Thursday, August 31, 2006

Mort Reichek on Jews and Chinese food

The Octogenarian comments on the Jews' love affair with Chinese food. It makes one wonder why noodles and won-tons were not mentioned in Leviticus.

According to a venerable borsht-circuit gag, the Jewish civilization began in 3,000 B.C., and the Chinese civilization began in 2,000 B.C., which proves that Jews can exist without eating Chinese food. The historical accuracy may be flawed, but the joke does underscore the curious passion that American Jews have developed for the Chinese cuisine.


There are even intriguing historical links between the Chinese and the Jews. The first Jews, probably merchants from Persia, visited and settled in China around the year 1,000. Their descendants, Oriental in appearance and bearing Chinese names, continued to practice the Jewish religion. In the 13th Century, Marco Polo found several influential Jews at the court of Kubla Khan.

Four centuries later, a Jewish mandarin rebuilt a synagogue in the city of Kaifeng, which had been originally constructed hundreds of years earlier. Built like two adjacent Buddhist temples, the synagogue fell into disuse as the community disappeared during the 18th and 19th Centuries. An exquisite model of the Kaifeng synagogue now stands in Beit Hafutzot, the Museum of the Diaspora in Tel Aviv.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Saudi Debate looks at education reform

Those who argue that Muslims are of one mind are quite simply showing ignorance.

Shaker Nabulsi PhD is an American/Jordanian writer. He gained his BA in literature from Ain Shams University, Cairo, and his PhD in education from Kennedy Western University, California.Dr Nabulsi is a freelance writer, and a political commentator on Alhurra TV. He is a columnist for Al-siyasa (Kuwaiti), Al-raya (Qatar), Elaph electronic newspaper, Middle East Transparent website, and Modern Discussion website.He has written and contributed to 42 books covering topics in history, education, religion, and politics.

Read the whole thing. Lots of stuff there, not only about terrorism but education in general. Here is a snip.

The problem of terrorism in the Arab world was, and remains, a major challenge which requires a radical solution. Killing one terrorist or a thousand, imprisoning one or a million, will not solve the problem. The phenomenon is akin to an overflowing sewage system: terrorists are mosquitoes nesting in this system, and so long as the sewers remain open and overflowing it means that even if you spray and kill a thousand, the next day you will have thousands more. It is thus imperative that you first block the sewers, and then take on the mosquitoes.

There is no doubt that the underdeveloped educational system in the Arab world – and the Gulf states in particular – is one of the main reasons for the spread of terrorism. The system has taught the terrorist to consider ‘the other’ to be an infidel, to fight him and to hate him.

There is no doubt that the curriculum – unchanged since the 1950s because of its emphasis on religious subjects learned by heart, as well as the neglect of natural sciences, mathematics, economics, philosophy, logic, art, comparative religion and foreign languages – has fertilized the ground and flooded the sewers, encouraging the birth of the terrorist ‘mosquitoes’.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Morgan Meis on Gunter Grass

(Boy, that makes for a very odd-sounding post title, don't you think? I thought about A study in Glass Houses, but I figured it might be harder to pull up later if I ever get around to indexing this pile of stuff I am blogging. Blogging sounds like logging. Maybe we should organize the data base into cords. Piled up to be burned later, you know, but very organized in the meantime.)

Excuse the diversion.

I have not read Grass, and I may not get around to it. But if I do, I will start with The Tin Drum. This little post made me think more openly about something. This paragraph jumped out at me.

The brilliant philosopher Bernard Williams once coined the term Moral Luck. With it, he meant to pound a little contingency into the universalist and absolute moral philosophies of the Kantians and Utilitarians. We are not judged, Williams meant to say, in the pure realm of our actions and intentions, but within the decidedly contingent realm of the outcomes of those actions and intentions. What happens matters. The way things turn out, which is effectively impossible to foretell, has a lot to do with how we judge and understand the initial behavior. Williams was famously fond of his Gauguin example. It was, by any standard, a rather reprehensible set of actions that led Gauguin to abandon his wife and child and take off to Tahiti where he could behave scandalously with very young girls. It was a shitty thing to do. But, Gauguin also managed to accomplish something else. He painted brilliant paintings there. He painted paintings that were a revelation, that blew painting open and revealed new worlds of possibility to the art of his time. That is an accomplishment that cannot be ignored in the attempt to take account of Gauguin's awful behavior to the people who needed him most. We judge Gauguin differently in the light of his accomplishment. That isn't even to say that we let him off the hook, but that we simply cannot see his actions as unrelated to his accomplishments when those accomplishments are so meaningful to the world we all share.

He's right, you know. Grass was not only a child of the Third Reich and all the evil it represents, but even today apparently remains an insufferable blowhard. Hitchens calls him a fool, and Meis uses even harsher terms (complete ass and piece of shit). But through it all, the man apparently redeems himself as a writer. The comment thread continues the theme. The image of glass houses and stones is the best I could come up with as I read. (No puns come to mind with Grass/glass... Too bad,)

Brendon Loy looks back at Katrina

Brendan Loy, the smart young man whose layman's expertise in climatology placed him among the experts last year because he saw what was about to happen almost before anyone else -- and said so. I put him on the blogroll last week mainly to keep up with this year's hurricane season. There is no such thing as too much information.

Go now and read his retrospective on last year's events. He hammers away at the theme that the storm, as bad as it was, was nowhere near as bad as it might have been. He even advances the argument that at some level the consequences of the storm may actually have resulted in many lives being saved, because had the broken levee not failed during the evacuation it might very well have done so with no warning at all at some later date. This is not a stretch.

And guess what? It could still happen. I said so last year and I still believe it.

The real tragedy is that what we see is not what could have been the worst. Had the eye of that storm landed a few degrees to the West, say about New Iberia instead of Slidell, the resulting tide would have dumped itself right into the New Orleans "bowl." We would not be looking at the roofs of houses and sending a cavalcade of busses to ship Superdome City to Houston's Astrodome for Thanksgiving. Instead we would be filling up body bags as rapidly as possible to avert a loss of life and property of biblical proportions...just like the predictions have advertised. No, this was still not the Big One.

That's why I'm still watching weather reports.

Monday, August 28, 2006

"...let Facts be submitted to a candid world."

(Post title from the Declaration of Independence.)

Check out this Katrina Timeline.
I don't have the patience to say anything more about it. Some things speak for themselves.

Un, here's another one. A bit more snarky. Color-coded already.

H/T Lindsay

The Jill Carroll Story -- Epilogue today

For those who may have forgotten, today marks the end of the CS Monitor's serial printing of Jill Carroll's abduction and release. A multitude of links can be found at the blog set up for that purpose. The story is ten parts plus the Epilogue, but there are numerous sidebar notes, videos and other links as well. I saved the story in a folder for my own convenience. It prints out to about forty pages.

On April 2, 2006, a white Lufthansa 747 with the designation "Hamburg" written on its side taxied up to a gate at Boston's Logan Airport. At 12:22 p.m., Jill Carroll stepped off the plane and onto US soil.

As she passed through customs, agents and other officials on duty crowded around for a chance to see her. Whisked into a waiting car, she was driven to the Monitor's headquarters in Boston's Back Bay, a police escort around her and news helicopters overhead.

Jill was traveling light. She'd left a big yellow bag of clothes and toiletries from her captivity in the Green Zone in Baghdad. She'd decompressed there for a day, talking to members of the US Embassy's Hostage Working Group, before traveling on an aircraft carrying American casualties to Ramstein Air Force Base in Landstuhl, Germany.

In Boston, her car went straight into the underground garage of the Christian Science church headquarters. In a preplanned bit of evasion, she was led through basement corridors under the complex to a loading dock on a nearby side street. She then jumped into a blue van - easily missing the media horde camped outside the Monitor building.

The van went only a few blocks, to a nearby church-owned townhouse. There, Jim, Mary Beth, and Katie crowded around an open window, yelling her nickname, "Zippy!"

Jill met them coming down the hallway in a whole-family embrace. She wept and said, "I'm sorry." She was home.

Jill is no longer a freelancer. To provide financial support in anticipation of her eventual release, the Monitor quietly made Jill a full-time employee a week after she was abducted. This fall, she's been accepted into a journalism fellowship program at a major university. After that, she plans to return to writing from overseas.

Why was she released? Probably no one really knows except for her kidnappers. Maybe the public pressure worked. Maybe private whispers via Western and Middle Eastern intelligence convinced influential Sunnis that harming Jill wasn't in their best interest.

Maybe as the political situation changed, so did the priorities of her kidnappers. Maybe the kidnappers just got what they wanted - publicity or the release of women from Abu Ghraib prison. Or maybe Jill herself - the smart, young American who spoke Arabic - helped alter her captors' plans.

"One of the most effective weapons against terrorism is the truth. The truth was that Jill Carroll was not the enemy of her captors. Her father spoke that truth, and the rest of the world repeated it," says Christopher Voss, special agent with the FBI's Crisis Negotiation Unit in Quantico, Va.

As far as the Monitor and Jill's family can determine, no ransom changed hands to win her release.

Monday screed

Dr. Leon Hadar blogged a post last week entitled "Cheese-eating surrender monkeys" to the rescue. He is referring, of course, to the French commitment of troops to the United Nations' pitiful and mostly symbolic attempt to put a peacekeeping force in Southern Lebanon. Read the whole post if you wish. It's short. But it ends with...

Even Bush is sucking up now to the Frogies."France has had a very close relationship with Lebanon," Bush said during his Monday press conference. "There's historical ties with Lebanon. I would hope they would put more troops in. They understand the region as well as anybody." What I found really interesting is the fact that everyone, including the guys from the Weekly Standard didn't challenge the notion that the U.S. won't be sending its troops to Lebanon. Well, you know, there was that 1982 bombing in Beirut and so many marines were killed. But the French also suffered many casualties at that time. It seems to me that the Americans are sending a message that "we can't do Lebanon; we are passing this portfolio to the French" Are we to conclude that perhaps the Bushies are beginning to feel that we're indeed overstretched in the Middle East? I believe that this is a very important development since from now on it's the French that are going to be "in charge" in Lebanon, something that the Israelis have accepted. If this works, I won't be surprise to see the French and the Italians (who are also sending troops to Lebanon) and the Germans (who have good ties with the Syrians AND the Israelis) becoming more active in the region. The American Hegemon has been humbled.

Come to think of it, go read the whole thing. Read it two or three times. If you're among the French-bashers, you should choke with embarrassment.

I went looking into my archives because I remember thinking at the time how shallow and stupid criticism of all things French became as the war began. I'm sure I wrote something to that effect, but I didn't find it. Instead I read something I wrote just prior to the election in 2004 and got pissed off all over again. That was nearly two years ago and I feel even stronger now than I did then that the time for the US to get out of Iraq has long passed.
The connection between September 11 what is happening today in Iraq is virtually non-existent. We are in Iraq because a lot of good people made a lot of mistakes in good faith (another great phrase, don't you think?) but were not able to admit it for political reasons. The end of the Saddam era in Iraq may become one of the most important and beneficial events of the Twenty-first Century, and I'm glad that it happened. Although the tyrant is no longer there, the aftermath of his poison remains and America has an obligation to finish what it began, like the doctor who removes a limb has an obligation to his patient help him recover from the trauma then provide him with a prosthesis.

But American young people are not sacrificing their lives in Iraq because of September 11. They are there because criminals released by Saddam from Iraqi prisons are running unchecked among a diminishing population of decent Iraqis. They are there because outside forces, probably Sunni and certainly of the extreme fundamentalist stripe, are penetrating the porous borders of that country and are raising hell. They are there in order to make good a commitment to hold elections in January, one way or another. But they are not there because airplanes crashed the World Trade Center three years ago.

The connection, of course, IS world terrorism. But that is the beginning and the end of the connection. I am firmly persuaded, no matter whatever else may be true, that our presence in Iraq is feeding the forces of terrorism with eager recruits. We are not ameliorating terrorism by waging war in Iraq. We are, in fact, doing just the opposite. And thanks to modern telecommunications, we may be recruiting more terrorists outside of Iraq than there.

So is there evidence in the last two years of terrorism outside of Iraq?
Overall, has the US presence in Iraq resulted in more terrorism or less?
In Iraq or elsewhere?

So why put the war in Iraq in the same post as comments about the Lebanon-Hezbollah-Israel conflict?

Don't ask me. Ask the boss. He's the one that said we were fighting terrorism in Iraq and promoting democratic values. Maybe he can explain how the rise of Hezbollah is somehow not in the category of "terrorism" we are supposedly fighting.

While he's at it, maybe he can also explain how the two best examples of representative democracy in the Middle East got into a war as we who are doing all we can to advance the cause of democracy stood by and watched it spin out of control. One knocked the other backwards a decade or so, politically and economically, while at the same time elevating yet another extremist into the ranks of populist heroes.

Theo Jansen's beach creature -- one minute BMW ad

YouTube link.
Theo Jansen does something everyone can enjoy looking at.

Iraqi public opinion survey

Marc Lynch points to yet another survey of Iraqi public opinion indicating that (Quelle surprise!) many of them don't want the US in their country. Link here to US News article.

The unrelenting violence and chaos of Iraq have taken their toll on the people there, according to a new study of Iraqi public opinion. The study, based on two surveys of over 2,300 Iraqis in 2004 and 2006, found increased feelings of powerlessness, insecurity, xenophobia, and pessimism, along with a striking level of distrust of U.S. intentions. At the same time, the surveys found a surprising rise in support for secular politics and nationalism, even as sectarian militias may be pulling the country toward all-out civil war. Sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the project was done by Profs. Mansoor Moaddel of Eastern Michigan University and Ronald Inglehart and Mark Tessler of the University of Michigan.

The growing sense of insecurity affected all three of Iraq's major ethnic and religious groups. The number of Iraqis who "strongly agreed" that life is "unpredictable and dangerous" jumped from 41 percent to 48 percent of Shiites, from 67 percent to 79 percent of Sunnis and from 16 percent to 50 percent of Kurds. Xenophobia is also pervasive: Ninety percent of Iraqis would not like to have Americans or British as neighbors. Nor were fellow Muslims spared: Sixty-one percent of Iraqis preferred not to have Iranians or Jordanians living next door, while 71 percent hoped to avoid a Turkish neighbor.

There was more bad news for U.S. officials, who have worked hard to convince Iraqis that American intentions in Iraq are noble. The most recent survey, done in April this year, found almost no Iraqis who felt the United States had invaded to liberate their country from tyranny and build a democracy. Asked for "the three main reasons for the U.S. invasion of Iraq," fully 76 percent cited "to control Iraqi oil." That was followed by "to build military bases" (41 percent) and "to help Israel" (32 percent). Fewer than 2 percent chose "to bring democracy to Iraq" as their first choice.

The Aardvark's summary:

The bottom line: 91.7% of Iraqis oppose the presence of coalition troops in the country, up from 74.4% in 2004. 84.5% are "strongly opposed". Among Sunnis, opposition to the US presence went from 94.5% to 97.9% (97.2% "strongly opposed"). Among Shia, opposition to the US presence went from 81.2% to 94.6%, with "strongly opposed" going from 63.5% to 89.7%. Even among the Kurds, opposition went from 19.6% to 63.3%. In other words, it isn't just that Iraqis oppose the American presence - it's that their feelings are intense: only 7.2% "somewhat oppose" and 4.7% "somewhat support."

Maybe there are reasons for keeping American troops in Iraq, but "it's what the Iraqi people want" really doesn't seem to be one of them.

The longer I live the more I am amazed at how so many people can remain in denial about so dramatic a reality as a war.
Just to make sure I didn't fall asleep and miss something, I checked with Today in Iraq. Yesterday only.
I wish I hadn't.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Sunday morning clips

Couple of Sunday morning snips.

From the Denver Post:

A seventh-grade geography teacher who refused to remove Chinese, Mexican and United Nations flags from his classroom was placed on paid administrative leave Wednesday by Jefferson County officials who were concerned that the display violates the law.

H/T to Mrs. Robinson at Dave Neiwert's place. Her comment:
As a former Olympics reporter, I gotta say: it's damned hard to picture an Olympiad that's not wrapped from top to bottom in acres of international flags. According to the article, though, even flying the Olympic rings for three weeks would probably be illegal under the current law.

*** ***
*** ***

Unrelated to the other snip, a quick read by Amir Taheri regarding Iran's insistence on pushing nuclear development.
Love the title.

Why Would the Bald Man Fight for a Comb?
It is hard to argue a case in favour of nuclear power plants in Iran. Iran has the world's second or third largest oil reserves and the second largest reserves of natural gas. Even if Iranian domestic consumption of energy were top reach average Western levels in the next decade or so, Iran would still have enough domestic energy resources to last it more than 400
years. As several studies by Iranian academics have shown, nuclear power would be at least 27 per cent more costly to produce and distribute than electricity generated by oil, gas or hydroelectric power plants.

The following paragraph uses language that will not be apparent to the average reader, but it is heavy with historic meaning.
The 5+1 must understand that in Iran today the issue of uranium enrichment goes far beyond its diplomatic, military and security aspects. This issue has come to symbolise two visions of the Khomeinist revolution. The first is that of people like former presidents Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami who believe that the central task of the revolution is to consolidate its hold on Iran, leaving the idea of exporting the revolution to the rest of the world for future generations. In that sense people like Rafsanjani and Khatami resemble the advocates of "Socialism in One Country" in the USSR of the 1920s. Ahmadi Nezhad, however, resembles the advocates of "Permanent Revolution" in the same period.

Nur's line of pictures is spot on.
And there are signs that, after years of relative low profile, Tehran is preparing to revive its programme to export the Khomeinist revolution. In a speech last Tuesday the "Supreme Guide" Ali Khameneh’i, in effect claimed that the "Divine Strategic Victory" won in Lebanon was a sign that Muslim peoples everywhere would rally to the Iranian standard in a showdown with the US and its regional allies.

"We are not exporting our revolution by force," Khameneh’i said. "We are offering it as a gift".

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Michel Hajji Georgiou & Michel Touma -- Origins of Hezbollah

Two scholars from the University of Saint Joseph in Beirut trace the history of Lebanon from Ottoman times, explaining the origins and development of what we now know as Hezbollah. Thanks to the diligent and timely translating of Nur al-Cubicle those of us who are gluttons for punishment can plow through this excellent three part piece.

I was able to get all I needed reading from the monitor but I would suggest printing it out to read later.

Whatever the outcome of the current conflict impacting the nation, a grand debate will doubtlessly ensue on the political future of Hezbollah and on the nature of its future relationship with the other elements inthe Lebanese social fabric. Certain questions are on everyone’s mind. Are Hezbollah’s political decisions, yes or no, in some respect owing to orders from Iran? Is Hezbollah motivated strictly by community interests, which go beyond Lebanon and are defined in a larger context? How is the rapid rise in power of the Shi’ite movement explained? In a series of three articles, Michel Hajji Georgiou and Michel Touma analyze the different historical, sociological, doctrinal and political factors that comprise the structure and foundations of Hezbollah. The first article discusses the long historical and sociological processes which paved the way to the birth of the party at the beginning of the 1980’s.All three ariticle are drawn from a study published in Issue 77 of Travaux et jours printed by the University of Saint-Joseph (Beirut).

Part 1

Under the Ottoman Empire, the rights of Shi’ites were not recognized as demonstrated by the formation in the 1800’s, in compliance with an edict of Shekib Effendi, of an advisory council of each of the caïmacamat (districts) created in Mount Lebanon at the middle of the century. With the outbreak of the 1845 confessional troubles in the mountains, the great powers of the period initiated talks with the Ottoman authorities to end the conflict. Because of these international démarches, the Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Shekib Effendi, decided to create within the two mountain caïmacamats a mixed council bringing together -one representative per community– magistrates representing the Maronites, the Greek Catholics, the Greek Orthodox, the Sunnis and the Druze. The Sunni magistrate was to represent the Shi’ites as well.

This discrimination persisted until the fall of the Ottoman Empire and one would have to wait until 1926 before the existence of the Shi’ite community as a social entity, was officially recognized.
...socioeconomic disparity persisted long after Lebanon’s independence in 1943. It constituted the seeds of a less than desirable social situation which the Shi’ite community, representing the majority of the population, faced in the disadvantaged peripheral areas annexed by Lesser Lebanon...
...The status of the Shi’ite population was further degraded at the end of the 1960s and at the beginning of the 70s with the establishment of armed Palestinian factions in southern Lebanon, the escalation in Fedayeen operations against Israel from their base in Arkoub and Israeli reprisals targeting the heavily Shi’ite southern region.

A progressive but sustained exodus of the these populations toward the suburbs of the capital resulted. The exiled southerners swelled the ranks of the Shi’ite sub-proletariat that formed a “misery belt” around the capital. It is within this potentially explosive context that a number of Shi’ite ulemas debarked in Beirut from Qom and Najaf during the 1960s. Three of them, Imam Mussa Sadr, Sheikh Mohammad Mehdi Shamseddeen, and Sheikh Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, rapidly distinguished themselves by their religious jurisprudence, their vast religious learning and the clear vision of the path that would lead the Shi’ites out of their status as a disinherited population.
The Movement of the Disinherited thus constituted the first sociopolitical structure made available to the Shi’ites since the Ottoman Empire. Witnessing the implantation of armed Palestinian organization in the Arkoub and under the effect of the military escalation that followed, Imam Sadr secretly created, at the beginning of the 1970s, the armed Amal militia, that was then supervised and trained by Fatah. The existence of this militia – the new façade of the Movement of the Disinherited – was spectacularly revealed in 1974 following a murderous explosion during a military training exercise in the Bekaa Valley. The appearance of Amal fostered by Mussa Sadr created a current within the subproletarian Shi’ite community that, in the absence of such a structure, would have attracted them to secular movements or the Left, such as the Communist Party, the Lebanese Communist Action Organization (OACL) or the Ba’ath Party and absorbed them.

Part 2 LINK

The creation of the Islamic Republic in Iran in February 1979 and its policy of exporting revolution adopted shortly thereafter by the new power have been, from all available evidence, the main catalyst in the development of the radical Islam in Lebanon. When Ayatollah Khomeini took power in Tehran, small radical Shi’ite groups were already active in Lebanon, but on a small scale.
This amorphous situation was maintained until the June 1982 Israeli operation, “Peace in Galilee”. The rapid penetration of the Israel Army (Tsahal), which reached the gates of Beirut, incited these small groups to conduct prompt resistance operations. The ranks of the radical movement were reinforced during that June when discord broke out within the Amal movement, led by Nabih Berry, following the death of Moussa Sadr in Libya in August 1978. After Nabih Berry's decision to join the National Salvation Committee crated by Elias Sarkis in June 1982 (which included the head of government, Shafik Wazzan, as well as Bashar Jamayel and Walid Jumblatt), several leaders and officers created the dissident movement, Islamic Amal.
At first, between 1982 and 1985, the radical movement gave top priority to resistance operations against Tsahal. Despite the significant asymmetry in forces, Shi’a fighters rapidly succeeded in striking a few blows against the Israeli Army. This punctual success against the Israeli Goliath can be explained by the importance of martyrdom in the Shi’ite cosmos. The martyrdom of Imam Hussein in the Battle of Karbala (680) constitutes for believing Shi’a Muslims a heroic narrative and an example for emulation by every individual. Hezbollah’s Number 2, Sheikh Naim Kassem, underscores this in his book on the Party of God...

[ed. At this point the martyrdom notion was introduced to overcome the mathematical disadvantage of the many casualties associated with gurrilla warfare. Go to the link to read the full description. I have previously linked to Matthias Kuntzel's chilling description of the Basij army.]

It is in February 1985 that Hezbollah makes public its political agenda in the form of an Appeal to the Disinherited. This document defines the party’s major policy orientations both at an ideological and doctrinal level concerning the Lebanese political situation and its position vis-à-vis Israel and the United States.
The understood hostility concerning Israel marks the political discourse of Hezbollah. The party leadership has ridiculed calls for pragmatism in order to find a solution likely to end the conflict with Israel. In this context, the party leadership does not hide its total solidarity with the struggle of the Palestinian people without going as far as overt aid or concrete support for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. While it affirms the rejection of blind terrorism, they refuse to condemn the suicide operations led by the Palestinians.

As to their position concerning the West, Hezbollah leaders avoid an any attitude that might be viewed as hostile to Western Civilization and affirms that they are not opposed to the West as such but to the “colonialist behavior” of certain Western states.

LINK to Part 3

I have no intention of trying to parse Part Three of this series. It is too complex. Besides, most American readers would be staring into space after a few lines, especially since Nur illustrates the post with snapshots of Nasrallah, Ho, Che and Leon Trotsky all in a row. Pretty sharp on her part if you ask me, but I'm just an old pinko history buff from the Sixties. What do I know?

The curious reader who is able to read modern continental leftist political analysis without coming unglued is invited to read this final post in the series. I don't have any sympathy for violent revolutionary movements but I am not blind to their origins, growth or existence. I have fairly strong opinions about how best to deal with them but that is a discussion for another place. The purpose of this post is to point to an excellent piece of political and historical analysis not available to my knowledge anywhere else.

One observation about this last part. When we in the West contemplate how religion and politics intersect our thinking is primitive compared to the complexity of the same topic in the Middle East. If religious influences on politics there is a game of chess, what we have here by comparison is a game of checkers.


For an informed view of recent events in Lebanon, see Amir Taheri's piece in WSJ.

There was a time when Shiites represented an underclass of dirt-poor peasants in the south and lumpen elements in Beirut. Over the past 30 years, however, that picture has changed. Money sent from Shiite immigrants in West Africa (where they dominate the diamond trade), and in the U.S. (especially Michigan), has helped create a prosperous middle class of Shiites more interested in the good life than martyrdom à la Imam Hussain. This new Shiite bourgeoisie dreams of a place in the mainstream of Lebanese politics and hopes to use the community's demographic advantage as a springboard for national leadership. Hezbollah, unless it ceases to be an instrument of Iranian policies, cannot realize that dream.

The list of names of those who never endorsed Hezbollah, or who broke with it after its Iranian connections became too apparent, reads like a Who's Who of Lebanese Shiism. It includes, apart from the al-Amins, families such as the al-As'ad, the Osseiran, the al-Khalil, the Hamadah, the Murtadha, the Sharafeddin, the Fadhlallah, the Mussawis, the Hussainis, the Shamsuddin and the Ata'allahs.

Far from representing the Lebanese national consensus, Hezbollah is a sectarian group backed by a militia that is trained, armed and controlled by Iran. In the words of Hossein Shariatmadari, editor of the Iranian daily Kayhan, "Hezbollah is 'Iran in Lebanon.' " In the 2004 municipal elections, Hezbollah won some 40% of the votes in the Shiite areas, the rest going to its rival Amal (Hope) movement and independent candidates. In last year's general election, Hezbollah won only 12 of the 27 seats allocated to Shiites in the 128-seat National Assembly--despite making alliances with Christian and Druze parties and spending vast sums of Iranian money to buy votes.

Hezbollah's position is no more secure in the broader Arab world, where it is seen as an Iranian tool rather than as the vanguard of a new Nahdha (Awakening), as the Western media claim. To be sure, it is still powerful because it has guns, money and support from Iran, Syria and Hate America International Inc. But the list of prominent Arab writers, both Shiite and Sunni, who have exposed Hezbollah for what it is--a Khomeinist Trojan horse--would be too long for a single article. They are beginning to lift the veil and reveal what really happened in Lebanon.

Taheri is a long-time, well-informed observer of events in the region. See his excellent analysis of Iran's election of Mahmoud Ahmadi Nezhad, written over a year ago right after he was put into office.

Raja at The Lebanese Bloggers also liked the Taheri piece. His remarks and the comments thread give a bigger, if more confusing picture. Lots of argument about who "won" and who did not.

Here is a short description of Amir Taheri.

...born in Iran and educated in Tehran, London and Paris. Between 1980 and 1984 he was Middle East editor for the London Sunday Times. Taheri has been a contributor to the International Herald Tribune since 1980. He has also written for The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. Taheri has published nine books some of which have been translated into 20 languages, and In 1988 Publishers'' Weekly in New York chose his study of Islamist terrorism, "Holy Terror", as one of The Best Books of The Year. He has been a columnist Asharq Alawsat since 1987

Chuck Sigars on the war in Iraq

Chuck who?
Sigars. I became aware of him a long time ago and lost track because there are too many good places to keep track of them all. He was a link from Gordon Atkinson (Real Live Preacher) and I went back to look at his blog while drilling around in some old archives looking for something else. Isn't that how it is? You run into someone you haven't seen for an eternity and all at once you wish you had never lost track...

Anyway, here is his take on the war in Iraq. (I'm straining not to use words like debacle, fiaso, mess, etc.).

For the record, I will state my feelings about the current war in Iraq, starting from March 2003 and continuing through today.
**Dubious but unsure
**Less hopeful
This is bad on so many levels. We know so much more than we did three and a half years ago, and none of it is good. We know that the current administration ignored
intelligence reports about the threat from Al-Qaeda, probably because it came from the prior administration. We know that immediately following 9/11, an invasion of Iraq was put on the front burner. We know that in the months preceding the war, President Bush said that an invasion of Iraq was "a last resort," and we know he meant nothing of the kind.

The post is a litany of what we know now that we didn't know at the start. It is a list of mistakes and misinformation listed in what I would call the most charitable terms, but with deception and coverups piling up in bloody drifts all along the way. There is a footnote to a personal tragedy as well, with the post ending thus:
...What have we done?

Because, in a republic, we're responsible. We are, too. We don't have to think about it, or even participate or vote or write letters, but we still are. And these kids, most of them between 18 and 22, will be our legacy. We have sent them to the desert. We have lied to them about why they went. We have cut their benefits, denied them body armor, refused reinforcements. Sins of commission or omission are still sins.

Read the post. Tell me I'm all wrong about this. I'm asking here.

As he said, go read it. Read the comments as well. A couple of them make an effort to tell him how wrong he is, but I'm afraid I find them unpersuasive. When I think about what we have done and continue to do in Iraq it makes me feel sad and helpless.

I Nominate Cass for World's Best Mom

Obviously she lives in a world that has lots more hours than most. Knitting and kids are her passions, and she home-schools as well...and she doesn't seem to be slowing down at all.
Check out this great post.

Do ya’ll realize that my aunt said, in front of my children, that they were a burden I should be seeking to rid myself of?

Aunt Faye, this is for you, even though you will never read it, because you don’t even know I have a blog, and only see me and my children a handful of times per year, and only when the whole rest of the family is around.

The government recently calculated the cost of raising a child from birth to 18 and came up with $160,140 for a middle income family. Talk about sticker shock! That doesn’t even touch college tuition.

But $160,140 isn’t so bad if you break it down. It translates into: [among other things] just over a dollar an hour.

Still, you might think the best financial advice is don’t have children if you want to be “rich.” Actually, it is just the opposite. What do you get for your $160,140?
* Naming rights. First, middle, and last!
* Glimpses of God every day.
* Giggles under the covers every night.
* More love than your heart can hold.
* Butterfly kisses and Velcro hugs.
* Endless wonder over rocks, ants, clouds, and warm cookies.
* A hand to hold, usually covered with jelly or chocolate.
* A partner for blowing bubbles, flying kites.
* Someone to laugh yourself silly with, no matter what the boss said or how your stocks performed that day.

She's someone's treasure. At some level I'm glad it isn't me.
It makes me tired to think about it but the world is richer for her being in it.

Totten -- pictures of bomb shelters and other stuff

As usual, Michael J. Totten furnishes fresh information in the form of snapshots of everyday features in Israel that we would never think to ask about. This man is a premier journalist.
This time he tells about bomb shelters.

Here is a picture of Amichai’s bomb shelter. His house is new, and all new houses are required by law to include sealed rooms (to protect against chemical weapons) that can also absorb a direct hit by a rocket or missile. The walls are solid, thick, and lined with books. Amichai told me he rather enjoys staying in his above-ground shelter. It's just another room in his house. With books, a computer, music, a bed, and a window, what more do you need
Go read. See for yourself.

And while Andrew Sullivan is away, Totten is guest-blogging there as well. This most recent post says flat-out that Israel has no expectation that Hezbollah will be disarmed.
Israel has finally figured out what everyone in Lebanon knew already, that disarming the Hezbollah terror-guerilla militia is not going to happen.
Those inside and outside Israel who believed disarming Hezbollah by force was possible in a short time frame were supremely delusional. It’s not 1967 anymore, when Israel could defeat three Arab armies in six days. Hezbollah is a guerilla army, as well as a terrorist army, and assymetrical warfare is hard. Look at how much longer it is taking the US to put down a Baathist insurgency in Iraq compared with the Baathist army in Iraq when Saddam Hussein was in power.

More at the links. Be sure to read the Michael Young piece as well.

Political distribution analysis chart

I don't know where he got it but I sure like this chart. Found it at Hippo Campy.

"You're hugmeat. Got it?"

War widows take note, when the president deigns to give you a private audience, know your place. Your job is to be hugged, and that's it.
Tell it, girl!

Mrs. Robinson at Dave Neiwert's blog

White Neiwert is otherwise occupied his guest blog-host is putting out a tour de force that could become the next essential handbook on the care and feeding of authoritarians. Heavy-duty stuff here. Not for the feint of heart, but bracing as a stiff drink. Thinking progressives only. None others need apply. LINK here.

Unfortunately, the ease and confidence of living in a prosperous society under a strong Constitution makes kicking back and doing nothing a very easy, attractive option. You can be blithely oblivious to these guys for years -- until the day comes when you've got a fundamentalist school board trying to teach your kids young-earth creationism; or militia guys jackbooting up Main Street at noon and performing blitz redecorating on the local synagogue at midnight; or a born-again president trying to bring on Armageddon for the profit of the oil companies and the acclaim of his Rapture-minded followers. On that day, we're jolted out of our reverie. Where did all these wackadoodles come from? Of course, they came from us -- because we didn't take seriously the threat they pose to the continued existence of our democracy, or our constant obligation to keep an eye out for the authoritarians in our midst, and take steps to prevent them from amassing followers and power in the first place.
And she says she's just getting started! This is where I go when the angst of my last post starts to build up to much. Good place to recharge my batteries.

What passes for "news"

Via Truthout we get this brief, pointed little essay explaining how media magnates peddle their wares. Excellent observations. Recommended reading.

The top story on TV news last night was not the Iraq war or tentative Lebanon peace, or major court rulings on tobacco and warrantless wiretapping, or oil prices or pension “reform” or any of a dozen stories that affect millions of citizens.

TV’s top story -- a new suspect in the decade-old murder of 6-year-old beauty princess JonBenet Ramsey -- affects very few people.

But it has the potential of grabbing millions of us, as spectators. That’s the beauty of the story to the owners and managers of TV news – my former bosses. They couldn’t be more thrilled to see new life in the tabloid story of the death of Little Miss Colorado, a story they’d grudgingly given up on years ago.

In a media system dominated by entertainment conglomerates, it’s no accident that we’re served up a steady stream of “top” stories saturated by sex, violence and celebrity: OJ, Princess Di, JonBenet, JFK Jr., Condit/Levy, child abductions (especially upper-middle class blonde girls), Laci Peterson, the runaway bride, the missing teen in Aruba, etc.

Let’s face it: The Murdochs and Disneys and Time Warners and GEs that own our media system much prefer a nation of mindless consumers and spectators over a nation of informed, active citizens. They like the fact that avid TV viewers know all the intimate details about the JonBenet or OJ murder cases – and almost nothing about how big corporations lobby against middle-class interests in Washington.

More at the links. He says well what we already knew.

This relates to why I am not comfortable with most politics. Knowing that the people around me respond in predictable ways to a media inclination to reach the lowest common denominator, I cannot believe that democratic majorities are competent to decide anything of merit. What passes for politics is a bread and circuses attitude on the part of elected officials that is the public equivalent to a tabloid mindset in the private sector.

When I see "leaders" catering to this emptiness it makes me sad and frustrated. I understand, however, that they are doing as they must to get elected. But what I cannot endure is an army of supporters who know better, perpetuating their messages with no attempt to raise that common denominator.

Friday, August 25, 2006

First Things -- The Blog

First Things (tagline "Journal of Religion, Culture and Public Life") online seems to be morphing into a group blog of considerable diversity. For some time I have tracked the site mainly to pick up the stream of Fr. Neuhaus' commentary on just about anything and everything. (Words bubble out of the man as though he were James Joyce incarnate. It takes a lot of stamina to follow all he says, but it's usually worth the investment. And he is usually right, by the way.) But recently I have noticed contributions by several new people. Four or five posts daily makes me think First Things is changing to a bloggier format.

Please pay special attention to this piece by Michael Novak recalling his participation in what has become a bedrock classic in the annals of poverty studies, The New Consensus on Family and Welfare, published in 1987. Together with an elite group of other scholarly observers, Mr. Novak produced a retrospective of LBJ's War on Poverty programs, where it worked and where it failed. At the time it was printed Patrick Moynihan said it was good. That's all I need to know. He was one of the smartest men ever to sit in the Senate.

Novak ticks off a few bullet points from that work that need to be revisited by today's observers and policy wonks.

***We were the first to make prominent the term “dependency” as a better indicator than “poverty” for what was going wrong. [How many times have we seen immigrants hit our shores without a dime to their name and sail past card-carrying US citizens who were officially "poor"?]

***We showed how it was reasonable to discuss illegitimacy as an issue without racial invidiousness, since it was now afflicting whites in larger numbers (although, of course, at lower rates) than blacks. It could be found in growing numbers in white rural communities, as in Iowa, Nebraska, and the like. Besides, whatever one’s moral feelings about illegitimacy, no one could deny that it was becoming financially very costly for the government, for the hospitals, for youth unemployment (or worse, unemployability), and for the criminal justice system. Once you turned your attention to what was going on in different types of families, the facts spoke with lightning and thunder in their stark clarity.

*** We demonstrated for the first time that if a young couple did three things (this was the part that The Economist liked best), they had about a 93 percent chance of moving out of poverty:
– Complete high school (after all, it’s already mandatory, and it’s free)
– Work full time year-round, even at the minimum wage
– Get married and, even if not on the first try, stay married
Couples who did these three simple things had less than a 7 percent chance of remaining in poverty. You could look it up in the federal tables under “Characteristics of Poor Families, Households.”

***Then, looking toward the future, and a new period of social invention, we proposed about seventy different reforms in government legislation and regulation, as well as practical initiatives for active, caring citizens who mean by “compassion” not a feeling but a sharp eye on results.

It is an easy matter to blame government programs and policies for the failures of individual people and families, just as it is to blame schools and teachers for what appears to be an educational shambles.

Personally, I cannot take part in either form of blaming. In the end the values and character development that make or break an individual grow first in the nuclear family and derive the energy needed for survival from the same source. I cite as my authority bullet point number three above which says, in effect, finish school, go to work and keep working, and get married and stay that way.

What about that can even a simple person not understand? And what better place to advance those objectives than through churches? I don't know about the rest of the country, but I can report that in my part of the country there are grassroots-level churches on the trail of exactly those objectives. Many are transdenominational. Some are aspiring to become mini-megachurches (if there is such a term) and they are preaching a message of inner healing, personal responsibility and old-fashioned Christian love. In times of personal crisis individuals can turn to their church community for encouragement and support.

And if there are a few Elmer Gantries among their clergy, what's new about that? For the most part the clergy are as human as the rest of us, and to the extent that they come back into the light, they, too can be forgiven and returned to the mission which is, in the end, far more important than any individual backsliding.

That's part of why I remain an optimist.

There is an easy metric to find out if things are getting better. It's not school testing. It's not abortion stats. It's not government program stats. It's simply how many children are being born to unwed mothers and the divirce rate starts to decline. When those numbers turn around we can know that we are moving in the right direction and everything else will be alright.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Totten in Israel, looking at Peace Now

This morning's sparkling diamond of reporting is once again from Michael J. Totten. He writes from Kibbutz Shomrat near the border with Lebanon. His interview with two members of Peace Now is a close-up snapshot of the Israeli peace movement. This is not your Cousin Sue's movement from Berkeley, folks. No empty idealism here, just pragmatic realities. These people understand peace like a fish knows water.

I wanted to know if there are many Berkeley-style leftists in Israel.

“I think what’s different from our peace movement,” Amichai said, “from the peace movements in the United States, in other countries, and in Europe is the question of serving in the army. Peace movements are usually pacifists and they don’t encourage their members to serve in the army. The Israeli peace movement believes that Israel would not exist if we didn’t defend it. There is a slogan that’s going around: If the Arabs put down their arms, there will be peace. If the Jews put down their arms there won’t be any Jews left. And I think there’s a basic truth to that.”

In the interest of balance here is a link to Kesher Talk where Benjamin Kerstein deconstructs Peace Now. (Also cross-posted at his blog.)
...we see the abdication of responsibility. To a great degree, Hezbollah got the "glory" of kicking Israel out because of the peace movement's constant assertion that the occupation of Southern Lebanon was fundamentally immoral and had to be ended whatever the political consequences. The same in regards to Hamas and Gaza. This is not a reflection on the rectitude of these withdrawals, but one does have a right to demand some recognition of obvious consequences from those who presume to deal seriously with politics and war. It is easy to critique. It is much harder to admit to consequences. I supported the Gaza withdrawal. I believe this withdrawal did embolden both Hamas and Hezbollah and - in the short term - damaged Israel's detterance. There is nothing particularly difficult in admitting to the consequences of one's positions. However, there is something immensely dangerous in the hermetic tendencies of those who cannot, and will not, admit any such thing. Until the Israel peace movement can come down from the dream palace of infallibility it has built for itself, it will continue to be isolated in the impotence of the streets and the comfort of facile sureties.

From this distance it this "deconstruction" comes across as fairly benign in the larger context of the madness of the Middle East. Take away the fluff and both sides are aiming at the same target. There is disagreement, however, regarding how to get there. This is a good example of the saying that where there are two Jews there will be three or four opinions.

“That law degree is paying for itself, one $90 ticket avoided at a time.”

It's been a while since I read anything at Barely Legal, Russ and Mike's diversion as they make their way through law school. Drilling back into a referral I found this story about how Mike dodged a traffic ticket by using his skills as a legal scholar arguing with a traffic cop. Polite, maybe, but not without a bit of smugness.

I put the car in park, rolled down my window, and watched in the side mirror as the cop approached my car. He was short and stocky, with dark blond hair that he wore in a closely cropped crew cut. He looked like a cop sent over from central casting. He arrived at my side, sized me up, and asked for my license and proof of insurance. I handed them over and he examined them. After a few seconds, he looked back at me and said, in a tone dripping with attitude, “So, do you think these street signs around here don’t apply to you?”

My inner smartass begged me to answer, “Yeah, pretty much,” but I resisted, mostly because I was genuinely confused as to why I had been pulled over. “What street sign are you referring to?” I asked.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Conscription on the horizon?

Read this.

Now this.


True conservatives

That is the post heading that John Burgess uses: True Conservatives. Most readers will not read the word conservative without thinking about politics, but true conservatism is much bigger than politics. It represents a lifestyle, a mark of character that will not be understood by someone who has been spoon-fed the idea that progress means getting accustomed to change, change may be uncomfortable but it often brings improvements, and work (and this is the most damaging assumption of all) is something to be avoided.

Here are three anecdotes from my personal experience.

During the time I was in the Army in Korea selected Korean Army troops were assigned to live and work among us. They were called by their acronym, Katusa Soldiers (sounds somewhat like those rockets Hezbollah is using, Katyusha) as in Korean Army assigned To United States Army. Though they were there to learn, I remember learning a few things from them as well. One conversation sticks in my memory that changed my attitude about society. At my first assignment there were three or four Korean soldiers in a company of about thirty or so GI's, and I was asking questions about them. Of the three, only one had reasonably good English conversational ability and it was through him that I was asking questions. He came across as a smart, ambitious sort from an enterprising family in Seoul. He had already told me that he hoped to return to school when he finished his military assignment. He seemed to have ambitions to be an entrepreneur.

Through him I asked one of the other men what he intended to do when he go out. After a brief exchange between the two, the translator said to me, "When he is finished in the army, he plans to return to his village and be a GOOD farmer." As he said these words he looked carefully into my eyes as he said the word good, as if to underscore the meaning. From talking with me he had picked up my typically American attitude that everyone should be always striving to climb a ladder of success, meaning more education, getting ahead and leaving behind ordinary hard work. Returning to a rural Korean village which at that time meant living without electricity or plumbing would certainly not qualify as getting ahead, and he knew it. But the soldier who understood my language also understood something else that I needed to know: not everyone in Korea was able or willing to do as he was planning. And because the man for whom he was translating was a plain-spoken man from a farm family, he could not expect to become anything less than a good farmer. There was dignity there that I needed to understand and I got the point. As I later saw the dedicated hard work of Korean farmers I came to admire and respect a simple work ethic that I had not seen since my childhood in Kentucky. And I never forgot what I saw.

Second anecdote. In 1986 my wife and I went to our first Cursillo weekend in the form of a three-day event sponsored by the United Methodist Church called the Walk to Emmaus. This is not the place to give a sales pitch for the Cursillo weekend but in a nutshell it is a prescription-strength dose of Christianity crammed into a three-day weekend, presented in a way that most people who attend come away having experienced what can only be described as an encounter with the living Christ. Known variously as Tres Dies, Chrysalis, Kairos or other designations, this trans-denominational movement is not limited by lifestyle, politics or social standing.

As I had done when I was in Korea, I went into this event with preconceived ideas about faith and how it intersects with one's level of learning and level of sophistication. Having been reared as a Southern Baptist only to have my faith shaken to the core in my developmental years by events in the Sixties, I had been rescued, I thought, by a slicker, more enlightened manifestation of The Faith in the form of High Church Episcopalian liturgy and a nearly Unitarian understanding of the Creed. In other words, I was just as ignorant about the meaning of Christianity as I had been as a child.

During a life-changing weekend I was able to know, up close and personal, not just a few but an overwhelming number of people who I would have not appreciated before because they seemed too simple, too unsophisticated in their understandings, to qualify as what I would consider Good Christians. Such was my ignorance. But thanks to the patient witness of these people I was finally able to know and understand that faith does not correlate with education or lifestyle. As I saw ordinary people talking with God about whatever concerned them, whether their own issues or those of others for whom they were praying, I realized that all the beautiful language in the world was no better than a simple petition to the Lord to reach out His mighty hand and touch someone. Faith is the highest expression of character in any human being. And it cannot be measured by educational or financial accomplishments. Really. Since then I have been better able to see past appearances of wealth, education or other achievements and to glimpse the character inside the people I encounter.

Third anecdote. My years among those who make the food business run smoothly have given me a daily chance to be close to what I have come to appreciate as "salt of the earth" people. I must be careful here not to sound condescending, for that is the last impression that I want to leave. But in order to make my final point, I have to say that my chances in life to travel, meet lots of people, read and study and, yes, finish college, have worked together to give me advantages that will never be available to many of the people with shom I have worked (and continue to work with to this day). And on an almost daily basis, as in the military and during the Walk to Emmaus weekend, I am privileged to work side by side with others whose present life and hope for the future will always be filled with simple chores such as cooking, keeping the floors clean, clearing tables of dirty china, and running a dish machine. I say privileged because from time to time I catch a carelessly dropped attitude from someone who might say "She's one of our worst waitresses," or "Looks like you're short on Help."

Well thank you, Ma'am, when someone has earned a vacation and someone else has a death in the family and someone else has a sick child...all at once...that is not a shortage of "Help." And when today's service is not as prompt as it normally might be due to the fact that that "worst waitress" happens also to be the newest, least experienced on staff and has not learned where to find that special request you wanted which was buried in some hard to reach place she had to ask someone to help her get the idea. Don't get me started.

Some years ago I was in the bakeshop chatting about something a customer had mentioned: Virginia Spoon Bread. It is a kind of sweet-tasting pudding made with corn meal, served with a scoop. I haven't eaten it but once, but made right it is as delicious as any pudding or dessert. But this is the point. I thought I had seen a recipe in our file for Virginia Spoon Bread but I couldn't recall. One of our bakers immediately said, "Sure we have it. It's Number [so-and-so]." I realized at that moment that although she had never made that recipe, and would never expect to, she had remembered the number from having seen it while looking through the box for something else.

This may not seem important at a glance, but it is. I began to notice from that moment how many people in our kitchen have extremely good minds and very high levels of intelligence. Some people seem able to recall names, dates and details of events without any effort at all. And I have found that such people are just as many people among the "salt of the earth" as there are in well-kept carpeted environments with soothing background music and no unpleasant aromas. Never for one moment do I take for granted or overlook the intelligence of someone just because they use poor grammar or have made choices that have tracked them into a life of poorly-compensated hard work.

If you have read what I just wrote and get the point, go read the link John Burgess found about fishermen in Saudi Arabia. They represent to me the foundational population of a society that is, as John Burgess points out, truely conservative. I know lots of people who might call it backward or primitive. But they are wrong. Dead wrong. And in their wrongness they are apt to do harm in the world around them.

According to Sehab, there are now 89 commercial fishing companies operating in the Arabian Gulf, which are competing with the traditional fishermen. The biggest mechanized fleet is owned by the Saudi Fisheries Company (SFC), which has also processing plants in Dammam and Jizan and distribution depots in Riyadh and Jeddah.

All operations of SFC are linked together with a modern communication system ensuring up to the minute information throughout the organization. SFC operates fourteen modern trawlers and a fleet of 35 traditional boats that operate in Saudi and international waters.

“In the fishing villages of Tarut Island and Qatif, known for their fishing industry since the early days, the number of traditional Saudi fishermen is dwindling. The commercial companies now dominate the fishing industry. Yet, despite the offer of support to modernize in order to be competitive, Eastern Province traditional fishermen prefer to struggle as they are,” said Sehab.

There are may ways to promote progress, but pushing around the weakest among us is not the way to do so. Just as the old-growth forests of North America were chopped down, the simple fishermen in that part of the world will also eventually be out of business. As a friend of mine once remarked, seeing a tractor pushing down trees behind our house to make way for some large development, "I think they call it progress."

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Peter aka geriatric 1927says "Farewell"

This charming old gentleman from the Midlands has captured the hearts of many thousands of YouTubers. Tonite he posts Telling it All video Part Eleven, a five-minute audio stream with nothing but his empty chair on camera. He explains in a matter of fact tone that he is stopping at this point but leaves open the expectation that he may resume in the future. He seems to be inundated with thousands of emails to read and seems to be needing a rest from vlogging.

Comments have only been open for four hours at this writing and already there are nearly two hundred left by his many fans. It is an outopouring of love and respect rarely seen in today's world, especially since the object is simply a soft-spoken old man with a gentle wit and obviously kind disposition. I expect to see more of him at some time in the future.

One blogger seemed certain that he was an example of "viral marketing." I don't think that is the case, but if so, then someone (not him) is a marketing genius. Not since Clara Peller made her famous line a household word has anyone displayed such a touch of charismatic magic. And this man, as far as we can tell, doesn't have the advantage of an agency or script. NPR did a feature over the weekend on Johnny Cupcakes, a splendid example of "viral marketing," but if Peter is peddling anything other than a plain vanilla persona he has kept it secret from the start.

Abbas Raza remembers Eqbal Ahmad

Starting in the early 90s, Eqbal's dream was to start a new secular university of the highest academic caliber in Pakistan, which he wanted to name Khaldunia after the famous fourteenth century Arab historian Ibn Khaldun. I only met Eqbal Ahmad once: after the screening of the BBC documentary about his migration to Pakistan (which I have mentioned above) at Columbia University. Akeel Bilgrami introduced me to him and we all went to dinner together. (I'm quite sure Robin Varghese was also present.) There, I asked him how the Khaldunia project was going, and he replied that he would tell me but first I must commit to teaching there for two years. Of course, I immediately and happily did, but alas, Khaldunia never came to be. The corrupt Pakistani bureaucracy put hurdles in Eqbal's path at every step and finally even rescinded the land grant they had given him years earlier. Still, Eqbal kept trying, and during these years also became a columnist for Karachi's largest English daily, Dawn. He wrote his last column on April 25th, 1999, and died two weeks later. Eqbal really was one the most widely beloved and respected men I can think of.

Among other noteworthy insights, Eqbal Ahmad could see that by encouraging Muslim extremism in Afghanistan twenty-some years ago, the United States was nursing the seeds of a modern resurgence of fundamentalism we now understand to be the source of what has been carelessly called the Global War on Terror. Hindsight is a terrible teacher, indeed. he welcomed them to the white house in 1985, President Ronald Reagan actually called the Afghan Mujahideen (the future Taliban) "the moral equivalent of America's founding fathers." At the time, they were battling the Evil Empire, so no degree of hyperbole in their praise could be considered excessive. These "moral equivalent of America's founding fathers" are now, of course, terrorists. Speaking of which, in one essay, Eqbal brilliantly unpacks the term "terrorism." As Carolee Bengelsdorf and Margaret Cerrulo explain in their introduction [to the book Selected Writings of Eqbal Ahmad]:

"Terrorism" in [Eqbal's] analysis is a floating signifier attached at will to our enemies to evoke moral revulsion. The vagueness and inconsistency of its definition, he insists, is key to its political usefulness. Official discussion will eschew, indeed disallow, any search for causes or motives, to the point where former secretary of state George Schultz, asked about the causes of Palestinian terrorism, insisted "there is no connection with any cause. Period."

3 Quarks Daily is more than a blogging website. Here is a group of young people whose contact with some of the most influential intellectuals of our day gives them a perspective on current events that more people would do well to investigate. This week's Monday Musing by Abbas Raza is a case in point. I'm not able to tell the reader in this small space all he should know about these writers and their respective subjects. All I can do is point and say if you fail to check them out the loss is more than you will ever know. Timely information and ideas are not the same as news. What passes for news is often nothing more than a voyeuristic glance at whatever catches the popular imagination because it is visually impressive (television), mildly titillating (print) or downright salacious (tabloid television and press together).

If you're surfing, keep moving and come back to this piece later when you have time to read and reflect. This is the intellectual equivalent of a freshly-baked scone (which most people have never had the pleasure to enjoy). It is best you save it for a time to savor every crumb. Here is the link.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Looking at differences in the Muslim world

From this distance differences among Muslims are strikingly similar to those among Christians. Some want to spread the faith, others are indifferent. Sunni and Shiite interests echo along political and national lines in the same way that Catholic and Protestant objectives seem to define this or that state, country, or political segment within each. There is a variety of commitment levels ranging from the most doctrinaire fundamentalism to to a sectarian approach bordering on atheism. In the midst of piety, sectarianism rears its ugly head. Thanks to the polarization of the last few years, domestic politics in America has developed a vocabulary to solidify our or that (supply here your favorite hobby horse: abortion, gun control, environment, political party, origin of life, education, immigration...). We need not go far to find the motes. Just name your poison and you will be able to find someone to join you at the bar for an evening of drinking and arguing.

But I am getting ahead of myself. Anton Effendi has a great post this morning looking at how recent events in the Middle East underscore differences among a multi-layered Muslim/Arab political landscape. The reader who has not been doing his homowork will not see what I see as he reads this. But you can be sure that this glimpse into the struggle for control in the wake of the Hezbollah revival is every bit the partisan political cesspool that seems to be the case here in America. The players are not the same, but the game is basically no different.

Mubarak also took a position surely antagonistic to Syria when he qualified the "right to resist occupation" by adding "on the condition that this comes from the people's own national will, and in accordance with its own interests." This statement hits at two things: 1- that Hezbollah is working for a non-Lebanese agenda, namely Iran's and Syria's, which is not in the national interest of Lebanon. And 2- There's clearly no "national will" in Lebanon to pursue this agenda, in clear reference to the fact that Hezbollah's actions and armed status are firmly outside the Lebanese consensus. It may even be said, again to Assad's dismay, that Mubarak's statement echoes Walid Jumblat's: "Is this (Hezbollah) resistance Lebanese or is it a tool of the Syrian-Iranian axis on Lebanese territory? ... We have the right -- and it is not treason to say it -- that we are Lebanese who look forward to a secure future without war of others on our land."
Comb carefully through the mess and you can find fundamentalists in conflict with sectarians, Sunnis pulling against Shiites with Alawis, Druse and other marginal groups doing what they can to be part of the struggle. There are democratic forces at work, to be sure, pissing in the strong wind of tyranny and power politics (read oil revenues and all they represent), but theirs is a very small voice in a bigger struggle for control.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

What it means to be a Muslim

After having spent the better part of an hour putting together a comment at RedBlue Christian discussing what politics means to a Christian, I come directly to John Burgess pointing to a piece in CS Monitor written by a female Muslim journalist about what it means to be a Muslim. Too, too funny! RedBlue Christian is a site attempting to bridge the gap that divides the Christian community in domestic politics (and by extension, international affairs and how we see the rest of the world). The article was occasioned by two people who came from the same place in Saudi Arabia attending a conference apparently aimed at bridging a similar gap in the Muslim community. As John said, go read the whole thing. It's not long and will only take a minute.

At the end of the conference, I found out that my definition of a Muslim - that anyone, including an atheist, who identifies themselves as Muslim is a Muslim - had made me an atheist courtesy of some conservative Muslims who I'd debated with on the point. They'd stereotyped me right back, deciding I must be an atheist. You see why we need to talk?

"Believers are like the bricks of a building. They hold each other up." That saying of the prophet Muhammad was posted on an easel next to a panel on pluralism that included Yasir and his ideological and theological polar opposites.

At a coffee break soon after the panel, I ran into Yasir, fresh from an hour-long meeting with one of the liberal women I had heard he didn't want to meet. He looked stunned.

"But did you shake her hand?" asked another attendee after Yasir told us of the meeting.


It was my turn to be stunned: "You shake women's hands? I didn't offer mine on the plane because I wasn't sure."

Yasir stuck his hand out for a firm shake.

It's a big world in which we live. And we have a hard time understanding each other when we speak the same language, come from the same culture and have roots in the same faith. How can we not expect to be challenged when our turn comes to encounter someone from outside our little space in the world?

When I hear people prating about going to war I wonder how many have even tried to meet their neighbors, much less the distant masses they have so easily labeled as an enemy.

dumm...tee dumm, dumm...

From one of Josh Marshall's readers...

Are Rumsfeld's days numbered?

...and Laura Rozen:

Has Bush called some people to inquire if they would be willing to replace Rumsfeld? In the past ten days?

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Charles Glass on the recent unpleasantness

Last night on NPR I listened to a discussion of what to name this most recent war. Names are important because they carry big meanings in little words. Names, like viruses, can mass-brand images and political implications in a way that erudite doctoral theses can never accomplish. What we now refer to as the Civil War was at the time variously referred to as Mr. Lincoln's War, The Rebellion, and later The War Between the States or The War of Northern Aggression. The Second Lebanon War seems to be in the running for what just happened, although Arab references also refer to it as the Sixth Israeli War. Oh well...

Charles Glass is a new name for me so I had to look it up. He seems to be a clear-headed spokesman for the Palestinian cause. I say this not to condemn him but simply by way of background. This is from an article a couple of weeks ago. Notice the designations used for the war.

Prime Minister Ehud Ohlmert has come clean with added objectives for Operation Untitled. On 15 July, his spokeswoman Miri Eisen told Agence France Presse, "The Prime Minister is prepared to finish our operations in Lebanon if Hezbollah releases our two soldiers, stops its rocket fire and if the Lebanese Government decides to implement UN Security Council resolution 1559."The resolution requires the disarmament of all militias in Lebanon. That means Hizballah, because the other militias disarmed under Syrian pressure years ago. Hizballah claimed however that its armed wing was a resistance movement - the only one capable of protecting south Lebanon from Israeli attack - and not a militia. On 21 July, another spokesman added a new Israeli shopping item, "One of the conditions for a ceasefire is that Hezbollah no longer receives arms supplies from Iran and Syria once it is enforced." As Operation Save the High Command annihilated Lebanon's post-war infrastructure - the airport, roads, bridges, army bases, clinics, telecommunications networks and lots of houses - without achieving anything, Ohlmert added a new condition: a NATO force in south Lebanon to stop Hizballah from hitting Israel. How about a force in north Israel to protect Lebanon?

This will go on and on. When Operation Get-Even ends, the respite may last a year or so. There will be other crises, other kidnappings by both sides, other murders, other wars. And it will not stop until Israel makes peace on terms that the Palestinians and Israel's neighbors have said they will accept: enforcement of UN Security Council Resolution 242 and the end of Israeli land confiscations in the West Bank. If you think the land grab is over, ask the Palestinians whose property is fenced off and seized for the Israeli settlers almost daily. If you think Israel is content to leave the natives alone to get along with it, ask the Bedouin of the Negev desert (who serve in the Israeli army and have been loyal citizens) about the creative deployment of the Monsanto-manufactured herbicide Roundup Ready to destroy their crops so they will abandon their ancestral lands once and for all. Goat by goat, dunum by dunum, the old Zionist adage went, the settlers redeem the land. As the Arabs lost their goats and their dunums of land, they got bullets and bombs.

I find his observations compelling. There are, as they say, two sides to every argument. Only by trying to look through the eyes of an enemy can one ever hope to come to any kind of reconcilliation. Easier said than done, of course.

Take a look at this morning's read from the London Review of Books (H/T 3 Quarks). In a fairly short piece he provides a cliff notes version of the rise of Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon. Looking back six years he says...

Like Israel’s previous enemies, Hizbullah relies on the weapons of the weak: car bombs, ambushes, occasional flurries of small rockets and suicide bombers. The difference is that it uses them intelligently, in conjunction with an uncompromising political programme. Against Israel’s thousand dead on the Lebanese field, Hizbullah gave up 1276 ‘martyrs’. That is the closest any Arab group has ever come to parity in casualties with Israel. The PLO usually lost hundreds of dead commandos to Israel’s tens, and Hamas has seen most of its leaders assassinated and thousands of its cadres captured with little to show for it. Hizbullah’s achievement, perhaps ironically for a religious party headed by men in turbans, is that it belongs to the modern age. It videotaped its ambushes of Israeli convoys for broadcast the same evening. It captured Israeli soldiers and made Israel give up hundreds of prisoners to get them back. It used stage-set cardboard boulders that blew up when Israeli patrols passed. It flew drones over Israel to take reconnaissance photographs – just as the Israelis did in Lebanon. It had a website that was short on traditional Arab bombast and long on facts. If Israelis had faced an enemy like Hizbullah in 1948, the outcome of its War of Independence might have been different. Israel, whose military respect Hizbullah, is well aware of this.


Hizbullah’s unspectacular showing in the first post-Syrian parliamentary elections was largely due to changes in electoral law but may also be traced in part to its perceived pro-Syrian stance. Now, Israel has rescued Hizbullah and made its secretary-general, Hassan Nasrallah, not only the most popular man in Lebanon – but in the whole Arab world. An opinion poll commissioned by the Beirut Centre for Research and Information found that 80 per cent of Lebanese Christians supported Hizbullah; the figure for other communities was even higher. It was not insignificant that, when false reports came in that Hizbullah had sunk a second Israeli warship, the area that fired the loudest celebratory shots in the air was Ashrafieh, the heart of Christian East Beirut. Unlike in 1982, when it could rely on some of the Christian militias, Israel now has no friends in Lebanon.

Israel misjudged Lebanon’s response to its assaults, just as Hizbullah misjudged Israeli opinion. Firing its rockets into Israel did not, as it may have planned, divide Israelis and make them call for an end to the war. Israelis, like the Lebanese, rallied to their fighters in a contest that is taking on life and death proportions for both countries. Unlike Israel, which has repeatedly played out the same failed scenario in Lebanon since its first attack on Beirut in 1968, Hizbullah has a history of learning from its mistakes. Seeing the Israeli response to his rocket bombardment of Haifa and Netanya in the north, Nasrallah has not carried out his threat to send rockets as far as Tel Aviv. He now says he will do this only if Israel targets the centre of Beirut.
If the UN had any power, or the United States exercised its power responsibly, there would have been an unconditional ceasefire weeks ago and an exchange of prisoners. The Middle East could then have awaited the next crisis. Crises will inevitably recur until the Palestine problem is solved. But Lebanon would not have been demolished, hundreds of people would not have died and the hatred between Lebanese and Israelis would not have become so bitter.

Unlike a lot of writing, this is a fact-filled summary that organizes known events in a compelling manner. He makes no secret of his sympathies as he drives home point after point. Like it or not, I find what he says to be compelling. I'm getting older, so I had to read through what he said twice before I understood what he was driving at. And having come to an understanding, I don't especially like it. But I also don't have any good arguments to refute it.

Before I leave this morning's post, I want to link to another one from over a year ago that still has something to say that I want repeated. There seems to be no shortage of conflicts to write about from the Middle East, and this one was from a different Israeli front. Jonathan Edelstein's remarks are worth noting, but my own at the time are what I want to say again.

Most people I know could not explain the difference between the PLO and the PA, even though they read and hear the terms used all the time. The media tosses around terms like Hamas, Hizbollah, Baath, PLO and Insurgent as though readers know exactly what those terms mean. Most readers, unfortunately, skim over such terms and regard them as a string of synonyms. We haven't progressed too far from the day when a critical mass of our population spoke of a Yellow Peril as carelessly as they might talk about the hurricane season.

The face of peace is not a pretty sight. The face of peace is covered with blood and scar tissue. As it peeks out from the ruins of a conflict, the face of peace is not a kissable visage. People turn away in disgust because they don't want to look at the twisted and broken image they see. After all, it felt so good to be at war. So right. So satisfying. This peace thing is hard to endure.

I hate to say it but the death of Arafat was the beginning of peace. Somebody has to worry about taking away the garbage and stewarding everyday affairs of running the country. This is the hard lesson that Hamas seems to be learning.
Here we are over a year later, and it is Hezbollah, not Hamas, we are
discussing. And guess what? They seem to have been learning exactly what they
needed to learn to climb the ladder of everyday governance. All the
reports of organized recovery, cleanup and rebuilding are a breathtaking
surprise to most observers, although I don't hear anybody saying so.

To the South in Hamas-Land there is relative calm. There are murmurings of a "unity government." It is a fragile hope, but isn't peace always a fragile hope between periods of misery?

Friday, August 18, 2006

Rachmaninoff and denim -- Updated

Three and a half minutes of gushing talent.

One more for the collection. You Tube is worse than a virus.

You think that's good?
How about Liszt's Transcendental Etude No. 10 on a piano that could use some tuning, in a baseball cap. This is just the tip of a talented iceberg.

Google Search yields information on Jonathan Paul Cambry.

...born in Chicago, IL on March 31st, 1982. He started playing piano lessons at the age of 3, studying with David Andrews for 15 years, a teacher at the Suzuki school. Jonathan continued to play and compete all throughout high school where he attended the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools. In 1997, Jonathan was the recipient of a Silver Medal at the NAACP ACT-SO Competition for Music/Classical, and won Gold Medals in 1998 and 1999 in the categories of Music/Classical and Music/Contemporary.

Just weeks after graduating high school, Jonathan was invited along with 90 other musicians around the world to perform and study in an intense eight week program in Milan, Italy. While in Italy, he performed in six recitals in small towns surrounding Milan. He studied with world renowned professor of piano, Sedmara Zakarian Rutstein of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music as well as some instruction from world renowned concert pianist Mario Delli Ponti during this program. Jonathan continued to study at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music for two years as a student of Joseph Schwarz and Sanford Margolis.

More at the link, concluding with "... a vast knowledge of computer programming, Jonathan also helped build, a site geared towards artists, musicians, film makers, and fashion designers. He is currently Vice-President and CIO of Jookey LLC."

And yes, he also teaches.

This post was first published July 15.
Update today, August 18, a month later...

Check out this new video.