Instapundit has a large, and growing, list of recommended places to send disaster-relief funds. I just sent money to two organizations that looked reasonable, Episcopal Relief and Development and Mennonite Disaster Service. I'm guessing I'll have no way to know what will happen with the funds, but I'll write something here if I hear anything significant, good or bad.


Farewell to a city?

I'm watching the news now and of course they're focused on Hurricane Katrina, but it doesn't look like they're giving enough attention to the fate of New Orleans. It looks like the city, now flooded, will be uninhabitable for months. A majority of the architecture is ruined. Can you really regenerate a city after that kind of hiatus? Is it worth it? All that water-pumping, rebuilding, re-establishing of electricity and water services doesn't come for free, of course. And if the population starts rebuilding their lives elsewhere, I don't know that there'll be enough will to do it.

Cajun Ken Wheaton, as might be expected, is on the whole story, if you want to read more (though I don't know if he shares my opinion on New Orleans).

And of course... companies will be very nervous about relocating back in New Orleans, even after it is fully rebuilt (if/when that happens). I don't know what the industry of the city is like now, besides the oil and the tourism, but if the city's perpetually just a storm away from a re-flooding and mass anarchy and looting in the streets, I'd think most companies would be thinking seriously about relocating elsewhere. I just don't see how a city like that can survive with that kind of economic handicap.

Hello, couch

I'm back home; I've actually been back since Sunday, but before I was too tired or busy to post (I still haven't caught up with the jetlag, which places me back somewhere back around Britain at this point).

Some highlights of the last part of my trip:


Back to Mt. Carmel

I'm in Haifa now, city of my youth, visiting a friend. I probably won't be posting tomorrow, but everything's still alright with me. I got almost a full eight hours of sleep last night. Yesterday I went out with some of my family to Mini-Israel, which is not another term for 47th Street in Manhattan but rather a miniature replica of most of Israel (or at least the important buildings), located near Jerusalem spread out over about an acre of land. Very impressive. And actually it was full of American tourists. I understand there's now about 40 of these in the world, most of them built by the same people I think; the one in Amsterdam might be the most famous, or at least the first. Pretty soon they'll need to do a replica of the replicas just to keep track of them all.

While looking up Mini-Israel for the URL I found this large page of some family's photos, if you're curious about it.


The Old City

I walked through yesterday in sort of a daze. The truth is I've been jet-lagged through most of the trip, which in my case has had the symptoms of waking up at a frighteningly early hour and not being able to fall asleep again. Yesterday was the worst; I woke up after three-and-a-half hours of sleep and that was it; after that I just listened to my iPod and read till about 7. We went out walking in Old Jerusalem with some of my relatives, and visited the centuries-old market. It was very little sleep and unfamiliar surroundings, which is essentially one of the current definitions of torture. Still, it was mostly fun, and after a while of being out the fatigue just registers as a slight, nagging discomfort. It was nice to see the historic part of Jerusalem again. There's, famously, a lot of history there, although in the section we were at, along the Jerusalem Wall, the history all tends to run the same: this wall was built to keep the Romans out, this section was built to keep the Crusaders out, these reinforcements were added to keep the Jews out, that wall in the distance was put in to keep the Palestinian terrorists out. It's strange to think of all the people throughout history who have devoted their lives to taking this little piece of land, although out there in the intense heat, surrounded by hills and a lot of rocks, you start to get a sense for how people can start seeing visions and wanting to get some foothold over the place.

The market underneath it is the welcome, stabilizing hand of commerce. The same Arab sellers will gladly sell you a Mary-and-Jesus wooden sculpture, an Israeli Defense Forces t-shirt or an Arafat-style "revolutionary" keffiyeh, often in the same shop; which might be one of the first steps toward peace. My uncle got me an intricate backgammon board, which he bargained down from 300 shekels to 120 (about $70 to about $30). He's an expert.


Trying to keep the sides straight

Well, the Israel trip continues well. Today we went to the historical home of Aaron Aaronsohn, an agriculturist who discovered the grain that spawned wheat but is best known for helping the British fight the Turks in Palestine during World War I, paving the way for the British takeover, which went swimmingly until the Jews decided they didn't want the British in charge either and fought against them, in the 30's and 40's.

Which brings me back to the disengagement plan... everything that happens here politically ties in to everything else, and there's so much tactical strategizing and enemy-of-my-enemy-type thinking that it's hard to keep a straight ideological compass, if you're anywhere on the spectrum between kick-the-Arabs-out and we-Jews-are-a-scourge-on-the-land. Ariel Sharon, for instance, is the instigator of the Gaza pullout, but in the 80's he was the main one convincing settlers to move into the Gaza Strip as Defense Minister under Menachem Begin, as a tactical measure to keep strategic outposts in the area. I heard a story about a settler family who named their two boys "Arik" and "Sharon" in honor of his evangelizing, and now they feel... well, "betrayed" might be an understatement.

There's also the matter of what to do with the houses after the settlers leave; right now bulldozers come and crush all of them, which the evacuees call a tragic thing to have to watch; but ask them how they would feel about Palestinians moving into their houses and they recoil in horror.

The pullout is just about over, although there are still some communities left, that may end up responding with violence. So far it's been nonviolent, though there's been a markedly different response between one settlement and another, usually determined by what the local rabbis have told people to do. Some communities were peaceful, and on TV they showed shots of settlers and soldiers praying together in the synagogue, and singing the national anthem together as the settlers loaded up onto the buses taking them out. In other cases, people were holed up defiantly on their roof and doused soldiers with buckets of paint as they climbed up to try to grab them.

The types of scenes that have been shown over and over on TV, though, are the families (always religious) that refuse to leave their homes except to be dragged out. The soldiers show up, obviously with a news crew behind them, and the parents start yelling at the soldiers, calling them traitors (and, unfortunately, sometimes Nazis) and holding up their kids to the soldiers/cameras as the "true victims". It's a moment of intense humanity on both sides, as the soldiers listen patiently and sometimes start crying as well (they never try to explain themselves directly - I'm sure they were instructed over and over not to get into political arguments). There was a moment in one of the news broadcasts that I found very moving - a soldier crouched down to talk to a kippah-wearing boy, about five years old, in one of the "resisting" families. "Do you hate me?" the soldier asked. The boy nodded slowly. "But I love you," the soldier said. It was a drama compounded by the high likelihood that the boy himself will be a soldier one day.


Yes, I'm here

I'm here in Israel, having gotten past my first Sabbath (no, I actually did celebrate it, or whatever the term is), and enjoying it so far. We spent most of the weekend at the bar mitzvah of one of my cousin's kids that was the ostensible reason for the trip. I might write about actual politics later; for now, it's clear that the Gaza disengagement is on everyone's minds. It comes up in conversations all the time, and it's basically all they talk about on the news. You see orange ribbons everywhere, usually on people's car antennas, plus lots of t-shirts and orange "LiveStrong"-style bracelets. If you're not familiar with the colors, orange has been adopted as the symbol of the anti-disengagement side. The pro-disengagment people have taken the color blue in response, to sort-of represent the Israeli flag. You do see some blue ribbons out, but not nearly as many. The media, though, have turned it into sort of a "red state/blue state" thing, with the colors now used to symbolize the general half-and-half political and religious divide in the country.

The bar mitzvah was in my orthodox side of the family, so it was firmly in Orange Country (that's orthodox as opposed to ultra-orthodox, by the way - no black hats anywhere). People referred to the abandonment of Gush Katif as a disaster, although I think it was mostly for pragmatic reasons, on the grounds that a pullout with no bargaining encourages terrorism, not for religious reasons. But there were emotional ties too - it turns out I have some distant relatives by marriage who lived there and were evacuated. Anyway, since it was my family everyone is cool and no one was fanatical about it.

The ceremony itself was a nice two-day event, with catered meals and some dancing and a lot of praying. I re-met a lot of relatives I haven't seen in a while - essentially my whole extended family is still in Israel. Everyone was very friendly. I was a big hit with some of the young girls, which, not to boast but it wasn't a total surprise. Since around 10 years ago I've noticed that I'm unexpectedly popular with girls from around ages 7 to 13. One of my other cousin's daughters kept insisting on holding my hand and kissing me on the cheek. I informed her that I had been at her parents' wedding, information which she took in stride.

So aside from that romantic excursion, a group of us also visited Mount Herzl, which was nearby, and contains the graves of Theodor Herzl, the father of Zionism, his controversial friend Ze'ev Jabotinsky, and most of Israel's prime ministers and many of Israel's fallen soldiers. Truly a momentous sight. It's not a major tourist attraction, I don't think, but it should be, because there's a lot of history, both ideological and the real kind, represented there.


Leaving on a jet plane

My bag's packed and I'm about to head out... I did want to write something about the disengagement plan, since I'm heading to Israel and people might want to know. I don't have any strong emotional attachment to the issue, but I am for the disengagement. I view it the same way I think most pro-disengagement Israelis view it, which is not so much as a positive action but as the only action. The military and financial costs (and maybe spiritual cost as well) of supporting a few thousand settlers is too high to bear indefinitely. At some point limited resources have to be diverted elsewhere Ideally this could have happened under a cease-fire and through negotiations with the Palestinians, but they seem incapable of stopping violence or of acting like rational partners.

So the pullout happens under fire. Many people say that this rewards terrorism, encourages Arab extremists, encourages European leaders' anti-Semitic stance (Karol has a post detailing this view). My response is, encourages them to do what? What is that terrorist groups, Arab countries, the EU, the UN, etc. might be encouraged to do that they're not doing already? Short of a nuclear attack, Israel has already been in a "worst-case scenario" for the past five years. It's been a constant stream of terrorist bombings and diplomatic insults from the so-called "international community". Today's news brings us word that the U.N. has been openly funding anti-Israel merchandise, some with a UN logo directly on it, and distributing it to Palestinians. Is anyone really surprised by this? There's nowhere lower to go for any of the anti-Israel crew.

Israel's new tack, with both the security fence and the disengagement, seems to be, defend the land and pretend the rest of the world doesn't exist. I think it's the right way to go.

And now I'm off.

Movie wrapup

Well, besides Batman Begins I saw a bunch of other movies this summer, and before I leave I figured I'd do a quickie wrapup of them here:

War of the Worlds: disgusting, and the more I think about it the more I find it morally indefensible. The aliens turn the earth into a big pile of human blood, but somehow we're supposed to be a little consoled by the fact that Tom Cruise has won back the respect of his kids. It's like a bad punchline to a bad joke. Sorry if I spoiled anything there; that would imply that there's something worth preserving!

March of the Penguins: Completes the Morgan Freeman trilogy (with War of the Worlds and Batman Begins). Pretty good! Those penguins truly overcome enormous odds.

Hustle and Flow: this movie was really only intended as an excuse to get out of the heat, so I maybe I shouldn't hold it to the same high standards. Terence Howard does a good job as maybe the world's most angst-ridden pimp. I liked the Dirty South recording scenes a lot, though he somehow manages to record two vocal tracks on his first take of each song, which seems impressive but unlikely.


Off to the Land of Milk and Honey

The Israeli government's imposed deadline for residents to evacuate the Gaza Strip settlements is arriving just around now (it's midnight over there). Coincidentally, I'm flying there tomorrow to go see all my relatives (with my parents, who are already there), most of whom I haven't seen in five years.

I told my father a few months ago that we picked an interesting time to visit Israel (the trip was decided on before the deadline was chosen) and he responded that "it's always an interesting time in Israel." I can't argue with that.

I'll be there for around 10 days. I'm planning to write here during that time, and put up some photos, but we'll see. It should be a fun trip.


Munitions training

How was the trip to the shooting range? Fun and educational!

The staff there were friendly, though it took forever for them to set everything up for us. But the main guy, who I think is a Vietnam vet, gave us a little tutorial and showed how to load the bullets. Then it was off for some shooting.They gave us .22-caliber rifles, which are light and as I understand used mostly for hunting squirrels and rabbits, plus some get-off-my-property-type self-defense. They're very light, and you don't get a recoil when you fire one; as you squeeze the trigger, you wouldn’t know it had gone off if it weren’t for the boom.

In our group, we happened to have both a Marine reservist and an Israeli Defense Force veteran (plus four of us civilians). So I don’t feel totally ashamed when I say that I shot the worst of anyone. My holes were essentially all over the target page. I was doing the correct stance and breathing and so on, pretty much, I think, but in my defense I couldn’t see the target that well (I put it at about 30 feet out) so after I made a shot I couldn’t tell where it had ended up.

On the last round, I shot so many bullets in a cluster near the metal clip holding the paper that it almost fell off. It was dangling.

The targets we were using a basic bullseye on paper. You could also pick one with a photo of a masked gunman holding a little girl hostage (don't hit the girl! Glad I didn't pick that one), or one with a wild-haired domestic-terrorist-looking woman (hey, you never know if the Weather Underground will strike again!).

I had a good time. And I (and some of the rest of us) learned how to hold a rifle, how to fill a magazine, how to load and unload the ammo, how to set and unset the safety... basically, in a pinch, and with the right ammo, I think we could defend ourselves. Which is the important thing, and a useful skill for anyone, I think.

Or the other people could defend themselves, and I'd do backup.


I was pretty sure we were in a real estate bubble, but it's been months after that and there's still no evidence. Now Publitas has a graph showing that the the "speculation in the press about a real-estate bubble" bubble has popped. (Via The Corner)


Oh, and before I forget again...

Photos from our gig. You can see many more here, all courtesy of Ivan's friend. I sort of like this one, which came out all blurry; it looks like some 90's video.

Why does the sun shine extra bright today?

Because it's my birthday!! I'm going to be celebrating by going to the West Side Pistol Range with some people and learning how to shoot guns. I'm excited, to say the least.

Also, later we're going to a bar. Some people have suggested going in the reverse order, which I can't condone. Keeping it safe, y'all.

UPDATE: I should have mentioned this before, but the place we're going out to drinks at is Old Town Bar, on 18th St. and 5th. I'll be there around 9. I'm not trying to exclude anyone; definitely feel free to show up.


Total war

Right around now we're marking the 60th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the only two usages of the atomic bomb as a weapon. The attacks killed around 350,000 people, both at impact and from the radioactive aftereffects. Mark Steyn says the attacks were doubly useful - both in ending the war in the Pacific theater and in crushing the Japanese's imperialist dreams:
There's no doubt the atomic bomb wound up saving lives – American, Japanese, and maybe millions in the lands the latter occupied. The more interesting question is to what degree it enabled the Japan we know today... A peace without Hiroshima and Nagasaki would have been a different kind of peace; the surrender would have been, in every sense, more "conditional:" Japanese militarism would not have been so thoroughly vanquished, nor so obviously responsible for the nation's humiliation and devastation, and therefore not so irredeemably consigned to history. A greater affection and respect for the old regime could well have persisted, and lingered to hobble the new modern, democratic Japan devised by the Americans.

And he says the lessons should have been applied to the Iraq War:
The main victims of western squeamishness in those few weeks in the spring of 2003 turned out to be not American or coalition troops but the Iraqi civilians who today provide the principal target for "insurgents." It would have better for them had more Ba'athists been killed in the initial invasion.

My impression from reading about the attacks in high school was that the Hiroshima bombing was fully justified, the Nagasaki bombing less so, because there's evidence the Emperor was already planning to surrender after the first attack. I don't know if that's true, but Steyn does make a good point that what seems like overkill during wartime has important benefits if you're planning to reconstruct the society afterwards. Japan, a nation that had known only empire, turned pacifist and became a successful democracy in the span of about 10 years. Was that a foregone conclusion? Maybe, but maybe seeing that the other option ended with mushroom clouds made it possible. So it looks like President Truman did the right thing, twice in a row.

The analogy to today isn't perfect, since the nuclear attacks came at the end of a long war in which casualties were counted in the millions, not the thousands. And the threat in Iraq comes mostly from foreign terrorists - Saudis and Syrians, mainly - who mostly are killing Iraqi civilians; so it's not really about changing the Iraqi psyche. Then again, Steyn isn't talking about nuking Baghdad, just giving coalition soldiers more leeway in attacking the enemy. If our troops had more of a reputation for ruthlessness, maybe there wouldn't be so many foreigners streaming in to come take a shot at them.

UPDATE: Commenters Peter and RonL remind that there was another reason to use the atomic bomb, which was to impress the Soviets with America's military force and keep them from making designs on Japan. For a reminder of what effects a Korea- or Germany-style split might have had on the Japanese unfortunate enough to find themselves on the Soviet-controlled (or Chinese-controlled) side of things, you can see the current news reports from North Korea: that 44 percent of children there suffered from malnutrition last year.


Even more quick hits

Fun with optical illusions

Marvel at the non-rotating rotating circles!

I don't even know if I should call this fun. Make that "immense frustration". You can see many more of these, if you want to, at the guy's homepage.

Damn. The fact that these exist just bothers me somehow, like when I realized I could never move my right pinky by itself. Mr. ring finger will always be right there next to him.


Rollin' with my crew

Everything's coming up Wifebeaters! We're playing a show tomorrow night at the Bowery Poetry Club (click for details). And there's a rumor that we'll be making our radio debut tomorrow on WFMU, on Irwin Chusid's show. Just one of these crazy rumors floating around on the 'net... seriously, I have no idea.

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