Walid's Wanderings

Reflections on life, good-and-evil, family, humanity, and anything else that occurs to me, usually when I travel. Right now I am on a 6-year trip through Lebanon, the homeland I had never really lived in before.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Lots of people still writing from Lebanon

I just spent another morning exploring a new universe of blogs. Thanks Eve.
I'll add them to my sidebar later. Correction: added them today...

For now, here's something worth seeing:

Building-side poster photographed in Lebanon

This is especially funny to those of us familiar with the "Keep Walking" ad campaign, which has been around for decades in countries where alcohol ads are not illegal.

Still waiting for an "Absolut ..." ad to echo the war.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Dream Sequence

I woke myslef up from a dream on Sunday with a silent scream. I was in a heightened state of emotion, and yelling out something like "The law does not allow it, sir. The F-ing CONSTITUTION does not allow it."

The preceding sequence of events in the dream was long and involved, but it boiled down to me being in the inner circle of the Bush cabinet. I had used to have a commanding officer who sent me in on an errand, and someone in the White House took a liking to me and got me transferred to some staff job there when that officer was acccused of plotting against the president. The routine became that, at lunch hour, I would sit around a conference table and joke with the big brass like a yong Michael J Fox, hiding my nervousness with an extroverted exuberance that would be really hard to pull off in real life. But it's a dream, so there.

One day, this 50s-looking guy in shirtsleeves, narrow tie, and with a breifcase comes in and wants to disucss soem evidence of something incriminating in my past. It's a big deal for my future career and existence, but I have no idea what he is talking about. I know have nothing on my conscience. It's lunch hour, so I tell people to join us in the conference room. The sooner everything became public the better for my image.

SO... the guy talks and talks and talks and all the time I'm making snide comments to Dick and Rummy, and at one point even George walks in and sits down to enjoy the show. In the end, it boils down to a copy of a 1-page wall poster with a sign-up column. Sure enough, I had penciled my name on that poster indicating interest in some student activity way back when. So then, the Darren-looking guy takes out a copy with a lot of green highlighting on it, and I ask "So what on the poster did your legal team highlight as evidence of sedition, or whatever it is you are trying to pin on me?"

He gives me a color copy and I see that most of the poster is highlighted green. It's funny, but scary - if George and Dick buy the charges, I'm out of there. Scary. But the ditto-heads had highlighted almost everything, which means that nothing actually stood out. Funny. So I say:

"It is becoming clear that the ineptitude of your secretarial team is going to force me to do some hard work here figuring out what in this poster is actually worth reading. But, you know what, I am not going to make the effort. Because you do not have a case. Even if someone with a brain took two precious minutes to scan the poster and find out what it is on it that you think is unacceptable, your case would be no stronger than it is now, with its confusing jumble of 'maybe it's here, baybe it's there' annotation."

The tone of the room becomes tense - have I lost my mind or do I know something they do not?

"The fact is, you are accusing me of something even you cannot name based on my free exercise of the right to associate with whomever I please. Whatever the particulars of the case, anything built on that is inadmissible. The law will not allow it. The F___ing CONSTITUTION will not allow it."

And I never got to find out how George, Dick and Rummy reacted to my outburst, becasue the strength of the emotion that I put into that pronouncement woke me up. Pity.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Wait For It

If you click this, what do you see? and how long deos it take? Leave a comment, and if you are shy tell me in the comment and I will block its publication and email you back. If you do not tell me you are shy, I will let the comment appear.

Found some more

I found some more boggers from Lebanon, and I decided to share the links with anyone who might still be reading my blog here.

Also, I'm thinkging of saving a keystroke and calling this a bog. Any opinions?

This guy has videos on his blog. I must learn how to do it too. Stay tuned.

Another blog seems to be posting every day now, which I'm not...

Finally, there is even a whole map of boggers from Lebanon and our schizophrenic southern neighbor - well worth a visit. I asked to be added to the map, let me know if you seem there. The guy who maintains the map says he does not filter by opinion, but he likes to exclude apolitical voices. Be warned.

I'll add the bunch to the sidebar for your continued future enjoyment.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Mortgage anyone?

Yes, I know the real estate boom is over, and, no, I am not trying to find myself a niche outside Lebanon as a loan broker. I just decided to add Google search and Google ads to my blog (did anyone notice the bright green hit counter on the right?). And the first Ad they served up was entitled "Islamic Mortgage"! Hah! As if! My view on interest rates is that they they are a handy mathematical short-cut for communicating how much people want to spend now if someone gives them a hundred dollars adn how much they want to spend tomorrow. In the case of some American stay-at-home spouses, it's more how much you want to spend now out of the money your working spouse did not give you yet, if you have until the end of the month to pay it off, but that's another topic. So Islamic finance is just a sneaky way to communicate the same information using a contrived long-hand so as not to use the dreaded word "interest rate". I might get some sort of kick coming up with clever, novel, long-handed way to do this, but as a consumer, I have not interest. Still, since Google bans me from clocking on the ads they put on my site, the act of looking it up has a certain allure. I'll have to figure out how to parse out the URL minus the identifying information in the link. Maybe later, after I finish sending in my latest paper.

By the way, nothing new whatsoever in or on Lebanon - but if you do not trust me follow some of the links on the right.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

What to make of Hezballah

The actual news today is a rewind of past events. Beirut Airport opens on Tuesday, the American University of Beirut opens on Monday, and Hariri assaisl Assad today.

So let's dig deeper into more interesting topics from yesterday. Some say that Hezballah is a dangerous example for bad guys everywhere, others say that it is an example for good.

Fine words, but how does it work, really? Here is a quote that not many remember from Hassan Nasrallah, explaining in one sentence the strategy that led to success against the Israeli occupation in the 90's. "We completely centralized the decision to fire into Israel, and completely decentralized the decision to fire against Israeli forces within Lebanon." There you have it - simplest thing in the world, and words of greater wisdom than you probably realize to an organizational re-engineering scholar like myslef. (Yes, I get paid to write research articles on centralizign and decentralizing organizations.) By retaining central control on teh firing of missiles into Israel in teh 90's, Hezballah escaped being designated as an unruly gang of men with a greivance, who only wanted to hurt someone, anyone, on the other side. You know, like Islamic Jihad or Al-Qaeda today, and like the demon that negative media reports (Google Ann Coulter for examples) wants to paint all Arabs to be. By not being like that, Hezballah was able to convince rational policy makers in Israel of the reasonableness of withdrawing from Lebanon. But, by having a completely decentralilze force carry out the individual attracks against targets deemed legitimate by the central command and by the world at large, Hezballah also escaped the fate of all the Arab armies defeated by Israel and other organization infiltrated by Israel. True genius, as only a principle that can be encapsulated in one se4ntence can be.

Bottom line: Hassan Nasrallaht knows what to centralize and what to decentralize. This is a lesson anyone can learn. An insurgent in Nicaragua can use it as handily as a theocrat in Tehran or an election campaign manager in Ohio. In this last war, Hezballah was able to instantly order and instantly prevent missile attacks of any calibre agains Israel. Meanwhile, guerilla parties living for three days at a stretch on chocolate bars in the wilderness with no human contact continues to destroy tanks. Of course the training and logistics that allow this to work are nothing to be sneezed at, to say the least. But it's not my field, and more importantly not the topic of this piece.

So is this approach good or is it evil? I say that the one distinction between whether the Hezballah model helps the forces of Chaos, as Thomas Friedman calls them, or the cause of the undertrodden everywhere, and the Shiites theologists call them, can be also stated in terms of centralization/decentralization. The pivotal issue concerns the decision to actually enter into a state of resistance, i.e. to start a war. This decision cannot be centralized. If centralized, then one person decides that millions will suffer, based on one person's perception of the greater good of that half of the millions affected he calls his own side. This is a formula for the Mr. Jeckyl side of Hezballah, the evil twin that all democracies everywhere have every right to fear and to crush. But, it is entirely possible to have a decentralilzed process for deciding to entrust the conduct of war to a leader who knows which subsequent tactics to centralize and which to decentralize. This is democracy. If a democracy decides to go to war, then it can do a lot worse than choose someone like Hassan Nasrallah as a leader. In fact, even if you disagree with me, think: if Earth was under attack by superior but mortal aliens, whom would you rather have leading the reistance? Not Bush. But if a society gives anyone, even if it were mother Theresa, the power to solely decide whether war is to be initiated, then that society has lost its place among the civilized nations of the 21st centruy. Without a popular mandate that contains a mechanism for popular accountability of the leader, all sorts of bad things happen. Not always, but enough to make everyone who paid any attention in History class very, very wary.

I hope things work out along these lines, becasue a committed cantralized/decentralized hybrid of true democrats is the only thing that can defeat a possible empire led by aristocrats who only use democracy as a state religion.

Monday, August 14, 2006

The Battle Ahead

Pretty much back where we started, give or take a few billion dollars. Damages here, damages there, lives lost, higher oil revenues. Now is the time to recall what I wrote two weeks ago, about how Hezballah can cease to be a renegade force while continuing to be the qualitatively superior backbone of resistance against real or perceived threats by Israel. I will not repeat my own words, since you are free to browse back to them yourselves, but here are some words from the highly regarded Orthdox Metropolit Khodor of Mount Lebanon, or for those seeking an American-sounding name, "Archbishop George". (I could not find an English translation on the web, so I translated it myself from the Arabic):

My topic today is the Islamic resitance and the rationale for keeping it separate from the armed forces. I base my interpretation on the heroic actions of this resistance, its mastery of advanced technologies, its sizeable arsenal, and its ability to continue operating in demonstarion of the inadequacy of the foe's intelligence capabilities, debunking the myth of this foe's great superiority.

The first question posed now is why the resistance cannot be merged with the armed forces. The intuitive answer is that this would end its capacity for guerilla warfare. The aremd forces would not gain any strength from being reinforced by the existing resistance. We would lose a force that is superior in tactics and in fighting spirit, without gaining any additionl strength in rerurn. It is evident that Lebanon cannot block a persistent foe if we give up partisan war. Symbolic of our perception that Israel is a persitent enemy is the absense of demarked boundaries in Israel's constitution. We are therefore at the mercy of Israel's self-imposed morality, of which we need more proof.

The second question is: why a specifically "Islamic" resistence. This relates to the ideology that inspires these resistence fighters. They believe that they are fighting for the glory of God. Their popular constituency belives the same thing, except for a minority within the sect. But who is to stop non-shiite Lebanese from fighting in the name of their nation rather than in the name of God? Unless we accept an international force in Southern Lebanon forever, the need to defend Lebanon remains. Except perhaps if we arrive at some Arab or International format for Lebanon's defense. The Arabs do not wish to call out their armies in our defense, especially since some are allied with the Americans and others have diplomatic relatins with Israel. There will be no Arabs on our battlefield. The most we can expect is diplomatic support. Until Syria first signs a peace treaty with Israel, and then Lebanon, Israel will continue to threaten us. Israel will not threaten Syria, since Syria is not a threat to Israel, and no one in the world would support a threat to Syria.

So if it is granted that guerilla warfare must be waged whenever Israel tackles our country, then this resisting force must be allowed to draw strength where it may.

I therefore say that disarming Hezballah is poointless if we do not have a guarantee of peace. It is not enough to say that freeing the Shebaa farms removes the alibi for Hezballah's arms. Some Lebanese politicans say that this is a militia and arms must belong to the state. This may be true in theory, but it is unrealistically legalistic. Give us an internationally guaranteed peace with Israel, one by which we can safely believe that international allies will rush to block any attack on us on lightning wings. No existing text gives us that guarantee.

Nevertheless, what is the basic principle of the relationship between the armes forces an the resitance? In principle, all resistance movements in Europe were in contact with their armed forces despite their operational independence. In other words, the resistance has no political role in initiating hostilities. Only this would demonstrate that a resistance has no regional (i.e. non-national)alleigence. There is, in the view of all civilized peoples, a basic contradiction when a single party possesses both political and military decision making power. The political rulers decide war and peace. In the words of Georges Celmenceau, "War is too important to leave to the generals." Meaning the generals ought not to decide when to start or end a state of war.
• • •
I have a problem with the ideology of Hezballah, not, as I clarified above, with the resitance as such. This means that, as long as Hezballah remains, which will be a long time, the Lebanese will, after the war is over and peace returns, have to confront this ideology as we have confronted all other ideologies.

No one denies that a "state withinh a state" is not acceptable. The principle should be applied when our state has a degree of immunity. But to ask the resitance to dissolve itself in anticipation of a strong state coming into being is to ask for a demonstrably effective force to yiled to the expectation of the arrival of a state that is not sufficiently able to protect itself. One cannot compare a reality to a dream. Given an enemy that you cannot trust, one must constantly invent a means of protection.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Article praising Seniora in Haaretz "
Copyright 2006 Haaretz. All rights reserved"

One Little thing

OK, so they voted unanimously for the cease-fire. Israel wants to fight through Sabbath, but one hopes that they recognize the politically suicidal nature of a last-day retribution run. But I am worried about one little thing. The two sides are supposed to declare victory and go home. It makes sense. No more missiles, yay for Israel. No more powerlessness against air strikes, yay Lebanon. But wait. What is this I hear? And this?

It sounds like too many voices in Israel are reading the wrong script. They are reading the "Heznballah won" script. The script meant to enable the Lebanese and other Arabs to feel OK about the outcome. These voices are totally glossing over the main achivement that Israel legitimately scored: no more first moves by Hezballah. With the new troops in place, the whole "let's go kill some Jews" attitude will no longer find any expression. Only the strict application of the ultimate punishment richly deserved by any politician suspected of lying: hold him to his word. The leadership of Hezballah will now be held to its word of being a defensive resistance force, not the vanguard of a new Sunni empire. The very words that won Hezballah its place in Lebanese electoral politics. So, Israel, where's the celebration?

I hope someone wakes up and gets the right script in front of these bozos. Otherwise Israel will just keep fighting for the neo-conservative imperium even as US voters flush these same views down to the great big water-treatment plant of history.

Oh, one more thng I want to get off my chest. There was an article I linked to yesterday.
Here's the link again. Excerpts:

The situation is forcing young, professional, university-educated Lebanese to look elsewhere to live.

Tomorrow: Leaving Lebanon to Hezbollah

I just want to remind people who know better that there is a false correlation implied in the article, which is harmful to proper understanding of the dynamics of Lebanon. There are Lebanese who are educated and Lebanese who are at high-school level or lower. There are Lebanese who are able to emigrate and Lebaense who are not. And, there are Lebaense who support Hezballah in its present form, and Lebanese who want it reined in, and I daresay some Lebanese who wnat it to just go away. It is false to assume that, under the rules of family unification used in most countries to regulate imigration, an educated Lebanese is more likely to be able to leave Lebanon than an uneducated one. And it is equally wrong to assume that having family in Australia or having a PhD renders a person less likely to support some role for Hezballah. These simple stereotypes are the reason that hundreds of innocents are getting killed. Policies formed by polticians who either hold these stereotypoes, or or owe their electoral victories to people who believe these stereotypes, are the ones that insisted on delaying the cease-fire this long.
People are people. There!

The Funny Section

Again, thanks to my research department.

I personally liked the Klingon analogy better, but I never did any Photoshopping based on the idea.

For those of you into Science Fiction, I'm thinking of writing something about the similarities between this war and the war in "Dune" where Fremen were revealed to be better fighters than Sardaukar. Any takers? Please leave comments (I just lost my biggest commentator.)

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Let's... go home!

The time has come for both sides to declare victory and go home.

The tactics of Hezballah have now earned their place in the history books, and fighting on will not change that one way or the other. The principle of a "well organized militia" has now found its rightful place in the military history of the 21st century. Lacking the conventional strict oversight needs of a hierarchical military, an organization with fighters who can be fully trusted by their leadership, even when out of sight, is capable of keeping powerful weapons out of the reach of a vastly better-equipped air, sea and land force. No matter what happens to Hezballah in the current conflict, the lessons of this war will not be lost.

As for Israel, the envelope is also being pushed on what a democracy will stomach for the military adventurism of its generals. I understand that perhaps even a majority of Israeli citizens honstly belive that they are against an enemy who would stop at nothing to destroy every last one of them. But evidence to the contrary contiues to mount, and you cannot fool all of the people all of the time. The truth is that victory as defined by Israel's hawks will only be accomplished by massive atrocities against Lebanon's civilians. The plan to raze Beirut, city block by city block, is continuing. It's not clear from just reading the names of the neighborhoods being targeted, but a map of Beirut will quickly show the path being followed. Besides, the starvation of fuel will soon start to lead to many more deaths. Eventually, Hezballah will run out of missiles (funny how you prevent Hezballah from rocketing Israel in the future by having them launch their missiles in the present...) So, yes, Israel can win this, but only by visiting upon Lebanon a fate worse than the fate of the Palestinians in 1948. Maybe in 60 years we'll be hearing about how Lebanon was never really populated, since everyone living there in 2008 had come from Syria or Cyprus in the preceding five decades...

On the other hand, "defeat" by the standards of the Israeli military will lead to the Lebanese army patrolling southern Lebanon to prevent any of the attacks that Hezballah was never going to launch anyway. Returning the Shebaa farms and the prisoners will accomplish that, but it is necessary to save face, and having the Lebanese army in place will accomplish that goal. But of course the remaining missiles will remain hidden. These missiles are Israel's only guarantee that any peace treaties signed by its neighbors will be long-lasting and genuine, rather than the dissembling blather of politicians who are negitiating out of weakness.

Now if only some genius on the Israel side can package this outcome as the true victory that I argue it is, then both sides will be able to declare victory and go home....

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Thanks to my research department

Freespeech: Article

The End of Lebanon? - by Ran HaCohen

A Bad Status Quo

Civilian Resistance in Lebanon

I don't know how it's going to end, but the underlying fact is every man has his breaking point. In this case, it's every nation. Unless some compromise is reached, what we have here is a three-way race between three random processes. Which will happen first?

  1. Will Lebanese citizens, running out of food and faced with contagious diseases and further random death from the sky, decide that they no longer want anyone defending them from this onslaught?
  2. Will Israel civilians stand the continued closure of their schools and factories in the north in order to appease their generals' desires to regain their "invincible" reputation?
  3. Will American swing voters get the picture and vote the bums out?

No one else matters right now. Syria, France, Iran, Turkey -- no one outside the three nations above really has any influence on what is going on.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Emails I got

Dear Colleagues,
I hope you are staying safe and out of harm's way in these horrible times.Please distribute the following information to your contacts about two upcomingactions in Washington D.C. (Aug. 6, Sunday and Aug 8, Tuesday) and about aglobal action (Vigil) organized by Amnesty International US for Monday, Aug. 7.Please urge your friends and contacts to participate. Thank you!With many prayers and hopes that the end of this nightmare is near,Dr. Maria KoinovaAssistant Professor, PSPAUpcoming Actions (chronologically):

1. Silent Vigil, Washington, D.C., this Sunday, Aug 6, 2006 - 8-10 p.m. startsat Farragut Square Park and ends in front of the White House, black or whiteclothes, bring candles. Please see info below.

2. Organize your own vigil or join an existing one in line with the globalaction of Amnesty International US. Action planned for Monday, Aug. 7, 2006,see web-site: http://www.amnestyusa.org/countries/israel_lebanon/vigil.html

Dear all,

As the death toll of Israel's war on Lebanon reaches 1,000, there is a project to start a database of information about those Lebanese killed by this war. The project concept is by a German friend of mine who has asked me for information (a few lines or more on each, the more the better, I guess) on the victims and hopefully photos. The aim is to humanize those victims who are now merely numbers. This can be done by documenting their stories, preserving each memory and story. Something similar to Yad Vashem, if you want ( http://www.yadvashem.org/, check the attached photo of the hall of names). This will start as a virtual monument and may later materialize into an exhibition. The important thing at this point is to start collecting the information. Please send to all people who may have information. I will send this to other people in my mailing list. Some of you are working with the displaced. Please try to keep some contact info with you and get the information from them later if they are not in the mood to share now.

Friday, August 04, 2006

It's just disgusting

What I've been reading in the news is pretty horrible. People saying that Israel can't be targetting civilians becasue Beirut does not yet look as bad as Grozny. Or that this would be a perfect site for a neutron bomb. Whether it's ignorance or malice, I have to say what I know.

Back in the Lebanese civil war, we had snipers. A sniper shoots everyone who is trying to cross a certain street. Poignant short stories have been written about a sniper killing his dad (sad) or his pregnant girlfriend (cheaper than an abortion). Anyway, the "military" objective is to stop people from crossing the street. Keep the people who crack their eggs fromthe bottom on one side of the street and the people who crack their eggs on the top on the other side of the street. Moral of the story: "targeting civilians" is not the same as "levelling a city".

Of course Israel is also "levelling the city" but it is doing so block by block with precision laser-guided bombs. This is what is called a "terror tactic". Just like the word "imperialism" can be read to mean "trying and failing to be an empire" and "impressionism" can be read to mean "a half-assed attempt to put an artist's subjective impression on a piece of canvas", I would say that "terrorism" is a half assed attempt to create terror in a population in order to achive a political aim, which is never actually achived. Terror tactics is what Israel is using given their total failure to actually target Hezballah directly. Any idiot can see that the first fews strikes against Lebanon's ports and highways galvanized the Lebanese to finally belive Hezballah's unchanging rhetoric about the need to band together behind "the resistance" out of need for a daterrent. I suspect that the Israeli hope right now is that, by gradually and unremittingly increasing the level of pain among the population, this solidarity will be worn down. It is a classic technique used by torturers everywhere (no direct experience here, I just read well-researched fiction). Start with low levels of pain, then let the victims imagination create the incentive to break down as the level of pain is increased gradually and threats of even higher levels of pain continue to be made. This way, an individual whose breaking point might be, say, 300 volts, might break down at 240 volts becasue, when they were promised 240 volts back at 120 volts, the torturer actually delivered, and now the torturer is proising 360 volts. Handy if you only have 240 volts.

To be fair, both sides are using the same technique. Israel masks the moral repugnence by alleging that all strikes have a suspected military significance, but the never produce any evidence. The press in America leaves out the words "alleged" or "suspected", and no one cares. Hezballah, in its moral defence, announcs that only increases its level of pain after Israel escalates, and contineues to promise to stop if Israel stops. Again, until recently, these promises have gone unreported in the US media.


The above diatribe is inspired by recent events, which, for those of you who like me had stopped following, went something like this:
  • Land warfare and shelling continue during the 48-hour bombing hiatus, and Israel takes more trritory in the south of Lebanon, exposing more soldiers to guerilla attack.
  • Israel resumes with aerial bombradment and a paratrooper atteck on a hospital where someone with the same last name as a Hezballah leader was suspected to be. Hospital completely razed at the end of the day.
  • Hezballah resumes with two days of deadlier missiles.
  • Israel increases the zone of civilian residential neighorhoods targeted, inshing closer to central Beirut and hitting highways in the middle of the civil-war-era "Chritian enclave" for the first time. A new power station is also put out of commisssion.
  • Hezballah threatens to rocket Tel Aviv if Israel contines its gradual expansion of the free-fire zone ot include Beirut proper. Press initially misinterprets this as a threat to hit Tel Aviv in reponse to continuation of current tactics (i.e. tageting the slums south of Beirut) but a correction seems to have been made already.
  • For the first time, I see that mainstream US media have finally started repeating the message that Hezballah can and will stop missile attacks if Israels military attacks are confined to the land war.
  • Lots of smoke blown out by various Israeli politicans and generals.

Am I still optimistic?

Well, the bozos in the UN are still talking international forces. There is no telling how long before some non-shiite Lebanese madman starts killing refugees from the South because they are related to someone who indirectly brough upon the death of his daughter from lack of medical supplies under the embargo.

On the good side, more copy editors seem to be listening to Hezballah's message of peace, so maybe a UN diplomat or two will get the message. Or if need be Israeli and AMerican voters. And, for every billion dollars of infrastructure destroyed in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia makes two on oil price increases. Guess where that money will be invested when this stops?

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

We made it to California

Priceline got us from Atlanta, Georgia to San Francisco on the same day as the US Government chartered World Air flight got us to Atlanta from Cyprus. I briefly wondered if this was one of those companies implicated in the CIA "extraordinary renditions." The term "fly by night" took on a new meaning when we arrived in Atlanta after a red-eye flight and found all the lights were out inside the passenger unloading tube (what are those things called?)

But it was just a total coincidence. We are grateful for all the efforts that went into moving us out, as well as to the Red Cross and the Southern Baptist Convention people and the Georgia Department of Public Health, who met us and were all so nice.


I have not been reading news, and I really have nothing to add at this point.