Saturday, November 22, 2003
Bringing the Nipper Home

First off, a big thank you to Allison and Imshin for their kind words and congratulations.

So, we've made it through our first seven days. About an hour ago, Lia turned one week old.

We brought Lia back from the hospital today. After a full three days trying to induce labor, and two days recovering from the operation, we moved up to the Baby Apropo hotel at Tel Hashomer hospital. This is a great setup. You stay in a fairly decent hotel room, and they have a round-the-clock nursery. You can choose to either have the baby with you or not (if you want to indulge in just one more night's sleep), and they have a nursing staff available to help you out at all hours.

For people like us, whose parents live overseas, the place is a godsend. It provides a transitional step from hospital to home, a place where a new daddy like myself can practice diapering and giving baths. Now it's time to dive into the deep end. Scary stuff, but also deeply gratifying.

The baby has already learned how to turn my insides into a big puddle of sugary goo. If she ever wakes up to the fact that I'm wrapped around her tiny little finger, I will be forced to concede any future arguments with her.

Bombs in Turkey, Bush in Britain

I've been having a bit of a 9/11 reaction to the bombing attacks in Istanbul over the week. The synagogue bombings last Saturday and the twin attacks on Thursday have left me with a feeling of vague hopelessness and sadness that I've rarely felt after attacks overseas.

It's a combination of things. On a personal level, I have a particular fondness for Istanbul. I've visited a couple of times, and we have friends there. It's got riches galore to see and the people are extremely friendly, but in a much less unctious manner than in other places with friendly people such as Egypt. In short, it's a fascinating town.

On a more intellectual level, we're once again coming face to face with Al-Qaida and its borderline nihilism. The attacks that happen in Israel at least happen within some kind of framework. I am in no way suggesting that they are justified, but there is a certain logic at work. With 9/11 and the other Al-Qaida attacks, that logic doesn't exist. These animals are out to attack the infidels, but they have no compunction killing the believers either. It's murderous violence almost for the sheer spectacle of it, and there's something deeply disturbing that goes beyond the sadness and the anger that any normal person would see when viewing the footage of the aftermath.

Unfortunately, we can't all be normal. And a lot of the freaks were on parade yesterday in London. I mentioned that the mega anti-Bush rally in Trafalgar Square was mainly driven by local Islamofascists, old school commies, and anti-globalization flakes. These were joined by exactly whom you would expect, i.e. middle class university students looking for drama in their lives. Voila, instant rally.

I was amazed at the violence of these so-called "peace" activists. The Sky News footage showed them hitting police officers and stomping a cardboard cutout of GWB in a frenzy of violence. And, in addition to the violence, there was sheer heads-up-ass fatuousness. Sky's coverage caught the sense of it perfectly: on the one side of the split screen, a doofus carrying a sign saying "Bush: World's #1 terrorist"; on the other side of the split screen, victims of actual terrorists, many of them (victims, not terrorists) Britons.

Personally, I still can't understand the mindset of someone who, when his house gets bombed, goes looking for reasons why the bomber did it instead of wanting to go after the bomber.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003
Mr. Bush Goes to England

I was watching a bit of the coverage of Bush's visit to England on Sky News last night. Sky was broadcasting from a "Stop the War" rally where the usual suspects -- Red Ken, Harold Pinter, Tony Benn -- were blathering on and on about how GWB is the greatest threat to the world that humankind has ever faced.

I've learned when you see these guys gathered in the same room you know exactly what they'll say. This means you can change the channel and not feel that you're missing out on anything. Which is what I would have done, except that I was feeding the baby at the time, so my hands were full. So I was stuck watching it.

Some random thoughts:
  • Livingstone has been carping about the price tag for the security surrounding Bush, which comes to something like £5 million. Sample quote from comrade mayor:
    "This Bush visit, with its £5m policing bill - unless the government gives us the money to cover it - will translate into a charge on the council tax which will be £2 for every band D household in London," he said. "I think most Londoners would be happy to give £4 for him not to come."
    Ken's criticism might have some weight if the government took the five million, put it in a briefcase, and flew it over to the United States. In this case, however, the bulk of this cost will go into overtime salaries for police officers. They will then take this money and purchase goods and services, many of them in the London area. This will translate into revenue for the city.

    Good ol' socialist rhetoric, alive and well at the Lord Mayor's office.

  • Speaking of socialist rhetoric, Saddam's bestest buddy in the House of Commons, George Galloway MP, was also on hand. He denounced Bush as a murderer of babies, defiler of the environment, and someone who supports drowning kittens.

    Galloway, who was recently kicked out of the Labor Party and who appears to have been on Saddam's payroll, criticized Bush for his position regarding the international treaty to ban land mines. Galloway said (I didn't get the exact quote) something like "This was Princess Diana's main cause. We had almost attained it and now Bush has ruined it." Or something to that effect.

    Now, the whole landmine issue is a lot more complicated than it would appear in Galloway-land. The U.S. has never supported the eradication of all land mines, and always use the Korean penninsula as their chief caveat. (There was a fairly decent episode of "The West Wing" which dealt with this.) However, the U.S. contributes tens of millions of dollars to the global effort to clean up land mines, even under the Bush administration.

    Dragging Princess Di into things is a cheap shot. Kind of like denouncing the administration's stance on drilling for oil in Alaska by saying that Bush is in favor of killing Bambi.

    But, then again, I don't see eye to eye with Galloway about much of anything.

    For instance, he would prefer that Iraq was run by a brutal dictator and has been trying to rally support in favor of the Iraqi "resistance" to ensure that his pal from Tikkrit makes a comeback. I'm in favor of democracy.

    But that's me.

  • The ragtag coalition of Islamofascists, commies, and anti-globalization flakes protesting Bush's visit to England have organized under the slogan "Stop the War". And I'm thinking, "Didn't the war end months ago? Which war are they talking about?"

  • In its coverage of the Bush visit, Sky reported the majority of Britons surveyed still support Bush and the war. They reported this by the by, and noted that this was a "small majority". If the polls had shown the opposite, I wonder whether they would have used the diminuating adjective "small."

  • The "anti-war" types are planning to march in London tomorrow. They've been holding preliminary events around town today:
    A "day of action" around the capital also includes a roaming Street Party and Resist Bush Tea Party, a London People and Planet spokesman said.
    Why do these clowns expect anybody to take them seriously?

    Tomorrow they'll doubtlessly drag out the big, stupid puppets that have become such an inseperable part of any lefty demonstration. Because there's no better way to drive home the correctness of your moral vision than by using big papier mache dolls of George Bush with devil horns.

Remedia, Redux

So, now the Krauts have admitted that the baby formula screwup was their fault. Humana, the German manufacturer of Remedia's soy-based baby formula which lacked vitamin B-1 and thus caused the deaths of two infants, admitted that they had screwed up. Apparently, they accidentally mislabeled the product they shipped to Remedia, listing the B-1 levels at 10 times what they actually were.

The myth of German precision takes another hit. As do a few Humana employees who are picking up their unemployment checks from the government today.

All this, however does not necessarily mean that Remedia is out of the woods. The police are still investigating charges of negligence. As part of their investigation, the police want to perform an autopsy on the body of Avishai Zisser, one of the two infants who died after being fed the Remedia soy product.

Zisser's parents are orthodox, and they consulted former Chief Rabbi Israel Meir Lau about whether or not to agree to the autopsy. Under Jewish law, autopsies are disallowed except in extreme circumstances where they might save lives. Lau ruled that this was not the case and advised the Zissers not to agree to the autopsy.

Lau was on the radio the other evening talking about this. He wanted to point out the bright side to this sad episode. "We are reminded that the Creator of the World created a wonderful product, mother's milk, which contains all the necessary 41 vitamins and minerals [listed on the Remedia packaging] in just the right quantities, and many other things as well."

Now, being a brand-new parent myself, this statement rubbed me the wrong way. Not that I disagree with Lau about breast milk being much preferable to baby formula. However, if we follow his logic a little further, you end up having to ask why God chose to have two newborns die as an object lesson about baby care.

By the way, in the baby nursery at the hospital where we're staying parents can choose from a couple of different types of baby formula to feed their newborns. Among the choices, there's a basket filled with little bottles of Remedia, not the soy product of course, but the standard formula for newborns. I don't think anyone has touched it since we've been there.

Geneva Accords Behind the Scenes

(Hebrew link above)

Speaking of sausages and diplomacy, Channel 2 broadcast a film last night about the recent Geneva Accord negotiations. In a "journalistic scoop", the news program "Fact" showed videotapes of the Israeli and Palestinian negotiators hashing out the big issues of settlements, refugees, and Jerusalem.

  • It was interesting to see how some issues which are considered almost tangential by the Israeli public became real points of contention, while others which are considered the crux of the conflict, slide by almost effortlessly.

    In the former category you find the issue of the prisoners. The Israeli delegates are shown trying to explain to the Palestinians that the Israeli public will never accept an agreement that frees a lot of Palestinians who have murdered Israelis.

    To this, Hisham Abd el Razek, the Palestinian delegate in charge of the issue of prisoners, flips out. In perfect Hebrew (Razek spent 22 years in Israeli prisons) he starts shouting at Beilin "This won't go. I'm stubborn on this issue. When it comes to prisoners my brain [by which I take to mean the rational side of his brain] shuts off!"

    After he calms down a bit, Abd el Razek makes a more salient point: "If I have to go to my people and tell them that a signed treaty with Israel won't bring the prisoners home, but Nasrallah will get them released with three kidnapped Israelis, this will be a catastrophe."

    By contrast, the issue of the right of return doesn't nearly raise Palestinian hackles. Yasser Abed Rabo, the chief Palestinian negotatior is asked whether he will turn to his people and tell them they have to give up their dreams of returning to their homes. He says that the only thing he can do is turn to them and say, "This is the best deal we're going to get". As for dreams, he can't be responsible for what people dream.

  • The reviews on the show are mixed. Hanoch Daom, Ma'ariv's TV critic, made a number of good and relevant points. (Hebrew link). His chief complaint is that the film is well-timed propaganda in favor of the Geneva Accords. It comes at a time when a copy of the accords was supposed to be mailed to everyone in the country (I'm still waiting for mine), and a few days after four former chiefs of the General Security Services complained about Sharon's policies in the Palestinian track.

    Clearly the film gives good PR for the Israeli delegates, many of whom are not particularly well-loved political figures in Israel. Chief among these is Yossi Beilin. Beilin is widely reviled as someone who would sell his mother for pie in the sky promises of peace. Yet here he we can see him banging his fist on the table and sticking to red lines.

    The documentary does not, however, delve into any of the key questions about this type of unofficial diplomacy. It doesn't question the value of an accord signed by people who aren't authorized to negotiate for their respective sides. It doesn't ask who is financing them. And it doesn't look at whether they have any widespread support back home.

  • The one thing that the broadcast showed well -- and it's an issue that we tend to forget about -- is how the two sides have problems developing a common diplomatic language. You get the feeling that the Palestinians are hypersensitive about their status and constantly looking for affronts to their honor. Beilin and his crew are about as coldly rational and European -- not to mention sympathetic to the Palestinians -- as Israelis ever get, but even they clearly rub the Palis the wrong way.

    At one point, Abed Rabo complains that when it comes to items in their own interest, the Israelis always want details and specifics, while the Palestinians are always left with generalities. I didn't see this to be the case, but there it is. Beilin justifies their attitude by pointing out that the power relationship between the two sides is unequal, and that the Palestinian negotiators need authorization from Israel to travel.

    Now, one part of me takes the attitude that we shouldn't have to suffer because the Palestinians are a bunch of honor-obsessed primitives. If they take offense to the way something is presented to them rather than the content, then that should be their own problem, not ours.

    The other part of me says, be that as it may, it's still a consideration, right or wrong.

Hostage Negotiations, Redux

Towards the end of last week, the prisoner swap deal with Hizbullah started unravelling over the issue of Samir Kuntar, the PFLP swine who helped murder the majority of an Israeli family, along with a police officer, during an attempted kidnapping raid in 1979. Israel refuses to release Kuntar as part of the deal, but Hizbullah's Nasrallah has decided to make Kuntar the focal point of his propaganda.

Neither side is going to give in easily. Sharon has it a little easier than Nasrallah. The prisoner swap deal is controversial here at best, perhaps even generally unpopular. It passed in the government by a one-vote majority. So, a lot of people will be just as happy to see it fall apart over Kuntar.

Nasrallah is in more of a bind. On the othe hand, he has set his rising prestige on releasing all the Lebanese prisoners held by Israel. This includes Kuntar. On the other hand, if the deal does fall apart he will have to explain to the families of the other prisoners, and to a lot of people in the Arab world, how he let a really sweet deal (from Hizbullah's standpoint) fall through his fingers.

The answer: back to the negotiating table, but this time in secret. In general, the fact that the bits and bytes of the prisoner swap talks were played out in the media here helped no one. It boosted Nasrallah's standing in the Arab world, but forced him to harden his positions. It exposed Israel's weak points and debates which should have remained private. Going back to radio silence is probably the best thing for everybody.

An old saying, generally attributed to Bismarck (though, not conclusively) has it that laws (or diplomacy) and sausages are two things that people shouldn't see being made. To this list you can also add hostage negotiations.

Abu not Sock Puppet?

Hmm. Is someone in the Prime Minister's office reading this blog?
A senior source in Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's entourage in Italy last night said that Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia "will not be a puppet nor a rag doll nor a spitting image of Yasser Arafat." The source emphasized "we don't know if he'll be good or bad, but clearly he's a very independent fellow."
Does this mean I need to find a new nickname for the PA PM? Any suggestions?

The Latest Attack

We've had a couple of weeks of quiet around here. In fact, we had about three and a half weeks when no one was murdered by Palestinians. This, of course, couldn't last long.

Two soldiers were killed at a roadblock on the way to Bethlehem. A Palestinian gunman came up to the roadblock with his gun wrapped in a prayer rug (we are, of course, in the middle of Ramadan), whipped it out and opened fire on the soldiers standing guard.

After the attack, the gunman jumped into a waiting car and sped off. Shlomi Belsky, 23, and Shaul Lahav, 20, were killed. It would be just another attack -- horrible, yet somehow quotidian -- except for this one gruesome detail: Belski was talking on his cell phone to his mother when he was shot.

Galina Belsky was chatting with her son when she thought she heard shots and the line went dead.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003
Hitch on the Synagogue Bombings

Christopher Hitchens and I don't usually agree on a lot of things. Granted, since 9/11, he and I have come a bit closer together, at least as far as the war against Islamofascists is concerned.

In this week's Slate, he weighs in on the synagogue bombings in Istanbul and seems to get what it's all about. Noting that in a lot of recent attacks -- in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Morocco -- the majority of casualties have been local Muslims, he points out that terrorists aren't just targetting the U.S. They're also targetting their own Muslim countries, and not necessarily the dicatorial ones.
Whatever its faults, Turkey is a society with many elements of pluralism and democracy. (Just last week, in accordance with its expressed desire to conform with EU rules, it abolished capital punishment.) It also has a tradition of hospitality, offered in traditional Islamic terms, to the Jewish people. When expelled and dispossessed by Christian Europe, the Sephardim found refuge under the protection of the Caliph, in dominions of Islam as far apart as Bosnia and Baghdad. From this latest outrage, then, we can see how false the Bin Ladenists are, even to their own expressed reverence for a lost Muslim empire. The worshippers at the Neve Shalom were not killed for building a settlement in the West Bank: They were members of a very old and honorable community who were murdered for being Jews. Their Turkish neighbors were casually murdered as "collateral damage."
I'd have appreciated it if he'd developed the final point a bit more, since I think the element of naked anti-Semitism in a lot of these terrorist attacks is still underappreciated. But Hitch is right here. The whole idea that "they hate us" because we support dictatorial regimes in the Middle East just had one of its legs kicked out from under it.

Still at the Hospital

Or, rather, we're at the hotel at the hospital. The hospital where Lia was born has one of the greatest inventions of all times: a hotel located inside the maternity ward. The hotel is small (32 rooms) and has a nursery in the middle of it which is staffed 24 hours a day.

In the maternity ward, you can only take the baby out at scheduled times. In the hotel you can have her with you any time you want and return her to the nursery any time you want (to get a little rest, for instance). The nurses in the nursery are available at any time to give advice and help you out with things like bathing and diapering. I am proud to say that I changed my first diaper the other night.

For people like my wife and I, whose parents live overseas, the nursery on call is a real life-saver. We get the support and training that we need in the first couple of days which makes us both more relaxed parents. Hopefully the little nipper appreciates that.

The other advantage of the place is that it has a lobby with a cafe. This is perfect for meeting and greeting the hordes of friends and family who want to come and see the baby. At home you have to tidy up and make coffee and stuff for your guests. Here you just have to show up. Again, something to contribute to the relaxation levels of the parents.

I was talking to one of the nurse-midwives the other night and she was explaining that in Israel, childbirth is a big money-maker for the hospitals. The hospital stay is completely covered by the national health system but also deregulated. This means that you can show up at any hospital you want in the country and have your baby.

The hospitals, in their turn, get paid by the National Insurance Institute for each birth. (Dirty little secret: the hospitals get paid for four days of hospitalization per mother; in real life the average hospitalization following childbirth is more like two days). This creates quite a bit of competition between hospitals. In Tel Aviv, for instance, the two big hospitals, Sheba and Ichilov, try to outdo each other by building better obstetric wings, with better delivery rooms, and offering a wide range of extra services.

This strikes me as a particularly good example of how to manage a national health system. You have a baseline of health care that everyone gets. The fact that that hospitals are essentially in competition for government money (since it's doled out per patient rather than per hospital) means that the hospitals are essentially in competition with each other, which provides them with incentive to increase the baseline care that they provide. And if you have the money to pay for extras, you can actually have a fairly pleasant experience.

Yes, it's no longer completely fair and even like it was in the good old socialist-bolshevik days when the money was directly divided up between the hospitals and you were told which hospital to go to, and, yes, you have a two-tier system in place, but things are much better all around. (As the old saying goes, under socialism everybody is equal. Equally miserable.)

Monday, November 17, 2003
From the Onion

"Mom Finds out About Blog"

Arafat's Investment Portfolio: Good for the Jews

"60 Minutes" has been digging around a lot lately into the extraordinarilly healthy state of the rai's' bank account. Last week we heard about Suha Arafat's life of luxury in Paris, financed by her husband, who is in turn financed with money he embezzles and extorts from his people.

The 60 Minutes crew did some more digging around and discovered that the extent of Arafat's wealth is somewhere in the $1-3 billion range. With all that money, you'd think he might be able to afford a nicer suit of clothes and maybe a razor that works properly. I guess he has other priorities.

Much of the money is invested in something called the Palestine Investment Fund, which puts the money in VCs and companies all over the world. It turns out that among his other investments, Arafat has a couple of million tied up in Evergreen III, an Israeli fund which specializes in Israeli high tech companies.

So, forget any criticism I may have levelled at the corruption in the PA. As far as I'm concerned, let Yasser keep skimming funds so long as it's good for the economy.

From Our "Who Knew?" Department

According to a survey of delegates to the General Assembly of United Jewish Communities, which opened its meeting in Jerusalem last night, France is the most anti-Semitic country out there. This comes after yet another incident, this time in the Paris suburb of Gagny, where a Hebrew school was torched.

Chirac has -- sacre bleu! -- timidly, hesitantly begun to maybe suspect that the arson might possibly have something to do with anti-Semitism and is taking the unusual step of meeting with Jewish groups.

In the of GA delegate survey, Frog land outpolled the number 2 anti-Semitic country, Russia, by more than two to one.

Way to go, France!