Thursday, January 31, 2008

Poverty Snapshot

Inspired by wealth, poverty and the state we find ourselves in . . . I looked back at some posts I put up in 2006.
As the politicians yammer on about helping poor people, take a look and have your consciousness raised.

I'm sick of hearing well-off people with bad habits they can afford complaining about poor people with bad habits they cannot afford. Having money means being able to escape the consequences of being irresponsible. Being judgmental about povety makes a successful person look a bit trashy to me.

Winograd Commision

Israel's Winograd Commission, like most committee assignments, is yet another Monday-morning-quarterback report on Israel's thrashing and trashing of Lebanon in 2006. Here's another link. And another. (Remember how at the time the notion was tossed aboout that the Israel-Lebanon conflict might be the start of World War Three?)
As the dust settles, the Israeli Prime Minister feels exonerated for his tawdry part in the affair. After all, how was he to know that shooting people, dropping bombs and setting fires might hurt anyone?

Not to put too fine a point on it, Tony Karon sees the whole exercise as a proxy war directed from Washington. His take on what happened makes sense to me.

Whatever I say is of no importance, but the real reason for this post is to capture for future reference a perfectly delightful snip by Helena Cobban, whose comments on the commission are worth noting. Here is the quote...

In US military and political circles, people like to talk about the importance of doing "lessons learned" exercises. In Britain, more realistically, they tend to call them "lessons identified"-- since learning is yet another stage, that requires some active intelligence going in.

Love it! Another stage that requires some active intelligence!
I've always regarded the phrase military intelligence as an oxymoron.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Gaza Snapshot

Apparently the wall between Gaza and Egypt is still down...

(And some Americans think we have a border problem here. No clue.)

The next morning, having stayed in a semi-abandoned house with a stream of Palestinians coming in and out, we grabbed a cup of tea in town and then made over to Rafah, catching a ride at the back of a pick up truck with a bunch of boys from Gaza. The winter wind in our hair we wobbled out of sleep and into conversation. When I asked them what they came to buy in Al Arish, they answered, almost unanimously, that they had come "to enjoy". Again, it didn't add up. On the morning news we had just heard of four Palestinians being killed in Israeli air strikes. Gazans had been living with no electricity for days due to Israeli-imposed blockade. Their shops and refrigerators had long gone empty; cigarettes and soda were a luxury no longer available. Their babies were struggling to survive in hospital. So what of death, despair, and darkness?

As I spoke to a left-leaning starry-eyed youth who told me of his love for football, his disdain for Hamas, and his respect for Che Guevara, it started to make sense. For a day, (now five), the Palestinians had left the occupation behind and claimed what ought to be ordinary, everyday, life: to trade with their Arab neighbours across the border, to step in to Al Arish, for a night out with family and friends.

Lines of Palestinians going back with their goods dominated the scene in Rafah. They stood holding their boxes, their bags and even their bulls (by the horns); they sat on donkey carts and in their cars. The overpowering smell of fuel, carried across in cans, leaking and leaving a trail that could have so easily go up into flames, stood in as an indicator of the tenuousness of the situation at hand. People were trudging their suitcases, herding their cows, as the huge Egyptian military vans stood by.

We made our way through the maze to one of the smaller openings in the border through which Gazans were coming and going. The passage was not as free flowing as we had heard it had been the day before. Riot police were switching modes, at times letting people pass, and at others barricading the border and pushing Palestinians back. We watched a herdsman on a mission trying to control his bulls and get them across the chaos. The bulls were all on heat and jumping on each other and having sex amidst the madness. People were hitting them to calm them down as they charged about.

After watching the mayhem at the first opening, we found our way to the main Philadelphia gate. As we neared the border crossing, an Egyptian guard drunk on power, parading the field, electric baton in hand, insisted that as foreigners we couldn't all go in. At this point, I left my professor and university friends behind and tried again. Armed with my press card and shielded by my shades, I stepped forth. Wesam would use his Palestinian ID card to get into Gaza, and his Egyptian student residence permit to get out. We had covered our basis. Or so we hoped. We approached one of the military police and inquired permission for safe passage. "Israeli or Egyptian press", he seemed to ask. "Indian," we answered. Baffled maybe, he let us through.

We entered the human chain formed by the black uniformed Egyptian riot police, amidst boys and bulls, cement and cigarettes, all making their way to Gaza. We came into the clearing and I felt a sense of disbelief. There I was in Palestine. We jumped up to join a bunch of press reporters and photographers on top of a huge lorry and watch the scene below.

And from that height I stared at the terrific gaping holes in the massive Israeli manufactured obstruction. One part of the wall was just missing; another was split in half; a third swerved to the ground and boys sat along it watching the people pass by. While the wall was testimony to the violence of our time, its collapse stood in as a sculpture of the tenacity of Palestinian lives.

And then the standoff between the riot police and the stone-throwing mob began. As the huge stones came falling down the guards began to exert their authority and the crowd moved back, created a opening between the Palestinians and the police where two minutes earlier there was none. The Associated Press reporter was on her phone, making news while it happened—dramatising the fact that perhaps the Egyptian riot police had encroached, having taken two or five steps forward, onto Gaza territory.

About an hour later, we decided to head back, before which we walked around and took pictures of the bullet ridden apartment blocks. As we tried to make our way from a section at the side, the guards wouldn't let us through. And then we heard bullets being fired into the sky. I tensed up as we walked along the barbed wired wall and found a spot to jump across. We were in no man's land with Egyptian tanks on either side and at the mercy of their arbitrariness of Egyptian orders. Fortunately, this time around, they let us through.

Coming back from Rafah to al-Arish we sat at the back of a mini van, exhausted by the intensity of our adventure. Wesam noticed some Palestinian graffiti: "Al Kassam militants passed through here", written in a barely visible fluorescent orange felt tip on the back of the grey seat. When I asked the boy next to me why he was going to Al Arish now when there was talk of the border being closed, he didn't seem phased at all, and answered, "If Egypt closes the wall, Hamas will bring it down."

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Avishai on Obama

Bernard Avishai has come to my attention at just the right moment. This morning's essay should be a must-read for anyone feeling shaky about Obama.

The essay is written by a Jew, for other Jews to read. It has been quietly mentioned that Obama has a "Jewish problem" because he hasn't performed the usual oblations in that direction, that this breach of conventional political etiquette will cost him dearly in the long run. Maybe even the nomination since the Clinton machine has been so well-oiled along those lines. Wasn't it President Clinton who got extra points by placing a Jew on the Supreme Court...and a woman at that? The shadow of Ruth Bader-Ginsberg is a long one indeed.

But this essay, though focused (and titled about) Obama's gingerly handling of Kosher politics, is better seen as a case study in the man's surgical political finesse.

If you're Jewish, read the essay through the glasses of your faith and the open mind for which Jewish reflective thought is famous. But if you're not Jewish, like me, read with another thought drumming in the background: How has and does this man, Barack Obama, a half-black Senator from one of the most emphatically black political foundations in America, one that goes so far as advertising the anti-white, anti-Jewish Farrakhan as a noble figure...How does this unlikely product of that background expect to win any important measure of Jewish support in November?

Clearly he has won at least one Jewish heart. Fortuntely, this man is articulate enough to explain how that came about. And looking into the details, one discovers how Barack Obama is able to look way into the future whenever he takes the first step in any direction.

This is not skimming stuff. The reader should go slow and digest what is being said, drilling into many links along the way. It is in the links, not the text, that the clues are to be found. The text is for Jews. The well-read Jew already knows what's in the links. The links are there for those of us who haven't been reading through Jewish glasses.

THIS IS, PERHAPS, a very roundabout way of saying that Barack Obama got me with hello. Pretty much everything he’s said and done since he started his campaign makes me proud to have voted for him (by absentee ballot, from Jerusalem). But I would be less than honest if I did not explain why voting for him makes me feel like a Jew in America, and in Israel for that matter, in a way I haven’t felt for a very long time. I think of Obama’s candidacy a little like the way I think of my first vote for Pierre Trudeau in 1967, or the emergence of the European Union in my lifetime. It is a kind of show-me-don’t-tell-me proof that the essential premises of liberalism, which Jews have championed since 1848—by which they have defined themselves since Heine—are, well, true.

I know there is something terribly uncool about this. If I were not myself something of a racist, presumably, I would focus on the subtle differentiators of Obama’s policies, like Paul Krugman and the mandates. I would shrug off Obama’s attacks on anti-Semitism and at least take seriously that his church once honored Farrakhan, as Richard Cohen warns us. I would be skeptical about callowness, as Leon Wieseltier warns himself, plumping for the new McCain; I would, like Wieseltier, not be taken in by Obama’s suave, since Wieseltier (“I am myself not unsuave”) troubles to instruct us on “how much it accomplishes and how little.” I am old enough to know better, or certainly old enough to know how suave it is to show off that I know better.

Indeed, if I weren’t uncool I would just focus on Obama’s political virtues, his detailed progressivism, his efforts to run without polarizing electors, his hundreds of thousands of donations, his courses on the constitution, his intellect, his story, his cadences. I would, like Andrew Sullivan, want to see his as the face of America, as we try to redeem America’s place in a dangerously small world. Since I live half my life in Israel, I would emphasize his evolving approach to Middle East peacemaking, his hint that we all know what the deal is, that it is time to get it, his reliance on foreign policy people who seem both realist and fair, his even-handedness, his cosmopolitanism, his willingness to talk with all parties, his insistence that the Israeli-Palestinian bloodshed cannot be ignored any longer.

I clipped those paragraphs partly because they summarize the main threads of Avishai's essay, but also because of the links. Remember the links? That's where the treasure is buried. That's where we learn the subtleties of Obama's political genius. Look particularly at this one from The Jewish Standard.

Ask about Barack Obama’s natural constituencies and you might hear that he’s the first black with a viable shot at the White House, or about his Kenyan father and his childhood in Indonesia, or the youthfulness of his followers, or the millions of Oprah junkies swooning over his candidacy.

What you might not hear is that the Illinois senator, who made history last Thursday by winning the Democratic caucus in Iowa, has made Jewish leaders an early stop at every stage in his political career.

There follows not one or two, but a string of casses in point. Don't take my word for it. Read for yourself.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Hamas Note

Hamas, the officially labeled terrorist group (polite journals like the Christian Science Monitor now use the term "militant") controlling Gaza, is learning how to manipulate events to their political advantage. Last week's breach in the wall between Gaza and Egypt is their wedge.

...Hamas not only has broken out of its physical isolation, but is emerging with a stronger negotiating position on several fronts. "At this moment, Hamas is the only address for discussing the Egyptian-Gazan border regime. Hamas is also the only address for Israel right now to solve the practical problems of the open border. If this isn't a victory, I don't know what is," says Yaron Ezrahi, a political science professor at Hebrew University.

"The Israelis miscalculated. They thought besieging and isolating Hamas would help Abbas, but the outcome has been the reverse," he says. "We're in a new phase, and Hamas has been strengthened. Now the Egyptian government is offering to bring Hamas and Fatah together under its sponsorship, because that's where Egypt's national interest now lies."

[Diaa Rashwan, an expert on Islamic movements and regional politics in Cairo] says it's unlikely that Hamas, aware of the friendlier Egyptian attitude, will force more border confrontations. "The Israelis were giving all of their attention to Abbas until now, but everyone forgot that a third of his people were being ignored in Gaza. Now the support of the Arab public is with those people, Egypt hasn't cut its channels with Hamas, and Hamas understands that Egypt is willing to negotiate."

Hello, Washington...

Yo, State Department....

Anybody listening????

Mr. President, how about you? Is this worth even a single line in tonight's SOTU speech?


Sunday, January 27, 2008

Obama's South Carolina Victory Speech

Seventeen Minutes...."Yes. We. Can."

February update, a week later...
The video:

Yeah! What she said!

It would be really nice if the media, both liberal and otherwise, would calm the hell down. They've been out of their minds since Iowa with the identity politics, pushing both the gender and the racial angles beyond all measure. But the fact is that this is much more complicated than they are letting on with lots of demographic information that they are ignoring. Obama, for instance, once again did extremely well among young people of all races, which it seems to me is much more salient than the media have yet to acknowledge. If he keeps this up, we will see an entire generation making its home in the Democratic Party and that is a tremendous advantage.

Digby said that. And more.

In so many words, so did Deborah White. Her stats are heavy duty. And her comments on the "vision thing" are super.

This year's election is gonna give me great satisfaction, no matter whose name is on the ballot. The rottweiler will give me smug satisfaction, but the cocker spaniel really takes my heart.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Wiener Circle, Chicago

Those of us who make a living serving the public have fantasies about this kind of service. I've heard about a few places that promote business with reverse psychology by insulting customers, but this place sets that bar really high.

Oh, and profane, too. I can see how this level of "fun" can get out of hand. At the least it's a way to make you lose whatever innocence you may have left.

Prudes need not continue.
Find something else to read.

(So is that what Ira Glass looks like?)

Holocaust Remembrance Day

Tomorrow is Holocaust Remembrance Day. Via Leila Abu-Saba's blog I learned of Bernard Avishai who posted for the occasion a personal remembrance of the late Ilona Karmel Zucker, holocaust survivor and faculty member at MIT.

Yesterday's mail brought me a complimentary copy of Krista Tippet's book, Speaking of Faith from a publicity company that contacted my small-potatoes blog because I have mentioned her a few times in passing. I'm looking forward to reading Krista Tippet's book (trying all the while not to hear her mellifluous voice in the background...trying to pay attention to the content more than the form).

As I read Avishai's recollections of his old friend Ilona Karmel I thought of Tippett's program Speaking of Faith. Going on several years now, this program is building an archive of interviews which will be a treasure for future historians wanting to listen as movers and shakers of faith of our time explain and elaborate their ideas. In the same manner, Avishai describes how Ilona Karmel became the center of a small group of seekers who set out to read and study scripture, meeting together bi-weekly over a six-year period. This is a delicious piece of prose that I highly recommend.

The smallest mystery, perhaps, was what Ila loved so much about the Bible. Nevertheless I hesitate to speculate about this alone. I like to think there could be a group conversation about this love, with each of her interlocutors contributing a part, which would probably wind up as much a debate revealing our own individual hearts as a body of thinking about hers. But that is precisely the point about the Bible, is it not?, its cragginess and grittiness, its many voices, its stories and projections, its mixture of sublime vision and everyday observation, a chronicle inhabited by unmistakably true human beings, which lends itself to the kind of conversation we were having and was itself that kind of conversation. The books were a first chronicle of other people’s efforts, so obviously failed, to think themselves into greater certainty than they had any right to. Ila loved how earthy and flawed the characters of Genesis were, how God was Himself like that (she hated political corrections of that particular hegemonism). She loved God’s rebuke to Jonah, and aloofness from Job. She loved watching God mature along with His creation, and then have the good sense to pretty much get lost. She loved reading accounts of the Lurianic Kabala, where God collapses and limits himself as an act of compassion. She loved Moses’ charisma, the kings’ tragedies, the prophets poetic daring. She loved Jesus' teaching skill. She resisted any kind of orthodoxy, but quoted often from the codes and chants that became orthodox, from the Shulchan Aruch, or from Dante. The orthodox also had writers, and they deserved a kind of honor on that account. Most of all, I think, she loved the Psalms. Esa eniei, el heharim, meayim yavoh ezri. “My eyes look to the hills, from where comes my help?” She loved Jesus’s example, especially in Gethsemane: “If this cup can be passed let it be passed, but if not Thy will be done.” Hope from nothing. Later, when the Bible group moved naturally to Shakespeare, the echo of this love was for Lear on the heath, and she spoke about the great storm, where one strips oneself to the skin, and saves one soul by throwing the trappings of power to the wind.

There was a time, long ago, when I was in a handful of readers who met regularly to discuss what was then called "the Great Books." I'm sure similar groups meet today but I the demands of work and rearing a family have crowded out whatever discretionary time I might have had for such activities. If blogging doesn't take too much time, I may in retirement allow myself to join or start another such group. I hope so. In the meantime, this gem from the Internets will more than compensate for the loss.


It's now January 27 and this morning I read the opening pages and first of six chapters in Krista Tippet's little book. The book, unlike her programs, reveals a person behind the words. As a journalist she knows and respects the role of an interviewer as someone who holds the spotlight on her subject, asking only as many questions, making only as many comments as necessary to reveal to a listener what her guest has to share. She never reprimands, argues with or embarrasses anyone, being no more important to the program than the paper on which a book is printed, a facilitator, not a gadfly.

I was expecting the same cautious, reluctant writer to be at work in her book but I was way wrong. She exposes for all to see the roots of her faith, from the beloved memories of her Baptist maternal grandfather, whose categorical understanding of right and wrong was so unbending that even her parents saught ways to dilute it, to her matriculation at Brown University and subsequent professional life as a budding journalist assigned to Europe...significantly, it turns out, in East Germany prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall. She speaks almost reverently of her "wondrous Western passport" which allowed her to compare and contrast in real time the impact that political separation had on two populations of Germans and their non-German visitors. Already I understand how bathing in the same streams as Niebuhr and Bonhoeffer, literally, she was marked as their child forever. This book will be a pleasure to read.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Gush Shalom

Just passing the word...


Gush Shalom (Hebrew: גוש שלום, "the Peace Bloc") is a left-wing peace activist group which sees itself as the hardcore of Israeli peace movement. Gush Shalom is an extra-parliamentary organization, independent of any party or other political grouping. Some of its activists do belong to political parties, but the Gush is not aligned to any particular party. The Gush was founded by former journalist Uri Avnery in 1993 because he was disappointed by other Israeli peace movements such as Peace Now. Avnery still leads the group.
Gush Shalom objects to what they perceive as the illegal Israeli occupation of the
West Bank and Gaza Strip, and claims Israel is committing war crimes on a daily basis. The movement supports soldiers' refusal to serve in these territories, a pragmatic implementation of Palestinian right of return, and an Israeli withdrawal to the Green Line. Gush Shalom activists regularly confront Israeli security forces in construction sites in settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, and along the Separation Barrier.

Gush Shalom said that Israel's offer to Yasser Arafat in the Camp David negotiations of 2000 were not a "generous offer" but "a humiliating demand for surrender."[1]

Avnery was among the first to meet and negotiate with PLO leader Yasser Arafat. Gush Shalom received the Right Livelihood Award in 2001.


The policy of force has failed, prison walls broken End the blockade – completely !

Ceasefire now – for the sake of Sderot and of Gaza!
Saturday 26.1.08: A countrywide relief convoy and Israeli demonstration in solidarity on the Gaza border with a parallel Palestinian demonstration in the Strip.

Click here to read more

Ant Analogue to China

Political science in the world of ants. If they can do it, why can't human beings? I don't think they're interested in stuff.

From Reuben Miller blog, via Sullivan.

This, too. Made of pencils...

Watching Gaza

[This post is being relocated in the archives to appear convenient to the preceding one because the map is so good. Google searches are returning the whole of August, 2005 in response to searches for that map, so maybe this will help. The reader is reminded that the post is two and a half years out of synch with the rest of the Gaza narrative. It seems in retrospect that Sharon's removal of Israeli "settlers" in Gaza was precient. It is becoming clear to me that Palestinians in Gaza are importantly distinct from Palestinians in the West Bank, although Washington and Tel Aviv (and most of the world, for that matter) want to lump them all together as a single political entity. Every year that passes shows deeper separations among these two well as a third population of Palestinians in South Lebanon.

Leila Abu-Saba is keeping up, too. Her blog has good links about what's happening in Gaza.]

This morning Jewish settlers in the Gaza strip are being given official notice to leave. And the world is watching.
Rafah Pundits points to an excellent overview of the story by Linda Grant they describe as "a good one, lucid, classy even!" Harry's Place (a kind of left-echo of LGF, but not to be confused with the famous Hoot's Place) also points to the same post as "an important guest post up at Normblog."

I very much agreee.

Again, as they say, read the whole thing.

Both the settlers and the far left believed that the disengagement could not take place because each group was gripped by a fallacious belief system, in which contradiction or dissent was impossible. The settlers believe that God gave them the land in perpetuity and would not permit it to be removed. The far left's doctrine was no less impervious to reason. They thought that Zionism was a colonial expansionist movement that would not give up an inch of what it regarded as eretz-Israel, the Promised Land. Not only would it not give up any land, its intention was to acquire more. During the Iraq war I received an email telling me that while the world's press was diverted by the invasion, Palestinians would be loaded on to trucks and 'transferred' to Jordan, in a final 'cleansing' of the West Bank. Now, I am led to believe by the same sources, under the cover of the withdrawal, Israel will perpetrate a massacre in Gaza. There are some, not many, gullible enough to be taken in by this implausible hysteria, always justified on the grounds that there is no evil that the 'Zionists' can't realistically be suspected of. Look at Sabra and Shatila.

She mops up conspiracy theories from both sides. And here is a perfect little nut that nobody can crack:

We should not mistake Sharon's plans for anything other than whatthey are: realpolitik - the scheme of a master tactician intent on political survival.

Take a moment to read what she says.

Jonathan Edelstein has an interesting footnote to what is happening.
It seems there is a remnant of the remnant arguing that they represent an "indigenous group" seeking "self-determination."
This is interesting only in that it illustrates the extreme edge of thinking that has been part of the dynamic all along.
Edelstein's comment is conclusive:
"I doubt that the international community will see Gush Katif as an entity that can be legally separated from the rest Gaza for purposes of self-determination. More to the point, the Israeli government isn't going to take Yitzhaki seriously, and he doesn't have anywhere near the numbers to take on the IDF and the Palestinians."
It's hard to imagine that an area so small can be so important. A better version of this map is available that can be enlarged for closer viewing.
I find it interesting that Gaza City, closest to Israel, is mentioned in the press more than Rafah, near Egypt, which looks on the map to be much bigger.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

A Break in the Wall between Egypt and Gaza

Today's headlines about a tax rebate aimed at stimulating the economy are getting more airtime than what happened in Gaza yesterday, but events in Gaza are more important. Too bad...or maybe not, if you're the president and want to divert attention from a flat tire in your recent trip to the Middle East. It makes me wonder why he bothered to go at all.

For those who have not been keeping up, the electoral victory of Hamas in Gaza had an invigorating impact on both Israel and the US, inspiring renewed jabbering about peace in the Middle East, especially regarding a Palestinian homeland. Americans hear stuff like this and say to themselves, Look at our president! See how smart and peace loving he is. See how he's telling the Jews to quit messing around and get something settled with the Palestinians.

What most people fail to understand is that displaced Palestinians are to be found to the North and South of Israel as well as on the West Bank of the Jordan River, and they've been living in those three "camps" for two or three generations. Some, of course, were already there when Israel was established in 1948, but many others were displaced from what is now Israel to make way for the Jews.

The image and activities of the late Yasser Arafat are about all Americans know about Palestinians, and they don't know a lot about them. Oh, they know he was a pain in the ass and they recall him and Menachem Begin shaking hands at Camp David with that famous photo-op with a smiling Jimmy Carter. Some may recall that Al Fatah, now called simply Fatah, was Arafat's outfit and it was shot through with as much corruption and duplicity as any hero-focused group anywhere (think Chavez, Putin, Pappa Doc, Mugabe, whatever).

When the name Hamas is mentioned, most Americans' eyes glaze over. And when the name Abbas comes up, they just shrug and drift off. That's unfortunate, because that's where the story gets interesting.

Hamas is the militant group that has been running Gaza since it's election last year. Because of the autocratic and extreme nature of Hamas...but maily because they are on record as wanting to destroy Israel. At this point Hamas has not reversed that stated goal, so Israel has no option but to stand officially opposed to anything connected with Hamas.

Here are a few comments gathered from several sources.

Tony Karon says Hamas Blows a Hole in Bush’s Plans. This is the first paragraph, but he has links to other places adding depth to the narrative.

The hole blown by Hamas in the Gaza-Egypt border fence has finally punctured the bubble of delusion surrounding the U.S.-Israeli Middle East policy. In a moment reminiscent of the collapse of the Berlin Wall, through the breach surged some 350,000 Palestinians — fully one fifth of Gaza’s total population, as my friend and colleague Tim McGirk observed at the scene. And what did they do on the other side? They went shopping for the essentials of daily life, denied them by an Israeli siege imposed with the Wehrmacht logic of collective punishment. And the Egyptian security forces didn’t stop them, despite Washington and Israel urging them to, because U.S.-backed strongman Hosni Mubarak would provoke a mutiny among his citizenry and even his own security forces if they were to be ordered to stop hungry Palestinians from eating because Israel has decided that they should starve until they change their attitude.

Robert Malley is one of Karon's links:

...Gazans, grateful to Hamas for having significantly improved their security, will say they are distressed by the economic hardships and angry at the Islamists' brutal behavior. To the extent the movement has lost popularity the attempt to enfeeble Hamas by squeezing Gaza is working. Yet the success is meaningless. Hamas's losses are not necessarily Fatah's gains; Gazans blame the Islamists for being unable to end the siege but they also blame Israel (for imposing it), the West (for supporting it), and Fatah (for acquiescing in it).

Remember that Gaza and the West Bank are two separate geographical areas but both are being discussed as part of a future homeland for the Palestinians. It is a stretch to speak of a "Palestinian State" because without a connecting link between the two areas any such "state" will really be a divided state. (Think Pakistan, East and West, prior to the creation of Bangladesh, the former East Pakistan.)


I have decided not to finish this post. My readership is too small to matter and it's taking too much time. Mostly I want to mark this day as having been important for the reasons I posted so far. Maybe at some future date I can return for a follow-up.

Other reading this morning included a new link to Palestinian Pundit blog which I have not yet had a chance to study. That will be a predictable anti-Israel view, I'm sure.

Via Helena Cobban I found Jonathan Edelstein's thoughts on the Gaza bust-out. Edelstein is truly brilliant. He has a way of pushing the most complicated mess through an optimistic lens and see the most promising of peaceful potentialities...

Questioning received wisdom: I think we've been wrong all along in describing the siege of Gaza as an Israeli siege. In fact, ever since Israel left the Philadelphi route, it's been an Israeli-Egyptian siege, and Egypt has maintained its end for its own reasons. Hamas correctly perceived Egypt as the military and political weak link, and chose to break the siege at the Egyptian border. I've actually wondered why it took so long; there have been partial breaches of the wall before, and I remember thinking at the time that Hamas would gain an advantage by widening them. Maybe it wasn't yet ready, but I think it's now very clear that they and Israel were never the only players.

That's all for now.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

War and the Economy

Am I missing something?

Headlines everywhere I turn are about a looming US recession, global echoes of fear while America's stock exchanges were closed for the MLK holiday...echoes that scared the Fed so much that a historic three-quarter percent rate cut was announced early in the day, before the markets opened, in what strikes me as an anti-panic gesture. That move makes me think the panic already the top.

Meantime, the war machine keeps pumping. (Pumping money... not oil.) I added a widget to the sidebar linking the cost of the war. And I looked this morning linking the economy with the war. Didn't find much, but there's this...

The United States of America spends 56% of total government military spending on Planet Earth, with a published FY2008 military budget of $623 billion* (in 2008 dollars). China is a distant second at 6% with an estimated 2004 military budget of $65 billion. The entire "Axis of Evil" (with Pakistan thrown in for good measure) spends barely 1% at less than $15 billion.

Seems to me there are only two dots on the page. One is the economy and the other is military spending as a function of that economy. I don't think shopping at the mall is gonna get us out of this one.

Am I trying to connect the wrong dots?

What am I missing?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Restaurant Efficiency Consultant Story

Waiter Rant is the blog home of a professional waiter whose stories about life at work have resulted in a book. He has tons of readers and still works the tables. I learned about him a couple of years ago and followed his blog for a while, but for those of us who have been in the business all our working life, the stories don't have the same punch as they might for those "just passing through" for a few years.

For reasons that escape me now I came across the blog last week and started reading a long comment thread. (I was curious why the writer said ice in the urinals of the men's room was "classy," but that's not related to what follows. ) I found this great story way down the comment thread...

For all of you who frequent restaurants and understand the need for the service to be faster, this short story is a timeless lesson on how consultants can make a difference to an organization.

Last week, we took some friends out to a new restaurant and noticed that the waiter who took our order carried a spoon in his shirt pocket. It seemed a little strange. When another waiter brought our water, I noticed he also had a spoon in his shirt pocket. Then I looked around and saw that all the staff had spoons in their pockets.

When the waiter came back to serve our soup, I asked, “Why the spoon?”

“Well, he explained, “the restaurant’s owners hired Andersen Consulting to revamp all our processes. After several months of analysis, they concluded that the spoon was the most frequently dropped utensil. It represents a drop frequency of approximately 3 spoons per table per hour. If our personnel are better prepared, we can reduce the number of trips back to the kitchen and save 15 man-hours per shift.”

As luck would have it, I dropped my spoon and he was able to replace it with his spare. “I’ll get another spoon next time I go to the kitchen, instead of making an extra trip to get it right now,” he explained.

I was impressed. I also noticed that there was a string hanging out of the waiter’s fly. Looking around, I noticed that all the waiters had the same string hanging from their flies. So before he walked off, I asked the waiter, “Excuse me, but can you tell me why you have that string right there?”

“Oh, certainly!” Then he lowered his voice. “Not everyone is so observant. That consulting firm I mentioned also found out that we can save time in the restroom. By tying this string to the tip of you know what, we can pull it out without touching it and eliminate the need to wash our hands, shortening the time spent in the restroom by 76.39 percent.

I asked, “After you get it out, how do you put it back?”

“Well,” he whispered, “I don’t know about the others, but I use the spoon.”

(Turns out this joke is old as the hills, but I hadn't heard it. I never saw it coming and laughed out loud sitting at the keyboard alone.)

A War with Iran Remains a Threat

The NIE story that hit the news last month threw a blanket of false security over Washington. Those of us who have been warning and fretting that the administration was itching to start a war with Iran found ourselves breating a sigh of relief that not only was evidence not there that might justify such an adventure, neither would be the political will in light of that news.

Just when I was starting to get comfortable, Leon Hadar has to go and say this:

If either McCain or Clinton are chosen by their parties as the presidential candidates, Bush-Cheney are then left with a wide window of opporunity (say from June to November) to take U.S. military action against Iran (which will probably be in response to some Iranian "provocation") or to give Israel the "green light" to do that. Is Hillary going to oppose U.S. backing for such an Israeli action. Or is she going to refuse to "support our troops" fighting against the "Hitler in Tehran." I don't think so.

He may be right.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Remembering the King family

It was my honor to serve part of the King family in my early days as a cafeteria manager in training. The location has been closed for years, but the old Piccadilly Cafeteria at Cumberland Mall in Atlanta was where I worked as trainee and associate for the better part of twelve years before being assigned my own unit.

Occasionally on Sunday afternoons a party of four or five, sometimes as many as seven or eight, would come for lunch which included M.L. King, Sr., whom everyone called Daddy King, and Mrs. Coretta King. Their visit was always a low-key event. By then -- this would have been in the years between 1976 and 1980 -- the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was over a decade past, public racism was no longer acceptable, Daddy King's wife and Mrs. King's husband had both been killed and all the family seemed to want was a quiet place to enjoy a Sunday meal together.

The first time they came Daddy King sent for the manager on duty and wanted me to know that when they left they would be paying by check and he didn't expect to have any trouble. He made it clear that he wanted to pay the bill and leave quietly just like any other party, with no special attention. Of course a quiet word to the cashier ahead of time was all that was needed.

I resisted the temptation to make conversation, as much as I would have liked to do so, because I had the feeling that the best service I could provide was seating them quietly where they would be least likely to attract attention and allowing them to enjoy their meal without interruption. I know my staff was proud to have them as customers and after a few visits they got used to the idea and didn't make a big deal out of it.

At that time we were living in downtown Atlanta. Our neighborhood, Virginia-Highland, was racially balanced enough that the local elementary school was pretty well integrated. It was situated between two other neighborhoods that were not integrated. At that time the Atlanta Public Schools were busing students to balance the racial composition of the schools, so an elementary school in Bedford-Pine, which was nearly all black, was paired with another school in Morningside which was white. The same buses that took white first-, second- and third-graders from Morningside Elementary to C.W. Hill Elementary in the black neighborhood returned with black fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders to integrate Morningside Elementary.

My wife and I noticed that our youngest daughter was not learning to read in the first grade. By the first of second grade we heard that C.W. Hill had a good reputation and might be a better place for her to attend school. Looking into it, we learned that since we were white and that school was majority black (51%) we were eligible to transfer our child to that school in accordance with the "M to M program" (Minority to Majority). I suppose had we been black she would not have been allowed to go there, but since we were white, it was approved. Sure enough, when she started she was tested and paired with a "team-teacher" and before the second grade was half over she was reading out loud and we were well pleased. (We didn't expect that when she got to Morningside as a fourth-grader we would run into an old-fashioned teacher who didn't believe in learning disabilities and we had to put her in a private school instead...but that is another story.)

While at C.W. Hill our child was invited to a birthday party of a classmate who was a nephew of the late Dr. King, but again we didn't make a big deal of it aside from telling her how very special that was. Children often accept one another at face value much better than their parents. We tried to rear our children to select their friends according to how they live rather than who they are. They are grown now and I think it worked.

This year's contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama underscores the racial divide that remains nearly three decades later. I am amazed at the man's equanimity and grace as he walks a narrow line to win support from both white and black constituencies. I am equally impressed with the passive-aggressive politics by which Hillary Clinton and her organization are able to exploit the race card to her clear advantage.

My remembrance and this post were inspired by an excellent essay I came across in this morning's reading by David Darlington at Josh Clayborn's blog, In the Agora.

Racial mistrust is still very real in this country, even if the days of widespread violence are mostly in the past, and because of that mistrust the Clintons may have stumbled on a way to marginalize and defeat the first African American candidate with a serious, realistic chance at the White House. I do hope that Barack Obama finds a way to keep his cross-racial appeal and win the Democratic nomination though -- not just because it would mean the defeat of the Clinton machine, and not just because of the historical triumph of the first nomination of an African American by a major party, but also because Hillary Clinton is just plain wrong about Lyndon Johnson and Martin Luther King Jr. Politicians who try to impose their will on a republic from the top down without the public being prepared for it get kicked out of office, and rightly so. Men (and women) like MLK Jr are essential to seed the public mind with ideas of change and what a new, improved society can look like. The pols that people like the Clintons love so much can only reap what the visionaries have sown.

As they say, read the whole thing. And take a look at his link to his 2007 essay as well.

On this day of remembrance of Dr. King I have collected a few old posts an put them together at this one spot.

The Speech

Two personal remembrances: King and Gandhi

The Clarkston International Bible Church

Otis Redding at Monterey, 1967

If there is a theme here it is the meaning of what it means to love. What does that mean and how do we keep on doing it, even when it hurts? Along that line, if you are not already exhaused from reading check out Hate and it's children , an exploration of the difference between what I call personal hate and partisan hate. I think this look at the dark underside of love may have meaning today.

The Speech

[First posted January, 2007]

I can now embed a YouTube video in my blog of this historic event. I have no idea how long this privilege will last, but as long as it does I aim to take full advantage of it. At just under twelve minutes, I cannot imagine that anyone has not yet heard this speech. But just in case (and for the benefit of younger people whose education may have neglected this historic event) here it is again. The reader already familiar with this speech owes it to himself and King's memory to budget the next twelve minutes as a personal memorial to his sacrifice.

The Clarkston International Bible Church

[This post was written in September, 2007 and moved to January 21, 2008 in observance of the King holiday.]

As a long-time resident of metro-Atlanta I am compelled to point to today's video and story in the New York Times about a local ministry, Clarkston International Bible Church. Formerly a Southern Baptist church, it is now an independent multi-ethnic congregation in one of the most diverse communities in the area. The Times video is well-done and only five minutes long. (So far they have not enabled You Tube to make the clip available for embedding, but these things take time. After all, it took a long time for the Times to discover how pointless it was to charge for Times Select.)

Clarkston, Georgia is inside the Perimeter very close to the DeKalb Farmers Market, one of the city's most colorful and important cultural attractions. My family and I have moved too far out to shop there now, but when Robert and Harry Blazer started their enterprise in town we were among their most faithful patrons. Starting on a vacant lot at Medlock Drive and Scott Blvd. in Decatur, selling fresh produce off the back of trucks, they put together one of the most impressive retail food outlets in the country. They grew too big for their original location and relocated to the present site which is as big as a warehouse. The brother Harry started a separate business on a similar model, appropriately called Harry's, which grew in the North Atlanta suburbs, but the Original DeKalb Farmers Market remained one of a kind with Robert in charge. The last time I was there I saw him talking with one of the staff in a conversation that lasted the whole time I was shopping. I have no idea what they were discussing, but I was impressed that his sense of priorities is balanced enough that he has all the time in the world to chew the fat with a retail clerk. I think that may have something to do with the success of the business.

But this post is not about the market. This is about the church nearby. Watch the video and get a feel for what happens when old fashioned Southern Baptists decide that welcoming others from all parts of the world is an important part of building the Kingdom. This kind of ministry is not common, incidentally, but also not unique. My wife and I went to St. Jude's Episcopal Church in Marietta for a decade and experienced very much the same kind of cultural mix. Christians from all over the world have more in common than many isolated congregations imagine. By isolating themselves from their Christian brothers and sisters who don't speak or worship the same, they only succeed in limiting their vision of what the Church really is. As the preacher in the video concludes, we can expect Heaven to be a culturally mixed place.

This church and the nearby DeKalb Farmers Market reflect an impressive international diversity. One reason for the success of the market is that from the beginning shoppers from all over the world could find products they wanted. Immigrant shoppers traveled long distances to shop there. Virtually anything available in North America was for sale at reasonable prices, including strange root crops and vegetables not found in most grocery store produce sections. Imported products from Asia and South America appeared along with those from Europe, Australia and New Zealand. In time they built an impressive wine selection. But the most impressive part of the market has always been the staff and a true international flavor. Flags from all over the world hang overhead and clerks speaking many languages in addition to English are everywhere. I have no idea how many countries are represented but the impression is that they compose a virtual United Nations in uniform.

No, I have no connection with the church, the market or the Chamber of Commerce. But yes, I can tell you if you have time when you are in Atlanta consider putting the DeKalb Farmers Market on your list of places to visit. Travelers from New York, San Francisco or other places with large immigrant populations may not be impressed. But you can be sure that places like this are a rich, new experience for lots of people here in the South. And churches like the one in Clarkston have a very important ministry and deserve recognition.

Otis Redding at Monterey, 1967

January 21 is the King Holiday, a day set aside to honor the memory of Martin Luther King and all for which he lived, worked and was killed. His mission and focus was the plight of black Americans, but no one who listens to that timeless speech can argue that he was not speaking only about them and their issues, but everyone "everywhere and at all times" struggling with the pain that comes from loving...whether it be romantic love, which is how we most carelessly use the word, or love in a more cerebral sense.

We may not have enough different ways to speak of love as the Greeks did, but we are smart enough to know what is being said when we talk about love of baseball or country or music or anything else. We understand that people give their lives for love of country but consider it foolish to suggest dying for the love of baseball. We know the difference.

Love of enemies, as commanded by Jesus, pushes the notion to the limit. But it is exactly that kind of extreme, irrational, mystifying love to which He referred, and in a sense it is the same challenge we face any time we confront those with whom we disagree. Loving an opponent (we like to use the word respect because the word love seems so inappropriate when fighting an opponent) then becomes man's greatest and toughest Divine commands. Take away all the smoke and love is at the heart of the matter.

I put together what follows last June when NPR aired a forty-year anniversary remembrance of the Monterrey Jazz Festival. No one alive at that time can forget what happened in the Sixties, even those who now, forty years later, disagree about what it meant and which "side" was right or wrong. Just the mention of some events still triggers arguments.

Along with a couple of other older posts, I am reposting my comments with one addition, a YouTube snip of Otis Redding which I did not find at the time. Maybe one day I will go back an clean up all this messy blogging to make it more digestible, but in the meantime here it is, like an old magazine clipping. Take from it what you will.


Radio blogging here...

If you do nothing else today, go to NPR, directly to the Otis Redding clip.
You will find it two links above Janis Joplin's picture.
It's four minutes long. If that does nothing for you, move on to something else.

But those of us who hear the moment will always get chills whenever we listen.

The festival also exposed soul great Otis Redding to a new, primarily white audience, whom he called "the love crowd," Phillips says.

"A whole new audience opened up to him," she says.

Redding was killed in a plane crash just months after that performance. A few, short years later, Hendrix and Joplin died within weeks of each other. Their performances at the Monterey Festival have become part of music legend.

The interplay of life and music has always been around, but I think the Sixties took the juxtaposition to a new level. Musical traditions at that time into blended into a hybrid that has no historic equal. Folk music, Blues, Gospel, and popular dance music intersected with mass production and broadcasting of records. Add to this trend politics, substance abuse and contraception. Mix in an awareness of global realities combined with death from drugs, assassination, auto and plane crashes resulting in a spate of ersatz martyrs and you have the makings of an "era." Electric amplification made volume levels unimaginable, and acoustic instruments either got closer to the microphone or went electric altogether.

Human bodies, minds and voices pushed to maximum endurance levels and many didn't recover. Those that did often bore bruises and scar tissue marking their past. Willie Nelson is only a few years past seventy, but he had the look of someone with a lot of mileage soon after the Sixties. He is one of the beloved survivors. So is Arlo Guthrie who turns sixty next month and seems to have escaped the genetic condition that took out his father, Woody "This Land is Your Land" Guthrie.

Readers with another fifteen minutes to spare might enjoy listening to a
Terry Gross interview of Brian Wilson, the creative force behind The Beach Boys. His music is in a genre of its own but in many ways he is an archetype of the Sixties. The interview was memorable for me. It was aired about a year after 9/11 when I was coming to terms with a good many changes in my own life.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Hate and it's children

This morning's post by The Anchoress is one of those treasures worth keeping, found on the shore of the ocean we call the blogworld. I'll get to that in a moment, but first I want to address a question someone asked me a few days ago.

I told one of my children who does graphic design work that for Christmas I wanted some cards, like business cards, that I could give to people I meet identifying my blog. A blog card, if you will, instead of a business card. She came up with a layout of ten to be printed on photo paper that I chop up into cards. I gave one to someone who asked what made me start blogging and I realized I didn't have an answer. Not a good one, anyway.

In the beginning there was a fantasy about becoming well-known as a sage or thinker, someone whose insights and opinions would be sought by those seeking clever or wise commentary about matters large and small. I admired the wit of James Lileks, sharp insights of Michelle Malkin, over-the-top excesses of Rachel Lucas, timely scoops from Matt Drudge, and catholic attention to the whole universe by Glenn Reynolds. I knew that Steven Den Beste and Bill Whittle were writing long pieces that were atypical of blogs generally, but even they had respectable followings. I could tell by the comment threads how people were perceived. This was before the TTLB ecosystem emerged as a gold standard for traffic and links. All I knew was that the ocean was out there and the water looked fine, so in I jumped.

I realized as time passed that the sites that had excited me most shared a common political undercurrent I had not noticed at first. I saw myself as a veteran of the Civil Rights movement, a child of the Sixties whose anti-war predilections led me to change my draft status to conscientious objector, later to be drafted as such to serve two years as an Army medic. Yet here I was, twenty or thirty years later, having gone into the world of business, serving as a manager and boss, attracted to the Conservative wing of political writing like an ant to sugar. Like Freddy said to Eliza, "It's the new small do it so awfully well!" I didn't particularly appreciate the content, but the form was truly wonderful.

Oh, there were places from what can be called "the Left" that also were pumping out stuff. But they were the lunatic fringe, you know...conspiracy theorists, astrologers, practitioners of exotic (typically Asian) alien philosophies, Marxists (who never tire of endless fountains of words, words, words) and other cranks who were hard to peg. Pejorative use of the word "moonbat" came about quite naturally because those of us from the nether edge of the political spectrum do tend to be poorly coordinated, less focused on practical details and more taken with crazy dreams. (Two of my favorite lines are Will Rogers' I'm not a member of any organized political party...I'm a Democrat and Ambrose Bierce's definition of a "Conservative" as One enamoured with prevailing evils as opposed to a Liberal who wished to replace them with new ones.)

Pajamas Media represents the Right perfectly, creases pressed and colors coordinated, small points of discussion notwithstanding. That venerable assembly preceded Netroots by a few years, but that latter-day rag-tag outfit with all its profanity and outrage, emerged as the Left's reply to Pajamas. I have watched helplessly as the aftermath of 9/11 and a knee-jerk reaction have polarized national politics to the point that I no longer identify easily with either pole. When I started blogging I felt comfortable with a messy but principled Left, such as it was, but I have been embarrassed by extremes from that side. Excoriating the name of General Petraeus and failing to recognize positive efforts by the president to bring about meaningful immigration reform come to mind (not to mention uncoupling health insurance from employment, an idea which has great practical appeal to me but which no one is speaking about openly...though it is an idea specifically from the White House).

Anyway, getting to what The Anchoress said, she opens by describing an important difference between what I call partisan hate and personal hate. Partisan hate is rather generic, enabling the hater to close ranks with others of like persuasion in a feeling of power or solidarity. Personal hate, on the other hand, tends to be individual, more inner-directed and as a result more corrosive to one's character and temperament than an outburst at a rally or surge of excitement seeing one's letter to the editor in print. Personal hate is like tinnitus, always ringing or buzzing in your head, never going away. Sometimes, even in your sleep, grinding teeth and nightmares nurture the poison, leaving a kind of mental pus staining the rest of life, dampening happiness and excitement into dull tolerance.

That is the end of Part One of my thinking this morning.

In order to fully appreciate the pain and suffering that grows from what I have termed Personal Hate, go there now and read this woman's incredible confession, self-examination, and journey toward absolution. She is articulate to the point of tears. Her description of personal hate and how her family members, the angels that God has given her to let her know He loves her, lead her out of her darkness into the light that only comes from faith.

What upset me more than anything is that for the first time in my life, I was actively hating someone. I’ve never hated anyone - not even people who have done me physical and spiritual harm. But I was hating this fellow. And hating him even more for “making me” hate him.

Which, of course, he could not do. No one can “make” you hate; I simply allowed hate in; I welcomed it in, gave it an honored chair and fed it. And fed it. And it was incredibly destructive and oppressive - to me, mostly - but it did nothing good for anyone who had to be around me if the subject had my head. My whole family, and a few friends, have had to endure watching me give myself over to this resentment, allowing it to have its way with me, and to own me, body and soul.

I'll wait here while you read the rest. She tells her story better than any excerpt can capture.


For Part Two I want to redirect the reader's attention to what I have called Partisan Hate. Partisan hate is imporantly different from personal hate. Partisan hate derives from groups more than individuals, although individuals plant the seeds and nurture its growth. What impulse attracts others to this or that category of hate is not clear. The reasons are probably as diverse as the numbers attracted. My instinct is that partisan hate may be an outgrowth of personal hate, but I don't want that laid on me. MY partisan hate is not as bad as YOURS, of course, so we know there are exceptions to such a rule.

I don't want to run down that road too far because it will have us all running in circles. What I want to point to is a partisan argument now developing over the use of the word "fascism." Individuals are involved in the discussion, so I want to be clear here: my aim is not to "disrespect" (I think that's the right modern usage of that neologism) any person, but to point to an idea or trend with which I find problems.

With September 11, 2001 now six years past, we divide contemporary history into Pre- and Post-9/11 eras. Thanks to what seems to have been a carefully-orchestrated narrative America's response to that event has had two misleading concepts at the core. The first is that there is no significant difference between Muslim extremists and Muslims as a population. The second is that the attack on the World Trade Center was an act of war, not just an act of terrorism.

Recently a voice of reason in Britain finally pointed to the naked king, stating the obvious:

The Director of Public Prosecutions said: 'We resist the language of warfare, and I think the government has moved on this. It no longer uses this sort of language."

London is not a battlefield, he said.

"The people who were murdered on July 7 were not the victims of war. The men who killed them were not soldiers," Macdonald said. "They were fantasists, narcissists, murderers and criminals and need to be responded to in that way."

His remarks signal a change in emphasis across Whitehall, where the "war on terror" language has officially been ditched.

This important moment has gone unnoticed both there and here but a few people have taken note and perhaps one day in the future, when more reflective than reflexive observers are doing an analysis of the post-9/11 era that moment will find "new" meaning.

Regarding the other misleading idea, that there is little or no difference between Muslim extremists and Muslims as a population, it was plain to me from the start that there was a serious disconnect between the Muslim faith and terrorism. Having worked with a few people who were Muslim, both devout and nominal, I had and continue to have a clear impression of them standing in sharp relief to the images being fashioned and fed to Americans for popular consumption.

Helplessly I watched as preparations for the invasion of Iraq got underway. I had mixed feelings about what was being advanced as a "preemptive" invasion, and along with everyone else I gave credibility to the "threat"scenario. Once the war was underway, matters got out of control and there was little that anyone could do to bring about coitus interruptus in an international violent rape.

In the aftermath we see that General Petraeus and his insights should have been involved from the start, but you know what they say about hindsight...

Underscoring my instincts, I heard General Sir Michael Rose say in an interview last night that "by invading Iraq, of course we were going to make it almost impossible for the West to be able to mobilize the very people we need to help us fight Al Qaeda and that are the Muslim people of the world."

Which leads me to a neologism that has bothered me ever since I first heard it: Islamofascist. I'm not sure where the term originated, but I don't think it came from any confessing Muslim. Since no one wants to be associated with fascism (even those who are by definition fascists, I believe) it becomes a perfect label to attach to any group or individual one wants to discredit. Since the end of World War II the word fascism has the same stench to the children of the Allies that terms like Commie and fellow-traveler had in the Fifties or Nigger-lover had in the deep South about the same time. In fact, the term fascist is worse. I know people not ashamed to have been associated with the idealistic Communists of the past. And I, myself am satisfied -- no, honored, to be called Nigger-lover.

But that word fascist is another matter. I haven't met anyone who wants to own that designation, just as I have yet to meet anyone (or hear of anyone) pleased to be called Islamofascist.

All of which gets me to the point of this post.

The book Liberal Fascism and it's cute logo, a happy face with a Hitler-type mustache, is emerging, thanks to its provenance, from the mire of pulp slime trolling to the status of acceptable commentary. If a less well-known writer had produced this book it would not have attracted as much attention. It certainly would not have been viewed with as much respectability. But we are living in a time when the Ron Pauls of the world can go tromping across the national carpet with muddy boots and get away with it because what they say scratches a national itch that just keeps getting worse.

I saw the logo before I saw reference to the book. I dismissed it as so much sillyness. Then I saw it was a book, but I didn't pay much attention. We who openly call ourselves Liberal are accustomed these days to all kinds of personal invective. Then I noticed David Niewert's remarks followed by Jonah Goldberg on C-SPAN talking about his book. That got my attention. I see now that a heated argument is underway among pundits, historians and other experts regarding the pros and cons of Goldberg's book.

It's not hard to discern which side of this discussion is which.

I'm not enough of a scholar to say comment about the derivation of the word fascism. Moreover, I'm not interested in doing the homework when people like David Niewert are on duty. (Someone in the comment thread even linked to a critical review by Michael Ledeen.)

But I am smart enough to know it is an execrable insult to anyone to be called a fascist. There is an old saying in the South that even a dog knows when he's been kicked. There's a difference between being kicked and being tripped over. And I, as a self-identified Liberal, feel kicked and it really pisses me off. I'm not to the point of personal hate as referenced above, but it is fair to say that in the same way that The Anchoress draws the line between partisan hate and personal hate, I have to say I am full in the glow of partisan hate, resentment and insult.

This rant is as far as I will allow myself to go. But the issue has been stuck in my craw ever since I became aware and I had to get it out so I can move on with my blogging.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Voice of Chesterton

Another You Tube treasure...or should I say, another treasure ensconced at You Tube.

Killing the Buddha, R.I.P.

A durable root of faith has now become a stump. The living branches have been chopped off and all that remains is an archive. It preceded blogging. It offered a place for those on the margins of faith to explore whatever semblance of faith survived in their materially encrusted lives. It was a place of refuge for those crippled or smothered by overexposure to logic and science, political correctness, blind fundamentalisms of all stripes, and rational thought. After all, faith is, in Twain's words, believing what you know ain't so.

Seven years. That’s how long it's been since began. Seven! That’s 63 in Web years.

When KtB was born, there were no blogs; Salon was big news; the guy who started Facebook was in junior high.

Old enough to know better, young enough to find something else to do, we who have been here since the first day have moved on to writing books, having babies, and publishing in magazines that use actual paper. Much as we wish we could keep KtB going, there’s just no more time.

It has been great fun making this site happen. Many thanks to all who rode along with us. If there’s something we’ve published that you can’t live without, have no fear: We’ll leave the archive up until the internets fall down.

Sleep well, ya'll.

Jeff Sharlet remains on my blogroll. He's on my list of the best journalists working today.

Lebanon Video "It's About Time"

I linked this video last year but didn't embed it. The post in which it was only a footnote came up this morning in the stats. I watched it again and found it very moving.
Those with a taste for the complexity of international relations can drill into the other links. Others can get a small taste here of the hopes and dreams of Lebanon's Cedar Revolution which is still in progress.
This is a Google Video, not You Tube, so if you have trouble reading the subtitles go to Google Video where you can click "full screen" to get theatre effect.

A political documentary covering 30 years of war and post war in Lebanon. It highlights the real mistakes by the lebanese people throughout the Syrian and Israeli occupations. Different formats are used. War footage, drama and graphics. 14 minutes.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Sullivan on Clinton

Andrew Sullivan snips...

If you want yet another president who cannot say he or she made a mistake, who can never cop to errors, and who uses everything as a political tool against his or her opponents, you have your candidate. And she is ready on Day One. LINK

Bill Clinton is campaigning for himself as well right now, his own future power. He'll be in a Clinton White House, ready from Day One. And if they get there for a third term, the marital psychodrama they inflicted on us for eight long years will be with us once again. LINK

And from a reader...

I am voting for Obama. He may not have Hillary's experience, but he also does not have her constitutional inability to be honest, and for that I am thankful. LINK

So much political trash talking this morning. I feel like a kid in a candy store. I'd rather read than post.
Sorry, folks.
Like they say on the Cheez-Its, "Get your own box" .

This morning's best video...

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Who is Wayne Dumond?

If you've never heard of him you haven't been doing your homework. This is an election year and Wayne Dumond, who died a few years ago, is part of a background story that at least one candidate would like to go away.

It's a slimy, tawdry mess and I'm not getting involved other than making mention. Both political parties have dirt so this doesn't have to be a partisan issue. Those with an appetite for skeletons can go here.
and here
and here
...............................................I'm done.

When Your Cell Phone Dies...

The Story of Stuff has infected my mind. A piece in today's NY Times, The Afterlife of Cellphones, looks at what happens when cell phones are tossed out. As I write, the article is printing out to be read later. (I like to copy/paste to a two-column page in 12-point type for easy reading later. This item runs to nine pages.)

The metals exit the smelter’s base as a glowing sludge. It streams into another caldron the height of a house. From there, it moves into tanks of acid. The acid is electrocuted. As electricity flows through the mixture, copper accumulates on the tank’s end plate. I watched a giant claw move across the ceiling, rip out the plate and, with a violent whack, cleave off a gleaming layer of 99.9 percent pure copper, with the unmistakable sheen of a new penny. It was thrilling to see something so clean and recognizable emerge from such an alien process.

After explaining the final stages, Thierry Van Kerckhoven, Umicore’s e-scrap manager, handed me another of the end products from this process: a one-kilogram bar of gold. It felt the way I thought it would, based on what you see in the movies: substantial, mesmerizing. It was worth about $24,000. “This gold is recycled gold,” Kerckhoven said. “This gold is green gold.”

Battle of the Sexists (Updated)


That didn't take long. I put this post together yesterday and this morning the Times hits the same theme. Compare and contrast what follows with Rights vs. Rights: An Improbable Collision Course. My observations are not so marginal after all.

Women rallied to Mrs. Clinton in New Hampshire — 57 percent — after what many perceived as an unfair piling on by Mr. Obama and Mr. Edwards in a debate on Saturday. (Mr. Obama was tagged as being dismissive and patronizing after he told Mrs. Clinton she was “likable enough.”) In post-election surveys, many women said they were both heartened by Mrs. Clinton’s choked-up response to a voter’s question on Monday, and incensed by the ridicule she endured in its aftermath.

Likewise, many blacks took offense to a remark Mrs. Clinton made in an interview with Fox News that struck some as dismissive of the contributions of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. ...

To many, the comments echoed a building tone of disrespect that Mrs. Clinton had been expressing toward Mr. Obama — pooh-poohing his commitment to change as merely “hoping for it,” implying that her fellow United States senator was all talk. Bill Clinton took things even further, ranting against the media for not challenging the “fairy tale” that he said Mr. Obama’s rise was predicated on. (He was referring specifically to the perception that Mr. Obama was totally pure in his opposition to the Iraq war.)


Saturday (yesterday early morning):

It was bound to happen. Hillary Clinton's run to become president is having the same effect for women that sit-ins did for blacks in the Sixties. Last week's tears were the last straw. Everywhere I look now I find writers weighing in on the insulting manner that women are treated and spoken about simply because of gender.

Sara Robinson's case study of Chris Matthews, inspired by a Media Matters collection of his nappy-headed-ho moments, is a devastating examination of his degrading treatment of women as a group during his career. She wants him fired.

MSNBC needs to hear, loud and clear, that this is not charming, nor attractive, nor even acceptable in this day and age. (Even FOX News won't go this low -- Bill O'Reilly's on the record saying that Matthews' recent comment on Hillary's success being a result of Bill's cheating was an unacceptable attack. When BOR takes you to the woodshed on on-air propriety, you know the bottom is well in sight. Looming ahead: diplomacy lessons from Michael Savage.) A new generation of women is rising to power in this country; and if Matthews is too ossified in his sexism to get with the program (and, at 62, if he hasn't gotten over it now, let's not hold our collective breath), then he needs to give up his seat in front of the camera to someone who doesn't think that strong women are "scary" and the men who admire them are "castrated."

She's on to something. Hillary Clinton is a lightening rod. Like a black face in a previously all-white restaurant, she has all kinds of people talking about sexism, whether or not they call it that. Like it or not, when the subject of gender enters a political discussion those who introduce the subject are either feminists or a sexists, depending on their point of view. Feminists argues that being female is positive. Sexists argue that being female is negative.

I heard Neal Boortz try to sanitize his sexist position yesterday by arguing that women by their very "nature" prefer safety and security over freedom, suggesting that women are not fit to be leaders by their very nature. And that women would vote for Hillary Clinton in great numbers, not because she would be a good leader, but because she appeals to their sense of safety and security. Of course he doesn't want to hear any of this "not ALL women" nonsense. That would open a rhetorical door that has to remain closed for his position to pass without criticism. The language of sexism is every bit as nuanced as that of bigotry. (Oh, yes...this particular talk-show host also draws a meticulous line between racism and bigotry. He's neither, don't you know. But he wants you to understand the difference.)

As I read Mrs. Robinson's post I recalled another blogger's comment I came across yesterday in response to Maureen Dowd's sexist column in the NY Times the other day.

Noted hysteric female unwed childless columnist MoDo Maureen "Dowdy" Dowd of the "who,-me-sexist?" New York Times has really got her panties in a twist!

I mean, looky here: is this uppity old broad riding the cotton pony, or whut?


She's being SUCH a bitch! She's so totally playing the bitch card at Hillary!

Big-time bitch-slapping MoDo, you will recall, is an unmarried woman.

She engages in spin. Why, some might call her a -- spinster.

Plus -- shrieky MoDo is unmarried to Bill Clinton. Who probably, also, never made a pass at her. Having made passes at, we are told, every female who ever lived and then some.

Now that must hurt.

It could really make one hold a bigtime Clinton grudge.

Plus -- unmarried Maureen, who's probably always been a little ambitious for a girl, maybe a little shrill, a little pushy, a little masculine, a little oh, steely-eyed, therefore maybe, questionably, you know, dykey, a little loud, a little angry, way bitchy, moody, puffy, unstable, emotional, and certainly getting a little long in the tooth, a little wrinkly -- Maureen Down probably has noticed that it is Hillary Clinton, not she, who is the one who's running for President of the United States.

That must sting, deep down inside.

So, you know, Maureen, keep it real, and do let your petty jealousy and untrammeled sexism fly forth freely.

Cry about it.

(Or have you noticed -- ouch -- that no one is interested in your tears?)

I guess that's what can be called fighting fire with fire. It, and a torrent of other responses to the column, illustrate the level of passion the subject is raising.

This could be the election that surprises everyone when the dust settles. It is definitely the most multi-faceted in the last thirty-two years. Not since Watergate and Richard Nixon's resignation has national politics been as suspenseful. Both parties are picking from the most eclectic slates we have seen in a long time and Michael Bloomberg might open a third-party effort which will take votes from both major parties...depending on who is chosen.

I'm not holding my breath, but I would like to hear Bloomberg say something to indicate on which side of the gender debate he falls. Is he sexist or feminist?

Want to freshen up your feminist consciousness? Go read Echidne.

I'm in a bad mood and the viper-tongue is out. Which means that what you will ultimately read is a many-times-revised euphemism of what I originally wrote.

But I shouldn't be in a bad mood! The New York Times, the place where David Brooks and Maureen Dowd are nestled while scribbling missives about that contemptible sex, women (can smart women get laid?, can female eyeballs actually see?), has a piece on sexism today! Snoopy-dance time. Make it a stripping dance if you are a woman, because otherwise you are a tight-ass and no fun to be around. Then go and read the piece. Oh, and get me a coffee while you're at it.

Gawd I sound old-fashioned. We all know that this is the era of post-feminism. Sexism is dead and buried, all women have completely equal rights in everything and more than equal rights in some fields. It's mostly men who are oppressed, these days, and the oppressors are the feminazis. To say anything else means identity politics, and identity politics are wrong unless your identity is a white, Christian, heterosexual male. But otherwise they are wrong. And we don't do identity politics on the left anymore.

The mission never ends, does it?

This morning's edition of NPR's Wait! Wait! Don't Tell me...opened -- about three minutes into the show -- with a very ugly satire of Hillary Clinton's moment, a male voice quoting her in falsetto. They were having a high old time hooting and joking about "bad hair days" and Mitt Romney's tears in though it had nothing to do with bashing women.

Great sport, huh? When NPR is that insensitive, the battle for feminist awareness will be uphill.

Let's be clear. This is not about defending Hillary Clinton. There is no doubt in my mind that she is clever enough to know everything there is to know about feminism versus sexism and to use that knowledge in whatever manner will advance her political objectives. Her campaign has not been free of race-baiting or exploitation of religious intolerance...both in one fell swoop in one recent instance. Moral "flexibility" (I'm trying to be nice here) has never been a handicap in politics. And she is capable of playing The Female Card with as much manipulative success as blacks survived Jim Crow racism by shuckin' and jivin'. But that doesn't make it either okay or admirable.

I'm beginning to worry that Democrats are weakening their political strength by internal splits brought about by advancing two important causes, racism and sexism, at the same time.