Monday, August 28, 2006

Since you asked...

The response to the contest has been truly overwhelming. So I feel obligated to reveal the full context of the picture in the previous post. These images come to you straight from the basement bathroom of Van Pelt Library, University of Pennsylvania. Nothing says "Ivy League" quite like a monogrammed urinal.

Straight from the ass's mouth

Okay, now even Nasrallah admits that it was a mistake to abduct the Israeli soldiers and start the war.
We did not think, even one per cent, that the capture would lead to a war at this time and of such magnitude...You ask me if I had known on 11 July (the day before the cross border raid) that the operation would lead to such a war would I do it? I say no, absolutely not.

This comes on the heels of a statement by Sheikh Ali al-Amin, renowned Shiite scholar and Mufti of Tyre, who recently blasted Hizbullah for bringing destruction upon the country: "Neither Lebanon nor the Lebanese people have any connection to this war. The war was forced upon the country and the people."

W ould the "Israel has lost" crowd please shut up now?

Friday, August 25, 2006

Clear-eyed appraisal of Hezbollah's "victory"

I'm a bit surprised that my own view of the recently halted war between Israel and Hizbollah most resembles that of Michael Young, the opinion editor of Lebanon's Daily Star newspaper. Young is no stooge, and is in fact an inveterate critic, of Israel and the West; yet he demonstrates impressive insight in burrowing through the hyperbolic bluster of Arab leaders and assessing the real outcome of the latest Arab-Israeli battle. Young notes that the conventional wisdom seems to be that Hizbollah defeated Israel:
Hezbollah beat Israel in the latest war in Lebanon, and if you have any doubts, listen to...Syria's President Bashar Assad...Some pundits agreed. This unqualified, air-punching evaluation is from one Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, a professor at the Lebanese-American University and author of a book on Hezbollah: "In military terms this is a victory that the Arabs haven't tasted in decades by Israeli standards even. Hezbollah is fully aware that it has emerged victorious..."The author of a New York Times story on the Iranian counteroffer, Helene Cooper, offered up this assessment: "Iran has emerged stronger from the Lebanon crisis by showing the world that it is capable of wreaking havoc through its support of the Hezbollah militants"—a view echoed by George Perkovich, the director for nonproliferation at the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

After a few sarcastic remarks about the propriety of Hizbollah victory celebration, Young details exactly why Hizbollah's supposed victory is nothing more than fool's gold - the same fool's gold that Arab leaders have always purveyed following military defeat.

But what kind of victory is this that, even by Hezbollah's unexacting standards, must qualify as a major setback?...Hezbollah has ignored what Israel did to those parts of Lebanon the party cannot claim as its own. Its cries of triumph have been focused on the stubborn resistance put up by Hezbollah combatants in south Lebanon. Nothing has been heard from party leaders about the billions of dollars of losses in infrastructure; about the immediate losses to businesses that will be translated into higher unemployment; about the long-term opportunity costs of the fighting; about the impact that political instability will have...on public confidence and on youth emigration; and about the general collapse in morale that Lebanon faces.

Hezbollah is believed to have many more rockets in storage and its network of bunkers in south Lebanon is probably mostly intact. However, it cannot initiate a conflict without facing the political fallout of imposing new suffering on its already traumatized Shiite community. Almost a million Shiites were thrown into the streets by Israeli bombardments between July and August. Hezbollah has started distributing money to the community, but that won't pay for much of the horrendous suffering—lives lost, profitable businesses closed, self-respect gone for those without homes or livelihoods, and much else that cash handouts cannot remedy.

...the month-long fighting brought the Lebanese Army into south Lebanon, after an absence of several decades—soon to be accompanied by an expanded United Nations force. Nasrallah...has sought in recent weeks to empty those deployments of their meaning, even as he has pretended to welcome the army. That is hypocritical. Hezbollah had repeatedly refused to allow the army to go south, and only agreed to do so because this was seen by an increasingly impatient Lebanese public as a means of ending the Israeli onslaught. If Hezbollah brings out the rockets again, however, it will mean not only confronting the Lebanese consensus, but also the international community, and that's before a shot is fired in anger against Israel.

...the regime in Tehran has not only seen its main reason for supporting Hezbollah go up in smoke in a largely futile endeavor, but must now dole out large sums of compensation money to Lebanese Shiites so the party can hold on to its base of support, even as Iran's poor complain their regime has left them by the wayside. Iran will probably pay out the money (though I've heard unconfirmed reports of delays), but of what value is this if Hezbollah cannot fire on Israel in the event of an attack against Iran's nuclear facilities? Or, to the contrary, of what value is the compensation if, by firing on Israel at Tehran's behest, Hezbollah only brings new destruction down on the heads of Shiites, who might then turn against Nasrallah?

Despite Saad-Ghorayeb's assertion that the balance of power will change in Lebanon, in the past week the opposite seems to have been true, as both the government and the parliamentary majority, made up of the so-called March 14 forces hostile to Syria and critical of Hezbollah, have worked to curtail any effort by Nasrallah to transform his so-called victory into political gains. Indeed, as the costs of the war are tallied, there has been a noticeable lack of enthusiasm in Lebanon to see the war as anything but a calamity.

So perhaps a victory it is, but in that case Hezbollah's victory is no different than most other Arab victories in recent decades: the "victory" of October 1973, where Egypt and Syria managed to cross into Israeli-held land, their land, only to be later saved from a thrashing by timely United Nations intervention; the "victory" of 1982, where Palestinian groups were ultimately expelled from West Beirut, but were proud to have stayed in the fight for three months; the Iraqi "victory" of 1991, where Saddam Hussein brought disaster on his country but still held on to power. Now we have the Hezbollah "victory" of 2006: the Israelis bumbled and blundered, but still managed to create a million refugees, to kill over 1,000 people, and to kick Lebanon's economy back several years. One dreads to imagine what Hezbollah would recognize as a military loss.

This guy's analysis is dead-on.

Thursday, August 24, 2006


I have finally joined the rest of America and now own a camera phone - a Motorola RAZR, as it happens (the old one). I've heard a lot of people bitch about the RAZR, but I'm pretty satisfied thus far. Probly because my last phone was so bad, but whatever. In any case, with phone in hand, I have finally been able to take some pictures that I've meaning to snap for quite some time. Here's the first one, which is part of a series. The challenge for you, dear reader, is to determine the context of the picture. Prizes will be announced after I see if anyone gets it.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Finally, some moral clarity

Anti-Israel types love to lecture the public about the difference between opposition to Israel's policies/interests and anti-Semitism. The former, we are told, is not tantamount to the latter.

As one activist puts it,

Those of us who are involved in activism around Israel/Palestine, and take a position critical of the standard American and Israeli views of the conflict are constantly peppered with accusations of becomes incumbent upon us to prominently and frequently argue that criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitic.
Tom Friedman, in a 2002 column quoted here, comments, "Criticizing Israel is not anti-Semitic, and saying so is vile..." [We'll let the grammar slide just this once, but it seems worth pointing out that Friedman likely didn't mean to call his own statement vile]. Countless other critics of Israel have issued similar protestations.

The issue is certainly a complicated one. Indeed, it is often difficult to determine whether anti-Israel sentiment is - in intent or in effect - anti-Semitic as well. All of which makes Charley Reese's August 12 column ever-so-refresehing.

Entitled "A Taste of What is to Come," the article erases any doubt as to where Reese stands on the Israel-Judaism equation. In short, Reese (implicitly) argues, "Israel" and "the Jews" are synonymous. Consider his rhetoric. After explaining that Israel's policies have embittered the Palestinians, and that American support of Israel has cost America dearly, Reese asserts,

Today there is no avoiding the plain truth: We have a Jewish problem. The government is totally paralyzed and is unwilling to issue even the mildest rebuke to Israel, no matter how outrageous its behavior. Why? Because the Jewish lobby is so powerful, American politicians are afraid of it...we don't elect politicians to serve 3 percent of the population and a foreign country.

See how clearly Reese paints his picture! It's simple, really. The US refuses to criticize Israel because of the Jewish lobby. Get it? Israel=Jewish. It's not an Israel problem; it's a "Jewish problem." It's not an Israel lobby; it's a "Jewish lobby." Whose interests are being served? The Jews' ("3 percent of the population") and Israel's ("a foreign country"). Sure, Reese seems to be trafficking in the forged czarist "Protocols," but his honesty must be applauded.

A bit less honest is a site called "," whose proprieters are apparently a bit uneasy with Reese's unvarnished view. In its presentation of Reese's column, the words "Jewish problem" and "Jewish lobby" have been magically airbrushed to "Israel problem" and "Israel lobby." Why,, why? Just when the picture was becoming clearer, you muddy it up once again!?

Islamist Tactics

Was cleaning out my email account, came across this news piece about a new strategy for naming successors in Islamist organizations. It is fortunate that the strategy has yet to be implemented.

With Rantisi dead, Hamas is holding their cards close to the proverbial (suicide) vest. Speculation is that the organization has already named a new leader but is trying to keep it quiet lest he, too, be immediately targeted by Israel.

I have it on good sources that the truth is a bit more complicated. Hamas is indeed weighing its options concerning the appointment of a new leader. However, the real debate amongst Hamas bigwigs is whom to appoint as their supreme leader; at present, the two contenders are Ariel Sharon and George W. Bush. According to one Hamas official, who spoke on condition that he be identified as someone else, "We have concluded that Israel intends to eliminate anyone whom we name as our leader. Therefore, we have devised the ingenious strategy of naming the criminal Sharon or the evil Bush as our leader, which will, of course, force Israel to kill the person we select."

The official further noted that if the strategy proved successful, it would be adopted on a permanent basis. "If need be," he said, "We will employ this tactic indefinitely. We will certainly kill Sharon and Bush in this fashion, but we will likely extend its use to rid ourselves of Olmert, Netanyahu, Cheney, Rice, and the Jew Wolfowitz. In fact, if my wife does not silence herself about the leak in the guest tent, she may find herself the head of Hamas as well, Allah willing."

No Palestinians were willing to comment on the new tactic on the record, but the thousands of demonstrators who took to the streets today in Gaza City may have been alluding to it as they chanted in unison: "Sharon and Bush, your day of reckoning will come, on the day of Allah, when the eagle and fat bird will die, possibly killed by the Israeli menace who are their own brethren, who have terrorized Palestinians for generations, and you are probably wondering who the new leaders of Hamas are, but we will not tell you this until we feel like it, but by then it will be too late for the Zionist devil, who are the sons of pigs and monkeys, reviled by Allah and the prophet Mohammed."

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Re: JonBenet

Here's what I've taken away from the latest twist in the case: whether the douchebag sicko killed JonBenet or not, the NYT still has lousy copy editors.
Mr. Karr, like the Ramsey’s, have roots in the South.

It never gets old. Speaking of which, I am no longer as young as I once was. I guess that's supposed to be not good. I don't really seem to care that much. Sometimes I feel guilty that I don't care enough, so I try to act like I care more. Whatever. That's not the point. The point is that one thing I had always believed when I was a teenager was that even if getting old sucks, at least old people don't get pimples. I no longer believe that. Why am I using the same acne medication that most of the kids I tutor use? Strange.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Making Jewish mothers proud...

According to CNN,
Boaz Benmoshe, 44, and Ofer Moses Lupovitz, 43, were among seven people arrested last week and charged for investigation of pimping, pandering, perjury, loan fraud, money laundering, falsifying income tax returns and grand theft, Riverside County Sheriff Bob Doyle said Monday.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Scary Statistic

Okay, I get it. Somehow, "women's health" became the dominant concern of the those who study public health. Just like "women" are the dominant (or only?) concern of those involved in "gender studies." These things are just understood, and that would be fine, I guess - if it were left simply at that.

But apparently, it's not enough that women receive the bulk of our attention and concern; we must also be made to understand why women deserve disproportionate consideration. And that's where things get funny. Take this story from Reuters, for example. First, the article reports that Bill Gates is especially interested in AIDS prevention among women:
A cream, gel or pill that women can use to protect themselves from the AIDS virus is key to stopping the AIDS pandemic, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who has given hundreds of millions of dollars to HIV programs, said on Sunday.

But Reuters seems to think that Gates's endorsement does not sufficiently validate the female-centric philosophy being espoused. So the newswire segues into hard statistics:
The World Health Organization estimates that half of the 39 million people infected with the human immunodeficiency virus today are women, and HIV is mostly transmitted through sexual intercourse between a man and a woman.

Geez, 50% of AIDS victims are women. Shocking, just shocking.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Equal Opportunity Errors

Lest anyone conclude that abysmal editing is the exclusive domain of liberals in general or the NYT in particular (see here, here, and here), I bring you this gem from the Wall Street Journal:
Citi Cards Executive Vice President M.V. Rajamannar said response has been overwhelmingly positive so far, but the company is still monitoring customer activity to determine weather it will be worth it to expand the service to other products.

Monday, August 07, 2006

On Naming Bagel Stores

Keep passing this bagel store in Teaneck, NJ called "Three Star Bagel." As a matter of fact, I think I've seen a couple of these stores around - could be a chain, or perhaps a few like-minded small business owners. Whatever.

Does the name "Three Star Bagel" strike anyone else as strange? I mean, this isn't Communist Russia; here, the government isn't the leading bagel store operator. Probably not even in the top 10. Apparently, then, the owner of the Teaneck eatery actually chose to call his place "Three Star Bagel." Was he unaware that, um, there were more freaking stars available at no cost? Why not "Five Star Bagel"? You'd even save some money on the sign, four letters in the word instead of five. What's this dude afraid of - is the Cedar Lane division of Zagat just itching to bust a bagel joint for false advertising? "Sorry, bro, the celery in the tuna is too soggy. Five stars my ass. Afraid we're gonna have to shut you down."

Alright, I know, five stars is too pretentious for a bagel store? I hear that. Then how about "Four Star Bagel"? Sends just the right message - Teaneck's classy, upscale bagel destination.

But no. This guy's not having any of it. He Wants to send a different message. "Hi. Welcome to Three Star Bagel! Come inside and enjoy our mediocre cuisine and subpar service."

Friday, August 04, 2006

Where the heck is the Litani River?

Is it really that complicated? Apparently, yes.

NYTimes: some 15 miles north of the border

Reuters: some 20 km (13 miles) north of the border

CNN: Leaflets urging residents in southern Lebanon to leave their homes and move north of the Litani River, 25 miles (40 kilometers) from the Israeli border

AP (carried elsewhere): They said they could easily dash inland to the Litani River -- their final objective about 18 miles from the border...

The depth of Israel's planned penetration into Lebanon is rather important, no? Seemingly, it would affect the number of Israeli towns that would be in the range of various Hizbullah weaponry. Can no one pull out an atlas (or download one) and measure the distance? Am I missing something here?

And if the Litani varies in its distance from the Israeli border, wouldn't it make sense to mention that fact and perhaps supply a range of distances that reflect its position relative to Israeli territory?

C'mon, media people. Some among you are being either lazy or stupid.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Letting the terrorists win

During the last couple of weeks, I've been surprised by the number of analysts/pundits who have concluded that Israel is losing or has already lost in the current hostilities with Hizbollah. I'm not talking about the hippie Left, which always - and now is no exception (see here and here) - says that Israel's actions are illegal and ineffective. I'm talking about usually-sober analysts, supporters of Israel, who see no strategic advantage being accrued by the Jewish state in its ongoing battle against Hizbullah.

In this past Tuesday's Wall Street Journal, Brett Stephens argues that the aerial bombing of Lebanon has been essentially fruitless:

Israel is losing this war...The conflict with Hezbollah--a 15,000-man militia chiefly armed with World War II-era Katyusha rockets--is now in its 21st day. So far, Israel has nothing to show for its efforts: no enemy territory gained, no enemy leaders killed, no abatement in the missile barrage that has sent a million Israelis from their homes and workplaces. Generally speaking, wars are lost either militarily or politically. Israel is losing both ways.

Another popular critique, voiced by friends and enemies of Israel alike, is the notion that just by surviving, Hizbollah will have won. As Ralph Peters wrote last week in the NY Post, "All Hezbollah has to do to achieve victory is not to lose completely." An AP headline circulated in dozens of news outlets echoed the sentiment: "Survival may equal victory for Hezbollah."

Stephens's conclusions, I believe, are premature at best, and at least he openly acknowledges that the facts on the ground may soon change (and they do seem to be changing as Israel increases its ground presence in southern Lebanon). But the latter argument - that Hizbollah wins by not losing - strikes me as nonsensical. A tired trope from five years ago is being recycled in slightly different garb, and people are being taken in once again.

In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, you might recall, we were warned against doing all sorts of things lest "the terrorists win." We can't crack down on civil liberties, said the ACLU, because then "the terrorists win." People should go shopping, ride the subway, or invest in the stock market, lest "the terrorists win."

Of course, the whole "do x, or else the terrorists win" thing became a joke because of the way it was outlandishly applied to activities and behavior that clearly had nothing to do with the terrorists. However, I don't think that people fully appreciated the logical flaw in the argument in its application to increased security measures (and limiting of civil liberties). You see, the real reason it is stupid to say "if we make it harder to immigrate into America or harder to get on a bus without having your bag searched, then the terrorists win" is because the terrorists aren't trying to make us crack down on immigration or inconvenience bus passengers. What they are trying to do is kill us and overthrow our country. They've said as much, numerous times. It's a pretty simple equation: "dead Americans/destruction of America = terrorist victory." Inasmuch as curtailing civil liberties does nothing to further the terrorists' goals, and in fact might inhibit those goals, increasing security measures cannot be rightly considered a terrorist victory.

Let's try to apply the same sort of logic to the situation in Israel. The terrorist aim is to kill as many Israelis as possible and, ultimately, to destroy Israel. The only question that really matters, then, is how effective Israel has been and will be in foiling those aims and the pursuit of those aims by Hizbullah. This question, of course, is open to debate and should be debated. However, the idea that Hizbollah wins by simply not being destroyed is spurious. Sure, Nasrallah can claim victory and be adored by the Arab world and the European press (and populace?), but at the end of the day, all that matters is whether Israel shuts down Hizbullah's capacity to kill Israelis and threaten Israel.

So, on to the actual question. Is Israel on track in foiling the actual goals of Hizbollah? For my money, yes. Once again, Hizbollah can claim all the glorious victories of Allah they want, but the fact of the matter is - they're headed backward. Israeli troops are controlling an increasing area of southern Lebanon, and Hizbollah is already floating offers of a cease-fire to halt the punishing Israeli assault. Israel, thus far, is not biting, nor should it. As one Israeli official recently pointed out - if Hizbollah were to be given the choice of their current situation or the status quo of one month ago, the terrorists would much prefer the reality in early July to the current reality. When the enemy's actual present and future military capabilities are being degraded, does it really make sense to say that the enemy is winning?

One more point, which PM Olmert has actually said but has been mostly ignored. The fierce Israeli response to Hizbollah's activity is a (powerful) warning to the region. Whenever the UN or whatever other body finally enacts a ceasefire, my bet is that the ceasefire will hold - at least insofar as rockets are concerned. Israel is in the midst of establishing a very important precedent: you send missiles into our cities, you may get some of us, but we will make you pay - and it's going to be fucking expensive.

Last thing. There is solidarity in Lebanon now in favor of Hizbullah, but I'm guessing (well, hoping) that changes once the shooting stops and the Lebanese people are left to ponder how and why the country managed to squander peace and prosperity to satisfy the demented dream of a radical minority.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Another grammar post. Sorry (to everyone except Rebecca).

I can't DEAL with this shit. Why is America's best newspaper riddled with junior high grammar errors? The very first sentence of Sheryl Gay Stolberg's front-page story -
WASHINGTON, Aug. 1 — When they first met as United States president and Israeli prime minister, George W. Bush made clear to Ariel Sharon he would not follow in the footsteps of his father.
Does nobody copy edit this rag?

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