Saturday, February 22, 2003

A kindergarten teacher is being sued by a student who claims she taped him to his chair. Taped him to his chair? Big deal. Maybe he was too rowdy?
Two unlikely events happened yesterday: the Iraqi VP Taha Yassin Ramadan managed to amuse Steve, and Steve managed to amuse me. The times they are changing!

Friday, February 21, 2003

OK, just this one, before you all think something is terribly wrong with me: it's raining buckets in the North, and the rain is said to be moving South. That's it. Shabbat Shalom.
Even more good news - is this a good day, or what? Well, not entirely. Still: it looks like MAFDAL and SHINUI have been able to reach understanding on several issues, including military service for yeshiva students, civil marriages, and subsidies for large families. Historically, MAFDAL has been the most progressive religious party in Israel. The party was led for many years by Yosef Burg (father of Avraham Burg, member of the Labor party), who was one of the most admirable figures in Israeli public life.

Hopefully, this will signify the beginning of new understanding between the moderates on both sides. (IBA radio)
The good news department - again: after 20 year-long deliberations, the Judea Desert area was finally declared a nature preserve. It is an amazing place. One can still find fish fossils lying on the ground, as the whole area was covered by sea in prehistoric time. (IBA radio)
Has anyone yet jumped and sneered: "Yeah, but didn't Americans give Saddam his chemical weapons around that same time?" Well, maybe they did, but does anyone who did sit in the current administration? And even more importantly, have they learned anything from that mistake? Are they actively trying to help Saddam keep those weapons even today?

I guess the one thing you cannot blame Mr. Chirac for, is being inconsistent.

Thursday, February 20, 2003

Pashosh, who is 9, has told us last night that he is tired of listening about war and politics at dinner. He says he would rather we talked about life. I tried to explain to him that we are, indeed, talking about life. I tried to avoid mentioning death, but found it impossible. I also had to remind him of this conversation.
My husband is not the kind of person that does not get things, or that needs a lot of explaining. In fact, it is usually I who turns to him for explanations, when I don’t get things. But a couple of nights ago he amazed me. It turns out he does not understand the French, or, more precisely, Chirac. Mr. Chirac has managed to baffle my husband. That is something, I’ll tell you. I talked about all the psychology behind the French behavior in this crisis: how the French resent the US for having the superpower position, which they think should rightfully be theirs (this one beats me as well, but it seems that this is what they actually think). How they hate the fact that the US saved their ass against Germany, and the Soviet Union, and how they hate the American “cultural invasion”, and…what else?

Frankly, I am getting tired of all this psychoanalyzing of the French. And besides, this is what my husband says to all this: “Fine, I get all this [told you he gets things]. But does he not understand that in the end he will lose, and we will attack Iraq, and he only would have damaged himself by all this? I mean, the guy is not stupid, is he?” No, the guy is not stupid, although, I have to say, as politicians go, he will not be remembered as a genius. But even the most intelligent people often do the stupidest things. We have all seen this in our lives. It is human. And just because a person is a head of state, does not mean he is immune from this. Especially if most of his fellow countrymen suffer from the same delusions, resentments and phobias he does. He should be immune from these things, but he is not. He is only human, who also happens to be French.

And it is not just the French. And not just the Germans, or Belgians. Imshin, who was born in England, and had spent enough of her childhood there to remember, writes this on her Hebrew blog:
These were the 70ies, the unhappy, the depressed, the desperate….The Empire was still a fresh memory, and the British still did not fully accept the humiliation of the loss. The taxes skyrocketed and everyone who had enough money had escaped to some tax haven, or to the US. The coal-miners were on strike, and it was cold in the winter because of the power failures.

But in America everything was shiny, and big, and colorful, and new, and they were so self-assured. As if there were no others. As if they did not steal our language and our superiority from underneath our noses. As if we did not have to crawl and beg them to save us. Twice.

It’s OK to feel resentful and envious. It’s what one does with it that makes the difference. And there is a big difference between France and England. It’s the difference between adolescents and adults. If I was to use the marriage analogy, I’d say that it turns out the US has married an adolescent. And this spoiled brat Chirac is scolding the new competition for being “irresponsible” and “not well brought-up”. Funny, that.

I am not sure I will be gloating if we do end up seeing the end of the UN and the NATO. I know I will not be gloating if we see the Old Europe sinking into even greater decay. Like most things in life, this is not all good, and not all bad. So lets look on the bright side. We will go to war, with the support of more or less most of the world. We will win the war. And, along the way, we are giving the chance to those who need it to look in the mirror and grow up. Or shut up.
The Good News department: two Israeli scientists have developed and patented an effective and safe pesticide, that occurs naturally in three kinds of mushrooms common in Israel. The substance is derived from the mushrooms and used in a form of a spray. For an Israeli like me, who also mostly uses organic foods (and yes, occasionally hugs trees), this is great news. (IDF radio)
IDF radio correspondent in Turkey says that ordinary Turks he talked to seem to understand that the US rope can only be stretched so far. (A poorly translated metaphor?) I hope their government realizes this as well. If not, I have a fairy tale to tell them.
Hasbara has posted a petition protesting the recent Belgian court decision. I don't know if these petitions have any real impact, but I feel that this is the least I can do to have my opinion heard.
The London conference, which discussed possible reforms in the Palestinian Authority, came to a close today. The participants have agreed to transfer 700 million dollars to the PA. I want to reform, too! (IDF radio).

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

Judith at Kesher Talk got an e-mail from Damian Penny:
Hi, guys. As some of you might have heard, the town of Badger, in central Newfoundland, had to be evacuated after a major flood late last week. No one was hurt, but the flood waters have turned to ice, and it might be months before the residents are able to return to their homes.

The Canadian Red Cross has launched an emergency appeal for donations to help the flood victims. I'm sure the people of Badger would really appreciate it if you provided a link on your site.

A very interesting Lebanese anti-Syrian and anti-terrorist site. The site is a joint effort by The Middle East Forum, and the USCFL. I am not familiar with the latter, but the former has people like Daniel Pipes and Bat Ye'or on its staff, a fact that lends the site at least some credibility.

Lebanon is a very interesting and unusual country, especially against the backdrop of the Middle East. It is probably the most religiously and culturally diverse in the Arab world, and it has managed to stay diverse against all odds. Although its diversity brought it much trouble, it also is, as it was in the past, very conducive to development. It is probably one of the major reasons that made it possible for some of its citizens to support Israel, although at this point in time I seriously doubt they can do so openly in Lebanon. Still, this is one of the Arab countries with the greatest potential for development and democratization. Hopefully, after the domino effect of the war in Iraq finally reaches Syria, this potential will finally get a chance of being realized.

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

Surprise, surprise! Not.
Have we not seen this movie several times in the past? There was never a happy ending.
Another reason to legalize psychoactive drugs. I would begin with cannabis, and see how it goes.
My biopsy came back,, and it was benign. I am feeling much better now. Now can we please get on with this war, and get it over with? It is kind of like the Goat Story: the goat is out, but the dog and the chickens are still in the house.
Some good news and some not so good news. Aid to Egypt? Why, may I ask?
Like Imshin, I listen to the "International Hour" every morning. This morning I could not believe my ears. I always knew that the French are arrogant, it is probably the one real reason I like them much less than other Europeans. But this arrogant? If I were the Bulgarian or the Romanian head of state, I'd support the US just to spite the French. Come to think of it, it well may be that this is precisely what they are doing.

Monday, February 17, 2003

Well, my post went down the toilet, (it was about some movies I saw), and I finally got to read one of Nelson's last e-mails. It is already posted elsewhere (I'll link to that blog when I remember which one it was), but it is good enough to post again:
I've watched yesterday from my window while for 3 hours or so the peace protestors went on toward the Place de La Bastille. It wasn't very impressive really: just a mix of mainly middle-aged middleclass people and many Arabs. I'm glad to say that neither the slogans nor the signs they carried were too agressive: most were about peace, down with the war, no blood for oil and so on. Obviously one of the favorite slogans was Busharon murderer(s). I've seen, however, no swastikas juxtaposed to the star of David or to any American symbol. Neither was the whole thing too noisy.

Nevertheless I'd say that maybe 1/4 or 1/5 of the things shouted or shown were anti-Israeli and anti-Sharon, something that, when dealing with a war in which Israel's role is at most very marginal, gives food for thought. Curiously, I've seen nothing anti-British or anti-Blair and, considering that Britain is America's main partner in the war, that makes this absence as curious as the insistence in talking about Israel.

As I'm used to this kind of thing ever since the 70s in my country, I estimated that the size of the protest was around 150.000 people, and that's what the press has generally been saying. My estimation was also helped by the fact the this protest seemed to be roughly of the same size as the main anti-Israeli one during operation Defensive Shield last year. The difference between both protests, however, is that the first was much more militant, agressive, angry and well organized. Yesterday's looked either much less organized or maybe even more spontaneous. As I've said above, besides the Arabs, its participants were basically, how should I put it, "decent" people.

Immediately after, it looked as if it had never happened. And here's an intriguing point about this way of making politics. What's the real effect, the real importance of this, besides the pictures on the front page for a day or two and the TV footage? Is it all as meaningful, even for the participants, as the ideologues would have us believe?

I can take seriously one kind of protest: when people go out to the streets not only against their own government's wishes, but also risking jail, death, whatever; the kind that happened in Hungary in 56 or East Germany, Bucharest and Prague in 89 or Belgrade a couple of years ago. But those protests were not one time events. People took to the streets and stayed there insisting on immediate, substantive and radical changes in their very towns and countries. Those, unlike what took place yesterday, were not feelgood events backed by the government, the press and the official institutions.

It should also be remembered that even the angrier protest here in Paris against Israel last year failed to get any result. There was no real follow up: the next protests were few, they attracted less and less people and, in the end, they couldn't put real pressure on Israel and its army. If such a protest couldn't stop the army of a small, besieged, not exactly rich and very unpopular country, why should the US care for something that, if it had approximately the same size, was surely less deeply motivated?

My feeling, and I don't think it is exclusively subjective, is that middle-aged people were behaving like, well, rather well-behaved teens. But even this seems to have been happening in a somewhat peculiar way, because, after all, who were they exactly protesting against? In the end, teens, even nice teens, protest against their parents: that's human nature. Thus, our protestors should have been marching against their government, right?

Now, consider the following. My wife has two kids who are grown up now, but when they were teens the high school they attended was a fashionable lefty one. The teachers' game there was to back them against their parents, allowing them do do anything the parents tried to forbid. They then developed a strong loyalty toward those teachers because they seemed so much more sensitive, open-minded, understanding and so on than their own parents were.

My impression of France and of most of Western Europe sometimes is that they are a kind of huge highschool, or rather, lycée. That has in a way become the, so to say, paradigmatic institution, instead of, for instance, the workplace, the army or the church. This also helps to explain why Europeans in general expect from their representatives, ministers, presidents that they at least look and behave like intellectuals: they're teachers after all. It surely explains why intellectuals in general and specially academic intellectuals love the European way of ruling and making politics so much.

It's not hard to guess that I reserve for America the parental and bill paying role, but I'd like to stress that I'm not taking this in a psychoanalytic, Freudian way. I actually think that the educational system, as it is, has shaped these societies in a very deep way. I still remember my time in the student movement during the late 70s and what strikes me is how much the kind of action I've just witnessed below my window resembles student politics: it is much closer to it than to what many among us consider real politics. Utopianism, lots of theorizing, a lack of rootedness in pragmatic reality, the love for empty abstractions and impossible principles, romantic revolutionary posturing, voluntarism, the belief that all the evils in the world come from the cynicism and materialism of the grownups, sentimentalism and so on are traditional marks of student movements anywhere, except, of course, in dictatorships and tyrannies. And that's fair enough, because that's a reflex of the powerlessness of early youth.

Making a long story short, yesterday's protest was, partly at least, a public demonstration of the complete infantilization of the Western European street.

Nelson Ascher


How many times did I wirte a post in Word, knowing Blogger will eat it up? Well, today I did not, and now there is no post. I give up. I have cooking to do.
Andy Rooney last night on "60 minutes": "The French did not earn the right to oppose president Bush on war. I did". I have to agree. Neither the French, nor those little punks in the NYC subway have earned that right.

More on "60 minutes": they had a segment showing how allegedly unprepared the US troops are for a chem/bio attack by Saddam. It was pretty convincing. The elderly woman who spoke for the Pentagon has made a very feeble attempt at proving the opposite, I thought. I was very upset by that piece. Not only because it reminded me how dangerous any war can be for those who fight it, even if they are as technologically advanced as we are, but also because it has left me with a strong impression that its goal was to saw panic in its audience. They went on about how those units who are supposed to get protective gear do not get it, and how some gear is outdated or damaged, and how the soldiers do not have adequate training in using that gear, etc. And then my husband, who, unlike me, fought in three wars, just reads my mind by saying that they are just wasting our time by even discussing this: there is no way a person can actually fight wearing one of these things. They showed a clip in which the Pentagon staged a demonstration of the protective gear for the press. A soldier wearing the thing has collapsed from the heat of the camera lights. So what now? We don't have good suits, so we are not going to war, right? Job well done, Mike.

What do I know? They don't tell me anything. It may well be part of some ingenious smoke screen they are putting out there to confuse Saddam, and maybe even some of his friends in Europe. I hope that we are actually much better prepared, and I that maybe all this waiting time was not waisted, but rather used to maximize the possibility that our troops will not need to use those stupid suits at all. But even if not, it is too late now. Bush 1 and Powell should have thought about it 12 years ago. There will be war, and like in any war, there will be at least some casualties on both sides, and they very well may include chemo/bio. A very nasty thing to even think about. But if we wait too long, there still will be war, only with more casualties on both sides, and they will be even nastier. As it is more often than not in life, this is a choice between bad and worse.