May 2007 Archives

Confused

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This holiday weekend, I've been taking a bit of a vacation from the computer. Not just the blog, but the machine. Other than using it to re-watch the last few episodes of Heroes and follow the track (when the power was on) of the scary storms that have come through here the past few days, I've been pretty much staying away.

But now I've started tuning back in to the blogosphere and the airwaves, and I'm confused.

Today is Memorial Day. It's the day we remember and honor our fallen soldiers. Those who gave their lives for their country, our country -- for their communities and our communities -- for their families and our families. We celebrate it in the USA with barbeques and beer and maybe we don't take it as seriously as we should, but we do know what this holiday is about. Right? I mean, don't we?

Look. This isn't Veterans' Day. And it isn't Independence Day. Or Flag Day. It's Memorial Day. Can we focus on that? Can we separate out that element that's unique to the memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifice, who have gone to their rest hopefully secure in the knowledge that they helped to make their world a safer place for peace, for democracy, for liberty and for freedom? Can't we can the politics and the spin, including both the "bring our troops home" and the "support our troops" rhetoric? Can't we dedicate one day to the memory of those who have died in the service of their country, our country, and simply say ... thank you?

Thank you. From the bottom and from the top of our hearts.

Good stuff

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It's old, already, but you shouldn't miss this great interview by Ruthie Blum with Menashe Ben-Ari. Hits on all cylinders.

Same for this wonderful Shavuot post by Meryl.

(I'm rushing. Again. Can you tell? I thought you could.)

Shabbat Shalom.

Chag Shavuot sameach!

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And now ... for some cheese. cake. Yum!

Be back in a few days.

OT

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Awesome Heroes season finale. So Meryl nailed The Question ("How do you stop an exploding man?") weeks ago. (comment #19) Not all of it. But most of it. Cool.

And I bid a disgusted farewell to 24. What a total waste of what used to be a really good show. I won't be watching next season. I may, however, still follow the spoofs. Much more entertaining.

And now something nice

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Some of you may remember our baby Carolina wrens from almost three years ago. Well, they did stick around, and I guess we've gone through a few generations by now. They've become one of my favorite birds, not least because of their very melodic (and loud) song, although sometimes they do wake me up a bit too early in the morning. It's a nice way to wake up.

They're also very, very cute. Don't you think?

wren-carolina-lg4.jpg

wren-carolina-lg.jpg

No, these are not my photos, but they're very nice. If you like birds or could use some help identifying something in your yard, you should definitely visit this website.

Shabbat Shalom.

Insanity - a few words

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Sderot. I suppose my lack of comment on this situation is a bit odd. Well, no, partly it's just lack of time. Partly it's lack of words. Partly it's lack of comprehension, inability to process and therefore inability to express a coherent thought. I don't know when things slipped over this edge of sanity into a place where nothing makes sense any more. Not U.S. policy, not Israeli policy (or apparent lack thereof), certainly not whatever passes for "policy" on the part of the insane homicidal maniacs who are "running" the Palestinian Authority, running whatever hope (such as it was) of any sort of peaceful solution to the "conflict" straight into the ground. Even the Egyptians can see that. Even some of the so-called palestinian arab "leaders" can see that.

Reality: the community of Sderot has been enduring intermittant rocket attacks for six years now. Israel withdrew from Gaza, ended the "occupation," destroyed dozens of its own communities and the lives of their residents, and the attacks intensified. Some of the attacks are now launched from empty fields where, less than two years ago, healthy, happy children played and greenhouses spilled out abundant produce and flowers and people worked and prayed. On Tuesday, at least 21 kassams fired; on Wednesday, yet more, with evacuation being seriously discussed; on Thursday, at least seven in the morning, one hitting a high school, about two dozen more later in the day, this time hitting a synagogue; this morning, three more, now they're reporting eleven [update: fifteen] today. One Jerusalem has video. Rick Richman has photos. Meryl Yourish has first person reports.

This is bad enough. This is worse than bad. This is horrible. No one should have to live this way. These people have done nothing to deserve this. Nothing, that is, other than to try to live their lives in the State of Israel which, by the account of some, is a crime. But it gets worse. Much worse. Because when Israel makes its pitifully small and ineffective threats and attempts at retaliation for these atrocities -- not even retaliation, really, so much as an effort to simply slow down and discourage the attacks, it is met with the likes of this:

Hamas today threatened to resume suicide bombings after Israeli planes launched air strikes against the militant Palestinian group in Gaza.

The three aerial attacks destroyed a Hamas compound, hit a car carrying two senior commanders and a trailer used by the Islamist group, killing three people and wounding scores of others.

Israel confirmed all three air strikes. It had earlier threatened "harsh" action in response to repeated Palestinian rocket attacks. More than 50 rockets have fallen on the Israeli town of Sderot in the last three days. Seven struck Sderot today, one hitting a school and leaving two people slightly injured.

The Israeli actions, including the deployment of tanks just inside Gaza, added a new dimension to Palestinian infighting and drew an ominous response from Hamas.

"This is an open war launched against Hamas. All options are open, including martyrdom operations," Abu Ubaida, a spokesman for the organisation's armed wing, said.

Only in the demented universe that Hamas inhabits can you launch more than 50 rockets against a largely defenseless village in three days and then claim that a defensive attack against you is "an open war launched" against you. Only in that dark, twisted place do the mass murderers become the victims and the victims become the aggressors. It's sick. It's just beyond rational comprehension.

But it plays. It plays across the vast expanse of bleeding heart, ignorant, no doubt well intentioned self righteous sympathizers with the plight, the cause, the "humiliation" of the palestinian arabs. They look at this picture and see black as white and up as down and everything turned inside out.

And our State Department, that U.S. agency charged with protecting our interests abroad through diplomacy and its razor sharp grasp of the intricacies and nuances of international relations, comes out with this:

Well, President Abbas is committed to ending violence. He has never -- he has always been somebody that has shunned the use of terror. He has counseled against it. He is somebody who has actively worked for peace. He is somebody who has actively advocated for negotiations as opposed to the use of violence to realize a Palestinian state. We are urging all parties to exercise restraint. We understand the Israeli Government has a right to defend itself and they have explained that their actions, just over the past day or so, have been in reaction to stopping -- trying to stop further rocket launches into Israeli territory, rocket launches that have injured Israeli citizens.

But we've also urged them to consider the consequences of their actions in defending themselves on Palestinian infrastructure as well as on what effect it might have on the prospects for moving forward the political process. But we know that Prime Minister Olmert is somebody who is committed to working actively on that political track.

Clearly, Sean McCormack inhabits yet another universe, somewhere over the rainbow.

So what is there to say in the face of all this? And who to say it to? Some days, I feel like I'm watching a train wreck, a horrible train wreck that will cost untold thousands of lives and the end of the world as we know it, right in front of me, in slow motion. What will the world look like after it's all over? I suspect it will look a lot like this. And this.

By the way, a belated happy birthday to BBC journalist Alan Johnston, who also "celebrated" his 66th day in captivity in Gaza yesterday.

Poor young doctor

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Duncan Mclean, head of 'Doctors Without Borders' in the region, told Israel Radio, "I don't think embarrassed would be the right word. We are very sad for Bashir who has been working for us for almost six years. But we would like to make it very clear that we make a distinction between his professional work and what he does on his personal time in the sense that all our staff is hired for professional reasons and I don't think our organization can be held liable for every aspect of their life."

It sounds like the guy got caught in a brothel, or maybe a bar brawl. Who would know from this clueless quote that the poor young doctor in question is accused of (and has confessed to) using his DWB credentials to facilitate assassination attempts against the Prime Minister and other Israeli officials?

A Palestinian from the Gaza Strip who works for the humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders has been arrested for allegedly plotting to assassinate Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) revealed Thursday.

Mazab Bashir, 25, from Deir el-Balah began working with Doctors Without Borders five years ago.

On April 19, he confessed during a Shin Bet interrogation that for months, he had been collecting intelligence on senior Israeli officials - including Olmert and a number of Knesset members.

It's interesting that the DWB (a/k/a "Medicins Sans Frontieres") spokescreep is "very sad for Bashir." Not so sad for his intended victims or the victims of others like him. Certainly not embarrassed for his own organization, which helps to perpetuate a culture in which the murder of Israelis is an understandable act of "resistance."

Here's the money quote on DWB/MSF's own website regarding this sorry mess. More misplaced priorities. And, notice, neither the specific crime of which he is accused nor the fact that he has confessed to it (in rather chilling detail) is mentioned.

Following the charges against Mr Bashir, MSF is concerned about the confusion generated over the role of humanitarian action. This would contribute to further reducing access to the population, and correspondingly increase the insecurity for our teams in the Palestinian Territories and the whole Israeli territory.

26 Iyar

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Ten years ago, House Concurrent Resolution 60, sponsored by then-Rep. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and approved by a vote of 406-17, read as follows:

Whereas for 3,000 years Jerusalem has been the focal point of Jewish religious devotion;

Whereas Jerusalem today is also considered a holy city by members of the Christian and Muslim faiths;

Whereas there has been a continuous Jewish presence in Jerusalem for three millennia and a Jewish majority in the city since the 1840's;

Whereas the once thriving Jewish majority of the historic Old City of Jerusalem was driven out by force during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War;

Whereas from 1948 to 1967 Jerusalem was a divided city and Israeli citizens of all faiths as well as Jewish citizens of all states were denied access to holy sites in the area controlled by Jordan;

Whereas in 1967 Jerusalem was reunited by Israel during the conflict known as the Six Day War;

Whereas since 1967 Jerusalem has been a united city, and persons of all religious faiths have been guaranteed full access to holy sites within the city;

Whereas this year marks the 30th year that Jerusalem has been administered as a unified city in which the rights of all faiths have been respected and protected;

Whereas in 1990 the United States Senate and House of Representatives overwhelmingly adopted Senate Concurrent Resolution 106 and House Concurrent Resolution 290 declaring that Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, `must remain an undivided city' and calling on Israel and the Palestinians to undertake negotiations to resolve their differences;

Whereas Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin of Israel later cited Senate Concurrent Resolution 106 as having `helped our neighbors reach the negotiating table' to produce the historic Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements, signed in Washington, D.C. on September 13, 1993; and

Whereas the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 (Public Law 104-45), which became law on November 8, 1995, states as a matter of United States policy that Jerusalem should remain the undivided capital of Israel: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring), That the Congress--

(1) congratulates the residents of Jerusalem and the people of Israel on the 30th anniversary of the reunification of that historic city;
(2) strongly believes that Jerusalem must remain an undivided city in which the rights of every ethnic and religious group are protected as they have been by Israel during the past 30 years;
(3) calls upon the President and the Secretary of State to affirm publicly as a matter of United States policy that Jerusalem must remain the undivided capital of the State of Israel; and
(4) urges United States officials to refrain from any actions that contradict this policy.

Passed the House of Representatives June 10, 1997.

As far as I can tell (and I'm not sure why this information is so hard to come by), that was the last concurrent resolution passed by Congress in commemoration of the reunification of Jerusalem. Not that it was the last resolution introduced. As recently as last year, a similar resolution apparently failed to make it to a vote.

This year's effort is H. Con. Res. 131 and, like last year's, it's a bit beefier. Among other things, it contains the following additional elements:

(5) strongly urges the President to discontinue the waiver contained in the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 (Public Law 104-45), immediately implement the provisions of that Act, and begin the process of relocating the United States Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem;


[ . . . ] and

(7) reaffirms Israel's right to take necessary steps to prevent any future division of Jerusalem.

Tough call. Big anniversary and Congress usually steps up on those. But my guess is the stronger language won't pass, given the current bunch on the Hill. Meanwhile, the various foreign services do their thing.

The European Union and the US are putting a crimp in Israel's celebration of 40 years since Jerusalem's reunification by not sending representatives to Monday's Knesset ceremony marking the occasion.

While the EU sent a letter to the Foreign Ministry making clear it would not participate in the Jerusalem Day event, the American absence is more one of default. US Ambassador Richard Jones is not expected to attend, but his government has not said why.

Either way, the snub has infuriated Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski, who in an unusually harsh statement said, "Whoever does not recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel also does not recognize the State of Israel."

26 Iyar 5727. "The Temple Mount is in our hands."

Yom Yerushalayim sameach.

Incoherent babbling

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It's time for Uri Avnery to hang it up. Before he embarasses himself any further.

On the morrow of the 1948 war, when we raised this flag [the Two State Solution] for the first time in Israel, we were a tiny band. We could be counted on the fingers of two hands. Everybody denied that a Palestinian people even existed. In the late 60s I tramped around Washington DC and spoke with officials at the White House, the Department of State, the National Security Council and the US delegation to the UN - nobody there was prepared to entertain this idea.

Now there is a world-wide consensus that this is the only solution. The United States, Russia, Europe, Israeli public opinion, Palestinian public opinion, the Arab League. One has to realize the full meaning of this: the entire Arab world now supports this solution. This is extremely important for the future.

Why did this happen? After all, it is not that we are so gifted as to win over the whole world. No, it is the inner logic of this solution that conquered the globe. True, some of the new adherents of this solution only pay lip service to it. Perhaps they use it to divert attention from their real aims. People like Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert act as if they support this idea, while in reality their intention is to keep the occupation forever. But this shows that even they realize that they cannot go on opposing the Two State solution openly. When the whole world recognizes that this is the only practical solution - it will, in the end, be realized.


One of Avnery's main problems with the One State solution appears to be ... (dramatic pause) ... that it would allow Israel to take unfair advantage of the palestinian arabs. No, really.

In this state, the Israelis will be dominant. They have a complete superiority in practically all spheres - quality of life, military power, technological capabilities. The average per annum income of an Israeli is 25 times (25 times!) higher than that of an average Palestinian - $ 20,000 as against $ 800. The Israelis will see to it that the Palestinians will be the hewers of wood and the drawers of water for a long, long time.

It will be an occupation by other means. A disguised occupation. It will not end the conflict, but open another phase.

Another objection to the One State solution:

It pulls the rug from under the feet of those who fight against the occupation. If the whole country between the sea and the Jordan is to become one state anyhow, then the settlers can put their settlements anywhere they like.

Eeek! Horrors! To be fair, Avnery also acknowledges that it would constitute "the dismantling of the State of Israel," but though he's clear that the vast majority of Israelis (99.99%, he says) wouldn't go for that, it's not clear that he's among them. He has a different problem.

No doubt, the One State idea gives its adherents moral satisfaction. Somebody told me: OK, it is not realistic, but it is moral, and that is the place where I want to be. I say: that is a luxury we cannot afford. When the fate of so many human beings is in the balance, a moral stand that is not realistic is immoral. I repeat: a moral stand that is not realistic is immoral.

So. The attempt to dismantle the State of Israel is a moral stand. But not a realistic one. Which makes it immoral. This is the face of the Israeli left (fringe)? Or maybe Avnery just needs a comfy room in a nice beit avot (rest home).

(At our very first meeting in 1982, Yasser Arafat spoke with me about a Benelux solution, like the one that existed for some time between Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxemburg) - Israel, Palestine, Jordan, and perhaps even Lebanon. He continued to talk about this until the end.)

Delusional.

The love of Zion

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Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Ladi [1745-1812] said: "The love of Zion must be as a fire burning in the heart of the Jew. He who wishes to be a true Jew must go to Palestine; and if there be obstacles in the way, he must overcome them all and go there.

--quoted in Louis Newman's "Hasidic Anthology," Schocken Books, 1963, at p. 301.

Shabbat Shalom.

Inconvenient reality

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The Penn Gazette is the alumni magazine that graduates of various entities within the purview of the University of Pennsylvania have the privilege of getting delivered free of charge to our mailboxes. The most recent issue contains this rather clear and straightforward smackdown of Al Gore's cheap publicity/political stunt (a/k/a "An Inconvenient Truth") by the chairman of Penn's Department of Earth and Environmental Science, no less.

The beauty of this interview is that it attempts to remove this debate from the realm of stupid political tricks and return it to the realm of science. Good luck with that. But, as Professor Giegengack points out repeatedly, nature ultimately has the last word.

[Gore] shows simulations of coastal lands flooding that would require a six-meter sea level rise. At [a standard rate of] two millimeters per year, that will take over 3,000 years. He didn’t say that. He shows pictures of drowning polar bears, but he doesn’t address the question of what the polar bears did in the last non-glacial period. Polar bears have been around through many of those cycles. Today as the ice melts, they have no place to go because we have compromised their habitats.

[ . . . ]

There was a global cooling episode that started in 1941, and lasted until about 1976; some people would say that the coldest time was about 1970, at which time it turned around and started to warm again. So for him it’s useful to put the time between 1970 and 2005 because you don’t have to worry about the fact that between 1945 and 1975 there was cooling. The best way to document the most drastic changes is to look only at those 35 years.

I was raised as an environmentalist. My dad insisted on shlepping our crushed cans and paper to the recycling center decades before they started curbside pick-up in our area. We composted our rotten veggies and always had small, relatively fuel-efficient cars. And conserving electricity, water and gas has been a knee-jerk reflex at least since the Arab oil embargo of 1973. But the politicization of the current global warming cycle makes me queasy, and the degree to which the fairy tales are now taken for granted in everyday discourse makes me positively ill.

Some day, we'll look back at this and wonder what we were all smoking. In the meantime, we have apparently serious scientific voices like Robert Giegengack to, hopefully, bring us back down to the real earth. And before you dismiss Giegengack's opinions as just another political ploy, note that he says he voted for Al Gore in 2000, and that he would vote for him again. More on that and other interesting things here.

Hot hot hot

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And speaking of fires, Yael is hot (when isn't she?). Don't miss this post where she explains her disillusionment as a former leftist.

I've said it before and I suppose I'll have to say it again, but as someone who was a Democrat for decades and never voted for a Republican until 2004, I am appalled to find the Left still insisting that we see everyone and everything in terms of race, ethnicity, class and gender. Hullo, is anybody home? The civil rights movement was a success, the Sixties have been over for almost 40 years, and it's time to "move on."

It is simply not enough to Imagine a world without racism and sexism; one has to start inhabiting that world. I thought that's what liberals were all about, but they're not, not really.

I totally relate.

Bonfires

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I was looking for some photos or videos of bonfires to celebrate Lag B'Omer. And I found this.

Happy Lag B'Omer -- from Efrat, Israel!!!

How's that for uplifting?


Update: In case you're wondering -- the lyrics of the background song:

Amar Rabbi Akiva. V'ahavta l'reacha, l'reacha kamacha. Ze klal gadol, gadol ba Torah.

Rabbi Akiva said; Love your neighbor as yourself. This is the great teaching of the Torah. Love your neighbor as yourself.

Too mellow

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This has been one gorgeous day. And to celebrate, I took my first outdoor swim of the season. A lazy mile that really felt good. Now I'm just feeling too mellow for blogging.

Shabbat Shalom.

Mixed company

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Be careful what you wish for. That just might be a watchword for either side of the Israeli political spectrum in the coming weeks and months. Somewhere between 100,000 and 250,000 people (depending upon whose estimates you read) showed up at Kikar Rabin tonight to demand that PM Olmert resign in the wake of the preliminary Winograd commission report.

Olmert's opponents are using the report as a launching pad for their campaign to oust him, and I have no problem with that but, seriously, did the report really tell anyone anything they didn't already know? Other than details, facts and figures? Yes, it's crucial to document those things and the report is and will be a very valuable tool in assessing what went wrong and how to prevent it in the future, but the fact that Olmert and company messed up big time last summer is not exactly a news flash.

And who, by the way, is behind this united front to get rid of Olmert? The quick answer is this guy. But you might better ask, who isn't? Those of us who lean to the right tend to support the effort, naturally. But so, it appears, do those who lean to the left. Well, some of them, at least.

Popular author Meir Shalev probably got a mixed reaction from the crowd to this remark:

This is what war looks like when the IDF is busy at checkpoints and guarding illegal outposts.

But Peace Now is denounced the rally, suddenly worried about the lack of "an alternative" to Olmert. Odd. They've never been worried about the lack of "an alternative" to "the occupation."

And, somewhere toward the other end of the spectrum, right-wing activist Baruch Marzel also told his supporters to stay away.

According to Marzel, "[Maj.-Gen. (res.)] Uzi Dayan, who is organizing the rally at Rabin Square, takes exactly the same approach as [Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert and [Defense Minister Amir] Peretz."

But, according to One Jerusalem, Effi Eitam also addressed the rally. And -- get this -- Eitam and Yossi Beilin, of all people, published a joint op-ed, via the front page of this morning's edition of Ma'ariv, in support of the rally. Strange bedfellows, indeed.

So if Olmert leaves (and it appears inevitable that, sooner rather than later, he will) who will take his place? That's the $64,000 question, and the answer is really murky. Omri has thoughts. Of course. On an ongoing basis, so visit often.

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