Monday, July 31, 2006


More pictures of the destruction of Qana from the BBC

Originally uploaded by Liberté&Igalité.

Qana was hit at least 80 times. Eventually, inevitably a shelter full of civilians was hit.
You would think that the Israelis (the Israelis!) would understand the moral danger of assigning collective guilt and issuing collective punishment.

Listen to a wise man, Juan Cole, on the difference between Hezbollah and al-Qaeda:
Western and Israeli pundits keep comparing Hizbullah to al-Qaeda. It is a huge conceptual error. There is a crucial difference between an international terrorist network like al-Qaeda, which can be disrupted by good old policing techniques (such as inserting an agent in the Western Union office in Karachi), and a sub-nationalist movement.

Al-Qaeda is some 5,000 multinational volunteers organized in tiny cells.

Hizbullah is a mass expression of subnationalism that has the loyalty of some 1.3 million highly connected and politically mobilized peasants and slum dwellers. Over a relatively compact area.

Remember, Hezbollah has the support of about 40% of the Lebanese population, like our allies in Iraq, they are a political party with seats iparliamentnt as well as a military wing. Again, Dr. Cole:
The main factor in causing these peasant sharecroppers to become politically aware and mobilized was the Arab Israeli conflict. The Israelis stole some of their land in 1948 and expelled 100,000 Palestinians north into south Lebanon, where they competed for resources with local Lebanese Shiites. In the late 1960s and early 1970s the Palestinians became politically and militarily organized by the PLO. The Shiites' conflict with the PLO in the southern camps in the 1970s was probably a key beginning, but from 1982 it was primarily their conflict with the Israeli Occupation army that spurred them on.

He is speaking here of Shia Lebanese peasants. Rural folk who practice a different form of Islam from the orthodox Sunni variety (I'm not going to define it further here, some 60% of Iraqi are Shia; if the general readership after three+ years of war doesn't grasp the difference, God help us.) He continues,
Where subnationalisms are organized by party-militias willing to use carbombings and other asymmetrical forms of warfare, they are extremely difficult, if not impossible to defeat militarily. It would take a World War II style crushing military defeat of these populations, with the willingness of the conqueror to suffer tens of thousands dead in troop casualties. Israel is not even in a position to risk such a thing, given its small population.

Hizbullah is not like al-Qaeda in any way, sociologically speaking, and making such an analogy is a sure way for a general or politician to trick himself into entering the fires of hell.

What the Israelis set out to do, if they intended to "destroy" or even substantially attrite Hizbullah, was completely impractical. What they have done is to convince even Lebanese formerly on the fence about the issue that Hizbullah's leaders were correct in predicting that Lebanon would again be attacked in the most brutal and horrible way by the Israelis and that an even more powerful deterrent is needed. I.e more silkworms, not fewer. . The days when the Israelis could lord it over disconnected unmobilized Arab peasant villagers with their high tech army are coming to a close. The Arabs are still very weak, but are throwing up powerful asymmetrical challenges (e.g. party-militias with silkworm missiles!). Israeli alarm about the new connectedness of their foe explains the orgy of destruction aimed at bridges, roads, television and radio facilities and internet servers. But it is too late to disconnect the south Lebanese, who can easily and quickly rebuild all those connectors.

One hope the Israeli hawks appear to entertain is that they can permanently depopulate strips Lebanon south of the Litani river. Since most Shiites vote Hizbullah and offer political support and cover to it, fewer people means fewer assets for the party-militia. This project would require the total destruction of large numbers of villages and the permanent displacement of their inhabitants north to Beirut.

That is why the massacre at Qana occurred.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Don't Look Away! Pictures from the Lebanon Crisis

It is real; it is happening today. It is so easy for Americans to look away (to look away from Darfur, to look away from Uganda, from Congo, from Iraq, from Afghanistan) but our foreign policy (or 6 years of neglect of our foreign policy) and our tax dollars are deeply implicated in the current crisis in Lebanon.

Pictures of the crisis from the BBC.

Everyday, it becomes clearer that the best course of action for everyone would have a call for an immediate cease-fire on day 2 or day 3 of this crisis! There is no military solution for either Israel or Hezbollah, short of genocide.

Friday, July 28, 2006


Well, the conflict continues to rage at the listserv about the Lincoln Group, sigh. Reflecting on it, its fueled by the impatience and anger of the person who first posted the job. If she would just let people say their piece, the flames would die down. More on that later. [Please note that the first link is to Lincoln Group's corporate site, very illuminating for what they don't say.]

But it does highlight an on-going problem with the war and the administration's overall efforts: an over-reliance on private contractors who are inept, corrupt, unethical and/or incompetent. In some ways the Lincoln Group is simply inept and unethical. With little experience and few actual media or PR contacts they managed to receive (by way their connections to Republican fundraisers) high dollar contracts for work in Iraq. And then those political connections led them to plant false news stories in Iraqi newspapers not to shape the situation on the ground but to influence the political landscape back home.

Blackwater, a "security contractor" (which has never made sense to me, okay, you have to contract out for language and culture experts, but isn't security -- beefy guys with guns -- pretty much the core mission for the military?) with lots of high-dollar contracts seems to have played a key part in the failure of the Iraqi war.

Juan Cole led me to this story today.

On March 31, 2004, an American convoy was ambushed by insurgents in Fallujah, a hotbed of Iraqi rage over the U.S. presence. The four men escorting the convoy in two Mitsubishi SUVs were killed in a fusillade of small-arms fire. A furious mob set the vehicles ablaze, dragged the bodies out and partly dismembered them. Two were strung up from a bridge over the Euphrates River.

The entire episode was captured on film and aired worldwide.

The four dead Americans were not soldiers. They were civilians working for North Carolina-based Blackwater USA. The nation learned with a horrifying jolt that there was something new going on here: Modern warfare was being privatized.

[. . .]

In Iraq, it irrevocably altered the course of the war. U.S. Military commanders, who had no advance knowledge of the convoys presence in Fallujah, were ordered by Washington to change tactics and pound the city into submission, inflaming the Iraqi insurgency to new heights.

Yes, the military had no idea that Blackwater was coming and the contractors actually circumvented a Marine checkpoint outside the city. The families of the men (along with men killed on a flight operated by Blackwater in Afghanistan) are suing the company. The company however is arguing that it has become an integral part of the military, part of the President's powers, and deserves the same battlefield immunity from prosecution as the military.
Blackwater is arguing that although it is a private company, it has become an essential and indistinguishable cog in the military machine and, like the military, should be immune from liability for casualties in a war zone.

At stake, Blackwater says, is nothing less than the authority of the president, as commander in chief of the armed forces, to wage war as he sees fit.

The plaintiffs say it is all about corporate greed, unaccountability and a private army run amok.

The story (in the Virginia Pilot) deserves to be read in full.

On the second page you can vote in a poll with the question: Is it a good idea to deploy combat-ready private soldiers in a war zone? Right now, readers are split, 50% say yes, 46% no, the rest undecided. I wonder how the Marines who had responsibilityty for Fullujah and who had approached the Sunni stronghold in 2004 with a motto of "patient, persistent presence" would vote in the poll?

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Lincoln Group

Update: The military announced that The Lincoln Group has lost their funding for this PR project! Read all about here.


Lincoln Group has an opening for a number of strategic consultants to support Coalition efforts in Iraq. Strategic Consultants will provide advice to senior military and government decision makers and their staff. Consultants will provide advice on Iraqi political, economic and cultural issues; the development of Information Operations programs; as well as other non-kinetic operations designed to reduce the power and influence of insurgents and other adversaries in Iraq. Consultants must be able to analyze and provide advice on such issues as political legitimacy, nationalism, public confidence in the emerging government, and other strategic issues. Consultants will be expected to provide advice on countering the propaganda and messages deployed by insurgents, Anti-Iraqi Forces, Anti-Coalition Forces and other adversary elements. Strategic consultants should have a strong background in one or more of the following disciplines:

Social Sciences - ideally with a focus on the study of Iraq and the Middle East. This assignment will include the collection and analysis of social science data on the political, economic, cultural, social, security and information environments in Iraq. It will also include developing recommendations for military planners, flag rank officers and others.

Advertising, Marketing, and/or Public Relations. This assignment would include the provision of advice on the development and execution of strategic communications, public outreach and awareness campaigns and the measurement of the effectiveness thereof.
Information Operations and Psychological Warfare/Strategic Communication. This assignment would include the provision of advice on all aspects of the planning, execution and evaluation of information operations in Iraq and elsewhere.

Minimum Educational Requirements:

Social Scientists -Masters Degree in Political Science, Anthropology, International Relations, Middle Eastern Studies, Sociology, Strategic Studies or related field.

Advertising/Marketing/Public Relations – Bachelor’s degree and/or extensive industry experience in strategic communications planning and effectiveness measuring, with proven success in international markets.

Information Operations/PSYOP/Strategic Communication – Extensive real world and exercise experience as an IO/PSYOP/ SC/ planner. The qualified candidate must be familiar with staff battle rhythm and military planning so as to seamlessly integrate analytical and creative products with Coalition operations.

Required Skills:

Strong basis in social science analytical methodologies.

Ø Extensive skills in the development of strategic communications campaigns or elements thereof to include marketing, advertising, public relations

Ø Understanding of quantitative research methodologies

Ø Ability to use analysis to provide strategic recommendations to military planners and leaders.

Ø Ability to work in a fast paced, stressful environment.

Desired Skills:

Ø Military experience and/or experience working in post-conflict reconstruction environments

Ø Arabic language skills.

Ø An understanding of stability operations, counterinsurgency and the process of constructing a state in the wake of a conflict

Ø Ability to conduct detailed interviews with people from other cultures in order to collect information on politics, economics, society and culture.

Ø Strong computer skills. Ability to quickly learn statistical programs, text string searches and other packages that would assist in quantitative and qualitative research.

Ø Project/Program Management Skills.


All positions will be based inside a secure US military facility in Iraq.

Security Clearance required: clearable to Secret, ideally up to Top Secret SCI. Must be US Citizen.

Salary Range & Benefits:

§ $150-$180k (commensurate with experience)

§ Corporate benefits including health insurance, 401k match, educational assistance and bonus programs

Someone offered to share a parody of this ad, I should have taken them up on the offer!

But the Lincoln Group reference still bothered me. So, I googled and dug a bit. Ho-ho! Yes, the Lincoln Group with (surprise, surprise weak media connection but strong links to Republican fundraisers) who got part of $300 million grant in 2003 for "media work" that ended up as part of the whole "planting fake news" scandel! Remember that, remember when we were worried about fake news and proproganda?! Yes, the good old days.

Here's a single comprehensive place to look at claims about Lincoln Group: SourceWatch a project of The Center for Media and Democracy.

And here's what our new best friend Billmon (who is this guy, anyway?) had to say about them way back in November 2005, and (clever man) in June 2005.

Works for Me Wednesday: Cast Iron

Once again, I'm joining Shannon at Rocks in My Dryer for "Works for Me Wednesday."
Today, my tip is simple: cast-iron pans!

I'm always amazed that more people do not use cast-iron pans. They heat fast and evenly, are naturally non-stick, and they add iron to the food cooked in them. I always had excellent iron levels during my pregnancies. Something I attribute to the cast-iron pans as much as the pre-natal vitimins. Two of our pans (a 9-inch and 12-inch skillet) are over fifty years old and still going strong. We also have a 17-inch skillet that's truly huge and a new grill pan.

I'm not sure who made the older pans. There used to be more manufacturers but today most cast iron pans are made by Lodge. Even better, Lodge has developed a way to "cure" the pan for you, so they are ready to use without curing (done by repeatedly heating oil in the pan until it develops the proper non-stick patina). Our new grill pan was pre-cured by Lodge and it works just as well as the older pans.

So avoid the flaking teflon of non-stick pans and try cast-iron. Works for me!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Syria and Egypt

Well, blogging is quite therapeutic, I have to say that. After getting out my frustrations here. I was able to compose a response to our local playwright who was surprised to hear that other countries besides Syria have secret police.

Umm . . . Yes, pretty much every state in the Middle East has secret police or "internal security forces" that includes Egypt, Jordan, Saudi, all the Gulf states. Egypt has operated under special "emergency measures" for nearly thirty years, laws that give the state security apparatus sweeping powers and restrict the rights of citizens to assemble, organize, and speak their mind (truly the US Bill of Rights is a rare and wonderful thing!)

See here for more:

I'm not surprised that you have heard little about Syria and moderate Islam. One reason to locate the play in Egypt is that there has been much, much more research done by scholars, historians, etc there that has been published in English. Egypt is a long-time American ally which means that scholars have been able to get grants to work there for decades. [Plus, British scholars have been there since 1918.]Syria was part of the Soviet bloc for most of the Cold war and it was difficult for scholars to work there (everyone was in Egypt or Iran or Iraq); [those who did were French]. That is changing but very slowly.

Since 1970 and the ascendancy of President Hafez al-Assad, Syria has been ruled by the Alawi sect, an off-shoot of Shia Islam and very distinct from Sunni Islam and mainstream 12er Shia Islam as well. The Syrian state must maintain an official version of Islam that is big enough to include Alawis as Muslims since the Syrian Constitution requires that the President be a Muslim. Any construction of Islam that encompassing Alawis has plenty of room for Sufis, and Sufi's "live and let live" philosophy fits in well. The Grand Mufti of Syria promotes moderate Islam. Here's the website of the recently deceased Mufti.
Here's a story about the new Mufti condemming suicide attacks.

In Syria as in Egypt, Jordan and other countries the mosques are largely state-controlled with the sermons monitored and even produced by the state. Wahabbi Saudi Arabia despises Sufi Islam and its preachers often speak against it. Al-Qaeda views Shia, Alawis, and Sufis asapostatess to Islam and would be happy to eliminate them.

Here's what the CIA had to say on the matter in the late 1980s
Here's a more recent summary, please note the second to last paragraph.

I still think Egypt would better [for the play], more class tension, more outspoken people, more reseach and sources available, lots of tension of the role of Islam, Islam in daily life etc but all Muslims are Sunni so you avoid the complications of Shiism, Alawis, etc that you will have to account for in Syria and you guys have quite a lot on your plate already. Plus, you don't have worry about Egypt as a "state-sponsor of terrorism" etc.

No response yet from the playwright.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Laugh or Cry?

Laugh, cry, or maybe just go in the corner and throw up?

And I'm not even talking about the situation in the Middle East!! There the news is grim, grim, grim. Juan Cole today writes and cites sources that Israel had been planning this war in conjunction with Donald Rumsfeld and the Department of Defense for nearly a year. But apparently did not share this information with the President who seems to be operating under the idea that Syria set it all in motion. If you can stand it go read Billmon for more. If you want more news about Lebanon, try the website of the Lebanon's daily paper, The Daily Star. And Iraq, don't forget Iraq, although it might not be a unified country much longer. Death squads are roaming the streets and civilians are dying in greater and greater numbers.

In light of all that, this little tidbit deserves only a thonk! of disbelief. The small, private university where I teach as an underpaid adjunct, let's call it, Grand Aspirations University has had big plans for a co-ordinated curriculum program on Islam. Fine and dandy. But this school lacks an Islamic studies program, a comparative religion program, a Middle Eastern studies program or even an anthropology program. So, local expertise on the topic is lacking (although big, Tier I university with all of the above is right down the street, they won't ask them for help). I have done my best to help out but as an adjunct I'm not part of any committees and I don't have any pull at this place. They have failed to get funding for most of their ideas which is probably for the best but one component, a play about Islam, is still going forward. The local playwright is not Muslim or Arab and has little experience in the Middle East. Here is part of a recent email exchange:

American playwright: The play is in Syria rather than Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, or someplace more stable and less fraught than Syria because I felt that the characters needed something to push up against. Though in many ways life in Damascus is like life anywhere -- eating, sleeping, seeing friends, praying, arguing with the children, etc -- in other ways it's full of complication -- contending with the secret police, contending with censorship, living under a saber-rattling regime whose foreign policy may not reflect your views (sounds familiar), and now wondering whether the Israelis will start mortaring the city from the Golan Heights.

Umm Skandar: Okay but your answer made me laugh a little. Secret police: Jordan -check, Egypt - check, Turkey -check, Foreign policy not representative of public views: Jordan - check, Egypt - check, Turkey - check; no democractic process or institutions, Jordan - check, Egypt - check, Turkey - blank (for the last decade). In fact, Syrian foreign policy is probably more closely aligned with public opinion than anywhere else (it just doesn't align with American views!!) There's much more struggle about the role of Islam in public life in Egypt, Jordan, and Turkey than there is in Syria. There's much more freedom of religion in Syria and the regime works hard to support moderate, Sufi-inflected forms of Islam.

American playwright: Thanks for this. It helps clarify a lot of my thinking actually. First of all, I didn't know that Egypt, Jordan, and Turkey had all of that going on as well; my mind boggles a little to think about it. Does *everybody* have secret police??

Ugh! Yeah, pretty much everywhere in the Middle East has secret police. Egypt for god's sake has been under "emergency measures" that preclude much of civil society for the last thirty years!!!


This play will have about as much useful information about Islam as would a play written about Christianity in America by Saudi students based on the information found in their Arabic-language books at their university library in Jedda!

Friday, July 21, 2006

What words cannot say

Words cannot say

How beautiful Lebanon is . . .

How beautiful the people are . . .

Lebanese refugee
Originally uploaded by masser.

How horrible the loss . . .

senza parole
Originally uploaded by budiulik.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

A shout to the heavens!

Worth reading. From the Embassy of Lebanon.
Address to the Diplomatic Corps
By the Prime Minister
H.E. Mr. Fouad Siniora
Grand Serail, Beirut, July 19, 2006

I have convened the diplomatic corps in Lebanon today to launch an urgent appeal to the international community for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire and assistance to my war ravaged country. You are all aware that seven continuous days of an escalating Israeli onslaught on Lebanon have resulted in immeasurable loss: the toll in terms of human life has reached tragic proportions: over 1000 injured and 300 killed so far; over half a million people have been displaced; in some areas, the hospitals have been crippled and are unable to cope with the casualties; there are shortages of food and medical supplies; homes, factories and warehouses have been completely destroyed; UN facilities in Maroun El Ras and Naqoura have just been shelled, so have been army barracks and posts of Joint Security Forces; a civil defense unit has been wiped out and foreigners are being evacuated.. As I speak, the trauma, the desperation, the grief and the daily massacres and destruction go on and on. The country has been torn to shreds.

Is the value of human life in Lebanon less than that of the citizens of other countries?

Can the international community stand by while such callous retribution by the State of Israel is inflicted on us?

Will you allow innocent civilians, churches, mosques, orphanages, medical supplies escorted by the Red Cross, people seeking shelter or fleeing their homes and villages to be the casualties of this ugly war?

Is this what the international community calls self defense? Is this the price we pay for aspiring to build our democratic institutions? Is this the message to send to the country of diversity, freedom and tolerance?

Only last year, the Lebanese filled the streets with hope and with red, green and white banners shouting out:

Lebanon deserves life!

What kind of life is being offered to us now?

I will tell you what kind: a life of destruction, despair, displacement, dispossession, and death.

What kind of future can stem from the rubble?

A future of fear, frustration, financial ruin, and fanaticism.

Let me assure you that we shall spare no avenue to make Israel compensate the Lebanese people for the barbaric destruction it has inflicted and continues to inflict upon us, knowing full well that human life is irreplaceable.

You want to support the government of Lebanon? Let me tell you, ladies and gentlemen, no government can survive on the ruins of a nation.

On behalf of the people of Lebanon, from Beirut, Baalbeck, and Byblos, to Tyre Sidon and Qana, to each and every one of the 21 villages at the southern border, declared a no-go zone by Israel, to Tripoli and Zahle, I call upon you all to respond immediately without reservation or hesitation to this appeal for an immediate cease-fire and lifting the siege, and provide urgent international humanitarian assistance to our war-stricken country. I would also like to thank the international organizations and the friendly countries that have already extended their valued help and thank as well those who are preparing to do so.


We the Lebanese want life.

We have chosen life.

We refuse to die.

Our choice is clear.

We have survived wars and destruction over the ages.

We shall do so again.

I hope you will not let us down.

God help them! I don't see much aid coming from the US any time soon.

Juan Cole over at Informed Comment has many moving voices from ordinary people in Lebanon; Syria Comment is finally up and running again after nearly a week without any posts (what a time for a vacation!), and Billmon sends us to military analyst William Lind for an interesting perspective on what he calls "the Israel-Hamas-Hezbollah war." Why does that old REM song "its the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine" keep running through my head?


Dread. I have a terrible, overwhelming feeling of dread. I dread that the world is going to sit by and let Lebanon be destroyed.

This feeling started on Tuesday when I sat at my computer to send emails to both my Senators, my congressman, and the White House. The first jolt was when I realized that you had to pick from a pre-set list of subject lines, you can't write your own, and "Lebanon crisis" was not an option. "Israel/Palestine" was not a subject you can write your representatives about either! Nor was "mess in the Middle East"! For one Senator I finally picked "Iraq" as the subject line since that at least got us in the neighborhood and close to the topic of violence and civilian deaths and overwhelming force. At the other Senator's site, I went with the pre-set subject line "terrorism;" for my Congressman the closest I could come was "foreign affairs."

I went ahead and sent each one a message urging them to call for an immediate cease fire. I pointed out that while Israel has the right to defend itself, its attack was disproportional with 10 times the number of Lebanese killed than Israeli and no evidence that Hezbollah was being degraded. I noted that there was no military solution to this crisis, only a political one.

But I wanted to put my head in my hands and just cry. How would my words even make it past the filters of subjects lines and the pre-set thinking that was behind them that said already that this was not a problem that Congress wanted to address? Even if an American can get beyond the dismal lack of education in basic geography and world history, the distortions of the American press, when you reach out to communicate with power your words are turned to chaff and blown away as meaningless almost before you can say them!

Sigh. Class, note the demonstration of "hegemonic power." Off to re-read Foucault.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Works for Me: Bath Bowl

This week more than others, my heart and mind are on the Middle East. So even when thinking about a post for Shannon's Works for Me Wednesday, my mind turned to a small item from the Middle East that really does work for me. It is a traditional bath bowl. Mine is lightweight tin. I bought it from a peddler in Hasake in northeastern Syria in either 1992 or 1994. It was a common household item among the settled bedouin who we worked with on the archaeological excavation. It has probably been a common household item in the region for a thousand years (in a clay version, not tin).

A bath bowl is what you use to scoop water from a basin, first mixing hot and cold water to the proper temparature and then to tip the water over yourself to bathe. It is largely disappearing from the urban Middle East now as water heaters and western-type showers become more common. Rural people without running water who bathe in basins or in a river or stream still use them. In 1996, during my dissertation fieldwork I lived with family in urban Damascus who kept a traditional-style house complete with a hamman or bathroom. They were lower middle-class but avoided too much modernity as a sign of their religious faith, a bit Mennonite in that regard. (Toilets are in a separate area, the hamman is for bathing). On bath day, an enormous pail of water would be kept piping hot over an open gas flame. When it was my turn to bathe (once a week), I would stand on a wooden pallet and first dip water out of the pail on the burner (I was terrified of tipping the enormous kettle and scalding myself) to mix with cold water in a five-gallon pail. Once I had the water the right temperature, I would dip and pour the water over myself with a bath bowl. The rhythm of dipping and pouring was soothing and somehow it felt luxurious too. The pace of wetting the skin, scrubbing the skin, and then rinsing with the bowl felt, I don't know, peaceful and very human somehow. (I'm not one for the collective unconscious but maybe there's an echo there connected to the bath bowl and what has to be a very early piece of human technology).

I brought my bath bowl home with me. I recognized an American version in the plastic bowl that the hospital provided along with a scrub brush to take home with each of my newborns. "A bath bowl!" Of course, there's nothing better to rinse a baby with. I have also used mine to bathe cats, clean the tub, soak hands, and wash my kids' hair.

Today, showers come in an amazing variety but I don't think that any sort of multi-jet, massage setting, or whirlpool beats the rhythm of dip and pour, dip and pour, that a bath bowl provides.

Works for me!



That's the sound that my TV remote makes when I smack it against my forehead in frustration and utter disbelief.

I missed the BBC news last night but did catch McNeil/Leher or whatever they call it now on PBS, and then surfed the cable networks most of the evening. I'm not sure who said it or where but I was shocked to hear that the US doesn't have an ambassador in Syria. When I was a Fulbright Fellow, the State department folks where quick to tell us that the Syrian Embassy was the 17th most important embassy in the world for the US. With a US-led war going on right next door, I can only imagine that its importance has risen. But we have no voice there, no one to be the face of the administration and talk directly to the Syrian government and give feedback to the administration about how things are on the ground. The Bush administration, ever eager to look tough, as opposed to being tough, pulled the ambassador as part of the "get tough on Syria" drumbeats way back when it looked like remaking the Middle East might just be a neo-con cakewalk. Now, when real diplomacy and behind the scenes maneuvering might just save lives and end the current conflict who does the world's remaining superpower have to talk to in the government that they see pulling levers . . . No one.


Earlier in the day, Juan Cole, had brought my attention to the "off-the-mike" conversation between Bush and Blair at the G8 conference. Like Cole and Billmon, I was horrified by the simplistic, black-and-white attitude of President Bush to a situation that reflects 60 years of history and conflict. I'm paraphrasing (now the audio and video has been seen around the world), Bush say to Blair: "The irony is that Kofi needs to call [Bashar Assad, President of Syria] and tell him to have Hezbollah cut this shit out!"

The horror of the statement is how it ignores the history of this conflict as well as the general history of guerilla movements, militias, and paramilitary movements. It would be like 50 years ago, calling the racist governor of Alabama to stop the KKK from operating there. Sure, there's a connection and influence between Syria and Hezbollah but its a far cry from direct command-and-control authority. But, that's not what led to the thonk. No, that came when watching Nightline or Brian Williams, some standard American news fare. What angle were they taking on this frank exchange that had been beamed around the world? A sophisticated analysis of real politik, an examination of the links (real and imagined between Syria and Hezbollah), an assessment of the failed peace process that has led us to this moment? No, in the American media, it would be spun as (cue music and deep authoritative voice) "and when we come back, the President speaking off-the-mike and with casual bluntness, did his language go too far?" His language? His language?! The least of our concerns should be the use of the word shit for pity's sake!! The media really is making us stupid!


Monday, July 17, 2006

Save Lebanon!

A friend and colleague from work is stuck in Lebanon with her two children. A friend and neighbor's 16 year old daughter is in Israel. On both sides, civilians are dying and getting hurt. I do not understand why the US is not calling for an immediate cease-fire!

Israel has the right to defend itself, yes. But why is it not targeting Hizbollah's stash of rockets instead of Lebanon's civilian infrastructure? Why does it think that Lebanon's army (with a weak and divided government behind it) can somehow destroy Hizbollah when the Israelis tried for decades and couldn't do it? Juan Cole this morning tells us:
Israel struck at large numbers of targets on Sunday, and early Monday morning, that had nothing to do with Hezbollah. The far north of Lebanon is Sunni, as is the port of Tripoli, where the Israelis killed a Catholic Lebanese soldier. They also hit factories in north Beirut, not a Shiite area. They bombed a village near Zahle, a notorious center of Greek Orthodox, killing 3 civilians. The Israelis are either not very good shots, since they have murdered 140 civilians since Wednesday and only managed to kill about 17 Lebanese military personnel. Or they just don't give a damn.

Ordinary Israelis do care about the deaths of civilians in Lebanon. At the very end of an article in the New York Times, we are told that 2000 people are demonstrating in the streets of Tel Aviv for an end to the attack on Lebanon. Why doesn't this get more coverage? Helena Cobban noted that within hours of the very first attack 200 people were protesting in front of the Israeli ministry of defense. Gush Shalom, Peace Now party, in Israel reports on on-going protests against the war in Israel(despite high levels of support for the conflict in Israel.) Leaders on both sides seemed gripped by megalomania and grim dreams of destruction. Olmert, stop the collective punishment of the Lebanese people. Nasrallah, stop the (barely guided) rocket attacks. Again, Juan Cole:

Hizbullah's attacks on Israeli civilians are war crimes. The killing of the civilians in Haifa at the train station was a war crime. And threatening to release chemicals from factories on civilian populations is probably a war crime in itself, much less the doing of it.

And the circle continues. We have to attack civilians X because they attacked our civilians Y, and so on and so on. On this I will stand with the Vatican:
"As in the past, the Holy See condemns both the terrorist attacks on the one side and the military reprisals on the other." It stated that Israel's right to self-defense "does not exempt it from respecting the norms of international law, especially as regards the protection of civilian populations."

"In particular, the Holy See deplores the attack on Lebanon, a free and sovereign nation."

Let's hope the prayers of the Pope are powerful because I do not have much faith in the diplomatic ability of President Bush or his administration to guide the world through this tight spot.

Friday, July 14, 2006


I think that a sub-heading in the New York Times said it best this morning. Overnight, a Boost for Hard-Liners. Hard-liners everywhere from Israel, Lebanon, Gaza, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iraq and Iran have their credibility boosted while moderate voices are silenced by despair, muffled by on-going events that seem to prove to everyone the inhumanity of everyone else!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Wisdom from Juan

Although I have tried to take a break from war-watching, recent events in Middle East cannot be ignored. The sectarian killings and cycle of reprisals continue in Iraq and now the Israel-Palestinian conflict is beginning to spill over into what could become a regional war. ya rab! ya rabi! What is happening here? Just when you think things cannot possibly get worse, new unimaginable events take matters into an even deeper downward spiral. Here's what Professor Juan Cole has to say today.

All hell broke loose on Wednesday in the Mideast, with a Hizbullah attack on the Israeli army and Israeli reprisals, and the Israeli dropping of a 500 pound bomb on Gaza. I roundly condemn Hizbullah's criminal and stupid attack on Israel and escalation of a crisis that is already harming ordinary Palestinians on a massive scale.

Likewise, the Beirut airport is not in south Lebanon and for the Israelis to bomb it and neighborhoods in south Beirut is a disproportionate use of force. The Israelis are actually talking about causing "pain to the Lebanese." That is despicable.

One thing is clear. This crisis will not leave the fabric of Lebanese politics untouched, and the danger of an unraveling is acute. And, it is clear that the withdrawal of Syria from Lebanon has given an opening to Israeli hawks to invade Lebanese territory again. It will not be good for Israelis if Lebanon collapses into a failed state again.

Rejectionists on both sides are to blame. The Oslo Peace Process could have forestalled all this violence, as Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin understood. But on the Israeli side, the then Likud Party of Bibi Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert derailed it. On the Palestinian side, Hamas rejected it. Had there been a peace process, prisoners would have been released in return for a cessation of hostilities, and there would have been no motivation to capture Israeli soldiers.

The lesson is that if you refuse to negotiate a peace, then you are likely to have to go on fighting a war.

And war means death, and modern warfare seems to involve mainly the death of civilians, children, parents, and other non-combatants. Helena Cobbana over at Just World Newsnotes,
If Haaretz's often well informed Amos Harel is to be believed, then his sources in at least the Israeli military (but let's hope not their political commanders?) are talking about inflicting damage on Lebanon that will force the country's "civilian infrastructures [to] regress 20, or even 50 years."

Well, at one level, we could say to that: no big deal. The Lebanese people in general-- and Hizbullah's associated "jihad al-bina'" construction companies in particular-- are really quite good at rebuilding civilian infrastructures. The Israeli military gave them plenty of practice doing that in the decades before 2000. At anothert level, though, we all know well today that when roads and bridges are cut, power generating plants and water and sewage plants incapacitated, then real people suffer and die-- and usually the sick, the old, the disabled, and the weak.

I have few words of wisdom of my own, just pray for peace.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

"Works for Me" Garage Towels

Today I'm joining Rocks in the Dryer Dryer for Works for Me Wednesday. I've always enjoyed what Mary at Owlhaven has on Works for me Wednesday, so I thought I'd join in.

Garage towels. Okay, this is my mom's term. I don't actually have a garage. I keep my garage towels in the laundry room which is just off the kitchen. I have an open loft-like floor plan with kitchen, dining room, living room and family room all in an open 29 x 40 sq. foot space. It fits in well with our kid-centric, attachment parenting lifestyle. Lots of activities can be done within view of one another but it wouldn't work without those towels!

The towels themselves are nothing special, just old, frayed, stained bath towels. They are kept folded on low shelf. Garage towels enable everyone to mop up spills quickly. They make tea parties, pretend cooking, toddlers who play in pet water bowls possible. They allow kids to serve themselves milk and lemonade. And they are priceless during the switch from diapers to underwear. Its amazing how much liquid a bath towel can absorb whether on hardwoods or carpet. (Note: when handing big spills on carpet, teach the kids to "do a dance" on top of the towel to encourage absorption.) The little ones learn not to cry over spills but to clean it up! I do my share of mop-up with these towels too and its amazing how a quick clean up can defuse irritation and let me see how important it is to focus on the kids and not the mess. Works for me!

Monday, July 10, 2006

Feeling blocked

I've been out of town for a week and completely off the internet. A nice release yet I was surprised how often that my mind wandered while driving and I found myself thinking about various blogs that I read regularly and wondering what was new. Although I came up with a few ideas for posts of my own -- I find the empty highways of eastern Oklahoma very conducive to deep thoughts -- now that I'm home, I feel a resistance to writing here.

Much of it is grief. I'm experiencing the major and profound loss of my dad, the very different yet not insubstantial loss of a career in academia, and the on-going sense of loss and disconnection from the Middle East. I am numb to the war, the politics, the atrocities; I am numb to teaching and departmental petty battles; I am numb to much of American culture, the TV, the racism of society (my local paper just started a series on forgotten parts of the US where whites forced out minorities from 1876 until, well, until today). A violent urges to retch is the only reaction I have. An honest reaction, yes, but not very conducive to blogging.

My interests are less global these days and more . . . more . . . I don't know, unfocused? Wildly varied?

My new interest in eastern Africa continues although I'm cooling towards international adoption; community supported agriculture continues to sustain me as does attachment parenting.

For the first time in a long, long, time I am interested in reading again. A decade plus in graduate can really diminish the urge to read. I read two newspapers daily and the New Yorker and The Economist weekly but I feel ready to move on to actual books. This is a new and hopeful feeling. I'm resisting the desire to go to Amazon and one-click away. I want to join the local library and read for free (without the emotional or financial pain that all that graduate school reading provided).

Perhaps, while my subconscious processes the losses and changes of this spring, I will blog about books.