Baruch Dayan HaEmet

The second cousin of my Hebrew professor was among those murdered on Friday at the Israeli nightclub. She was standing right behind the suicide bomber when he blew up.


Gary Brolsma is a Genuis


A lot of people are talking about the "Numa Numa" lip-synching video by 19-year-old Gary Brolsma; it has received over two million hits in the last few weeks. The New York Times claims that it is popular because it is so bad. I beg to differ; I think that it is a true masterpiece. Everyone I know can't stop watching, and cracking up every time. The eyebrow action especially is dead on.

The poor kid has been snowed under by his sudden fame. So I would just like to express my appreciation for his work. Don't listen to the Times, Gary; we think you're awesome!



Today I attended a fascinating presentation at Cardozo University by three eminent scholars on the politics of religious fundamentalism. One of them, Dr. Bassem 'Tibi, noted in passing that he is working towards creating a Euro-Islamic identity to help provide an alternative to Islamic fundamentalism in Europe. This new identity would be drawing from the rational Islam of the philosopher Averroes and his colleagues.

I wish him the best of luck. The first step in promulgating this new identity would be getting the Muslim population to open up to European culture. Unfortunately, the Wahhabis already have a powerful hold on the Muslim community, and they realize that European culture is their greatest threat. Therefore, they work to widen the gulf between the community and its surroundings to the utmost.

For 'Tibi and his allies to succeed, the present influence of Saudi Arabia must be throttled. Unfortunately, the European governments have not yet decided how to deal with that particular issue. I suspect that until oil becomes irrelevant, Europe will be restricted to fighting a rearguard action against the extremists. I hope that I am wrong; one development that would radically change the situation would be if the Saudi family were overthrown...

Iran Watching

I came across a post from a few days ago by Pejman Yousefzadeh regarding some of the internal politics in Iran, particularly the theo-political imperatives forcing Khameini to take a hard line. Take a read, and then check out the rest of the site.


What About Jordan?

Recent weeks have seen the beginnings of a new explosion of democracy in the part of the world that needs it the most, the Middle East. Not only are the Lebanese out in force to protest their Prime Minister, a Syrian puppet, but in Egypt Hosni Mubarak is now allowing some limited democratic reforms, a day after Condoleeza Rice pointedly snubbed him. (Hat tip: Instapundit.)

For Israel, obviously, this is a wonderful development. In Lebanon, Hizbullah has effectively been pinned down, halting their terror attacks for fear of bringing down the Marines on their heads. And Egypt, though technically at peace, is force-fed a diet of vicious anti-Semetic propoganda from the state media; presumably this would be toned down in a democracy. More generally, Natan Sharansky argues in his book, The Case For Democracy, that only democracies can make true peace with the West.

Conspicuously absent in all of the euphoria is Jordan. The trouble with Jordan is that the population is about 85% Palestinian. (Or to be perfectly accurate, 85% are from the same population as modern-day Palestinians, namely inhabitants of the Ottoman province of Syria, which encompassed part of modern-day Syria, Lebanon, part of Jordan, and Israel.) They despise the Hashemite monarchy of King Abdullah II, whose family was transplanted from Saudi Arabia by the British. There were a number of Palestinian attempts to overthrow the monarchy, the most infamous being the Black September uprising, ruthlessly crushed by King Hussain.

Israeli policy has historically been to support the monarchy against the people, and against outside invaders. (When Saddam threatened to invade some decades ago, he was warned that his invasion force would be obliterated by the IDF.) Whether this policy is sound or not is open to debate. Regardless, it is quite possible that in the present climate of growing democracy, the Palestinians of Jordan will agitate for a democracy of their own, and succeed in replacing the monarchy.

Nobody can be sure what effect such a development would have on the Israeli-Palestinian front. I can think of a few scenarios:

1. The Jordanians make common cause with their cousins in Israel and the territories, and effectively annex the West Bank by cooperating with the Palestinian Authority. They then instigate the Israeli Arab population to riot and rebellion, and gain
effective control over the Galilee. After that, it gets ugly.

(This, the worst-case scenario, is the justification for the present Israeli policy. Is it likely? I wonder; Jordan has been at peace with Israel for a long time, and has reasonably strong economic ties. The Jordanians are sympathetic to the Palestinians, but I doubt their sympathies are deep enough to justify a knock-down war with Israel.)

2. Jordan turns the West Bank into a satellite state, having no desire to see the situation spiral out of control. They use their influence to keep terror groups relatively quiet, at least in the West Bank. At the same time, they push Israel to make all the territorial concessions they can get to the new Palestinian state.

3. Jordan changes its name to Palestine, and tries to forge a new national identity free of the Hashemite legacy. In time, they come into conflict with the PLO leadership, who naturally want to keep control of the Palestinian cause. Nastiness ensues.

4. As #3, but additionally the new Palestine encourages the "old" Palestinians to move to the new, economically robust country. They tacitly acknowledge that the British partition of 1922 is the way to go, and that the history of Arab-Israeli relations since then has been a regrettable historical mistake. Eventually, Israel annexes the West Bank and forms an official border at the Jordan River. (Hey, I can dream, can't I?)

(In all seriousness, the Jordan River is the obvious natural border for the region, and has been for thousands of years. Any attempt to expand from one side to the other, by Canaanites, Romans, Jews, or anyone else was short-lived. If everyone could just acknowledge the fact and move on, the world would be a much happier place. End of rant.)

Will a democratic Jordan be good for Israel? God knows. Should Israel be complicit in suppressing the Jordanian population? I believe the answer is no. The history of the entire region has been nothing so much as a warning against "stability" and realpolitik. Support for dictators has always, always, come back to hurt both America and Israel in the long run, and I see no reason why Jordan will be any different. Indeed, I think that America should be pressuring King Abdullah to introduce more democracy, and that Israel should let it happen. Better that the change occur on our terms, than by violent revolution.


Bones Picked Clean

I stumbled on this fable by Irate Savant. Take a read. I think the commenters are off on the wrong track in their interpretation, and it seems clear what Savant is trying to get at. But, try to figure it out yourself.

EDIT: Wrong name fixed.


Disengagement Disaster

I have not been paying too much attention to the turmoil in Israel over Ariel Sharon's proposed disengagement from Gush Katif. Yesterday, however, one of my professors took time in class to blast Sharon's policy. The disengagement, called "hitnatkut" (self-uprooting) in Hebrew, could very well lead to civil war in Israel.

Every single party to the right of the Likud is calling for IDF soldiers to refuse orders to relocate the Gush Katif families. (A few of the radical groups like Kahaneh Tzadak are threatening to resist with force, which would be an absolute catastrophe.) Likud itself is splitting in half, and Sharon is busily purging all officials opposing him. In short order he fired both Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya'alon (chief of staff of the IDF) and the former chief of the Mossad, for opposing the disengagement. He also is refusing to hold a national referendum on the disengagement, despite polls claiming that the disengagement is supported by 60% of the country. If the polls are genuine, why would Sharon oppose a national referendum?

The reclusive military legend Meir Har-Tzion, who served with Sharon in Paratroop Battalion 101 and has been his friend for a very long time, is now publicly stating that Sharon has lost his mind and is a danger to the state of Israel. Har-Tzion is not a right-winger by any means, being a product of the Kibbutz movement.

The preeminent Sephardi authority Rav Ovadia Yosef made a ruling some months back that the disengagement was forbidden under Torah law, not because he is opposed to land-for-peace in principle, but because he sees no reason to believe that disengagement will do anything except make the terrorists stronger. His ruling is being echoed by religious leaders from across the observant world (though interestingly enough the leaders of my university have chosen to condemn calls for soldiers to refuse their orders).

Meanwhile, Sharon is putting a media blackout in place in Gush Katif during the pullout.

I do not understand what the man thinks he's doing. Is he trying to destroy Israeli society? There has been very little attempt at persuasion, or explanation of how the disengagement fits into the strategic picture. Indeed, Sharon has given no public reason for the disengagement at all. Instead, he moves to crush all opposition from within his party, the intelligence services, and the IDF, and imposes effective martial law on Gush Katif and other areas of the country. He held a referendum within Likud, and then completely disregarded it when they voted against the pullout; now he refuses to hold a national referendum, despite the crisis that is enveloping the Israeli polity (such as it is).

I am very, very worried. This could be the worst event in the short history of the State of Israel.


The Gun Thing

Looking out at the political landscape today, one wonders: what will the most important policy struggle be for the next decade or so?

By "important," I mean not only in the sense of quantifiable changes in government behavior; I mean in the sense that populations are shaped by their political environment, as much as they shape their environment. I mean in the sense that the government's policies will shape the very worldviews of the people, leading to distinct behavioral trends.

Certainly, the fight over Medicare and Social Security will be important. Americans will either learn self-reliance as an ideal, or dependence on the government in the manner that we see in Britain or parts of Europe. Our foreign policy will either confirm our role as champion of human rights and freedom, or as cynical realpolitik imperialists, with profound consequences for our national character in either event. The environmental struggle will be important as well. We need to find a golden medium between total neo-Luddite extremism, and total disregard for the environment and our duty to protect it.

But I believe that the issue with the most power to shape the American psyche is, quite simply, firearms.

Out of all the critical issues in the balance, why firearms? What is this American obsession with firearms, anyway?

To answer that, let me tell you about my own firearms experiences. In my suburban home growing up, there were no guns. My mother didn't like them, and though my father appreciated guns in principle, he had never used one since his time in the Scouts and didn't see the need. (He considered getting one during the Rodney King riots, but the violence never got close enough to be an issue.) My brother and I knew very little beyond what we saw on TV or in movies; though we both agreed that guns were cool, and wanted to own some eventually, this was mostly in the sense that we wanted to own cool computers, or video games.

Our grandfather was the first, I think, to teach us anything about weapons. He had served in the Pacific Campaign, and though he was and is a peaceful man, he was willing to teach us how to shoot a BB-pistol. We were young, certainly no older than ten (if that); but as I remember, he only pulled out the BB-pistol a few times. But it always seemed more like a toy than like a gun. Meanwhile, my political views were being shaped mainly by National Public Radio. So, for example, I was scornful of those radicals in the NRA who were so attached to their "assault weapons." After all, why does an individual need something like that? And when my uncle would make dire comparisons between gun licensing and the Nazi confiscation of Germany's guns, I thought he was being an alarmist.

The first major change took place when I was in the Boy Scouts. There, for the first time, I fired .22 rifles. There, too, I was trained rigorously in the safety rules, and learned to respect firearms as a tool. There was no talk about self defense; we were shooting at paper targets, after all. But guns went from an abstraction to something very real for me. I wanted to find out more, most of all because shooting was fun. As well, the idea of self defense began to grab hold of my mind; this was both because I had grown up with the histories of the Jewish ghetto resistance in WWII, or the revolts in Auschwitz or Sobibor, and because I had very little confidence in my own physical prowess. Guns, I realized, are the great equalizer. The weak man need not fear the strong, nor the small woman the would-be rapist; with a gun, all that mattered was opportunity and skill.

But still, the idea of self defense was theoretical, even if I could grasp it clearly in my mind. Growing up in California, guns were simply not part of daily life. The next major breakthrough happened when I took my first year of college in Israel. I can hardly describe how I felt for the first few days, surrounded by men and women (most scarcely older than myself) nonchalantly carrying around M-16's on their shoulders or pistols on their hips. I was probably near more guns in the first ten minutes on campus than I had ever seen in my life. They made me nervous, just because I had never seen anything like it.

Soon I accepted it as a normal part of life. It was strange going to the central bus station and seeing large stacks of rifles sitting near olive-drab dufflebags, as soldiers waited for their ride; but at the same time I felt safer than at any other time in my life, because I knew that if someone would cause trouble, he would be surrounded by dozens of people with guns. (The rabbi we studied under carried a Glock at all times. On the other hand, the only time my psychology professor wore his pistol openly in class was during Final Exams... but I digress.)

Returning to the United States, and particularly a bad neighborhood of New York (where I go to school), I felt oddly naked without the protection of armed neighbors. I was at the mercy of any thug who decided he liked my jacket. It is not a good feeling to have, and it constrains my behavior to a degree. We all know that some parts of the city are no-go zones, plain and simple.

At about that time, I discovered The High Road, a firearms forum. I learned there of the continuing struggle over gun rights against those who wanted to ban firearms entirely. I also read the speculations of members on how shooting firearms has affected their personalities.

Based on my own experience, I have come to the following conclusions:

A gun is a tool for projecting force, or power. Force can be used for good or for ill, but in any event only force can counter an opposing force.

Possessing power means that first, you are capable in theory of confronting opposing power and defeating it. Second, it means that you now have the responsibility of deciding when to use force. This means grappling with the thorniest moral problems that we face, and making clear decisions on what is right and what is wrong. Third, because you have power, you have a reciprocal responsibility to use your power for the good of others. By carrying a weapon, you are accepting an obligation to protect those around you.

Not possessing power means that first, you are completely dependent on others for your own survival. Anything you do must be in concert with them, or else you become defenseless. Second, you need never seriously confront the problem of using force, because you personally will never need an answer. Crucial areas of your moral code will remain vague and theoretical, because nothing is making you draw clear lines in the sand. Finally, because you have no defense against force if used against you, you will do your best to banish force from your world entirely, except for those whose protection you rely upon.

Those who carry guns are, in general, resilient and self-reliant. Many also are deeply ethical, and infuse their daily lives with their ethics, because they could at any time be forced to choose between life and death, simply by virtue of the weapon they carry.

There are more practical reasons for firearms use, or course. But we must not forget that when we fight for the right to bear arms, we are not only fighting for a physical tool. We are fighting to determine the very character of the American mind—whether we want our children to grow up fearing power, or using power to fight evil.

Jimmy Carter, Highlights

A few people have responded to my repeated castigation of Jimmy Carter, wanting to know why exactly I despise the former President like I do. They cite his humanitarian work, the Carter Center, and so forth. Fortunately, I am spared the effort of a comprehensive reply because Spoons beat me to the punch. Read his account of Carter's repeated betrayals of innocent people everywhere, and particularly note the comment thread. The comment by Boris A. Kupershmidt, who escaped from Russia in 1978, is particularly telling. (Warning: some profanity.)

If Jimmy Carter were to retire from world affairs tomorrow, half a dozen dictatorships would become democracies within a year. That he ever managed to become President is an abiding disgrace to the American electorate.


Muslim Student Union: A Well-Deserved Fisking

[OK, let's try this again. I just lost a half hour of work. Grr.]

My brother at UC Irvine just forwarded me an article by Mona Abdallah in the school paper, the New University. The article, MSU Speak Against Atrocities, is responding to a previous article by Adam Cooper, titled MSU Impedes Peaceful Talks. Read both to get the necessary background, but in brief, there was a pro-Israel rally at UCI featuring the bombed-out Bus 19, followed a few days later by a pro-Palestinian rally featuring the bomb-throwing Amir Abd al-Malik Ali.

I will only be quoting selected portions of the article, so if you should want to see the original, just click above. Let the fisking begin!
The MSU’s only aim is to speak out against and inform the student body of the horrors and atrocities carried out against the Palestinian people as a result of the Zionist movement and the state of Israel. The MSU is not anti-Jewish in any way, shape or form.

The MSU speaks out against Zionism which is, as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a political movement aimed at creating a Jewish national state of Israel in Palestine through means of occupation.
It just so happens that we have this new invention called the "Internet." Using this "Internet," I can go over to Merriam-Webster's "website" and look up the "definition" myself. Here it is:

Main Entry: Zi·on·ism
Pronunciation: 'zI-&-"ni-z&m
Function: noun
: an international movement orig. for the establishment of a Jewish national or religious community in Palestine and later for the support of modern Israel

Your "means of occupation" crack is your own invention, and just a way of injecting emotional language into the discussion under the assumed authority of a dictionary. How sad.
This does not mean that all Jews are Zionist, a point repeatedly made by Amir Abdel Malik Ali.
Why, how generous of you. Never mind that you are arguing that your people have a right to a state, but ours do not.
I was not aware that it is crime for a campus organization to speak out against oppression, occupation and humanitarian violations and stand up to the face of injustice carried out against the Palestinian people.

Or does it become a crime because the state spoken against is Israel?
Actions that you have just described are perfectly legitimate, and indeed necessary. Unfortunately, that's not all that went on there, is it?
Adam Cooper is wrong in calling MSU’s invited speaker a war rally. A war rally is not a man speaking the truth about the horrors of Israel against the defenseless Palestinian people.
Ummm... I wouldn't call them "defenseless," exactly. Unless you don't consider tens of thousands of assault rifles, thousands of mortars, antitank grenades, explosive belts, etc. to be defensive. In which case, they are offensive. Which is exactly the point of this whole situation, because we find them very offensive.
And why in the world would Amir-Abdel Malik and MSU be anti-Semitic when so many of the group’s members are Semites themselves?
Oh, boy. Like this tired line hasn't been trotted out for decades. Let's cut to the chase; we all know what people mean when they say "anti-Semetic." It's a legacy of the old "scientific" theories that sought to justify Jew-hatred on a racial basis.
Is it not appalling that our government is currently in the process of delivering a grand Mid-East peace solution, and as a response the Jerusalem Coalition drags an Israeli symbol of sympathy across the country to once again utilize public pity only to misinform the public as to why this bus was really destroyed.
And here we see the real you. "Why this bus was really destroyed"? In other words, why the murder of innocents was justified?

Now class, repeat after me: "Two wrongs don't make a right." Or in other words, there is no possible justification for the deliberate targeting of civilians!! Example: The Nazis murdered six million Jews. Would we then be justified in murdering six million German innocents in response? Hell, no! So sorry, young lady, but you aren't going to get a whole lot of credibility by supporting murderers.
If Jerusalem Coalition’s goal is to show what terrorism looks like, then why didn’t they bring the thousands of demolished refugee camps, decapitated children and the millions of bulldozed olive trees from Bethlehem along with them?
Thousands of refugee camps? I didn't even know there were thousands of refugee camps, much less thousands of demolished refugee camps. Maybe you should look at the aerial photos from Jenin to get a little rational thought going. (Hat tip: Little Green Footballs)

And why don't you ask yourself why the "refugee camps" still exist in the first place? Or how many other "refugee camps" have sewers, cable TV, and multiple-story buildings?

As far as the olive trees go, however, Ms. Abdallah has a point. The Torah expressly forbids cutting down fruit trees in wartime. This is one of several examples of immoral Israeli policies that would never happen if the state were not so militantly secular.
These intentions are not to create peace, but to continue to label the Palestinian people as non-negotiating terrorists by squashing hope for peace and igniting hate as well as animosity.
Aside from the fact that you don't know how to construct a good English sentence, you assume that we need to label you as anything. We don't, because Hamas and Islamic Jihad are doing a great job on their own.
Dragging Bus 19 to America now – after the first successful democratic Palestinian elections, when the Palestinians are burying their grief for the sake of peace and when Europe, America and the Palestinians are actually working toward peace with the Israelis – shows that the intentions of showcasing the bus are not to end terror, but to end the efforts for peace.
Europe, America and the Palestinians are working for peace with Israel!? Get it straight: Israel has been the only one making concessions ever since the beginning, and that hasn't changed yet. The only reason that anything new is going on is because Arafat finally croaked, and the Europeans are leaning on Abbas instead of pulling their usual shtick with Israel.

Now, more than ever, the terror groups must be delegitimized, or else Abbas won't be able to follow through on his end. (If he even intends to do so in the first place. I remain skeptical.)
The Coalition showed UCI students what happened to Bus 19, but they didn’t care to explain why this would happen.
Why? Because a mass-murderer decided to strap on explosives and blow the bus up, that's why! See above for further clarification.
It is not fair to claim that an Israeli solider who sits in an F-16 fighter jet dropping thousand-pound bombs on a Palestinian village, looking for one man but killing hundreds in the process, is an act of security. This seems like terrorism, as well.
If by "village" you mean "cramped metropolis," by "thousand-pound bombs" you mean "five-hundred-pound bombs, rarely, and most often Hellfire missiles," and by "hundreds" you mean "one or two, vary rarely" (except for one strike which killed, I believe, sixteen civilians), then you would be accurate.

And because they are indeed "looking for one man," it is emphatically not terrorism. The men in question are acting to murder Israelis.
Would the Palestinians be looked at any differently if they had a more sophisticated way of defending themselves against the gruesome Israeli occupation?
It's not the method that is the problem here. I have very little problem with suicide bombers who attack military targets, in Israel or Iraq. If you want to call this a war of resistance, then you should be attacking the occupying army, not innocent people trying to live out their lives without getting disembowelled by flying shrapnel.

But that would be asking too much. After all, the army shoots back, doesn't it? Far easier to attack those least capable of resisting, like school children.
I dare to ask all American citizens reading this, if our country was being attacked by a foreign invasion right now, and Americans stood up to say that they would use their bodies and all means possible to defend our land, would you call them terrorists or freedom fighters?
Oh. My. God.

If Americans tried to kill enemy soldiers, they would be freedom fighters.

If Americans tried to murder innocent people, in America or by crossing the border into the offending country and killing them there, they would be murderers and a disgrace to this land and its people.

And that is the difference. Americans and Israelis scorn and punish murderers. Palestinians, not all of them but enough, glorify and support murderers. And you want Israel to give you a state?

Not a chance. Not until you prove that you actually deserve one, by casting out the evildoers from your midst. And the first step in doing so is to acknowledge that, yes, murdering people is wrong, and has no "explanations," "mitigating factors," or "justifications."

If the Muslim Student Union is actually supporting these murderers, I see no reason why they should be permitted on a government-funded campus. Do you?

"Free Mojtaba and Arash" Day

Details here.

The fight against the Iranian theocroligarchy goes on.



From Scrappleface:

Ariel Sharon Schedules Peace Talks With Self

Sharon and Bush are taking an awful risk with Abu Mazen. I desperately hope that they know something we don't about the man, because if this goes bad like every other "peace deal" Israel has ever made with the Palestinians, we will be more vulnerable than at any time since 1967. I do not relish the thought of Katyusha rockets launched from Gaza, landing in Jerusalem.


EU: Malice Through Apathy

His Imperial Majesty Misha I has two posts up about the European Union today. The first is about their continued opposition to DDT use against mosquitos in Africa, despite the staggering rate of malaria in African countries. (Roughly two million Afrians die each year from malaria, nearly all of them children or pregnant women.) The second is about the abysmal turnout for the Spanish EU referendum. Apparently, turnout was only 42%, of which 77% voted for the new EU Constitution. Meanwhile, over 90% of Spaniards know almost nothing about the Constitution or what is in it. (Which makes one wonder why they would vote for it...)

Money quote:
Madrid university professor Pedro Schwartz, on his way to vote, told the BBC: "Like most Spaniards, I'm pro-European, but it's the wrong time for a constitution.

"I know that, because I'm about the only one in Spain to have read it."
Does one thing have to do with the other? I wonder. How is it possible that the EU can continue to force poor, disease-ridden Africa to avoid using genetically-modified grain, or DDT pesticides that would kill off the mosquitos that are ravaging entire populations? How is it possible that the EU can continue to subsidize its own agriculture industry, at the expense of Africa's? (The same could be said about the United States, except that President Bush has courageously called for our subsidies to be slashed. Whether such a move will make it through Congress is another matter.)

Certainly there must be some degree of malice on the part of the EU leadership. Misha calls the present situation a "genocide-by-proxy scheme," and I see little reason to doubt him. But is the general populace of Europe equally malicious towards Africa? I don't think so. I may be wrong, but I think the problem is simply that Europeans don't take the time to find out what the situation in Africa is really like. They rely instead on Big Media organizations that are either government-controlled, or else ideologically driven. If it's not on the front page, it simply doesn't register for most people.

The alternative view is that people know what's going on, but have no way to influence the inner workings of the EU, which rivals the Soviet Communist Party for sheer bureaucratic unaccountability. The EU remains an organization of appointees, with some token gestures towards keeping the elected Parliament busy with meaningless trifles.

With luck, it is this very unaccountability that will bring the EU down. The Eastern European nations particularly are discovering that they are now subject to thousands of onerous regulations that are stifling their economy. France, meanwhile, is employing the EU as a club against its economic competitors; there was a proposal some time back to force all EU states to have a minimum taxation level, which just happened to be near that of France, so as not to provide "unfair" competition for companies in highly-taxed states like France or Germany. Such moves have Poland especially hopping mad.

Meanwhile, Africans are dying because of Eurodruids in Brussels. Does anyone know why we don't call that a crime against humanity?



I was bemused when I saw that our newest and most lethal attack submarine has been named the USS Jimmy Carter. Fortunately, Scrappleface has cleared up much of my confusion: "Jimmy Carter Attack Sub Armed With Nerf Missiles"

That would help explain this quote from the original article:
Carter said he expects the crew to use the submarine's "extraordinary capabilities — many top secret — to preserve peace, to protect our country and to keep high the banner of human rights around the world."
Can you imagine the razzing that those poor sailors are going to get from the rest of the military? That's like being on a British ship named for Neville Chamberlain! Oh, maaaaan...

Trouble Brewing in Lebanon

Several days ago, prominent Lebanese billionaire and ex-Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was car-bombed to smithereens, along with over a dozen bystanders. Hariri was friendly with both Washington and France, and had begun calling for Syria to end its illegal occupation of Lebanon shortly before his death.

It did not have the effect intended, as the Lebanese have been galvanized to more and more aggressive action against the occupying Syrians. But I had been waiting for the reaction of Hizbullah, and it is not surprising at all. Hizbullah is backed by Syria, of course, and it is hard to believe that their situation would improve when their patrons are booted from the country. The question is, will they actually violence against the Lebanese opposition?

This opens up all sorts of interesting possibilities, mostly revolving around France. France has historically given diplomatic support to Hizbullah, calling them a legitimate political party with legitimate grievances against Israel. But France also has a habit of being much more ruthless when such groups cross them directly, and Hariri was a close personal friend to Jacques Chirac. Apparently Chirac has taken his death with considerable anger, and will look askance at any party that supports Syria in the struggle to come.

Keep in mind also that the United States has a long score to settle with Syria and Hizbullah, dating back to the Beirut bombing in which 241 Marines were murdered. More recently, during the Falluja battle U.S. forces captured men, documents and GPS systems with overwhelming evidence that Syria was directly supporting the terrorists in Iraq. Lately the official rhetoric towards Syria had been heating up anyway, with open speculation about Special Forces raids on Syrian military assets, and within a day of the Hariri murder the U.S. ambassador to Damascus was recalled. In diplomat-speak, this is a serious escalation.

Syria's other neighbors bear it little goodwill. Iraq doesn't care for the Ba'ath Party too much, or for a government that funnels thousands of murderers across the border. Turkey is on such bad terms with Syria that the Turks felt compelled to sign a mutual-defense treaty with Israel some years back, to be activated in the event of a Syrian attack on either party. Israel, of course, would love to see Hizbullah and Syria both sent straight into the abyss.

I would not be surprised if this ends with the Syrians kicked out of Lebanon, and Hizbullah sent scurrying after them. That itself would precipitate a major crisis for the Assad dictatorship. I can hardly wait; the fall of the Assads has been long overdue.


Composing: Not Just for People With Orchestras

The other day, I had an odd dream in the time between 7:00 AM and 7:10 or so. What most struck me about this dream was that it came with a soundtrack. In particular, there was one scene that featured a striking oboe solo. It wasn't very complex, but when juxtaposed with the action the overall effect was powerful.

Had this dream happened a few years ago, or even six months ago, I would have quickly forgotten the melody and that would have been the end of it. Instead I quickly dashed to my computer, and within ten minutes had input the melodic line into Finale Notepad, a music-notation program that also allows you to listen to the music you write, using low-quality sound samples of orchestral instruments. Did I mention that Notepad is distributed free?

If I wanted to pay money for sample libraries (and I may yet), there are quite a number out there that can sound almost as good as a live orchestra, in the hands of a skilled programmer. (I've taken to lurking at the discussion board for one sample library in particular, Garritan Personal Orchestra. Check out their Audition.)

This phenomenon has really taken off in the last year or two, and has been helped immeasurably by the release of Apple's "Garage Band" software. Now, hundreds of thousands of people are composing their own music who might never have even tried without this type of software.

The trick is being able to listen to the music as you write it. I have never been a good sight-reader, and can't translate sounds in my head into notes on a page very well. Few people can, which is why few people ever composed music, and most of them were geniuses. You had to be able to hold the melodies in your head as you constructed them, which is very hard when you have four or more melodic lines.

But now, the application of technology has opened up the world of composing to a flood of people who had the desire, but lacked the tools. The results are stunning. New pieces are posted on dozens of sites across the Web, and while many are mediocre, I have heard quite a few that were absolutely wonderful.

Similar things are going on in book publishing, with books on demand. Even manufacturing has become accessible to the individual, with CAD-based programs that can capture the dimensions of your project, and many vendors who will churn out the finished product cheaply.

I continue to be amazed by how creative activities once out of reach for the small-timer are now open to anyone with the time and desire to produce art. Excuse me now as I return to my oboe.


Domestic Politics: The Harry Potter Test

By now, pretty much the entire country has heard of the Harry Potter book series, written by J.K. Rowling. The books are adored by legions of fans (myself among them), and the movies brought millions and millions more into the magical world of Harry Potter, Hogwarts, Professor Dumbledore, and all the rest. Something in the books has struck a chord in the colllective psyche of the world. Perhaps it is the epic battle between Good and Evil, something which has apparently gone out of fashion in more refined circles. Or it could be Harry's growth and maturation, as he endures great pain and heartbreak. Or it could be the wonderfully complex (yet ultimately contemptible) character of Severus Snape, who I believe will go down in history as one of literature's great creations.

Regardless, Harry Potter has become a true cultural phenomenon in much the same way as Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings did in previous years. And its fans are of all ages, with readers ranging from as young as four or five to well into their eighties and above.

What does this have to do with politics?

It is a general truism that the political party more seen to be closely aligned with public sentiment will end up with more popular support, and inevitably control of government. I believe that today, and for several years to come, the best measure of public sentiment is Harry Potter. Whether the Democratic or Republican party will emerge the victor in the culture wars now raging will depend in large part on which party can present a narrative that matches the Harry Potter story the closest.

I invite readers to give their own views on the different narratives. Here are my speculations on how the narratives match up:

The Democratic Narrative

(I am taking some direction from a fan article on Mugglenet.com entitled Osama Bin Voldemort and George W. Fudge. It was written shortly before the election, and suffers from some logical gaps. Regardless, it is instructive.)

In the Democratic narrative, the Republicans, and specifically President Bush, correspond to Cornelius Fudge, the inept Minister of Magic. Their primary concern is to extend their own power, and to do so they engage in smear tactics and ruthlessly crush dissent, with such tools as the Patriot Act, and relying on the support of the vast right-wing media apparatus, cf. "The Daily Prophet." They spend a lot of energy consolidating their own position, but disregard the true threats facing America. Insert here anything from Osama bin-Laden, to global warming, to globalization, to deforestation, to budget deficits, etc.

They also employ racist policies towards the black and Hispanic communities, designed to provide a pool of cheap labor for their corporate friends, just as the wizarding world exploits the house-elfs. They also believe themselves justified in dominating "lesser races," as the Ministry dominates the goblins and centaurs.

The Democrats themselves are Dumbledore: resisting the tyranny of Fudge by ceaselessly speaking truth to power, and asking the tough questions that nobody wants to think about. They speak with the wisdom of decades of accumulated political thought coming from universities and various government agencies. They are also trying to shield the rest of the world from the reckless and heavyhanded rule by the new hegemon, as Dumbledore is a friend to the goblins and giants.

The major clash of this generation is between military-industrial domination of the world and corporate domination of the country on one hand, and world harmony, tolerance, and economic fairness on the other. "Fudge" pursues the first, while "Dumbledore" the second.

And who is Voldemort? Well, even the Democrats aren't sure. Some say Osama bin-Laden and other terrorists; some say Bush himself, or perhaps Karl Rove. But there is little agreement on this point.

The Republican Narrative

The Republicans can point to a clear Voldemort, or rather many Voldemorts: those committing terrorism, supporting terrorism, or maintaining tyrannies over their nations. In the Republican way of thinking, they are all linked: the terrorists try to extend their power through murder, extortion, and coercion (much like the Death Eaters), and are aided by dictators who see the lives of others as cheap and expendable.

Standing against them is the government of President Bush, the collective "Dumbledore." Having seen the folly of previous American policy, which was to ignore the problem and hope that it goes away, they have stood up in the face of a world uproar and struck a blow against Evil, in as pure a form as we have seeen on this planet for a very long time. They have used the resources of this country to liberate many millions of people from horrible suffering under ruthless authoritarian dictatorships.

They are opposed by the Democrats, with perhaps Ted Kennedy standing in for Cornelius Fudge. At every turn, the Democratic response was to belittle the problem, call for hesitation, undercut the soldiers in the field, and advocate outright retreat from the field of battle. They also repeatedly claimed that the "lower races," the Arabs and Afghans, were incapable of living in freedom, and that we should leave them in their blissful slavery, as the wizarding world sees the house-elfs. Moreover, some of their harshest vitriol is reserved for Sec. Condoleeza Rice, a black woman who dared to wander off of the Democratic plantation.

The Democrats have at their disposal all the resources of academia and the (formerly) dreaded Mainstream Media, which constantly dance to their tune and do their best to shut out any dissenting voices, as does the "Daily Prophet." Furthermore, in the absence of actual evidence for their position, they exaggerate even the smallest piece of data into monumental critiques of the government, a la Rita Skeeter.

Fundamentally, the Republicans see today an outright clash of Good and Evil in their pure forms. Liberty and freedom are Good. Dictatorship and mass murder are Evil. And the Democrats, and the imbeciles in the UN, are simply getting in the way.

Which is More Compelling?

Obviously I am rather biased. But still, I think that the Republican narrative has a tremendous advantage in that it meshes very well with the thematic underpinnings of the Harry Potter world: love versus death, courage versus fear, justice, freedom. The Democratic narrative, while perhaps corresponding better to specific plot elements, is thematically hollow. Every time a Democratic leader gets on TV and says that a people is not ready for freedom, a sour note is struck for a Harry Potter reader. Every time a Democratic says that we must desert our allies in Iraq, every time a Democrat casts aspersions on the Iraqi election, every time a Democrat repeats the same tired blandishments that we have heard about everyone from Lenin to Che to Castro to Hugo Chavez, the Democratic Party becomes weaker and weaker.

I welcome other thoughts. But I think that until the Democratic Party realizes through and through who the real enemy is, and what the stakes are, then they will wander further and further into the wilderness. And that is not such a good thing.


The Stubbornness of Trained Minds

This semester I am taking a course in Tai Chi to finish up my PE requirement. I am very glad I am, as it has turned out to be a wonderful class for me, both for my overall flexibility and for my general state of mind. Tai Chi is rather controversial in the West, because it is based on the idea of chi, or life-energy, which the practitioner can manipulate and guide within himself to achieve balance. Skilled masters can also manipulate the chi of others, to heal or to use offensively when practiced as a martial art. This is also the basic idea behind acupuncture. Of course, this would appear to violate several laws of physics, and is therefore not well received in the West.

Tonight the class watched two videos, the second of which was a taped program where Bill Moyers went to China to explore traditional medicine and medical techniques. (At least, that was the theory; he spent most of the time with a condescending smile on his face, despite the fact that when a doctor manipulated Moyers's own chi, he felt a definite response. Let me note in passing that Bill Moyers likes the sound of his own voice too much for anyone's good.)

What interested me was Moyers's guide, an American doctor who had studied Chinese medicine off and on for twelve years. He clearly was open-minded enough to think that the Chinese were on to something, enough so that he spent a good portion of his life learning from them. And he was quick to note the empirical effects of such things as acupuncture. One clip showed a woman undergoing open-head surgery for a very large brain tumor; she received acupuncture and was also dosed with about half of the typical amount of anasthetic. She remained conscious and relatively lucid during the operation, and was completely without pain.

When the doctor was interpreting for an acupuncture specialist, he mentioned to Moyers that the map of acupuncture meridians had almost no correspondance with actual human anatomy, but was meant to represent flows of chi. At the same time, then and every other time the subject of chi came up, the doctor belittled the idea, portraying it as simply how the Chinese thought of things, a quaint outgrowth of a rather interesting philosophy.

Now, speaking empirically, he knows that acupuncture produces large effects on felt pain and even on some physical ailments. He also knows that acupuncture is not interacting with any nerves or any other anatomical feature that could explain this. He is naturally resistant to the idea that the Chinese know what they are talking about, with this energy nonsense, but he has seen far too much to simply dismiss it as a placebo effect. How then can he simply write off chi wholesale?

This shows, I think, just how rigidly the human mind can resist breaking its training. This doctor believes in the absolute primacy of the laws of physics, and therefore anything suggesting otherwise is to be viewed as a curiosity, and not as a challenge to his beliefs. How could it be? After all, the laws of physics are absolutely true!

Jewish thought, on the other hand, is quite comfortable with the idea of a world based on energy. Indeed, much of the mystical tradition tends in that direction. This partly explains why I am open to the idea of chi myself. I wonder, though, what sort of dogmatic beliefs I could cling to in the face of compelling evidence to the contrary. I would like to think that I am rational enough to adapt my worldview to new information, rather than distorting the information to fit my preconceived ideas, or simply dismissing it. But it would be foolish to assume that to be true.

One must constantly examine his own beliefs and test them against reality, for practical reasons as well as philosophical. If someone persists in holding a wrong idea in the face of reality, sooner or later reality will catch up to him with a wet meaty crunch. This is a particular concern for people with power or influence, because of the greater magnitude of their actions.

Yet more and more people hold beliefs that are clearly suspect. Atheism is a classic example. With the exception of prophets and mystics, humanity does not know one way or the other whether there is a god. Therefore, an utterly rational person not possessing mystical insight would be an agnostic. Atheism, on the other hand, is just as "irrational" as is belief in God. In fact, it is even more so, since atheists must explain the very existence of the universe, whereas believers must only explain the existence of Evil.

Marxism is another example. Karl Marx had a keen insight into the societal trends at work in his day, and made the mistake of drawing straight-line projections into the future. That, combined with a monumental misunderstanding of human nature, gave us Marxism. Yet you will still find many committed Marxists running around, despite the fact that modern technology does not concentrate the means of production in the hands of a few, but rather makes them available to more and more people. Modern Marxists simply are unwilling to see the trends that sit right in front of their faces.

At any rate... the next time you see or hear something that seems obviously wrong, take a moment to think about it. It may still be wrong; but it could be that you are about to learn something new, that lets you understand the world just a little better.

1,000 Hits!

Originally uploaded by Mastiff.
My blog has passed a milestone today. My Sitemeter account has just crossed 1,000 hits. Not too bad, given that my blog is about 6 months old.

Thanks to everyone who is reading this. I'm glad that you think my writing is worth reading.

In honor of the event, I am uploading my first image. Riveting, isn't it?


Condi in 2008?

Almost forgot to mention this...

Some have speculated for a while on a possible Presidential bid for Condoleeza Rice, presently Secretary of State. I always thought of a Rice candidacy as something that would be very cool, but very unlikely.

It seems, however, that the grassroots noise is picking up strength, and is being noticed in high places.

[EDIT: Broken link repaired.]

Sec. Rice has so far said nothing about running; on the other hand, she has not said that she will not run. Furthermore, it is difficult to find someone more qualified than a former provost of Stanford University who served as National Security Advisor, is presently serving as Secretary of State, is fluent in Russian and a brilliant international-affairs specialist. Just about her only areas of inexperience are in domestic policy, and in winning elections. Which is why the latest rumors have it that she is slated to replace Dick Cheney as VP, to ease her into the role.

I don't know what would be better about a President Rice: having such a competent and knowledgeable person in office, or watching the extreme Left implode as their barely-submerged racism comes out into the open. (Don't believe me? See for yourself.)

(UPDATE: Some of the links in the last page are out of date. But enough of them link to the original cartoons that you can see the general trend.)

Light Blogging Ahead

I may be blogging less often than usual in the next few days, as my semi-serious post about abolishing Congress a while ago has taken on a life of its own, and I'm in the middle of writing a paper on a similar topic that may end up getting published in the school's PoiSci journal, The Clarion. (It also will do duty as a term paper, which is always nice to get finished a few months in advance, hee hee.)

Of course, I usually end up blogging more often than I expect, so who knows? Besides, I hope to get the paper finished on Sunday, which is a bit optimistic but not impossible.

Maybe I should figure out how to upload it once I finish. Now there's an idea...


Self-Awareness: A Good Thing To Have

I was browsing through the web when I was directed to the American Prospect, which is hosting a contest to see who can write the best elevator pitch for Liberalism (hat tip: Iowahawk):
We’re taking suggestions: What does liberalism stand for?

Anybody who's ever had to raise money knows the meaning of the phrase "elevator pitch": You're in an elevator with a potential moneybags, and you have, say, seven floors to tell him why he should write you a check.

Well, we all know the basic outline of conservatism's elevator pitch: "We believe in freedom and liberty, and we're for low taxes, less government, traditional values, and a strong national defense." But what is liberalism's? We at the Prospect have, among us, attended or sat on about eleventy hundred panels since the election at which someone invariably says something like the following: "We know what conservatives stand for. But what do we stand for?"

No one in Washington seems to know. So we turn to you. Give us liberalism's elevator pitch.
Then I started reading through the entries. I see only three possible explanations: these people are the famed "silent majority" of the Democratic Party, or they've not been paying attention to national politics for the last two decades, or they're absolutely oblivious to reality:
We believe in freedom and liberty, and we're for low taxes, less government, traditional values, and a strong national defense. Only we mean it. --J.P.
Because Bill Clinton was known for pursuing freedom and liberty around the world, cutting taxes, reducing government regulation, acting in accordance with traditional values, and bolstering defense spending. No, wait—that's not right...
Liberalism is the recognition that good government is necessary to promote security, prosperity, equal opportunity, and personal freedom. --C.M., Washington, DC
Not sure how that makes you different from the Republicans, except for the term "good government" which you conveniently neglect to define. A waste of typing.
We believe that all people, not corporations, are equal under the law and that the interests of our country are promoted by the goverment helping the least of our citizens. --M.C., Detroit, MI
So corporations should not be equal under the law? Or is this just a slam against the eeeeevil corporation, which is even today plotting to rent out the Capitol Building to casinos?
We believe in balancing competition with cooperation, balancing strength with wisdom, balancing personal responsibility with responsibility towards others, balancing individuality with community, and that we are stronger united than divided. --C.U.
You also believe in balancing oxygen with carbon dioxide, balancing checking accounts with a pencil and calculator, and balancing the Federal budget—what? Oh, sorry. Never mind...
We believe in personal freedom and responsibility; in accountable, unintrusive government; in protecting our children's health and prosperity; and for standing strong with allies against terror and tyranny. --A.C., Chicago, IL
Come again? Are we talking about the same Liberalism? You may want to have a nice long talk with Teddy Kennedy some day. It might do him good.

I could go on all night, but it is getting late. If you care to, you can check out the entries for yourselves and judge how accurate they are. All I can say is, modern Liberalism is having one helluva time crafting a coherent message. In a two-party system, this is not a good thing. We need a healthy debate, between real options. And what we have now isn't cutting it.

Sharon Loses His Mind

Ariel Sharon has just signaled that he would violate one of the few remaining hard principles of Israeli diplomacy, stating in an interview with Haaretz that he would be willing to release Palestinian prisoners who carried out violent attacks, should the proposed disengagement from Gaza go forward without terrorist disruption.

The stupidity of this is just frightening. Israel has for a long time now refused to release Palestinians "with blood on their hands," for obvious reasons. Those who were released at the beginning of the Oslo period were very quickly back to their old tricks, and many of them ended up being assassinated in the past few years. (One spectacular example was Shaikh Yaasin of Hamas.)

Moreover, I can tell you right now what's going to happen. Abbas will give his "assurances," Hamas and Hizbullah will go ahead with their planned attacks anyway (just as they are doing right now), and when Sharon balks at releasing the prisoners, the world will jump all over him for "going back on his obligations." It has happened so many times before, it would be hilarious if it were not so disgusting.

Ariel Sharon is in a tough position. He is going ahead with the Gaza disengagement in the face of adamant opposition from his own party, which he was quashed in a dictatorial manner that has many of the party leadership livid. The IDF has advised him that it is militarily impossible to protect the retreating settlers without large-scale incursions into the heart of Gaza City and elsewhere, and he has ignored them. Hamas and Hizbullah are calling this a "second Lebabon" and plan to launch massive attacks on the retreating forces, just as they did in Lebabon duing Ehud Barak's withdrawl, to reinforce the impression that Israel is retreating under fire. Sharon absolutely cannot afford that, and is desperate to bring the terror groups under control.

But in pledging to release prisoners with blood on their hands, Sharon has placed himself in an incredibly weak position. I cannot imagine, given the extremely low probability that Abbas will actually follow up on his end, that it was worth it. Sharon's diplomacy is just getting more and more desperate and irrational. Someone in Likud needs to get him under control now, before it's too late.


Illegal Immigration Not Prone to Quick Fixes

A topic which has been quite popular around the blogosphere has been illegal immigration, and the related problem of drug smuggling or criminal infiltration over the border. Much of the Right has been furious at President Bush for proposing a guest-worker program for nonresidents, which they characterize as an amnesty that would reward lawbreakers. At the same time, they have few ideas of their own on how to deal with the problem. With millions of people crossing the border each year, closing the border effectively would take prohibitive resources. Indeed, the border patrols are already releasing most of the people they arrest because the prisons are full.

Just about the only alternative to some sort of amnesty program would be to declare the border to be a free-fire zone and shoot anything that moves; the horrible thing is that many people near the border want to do just that, because of the increasing violence from narco-gangs crossing the border. (Border patrol agents are fired upon several times a week.)

There are a number of additional problems with simply closing the border. First, the laws of supply and demand are against it: an awful lot of people want to come to America, and they will find a way somehow. Second, the present situation has created a vast underground economy of illegal immigrants who work for low wages because they fear arrest and deportation. Not only does it promote a disrespect for the law and a separation from greater American society, but it deprives the government of a lot of taxes. By most estimates, if all illegal immigrants paid taxes, the Federal budget would have run surpluses for the last decade. Meanwhile, the illegals are taking advantage of public education and medical care. Unless you want to somehow deport ten million people, this will continue unless you bring them into the system with some sort of guest-worker program.

There are also several benefits to an amnesty. If we can channel all of the prospective workers through a legal registry, which records their names, locations, financial arrangements, et cetera, we can much more easily find out if they engage in criminal activity. At the same time, the only people left to illegally cross the border would be those we do not want inside: criminals, drug smugglers, terrorists. That being the case, it would be much easier to argue that U.S. citizens should have the right to shoot border crossers, given that the citizens are effectively resisting a foreign invasion. Homeland Security benefits, Federal revenues increase, a lot of people are brought into society, and wages go up. What's not to like?

My one caveat is that some level of English instruction should be mandatory for everyone in a guest-worker program. The growth of enclaves where U.S. citizens cannot function because they do not know Spanish, or Arabic, or whatever, is damaging to society. Furthermore, it is damaging to the people who cannot speak English, because they are permanently kept in the underclass of society.

Many of the people against free movement across borders claim to want to protect the unique American culture. They need to study some history; the same sorts of complaints were raised against every wave of immigration, from the Irish, to the Jews, to the Italians, to the Germans and Norweigans, to the Japanese... So long as the new residents learn English, they will be incorporated into the American tapestry as were all those before them.

Palestinian Ceasefire: More of the Same?

(Sorry for the light blogging lately, coursework is piling up.)

With all of the jubilation by diplomats and the media over the much-heralded truce between Mahmoud Abbas and Ariel Sharon, you would think that they have all forgotten the innumerable truces that Arafat called, only to do nothing to enforce them. Well, it seems that they are about to be reminded. Hamas and Hizbullah are both disregarding the truce, and Hizbullah in particular is trying to carry off as many attacks as they can.

The blogosphere has been skeptical, to say the least. Captain Ed calls this the Palestinian Triangle Offense:
[W]hen Abbas has to go to the mattresses with Hamas -- and he will, if he's serious -- he's going to be outnumbered 2-1. That means Abbas won't bother, and the resultant terrorist activity will force Israel to respond. The Palestinians will once again claim that Israel broke the truce and respond in kind, and we'll be back to square one -- just like every time this has been tried.

One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.
Meanwhile, the Big Trunk asks the obvious question:
Is there any reason to believe that the ceasefire is a prelude to peace with Israel rather than a preparation for war from a stronger position at a later date?
I remain unconvinced of Abbas's sincerity, or even if he is sincere, of his ability to actually take down Hamas and Hizbullah. I will only believe that Abbas actually means to work for peace when we begin to hear multiple reports of large-scale battles between Palestinian security and the terrorist forces. In their absence, I am cynical about the prospects for real security.


On the Sad State of Super-Bowl Advertising

Of late, the Super Bowl has become a prime showcase for the best talent and originality that the advertising world has to offer. Indeed, many people watch the game purely for the ads, which are usually much more clever than standard fare.

And then came 2005.

The first oddity was that so many of the commercials were repeated, which is unheard of. And Fox spent a huge amount of time plugging its other shows. It seems that most firms have decided that two million dollars is too much to pay for thirty seconds of airtime. Someone at Fox is going to be hurting from this one; I nominate the market-research department.

But aside from that, most of the commericals were really, really, bad. There were several noteworthy ones, with Pepsi, Ameriquest and a few others scoring highly. But one commercial in particular set out to capture exactly what was wrong in the advertising world. FedEx began their spot by saying that they had compiled the ten most popular elements in a Super Bowl commercial, and proceded to feature each one in quick succession. Fortunately, their spot came early in the game, allowing the viewers to compare it to all the ads to come.

Lo and behold, nearly all ten elements appeared with monotonous regularity:

1. Celebrity: The viewer was deluged with celebrities, from the predictable sports stars to Cindy Crawford to P.Diddy; and then there was one travesty in which Pizza Hut shamelessly and artlessly exploits the Muppets.

2. Animal: You name it, they had it, from an entire menagerie showing up at the Anheiser Busch stables, to several seperate commericals with monkeys, and then the cat, and the dog, et cetera. And that's not even including...

3. Dancing Animal: I think they only had one of these. Thank goodness. But we'll be back for more! First, though...

4. Cute Kid: This is a little more forgivable; and come to think of it, the only spots that had kids were the NFL's, for tsunami relief and United Way. Too bad; a few cute kids would have done wonders for some of the worst offenders.

5. Groin Kick: We actually didn't see any of these, no doubt due to scrutiny from the FCC. We did see a great deal of scantily-clad femininity, which was surprising given the Janet Jackson episode that promped the scrutiny in the first place. The most uninspired reference to the event was in an ad by Go Daddy which featured a busty blonde nearly losing her top as she testifies before a censorship commitee. Trite and predictable.

6. Talking Animal: I warned you! Talking cockatoos, talking dogs… actually just one of each, but repeated several times so that it just got annoying.

7. Attractive Females: Mentioned parts of this already, but as with the Cute Kid, you are going to have ads with women, and they will usually be attractive. Often they even get to keep their clothes on!

8. Product Message (optional): There were a few cases of product branding that seemed truly bizarre. Having LeBron James advertise for bubble gum? The Marvel Superheroes in a Visa commerical? (Which, incidentally, was remeniscent of a series of commercials done by CapitalOne...)

9. Famous Pop Song: Also somewhat forgivable, with the exception of Pepsi using that truly miserable ripoff of "If I Were a Rich Man." Whatever numbskull came up with the idea for that abomination apparently cannot distinguish between ironic pathos and crass materialism.

10. Bonus Ending: Actually, this I tend to like, if it's done well.

The point of this overlong laundry list is to demonstrate that advertising has become formulaic and dry, in most cases. Ads now join pop music, Hollywood movies and most TV shows in that respect (how many sequels, prequels, spin-offs, remakes, biographies, and book adaptations are in theaters right now?). Most of the stuff out there now is simply boring.

Fortunately, these sorts of problems tend to be self-correcting. This is especially true given how much easier it is to produce professional-quality video and sound these days. All that one needs is to produce the product, and it will find a niche. I just hope it happens sooner than later; if I'm going to spend hours watching a sports game, I want to at least be entertained while I'm doing it!


We'll Miss You, Diplomad

I had barely sat down at the computer after Havdalah when I was shocked to read that The Diplomad, the wonderfully biting commentator on foreign-policy absurdities across the globe, is officially retiring from his site. Go read his last message, and mourn the passing of one of the great voices of the blogosphere.


In Other News: CAIR is a Bunch of Losers

Lt. Gen. James Mattis, one of the most celebrated officers of the Marine Corps, has apparently said something that the Council on American-Islamic Relations doesn't like:
According to an audio recording, he said, "Actually, it's a lot of fun to fight. You know, it's a hell of a hoot. ... It's fun to shoot some people. I'll be right up front with you, I like brawling."

He added, "You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn't wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain't got no manhood left anyway. So it's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them."
CAIR, being a serious body dedicated to fostering goodwill between Americans and Muslims, has naturally responded by calling Gen. Mattis a bloodthirsty racist:
"We do not need generals who treat the grim business of war as a sporting event," said the council's executive director, Nihad Awad. "These disturbing remarks are indicative of an apparent indifference to the value of human life."
Maybe CAIR doesn't get it, given that they're probably into slapping women around as well, but Gen. Mattis was not being indifferent to human life. On the contrary, he was showing the highest reverence for human life, by declaring that those thugs who use violence on the innocent have forfeited their rights to continue breathing. Moreover, it is hardly a novel idea that combat can be fun. Figures from Homer to Winston Churchill have all commented on the exhileration of combat, and the USMC is filled with brawlers who "love the sting of battle," God bless 'em.

Compare the above comments to Gen. Mattis's mindset when he's actually on the job:
In a letter to his troops before they redeployed to Iraq last March, Mattis warned them of "hard, dangerous work."

"The enemy will try to manipulate you into hating all Iraqis," he wrote. "Do not allow the enemy that victory. With strong discipline, solid faith, unwavering alertness, and undiminished chivalry to the innocent, we will carry out this mission."
Gen. Mattis, and others like him, make up the backbone of our military and do it honor. CAIR should think twice before shooting off their mouths at a Marine.


Using Retarded Children for Suicide Bombers

The blogosphere is reacting with a mixture of disgust and incredulity to reports that the terrorist groups in Iraq are using retarded people, often children, to carry out attacks. (See this post from Powerline as an example.) Of course, those of us who have observed the Palestinian terror groups know that this is a common practice. But it still reflects monumental hypocrisy and cynicism by the terror leaders. They are apparently having trouble convincing sane people that murdering fellow Muslims, and committing suicide, will get them into Paradise; rather than switch to a more palatable tactic, for example shooting attacks, they instead take advantage of the feebleminded. Scum.

Unsteady Teddy Gets Zinged

For some time now, I've been meaning to add David Burge's hysterically funny Iowahawk to my blogroll. I have finally been spurred to action today, after reading Burge's devastating response to Senator Ted Kennedy's near-treasonous speech shortly before the election.

Ted has never seen a tough situation that he hasn't had the courage to run away from. JFK is rolling in his grave.


State of the Union

I unfortunately missed the President's State of the Union address, but from all accounts it was the best he has ever given. The Diplomad notes that President Bush, more than any other president in recent years, is willing to take the big, gutsy risks that must be taken, even when they are political suicide. Can you imagine Clinton liberating Iraq and Afghanistan? Or Bush the Elder? Reagan had the courage, but his style was much less aggressive. Carter... well... can they take his portrait down soon from the wall, or will someone have to burn it?

Leo Strauss was a firm believer in the classical idea that the purpose of politics is to inspire the people to do great deeds, greater than would have been done on their own. George W. Bush, a man who seemed completely underwhelming when he first took office, has been revealed as a true heroic leader in the best traditions of the ancients. He may lack the eloquence of Pericles, but Bush has every measure of his determination and resolve.

May God continue to grant the President wisdom and strength. We still have great need of them.

Murdering Your Daughters

I have just read an article about "honor killings," which includes a link to a horrifying account by a young Palestinian woman of the day when she was burned alive for becoming pregnant while unmarried.

Aside from the sheer evil of killing women in such a casual manner (the Palestinian woman writes that nine of her thirteen siblings were murdered by her family, often by her mother), I was struck by a few points:

First, that there are apparently no guidelines governing murders of this type. A woman could be killed for reasons ranging from adultery, premarital sex, dating Christians, or just appearing in public without a scarf. There is no sense of proportionality, and no sense of justice either; it is common for young girls to be murdered because they have "brought shame to the family"—by being raped, sometimes by relatives. Justice does not even enter into the picture; all that matters is the family's shame.

Conclusion: The Arab culture does not include the idea of a "proportional response."

Second, although such murders are supposedly forbidden under Islam, in practice they are tolerated and even encouraged, through the legitimation of beating family members. The article notes a thriving industry in the British Muslim publishing world in books that describe how to beat your wives without leaving a mark.

Conclusion: Arab Muslims are practiced at ignoring Islam when it is convenient to do so, and have few concepts of discipline.

Third, the Arabs have a remarkably callous—and, dare I say it, sloppy—view towards killing. Setting women on fire, or tying them and leaving them on train tracks, or stabbing women dozens of times and then leaving them in dumpsters while they are still alive, is not only fantastically cruel, it is not very effective. (Not that I want murders to be more effective...)

Conclusion: It is more important to inflict pain than actually to kill cleanly; the messier, the better.

Why is there not more outrage over this barbarous practice? Where are those brave champions of women's rights at NOW or NARAL, when their sisters are being butchered for such trivial infractions as talking to boys? How can the world stand by and allow this abomination to continue contaminating the very earth beneath our feet? What does this say, both about the Arab culture and about our own, that the murders go on?

To me, the worst aspect of these so-called honor killings is that they are often decided on in family conference. Very well; if a family decides together to murder one of its own, then the family can be punished together as well. If entire families were rounded up and never seen again after a daughter is murdered, this abomination would end immediately. After all, the family is the important thing. Let them all rot in prison together, and never be released.

Yet European governments are slow to act, because they fear being perceived as against multiculturalism. How blind can they be? And make no mistake: as soon as white women start disappearing, the gloves will come off immediately. The present situation is tolerated, frankly, because the victims are Arab as well. Very well; if the Europeans want to be so multicultural, perhaps we shoud teach a neglected American tradition to the European people: lynching those who do violence against women.

I fear for the future. Such a poisoned culture that can produce such cruelty and callousness towards sisters and daughters will have to be driven from the face of the earth eventually. Only time will tell if the Arabs will improve themselves, or if force of arms will be necessary.