Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Coretta Scott King has died

Georgia State Representative Tyrone Brooks, speaking on an Atlanta television station, points out that Coretta Scott King is a powerful figure in her own right having carried on the fight that her husband had led, starting with his murder. It is fair to say that without her drive and determination there would be no national holiday honoring Martin Luther King, Jr.

Mr. Brooks, who joined the SCLC in 1967, the year before King was killed, described how Mrs. King's name and reputation abroad is as well-known as that of her late husband. She was a tireless leader in the fight for human rights far beyond the issues of discrimination that have handicapped black people in America. Her name, he said, is recognized and respected around the world. If you mention the name "King" in many places, the question is asked, "Are you referring to Martin or Coretta?"

He makes a valid point that we need to remember today. Coretta Scott King and her family, by building and promoting the Center for Non-Violent Social Change have insured that the principles for which King died will not be forgotten.

Martin and Coretta are once again united, and The Dream still lives.

Salam Pax essay

For the first anniversary of the Iraq elections Salam Pax has posted a sad retrospective. Whatever else you may read today, this piece should be on the list.

New bloggers may not know of Salam Pax, but he was one of the original Iraqi bloggers, writing from inside the country before Saddam was defeated. I remember reading his pseudonymous posts and wondering who he was. His sketches of life in Iraq provided a rare glimpse of events seen from the other side.

Story time: A week ago [this was written in March, 2003, as the invasion if Iraq was under way] on the way to work I saw a huge column of blackest-black smoke coming from the direction of Dorah refinery which is within Baghdad city limits, thought nothing of it really. A couple of weeks earlier to that a fuel tank near the Rasheed army camp exploded and it looked the same, stuff like that happens. My father was driving thru the area later and he said it looked like they were burning excess or wasted oil. Eh, they were never the environmentalists to start with; if they didn’t burn it they would have dumped it in the river or something. The smoke was there for three days the column could be seen from all over Baghdad being dragged in a line across the sky by the winds. During the same time and on the same road I take to work I see two HUGE trenches being dug, it looked like they were going to put some sort of machinery in it, wide enough for a truck to drive thru and would easily take three big trucks.A couple of days after the smoke-show over Baghdad I and my father are going past these trenches and we see oil being dumped into the trenches, you could hear my brain going into action, my father gave me the (shutup-u-nutty-paranoid-freak) look, but I knew it was true. The last two days everybody talks about it, they are planning to make a smoke screen of some sorts using black crude oil, actually rumor has it that they have been experimenting with various fuel mixtures to see what would produce the blackest vilest smoke and the three days of smoke from Dorah was the final test. Around Baghdad they would probably go roughly along the green belt which was conceived to stop the sandstorms coming from the western deserts. I have no idea how a smoke screen can be of any use except make sure that the people in Baghdad die of asphyxiation and covered in soot. I think I will be getting those gas masks after all.

Funfact: after the oil wells in Kuwait were set on fire and the whole region covered in the blackest and ugliest cloud it rained for days on Baghdad washing everything with black water from the sky, the marks took a year to wash out. I think Salman Rushdie would have found this very amusing, characters in his novels are always haunted by things past in the strangest ways, the shame of your actions following you and then washing you with it’s black water, no ablutions for you Mr. H watch your city covered with the shame of your actions. We have an expression which roughly translates to "face covered with soot" (skham wijih) which is used to describe someone who has done something utterly disgraceful. Getting your city covered with “skham” once has to haunt you for the rest of your life, now we get “skham from the sky II – the return of the evil cloud”. The world is just a re-run of bad movies, but Mr. W. Bush already beat me to that expression.

Here we are three years later and much has changed. The identity of Salam Pax was revealed and he wrote guest columns for The Guardian. A Google search will tell you more about him than you need to know. Other more influential figures have taken center stage and the voice of Salam Pax joined those in a multitude, a chorus of confused observers as a wave of populism sweeps the country. The people have spoken, and in so doing they have shown, once again, that the political center of gravity is too close to the ground for any great number of everyday voters to have a vision of liberal democracy. History has shown, and continues to show, that populism is not to be confused with a dynamic, forward-moving democracy.

Salam Pax is sassy as usual in this most recent missal. Even the name of his blog is not aimed at winning friends and influencing people. But his points are well-taken and deserve a hearing.
I am still trying to figure out the answer to the riddle of a democratic process that brings in an undemocratic government. We’ve all put ourselves in a very uncomfortable corner, every single on of us who believed that the people will choose what’s ultimately best for their future and the western democratic governments are the first in line.The right to choose your own destiny and all that. The problem is we seem to choose future car crashes for a destiny.

What’s even more exasperating is what he US administration is doing in Iraq because it just won’t admit how wrong it all went. It goes back to “Democracy day” - the first elections, a year ago.
He bounces off a SC Monitor piece and a post by another Iraqi blogger to come up with some penetrating questions that need to be addressed by movers and shakers. If anything else is not clear, it is becoming painfully clear that the wrong people, whatever the reasons, are winning elections and coming to power, not only in Iraq, but other places as well.
Moqtada al-Sadr whom I first took notice of because of his inability to speak intelligibly is going to have a say in my future? 32 years old and not really the sharpest tool in the shed, the only reason he has such a big following is because of a father and uncle who were very respected scholars. Does this make him one? Apparently yes.
One of the things you used to hear a lot during the build-up to the war was that there is a strong secular, educated base of Iraqis which will be the foundation for the reconstruction effort and the political process. I believed that as well, more than believed, I thought I knew this to be a fact. This is the environment I grew up in, secular Shia and Sunni families whose fathers or mothers were educated abroad during the 40’s and 50’s and who sometimes talked to us about a life before the Baath Party was everything.

Thinking of this now it feels like I have been living in a make-believe world, I keep asking myself where are all the secular Iraqis? Where did all this religious extremism come from? And if we really are one of the best-educated societies in the Mid-East why do we keep making mistakes we made in the past?

He concludes with these lines. I suppose they might be called darkly optimistic, hopeful that the future might hold a brighter promise than what we see today. Here is the link again.
To come back to the question, is there a place for democracy? Well. I don’t think either of us has the heart to say no, deep down we know there should be a place. But it’s such an uphill struggle to keep believing that we be able to save ourselves from being hijacked by another form of totalitarian thought.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Comic Relief

We interrupt our usual programming to bring you a moment of comic relief. (H/T Blogsnow)
Advisory: those with prickly tastes remain here.
Everybody else: Ready...Set...GO!
Find the blog and keep scrolling. This has been going on since last July but it is still all on one screen.

Hossein Derakhshan: Three Cheers!

Also known as Hoder, Hossein Derakhshan is one of the blogworld's superstars. His archives go back nearly six years. He is from Iran but seems to be all over the place. Today he points with pride to another Iranian blogger, posting in Farsi, based in Israel!

Farhad, a very nice and sharp man from Arak, a central city in Iran, came to Israel in 1978, a year before the revolution in Iran. Unlike his Jewish or Muslim friends who chose the US to continue thei education, Farhad came to Israel. Simply because, contrary to what many think that all Iranian Jews are wealthy, he could not afford paying the expensive American higher education, even though he was admitted in very good universities.

But he doesn't regret it. He is one of those Iranians who value culture over money and what he found in the States was upsetting enough to convince him Israel is the best place for him and his family.

However, he can't stop listening to traditional Iranian music, reading Persian poetry-- and of course thinking about going back home, which now seems more like a dream for him and almost every Iranian who lives in Israel. They would be potential targets for the Iran's recent aggressive policy towards the West and Israel.

Hoder himself is not anyone to sneeze at. He had a guest column in yesterday's New York Times. (If the United States is serious about promoting democratic change in Iran, it needs to try the same approach that brought Iraqis to the polls despite mortal danger. Mr. Bush and his supporters should encourage the people of Iran to participate in the next election. And they should urge Iranians to vote for someone who will make their country more open and democratic, rather than more threatening, as Iran under President Ahmadinejad has become.)
Check it out.

Followup Monday, Jan. 30
This is just too good to pass. There is also a picture of Hoder.
While I was waiting for Hossein at the airport I ran into Asher Tsarfati, an Israeli actor who lives in my neighbourhood; he had come to pick his daughter up after a class trip to California and shushed away my concerns that Hossein might not make it through security. Asher is currently acting in a Hebrew version of Shakespeare's
The Tempest at the
Hebrew-Arab Theatre of Jaffa; until he went off to Hollywood last week Ali Suliman, who played one of the protagonists in Paradise Now, also acted in the play - which I saw and loved. When we ran into Asher at the cafe this
morning, I introduced him to Hossein as "the guy I was waiting for at the airport"; they shook hands and Asher said jokingly, "Wow, we touched. Can we make world peace happen now?" He then offered to set up a meeting with the Arab and Jewish actors at the theatre. More on that when it happens.
At a glance, Lisa Goldman's blog is a delight.

So, too, is An Unsealed Room where I am finding the links. She seems to be well-placed enough to have a valid viewpoint on anything that is happening in Israel.

My better half is dining with a U.S. Supreme Court Justice in Jerusalem tonight as part of a conference he participated in organizing. [Descriptive snip]
The symposium started tonight in Jerusalem and continues tommorow at
IDC, which is when hubby is speaking. He just called to say good night to the kids and reported that Scalia's speech was "brilliant" (we're talking about his legal mind, folks, not
his political orientation) and that there was a lot of media there, both foreign and domestic -- the attraction for the domestic media being that Gavison and Barak were together on the same stage (
Barak recently shot down Gavison's planned nomination to the Court)

In my not so humble opinion, I should be there shmoozing with Scalia and Dershowitz too. Think of the great blogging that could have resulted. But nooo.....the Fulbright foundation decided that the dinner would be spouse-free. Grumble, grumble, boo, hiss.

Discrimination in France

The Washington Post is to be applauded.
Another article, this time by John Ward Anderson, appeared yesterday focusing on racial/ethnic discrimination in France.

When the prime minister of France wanted a powerful, unimpeachable voice torecommend how to end job discrimination in the country, he turned to ClaudeBebear, an outspoken takeover artist who had built a small regional insurance firm into the world's biggest.

Bebear, who saw racial discrimination as one of France's most deeply rooted and insidious problems, did not disappoint. In a report 14 months ago, he brought a largely hidden topic into full public view. Bebear laid out a series of proposed remedies, including a colorblind recruiting tool known as the "anonymous résumé."
Typically, in France, "they throw away the résumés of people who are from bad parts of town which are supposed to have Arabs or blacks," Bebear, 70, said in an interview. "When you have somebody whose name is Mohammed and he lives in St. Denis," a low-income community outside Paris, "you say, 'I won't bother with that one,' and so they don't even answer them."

The solution, Bebear said, is to strip résumés of anything that could tip off recruiters to a person's racial, ethnic and national background or other information that could be used to discriminate -- name, age, sex, even residential postal code. "Then the man who is in charge of recruitment will look at that and say, 'Oh, that résumé is a very good one. Send me that guy,' and in the folder he has in front of him is an old black woman or a handicapped person."

That piece is an echo of another one by Molly Moore linked in my MLK Day post.

As a 24-year-old intern in a Paris office of Adecco, one of the world's largest hiring agencies for temporaries, Gerald Roffat interviewed dozens of job applicants in 2000. He rated them according to skills -- PR1 for the best candidates -- and by skin color. PR4 was primarily for black job seekers.

When Roffat questioned this system of segregating applicants, he recalled in an interview, a colleague told him: "It's better to respect the choices of the client. If they don't want a black guy, you have to send what the client wants. It's business."

The clients that refused to accept black employees for their most visible service jobs included some of the city's best-known hotels, restaurants and department stores, as well as local government agencies and the Foreign Ministry, according to Roffat, whose parents immigrated to France from the West Indies. Other clients, among them the Disneyland Resort Paris theme park, imposed limits on the number of black workers they accepted, he said.

Both pieces are worth reading. I come away from them with the idea that finding examples of discrimination in France is as easy as picking cherries. Each uses a different company to make the same point, and each leaves the impression that the stories illustrate the rule, not the exceptions.

This morning's reading brings me to another prescient article from 2003 making the same point. Time/Europe had the goods on French hiring practices three years ago -- and predicted the recent explosions in the "suburbs" (banlieues as they are called).
"Finding a job is hard for everyone today, but even harder if your name has a foreign ring, or you come from the banlieues," says Agalia, a Frenchwoman of Arab extraction recently hired to sell AXA policies. "That social and professional discrimination must be stopped," Bébéar adds, "or France will one day explode."
The WaPo story yesterday derives from the same corporate source, AXA's Claude Bébéar.
Under Bébéar's leadership the firm's name was changed to AXA Group in 1985; the choice was astute because, although the letters did not stand for anything, they would come at the beginning of alphabetical lists, and people worldwide could pronounce the name. Bébéar's skill at operating outside his country's borders was becoming apparent.
...Although he officially retired as AXA's director when he turned 65 in 2000, Bébéar remained active as the chairman of AXA's supervisory board. In its August 11, 2003, issue, Fortune included Bébéar on its list of the 12 most powerful business leaders outside the United States.
...In 2001 Bébéar headed the committee to locate the 2008 Olympics in Paris. He also helped found the Institut Montaigne, a think tank that analyzed French economic challenges. Bébéar resisted overtures to become involved in his country's volatile political scene, twice turning down offers to become finance minister, although he did not rule out future involvement.
Thanks to The Lounsbury for pointing out yesterday's article.

I would love to sit here and peck out line after line of preaching, but after a year at blogging I have come to the conclusion that no one is really interested in what I have to say. Besides, it is usually predictable after reading my links.

I simply hope and pray that the links will work their power, at the right places and the right times, to nudge some reader, somewhere to think a little more clearly.
Anyone who reads the Lounsbury's commentary and follow-up remarks in the comments thread -- blunt instruments that they are -- and still fails to grasp the point [...the "French intifada" meme was nonsense then and even more nonsensical now, but you don't see anyone saying they were wrong] is probably too blind to see blood on a white floor.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Fine points of hostage-taking

As Google is being beseiged by a swelling tide of righteous indignation about kowtowing to the Chinese authorities (It is, after all, the Lunar New Year and the word kowtow is deliciously Chinese in origin) I carelessly tripped over this mote in someone's eye. Can't say who exactly.

Take a look at this...

An interesting story via Laura Rozen, Andrew Sullivan, and Cunning Realist. According to reports, a series of emails and an internal Army memo suggests that US soldiers have used insurgents' wives as leverage in order to get the suspects to surrender. So far, there has been no confirmation that the detentions actually led to the surrender of the insurgents targeted. There is no mention of explicit threats of violence against the wives which were detained, but sometimes silence speaks volumes.
There is no evidence that they have either tortured or threatened to torture the women they have detained. However, sometimes it is possible to rely upon the beliefs of an opponent to do the work for you. The insurgency is mostly homegrown, a collection of former Baathists and disaffected Sunnis. These actors know full well the kind of tactics used by the former regime to extract confessions, information, etc. It is the world they are accustomed to. Additionally, even if these actors believed US soldiers incapable of these acts prior to the war revelations (complete with pictures) of abuse at Abu Ghraib no doubtedly changed the perception of what the US might be capable of. [The Abu Graib scandal works to our advantage. Right?]

With this information constituting the frame through which the insurgents interpret US actions I would not be surprised if we never actually threatened to do anything to these women, and that includes the threat of violence. The threat is left vague for a number of reasons, not the least of which is its illegality under Geneva. By leaving it sufficiently vague you use the adversaries own beliefs of what they think is possible and probable to do the work for you. What you sacrifice in clarity you make up for with plausible deniability and, potentially, the wild imagination of an actor who may think you capable of actions worse than even you are willing to contemplate.

The writer is not making any judgements about the practice but I am. My judgement is that if Google is expected to stand up to the Chinese authorities by not submitting to censorship, then practicing blackmail is equally immoral. If anything, a censored victim is less tarnished than someone retaliating against evil by perpetrating another evil.
Am I wrong, or have I not read a lot of condemnations of moral relativity from sources that are forever reviling "the Left" (whoever that might be) for that very sin?
One comment in the Google controversy thread asked the question: Does the end justify the means?

The rhetorical answer is an implied "no" but when circumstances are not so clear-cut, that answer is not easy to live with.
A "yes" in this case points to a very slippery slope, down which we are already travelling.

Iraq is still waiting...

As events in Palestine grab center stage, Iraq is still there...stage right.

So we have a perfect mess. Iraq barely has the money to keep an already poor electricity supply in operation yet needs that electricity in order to improve security and generate more money. America is showing little inclination to help.At times like you need to have strong leadership and effective (sometimes unpopular) decision-making. Maybe the Iraqi government can do something about it? I dont think so. Even if the new Iraqi parliament is able get its act together quickly and appoint a government there will still be several major obstacles that will not be easily overcome:

1. Iraq is effectively bankrupt.

2. The elected parties are mostly sectarian - there is little to unite them and much to encourage any dissenting sect to start its own insurgency.

3. All new oil discoveries have already been franchised out to the regions by agreement in the constitution. There is no source of new oil money coming to the government.

4. ... the constitution all but guarantees a stalemate in government.

The solution must be Iraqi...Iraq needs a new government of reconstruction one that will nationalise the oil wealth and use it to rebuild the country. One that can build a police force free of the sectarian militias and an army that is only loyal to the country not to foriegn troops. This goes against the bottom line of the Americans but it will be popular within Iraq and this is the only way to create a stabile country and prevent the situation spiralling into an international war.

"Google is helping its business partners in Beijing airbrush Jesus Christ right off the Chinese internet"

Not making this up. Thanks, Blogsnow for the link...

This is a very serious issue. Google has put its financial bottom line over basic human rights. An American company is assisting the Chinese government in a Stalinistic airbrushing of faith from the internet. That Google is helping Beijing wipe Jesus Christ off the web at the same time that it is defying a fairly routine request from the US government for search data to determine if kids are accessing hard core p)rn is unconscionable. I honestly don’t know how Google’s execs sleep at night.

I am linking here with some reluctance. This is one of the many sites that seem to enjoy the bash-Jimmy-Carter cottage industry (see his preceding post) but I try to look at content more than form. There's a saying that even a blind hog will sometimes find an acorn in the woods.

Google responds at the Official Google Blog...
Launching a Google domain that restricts information in any way isn't a step we took lightly. For several years, we've debated whether entering the Chinese market at this point in history could be consistent with our mission and values. Our executives have spent a lot of time in recent months talking with many people, ranging from those who applaud the Chinese government for its embrace of a market economy and its lifting of 400 million people out of poverty to those who disagree with many of the Chinese government's policies, but who wish the best for China and its people. We ultimately reached our decision by asking ourselves which course would most effectively further Google's mission to organize the world's information and make it universally useful and accessible. Or, put simply: how can we provide the greatest access to information to the greatest number of people?

More at the link. I tend to side with Google on this one. Half a loaf is better than no loaf at all.

It looks like this is developing into some kind of flap.
Judith Weiss brings it to everyone's attention.
Google is getting beat up pretty bad. (I almost said "taking a lot of hits" but it seemed tacky.)Plenty of people on high horses of principle, don't you know.
In his own coy manner, even Glenn Reynolds is piling on with the multitudes calling for public stoning. Or at least a few hours in the hot sun sitting in the stocks.
Well I just came across a different story touching on principles that is in darker shadows of principle than this one. It seems that U.S. forces (or their, uh...surrogates, maybe?...are fighting fire with fire with hostage-takers.
By siezing and holding wives or family members of "insurgents" or "suspected insurgents."
Now that is what I call a slippery slope, indeed.
I think this calls for a different post.

In Memoriam: Aya al-Astal

Separate post here for one little girl, lost in the excitement of the last two days...

Aya was 13 years old. Aya was carrying a basket, and got lost on her back back home to the Qarara area of south-central Gaza on Thursday, not far from the border fence with Israel. Israeli occupation forces shot her four times with live ammuniation, two rounds at least hitting her in the neck on Thursday, after suspecting she was a dangerous terrorist (their defense: "she got close to the fence"). But the media was too busy covering the "political earthquake that shook the region." Four bullets. To the neck. This from arguably the most sophisticated army in the world. Apparently, the soldiers mistook her basket for a bomb. Binoculars anyone? Medics found her body, riddled with bullets, hours after she had been murdered. May you rest in peace littl Aya. May you rest in peace.

posted by Lailaumyousuf @ Saturday, January 28, 2006
The comments are heartbreaking, especially those intended to gloss over the event or minimize its impact as a symbol of the madness of the time.

Pebbles and shells on the beach

Strolling along the edge of the ocean, I am picking up driftwood, starfish, and other little treasures from the flotsam, hoping not to be hit by a tsunami...

Calling the Hamas "militant" is more than an understatement. It is like saying Stalin was an "outspoken activist." Hamas began about 1985 as a seemingly innocuous charity and religious group that even got the support of the Israeli government. However, when the first Intifada started, Hamas turned militant. They drew up their charter, which explains their views on negotiations and what might be called "the Jewish question." It is hard to imagine a more racist and terrifying document.

Everything's topsy-turvy. A hardcore Islamist party wins a resounding victory in Palestine (can we finally drop the awkward and contrived "Palestianian territories" bullshit?) -- who is calm and who is upset? Not what you'd expect. Panic is unwarranted and counterproductive, but it strikes me that some Israelis are exhibiting an unseemly satisfaction at the results while Palestinians are genuinely aggrieved at the victory for Islamism. Who is the moderate here? Those Israelis who are quite pleased at the results think that it will draw the US even closer to Israel. Well, it's human to seize the advantage but hold the champagne.
Bush pushes for elections, confusing them with democracy, but seems blind to the dangers of right-wing populism. At the same time, he continually undermines the moderate and secular forces in the region by acting high-handedly or allowing his clients to do so. As a result, Sunni fundamentalist parties, some with ties to violent cells, have emerged as key players in Iraq, Egypt and Palestine.
Juan Cole (Salon subscription) quoted by Diana Moon, previous note...

The latest events can only be described as a political earthquake, both locally and regionally. Not only are these the first truly democratic and hotly contested elections in the Arab Middle East, but also the first time an Islamic party has come to power through the system and the popular will of the people.

To say we are entering a new stage is an understatement. Everyone knew Hamas would do well in these elections and that they would constitute a significant challenge to the ruling party. But this well?

Voters in Gaza were shocked.
"I cast a sympathy vote for Hamas but truthfully I did not expect them to win at all. It was a surprise to everyone; no one expected this to happen," a young college student said.Even Hamas members and supporters were surprised.

"We thought we'd get at most 50% of the votes," one Hamas insider told me.

"We didn't expect the security forces and the upper classes to vote for us, but it seems they might have tipped the balance. I guess we're more popular than we realised."

How the new government will take shape and whether western positions towards it will evolve have all yet to answered. It's likely that Hamas will form a kind of national unity government, or a coalition of some sort, with a mixture of other parties. The burden of the sudden and overwhelming responsibility for running a state and answering to their constituents' long and varied list of demands may be more than they can deal with alone at the moment.

(H/T 3 Quarks) The Guardian LINK; fifth in a series by
...freelance journalist and blogger Laila el-Haddad, who lives in Gaza City. Laila's blog, Raising Yousuf, is named after her two-year-old son. You can read her first post here, her second post here, her third post here and her fourth here.
So... it's kind of interesting to monitor the reaction to the Hamas victory and the way officials and pundits are finding a "silver lining" in all of that (See my earlier post for the president's response). It reminds me of an aunt of mine who when you gave her some bad news, that you lost your job or your house was destroyed in fire, would always respond: "It's all for the best, dear." For believers there is the God Works in Mysterious Ways... And for Marxists and neocons it's -- how should I put it? -- dialectical thinking runing amok.
Global Paradigms
Lessons to be learned at home?
What Harry Reid Could Learn from Hamas
Anti-corruption is a good election issue, but to really pull off a sweeping political win you need to combine it with support for traditional religious values, toughness on national security, and economic populism. It's a sure-fire formula.
(to be continued...)

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Electronic Intifada

Okay, then.
Sooner or later you'll have to come to terms with this source. So, too, will those who represent us. Prepare to read the Palestinian side of the issues. This is not up for discussion. This is an articulate presentation of views apt to be disregarded by Washington, Tel Aviv and most of Europe. In face, I expect they make a lot of Arabs uncomfortable as well, particularly those in Saudi Arabia whose deep pockets are being picked clean.

The Hamas victory: democratization – but not what the US expected
Laurie King-Irani, The Electronic Intifada, 28 January 2006

The “Palestinian street” has long considered the PA to be corrupt, high-handed, and worse: far too subservient and obsequious to Israeli and US demands. Its integrity was long ago compromised, and its effectiveness undermined, by a pronounced dependence on external funds, humiliating kow-towing to Israel, and its leaders’ craven fears of risking their privileges and power by siding with the people. Contrary to being a dramatically negative and cataclysmic event, Hamas’ victory is in fact a welcome sign of change and a possible turning point, not a breaking point, in the long, painful, and cynically named “peace process.”

It is also an index of democracy in action. By assuming the role of the governors, not the governed, Hamas must now grapple with the gaps between ideological purity and political compromises. Rhetoric and demonstrations will only get it so far from now on. Effective politicking, of the sort rarely seen since Oslo, will be crucial to Hamas' success.
Hamas’ victory was all but guaranteed by the draconian unilateral policies adopted by the Israeli government, which did everything it could to ensure it had “no partner for peace." Even so-called Israeli doves enthusiastically rallied to support Ariel Sharon’s attempts to limit the Palestinian “demographic threat," although this meant violating international humanitarian law. A country whose peace movement is sympathetic to ethnic cleansing is a country with serious problems, a country in need of a reality check. Hamas' emergence may be just such a wake-up call.

Sharon, as well as most Likud members, initially opposed the building of Israel’s “security barrier,” or Apartheid wall, on the grounds that it would only clarify and institutionalize the 1967 borders. Ever the wily fox, however, Sharon quickly realized that building the wall on Palestinian lands in a manner that would be advantageous for illegal settlements and devastating for Palestinians would advance the most hard-line of all Likud visions and practices, which amount to Apartheid, a clear violation of International Law and accepted interenational norms.

Some Palestinian factions’ unwise and illegal use of suicide bombings to kill Israeli civilians worked against the Palestinian people as a whole in the post-9/11 era, lending seeming credence to Israel's cynical argument that the Wall was crucial for Israeli security, and that the safety of every individual Israeli trumped Palestinians’ claims to the basic modicum of rights and resources required for human beings to live lives of dignity and hope.
Hamas’ victory stems, ultimately, from the blatant corruption, mediocrity, and lack of leadership in the Palestinian Authority, the elite of which were supported and propped up by successive US administrations. The late PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat governed the Palestinians with a mixture of patriarchy and a mafia-like system of patronage that helped to fragment institutions and through them, families and regions. The Palestinian leadership also ignored the emergence of a new generation impatient with the lack of future job prospects and disgusted by the Byzantine politics of Fatah and the Palestinian Authority.

Hamas shrewdly played on these shortcomings and contradictions by offering a clear and simple message: "Salvation comes from religion and the faithful application of Qur'anic principles, which are based on social justice and human dignity." Over the last 25 years, the Islamist movement has created an impressive framework of effective and minimally corrupt social services institutions to help the poor, widowed, orphaned, and those who have sacrificed life and limb for the liberation of Palestine.
At the regional level, Hamas’s victory is a response to the disastrous war in Iraq. In Arab and Muslim eyes, America’s military invasions are viewed as proof that the US was bent on killing as many Arabs and Muslims as possible to avenge the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001. Vengeance disguised as democratization. Support for Hamas can then be seen as a final rebuke of, and turning away from, any US-proposed interventions and plans. This might be a very salutary development for Palestinians, who have lost their political agency to the Fatah elite subsidized by "peace process"-related funding from the US, Canada and the EU.

Laurie King-Irani, a co-founder of the Electronic Intifada, is an anthropologist and journalist. She was editor of Middle East Report in Washington DC from 1998-2000. King-Irani is now based in Spain.

Maria Khoury: Waking Up Under a Green Sky

Future historians will regard this piece as one of the "primary sources" when analysing events of the last forty-eight hours.

The Hamas victory in the Palestinian political system simply means that the people were fed up with leaders who did nothing for them. They wanted a change and had limited choices. They want to shoulder the poverty, the poor health care, the Israeli occupation, the 60% unemployment, and the absence of a social security system all on Hamas renowned for social services. This overwhelming political gain for Hamas was the only way for the voters to punish the Fatah party that forgot about the people and lived the good life while the majority of the Palestinians suffer to live on a few dollars a day. Even in a small Christian village like Taybeh, 28 votes went to Hamas and I was personally shocked why a Christian would vote for a fundamental Islamic position but it was the only revenge people could take to send a message to the Fatah party that they are fed up and Fatah has simply failed the people with no strategic planning and no political vision for the future.

As a Christian woman under a Hamas government, I am not at all worried that I have to veil up and wear the long skirts, this is the least of my problems, I will certainly follow these superficial rules. What really worries most people on the ground is which way Hamas will focus. Will they select a moderate point of view and transform themselves to be statesmen? Or will they select an extreme religious pro Islamic rule. Is it possible to separate religion from state politics?

Go to the link to read the whole piece. Dr. Khoury is the chairperson of the Taybeh Orthodox Housing Project which has started to build twelve homes for Orthodox Christian families in Taybeh-Ramallah to help maintain the Christian presence in the Holy Land with the help of the Boston Greek Orthodox Metropolis.
[That last question she posed might be a good one to be raised here at home.]

Hamas electoral victory -- Snips from here and there

The Hamas Victory: Another failure of intelligence
Dr. Hadar's Global Paradigms

...it's not a secret that some of the top PLO guys receive stipends from the CIA, not to mention the fact that some of the "research institutes" and polling companies are receiving funding from the U.S. and the E.U. Any Arab-American working for our intelligence services could settle in the West Bank and Gaza where the population is multilingual and where everyone talks. Did I mention that we are talking here about an area that is about the side of Montgomery Country, Maryland, where I live. So.. what was exactly is the problem? Why couldn't we figure out the electoral trends among the Palestinians? And what about the legendary Mossad? Sorry, guys, but if we couldn't get this right, why do we even need an "intelligence service?" Well, maybe it's my own low intelligence, like the other intelligence, that can't figure that out.

Publius Pundit publishes this quote:
...President of the Family Research Council and former Presidential candidate, Gary Bauer, who says the Hamas win should be a wake-up call both in Israel and Washington D.C. “Faced with a choice, the Palestinian voters picked the most ardent and committed Jew-killers and America-haters. Now well-meaning and decent men in Israel, the United States and Europe must start answering questions too long ignored. Why should the free world push for a Palestinian state when it has been made clear, yet again, that it will be a terrorist state? Why should the U.S. and Europe continue to send millions of dollars of taxpayer subsidies to such a corrupt regime? On what basis can anyone in Israel or the U.S. still argue that the answer to Hamas’ success is to give away more precious land and force more Jews out of their homes, while putting Israel at greater and greater risk?”
His comment: Anyone who understands what’s really happening in the Middle East knows a Hamas win is BAD for Israel, and dare I say, what’s bad for Israel is also bad for America.
...in the real lives of real Palestinians, chafing under their 39th year of life under foreign military occupation, there will be the huge challenge of trying to assure a peaceful transition of authority from the old Fateh-dominated PA to the newly elected Hamas adminsitration. Ensuring the peacefulness of a political transition from one party to another is a task at the core of democratization... A task that is perhaps even more important than being able to hold a "free and fair" election.
I'm remembering the role Jimmy Carter played, in Nicaragua, in 1990, when Daniel Ortega's ruling Sandinista Party suffered a surprise defeat at the hands of Violeta Chamorro's party. Carter played a good role then, stressing the essential democratic principle of ensuring an orderly and calm political trasntion from one party to another...
And he's playing the same role in Palestine today. At a time when pundits in what's called the "western donor community" are voicing all kinds of scary warnings (or perhaps, veiled threats?) to the Palestinians, that the US and EU donor governments "are constrained by law" from directing funding to the PA if it led by a pro-Hamas government, Carter is telling us that isn't so, and we should all remain calm.
She refers to the NY Times story about Carter.
"It may well be that Hamas can change," Mr. Carter said, remembering his presidency, when the Palestine Liberation Organization under Yasir Arafat finally agreed to recognize the existence of Israel and to forswear terrorism. "It's a mistake to abandon optimism completely."
He urged Israel and the world: "Don't drive the Palestinians away from rationality. Don't force them into assuming arms as the only way to achieve their legitimate goals. Give them some encouragement and the benefit of the doubt."
Kobayashi Maru posts a moving memory of a peacemaker who touched the lives of many, including Koby, his late brother and his late brother's widow, and now the many visitors with whom the story is being shared.
Blessed are the peacemakers.
Jonathan Edelstein's take on what is happening provides perhaps the most reasonable, wide-ranging and intelligent discussion I have found. Together with regular commenters at his blog, you will find every angle covered. I have not had time to read it all, but I provide the link here for anyone who wants to have a look.
There are a number of updates toward the end of the post. And the bloghost also is an active participant in the comment thread. I have great respect for anyone who says "like many other analysts and pollsters, I had to start the morning by washing the egg off my face." That kind of candor and humility is virtually non-existent in today's world. He's also smart.
As of his most recent post, Edelstein remains opptimistic that the dust will settle and the world will come to terms with what has happened.
...The world, including Israel, can't just treat the PA as a black hole. Force works two ways, and the world will be forced, as a realistic matter, to deal with the people in charge.
My top two candidates for being first to establish a reciprocal relationship are the EU and Egypt. And I wouldn't underestimate Egypt's power vis-a-vis Hamas: the latter will need that Rafah border, big time, if it wants to wean the Palestinian economy away from Israel. Eventually - most likely after the Israeli elections - the United States and Israel will also have to develop some kind of de facto system of communication, which may again involve Egypt as back channel.
Keep in mind, also, that Hamas will face a squeeze from within as well as without, and it will ironically be the same kind of squeeze that Abbas faced - the presence of armed factions that don't recognize its authority. If it's serious about establishing law and order, it will need quite a bit of outside support - more, I'd guess, than Iran or Hizbullah would be able to provide.

"Oh, They Only Want To Destroy Me GRADUALLY...Now I Feel Lots Better"

This is a great day to follow the news and blogging. If the Palestinians don't erupt into a civil war in the next few days, their election may prove to be important. Not as heart-warming as elections in Iraq or the Cedar revolution, but important nevertheless. Not many babes, though.

At this moment CNN is showing films of armed Fatah people, mostly guys and boys, refusing to yield to the results of the election, and armed Hamas people demonstrating/celebrating the election results...and the President saying the U.S. doesn't deal with terrorist groups. Even, I guess, if they have the full support of a majority of their constituents. Hmm. Democracy ain't all it's cracked up to be, it seems.

The title of this post is from An Unsealed Room, an Israeli blog.

Hamas political leader Khaled Meshal gave a news conference in Damascus yesterday. He reassured us that even thought the Hamas charter calls for Israel's destruction, he had no intention of destroying Israel immediately.

"We will not recognize the Israeli occupation but we are realistic and we know things are done gradually ... Being against occupation does not mean I can cancel Israel in moments."

Well, phew. As long as it doesn't happen in MOMENTS. Like it might even take DAYS!

Bleh. We have to laugh, don't we, because crying won't do us much good at this point.
When I read the following, it sounded really familiar:

Ghazi Hamad, one of Hamas' top ideologues, said on Saturday that Hamas may consider forming a government of technocrats with no connection to the radical Islamic movement, in a bid to relieve some of the international pressure on the group.

Has this guy been reading blogs? Because it sounded just like the conclusion of an analysis I'd read in one recently. Just goes to show you that the blog in question is not always full of crap.

The link is to another blog by that very name, TBIFOC, which concludes...

What I predict will happen is that Hamas will hear all of the messages telegraphed by Bush, EU, the UN, and the Arab League to fit through the loophole through which Fateh and Arafat managed to receive funding: they will also pretend to "split" the military wing and then give lip-service to fighting terror, using Islamic Jihad and PFLP as their token "arrest-and-release" targets.

Sadly, I think Bush and Condi will fall for this tactic because they have a goal of a Palestinian State first, and peace and security for Israel second.

Unless Congress "starves the beast" and starts threatning Bush's other agenda items until he starts following the will of America and the principles of peaceful democracy this country aspires to, my outlook on the situation is not positive.

More questions than answers

In Gaza the people have spoken. I think that's what they call democracy.
That's what we have been fighting for in the Middle East. Right?
Excuse me...the results are not what we expected? Dear me! What shall we do?

For starters, there are more questions than answers this morning. The Council on Foreign Relations publishes a spate of links illustrating the range of conflicted opinion about what might happen next.

The Islamic group Hamas' stunning electoral victory prompted Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei and his entire cabinet to quit their posts and call for Hamas to form a new government.
Now Hamas faces a dilemma: Will it continue the moderating trend that led it to take part in the elections in the first place, or fracture under the pressure of living up to internationally expected norms of governance?
Writing in Foreign Affairs, which offers a sneak peek of its next edition here, Israeli General Michael Herzog sees
little likelihood of Hamas changing its stripes.
But CFR Fellow Henry Siegman, speaking to cfr.org's Bernard Gwertzman, says
the unexpected position Hamas finds itself in may force it to abandon its radical ways.
David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy warns in Newsday that granting Hamas legitimacy before it commits to nonviolence would
undermine Palestinian moderates.
The Wall Street Journal says the win gives Hamas a chance to show
it has an agenda beyond terror.
One way or another, the regional and international implications of the results are enormous, as explained in this
CFR Background Q&A by cfr.org's Esther Pan.

For Washington, the Hamas victory puts the Bush administration in an awkward place between its two biggest priorities: spreading democracy and fighting terrorism (BBC).
President Bush defended his emphasis on democracy-building and reiterated that
the United States will not deal with Hamas while it strives for the destruction of Israel (NY Times).
Europe is likely to break with the United States and
deal with Hamas, as Jonathan Steele urges in the Guardian.
World leaders
for Hamas to disarm (CNN)
as the Christian Science Monitor asks if democracy is empowering Islamists.
The Guardian says the Hamas victory, while full of risks,
could bring new possibilities for peace in the Middle East. Ben Fishman and Mohammad Yaghi of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy offer a brief on how to judge the election results.

As for Fatah, the once unassailable ruling party and successor to the Palestine Liberation Organization, the result is a humiliation. President Mahmoud Abbas, Fatah's standard bearer, in now, in effect, in opposition. Fawaz Turki writes in Arab News that the party has been doomed for decades by
Yasir Arafat’s failure to crack down on corruption in its ranks. Arafat and Abbas also both failed to reform thePalestinian security forces, explained in this CFR Background Q&A, which Haaretz calls the first step toward establishing security in the beleaguered PA.

That oughta keep you busy for a few minutes...

That next to last background link by Esther Pan from last October is a study in how a rag-tag collection of poorly-organized -- I don't know what to call them...fighters, partisans, terrorists, trouble-makers, Palistinian advocates, whatever (oops, excuse the neuter slip) -- shows how unlikely a democratic win should have been this week. Pick a question, any question, and see how strange the events of the last two days really is.

Why were there so many branches?

They were a legacy of Arafat. The late PA president deliberately set up a labyrinthine system to pit the security units against each other, ensure the military would never grow strong enough to depose him, and make himself the sole official in control of the various forces. The Palestinian security forces continue to be a haphazard collection of units with varying levels of armament, says Gal Luft, co-director of the Institute for Analysis of Global Security, a Washington-based nonprofit organization focusing on energy security, and author of Palestinian Security Forces: Between Police and Army.

Meantime, as the blogworld goes all agog over Hugh Hewett's (well-earned) evisceration of Joel Stein (whoever that is) and a pregnant silence rises from Washington as politicians wait to see which way the breeze might be blowing. Jimmy Carter, their favorite whipping boy, is in the thick of things in a non-thumotic effort to tip the scales in the direction of non-violence and a peace process. This from the Toronto Star, via the Palestine Media Center.

At 81, clear eyed and calm, the former U.S. president — who yesterday sanctified the Palestinian election as head of the 950-strong international observer mission — took the earthquake in stride.

With the debate turning to whether the Palestinians' major international benefactors, the European Union and the United States, should allow themselves to maintain contact with a government led by Hamas — a group that has not unequivocally abandoned its founding principle of the destruction of the state of Israel — Carter let us in on a fascinating anecdote he has never spoken of publicly.

Ten years ago, Carter himself sat down with Hamas in an attempt to bridge the gap between PLO chief Yasser Arafat and the then-fledgling militant Islamic group.

As a personal favour to the late Palestinian leader, and in the spirit of the newly minted Oslo Accords, Carter went hunting for Hamas, to lasso them into the political process.

"Arafat asked me if I would contact Hamas and see if they would accept the new government with him as president, and to find out what their demands might be," Carter said.

A series of meetings ensued with various Hamas leaders in the Israeli-occupied territories, and Carter initially found himself confounded by the multi-headed hydra of leadership, Hamas-style. But some of those he spoke to showed interest.

Even 10 years ago, there were indications Hamas might be ready to make the great leap forward into reason and rationality — and perhaps even to accept Israel as its legitimate partner in a future that would become two states living side by side.

Finally, a secret summit was arranged for Cairo involving every voice that mattered to Hamas. And just as Carter was preparing for the flight to Egypt, Hamas called it off.

"They cancelled the meeting. Either they decided no, or they decided I wasn't the right person. But they cancelled," said Carter.

"That's the way it was then. Clearly there was no discernable person who could speak on behalf of Hamas and I'm not sure there is yet."

Carter didn't rule out modern-day disaster in the 17 minutes and 29 seconds he gave the Star yesterday. But he would like everyone to take a deep breath and consider an opposite scenario. To his way of thinking, any notion of peace was already a political fiction long before Hamas came calling. Maybe, just maybe, confronted with the reality of responsibility, Hamas will be the one to awaken it.

Did you catch that?

No, not the Carter story.
That word I snuck in up there: Thumotic.

That's my new word for today. Thumotic. I rather like it. Very descriptive and subtle, but I first had to look it up because it wasn't in my vocabulary.
I didn't find it in Merriam-Webster Online. I had to do a Google search, and even then I had to surmise the definition and inference by context.

It's a gender thing, this thumotic quality. It apparently doesn't affect females. According to a certain taxonomy, there can be two extremes in the development of young men that make them into wimps or barbarians, depeding on circumstances. But all is not lost, because out of these two unpromising extremes there can arise the thumotic male.

If barbarians suffer from a misdirected manliness, wimps suffer from a want of manly spirit altogether. They lack what the ancient Greeks called thumos, the part of the soul that contains the assertive passions: pugnacity, enterprise, ambition, anger. Thumos compels a man to defend proximate goods: himself, his honor, his lady, his country; as well as universal goods: truth, beauty, goodness, justice. Without thumotic men to combat the cruel, the malevolent, and the unjust, goodness and honor hardly have a chance in our precarious world. But two conditions must be present for thumos to fulfill its mission. First, the soul must be properly ordered. Besides thumos, symbolized by the chest, the soul is composed of reason and appetites, symbolized by the head on the one hand and the stomach and loins on the other. Reason has the capacity to discern right from wrong, but it lacks the strength to act. Appetites, while necessary to keep the body healthy, pull the individual toward pleasures of a lower order. In the well-ordered soul, as C.S. Lewis put it, "the head rules the belly through the chest." In the souls of today's barbarians, clearly thumos has allied itself with the unbridled appetites, and reason has been thrown out the window.

The second condition that must be present is a sufficient level of thumos to enable the man to rise to the defense of honor or goodness when required. Modern education and culture, however, have conspired to turn modern males into what C. S. Lewis called "men without chests," that is, wimps. The chest of the wimp has atrophied from want of early training. The wimp is therefore unable to live up to his duties as a man: We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.

A list of attributes follows which will guide the aspiring thumotic male in the right direction. I imagine that is what James Dobson and others had in mind when discussing the signs and symptoms of boy children that might be an indication of a tendency to sissiness.

I'm not one to jump to conclusions, so I want to reserve judgement whether I like this new word or not. It is clearly not anything that I want to be whipped with if I fail to give it due respect. Something tells me it is not far removed from the Latino quality of machismo. As I think more about thumos I keep hearing the words atavism and throwback drumming in the background.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Hamas victory -- best comment

The bus finally stopped.
And the chasing and barking dog finally caught his prey.
What can he do now?
The barking finally worked!

I listened last night to Michael Savage. (I also look at pictures of alligators and enjoy going to the zoo.) He had a phone conversation with an expert on the Middle East, a faculty member from NYU just returned from there having talked with all sides of the political situation. The expert was optimistic and upbeat, saying that the Hamas win had a solid upside: they have been voted into power not because they wanted to erase all the Jews in the world, but simply because their constituency was tired of violence and corruption (represented by Arafat's legacy, Fatah) and is ready for peace and prosperity. Anything that Hamas does now that fails to move in that direction will only be seen as a betrayal by those who put them into power. Their hands, in effect, are tied. Rhetoric may point one direction, but policies will be forced to move in another.

(Needless to say, the usually over-the-top, out of control Savage, once in his life, seems to have had the wind knocked out of his sails as he made a clumsy recovery. This was certainly not the sabre-rattling, hawkish catch for which he had been fishing. It was a dilicious moment to hear.)

Bill Petti at The Duck of Minerva has a definitive post with a rash of links that captures the whole event in a single place. If you read the post and follow all the links it will take a good deal of reading (especially if you drill into the next generation of links...see Aardvark, for example) but you will have a good sense of what has occurred.

The thing about democracy is you never know who may be swept in or out of power. And while I believe, to paraphrase Churchill, that democracy is the best form of government given the alternatives, it can lead to outcomes that are undesireable. It will be interesting to see whether democracy promotion can pass this major test.

My personal favorite comment so far about international response to the election is from Nur al-Cubicle in the Abu Aardvark comments thread. She stands to my left politically, but her extraordinary translations of European news sources is indispensable to keep a balanced view of world events.


Our first computer was that wonderful little Apple II-C ("C" for compact) which included a fun game called Lemonade. The children played it for hours, tweaking the variables -- price, weather, location, supply and demand -- to compete in a retail world of make-believe to having fun operating their lemonade stands. Adults tired of the game as quickly as tic-tac-toe but the kids never did. No one needed to tell them the main point...

When life gives you lemons...make lemonade.

Sent with a K.I.S.S.

We've all heard the acronym: Keep It Simple, Stupid. Here's a refresher course.

“Are you ready to order at all, yourself, sir.” “Yes, I’ll have the hearty winter-warming soup and the nourishing bowl of pasta, topped with the delicious dew-picked tomatoes, thanks. And to follow, if yourself can manage it, a plate of gag-inducing, nostril-assaulting, bacteria-laced Stilton.”

Too many years in the food business. I'm a sucker for examples that use food.
H/T 3Quarks

Apololyptic prophetic essay from Dr. Bob

Dr. Bob's blog, The Doctor Is In, is as carefully and professionally crafted as any surgical procedure. Whether he is taking pictures or using words, his imagery is crystal clear if nothing else. Today he departs from his usual clinical analysis and publishes what can only be called a bad dream.

An artist has a lot of choices when he approaches a canvas, from water and color (regarded by many artists as the most difficult medium) to elaborate admixtures of paint, fabric, gesso, glitter, and even cropped and doctored photographs arranged in a collage. I would compare this image by Dr. Bob with a watercolor. He uses no elaborate tricks. No fantastic scenarios. No wild speculation. Just ordinary, already available information -- as ordinary as a child's tin of watercolors (well, acrylics, maybe...) and paints an image of power that it will haunt your mind for the rest of the day.

Ready. Set. Go.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Haleigh Poutre

Another life or death issue in the spotlight.

The Anchoress points to a remarkable post.
This is why blogging is better than other sources of information.

Maxed Our Mama's post is one for everyone's archives. Read it from top to bottom. Especially her first-person, ongoing account of facing death. It is the one door through which we all shall pass.

I haven't written all that much about my physical condition, but it was at one point dire. For many years, I had lost the instinct to breathe. I was not on ventilation, but I breathed to the count. You understand, if I stopped counting, I did not take the next breath? The instinct to do so was just gone. Even I can hardly believe this, because I was unconscious - literally blotto - for part of this time. So who was counting? But it's true, and I have vague memories of the voice telling me to count, and also explaining that I had to change the count when I moved around. I have a very vivid memory of the voice telling me to think about my heartbeat, and to sync it with the count.
No spoilers from me. Just believe it when I tell you her story is not to be missed.

Deus Caritas Est

DEUS CARITAS EST is Pope Benedict XVI's first encyclical.
Roman Catholic or not, I cannot imagine that any Christian can drink at this spring and not find something he needs to hear. If you're mainstream Protestant, think hearing a sermon.

Fr. Karl at Summa Contra Mundum does not post often, and his posts are typically spare. But this time, commenting on the encyclical, he is more talkative.

“Love” is a word with many meanings and uses, all of which have at best a tenuous connection. I love my wife, my new fountain pen, my baseball team, pizza, my children, Notre Dame football, and God. Is there some unity to these concepts? Benedict suggests that there is: “Amid this multiplicity of meanings, however, one in particular stands out: love between man and woman, where body and soul are inseparably joined and human beings glimpse an apparently irresistible promise of happiness.”
His comments are worth reading.

At first reading of the piece, this jumped out at me.

31. ... the command of love of neighbour is inscribed by the Creator in man's very nature. It is also a result of the presence of Christianity in the world...it is very important that the Church's charitable activity maintains all of its splendour and does not become just another form of social assistance. So what are the essential elements of Christian and ecclesial charity?

a) ...Christian charity is first of all the simple response to immediate needs and specific situations: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for and healing the sick, visiting those in prison, etc. ...while professional competence is a primary, fundamental requirement, it is not of itself sufficient. We are dealing with human beings, and human beings always need something more than technically proper care. They need humanity. They need heartfelt concern. ...charity workers need a “formation of the heart”: they need to be led to that encounter with God in Christ which awakens their love and opens their spirits to others. As a result, love of neighbour will no longer be for them a commandment imposed, so to speak, from without, but a consequence deriving from their faith, a faith which becomes active through love (cf. Gal 5:6).

b) Christian charitable activity must be independent of parties and ideologies. It is not a means of changing the world ideologically, and it is not at the service of worldly stratagems, but it is a way of making present here and now the love which man always needs. The modern age, particularly from the nineteenth century on, has been dominated by various versions of a philosophy of progress whose most radical form is Marxism. Part of Marxist strategy is the theory of impoverishment: in a situation of unjust power, it is claimed, anyone who engages in charitable initiatives is actually serving that unjust system, making it appear at least to some extent tolerable. This in turn slows down a potential revolution and thus blocks the struggle for a better world. Seen in this way, charity is rejected and attacked as a means of preserving the status quo. What we have here, though, is really an inhuman philosophy. People of the present are sacrificed to the moloch of the future—a future whose effective realization is at best doubtful. One does not make the world more human by refusing to act humanely here and now. We contribute to a better world only by personally doing good now, with full commitment and wherever we have the opportunity, independently of partisan strategies and programmes. The Christian's programme —the programme of the Good Samaritan, the programme of Jesus—is “a heart which sees”. This heart sees where love is needed and acts accordingly. Obviously when charitable activity is carried out by the Church as a communitarian initiative, the spontaneity of individuals must be combined with planning, foresight and cooperation with other similar institutions.

c) Charity, furthermore, cannot be used as a means of engaging in what is nowadays considered proselytism. Love is free; it is not practised as a way of achieving other ends.[30] But this does not mean that charitable activity must somehow leave God and Christ aside. For it is always concerned with the whole man. Often the deepest cause of suffering is the very absence of God. Those who practise charity in the Church's name will never seek to impose the Church's faith upon others. They realize that a pure and generous love is the best witness to the God in whom we believe and by whom we are driven to love. A Christian knows when it is time to speak of God and when it is better to say nothing and to let love alone speak. He knows that God is love (cf. 1 Jn 4:8) and that God's presence is felt at the very time when the only thing we do is to love. He knows—to return to the questions raised earlier--that disdain for love is disdain for God and man alike; it is an attempt to do without God. Consequently, the best defence of God and man consists precisely in love. It is the responsibility of the Church's charitable organizations to reinforce this awareness in their members, so that by their activity—as well as their words, their silence, their example—they may be credible witnesses to Christ.

Newspeak watch: negligent homicide

"Negligent Homicide".....
Is that anything like duckspeak?

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

ITA gets a new contributor

In The Agora is a blog that I have followed since it started, mainly because I was reading Josh Claybourn before he abandoned his personal blog to join the group.
Well they have a newcomer, Michael Mattair, who has posted a great essay about Mark Twain inspired by a book review at Reasononline.

The question thus becomes, if Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is as faulty and inconsistent (indeed, discontinuous) as I am arguing it is, what entitles it to the rank of America's greatest book? Certainly not any special elegance of its form. The idea that a novel should be some sort of unified, finely-crafted whole was in fact just being brought out as Twain was finishing his novel: Henry James printed his essay on "The Art of Fiction" in 1884, a year before Huck Finn was finally published. But James' pronouncements on novelistic craft belong to a later era and are suited for a different taste; Twain's writing should not be measured with them (Twain himself detested James). It would be like judging Homer's epics by the rules of the sonnet.

What Twain's novels are most praised for, and what most writing in the Jamesian tradition noticeably lacks, is a rendering of life in all its crude, incongruous substance, a faithfulness to the texture of life, without any concern to reshape it into elegant narrative. Twain, in writing a novel, did not seek to create a well-wrought urn; instead he wrote down the ideas as they presented themselves, frequently in dialect, and following with no preconceived plan the lightning strikes of his imagination as he went along. He was, as his friend and fellow novelist William Dean Howells described, the "divine amateur," a log cabin kid and newspaper humorist who at some point discovered a knack for writing about things in such a way as to make his readers' jaws drop open. His novels tend at times to soar, at other times to trudge; he was probably oblivious of when either was occurring. Hemingway took Twain's way of describing nature and developed a whole style out of it; his productions are thus even and flawlessly consistent, while Twain fluctuates wildly in and out of this voice. But when Twain unconsciously gets it right, he cannot be excelled, and his better novels thus stand at the summit of our literature.

Lots of good stuff here, including the last line which says "it is a riddle of art that this is how the greatest works must be, like open containers where what is suggested but lacking is always better than what they contain." I am reminded of something I read years ago about photography, that what is left out is as important to the photographic statement as what is included. I don't kknow who said it, but it doesn't really matter. The observation is bigger than the observer.

You guys over at ITA did good getting this one into the group!

Saudi Arabia tries to create a safer hajj

A recent article in CSM describes how over three hundred people died in this years pilgrimage to Mecca. Although the number is higher this year, similar losses have occurred before. "During the hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, the stoning ceremony has been the frequent scene of disaster. In 2004, 244 were killed in a stampede and in 1994 another 270 died."

Last Thursday's stampede started when a wave of pilgrims rushed forward at noon to pelt pebbles at three pillars, mimicking the stoning of the devil. Most pilgrims follow the tradition of Islam's prophet Mohammad and wait until noon to throw pebbles, as he did during hajj more than 1,400 years ago.
"We will study the issue of stoning before noon and hopefully issue a group fatwa to express our point of view," says Abdul-Qahar Qamar, an Islamic law scholar and researcher at the academy.

As it stands, hajj authorities are expected to move some 3 million people through an area the size of a football stadium, in the space of 5-1/2 hours, without anyone getting hurt, says Mohammad Idrees, a deputy at the Mecca-based Hajj Research Center, which oversees the safety of the hajj.

A ruling to allow pilgrims to throw their pebbles throughout the day would take care of most of the congestion in the Jamarat area which houses the pillars.

So there is a sensible way for the risk to be minimized. Maybe by next year the clerics can get together on a better game plan.

Before we get all self-righteous about those heathens, we might want to take a look at some of the motes in our own eye.

***When two of our children were reaching adolescence they were driven by some bizarre inner urge to make a pilgrimage of sorts to Panama City, Florida during spring break. We learned that several youngsters are killed annually in traffic accidents as they travel to and from that destination. Such deaths are no longer newsworthy. I suspect that similar statistics would be typical of other spring break destinations.

*** Don't I recall something about a bonfire in Texas that collapsed with fatal results a couple of years ago? Important part of post-secondary education, I guess...

***Would it be tacky to mention alcohol-ralated traffic deaths in America? Probably. But when the fatality is in the other vehicle, we can't argue that such deaths are the result of the victim's own neglect.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

FWIW, there is at least one Saudi expat, The Religious Policeman, who takes the Saudi authorities to task with no help from outside the culture...

The Cabinet meeting, which is first after Haj, commended the various government and private organizations for their efforts in the successful organization of the annual event. It expressed deep sorrow over the deaths of several pilgrims in two accidents: a stampede in Mina and a building collapse in Makkah.

Excuse me. I just had to go out and vomit. I'll be myself in a minute.

There were only supposed to be 2.5 million there, but another 1.5 million managed to slip in when no-one was looking; a total of 4 million in an area the size of London's West End or New York's Midtown. The security forces themselves admitted that they were helpless and reduced to being onlookers. Squatters were allowed to wander around with bulky luggage in tow, accidents waiting to happen, and a stampede took place yet again in the location where the stampedes always take place, killing 360. Meanwhile a hotel collapsed, killing 60, and the ministries are still arguing over who should have inspected the building. And that is a Success? God spare us from a failure!

Praying Against Abortion

Here, enshrined in a poem by Ovid, is an eloquent anti-abortion pagan prayer.

According to notes that follow this source "the frequent occurrence of abortion in imperial Rome can be inferred. Legislative opposition to abortion (which came later) was based on the father's right to heirs and complemented by philosophical arguments based on "nature." It is this assumption of the male prerogative which motivates these poems and which characterizes their speaker. In another body of legislation, Augustus attempted to revive old Roman religious practices. These efforts entailed the suppression of eastern religions, specifically including the Egyptian worship of Isis and Sarapis. In this regard too, when the speaker prays to Isis and Ilithyia, goddess of childbirth, that Corinna survive the ordeal of her recent abortion, he appears relatively indifferent to Augustus's moral project." In other words, the objection to abortion here is based mainly upon a male's right to an an heir, not any kind of moral objection.

For trying to unseat the burden crouched in her swelling womb,
for her audacity, Corinna lies near death.
I should be furious: to take such a risk! And without telling me!
But anger fails me -- I'm so afraid.

You see, I'm the one who got her that way, or so I believe;
I might as well be, since I could have been.

Isis! Great queen of Paraetonium, of Canopus' joyful plains,
of Memphis, and of Pharos, rich in palm-trees,
of the broad delta where the swift Nile spreads, and pours
his waters to the sea through seven mouths,

I pray, by your sacred rattles, by the venerated face of Anubis --
may faithful Osiris forever love your rites!
may the unhurried snake glide always amid your offerings,
and horned Apis travel at your side! --
come here, look kindly upon her, and save two lives in one:
for you'll give life to her, and she to me.

She's been devout: performed each service on your festival days,
observed the Gallic laurel ritual.

And you, who comfort laboring women in their time of distress,
when the lurking burden strains their bodies hard,
come gently now, and smile upon my prayers, Ilithyia --
she's worthy of your intervention -- please!

I myself, in white robes, will bring incense to your smoking altar
I myself will offer votive gifts
and lay them at your feet with the inscription, 'For Corinna's Life.'
Goddess, give occasion for those words!

Corinna, listen, if you're out of danger:
please don't ever go through this again

It is worth repeating that Ovid's objections do not derive from moral beliefs. As Christians we stand upon moral ground. But when we speak to a non-Christian world, as did Paul in Athens, it is wise to remember that Christian objections carry little weight to the unconverted. Even pagans suspected there was something objectionable about abortion.

I am not any scholar of ancient literature. But I do a lot of reading.Here is a bit of background to Ovid:
Ovid was born into a well-to-do equestrian family on March 20, 43 B.C.E. in Sulmo, a town in the Apennines, about eighty miles from Rome. This was the year after Julius Caesar was assassinated; almost a year before Cicero was murdered; and twelve years before the battle of Actium brought an end to the civil war between Antony and Octavian. At about the time of Actium, Ovid, like others from his class, was sent to Rome for an education in rhetoric and law....His poetry is generally noted for its ease and wit; sometimes faulted for its rhetorical self-indulgence. He has less interest in politics per se than any other poet in this volume which is not to say that his urban sophistication, irreverence, and even mockery of old-fashioned Roman values did not have political consequences...he writes in the first person of his love for a woman, called Corinna...

This is the first half of a post I put together in December, 2004.
There is more, including another poem, if the reader is interested.