Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Hamas legalizes crucifixion

By Donald Sensing

Crucifixion is such a brutal method of execution that even the Romans reserved it only for enemies of the state, and no Roman citizens could be crucified even for that offense. But it's not too brutal for Hamas:

Both Iran and its Hamas proxy in Gaza have been busy this Christmas week showing Christendom just what they think of it. But no one seems to have noticed.

On Tuesday, Hamas legislators marked the Christmas season by passing a Shari'a criminal code for the Palestinian Authority. Among other things, it legalizes crucifixion.

Hamas's endorsement of nailing enemies of Islam to crosses came at the same time it renewed its jihad. Here, too, Hamas wanted to make sure that Christians didn't feel neglected as its fighters launched missiles at Jewish day care centers and schools. So on Wednesday, Hamas lobbed a mortar shell at the Erez crossing point into Israel just as a group of Gazan Christians were standing on line waiting to travel to Bethlehem for Christmas.
Hamas specified crucifixion for "enemies of islam," which can mean anyone Hamas wants it to mean. IMO, this is another reason why Israel's victory over Hamas must be complete and permanent.

Proportionality and crime and punishment

By Donald Sensing

Regarding Israel's bombing campaign against Hamas, the cries of the Left erupted almost immediately that for Israel to launch the air attacks, now in the fifth day, killing more than 300 people, is "disproportionate" to the rocket attacks that Hamas has been carrying out against southern Israel for years. For example

The top U.N. human rights official says Israel's military response to the firing of rockets at its territory by Palestinian militants is "disproportionate."

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay says she is distressed at the enormous loss of life in Gaza and calls on Israel to prevent collective punishment and the targeting of civilians.
I wrote earlier about what proportionality really means in Just War theory and why it does not mean tit-for-tat responses or responses limited in type, duration or nature to the attacks Hamas has launched against Israel. If it did mean that, then Israel would be justified simply to fire rockets back at Gaza with no regard of where they fell or whom they killed, and they'd have several thousand of such responses left to go. That is, after all, exactly what Hamas has done to Israel.

The Jerusalem Post
Under international law, Israel is not required to calibrate its use of force precisely according to the size and range of the weaponry used against it. Israel is not expected to make Kassam rockets and lob them back into Gaza.

When international legal experts use the term "disproportionate use of force," they have a very precise meaning in mind. As the president of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, Rosalyn Higgins, has noted, proportionality "cannot be in relation to any specific prior injury - it has to be in relation to the overall legitimate objective of ending the aggression."
As I wrote in my earlier post, there is a difference in Just War theory between proportionality and discrimination. The latter means that a belligerent must identify enemy locations, personnel or facilities that are valid military-related targets and which are not. A command headquarters is valid. A schoolhouse is not. Yet a combatant does not gain immunity from attack of its headquarters by locating it inside a schoolhouse. The Geneva Conventions specifically forbid the militarization of protected facilities and also state that once they are militarized they are no longer protected.

That's discrimination - taking the necessary steps to minimize (not eliminate) noncombatant casualties. Proportionality means using the violence necessary to achieve the just end of the campaign, but not more violence than necessary. It does not mean trying to make a calculus of violence where Israel cannot use more than Hamas.

As I pointed out in "
Intentional Lethality," Israel's attacks are intended to do four main things:
1. Kill as many high-level Hamas figures as possible.
2. Reduce the ranks of Hamas rank and file by causing casualties among them.
3. Provide disincentives for Gazans' support of Hamas' control of their political future and hence,
4. Delegitimize Hamas' authority.
This is to say, Israel's objective is not simply to stop the rocket attacks for now, but permanently. Israel aims to do two things, broadly: first, eliminate Hamas's present capability to launch its rockets by destroying its materiel and personnel and second, set conditions that hopefully eliminate the chances of the attacks being resumed later.

Even some voices putatively supporting Israel's campaign don't grasp the nuances. Lionel Beehner, in The Huffington Post,
A state is legally allowed to unilaterally defend itself and right a wrong provided the response is proportional to the injury suffered and is immediate, necessary, refrains from targeting civilians, and requires only enough force to reinstate the status quo ante. Also implied in this argument is the right of Israel to prevent Hamas from carrying out future cross-border attacks.
Reinstate the status quo ante? Even Gen. William T. Sherman understood that the only rightful aim of war was to establish a more just peace. The status quo is what Israel found so intolerable that it went to war. How can just war be fought to maintain an unjust status quo? It cannot. Furthermore, if, as Mr. Beehner says, "implied in this argument is the right of Israel to prevent Hamas from carrying out future cross-border attack," how is that like the status quo ante, during which Hamas did carry out such attacks? Mr. Beehner in the end gamely tries to hold up the Left's criticism but trips up on his own contradictions. (In fact, he concludes by saying that Israel should have responded not at all to Hamas' rocket attacks!)

However, the vapidity of the disproportionality criticism can be seen by examining our own system of crime and punishment. Criminals are not sentenced to carefully calibrated punishments that exactly match the damage they caused in the crime. If someone steals your car, the judge doesn't merely make him forfeit his own car. The crook both goes to jail and must make restitution to you. A victim of an armed robbery may lose only a few dollars and suffer a bad fright, but the robber goes to prison for a mandatory seven years here in Tennessee. Finally, the "disproportionate" critics would have to agree, I presume, that a murderer's death sentence is just and proportionate to his crime - take a life, lose yours. But they won't, you betcha.

Update: The Reformed Pastor has some thoughts about, "The Gospel of Proportionality." See also Michael Totten's excellent essay, "Gaza and the Law of Armed Conflict," at Commentary.

Intentional lethality

By Donald Sensing

What does Israel hope to accomplish by bombing Hamas?

Hamas has for years been carrying out terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens. A large number of suicide bombers attacking Israelis in the last dozen years or so have come from Gaza, sponsored by Hamas or Fatah. Under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Israel sealed the border with Gaza a few years ago and withdrew all forces from Gaza. Sharon also ordered the dismantling of Jewish settlements in Gaza. However, peace did not break out once the last Israeli left Gaza. If anything, violence against Israel intensified.

For several years, Hamas has launched explosive rockets from Gaza into southern Israel. A number of Israelis, including women and children, have been killed. These rocket attacks are indiscriminate since Hamas long ago declared that any Israeli of any age, occupation or either sex is a legitimate target. In retaliation (and contrast), Israel has carried out carefully controlled, precision attacks against key Hamas figures, especially those commanding or conducting the rocket attacks. The Israeli attacks have almost without exception been conducted using precision-guided missiles fired from Israeli helicopters with few other Gazans killed or injured.

Earlier this year, Hamas agreed to a ceasefire with Israel. However, Hamas continued to launch rockets against Israel not long after agreeing to the ceasefire. They fired dozens of rockets per day, sometimes as many as 60, causing deaths and injuries among Israeli citizens. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis were compelled to hide in shelters for many hours per day. (Some of Hamas's rockets can range 40 kilometers, about 25 miles.) The economy and social life of southern Israel was pretty much shut down.

I spent some time in the frequently-targeted Israeli town of Sederot in October 2007. Six rockets hit near the town the day I was there, although not during the time I was there. I posted a photo-essay here.

These attacks were the proximate cause of Israel's bombing of Hamas' facilities this week. While working through backchannels to get Hamas to honor the ceasefire, Israel began planning this campaign perhaps as long as six months ago, according to the UK's Guardian newspaper, which continued,

[Israeli Defense Minister Ehud] Barak said yesterday (Dec. 28) the timing of the operation was dictated by Israel's patience simply "having running out" in the face of renewed rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza into Israel when the shaky six-month ceasefire expired 10 days ago. "Any other sovereign nation would do the same," is the official Israeli refrain. Amid the storm of international criticism of Israel's hugely disproportionate response, it is easy to overlook the domestic pressure faced by the Israeli government over its handling of "Hamastan".

Homemade Qassam rockets and mortars rarely kill but they do terrify and have undermined Israel's deterrent power as well as keeping as many as 250,000 residents of the south of the country in permanent danger.
It is, of course, the Guardian that says israel's campaign is "disproportionate," an unsurprising charge for the paper to make since it has a long anti-Israel editorial history. (British newspapers are openly partisan and don't claim to be impartial in reporting.) See my own assessment here. Actually, rumors of action against Gaza have been flying for much longer than six months. As well, the actual number of Israelis living under Hamas' gun is about 750,000, a half-million more than the Guardian says, because Hamas also has longer-range Grad rockets, based on the old, Soviet Katyusha rockets of World War II vintage.

Israel's attacks are intended to do four main things:
  1. Kill as many high-level Hamas figures as possible.
  2. Reduce the ranks of Hamas rank and file by causing casualties among them.
  3. Provide disincentives for Gazans' support of Hamas' control of their political future and hence,
  4. Delegitimize Hamas' authority.

I have found that the first objective, killing the enemy, is a concept that repels a lot of people of the Western comfortable classes. Yet war is the wielding of intentional lethality; as Clausewitz wrote, "Killing is the sine qua non of war."

I have recounted before a story of an evening I spent at a dinner party in the fall of 2001. Another guest commented that it “wasn’t fair” for US pilots to fly with impunity above Taliban positions, dropping bombs. I bit my tongue. Later, another guest said that the bombing “wouldn’t intimidate” the Taliban.

I dived in. “We’re not trying to intimidate them,” I said.

“Then why are we bombing them?” came the question.

“To kill them,” I answered. There was a long silence at the table. The concept seemed not to have occurred to them. With only a couple of exceptions, the others were university graduate-school students.

The intentional lethality of combat is something that non-military people often have a hard time understanding. They often tend to think of military operations in symbolic terms, such as “intimidation,” or believe that combat offensives are designed simply to drive the enemy away or take him prisoner.

Israelis of every political stripe understand that the fight against Hamas is an existential one. The bombing campaign against Hamas is not merely symbolic, expressing displeasure at Hamas. It is, as Clausewitz wrote of the use of military force, the attempt to compel, not simply persuade, Hamas to do Israel's will.

As video from Gaza makes clear, Israel's attacks have been conducted with as great precision as possible. The vast majority of killed and injured have been unambiguously members of Hamas. Gazan civilians have suffered, yes, but there is no way to claim with integrity that the Israelis have failed to follow the Just War tenet of discrimination, just as it is undeniable that Hamas has deliberately attempted with success to kill Israeli civilians.

How will this all end?

Unfortunately, the question assumes that there will be an end. Hamas, funded by Saudi Arabia and equipped by Iran through Egypt, considers itself locked in a death match with Israel. Israel cannot permit hundreds of thousands of its people to live under constant threat of death by Hamas' rockets.

Israeli prime Minister Olmert has been on politically shaky ground for several months, accused of graft and corruption going back years. The end of his ministry looms shortly. Even so, he has indicated that he will order a land invasion of Gaza if Hamas fails to follow the terms of the ceasefire it agreed to follow. Israeli tank units have already assembled near Gaza.

In my opinion, the war cannot end on terms favorable to Hamas because Hamas simply is too weak to enforce its will against Israel. Terrorism is all it can do, and while the destruction it has wreaked using terrorism has been great in the past, it can never be so great that Israel will submit.

Israel, on the other hand, has the military capability to crush utterly Hamas, but the cost in lives to both Israel and Gaza's civilians would be more than Israel is prepared to accept. An air campaign alone cannot compel Hamas to surrender its fight. Unless Israel is prepared to accept a long-term deployment of its armed forces inside Gaza, these strikes will bring only temporary respite from Hamas' attacks. However, Olmert proved in 2006, during Israel's campaign against Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, that he has no stomach for the slog of ground warfare.

On the other hand, Israel can "win" if it can knock out Hamas' claim to be the legitimate representative of the Gazan people. Arab journalist Khaled Abu Toameh, whom I met and talked with for an afternoon in October 2007, writes that the attacks have already caused Hamas to lose much legitimacy.

Hamas appears to have lost some of its credibility due to the fact the Islamist movement was unprepared for the surprise offensive - a fact that contributed to the deaths of dozens of policemen who were attending a graduation ceremony in Gaza City on Saturday.

Hamas's relatively moderate response to the operation (only a few dozen rockets and mortars that have killed one Israeli citizen so far) has also harmed the movement's reputation.

Prior to the attack, Hamas operatives had threatened to fire thousands of rockets at Israel, including Beersheba and Ashdod.

Hamas's top leaders in the Gaza Strip, Ismail Haniyeh, Mahmoud Zahar and Said Siam, have all gone underground out of fear of being targeted by Israel. Just a few days ago the three had proudly announced that they were not afraid of death and would be "honored" to join the bandwagon of Palestinian "martyrs." The general feeling on the streets of the Gaza Strip on Sunday night was that the countdown to the collapse of the Hamas regime had begun. As one local journalist put it, "We don't know who's in control of the Gaza Strip. The feeling is that the Hamas regime is crumbling."

The question is, though: who or what is ready to replace Hamas if it loses political power in Gaza? PA President Abbas has publicly been unsupportive of Hamas, even going so far as to blame Hamas for the Israel's attacks it broke its ceasefire with Israel. As Mr. Toameh notes, Abbas would like nothing more than for the PA to return to power in Gaza.

As well, there is good reason to believe that some important Arab states are not much sorry to see Israel take Hamas down a peg or three, much as they publicly denounced but privately approved Israel's abortive attempt to shatter Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006. The reason? The Sunni states near Israel - Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt - are very concerned about Iran's rising influence in the Mediterranean Middle East. Iran sponsors both Hamas and Hezbollah (Hezbollah, or "Party of God," was a political entity in Iran originally; the Lebanese faction is a sort of franchise). Zvi Barel writes,

Thus far, Hamas has not succeeded in generating an Arab diplomatic initiative that would lead to a renewed cease-fire on its terms. Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which view Hamas as an Iranian ally whose goal is to increase Tehran's regional influence at their expense, prefer to wait a bit in the hopes that Israel's military operation will strip Hamas of its ability to dictate terms. And without those two states, the Arab League will have trouble even convening an emergency summit.

Granted, such a summit has limited practical value. But its absence indicates that Arab solidarity with the Palestinians is crumbling under Hamas' leadership.

Middle East politics often seem opaque. There is much that goes on "behind the curtain" that we do not see. So expect to be surprised again in days to come.

Also recommended:

"The Sederot Gambit"

"1948, Israel and the Palestinians: The True Story" in the Wall Street Journal, May 2008.

"The neighborhood bully strikes again," by Gideon Levy, who denounces the campaign, based (apparently) not on a lack of justification but because Gideon believes the Olmert government to be incompetent in security matters (and for good reasons, I would add, as I explained here).

"A hard look at Hamas' capabilities," which are not to be scoffed at.

Why can't Israel live in peace?

By Donald Sensing

What is the source of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians?

There is no casual answer to this question. For the long answer, I recommend Sister Ruth Lautt's comprehensive article,
The Church’s Witness on Issues in the Arab/Israeli Conflict. My shorter answer is below.

No nation in the land some now call "Palestine" has been independent since more than 200 years before Christ. Since then, the lands comprising modern Israel, Gaza and the West Bank have been ruled by the Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines and Arabians, and briefly by Europeans during the Crusades (and not much of Palestine then). Until the establishment of modern Israel in 1948, the people living in historic Palestine had never been self governing since the land belonged to ancient Israel/Judah.

In late modern times, most of the Middle East was under the sway of the Ottoman Empire, headquartered in Turkey. The Ottomans made the unfortunate decision to ally with Germany during World War I. The end of the war meant the end of the Ottoman Empire, and Palestine came under control of the British as a prize of war. (British forces under Edmund Allenby took Jerusalem in 1917.)

The land that became modern Israel was sparsely populated at that time. One-third of the people living there were Jews, more than had lived there since Roman times. The League of Nations, formed in 1919, passed resolutions directing the British to create a Jewish homeland. This directive became known as the British Mandate and ultimately came to include approximately the lands that became Israel in 1948, plus the Transjordan (known today as the West Bank) and Gaza.

In 1947, the United Nations resolved that the lands of the British Mandate, not including Jordan, be partitioned into two states, one Jewish, one Arab. The Jews accepted this resolution while the Arab nations violently opposed it. The result was the war for Israeli independence, beginning in May 1948 and culminating in a ceasefire in February 1949. During the war hundreds of thousands of people, both Jews and Arabs, were dispossessed of their homes and forced to leave or chose to leave because of the violence of war. Refugees were Arabs and Jews in approximately equal numbers. Sister Ruth summarizes,

The Arabs that stayed in what became the borders of Israel became Israeli citizens. The Arabs that fled or were forced out became refugees. For the most part they were never resettled and the United Nations maintained and continues to maintain them as refugees in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and in what we now call the Palestinian territories under a special agency created only for Palestinian refugees -- United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNWRA).
Today, these refugees and their descendants live mainly in the West Bank and Gaza. Neighboring Arab countries have been very inhospitable in accepting them. For example, after the Gulf War of 1991, Kuwait expelled all Palestinians living and working in the country, about 200,000 overall.

Since 1948, the Arab nations have not accepted the legitimacy of Israel as a state and have rejected the concept of a "two-state solution," the basis of the original British Mandate that would have created both a Jewish nation and a Palestinian nation. The two-state solution still forms the basis of the West's attempts to mediate a peace. This is exactly the solution that Hamas rejects. Even Yasir Arafat, when proclaiming his acceptance of the state of Israel to the West, made it clear in his domestic statements that Israel could not continue as a Jewish state, but would have to become a majority-Muslim country.

Except Egypt, no Arab nation has formally signalled acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state, although Jordan does so in practice if not in declaration. Most of the rest of the Arab countries deal with Jewish Israel as a
fait accompli, though they look forward to the day when it will transition to Muslim majority.

This history is the root of the conflict between Hamas and Israel (and, for that matter, between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon).
Update: See also my later post, What does Hamas aspire to? 

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Valkyrie - Tom Cruise's best role yet

By Donald Sensing

The boys and I went to see Valkyrie last night, the new movie about the July 20, 1944 plot to blow Adolf Hitler to bits, neutralize the SS, assume control of the German government and bring the war to close on terms more favorable to Germany than unconditional surrender.

This movie is surprisingly good with a more powerful impact than I expected, even though I was already familiar with most of the history of the unsuccessful coup.

Normally at this point in a blog review, I would alert you about spoilers to follow, but that would be a bit like warning you that RMS Titanic would sink at the end of James Cameron's movie about it. The historical facts of the July 20 plot are well known: a group of German army officers, some of general-officer rank and some retired, plus some civilians, plotted to assassinate Hitler in the summer of 1944. Col. Claus von Stauffenberg was the hub man, with direct access to Hitler. On July 20, Claus attended a conference at Hitler's forward headquarters in Poland, called the Wolf's Lair. Claus carried into the conference room a briefcase with a powerful bomb inside with its time fuze already functioning. Then another conspirator called Claus on the phone, enabling him to leave the building without raising suspicion.

Shortly afterward, the bomb exploded, killing three officers and wounding many more. Hitler, though, happened to be shielded from the bulk of the blast by the heavy, oaken conference table and escaped with only light injuries.

Not knowing that Hitler had survived, the plotters set in motion their plan to seize control of the government in Berlin. Using an existing plan called "Valkyrie" (Walküre), they succeeded only briefly. As word spread that Hitler was alive and still in command, the plot fell apart. That night, von Stauffenberg and some other key plotters were executed.

It is a particular challenge to make a movie of real history and present it both accurately and suspensefully. James Cameron didn't even try in Titanic, preferring to tell a wholly fictional love story aboard the doomed vessel while sticking to facts (or best conjecture) in representing the ship itself and its sinking. Ron Howard's Apollo 13 met the challenge extremely well, varying little from the actual history yet telling the story with suspense that was sometimes gripping.

Director Bryan Singer succeeds in Valkyrie. He's helped along by an excellent screenplay and an outstanding cast, especially (Wunder von Wundern!) Tom Cruise. Filming in Berlin helped a lot too, in fact, the firing-squad execution of von Stauffenberg and three other plotters was filmed at the actual site they died, Berlin's Bendler Block, where stands the only memorial in Berlin to any German military members of the war.

Cruise plays von Stauffenberg with (for him) severe understatement. It was refreshing to see Cruise in a movie where he was not "Tom Cruise playing Tom Cruise." The role is unlike any role I recall him playing. The film opens in North Africa, where von Stauffenberg was badly shot up by Allied -40 Warhawks (which are excellently CGI rendered). Losing an eye, the whole of one hand and two fingers from the other leaves von Stauffenberg permanently handicapped. This is the only combat scene of the movie, which, as Cruise said on the publicity circuit, is not really a war movie at all, but an espionage-suspense thriller set in wartime Germany. Unlike Cruise's past films, where his characters usually shook off gunshot wounds and club beatings within minutes, von Stauffenberg's disabilities really do matter and affect why the bomb plot didn't kill Hitler (won't spoil that one any further).

My only complaint about Cruise as von Stauffenberg is that Cruise's past roles - most being action-hero, physical roles - are almost too much baggage for him to break free in Valkyrie, wherein Cruise's character perforce must stay firmly within what is actually, humanly possible. But it works.

What I liked --

The actors didn't use phony German accents. Cruise talked like, well, Cruise. None of this, "Vee must neffer be caught. Iss ze bomb shtrong enuff?" stuff. It may be that Cruise can't do accents, so director Singer skipped doing them. Still, it works overall. OTOH, the cast is international, so Englishman Tim Wilkinson, playing General Friedrich Fromm, sounds like Lord Cornwallis, whom he played in Mel Gibson's The Patriot. And German actor Thomas Kretschmann, playing Major Otto Ernst Remer, speaks English perfectly well, but he does have, well, a German accent.

The musical score lets you know from the beginning that the movie is about heroic men and women whose will not prevail. This is not a triumphalist movie and the music reflects that. It is low key, mostly strings and thankfully bereft of the martial drumrolls that seem always to accompany movie characters in Nazi uniforms.

The supporting cast is excellent. Terence Stamp is utterly believable as retired General Ludwig Beck. David Bamber plays Adolf Hitler with physical precision, though the part is not as large as one might think for a movie about a plot to kill him. Bill Nighy as General Friedrich Olbrich portrays a weak reed of a soul who clutches at a key moment. Wilkinson's portrayal of Fromm captures perfectly that reprehensible soul who mugwumped his way through the plot, then summarily ordered the execution of the von Stauffenberg and some others to cover his own tracks.

The accuracy of the time is well done, from uniforms to aircraft to sidearms.

Overall, I give Valkyrie eight of of 10 stars.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

"So What?" headline of the day

By Donald Sensing

CNN: "Obama closely monitoring Gaza, adviser says"

A president-elect has no authority to do squat about Gaza or anything else in the world. So exactly why should I care whether Obama (or had MCain been elected, he) is "monitoring" the Gaza situation? Monitoring is all he can do. This is of no more news significance than reporting that he ate breakfast this morning.

And CNN wonders why it's decreasingly relevant day by day.

2008 - the year global warmism died

By Donald Sensing

Christopher Booker writes,

Looking back over my columns of the past 12 months, one of their major themes was neatly encapsulated by two recent items from The Daily Telegraph.

The first, on May 21, headed "Climate change threat to Alpine ski resorts" , reported that the entire Alpine "winter sports industry" could soon "grind to a halt for lack of snow". The second, on December 19, headed "The Alps have best snow conditions in a generation" , reported that this winter's Alpine snowfalls "look set to beat all records by New Year's Day".

Easily one of the most important stories of 2008 has been all the evidence suggesting that this may be looked back on as the year when there was a turning point in the great worldwide panic over man-made global warming. Just when politicians in Europe and America have been adopting the most costly and damaging measures politicians have ever proposed, to combat this supposed menace, the tide has turned in three significant respects.
Those three respects are:

"First, all over the world, temperatures have been dropping in a way wholly unpredicted by all those computer models which have been used as the main drivers of the scare."

"Secondly, 2008 was the year when any pretence that there was a "scientific consensus" in favour of man-made global warming collapsed."

"Thirdly, as banks collapsed and the global economy plunged into its worst recession for decades, harsh reality at last began to break in on those self-deluding dreams which have for so long possessed almost every politician in the western world."

Read the whole thing.

Israel continues to attack Hamas

By Donald Sensing

The Israeli Air Force struck targets inside Gaza for the second day in a campaign that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said would take some time.

MSNBC reports:

Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas said that Hamas is to blame for the attacks because it broke its ceasefire with Israel by firing up to 60 rockets per day into Israeli towns and territory. He called on Hamas to renew the truce.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Proportional response

By Donald Sensing

Unsurprisingly, France's president, Nikolas Sarkozy has already called Israel's air raids of Hamas' terrorist facilities, "disproportionate."

Israel's bombing can be seen as disproportionate only if the Just War Theory principle of proportionality is (wrongly) understood as meaning a tit for tat response. That is, if Hamas kills three Israelis, Israel may retaliate, but not more violently than Hamas. This is a severe misunderstanding of what proportionality means in Just War theory.

In 2006, Catholic cleric, co-blogger and Afghanistan veteran John Krenson wrote that "proportionate" does not mean tit for tat responses, but responses proprtionate to the good being defended.

Just War theory recognizes that a nation has the right to defend itself from aggression. Proportionality does not mean that Israel cannot fight back with more violence than Hamas is using against it. It means that its response must be proportionate to the good Israel is defending. In this case, the good Israel is defending is the right of its citizens to live and work free of the threat of sudden death from Hamas' rockets. A proportionate response for Israel is to take all measures to eliminate this threat, but not to use more violence than necessary to achieve that end. A related Just War principle, discrimination, means that Israel must discriminate between legitimate targets and non-legitimate targets, attacking the former but not the latter.

Israel's primary obligation is not to limit its retaliation to the level of violence that Hamas has been using against Israel, but to use the full amount of force necessary either to remove Hamas' capability or will to do so any more.

This should be self evident, but remember that many on the Left thought back in 2001 that as soon as the US had killed 3,000 al Qaeda and Taliban in Afghanistan, we should have come home because that's how many people died on 9/11. But I've known for years that the Left long ago ceased to know how to do moral reasoning.

(I should point out, though, that the Israeli Left is united behind the IDF and the military necessity of Israel's defense. Unlike the American Left, though, most of the Israeli Left are military veterans.)

See also Richard Cohen's 2006 column, "A Proportionate Response is Madness."

Further: Michael Totten wonders just what a proportionate response would look like, otherwise, and Harvard law Professor Alan Dershowitz says that making moral equivalency between Israel and Hamas is moral idiocy. Bret Stephens writes that "Hamas Knows One Big Thing," but also questions Olmert's abiliy to end this well.

Israeli headlines on Gaza bombing

By Donald Sensing

See also Daniel Jackson's post, from Israel, next post down this page.

IDF amasses forces near Gaza ahead of possible ground op. Officials say operation could take weeks, add Hamas can fire 150-200 rockets a day; Barak: "Now is time to fight... but it won't be easy."

Olmert: Israelis' lives are not forfeit PM says nation was forced to respond to Hamas aggression; Netanyahu: Now is a time for unity.

Mashaal: We still want cease-fire Hamas leader warns Israel fighting won't work where diplomacy failed; calls for W. Bank intifada.

'All police HQs in Gaza destroyed' Hamas vows revenge, says it'll never "raise the white flag;" hundreds reported wounded in Strip.

One killed as Kassams rain on Negev, 7 wounded, two of them in serious condition as over 80 rockets, mortar shells pound western Negev.

World leaders call for halt to violence Arabs reacts angrily to Gaza op; Egypt also blames Hamas; France: Israeli response "disproportionate."

Israeli Arabs foment over IAF Gaza op Plans for general strike throughout sector on Sunday; E. J'lem residents riot in the streets.

Olmert: Our desire for quiet was met with terror
Barak says Israel won't let 'terror hurt our citizens or soldiers', vows Gaza campaign to widen. 21:39 Tags: Ehud Barak, Hamas

One Israeli killed, 4 hurt as Palestinian rockets hit Negev home
Qassams fired from Gaza hit Kiryat Gat, some 20 km. from Strip, dozens of missiles, rockets fired Saturday. 21:39 Tags: Gaza Strip, Qassam

Hamas defiant, says 'won't raise a white flag' as IAF pounds Gaza
IDF declares Gaza operation 'will continue, will be expanded, and will deepen if necessary.' 22:01
Tags: Israel airstrikes

ANALYSIS / IAF strike on Gaza is Israel's version of 'shock and awe'
Palestinian sources in Gaza report that 40 targets were destroyed in a span of three to five minutes. 21:41 Tags: Gaza Strip, Israel News

IN PICTURES / The Gaza Strip under attack
Images from the Gaza Strip as IAF warplanes bomb Hamas targets, killing at least 205 Palestinians. 21:41 Tags: Hamas, Gaza, Israel news

Bradley Burston / The worst anti-Israel charges you'll hear in wartime
A guide to the least productive, most resolutely ingenuous claims likely to be hurled at Israel. 21:01 Tags: Hamas, Gaza Strip

U.S. demands Hamas end terrorist acts, urges Israel to avoid civilian casualties
Muslim Brotherhood leader in Jordan calls on Arab armies to 'crush the Jewish enemy'.

Israeli Arabs react with violence to IDF operations in Gaza 21:53 Tags: IDF, Israel News, Gaza Strip

Israel to mount emergency international PR effort in wake of Gaza campaign 21:45 Tags: Foreign Ministry, Gaza Strip

ANALYSIS / A hard look at Hamas' capabilities

Opening Round

By Daniel Jackson

This morning, during our Shabbat meal, we were startled by what sounded like heavy artillery to the far southwest. My son was sceptical, but I insisted on going outside for better sound. Sure enough, to the far southwest came the sound of heavy powerful thuds; followed a minute later by the unmistakable roar of the IAF that appeared to be coming from everywhere. In the late afternoon, after sunset, more thuds were heard.

This afternoon's web media are reporting the long awaited Israeli response to the continued rain of rocketry and mortars from Hamas. Ha'aretz reports that the IDF launched a wide attack at 11:30 am Jerusalem time against some 50 targets.

Palestinian medical sources said that at least 195 people had been killed in the strikes, which began with almost no warning at around 11:30 A.M.

Medical personnel in Gaza said that more than 200 people were also wounded in the series of Israel Air Force strikes. Egypt has opened its long-sealed border with Gaza to allow in the wounded for medical treatment. Hamas said that the attacks had caused widespread panic in the Strip.

The first wave of air strikes was launched by a 60 warplanes which hit a total of 50 targets in one fell swoop. The IAF deployed approximately 100 bombs, with an estimated 95 percent of the ordnance reaching its intended target. Most of the casualties were Hamas operatives.
Later this afternoon, Barak called a press conference to discuss the opening round of Israel's response to the recent reign of rockets.

Barak laid out the three objectives of the offensive – dealing Hamas a forceful blow, fundamentally changing the situation in Gaza, and bringing to the cessation of rocket attacks against Israeli citizens.

"There is a time for calm and there is a time for fighting, and now is the time for fighting. The operation will expand as necessary," said Barak.

"I don't want to mislead anyone. This won't be easy and it won't be short, but we must be determined," he added. "The time has come to act. We do not go to this clash gladly, but neither are we afraid of it. We will not let terrorists hurt our citizens or soldiers. We will do what is necessary. For weeks Hamas and its affiliates lobbed Qassams and Grads and mortar shells on the towns and communities of the South. We have no intention of allowing this situation to continue."
Meanwhile, the international response contains no surprises. The Vatican urges a peaceful solution, the US asks Hamas to stop but urges Israel to avoid civilian casualties [which is why Hamas locates its factories and launch sites in civilian areas], and the Arab press has denounced Israel's action accusing Barak of seeking pre-election points in the polls. Same as it ever was.

The weather has been stinky--grey, overcast, cold, with intermitten showers. The rain of the last several days had left the Gaza area muddy, all of which lulled Hamas into a false sense of security. In recent weeks, the Hamas command in Hamastan and Damascus have brushed off reports of impending Israeli action. Who would fight in the rain? Professionals.

Of course, they have Jimmy Carter as a consultant. If they remembered that Barak is the one planning the action, more importantly Barak's testimony to the Winograd Commission on the failure of the 2006 Lebanon action, they would have been more cautious of Barak's tactical style. Unlike Jimmy, whose only combat experience is with a killer bunny rabbit, Barak was a commando and a general.

What Barak said to the Winograd Commission was simple and to the point--give them six weeks to stop and then hit them hard. Indeed, this was the conclusion reached by the Winograd Commission--Olmert and Peretz were ill prepared to launch "an action"--there simply had been no prior planning or build up.

This is exactly what Barak did with the Gaza crisis. Of course, the six weeks to prepare doesn't hurt either.

As for Hamas, I'd suggest stop listening to Jimmy Carter and start talking to Ehud Barak--unless you'd rather talk to Bibi.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Why Christmas?

By Donald Sensing

I want to take a post to answer, "Why Christmas?" I don’t mean why do we have a Christmas holiday, but what is the significance of Christmas in Christian theology, and what are the roots of this theology.

Of course, the central claim of Christian faith is the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, which is commemorated on Easter. Christianity could never have been formed without the resurrection, although it could have been (and in fact was) formed without much attention to the birth stories of Jesus, which are absent from all the books of the New Testament except two, the gospels of Matthew and Luke.

Yet I begin my inquiry into why Christmas with neither of those gospels, but with the Gospel of John. The Fourth Evangelist begins his Gospel this way:

John 1:1-4, 12-14: 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.

12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
Christians call the birth Jesus the Incarnation, the being born into flesh of deity. Unlike Judaism, Christians conceive of the deity as a Trinity, three persons united in one godhead: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. (Ever eager to avoid patriarchy and sexism, the "progressives" of the Church today prefer, "Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, which simultaneously commits two heresies. One, it depersonalizes the Trinity, which consists of persons in relation to one another, to humanity and the cosmos at large, and two, it reduces the godhead to a small collection of role players or functionaries rather than a fullness of the godhead. But that’s all for another post, perhaps.)

The theology of the Trinity followed rather than preceded the life of Jesus. Of course, the Jews affirmed the Oneness of God, and the most common translation of the Sh’ma, the traditional call to worship of the Jews, is, "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One" (Deut. 6:4) Scholars of Jewish theology point out that the Spirit of the Lord is also referred to in unique ways in the Jewish Scriptures and may be understood as referring to a special presence of God with his people, although not really as a separate person of a unified godhead.

It was the resurrection of Christ and his Ascension into the heavens that forced the development of the doctrine of the Trinity, the scope of which is beyond my point here. Suffice it to say that the deity long proclaimed by the Jews, including, of course, Jesus, came to be understood by the Church Fathers (the church’s leaders who followed the apostles) as a unified godhead consisting in three persons.

Christians say that the birth of Jesus is the Incarnation into full human being of the second person of the Trinity, the Son, and so Jesus was God-being-human. Jesus is thus understood by Christians to be a special and unique presence of the deity with humankind and the created order - not the only presence by any means, but a "never before, never after" presence. So Matthew’s Gospel cites the Hebrew prophet Isaiah to call Jesus Emmanuel, meaning "God With Us."

The apostles and the early churches were all Jews before they began following Christ. They retained their Jewish beliefs. In fact, all the apostles were Jews to begin with and remained so until they were martyred, save John, for following Christ.

The most important thing that the Christians brought with them from Judaism was the theology of covenant. The children of Israel who followed Moses out of Egypt, the focal event of Jewish history, made the Covenant of Sinai with God at that mountain, which became was focusing theological statements of Jewish faith.

For the Jews, the sign of their covenants with God (of which Sinai’s is central, but not solitary) is circumcision. For Christians the sign of their covenant is Christian baptism. Christians do not claim to be under Sinai's covenant, but under the New Covenant in Jesus Christ, instituted by Jesus at the Last Supper, now celebrated by churches as the Eucharist, also referred to as Holy Communion or the Lord’s Supper.

The only mention of the new covenant in the Jewish Scriptures is by the prophet Jeremiah, in the 31st chapter of the book bearing his name. Jeremiah’s prophecy of the new covenant begins,
“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt ... .
Modern scholars debate whether Jeremiah was referring to a new covenant that would entirely supplant and replace the covenant of Sinai and its related covenants, or renewal/restoration of the historic covenants, which Jeremiah clearly thought had failed. No prophet after Jeremiah picked up on the new covenant, nor did Jeremiah mention it but this once.

At his Last Supper with his disciples, said St. Paul, Jesus "took the cup also, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood." However, that’s all that Jesus ever said about the new covenant. Jesus never explained the relationship between himself and the shedding of his blood to the new covenant foretold by Jeremiah.

Nonetheless, Jesus himself, and his apostles after his resurrection, saw Jesus as a unique and personal representation of God among human beings. John said that, "The Word became flesh and lived among us. We have seen God’s glory, the glory of the Father’s only Son."

Christians believe that the incarnation of God as human being was the decisive event in human history because the incarnation changed God’s relationship to us and our relationship to God. The incarnation means that human beings can see, hear, and know God in ways never before possible. “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father,” Jesus told his disciple Philip.

The Incarnation of God in Jesus means that in Christ, God placed himself at the mercy of all the things which we endure. Jesus became tired and hungry. He was dependent on the charity of others for food and shelter. He lost his patience with other people and became angry; the Gospels record both. There is nothing we experience that Jesus did not know. In every way that we are human beings, so was God in Christ. Jesus was Emmanuel, God with us.

In so acknowledging, we recognize the bond that God has established with us, and its revelation in Jesus. God did not stay distant from us, remote and isolated. In Jesus, God chose to live with humanity in the midst of human weakness, confusion, and pain. To become flesh is to know joy, pain, suffering, and loss. It is to love, to grieve, and someday to die. The incarnation binds Jesus to the “everydayness” of human experience.

When someone receives Christ as Christ was sent – the unique embodiment of the eternal God – and when someone believes in the name of Jesus, God makes him a son or her a daughter of God. It takes a second birth to be made a child of God, a birth of the spirit, not of flesh. We are reborn from above. Jesus said, “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again’”(John 3:6-7).

So we become brothers and sisters of Christ in the family of God. The New Testament book of Hebrews teaches, “Both the one who makes people holy [that’s God] and those who are made holy [that’s you and me] are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters” (Hebrews 2:11). In a way, the Nativity is an adoption ceremony of all humanity as God’s actual children.

This kind of relationship is, I think, somewhat different from the historic Jewish understanding of themselves as "children of Israel," which (Daniel, correct me if I'm wrong) refers to their descendancy from the House of Jacob, whom the Lord renamed Israel. Christians place (or should place ) no importance on physical genealogy; the Christian New Covenant depends not on lineage but on rebirth by the Holy Spirit through the Lordship of Christ. Hence, Jesus said that his real "mother and brothers" are "those who hear God's word and put it into practice."

That is the significance of Christmas for Christians people, and the basis of Christian proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The apostles saw the life, work and resurrection of Jesus as a natural continuation of the history and covenant theology of their own people, the Jews, although with a new twist, centered on an historical person whose significance and very identity was a sharp departure from previous figures in Jewish history. For this reason, and others, Christ following did not survive more than a couple of generations within Judaism. A fuller historical inquiry is for another post sometime. Suffice now to say that Christianity at its finest is aware of its daughterhood of Judaism, and at its worst - well our history is sadly self-explanatory of that.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A prayer for Christmas Eve

By Donald Sensing

O God our Father, you have brought us again to the glad season
.....when we celebrate the birth of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Grant that his Spirit may be born anew in our hearts this day
.....and that we may joyfully welcome him to reign over us.
Open our ears that we may hear again the angelic chorus of old.
Open our lips that we, too, may sing with uplifted hearts.
Glory to God in the highest,
.....and on earth, peace, goodwill toward all;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The United Methodist Book of Worship, no. 276.

Occupational tagging

By Donald Sensing

Via American Digest, I have been tagged with a "virus" originated by the Anchoress, who wrote thus:

“It’s simple. Just list all the jobs you’ve had in your life, in order. Don’t bust your brain: no durations or details are necessary, and feel free to omit anything that you feel might tend to incriminate you. I’m just curious. And when you’re done, tag another five bloggers you’re curious about.”
So here goes. I will list only jobs for which I received payment.

Driveway hole repairer, the first job I was ever paid to do, which gained me the princely sum of 10 cents when, as a very small boy, I filled a hole in my grandfather's driveway with gravel.

Dairy-farm hired hand, again with my grandfather, who was the farm's owner and who paid me, occasionally, 50 cents to shovel out and hose down the milking barn after the milking was done. I'll let you imagine what that was like. (My own sons learned early not to tell me thjat some job was beneath their dignity!) He paid me more money than that to toss hay in the hay barn. Of the two jobs, I'll take the shoveling over the hay tossing any time. And anyone who's ever done both would likely agree. I was less than 10 years old, and this was the early 1960s, so that was a lot more spending power than it seems like today.

Mower of lawns, the first time (as a teen) that I started to make real money. Grandad paid well for me to mow his large lawn, and I also mowed lawns around my neighborhood.

Grocery bagger, stock boy and cashier. I was in high school, working two summers at Woodlawn Market, an independent mom and pop store run by "Pappy," who was alcoholic or nearly so, ran a tight ship, set high standards and treated you well when you met them (fired you if you didn't). Before I left for greener pastures, I made it to cashier, which was literally the same as Pappy handing me his wallet every time I went on shift.

In college: desk clerk at the Jack Spence Motor Hotel in Nashville, a 300-room hotel owned by Jack Spence (of course), who also owned a hyper-priced hotel on Music Row. Did this one summer and made pretty good money.

Also in college, I worked an overnight shift one summer at a grocery distributor, "pulling" grocery cases of various items from the warehouse for the 18-wheeeler drivers to load on their trucks. Very heavy, manual labor, but paid out the wazoo, which is why I took the job. Also gave me most of the daytime hours free, another plus.

Vanderbilt Library gofer - this I did for four weeks the summer before my senior year, after completing ROTC Advanced Camp at Ft Bragg, NC. It involved reshelving books and ironing (yes) the catalog labels onto books which needed them. Absolutely the dullest job I've ever had in my life. I'd rather toss hay or shovel the barn daily for a year than do that again for four weeks.

Army officer. These assignments I'll simply list, excluding military schools:

  • Field artillery forward observer, 2d Infantry Division, Korea. (This was when lieutenants were still FOs rather than sergeants as they are today.)

  • Field artillery battery fire direction officer.

  • Instructor, combat techniques, Ft Jackson, SC.

  • Company commander, Ft Jackson, SC.

  • Field artillery battery commander, 2d battalion, 3d FA Regiment, Germany.

  • Brigade fire support officer for 1st Brigade, 3d Armored Division, Germany.

  • Field artillery battalion S3 operations officer, 2d battalion, 92 FA (8-inch, SP), Germany.

  • Public affairs officer, 35th Signal Brigade, Ft Bragg, NC

  • Chief of media relations, XVIII Airborne Corps and Ft Bragg, NC.

  • Operations officer, 3d Battalion, 27th Field Artillery Regiment (MLRS).

  • Director of Joint Public Affairs, Joint Task Force Bravo, Honduras.

  • Leadership support staff, OCPA, Headquarters, Dept. of the Army, the Pentagon.

  • Director of Joint Media Relations, National Victory Parades following the Gulf War.

  • Plans officer, the Army Staff, Headquarters, Dept. of the Army.

  • Chief of Public Affairs, US Army Criminal Investigation Command.
Technology Assistance Program contractor for Nashville's office of the New York Life Insurance Co.

Salesman, business-to-business sales, Phoenix Computer Company, Brentwood, tenn.

Since 1997, I have been under episcopal appointment as a pastor of the Tennessee Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Okay, you can wake up now!

I tag these bloggers:

Bill Hobbs
My blogging colleague, Daniel Jackson
Bill Quick
Chaplain Lewis

Great moments in politicians' self investigation

By Donald Sensing

Richard Nixon: "I am not a crook."

Gary Hart: I am not having an affair with Donna Rice.

Bill Clinton: "I did not have sex with that woman." He even wagged his finger while uttering it, which made it all the more convincing.

John Edwards on the accurate National Enquirer reports of his extramarital affairs: "That's tabloid trash. They're full of lies."

And now: "Obama team probe of Obama team finds no Obama team impropriety."

Okay, color me "convinced."

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Pounding Sand

By Daniel Jackson

There are lots of things happening in the neighborhood but no one has any idea what's really going on. Livni is somewhere meeting with someone; Barak is on again off again about opening the Gaza border crossings; Hamas is flinging stolen metal plumbing pipe over the fence; Olmert is bouncing back and forth between Turkey and wherever; and someone in some paper or tv or Army Radio is saying Israel cannot kick butt without international concensus.

I would say that the entire region is acting like Jimmy Carter except there is a serious sandstorm raging and no one can see where anything is. Not that there was any clarity before the storm set in. The Israeli weather service carried on its website clear proof that the low pressure front is centered over Turkey--clearly explaining why Bubblehead Olmert suddenly was compelled to go there announcing that peace with Syria is assured. I mean Syria is to the east of Jerusalem, for goodness sakes.

But, what about the others? They just seem to wander about pounding sand saying one thing and then another--pretty much whatever comes to their minds.

My dear old dad was wont to say that when the barometer begins falling and the wind shifts to the southwest, folks do some awfully funny things. His theory was that since the brain was encased in a sealed chamber filled with liquid, the lower pressure of the advancing front caused the average person's head to expand. The person's sense of self was just too darned big for their head.

So, here we are befogged with sand in the Middle East while the US Middle West is be-snowed. Now, the folks in the heartland understand that the sensible thing is to stay put. That might be some real good advice for the folks in my neighborhood. Except for the Bubblehead. Maybe he'll float away.

Now THAT would be a wonderful gift from Chanukhah Harry for the Third Night.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Chanukhah First Night--Now as Then

By Daniel Jackson

This year, Chanukhah falls after on the sundown after the winter solstice. Highly symbollic of the return of light to a darkened world. The lights are lit to celebrate, how with divine help, the Maccabbis were able to keep at bay the Selucid armies based in Damascus and Antioch. In "those days", the Temple was restored, Jews could worship openly, and once more stand up and be counted.

Each night, for the next eight nights, an additional candle is added to the menorah; each night lasts a little less time reminding us that after each darken period, there is a return to light and warmth. Houses are decorated with festive trimmings; there are games, special treats, and some even give small presents. The celebration of Chanukhah, however, is also tempered with the awareness that the alternation of light and dark, abundance and dearth, are part of a larger process--recession is not long coming, as the Chinese would say.

The multilayered message of Chanukhah is not lost on Israelis. As in the time of the Selucids, Israel is surrounded with those who would do it harm; who plot its destruction seeking to obliterate its people and its practices. The farcical truce with Hamas ended on Friday and already Hamas as increased its firework celebrations with salvos reaching Ashdod and threatening Beir Sheva in the Negev. Hizbullah steadily increases its arms build up and Iran continues unabatedly its pursuit of nuclear weaponry.

In good pietistic fashion, I focus on the lights of Chanukhah that change and peace require human as well as divine resoluteness to stand up and be counted--truth and light will prevail, but they need constant attention.

On this note, the divine comedy was played out last week. This year's Chanukhah Harry helper was none other than the Nobel Peace Prizer, Jimmy Carter. The peace maker dropped by the neighborhood to visit the downtrodden in Lebanon and offer his lobbying skills to Hamas. Jimmy reports on his website that he had a helicopter tour of the Latani region with the UNIFIL general.

[Italian general Graziano, commander of the UNIFIL peace keeping forces in Lebanon] showed us a graph of the many flights of Israeli planes over all parts of Lebanon, averaging about a dozen each day. Neither Hezbollah nor the Lebanese Armed Forces have any anti-aircraft weapons for defense.
They showed Jimmy a graph! I'm shocked. So, it would appear that they did not show Jimmy a graph of the number of rockets and forces Hizbullah has redeployed along Israel's border.

[Several days later], Bob, Hrair, and I met with Khaled Mashaal and his fellow Hamas politburo members, all of whom are scientists, medical doctors, or engineers – none trained in religion. It was the anniversary of Hamas' founding, and they were watching Prime Minister Haniya's speech in Gaza to an enormous crowd. We discussed items on my agenda that included an extension of the ceasefire in Gaza, life there under the Israeli sanctions, the Arab peace initiative, reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, the future of Palestinian leadership and elections in the West Bank and Gaza, and formulas for prisoner exchange to obtain the release of Corporal [sic] Shalit. Like the Syrians, they are patient, relatively satisfied with the status quo, and putting all their eggs in Obama's basket. We had to caution them about expecting too much of an immediate change in U.S. Middle East policy.
Carter must be trying to audition for Saturday Night Live. Clearly being this year's honorary Chanukhah Harry bringing seasons greetings to the secular Hamas politburo has gone to his head. Now, he is acting as a political advisor to known terrorists and kidnappers giving them sage advice about "putting their eggs in Obama's basket" to helping them set the price in silver for Sergeant Shalit.

More and more, the senior US statesman sounds like King Lear raging against the sound and fury of the storm with his advisor, Tom O'Bedlam, by his side. True to the season, Jimmy seems to be spreading his message of humor and joy in the States as well. As Arutz Sheva reports,

His visit to Lebanon, where he offered to help monitor upcoming elections, was met with fierce opposition by the widely respected Investors Business Daily, which referred to Carter as "our worst ex-president" who is a "confidant of thugs and terrorists everywhere."

Hizbullah is running in the elections in an attempt to increase its representation in the parliament. "Is he going as a monitor or a cheerleader for terror?" the business daily asked.
But, enough of this gloom and doom thinking. It's Chanukhah. Time to get together and visit friends and family. So, if you're in Jerusalem, come on out to Ephrat, over in the Gefen neighborhood and stop by for a L'Chaim and good cheer. We've left a light on for you by the gate. Don't be a stranger, ya hear?

Season's Greetings and God's Blessings to all.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Good question on global-warming costs

By Donald Sensing

Iain Murray of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, writing to The Sunday Telegraph:

Sir, Christopher Booker is correct when he talks about global warming policy as an economic suicide note. Yale economist William Nordhaus recently estimated the full costs of unchecked global warming of 3C at about $22 trillion. That’s a lot of money, although it reflects all the assumptions of the global warming alarmists, which Mr Booker rightly questions.

Yet the costs of global warming policies are even greater. For instance, Lord Stern’s proposed approach would reduce those costs to $9 trillion, but at a cost of $26 trillion, for a total cost of $35 trillion. Al Gore’s policies, which Mr Obama seems to want to adopt, would reduce warming costs to $10 trillion, but at a policy cost of $34 trillion. Mr Gore’s policies would cost the world $44 trillion in total, twice the cost of unchecked global warming.

If global warming is indeed a disaster, what do we call the Gore-Obama policies?
Somehow, cost effectiveness seems never to enter into the alarmists' equations. Bjørn Lomborg, a Danish economist and no skeptic of global warming, wrote,
Global warming is seen everywhere as one of the most important issues. From the EU to the G8, leaders trip over one another to affirm their commitment to cutting CO2 to heal the world. What they do not often acknowledge - in part because it would lose them support - is that the solutions proffered are incredibly costly and will end up doing amazingly little good, even in a century's time. This is the truly inconvenient truth of the politics of global warming.
And he has the numbers to prove it.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Qualifications and credentials

By Donald Sensing

In the 1970s the US Army assessed the damage done to the officer corps by the Vietnam War. It wasn't pretty. Careerism had largely displaced professionalism. Col. Dandrige Malone, one of the principal assessors, wrote that the Army's historic code, "Duty, honor, country," had been pretty much replaced by "Me, my [rear] and my career."

The Army's centuries-old ethic, not to lie, cheat or steal, not to tolerate anyone who does, had come to be honored only in the breach. With a combat leader's success in the profession was being measured primarily by how many dead enemy he reported after a fight - the now-mocked "body count syndrome" - body count inflation became rampant. A platoon leader would report, probably honestly, say 12 enemy killed. The company commander would add another five, the battalion commander another four, and by the time the report reached division, a 15-minute firefight would wind up having killed almost three-dozen VC or NVA.

This trend of corruption didn't actually start during the Vietnam War, though. Its seeds were sown in the early 1960s with the Zero Defects Program. The ZDP, first explained by a man named Phil Crosby and first implemented in the Martin Company in Orlando, Fla., held that every task, no matter how small, must be done right, every time. The performance standard was very simple: no defects or mistakes.

For mechanized manufacturing, it has a certain reasonableness, but for human-heavy institutions with millions of subjective decisions being made daily, almost all on the basis of incomplete information, the result is nothing but disastrous. ZDP's result is not the elimination of mistakes; it is the elimination of reporting of mistakes. In other words, ZDP compels people to lie. Integrity takes a back seat to meeting the performance standard, at least officially. The officers who didn't figure this out pretty quickly were rewarded with undesirable effectiveness reports, shuffle-aside assignments and curtailed careers. After all, for a brigade commander to suffer the continued service of a captain who makes mistakes is itself a mistake by the brigade commander.

That was the professional environment the Army carried with it into Vietnam, where things only went downhill.

There were a lot of appurtenances that cascaded onto the Vietnam Army. Since everyone knew that battle records were inflated (the inflation being an elephant in the room, though), combat records came not to mean as much as they used to when it came to promotions. Even decorations were corrupted, with "packages" of medals being awarded based on rank and type of assignment, but having nearly little to do with an officer's actual performance. (Even as late as 1991, I heard a three-star general defend awarding packages of medals in Vietnam.)

So the watchword for Army officers became not excellence but "competitiveness." When the next promotion board sat and looked at your record, what would make you stand out, to be more competitive? A series of top-level Officer Efficiency Reports wouldn't matter, since OERs were so badly inflated that few officers had anything else.

The quest for competitiveness led to the blurring, and then disappearance, of the distinction between qualifications and credentials. By the beginning of the 1970s, it was well understood that to get promoted to lieutenant colonel you had to have earned your diploma from the US Army Command and General Staff School. That requirement continues to this day. And it is wholly valid because CGSC completion is a qualification, an education without which an officer simply cannot satisfactorily perform at that rank or above. Yet every year, so my adjutant-general friends would tell me, some major would blow off CGSC, thinking his/her standout assignments, such as aide-de-camp to a general officer, would boost him over. They never did.

But also by the 1970s, if not a few years prior, it was not enough for an officer to have earned a baccaluareate degree (to be promoted to major), or completed CGSC to be promoted to light colonel, or to have a series of outstanding OERs. Someone who did merely that was not "competitive." And so thousands of officers would labor in night classes at extension universities to be awarded a Master degree, subject of which mattered not. Pepperdine's Master of Public Administration program was very popular.

It was a credential, not a qualification. Except for a few techical disciplines, a master degree did nothing to make an officer more competent in the military arts and sciences. And yet, promotion board would pass over someone without this credential in favor of those who had it, all other things being mostly equal (as they usually were). The quest for a Master diploma became a way of gaming the system rather than gaining additional, actual qualifications. And the officers who didn't game the system were thought a little odd for bucking the herd mentality. Best to let them find other employment.

So homogenized did the officer corps become by the early 1980s that Chief of Staff Gen. Edward C. Meyer, who served the office then, admitted at the end of his tenure that one of his most important tasks had been protecting the few mavericks still in the Army, because they were the only real innovators.

There were other credentials, such as German paratroop wings, that might be weakly justified on the basis of NATO interoperability, but that were in practice just a shiny doodad of no qualifying significance.

It took a number of years, but the Army corrected this corrupting trend (never completely, though) and the need, hence quest, for credentials rather than qualifications fell rapidly.

All of which is my stem-winding way of getting around to Pres-elect Obama's latest cabinet appointments, announced this week.

Dr. Steven Chu, energy secretary designate, has qualifications out the wazoo. At first I considered his Nobel Prize a credential rather than a qualification. It verifies his qualifications, rather than, prima facie, adds to them. Had Dr. Chu remained in physics research this might have been true, but in politics, symbols are very important. Holders of Ph.D.s in physics are a dime a dozen in academia (well, maybe a quarter a dozen!) and a doctorate alone would not necessarily enhance Chu's "street cred" among the energy czars and sheiks of the world. Doctorates among first-rank politicos of the world in a relevant field are hardly rare.

But a Nobel prize? That gets more than a head nod. If nothing else, it shows that its recipient is not a mere timeserver within his discipline. I refer to the hard science fields, not the political prizes like the Peace prize, usually awarded to whomever most publicly opposes the United States. The Nobel brings that classic political virtue to Chu - gravitas. In spades.

But let's take Lisa Jackson as EPA director. Does she have the qualifications? She has experience in New Jersey where she drew flak from all sides, which IMO means she was doing a good job in what is, unavoidably, a politicized office. She holds a BS and a master in chemical engineering, so she can handle technical matters. No problem.

It's what she said in her acceptance talk that made me think of this post. She offered what is now the standard political tripe that being a mother will make her a more capable administrator because she understands the effects of the EPA work on the children of the country. That's not a quote, but it true to the thrust.

When did being a mother become a qualification? Heck, it's not even a credential. I have three children, and if someone asks me child-raising advice, I have some sort of qualification to answer. But fatherhood neither qualifies nor credentials me to address technical issues, nor even to do sound theology.

Speaking of no credentials, we have the curious case of Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg being seriously discussed as a Senator appointee to take Hillary's place. This is a person who has nothing whatsoever to recommend her to serve in high public office. No service experience of any kind. Nothing. Nada. Zero. Zilch. Her only credential, such as it is, is her maiden name. And exactly how that deserves even to be a credential escapes me.

Welcome to hope and change folks. Same old identity and entitlement politics, amplified.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Destroying Hue in order to save it

By Donald Sensing

During the Vietnam War (the aftermath of the Tet Offensive, IIRC), the Marines attacked the city of Hue to wrest it away from the North Vietnamese Army. One of the very rare urban campaigns of the war, fighting was very fierce. With no precision weapons (had not been invented yet), the nature of the fighting was not much different from urban combat of World War II. The city took a pounding from both sides, but especially from the Americans, who shelled and bombed enemy positions with ruthless efficiencies. Vast sections of Hue were leveled, which appeared to some reporters to be somewhat contrary to the point. Hue was an important city of South Vietnam, and the Marines were basically destroying it.

A reporter asked why such intense destruction was necessary. A marine commander answered, "It was necessary to destroy the city in order to save it."

Perhaps this illuminates what George W. Bush was thinking here: "Bush says [he] sacrificed free-market principles to save economy."

As in, you know, "We had to destroy the economy in order to save it." Yeah, I get that.

Meanwhile: meet the New New Deal, same as the old New Deal.

Clarity plus 365

By Donald Sensing

One year ago today I posted about five seconds of clarity that I gained on Interstate 40 in a driving rain. Don't care to do that again.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Day the Earth Stood Still gets panned

By Donald Sensing

There is general agreement that Keanu Reeves was the perfect choice to play an emotionless, wooden alien in the just-released remake of the 1951's sci-fi classic, The Day the Earth Stood Still. MTV's review, for example:

Here, Reeves never cracks a smile, hikes an eyebrow or, for all we can tell, draws breath. There may be puddles of spilled beer more expressive.
The new release has been universally panned.

As for me, I wrote a takedown of the original "classic" (Lord knows why it is thought such) back in 2003. Unlike miost everyone else, I simply don't think the original has stood the test of time. Read here.

PS - I was blogging in 2003, but not in this site. I am, over time, purging the two older blogs I wrote on of post that are no longer relevant and transferring the others to this site.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Hitler hates cussing

By Donald Sensing

So many parodies ("mashups" as they are being called) have been made of the famous Hitler-in-the-bunker scene from the German movie, "Der Untergang" (The Downfall), that they have even received MSM attention. Youtube has dozens, if not hundreds. The movie is in German, so parodists add subtitles to suit other scenarios.

Most of the ones I've viewed are funny, some are really hilarious. But pretty much all of them lace Hitler's furious rant with profanity, usually quite a lot. Which is interesting because the actual German includes none. Hitler was himself not given to using profanity (which does not exactly wipe his slate clean, does it?).

Anyway, I have made my first such parody, entitled, "Hitler hates cussing." Make sure you have captions turned on by clicking the small up-arrow in the far lower right of the Youtube box and clicking on "CC."

Quick, the very last line is attributed to what actor, frequently seen in Christmas-season reruns? (Answer here.)

You may also recognize my tribute to the makers of this classic, profanity-free comedy sketch if you watch it to the very end.