Monday, July 31, 2006

The "Photos that damn Hezbollah" article in the Sunday Herald Sun is hardly surprising.

Friday, July 28, 2006

I normally do not bother to read Juan Cole, but I saw this quoted elsewhere:
What was done to Lebanon as a whole is among the most horrible war crimes of the young 21st century. And that it was done tells me that there is something sick in the heart of the Israeli military and political elite, a sickness of the soul...
Here is a list of military conflicts in the twenty-first century, followed by number of casualties on both sides (civilian plus military). The source is wikipedia. I omitted the civil conflicts in Liberia, Ivory Coast, and Haiti because I did not manage to find reliable data on total number of casualties.

Darfur Conflict: one estimate is 140,000.

US Invasion of Iraq: best estimate seems to be 50, 000 civilians and 11,000 soldiers.

US Invasion of Afghanistan: 1000-4000.

Waziristan war: 2500.

Chad-Sudan conflict: 1000-1700.

Israeli-Lebanon conflict:
450-500 so far.

Does that like like "among the most horrible war crimes of the young 21st century" to you?

There is a good article in The New Republic on the assertions one often hears that Israel is violating international law. As usual, the standards applied to Israel markedly differ from the standards that are usually applied to everyone else. The author singles out Amnesty International and the UN for criticism, but he might as well have been talking about large portions of the blogosphere.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Stanley Fish has a pretty good op-ed on academic freedom and the Barrett case.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Slate has an interesting review of some recent research on marijuana. The summary is that,

- Rats who are fed marijuana are not more motivated to find heroin. However, once they do obtain it, they are likely to take more of it than rats who are not fed marijuana.

- Pot smoking does not have a statistically measurable effect on lung cancer (in contrast to cigarette smoking).

Slate has an interesting review of some recent research on marijuana. The summary is that,

- Rats who are fed marijuana are not more motivated to find heroin. However, once they do obtain it, they are likely to take more of it than rats who are not fed marijuana.

- Pot smoking does not have a statistically measurable effect on breast cancer.

Friday, July 21, 2006

The Mercury News runs an article about a tour of the damage to Beirut's southern suburbs:

separating Hezbollah's charity work from its commitment to violent resistance is no easy task. Memorials to fighters who died in "martyrdom operations," local parlance for suicide missions, still clung to some walls Thursday.

A reporter found a photo of what appeared to be camouflaged Hezbollah guerrillas firing rocket-propelled grenade launchers. The reporter picked up the photo and blew off the dust to examine it when a stony voice interrupted.

"I advise you not to take any papers from here, and we won't tell you twice," said a black-clad man who identified himself as a member of Hezbollah. "Remember, we are watching."

The hour-long tour ended when Israeli jets broke the sound barrier with two loud booms. Yells of "Evacuate!" echoed through the barren corridors, and panicked journalists ran to their cars.
Meanwhile, it appears that the efforts to hit Hezbollah's missile supply are working (or they are simply running out of misisles):

As the fighting moved into its ninth day and Israeli warplanes continued to hit targets across Lebanon, Hezbollah rocket fire at northern Israeli towns and cities dropped off sharply, with about 40 salvos counted by late evening Thursday, the Israeli military said. On the heaviest days of such attacks, as many as 130 rockets had fallen.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Michael Walzer has a piece in TNR on the Israeli-Lebanon conflict.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

I've been pretty happy at the coverage the recent Mideast conflict has received in the Times. Often, newspaper articles tend to parrot the talking points of one (or both) sides; this hasn't happened here. The Times article about the debate over the proportionality of Israel's response is particularly good:

The asymmetry in the reported death tolls is marked and growing: some 230 Lebanese dead, most of them civilians, to 25 Israeli dead, 13 of them civilians. In Gaza, one Israel soldier has died from his own army’s fire, and 103 Palestinians have been killed, 70 percent of them militants.

The cold figures, combined with Israeli air attacks on civilian infrastructure like power plants, electricity transformers, airports, bridges, highways and government buildings, have led to accusations by France and the European Union, echoed by some nongovernmental organizations, that Israel is guilty of “disproportionate use of force” in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon and of “collective punishment” of the civilian populations..

Israel [does not]deliberately single out civilians, [Foreign Minister Tzippi Livni] argued, as Hezbollah and Hamas do through rocket attacks and suicide bombings. Intent matters, she said.

But in Gaza and Lebanon, civilians are inevitably harmed when militants hide among them. And in Lebanon, she said, some of the dead may be civilians associated with Hezbollah, assisting it or storing its rockets.

“Terrorists use the population and live among them,” Ms. Livni said. “It’s difficult to target like a surgery. Unfortunately, civilians sometimes pay the price of giving shelter to terrorists.”...

Those arguments leave Lebanese and Gazans cold.

Dalia Harati, 33, a Lebanese Sunni in Beirut, said: “The world is just standing by while Israel kills more and more. They come here and urge Hezbollah to free the prisoners and then stop firing rockets against Israel, with only about 30 killed so far, and then ask the Israelis to stop their attacks when they have already killed more than 200.

“It is as usual the West’s famous double standards, but we were hoping that would change when so many innocents are being killed.”

Last week, Khamiz Essaid sat beside the Gaza hospital bed of his son, Muhammad, 18, who had been wounded in the liver by shrapnel when an Israeli rocket hit the escape car of some Hamas military leaders, who had survived the bombing of the house where they were meeting. Muhammad, resting after an operation, had gone out to try to help the survivors, his father said.

What did Mr. Essaid think of Hamas having a meeting in his neighborhood and the consequences? “Gaza is too small,” he said. “Where can they go?”

Despite the damage, he says he supports Palestinian efforts to hit Israel, however ineffective. “We don’t have F-13’s or 14’s or 17’s, or whatever they are,” he said. “What do we have? These little rockets, like needle pricks. And the Israelis exaggerate the impact of these needles and say we’re destroying their state! But we have to resist any way we can.”

A ground attack is more surgical than airstrikes. The operation in Gaza, for example, has killed more militants than civilians, often through direct exchanges of fire. But Israel wants to avoid being bogged down on the ground, as it was in Lebanon for 18 years.

Israel has been careful to drop leaflets warning civilians in southern Beirut and southern Lebanon where it knows that Hezbollah keeps stores of rockets and launchers in apartment houses, garages and homes.

Brig. Gen. Ido Nehushtan, a member of Israel’s general staff, said there were military rationales for the targets Israel had chosen: to reduce and destroy the ability of Hezbollah or Hamas to attack Israelis, to move freely and to be resupplied from Syria and Iran. He insisted that “the Israeli military tries our utmost to avoid civilian casualties.”

Israel attacked the Beirut headquarters of Hezbollah, the specially built “Security Square,” where leaders like Sheik Hassan Nasrallah live and have offices, and where they are now in bunkers...

Raji Sourani, a Gazan lawyer who founded and directs the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, is running out of patience.

“What is happening here is resistance to the occupation,” he said. “What Israel is doing in Gaza now has nothing to do with the captured soldier. I don’t think bridges, power stations or airports have anything to do with the soldier. I don’t think denying access for goods and people has anything to do with the soldier, or denying medicine, or bombarding one of the world’s most densely populated areas by day and night.”

Mr. Sourani said he was becoming discouraged. “People can’t be expected to be ‘good victims,’ ” he said. “People like me who are committed to coexistence are losing patience. People are being held hostage in Beit Hanun and no one is talking about it anymore, and Israel will pay very dearly for what is happening here.”

The problem, said Ms. Livni, the foreign minister, is that Israel is dealing with two semi-states, Hezbollah and Hamas, which have pledged to destroy Israel.

“The leaders who support an acceptable process are the weak ones,” she said, citing the Lebanese prime minister, Fouad Siniora, and the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, known as Abu Mazen. “This is a real problem and a real similarity. Siniora is against the Syrians and has the same ideas as the international community, and Abu Mazen favors a two-state solution, but neither of them can deliver.”
Here is my opinion:

1. Israel response: disproportinate? Yes. Faced with an attack by Hezbollah and Hamas, Israel sought to respond with an operation whose goal is to undermine the power of Hezbollah and Hamas to launch future attacks.

2. Is Israel's response collective punishment? My current answer is no.

- When terrorists hide among civilians, it is inevitable that strikes on them will carry some civilian casualties. Thus, we would expect a large difference in civilian casualties because the Israeli army is clearly marked, while Hezbollah is not.

- Israel has offered a concrete reason for its attacks on infrastructure, which have not been widely spread out, but targeted on the supply routes used by Hezbollah. This reason is to prevent shipment of weapons to Hezbollah from Syria and Iran, who are its principal backers.

- I have yet to see a single target that could be unambiguously classified as collective punishment. Examples of such attacks would be bombings on infrastructure in the non-Shiite areas not close to the Israeli border - say in North Lebanon - which could not really be used in any way related to the attacks. Such attacks have not, however, happened. Each Israeli attack on infrastructure that has been so strongly criticized has been in Shiite areas with Hezbollah bases.

- It is certainly possible to speculate that Israel is choosing its targets to punish the civilian population - I'm sure everyone has guesses on the true motivations of Israeli leaders. There is, though, no actual evidence to support this.

I may change my answer in the future, as more information on the targets and the rationale for each specific attack becomes available.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

A Department of Education study has found that children in public schools do not underperform private schools, after controlling for race, ethnicity, income, and parents' educational backgrounds.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Some points on the recent Israeli-Lebanese conflict:

1. The attacks on Israeli territories can only be interpreted as acts of war. The Lebanese government lets Hezbollah control its souther border and use it as a base for attacks against Israel; at the same time, they don't want to be held responsible for Hezbollah's action. This position is contradictory, to say the least.

2. It is thus perfectly legitimate to hold the government of Lebanon responsible for its actions.

3. Attacks are justified if they have military value. Hezbollah's attacks on the civilian population cannot be justified; on the other hand, the Israeli attacks on the Beirut airport, the Israeli naval blockade, and the Israeli bombing of the roads leading from Syria to Lebanon are all aimed at cutting of the arms flow to Hezbollah. They are, therefore, justified under the laws of war.

4. Some have called for Israeli restraint in this crisis. I think that, on the contrary, Israel must do whatever it takes (within the laws of war of course) to undermine the ability of Hezbollah and Hamas to attack Israeli territory. Moreover, I hope the Israeli attacks make the Lebanese face up to the consequences of their position with respect to the Hezbollah. I hope that the Lebanese reconsider whether they want to give Hezbollah the power to drag their nation into war.

From the Associated Press:
...the [Lebanese] government has sought to distance itself from Hezbollah's latest action, saying it did not know in advance of the cross-border raid and doesn't support it.

Anticipating the government's stance, [Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan] Nasrallah served it a warning Wednesday. "No one at home should act in a way that encourages the enemy to escalate against Lebanon," he told a news conference.
Remind you of anyone?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

This seems about fair:
HOUSTON (Reuters) - Writer and musician Kinky Friedman, who once sang "They Ain't Making Jews Like Jesus Anymore," may include the name by which he is best known on the ballot to choose Texas' next governor in November, the state's top election official said on Monday.

Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams said Friedman's nickname was not a slogan and thus did not violate state law. His name will appear on election ballots as Richard "Kinky" Friedman.

But Williams, a Republican, said Carole Keeton Strayhorn, who is also running as an independent against incumbent Republican Gov. Rick Perry, cannot include "Grandma" as a nickname on the ballot.

Strayhorn's campaign advertising calls her "One Tough Grandma."

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

This is disgusting: a coalition of "major sports leagues, banking institutions, law enforcement, family values advocates and religious groups" is trying (and succeeding) in criminalizing conduct it disaproves off. As the techdirt headline says, Gambling is Bad (Unless It's A State Sponsored Lotto Or Involves Horses).

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Should a man be able to place charms in his bedroom which might injure the wife if she is unfaithful? According to the BBC, this is one of the gray areas is Zimbabwe's new witchcraft law.