These are all the Blogs posted on Saturday, 14, 2008.
Saturday, 14 June 2008
Paras seize Taliban bomb-maker in daring Afghanistan raid
Paras (for our US readers, they are The Parachute Regiment; I think you call yours Airborne Divisions) seized a suspected Taliban bomb-maker yesterday in a daring raid on a mosque in Afghanistan.
A small group of a dozen paratroopers and a Pashtun interpreter, accompanied by The Daily Telegraph, embarked on the mission after learning that a "high value target", believed to be responsible for dozens of roadside bombs, was hiding in a village they had visited earlier in the day.
Having turned back, they found the scene transformed.
The villagers they had met only hours before had disappeared or were in hiding. The quiet was what the Army call a "combat indicator" in that the "absence of the normal suggests the presence of the abnormal".
The tension increased as they arrived at the village pond where earlier an engineer had laid 11lb of plastic explosive and a large bar mine to collapse a tunnel where American lithium batteries had been found.
Human excrement had been smothered at the entrance, apparently to deter the curious, (I think that would make any soldier more curious, and no man who had ever done latrine duty would be deterred) and inside someone had opened up the plastic packs containing a dozen batteries that are used in roadside bombs or pressure-plate booby-traps. Intelligence indicated that one of the villagers questioned near the tunnel in the morning was an "IED (improvised explosive device) facilitator" and commanders wanted him urgently detained.
Outside the mosque where he was last spotted, the Paras took up all-round firing positions as the interpreter and three other soldiers entered the building's compound. There were at least 16 men in the mosque, a number of them of fighting age.
"Make ready the 66," Company Sergeant Major Stephen Tidmarsh told one of the Paras carrying the Light Anti-Tank Weapon.
"We have dickers [spotters] in the high ground watching our moves," said CSM Tidmarsh into the radio. "My immediate concern is that they will infiltrate from the compound on the other side of the road."
The suspected bomber was lured out of the mosque by a ruse that cannot be reported. Outside he stroked his beard with worry as he spotted more armed Paras.
It was then confirmed that the man was the wanted suspect. "OK, we will withdraw slowly and softly," said Major Wilson.
The Paras began moving out of the village in bounds, soldiers covering each other as they withdrew with the suspected bomb-maker, only stopping when they reached the safety of high ground away from the immediate threat of small arms fire.
The bomb-maker was searched and formally detained by the accompanying military policeman, Cpl Lee Hall. Immediately the Paras set up defensive positions although the situation was still vulnerable to mortar gunfire.
As the suspect was being searched, three men were spotted on a nearby mountain. . . Moments later the welcoming sound of a Dutch F16 dived down from the sky. It swept low and fast at 200ft over the Paras' position and then powered over the village making a deafening noise and releasing four flares as part of its "show of force".
The suspect was now positively identified and handcuffed, with black-out goggles over his eyes. After he was flown away by helicopter for questioning, the Paras set off in Viking armoured vehicles.
As US Harrier jets circled overhead, news arrived that the Taliban were preparing to ambush the column. F16s, US Harriers and Apache helicopters flew over the convoy dropping flares on suspected Taliban as the Paras made their way back to base in darkness.
"Today has been a successful day, and an important one after the losses of yesterday," said CSM Tidmarsh. "The Parachute Regiment is still here ready to do its job."
Posted on 06/14/2008 1:51 AM by Esmerelda Weatherwax
Saturday, 14 June 2008
Fears of al-Qaeda forging links in Lebanon
"IT'S going to be us and al-Qaeda against Hezbollah." Sitting in a disused warehouse in the Bab-al-Tebbaneh district of Tripoli, a Sunni fighter explains how the ad-hoc militia that he helped command in the recent fighting are preparing for the future.
Softly-spoken and courteous, speaking to The Scotsman on condition of anonymity, he pauses to offer cigarettes. "When we hear al-Qaeda are threatening the Shia, we do celebratory gunfire," he says.
Al-Qaeda has had major setbacks recently. In Iraq, at least according to the CIA, it has suffered "near-strategic defeat", while missile strikes have killed some top figures in Pakistan.
It is believed to be looking for new fronts to open. In the past month, jihadi websites have been abuzz with discussion on how best to exploit the situation in Lebanon. With internal security in disarray and sectarian tension at a peak after Hezbollah's humiliating take-over of Beirut last month, the country could offer an opening.
Lebanon has swung repeatedly between bursts of optimism about the "Switzerland of the Middle East", with its beaches, night-life and ski resorts, and tragically destructive wars involving Israel, Hezbollah, and other Lebanese and Palestinian factions.
Sunnis in Lebanon, a majority Muslim country, are chiefly interested in getting back to business and work. But in some areas they are demanding a more radical response. If Sunni Muslims feel vulnerable, it could be a good time for Sunni extremists, some with ties to al-Qaeda. Analysts are worried.
"Extremists are at the peak of their possible popularity and recruitment … they could cause a security upheaval," said Timur Goksel, a security expert at the American University of Beirut.
Unlike some of his comrades, the Bab-al-Tabbaneh fighter is not a Salafist – a Sunni fundamentalist – which makes his tolerant attitude to al-Qaeda all the more disturbing.
Tripoli has a history of Salafism. But although they have grown in visibility in recent years, the Salafists are not as powerful as they were in the 1980s. After Hezbollah and allied fighters shelled the city last month, however, Sunni public opinion is increasingly demanding a more radical response.
"The Future Movement (Lebanon's mainstream Sunni political party] are all engineers and doctors," says Araby Akkawi, a well-connected local. "The feeling is that you need an extreme Muslim group to face another extreme Muslim group."
Security incidents have occurred on an almost daily basis in the past month. An audio tape released on Monday purported to be from the leader of the al-Qaeda-affiliated group Fatah Islam, which killed over 100 Lebanese soldiers at Nahr al Bared refugee camp last year.
It suggested that "the car bombs of Iraq and brigades of martyrdom-seekers" would be the next stage of the conflict. "Me, personally I'm ready to become a suicide bomber," says the Bab-al-Tabbaneh fighter. "I am training my boy to fight Hezbollah," he says, showing us a picture of a child holding a rocket- propelled grenade.
It is not clear who was behind the recent attempted suicide bombing mission from Ein el Helweh refugee camp. But the more militant sections of the Sunni population see such actions as a boost for their cause.
In the main mosque in Tripoli last Friday, Sheikh Bilal Baroudi told worshippers to "take advantage" of the "rage" they were feeling, ending his sermon on an ominous note: "What happened at Ein el Helweh is just the beginning."
No official census has been taken of Lebanon's estimated four million people since 1932, reflecting political sensitivity over religious balance. It is thought that Muslims account for about 60 per cent of the population.
I think it is a higher proportion now. The loss of Christians is of enormous significance but not mentioned in this particular article.
Posted on 06/14/2008 2:50 AM by Esmerelda Weatherwax
Saturday, 14 June 2008
Irish No vote
Yesterday the Irish, the only people allowed a say, said no to the further encroachment of the European superstate. This despite being the recipient of massive handouts from that profligate institution. These days Ireland is a net contributor. While its people didn't mind taking money from the British (our contribution was about equal to their grants), they are not so keen on paying for road-building in Estonia. And why should they? Why should we? And don't get me started on Turkey.
It is difficult to think of any issue on which the will of the people is more at odds with that of its rulers. That is why the rulers - including ours - are so reluctant to let the people have any say. From The Telegraph:
In the Irish language, there is no word for "no". The Irish way of getting round this is to say instead: "It isn't." Yesterday we learnt that the Irish people, confronted with the Lisbon Treaty in a referendum, have said: "It isn't."
And that, exactly, is now the constitutional position of the treaty throughout the European Union. It isn't. To become law, the treaty has to be approved by all 27 member states. This has not happened: the treaty is dead.
Unfortunately, most European leaders regard EU treaties as a chance to parody the principle of monarchy: "The treaty is dead. Long live the treaty." Veterans of these disputes will remember that, when the Danes voted No to Maastricht in 1992, the then (Tory) Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, rushed to the House of Commons to explain that the Danish people had given the wrong answer: they would have to vote again until they gave the right one. In 2001, the Irish rejected the Nice Treaty. They, too, were made to vote again.
In 2005, when the French and the Dutch people killed the European Constitution in their referendums, the corpse was carried off to the Lisbon summit. By a bureaucratic miracle, it was born again as the Lisbon Treaty.
The trick almost worked: Ireland is the only member state that has had the chance to vote. In a community of more than 300 million voters, only three million have been permitted to express an opinion at the ballot box. Bravely, they have chosen what their rulers did not want.
It is being said already that this impertinent Irish behaviour should not be allowed to hold up the destiny of an entire continent. At the European Council at the end of next week, some version of life-support, resurrection or cloning will be applied to the Lisbon corpse.
Obviously, the Irish result revives Euro-scepticism. In particular, it should reinvigorate the Conservatives on the subject.
Now Mr Cameron is restarting the fight. As well as breaking its referendum promise, he says, the Government, if it pushes on with Lisbon, is breaking the law. It must drop the treaty. The latest poll shows public support - 51 per cent against Lisbon and only 28 per cent for.
Posted on 06/14/2008 6:12 AM by Mary Jackson
Saturday, 14 June 2008
Saudis To Pump More Oil
This news may prick the oil bubble because speculators will immediately start betting on lower prices. Confidential sources spoke to New Duranty:
Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, is planning to increase its output next month by about a half-million barrels a day, according to analysts and oil traders who have been briefed by Saudi officials.
The increase could bring Saudi output to a production level of 10 million barrels a day, which, if sustained, would be the kingdom’s highest ever. The move was seen as a sign that the Saudis are becoming increasingly nervous about both the political and economic effect of high oil prices. In recent weeks, soaring fuel costs have incited demonstrations and protests from Italy to Indonesia.
Saudi Arabia is currently pumping 9.45 million barrels a day, which is an increase of about 300,000 barrels from last month.
While they are reaping record profits, the Saudis are concerned that today’s record prices might eventually damp economic growth and lead to lower oil demand, as is already happening in the United States and other developed countries. The current prices are also making alternative fuels more viable, threatening the long-term prospects of the oil-based economy.
President Bush visited Saudi Arabia twice this year, pleading with King Abdullah to step up production. While the Saudis resisted the calls then, arguing that the markets were well supplied, they seem to have since concluded that they needed to disrupt the momentum that has been building in commodity markets, sending prices higher.
The Saudi plans were disclosed in interviews with several oil traders and analysts who said that Saudi oil officials had privately conveyed their production plans recently to some traders and companies in the United States. The analysts declined to be identified so as not to be cut off from future information from the Saudis.
Last week, King Abdullah also took the unprecedented step of arranging on short notice a major gathering of oil producers and consumers to address the causes of the price rally. The meeting will be held on June 22 in the Red Sea town of Jeddah...
Posted on 06/14/2008 7:13 AM by Rebecca Bynum
Saturday, 14 June 2008
The Many Friends Of Angelo
: Two U.S. senators, two former Cabinet members, and a former ambassador to the United Nations received loans from Countrywide Financial
through a little-known program that waived points, lender fees, and company borrowing rules for prominent people.
Senators Christopher Dodd
, Democrat from Connecticut and chairman of the Banking Committee, and Kent Conrad
, Democrat from North Dakota, chairman of the Budget Committee and a member of the Finance Committee, refinanced properties through Countrywide’s “V.I.P.” program in 2003 and 2004, according to company documents and emails and a former employee familiar with the loans.
Other participants in the V.I.P. program included former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Alphonso Jackson
, former Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala
, and former U.N. ambassador and assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke
. Jackson was deputy H.U.D. secretary in the Bush administration when he received the loans in 2003. Shalala, who received two loans in 2002, had by then left the Clinton administration for her current position as president of the University of Miami. She is scheduled to receive a Presidential Medal of Freedom on June 19.
Holbrooke, whose stint as U.N. ambassador ended in 2001, was also working in the private sector when he and his family received V.I.P. loans. He was an adviser to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
James Johnson, who had been advising presidential candidate Barack Obama on the selection of a running mate, resigned from the Obama campaign Wednesday after the Wall Street Journal
reported that he received Countrywide loans at below-market rates.
Most of the officials belonged to a group of V.I.P. loan recipients known in company documents and emails as “F.O.A.'s”—Friends of Angelo, a reference to Countrywide chief executive Angelo Mozilo
. While the V.I.P. program also serviced friends and contacts of other Countrywide executives, the F.O.A.’s made up the biggest subset.
According to company documents and emails, the V.I.P.'s received better deals than those available to ordinary borrowers. Home-loan customers can reduce their interest rates by paying “points”—one point equals 1 percent of the loan’s value. For V.I.P.'s, Countrywide often waived at least half a point and eliminated fees amounting to hundreds of dollars for underwriting, processing and document preparation. If interest rates fell while a V.I.P. loan was pending, Countrywide provided a free “float-down” to the lower rate, eschewing its usual charge of half a point. Some V.I.P.'s who bought or refinanced investment properties were often given the lower interest rate associated with primary residences...
Posted on 06/14/2008 7:25 AM by Rebecca Bynum
Saturday, 14 June 2008
Counting The Cost
I'm not sure I agree with John McCain, Roger Kimball and pretty much every other conservative commentator on this issue. Holding 270 men indefinitely while providing them with special food, Imams, Korans, prayer rugs, signs pointing to Mecca, not to mention the fact that our men are required to only touch the Korans while wearing surgical gloves so the fetish Korans wouldn't be contaminated by the Infidels, seems like an exercise in futility to me. While there have been roughly ten former Guantanamo detainees who have been killed or captured after re-joining the jihad after their release and while it is certainly likely the remaining 270 will do the same, put that up against the thousands and millions of jihadis and potential jihadi Muslims worldwide and the danger shrinks considerably, especially when compared to the costs of detention, costs both to our treasury and to our legal system.
Financial Times: John McCain on Friday described the decision by the Supreme Court to allow Guantánamo Bay prisoners to challenge their detention in US courts as “one of the worst decisions in the history of this country”.
The Republican presidential candidate said he agreed with the four dissenting justices on the nine-member court that foreign fighters held at the detention camp were not entitled to the rights of US citizens.
He criticised Barack Obama, his Democratic opponent, for supporting the decision and said it highlighted the importance of nominating conservative judges to the Supreme Court. His remarks represented a hardening of his position from his more moderate initial response to the ruling on Thursday, signalling a strategic decision by the McCain campaign to make it an election issue.
Mr McCain’s stance appeared designed to demonstrate his toughness on national security, while casting Mr Obama as soft on terrorists. It also looked calculated to spark debate on the future of the Supreme Court – one of the most important election issues for many conservative voters...
Posted on 06/14/2008 8:10 AM by Rebecca Bynum
Saturday, 14 June 2008
Cobbler's awls, or, if the shoe fits
At one time our leaders had names like William, George, Benjamin, Harold and Margaret. Not chummy enough, perhaps. Recently we have been ruled by a Tony and our current Home Secretary is a Jacqui. Worse than that, our Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families is an Ed: Ed Balls.
The Ed is self-inflicted; the Balls he cannot help. In a Spectator article with the telling title “No Child Left Behind” – why must we take the worst of America and make it worse still? - Balls writes on selective education:
I won’t dwell on the grammar schools row — but the question of whether you should seek to entrench advantage and opportunity or spread it more widely remains the crucial debate in education policy today. On each of our key reforms — education to 18, diplomas, school admissions, raising standards and tackling underperforming schools — there is a clear difference between the two main parties: between a Conservative front bench determined to preserve excellence for some, and our progressive commitment actively to promote and pursue excellence for all.
Labour’s destruction of the grammar schools was an act of educational vandalism, and of war on excellence. Grammar schools selected for ability regardless of social background or wealth. When the UK had grammar schools a far greater proportion than now of State school pupils, from all social backgrounds, went to Oxford and Cambridge. But social and educational mobility is anathema to Socialists, who want to reserve privileges for themselves and to keep the underprivileged in their place. In the absence of selection, standards in State schools fell, and this fall had to be disguised by dumbing down the exams and awarding top grades for mediocre performance.
Content aside, look at the words, in particular “excellence for all”. What does this – what can this – mean? Excellence, by definition, involves surpassing others. If all win prizes, then none do, because the prize is worthless.
If my name were not Jackson, but Smelly, I would use a double-dose of deodorant. If my name were Savage, I would try my best to speak gently and keep my temper. Ed, take note.
Posted on 06/14/2008 8:33 AM by Mary Jackson
Saturday, 14 June 2008
My late father had no time for Father's Day, dismissing it as "one of those American things". As with that ghastly "trick or treat" business at Halloween, "train station", "Can I get a coffee?" and now "No child left behind" we have imported the worst of "American things". Hugh doesn't like Father's Day either, I was pleased to see. Nor does Gill Hornby:
In the third week of June 1972, Richard Milhous Nixon committed an injustice with which the Western world is still struggling. Yes, two men broke into the Democratic Party headquarters in the Watergate building - but we're no longer bothered about that. What still affects us today - or rather tomorrow - is that the then President that week brought the American nation together by making Father's Day a public holiday. For this high crime and misdemeanour, his name should live on in the annals of infamy.
[T]he most worrying thing is that there is a new generation of impressionable young minds who might somehow get the Days of Fathers and Mothers confused. They may even, given the strength of the commercial message, judge them as equal. It is essential to clarify the differences.
The first is historical. Mother's Day was born out of the sacred rites of the holy church, in the 16th century. It was a day to celebrate the role of the Virgin Mary in the life of Christ, and for women to meet up in their own mother church and re-establish their family bonds. Father's Day was invented by Hallmark, and blessed by Richard Nixon.
And the second is in the rites of the celebration of the day itself. Gifts are exchanged on Mother's Day; of course they are. Flowers are delivered, cards are sent. But those are not the important things. The traditions that really matter are the breakfast in bed, and the lunch being cooked by others for once, and being allowed to read the paper in the afternoon. It is a day away from the domestic coalface. And how quite do we adapt that this Sunday?
Of course, there are single fathers who deserve every treat coming their way this weekend. But although one quarter of all families live with a single parent, only one in 10 of those parents is a father.
In two-parent families, the culture of fatherhood has changed significantly over the past generation. Men are, on the whole, much more involved on a day-to-day basis with their children and noticeably more demonstrative emotionally than their fathers were.
There is sympathy and accommodation in the workplace for them to be actively involved in family life. They attend births and change nappies and drop off at schools. They are great. Give them a soppy card and a copy of the new James Bond book.
But real co-parenting is still a rare and remote ideal. For all the family activities that men do join in, a few still, bizarrely, get overlooked. Nit-combing remains a female preserve. As does the dentist's waiting room, the scrum of the school uniform sale, the toy stall at the fete. But most important, recent research shows that, among couples with children, regardless of who goes out to work, women do a whopping 10 hours more child-generated housework per week. How can men have a day away from the coalface if they never look down the mine?
And then there is the question of taste. Mothering Sunday one associates with a charming church service and a hand-tied posy of violets. This week, the image most employed in the celebrations seems to be that of Homer Simpson.
But now the day is upon us, it would be rude to ignore it. In this household we will be celebrating as in all others. We'll cook him lun… hang on, we always do. He can read the pap… nope, he always does. Put his feet… they're always up. It'll just have to be the Bond.
Posted on 06/14/2008 10:42 AM by Mary Jackson
Saturday, 14 June 2008
War On Drugs Update: Legal Drugs Are Top Killers
New Duranty: MIAMI — From “Scarface” to “Miami Vice,” Florida’s drug problem has been portrayed as the story of a single narcotic: cocaine. But for Floridians, prescription drugs are increasingly a far more lethal habit.
An analysis of autopsies in 2007 released this week by the Florida Medical Examiners Commission found that the rate of deaths caused by prescription drugs was three times the rate of deaths caused by all illicit drugs combined.
And there has never been a single death recorded due to the effects of smoking marijuana. Aspirin, on the other hand, causes some 500 deaths in the US per year and the combined total for all NSAIDs is 7600 deaths per year.
Law enforcement officials said that the shift toward prescription-drug abuse, which began here about eight years ago, showed no sign of letting up and that the state must do more to control it.
“You have health care providers involved, you have doctor shoppers, and then there are crimes like robbing drug shipments,” said Jeff Beasley, a drug intelligence inspector for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which co-sponsored the study. “There is a multitude of ways to get these drugs, and that’s what makes things complicated.”
The report’s findings track with similar studies by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, which has found that roughly seven million Americans are abusing prescription drugs. If accurate, that would be an increase of 80 percent in six years and more than the total abusing cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens, Ecstasy and inhalants...
In the movie, Children of Men, set in the future, an advertisement for a suicide pill plays endlessly on television, but marijuana is still illegal.
Posted on 06/14/2008 11:07 AM by Rebecca Bynum
Saturday, 14 June 2008
Will Blyth writes in New Duranty:
On May 16, 1955, James Agee, 45, died of a heart attack in a New York City taxicab while on the way to his doctor’s office. Elegized by the critic Dwight Macdonald as a literary James Dean, he left behind an idiosyncratic nonfiction classic called “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men” along with one of those myths for hard-living and intemperate genius that are far more alluring to young writers than the idea that they are going to spend their working lives alone in a room, hoping that something interesting will happen on the blank screen in front of them. (There are days when more interesting things happen on a widget assembly line.)
But Agee’s legacy also included a manuscript of an untitled and nearly finished novel in handwriting so crabbed that psychics should have been called in to decode it. David McDowell, Agee’s protégé and literary executor, jerry-built a version of that book, which is a lyrical autobiographical account of Agee’s first six and a half years, ending with the death of his beloved father in a car crash. “A Death in the Family,” as McDowell titled it, was published in 1957 to great acclaim and a Pulitzer Prize — a happy ending for the novel, if not its creator.
Or so it has seemed for the last 50 years.
Enter the scholars, as they are wont to do, especially one Michael A. Lofaro. He appears to have spent years shuffling through the original manuscript to create A DEATH IN THE FAMILY: A Restoration of the Author’s Text (University of Tennessee, $49.95), tracking down the variants, squinting at Agee’s gnarled handwriting, deciphering illegibilities, comparing drafts, speculating, emendating, annotating — and when it comes to his predecessor McDowell’s version, lacerating. The volume he’s restored with the care and caution of a divorce lawyer guarding his client’s assets is thick with such scholarly apparatus as fore-matter, after-matter, and probably a little antimatter, too...
Certainly, the two editions of the novel couldn’t start more differently. While the McDowell version opens with the famous prologue, “Knoxville: Summer of 1915,” a free-floating evocation of a summer dusk in that Southern city, so beguiling in its rhythms that Samuel Barber set it to music, “A Death in the Family” now begins with a nightmare in which the grown-up protagonist drags the decomposing corpse of John the Baptist through the streets of that same Knoxville. The rotting body is treated with the lyricism Agee normally lavishes on men watering their lawns in the twilight. When John’s head goes rolling down the street, the protagonist feels an agonizing tenderness. “He could not endure to chase and corner and trap it as if it were some frightened animal but gently shoring its escape with both hands, trying by the gentleness of his hands, without speaking, to assure it that it need not fear him, slid both hands beneath it and lifted its cold and gritty weight as if it were a Grail.”
That’s not your average interaction with a severed head, ladies and gentlemen, that’s a courtly romance...
So which version is better? I’d say the new edition, though the nightmare-prologue could have been recited in a therapist’s office to greater effect. The novel improves without McDowell’s flashbacks, which block the narrative’s quietly tragic flow. The wreck is more devastating now. With the mountain-bred Jay’s enlarged role, the story is also more rooted in a specific place, more Appalachian. This further heightens the contrast between husband and wife, who are already engaged in a subterranean war over Jay’s drinking and lack of religion.
At last we have “A Death in the Family” that appears closer to the author’s original intention. This tidying is good in its own right, but the main reason to celebrate the publication of this version is that it serves as a fresh reminder of the wondrous nature of Agee’s prose — unabashedly poetic, sacramental in its embrace of reality, and rhythmical as rain on a Tennessee tin roof.
“One by one, million by million, in the prescience of dawn, every leaf in that part of the world was moved.” Why don’t our novelists write in Agee’s tender high style these days? Either something has gone out of the world, or something has gone out of them. His book reads like a prayer, an attempt to breathe life into the dead through mighty exertions of language. Everything is consecrated. Trees move in their sleep, stars tremble like lanterns, and a butterfly — yes, a butterfly — alights on a coffin.
In the end, all that a writer has to pass on is not myth and anecdote, but scene and character, evoked in memorable prose. The beauty of “A Death in the Family” is that the child’s point of view that begins the book eventually widens until readers may feel they are seeing into the very heart of existence — the utter strangeness of being alive in a particular family at a particular time and place. What more could James Agee leave behind?
Posted on 06/14/2008 1:22 PM by Rebecca Bynum
Saturday, 14 June 2008
Still No Revolt By People In Gaza
Condoleeza Rice fully expected the Hamas administration of Gaza to fail and that the people would rise up against Hamas and force it from power, but the reality is, Hamas is implementing Islamic law and this is the people's will. Ethan Bronner writes in New Duranty:
Gaza - Cursing God in public here — a fairly common event in this benighted and besieged strip of Palestinian land — can now lead to prison. So can kissing in public. A judge ruled last week that a bank could not collect its contracted interest on a 10-year-old loan because Islam forbids charging interest.
One year ago, gunmen from Hamas, an Islamist anti-Israel group, took over Gaza, shooting some of their more secular Fatah rivals in the knees and tossing one off a building. Israel and the West imposed a blockade, hoping to squeeze the new rulers from power. Yet today Hamas has spread its authority across all aspects of life, including the judiciary. It is fully in charge. Gazans have not, as Israel and the United States hoped, risen up against it.
“The Palestinian criminal code says there should be no improper behavior in the streets,” the new chief justice, Abed al-Raouf Halabi, explained in an interview, pulling the code book from his breast pocket.
“It is up to judges to interpret what that means,” he said. “For us that means no cursing, no drinking and no kissing in public. In the past these things were ignored.”
Gaza has always been poor and pious, distinct from the more secular and better off West Bank. But a year of Hamas rule has made it more so. The notion of Gaza as an enduringly separate entity is solidifying, making it less likely that Palestinians might agree even among themselves on peace with Israel.
Compared with a year ago here in Gaza, more women are covered, more men are bearded, Internet sites are filtered and non-Hamas public gatherings are largely banned. With the Israeli closure greatly reducing the supply of fuel, spare parts and other vital goods, less sewage is treated and more fish are contaminated. Gazans feel trapped and helpless.
Yes, those heartless Israelis making these poor Muslims, who freely voted a Islamic terrorist organization into power, feel trapped and helpless. In my opinion, Islam alone is enough to make someone feel trapped and helpless, nevermind the Israelis, who are not responsible for these people in any case.
Now, even many of those who detest Hamas say that security has returned to daily life as a result of its takeover.
“Hamas is strong and brutal but very good at governing,” observed Eyad Serraj, a British-trained psychiatrist who runs a group of mental health clinics and is a secular opponent of Hamas. “They are handing out coupons for gas. They have gotten people to pay for car registration. They are getting people to pay their electricity bills after years of everyone refusing to. The city and the hospitals are cleaner than in many years.”
While the West Bank-based government of President Abbas bars its nearly 80,000 employees from showing up at work in Gaza to protest the takeover, it continues to pay their salaries here. With no work and a steady wage, there is a once-a-month rush on the A.T.M.’s and a fair amount of disposable income spent in handsome coffee shops surrounded by Poinciana trees now in bloom. New restaurants have opened recently to take advantage of this phenomenon...
80,000 government employees? How many people live there? The hopelessness of having to draw a paycheck without working for it is just heartbreaking. I'm sure a lot of Americans would jump at that kind of hopelessness.
Whereas Hamas says it will never recognize Israel, its leaders say that if Israel returned to the 1967 borders, granted a Palestinian state in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem and dealt with the rights of refugees, Hamas would declare a long-term truce. This is not that different from what the rest of the Arab world says or the Fatah position in peace talks with Israel.
It's nice to see New Duranty admit that the position of Fatah is really no different from that of Hamas, even if it's put the other way around to try to make the point that Hamas really ain't that radical. Treaty of al-Hudaibiyyah anyone?
Sayed Abu Musameh is one of the founders of Hamas and now a member of the legislature. One of the old guard moderates, he is also on the board of Hamas’s first research organization just opening here. It is called Beit al Hikma, the House of Wisdom, and seeks to build bridges with the West.
“We are not seeking all of Palestine, only the ’67 borders,” he said. “Then there would be a truce for a very long period to pave the way for the next generation to resolve the issues we are paralyzed to resolve.”
It is impossible to understand or to explain the Muslim position without explaining that treaty made between Muhammad and the Meccans in 628 and which was broken as soon as Muhammad and his followers were strong enough to do so. Not to understand this and not to explain it is a serious journalistic weakness found not only in New Duranty but across the board.
He added that Hamas’s rocket attacks on southern Israeli communities are a mistake and that the group’s links to Iran are out of necessity, not desire. He said that while the top Hamas leadership did not agree on these last two points, he was not the only advocate to believe them and more would do so if there were encouragement.
Americans who have visited the top Hamas leader in Syria, Khaled Meshal, including former President Jimmy Carter and Henry Siegman of the U.S./Middle East Project, say a real change is under way, especially regarding the group’s willingness to live next to Israel. So far, few American or Israeli officials have taken their assertion seriously.
Apparently this reporter is taking their assertions seriously and misleading readers. That's one reason we don't take the New York Times seriously.
Posted on 06/14/2008 1:49 PM by Rebecca Bynum
Saturday, 14 June 2008
Lawyer-Turned-Nun Rises to Israel’s Defense
New Duranty: Sister Ruth Lautt works from a single room on the 19th floor of the God Box. Such is the nickname for the Interchurch Center, the office building on Riverside Drive in Manhattan that is the closest thing to a Vatican for America’s mainline Protestant denominations. Indeed, Sister Ruth’s fellow tenants include agencies of the United Methodist Church, the United Church of Christ and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
Wearing the tapered suits left over from an earlier career in law and the crucifix of her more recent life as a Roman Catholic nun, Sister Ruth cuts an inconspicuous figure at the elevator bank. And on many of the issues that animate the mainline churches — ecumenical outreach, social justice — she makes a perfectly companionable neighbor. On the subject of Israel, however, she qualifies as something more like the enemy within.
Through the organization she founded three years ago, Christians for Fair Witness on the Middle East, Sister Ruth has frequently and sharply clashed with the very denominations housed under the God Box’s roof. When they have proposed divestment from Israel or more generally condemned its actions against Palestinians, she has fought against those positions, vociferously speaking out for Israel’s right to self-defense and security.
In the rancorous and relentless debate on the Middle East conflict, Sister Ruth stands as a sui generis player. She has little contact with Jewish advocacy groups, none with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee lobby. She disassociates herself from Christian Zionists of the theological and political right. Even while defending Israel’s defensive measures, including the separation barrier, she openly criticizes its occupation of the West Bank and laments Palestinian suffering.
As for her methods, Fair Witness has specialized in behind-the-scenes infighting at denominational meetings. A former litigator with the famously aggressive Manhattan law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, Sister Ruth has become both effective and controversial by working the floor at religious conventions, helping opponents of divestment draft motions, applying persuasion at the subcommittee and committee levels.
“We are informed by the Christian mandate to stand for justice and to raise our voices when we see someone being falsely accused,” Sister Ruth, 44, said in an interview at the God Box. “The issue isn’t divestment. Divestment is a symptom, a symptom of bias against the state of Israel and an attempt to lay the blame on the shoulders of Israel.”
Such a viewpoint collides with the political and theological direction of the mainline Protestant churches. Influenced by a version of liberation theology espoused by the Palestinian Christian activist Naim Ateek and his organization Sabeel, which likens Palestinians to the persecuted Jesus, all five of the mainline denominations in the United States (Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Evangelical Lutheran and United Church of Christ) have debated and in some cases adopted policies intended to bring direct or indirect economic pressure on Israel to compromise...
Sister Ruth parts ways even with her own order of nuns, the Dominican sisters, in her stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On a Web site devoted to “justice and peace,” the Dominican order formally opposes the separation barrier and calls for “solidarity” with Palestinian Christians.
Acknowledging the friction, Sister Ruth said: “The overwhelming majority of these folks are extremely good people trying to be faithful to the Gospel call to justice. But they are mis- and under-informed when it comes to the Arab-Israeli conflict, and typically have only seen this conflict from one side.”..
Posted on 06/14/2008 4:01 PM by Rebecca Bynum
Saturday, 14 June 2008
Quinn Interviews Hirsi Ali
Sally Quinn has done a nice interview with Ayyan Hirsi Ali at the Washington Post
in video format (thanks to Allan).
Posted on 06/14/2008 4:22 PM by Rebecca Bynum
Saturday, 14 June 2008
We went to London today to the reconstructed Globe Theatre on London's South Bank to see the Merry Wives of Windsor. This was my husband's Father's Day treat. It was also the Trooping of the Colour ceremony the other side of the river in Whitehall to celebrate the Queen's Birthday. Due to an inconvienient inability to be in two places at once we were in the Globe having a guided tour when the RAF flypast went over. But as I had dawdled to the back I hung around in the courtyard with a couple of men, also attracted by the sound of the engines, to see what we could spot.
I missed the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and the Tornados.
I think these are the Lockheed Tristar flanked by two HS 125 liason aircraft.
Posted on 06/14/2008 5:11 PM by Esmerelda Weatherwax
Saturday, 14 June 2008
Bush To Visit London
PARIS (Reuters) - President George W. Bush heads for the United Kingdom on Sunday as his final stop on a European farewell tour, having won support on the continent for a ratcheting-up of pressure on Iran over its nuclear program.
With much of Europe still smarting over the U.S.-led war in Iraq, Bush has spent much of his trip trying to forge a united front to press Tehran to suspend its enrichment of uranium, which can produce fissile material for nuclear bombs.
There have been only muted anti-Bush protests, in contrast to the big rallies that marred his previous visits. He was warmly greeted by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Italian Prime Minister Silvo Berlusconi and French President
Germany, Italy and France all offered support for efforts to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and Merkel went a step further, backing more sanctions on Tehran if it refuses their latest request that it stop enrichment.
"Much of my discussions on this trip have been dominated by this subject because our allies understand that a nuclear-armed Iran is incredibly destabilizing, and they understand that it would be a major blow to world peace," Bush said on Saturday.
White House officials have described discussions about trade, climate change and other issues as productive but announced no new breakthroughs or major initiatives.
Bush and his wife Laura will spend Sunday afternoon meeting Queen Elizabeth II and receiving a tour of Windsor Castle before attending a dinner in London with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and holding talks with him on Monday...
Posted on 06/14/2008 6:49 PM by Rebecca Bynum