Monday, December 04, 2006


My favorite ways to not work (not including writing here and running).

The Black Keys
- Like the White Stripes, a Midwestern two piece with a monochromatic name. Much more raw, much less shticky and just plain awesome.
Quantic Soul Orchestra & Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra
- Two similar brass bands that specialize in funkifying old standards (check Antibalas' version of Hector Lavoe's Che Che Cole). Both are technically proficient without losing that sense of unbridled enthusiasm and spontaneity. Antibalas is much more latin oriented while Quantic leans more to the soul side and both are great.

My Space bands:
Get its own category because their records are not for sale at HMV.
Bravo Silva
- From what I hear they have recently broke up. Too bad. I discovered these guys while surfing the net on a doobie fueled insomnia and was blown away. The next day I listened to them again expecting to be disappointed, as many of my late night epiphanies turn out less than stellar in the unforgiving light of the sun, but was surprised that the band had lost nothing in the intervening hours. I still can't decide whether Strawberry Blonde or City I Love You is my favorite song or theirs.
Moonlight Cruisers
- A relatively unknown college band out of hispanic LA. Lyrics strictly in spanish, which I speak maybe 3 sentences of. Blending the previously unfused sounds of psychobilly with Rigo Tovar style cumbia. Good stuff. Try and get Baila out of your head, took me a week.
LUmi & Scrambled Eggs
Gotta represent for my home town. Lebanon's not all assassinations and protests.

Ever listen to the radio and wish you could pause it, cut out the commercials, fast-forward it or outlaw that "radio DJ voice"? With podcasts you all of that is possible.

Guardian Unlimited Football Weekly - Feed here
Last show started with this line "More glowing reviews than a Piccadilly sushi restaurant."
- I really love soccer. It's probably my favorite sport to watch and to play. Unfortunately I live in the one continent in the world where soccer is a niche sport which fights for TV time with lacrosse, bowling, and darts. So keeping up to date with the goings on in the European super leagues is kind of a chore - who wants to wake up at 8 AM on a Saturday to watch a weekly wrap-up show? That's why I love this show; it's downloaded to my iPod automatically and once a week and for a half hour I'm transported to a roundtable in the Guardian's London office with a bunch of English wise-asses busting each other up while I pick up gems like the reason Ronaldinho hadn't been scoring much at the start of the year was that he was recently single and spent too much time chasing girls in the clubs of Barcelona.

Live from the WB - Feed
- Broadcasting live from the epicenter of North American hipsterdom, Williamsburg Brooklyn. This show reminds me of listening in on the cool kids table in the junior high cafeteria.

Keith and the Girl - Feed
- Another NY borough show, though this from the distinctly unhip Queens (home to the Mets and George Costanza's parents). A morning show for people who hate morning shows. Usually recorded in the wee hours by the nocturnal stand-up comic Keith Malley and his Israeli singer/girlfriend Khemda Khalili it's a nice way to spend your commute. Not for the faint of heart - heavy on the swearing and filth. Funny.

BBC Documentary Archive - Feed
- The BBC is a world treasure (as long as they're not dwelling on the Royal family). This podcast is a collection of their long audio pieces. Really good stuff most of the time. Last week's interviews of people's personal experiences with Saddam Hussein was a particularly good one.

East Village Radio
- Has a full lineup of shows that run the gamut of contemporary music; everything from disco and funk to indie and drone. I'm partial to The Let Out w/ the Fader Crew but there's something here for everyone; Q-Tip guest host Authentic Shit last friday. Listen live or download/subscribe to listen at your convenience. Broadcats from the southern tip of Manhattan.

Video Podcast:
A sitcom spoofing the smugness of above mentioned Williamsburg. Hit and miss but the hits make it worth it. Plus if the girl who plays Courtney was any easier on the eyes she'd be a walking corrective vision procedure.

PBS Frontline
I'm rarely organized enough to sit down in front of a TV at a specific time so being able to catch the world's premier TV news magazine online at nay time is like manna from heaven.

Blogging Beirut
My favorite Beirut site... lots of pics.

Heat by Bill Buford
- the fantasy of every amateur chef (with some nightmares thrown in)
Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware
- best graphic novel ever (Maus included)
Pity the Nation by pre-radicalized Robert Fisk
- best Beirut in the eighties book ever (Beirut to Jerusalem included)
See No Evil by Robert Baer
- CIA memoir, the basis for Syriana (a terrible mess of a movie)
The Assassin's Gate by George Packer
- the BEST Iraq book (Fiasco and Cobra II included)

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Ads in Lebanon against Sectarianism

This ad states the case against sectarianism better than I'm capable of writing it.

We're all Lebanese and we all have to live together whether we like it or not.

Monday, November 27, 2006


Whenever the world get you down it's always nice to look at some Miro works...

Either Miro or some inexplicable YouTube video. Both do the trick.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

J'accuse - Who's doing the killing in Lebanon?

Over the past two years Lebanon has seen a surge in the number of political assassinations. The targets have all been members of the "March 14" anti-Syrian coalition and, with exception of ex-PM Rafiq Hariri, Christians from the Metn area.

The question is on most people's minds is: who is doing the killing and how can they be linked back to the Syrian Baath regime who is trying to retake Lebanon after their ignominious departure following the Hariri bombing.

Before delving further I'll state my first hypothesis: That the actors who carried out the Hariri assassination, while they be linked to, are not the same actors who killed the other politicians and journalists after that assassination.
Why? The Hariri assassination was from an operational point of view much more complicated, riskier and bigger than the ones following it.
Hariri spent a fortune on security. He had several heavily armored cars with identical license plates, signal jammers and a whole host of other high tech equipment along with a full complement of trusted bodyguards. Killing him needed coordination between a large group of people, a huge amount of explosives, technical expertise, heavy surveillance and possibly a suicide bomber. The following assassinations (like the one of Pierre Gemayel this week) have been much smaller and simpler affairs. For example: a small, pre-assembled under a car seat or a simple shooting of an unarmored car.

The Hariri assassination required operational planning on a military scale - hence I suspect that the Syrian secret police was directly involved. Circumstantial evidence points in that direction too with a truck that was used in the bombing had crossed over from Syria in the few days previous to the bombing.

The other assassination could be carried by very small cells with little training. They are completely different in character and execution.

Onto the suspects:

Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard (Pasdaran)
The Iranian contact to Hezbollah providing training and equipment. The elite of the Islamic regime in Iran.
Highly unlikely. They do not really operate outside of the Shiite areas and therefore have little contact with the Christian and Sunni communities. They try to keep as low a profile as possible and getting involved in the day-to-day operations against the March 14 group would risk blowing their cover. Their main focus tends to be Israel and America anyway.

Syrian Intelligence (aka Mukhabarat)
There is no real doubt that they have been involved on some level. They probably pick the targets and without doubt provide the material (bombs and guns) but are most likely not directly involved in the killings. They pass them off to a Lebanese sub-contractor under control and tutelage. The reason for this is simple: plausible deniability. If Lebanese get caught Syria can still deny any involvement; that would be impossible if a Syrian was caught. Additionally most of the big bombings and killings in Lebanon during the past thirty years have been carried out by Lebanese (and mostly with the backing of outside powers).
-The US Embassy and marine barracks bombing - carried out by the Mughniyeh cell, the nucleus of what would later become Hezbollah with help from Syria and Iran.
-The attempted killing of Shiite cleric Fadlallah - carried out by a Christian militia with backing of the US.
-I could go on... but why bother... lots of killing and mostly by Lebanese.

Possible subcontractors:

Lebanese Intelligence
The probability of this is next to zero. After the fall of the pro-Syrian government they are no longer trusted with such sensitive missions. Many top figures from the service were indicted for serious crimes relating to the Hariri murder; a high price to pay and one that would probably not be paid twice. While the Lebanese intelligence has been stuffed with many Syrian sympathizers over the years it contains many who have contacts with March 14 coalition. So while parts of it still carry out surveillance and such on behalf of the Syrians they won't be asked to do any of the killing.

The smaller of the two pro-Syrian Shiite parties. Led by speaker of the house Nabih Berri. Receives support from Syria and Iran but on an order of magnitude less than Hezbollah.
This party is barely hanging on. It has positioned itself as the "moderate" pro-Syrian party, acting as a buffer between Hezbollah and the other parties. This position is coming very difficult to hold as the strain between Hezbollah and the other parties increases (as it does with every assassination). The killing of opponents does not strengthen the party but weakens it. Additionally their military wing is all but defunct and they never possessed any serious special operations capabilities.

Biggest Shiite party. Founded in the 1980s under Iranian tutelage. Fought Israel for 20 years and is the only Arab force ever to force an Israeli pullback without negotiation (in 2000). Currently trying to topple the government and force fresh elections or, forgoing that, have veto power over all cabinet decisions. Biggest armed group in Lebanon and one of the biggest employers in the country.
Definitely have the motive and the means. They are trying to topple the government and every dead minister brings them closer to that goal. They have special operations capabilities (through training and armament by the Pasdaran). That said, while they may have advanced knowledge of the assassinations I'm no longer sure they really play a part in them. First of all, the discovery of a Hezbollah role in political assassinations would immediately spark a civil war something Hezbollah does not want (at least right now). And second of all, Hezbollah has zero presence in the communities and areas where the assassinations are taking place. A car full of young Shiites driving around in Sin-il-Fil (where Pierre Gemayel was killed) would attract quite a bit of attention in these tense times. Also the people who killed Gemayel knew his schedule and security precautions inside and out. This suggests long term surveillance - knowing which route he takes, which car he's in (he switched cars frequently), what his schedule is like. This kind of surveillance needs an unseen presence in these heavily Christian areas. Hezbollah does not have such a presence. Also the killing of Pierre Gemayel has hurt Hezbollah (for now), robbing them of their political momentum and forcing them to temporarily cancel street protests.

General Aoun
Christian ex-General in the Lebanese army. Spent the Civil War fighting against the Syrians and their allies. Recently returned from exile and has recast himself as a pro-resistance Hezbollah ally in a bid to become the next President.
Does have a large presence in the Christian communities of the Metn. But while the killing of anti-Syrian Christian politicians eliminates his rivals it, on balance, does not help him. After the news of Gemayel's death pictures of Aoun were burnt in the streets and his name cursed in Christian neighborhoods where he previously enjoyed some support. He is now in an impossible position of having to back the Syrians and Hezbollah while at the same time condemning actions that help them (and eliminate his sworn enemies). Has been seriously damaged by the events of the past few days. Highly unlikely that he would approve of the Gemayel assassination. Also, after such a long absence from the country and the destruction of his military forces in 1990 he no longer controls a serious armed group capable of carrying out political murders. Below you'll find a video of his posters being burned in East Beirut.

Syrian Nationalist Socialist Party (SSNP)
A Lebanese political party (despite the name). Has almost non-existent public support. Founded in the thirties, in modern times has become an extension of the Syrian regime in Lebanon. Has a very strong relationship with Syrian intelligence. Most of its members are part of the Greek Orthodox sect. Before the Cedar Revolution controlled various ministries through cabinet appointments and had deputies in the parliament. No longer present on any level in the Lebanese government - a big loser in the Cedar Revolution. The similarities in name and insignia to the Nazi party are not coincidental - the SSNP was modeled after it.
For the past years has basically been an extension of the Syrian intelligence apparatus. Has a history of being involved in the cloak-and-dagger world of political assassination (for example the killing of president-elect Bashir Gemayel in 1982 - Pierre's uncle). Its members have a strong motivation to bring Lebanon back into Syria's sphere of influence; not only it that their stated ideology of the party but it would return them to power and prominence. The party also - through Syrian training - maintains a shadow force of surveillance personnel, intimidators and the like. Additionally they are present in most of the heavily Christian areas (being Greek Orthodox Christians themselves for the most part and are based out of the Metn area) and could move around without too much suspicion. Also many of the assassin's targets have been Greek Orthodox:
Anti-Syrian politician George Hawi, ex-head to the Communist party - killed by a car bomb.
Anti Syrian journalist and politician Gibran Tueni - killed by a car bomb.
Anti-Syrian journalist Samir Qasir - killed by a car bomb.

All this leads to an obvious conclusion: the SSNP and its operatives are by far the most likely suspects in the wave of assassinations against Christian leaders.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Analyzing Hezbollah

(I hope it makes sense it was written in a haste and with probably too much passion to allow clear thought.)

Thoughts about what the $@%* they’re thinking.

I always thought that Hezbollah, at least on some basic level, was working for what they perceived to be the best interests of their constituents. It appears that either I was wrong or something has changed. The Shiite community is the backbone of Hezbollah and has paid dearly in this summer’s conflict with Israel. What is best for the Shiites now is a period of calm, rebuilding and hopefully some type of economic rebound. This will allow the pledged grant money to roll in from the outside, pay for some rebuilding and possibly pave the way to a return to normal. Hezbollah is pushing the country in the opposite direction, dangerously close to a civil war, by making unreasonable demands of the government while at the same time leveling ludicrous and inflammatory accusations at it.

Currently Hezbollah is in trouble and in more ways than one. The summer war, while providing the Party of God with a temporary boon, has created many structural problems for the group. The war has left the group in a weaker state strategically and politically.

Strategically the war, while a big propaganda victory, turned out to be a disaster in the short and medium term (how it will be viewed in the long term depends on what happens now). They lost many of their best fighters, used much of their arsenal, spent a lot of money, had many of their bunkers and other infrastructure destroyed, revealed many surprise tactics and have nothing to show for it. Actually less than nothing – they now have ten thousand international UN troops and the Lebanese army deployed in the south (previously a Hezbollah only zone). Also, while the militia can still rearm via Syria it has become much more difficult to do so with all those eyes watching every move it makes. Additionally while they don’t control the government they cannot risk being discovered bringing large amount of weapons through the sea ports via Iran.

Hezbollah’s political situation, while appearing stronger than ever, is tenuous. While their supporters are proud of the military performance exhibited this summer they are also unhappy – with homes flattened, family members dead and an economy destroyed for a purely symbolic victory, who wouldn’t be? Winter is coming soon, and with some families living tents and with others without heat and electricity it is not going to be a happy season. There are two groups to blame for the heavy burden the Shiite populace has been asked to carry; the Israeli government and the Hezbollah politburo. Blaming Israel is easy, common and frankly, quite useless. After 50 years, it’s pretty clear that the Israeli government’s behavior towards and view of the general Arab population is not going to change. But Shiites blaming Hezbollah for its major miscalculation on the other hand would be groundbreaking and a very dangerous development for the party brass. Hezbollah has been doing all it can to deflect blame. Recently the party’s public pronouncements have taken a turn to the absurd – the leaders have been suggesting that the anti-Syrian government planned the war with the Israelis and was secretly encouraging the Israeli army throughout. (In reality Hezbollah started the war with rocket fire, the killing of Israeli soldiers and the capture of others. Additionally without the hard work of the anti-Syrian coalition and their contacts with the West the war would not have ended as quickly and unfinished as it did. And, most importantly Hezbollah was part of the government, holding several cabinet positions making some kind of pro-Israeli chicanery next to impossible.) This accusation is being made to attach blame to the government and to divide the population even more along sectarian lines in what is increasingly becoming a no-holds barred struggle for the control of Lebanon. The politics of fear and conspiracy is something Hezbollah practices with aplomb.

(The absurdities are endless. They call themselves the protectors of Lebanon and accuse others of subverting Lebanese sovereignty while accepting the murder of their enemies by foreign intelligence services and their Lebanese agents. They demand veto power over the cabinet while withholding the right to drag the country into war at whim.)

So Hezbollah is trying to regain the upper hand by exchanging the loss of homes, lives, and hard won autonomy in their areas into political gains. Hezbollah is demanding a veto over all cabinet decisions (even though last year’s election results clearly do not warrant such a prize) and the squashing of the international tribunal investigating the assassination of ex-PM Rafiq Harriri by Syrian agents (which they privately applauded, and possibly had a hand in). Other demands include early elections (in order to attempt to secure control of the parliament before it votes for a new president next year) and possibly a constitutional revisal allowing a Shiite president (currently he must be a Maronite Christian).
The logic of these positions hinges on new polls (conducted by Hezbollah) showing that Hezbollah would win elections if they are held today and the fact that the Shiites are a plurality of the populations but do control the cabinet, parliament, presidency or prime-minister’s office. This all sounds reasonable unless you think about it (thinking has never been a problem for Nasrallah and the boys). Elections are held at regular intervals or when the government fails to win a vote of confidence not whenever a minority party believes it can win or the polls change (I won’t bother to point out the rest of the errors in the logical gymnastics routine that is that Hezbollah argument). In free and fair parliamentary elections held in the summer of 2005 Hezbollah and its allied parties did not win enough seats to control the government but after negotiation the ruling coalition gave them cabinet appointments anyway (but not enough to veto cabinet decisions). The parliament votes in the PM and the cabinet explaining the legitimate control of those instruments by groups other than Hezbollah. As for Hezbollah's leaders often heard complaint that the Shiite plurality is under-represented; that they, as the largest group, should rule the country - it too is fundamentally flawed. While Shiites are about 35% to 40% of the populations as long as Hezbollah cannot convince some part of the rest of the country to agree with them it is pretty unrealistic to demand control of the executive - at least without making any kind of concessions.
And meanwhile back in the real world one big problem in Lebanon is that Hezbollah and its allies (foreign and domestic) control the presidency now and are using it to paralyze the government. Maronite President Emile Lahoud is a Syrian lapdog, a holdover from the previous parliament (and from what I hear as closeted as a pair of flared slacks) and could not be more pro-Hezbollah is he spoke farsi. The real danger for Hezbollah comes next year when Lahoud’s term is up and a new president will be elected. If that election is held by the current parliament the new president won’t be as friendly to Damascus, Tehran or Hezbollah as Lahoud. This would leave Hezbollah in a weaker position but one that it could definitely recover from as a political party but it is a situation that will probably erode some of its military power.

But Iran and Syria are not interested in Hezbollah as a political party in the long term – they’re interest lies in Hezbollah the military force (a useful tool for poking the Americans and Israelis without much risk to them). They believe that the time of America’s hegemony over the Middle East is over and they want to push it out the door. A well-armed and dominant Hezbollah is key to that strategy even if it means breaking Lebanon (Shiites included) to get it. Hezbollah’s brass is emboldened by their foreign support and more than willing to play along. As long as Iran keep the oil money flowing into party coffers Hezbollah feels that it can punch above its weight in Lebanon, making unreasonable demands and spewing venomous insults. Nasrallah and company don’t care if these actions hurt their people, after all they are adept at using their supporters’ fears and prejudices to deflect attention away from unsavory party business. Strangling the last bits of progressiveness out of Lebanon and rearming to take on the their blood enemy Israel seems to be the only goal now. Hezbollah seems to be saying we're taking over and if you don't like it fight us, shut up or leave.

So that’s were we are today: a wounded and belligerent Hezbollah being encouraged by outside actors to take a reckless course to achieve unwarranted dominance over Lebanon. And so the assassinations begin anew. Today Pierre Gemayel. Tomorrow, who knows? Probably Walid Jumblatt.

And a new worrying development:

This new assassination seems different in character from the others (see 2005 below). While the others were about elimination and intimidation this seems to have the added goal of provocation. The last time a Gemayel was assassinated it caused a bloodbath (Sabra and Shatilla massacres included) that did not end for eight years (see 1982 below). It is unclear if Hezbollah is inviting reprisal in order to justify violence or just sending out a clear message that the civil war option is not one they are afraid of but either way these are bad times for Lebanon.

That’s it for now – but more soon.

FROM THE NYT (more than a few overgeneralizations but whatever):
APRIL 1975 -- Clashes that are later seen as the start of Lebanon's 15-year civil war erupt in Beirut.
JUNE 1976 -- Syrian troops enter Lebanon to restore peace.
OCTOBER 1976 -- Arab conferences establish a predominantly Syrian peacekeeping force.
JUNE 1982 -- After repeated Palestinian incursions from southern Lebanon, Israel begins a full-scale invasion. The Syrian Army is ousted from Beirut.

SEPTEMBER 1982 -- President-elect Bashir Gemayel was killed when a bomb shattered the headquarters of his Lebanese Christian Phalangist Party in east Beirut.
MAY 1983 -- Israel and Lebanon sign a peace accord detailing the withdrawal of Israeli troops.
MARCH 1984 -- Under intense pressure from Syria, the Lebanese government cancels its peace agreement with Israel.
MARCH 1989 -- The Maronite Christian leader in Lebanon, Gen. Michel Aoun, declares a ''war of liberation'' against the Syrian presence.
OCTOBER 1989 -- The Lebanese National Assembly takes a step toward ending the civil war by endorsing the so-called Taif Accord, which calls for Syria to pull its troops back to the eastern Bekaa region but does not set a date for a full pullout.
OCTOBER 1990 -- In one of the last moves of the civil war, Syria's Air Force attacks the Lebanese presidential palace, and General Aoun takes refuge in the French Embassy. Through the early 90's, Syrian dominance in the country becomes less overt.
OCTOBER 1998 -- Emile Lahoud, a general who is backed by Syria, is elected president by Parliament.
MAY 2000 -- Israel ends its occupation of southern Lebanon.
DECEMBER 2000 -- In a surprise move, hundreds of Syrian soldiers leave Beirut and settle in the Bekaa region near the border, though thousands still remain in the country.
2003 -- Syria carries out two partial troop withdrawals, in February and July, bringing its force in Lebanon to about 16,000 soldiers, down from about 30,000 troops in mid-2000.
SEPTEMBER 2004 -- Despite criticism from the U.N. Security Council, Parliament bows to Syrian pressure and extends Mr. Lahoud's presidential term by three years.
OCTOBER 2004 -- Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and his cabinet resign in protest over Syria's dominant role in Lebanese government.
DECEMBER 2004 -- A united Lebanese opposition denounces the Syrian presence and calls for a new government. Later, Syria for the first time admits the presence of its secret service in Lebanon and says it will dismantle the operation.
FEBRUARY 2005 -- Mr. Hariri and 14 others are killed in a car bombing in Beirut.
JUNE 2 -- Samir Kassir, journalist opposed to Syria's role in Lebanon, is killed in Beirut by bomb in his car.
JUNE 21 -- George Hawi, a former Communist Party leader and critic of Syria, is killed in Beirut by bomb in his car.
DECEMBER 12 -- Gebran Tueni, a staunchly anti-Syrian member of parliament and Lebanese newspaper magnate, is killed by a car bomb in Beirut.
NOVEMBER 21 -- Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel is killed by gunmen as his convoy drives through the Christian Sin el-Fil neighbourhood of Beirut.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Not toilet trained

Now this is funny. Check the link: Floor Dumper
In the age of the internet it's impossible to get away with stuff like that. Sorry Frank... it's a new world.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

The greatest thing about the internet... aka the many moods of Bill Shatner

Having things like this freely available online is to me what makes the internet great...

I first saw it a few months ago and was quoting it for days afterward.

What a video. Many have seen it but for those who haven't - you must.

Just a tour-de-force in terms of obliviousness; I think his ego crashed my internet connection - it was just too big.

"I'm a rock IT MAN!"

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Mea Culpa, Conservative Style: Not good for anyone

It's usually nice to hear "I told you so." I especially love it when a pea cocking desktop warrior like Richard Perle admits he was wrong (see these exerts from a Vanity Fair article). But when good people like David Brooks give up, I start to give in to despair. As an open-minded and intelligent man I always viewed in him the best of America. He is well read without being effete (he loves the NFL and Proust), he has an intuitive understanding of theory but never takes his eyes of the messiness of the real world. Cool, funny and still a complete geek. Basically encompassing the duality and oxymoronic quality that make America so endlessly fascinating and confusing.
If Americans such as he are giving up on Iraq... God save the Iraqis and the whole Middle East because this could get very ugly.
I hate the US military occupation, I hate the Dept of Defense planning bureau, and I hate the cocksure attitude of Pres Bush in front of unspeakable violence and unimpeachable facts.
At the same time I cannot square these attitudes with a push for an immediate American withdrawal. The emerging consensus in the American center seems to be "we opened up a can of worms we didn't understand, we should get out and let them figure it out."
Unfortunately for the Iraqis "figuring it out" means letting fearsome militias roam their streets and kill civilians with impunity. "Figuring it out" means the collapse of even the hope of central authority. "Figuring it out" means a rivalry ridden and unstable Shiite theocracy in south. "Figuring it out" means the Kurdish north being used as a terrorist base against Turkey. "Figuring it out" means setting back al-Anbar (the Sunni Arab west) several centuries with clan warfare, al-Qaeda havens and a medieval and arbitrary justice system.

All of these trends are already on the march in Iraq and the question the American political class has to ask itself is "Is abandoning ordinary Iraqis to these trends the best we can do?"
I believe it's not, I still believe America is better than that (as it turns out I may be a slow learner). But my opinion is irrelevant and more and more of the relevant people think nothing more can be done. The policy papers with bold new ideas have disappeared and been replaced with articles resembling the one below; long excuses on why its OK to let Iraqis (and some foreigners) butcher Iraqis in hope that someday, somebody will take power and provide stability. Saddam 2.0 or even Ho Chi Min 2.0 - anything or anybody is better that this.
Well Iraq is not Vietnam. Today's Iraq is not 1970s Iraq. There is no large politically integrated armed force ready to take over. Iraq today resembles 1990s Somalia and if left to its own devices it will disintegrate, just like Somalia did, and ooze problems
into the rest of the region for years to come .

Same Old Demons


Policy makers are again considering fundamental changes in our Iraq policy, but as they do I hope they read Elie Kedourie’s essay, “The Kingdom of Iraq: A Retrospect.”

Kedourie, a Baghdad-born Jew, published the essay in 1970. It’s a history of the regime the British helped establish over 80 years ago, but it captures an idea that is truer now than ever: Disorder is endemic to Iraq. Today’s crisis is not three years old. It’s worse now, but the crisis is perpetual. This is a bomb of a nation.

“Brief as it is, the record of the kingdom of Iraq is full of bloodshed, treason and rapine,” Kedourie wrote.

And his is a Gibbonesque tale of horror. There is the endless Shiite-Sunni fighting. There is a massacre of the Assyrians, which is celebrated rapturously in downtown Baghdad. Children are gunned down from airplanes. Tribal wars flare and families are destroyed. A Sunni writer insults the Shiites and the subsequent rioters murder students and policemen. A former prime minister is found on the street by a mob, killed, and his body is reduced to pulp as cars run him over in joyous retribution.

Kedourie described “a country riven by obscure and malevolent factions, unsettled by the war and its aftermath.” He observed, “The collapse of the old order had awakened vast cupidities and revived venomous hatreds.”

In 1927, a British officer asked a tribal leader: “You now have a government, a constitution, a parliament, ministers and officials — what more can you want?” The tribal leader replied, “Yes, but they speak with a foreign accent.”

The British tried to encourage responsible Iraqi self-government, to no avail. “The political ambitions of the Shia religious headquarters have always lain in the direction of theocratic domination,” a British official reported in 1923. They “have no motive for refraining from sacrificing the interests of Iraq to those which they conceive to be their own.”

At one point, the British high commissioner, Sir Henry Dobbs, argued that if Britain threatened to withdraw its troops, Iraqis would behave more responsibly. It didn’t work. Iraqis figured the Brits were bugging out. They concluded it was profitless to cultivate British friendship. Everything the British said became irrelevant.

The Iraq of his youth, Kedourie concluded, “was a make-believe kingdom built on false pretenses.” He quoted a British report from 1936, which noted that the Iraqi government would never be a machine based on law that treated citizens impartially, but would always be based on tribal favoritism and personal relationships. Iraq, Kedourie said, faced two alternatives: “Either the country would be plunged into chaos or its population should become universally the clients and dependents of an omnipotent but capricious and unstable government.” There is, he wrote, no third option.

Today Iraq is in much worse shape. The most perceptive reports describe not so much a civil war as a complete social disintegration. This latest descent was initiated by American blunders, but is exacerbated by the same old Iraqi demons: greed, blood lust and a mind-boggling unwillingness to compromise for the common good, even in the face of self-immolation.

The core problem is the same one Kedourie identified decades ago. Iraq is teetering on the edge of futility. Perhaps a competent occupation could have preserved it as a coherent entity, but now the Iraqi national identity is looking like a suicidal self-delusion.

Partitioning the country would be traumatic, so after the election it probably makes sense to make one last effort to hold the place together. Fire Donald Rumsfeld to signal a break with the past. Alter troop rotations so that 30,000 more troops are policing Baghdad.

But if that does not restore order, if Iraqi ministries remain dysfunctional and the national institutions remain sectarian institutions in disguise, then surely it will be time to accede to reality. It will be time to effectively end Iraq, with a remaining fig-leaf central government or not. It will be time to radically diffuse authority down to the only communities that are viable — the clan, tribe or sect.

A muscular U.S. military presence will be more necessary than ever, to deter neighboring powers and contain bloodshed. And the goals will remain the same: to nurture civilized democratic societies that reject extremism and terror.

But the boundaries may have to change. The war was an attempt to lift a unified Iraq out of its awful history, but history has proved stubborn. It’s time to adjust the plans to reality.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Yo La Tengo

This was a good time - although I was half-asleep and left early. If you want to see a band that knows how to play, doesn't run around like innebriated adolescents and still pounds out loud ball-busting rock, this is one such group.

From the Phoenix in Toronto - "Pass the Hatchet, I think I'm Goodkind":

Robert Kagan - voice of reason

Nobody takes the long view like Kagan. Even though many classify him as a "neo-con" he is, for me at least, the best foreign policy analyst alive today. Deliberate and insightful he has a way of bringing unnoticed long term trends into sharp focus. From the Washington Post.

Staying the Course, Win or Lose

By Robert Kagan
Thursday, November 2, 2006; A17

BRUSSELS -- Here in Europe, people ask hopefully if a Democratic victory in the congressional elections will finally shift the direction of American foreign policy in a more benign direction. But congressional elections rarely affect the broad direction of American foreign policy. A notable exception was when Congress cut funding for American military operations in support of South Vietnam in 1973. Yet it's unlikely that a Democratic House would cut off funds for the war in Iraq in the next two years.

Indeed, the preferred European scenario -- "Bush hobbled" -- is less likely than the alternative: "Bush unbound." Neither the president nor his vice president is running for office in 2008. That is what usually prevents high-stakes foreign policy moves in the last two years of a president's term. In 1988 Ronald Reagan had negotiated a clever agreement to get the dictator Manuel Noriega peacefully out of Panama, but Vice President George H.W. Bush and his advisers feared the domestic political repercussions of cutting a deal with a drug lord at the height of the "war on drugs," so they nixed the plan. The result was that Bush had to invade Panama the very next year to remove Noriega -- but he did get elected.

This President Bush doesn't have to worry about getting anyone elected in 2008 and appears to be thinking only about his place in history. That can lead him to act in ways that please Europeans -- for instance, the vigorous multilateral diplomacy on Iran and North Korea. But it could also take him in directions they will find worrisome if that diplomacy fails.

There is a deeper reason this election, and even the next presidential election, may not change U.S. foreign policy very much. Historically, and especially in the six decades since the end of World War II, there has been much more continuity than discontinuity in foreign policy. New administrations change policy around the margins, and sometimes those changes prove important -- George H.W. Bush temporized about the Balkans; Bill Clinton temporized and then sent troops. Clinton temporized about Iraq and then bombed. George W. Bush temporized and then invaded. But the motives behind American foreign policy, and even the means, don't differ all that much from administration to administration. Republicans berated the Democrats' "cowardly" containment until they took the White House in 1952, then adopted that strategy as their own.

This tendency toward continuity is particularly striking on the issue that most divides Americans from Europeans today: the use of military force in international affairs. Americans of both parties simply have more belief in the utility and even justice of military action than do most other peoples around the world. The German Marshall Fund commissions an annual poll that asks Europeans and Americans, among other things, whether they agree with the following statement: "Under some conditions, war is necessary to obtain justice." Europeans disagree, and by a 2 to 1 margin. But Americans overwhelmingly support the idea that war may be necessary to obtain justice. Even this year, with disapproval of the Iraq war high, 78 percent of American respondents agreed with the statement.

This broad bipartisan conviction is reflected in U.S. policies. Between 1989 and 2003, the United States engaged in significant military actions overseas on nine occasions under Bush I, Clinton and Bush II: Panama in 1989, Somalia in 1992, Haiti in 1994, Bosnia in 1995-96, Kosovo in 1999, Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq three times -- 1991, 1998 and 2003, an average of one major military action every year and a half.

The reasons for this prolific use of military force have to do with the nation's history -- Americans have been fighting what they considered just and moral wars since the Revolution and the Civil War. And it has to do with Americans' relative power. It is no accident that the United States began to use force more frequently after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Those who imagine that the Iraq imbroglio may change this approach could be right, but the historical record suggests otherwise. Less than six years after the defeat in Vietnam, Americans were electing Reagan on a promise to restore American military power and engage in a concerted arms race with the Soviet Union.

Even today leading Democrats who oppose the Iraq war do not oppose the idea of war itself or its utility. They're not even denouncing a defense budget approaching $500 billion per year. While Europeans mostly reject the Bush administration's phrase "the war on terror," leading Democrats embrace it and accuse the administration of not pursuing it vigorously or intelligently enough. Nor do leading Democrats reject the premise of the United States as the world's "indispensable nation" -- a notion that most Europeans find offensive at best and dangerous at worst.

In this respect, there is even less debate over the general principles of American foreign policy than during the Vietnam era. In those days, opponents of the war insisted that not just President Richard Nixon was rotten but that the "system" was rotten. They did not just reject the Vietnam War, they rejected the whole containment strategy of Dean Acheson and Harry Truman, which, they rightly claimed, helped produce the intervention in the first place. They rejected the idea that the United States could be a benevolent force in the world.

Today Democrats insist that the United States will be such a force as soon as George W. Bush leaves office. Although they pretend they have a fundamental doctrinal dispute with the Bush administration, their recommendations are less far-reaching. They argue that the United States should generally try to be nicer, employ more "soft power" and be more effective when it employs "hard power." That may be good advice, but it hardly qualifies as an alternative doctrine.

Many around the world will thrill at the defeat of Republicans next week. They should enjoy the moment while they can. When the smoke clears, they will find themselves dealing with much the same America, with all its virtues and all its flaws.

Robert Kagan, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund, writes a monthly column for The Post. He is the author of "Dangerous Nation," a history of American foreign policy.

How Saddam ran Iraq

I'm back... kinda... even though close to nobody reads this... more explanation later.

- This is how Saddam ran Iraq; like a paranoid tribal sheik from the twelfth century. Western Iraq, a place with a strong nomadic tradition, was always a violent place. It's the kind of place that sharia brought brutal but fair order to long ago. Saddam expanded on that tradition - expanded in its methods and results (more violence in terms of amount and intensity) and its geographical reach (to the rest of the country). Here's a small insight into the way he thought. Whether the world likes it or not - we are seeing the fruits of Saddam's Iraq today. His legacy is going to a dominant and bloody factor for a long time.

From the BBC:

By Jeremy Bowen
Middle East editor, BBC News
The American journalist Bob Woodward, in his third book about the Bush administration at war, State of Denial, relates a story told by Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, who was the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States.

Prince Bandar recalls a conversation that Saddam Hussein had with King Fahd of Saudi Arabia after a group of extremists took over the Grand Mosque in Mecca in 1979.

The rebels had been caught and thrown into jail, and this was the Iraqi leader's advice: "In my mind, there is no question that you are going to kill all 500, that's a given.

"Listen to me carefully, Fahd. Every man who in this group who has a brother or father - kill them. If they have a cousin who you think is man enough to go for revenge, kill them.

"Those 500 people are a given. But you must spread the fear of God in everything that belongs to them, and that's the only way you can sleep at night."

That seems to have been the tactic that Saddam Hussein used at Dujail in 1982, when - after an attempt to assassinate him - 148 people were killed. It is the crime for which he has been sentenced to hang.

Perhaps Saddam Hussein will accept his fate on the gallows as an occupational hazard of being a despot. Or maybe he never intended his own rules to apply to himself.

Saturday, August 12, 2006


This is it. The only binding parts are in the operating paragraphs (OPs). Both the Shebaa Farms and the Israeli prisoners are in the preamble (where pretexts belong).
-Beirut Emigre

The Security Council,
PP1. Recalling all its previous resolutions on Lebanon, in particular resolutions 425 (1978), 426 (1978), 520 (1982), 1559 (2004), 1655 (2006) 1680 (2006) and 1697 (2006), as well as the statements of its President on the situation in Lebanon, in particular the statements of 18 June 2000 (S/PRST/2000/21), of 19 October 2004 (S/PRST/2004/36), of 4 May 2005 (S/PRST/2005/17) of 23 January 2006 (S/PRST/2006/3) and of 30 July 2006 (S/PRST/2006/35),

PP2. Expressing its utmost concern at the continuing escalation of hostilities in Lebanon and in Israel since Hizbollah's attack on Israel on 12 July 2006, which has already caused hundreds of deaths and injuries on both sides, extensive damage to civilian infrastructure and hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons,

PP3. Emphasizing the need for an end of violence, but at the same time emphasizing the need to address urgently the causes that have given rise to the current crisis, including by the unconditional release of the abducted Israeli soldiers,

PP4: Mindful of the sensitivity of the issue of prisoners and encouraging the efforts aimed at urgently settling the issue of the Lebanese prisoners detained in Israel,

PP5. Welcoming the efforts of the Lebanese Prime Minister and the commitment of the government of Lebanon, in its seven-point plan, to extend its authority over its territory, through its own legitimate armed forces, such that there will be no weapons without the consent of the government of Lebanon and no authority other than that of the government of Lebanon, welcoming also its commitment to a UN force that is supplemented and enhanced in numbers, equipment, mandate and scope of operation, and bearing in mind its request in this plan for an immediate withdrawal of the Israeli forces from Southern Lebanon,

PP6. Determined to act for this withdrawal to happen at the earliest,

PP7. Taking due note of the proposals made in the seven-point plan regarding the Shebaa farms area,

PP8. Welcoming the unanimous decision by the government of Lebanon on 7 August 2006 to deploy a Lebanese armed force of 15,000 troops in South Lebanon as the Israeli army withdraws behind the Blue Line and to request the assistance of additional forces from UNIFIL as needed, to facilitate the entry of the Lebanese armed forces into the region and to restate its intention to strengthen the Lebanese armed forces with material as needed to enable it to perform its duties,

PP9. Aware of its responsibilities to help secure a permanent ceasefire and a long-term solution to the conflict,

PP10. Determining that the situation in Lebanon constitutes a threat to international peace and security,

OP1. Calls for a full cessation of hostilities based upon, in particular, the immediate cessation by Hizbollah of all attacks and the immediate cessation by Israel of all offensive military operations;

OP2. Upon full cessation of hostilities, calls upon the government of Lebanon and UNIFIL as authorized by paragraph 11 to deploy their forces together throughout the South and calls upon the government of Israel, as that deployment begins, to withdraw all of its forces from Southern Lebanon in parallel;

OP3. Emphasizes the importance of the extension of the control of the government of Lebanon over all Lebanese territory in accordance with the provisions of resolution 1559 (2004) and resolution 1680 (2006), and of the relevant provisions of the Taif Accords, for it to exercise its full sovereignty, so that there will be no weapons without the consent of the government of Lebanon and no authority other than that of the government of Lebanon;

OP4. Reiterates its strong support for full respect for the Blue Line;

OP5. Also reiterates its strong support, as recalled in all its previous relevant resolutions, for the territorial integrity, sovereignty and political independence of Lebanon within its internationally recognized borders, as contemplated by the Israeli-Lebanese General Armistice Agreement of 23 March 1949;

OP6. Calls on the international community to take immediate steps to extend its financial and humanitarian assistance to the Lebanese people, including through facilitating the safe return of displaced persons and, under the authority of the Government of Lebanon, reopening airports and harbours, consistent with paragraphs 14 and 15, and calls on it also to consider further assistance in the future to contribute to the reconstruction and development of Lebanon;

OP7. Affirms that all parties are responsible for ensuring that no action is taken contrary to paragraph 1 that might adversely affect the search for a long-term solution, humanitarian access to civilian populations, including safe passage for humanitarian convoys, or the voluntary and safe return of displaced persons, and calls on all parties to comply with this responsibility and to cooperate with the Security Council;

OP8. Calls for Israel and Lebanon to support a permanent ceasefire and a long-term solution based on the following principles and elements:

- full respect for the Blue Line by both parties,

- security arrangements to prevent the resumption of hostilities, including the establishment between the Blue Line and the Litani river of an area free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the government of Lebanon and of UNIFIL as authorized in paragraph 11, deployed in this area,

- full implementation of the relevant provisions of the Taif Accords, and of resolutions 1559 (2004) and 1680 (2006), that require the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon, so that, pursuant to the Lebanese cabinet decision of July 27, 2006, there will be no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than that of the Lebanese state,

- no foreign forces in Lebanon without the consent of its government,

- no sales or supply of arms and related materiel to Lebanon except as authorized by its government,

- provision to the United Nations of all remaining maps of land mines in Lebanon in Israel's possession;

OP9. Invites the Secretary General to support efforts to secure as soon as possible agreements in principle from the Government of Lebanon and the Government of Israel to the principles and elements for a long-term solution as set forth in paragraph 8, and expresses its intention to be actively involved;

OP10. Requests the Secretary General to develop, in liaison with relevant international actors and the concerned parties, proposals to implement the relevant provisions of the Taif Accords, and resolutions 1559 (2004) and 1680 (2006), including disarmament, and for delineation of the international borders of Lebanon, especially in those areas where the border is disputed or uncertain, including by dealing with the Shebaa farms area, and to present to the Security Council those proposals within thirty days;

OP11. Decides, in order to supplement and enhance the force in numbers, equipment, mandate and scope of operations, to authorize an increase in the force strength of UNIFIL to a maximum of 15,000 troops, and that the force shall, in addition to carrying out its mandate under resolutions 425 and 426 (1978):

a. Monitor the cessation of hostilities;

b. Accompany and support the Lebanese armed forces as they deploy throughout the South, including along the Blue Line, as Israel withdraws its armed forces from Lebanon as provided in paragraph 2;

c. Coordinate its activities related to paragraph 11 (b) with the Government of Lebanon and the Government of Israel;

d. Extend its assistance to help ensure humanitarian access to civilian populations and the voluntary and safe return of displaced persons;

e. Assist the Lebanese armed forces in taking steps towards the establishment of the area as referred to in paragraph 8;

f. Assist the government of Lebanon, at its request, to implement paragraph 14;

OP12. Acting in support of a request from the government of Lebanon to deploy an international force to assist it to exercise its authority throughout the territory, authorizes UNIFIL to take all necessary action in areas of deployment of its forces and as it deems within its capabilities, to ensure that its area of operations is not utilized for hostile activities of any kind, to resist attempts by forceful means to prevent it from discharging its duties under the mandate of the Security Council, and to protect United Nations personnel, facilities, installations and equipment, ensure the security and freedom of movement of United Nations personnel, humanitarian workers, and, without prejudice to the responsibility of the government of Lebanon, to protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence;

OP13. Requests the Secretary General urgently to put in place measures to ensure UNIFIL is able to carry out the functions envisaged in this resolution, urges Member States to consider making appropriate contributions to UNIFIL and to respond positively to requests for assistance from the Force, and expresses its strong appreciation to those who have contributed to UNIFIL in the past;

OP14. Calls upon the Government of Lebanon to secure its borders and other entry points to prevent the entry in Lebanon without its consent of arms or related materiel and requests UNIFIL as authorized in paragraph 11 to assist the Government of Lebanon at its request;

OP15. Decides further that all states shall take the necessary measures to prevent, by their nationals or from their territories or using their flag vessels or aircraft,

(a) the sale or supply to any entity or individual in Lebanon of arms and related materiel of all types, including weapons and ammunition, military vehicles and equipment, paramilitary equipment, and spare parts for the aforementioned, whether or not originating in their territories, and

(b) the provision to any entity or individual in Lebanon of any technical training or assistance related to the provision, manufacture, maintenance or use of the items listed in subparagraph (a) above, except that these prohibitions shall not apply to arms, related material, training or assistance authorized by the Government of Lebanon or by UNIFIL as authorized in paragraph 11;

OP16. Decides to extend the mandate of UNIFIL until 31 August 2007, and expresses its intention to consider in a later resolution further enhancements to the mandate and other steps to contribute to the implementation of a permanent ceasefire and a long-term solution;

OP17. Requests the Secretary-General to report to the Council within one week on the implementation of this resolution and subsequently on a regular basis;

OP18. Stresses the importance of, and the need to achieve, a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East, based on all its relevant resolutions including its resolutions 242 (1967) of 22 November 1967 and 338 (1973) of 22 October 1973;

OP19. Decides to remain actively seized of the matter.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

From the NYTimes... I had to post it.

To Flee or to Stay? Family Chooses Too Late and Pays Dearly

SIDIQEEN, Lebanon, July 23 — Muntaha Shaito’s eyes rolled back as the paramedics screamed at her to stay awake and implored her son Ali to keep her engaged, as she teetered near death from shrapnel wounds inflicted by an Israeli rocket.

“Pray to God!,” one paramedic shouted at her as she writhed in Ali’s arms.

“Don’t go to sleep Mama, look at me!,” Ali shouted, tears streaking his bloodied face. “Don’t die, please don’t die!”

It was the scene that members of the extended Shaito family said they had feared most, the real reason they had held out for days in their village of Tireh in southern Lebanon, terrified of the Israeli bombardment, but more terrified of what might happen if they risked leaving. On Sunday they gave up their stand, and all 18 members crammed into the family’s white Mazda minivan. They planned to head north toward the relative safety of Beirut.

Within minutes they became casualties of Israel’s 12-day-old bombardment of southern Lebanon, which the Israelis say they will continue indefinitely to destroy the military abilities of Hezbollah, the Shiite militant group. By the Lebanese official count, Israel’s attacks have killed more than 380 Lebanese.

An Israeli rocket, which Lebanese officials said was likely fired from a helicopter, slammed into the center of the Shaitos’ van as it sped round a bend a few miles west of their village, and the van crashed into a hillside. Three occupants were killed: an uncle, Mohammad; the grandmother, Nazira; and a Syrian man who had guarded their home. The missile also critically wounded Mrs. Shaito and her sister. Eleven others suffered less severe wounds.

“They said leave, and that’s what we did,” said Musbah Shaito, another uncle, as his niece, Heba, 16, cried hysterically behind him for her dead father, whose head was nearly blown off. This reporter watched as paramedics struggled to remove the dead from the van, but soon gave up, as an Israeli drone hovered overhead.

“This is what we got for listening to them,” Mr. Shaito said, speaking of the Israelis.

The Shaitos came from a farming village about five miles from the Israeli border in a region known for tobacco, citrus and olive crops. They had waved a white flag from the van, signifiying to Israeli aircraft that they were non-threatening, Mr. Shaito told reporters later.

The Israeli military said in a statement that its aircraft operations over southern Lebanon on Sunday had targeted “approximately 20 vehicles” suspected of “serving the terror organization in the launching of missiles at Israel, and were recognized fleeing from or staying at missile-launching areas.” The military did not comment on specific bombings, but cited the area south of Tyre, where the Shaitos were driving, as “an area used continuously by Hezbollah to fire missiles.”

Bombing victims, witnesses and officials interviewed in the area on Sunday said Israeli warplanes hit people escaping by vehicle from their villages at least six times in a day of fierce bombardments. Lebanese Red Cross ambulance drivers complained about narrowly avoiding Israeli fire themselves as they cleared out the wounded, and a Lebanese freelance photographer, Layal Najib, 23, was killed when an Israeli missile struck near her car, about five miles from near the scene of the Shaito family bombing.

Israeli forces have sought to clear the area of all residents, in what seemed to be an attempt to separate the civilians from Hezbollah fighters hidden in the hills and villages. Just days earlier leaflets dropped by Israeli planes warned residents to leave the area and head north of the Litani River, effectively making the area a free-fire zone.

A drive through the southern villages on Sunday morning was like a tour through a string of ghost towns, with most residents having cleared out or holed up in their homes, as Israeli aircraft continued their bombardment. Roads were bombed, making passage difficult or impossible, and fields were scorched as the hulks of bombed cars littered the roads. All but a few stores were shut, with glass and rubble littering the streets.

The families in Tireh had preferred to stay home, but with dwindling supplies and Israel’s warning to evacuate, many of them decided it was time to go.

There were only about 52 people left in Tireh when most left for Beirut in a convoy this weekend, leaving the Shaitos largely to fend for themselves. Without much food or water, the family gave up its stand early Sunday.

Family members included Muntaha Shaito and her boys, Ali, 13, and Abbas, 12; her brother in-law Mohammad and his two daughters, Heba, 14, and Kawther, 17; and several other relatives.

They packed into their van, with all their money and valuables, and raced toward Tyre, the big southern seaport about 15 miles west.

It proved a day of carnage for the Zabad and Suroor families, too, said family members and medical staff members who treated them.

The Zabad family and their relatives, the Suroors, who were desperate enough to break into shuttered stores to steal food in the town of Mansoureh a few miles away, gave up their stand, too, on Sunday.

Minutes before Red Cross ambulances carted away the Shaito family, the Suroor family barreled down the road headed toward Tyre, with the Zabad family right behind.

When the Zabads spotted a wounded man on the road, they stopped and picked him up in their Nissan sport utility vehicle. They stopped again to pick up two men who had been attacked on a motorcycle and got even farther behind the Suroors.

Suddenly a missile hit the Suroors’ Mercedes sedan, killing Mohammad Suroor, the father, and Darwhish Mdaihli, a relative, and severely burning Mohammad’s son, Mahmoud, 8, and wounding his two brothers and sister.

As soon as the Zabads saw the car hit, they sped past, hoping to get to the Najm Hospital, less than a mile away. But a minute later a missile struck near them, setting the car on fire, and the family jumped out. .

The scene was chaotic at Najm hospital, on the outskirts of Tyre, which has been flooded with wounded from the bombing campaign. Doctors rushed to X-ray several of the victims, checking for shrapnel, as others where treated for burns and other injuries. For a short while, the hospital nurses rubbed cream on an 8-month-old baby for burns until they found her mother, Mrs. Suroor.

Despite the severe burns on his face, Mahmoud Suroor turned to his mother while in the emergency room and asked where his father was. She did not respond. Then he turned again to his mother.

“Don’t cry Mama, we’ll all be O.K.,” he said.

What a bomb sounds like

Beirut on the 21st of July.
It set off a car alarm despite being miles away...

Links about Lebanon Israeli conflict

The IDF now holds the village of Maroun al-Ras. The link is a sat map of the town (you may have to zoom it out a bit).

  • Maroun al-Ras

  • Haaretz
  • -A good and accurate Israeli paper

  • Daily Star
  • -The only english language daily in Lebanon

    How it feels to live in Beirut right now.
  • Blogging Beirut

  • I pulled this off that site:
    What I am now watching in Lebanon each day is an outrage

    By Robert Fisk in Mdeirej, Central Lebanon

    Published: 15 July 2006

    The beautiful viaduct that soars over the mountainside here has become a " terrorist" target. The Israelis attacked the international highway from Beirut to Damascus just after dawn yesterday and dropped a bomb clean through the central span of the Italian-built bridge ­ a symbol of Lebanon's co-operation with the European Union ­ sending concrete crashing hundreds of feet down into the valley beneath. It was the pride of the murdered ex-prime minister Rafik Hariri, the face of a new, emergent Lebanon. And now it is a " terrorist" target.

    So I drove gingerly along the old mountain road towards the Bekaa yesterday ­ the Israeli jets were hissing through the sky above me ­ turned the corner once I rejoined the highway, and found a 50ft crater with an old woman climbing wearily down the side on her hands and knees, trying to reach her home in the valley that glimmered to the east. This too had become a " terrorist" target.

    It is now the same all over Lebanon. In the southern suburbs ­ where the Hizbollah, captors of the two missing Israeli soldiers, have their headquarters ­ a massive bomb had blasted off the sides of apartment blocks next to a church, splintering windows and crashing balconies down on to parked cars. This too had become a "terrorist" target.

    One man was brought out shrieking with pain, covered in blood. Another " terrorist" target. All the way to the airport were broken bridges, holed roads. All these were "terrorist" targets. At the airport, tongues of fire blossomed into the sky from aircraft fuel storage tanks, darkening west Beirut. These too were now "terrorist" targets. At Jiyeh, the Israelis attacked the power station. This too was a " terrorist" target.

    Yet when I drove to the actual headquarters of the Hizbollah, a tall building in Haret Hreik, it was totally undamaged. Only last night did the Israelis manage to hit it.

    So can the Lebanese be forgiven ­ can anyone here be forgiven ­ for believing that the Israelis have a greater interest in destroying Lebanon than they do in their two soldiers?

    No wonder Middle East Airlines, the national Lebanese airline, put crews into its four stranded Airbuses at Beirut airport early yesterday and sneaked them out of the country for Amman before the Israelis realised they were under power and leaving.

    European politicians have talked about Israel's "disproportionate" response to Wednesday's capture of its soldiers. They are wrong. What I am now watching in Lebanon each day is an outrage. How can there be any excuse ­ any ­ for the 73 dead Lebanese civilians blown apart these past three days?

    The same applies, of course, to the four Israeli civilians killed by Hizbollah rockets. But ­ please note ­ the exchange rate of Israeli civilian lives to Lebanese civilian lives now stands at one to more than 15. This does not include two children atomised in their home in Dweir on Thursday whose bodies cannot be found. Their six brothers and sisters were buried yesterday, with their mother and father. Another "terrorist" target. So was a neighbouring family with five children who were also buried yesterday. Another "terrorist" target.

    Terrorist, terrorist, terrorist. There is something perverse about all this, the slaughter and the massive destruction and the self-righteous, constant, cancerous use of the word "terrorist". No, let us not forget that the Hizbollah broke international law, crossed the Israeli border, killed three Israeli soldiers, captured two others and dragged them back through the border fence. It was an act of calculated ruthlessness that should never allow Hizbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, to grin so broadly at his press conference. It has brought unparalleled tragedy to countless innocents in Lebanon. And of course, it has led Hizbollah to fire at least 170 Katyusha rockets into Israel.

    But what would happen if the powerless Lebanese government had unleashed air attacks across Israel the last time Israel's troops crossed into Lebanon? What if the Lebanese air force then killed 73 Israeli civilians in bombing raids in Ashkelon, Tel Aviv and Israeli West Jerusalem? What if a Lebanese fighter aircraft bombed Ben Gurion airport? What if a Lebanese plane destroyed 26 road bridges across Israel? Would it not be called " terrorism"? I rather think it would. But if Israel was the victim, it would probably also be World War Three.

    Of course, Lebanon cannot attack Tel Aviv. Its air force comprises three ancient Hawker Hunters and an equally ancient fleet of Vietnam-era Huey helicopters. Syria, however, has missiles that can reach Tel Aviv. So Syria ­ which Israel rightly believes to be behind Wednesday's Hizbollah attack ­ is not going to be bombed. It is Lebanon which must be punished.

    The Israeli leadership intends to "break" the Hizbollah and destroy its "terrorist cancer". Really? Do the Israelis really believe they can "break" one of the toughest guerrilla armies in the world? And how?

    There are real issues here. Under UN Security Council Resolution 1559 ­ the same resolution that got the Syrian army out of Lebanon ­ the Shia Muslim Hizbollah should have been disarmed. They were not because, if the Lebanese Prime Minister, Fouad Siniora, had tried to do so, the Lebanese army would have had to fight them and the army would almost certainly have broken apart because most Lebanese soldiers are Shia Muslims. We could see the restarting of the civil war in Lebanon ­ a fact which Nasrallah is cynically aware of ­ but attempts by Siniora and his cabinet colleagues to find a new role for Hizbollah, which has a minister in the government (he is Minister of Labour) foundered. And the greatest danger now is that the Lebanese government will collapse and be replaced by a pro-Syrian government which could reinvite the Syrians back into the country.

    So there's a real conundrum to be solved. But it's not going to succeed with the mass bombing of the country by Israel. Nor the obsession with terrorists, terrorists, terrorists.

    Friday, July 21, 2006

    Stuck in Beirut

    My brother is stuck in Beirut, Lebanon right now and he has no way out. The airport has been bombed, the roads out are being bombed and the Israeli navy has imposed a marine blockade. The country’s gasoline and food stores are decreasing because of the blockade plus running water and electricity have been reduced so they are only available for a fraction of the day. This is all bad enough without bombs dropping all around the city. Worrying about his well-being has monopolized my time. I can think of nothing else at home, at work, or hangin with friends. Getting through on the phone has been a nightmare. I had to try about thirty different times spread over 4 hours to finally get through to him. He’s now sitting trapped in our apartment with only the sound of Israeli bombs to keep him company.
    I’m hoping the Canadian government can get him home soon, but right now it looks like it can take a while.
    Hopefullay a ceasefire will come soon and stop this madness.

    Hizballah winning, Israel losing right now.

    According to public statements the Israeli military is attempting to destroy Hizballah and eliminate the “infrastructure of terror.” But most of the targets struck by the Israeli air force (IAF) are not Hizballah infrastructure; the most common targets are roads, bridges, power plants and civilian fuel depots. Also now the IAF has moved on to private business and industry. The road south from Beirut is now dotted with blown out gas station and factories. In fact just yesterday a milk processing plant and a toilet paper factory were both completely destroyed (as reported by the BBC).

    As for the people the cost to the civilian population is far greater. So far about 240 Lebanese civilians have died. Of those the estimate of how many Hizballah members have died is less than ten. In percentage terms that means that more than 95% of the Lebanese killed are innocent. The Israeli Defence Force (IDF) is more efficient at killing civilians by accident than the terrorist group Hizballah is on purpose. So far Hizballah has killed 25 Israeli of which 12 were military personnel. This bombing campaign has a zero percent chance of destroying Hizballah. Its main effects is to sow sectarian division in Lebanon, weaken the democratic Lebanese government and increase support for Hizballah in its Shiite constituency.

    So what does this all mean? Simple, Hizballah is winning and Israel is losing. Support for Hizballah is growing not shrinking. Hizballah ability to fire rockets has not been significantly affected. Every day of bombing makes the Lebanese army’s deployment on the southern border less likely as the continuing conflict weakens the central government. Now there are rumors that Israeli is going to launch a major incursion. The Israeli’s can see that their tactics are not achieving their stated aims. So now they must push the envelope and go in. This is exactly what Hizballah wants. A face to face fight with the enemy they were created to defeat. The current tactics of the IDF has prevented both sides from engaging in a direct confrontation. The Israeli government was trying to avoid such a direct confrontation in order to avoid Israeli military casualties.
    Hizballah fighters have been waiting for this oppotunity for six years. They have lost brothers, fathers and comrades in previous fighting with the IDF throughout the 18-year occupation of south Lebanon. They want to bloody the nose of their sworn enemy and they are confident they have the ability to do so. They live for this. Apart from being well armed and well organized, Hizballah has a vast array of supremely experienced guerrilla fighters. The same fighters that slowly bled the Israeli army in the south of Lebanon until they finally withdrew in 2000. All these veterans are still armed and active in the south. They know how the IDF operates, their tactics have been refined over many years of guerilla warfare. Additionally Hizballah has been preparing for a ground war for six years. They have laid mines, built hidden positions and developed defense plans. Proof of this is abundant. I saw many Hizballah positions in the south when I visited south Lebanon a few years back. So far every time IDF ground forces have entered in the past 10 days it has suffered losses in terms of lives and material. (One skirmish yesterday resulted in the loss of a tank, the death of two soldiers and injuries to six other soldiers. All this without the destruction of the target and the killing of only two militants.)
    The Israeli army on the other hand has lost many veterans of the dirty war. New conscripts have replaced them. Also back during that long 18-year guerilla war Israel armed and funded pro-Israeli Lebanese militia: The South Lebanese Army (SLA). The SLA provided tactical intelligence, Arabic speakers and local knowledge while also fighting Hizballah. The SLA no longer exists. Israel no longer has acquaintances let alone friends in Lebanon to aid it.
    So, in sum you have an inexperienced but powerful first world infantry with little or no local knowledge running into a confident, motivated and entrenched guerilla movement. We have seen this movie before. We have two possible outcomes. One is that the IDF is drawn into a quagmire and takes losses. The other is that the IDF unleashes its full military force against southern Lebanon resulting in massive damage to infrastructure and even larger civilian casualties. Neither of these outcomes will destroy Hizballah. But neither of these outcomes are military victories for Hizballah. But both are political victories for the group. They will absorb the blow, declare victory, announce themselves are the main Arab resistance against Israel, rearm (through Syria and Iran) and live to fight another day. Any damage they can do to the Israeli military will be seen as a great victory; they struck a blow against the Zionist enemy. Any damage Israel does to Hizballah is expected.
    That is the crux of the problem. For Hizballah, victory is confrontation and survival. For Israel victory is the destruction of Hizballah as a viable fighting force. As you can see on threshold is much lower for one than the other. I am not confident that Israel can clear that higher threshold. And a large incursion that fails to destroy Hizballah will lead to a situation where a political solution is going to be very difficult to find.

    Monday, July 10, 2006

    Editors LIVE

    This was recorded on my cell at their show. If you ever get the chance to go see them live do it. I went when a friend told me I HAD to go. I was not (and am still not) a huge fan of their record but their live show was great. Loud, fast-paced, impeccably played and most essentially - fun. They even got a Toronto crowd to get into it. In a town where people yawn at metal shows and get yelled at by Mod Def for being "too cool"; that's saying something.

    Saturday, July 08, 2006

    Why I love Vice Mag

    I'm risking looking like a hipster wannabe but here goes...
    Nothing on the web makes me laugh more consistently than the Vice's "Dos and Don'ts" section. That's why I link to Vice on this page (if I've figured out the html code).
    Just check this pic and blurb.

    "Oh Lord. When nerds discover their inner babe and unleash about a decade of unused libido on the world it makes every hot girl you know seem like a haggard old spinster whose pussy is sealed shut with venereal warts. This girl would be the Farberge Egg of blowjobs."


    I was witness to this scene the other day. I don't really have a comment, just find it strangely poetic.


    I'm going to assume no one will ever read this thing...
    Anyway why am I blogging? Because I consider writing to be a hobby of mine and the only writing I do is professional/academic (dry/boring) or in long, meandering emails to friends (which probably come off as pompous and annoying). Therefore why not have a place where I can write all I want without bothering anyone?

    Any way as I write this I'm doing my best to disrupt a low-budget play being performed in the school parking lot next door. I believe it has something to do with the Fringe Festival that takes place in Toronto every year. It's set is a series of cars and basically involves a lot of yelling, cursing, car horns and bad acting. I've been trying to ignore it for a few evenings but today I'm fighting back using the tried and true method of the asshole: blatant passive-aggressiveness. I dragged a large speaker out my backdoor, pointed it directly at the lot and played my music loudly. I've been playing jazz; I don't want to be that much of an ass. At this instant Jean Jacques Perrey's E.V.A. (sampled by DJ Premier for Gangstarr's Code of the Streets - great song) seems to have drowned out the random "light's green asshole!" and "watch where you're fuckin' going!" emanating from the play.
    So I'm happy... I figure that if I have to put up with a loud theatre troupe two doors down then the troupe might have to put up with some ambient neighborhood noise.
    Wow, I'm a terrible writer.