Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Three Minute Video from BBC

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Why Peace is Necessary

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From the Space Station:
The long shining snake at bottom is the valley of the Nile. The bright slash atop it is Cairo. The broad lit area above Cairo is the Nile Delta and Alexandria. The small smear of light to the right (east) is Tel Aviv. The even smaller smear of light to the right of Tel Aviv is Jerusalem.

The faint arc just above the horizon is the top of the atmosphere. That's all there is of it. And you are going to pollute it further by driving your car today.



Monday, February 21, 2011

Mood of Revolt Spreads to Zimbabwe

[President Mugabe]

from today's New York Times:

HARARE, ZIMBABWE Dozens of students, trade unionists and political activists who gathered to watch Al Jazeera and BBC news reports on the uprisings that brought down autocrats in Tunisia and Egypt have been arrested on suspicion of plotting to oust President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe.


James Sabau, a spokesman for the police, which is part of the security services controlled by Mr. Mugabe’s party, was quoted in Monday’s state-controlled newspaper as saying that the 46 people in custody were accused of participating in an illegal political meeting where they watched videos “as a way of motivating them to subvert a constitutionally elected government.”

The evidence seized by the police included a video projector, two DVD discs and a laptop.

Lawyers for the men and women in custody said they had not yet been formally charged but had been advised they may be accused of “attempting to overthrow the government by unconstitutional means,” a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

The fighting and killings in Libya and the arrests in Zimbabwe, compared to the relatively bloodless overthrows in Tunisia and Egypt, show that not all dictatorships are created equal, not all revolutions are created equal, and not all armies and police behave the same.

But the pressure on President-for-life dictators all over the world can be expected to be relentless in the coming years. The French Revolution did not mean the end of monarchy in Europe for more than a century in some places, but it put European kings and aristocracies on the defensive throughout the 19th Century. We may see the same in the 21st century.

But my guess is that it will not take as long as it did in Europe. The internet does not just enable people to organize against tyrants. Before that, it shows people by word, sound, and video examples of dictators being overthrown.


David Oleskar at Berkeley

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Mrs. Hughes

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Sunday, February 20, 2011

World Hunger

I just had a call from a charity asking me to donate some of my clothes to the starving people throughout the world.

I told them to kiss my ass. Anybody who fits into my clothes isn't starving.


Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Lyrics

[Harry Belafonte]

The music to 'Havah Nagila' is from a traditional Chassidic niggun (song without words). The words were composed by Abraham Idelson in 1918 to celebrate the British victory in freeing Palestine from the Turks.

Hava nagilaהבה נגילהLet's rejoice
Hava nagilaהבה נגילהLet's rejoice
Hava nagila v'nismeḥaהבה נגילה ונשמחהLet's rejoice and be happy
(repeat stanza once)
Hava neranenahהבה נרננהLet's sing
Hava neranenahהבה נרננהLet's sing
Hava neranenah v'nismeḥaהבה נרננה ונשמחהLet's sing and be happy
(repeat stanza once)
Uru, uru aḥim!!עורו, עורו אחיםAwake, awake, brothers!
Uru aḥim b'lev sameaḥעורו אחים בלב שמחAwake brothers with a happy heart
(repeat line four times)
Uru aḥim, uru aḥim!!עורו אחים, עורו אחיםAwake, brothers, awake, brothers
B'lev sameaḥבלב שמח

With a happy heart

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Rose-Colored Glasses

This is a repost of a blog entry here on December 17, 2006. Note that Ahmed Sheik is not some ignorant streetcleaner. He is Editor-in-Chief of Al-Jazeera.

Pierre Heumann is a writer for the Swiss Weekly, Die Weltwoche. He interviewed the Editor-in-Chief of Al-Jazeera, Ahmed Sheik, a Palestinian. The following is the conclusion of the interview.

Die Weltwoche: You sound bitter.

Yes, I am.

Die Weltwoche: At whom are you angry?

It's not only the lack of democracy in the region that makes me worried. I don't understand why we don't develop as quickly and dynamically as the rest of the world. We have to face the challenge and say: enough is enough! When a President can stay in power for 25 years, like in Egypt, and he is not in a position to implement reforms, we have a problem. Either the man has to change or he has to be replaced. But the society is not dynamic enough to bring about such a change in a peaceful and constructive fashion.

Die Weltwoche: Why not?

In many Arab states, the middle class is disappearing. The rich get richer and the poor get still poorer. Look at the schools in Jordan, Egypt or Morocco: You have up to 70 youngsters crammed together in a single classroom. How can a teacher do his job in such circumstances? The public hospitals are also in a hopeless condition. These are just examples. They show how hopeless the situation is for us in the Middle East.

Die Weltwoche: Who is responsible for the situation?

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the most important reasons why these crises and problems continue to simmer. The day when Israel was founded created the basis for our problems. The West should finally come to understand this. Everything would be much calmer if the Palestinians were given their rights.

Die Weltwoche: Do you mean to say that if Israel did not exist, there would suddenly be democracy in Egypt, that the schools in Morocco would be better, that the public clinics in Jordan would function better?

I think so.

Die Weltwoche: Can you please explain to me what the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has to do with these problems?

The Palestinian cause is central for Arab thinking.

Die Weltwoche: In the end, is it a matter of feelings of self-esteem?

Exactly. It's because we always lose to Israel. It gnaws at the people in the Middle East that such a small country as Israel, with only about 7 million inhabitants, can defeat the Arab nation with its 350 million. That hurts our collective ego. The Palestinian problem is in the genes of every Arab. The West's problem is that it does not understand this.

Pierre Heumann is the Middle East correspondent of the Swiss weekly Die Weltwoche. His interview with Ahmed Sheikh originally appeared in German in Die Weltwoche on Nov. 23, issue 47/06. The English translation is by John Rosenthal.

One could argue that what has happened in Tunisia and Egypt is that playing the Israel card has stopped working. Governments and institutions are no longer able to change the subject from questions of corruption, incompetence, and dictatorship. No longer able to play the Israel card, Arab governments have no excuse for themselves. And collapse within days for lack of one.

Which raises an interesting possibility. It may be Pollyanna optimism to even suggest this, but with honest representative governments, Arab states might no longer have a vested interest in demonizing Israel to maintain the appearance of an external enemy to justify their corrupt dictatorial rule. And without that interest in maintaining a groundless and pointless hostility, it might wither away. So much has been invested for so long in the mindless campaign of vilification that it is not imaginable that there can peace, let alone friendship, anytime soon. But there can be a loss of interest. Israel might eventually become to them what Lebanon is today -- a confusing oddity which is of interest only to specialists, tourists, and businesspeople.


It Ain't Over 'til the Fat Lady Sings

[Monserrat Caballe in 'Lucia di Lammermoor']

It has become an object of public interest to hunt down Mubarak's ill-gotten gains. I wouldn't worry too much about Mubarak. He is less important than people imagine.

The fall of the old regime is only the very beginning of the revolution. From the fall of Louis XVI to the establishment of a stable government under Napoleon Bonaparte was eight years of rapidly changing governments, warfare, and domestic bloodshed. From the fall of Nicholas II to the expulsion of Trotsky and the entrenchment of Stalin was eleven years of rapidly changing governments, warfare, and domestic bloodshed. From the fall of Wilhelm II to the consolidation of the power of Adolf Hitler was fifteen years of rapidly changing governments and domestic bloodshed. From Bunker Hill to George Washington taking office was thirteen years of rapidly changing governments, warfare, and, baruch Hashem, only a small amount of domestic bloodshed..

What has happened in Egypt is not a revolution. It is the beginning of a revolution.

Egypt today has a population equal to Russia in 1917, four times that of France in 1789, and twenty times that of the American colonies in 1776.

Revolution against colonial rule in America led eventually to revolutions against colonial rule throughout the Americas. Republican revolution in France led to the overthrow of monarchies throughout Europe. Bolshevik revolution in Russia led to communist governments from Berlin to Hanoi.

What the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt will lead to remains to be seen. But whatever it is, it will be a big deal and will likely lead to big changes in hundreds of millions of lives. And in all likelihood, there will be rapidly changing governments, warfare, and domestic bloodshed before it is over.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Where the Jews live, Israel. Where the Arabs live, Palestine.

[UN Headquarters, New York]

I just read a long complicated article on Israel and Palestine in 'The New York Review of Books'. With the usual Arab and leftist denial of reality and history the author argues that Israel must be forced to accept a two-state solution.

That first Britain in 1936, and the UN in 1947, and Israel in 1967, and again in 1993, and in 2000, and in 2002, publicly offered the Palestinians a two state solution, and offers one now, is seemingly unknown to the author. And that the Palestinians each time peremptorily and usually violently rejected a two-state solution each time is similarly unknown to him.

The Palestinians and several Arab governments formalized their position at the Khartoum Conference in 1964 in the Three Noes of Khartoum - no peace, no recognition, no negotiation. That doctrine is called appropriately, Rejectionism.

Rejectionism became and remains the basis of the Palestinian Covenant, the founding document of the Palestinian Authority. It was signed, and probably designed, by Yasser Arafat. Arafat's chief deputy in 1964 was Abu Ala, nom de guerre of Mahmoud Abbas, the current president of the PA.

The 1947 offer of a two-state solution by the UN was simplicity itself - where the Jews live will be Israel, where the Arabs live will be Palestine. The Jews accepted half a loaf. The Arabs rejected their half a loaf and instead began a war of annihilation against the Jews. The Jews rudely, unfairly, and unreasonably declined to be annihilated.

The Palestinians, having rejected their half of the loaf, got nothing. What could have gone to them was generously seized by their brothers, the Jordanians and Egyptians. With great kindness and good faith, the Jordanians and Egyptians, rather than create a Palestinian state, imposed a military occupation on the Palestinians that lasted nineteen years.

After the Six Day War of 1967, with the Jordanians and Egyptians expelled from what could have become Palestinian territory, Israel offered the Palestinians half a loaf again. i.e. a two-state solution. And with their usual good faith and good judgment they refused again.

Now they are demanding, or at least some of them are, exactly what they were repeatedly offered and repeatedly and violently refused - a two-state solution. And in spite of their decades of bad faith and violence, they ought to get it. And with no penalty. They ought to get exactly what the UN offered them in 1947.

Every argument of fairness and reason suggests that if they are offered it again, it should be exactly the UN offer of 1947. Where the Jews live should be Israel and where the Arabs live should be Palestine. Which means that the Jewish settlements are Israel and will remain Israel, and the Arab settlements will become Palestine. That was the deal then, it should be the deal now.

When Milosevic demanded and attempted the ethnic cleansing of Muslim Bosnians from their homes in Bosnia, the UN arrested him, tried and convicted him, and he died in prison. Mahmoud Abbas has demanded the ethnic cleansing of the Jews from their homes in Judea and would attempt it if he could. He should be more generously treated than the UN treated Milosevic. He should be forced to be president of the Palestinian state he and his late boss Arafat fought so long and hard to prevent the existence of. That would be humiliation enough.

Taxes are Inevitable Too

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Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Damn! Not Again!

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This happens to me all the time....


Winnie and Hosni

Winston Churchill once said, "Britain has no permanent friends, only permanent interests."

Keeping Mubarak in power would be protecting a friend. Keeping the Muslim Brotherhood out of power is protecting an interest.


Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Thursday, February 03, 2011

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Wednesday, February 02, 2011

The Best and Brightest

From today's NY Times --
At a two-hour meeting at the White House last Saturday, Thomas E. Donilon, the national security adviser; William M. Daley, the White House chief of staff, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton; the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Leon E. Panetta; and other officials coalesced around a strategy to start trying to ease Mr. Mubarak out, an official said.
So the greatest power in the world, faced with a crisis the outcome of which will likely determine the future of the Middle East for decades to come, brought together:

Thomas E. Donilon -- before becoming National Security Adviser, a registered lobbyist for Fannie Mae (which is a privately owned bank), and a corporate attorney

William M. Daley -- before becoming White House Chief of Staff, a businessman and brother of the boss of the Daley machine which runs Chicago

Hillary Rodham Clinton -- before becoming Secretary of State, wife of a President who seldom slept with her and a US Senator who specialized in women's and children's issues. Also the Secretary of State who lost us the crucial air force base in Uzbekistan from which sorties into Afghanistan were flown.

Leon Panetta -- before becoming Director of CIA, a congressman from San Jose and general political hack responsible for imposing political agendas on government agencies

Barack Hussein Obama -- before becoming President, a Daley machine stooge who was elected because he is a fine speaker and black.

Not one of them can find Egypt on a map. Isn't it wonderful that the affairs of the Republic are in such good hands?

More Egypt

[Open and frank discussions between pro- and anti-government demonstrators]

from today's NY Times --

The army’s role and its ultimate game plan have remained opaque, with soldiers seeming to fraternize with protesters, without moving against the elite to which its officers belong. While the military has said it will not use force against peaceful protesters, the signs on Wednesday suggested that any gap between it and Mr. Mubarak was narrowing.

The announcement by a military spokesman appeared to be a call for demonstrators, who have turned out in hundreds of thousands in recent days, to leave the streets. It came as high-powered diplomacy between Cairo and Washington unfolded at a blistering pace and reverberations from the protest continue to rumble through the Arab world.

Which reinforces the lesson of the experts on Charlie Rose. "Opaque" and "we don't know" seem pretty close together to me. What is artfully omitted from the reporting is with whom in Cairo the diplomacy is being conducted. One assumes it is with the high command in the Egyptian army. If the army can maintain control of its troops - far from a given - then it can shape the incoming government regardless of whether Mubarak is in it or not.

Washington has a strong leverage over Egyptian politics. We send $1.6 billion dollars to Egypt every year under the terms of the Camp David Accords of 1977. If Egypt abrogates the treaty the money stops. The treaty requires Egypt to maintain peace with Israel, maintain the demilitarization of the Sinai Peninsula, and permit the US to use the Suez Canal.

There are strings attached to the money. One is that it must be spent in the United States. Which means that the gift is not really of cash, but of goods and services produced by the United States. Fortunately the US economy, in spite of all the bad things one has heard about it, is a colossus which produces $14 trillion of goods and services every year. If you want to buy something useful to Egyptians -- say a million tons of wheat -- you can generally buy it here. Since the money gets spent in America, the $1.6 billion is as much a subsidy to American manufacturers and farmers as it is aid to Egypt. Requiring it to be spent here also makes it harder, but not impossible, for Egyptian officials to simply pocket it for themselves.

But it could be cut off if Washington decides the treaty has been abrogated. As it would surely be if the Muslim Brotherhood came to power. One assumes that secret provisions of the treaty require Egypt to cooperate in counter-terrorism efforts by the US and European powers. One assumes this because Egypt has helped enormously in those efforts.

I have heard it said that cutting off aid would be ineffective because it is too blunt a weapon to be useful. Which shows what flat-out morons journalists are. Or lying partisans. One never knows for sure which. In fact nothing is more flexible than money. One can cut off some or all. One can condition some or all of it on whatever Washington decides constitutes compliance with treaty obligations. One can make it spendable on some things but not on others. Washington has a billion options.

Washington's leverage is all the stronger because the feeble Egyptian economy would be in even worse shape than it already is if the aid were cut off or diminished. On the other side we have the problem of having the most inept Secretary of State in living memory in charge. One can hope that in spite of Secretary Clinton's valuable efforts, the Egyptian army will be cohesive enough to keep the Muslim Brotherhood out of power rather than face the cutoff of aid.


Tuesday, February 01, 2011


[Akhnaten - the biggest revolutionary of all time]

One can't help but wonder if this is merely a coup from the streets or whether it is a real revolution. My sense is that it is on the verge of becoming one. One recalls that both the French and American Revolutions were initially about taxes. And only later did they lead to the transformation of European society and the founding of a new state in North America.

What makes this seem more like a revolution and less like a coup, is that it is spreading. The Tunisian government has been overthrown, and the Egyptian, Jordanian, and Yemeni governments are in peril. There was even a mention of unrest in Syria, perhaps the most iron-fisted police state in the world. The Palestinian Authority has announced elections while it still can.

I saw some experts on Charlie Rose last night and after some commonplaces and banalities they agreed that there is no knowing what will happen. My own prediction is that whatever happens, it will be something no one expected. When the Shah was overthrown by liberals and reformers, who would have predicted it would lead to an Islamic Republic? When Louis XVI summoned the Estates-General, who could have foreseen his deCapet-ation? Or the Terror? Or Napoleon? When the Duma first assembled, who could have foreseen Stalin and the Gulag and the Five Year Plans?

What is not mentioned in the news is how big a deal this is. Egypt today has more than 70 millions of people. That is more people than Britain or France. More people live in the city of Cairo than live in the country of Israel. Egypt is the center and fulcrum of the Middle East.

What is mentioned is that the Egyptian government is almost certainly undone, but the wrong or no reasons are given for believing that. The underlying premise of government is that it has a monopoly on the use of force. When the troops fraternize and refuse orders to coerce the opponents of the government, it ceases to govern. Governing is about giving orders that will be obeyed. When the Tunisian police and army refused to fire on the demonstrators, Ben Ali had a one-way ticket out of the country. The same was true of the French and Russian Revolutions. When the troops refuse orders and fraternize the government is overthrown that very day. That is precisely how Napoleon came to power. The French army had repeatedly fraternized with the crowds they were sent to disperse. And each time the government fell. After all the changes of revolutionary governments Napoleon was the first commander whose troops were loyal enough to him to fire on the Paris mob. Whereupon his path from brigadier to emperor opened before him.

The Egyptian army has already fraternized with crowds it was sent to control. The army is now giving the demonstrations a wide berth between them and the soldiers. That is not just to protect the demonstrators. It enables the officers to avoid giving orders that the soldiers might not obey.

That is one thing one can predict, Charlie Rose experts or none. When the troops fraternize with demonstrators, the president will shortly thereafter leave the country. A classic example of this is the Carnation Revolution in Portugal. The army was called out to restore order in Lisbon. Crowds marched out of the city to greet them. The demonstrators put carnations in the barrels of the soldiers' rifles. They marched into Lisbon as heroes of the Revolution in a sea of carnations. This was especially vexing to the Portuguese ruler because Estoril, the beautiful seaside town and once the favorite home of overthrown dictators, is in Portugal so he had nowhere to flee.

The obvious risk everywhere is of the emergence of the Muslim Brotherhood / Hamas. Under the Tsarist government, all but token opposition was broken up and disbanded. Only the illegal underground parties, particularly the Bolsheviks, had strong political organizations. When the Tsar fell, Lenin and the Bolsheviks were the only well-organized political force in the country. Unwittingly the Tsarist government had cleared the ground for them.

It seems possible that a similar situation may prevail in Egypt even as we speak. The Mubarak regime may have disbanded or neutered every political organization but the illegal and brutally suppressed Muslim Brotherhood. And it may well be the strongest political force in Egypt on account of it. Like the Tsarist regime, they may have unwittingly cleared the Egyptian political scene of everyone else.

The one large difference between Russia in 1917 and Egypt today is the army. In 1917 the Russian army had been defeated and ground to tatters by three long years of World War I. The Russian revolution can be seen as an afterthought to the mass desertion of the Russian Imperial Army. The Egyptian army today is intact. But as we have seen, it is clearly neither reliable nor trusted. Yet it is the main path to the future, both Egypt's and ours, that does not lead through a long period of Islamization, sharia law, and a fundamental turning away from modernity.

Ironically the public demand for freedom and accountability could lead to Egypt in effect being conquered from within by precisely those forces most inimical to freedom and accountability.