Beirut as a marine, but not his later heroic service as a firefighter in the Twin Towers.

WestBankMama honors John Pocher, who loved to travel and left behind his wife of seven years.

Raggedy honors Michael Benjamin Packer, who had a PhD from MIT and was only there to give a speech.

I may add more as I read them.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Time Travel in 100 Words or Less 

Laurence Simon of This Blog is Full of Crap fame is also the proprietor of a podcast devoted to "100 Word Stories" -- stories completely told in 100 words, or less. Each week he has a contest for anyone to contribute by the Friday deadline an audio recording of their own story on that week's topic, and then readers vote for the stories they like most.

This week's topic for the 100 Word Story Contest was time travel, and although it took me a long, long, long, (...etc...), long time to complete my 100 words, I did manage to submit an entry:

Laurence's story deadline loomed. My promised 100 word opus still unfinished, I dozed off at the computer. Waking later I discovered my story's window gone, and trudged off to bed dejected, obsessing over unfullfiled promises.

47 years of guilt-driven research later, Eureka!

I hastily recorded these words to disk, gutted my toaster, added batteries, and activated my time machine.

Suddenly standing behind my younger, dozing self, I closed his abandoned story, inserted my CD and emailed this file.

Now home again, that old story contest's results beckon. I hope 47 years' labor was enough to at least finish second.
With such lofty goals as second place, it looks like I should have spent at least another 47 years tweaking and tersifying my tale, but then again, the joy lies in running the race, not in winning it (unless of course you happen to be the winner, in which case winning is a lot of fun).

If you want to hear my story read in my own voice, and also listen to quite a few other inventive and succint stories about time travel, check out the full entry for this week's contest.

Friday, September 08, 2006

The Russians Mean Business 

From Haaretz:

A high ranking Russian source said on Friday that Russia will halt the construction of the nuclear reactor it has been building for the Bushehr nuclear power plant on Iran's Gulf coast if Tehran expels inspectors from the United Nation's atomic energy watchdog.
But of course, so long as Iran leaves the inspectors in place and continues building their map-wiping nukes quietly in secret, Russia has no problem playing along.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Cooking Egyptian Lentil Soup with Rachel 

Once again I frittered away an evening I should have spent blogging. Doing what, you ask? (go ahead, ask, I want you to.)

I was cooking Egyptian Lentil Soup with my 9 year old daughter, Rachel. Why? (I'm just going to assume you asked.)

Primarily because Rachel was hungry. That's probably a good enough reason by itself. The fact that she was patient enough to wait the time necessary to finish cooking something, and to contribute to its preparation is testimony to her love of Egyptian Lentil Soup. Not that it is particularly time-consuming or difficult to prepare -- but come on, we're talking about a hungry nine-year-old here!

Of course, as is so often the case in parenting, I had ulterior motives in going through the effort of cooking soup with my daughter when there was frozen pizza in the freezer (and not just that I was saving the frozen pizza for myself for later).

Cooking with my kids, especially with only one of them at a time, and MOST especially when they are not whining or breaking things, is a great way to spend some quality, low-intensity time together where the activity leaves plenty of room for easy conversation. And that easy conversation can be very valuable. You might even learn why Johnny Bravo is superior to MoJo JoJo, or why that pot of chopped up tofu is sitting, uncooked, in a pool of soy sauce on the stove top (to cheer up Ima who had a hard day at work).

Another hidden benefit of father-daughter cooking that I actually learned from my wife's mother-daughter cooking experiments is that so long as you don't cook the standard single serving from the recipe, there is a lot of subtle yet rewarding math practice involved in multiplying every ingredient by 2 or 3 or 5. Especially if the recipe calls for 2 and 3/4 of something -- I'm going to wait another year or two before taking on such gourmet challenges though.

The last benefit of cooking Egyptian Lentil Soup with my hungry daughter was to help give her a bit of a childhood nutritional legacy I never really had. I grew up on a diet derived primarily from restaurants, fast food, and as much junk food as I could ferret from the locked cupboard before my mom discovered we'd learned how to pick the lock. If someone wanted to counter the images of Morgan Spurlock's "Super Size Me" -- the documentary in which a man ate nothing but McDonald's food for a month and ended up with serious health problems before the month was over -- they would have filmed my adolescent and college years, and then simply noted that I am still alive today.

I could catalog the many nutritional atrocities I committed against my own body, but going over the details again would probably just make me hungry, so I'll spare you the details of M&M binges and super-jumbo personal pizzas. It's a good thing I exercised a lot during those years, or my eyelids would now be so rotund I wouldn't be able to lift them and I'd have to blog blind.

Lest this seem like an ode to all the junk food I've loved before, let me say that as a result of all that, I was probably in my late twenties before I was ready to give up eating like a nine year old. It's only been in these later years that I've expanded my palette enough to even try things I'd never considered before. For instance, I now know that Indian food is actually good, despite coming in tiny portions and not generally being served with ketchup. I've also learned exotic vegetable skills -- like the fact that I can now tell the difference between brocolli and cauliflower (cauliflower is yuckier).

As you can probably tell, I've got a lot of ground to make up with my kids if I'm to save them from growing up thinking ice cream is an entree, going down that same rocky road I travelled. Cooking Egyptian Lentil Soup, as well as Indian food -- and yes, even broccoli -- is one way I hope to help them develop their own palettes for the kind of foods that are actually good for a body.

In case you want to try it, here is the recipe for Egyptian Lentil Soup. Garnish with a bag of peanut M&M's and a small pizza for a well-rounded nutritional experience. Or just add some cilantro on top, your call.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Reasons for Slow Posting 

I know, I know, most bloggers eventually have to post one of these "why I'm not posting enough" posts. But my excuses are real. Really.

You see, I just got back from vacation last week, and my last three or four posts still haven't been enough to get rid of the rust yet. But this one here, this is the magic one that'll do the trick.

Plus, this is the first week back to school for the kids. Oh sure, that's fine for them, but they're not the ones who have to worry about homework and where the schoolbooks are and what they're willing to eat for lunch the next day... Wait, no, I might have that backwards. All I know is it's more work for parents either way. Small aside: I notice that when the end of the school year comes, parents can't wait for the easier days of summer -- but then summer ends up being even harder, what with all the childcare arrangement hassles. Then, exhausted, we finally reach the end of summer thinking it will be so much easier when the kids just go back to school -- but it only gets harder again. It's the sort of child-raising paradox only fully understood by the M.C. Escher School of Parenting:

And...and...what else... let's see... well, I never thought I'd actually have to say anything like this in my lifetime, let alone write it in a public space, but here goes: I think I ate too much salad at lunch today. I'm serious. My stomach hurts a little and it's very hard to concentrate on hyperlinks and sarcastic sentences with all that gurgling going on down there. Don't believe me? You try it. No don't, really, I wouldn't wish it on anyone. Forget I mentioned it. I'll just persevere in silence.

Anyway, that's not even the worst of it. I really meant to post. I wanted to, honest! But it wasn't my fault... "I ran outta gas. I had a flat tyre. I didn't have enough money for cab fare. My tux didn't come back from the cleaners. An old friend came in from outta town. Someone stole my car. There was an earthquake, a terrible flood, locusts. It wasn't my fault!! I swear to God!!"

Don't worry, I think the locusts only come once every seventeen years, so I should be back up and good for the long haul any day now. Until then, though, rest assured I'll keep pumping out drivel like this just to keep this page warm in the meantime. I hope you'll eventually forgive me.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Can we get it out of our systems? 

Our vacation last week is now so completely over that we've even caught up with the residual loads of laundry and have the kids weaned off the chocolate cereal. The only thing that hasn't yet recovered from the vacation is my blogging.

So, rather than attempt to fabricate one more meaningless post from a brain that still hasn't returned, I'm going to exercise the problem and get the vacation out of my system by writing about it. I'm astonished it took me this long to get around to reducing my family's holiday to little more than low-grade blog fertilizer like this, but better late than never.

In case it wasn't clear from earlier posts on the subject, we spent four days and three nights in Israel's north, near the shores of the Kinneret, the Sea of Gallilee. We stayed in a zimmer -- essentially a guest-house or a small cottage -- at Batei Nurit (warning: audio, busy but pretty web site) and were very happy with our choice. A week in a different zimmer a few years ago had left us with very limited expectations for the experience, but the cottages at Batei Nurit were truly nice and very comfortable, a vast improvement over our previous selection despite the relatively modest price. If anyone is googling for information on these particular cottages before choosing where to stay in Israel's north or the Golan for a few days, I would give a very warm recommendation.

Our vacation was very kid-oriented, which meant that every day involved getting wet in multiple ways. There were repeated trips to the shores of the Kinneret itself, along with a swim in a nearby hotel's pool, and a rafting trip down the Jordan River. The family (other than hot-spring-phobic Abba) even took a brief dip in the hot springs and water slide (a natural combination) at nearby Hamat Gader -- don't worry, they have a very sturdy fence between their live crocodile exhibit and the pools.

And yes, the girls loved simmering in the sulfer-smelling hot springs, just like their mom. I'm doomed. It doesn't look like a family vacation touring the various sites of baseball's spring training is in my near future, but I'm making the best of it.

Of course I can't really blog about a vacation to Israel's north just weeks after the War with Hizballah quieted down without mentioning that war's effects. I'm not going to post photos of Katyusha damage or anything like that, first of all because we specifically tried to keep our kids' vacation away from that kind of thing, but also because in the area where we were, there really wasn't too much of that.

Sharon heard that there were only two Katyusha hits anywhere near where we were staying, and the old-timers she spoke with said it was no big deal. Perhaps in the context of what was going on in the rest of the north it was indeed no big deal, but if only two Katyushas were to strike even remotely near most other neighborhoods in the world, it would be a very big deal. So we're lucky we weren't vacationing in those neighborhoods, or there would have been no one there to give us the keys to our room.

As a matter of fact,though, not everyone agreed with the old-timers' steadfast assessment of the situation. The war's only direct impact on our vacation was that we did not receive free breakfast service as advertised because the staff manning the breakfast room where we were staying fled during the war and hadn't returned. War is hell -- in our case a very tiny hell limited to minor inconvenience, but hell nonetheless.

While the war had little effect on our vacation, it was hard not to consider the effect it had on all of those who make their homes and earn their livings in the North. Sure, the Kinneret's beaches were full and the zimmer occupancy high by the time we took our vacation; things seemed back to normal. But it was hard to ignore that almost the entirety of all that economic activity, the tourism-based life-blood of much of the region, was scatter-bombed out of commission for a full month. The restaurants, the hotels, the operators of the river rafting and the little mini-markets selling mega-SPF sunblock, all are struggling to recover from the loss of a huge chunk of their yearly income -- not to mention those who suffered the misfortune of being hit by one of Nasrallah's missiles. If you are considering a vacation in Israel anytime soon, you might consider spending some of your vacation shekels in Israel's north, even if you hadn't otherwise planned on it, as a way to help give their recovery a shot in the arm.

While I was only looking at the economic activity in the immediate area of our vacation, obviously there was also a vast impact in Lebanon as well from the war -- damage, death and loss of important income for so many. To the innocent who've suffered on both sides of the border, this is a true tragedy. I know Israelis do not wish for such things, and would love nothing more than peace and quiet in which to pursue their lives and build an economy, and in which their neighbors can prosper as well. I know many Lebanese feel the same way, and I hope that as time passes and tempers cool, it will be these Lebanese whose voices are heard most loudly by Nasrallah when he starts to toy with ideas of what to do with the rest of his missiles, so he knows they won't again tolerate his taking hostage the dreams of peace and prosperity of the very people he claims to care about -- as well as my people, not that it matters.

Despite my cynical tone as I've been commenting on the international community's vague efforts to make these problems -- not to mention the even greater dangers of Iran's looming nuclear power -- just go away already, I maintain the hope that Lebanon and Israel and perhaps even others in the region will find a way to get along as neighbors. If only this latest war can be a similar wakeup call to a sane majority of Lebanese, in the way that Hariri's assassination stoked the fires of Lebanese democracy. If only average Iranians can recognize this tiniest hint of the greater future martyrdom Ahmadinejad has planned for them, and take back their country before Mr. A. realizes his dream of using them like a national suicide bomb -- and, not coincidentally, blowing my family up along with them.

If we can all look at how much was lost in this conflict not as a victory for Nasrallah but as a preventable abuse of the millions of average people who have to live with the destruction, maybe there can be a chance. We can do little more than hope and blog, though, so long as Nasrallah has his missiles and Ahmadinejad keeps Iran's geiger counters crackling.

And on that upbeat note, with the kids back in school already, I hereby declare our summer vacation fully over, in the hopes that I will be able to shake the cobwebs out of my system and finally write something interesting again.

CORRECTION: ExpatEgghead of Neither Here Nor There points out that my original spelling of the word 'zimmer' as 'tzimmer' was mistaken, and I have made the corresponding correction throughout. Thanks Egghead.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Translating Khatami -- Don't Worry, He's Moderate 

As the map-wiping rhetoric of Iran's President Ahmadinejad continues apace, let's take a brief respite from his doom and gloom and focus instead for a moment on the words of Iran's famous leading moderate, the previous president, Mohammad Khatami (AKA the former-Reformer). Obviously former-President Khatami needs a translator so I thought I'd volunteer for the job, free of charge:

Former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami says current United States foreign policy triggers terrorism and violence in the world, but American Muslims can play a key role in promoting peace and security.
This is a tricky one to get right, since so much is conveyed by nuance. What he means is that the United States foreign policy is unacceptable to terrorists, who are left with no choice other than to reluctantly use violence to try to force Americans to change their foreign policy.

The second part could be translated a number of different ways, but he seems to imply that he is asking American Muslims to help the terrorists change American foreign policy, so that the tragic annoyance of terrorists will cease and peace can reign once more, at least for awhile. Note that American Muslims are obviously not responsible for what an Iranian spokesman asks of them, since as Americans they retain the right to freedom of speech to either support or denounce Khatami's positions, and so are responsible for their own choices, not Khatami's.

"As America claims to be fighting terrorism, it implements policies that cause the intensification of terrorism and institutionalized violence," Khatami said...
Khatami wants Americans to understand that if they would stop resisting terrorism, then the terrorism would not intensify, and would instead remain at a constant -- but predictable -- level more conducive to slow, quiet, gradual surrender.

Take for instance 9/11.

Had the Clinton administration not engaged in so much antagonistic anti-terrorist activity in the years preceding 9/11, then the Twin Towers would in all likelihood still be standing today (no promises though). Don't misunderstand, Khatami is fully aware that in the the years leading up to 9/11 the US did as close to nothing about terrorism as is bureaucratically possible -- a few checkboxes had to be checked off certifying that the requisite cruise missile leveled the requisite sand dune -- but even Khatami recognizes that as a perfectly harmless bean-counting response. Such policies do, nevertheless, apparently trigger institutionalized violence and horrendous acts of terrorism. America needs to seek new methods of accomodating terror's demands if it wishes to escape its role as the eternal initiator of a horrible Cycle of Violence.

Speaking through a [different, non-AbbaGav] translator, Khatami told tens of thousands of Muslims gathered at the meeting that there is a chronic misunderstanding between the West and the East that goes back to the Crusades and continues today.
Left unstated is Khatami's main point: that it is the successful and freedom-loving West which is doing all the misunderstanding, and which must change its understanding of the world to be more like the stagnant, repressive theocratic regime Khatami represents.

He said American Muslims "through active participation in the social arena" can form lobbying groups and form a consensus with other Americans.
Khatami seemed to suggest something like "Help America Surrender" as a name for these groups, but I couldn't make it out clearly.

He said Muslims must forge a new identity that embraces the modern world, tolerates other religions and works toward peace.
Hmmm. There must be some mistake. That last bit sounded like it didn't need any translation; although, I'm stumped as to how it fits in with the rest. I wonder which quote out of everything he said will appear in the most newspapers.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

The Council Has Spoken 

Last week's results from the Watcher's Council are now available at the Watcher of Weasels site.

In another amazingly tight contest, the week's winner among council members was Gates of Vienna with Empire and Apocalypse, in which Dymphna takes an uncomfortable look at the worst-case scenarios:

The tipping point may have been reached — one cannot say until after the fact. Will it be failure in Iraq — a failure devoutly prayed for by many Americans who need to see us fail in order to justify their own belief system? Will it be Iran’s unleashing of the nuclear-weaponed apocalypse that proceeds to immolate others, like a group of carefully-placed dominoes? Will it be the delirious fantasy vision of watching an entire American city suffer the same fate of the Twin Towers while its enemies dance in the streets?
One can only hope her words are heeded, and that the tipping point has not yet been reached.

In a tie for second place are Soccer Dad and JoshuaPundit. Soccer Dad wrote about targeted killings, moral considerations, highlighting some important facts many of Israel's critics may not know about the deliberations that go into the actions taken to defend Israelis:

What's most important about the article though, is that it demolishes the idea that "targeted killings" are "extrajudicial" in the parlance of the enlightened. Israel has strict rules for these actions and the determining factor, legally, is always whether the target presents a threat in the future. Revenge is not a sufficient reason for the targeted assassinations.
JoshuaPundit looked at Darfur and the UN's failure to take any meaningful action there in his post, Meanwhile in Darfur...:

It amazes me that we will spend billions on people in Iraq and Lebanon who hate us in the name of `Arab democracy' while ignoring our friends in places like Darfur and Kurdistan.

Big, big mistake.
The non-Council competition was equally close, with the eventual winner, Kobayahi Maru, prevailing in a tie-breaker. His post was an insightful search for the right questions we should be asking as the West confronts the growing challenge of militant Islamofascism (the term used, obviously, to identify a problem within Islam and not to label all Muslims):

It's finally hit me: we're stuck. Seriously stuck. We have been for years and are only starting to realize it - and only at the margins. In a very real sense, we've been check-mated by Islamofascism, and specifically Iran.

Let's play out a few scenarios, albeit from 50,000 feet:

Iran continues to take action towards building a nuclear bomb and doesn't even work very hard to try and hide the fact. Oh, they continue to dissemble in public statements, but only enough to keep the useful idiots fired up and the world divided.

They continue to act by proxy through Syria and Hizbollah (as they have for decades) and to send out conflicting signals, knowing that it would take something utterly outrageous to get the U.S. (much less the UN or the world) to support decisive wholesale (i.e., D-Day level) action to stop their nuclear activities and/or to depose the mullahs. [...]

We (finally) won the Cold War by forcing an acceleration in the undeniability of the internal contradictions in the Soviet system. One of the advantages that Greater Islam has been able to exploit in the West is our internal contradiction of tolerance for intolerance.

The tenets of Islam, by contrast, tend to drive away from moderation or compromise, defining them as the most egregious offenses against the almighty, punishable by death. [...]

So what are the internal condradictions of radical Islam?

I don't mean the ways in which they offend our Judeo-Christian-enlightenment reverence for life, democracy, gender equality, love for freedom and all that. [...]

So, where can we find these [vulnerable internal contradictions] in Islam when it altogether eschews our Western reference points for validity? What if any internally critical aspects of Islam can we in the West force to the surface - force to be recognized - that would accelerate an implosion of Islamofascist ideology? Answering that question may be our last best option when Iran has already baked success scenarios based on our attacking... and our not attacking.
I've highlighted a few of his key points, but you really should read the whole thing.

By the narrowest of possible margins (i.e. 0) second place goes to an entertaining "Back to School" post from A Shrewdness of Apes, When teaching school is like... a divine comedy:

For me, the school year is back in full swing-- inasmuch as one can be when Labor Day still hasn't rolled around yet. For those of you who have forgotten, or who now look back upon your high school years through the rosy mists of fondness for that halcyon era when your head, not your back, was covered with hair and your tricep didn't flop around like a Tibetan prayer flag in a good stiff breeze, high school is organized into concentric circles of despair and Sisyphean drudgery which align quite nicely with the Nine Circles of Hell our friend and eternal optimist Dante Alighieri described so fully.

Circle 1- Limbo, the Home of the Innocent: The freshmen have already had most of the pranks pulled on them-- like looking for a swimming pool on the roof, or looking for the smoking area, or being told that we have open campus for lunch, and so on. They've lost a bit of that dazed look-- unless it's a permanent condition.
There are eight more circles, but you'll have to read the whole thing to get them all.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Israel Protected by Kofi-Secured Syrian Pledge to Rein in Hizballah 

Hurray! We Israelis can now rest easy on the issue of Syrian arms smuggling to Hizballah.

Kofi Annan, taking time off from securing French pledges of troop support and Iranian pledges of whatever, has reeled in a big one: Syria has promised Kofi it will work with Lebanon to deal with the Hizballah arms-smuggling issue:

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Friday that Syria would step up border patrols and work with the Lebanese army to stop the flow of weapons to Hezbollah.
It's nice to hear that Syrian arms suppliers will now be working through the Lebanese army -- the new guys who are supposed to be joining the previous blue-helmeted weapons-smuggling-ignoration-forces to help them do a better job. When it comes to stopping the illegal flow of weapons to Hizballah it will be interesting to see whether the change will consist of the unilateral redefinition of the terms of any new shipments so they are suddenly legal, or the diversion of the weapons shipments so they no longer flow directly to Hizballah. Of course, the two strategies could work well together:

Annan said Assad informed him that Syria would "take all necessary measures" to implement paragraph 15 of U.N. resolution 1701, which calls on countries to prevent the sale or supply of weapons to entities in Lebanon without the consent of the Lebanese government or U.N. peacekeepers.
Fabulous. Syria is required not to supply arms to entities in Lebanon without the consent of the Lebanese government or UN peacekeepers. Since I'm sure the going price for the consent of UN peacekeepers to allow weapons smuggling to Hizballah is much too rich for Syria's tastes -- it probably would require half the Jack Daniels supply of that entire Islamic Republic, while I'm sure Syrian and Hizballah-produced drugs are also out of the question since they are reserved for use as an export-only cash crop -- Syria would need a relationship with the Lebanese government and its forces on the border if it wanted to restock Hizballah's bunkers. Fortunately, it seems Kofi is helping broker that relationship.

I hate to say I told you so -- because people who say that are generally admitting no one listens to them -- but sometimes when memories of recent vacation days are still fresh and I haven't had time to find anything new to be officially outraged about yet, I sometimes succumb to the temptation of an ITYS post rehashing my previous outrages.

Despite the gratuitous and almost toxic levels of cynicism in my original post, my prediction still seems pretty likely to me: that arms will eventually continue to flow as the terms of the cease-fire simply force the Lebanese government to join Hizballah's team as middle-man/shipping-agent:

As it is, all we need is Hizballah's emergency definition of its own forces as the state's protectors and this passage is immediately worthless (or worthlesser, since it's already written on see-through recycled UN paper). As the lines are quickly blurred between Hizballah and the government it has hijacked, don't look for the UN to interfere in "internal Lebanese issues" when Hizballah claims to carry arms on behalf of and with the consent of the state.
Of course, this latest Kofi-coordinated step between Syria and Lebanon is not yet the last word on the subject -- the last word will be when the missiles are once again poised in their launchers.

While I'm in an ITYS mood, it is refreshing to return from vacation and find that my doubts about whether Israeli missiles actually hit a Reuters vehicle as alleged last week weren't so crazy after all. Others are seem to be sharing the same Pallywood-style doubts. Of course so long as IDF spokespeople go around apologizing for things that aren't even certain to have happened, it's going to be a hard road changing anyone's mind.

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