Saturday, July 27, 2002

Leaving Jerusalem

This will be my last blog from Jerusalem. Last night I ate at "C"'s house with her family. It was a nice meal, as always. Afterward I went with "Z" to a documentry about the people in the town where Andy Warhol's family is originally from. It was rather strange documentary, but fun.

Review of Barbara Newman's The Covenant

The Covenant: Love and Death in Beirut by Barbara Newman is a rather odd book. On the one hand it reads like a schoolgirl's ode to a lost boyfriend, and the author does seem like she take a lot of pains to tell us that she is objective, and not so much pain to actually be objective. That being said, there is a bunch of useful stuff in the book, as long as you take the whole thing with a grain of salt.

The book is about Bashir Gamayel, the leader of the Phalangist party during Lebanon's civil war. The author is in love with him, and ends up haveing an affair, and ends up having an affair with him. The author is a journalist and the book aims to tell the Phalangist side of the story of Lebanon's civil war. She claims that the story was never really told from their perspective. That is true. The Syrians/PLO/Muslims do seem to have the sympathies of all the reporters who wrote about it. That is fashionable. It is not clear why that was. Maybe they were fighting the good fight, the one against Israel, maybe the reported found Muslims sexier or more interesting to cover than Christians. . . who knows?

Here the tragic hero of the civil war is Gamayel, who is universally disliked in Lebanon right now, most likely because 1) he was pro-Israel and 2) because the Syrians, who controll everything in Lebanon tell everyone to dislike Gamayel. The author concludes that it was the Syrians who killed him, and it is most likely that they are right. The Syrians had the most to gain. An unstable Lebanon keeps the Syrians in power there.

The books is not a great read, and one does not get the feeling that the author was very intimately involved with the city life there in Beirut. She was not. She did not live there. She was in and out a couple of times to film stuff. She has no feel for the turf, and it shows.

She also repeats Gamayel's dismissal of the Christian atrocities that took place during the war. There is a good reason to not hold them morally culpable, namely because that is what was happening in the war by both sides, alot. But still to dismiss it, diminished the journalistic integrity of the whole narrative, as does her obvious love for Bashir.

At the end she has a good analysis of who she believes Bashir's killers to have been (and the organizers of Sabra and Shatilla too). It sounds very plausible, and one wished the whole book could be this carefully penned.

The book is important to read if you want to understand Lebanon and the civil war. It is very unorthodox and takes an unpopular stand, that is why it is important. There is a lot of truth there, but be careful what you believe.

Friday, July 26, 2002

Buying Olives Machne Yehuda - or, why I love this country

Today, despite all state department warnings, I made my way to the Machne Yehuda market and then the center of town, mostly to pick up some stuff. I got Broeakas, Coke, lettuce, and oilves.

In the olive stall I had a rather typical Israeli experience. I bought NIS 12 worth of olives (about $3)I only had a NIS 100 bill, so the guy asked if I had NIS 2. I did not, so he gave me NIS 90 in change and indicated with a hand motion that I should just give him the other NIS 2 on my way back. So I took my stuff and left.

About a half hour later I am leaving the market and I pass the olive guy and hand him the NIS 2. He gave me half a look and put the money away. He did not bother to ask why I gave him the money. I told him that I owed it to him, and he said "I remember".

There was little question in this guy's mind that he would get his NIS 2. It obviously did not occur to him to be surprised when he did. I am glad the country is still like that. Few places are that trusting. Few places can afford to be. Israel is, because Israel can.

Security was tight there. The mood seemed a bit more apprehensive than normal. Fewer people about, and more soldiers, more checks, and fewer entrance and exist points. Damned terrorists really are winning people are changing their lives to avoid public places. Israel, and the world really needs to solve the terrorism problems soon before staying at home becomes a way of life.

Thursday, July 25, 2002


I didn't do much today. I went to a real Israeli kumsitz (campfire). Tried going to the cinematek but that did not really work out.

Wednesday, July 24, 2002

Chaim Potok passes away

I was saddned to hear of the death of Chaim Potok. I was much influenced by his vivid images of what were undoubtely Saul Lieberman and JB Soloveitchik. I remember pondering the 2 boys' lives after reading The chosen, when I was a child. My Name is Asher Lev and The Book of Lights were also books that made me think a lot in my Youth. The painter was a particularly inspired image of an iconoclast who did was he thought was right. Very much like Howard Roark, he too made some ultimate sacrifices.

Happy Hag Ha'ahava

Happy Hag Ha'ahava everyone.

(This is the ancient Jewish version of Valentine's day mentioned in the Talmud.)

Moment Cafe

I wandered around Rehavia and the center of town this evening. The center of town is pretty depressing. For the summer, the place is empty, but on the bright side, Rechavia is doing better. The cafes are all full and there are people about. I had a midnight snack in the new Moment Cafe, which is rebuilt almost exactly the way it was before it was blown up three months ago. It has a plaque commemerating the victims of the bombing. The place was full despite the late hour, and they plan on having their grand re-opening tomorrow. The guard there looked uneasy. He does not have an enviable job.

Sharon at the International court (because he bit a dog)

Word has it that the Palestinians plan on taking Sharon to the brand new 23 day-old international court. Israel is not a member so it doesn't really matter. And wow, 23 days. But Arafat needs to make a point.

I was thinking about the recent air-strike in Gaza against the leader of Hamas. The mood here in Israel is of course divided. Those on the left say that Sharon is a murderer, and the right claims to be upset at the unfortunate collateral damage. (The farther right is saying that this acts as a legitimate warning to the next Hamas leader that Israel will consider the life of his family no different from his own.)

Now, Israel for all its high moralist talk about protecting civilians really f@*#ed up here. It seems hard to not realize that you will kill a bunch of civilians when the leader of Hamas is holed up in an apartment house. The leader of Hamas knew that, and that is why he was holed up with civilians! And that is why Israel should have had a better plan. I really am skeptical of their claims to ignorance. More likely they didn't care.

What I really do find rather pathetic is the fact that I have been asked by Arabs (via email and in person) what the national mood here is and what I think. Somehow this is a real shock and tragedy to the Arab world. Innocent civilians were killed. It is a shock because it is a real case of man biting dog and everyone knows that.

I ask, as I have asked before, aren't they embarrassed? They know that there are no tears in Syria when a gunman opens fire on a 12-year-old girl's birthday party. There is no weeping for a blown-up school bus. There is no sadness for the Israelis who die because they are drinking coffee in the wrong café.

Apparently only Jews are expected to feel bad when these things happen. Arabs are not. And apparently that is OK. There is a radically different internal logic that is expected of the Arab world, one I am not envious of, and one that generally justifies the negative stereotypes that the Arab world is stuck with. Arabs play by their own rules, and that is OK, Jews play by western rules. Arabs apparently still reserve the right to criticize others for not playing by western rules, despite the fact that they are not bound by them.

I do weep for the children killed in Gaza. I weep because I am human. I weep, and I weep with sadness and at the same time pride at the fact that I can weep. I know that it is this humanity, this ability to feel for the victims of their own necessity is what will keep Israel on a path to peace. The fact that you do not need to read the papers to know about the parliamentary inquiries already pending and you do not have to be on the Peace Now mailing list to know to expect demonstrations by Israelis, shows which direction Israel's moral compass is pointing.

Tuesday, July 23, 2002

Lions in Jerusalem

Anyone remember the cows that were all over New York a little while ago? In Israel there are now lions. Lots of them - all over. Most of them are rather boring looking. There is little skill or thought that went in to most of them. I was quite disappointed after seeing my millionth lion that looked like it's design was an afterthought.

It is a joint project between Jerusalem and Peugeot (the French Car company). You'd think that with all the talent in this city they could do a better job.

Revisiting Hebrew U

Today I went to my old haunts at Hebrew University to meet with Professor "M". I went to Machne Yehuda to buy olives, part of which is still closed because of the bombing of a few months ago. Kikar Tzion, the square that was blown up a few months ago, has also been perpetually empty since I got here.

The tenor of rhetoric in Israel

I think that it is a very positive thing that most of the intelligent rhetoric on both sides is how best to solve this problem, and haggling over details. I seem to recall the rhetoric of the 80s was so different. Often it was about one side winning. Following Hegel, it seems that both sides realized that they cannot win and are hoping for a synthesis.

Unfortunately this comes at a large and odd price. The toll was paid for on both sides. On the Arab side, I simply dismiss groups like Hamas as not intelligent. They are players in the region only to the extent that they kill people and they are used as an excuse for Israel to collectively impose their will on the whole region. The price Israel paid was to its democracy. Strong rightist rhetoric was severely stifled after the banning of strong right wing political parties from running for office. This was ostensibly done as an anti-racist measure, but more obviously as a way for the Likud to grab a larger share of power in Israel. It was almost silenced after the murder of Yitzhak Rabin. The overlooked reason for the murder is obvious if you are a member of the radical right in Israel. It was the banning of political parties. Undoubtedly the right was devoid of leadership and legitimacy under the new laws banning parties from running for Kensset. After that there was no plan for the right, nor was there any organization. Under those conditions the politically disenfranchised do what they do anywhere else in the world where they are not under an oppressive fascist state - they rise up in violent rebellion. Murder of the Prime minister certainly qualifies as violent rebellion.

In the case if Rabin's murder the assassination accomplished the short term goals, but lost the long term ones. The right came in to Power after Peres was unable to win an election, and Netanyahu came to power. On the other hand, the radical right became an object of suspicion and investigation and will never have any moral legitimacy.

However I believe that all this combined with the time necessary for some clear sober thought and a generation of Israelis who were disillusioned after the Lebanon war that changed the tenor of the debate from wiping each other out, to figuring out how this can all be worked out.

How would YOU solve the Arab-Israel conflict?

I have asked quite a number of Arabs the following question: "Let's say you are Sharon, what do you do?"

The answer is always "kill myself".

Then I ask "well, lets say you are Arafat, what do you do?"

The answer is usually a variant on "roll over and die".

Then we all smile, some of us more sincerely than others, and I say "more seriously, you are in charge of the state of Israel, what do you do?"

The answer is often "give in to the Palestinians".

Here is what you get if you ask why:

There are two arguments: In the case of a stalemate, such as the one in which the Israelis and Palestinians are stuck in the first step should be taken by Israel. In other words, where Israel needs terrorism to stop, or desires that whatever body that speaks for the people acknowledge Israel's right to be secure, and where the Palestinians need autonomy, or a cessation of settlement building, the first move should be made by Israel. Why? Well the argument is often that 1) the Palestinians are right and Israel is wrong, and 2) that Israel is stronger, therefore it can afford it.

Argument 1 is silly. Clearly both sides think that they are right.

Argument 2 is mistaken as well. First, it is not incumbent on the stronger to be nice. That is an axiom of 1960's liberal thinking, a la John Rawls. That is, that the sacrifice always has to be made by the stronger regardless of all other historical circumstances. This generally makes sense to old balding people with pony tails.

Keep in mind that Israel, like the US in the "war on terror" is employing the following reasoning. In response to all the Lefties (political, not handedness) who assert that there is a good reason why the world hates the US, namely because our foreign policies and other such excuses, the US argues that there are two ways to get the world to be nice to us. We can either be very nice to them, and sacrifice a lot of our own resources and quality of life, or we can be mean to them and sacrifice their quality of life and stuff. We would much rather do the latter. That is not to say that anyone may exploit anyone else, but say in Israel's case, where Israel can either be nice to the Palestinians and risk their own security, or be harsh and have a smaller risk to their security, what reason does Israel have to be nice?

So there is nothing for Israel to gain by being nice and making the first move toward cooperative behavior. As a matter of fact in light of any ongoing conflict it is generally irrational to make the first cooperative move, especially if you are already stronger. After all, if the other side is fighting you when you are stronger then what incentive would they have to stop if you expose yourself and offer the first cooperative move.

I would like to offer a new peace proposal which I dub "The Alternative Saudi Plan". The Saudis seem to be the dominant player in Arab politics these days. Moreover the Saudis know that they really are the strongest players in the region. Despite the fact that from a military perspective they rely on others for protection, they know that they have little to worry about. The US will protect out oil interests there. Israel knows that as well.

Why not have the Saudis take the first step? What step can the Saudis take that will both recognize the complex reality of Israel's existence and generate an immense amount of goodwill? The Saudis can unilaterally, or with the cooperation of other Arab states come out, travel to Tel Aviv and declare their unconditional acceptance of pre-1967 Israel as a sovereign state with intentions to establish an embassy as soon as there is a state of Palestine.

That would put everyone in very precarious positions. It would force Israel to confront the reality that peace is within arm's reach. There would be tremendous pressure to abandon as much of the territories as possible and really work toward a peace settlement. Even a Sharon government cannot avoid this.

It would also put the Palestinians in a very precarious position. They would be forced to either side with the Saudies or not. I suspect that they all will. That means that the next thing is that they have to prepare to take charge of a state, and have to acknowledge Israel, and have formal dealings with them.

This of course will never happen. Why? Because, of the three groups involved here, the one who would have to do something is the only one who loses from a peace deal. The Israelis would gain, the Palestinians will gain. The Saudis will loose. How do the Saudis loose from a peace deal? Simple.

It is a function of Arab politics. This is evident especially in places like Lebanon, though you can see it clearly in the politics surrounding Arafat too. In the Arab world it seems like there is an odd system of beliefs about who ought to be in power. It is not the least corrupt, or the one doing the most for the people. It is generally the one doing the best job holding the enemy at bay. This translates in today's politics - to the one fighting Israel.

Currently the Saudis are under little pressure to reform their own government. Why? Because they are fighting Israel. You have the same story in Lebanon. Government corruption is rampant. Arafat's government is merely a system for a few people to scam money from countries honestly trying to help needy refugees. In all the other Arab countries the notion of a citizen who is under the protection of a government is foreign. Rather people believe themselves to be ruled by a government. Rights are western ideas that have not trickled in to the Arab lexicon, as are the notions of freedom, liberty, private property, free market, or secularism (whose word in Arabic is usually "la dini", no religion, and has very pejorative connotations).

(The fact that all the Arab countries exploit the Palestinians like this is old, and was made famous mostly by the Palestinian cartoonist Naji al-Ali, who it seems was killed by the PLO some 20 years ago for criticizing Arafat too.)

The Saudis know that in the absence of the Zionist enemy the people's anger will be turned toward their own government. Their people will no longer be able to say "of course out government is oppressive, but at least they are fighting Israel". As George Orwell pointed out, nothing makes people believe in their own government more than an enemy that needs the government to fight it.

So the clear option for the US is to pressure the influential Arab states, like Saudi Arabia to making the tough concessions that will force Israel and the Palestinians toward a rapid settlement, and let the Saudis deal with their internal problems by starting their own subtle political reforms.

Anti-Palestinian and Palestinian

It is interesting how much of the rhetoric of the Israel-Palestine controversy, as well as the ideological warfare involved have to do with mutual legitimacy. Palestinians seek - and need Israel and the world to recognize - the legitimacy of their culture. There has been a belief circulating since Golda Meir that there are no such things as Palestinians. It is claimed that there never has been a Palestinian culture.

I believe that there has been. Look, whatever they are, everyone seems to hate them. A handful of liberals in every country like them, and Arab governments manipulate their people in to expressing solidarity with them, but no one claims that they like them. (The nature of the region is that no one really likes anyone.) Ergo, whatever it is that no one likes, is what makes the Palestinian culture unique. This should sound familiar to those who read J. P. Sartre's Anti-Semite and Jew.

Israel also needs the recognition of the world, especially its neighbors to recognize their right to be there. For some reason this sort of stuff really turns Israel on.

How Bush got his job

I wonder what percentage of the world has so little a concept of how the nature of western (American) democracy works that they believe that George W. Bush overthrew Bill Clinton as revenge for Bill Clinton overthrowing George Bush Sr.

Monday, July 22, 2002

Israel bus ride

I took a bus back and forth from Tel Aviv today. I must admit that I was a touch apprehensive. "C", a woman who was like a mother to me when I spend the year doing research here a few years back warned me when I saw her on Sunday not to Go to the center of town or use public transportation.

Naturally I ignored this advice, but promised to be careful. I was. I kept my eyes peeled for anything suspicious. I did breath a sigh of relief each time I got off safely.

I heard a few minutes ago that Israel launched an airstrike that killed the head of the military wing of Hamas together with his family. I suspect that there is a bumpy road ahead.

Review of Annamarie Schimmel's book Islam: An Introduction

I finished reading Annamarie Schimmel's book Islam: An Introduction. It was OK. It read a little dull and the author was understandably sympathatic with certain tendencies within Islam, but it was a worthwhile read anyway. The book is short, that is an advantage. It makes you able to read it. Unfortunately it leaves no room for a quality narrative that allows you to put all the information in to some context. There is information on a whole host of topics, but little synthesis with other world events or how the events (polotical, social, economic, mysitcal, etc) relate to each other. It seems like each chapter would serve as a useful springboard for the investigation of any particular topic about Islam tha might interest you. It also seems like a good course text that would allow a teacher to use each chapter as a basis for a lecture in to that partictular aspect on Islam. Overall I would recommend the book, though I would not go in expecting a "good read", but rather a bunch of facts that make for a good starting point.

Hangin in Tel Aviv

Today I went to Tel Aviv. I hung out with an ond friend, "Y", and a new friend "T". "T" and I have friends in common (oddly enough I just saw them both in Beirut last week) and we just discussed what we hope will be a good interaction between our respective collegues.

I also hung out with "A-" yesterday and we went together to take care of stuff in Tel Aviv.

How a moist towelette almost landed me in jail

"A-" was just reading this and just reminded me that I never followed up on the moist towellete story that happened right after I landed in Beirut. So here goes. This is a bizzarre tale that really is true, I just did not have time to write it up in Beirut.

So, I have my carry on bags with me as I am heading to passport control in Beirut. I had this large sand-colored shoulder bag, and my black laptop case, with a side-pocket where I carried my passport and tickets. It was the most accessable pocket I had.

Now remember that I was quite careful to not have anything in Hebrew, Israeli, or Jewish in any of my bags, on my person. . . I left some stuff in Heidelberg because they were books that dealt with the Holocaust, just because I did not want to have them with me on the off chance that my bags would be searched on my way in to Lebanon. (They were not.)

I get to the passport control window and a rather bored and tired looking Lebanese soldier looks at me and asked me for my passport. That was expected. So I reach in to the side pocket of my computer bag to get my passport and while pulling it out, two of those little moist towelettes just seem to fly out of the bag with my passport. It was weird. One of them fell on the floor right next to my feet, and the second landed on the counter of the passport control window. Now it would really not have been any big deal, and I never noticed that they were there before.

It turns out that these little moist towlettes were ones I just had in my bag from my trip to Israel last summer. Thay were in little blue packages that had the El Al logo (El Al is the official airlines of the Israel) and an Israeli flag.

Anyway, I quicky snatch the towlette that is on the counter, and almost had a heart attack when I realized what had happened, and I stepped on the one on the floor and then picked it up. As it turns out the guy saw what had happened, but he must have not noticed what it was, and I went in to the baggage claim area where, as you might have read, only one of my bags came. Once in there, I crumpled the towlettes inside a bunch of train tickets that were still in my pocket from Germany and stuck the whole mess in to a garbage can near the conveyor belt.

That was genuinely one of the scariest two seconds of my life.

Saturday, July 20, 2002

Review of Hoffman's In February you should buy Elephants

I just read a children's book In February you should buy Elephants (K'dai Le'cha L'knot Pilim BeFebruar) by Yoel Hoffman. It is in Hebrew, and quite cute. For a children's book it is fairly subversive. It is a book full of things that "teachers don't tell you".

A fair sampling of things that teachers don't tell you is:

That principals eat human bones

That in February you should buy elephants

That you can marry a tree

That witches read the Bible backward

That it is OK to marry the first girl you meet

That mountains once had wings

The sun you see is not the real sun

That if you embrace an ugly girl she turns in to a beautiful one

The pictures are really weird too. I recommend that you get this for any Israeli 6 year old. I would post the whole book in translation (I actually sat down and did it) but I suspect that there are copyright issues. It is worth an English translation (or adaptation), is someone wants to take it, though I an not sure American audiences are up for it.

Is internet dating related to the security issue?

I walked around Jerusalem tonight. It is a bit depressing. So
few people were out, as compared to any other Saturday night of any previous trip of mine to the country - and I have been here many times. Every cafe, restaurant, and bar seems to have a very prominent security guard, most actually search you
before you enter. This goes way beyond the standard b'dikat HaTik that Israelis always expect. There is nothing carefree about going out in Jerusalem. Tel Aviv though is much better.

I am not sure if this has anything to do with it, but I hear that dating over the internet is quite well accepted here. Many many people meet and go out over the interenet, and this often leads to quite successful relationships. This seems like a much safer enviornment to many people then to be out meeting people in very big public places. I'll have to think about whether these are related. Any thoughts from the audience?

Too many holidays?

I was talking to a Jordanian on Thursday and I happened to mentioned that it is Tisha B'av, a Jewish fast day. He wondered how we get anything done with the amount of holidays that there are. It didn't dawn on me how right he was until I realized that Thursday was Tisha B'av, Saturday was Shabbos Nachamu, Wednesday is Hag Ha'Ahavah and we have things like this all year round. Now most of this does not interfere with the work week, but we do have a lot of these calendar days. I wonder if the greeting card companies do well here. Anyone know if there is a Jewish equivalent to Secretary's Day?

Friday, July 19, 2002

Walk in Jerusalem

"Z"'s family kept me entertained for dinner. They fed me too. I hope that "Z" doesn't mind that I used her family without her. She is away in Paris right now.

I am not sure what one does on Friday night or Saturday in Jerusalem. Maybe I'll take a walk.

Shabbat Shalom from Jerusalem

I got to Israel just fine. I am in "Z"'s house now. Her parents invited me to dinner at their house, and I think I will take them up on it. They are an interesting family. I have phone calls to make now.

Shabbat Shalom from Jerusalem.

Border crossing

So I am on this bus going from Amman to Israel, and as I hit the first Israeli checkpoint an Israeli soldier gets on the bus, and stares at the 9 Arabs for a moment, then points to me and calls me off the bus. That began a long ordeal where I was asked the standard questions about packing my bags myself, and if anyone gave me presents to take, and if I had been watching the bags the whole time . . . Keep in mind this is after I left the bus and was on my way in to a taxi to Jerusalem. It is not like I was getting on a bus, or a plane or anything. I had just gotten off.

My bags (only MY bags) were picked apart. Mostly they found my dirty laundry from Lebanon, my laptop which they all but disassembled and ran through the X-ray machine no less than 8 times, and my books, which they sorted, and from the amount of time they spent staring at them, I thought they planned on reading them. One guard asked me to explain to him what the philosophy of mathematics was. I cannot imagine what he was thinking.

Then there was this conversation really loud about 5 feet away from me between a security guard and what looked like his boss, that established that I knew Hebrew, I learned it here in Israel, and I had been to Lebanon.

Then this cute female guard came over to me and asked if I can think of any sentence or quote about love. Next week is the Jewish version of Valentine's day, and she was collecting sentences about it. Sadly I had little to contribute.

Then I was in a cab driven by a really friendly guy named "J" who explained to me that he was an Aramaic Turk whose father was expelled from Turkey after the Armenian massacres. I am not sure I fully understood everything he said.

Duty-Free hop on the Sheikh Heussain bridge

There is a duty free shop right near the bridge connecting Jordan and Israel. You can just go in, in the sort of no-man's land and buy stuff duty free in middle of the desert.

All duty free shops are the same. There are cigarettes, liquer, and junk that you really don't need. You can never find anything useful in them. I spend much time browsing duty free shops, never finding anything interesting or anything different from any other duty free shop.

Brief stay in Jordan

Getting in to Jordan was a real change. The people in the airport smiled, and were friendly. When I mumbled the 4 words of Arabic that I know they looked like they were happy I made the effort. My "shukran"s (thank yous) got answered with enthusiastic "afwan"s (your welcomes). None of that happened in Lebanon. They my be just very unused to western tourists there.

We had a late dinner at what I was told was the best pizza place in Amman. My only Jordanian meal (except for the Kit Kat I had for breakfast Friday morning) was pizza. I have to come back to Jordan some time.

We went to a supermarket in Amman, and I was pleased to discover that here one can purchase Coca-Cola in no less than six different sizes.

Last day in Beirut

My last day in Beirut was fairly uneventful. I woke up and checked out of my hotel. While the guy at the counter was wasting my time making sure that I didn't owe them anything, I reminded them that they actually owed me LL5000 (US 3) from when they didn't have change when I arrived. Indicating that I was not too concerned about it seemed to make the whole process go faster.

I dropped off my bags at "R"'s house and went to the artisian shop and bought a gift or two. Nothing big, but something that I thought a friend in Israel would appreciate. Then I went to have lunch at Universal Cafe, and had an authentic Lebanese falafel. It pretty much tasted like any other falafel. They were nice enough to hold the tomatoes. The real difference between a Lebanese falafel and other fulfills is that a Lebanese falafel is wrapped in a Lebanese pita. Those are basically just round and flat.

While I am on the subject, in Lebanon they have this food - Ka'ak. It is like a regular pita, but with a handle. Usually they fill
it with some type of cheese spread and zatar.

Next, I picked up my bags and took a cab to the airport. I have to admit that I was quite relieved to be leaving Lebanon. The airport was not a friendly place, and like all over Lebanon, people looked at me in a very nasty manner.

The flight was a bit late, but took under an hour. I got my vegetarian meal, which I really could not eat because there were tomatoes in it.

I landed in Jordan where I met "A" and "L", "B"'s sister. "B" joined us a bit later, as she drove. Driving from Lebanon to
Jordan is much cheaper, US 25, vs US 190. The down side is 1) you have to drive for five hours, and 2) you have to go through Syria. When I originally planned this trip I was paranoid enough about going through Lebanon, and Syria looked pretty out of the question. So I flew. She drove. Somehow "A", "L", and "A"'s sister and I all kept talking politics. No matter what happened the conversation always turned political. At some point I spent an hour unsuccessfully trying to convince them that people actually can covert to Judaism. I thought that was a well known fact.

Apparently the belief here is that Jews think of themselves as racially unique, and that is why they need a state. This is the nature-preserve argument. It is basically that Jews need a habitat free of predators in order for this rare species to survive. (This may not be that weird in the form I just put it.) I am not sure how the argument is supposed to unfold, but the consequences are that Palestinians cannot convert to Judaism to visit their families. Of course the conversion model that these people have in mind is the way one converts to Christianity, by just believing, or Islam, by reciting a verse thrice before two Muslim male witnesses. Of course, Judaism does not have it that simple. (If this belief were true then it seems possible that Zionism might be a form of racism, though, even then. . .Of course, if this were true, anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism. (This is not my idea.))

To be honest I have no idea whether or not many Palestinians have tried to convert lately, or ever. The big problem is finding some rabbi who is willing to sign off on your conversion.

Another thing I keep noticing, is (and I am sure I have mentioned this before) how unashamed any Arab is to blame Ariel Sharon for the Massacres in Sabra and Shatilla. If that is the least ambiguous wrong that Israel has ever committed, then Israel has a lot to be proud of. Yes, there was some leftist Israeli commission that found him at fault. But the fact still remains, the Phalangists and the Muslims were involved in the war in Lebanon for about seven years before they got there. The civil war was fought over whether Lebanon would become a Muslim state and staging ground for the PLO to wipe out Israel, or whether the Christians would maintain control and not allow the PLO to do in Lebanon what Jordan massacred them for trying to do in Jordan. (Remember Black September?) There were dozens of similar massacres both before and after just like this one. So Israel armed the side that promised that if it won would sign a peace treaty. Of course that side were no less civil than the other side, and took it upon themselves to use the time that Israel had bought for them to massacre some 340 Muslims. Ergo it is Sharon's fault. Somehow the fact that this was done to Arabs and by Arabs in the context of an Arab (Lebanese) civil war is lost on everyone. The only thing that is ever relevant is that Sharon was somehow at fault. Of course anyone will tell you that they hate the Phlangists, but you really have to ask. Venom
against Sharon pours freely. The fact that Arabs have been having internal problems for thousands of years is swept under the rug.

Moreover, in these sorts of discussions, it is always about being right, and having justice served, and appropriate apologies, and all that. It is never about solving the problems. It is always academic. Arabs often seem to think, or at least speak, as if they convince you that their exegesis of the Geneva convention is correct then Israelis will collectively throw themselves in to the sea or something. If we try to solve the problem it will involve painful concessions that the Arab world will have to make. Those are inevitably unacceptable. So the emphasis remains on being right.

One day people will come to realize that to the extent that there is right and wrong in the universe everything is the way it is because of a whole series of wrongs that were perpetrated by most of ancestors (mine less than most, but still.) Few people in the world can claim that they are on land that is completely the product of legitimate transactions from Adam and Eve to them. There is no such chain, anywhere. Few people belong to the religion they belong to because their ancestors believe that there was some truth there. Few people are in a social class that they completely earned. We are all where we are because we are there. The goal is not to find the point in history where your ancestors were screwed and pick the most convenient existing target and try to extract revenge. The goal is to try to solve wherever problems there are now and see to it that there is justice, fairness and happiness. We do not do this by being right, or by denying others what they have.

Thursday, July 18, 2002

In Jordan

I am now in Jordan. It is a whole different kind of place. Unfortunately I can only be here for a few hours. I will write more from Israel soon.

Hope you had an easy fast.

drinking from the public jug

The Lebanese have this way of drinking that is quite distinctive. When you are in a restaurant there is a jug of water on the table. In most places it is a jug not different from one you see in any museum, or you see in fragments in an archeology site - made of plain reddish-brown clay. The more modern places have glass jugs with the name of the place on it. The Lebanese just drink from these jugs. Everyone at the table just passes around this jug and just drinks. They all drink such that the jug never touches their lips, and the water just pours out of the jugs in to their mouths. It is funny looking around a restaraunt and watching everyone doing this. It is like watching men women and children pass around a quart-carton of milk and drink from it, something Americans would never do in public.


Today we took public transportation to Tripoli. (Yes, there is a Tripoli in Lebanon, and another in Libya.)

On the way there these two girls from Beirut Arab University, one of them in a muslim veil, started talking to me and - I swear - they were flirting. They were very forward. We exchanged life stories, jokes, emails and MSN names. . . The unveiled one invited us to the beach with her, the other had to study. It was wonderful. They were really friendly. It was cool.

Then we arrived in Tripoli. It is a very conservative city. It had this feel of what the seedy sections of Damascus must feel like. We walked through the streets for a bit, and we kept asking directions. Some people were really friendly, and others really weren't. It was kind of odd.

We found this restaurant called "Hallab". They made really good lahamajud, and an excellent kenefe. They also had some good sweet pastries. I recommend it if you ever find yourself in tripoli.

We went in to what must have been the central market, and if I would have closed my eyes and been instantly transported to the old city of Jerusalem, in the shouk of the Christian or Armenian quarters I would not have noticed the difference. Down to the smells of those sesame seed and honey cakes wrapped in plastic, it looked like the same market. The only discernable difference is that there is almost nothing designed for tourists there. All of the market in Tripoli seems like it is made for locals, just like it always has been. In tripoli there are few tourists. In Jerusalem this sort of market still exists, but it is more in the innards of the old city, not in the tourist places. Jerusalemites, even the old city muslims and christians do much of their shopping in the new city, in the supermarkets. The tourist stuff is all for show. It was no show in Tripoli, it was all authentic.

We went on a boat ride on the shores of Tripoli. (If only I can find the halls of Mantezuma too.) It was nice. A few boat drivers tried to sell us these tours of the high seas at exhorbatant sums. Then we found this guy who gave us the standard tour of the tiny Islands for a fairly standard price. It was the captain and gilligan and me and "B". One guy was just giving orders and then glaring at him. Obviously his protoge'. On our way back our boat stalledright near this outcropping of rock with an army post on it. The captain was unable to restart the engine and called to the army guy that he is stuck, and he'll be moving on as soon as he can. The army guy just glared and told him to shut the hell up. It was all very rude. Then we got towed by these other lebanese guys who were making fun of us, saying things like "Oh, you have an American aboard and everything breaks." I somehow coun't resist thinking that the guy talking is from Lebanon - where nothing in the past 2000 years has worked. But I didn't know enough arabic to emit a snappy reply.

Anyway, we eventually made it ashore, and wanted to head out of the city. We crossed the road, and bought a tiny cup of really sweet arab coffee for about 20 cents. It was well worth it. The coffee guy was pretty nice.

We then went to Jbdil (Byblos). There after some confusion about where we were supposed to be we found it, and it it was quite tranquil, especially as comparted to the annoying city of Tripoli. We wandered around until sunset and headed back to Beirut.

The ride home was odd. No one we could find went to where we had to go. So we ended up taking about four buses and three taxis all a little bit of the way, and many of them didn't really charge us. But we finally made it back to Hamra where I was staying.

Wednesday, July 17, 2002

Why the Palestinians are reated horribly by Arabs

I think I have a handle on why everyone treats the Palestinians like crap in the Arab world. Apparently the problem with the Palestinians is Israel's fault. The worse they are treated the worse Israel looks, and it is more of a sign that Israel is the bad guy. From Lebanon's perspective, they hate them anyway (they were the main cause of the civil war here), and of course have no desire to make them more comfortable.

Tourist stuff all over Lebanon

Yesterday I started my day boldly venturing out of my hotel alone without waiting for "B" to pick me up. I was determined to find a Coca-Cola and some rolls all by myself. The first three days I was apprehensive about going out alone, and "B" always managed to wake up while I was still asleep. But today I woke up really early and started to walk around Hamra, the neighborhood in which I was staying. Somehow I got lost and made it back to my hotel over 2 hours later. But I did get a 2.25 litre bottle of Coke, despite the predominance of Pepsi, and the general anti-Coke sentiment (boycott) in that part of the world. I managed to communicate with the woman in the grocery too. I managed to meet "B" a little after she had left my hotel wondering where I was.

I went with "B" and "A" on a trip around almost all of Lebanon. We started going south. We did not get to the border, but we managed to get some ways toward it. "A" was a great guide.

We saw Lebanon's version of stalagmite caves in Kfarhim. They were nice, though once too often the guide pointed out that there was a resemblance between some rock formation and some actual object like a lion or a mother and child. The brochure for the grotto of course claimed that "La Grotte de Kfarhim incarne la majeste de dieu." -- and they seem to take this quite seriously.

We went to some castle on the coast in Saida (Sidon) (also home to the Ein El-Hilweh refugee camp, a favorite terrorist hideaway, especially recently) in which had a nice view of the river which smelled pretty bad. Nearby we saw an exhibition of Saudi women painters. I have to admit that some of the stuff was pretty daring for Saudi women, though some was cheezy, and most of it was derivative. (But keep in mind that "daring" is a very relative term.) In Saida we also had some Arabic ice cream. It was pretty good. The texture is a bit different and so is the taste. I forget the name of the flavor I had.

We went to a castle in Beit Eddin (in Chouf), "Musa's Castle" which according to legend was build solely by Musa as a gesture of triumph to a teacher who once beat him; it is a wax museum. It seems to be a sort of shrine to himself and his collection of guns. But there are some great wax stuff that depict daily life in old Lebanon, or something like that.

An old Arab woman fortune teller who hung out near the castle and used sea-shells to read my future told me the following: I had a painful life full of misery. I had a great loss with lots of misery, but now I do not regret it. I am not wealthy, but I spend money freely. I will live a long life. I will have 2 sons and a doughter. I have good news coming from home soon. I will marry a foreign woman, and have a happy and successful life. I will enter in to a successful partnership soon. I will also move to a new house.

Are Jews the only ones scared of terrorists?

So a whole buch of people here know I am Jewish. "B" told me that she had mentioned it to a few people (and the Lebanese loooove to gossip). One person, "R", who is mentioned in an earlier post, I heard figured it out, or at least guess that it must be the case that I am Jewish. How, I wondered. The answer, and I am not making this up, is because I seemed to look worried while we were driving through Hezbollah territory. (The tribble episode of Star Trek comes to mind, where the agent was found to be Klingon because of the Tribble's natural aversion to Klingons. ) I assume that most American tourists calmly accept the fact that they are driving through a genuine terrorist stronghold with more grace.

Monday, July 15, 2002

Chatilla Cafe

I went to Chatilla yesterday. It is (besides being a refugee camp) the name of cafe off the beach in Beirut. We got to watch the sunset over the water, and also the solidier standing around dumbly guarding the sea. I went downtown with "B" "D" and "R". We ate in a resaraunt there and also got to see some German motorcycle show.

Review of Hanan al-Sheik's Women of sand and Myrrh

I finished Hanan al-Sheik's Women of sand and Myrrh yesterday. It was an OK read. I was not that impressed by the whole book. It is the story of 4 women, Nur, Suzanne, Tamr, and Suha. They are all spoiled women who have a strong connection with the west, lots of money, but end up living in an unnamed Arab desert country with little freedom, and husbands who have little respect for them. There is a lot of talk of yearning for companionship (even with each other) and unsatisfied needs. A lot of what went on in the book looked like it was geared to showing that women need a kind of freedom that they simply do not get under oppressive Arab (Muslim) regimes, and without it they will lead unsatisfying and self-destructive lives that leave them empty in the end. The writing is mediocre, and the translation (or perhaps the writing
itself) seems a bit stilted. The dialogue is not smooth in the English.

For once I kept my mouth shut

I met this other guy in a bar last night who I was talking to. Apparently he works for Lockheed-Martin in the States. I really wanted to ask if it bothered him that he is responsible for a lot of the stuff that goes in to making fighter aircraft that goes to the US Navy, Air Force, and to the Pentagon, who then often sell them to Israel. But we were all starting to drink, and I thought "why brother ruining good booze with politics".

The Locals

I have been walking up to people I meet and saying to them: ``I'm in Beirut.". Usually they just look at me and tell me that they
are too. They seem not to get the fact that for me it is a much more interesting proposition. I do not really explain because
they might reply that they are from Hezbollah or something, and that would not be pretty.

Actually when you talk to some of the people who are from here, even those who live in western countries, you realize that they are quite mired in these bizarre myths that are told to them in childhood. Now I am not really talking about matters of right and wrong, or your perception of facts vs mine, not like a questions of history or debatable stuff, but rather over things that thousands of people experience daily.

Last night I was having a conversation with "G". He lives and works in England, so he has met people who are not local to Beirut. The question came up over what Hezbollah does to people who are caught taking pictures in Hezbollah controlled sections of Beirut. He told me it was a simple matter of you get taken an interrogated to make sure you are not a spy or something. "It is just like going to Israel," he insisted, "Where everyone has to show up for a four hour interview before entering or leaving". Now I wasn't going to explain that the only people who got these special 4 hour interviews were people who were card-carrying members of Hezbollah, and no one else. But I thought that it is not prudent to explain that I have been in and out of Israel about 10 times in the last 10 years, and I never went through one of these "interviews". Moreover I wonder how being taken in to a dark basement while people sit with kalashnikovs and a seething hatred for westerners, and more-or-less no accountability to
anyone is the same sort of thing as a group of people who have amnesty international breathing down their necks.

I really thought of mentioning that I was Jewish and taken my chances. I thought that it might generate some good discussion here in Beirut among the people I spoke with. I thought that people might be more free with their feelings. They might have a good question, or something worth discussing. I thought that I might learn more about the people here if I did that. I know that for the most part I am dealing with educated people, and that might be worth something. But I decided not too. Maybe I got cold feet, maybe I am just scared, and maybe I thought that it might hurt "B". Her friends have been very generous and friendly. So has she. She is spending a whole week showing me around. I thought that it best not to offend anyone.

Found Luggage

You will all be pleased to note that I got my luggage back from the airport. It only involved filling out about half a dozen forms. and wasting my morning. The airport was empty when I got there. I guess no one comes in to Lebanon on Sundays. I had of course to go through customs and other official checks, though I was clearly the only person there, except for the handful of other people picking up their luggage that the Beirut airport had managed to find.

Demonstration in Beirut

There were many soldiers out last night. There was some sort of
demonstration involving a new law about mini-buses on the streets.
Though I am getting used to it, Arabs with weapons still make me

Beirut nightlife

We went out to the clubs and bars last night. We drank, and saw
the nightlife. The nightlife here is pretty cool.
Lebanon had yet to discover driving laws. Someone ought to teach
them this secret. "R" was a bit of a crazy driver, though a
highly effective one.
Here in Beirut, the atmosphere is very much like Tel Aviv.
Unfortunately so is the weather. I seem to be unable to resist
comparisons between Israel and Lebanon. Add some Hebrew, some
Jews, and you would not be able to differentiate between the two
cities. I assure you that the exaggeration is only slight. The attitudes toward life even seem similar, and so it
the food. (Like in Israel I canot get enough of the zatun
(olives).) Here though the locals do seem quite bitter. The word "Jew" or "Israel" is taboo and
something worthy of hate, you really can't mention them, even as a
passing reference. For instance you would get a dirty look if you
asked `do you get Israeli Television here?'. (They do not, though
you would think that they would because it is so close.) Whereas
in Israel talk of Arabs is not worthy of a second thought, unlike
say, talk of the Nazis, which is still a word that will get you
dirty looks. I don't dare mention that I have ever been to Israel,
let alone lived there for three years (or even that I am Jewish).

All over the streets here there is anti-Israel symbolism.
Murals of kalashnikovs erupting through the earth smashing through the Star of David, or the many posters showing a fist doing the same.

Last night at 2:30 AM a guy "B" kind of knew (she really knew his
brother) named "R" took me and her on a tour of the southern
part (suburb?) of Beirut called Daha. We met him in a bar, while
drinking last night. Daha is mostly controlled by two Shiite
groups. The older one Amal, and the more recent and more famous,
Hezbollah. You can see the flags of the two parties all over as
well as the pictures of the leaders. We also passed Sabra and
Shatilla, the refugee camps where there were a few massacres, one
of them quite famous. The famous one was committed by the
Phalangists, who are Lebanese Christians. They murdered about 340
people in the mid-80s toward the end of the Israeli invasion of

A bit of history: Lebanon was involved in a bloody and barbaric
10 year civil war. Toward the end of it, Israel thought it could
take advantage and support one side. It hoped that in exchange
for support Lebanon would sign a peace treaty with Israel, and
that would be the end of the border conflicts on Israel's north
and Lebanon's south. However the side Israel supported did not
win, and was not able to maintain power for more than a few weeks.
So Israel got little out of the whole thing, so they settled for
occupying a strip about a mile wide in the south of Lebanon as a
buffer zone.

Anyway the side Israel supported, the Phalangist Christians was,
like everyone else, thinking that it was still fighting the civil war. So they did what everyone else had been doing during the civil war,
and killed people. But since the Phalangists were affiliated with
Israel, the blame went squarely on General (now Prime Minister)
Sharon's shoulders. Allegedly he knew or should have known that
this might happen and done more to restrain the Phalangists. He
did not, so he is blamed.

The people of Sabra and Shitilla are treated like crap by Lebanon.
Even though the camps are less than a mile south of Beirut, the
people are not allowed much. They are not allowed to work in
Lebanon, and the Lebanese soldiers treat them like garbage. They
are constantly hassled and arrested and other things. (We saw an
arrest right at the gate of Shatilla last night.)

Despite all the Arab rhetoric about the poor (haram) Palestinieans the
people in the camps get about USD 40 a month to live on. Lebanon once
needed to dig up more Christians so that their parliment can vote
in the mandatory 60 percent Christians, so they gave the few
Lebanese Christians Lebanese passports. Otherwise they are
paraias in Lebanon and the rest of the Arab world. Their sole
function seems to be to exist in abject poverty for the benefit
of the anti-Israel propaganda machines in the Arab world. Without
them there would be little reason to hate Israel as much, and the
Arabs might start looking at the real sources of their problems,
ie, their own government. Then their own governments would then have
to give them things like freedom and stuff.

So the palestinieans get screwed for the sake of keeping the rest of the Arab world screwed. Somehow every Arab I have ever meet knows this, and articulated it to me clearly, and still blames Israel for most of the problems in the middle east, especially the Palestiniean one.

Sunday, July 14, 2002

Day 2 in Beirut. All is well. I will write more when I get all the kinks worked out.

Saturday, July 13, 2002

I went straight from airport to hotel check in to party with lots of alcohol. We drank a lot. Apparently that is a rather common occurrence around here. One really must watch what they say here. I feel like I am checking my mouth at every sentence, and when I drank, it was harder.

B has been very helpful so far with everything.
Beirut is hot.
I saw the Jewish cemetary in Beirut. Mostly people who died in the 40s-80s. A little kid who was about 4 showed us a grave where someone was buried yesterday (all in echange for an Alf (~US 0.60). We were a day late for the funeral, but you can see the fresh still wet cement.
So I am now in Beirut. I arrived alive and well. It was kind of obvious from the time I was transfering in cyprus, that was not headed to a first world country, but I made it. One piece of luggage did not, but I heard they found it, and I now neeed to figure out a way to retrieve it.

There was almost an incident over a moist towelette, but I will describe that later.

Beirut can be Tel Aviv or a run down part of Jerusalem if you just put up a few Hebrew signs. There is something so similar about the look.

Thursday, July 11, 2002

I had a wonderful day at a medieval philosophy and religion conference today in Frankfurt. Nice campus, rather ugly building, with a rather cool tree on the lawn. If I had more time I would describe it.
Here in Heidelberg you can go in to a bakery (or at least 2 bakeries that I have seen) and order an ''Amerikaner''.

Now you all know what a black and white is? It is that rather large cookie half of which is covered with white cream and the other half with black cream. It is the epitome of American multiculturalism.

Apparently an Amerikaner is one of those things, only it is all white, not served in America, and doesn't taste nearly as good.

Wednesday, July 10, 2002

Yesterday I met ''E'' in Heidelberg. She lives in Budapest, but came here for a conference. I will likely see her again tonight with I and S. It was sheer luck that she is here. We did coffee, and had some Turkish food (lahamajud?). It was really good. I wandered around a lot. I got lost a bit, but fortunately Heidelberg is not so big, so it is easy to find stuff. the people are generally also quick to help a lost foreigner.

Today it is raining in Heidelberg, so I am not sure what I will be doing.

My university-supplied email has now been down for about 24 hours. I cannot get in touch with anyone. About a month ago the same thing happened, and the problem was not reslved for 3 days and they simply lost all the email. They ought to fire whoever is responsible for the email in the City University of New York. He is an incompetent person, and would not last 2 minutes in a company where he was accountable to someone. Unfortunately, it is as simple as having power. If there is no one you have to answer to to keep your job, then there is little incentive to do the job well, and he does not. I wonder if the president of the university uses email.
Yesterday I finished reading R. J. Rummel's Death by Government. The book is eye-opening as hell, boring as shit, fucking scary, and a damned good survey of twhat the author calls ''democide'', or government sponsered murder. Rummel analyzes all the mega-murderers of this century (1900-1987) including Mao, Stalin, Chiang Kai-shek, Hitler, Pol Pot, Tito, the Japanese in the Phillipenes, Turkey's genocidal purges of the Armenians, the Vietnamese and Korean communist regimes, Poland's anti-German purges, Pakistan's genocide in East Pakistan. . .

The main thesis that Rummel argues or is that Powre kills. Concentrade power in the hands of a few (such as you have under communism) and you inevitably get a murderous regime. This is not an apriori fact, rather an empirical finding. Rummel documents all this meticulously.

One shortcoming of the book however is the analysis it offers of the mechanism of how power kills. After all it is the main thesis and it would be nice to see the hows and whys too. Each chapter dedicates about a paragraph to it, and this is worth more time. It would make for a more interesting and valuable book. As it stands, the analysis is simplistic. (Though I do see why Rummel might want to avoid that and just stick to the acts.)

A personal note I want to add is that I am pleased to have not seen anyone who could posibly be an ancestor of mine mentioned in the book (at least not ont he bad list). I have no idea how people live knowing that their genetic heritage accommodates various genocides, and mass murders. Maybe that is why liberals tend to not believe in genetics playing any role in how we are, because their genes are full of violent and crazy tendencies, and they would never want to believe that they might be the way deep down.

Monday, July 08, 2002

''I'' rides a bicycle a lot. so do many many people here in Heidelberg. So I got one too. We borrowed it from ''H''. He has tons of stuff lying around, including a bike or two. My butt really hurts, though. It has been at least 10 years since I last rode one, and I barely remember how. It took me a few minutes to get back in to it. I hope the butt thing goes away soon though.
So today I am in the Judishe Hochschule in Heidelberg. I have been here before, and I got to meet some of the people again. I and S attend courses here.

Heidelberg is a very plesant city. There is little to do, but it is plesant. The people in Germans seem quite sterile. They are, for the most part, boring and robotic. (My friends excepted, of course.) So far the people in Frankfurt seem to be the worst. Everyone is plesant and will answer your questions well, but that's it. There seems to be little life. I am not sure I have put my finger on the real problem yet, but I am sure I see that there is a problem. I wonder what Germans who come to New York think of us. Do they think there is too much life there? It has been the worst in Frankfurt. They seem to be complete robots. Heidelberg is a bit better. I'll let you all kow about Berlin.

(I hate these European keyboards. the Y and the Z kezs are reversed ;) so are a lot of other things)

Maybe Germans are just too polite and reserved and restrained to be any fun. Who knows.

Sunday, July 07, 2002

Yesterday I went to the Heidelberg Synagogue. Average age there was about 70, and the only language anyone spoke was Russian. I had dinner with the rabbi of the synagogue. It was quite nice.

I went with H and I out for coffee and beer at night. Lots of fun. H always is.

Today I and R and myself went to the Schloß. That is the only real tourist thing here in Heidelberg. So we did it.

Friday, July 05, 2002

New York was beautiful taking off. I was able to see hundreds of tiny fireworks displas all over the city, and of course over the east river. To bad it was so short.

Air Iceland had in-flight excersiyes during the flight. At some point I went to the bathroom, and discovered an old lady fast asleep in my seat.

I have been in Heidelberg for all of five minutes, and I can already see how different the people here are. It is amazing how different Heidelbergers are from Frankfurters. I will explain soon.

Thursday, July 04, 2002

I am now in JFK airport. All is well. My flight is on time. No worries. No traffic. I got here like an idiot over 2 1/2 hours before take-off. Ticketing and check in took 10 minutes. Hung out with "L" and "S".

British Airways has complimentry internet access in the airport for laptops. You just plug in and it works. Bless them. My flight has just started boarding, and I think I will get going in a minute.

The airplane stuff in LA has not had any impact on us here.

I have to switch flights in Reykjavik. I requested a seat next to a supermodel, but they gave me an aisle and no promises about my neighbor. It should work out fine. I'll let you know how it went.
Shit. I leave for the airport in 2 hours, and I am now hearing reports of a shooting at LAX at the El Al terminal.
Happy fourth everyone.
For as long as it mattered to me, I always had these fantasies that - come summer, I wanted to be in love, or at least have a real crush on someone who was there and around. It never really happened, but it was always really important for some reason. But I have had my share of summer flings. In the summer of '91 it was "K", 92, it was "L", 93 it was "A", 94 was "J". . ., in the summer of '01 was "Z". But the summer of '02 looks fairly unpromising. That so sucks. So I will be around Germany mostly. I'll be in Berlin all of August and I suspect that the summer of '02 will be depressing.

There will be people, but I really won't be anywhere for too long to be with anyone for too long.

Oh well, at least I have my health, right?

Wednesday, July 03, 2002

OK, so I leave tomorrow. Yes, on the 4th of July. Yes, I really do still love this country, and I am wearing my boxer shorts with the little American flags on it.

I am taking advantage of the low demand due to the holiday and terrorism warnings, so I can get a flight, and cheaply. I think it is particularly important for Americans to be defiant in the face of these "threats" and warnings. We are Americans, and we didn't come this far to cower and hide in our rooms at every rumor of a threat.

Supply and demand - a most American enterprise - dictated the time of my flight. American can-do spirit, dictated the motive.

I seem to have most everything worked out. I arrive in Frankfurt and "I" will pick me up. We get my tickets from my German travel agent, and drive off to Heidelberg, where I remain somewhere for about 10 days, where "E" might visit. I am not sure where I will be staying, but I hear it is being taken care of. Then off to Beirut. about 6 days there, where I stay in some hotel with an Arabic name in the Hamra District.

"B", a friend in Beirut, is starting to worry me. The picture she is painting of Beirut is not as rosy as the one she has been painting till now. I think I might be confusing her personal life with her descriptions of the city. Mind you that everything I know about Beirut comes from the movie "Delta Force" with Chuck Norris, "Spy Games" with Brad Pitt and Robert Redford, and a bunch of books I read about wars in Lebanon, and some Lebanese people I know. And of course "B". So, knowing what I know, I naturally think that Beirut is a scary place to be. So naturally I am scared. I just don't know what to expect. I really need to be reassured.

Then I fly off to Jordan, and stay there overnight, and take the bus across the Allenby bridge, and hope to end up in Jerusalem before the Sabbath there. I am glad I am not superstitious. If I was I would realize that my stay in Beirut coincides almost exactly with the 9 days.

Then it is 10 days in Jerusalem where I meet some friends and academics, and return to Berlin for a month to hunker down and write my dissertation.
I just want to take a moment to say "thanks" to the women of New York who have been so supportive of my new look (and some of the men and children too).

Monday, July 01, 2002

So for those of you who want a travel update, I now have all my tickets arranged, and "I" will be picking me up from the airport in Frankfurt when I get there. Then he will drive me to Heidelberg, where I will spend a good 10 days or so, mostly courtesy of "H". "H" is the nicest guy, though he scared the hell out of me when I was in Heidelberg last summer. He is like huge, and I first encountered him shouuting is the angriest possible tone at me and "I" when we were walking down the street on a tour of the ritzy section of Heidelberg. "I" immediately recognized him and cracked up, but I did not and it took me a minute to realize that he was speaking German (which I barely understand) and kidding with "I". But it really turns out that he is the nicest most friendly guy you could ever meet. We had lunch and shmoozed for a while. I look forward to seeing him again. I am actually looking forward to seeing "S" again too. I think I had a crush on her once, but she had (and still has) a boyfriend (same guy). I am also looking forward to seeing "N" again. We met my last time there, but I never stayed in touch becauseI am just too shy that way.
So the international court goes in to effect today. Fuck them.

Any real country would have to be stupid to join that thing, and feel bound by it. As it is, the UN is a forum for a lot of little insignificant countries to join together and get this - outvote the US. Yes, fellows, they can simply think that they are stronger because they can say whatever they want about the US and it becomes an international statement. The US did not become the strongest and most powerful military, social, cultural, and economic power in the history of the planet so that we can have a bunch of banana republics headed by the Sudan and Cambodia drag some US general in to court for War crimes, while they sit around and protect each others' crazy despots from well deserved charges of genocide and the like.

In general, countries with nothing to loose should not have power. One should get power (and legitimately be able to exercise it responsibly) by having something to loose. The US, and her government, for example has a lot to loose by screwing up. Any administration that wants to stay in power here can't afford a fiasco. They cannot afford a mass murder (and no, by this I do not mean 4 dead, and even then . . .), and they cannot afford a nuclear confrontation.

Governments like Pakistan, Syria, Iraq, North Korea, and the Sudan have nothing to loose by wiping out a neighboring country. Why? Because the government is not accountable. Power is not diffuse, it is not in the hands of the people. Whenever power is centralized with no checks or balances, the government can do whatever it wills, and retain power, because there is no one to take it away. What incentive does it have to be civil? To the extent that a government is by the people it is for the people. To the extent it is for the people, it can only do things that the people approve of, and in general, that excludes nuclear war, genocide, killing it enemies en masse, killing its own citizens en masse, killing its own citizens period. . . .

Unfortunately most of the world's governments are not for the people. They are for themselves and those in power, and would really think of themselves of having lost little if say, one of their cities were erased from the map, either by them or someone else. Things like this have happened. That is how many governments stay in power. They destroy a few thousand people when their people are not behaving. (Hama, Syria, for example.)

So when these governments get together and decide that they will, for some twisted reason show their political strength against "American imperialism", a real country like the US will have little recourse. We would not invade them, for they are doing something legal, and even if we did, the government would not care, so the US kills a few hundred or thousand of its citizens, that is a price well worth it to the average despot, to show the world that he can get America, using their own "western" system of justice against them. It is a twisted game these people play, and if we can't play by their rules - which we certainly cannot if we want to stay a civilized power - we should just not play at all.

In this case, not playing means not joining this kangaroo court of international (read anti-America) "justice". America is not stupid. We cannot be bound by the rules of despots, czars, Psychotic Islamic fundamentalists, dictators, lunatics, terrorists, communists, Mafia leaders, or fascists. We cannot afford to play the game that one side can afford to loose, and the other side can't. When the stakes are that uneven, when we value life the way we do, and when they don't, we will loose. In a game of tit-for-tat with equal casualties (not the Akselrod type game) the side that loses is the side that values its members more. When a suicide bomber kills one other person he is ahead of the game. He won because, by his action, he claims that his life is worth less than the one he kills. Otherwise it is a bad trade, and he would not do it. If your average Palestinian thought that their lives wore worth living, they would not trade them for an Israeli life.

If your average dictator in the third world thought that they ran a country where anyone had a life worth living, they wouldn't sacrifice it for the sake of telling off the US, like Iraq does.

The US embargo effects the people, not the government. The government of Iraq (read Saddam) thinks it is well worth the Iraqi human blood, to slaughter as many of his people as necessary, to maintain an anti-US stance. Saddam stays in power no matter how many of his people die of inadequate medical supplies. So there is little the US can do to get at him short of a real invason. This economic this seems humane to us, and it keeps our own citizens believing that we are exerting humane pressure on the government, when in reality we are hurting the Iraqi people, and giving Saddam more incentive to get his people to hate the US. The conundrum is that we cannot hurt the Iraqi government without a military confrontation, and that will have severe direct civilian casualties, and we cannot get at the Iraqi government via economic warfare, as that will have indirect sever civilian casualties. Saddam is using his civilians like a human shield to protect himself. And he is doing a good job. He is still in power, and his people hate him, and the US, and everyone suffers except Saddam. (Why are we having such a problem killing the SOB? Anyone from the Pentagon with an answer?)

Now if people like this thought that they could get even one US general in to court on phony-trumped-up imaginary charges, and the price would be that all their top brass would one day legitimately be hung for war crimes, then so be it. That is a price the US should not have to pay. Every American tourist in say, France (who will comply with anything stupid), who was once a mechanic in the US army should not have to worry that one day Kazakhstan will demand his extradition him for war crimes. Every American tourist should not have to worry about ending up in a nightmare of diseased south-east Asian politics or some other God-forsaken morass of charges for compliancy with America while the top America-hater de jure, has a good laugh.

It is bad enough we have to put up with these countries sponsoring terrorism and other such crap, we do not need to grant them legal licence to ruin our lives, and our way of life as well.
Someone is brave when they can calmly face difficult facts.