Thursday, January 31, 2008
The top brass, as we're not particularly surprised to read, are a big part of the problem. He even dug up the statistics whereby the medals of bravery awarded after the last war all went to junior officers and down. (I think there was one full colonel among them, but he and many of the mid-level officers who were cited for bravery were pilots, who have high ranks but are effectively regular combat fighters). So far as I know, this is an unprecedented state of affairs; in any other army I've ever heard of the chance of being cited for bravery rises with rank.
So what's going on? Rath explains that young men are in for their pals, and also (secondarily) for the right reasons such as commitment to country and other such out-dated concepts. It's when the career officers rise to the level of colonel that they change, and deal ever more with politics and ever less with their job. The result, as he puts it, is that we have gigantic soldiers and low-ranking officers, and small high officers.
I have no doubt he's right. The young men and women are in there for the right reasons, and this doesn't change as they begin the climb up. By the time they're colonels they've outgrown the naivety of youth, they're in their mid or late 30s, they know their options to continue upwards are growing limited as the pyramid narrows, they have ever greater contact with politicians, politician-like officials, and journalists, who are of course also a sort of politician. Of course, you might think that if society encouraged its top brass to be as committed as they were in their youth, and rewarded those who remained fresh, committed, innovative and sincere, then that's the model the colonels would persist in. But we don't elect that type of politicians, so how would they know to encourage that type of officers? It's the real world ot there, not some fairy tale. For better and for worse.
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
I haven't read the full report, and rather doubt I will. Here are some initial comments, therefore, from an observer who is not more informed than any of his readers nor any of the other pundits, who can be assumed also not to have read the 617 pages in the past 120 minutes (or the next 120 days, for that matter).
1. The commission is pretty withering in its criticism of the way the 2nd Lebanon War was led. It failed to reach most of its goals.
2. The leadership of the army and the government had two main alternatives once they decided to go to war. Either you hit the Hezbollah hard once, and then desist, or you try to achieve larger strategic goals, requiring the use of massive ground forces that temporarily conquer territory and fundamentally change the situation in it. The leadership never really decided which of the alternatives it was pursuing. (Pretty damning, that).
3. The Air Force initially had some resounding successes (destroying the long range Land-to-Land missiles, I assume), but couldn't win the war, and this was not well enough appreciated at the time.
4. The runts, low-ranking officers, and the reservists, fought heroically and well.
5. The top echelons of the army were incompetents. (Well, the commission seems to have used polite language to say this).
6. The leadership screwed up, and muddled through. But they meant well, and were trying their best.
All in all, nothing new, nothing surprising, and nothing to be particularly proud of (except the part about the runts). My reading of history these past 30 years has shown me that most leaderships most of the time in just about every situation mostly screw up, and mostly muddle through, and the final results stem more from the actions of the common people than of the intentions and (well laid?) plans of their leaders. Humans are fallible, and they fallibalize most of the time (What do you mean, there's no such word? How can there not be?)
What happens now? Let me put on my pundit hat here, and pretend I know something the rest of you don't:
A. Olmert's government won't fall, not now, and when it does, not because of this (no matter how it gets spun).
B. Olmert will probably lose the next elections, whenever they are, partly because of this, partly because the Israeli electorate generally throws out whoever is in power, and mostly because he won't do anything from now till then to make us not throw him out.
C. If I were a Hezbollah chief, or a Hamas one, or any other kind of enemy of Israel, I would spend the next three days crowing, and then the following few years cowering. This ability of the Israelis publicly to investigate their mistakes, and then at least partially to learn from them, makes them quite formidable.
D. No one else I can think of has this ability, certainly not the Brits or the Americans, and they're the only other candidates for even trying.
E. Well, there is one other nation that has been studiously, publicly, and openly learning from its mistakes these past 60 years. The Germans. (Hitler came to power today 75 years ago). But that's a different story, tho not totally unrelated.
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
So in the meantime, here's my take on Per Petterson's fine novel Out Stealing Horses. No connection with either storm.
Sunday, January 27, 2008
Some people out there aren't on the front lines, and they get to live calmer lives. Which doesn't mean they are any less significant. This blog, here, for example, often manages to touch deeply human chords, and its author commands my true respect for this.
Most of this week I'll be off line; you could do worse than to switch over to Dan. If you end up staying there, that's also fine.
Saturday, January 26, 2008
Thursday, January 24, 2008
He deals with the subject in as serious a way as he knows, meaning he uses the tools of a journalist as well as he can: he interviewed all sorts of people, he traced down stories, and so on. There is no indication he uses any of the tools of a scholar: read books, search out the fundamental texts, learn the relevant languages, immerse himself in the relevant culture. As a result, his description is deeply unsatisfying, even while being significantly better than most of the mumbo-jumbo you'll pick up from the media most any day of the week.
Ultimately, after he has told us all sorts of interesting things, we notice that there is nothing particularly unusual in any of it. Which, given that the crime he's trying to describe is very unusual indeed, seen from just about any historical perspective, is quite unsatisfactory.
Yad Vashem has just this morning launched an Arab-language website, with an honest attempt to educate about the facts of the Shoah.
One of the last things I did at Yad Vashem was to write the opening paragraphs to the Arabic section of the website: three short paragraphs that present the essence of the Shoah. For those of you who do not read Arabic (I don't, either), here is my last bit of service to Yad Vashem:
The Holocaust was the murder by Nazi Germany of six million Jews. While the Nazi persecution of the Jews began in 1933, the mass murder was committed during World War II. It took the Germans and their accomplices four and a half years to murder six million Jews. They were at their most efficient from April to November 1942 – 250 days in which they murdered some two and a half million Jews. They never showed any restraint, they slowed down only when they began to run out of Jews to kill, and they only stopped when the Allies defeated them.
There was no escape. The murderers were not content with destroying the communities; they also traced each hidden Jew and hunted down each fugitive. The crime of being a Jew was so great, that every single one had to be put to death – the men, the women, the children; the committed, the disinterested, the apostates; the healthy and creative, the sickly and the lazy – all were meant to suffer and die, with no reprieve, no hope, no possible amnesty, nor chance for alleviation.
Most of the Jews of Europe were dead by 1945. A civilization that had flourished for almost 2,000 years was no more. The survivors – one from a town, two from a host – dazed, emaciated, bereaved beyond measure, gathered the remnants of their vitality and the remaining sparks of their humanity, and rebuilt. They never meted out justice to their tormentors – for what justice could ever be achieved after such a crime? Rather, they turned to rebuilding: new families forever under the shadow of those absent; new life stories, forever warped by the wounds; new communities, forever haunted by the loss.
Well, actually, I have a second quibble. He seems to think that the Israeli government should be more strenuous in seeking peace; this is true in a vague sort of way, but not relevant because the lack of peace isn't the result of Israeli moves one way or the other. There is no peace because a majority of the Palestinians doesn't want peace at any price Israel can offer.
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
I can't say I fully understand what the scheme is, but it sounds fine. Everyone tells us that the world is warming up and the end of civilization as we know it is nigh, and the Israelis are proposing a model of dealing with it that is not based on everyone denying themselves things they're not going to give up but rather the opposite: drive your car, by all means, only pollute less as you do so - and save money.
As a general statement I'd say that a policy based on innovation (and greed) will work better than alternatives based on sanctimony and guilt - and they'll make the world a better place, too. As a specific statement I'll say that as the Palestinians pursue their consistent strategy of making things as bad for themselves as possible so that they'll always be able to howl about how bad they have it, the Israelis, I'm proud to say, continue with their consistent strategy of at least trying to move forward, while often even succeeding.
Monday, January 21, 2008
The situation is Gaza is equally bleak. I'm not saying otherwise. Even in the probable case that some of the Palestinian hardship is staged or contrived - after all, someone has to decide if they ration electricity away from hospitals or away from party headquarters and training installations - only a fool would think the general populace is severely deprived of the amenities most of us take for granted.
And yet there are some mildly important distinction, it seems to me. The Hamas leadership are leveraging the situation so as to harm Israel, with nary a consideration if they could do anything on their own that might perhaps better the situation of their people. The worse things get, the more they screech. The useful fools run to oblige, obviously; my friend Juan, for example, goes so far as to explain that the present escalation is an Israeli plot to harm the Palestinians while the Americans are preoccupied with their primaries show. At the same time the Israelis, while not knowing how to defend thier own people, are agonizing about what they might possibly do, and no sooner do they try, they back away. This morning Haaretz reported that there were second thoughts about halting the supply of oil; by this evening Ehud Barak had already authorized a renewal of the supply of oil into Gaza.
Which brings us to the crucial distinction: That Israel is being shot at by Palestinian forces, while supplying the Palestinian populace directly with electricity and oil, all the while failing to protect its own people. The Palestinians could make the present crises go away with one small decision: stop the shooting.
The first question, then, when looking at the disaster that is Gaza these days is where do you begin the story, what parts do you leave out, and what embellishments you add. Do you start with Israel shutting down the border crossings, thereby reducing the availability of oil in Gaza, leading to the shutdown of the single power station there, leading to blackened hospitals and cold ovens in bakeries? Or do you start with the ever-rising numbers of Palestinian rockets being shot at Israeli civilians from Gaza? Perhaps you start with the blockade on Gaza since Hamas was democratically elected at the beginning of 2006? (And, if you mention that blockade, do you mention that it's being maintained by the Europeans and others, or do you imply it's just another evil Israel thing?).
Perhaps you start the story with the war of 1948 - and if you do, which part of it? The part where the Palestinians, backed by the entire Arab world, flaunted a UN decision and purposefully set out to commit genocide against the Jews 2 1/2 years after the Holocaust? Or is 1948 the year Israel ethnically cleansed the Palestinians?
Should we start with the riots of 1920, when the Palestinians first began murdering Jewish civilians so that Zionism might go away, or with the growing Jewish determination at the end of the 19th century to carve themselves some sort of refuge in a hostile world that was only getting more violently hostile, and regret that they choose a place where Arabs were living? Perhaps we might begin with the 7th century, when the Arabs first arrived, unbidden, pillaging as they went, and destroyed the flourishing ancient culture of Byzantine? Or Perhaps with King David, 1,700 years before that?
Complicated, isn't it?
Sunday, January 20, 2008
Rita is one of our most talented singers, with an extraordinary voice. Some people feel that in recent years she has been somewhat overdoing the passion and emotion, taking a powerful voice and turning it into a mannerism. I'm not enough of a music critic to know about that sort of thing. A few months ago she separated from her husband, Rami Kleinstein; they had been together since their teens, and must now be in their early 40s. She has now come out with a new album. Over here you can hear what I'm told is the best song on it. If the critics were right, she has taken note, and if anything, the incredible power of this recording is that she's obviously holding back, and we hear both the power and the restraint.
You don't need to follow the Hebrew, I think. Her theme is the dreariness after "you left", and the final word, biladecha, is 'without you'
Thursday, January 17, 2008
The only answer I can think of is for the sake of some sort of balance. In their table of contents (print edition) the subtitle to the glum Arab title is about how depressing it is to be an Arab, followed by a subtitle to the next item: "And an Israeli, too".
I used to subscribe to the Economist, which is generally an unusually intelligent magazine. Then I got fed up with their nonsensical reportage about Israel (not as bad as the Guardian, but you expect more from the Economist); recently I've been asking myself if it's safe to go back to them, but this would indicate not.
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
Totally unconvincing to my mind, of course, but then I don't generally go to The Guardian to be convinced, I go for the entertainment. Two quick comments: he postulates that the lessons of WW2, Nazism and the Holocaust are the relevant lessons for all time; I would argue that already today, a mere 60-some years later, the real challenges facing Europe (and the rest of us) are quite different, and require a different set of responses - and given Man's ability forever to come up with new perversities, there's nothing particularly surprising about this.
His second assumption is that the world must learn from Europe, because what is good for Europe is good for everyone. Hogwash, of course, a remnant of the 19th century age of Imperialism (though nowadays it's called Colonialism), sounding even worse than usual when it comes from a German, whose colonial past has absolutely nothing redeeming about it - unlike that of the British.
Ah, and his final sentence, of course, is pure nationalistic jingoism:
Move over America, Europe is back.
The United States being the uniquely powerful state it is, is in many ways the imperial power of our generation, and I don't mean this in a pejorative way. The traveler from afar travels from city to city and sees the different capitals of the world:
Washington DC, seat of political power. It's denizens are formally dressed, and hurry about their business exuding the power. New York, business and money capital of the world. Its denizens also are formally dressed, except for the millions that aren't, but the power they exude is jerkier, jumpier, quicker. Washington is somehow heavy, ponderous, while New York is quick, perhaps almost frenzied.
Boston, where I sit this evening, can claim to be the academic capital of the world (if not Boston, who else, pry tell?). And indeed, wandering around today I was impressed by the many bright young adults, by the many posters in the subways offering academic opportunities; by the earnest young woman standing in the crowded subway car reading The Economist.
LA, capital of entertainment, and Las Vegas, world capital of fantasy, I didn't visit this time, and won't report on.
But isn't, obviously. And then I looked at other things on the LA Times website, and found this: a longish article with quotations from professors, researchers (or should I say, "researchers"?), physicians and others, claiming that obesity is society's fault, not ever the individuals', and society has to pass lots of laws banning the public display of food, advertising about food, the sale of food to minors, seniors and others, and so on.
At first I thought it might be a parody, but no, it's dead serious. They've got this whole raft of educated fools who are convinced that what people eat is not their responsibility, since they are controlled by powers larger than they, such as the icing on donuts at train stations.
Wasn't America invented by Puritans? People who put self discipline right up there next to God-fearing (which was WAY UP)? Have any of these scientists ("scientists") ever tried adding what used to be called "duty" to their lives? The kind of thing you do not because it's pleasurable (it often isn't) but because it's important? Remember that old (and forgotten?) Catholic custom of not eating meat on Fridays and other times, even though the surrounding masses of Jews (and a handful of Protestants) were?
My point is that this article is an illustration of a deep-seated malaise which, if not treated, will inevitably lead to the demise of the culture it has infected, and its replacement by less childish people. Which in itself might be regarded as a tragedy merely for the folks being demised (is there such a word?), except that for all their childishness, they do come from the most benign world power ever, and it would be regrettable if they disappeared. The next group will be worse.
Monday, January 14, 2008
Aren't you glad we have fine research universities that know how to churn out such important insights into human nature? I certainly am.
But they are important rules, and you can often (not always!) tell which side is the "better side" in a conflict by measuring the attempts each side makes to adhere to them. (This is a concept totally foreign to approximately 100% of war reportage and punditry in today's media, but is no less true because of this).
The attempt to play according to these rules is what has Israel allowing humanitarian aid into Gaza these days. And the fact that the Palestinians take advantage of this so as to break the rules is, as we all know, to be expected.
Or do we all know? Or is it only those of us who are paying attention, AND are interested in facts as distinct from propaganda, AND are remembering what we're seeing - all in all, a very small group?
So I watched. What can I tell you? Steyn was too generous. The film is, quite simply, sheer idiocy. There is, admittedly, a sort of endearing quality to the murderer in the film - Hollywood has always been good at getting us to take the wrong side - but apart from that, there is no sense to the film, no coherence, no consistent theme. It's a Western where the murderers are the good guys except when they're not, the law enforcers are the bad guys except when they're not, the hero is a hero except when he's not. And the myriad zigzags serve no purpose that I managed to discern.
According to this, the film cost $50,000,000 to make. That's fifty million dollars.
Wednesday, January 9, 2008
But it would be easy also to do the opposite. to note, for example, the you can travel from Jerusalem to wherever there is a Jewish community worldwide, and you can reasonably expect, upon arrival, to find a shul (Yiddish for synagogue) where the service is so close to what you're used to as to be quite painlessly interchangeable. As matter of fact, in the essentials it would be interchangeable with a shul from any place in the Jewish world these past 800 years, or 1,000, or perhaps much longer.
I can empathize with the wish to adapt one's religion to whatever fashion is going at any given moment, but the ability to withstand the urge does create a type of continuity and community that is quite powerful. Very powerful, even.
Tuesday, January 8, 2008
You'll know we're finally at peace when turning on CNN anywhere in the world doesn't give you a picture from home; you'll know we're at finally at peace when travelers to Israel from European cities don't get shunted off to some terminal for pariahs at the end of the airport.
Monday, January 7, 2008
In the meantime, you can always read The Guardian.
Sunday, January 6, 2008
Thursday, January 3, 2008
Anyway, one of the new message boxes the new system sends me every few minutes was the warning that if I insisted in posting that post, I would be sending data over an un-encrypted something-or-other, and it could potentially be read by third parties.
Well, I certainly hope so. And fourth parties, and fifth, and fiftieth, and hundreth...
Sure enough, within 15-20 minutes one of the Russian men launched into song, and 15 minutes later the whole group was singing away merrily. And this was just from the wine. Only as we left were they starting on the Vodka.
Tho the music wasn't bad. Some of it even sounded a bit profound.
Wednesday, January 2, 2008
"... so what if most people think that way!? Does that mean I have to, also? I mean, most people in this country vote Likud, and look what it's done to us...."
Likud currently has 12 MKs from 120. The highest the party ever rose was 45 MKs, if I remember correctly, in 1981, when she would have been too young to notice, if she was even born.
If you're busy today, feel free not to read the article. The reason I've linked to it is this one sentence that's somewhere in the second half of the report - here's the sentence in context:
Charles Rzepka, a professor of English at Boston University, said during the meeting that he was startled to read some of the pro-Churchill material distributed by supporters of the original resolution, and that he was wondering if the MLA would be seen as backing the wrong side. In an interview after the meeting, he said that the MLA’s reputation would take a hit for any perception that it was backing Churchill. “I support speaking truth to power,” said Rzepka, but that requires truth, he added.For those of you who have never heard of Ward Churchill, there's no need to apologize. He's not one of the most significant people around. But if you're interested, here's the link to the Wikipedia article that tells his sorry tale. His significance is in the vehemence of his fans, no more.
Tuesday, January 1, 2008
And note: in order for this sort of list to be published in The Guardian, it has to come from the science desk. No chance ever that one of the political pundits might come out and say anything such as "It has occurred to me that there's something disturbing about the Palestinian's ability to be destructive, irrespective of anything the Israelis might do". Or: "The Americans are such bullies, but bless them, they're better than all the other bullies around". Or: "Whew, it's cold out! All these ice storms and things. I wish global warming would hurry up already".
The same article, by the way, notes that nine Palestinians were killed today. Eight by other Palestinians, including an old man and a boy, and one so-called "militant" by Israeli forces. They were all killed in Gaza, where there are no Israeli roadblocks.
Anyway, if you have any doubt about the veracity of Barak's statement, here are the statistics as supplied by the Israeli authorities. They are a bit different from those supplied yesterday by B'tselem, but not dramatically so. And note Israel's Inverted Moore's Law, first postulated here yesterday.
So I spent the morning dealing with setting up this new company I thought of. It's to be called LeverEdge Ltd, and it has a very rudimentary website here.
LeverEdge, if successful, is the vehicle a small group of colleagues hopes to use to offer advanced knowledge management services. I know, that's pure gibberish. The idea behind it, however, is that many organizations have staff members with substantial knowledge in their minds. There may already be an institutional database with data and information (or two of them, or six), but it's the knowledge in the minds of the staff that really makes the difference. We think we know how to transform a largish chunk of that knowledge from its natural state of chaotic connections, associations, forgotten insights, secret tricks and so on and on, into formatted information that can be used for all sorts of things. Being helpful to a larger public in a user friendly way, for example.
Will it work? Who knows. But I intend to enjoy the attempt. Which in itself will be a novelty, because much of what I dealt with most of the time in recent years - administration, budgets, internal politics, personell, and the endless mill of officialdom - had ceased to interest me. So here goes....
(Tho not on this blog, which is not about to become a forum for LeverEdge-related matters).