Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Jude Wanniski, father of supply-side economics, 1936-2005

James K. Glassman has the perfect obituary for Jude Wanniski, a one-of-a-kind phenomenon who left a tremendous mark on the world, even though few have heard of him. As Glassman notes, Wanniski combined confidence bordering on megalomania with intellectual curiosity, contrarianism with optimism. He was a fearless independent thinker eager to share his insights with those with the power to apply them.

Wanniski, best known for inventing the term "supply-side economics" and for popularizing the Laffer Curve, was once an editorial writer at the Wall Street Journal and later an adviser to President Reagan, before starting his own consulting firm. He was instrumental in bringing about the tax cuts which swept America and Britain in the 1980s, and in changing the way a generation thought about taxation.

In recent years, his contrarianism turned him against Israel and made him into an outspoken defender of Louis Farrakhan, Saddam Hussein and the People's Republic of China. Cynics wondered whether he naturally saw good in tyrannies and mendacity in democracies. His last published column is full of his usual ignorant nonsense about Israel; it was published, of all places, by Al-Jazeera.

I followed his writings eagerly on his website for a few years in the late '90s, doggedly ignoring his political views but curious to understand his unique perspective on global economics, based, he claimed, on the theories of economists Robert Mundell and Ludwig von Mises. Few economic commentators had as comprehensive a theory of "the way the world works" as he, and I was determined to figure out whether he was right. I'm still not quite sure.

One of his most controversial claims was his insistence on the continued centrality of the price of gold as a measure of economic value. A return to the gold standard, he argued, would restore stability to world commerce. Take it or leave it; here he argues that high and unstable gold prices are responsible for the current record price of oil.

Overall, I'm not sure what to make of the man, but you could do worse with your time than to peruse the curriculum of his Supply-Side University.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Haveil Havalim #34

I haven't mentioned Haveil Havalim in a while. This week's edition of the weekly compendium of Jewish and Israel-related blog postings can be found at Me-Ander. Good work, Batya!

American Zionist trivia questions

1. What Israeli village is named for an American Secretary of the Treasury?

2. What large Israeli city is named for an American-Jewish philanthropist?

3. What Israeli village is named after a major American city?

4. How many prime ministers of Israel were born in the United States?

Update: Solutions can be found in the comments.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Rav Lichtenstein questions Rav Shapira

Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, head of the prestigious religious-Zionist Yeshivat Har Etzion and a leading disciple of the late Rav J. B. Soloveitchik, has posed a series of halachic questions to former Israeli Chief Rabbi Avraham Shapira.

Rav Shapira, one of the leading authorities for religious Zionists in Israel, ruled that soldiers must refuse orders to evacuate settlements. In a letter, Rav Lichtenstein questions him about the basis for this ruling. Rav Lichtenstein's letter has been publicized in the original Hebrew (RTF) and in English translation (RTF).

As opposed as I have been to the disengagement, I am inclined towards Rav Lichtenstein's approach to the halachic issues. The disengagement is now moot, but the issues at stake will remain relevant for some time to come.

Update: Some related links contributed by commentors Sharvul and NRK:

Michael Graham, fired... and bouncing back?

After weeks of deliberations folowing his suspension, WMAL radio has finally fired conservative talk show host Michael Graham over his statements that "Islam is a terrorist organization."

Michael's version of events is here, and the Washington Post covers the story here

Meanwhile, Michael has found himself a new talk show, this time on conservative Internet radio service RighTalk.

The bottom line: Michael's comments on Islam were clearly inappropriate. Major corporations naturally dislike offending people, especially by the ultimate American crime of negative stereotyping. Legally, his employers had a right to fire him; contrary to Michael's protestations, the First Amendment doesn't apply to private employers. If I were Michael, I would admit that I had gone too far this time, apologize and move on.

All that said, it never looks good to fire a political commentator for expressing his political opinions. To do so in response to a threatened advertiser boycott by a terror-sympathizing outfit such as CAIR is in a way a minor victory for the terrorists. What mainstream media personality will dare take on the Islamists now?

Ultimately, my interest here is selfish. Michael is a talented radio personality and I enjoy his show. He's also a great friend of Israel.

The Internet may be bigger than the Washington, DC, radio market, but face it, Internet broadcasting simply doesn't have the prestige of a three-hour slot on a major station in the nation's capital. It's telling that he (presumably) couldn't find another job over the airwaves.

Comprehensive blog coverage: Radio Equalizer

(Weird - two talk radio posts in a row!)

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Gaza bloggers on Radio Open Source

Is it a blog with a radio show or a radio show with a blog? Well, both and neither, and something else entirely.

It's Open Source, and it's an innovative talk radio program broadcast on public radio stations in the U.S. As they describe themselves, "The idea is to capture the sound of conversation on the web, share it with a radio audience and then invite that audience back to the web to contribute."

The innovation is in the use of audience interactivity. Program editors propose a topic on their blog, canvas the web for interesting guests, and take listener suggestions into account in developing the show. After the broadcast and podcast, listeners can continue to comment on the blog.

Whether it's really all that different from a show with a blog remains to be seen, but the material posted so far is promising. This past week's shows cover topics as wide-ranging as birding, computer security, and economist Jeffrey Sachs. This week promises micro-enterprise in Cuba.

Admittedly, the range of topics seems to have all the usual mass appeal of American public broadcasting, and the presenters are as energetic as most NPR personalities. Maybe they can't afford coffee on a public radio budget? (For non-Americans: U.S. public broadcasting tends to be a marginal phenomenon catering to the intellectual elites. In other words, boring.)

Still, watch out for this Tuesday's show, which will finally get around to discussing the Gaza pullout. Guests include just-disengaged Neveh Dekalim resident Shlomo Wollins, who blogs at, and Laila El-Haddad from Gaza City, who blogs at Raising Yousuf: a diary of a mother under occupation. Not even public radio can make a boring show out of that.

Update: I finally listened to the actual show (MP3). I was wrong. With Shlomo Wollins unreachable due to technical difficulties, the show was left with two guests who were Arabs living in Gaza; Amira Hass, an Israeli journalist who has lived in Gaza City and who might as well be an Arab for all her views reflect the Israeli mainstream; and one recently evacuated settler, Avi Farhan's daughter, who spoke mostly about her father's failed efforts to continue living in Gaza under Palestinian rule. Add to that a few listener call-ins, which were (expectedly for public radio) uniformly pro-Palestinian, and you get a decidely one-dimensional broadcast.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Rav Sherlo: Should we tear our clothes?

Rabbi Yuval Sherlo, head of the hesder yeshiva in Petach Tikva and a leading figure in the religious Zionist community, addresses this question in an Internet responsum. Excerpts (my rough translation; ellipses mark sections I've omitted):

Tearing kriah for uprooting settlements

Honorable Rabbi Yuval Sherlo,

The Tur (OC 561) writes, "He who sees cities of Israel in ruins says on the first one he sees, 'Your holy cities have become a desert' and tears [his clothing]." ....

In light of this, I would like to ask the Rabbi what the law is today, as settlements are being uprooted...? Does the uprooting of settlements justify tearing kriah, on the basis of "He who sees cities of Israel in ruins"? ...

Thank you very much,

Aviad Y. Hollander


Peace and Blessings!

I will divide my response into two parts.

From the halachic aspect, I think that one who sees this halacha as connected to the difficult situation we are in is making a decision of great significance. This halacha, which was written about the destruction of cities of Israel by the gentiles, is not at all connected to a situation in which the Jewish entity is carrying out a change in the borders of the state as a result of its own (mistaken and terrible) decision. Paradoxically, we must bless and thank the Lord of the Universe that we even have the ability to make any such decision, and we must certainly not see the expulsion plan as anything similar to that.

In general, some of us make the mistake of using exaggerated language to describe that which is being done to us. Not only is it incorrect, but it creates a situation from which we cannot escape, since if one sees this halacha as the basis for his view he is deciding that the State of Israel is issuing decrees and that we the expelled are like Jews facing a gentile tyrant, and thus he uproots our entire conception regarding Klal Yisrael, the "first flowering of our redemption", and other related matters. It is a serious mistake not only on the pure halachic plane, but on a far broader plane.

From the emotional standpoint, I do not understand how one cannot tear kriah. This tear is an expression of deep mourning for the destruction we are performing with our own hands to Gush Katif and the northern Shomron - places where it is possible only to constantly praise the people who built them.... and all this is going to collapse. It doesn't matter what the reason for this is and what ideology stands behind this decision.... A man cannot remain indifferent to this situation, and there is nothing like tearing the clothes to express the tearing of the heart.

All the best, and may we be spared.

Rabbi Yuval Sherlo

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Sharon speaks

Given the substantial case against disengagement, can anything be said in Sharon's defense? If so, he should have said it himself last night, in his address to the nation. Relevant excerpts, with my comments:

The changing reality in this country, in this region, and in the world required another reassessment and changing of positions.

What exactly changed between January 2003, when Sharon was elected on a platform opposing any form of unilateral withdrawal, and his announcement of the disengagement plan in December of that year? He doesn't say, and I can't guess.

Gaza cannot be held onto forever. Over one million Palestinians live there, and they double their numbers with every generation. They live in incredibly cramped refugee camps, in poverty and squalor, in hotbeds of ever-increasing hatred, with no hope whatsoever on the horizon.

This is all more or less true, but it was equally true in January 2003 and it will be equally true in January 2015. If anything, the Palestinians want to bring hundreds of thousands of more disgruntled refugees into Gaza from Lebanon. The crisis in Gaza will continue to worsen with or without an Israeli presence, and Israelis will continue to suffer the consequences whether or not they live in Gaza.

It is out of strength and not weakness that we are taking this step.

This is a hard claim to support. True, Israel has decimated the leadership of Hamas, but disengagement comes too soon after the four-year terrorist onslaught to claim it isn't a victory for terrorism.

This plan is good for Israel in any future scenario.

Can anyone really foresee every future scenario? This sounds more like a boast than a substantive argument.

We are reducing the day-to-day friction and its victims on both sides. The Israel Defense Forces will redeploy on defensive lines behind the security fence. Those who continue to fight us will meet the full force of the IDF and the security forces.

Experience shows that successful anti-terror operations require ground operations. The further the army is from the ground, the poorer its intelligence, the less precise its operations, the greater the likelihood of civilian casualties with all that entails. Either Israel will continue to launch incursions into Gaza - in which case what has been gained? - or we will suffer the consequences of allowing major terror bases to develop in our backyard.

Day-to-day friction may be reduced, but at the expense of long-term threats.

Mark my words: It is a matter of time before Israeli forces are back in Gaza, on the ground."The full force of the IDF" cannot be deployed from behind a fence.

Now the Palestinians bear the burden of proof. They must fight terror organizations, dismantle its infrastructure and show sincere intentions of peace in order to sit with us at the negotiating table.

Haven't we heard this before? The Palestinians have had the same obligations since the start of Oslo, and have yet to fulfill them. Again, experience shows that Israel will face unrelenting pressure to negotiate with the Palestinians and offer concessions, regardless of whether or not they fight terror. Haven't we learned that by now?

The world awaits the Palestinian response - a hand offered in peace or continued terrorist fire. To a hand offered in peace, we will respond with an olive branch. But if they choose fire, we will respond with fire, more severe than ever.

That threat is not credible. Ehud Barak issued similar warnings upon pulling out of Lebanon, but Israel has never retaliated seriously against cross-border attacks since then. The cost is always too high.

The disengagement will allow us to look inward. Our national agenda will change. In our economic policy, we will be free to turn to closing the social gaps and engaging in a genuine struggle against poverty. We will advance education and increase the personal security of every citizen in the country.

Now Sharon lapses into empty political rhetoric. Ehud Barak sold this kind of drivel in 1999. Israel's security challenges will not evaporate overnight. Neither will the diplomatic pressures. Besides, despite the myths, Israel has always addressed its economic and social problems throughout the years, sometimes successfully, sometimes not.

The rest of the speech is about internal divisions, and does not make the case for disengagement. I still feel the case has not adequately been made.

Disengagement from common sense, revisited

Last October, I analyzed the disengagement plan as it then stood, and found it lacking. How well does that analysis hold up nearly ten months later, as the plan is being implemented?

Let me take it point by point. (Excerpts from my original statements are bolded.)

It will not advance Israel towards peace. Not even its proponents claim it will.

Still true.

It will not win Israel any diplomatic concessions from its Arab neighbors, such as recognition or trade.

So far, there has been no sign of such developments.

It will not put an end to Israeli military action in Gaza.

Very true. Sharon himself said last night, "To a hand offered in peace, we will respond with an olive branch. But if they choose fire, we will respond with fire, more severe than ever." It may not be immediate, but there's little doubt what the Palestinians will choose.

In fact, Gaza poses an additional military threat I failed to identify. As Netanyahu has recently noted, it is only a matter of time before Gaza becomes a new outpost for the global Islamic Jihad. Like Afghanistan and Somalia, stateless Gaza will be too attractive a base to pass up. The Palestinian and Lebanese jihadis will arrive first, followed quickly by others.

It will not earn Israel sympathy from overseas. Europe will not start loving us and the UN will not stop condemning us. Their reaction will not be "Well done!" but "What took you so long?"

There has been some recent sympathy from France and Britain, but it will fade as disengagement becomes history. Nothing about disengagement changes the basic parameters of European policy towards Israel.

It will not ease the diplomatic pressure for further Israeli concessions... the expectation that disengagement will bring even temporary respite is an illusion.

Does anyone seriously doubt this?

It will not stop the daily flow of Palestinian laborers from Gaza into Israel.

Still true.

It will not significantly reduce Israel's exposure to terrorism... the fundamentals of the situation will remain unchanged.

Still true. If anything, acquiescing to the Palestinian demand for safe passage between Gaza and the West Bank will inevitably give rise to what one might call a "technology transfer" between them. We can't keep mortar shells and Qassam rockets out of the West Bank cities - and, therefore, the Israeli heartland - forever.

It will not make Israel "more democratic".

Still true.

It will not solve the demographic problem.

Still true.

By taking Gaza off the table for good, pressure for Israeli concessions will shift to the remaining outstanding disputes. The intensity of the pressure will not lessen, but it will be focused solely on issues where Israel can less afford to compromise.

Still true.

Israel's bargaining position in any conceivable future negotiations will be compromised, having already forfeited some of our assets unilaterally.

Still true.

The Palestinian terror groups - indeed, Muslim terrorists the world over - will be encouraged by what they will perceive as the success of their war against Israel. We will have demonstrated to them that if they remain stubbornly intransigent and continue to attack us, we will eventually give them what they demand, without even requiring them to sit down and negotiate...

Still true.

Our claim to any of the remaining disputed territory will be undermined.

Still true. On this point, the situation has actually worsened since October. Israel now plans to withdraw from every last bit of Gaza, including the border corridor with Egypt. This reinforces the unfortunate Sinai precedent that the 1949 armistice lines should become Israel's eventual borders. Israel will never be able to offer less on any other front - whatever the Americans may have promised.

Another point of deterioration since October is the agreement for the stationing of Egyptian forces on the Gaza/Egypt border, not only forfeiting an Israeli role in patrolling that border but also undermining the force restriction provisions of the Israel-Egypt peace treaties. Israel has apparently given up the possibility of controlling all of Gaza's external ports and crossings, with all the ensuing security risks.

Pointing to the "demographic threat" as a motive for disengagement will further entrench Palestinian intransigence.

Still true.

The expense to Israel, both financially and emotionally, will be colossal.

Too true.

Can anything be said in Sharon's defense? If so, he should have said it himself last night, in his address to the nation. I'll look at that in my next post.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Why we must mourn

Reacting to my switch to black in protest at the implementation of , DovBear surpasses even his own usual talent for missing the point:
It's over Biur. Time to stop protesting, time to stop wallowing, and time to begin recovering and doing your part for Jewish unity.

There's good in this, there's good in everything, even if this is 10 miles of cloud, there's still an inch of silver.

Find it and you'll start to feel better.

# posted by DovBear : Friday, August 12, 2005 3:29:06 AM

Every line, every phrase of this smug scolding just gets it wrong. Where to start?

"It's over Biur."

No, not quite. Until the last Israeli civilian and soldier leaves , it is not yet over. Until then, thousands of people still have thousands of actions to take, decisions to make. They remain free agents and retain free will. It ain't over till it's over.

Time to stop protesting, time to stop wallowing, and time to begin recovering and doing your part for Jewish unity.

When a tragic mistake of historic proportions is about to be made, it is precisely the time to protest. When a Jewish government uproots Jewish homes in the Land of , it is time for mourning. Only once the dust has settled (literally and figuratively) will it be appropriate to resume business as usual. You want me to start recovering before the mourning phase has even begun?

You are mistaken if you think I'm "wallowing" and need to "feel better". I am not sulking under the covers. (Actually, I'm enjoying the company of my magical daughter!) My protest is not driven by emotion (though this is not to say I am unemotional about the event - far from it). I protest out of a clear, rational analysis of the move and its consequences. I grieve out of a sensitivity to the reverberations of Jewish history.

Listen to yourself. Is that how you'd advise a friend who has lost a loved one, God forbid? Stop wallowing and move on already? Before he has had the chance to mourn? There is a time for sorrow and a time for recovering.

What about you, DovBear? Did you yesterday, Tisha B'Av? Get over it, man! The temples were destroyed centuries ago. Time to stop wallowing, no?


So long as we continue to mourn the loss of our sovereignty 2000 years ago at the hands of our enemies, so long as the halacha requires us to rend our garments at the mere sight of the destroyed ancient cities of Judea, we must at least grieve for the deliberate razing of Jewish communities in the Land of Israel at the hands of our own leaders, to hand them over to our enemies.

The very "Jewish unity" you invoke in fact demands that Jews everywhere feel solidarity with the suffering of the Jewish families uprooted from their homes; feel regret at the loss of Jewish sovereignty over part of our ancient homeland; feel respect for the sincere protest of those among us who cannot support this drastic move. After we have shared the sorrow, we can proceed to share the new challenges ahead, for better or worse. You cannot blind yourself to Jewish sorrow and suffering in the name of Jewish unity, nor can you deride the sorrow felt by others.
There's good in this, there's good in everything, even if this is 10 miles of cloud, there's still an inch of silver.

Find it and you'll start to feel better.

There may be good in this, though I can't for the life of me see any, try as I might. I expect an unmitigated disaster (God forbid), just as I did with the Oslo Accords.

Regardless, you have it backwards again. Faced with immediate sorrow, we respond with grief - even if there may be a bright side later. This, too, is a clear halachic principle. We mourn the loss of a parent, even if there will be an inheritance. We mourn the loss of soldiers in battle, even if they won the war. We mourn the loss of our temples, even though new prosperity was found in other lands. In no circumstances do we rejoice in the possible silver lining while closing our eyes to the dark cloud itself.

So we must mourn our loss of Gaza to our enemies, even though it may ultimately have been a matter of time, even though there may be benefits to be had, even though it may be seen as only a tactical retreat, even though the alternatives may have been worse.

To do otherwise is to deaden our sensitivity to human suffering and the sorrow of our Jewish brethren.

Friday, August 12, 2005

IRIS finally breaks into blogging

Information Regarding Israel's Security (IRIS) was one of the first grassroots organizations to distribute electronic updates on news from Israel to recipients around the world. Launched in 1993 via fax and e-mail, IRIS begin with a series of PLO quote sheets and progressed from there to news briefs and occasional essays.

The website followed shortly thereafter, and over the years IRIS has developed a permanent collection of resources which are hard to locate elsewhere. Most noticeable are the maps of Israel's security situation, Israel's comparative size, and the (over-) generous territorial offers Prime Minister Ehud Barak made in 2000. Also available is a set of background documents on the PLO, including its infamous charter and phased plan.

IRIS has been largely dormant for the past five years, leaving some of its material unfortunately out of date. In anticipation of the imminent implementation of disengagement, however, the IRIS staff have finally gotten their act together. This time, naturally, the medium is the blog.

The IRIS blog, edited by former Israeli radio host Barak Moore (no relation to Ehud Barak!), is now live with frequent updates. For a site on Israeli security, the subject matter is unexpectedly diverse.

Welcome, Barak, to the miniverse of anti-disengagement bloggers. Have you been introduced to EFSI?

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

From Orange to Black

This website was colored orange before orange was political. Now that the army has distributed the expulsion order to the residents of Gaza, I am switching to black as an expression of sorrow.

May God spare the nation this imminent tragedy by the hands of our misguided leaders.

Letter on evacuation procedures

Along with the expulsion order, the army has also distributed the following letter (PDF page 2) on evacuation procedures.

Southern Command Headquarters
Office of the Major General
2 Av 5765
8 August 2005

Residents of the Gaza District

Evacuation procedures during 15-15/8/2005 - Letter from the Chief of Staff of Southern Command

With the passing of the day of Tisha B'Av, on which the people of Israel mourn the destruction of its Temple, with hope and prayer for its reconstruction, out of faith that precisely out of the sorrow will sprout salvation and from among the ruins the desolation will bloom. On Sunday, Motzaei Tisha B'Av 5675, the Gaza Strip will be closed to the entry of Israeli citizens, and similarly traffic will not be permitted to the Gaza settlements and between them (the Gaza settlements will be closed and traffic between them will be controlled).

On the morning of 15/08/2005, security forces will arrive and hand you orders of evacuation from your homes.

To residents who choose to leave by 16/08/2005 at midnight, assistance will be given, as far as is possible, to ease the organizing and departure.

At your service you will have the option to request assistance in packing your homes and public (not commercial) property, with the aid of soldiers and packing companies.

Those choosing to leave at the phase of consensual evacuation can leave with their private cars. Similarly, those choosing to leave at the phase of consensual evacuation can choose the way they take leave of their homes (ceremony, etc.).

Property which is packed in the homes before 15/08/2005 and during 15-16/08/2005 shall be concentrated in the middle of the rooms. The IDF will make an effort to remove all personal private property (not commercial) regardless of the quantity of containers and trucks required. For that you will be charged no more than the amount of the grant for relocation and organizational expenses given you by the Law for Implementation of the Disengagement Plan 5765/2005,

During the packing of the homes and the loading of their contents into the containers, heads of household may enter and assist in the packing and loading.

From 17/08/2005 and on, security forces will arrive at the settlement to evacuate the residents remaining there. After that, their property will be packed by a packing company up to only 2 containers.

For residents who leave after 17/08/2005, no opportunity will be given to return to their homes and assist in packing, and in accordance with the Law for Implementation of the Disengagement Plan they will lose a significant part of their economic rights.

For further details contact....

With great respect,

Guy Tzur, Brigadier General
Chief of Staff of Southern Command

The Expulsion Letter: Tisha B'Av 5765

The expulsion order has been issued to the settlements of Gaza. You can find it here (PDF) courtesy of Maariv. Community leaders have refused to distribute the letter to residents. The text reads:

Southern Command Headquarters
Office of the Major General
2 Av 5765
8 August 2005

Residents of the Gaza District

Letter from the Commander of Southern Command to citizens of the State of Israel resident in the Gaza District area

Based on the Law for Implementation of the Disengagement Plan 5765/2005, and in accordance with the decision of the government of Israel and the order of the prime minister, you are required to evacuate your homes and leave the territory of the Gaza Strip by Motzaei Tisha B'Av (14/08/2005) at 24:00. From that time on, the phase of "voluntary" evacuation will end, the checkpoint at the entrance to the Gaza Strip will be closed, and the entry of civilians will not be permitted (rather only their exit), since from that time, the 14/08/2005 at midnight, presence in the Gaza Strip is not legal.

On the 10th of Av (15/08/2005) security forces will arrive to evacuate you from your homes and will instruct you to leave the Gaza Strip.

Throughout the years the IDF has defended the settlements of the Gaza District area out of a sense of partnership, responsibility and national mission.

This task, too, will be carried out by us out of a feeling of partnership and a deep understanding of your pain. That said, the IDF, as the army of a democratic state subject to the authority of the law, will carry out this task in its entirety.

From the 12th of Av (17/08/2005) at 00:00:01 the phase of forced evacuation will begin, in which security forces will arrive and evacuate the residents who choose to stay and who force the security forces to confront them with the purpose of implementing the law.

I am certain and confident that your commitment to the rule of law and responsibility for the welfare of the nation will guide your protest.

I bear a prayer of peace for all of us - citizens of Israel resident in the Gaza Strip, the IDF and the Israel Police.

With respect and appreciation,

Dan Harel, Major General
Commander of Southern Command


Thursday, August 04, 2005

Potpourri: Asteroids, Iraqi soldiers, Israeli police, and disengagement

  • The New York Times today is charmingly naive about the workings of scientific research. Writing about a possible near-Earth asteroid approach and NASA's recent success in bombing a comet, the Times editorialists remark:
    You don't need to be a science-fiction writer to see a curious convergence here - the approach of a possibly Earthbound asteroid and the emergence of the scientific and technological capacity to cope with it. That, of course, is merely coincidence.

    No, it's not. All scientists like to claim that their work will benefit mankind. That's how they get media attention, research funding, tenure, etc. There have always been asteroids passing near Earth; there are probably many of them approaching at any point in time. Only recently, though, have astronomers started searching for them, on the infinitesimally likely grounds that one might pose a disaster-movie-style doomsday threat. Then they or others can propose big-science solutions to these allegedly-urgent problems, heroically saving humanity. This isn't coincidence, it's career advancement.

    The real scientific threats here are to individual and institutional prestige, research budgets and media coverage. The environmental scientists have played this game skillfully for decades: imagine a global threat, "prove" it with computer models, scare the media, inspire a disaster movie, and wait for the rewards. Now astronomers have gotten into the act.

    And the Times swallows it. I thought journalists were supposed to be cynical.

  • In the 1990-91 Gulf War, the U.S.-led coalition made war against what was described as the fourth-largest army in the world. The poorly-trained, poorly-equipped and poorly-motivated Iraqi army under Saddam Hussein was decimated, both then and again in 2003. Now the U.S. is busy rebuilding the Iraqi army, training its troops with the best in American fighting techniques. Is this really wise? I sure hope they stay on on our side....

    Possible consolation: Apparently the Iraqi troops aren't that good.

  • Evie Gordon gets it right (as usual), this time on the disturbing matter of Israeli police brutality, which appears to be unfortunately endemic.

  • I may yet discuss this at greater length, but for now, the abstract: I predict that the disengagement, assuming it takes place, will have no significant impact on the contours of Israeli politics and diplomacy. Contrary to what many are anticipating, there will be no crisis in religious Zionism; no "big bang" realignment in which (most of) Likud merges with (most of) Labor to form a ruling centrist national unity party; no change in the conventional arguments over land and peace; no change to Israel's international standing or image; no immediate prospect of a Palestinian state; and, certainly, no civil war, mass army desertion, etc. (Today's despicable incident notwithstanding.)