Thursday, January 31, 2008

It's the Colonels

Avi Rath follows up on one of the points made by the Vinograd Commission. (Hebrew only, my apologies). Our privates and NCOs are generally fine people, he says, and committed soldiers capable of high heroism when it's required. The young officers and reservists are also great.

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

Second Storm (Vinograd) One Day Later

The Vinograd Commission this evening published its final report. The parts that deal with military secrets haven't been published, but the public part is 617 pages long, and you can read it here if you have the urge. Assuming you read Hebrew, and are not put off by the turgid prose. Tho you might want to credit the authors for their poetic streak: On page 1 of the report itself (page 5 of the document) they cite three literary sources regarding the dead, one from the Talmud, one literary allusion, and Rachel's poem "My Dead" in its entirety, and dedicate the report to the dead of the war, "Each of whom was a complete world".

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.

First Storm, One Day Later

The snow storm predicted yesterday: well..... Sort of. It snowed, yes. But not really, if by snow you mean crystals of white ice that pile up some inches deep, or many inches deep, and change the appearance of the landscape, while clogging up the traffic arteries and necessitating the municipality to clear the roads... What we got was some two inches of slush, and large quantities of precipitation that has been coming down since last night almost uninterrupted. Some of it is snow, some is hail, some is rain, all is cold, but not quite cold enough. In Boston, a few weeks ago, I saw snow. This is less defined.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Two Storms and Out Stealing Horses

There are two storms brewing over Jerusalem this evening. The weather people have been predicting the snow-storm of the season, starting tonight; they will either prove right or wrong (my guess: wrong). The political pundits are all agog and a-flutter about the final report of the Winograd Commission about the 2nd Lebanon War in summer 2006, and the way they tell it, Olmert's government will be gone by the weekend (my guess: not).

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

An Honorable Thing to do While I'm Away

Living as I do on the front line of the war of our age, much of my blog deals with political matters, and warring matters, and the vocabulary I mostly use is of fighting words. No apologies.

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

View from the Back 1

This idyllic little lane in a forest is inside Jerusalem, even if it's not the way you imagine Jerusalem to yourself. I used to walk along it quite often, and now don't anymore...

View from the Back 2

Keep on walking thru the forest and the view opens up. Just about everything you see here is within the municipal lines of Jerusalem, except for the furthest ridges.

Beit Zeit

The village down below is Beit Zeit; up above is Mevaseret. The main road from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv is to the right of the picture.

View from the Back - 4

I don't know if this will be much help, but for some of you, at least, it may be an explanation: it shows the road thru the forest as it approaches Yad Vashem from behind. The structure to the lower left with the large windows is the archives - where I no longer work, thank God.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Making of a British Suicide Bomber

Jason Burke, a journalist for The Observer (The Guardian's saner little sister publication) has published a long report about how young Britons, mostly from Pakistani families, become suicide bombers. The first section is here, and the second (longer but more interesting) is here.

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.

Speaking Truth to Power

The Arab world - hundreds of millions of people in some two dozen sovereign nations - is almost unanimous in its acceptance of Holocaust denial. It is also a hotbed of the most vicious forms of antisemitism, truly reminiscent of Nazi propaganda. Rather than explain this all away as the unfortunate result of Israel's conflict with the Arabs, it would be more helpful to understand that the unique longevity of that conflict has its roots in Arab rejection of Jews, in their inability to understand who the Jews are, and in their widespread conviction that the Jews are quite capable of inventing a Holocaust Hoax and having the West accept it as truth - so awesome and pernicious is the power of the Jews.

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.

If Only this was Typical of the Left

Norman Geras on how the events in Gaza are reported on. My only quibble with him is that although he presents things as they are - Israel is wrongly singled out for criticism - if he has thoughts as to why this might be so, he doesn't tell us.

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

And in the Meantime...

In the midst of all the drama around Gaza - and remember, for most of the world, that's all it is: Drama. A type of entertainment - another part of the Israeli story is this. A futuristic attempt to switch over to electric cars.

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

Humanitarian Crises in Gaza - 2

So, what is to be done? No matter where you start the story, the fact is that life on both sides of the border is unacceptable. Sderot, the easiest target for the Palestinian rocket shooters because it's a full-sized town almost next to the fence, was always a scruffy sort of town; last week the last large employer pulled out, following many others. I don't have the statistics - for all I know, no-one is complying them, for fear they'll be published and give satisfaction to the Palestinians - but the place is obviously coming apart. Again, although no-one will mention the fact, one reason for the low numbers of Israeli casualties is that there are fewer civilians there to be shot at - a damning statement on the inability of a sovereign state to defend the lives of its citizens.

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.

Humanitarian Crises in Gaza -1

I'm as aware of anyone else of the power of narrative, and how they way one frames a story is essential to how it will be understood. Unlike the post-modernists, however, I don't delude myself into thinking that any and all narratives are equally true.

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

Controlled Power

I apologize for not having been around for awhile. I took this long plane flight over an ocean, and the thing is, they don't let anyone open any windows so you've got hundreds of people all breathing the same canned air for hours and hours, and it's enough for one of them to be spewing microbes or whatever and some of the others will walk off the plane sick... and it took me another half week merely to be able to think again. What's worse, I'm not certain I see a way around this. Some people are so rich they can have their own planes, and I'll bet they get to decide for themselves if they want to open the windows or not, but I don't see myself having those riches for a while, and in the meantime I'll have to do a lot of flying in the regular cans.


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

Nastiness Appropos Nothing in Particular

The edition of the Economist still up online (until tonight, I think) has an article about how gloomy it is to be an Arab these days. So far as I can tell it's a reasonable piece of reportage and analysis. Then, at the back of it, they stuck a much smaller item about how the Israelis, also, are glum these days. It is pure speculation with no facts, and so far as I can tell, it's hardly connected to reality in any serious way, unless perhaps in a purely unrepresentative and anecdotal way. So why did they publish it? And why precisely now?

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

Europe as the Tide of the Future

Here's an article by a German professor, Ulrich Beck, on why the EU disbanding of the Nation is what all humankind must do. The English is a bit ponderous (he's a German professor...) but it's a good, concise presentation of the thesis.

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 Capitals of the Empire

Until the Fall of the West (see previous post), some quick travelogue comments.

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.

LA Times as an Expression of a Doomed Culture

Lizas Welt calls to my attention a foolish article in the Los Angeles Times by the Walt/Mearsheimer duo. I'm not even going to try to argue with the article, which is so full of contradictions, sloppy descriptions of facts, bad reasoning and so on that it's embarrassing for the authors, or should be.

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

Research is Important

On a subway this snowy morning I saw an ad advocating that parents talk to their children about the dangers of alcohol while the kids are still young enough to listen: "Research has shown that middle school children are more likely to listen to their parents than teenagers", thus spake the poster.

Aren't you glad we have fine research universities that know how to churn out such important insights into human nature? I certainly am.

Humanitarian Aid and How to Ruin It

In a small nutshell, the idea behind all laws of war is to attempt to limit the warring activity to the warriors on each side, and no-one else. Sometimes - on Iwo Jima, or in the Sinai - this isn't so hard to do since there are no civilians anywhere nearby, but even then there are nuances such as the way prisoners and the wounded are treated. Most wars, however, aren't like that. Indeed, just about all wars are ultimately about things that will happen to civilians once one side has won and the other side lost. So on that level, the laws of war are guidelines, not rules that can be followed meticulously in any real sense.

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?

Automatic Translations

This fellow has the idea of feeding a description of a film into an automatic translator (English to Greek) and then translating it back into, well, the kind of English you'd expect a computer to use, given that computers are the creations of geeks.

A Film Too Far

A while ago Mark Steyn wrote a piece bemoaning Hollywood's understanding of morality and the demise of storytelling. Personally, I think it's a rather strange idea to expect Hollywood to understand much about morality, but Steyn's point was that in their headlong race to convince us of their politics Hollywood's movie creators had lost the ability to tell a story (and even there, in an age of post-modern foolishness, why single out Hollywood for blame?). The centerpiece of his argument was a film called 3:10 to Yuma, a recent second version of a Western first filmed in the 1950s. You can read his opinion here. Or, you can perhaps find a theater still showing the film and judge for yourself, tho I wouldn't recommend. Or you could take a very long flight on one of the airlines that offers the film as part of its on board entertainment, as I did a few days ago.

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

Feeling at Home All Over

It would be possible to write an article, at least (or, come to think of it, a thread of blog posts) about the many synagogues that are are less than a mile from my home, their variety, the things that are happening that are of lasting significance, and so on. Trends, historical developments, fashions and fads.

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

Israel on the Road

12 hours of flight, across the world, a large passport control hall with at least 2,000 travelers from at least 10 different flights, 10 different countries on five continents, endlessly waiting in lines, and four news screens with CNN broadcasting from Jerusalem - something about threats against Bush or some such.

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


I know, things have been slow here. The Israeli and American security fellows are gearing up to shut down Jerusalem over the rest of the week, on account of a visit by George W, so I've decided to leave and go elsewhere. I'll be traveling for the next 10 days or so, and will either have ample time to blog, or ample time but no access, or lots of access but no time, or no access and no time. I think that more or less covers all possibilities, no?

In the meantime, you can always read The Guardian.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Calatrava Bridge in Jerusalem, Dec. 2007

The thingy is getting higher, about two sections above my previous post. I don't see how the crane will be able to raise the top sections; maybe they'll do it from a blimp...

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Encrypted Blog

The previous post was the first I posted from this snazzy new laptop I bought yesterday (I'll be giving back the Yad Vashem one early next week, and you can't expect me to live without, can you now?). Yad Vashem, being a place with many hundreds of employees, not all computer savvy, doesn't upgrade its software applications automatically every time Bill Gates decides to make major changes with no significance merely to boost sales of Office. Which means I've just leapfrogged from Office 2000, which was certainly good enough, to Office 2007, which seems to be neither better nor worse, merely with a different look and feel, and will require me to waste many hours in learning its tricks. (And I'm only one of three zillion users: think how much time humanity in the aggregate loses on this nonsense).

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...


We went out for dinner earlier this evening. Not long after we sat down, a group of about 20 middle age Russian tourists came in. A few minutes later an elderly American couple who had already eaten hurried out, mumbling loudly as they left that they preferred to miss the singing.

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

Condescending fool

Walking down the block earlier this evening, it was impossible not to notice a young woman coming towards me, talking loudly on her cell phone:
"... 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.

Speaking Truth to Power

Here's a link to a non-important article about what seems to me a non-important issue generated by a non-important organization. The Modern Language Association (MLA), a group of university professors, I guess, has recently debated all sorts of things at a conference, and it managed to pass some rather non-offensive boilerplate resolutions about Israel, Ward Churchill, and other matters that are crucial to the the study of language.
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

Mugged by Reality

The Guardian's science correspondent helpfully supplies us with a list of intelligent types who have changed their mind about this or that in recent years, as a result of new facts coming to light. (If you've never read Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, well, now is as good a time as ever). The list is actually rather interesting, though not evenly impressive. The last example on the list is simply childish in its banality.

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".

Roadblocks Stay, Lives Saved, Arekat Gripes

Ehud Barak, Israel's Minister of Defense and thus the person to know, says that the roadblocks in the West Bank are an important element in Israeli's ability to combat terror, which means to save lives, and so they stay. Saeb Arekat naturally sees this as an obstacle to negotiations and so on, and complains that roadblocks throttle the Palestinian economy. Apparently he hasn't connected the dots: if roadblocks hurt the Palestinians, but they're necessary to save lives, maybe the thing to do is to remove the attempt to kill civilians that make the roadblocks necessary?

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.

Beginning of an Adventure?

January 1st is a normal workday here in Israel, the only difference from December 31st being that it's a new tax year, or budget year, or whatever your preferences are.

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).