Thursday, May 29, 2003
Raisin-farming, Greek-studying, Cheney-influencing, and a bit surly to boot

Victor Davis Hanson is an interesting cat. A Classics professor and sometimes raisin farmer, Hanson is also one of the best political essayists of our day. His political philosophy is pretty straightforward: an open, democratic society with strong military capability is a mighty force indeed. He claims this is a heritage of classical Greek society.

The Bushies love his stuff, even though -- as a West Coast gentile Democrat -- he doesn't meet the entry criteria for the shadowy neo-conservative cabal. And, he may or may not have been a suspect in the Unabomber attacks at one point.

Hanson writes regularly for NRO. You can find an archive of his essays here. They almost always contain at least one or two gems.

Wednesday, May 28, 2003
Saddam Family Values

This week's Time features a profile of Uday and Qusay Hussein, the darling scions of Iraq's former first family. Based on recently uncovered documents, as well as interviews with members of Uday and Qusay's inner circles, the article paints a hair-raising picture of Saddam's kiddies.

Among the choice tidbits from the Saddam family scrapbook:

  • At parties, Uday would pick out young girls he desired and have his security detail pick them up for Uday's pleasure. If the parents complained, they would be threatened with death.
  • During the brutal crackdown of the Shi'ites following the first Gulf War, Qusay arrived in a field where several hundred Shi'ites were detained. He walked up, shot four of them in the head and ordered the rest executed as well. This was one of many mass executions he supervised.
  • Uday would surf the Net looking for new torture techniques, which he would then rush to use on anyone who crossed his path. He used to drive around with an iron rod with which he would beat his underlings.
The list of horror stories -- rapes, tortures, murders -- goes on and on. This is interspersed with stories of the Hussein boys' opulent lifestyles.

Uday is clearly a psychopath. Saddam is evil incarnate, but we don't know of any examples of him, say, beating a man to death with his bare hands. Uday, on the other hand, is known to have murdered one of Saddam's food tasters in just that way. For his efforts, Saddam had him jailed briefly. He survived an assassination attempt in 1996 which left him semi-crippled and in constant pain. Needless to say, that didn't do much for his moods.

A few days ago, there were reports that Uday was looking to cut a deal with the US military in return for surrendering. Good luck with that one, fella. Needless to say, the military isn't all that interested.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: even if we don't find a single WMD hidden in Iraq, by taking out the First Family of Evil we've still done the world a tremendous favor.

Getting Past Trauma

A group of prominent Israeli Arabs and Jews have spent the last couple of months studying the Holocaust. The project reaches its peak today as the group, currently on a study tour in Europe, reaches Auschwitz. The initiative is the brainchild of Father Emil Shofani, a priest from Nazareth, who was inspired by the riots in September 2000 that left 13 Israeli Arabs dead.

Shofani believes that in order for help Arabs understand the Jews better, they need to understand more deeply the trauma of the Holocaust which still casts a shadow on the Jewish (and Israeli) psyche. It's a nice initiative, and one that might succeed in drawing the two people together. In general, I support each side making an effort to try and understand each other's past traumas, the Holocaust on the one hand and the events of 1948 (the "Naqba") on the other. The key benefit would be to return some degree of humanity and compassion which have steadily eroded during the last two and a half years of fighting.

However honorable this initiative is, it's still a sideshow from the issue. As the article notes:
The initiative has raised a controversy among Israel's Arabs. Many say it could be interpreted as an apologetic move that could weaken the Arab and Palestinian struggle.
The historian Benny Morris was interviewed not long ago about where he thinks the Arab-Israeli conflict is headed. Morris -- who in the past has been associated (not entirely fairly) with the anti-Zionist "new historians", but who has recently had a change of heart -- wasn't optimistic.

Morris pointed out that the biggest problem in the dispute is the fact that both sides view themselves as victims. In this, they are influenced by their respective national tragedies. The sense of victimhood adds a psychological dimension to the conflict which is a lot more complicated to deal with than the fairly straightforward issue of land and borders.

The difference, according to Morris, between the Jews and the Palestinians is this: The Jews, to some degree, have made their peace with the Holocaust. We're still traumatized by it, but we've come to terms and moved on and are willing to negotiate a peaceful end to the conflict. The Palestinians have yet to deal with their own trauma. As long as this is the case, there will always be a sizeable minority amongst the Palestinians who will violently oppose any agreement with Israel, seeing it as an affront to their sense of historical justice.

This also accounts for the persistence of the Palestinian demand for the right of return to Israel proper. In a rational world, the Palestinian leaders would realize (and, more importantly, tell their people) that they will never return to their homes in Tel Aviv and Haifa that they left 55 years ago. However, few Palestinian figures dare state this out loud; the official Palestinian position is that no one has the right to make concessions on this issue for future generations.

Ironically, the right of return is the single hot-button issue for the Jews, since it touches directly on the feelings of victimization and insecurity that still exist.

Where is any of this going? Who knows. Studying each others' pain is useful, but not as useful as dealing with our own.

Tuesday, May 27, 2003
Picture of the Day

Whitney and Bobby continue their Israel trip with a visit to Jerusalem to meet Ariel Sharon:

"When Sharon asked her how she felt in Israel,
Houston said, 'It's home, it's home.' "

Oh, how we love it when our celebrity tourists say nice stuff about the country. It's part of our provincial charm. You're welcome to come back any time, Whitney. Oh, and I take back everything I've ever said about the Bodyguard soundtrack being used to torture POWs.

Quote of the Day

I’m particularly grateful today for the sacrifice of the soldiers, who allowed me to live in a nation whose Constitution does not permit my child the right to whine for chocolate milk for six straight hours. The EU Constitution will, it seems, at least as I read Article 24: “(Children) may express their views freely.” And these views “shall be taken into consideration on matters which concern them, in accordance with their age and maturity.” I WANT CANDY is now a Constitutional issue.

It's Lileks, of course.

Monday, May 26, 2003
And who says there aren't any tourists around here anymore?

Tourism to Israel may be at an all-time low, but it's not entirely dead. Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown are among the handfull of people currently visiting our benighted shores. The pair have come to pay a visit to the Black Hebrews, a community of African American expatriates outside of Dimona who hold quasi-Jewish beliefs.

All I can say is welcome, welcome. Have a nice stay, you guys. Take in the sights. And perhaps mention to the people back home that it's not as dangerous here as it looks on TV.

Sunday, May 25, 2003
The Eurovision

The 48th annual Eurovision contest was broadcast last night. Like every year, I ended up watching the thing until 1 a.m., only to show up groggy to work this morning wondering why I bothered. I suppose I either have a real fondness for euro pop-culture cheese or else a hefty masochistic streak.

For those who live outside the European zone of cultural influence and don't know what I'm talking about, the Eurovision is an annual Europe-wide song contest (Europe, in this case, is broadly defined to include Turkey, Israel, and the hundreds of countries that used to make up the Warsaw Pact). Each year, 26 countries nominate a song and send performers to the host country to compete. Viewers at home call a local number to vote for their favorite entry. (You aren't allowed to vote for your own country). The winning country gets to host the competition the following year.

The competitions themselves are cheesy and kitschy. Really, really cheesy. The productions are kitschy (the hosting country generally uses the opportunity to turn the show into a big booster for local tourism) and the songs tend to be forgettable and bland. Latvia, this year's host, managed to put on a production that answered both these criteria.

Until recently, the participating countries could only nominate songs sung in their official language(s). The advantage of this was that it bolstered national pride, and let the viewers at home hear sugary twaddle sung in a panoply of tongues. However, this gave an unfair advantage to countries whose official language was the linga franca of international pop culture (England, Ireland) or else sounded nice (France, Luxembourg). If your language was rough around the edges (Norwegian) or else brought up unpleasant historical associations (German), then you were basically screwed.

A few years ago they changed the rules letting you sing in any language. As a result, most of the countries choose a song in English or partially in English. While this has indeed leveled the playing field (allowing the Baltic countries, for example, to dominate in the last couple of years), it has taken a good part of the fun away from the competition. After all, what is the point of a European musical comptetition which consists of 20-odd Brittney Spears or Kylie Minogue manques warbling away in variously accented English?

While the music tends to be forgettable, the voting makes for an interesting spectacle. Traditionally, the musical merits of each song have taken a back seat to political considerations. Regional bloc voting is the rule, as countries give the highest votes to their neighbors: Estonia gives top honors to Latvia, Sweden to Norway, etc. Sometimes the considerations come from highly charged politics (the mutual logrolling of Greece and Cyprus, both of whom shun Turkey). Other times sociological phenomena influence the voting (Israel, with its large population of foreign workers has recently been giving a lot of points to Romania).

Israelis regard the Eurovision as one of those barometers of global anti-Semitism. Israel's showing in the competition is usually considered a measure of how much They hate or don't hate us in a particular year. The Israeli entry ended up 19 out of 26; we got points only from Greece, Cyprus, and France (once again proving that French Jewry is very well-organized). I think it deserved to do better than that but it could have been a lot worse. England ended up getting bupkis. BBC commentator Terry Wogan blamed the poor showing on England's involvement in the recent Gulf War; I suspect the fact that the English singers were way off-key might have had something more to do with it.

The voting this year became an uncharacteristically tight race between Turkey, Belgium, and Russia. The Turks cameout on top in the end with a funky, Middle Eastern-accented number. I think it's a good outcome. Unlike the majority of the entries, the Turkish song was actually good. The Belgian song wasn't bad either, but I have a lot more fondness for Turkey than for Belgium. The Turks have almost always found themselves at the ass end of the Eurovision rankings, so it should be nice to see the thing broadcast from Ankara or Istanbul next year.

Road Map on the Map

The cabinet approved the Road Map today. This after weeks of declarations that Israel would not accept the document without a series of changes. In a 12-7 vote, Sharon's cabinet approved the implementation of the plan. There were 4 abstentions, one of them being Bibi. Sharon managed to get the approval only after he also put forth a separate declaration declaring Israel's opposition to the Palestinian right of return up for a vote. (That one passed 16-1).

And so, the latest possible crisis with Washington has been averted. For a month now, Abu Mazen has been complaining that he had accepted the road map while Sharon had failed to do so. Sharon believed he could push the Bush administration to accept changes in the document. When the Bushies explained to him that, no, they would not accept changes, Sharon brought the road map to a vote.

The whole kerfuffle is pretty pathetic. It shows that Sharon clearly misread the political landscape following the end of the Iraq war and underestimated the Bush administration's determination to do something about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Or at least be seen as doing something about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Actually, if you think about it, the whole Road Map has turned into amateur theatrics. Bush is pushing the Road Map so that he can throw Tony Blair a bone. Sharon and Abu Mazen have both kinda sorta accepted it with no real ability or intention of following its dicta. Certainly not until the other side follows theirs.

No, the main goal is less to get negotiations rolling than it is to avoid being blamed for screwing it up. Abu Mazen knows that he has no hope of disarming any of the Palestinian terrorist groups; at this point even getting them to sit quiet for a week seems iffy. Sharon knows this and knows that he can use it as an excuse not to do anything about the settlement activities.

The Road Map is fast approaching its sell-by date. And the band plays on and on and on.

More Site News

I'm still having problems with the most recent archives. I contacted Blogger with the problem and the best they could do is tell me to wait for the next version of Blogger. Thanks, guys.

So, I need to find another solution. Any ideas out there?