Saturday, December 31, 2005

Kidnapped In Gaza: The Logic That is Not

Kate Burton and her parents were freed in Gaza early this morning and taken to Israel after an international effort to secure their release.

Debka is reporting that the significant part of that effort was a British payment of a large sum of money to the terrorist outfit - The Mujahadeen Brigades in this case, a heretofore unknown group - but since that was too hard a pill for the British to swallow directly, the PA fronted the cash to the outfit, which will later be repaid to them by the British.

If this is true, the best we can say is that at least they didn't release another terrorist, the way Merkel did earlier this week.

Pirate society, indeed. Not much has changed, in some respects, from the 16th century.

Of course, the exchange is reported to be a "gesture of goodwill" in the British papers.

Ms. Burton, by the way, is a fluent Arabic speaker, who began working with Palestinian refugees while she was studying at the LSE. And her parents supported her decision to work in Gaza - first for the UN, but lately as a fundraiser for the al-Mezan human rights center.

Meanwhile, apparently Ms. Burton was called on her cellphone by one of her mates while held captive and assured them that she knew where she was being held and was fine. To another friend who called she said, “She was in a room and she knew where she was. ‘Don’t worry about me, I’m OK’.” Uh huh. Kidnapped and okay.

Though now she is safely in the British Embassy in Israel, she is planning on returning to Gaza to visit next week.

Given this background, it's not hard to imagine what her politics are. Unless she does not conform at all to type, next we'll hear about her going back to work in Gaza and, following on that perhaps, a Muslim conversion. One wonders how soon she' ll turn up in Britain or Europe and start denouncing Israel, with her words given extra authority because of her "ordeal".

If she was that okay the whole time, and in the end, "the transfer of money" [assuming Debka was correct that that took place] was in accord with her political sympathies, I think a little suspicion is in order here. Perhaps I'm wrong. We'll see, though, in the future, by what she spouts off in public.

UPDATE 1: What do you know. It's already started:
Ms Burton also told the BBC Arabic service she and her parents had been held in Rafah, southern Gaza, but that she could not say a bad word about her captors, who always asked whether they needed anything.
Ah yes, her kidnappers. Sweet fellows all.

Moreover, checkout the kaffiyeh that she's wearing at her release. That tells a large part of the story right there, doesn't it.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Turn About Is Fair Play

The Justice Department has opened up an investigation into how the NYTimes came to learn the details of the NSA program.

Notice how the AP phrases the reaction to the NSA spying scandal:
The story unleashed a firestorm of criticism of the administration. Some critics accused the president of breaking the law by authorizing intercepts of conversations -- without prior court approval or oversight -- of people inside the United States and abroad who had suspected ties to al-Qaida or its affiliates.
Interesting that they leave out the firestorm of criticism directed against the NYTimes for releasing the story, as well as the fact that the existence of this program and the President's defense of it appeared to lift Bush's poll rating numbers.

Michelle Malkin comments: The chickens will be coming home to roost at the Times, which crusaded loudly for a special prosecutor in Plamegate. Any bets on how long it will take for Eric Lichtblau and James Risen to roll over? I'd guess a few weeks after Risen's book launch.

Yep, I predicted that point a while ago: Let's see how James Risen likes his jail cell when he refuses to divulge the name of the agent who tipped him off illegally. Because you know if it goes against the policy of the current US Administration, Risen is not going to squawk.

As Macranger puts it: When the President of the United States presumes something is taking place, that's "Washington Speak" for it had better be damn well underway.


He also reports that other leaks - such as into the CIA Prison leak - are also under way.

And about time.

Not incidentally, that may be the reason Dana Priest forgot to include much information in her leak today - perhaps she doesn't want to be warming up a prison cell herself.

Strata-Sphere point out, based on this Newsday story that the NSA initiated the probe - and that CNN is reporting that many inside the government feel the leak has severely impacted intelligence efforts.

Border InSecurity

The border between Gaza and Egypt, currently monitored by Europeans - oh yeah, that's working out well:
Palestinian policemen angry over the killing of a fellow officer stormed the Gaza-Egypt border crossing Friday, firing shots in the air and forcing European monitors to close the border and flee, Palestinian and European officials said.

About 100 policemen entered the Rafah compound and took up positions alongside border patrol officers at the customs section of the crossing, Palestinian security officials and witnesses said.

The European observers - responsible for monitoring the crossing and ensuring the terms of an Israeli-Palestinian agreement are upheld - fled the area, officials said.
The officials are now in Israel, in the Kerem Shalom military base, awaiting the moment when the Palestinian policemen leave so they can go back to work.

Huh? Who Knew The CIA Was Running Covert Programs?

The hordes of disgruntled ex-CIA types are at it again, tossing their pearls of wisdom into Dana Priest's ear:

"In the past, presidents set up buffers to distance themselves from covert action," said A. John Radsan, assistant general counsel at the CIA from 2002 to 2004. "But this president, who is breaking down the boundaries between covert action and conventional war, seems to relish the secret findings and the dirty details of operations."

Gee, that's surprising. Because this fight against terrorism is an entirely a conventional war - every bit of it fought on the battlefield with known combatants. So it is utterly shocking that this boundary between covert action and conventional war would be overturned.

And then old Dana let's us know this complete shocker:

Bush has never publicly confirmed the existence of a covert program, but he was recently forced to defend the approach in general terms, citing his wartime responsibilities to protect the nation. In November, responding to questions about the CIA's clandestine prisons, he said the nation must defend against an enemy that "lurks and plots and plans and wants to hurt America again."

I'm shocked, shocked to find that covert programs are going on here. Who knew they were actually running covert programs during this war? You know, I was under the impression that Peter Goss was streamlining the CIA as a first step before dismantling it altogether.

The administration contends it is still acting in self-defense after the Sept. 11 attacks, that the battlefield is worldwide, and that everything it has approved is consistent with the demands made by Congress on Sept. 14, 2001, when it passed a resolution authorizing "all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons [the president] determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks."

And I thought the Global War on Terror was just a codename for Bushitler's covert program to spy on Howard Dean and friends.

The interpretation undergirds the administration's determination not to waver under public protests or the threat of legislative action. For example, after The Washington Post disclosed the existence of secret prisons in several Eastern European democracies, the CIA closed them down because of an uproar in Europe. But the detainees were moved elsewhere to similar CIA prisons, referred to as "black sites" in classified documents.

Oh no! They didn't let the nice terrorists go free so we could expend money and time and blood in capturing them again. I mean, isn't that why they call it the great game?

Naturally the Washington Post is the organization I think of as the first line of defense against the terrorists. So their articles exposing national security secrets should decide who goes free.

Written findings are required by the National Security Act of 1947 before the CIA can undertake a covert action. A covert action may not violate the Constitution or any U.S. law. But such actions can, and often do, violate laws of the foreign countries in which they take place, said intelligence experts.

Oh yeah. Who would have thought that covert actions are illegal in foreign countries? I'm shocked! shocked! once again.

When the CIA wanted new rules for interrogating important terrorism suspects the White House gave the task to a small group of lawyers within the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel who believed in an aggressive interpretation of presidential power.

The White House tightened the circle of participants involved in these most sensitive new areas. It initially cut out the State Department's general counsel, most of the judge advocates general of the military services and the Justice Department's criminal division, which traditionally dealt with international terrorism.

Should they have handed them to a group of lawyers in line with the ACLU?

Moreover, the rhetoric of the second paragraph is specious. Letting us know that the Justice Department's criminal division "traditionally" dealt with international terrorism - well, gee. Isn't that kind of approach one of the very things that got us into this mess. Many people agree, though clearly not Dana Priest, that treating terrorist actions against the US as a criminal act rather than an act of war was shortsighted and a failed policy. So it's traditional only in the sense that that was policy for a time in the US, and it no longer is. Because of the failure of that same policy.

"John Rizzo is a classic D.O. lawyer. He understands the culture, the intelligence business," Radsan said. "He admires the case officers. And they trust him to work out tough issues in the gray with them. He is like a corporate lawyer who knows how to make the deal happen."

Working out tough issues in the gray area. Who knew that covert programs would need such legal applications?

Rizzo must be evil - he's like a corporate lawyer -- and a successful one. Scary thought!

CIA and Office of Legal Counsel lawyers also determined that it was legal for suspects to be secretly detained in one country and transferred to another for the purposes of interrogation and detention -- a process known as "rendition."

Nice job of leaving out that rendition was Bill Clinton's policy. Well, we couldn't mention that, could we. It would ruin the entire ideological bent of the entire piece.

Duane R. "Dewey" Clarridge, who directed the CIA's covert efforts to support the Nicaraguan contras in the 1980s, said the nature of CIA work overseas is, and should be, risky and sometimes ugly. "You have a spy agency because the spy agency is going to break laws overseas. If you don't want it to do those dastardly things, don't have it. You can have the State Department."

Yes. Finally someone in this bizarre piece states the obvious.

But of course Dana Priest can't leave it alone at this point. So she ends on this note.

But a former CIA officer said the agency "lost its way" after Sept. 11, rarely refusing or questioning an administration request. The unorthodox measures "have got to be flushed out of the system," the former officer said. "That's how it works in this country."

Notice that he's a former CIA officer. Anonymous too. I wonder just when he got to be former. Say, sometime after Peter Goss became director and began to streamline the CIA and remove the chaff?

Cliff May is proposing some guesses as to what GST stands for: "Gosh, Sucks, Tut-tut.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Hasidic Comings And Goings

On the recommendation of Robert Avrech at Seraphic Secret, two nights ago I went to see Ushpizin. Ushpizin, an odd sounding word to ears accustomed to English, simply means guests in Aramaic. Anyway, I loved the film, which does - hands down - the best job of portraying what the spiritual internality of life is like among (some) Bretslover Jews (a sect of hassidic Jews), living in Yerushalayim.

Sure, in some ways the story is neatened up and simplified and idealized, but, then, in other ways it is not at all. The story is about the tests that impede the attainment of a simple faith.

Moshe, the protagonist, is a baal tshuva, someone who was formerly not religious, has repented and has turned his life around to become religious in a strict hassidic sect. At the start of the film, he's broke and childless, someone who collects charity for the yeshivah and lives on charity himself - and is not succeeding very well with either task. It's not fully explained in the film, but I wonder if he takes on this task of being entirely beholden to people's good will, their charity, because in his former life he appeared to be a bully and, there's an implication, somewhat of a thief. Anyway, he hung out with the criminal class. So now, to make up for that, he's putting himself in the opposite existential situation, with a desire not to push or bully anyone into giving him charity, an approach that doesn't work altogether well. His path to repentance, he feels intuitively, is steeper than that of other people.

But as Moshe's rebbe reminds us, the reward for passing a spiritual test is not rest or peace, but to be stuck with another, more difficult spiritual test.

As I mentioned above, this film illuminates the content of the spiritual reality in this corner of the world. People who are engaged in actively trying to make themselves into better human beings on a spiritual plane. Extremely limited externally because the focus is inward. On trying to improve yourself according to the biblical model.

Anyway, I recommend this film, especially for people interested in religious life and/ or expressions of Jewish spirituality. And for people who know nothing about this kind of lifestyle, it's good for an anthropological excursion.

Just as an autobiographical note, I was once quite good friends with someone who married a Bretslover and moved to Safed. And I spent a lot of time up there with them at one point.

I also enjoy reading Rabbi Nachman of Bretslov's collected writings - he was the founder of Bretslov, and he has this very interesting aphoristic style. Profound little nuggets offered up in his collected writings.


And now for the other side of the spectrum, for hasidic Jews moving into a secular life style, there is now a New York group that receives some grant money to help individuals with this huge transition.
Footsteps, a two-year-old Manhattan-based nonprofit group ... helps dropouts from the haredi world transition into secular society.

No one knows how many American Jews have left the fervently Orthodox fold, although most are believed to have come from the New York area. There are no statistics, and, until Footsteps was created, no organization to help them learn how to make it on the outside.

While the organized Jewish world doesn't usually think of hassidic dropouts as "Jews in need," outsiders can't begin to imagine how frightening and complicated the everyday world can seem to a person who only knows the carefully controlled cocoon of Satmar, Skver or Bobov.

Particularly for a young person, whose departure can be hasty and unplanned, the road out of the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Williamsburg or Crown Heights is fraught with confusion and loneliness - and sometimes drug abuse.

Snow Monkey

Snow Monkey relaxing in a hot spring in Jigokudani-Onsen, Japan, as the country is hit by heavy snowfall.

Robert Kaplan Redux

Glenn points to the transcript of Hugh Hewitt's interview with Robert Kaplan, earlier today. Like all the Kaplan links I've seen this week, it's another fascinating read.

Earlier in the week I posted some Kaplan links here.

This link in particular, an interview with him at The American Enterprise called "Live with TAE: Robert Kaplan," about his impressions of the current military gained by living in close proximity to them, is well worth reading.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Sadly, Mr. Daoud, You are NOT following the program!

UPDATE at end

Spielberg's therapy program for peace, that is.

According to Spielberg, if only Israelis and Palestinians would get together and talk and hug and cry together and look at amateur films of each other's lives (a program he has planned for 2006), then intractable geo-political problems would melt away like so much pollution into the dissolving ozone. Which is the reason, Mr. Spielberg and his corps of actors...

...[S]pent three weeks
re-creating the Munich massacre in Malta and Hungary, with Arab actors from Syria, Iran, Libya, Egypt and France playing the terrorists and Israeli actors playing the Israeli athletes. None of the actors had read the entire script, only their small portion.

“It was just very, very difficult for me to play war with them,” says Spielberg. “With real people from the real regions, and then to be staging these scenes of brutality as well as compassion. And it was — it was brutal and cathartic at the same — all in the same breath, to stage a scene where Jews have been killed and then I say, 'Cut.' The Palestinian with the Kalashnikov throws his weapon down and runs over to the Israeli actor who is on the ground and picks the actor up and falls into the Israeli's arms and is sobbing. And then the Israeli actors and the Arab actors all running into this kind of circle and everybody is crying and holding each other.”

“It wasn't like we all held hands and sang, 'Let's give peace a chance,' ” says Kushner, who was on the set every day. “People were very careful, and really sympathized with one another. Everybody arrived sort of saying, 'I know this is hard for you coming from where you're coming from.' ” Kushner has seen this before, working with Israeli and Palestinian actors both in Israel and the territories. “There's a real — sometimes it's clumsy, sometimes it's not — but a real desire to say, 'OK, we're trying to speak to one another across an enormous divide.' ”
Yet, despite this extremely cathartic approach to an intractable geo-political problem, sadly Mr. Daoud will not get on board.
The Palestinian mastermind of the Munich Olympics attack in which 11 Israeli athletes died said on Tuesday he had no regrets and that Steven Spielberg's new film about the incident would not deliver reconciliation.
Uh oh! But poor Mr Spielberg made the move in order to help bring peace! Think about all the people you will be disappointing, Mr. Daoud.

All we can imagine is that perhaps he has not yet had enough crying and hugging sessions with his counterparts in Israel to be serious about making peace.
"We did not target Israeli civilians," [Daoud] said.

"Some of them (the athletes) had taken part in wars and killed many Palestinians. Whether a pianist or an athlete, any Israeli is a soldier."
What's with the buckets of negative energy there!

Would a colonic help with that?

Spielberg's producer, Kathleen Kennedy, told a preview audience at Princeton University that a Palestinian consultant was used for "Munich". She did not say who it was.
What!? They're not afraid, are they, that if they reveal his name, he might be assassinated as a collaborator or something? Dude! That's so unhip!

UPDATE: But then it occurs to me, Mr. Daoud has the right to be pissed! After all, Michael Moore used Hezbollah to distribute Fahrenheit 911 in Lebanon. And what! Mr. Daoud hasn't even rated a private screening!! That's just so unfair!

Previous posts on this subject:

Another Review of Munich
Take The Poll On Munich In Ha'aretz
Spinning Munich Into Gold
Roger Friedman Doesn't Do Irony
An Oscar For Munich?
Not Faster Please
The Final Irony
Updating Spielberg
Et tu, Brute?

[Hat Tip: The Corner]

Unwarranted Tails

Well Lookee Here!

Democrat Talking Point Number One on the Bush NSA Wiretap Kerfuffle: In its entire history, the FISA court has only 5 times rejected a request for wiretapping. It's the easiest court in the world to get a warrant from.

Now it turns out that the truth is a little bit different than the fairytale the Democrat's have spun for us.
U.S. President George Bush decided to skip seeking warrants for international wiretaps because the court was challenging him at an unprecedented rate.

A review of Justice Department reports to Congress by Heart newspapers shows the 26-year-old Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court modified more wiretap requests from the Bush administration than the four previous presidential administrations combined.

The 11-judge court that authorizes FISA wiretaps modified only two search warrant orders out of the 13,102 applications approved over the first 22 years of the court's operation.

But since 2001, the judges have modified 179 of the 5,645 requests for surveillance by the Bush administration, the report said. A total of 173 of those court-ordered "substantive modifications" took place in 2003 and 2004. And, the judges also rejected or deferred at least six requests for warrants during those two years -- the first outright rejection of a wiretap request in the court's history.
Of those 179 court-ordered modified requests, a total of 173 of them were "substantive modifications."

The presumption in the second article I cited, from the Seattle-Post Intelligencer is that this is an obvious abuse of power by the President. The article, by Stewart Powell, even ends with a little quotation about how this obviously parallels Nixon-era abuses of intelligence agencies. And this, of course, is going to be the way that the Democrat's spin this new factor as well.

Hmm. Was Nixon spying on Al Qaeda, too? Although during his Administration, the Democrats certainly had active sleeper cells across the country, but had they successfully blown up the Pentagon and the Empire State Building? Was there a domestic anthrax scare? I can't say that I recall that.

Meanwhile there is significant evidence that this program has deterred terrorism .

[D]amage there almost certainly would be were the program to be ended, as many Democrats and many in the mainstream media would like. Gen. Michael Hayden, former director of NSA and now deputy national intelligence director, has come forward to say, "This program has been successful in detecting and preventing attacks inside the United States."

I think we can assume that this story will keep on working as the NYTimes' unexpected Christmas present to the Bush Administration.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Happy Hanukah -- some factoids

For those wanting a serious but easily readable account of the history of the period surrounding Hanukah, I recommend the short but spectacularly clear and impressively researched, From Ezra to the Last of the Maccabees by Elias Bickerman. It's a classic in the field. Out of print currently, but available second hand.

And just a refresher on who the Seleucids were - the enemy that the Maccabees fought off during the holiday that came to be known as Hanukah. After the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BCE, his Empire split and in the following decades eventually sorted itself into four main section. Ptolemy, one of Alexander's former cavalry General, took Egypt and the Levant - producing the line of Kings that most famously ended with Cleopatra. Cassander, the son of Antipater, who had governed in Macedon and Greece during Alexander's absence - and who ended up killing Alexander's mother and wife and legitimate son - ruled in Macedon and the majority of Greek states, Lysimachus, the son of Alexander's general, ruled in Thrace and Asia Minor.

And after a series of battles to establish his control extending for 18 years, Seleucus I, pictured below, ended up with control of the area from Syria to the Indus River, which today comprises Iraq, Iran and the west of Pakistan.

On a related archaeological note, Ancient Modi'in was the home of the Hasmoneans, the heroes of the Hanukah narrative. Yet no one knows today precisely where ancient Modi'in is located.

The two most likely sites are Titurah Hill in current Modi'in, and an Arab village named Umm al-Umdan. Um al-Umdan contains the ruins of an impressive Hasmonean era synagogue, one of the earliest yet found, which continued in use, with a mikveh, until the time of the Bar Kochba period in 135. The synagogue ruins show that that the town possessed more religious significance at the time than one would suspect from the size of the village.

Titurah Hill, in contrast, is a far larger excavation site. The kind of site that could support the type of monumental architecture that the Hasmoneans liked to build. And there is one other factor as well.
On a clear day you can see the sea from there. From Umm al-Umdan, as well as another site mentioned as possibly being Hasmonean Modi'in, this is not possible. This fact accords with the description in Maccabees I, chapter 13, about the burial plot built by Simon son of Mattathias for his family. According to the description, the burial structure was tall and impressive. It included seven small pyramids and large columns with attractive carving that the sailors could see as well. In other words, from the hill one could see the sea. According to a description written hundreds of years after the death of the Hasmoneans, the burial plot remained in place for a long time afterward. It is described in manuscripts from the Byzantine period, by historian Eusebius in the fourth century CE, and on the sixth-century Madaba map. Crusaders who came to the Land of Israel during the 12th and 13th centuries also reported seeing it. But about 400 years ago, the reports about the Hasmonean graves ended.

Ari Shafran also has a piece in the JPost on the meaning of Hanukah.
Hanukka is not a Biblical holiday; it is based on an historical occurrence that took place after Biblical times. But it is the focus of a substantial amount of Jewish thought and lore, particularly in the mystical tradition...

[A]ccording to Jewish tradition, the victory celebrated on Hanukka was only superficially about the routing of the Greek-Syrian Seleucid Empire's forces from Judea. More essentially, it was about the routing of the Greek assimilationist inroads into Jewish life. To the rabbis who established the holiday, a greater enemy than the flesh-and-blood forces that had defiled the Holy Temple was the adoption by Jews of Hellenistic ideals.
For an easy visual that just might summon the required disdain and contempt, imagine to oneself an entire horde of Tony Kushner, Adam Shapiro and Noam Chomsky types, all of them flaunting their literal (rather than symbolic) reversed circumcisions, execising naked at the gym and prepared to swear that their way was the best way forward for the Jews.

Okay, I'm mostly kidding there. Er, mostly.

Back to the article.
For the Seleucids not only forbade observance of the Sabbath, circumcision, Jewish modesty and the study of Torah, they convinced some Jews to embrace their world-view. They installed not only a statue of Zeus in the Temple, but an assimilationist attitude in Jewish hearts. And Hanukka stands for the uprooting of that attitude, for the recognition that Jews are, and must be, different.

Which is why Hanukka's observance does not involve a special feast - as does Purim's, when the threat against us was physical - but rather only the lighting, and gazing at, the ethereal light of candles. The battle of Hanukka was, in its essence, a spiritual one. Light represents Torah. And Torah - its study and its observance - is the essence of the Jewish people. "A bit of light," as the rabbis of the Talmud put it, "banishes much darkness."
Well, I think Shafran goes overboard a bit in this explanation. In historical terms, the army and the apparatus of the state that the Jews had to fight against was massive - a tiny nation against a local superpower. While the assimilationists, no doubt, were deeply troubling, the real immediate problem was the spiritual oppression caused by the military power.

In later years, after the rabbinic arose, the rabbis were of course free to re-interpret this threat however they wanted to, an interpretation that no doubt shifted depending on the threats that the Jewish people were at that time facing, whether external or internal.

However, I do like Shafran's drusha about why Hanukah, rather uniquely, has no feast, but is a holiday represented by the lighting of candles at night, giving off an ethereal light. To represent the spiritual connection still aflaunt. It starts off a slender thread, but one candle. Yet by the end of the holiday, it's a large cluster of lights. A rather beautiful image.

Not So Sweet This Time Around

Remember the mysterious sweet smell in NY a few months back which put people in the mind of french toast and pancakes? Which re-aired about a month back for a few hours. And gave some people the jitters because they thought they were smelling a chemical attack.

Now Russia has its own version. But it's much less sweet smelling.

A gas smelling of garlic hurt dozens of Russian shoppers when it was released into a supermarket on Monday in the city of St Petersburg, but police ruled out a terrorist attack.

And unfortunately in their case, the terrorism fears may be justified:

Local media quoted prosecutors as saying the gas was methyl mercaptan, a compound added to domestic gas to give it its odor which is poisonous in large quantities.

Other pipe bombs were found in the shop that had not diffused. 66 people were hospitalized.

As Captain Ed points out, the Russians are very intent on calling this not terrorism, and instead, a form of Russian market competition:

Their explanation now states that the attack comes from competition between Makisdom and rival shops in the same market as their handyman business. In other words, think Macys vs. Gimbels -- if Macy's was run by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Gimbels by Carlos the Jackal.

This explanation reflects a ludicrous level of denial. Of course these attacks constitute terrorism; they're designed to inflict fear on civilians for a specific effect, even if the Russians have correctly identified the perpetrators and their motivations, which sounds doubtful in the extreme to me.

He also points out, that if Russian commercial enterprises now have access to this kind of technology and are willing to use them, imagine what the real terrorists will do.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Thanking the Military UPDATE

A nice tale for Christmas about thanking those who sacrifice in the military from the LATimes.

In order to thank the military, it helps to understand military culture. And you won't get much of that from the mainstream press these days, except for fare which seems to register only as lip-service.

Which makes it even more surprising to find this piece in the LATimes, from Robert D. Kaplan of the troops on the ground in Iraq.
IF YOU WANT to meet the future political leaders of the United States, go to Iraq. I am not referring to the generals, or even the colonels. I mean the junior officers and enlistees in their 20s and 30s. In the decades ahead, they will represent something uncommon in U.S. military history: war veterans with practical experience in democratic governance, learned under the most challenging of conditions.

For several weeks, I observed these young officers working behind the scenes to organize the election in Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city. They arranged for the sniffer dogs at the polling stations and security for the ballots right up to the moment Iraqi officials counted them. They arranged the outer ring of U.S. military security, with inner ones of Iraqi soldiers and police at each polling station, even as they were careful to give the Iraqis credit for what they, in fact, were doing. The massive logistical exercise of holding an election in a city of 2.1 million people was further complicated by the fact that the location of many polling stations changed at the last minute to prevent terrorist attacks.

Throughout Iraq, young Army and Marine captains have become veritable mayors of micro-regions, meeting with local sheiks, setting up waste-removal programs to employ young men, dealing with complaints about cuts in electricity and so on. They have learned to arbitrate tribal politics, to speak articulately and to sit through endless speeches without losing patience.

I watched Lt. John Turner of Indianapolis get up on his knees from a carpet while sipping tea with a former neighborhood mukhtar and plead softly: "Sir, I am willing to die for a country that is not my own. So will you resume your position as mukhtar? Brave men must stand forward. Iraq's wealth is not oil but its civilization. Trust me by the projects I bring, not by my words."

Turner, a D student in high school, got straightened out as an enlisted man in the Coast Guard before earning a degree from Purdue and becoming an Army officer. He is one of what Col. Michael Shields, commander of the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team in Mosul, calls his "young soldier-statesmen."

Throughout Iraq, young Army and Marine captains have become veritable mayors of micro-regions, meeting with local sheiks, setting up waste-removal programs to employ young men, dealing with complaints about cuts in electricity and so on. They have learned to arbitrate tribal politics, to speak articulately and to sit through endless speeches without losing patience.

I watched Lt. John Turner of Indianapolis get up on his knees from a carpet while sipping tea with a former neighborhood mukhtar and plead softly: "Sir, I am willing to die for a country that is not my own. So will you resume your position as mukhtar? Brave men must stand forward. Iraq's wealth is not oil but its civilization. Trust me by the projects I bring, not by my words."

Turner, a D student in high school, got straightened out as an enlisted man in the Coast Guard before earning a degree from Purdue and becoming an Army officer. He is one of what Col. Michael Shields, commander of the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team in Mosul, calls his "young soldier-statesmen."
And while we are on the subject of Robert Kaplan, The American Enterprise has a fantastic interview with him, "Live with TAE: Robert Kaplan" up in the January/February edition of its online journal, Whatever Happened to Small Government? about his impressions of the current military gained by living in close proximity to them.

In fact, the interview is so good, I just bought Kaplan's book: Imperial Grunts.

Hat Tip on the TAE interview: Seraphic Secret

Christmas Serenity

Two days ago, Instapundit was worried he was not going to receive his Serenity DVD by Christmas. But he got it yesterday despite the email message that Amazon sent him informing him of a later date.

My Amazon package with Serenity package shipped Thursday evening and my confirming email said I would only receive the package by 1/05/06 since I had requested free shipping. However, I received it early this morning. A nice Christmas Hanukah surprise. Ever since they instituted that overnight yearly rate, I've found I'm getting my packages -- shipped for free -- at a faster rate. Which is among the things that keeps me going back to them.

You know the thing I really miss after Christmas? The fact that all those Christmas trees, with their wonderful, complex aromas, are taken off the streets. And there is even less green around the streets. It makes winter feel bleaker after Christmas.

Download the Basics of Battlestar Galactica

At iTunes, apple is offering a free 21 minute download which reviews the plotlines of BGS up until mid 2nd season. Unfortunately, while it's free, and though you can download it through free itunes, it is also in IPOD size, which makes it really annoying to watch, unless you like two inch screens.

Apparently it is going to be played at some point on sci-fi channel in early January, but for those who don't get that, this might be one way to catch up without watching everything.

UPDATE: BTW, once the video is playing on the tiny screen, if you drag it into the center, it makes a new screen you can adjust as large as you like! Though it loses some of the excellent resolution of the 2" size.

UPDATE II: Time Magazine votes BSG No. 1 show of the year. Not that I agree with their simplistic interpretation of the show. But does that mean there will be emmies?

And Prison Break, a show I almost enjoy, except the ridiculous arcania of its external vice-presidential plot, is no 9.

Take The Poll On Munich In Ha'aretz

Take The Poll in Ha'aretz as to what you think of Munich!!

By the way, NOT having seen the film is no bar to having an opinion!

The great majority of those polled have not seen the movie and hate it anyway!!!!

UPDATE: Commendations to my co blogger Judith at KesherTalk who ran an excellent series on Munich yesterday! Well worth your time perusing.

The American Thinker is also running a series by Kate Wright on why not to see Munich - which stands for appeasement. Where Wright points out something I did not know as yet, that the French version of Muich is going to be called Vengeance. Which puts the story in a wholly different light.

Vengenace is the name of the specious book about the Munich reprisal, based on the account of a man falsely claiming to be a Mossad agent. His claim has been debunked.

UPDATE: James Lileks applies the Munich angle to other Hollywood scrips in the war on terror.

Other posts on this subject:

Another Review of Munich
Spinning Munich Into Gold
Roger Friedman Doesn't Do Irony
An Oscar For Munich?
Not Faster Please
The Final Irony
Updating Spielberg
Et tu, Brute?

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

A bit disingenuous

Sen. Pat Roberts, chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, responds to John Rockefeller's " deep concerns about the Bush administration's warrantless domestic surveillance program," other known as his CYA letter.
"In his letter ... Senator Rockefeller asserts that he had lingering concerns about the program designed to protect the American people from another attack, but was prohibited from doing anything about it," Mr. Roberts said in a statement yesterday. "A United States Senator has significant tools with which to wield power and influence over the executive branch. Feigning helplessness is not one of those tools." ...

If Mr. Rockefeller had these concerns, Mr. Roberts said, he could have raised them with him or other members of Congress who had been briefed on the program.

"I have no recollection of Senator Rockefeller objecting to the program at the many briefings he and I attended together," Mr. Roberts said. "In fact, it is my recollection that on many occasions Senator Rockefeller expressed to the vice president his vocal support for the program," most recently, "two weeks ago."

About those Green Rays Emanating...

Yaakov Lappin, from Ynet, explains more about the context in which Ahmadi Nejad was videotaped speaking about the light surrounding him in the UN. And what this entails for the way he should be "handled".
A revealing video has recently appeared on an Iranian website,, showing Ahmadinejad visiting a Shiite spiritual leader. Ahmadinejad did not seem to be fully aware that he was being filmed. He sat on the floor by his religious mentor, and calmly described his recent address to the United Nations, which he began with the words “in the name of Allah,” and which was peppered with Koranic references (one news network later described that speech as “intellectual.”)

The Iranian president described a “glow of light” that he thought surrounded him as he spoke, “I felt that all of a sudden the atmosphere changed there, and for 27-28 minutes all the leaders did not blink,” he said.

"I am not exaggerating when I say they did not blink; it's not an exaggeration, because I was looking. They were astonished as if a hand held them there and made them sit. It had opened their eyes and ears for the message of the Islamic Republic,” said the belligerent ruler of a country on the verge of acquiring the technology to produce nuclear weapons.
Given the sobering news about how Iran, or Iranian sympathizing Shi'ites may have manipulated the recent election, Ahmadi Nejad's mental state and spiritual preoccupation with the desire to hasten the arrival of the Mahdi "to rule the earth just before the last day of time," to convert everyone to the Shi'ite doctrine of Islam needs some sober analysis.

Smackdown on NSA

I'd like to see a smackdown between Andy McCarthy and Bruce Fein on this NSA spying stuff. But the media would never do it, not with those two.

And Orin Kerr and Jonathan Turley can join in, too.

By the way, not that this is in the least surprising, but this NSA kerfuffle was, according to The NY Observer, the culmination of a 14-month struggle. That's right, it was first planned as an October Surprise for last year's Presidential election. I guess the spector of hollow man Dan Rather was too sobering for them to use it as planned in October, though.

Here's what I'm really forward to in the next few days. The campaign of denunciation about the NYTimes from the left, complaining they had the ability to lose Bush the election and sat on the story, partisan rightist hacks that they are!!!

You know it's coming. Just sit back and enjoy the show.

UPDATE: Don't you just love Cheney! [ Well I know not everyone does. But I do ]

Here's he speaking to some reporters aboard his plane yesterday:

Q Do you not understand, though, that some Americans are concerned to hear that their government is eavesdropping on these private conversations?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: What private conversations?

Q The private conversations between Americans and people overseas.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Which people overseas?

Q You tell me.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: It's important that you be clear that we're talking about individuals who are al Qaeda or have an association with al Qaeda, who we have reason to believe are part of that terrorist network. There are two requirements, and that's one of them. It's not just random conversations. If you're calling Aunt Sadie in Paris, we're probably not really interested....

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Either we're serious about fighting the war on terror or we're not. Either we believe that there are individuals out there doing everything they can to try to launch more attacks, to try to get ever deadlier weapons to use against, or we don't. The President and I believe very deeply that there's a hell of a threat, that it's there for anybody who wants to look at it. And that our obligation and responsibility given our job is to do everything in our power to defeat the terrorists. And that's exactly what we're doing.

Some reassurance on Cameron

David Cameron, elected last month in Britain to head the Tory party, has been seen to this point as pretty much of a blank slate. Here's some reassuring news about his views on Foreign Policy, from Brendan Simms, writing in The New Republic:
Cameron has long supported the British deployment in Iraq; at first this did not distinguish him from the reflexive "back our troops" rhetoric of the Conservative mainstream. But in fact, Cameron, a committed hawk and idealist, has clear and controversial views on the removal of Saddam Hussein and the war on terror....

In short, Cameron is much more a neoconservative or liberal interventionist than a traditional Tory guardian of the national interest. Cameron himself has acknowledged this distinction, saying that "As a Conservative, whose natural instincts are to be wary of grand schemes and ambitious projects for the remaking of society, I had my concerns about the scale of what is being attempted [in Iraq]." But he appears to have put such doubts aside. Some of those closest to Cameron in the parliamentary party, such as Michael Gove, Ed Vaizey, and George Osborne, are neoconservatives...Cameron recalled the former conservative leader William Hague, a staunch and unrepentant supporter of Saddam's removal, to the front bench as shadow foreign secretary.
All of this sounds much more hopeful than the hollow opportunism of Michael Howard, the previous Tory leader.

UPDATE: Stephen Pollard has an interesting tidbit on the question who is Blair's real air, Cameron or Gordon Brown.

The Smuggling Trade

Interesting look at the dynamics of smuggling alcohol from Iraq to Iran.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

For All Yo Bleeding Heart Conservatives Out There!

Sign the petition to help stop the slaughter of Wid Horses in America's West.

Another Review of Munich

James Bowman from the NYSun reviews Munich.

He calls it Spielberg's statement of moral equivalence.

Apparently this is what we learn from Munich:
* Revenge is an uncivilized, savage act that lowers the revenger to the level of his victim. As a result, there is always a certain moral equivalence between killer and victim.

* Engaging in revenge perpetuates a cycle of violence.

* Those who are caught up in this cycle and who kill in cold blood often suffer terrible agonies of conscience: nightmares, paranoia, substance abuse, and other manifestations of what we have learned to call post-traumatic stress disorder.

* From governments of all kinds, corruption, violence, and lack of human compassion is to be expected.

* Therefore, one should put loyalty to one's family and friends ahead of loyalty to one's country.

This is a trick Mr. Spielberg has tried before. In "Saving Private Ryan" he showed little Matt Damon in front of the war graves in Normandy, questioning whether or not he was a good person - as if the deaths of so many men and the massive global project of defeating the Nazis had all been for the sake of little Matt and his precious self-esteem.
So, if you go to war, you have to come back and whine about it and feel really, really guilty, and apostrophize yourself for all the bad, bad things you did. Flog your soul.

And what "public" hero of recent days does this remind us of? Why, entertainingly enough, John Kerry. Who so bravely came back from Vietnam and confessed to all the massacres and the tortures that the (other) troops participated in. And do you remember those snippets we heard during the campaign about how he still suffered from nightmares. (Remember that story about his wrecking some lamp when he was a guest in filmmaker George Butler's house.)

This is the right and proper way to act, comrades. Soldiers absolve themselves through public self-criticism. Indeed, this reaction makes Kerry/Avner indubitably a hero for our day. And so much for the noble self-restraint of the Greatest Generation! Which makes it fairly clear that Spielberg didn't really understand his subject matter in Saving Private Ryan. But that's a tangent.

Later in Bowman's review we learn that the only proper fate for such a "hero", who now is only loyal to his family and has had it with his country, is to become a yorad, that is, someone who "descends" from the land of Israel to live elsewhere. Avner, the "hero" of Munich, moves to Brooklyn. (Ostensibly he now feels no loyalty to America, either, but that's just a typical by the bye.)

However, despite this compelling inner need of the Jewish terrorist assassin "former Mossad Agent" to leave Israel behind, he still needs to feel "Jewish" in some meaningful sense. And how does the movie define Jewishness in this context?

According to Bowman, "Being Jewish to him means being righteous." He can be a killer, but he must be one who feels bad about it. And one who, quite properly, no longer lives in the land of Israel.

Well, isn't that interesting?

What is it we know about Tony Kushner's rabid anti-Zionism? That he thinks the State of Israel is terrible for Jews, because it has debased them morally from their pure victim status. Thus, given Israel's terrible effect on the moral state of the Jews, the best thing to do is not to live in the Zionist entity, etc. You get the picture.

So, Avner, the protagonist of Vengeance, which is a false narrative of the Israeli response to Munich (in the sense that, historically speaking, it is based on a specious work that has been debunked ), becomes the vehicle for preaching Tony Kushner's Torah to other Jews.

The state of Israel itself works the debasement on the moral state of individuals, so that in the end, the sensitive Jew, the Jew who feels guilty, the righteous Jew, must leave Israel and come to America.

Welcome to the Nut House.

Former posts on this subject:

Take The Poll On Munich In Ha'aretz
Spinning Munich Into Gold
Roger Friedman Doesn't Do Irony
An Oscar For Munich?
Not Faster Please
The Final Irony
Updating Spielberg
Et tu, Brute?

Monday, December 19, 2005

It's sheik to be educated!

This is one of the funniest things I've ever read - A compendium of European History, from actual University Essays.

Thank you Norm Geras for the tip.

About Tenet's Medal Of Honor!

Is Ahmadi Nejad a CIA plot?

Michael Ledeen has the answer.

This kind of helps prove Ledeen's point.

UPDATE: The Big Pharoah agrees that the ban on music in Iran might prove very useful.

And read Michael Totten's fascinating write up of his meet-up with the Big Pharoah in Cairo.

They Seek Them Here, They Seek Them There

Are they in Syria or are they in Lebanon?
Those Demned Elusive Destructive Mass Weapons

Er, Forgive me Baronness Orczy...

High ranking Israel intelligence officials are still convinced that, as Debka specified in 2003, right after the Iraq invasion that the WMDs were transfered to Syria in those trucks we saw satellite pictures of at dead of night.

This , surprisingly, from Ha'aretz.

"Why didn't we find the weaponry?" the Americans asked. The Israelis told them politely: because most of it was transferred to Syria before the war. Such suspicions have been openly published. All the intelligence services in the West are familiar with photographs of trucks sneaking across the border at night, accompanied by senior Iraqi officers...

The other explanation is expressed in more intimate circles in order to avoid irritating the American friend. But in the course of two weeks, I heard it from three different Israelis who were in positions that had access to intelligence during the war. Some of them are still serving in such positions. "They simply don't know how to search properly," said one. "Do you know how they searched? The forces were sent to a certain location and went into the field without a serious intelligence escort. If there was nothing found under the rock at this location, they simply went home, without bothering to turn over the adjacent rock," another said....

For many in the American defense establishment who opposed the war, it is very convenient that the material was not found. Thus they can take revenge against their rivals in the administration who disparaged them and ignored their recommendations during the months leading up to the war....

"It is already impossible to change the public's opinion in America, unless a giant amount of chemical weapons were to be found suddenly. And the problem is that no one can search for it now," says an Israeli source. President Bush's hands are tied. In the current political circumstances, it is inconceivable for him to order that searches be resumed. In any case, a true, renewed discussion on the quality of intelligence information on the eve of the war will only be possible sometime later in the future, if at all.

The NYSun has more on the story here

Israel Archaeology Round Up

More info on the wooden anchors discovered in the Dead Sea, dating respectively from 2500 years ago and 2000 years ago.

Amazingly, from lack of oxygenation in the water, the wooden anchors, one with ancient ropes in tact, have survived, although the metal parts that reinforced them have long since corroded away. This is the opposite from what normally takes place.

In Megiddo, prisoners continue to excavate the Ancient Church - which serves simultaneously as rehabiliation for the men and reconstruction for the ancient church. An interesting mutual benefit.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

May the Games Begin!

This just in (well yesterday) according to Mac Ranger, a retired military intelligence guy, whose blog Macsmind has become a must-read of mine on the arcania of issues such as Able Danger and the Plame Game:
The search is officially on for the leaker(s) in the New York Times so-called “blockbuster”. “Word” is that the FBI is (although don’t look for this to be on the Nightly News) actively involved in locating the leaker(s), as well as the CIA Prison leak.
Since the Democrats and their media subalterns have forced this gladitorial showdown, Let the Games begin!

Also, over in the Corner, Mark Levin points out the fatal non-seriousness of the Democrats in this NSA surveillance business.
What is the point of briefing congressional leaders and relevant committees about executive-branch operations if they refuse any responsibility for the information they receive, and if they believe the information discloses constitutional, legal, and civil-liberties violations on which they refuse to act? As I watched Meet the Press this morning, I was appalled at the lack of seriousness of the coverage. Within five minutes of the program's start, Tim Russert invoked Richard Nixon. Sen. Carl Levin was asked if the president might have broken the law. He answered that if he didn't follow FISA he did. Levin earlier complained that he didn't know what laws the president may be using to justify the NSA program. Keep in mind; at this point we don't know what violations are even being asserted in any of this discussion. (This is the same Levin who has led efforts to conceal the Barrett Report, which allegedly includes stunning findings about the misuse of the IRS by the Clinton administration. I noticed Russert didn't bring this up.)

Russert continually referred to domestic spying on U.S. citizens. Neither he nor we know what's involved here. Some of those monitored may be citizens, they may not be. Some may also be receiving communications from al Qaeda operatives abroad, in which case warrants aren't required and their citizenship is irrelevant. Some may be covered by the warrant requirements of FISA, some of the operations may not be. My guess, and that's all it is, is that the NSA ran into difficulties tracking individuals who were able to elude surveillance (and the FISA warrant requirement, if applicable) by moving from place to place and switching between and among various communication technologies. The secret FISA court, and many of its procedures, isn’t exactly secret to anyone, including the enemy. If so, or if I'm close, the claims that the president authorized domestic eavesdropping on U.S. citizens is the most hysterical and, frankly, reckless face to put on this. Moreover, the likelihood that top lawyers at the Justice Department (including career attorneys) and other agencies would have conspired to break the law, and kept it secret for years, for the purpose of intercepting communications among law-abiding U.S. citizens is truly far-fetched.
Michael Ledeen responds to Mark Levin:

People with children and spouses fighting terrorists around the world have no trouble understanding what is going on here; it's a systematic attempt to destroy the Bush presidency, regardless of the cost to the nation or to the cause of liberty on the planet. It's disgusting.

Me, I'm for investigating the NY Times. Let's see how tough they are on Judy Miller once the likes of Risen are hauled in front of a grand jury...

Which is more or less what I said below.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon suffers light stroke -

He is rushed to the hospital, during which time - according to some reports - he blacks out. Reports are that he is now conscious.
Earlier reports claimed the prime minister lost consciousness on the ride to the hospital, had to be taken into the trauma room on a stretcher and was confused when he awoke. However, according to reports from several sources, including that of the hospital's deputy director, the prime minister did not lose consciousness at any point, and even walked on his own into the trauma room.

So is the latter report correct? Or a "corrective" for public consumption?

Refuah Shelamah, Ariel.

According to Debka, the situation is worse than what is coming out now. Although since that is Debka's typical response, it is hard to know if that is true, or typical Debka-esque pessimism.

Apparently Sharon was treated with anti-coagulant treatment. And his personal physician is reporting no lasting damage.

And what do you know. Some Gazans celebrated this occasion by shooting their rifles in the air and handing out pastries on the streets. Others flashed the V sign for victory.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la meme chose.

Meanwhile, Lebanese Political Journal has some excellent reflections on better ways to direct Arab anger.

UPDATE: Allison Summer writes up the tenor of the jokes that started to fly in Israel as soon as it became apparent that Sharon was going to be fine:

Israelis being Israelis, the kidding started. I was at a meeting for my son's class just after it hit the news and got to bring the news to the room. One of the fathers said, "He was probably unconscious and all they had to do to revive him was stand in front of him and say "Bibi.""

It's true -- the prospect of how happy Bibi Netanyahu is going to be about Sharon's stroke is the best medicine possible for the Prime Minister.

Spinning Munich Into Gold

What could be more cynical!

Not content merely with having former Ambassador Dennis Ross in his pocket to provide diplomatic soothing for his new film, Spielberg has now hired Eyal Arad, one of Ariel Sharon's spin doctors strategists, to market "Munich" to Israel.

So, not only does the film need diplomatic protocol, in the shape of Dennis Roth, but it needs political strategy as well to be introduced to the Israeli market. But it's all in a good cause: in order to make the corrective medicine, prescribed by good Dr. Spielberg go down smoothly.

Eyal Arad, who helped mastermind the disengagement, said on Sunday he was promoting the film "Munich,"where it has already stirred fierce debate.

"This market is an important market," Arad told Reuters.

"We are talking about a film that has generated a lot of interest here, and naturally that sort of interest can entail some negative reactions as well as positive reactions," he said.

How illuminating. Negative reaction as well as positive! Got any other platitudes to spin, Eyal?

I have to say though the idea that this man earlier helped market the Gaza Disengagement to the Israel public makes me rather queasy about the moral state of Israel. I'd rather thought that people on the side of Disengagement believed there was a principle at stake. And now we find the same man receiving bundles of hard cash to market the moral equation between Palestinian terrorists and Israeli counterterrorists.

Or does he actually believe in that bit of speciousness, too?

But, after all, consider the profit margin!

And of course the über-sincere Dr. Spielberg wants to use this vehicle to make peace - perhaps Arad consoles himself with that.

And then there's this:

Avi Dichter, a retired head of the Shin Bet security service who attended a preview in Washington, likened "Munich" to a children's adventure story. "There is no comparison between what you see in the movie and how it works in reality," he said.

Nice that children's adventure stories now need to be presented to the public by way of spin masters who work for the Prime Minister of Israel.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Good For President Bush

Good for President Bush for coming out in his radio address today and sharply criticizing the NYTimes and the CIA agent (one assumes) who tipped off the NYTimes about the NSA. I'm with Powerline. Prosecute the leakers. It's time that current and former members of the intelligence community stopped feeling entitled to directly effect the direction of the foreign policy of the United States.

Let's see how James Risen likes his jail cell when he refuses to divulge the name of the agent who tipped him off illegally. Because you know if it goes against the policy of the current US Administration, Risen is not going to squawk.

RIP Already

Retire In Peace:

So can anyone figure out the benefit to Fox News of hiring Robert Novak. I certainly can't. He's the kind of conservative who turns me off completely, old and paleocon.

Why didn't they just let him retire already. At 75, there's no impetus I can see for Fox to procure "new blood." I could hardly stand him at CNN.

And then there's the whole issue of his unfriendliness to Israel,

News From Iran

Good or Not? You Decide.

This from Michael Ledeen, in the Corner: I've just received a call from a usually reliable person saying that there was an assassination attempt in Iran against President Ahmadi Nezhad, who was in a car. His driver and guards were killed, and he is in the hospital, apparently likely to survive. I couldn't get any details about the intensity of the blue energy waves flowing from his cranium...but if this story is true it suggests that there are powerful folks in Iran who have decided the president is more trouble than he's worth...and they'd rather go back to the old deception of having someone who can lull the West into a false sense of security.

The reference to the blue waves hearkens back to a comment President Ahmadi Nezhad made that while he was speaking at the UN, there were green rays coming out of his head. Possibly a protective sphere to keep him safe from the influence of secularism and al kafirun at the UN? Who knows?

More at Pajamas Media and Judith Klinghoffer.

Well the guy is nuts; but is it better to have someone in office who would smile and preen and dissemble for the kafirun, who prefer to have the excuse to believe that Iran is not problematic? That's the question. President Ahmadi Nezhad, assuming he doesn't go on forever, is a bit of a wakeup call, in my opinion.

Sunday, December 11, 2005


Cindy's in London these days consorting with the likes of George Galloway and excusing the actual murderers of her son, so she can continue to lambast the Bush Administration. Turns out she went because a Noble Laureate! Dario Fo wrote a play about her and her epoch struggle with the evil Bush administration, based on extracts from Sheehan's letters to Bush and other writings.

All this was delivered beneath large pictures of Sheehan's son Casey and a tank in the Iraqi desert in front of a plume of fire(!)(Not unlike the plume of fire in Britain today, but that is a different matter.)

Yes, the greatest drama of the day. Moreover, this version was rushed into production so that it could conclude the day long protest against the war. Pity that.

But don't despair. It turns out a longer version will be produced starring Fo's wife, actress Franca Rame, in Italy.

I have only one thing to add: "Pull the troops out of occupied New Orleans!"

Saturday, December 10, 2005

How the ABGs Became the ABCs

How the Phoenician alphabet morphed into the modern ABCs.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Roger Friedman Doesn't Do Irony

Judith discusses Roger Friedman's gushing review of Munich, as the "best movie of the year", here. He's impressed both with the film and the authenticity of its visual presentation:
And yet, as far as I can tell, there are no huge mistakes in "Munich." Even the music is from 1972 — Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine" and Al Green's "Let's Stay Together" are from that year. The movie's look, from the sets, props, costumes and hairstyles to Janusz Kaminski's tinted cinematography, is also vintage.
Yet while the look and music may be entirely authentic to the time, what Roger Friedman fails utterly to understand is that the moral "ambivalence" of the film is entirely 2005 and not in the least authentic to the times. And least of all among Jews and Israelis who had only 30 years before emerged scathed beyond record from World War II and the Holocaust and developed their policy, as Jim Rockford reminds us here, in response to dealing with Nazis.

So encased within an "authentic" visual presentation, Spielberg has imported a sensibility utterly foreign to the times or the people who lived through it. Too bad Roger Friedman can't see beyond the appearance of the film to its content.

But, uh, you know, as long as it looks like it's real...

UPDATE: Warren Bell, at the Corner, who himself works in Hollywood, writes:
A reader who has seen it writes about the new Spielberg film:

"It's worse than you fear. It is both boring (unforgiveable) and tendentious about evil. It claims that fighting fire with fire is futile and useless.

It makes Jews in all the Israel scenes look a bit alien and weird. It is all about ambiguity. No one is right or wrong. It is a despicable film."

And then Bell adds: Why is this all so important? Because for most Americans, Hollywood frames the Jewish experience. The Holocaust especially has been brought to the forefront of public consciousness because of movies, including Mr. Spielberg's "Schindler's List." Now Spielberg, a prominent Hollywood Jew who has always been noticeably quiet about his support for Israel, makes a film that seems to draw moral equivalency between terrorist killers and those who kill terrorists. If the film continues to propagate the innaccurate but popular notion that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a "tragic standoff" as Spielberg himself calls it, where neither side has a right to the moral high ground, then "Munich" will do grave disservice to the "truth."
He only left out the part of using Munich as a way to discuss his ambivalence about the War On Terror, without alienating conservative American audiences into dropping him. For which he would lose revenue.

John Bolton Love

Quick, somebody make this man US ambassador to the UN!

Yesterday we left off with John Bolton fighting against gravity to shore up a UN condemnation of the terrorist attack in Netanya. Given the stalement, this is what he said today, as he continued to speak about the condemnation:
[John bolton, the] U.S. envoy later read the text of the statement to reporters, and lashed out at the Council for what he called “failing to speak the truth”.

He said “you have to speak up in response to these terrorist attacks. It’s a great shame that the Security Council couldn’t speak to this terrorist attack in Netanya, but if the Council won’t speak, the United States will.”
Meanwhile, friend Pamela, at Atlas Shrugs agrees on Bolton, calling him the only good thing at the UN.

And Jay Tea at Wizbang takes his measure:

A lot of Americans have been fed up with that for some time (witness the popularity of "US out of UN/UN out of US" bumper stickers and similar expressions of that sentiment), and it looks like Mr. Bolton is fulfilling his responsibility as a representative of those people by passing along a small measure of their beliefs.

And now even more John Bolton love!

In a statement commemorating Human Right's Day, Louise Arbour, "the high commissioner for human rights at the United Nations, presented the most forceful criticism to date of U.S. detention policies by a senior U.N. official, asserting that holding suspects incommunicado in itself amounts to torture." Louise Arbour is Canadian.

And what did John Bolton do in response?
John R. Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, criticized Arbour, calling it "inappropriate" for her to choose a Human Rights Day celebration to criticize the United States instead of such rights abusers as Burma, Cuba and Zimbabwe. He also warned that it would undercut his efforts to negotiate formation of a new human rights council that would exclude countries with bad rights records.

"Today is Human Rights Day. It would be appropriate, I think, for the U.N.'s high commissioner for human rights to talk about the serious human rights problems that exist in the world today," Bolton told reporters. "It is disappointing that she has chosen to talk about press commentary about alleged American conduct. I think the secretary of state has fully and completely addressed the substance of the allegations, so I won't go back into that again other than to reaffirm that the United States does not engage in torture."

He added: "I think it is inappropriate and illegitimate for an international civil servant to second-guess the conduct that we're engaged in in the war on terror, with nothing more as evidence than what she reads in the newspapers."
God I love this man! He'd have rock star status at Conservative get togethers!

Euthanasia, Jewish Style

In Israel, a new euthanasia law was passed by the Knesset, allowing patients with terminal conditions to have their life support cut off. However, in order to make the law congruent with Jewish law, this procedure is governed by machines, the equivalent of Sabbath timers so that a human being is not involved directly in the process, which would allot that person some responsibility in the ending of life.
A special timer will be fitted to a patient's respirator which will sound an alarm 12 hours before turning it off.

Normally, carers would override the alarm and keep the respirator turned on but, if various stringent conditions are met, including the giving of consent by the patient or legal guardian, the alarm would not be overridden.

Similar timing devices, known as Sabbath clocks, are used in the homes of orthodox Jews so that light switches and electrical devices can be turned on during the Sabbath without offending religious strictures.

Parliamentarians reached a solution after discussions with a 58-member panel of medical, religious and philosophical experts.

"The point was that it is wrong, under Jewish law, for a person's life to be taken by a person but, for a machine, it is acceptable," a parliamentary spokesman said.

"A man would not be able to shorten human life but a machine can."
I like the idea that the law was developed ethically in consultation with religious authorities.

But, turning off a respirator is one thing. I certainly hope Israeli law does not develop in such a way that, in contested situations like Terri Shiavo, a mechanical means for depriving people of fluids until they die is not developed.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The Incredible Lightness of Being David Cameron

Melanie Phillips is not in the least impressed with the election of David Cameron to the Tory party's top spot. She calls him a shiny new leader. And goes on to add:

So maybe the country will indeed be thus charmed by this Lord of the Rings hero Frodo Cameron and his Samwise Osborne — who reportedly watched Tony Blair give birth to New Labour in the 1990s and decided then and there that the Conservative party needed similarly to tear itself up by the roots — as they set out on their journey to throw the ring of Conservatism into the fires of Mordor.

Whereas provides us with a long stately stare at how he managed to beat David Davis.

Well the one thing I am happy about, until I know more, is that Cameron appears to be surrounded by pro-American advisers. This suggests a large-ish shift from the Michael Howard approach, which so alienated the Bush Administration that there were never meetings between counterparts when one or the other was in suitable locations, as was normative in the past.

False Unities in the Middle East

Lebanese.profile, guest blogging at Michael Totten's, provides a useful reminder of all the Ethnic cracks in "Pan-Arabism."

Oscars By The Handful

According to Roger Friedman's review, Munich is the top film of the year. Of course, he appears to be judging this within the film industry, not as a serious statement of purpose.
Spielberg, in fact, seems like he's taken a page out of Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney's playbook. He's outdone "Traffic" and "Syriana" at the same time.

If it weren't based on a historic tragedy, you would say that "Munich" was a better version of the "Mission: Impossible" movies. It's hard to put the facts aside, but if you do, "Munich" is very good entertainment.
???? Mere entertainment? But I thought Spielberg wanted to help make peace?

Doing multi-culti Moslem events in Britain

Wow. And NOT in a good way either. Just wow.

A review of the ‘Global Peace and Unity’ Conference at London’s Excel Centre presented by the new Islam Channel and sponsored by Emirates Airlines, Western Union and the Metropolitan Police, by Carol Gould.

Hat tip: Melanie Phillips


No comment necessary!
MALES that boast the largest testicles also have the smallest brains, a study of bats has revealed.

Although not quite proof of the charge that men tend to think with their genitals, the discovery offers the first firm evidence that males make an evolutionary trade-off between intelligence and sexual prowess.

The large amounts of energy needed to support large testicles that pump out vast quantities of sperm, and big brains that support a more advanced intellect, mean that male bats struggle to do both, the findings suggest.

So in species where females are promiscuous — creating an evolutionary advantage for large testes and lots of sperm — the males tend to grow big testicles at the expense of smaller brains.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

UN Delays Statement Condemning Netanya Suicide Bombing

According to the Jerusalem Post, John Bolton announced that the UN statement condemning the Netanya suicide bombing was delayed by Algeria, which objected to the statement that the orders for the attack came from Damascus.

Only problem was that that orders did come from Damascus.
Earlier in the day, a senior Islamic Jihad figure in Gaza City denied that the organization had offices in Syria, claiming that their secretary general Ramadan Shalah left the country months ago. However, the Islamic Jihad, who took responsibility for the bombing openly admitted that it received its orders from Syria.

Responding to the Netanya bombing, US State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli told reporters: "The organization that claims responsibility for this attack is Palestinian Islamic Jihad and they have their headquarters in Damascus. So if anybody needed a reminder, this is it, that the Syrian government should take immediate steps to crackdown on this group and to inhibit its activities by shutting down Islamic Jihad offices and expelling its personnel."

Longer Lifespans

How soon will we evolve longer lifespans? In 12 generations, were we like fruitflies.

Professor Michael R. Rose is interviewed on his cutting edge research on the evolution of longer lifespans.
Q. Do you believe there is such a thing as a limited life span for humans?

A. No. Life span is totally tunable. In my lab, we tune it up and down all the time.

And it's quite clear that the human primate life span got tuned up by evolution over the course of the last few million years.
He has found a split response on this issue of future tinkering from the representatives of different religious traditions:
Q. What does religion have to say about all this tinkering with life span?

A. That depends on the religion. About five years ago I was at a meeting convened by the Templeton Foundation to address the ethical question of postponing human aging, and in particular, the possibility of biological immortality, as opposed to immortality in heaven.

And the Christian theologians at this meeting were clearly horrified whereas the Jewish theologian was saying, "Yes, we like this."

In East Asian cultures, you have a split between the Confucian tradition, which is very much for self-sacrifice, versus the Taoist tradition, which very much espouses the idea of living longer. So there's this split there, too.

Where are the Liberal Hawks of Yesteryear?

Joe Lieberman Is Still My Favorite Democrat.

Today Joe Lieberman said in a speech:
"It's time for Democrats who distrust President Bush to acknowledge he'll be commander-in-chief for three more years," the senator said. "We undermine the president's credibility at our nation's peril."
Moreover, the man has the courage of his convictions:

"I understand the position I'm taking on the war in Iraq is controversial," Lieberman said. "In a sheer political sense, it would be easier to keep quiet."

It's a breath of fresh air to see a Democrat's taking an unpopular stance on the War; rather like Tony Blair standing up to his country on Iraq. You go Joe!

UPDATE: A Holocaust Story Produced by Mel Gibson's Company

Ooh, yeah. That's what everyone wants to see. The idea being that controversy will drive up ratings.

Yeah, because God Knows that Holocaust stories - even 4 hour mini-series on ABC - need to be driven by controversy and ratings. And, more importantly, it has to have a love story, because um, that's important for the drama of the story, too, when only 5200 Dutch Jews from a population of 140,000 survived.

Gee, is it any wonder that Hollywood is losing ratings and revenue?

Christ, Mel. Just leave it alone.

Ms. Van Beek, whose life story is told in this self-published memoir, is more tolerant than me however: "I know his father doesn't believe in the Holocaust - but maybe when there's money involved, maybe they don't care," she added. "His father will probably say this is not real, this is a novel."

UPDATE: And as for dealing with critics of this arrangement, ABC isn't very good at it:
Quinn Taylor, ABC's senior vice president in charge of television movies, acknowledged that controversy surrounding Gibson could help publicize the project. But he had a harsh reply for early critics.

"I would tell them to shut up and wait to see the movie, and then judge," said Taylor, who oversaw ABC's Emmy-winning miniseries "Anne Frank." "I'm not about to rewrite history. I'm going to explore an amazing love story that we can all learn from and, hopefully, be inspired by."
A public relations expert, huh! I'm sure that approach will quiet the din of criticism! Respectful, too!

Dhimmi of the Year Award

Now Open at Jihad Watch

I'm voting for Howard "American Can't Win In Iraq" Dean.

An Interesting Thesis on Harry Potter

SPOILERS for Book 6 Harry Potter and Speculation:

About Snape as the Unlikely Hero of Book 7 by Dave Kopel. Well, he's not the first person to state that, and I pretty much agree. Though I think that Snape's unlooked for death is the one we are going to be mourning, not Harry's.

I agree with some of it, disagree with other bits. I agree that Harry's Scar is the final Horcrux - which I think of as a dread crucible, though whore/cross is interesting, too. And I think he is going to approach the final task he is going to do at the end believing in his heart that he is going to die, but I think the Horcrux will be destroyed and he will live.

Though I think the author is all wet on RAB. As I recall, Regulus studied with the Potion Master (forgot his name) in Book 6. He was his student in Slytherin, so Regulus had the ability to become an excellent Potions student all on his own. In my own opinion, Regulus retrieved the horcrux with Kreacher in the boat with him. Because Voldemort's magic would not account for Kreacher, and the fact that Kreacher has a role to play also means that there is a reason for his existence in the novel to begin with.

And the Mirror is reporting that JKRowling may want to kill Harry off. Of course last week they also reported that Bush wanted to bomb Al Jazeera, so I am taking their little notification in stride. I think the one may be true in the same way that the other was. Bush may have joked about it, as did JKRowling.

Ill Making

Here's more first hand testimony from Saddam's trial, from a woman describing her imprisonment at Abu Ghraib:
[T]he woman said: "I could not even eat because of the torture". At Abu Ghraib, the woman said one of her relatives had given birth in her cell. "The baby was out. When some women tried to help her, the guards prevented them," she said. Later, the baby died, the witness told the court.
Can you imagine the state of a woman locked up in the same prison cell with another woman, who is physically prevented from helping that woman after she has just given birth? And forced to watch the baby die without being able to do anything about it.

Here are more details from today's testimony.

You'll notice by the way, that the defense attorney for Saddam and friends does try to paint "American torture" at Abu Ghraib as worse than what happened under Saddam's regime.

"I agree that things in Abu Ghraib were, until recently, bad, but did they use dogs on you? Did they take photographs?" asked one defense attorney, attempting to raise the issue of U.S. prisoner abuse at the prison.

"No," she replied.

Obscenely enough, I'm sure many people will accept this line.