The Happy Arab News Service

Friday, June 29, 2007

Links Section Updated

June 29, 2007

For those of you who tried to access The Thinking Lebanese blog through my links section and failed to reach it. The site has a new address. The links section is updated now.

From the last post by Faysal:

Reap What You Sow

. . .

. . .

I still believe my 'side' to be more 'right' than the others - or, more accurately, less wrong. But the truth remains that any country whose citizens follow men rather than principles and belong to a tribe rather than a nation has no future in a region as merciless as the Middle East. Our 'side' may be correct in principle. But its pettiness and dishonesty and the pathetic reasons it enjoys much of its following mean that I can never be proud to belong to it.

Civil war is coming to Lebanon. We need not each take a side (although events and structure probably guarantee that we will), but let no one claim innocence for causing the coming Lebanese explosion. We are all guilty, and will all suffer accordingly.



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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Industrial Cellulose Ethanol Close

Last updated: June 27, 2007

June 5, 2007

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - The industrial production of cellulose ethanol at a competitive cost with gasoline, seen by many as the Holy Grail of biofuels production, is as close as two years away, researchers said on Monday.

"In the laboratory, there are no more obstacles to speak of. We've reached viable solutions to the major problems with cellulosic ethanol production," said Elba Bom, bioethanol coordinator for Brazil's Science and Technology Ministry, which allocated 7 million reais ($3.5 million) in financing for the project.

"The question now is putting these solutions into the most efficient industrial models."

A prototype plant could be built in about two years, by which time production costs for cellulose ethanol from leftover sugar cane would have likely fallen even further, she said.

. . .

. . .

Helena Chum, senior advisor for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory under the U.S. Department of Energy, said the cost of cellulose ethanol production in the United States was expected to continue to keep falling rapidly -- from $6 a gallon only a few years ago to $2 a gallon around 2008.

"Eventually, by 2012 to 2016, it should fall to $1 per gallon, when output should reach 20 billion gallons," Chum said, adding that 5 billion to 8 billion gallons of that will come from cellulose.

The United States passed Brazil as the world's largest ethanol producer in 2006 and the two countries now account for about 70 percent of world output of the biofuel.

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. . .


Bruno and all of you over there, I love you !!!

June 7, 2007


Global Market Brief: A New Step in the Ethanol Revolution?

June 06, 2007 17

At a Brazilian ethanol conference June 4-5, Brazilian government-funded researchers said they have perfected a method of producing cellulosic ethanol that drastically reduces the cost of processing. At this point, the assertion -- and many other similarly optimistic claims made at the conference -- is unconfirmed. But should it prove true, the world could well be peeking over the horizon at a massive geopolitical, not to mention economic, shift.

. . .

. . .

This is why the Brazilian scientists' announcement is so important. They claim the process they have perfected reduces cellulosic ethanol production costs down to the realm of 10 cents to 15 cents per liter (35 cents to 50 cents per gallon). Furthermore, though the biochemical processes for ethanol production vary based on feedstock, they are not fundamentally different. Sugarcane is the easiest crop to turn into ethanol, but corn is only slightly more difficult, so a sugar ethanol breakthrough would be only a few steps ahead of other breakthroughs -- such as making cellulosic ethanol from nonfood crops like switchgrass -- that would democratize the technology globally.

. . .

. . .

Roughly 25 percent of all oil demand, and 50 percent of U.S. oil demand, derives explicitly from demand for gasoline. Erase that demand -- which amounts to 10.5 million barrels per day for the United States alone -- and oil prices would plummet. In comparison, the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis slashed a "mere" 10 percent off of global oil demand, and that sent prices down by 75 percent.

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June 9, 2007

OPEC does not like our biofuels... :-(

6 June 2007

The chief of the Opec oil cartel has warned that investing in biofuels could push oil prices "through the roof", the Financial Times has reported.

Opec secretary general Abdalla El-Badri said moves to use biofuels would make his members consider cutting investment in new oil production, the FT said.

President Bush says the US will cut petrol use by 20% in 10 years, partly through increased use of biofuels.

Opec members control about 40% of the world's oil production.

Mr El-Badri said that while Opec members had so far maintained their investment plans, he added: "If we are unable to see a security of demand... we may revisit investment in the long term."

The warning comes as leaders of the G8 industrialised nations gather for their summit in Germany.

. . .


Why can't we just blah blah ... work all together towards a common goal blah blah .. we are all just simple human beings blah blah .. we need to save our planet blah blah ... and improve our climate blah blah ... to ensure happy future for our children blah blah .. how sad blah blah


June 9, 2007

Vinod Koshla biofuels bet

The US transportation fuel economy
transition to biofuels by 2030

(click to see more)

from My Big Biofuels Bet by Vinod Koshla (October 2006)

June 27, 2007

OPEC is bracing itself for the arrival of biofuels

On Wednesday the president of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries reiterated the main points of the long-term energy outlook released by the organization, namely, OPEC is facing an increasing competition from alternative fuels and non-OPEC oil.

The Wall Street Journal

June 27, 2007

ISTANBUL -- . . .

. . . The report concluded that demand for OPEC oil is likely to fall in the coming years as consuming countries increasingly turn to biofuels and other sources of alternative energy and non-OPEC producers boost production.

. . .

On Tuesday, the 12-member producer group said in its annual World Oil Outlook published that demand for OPEC oil is likely to be almost one million barrels a day less in 2010 than 2005 levels, threatening to undercut future investment in OPEC countries. "We welcome greater diversity to the energy mix but the introduction of new fuels will remain modest at best," Mr. Hamli said. "Fossil fuels will continue to provide the bulk of energy supply for years to come."


Needless to say, the introduction of new fuels will depend squarely on the availability of effective and financially viable technologies. The recent surge of the biofuels market is already attracting huge investments into search for second generation technologies. A sudden breakthrough in this area may soon surprise mr. Hamli and his organization and render much of their planning obsolete.


More posts available under the 'Arab Oil' tag below

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Saturday, June 23, 2007

IT IS not easy

June 23, 2007

"IT IS not easy being a religious policeman", says the Economist and it's hard to disagree.

The 5,000-odd agents of Saudi Arabia's Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (commonly referred to as the Haya, or Commission) carry a heavy burden of responsibility. Not only must they do things such as make sure shops close for the five daily prayers, enforce modesty of attire and strict separation of the sexes in public, prevent sorcery, and round up bootleggers and drug dealers. They must also impose summary new bans, such as recent ones against trading in pet cats and dogs in the port city of Jeddah, and against barbers offering Western-style haircuts that “imitate unbelievers” in Medina, Islam's second holiest city.

Apart from these tiresome duties, being a religious policeman has a nasty downside in the form of the total lack of appreciation and gratitude on the part of wide sections of the Saudi public. Things had got particularly shit for the Haya in 2002 as a result of a bizarre accident in which Haya agents prevented students from fleeing a girls' school that went up in flames, on the grounds that in their panic the girls have largely neglected to attire themselves properly. Fourteen girls having been burned alive inside the school, an avalanche of stifling rules and restrictions had descended on the members of hapless moral police who were occasionally even required to wear badges while on duty. To add to the insult, at the peak of this atrocious and torturous campaign some of the mutawaeen, as moral policemen are generally known, were sent to special training sessions that included crash courses in how to be polite to the public.

Since then the mutawaeen were working very hard on one hand to prevent pet cats and dogs from ever desecrating the holy land of the birth place of Muhammad, while on the other rendering the new rules and restrictions largely ineffective through the complicity of regular police.

Lately a new spate of media reports about people who died while in the custody of Haya has renewed hopes of Saudi liberals of finally seeing the mutawaeen brought under control. The latest anti Haya push was started by a Saudi woman, a fact that sure makes the mutawaeen even more unhappy. The woman filed a suit against the Haya demanding compensation for a host of moral and economic damages inflicted on her by a team of mutawaeen who on that particular day and for unknown reasons have got particularly enthusiastic about carrying out their job.

She charges that agents accosted her and her daughter outside a shopping mall, accused them of being underdressed, dragged their driver from his seat and, while commandeering the car to drive the accused women to vice-squad headquarters for questioning, drove so recklessly that they crashed into a lamppost, injuring the passengers.

Some Saudi liberals find encouraging signs to the accelerating pace of changes and reforms in the kingdom, citing as an example riding bicycles and smoking cigarettes, things unthinkable a few decades ago. However despite these impressive achievements by the country that literally storms its way into 22nd century, the Economist remains largely optimistic for the future of Haya, noticing:

Yet the commission has good reason to be confident of its future. For one thing, its mission of promoting virtue and preventing vice, while perhaps not well defined, remains a scriptural Islamic injunction. In a state that proclaims the Koran as its constitution, this cannot easily be dismissed. For another, the Haya's existence helps solve two pressing social problems: high unemployment and a very large surplus of graduates in religious studies.


There are even more compelling reasons for the fans and enthusiasts of moral police to reject suggestions that the Haya is a spent force. After all, liberal or not, the Saudis always remain Saudis, a profoundly moral and ethical bunch. These are not folks who will ever leave a virtue to die unattended on the street. Neither the Saudi is a place where vice is taken lightly, a fact the following clip so dramatically illustrates.

June 24, 2007

I've been TAGGED

I've been tagged by Lirun.

Here is the list:

1) I once worked in a company run by religious people. With my suggestion all workers adopted the term 'taliban' when referring to the managers. The managers too have later adopted it.

2) I possess an elevated capacity for massive intake of alcohol, stimulants and psychedelic substances.

3) I can party through the whole weekend taking occasional naps in chill-out rooms.

4) I am afflicted with the worst form of attention deficit disorder possible, which means I spend most of my life either totally spaced out or over-concentrated on something.

5) For the afore mentioned reason my style of driving is the most dangerous thing you can encounter on the road.

6) For the same reason i refused a car offered to me by my current company, motivating my refusal on the grounds that it's not good to kill so many people.

7) I don't read romans and novellas. I read only professional and technical literature. I consider a standard textbook on statistics or macroeconomics the best possible read before sleep.

8) I am a hardline right winger who supports going to a war with Syria and population exchanges between Israel and the PA as proposed by Lieberman. Yet my best friend is an Israeli Arab and I spend a significant part of my free time chatting with Arab bloggers.

9) I consider Lirun and Tsedek clinical cases of unbalanced emotionality and unrestrained sentimentality, a psychiatric syndrome which is very symptomatic of our age and represents a real danger for Western civilization. I consider Nizo much more like a normal person than these two.

10) My ultimate goal is to win the Nobel Peace Prize which i see as the final destination of my life and professional career.

My official policy is to never take part in any tagging. For this reason i am not tagging anybody. The list above was provided as a one time courtesy to Lirun in a probably vain hope that he will appreciate the favor and stop his nasty peace propaganda.

June 24, 2007

By DONNA ABU-NASR, Associated Press Writer

Sat Jun 23

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - A judge on Saturday postponed the trial of three members of Saudi Arabia's religious police for their alleged involvement in the death of a man arrested after being seen with a woman who was not his relative.

. . .

Ahmed al-Bulaiwi, a retired border patrol guard in his early 50s, died in custody shortly after his June 1 arrest by religious police in the northern city of Tabuk.

"He went into custody a healthy man. He got out in a funeral procession," his cousin, Audah al-Bulaiwi, who is representing the family in court, told The Associated Press by phone from Tabuk.

The police became suspicious after they observed the woman getting into his car near an amusement park, according to accounts published by the local media. Under the kingdom's rules, a woman cannot drive, and can only go out in public with her father, brother, son or husband.

An investigation showed that al-Bulaiwi, who supplemented his pension by working as a driver, was asked by the family of the woman, who was in her 50s, to drive her home, according to press reports.

. . .

The Tabuk governorate said al-Bulaiwi died as a result of a severe drop in blood pressure and failure of the respiratory system.

. . .

Another investigation is under way into a second fatal incident, in which Saudi national Sulaiman al-Huraisi died last month while in custody of the religious police who had raided his house in Riyadh because they suspected he had alcohol on the premises. Liquor is illegal in Saudi Arabia.

Al-Lahem said witnesses reported that the muttawa beat al-Huraisi "severely" and that he was bleeding heavily when he was taken into their custody.

. . .


June 25, 2007

But I Did Nothing Wrong !!!

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Proclaimed un monstruooo muy monstruoso at 8:57 PM


Stone Age Linguistics

Nobody said...

Anyway. Listen ,NC

I think you take Shavit too personally. I don't think that it's good. I think you need to develop an extra layer of epidermis for the future.
Meanwhile, to divert your attention from Shavit and given that we are basically on hamas, let me offer you to examine its twin. I had a conversation on Hezbollah with one guy. I will repost it here shortly.

It was quite a while ago. But i do think that some points seem to be correct.

Selected Comments:

Unfrozen Caveman Linguist said...

BTW Nobody - I have been loooking for the post that may have led you to believe that I somehow "underestimate" Nasrallah as a "leader of humans." I can't find it. I lived in Lebanon for quite some time and I have visited most of the areas where this man holds sway. The trappings of his influence are everywhere, and I'm not just talking about placards. It is obvious that many if not most Shiites love the man to the point of worship. As for the staying power of his leadership credentials under the extreme pressure that his party finds itself, that is being tested right now and the jury is still out. I think I have made that point abundantly clear since the beginning of the conflict. If that point can be read as underestimating the man, read again. I, like you, believe that only a fool would make this mistake.

Nobody said..

Also technically i don't understand how the lebanese can get him. He got this Aoun to play with against Sanyora. And even without Aoun i bet he knows how to navigate in the lebanese sectarian politics. He would always find somebody who would break the ranks.

I saw yesterday how he and Asad are threatening the Sanyora government from both sides. Now i understand that Aoun has joined the feast. I just don't see where the salvation for Lebanon will come from.

Unfrozen Caveman Linguist said...

The current Lebanese government cannot get him - that is precisely why Lebanon is in this situation now. Nasrallah is Lebanese (in spite of his function as Iranian and Syrian stooge) and he understands the people he is dealing with in the government. To a large extent, it's the same gene pool that has been there since the days of the Ottomans, so there are lots of frames of reference - politically, historically, and culturally, that is. Could Nasrallah have managed his unique position without foreign backing and without weapons? I sincerely doubt it.

As for his brilliance - I still don't buy that this trait extends to the military strategy that he used, especially if he himself devised it (and I don't think he did). Marshal Tito of Yugoslavia employed a similar strategy in Bosnia. That is to say that he deliberately kept the area an undeveloped backwater, and tunneled into the mountains to forge hardened bunkers filled with armaments to be used against a Soviet invasion. Had there been an invasion, his forces would have collapsed back into this mountain hinterland and fought a defensive guerrilla war, combining hit-and-run tactics with hardened strong points. Sure enough, any invader would have had to be willing to demolish the entire landscape to conquer Yugoslavia.

Of course, the difference between Tito and Nasrallah is that Tito never attacked his neighbors. That way, his fearsome defensive deterrent remained a deterrent. It also remained fearsome because he never had to use it. As you know well by now, Nasrallah had no interest in a mere defensive posture, despite the fact that that's all the military capability he had. Nasrallah is very lucky not to have had this strategy blow up in his face (quite literally).

Nobody said...

Forget about LP. Let me reformulate it.

As I understand Nasrallah is running a semi state in South Lebanon and he got control over education there. Whenever i see a photogallery from those places u always see martyrs, khomeinies and similar stuff on every second building and intersection.

Looks like a shiite version of 1984 to me. For sure their young generation is already affected by growing up in such an environment. Or i am wrong ?

In terms of endoctrinating the shiite population in the territories under its control how far the hezbollah has advanced until now ?

Unfrozen Caveman Linguist said...

The pictures don't even show the half of it. I recommend Michael Totten's take on it, as he was there not long ago. Also, having been to the south many times, my take would be just as reliable, but I don't want to get into the details of what I know and don't know, where I've been, etc. etc. Generally speaking, it is as you describe - the obsession with martyrdom and its aggrandizement, the beholden-ness to Shiite clerical leadership - all this is painfully obvious in southern Lebanon.

I would say that Hizbullah attempts to indoctrinate everyone they come in contact with, not just other Shiites. In areas they control it does appear that membership in their organization appears to stratify somewhat the social organization. That is to say that membership in HA is something that young people generally aspire to in these areas, and that not being a member has its disadvantages. Of course, there remain small pockets of holdouts - Christians and Druze mainly.

Nobody said...

My impression is that Nasrallah represents a pragmatic approach. He is not too pushy when it comes to the christians in beirut and their lifestyle which i bet Hezbollah views as totally rotten and corrupted by the western culture.

But,say, among his followers and young generation for sure there are less tolerant people.

I can tell you why i am asking you . I gew up in the Soviet Union and i know what is to live in a society which is based strongly on ideology and endoctrination.

My intuition that they are just beginning. My feeling is that in terms of radicalism they would peak out only in the next generation or after. When the young people who grew up under their control would come to take their places , it is at that point that their idologocical and endoctrinating work would come to full fruition.

Unfrozen Caveman Linguist said...

It appears that Nasrallah is remaining more pragmatic right now. He might even try to marginalize more radical elements if indeed such elements exist (as the party has had to do in the past when it decided to join the Lebanese government), as long as doing so improves the party's chances at getting stronger. With HA's impressive party discipline and message control, it does not appear that extremist elements are having their say right now.

The question that you ask is not answerable until Hizbullah more fully consolidates its position vis a vis the Lebanese government. In areas that the party firmly controls this tolerance seems to be less than, say, that of Hamra West Beirut or in Ashrafieh. It seems natural to predict that tolerance will ebb even further if HA makes further gains. We shall see.

Nobody said...

. . . Basically I see Hezbollah as a fundamentalist movement that perfectly fused its ideology with social and political structures in the South Lebanon.

Thats why Hezbollah reminds me greatly of communist movements in their best moments. I see Hezbollah as a mini Iran. I think they succeeded to achieve something that Khomeini failed. Hezbollah is not a rotten and corrupt entity with hollow ideology like Iran.

The combination of personality cults, ability to endoctrinate its population and the fact that they have Israel as an external enemy helped them to create something that i would call islamo-comminism or islamo-fascism (not islamo-nazism). I think they are really close to creating it.

I feel like the ideological drive and motivation of hezbollah looks incredibly fresh. They are apparently not corrupt. They are not losing their zeal. I think that in terms of idealism and radicalism they are not at their peak yet. The worst is yet to come.

Charles from the LPJ finally woke up today and got the idea how coffee smells. Of course they can t compete with a movement that acts as one block with total discipline, whose members are ideologically motivated. I am still amazed that the lebanese are not getting the idea.

What misleads the lebanese, in my view, is the Hezbollah sectarian origin. But Hezbollah long time ago outgrew its sectarian mentality. Its a full scale ideology, total ideology. Its a structure with a totalitarian potential.

To remove the danger its not enough to disarm Hezbollah. It should be dismantled as a state. And even this i doubt would work. The hopes that some wellfare handouts would break the shiite loyalty to hezbollah are illusions in my view. The lebanese underestimate the work hezbollah did in terms of indoctrinating its population, esp. young people. Much of its support base is no longer a turncoat nation as the caveman once called it. I think people tend to see Hezbollah in familiar terms but i think its something new. Its not something we know from the past.

I dont know what would happen to Hezbollah eventually but i see a potential here for something quite bad and something that many people wouldn't recognize in the end.

I am not lebanese, never been to lebanon and never saw a live lebanese. Neigher i ever saw a dead lebanese. So its all my intuitions and i admit i may be talking nonsense.

Nobody said...

Basically i would say they are creating a new type of society based on ideology, that reminds me of comminist movements. This society has a totalitarian quality because of its deep penetration into all aspects of social life. Thats why i said its a sort of islamo-communism and apparently right now quite functional and efficient.

Unfrozen Caveman Linguist said...

Just to clarify - when I wrote the post entitled "turncoat nation" (which is the only time I used such a phrase) I was referring to two things. One was the South Lebanese Army. The other was the ease with which many Lebanese will sell out their fellow countrymen. I was not referring to the Shi'a. You do have it right in one respect, though, Nobody. Hizbullah has found out how to keep Lebanese Shiites loyal - indoctrinate the living daylights out of them. What makes Hizbullah so dangerous is that it is the antithesis of the Lebanese consociational system and therefore cannot work well within it. Its nature is to grow towards eventual domination, even if it appears to be tolerating those consociational characteristics for the time being.

Nobody said...

I can t really pinpoint what is this that makes me feel this way about Hezbollah. Is it the fact that they are on one hand a one party system , on another a semi state and all these together plus authority of the shiite clergy? Or maybe their 100 % discipline that i don't see among Hamas and others? Or the fact that they are dynamic and efficient?

I dont know. But there is something in the Hezbollah story that just does nt make sense when u think it in terms of older categories borrowed from Iran, or Hamas, or Saudi Arabia.

Nobody said...

Let me put it this way . Its politically incorrect and is not for people with heart problems.

If we , israel, want to defeat them , military victories even, quite decisive, won t work.

They achieved some sort of cohesion and ideological self sufficiency and stability that even our most decisive victories would be reinterpreted by them as their greatest achievements. Its not easy to knock out such a society.

If we really want to remove this danger from our border, we need to go to south lebanon , expell the people and bulldoze everything to the ground. Together with their schools and social services. To make the south uninhabitable. We should smash their world completely without giving them any chance to reorganize and regroup.

Nothing short of destroying their whole world would convince the Hezbollah support base that this ideology does nt work.

And if Hezbollah would continue to demonstrate this dynamism and efficiency and would refuse to start stagnating and rotting in itself like Iran , i am afraid this is the only way.

Unfrozen Caveman Linguist said...

I highly recommend this book to help answer some of the questions you have. That said, you will probably find your suspicions to be right on target. HA's organization mirrors old Soviet structure in miniature (and even borrows from terminology), adding just enough Shiite Islamic window dressing to make it look as if the movement's ideology springs naturally from Shiite Islamic texts.

Unfrozen Caveman Linguist said...

In spite of the time I spent at the American University of Beirut, I am not leftist-educated enough to be able to split hairs on the heads of Marx and Mao. Honestly, I don't know the difference, and I could not care less either way. That said, Hizbullah has definitely injected revolutionary ideology of some kind into its Islamic doctrine.

Kifaya, when Nobody says that HA is not corrupt, he appears to be referring not to ideology but implementation. Due to its small size relative to the Islamic revolutionary government of Iran, HA's message discipline and tight structure (as well as Nasrallah's charismatic leadership) indeed HA has been able to avoid the negative effects of extreme centralization (so far). Also, HA is undergoing a golden age of sorts and still finding its potential. It does not have the authority of a full state. If and when it does, maybe then we can expect to see the party behave more like what you and I believe to be a totalitarian regime.

There, I just put words in Nobody's mouth. Hope I didn't hit too far off the mark.

Nobody said...

You hit the mark. This is what i was saying.

I by the way agree with you when you say:

"What makes Hizbullah so dangerous is that it is the antithesis of the Lebanese consociational system and therefore cannot work well within it. Its nature is to grow towards eventual domination, even if it appears to be tolerating those consociational characteristics for the time being."

I am surprised that they were so smart until now and played well within the system. Somehow i was hoping that they will start keeping themselves busy with harassing the christians and sunnies.

Nobody said...

In fact Nasrallah is doing the outmost effort to bridge the sunni shia divide. The most ridiculous thing would be if in the end he will succeed to achieve it. I was reading about an egyptian preacher who was beaten by his listeners when he came out with an anti shia anti hezbollah stuff. I was even reading the Big Pharaoh or Sandmonkey saying how one of his friends said that he wants to be a shia now.

If Nasrallah would indeed succeed to break out of his sectarian cage and reach out to the radical sunnies persuading them to adopt some of his techniques and methods and to join forces with him then it would the most extraordinary thing. I bet he got a lot of usefull stuff to teach them.

Unfrozen Caveman Linguist said...

Diana - I am not an expert in Lebanese elections. I am also not a Lebanese census taker - these people don't exist, as Lebanon has not had a census since the country received its independence. Official demographics simply do not exist (thereby eliminating whatever causality of median ages and so on and so forth), so it is not really responsible to speak as if they do (something that many Lebanese just go ahead and do, throwing around numbers based on unofficial projections and estimates made by aid agencies and stuff like that, jumping into the fray with their fully-formed political agendas and all). That said, if any sort of mis-representation existed that somehow skewed representation against whatever imaginary population numbers are the order of the day, it is probably due to the gerrymandered voting districts that keep certain strongmen in power. Lebanese still do not really vote their opinions, after all. I am speaking about this in general terms, because I am too lazy right now to go looking for precise information. Someone like Anton Efendi at Across the Bay may have more on the top of his head than I do on the subject.

Also, with Hizbullah's bizarre alliance with Michel Aoun's FPM, it appears that the party found a way around their relatively small representational numbers and now have the largest voting bloc in the parliament. I would not exactly call them under-represented.

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. . .

Last Updated: June 23, 2007

June 21, 2007

Thou Shalt Know . . . Who You are Fucking with

Hamas gunmen have surrounded homes of the Dughmush clan in Sabra neighborhood of the Gaza City. The clan is holding BBC correspondent Alan Johnston kidnapped a few months ago. Yesterday a member of the clan was shot at by masked gunmen in Gaza City's Zaitoun neighborhood. He died instantly.

Hamas has issued an ultimatum to the clan to release the BBC correspondent by next Monday or face a massive attack.


June 22, 2007

Avi Issacharoff from Haaretz says that Hamas has already restored order in Gaza. It took the Islamists just one week to end the chaos to the point that Gazans now even obey traffic lights.

Quiet returned to the streets of Gaza all at once this week - a quiet that the Strip's residents had not experienced for more than two decades, since the first intifada began. Within a few days, after its clashes with Fatah ended in a decisive victory for Hamas, the Islamic movement managed to do the incredible: It ended the chaos in Gaza. The descriptions provided by residents and local and foreign journalists sound almost inconceivable: The gunmen (not members of Hamas) have disappeared from the streets, apparently due to a fear of the Hamas Executive Force.

Hamas has banned people from masking their faces. Carrying guns in public is forbidden to all except for members of the Public Order established by Hamas and now visible all over the place standing guard at intersections.

They are dressed in civilian clothes, identifiable only by the word "Hamas" emblazoned on the backs of their yellow shirts. Their primary task: maintaining the flow of traffic. They're basically Hamas traffic cops, but they're backed up by the armed Executive Force, with whom no one dares to argue. Force members also examine vehicle in the streets and confiscate those suspected of being stolen.

The Dughmush clan which is holding Johnston is the last opposition to Hamas in Gaza. Though it remains to be seen for how long the clan can hold out threatened with an all-out onslaught unless the hostage is released next Monday. Kassam brigades are searching homes across the strip confiscating weapons and enforcing discipline on the clans. The Dughmush clansmen look more and more isolated and they should better mind the message Hamas has sent to the clans in the Shati refugee camp:

Thus it was that 10 days ago, after an hours-long gun battle that ended with Hamas overpowering the Bakr clan from the Shati refugee camp - known as a large, well-armed and dangerous family that supports Fatah - the Hamas military wing removed all the family members from their compound and lined them up against a wall. Militants selected a 14-year-old girl, two women aged 19 and 75, and two elderly men, and shot them to death in cold blood to send a message to all the armed clans of Gaza.

Apart from restoring security the Public order force has already started tackling a number of social and economic issues:

The Public Order force, meanwhile, spent part of this week supervising the matriculation exams in Gaza schools, and it has prohibited merchants from raising prices indiscriminately, according to F., who used to serve as a senior officer in a Fatah security force. Though not a Hamas sympathizer, F. says Gaza has become much safer for its residents since the movement's takeover. "I haven't felt this secure in many years," he says. "The situation here is even better than excellent from the security perspective. For years, I used to smoke a hookah in cafes. Over the last few months, though, I didn't dare leave the house after dark. Now I can go out again, even at 2 A.M."

The collapse of the Fatah forces in Gaza now seems to be just a culmination of the intimidation campaign that had been going on for weeks and months and so when a Fatah operative was thrown off a tower (not before Hamas militiamen shoot his legs off) many senior Fatah officials decided to take no chances and have fled the strip.

"It's very easy to criticize the senior officials who disappeared," says a Gazan journalist. "But you have to remember that they wanted to stay alive. People had already tried to assassinate them in the past and they knew that Hamas wanted their heads. Someone like that wants to survive."

Hamas was not using a random hit list. Every Hamas patrol carried with it a laptop containing a list of Fatah operatives in Gaza, and an identity number and a star appeared next to each name. A red star meant the operative was to be executed and a blue one meant he was to be shot in the legs - a special, cruel tactic developed by Hamas, in which the shot is fired from the back of the knee so that the kneecap is shattered when the bullet exits the other side. A black star signaled arrest, and no star meant that the Fatah member was to be beaten and released. Hamas patrols took the list with them to hospitals, where they searched for wounded Fatah officials, some of whom they beat up and some of whom they abducted.

And Fatah? What's about Fatah?

Even the serious blow it sustained in its clashes with Hamas in Gaza, and its concern for the future of the West Bank, have not managed to suppress the internal backstabbing in Fatah. This week most of its leaders in the West Bank were more concerned with how to depose Mohammed Dahlan than how to defeat Hamas. Even Dahlan's supporters from Gaza who came over to Ramallah preferred to vilify their critics in Fatah (including Jibril Rajoub and Marwan Barghouti) rather than to examine the mistakes they had made.


June 23, 2007

When a spiderweb meets a spider

Now when things look so much better in Gaza, it's time to revisit the timeless classic produced by Ari Shavit at the end of the summer war to put things in perspective by taking a good look at the other side of the conflict.


By Ari Shavit
August 16, 2006

A spirit of absolute folly

In the difficult summer of 2006, the State of Israel is declaring in astonishment: They surprised us. They surprised us in a big way. They surprised us with Katyushas and they surprised us with the Al-Fajr rockets and they surprised us with the Zelzal missiles. They surprised us with anti-tank missiles. And they surprised us with the operational skill of the anti-tank squads. They surprised us with the bunkers and the camouflage. They surprised us with the command and monitoring. They surprised us with strategy, fighting ability and a fighting spirit. They surprised us with the astonishing power that a small death-army with low technology and high religious motivation can have.

However, more than they surprised us in Summer 2006 with the strength of Hezbollah, they surprised us this summer with our own weakness. They surprised us with ourselves. They surprised us with the low level of national leadership. They surprised us with scandalous strategic bumbling. They surprised us with the lack of vision, lack of creativity and lack of determination on the part of the senior military command. They surprised us with faulty intelligence and a delusionary logistical network and improper preparedness for war. They surprised us with the fact that the Israeli war machine is not what it once was. While we were celebrating it became rusty.

Generally it is not right to conduct an in-depth investigation of a wartime failure during a war. However, at the end of the most embarrassing year of Israeli defense since the establishment of the State of Israel, the Israeli government is not drawing conclusions. It is not reorganizing the system, there is no evidence of a real learning curve and it is not radiating a new ethos. On the contrary: It is adding another layer of folly onto a previous one. Its slowness to react is dangerous. Its caution is a recipe for disaster. Its attempt to prevent bloodshed is costing a great deal of bloodshed. So that now of all times, just when the forces are moving toward south Lebanon, there is no escaping the question of where we went wrong. It is so that Israel will be able to achieve a last-minute victory and so that the troops will be able to achieve their goals and so the soldiers will be able to return home safely, that we must ask already now: What happened to us? What the hell happened to us?

A simple thing happened: We were drugged by political correctness. The political correctness that has come to dominate Israeli discourse and Israeli awareness in the past generation was totally divorced from the Israeli situation. It did not have the tools to deal with the reality of an existential conflict. It did not have the tools to deal with a reality of an inter-religious and inter-cultural conflict. That is why it focused entirely on the Palestinian issue. It made the baseless assumption that the occupation is the source of evil. It assumed that it is the occupation that is preventing peace and causing unrest and perpetuating the instability.

At the same time, political correctness assumed that Israeli strength is a given. That Israel is insanely strong. Therefore, political correctness disdained any attempt to build and maintain Israeli strength. The defense budget was cut, the values of volunteerism were mocked, the concepts of heroism and fortitude became despicable. Since the Israel Defense Forces was identified as an army of occupation - rather than as an army defending feminists and homo-lesbians from the fanaticism of the Middle East - they had reservations about it, they shook it off and became alienated from it. After all, in the spiritual world of political correctness, power and army have become dirty words.

Any national idea was rejected because of the sanctity of the private sphere. Every cooperative ethos was dismantled in favor of the individual. Power was identified with fascism. Masculinity was publicly condemned. The pursuit of absolute justice was mixed with the pursuit of absolute pleasure and turned the reigning discourse from a discourse of commitment and enlistment to one of protest and pampering.

Another thing happened: We were poisoned with an illusion of normalcy. The State of Israel is fundamentally an abnormal state. Just because it is a Jewish state in an Arab region, and just because it is a Western country in a Muslim region, and just because it is a democratic state in a region of fanaticism and despotism, Israel is in constant tension with its surroundings. On the one hand, because of the situation in which it finds itself, Israel cannot live a life of European normalcy. On the other hand, because of its values and its structure in terms of identity, economics and culture, Israel cannot avoid being a part of European normalcy.

Therefore Israel is in a constant state of basic contradiction. The way to resolve this contradiction is to create a positive anomaly - both ideological and ethical - that will provide an answer to the negative anomaly in which Israel exists. There is no other way: Israel must prepare a defense envelope that will protect its internal environment from the external environment surrounding it. Life in defiance of the environment is an essential part of Israeli existence.

However, in the past generation this cruel insight has dissipated, the delusion has spread that we have overcome our problems and reached a state of tranquility, and that we can live in this place like any other nation. This illusion led to a situation where the positive Israeli anomaly gradually became blurred, and the energies devoted to maintaining the defensive shield that isolates Israel from the region and protects it from this region were drastically reduced. Weakness prevailed. Our willpower was weakened. The bubble so inebriated the Israelis that they didn't bother to surround it with a fortified wall. Therefore, the pressures of the external environment steadily increased - with the terror of 2002 and the Qassams of 2005 and the Katyushas of 2006 - until they penetrated deep inside the Israeli environment. Thus was created the paradox that those who wanted to believe that Israel could be totally normal were the ones who caused it to decline into a chaotic situation of total anomaly and a loss of balance.

Both political correctness and the illusion-of-normalcy spread first and foremost among the Israeli elites. The Israeli public in general has remained for the most part sober and strong. It did not err with illusions of a new Middle East. It did not turn its back on the existential imperative, the defense ethos and the IDF. Even its core values were not destroyed. Therefore, it impressively withstood both the test of terror of 2001-2003 and the test of "fire-on-the-home front" of 2006. It demonstrated an almost British fortitude and continues to do so.

On the other hand, the Israeli elites of the past 20 years have become totally divorced from reality. The capital, the media and the academic world of the 1990s and the first decade of the 21st century, have blinded Israel and deprived it of its spirit. Their repeated illusions regarding the historical reality in which the Jewish state finds itself, caused Israel to make a navigational error and to lose its way. Their unending attacks, both direct and indirect, on nationalism, on militarism and on the Zionist narrative have eaten away from the inside at the tree trunk of Israeli existence, and sucked away its life force. While the general public demonstrated sobriety, determination and energy, the elites were a disappointment.

Capital brought the illusion-of-normalcy ad absurdum, and established a crushing social-economic regime here that does not suit the historical situation. The academic world promoted political correctness ad absurdum and conducted a somewhat suicidal spirit of criticism here. And the media combined the two and created a hallucinatory state of mind, which combines unbridled consumerism with false righteousness (False righteousness. Lisa, write these words on your forehead NB).

Instead of being constructive elites, in the past generation the Israeli elites have become dismantling elites. Each in its own area, each by its own method, dealt with the deconstruction of the Zionism enterprise. Step by step, the top 1000th percentiles abandoned the existential national effort. They stopped doing reserve duty, they stopped sending their sons to the fighting units. They mocked those officers who warned about unilateral withdrawals. They mocked those officers who warned that the emergency warehouses were emptying out and the enemies were becoming stronger. And they deceived themselves and those around them that Tel Aviv is in fact Manhattan. Money is in fact everything. And thus they bequeathed to young Israelis a legacy of values that makes it very difficult for them to attack even when the attack is fully justified. Because a country that lacks equality, that lacks justice and that lacks faith in the rightness of its path, is a country for which it is very difficult to go on the attack. It is a country for which not many are willing to kill and be killed.

And in the Middle East of the 21st century, a country whose young elites find it difficult to kill and be killed for it is a country on borrowed time (!!! NB). A country that cannot endure. So that what is now being revealed before our eyes, as the smoke of the Katyushas continues to rise from the Lebanese thicket, is not a failure of the IDF but a failure of the elites that turned their back on the IDF. What is being revealed now, when Israel cannot properly protect the lives of its citizens, is not problems of command and problems of tactics, but rather deep-seated problems of a society whose elites have abandoned it. It is not Major General Udi Adam or Brigadier General Gal Hirsch who are the problem, it is the Israeli spirit. A spirit that for far too long has been a spirit of stupidity. A spirit of absolute folly.

Usually, the accusation of folly is directed at battle-hungry generals and warmongering politicians. However, at the end of this war, the accusation of folly will be directed at an entire cadre of Israeli opinion-makers and social leaders who lived in a bubble and caused Israel to live in a bubble. The army will be required to put its house in order and to rebuild, but the true anger will be directed toward the elites who failed. Elites who betrayed the trust of a wise, impressive and strong nation.

However, now it is wartime. The citizens of the north are still in bomb shelters, the soldiers of the regular and standing armies are risking their lives in a war that was not properly planned or properly defined and is being conducted poorly. Therefore, what is needed now is to operate quickly, to operate while in motion, in order to strengthen the spirit of those participating in the battle. What is needed is to create immediately a new discourse that will suit the new situation. Without a new spirit and without a new language there will be no victory in the fighting. Therefore, while the war is raging we must find the spirit and we must find the language that we lost in the years preceding the war.

Israel tried with all its soul and all its might to be Athens. However in this place, in this era, there is no future for an Athens without a speck of Sparta. There is no hope for a society-of-life that does not know how to organize itself to deal with death (!!! NB). Therefore, after decades during which the right and the left and the center took Israeli power for granted and wastefully exploited it, now there is no escaping the need to place the renewed building of Israeli power at the top of the agenda. We are returning to the encounter with our fate; returning to what is decreed by the reality of our lives.

Conclusion: There are too many spiderwebs in the region. The house is in urgent need of serious cleaning. Now when one spiderweb was swept out of Gaza, other spiderwebs will be wise to take this to their notice.

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Friday, June 22, 2007

The Photogenic Olmert

Last updated: January 13, 2009

April 30, 2007

May 1, 2007

The Winograd report is out and it's harsher than many people predicted. Expect Olmert to get even more photogenic.


There are reports that 'al Qaida in Iraq' leader, Abu Ayyub al Masri, died in clashes with Sunni tribesmen in the Anbar province. Al Masri was leading the group ever since its previous leader, Abu Musab al Zarqawi, was killed by a US airstrike. If confirmed this is a clear sign of escalation in the power struggle between the Sunnis in Iraq.


More pictures of Olmert ... a special courtesy to Amos :D :D

June 22, 2007

Laugh and smile don't come easy to Olmert

January 13, 2009

Olmert and another Olmert

Another very cool pic I found by chance on my disk...

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Now You got me worried

Last update: June 26, 2007

June 19, 2007

One blog called my attention yesterday. The blog is one of many Israeli peace blogs and as such often provides good illustrations of the utter lunacy into which political correctness tend to degenerate. Yet the latest post on this blog makes its point so forcefully that it's just impossible to disagree.

The Israeli anti-drug authority decided that it would be a great idea to reach out to young people with a spoof of a shaheed poster - the type one sees in the West Bank, extolling young men who have blown themselves up for "the cause." The anti-drug authority placed the following advertisement in Maariv and Yedioth yesterday. At the top it says, "The hero Omer Kendel, 16 years old, mixed vodka and ecstasy and went to blow himself up at a party in Tel Aviv." At the bottom: "Drugs and alcohol taken together is suicide," followed by the phone number for the anti-drug authority. The font resembles Arabic calligraphy.

. . .

I can't decide what I think about the Israeli anti-drug campaign advert. It's certainly eye-catching, but it is also racist and sensationalistic. And, of course, it's totally ineffective.

Source: On the Face

Of course, similar posters with real Jihadists, who blew themselves up in our cafes and buses, are all over the place in the West bank and Gaza and even in some neighborhoods of Beit Lehem they occasionally decorate almost every corner of every single building. And there are some shops even in the Old City of Jerusalem trading in all sorts of Hamas souvenirs including posters of martyrs. This is because the art of martyrdom is not considered to be of a bad taste or racist in the MickeyLand. Posters aside, a few days ago Gaza was taken over by the movement that states its commitment to Jihad in the strongest terms possible.

Nevertheless the shameless use of the image of Palestinian suicide bombers by the Anti-Drug Authority got me really worried. What if under the influence of the posters some Israelis come to think that there are Jihadists among the Palestinians ?!?! Had the organizers of the campaign ever thought about this ?!?!

Deeply worried and concerned, I am finishing this post of mine. Shit !!! Another sleepless night !!!

June 20, 2007


The thing about the controversial poster is that it's very Israeli. I would recommend taking it as an example of the Israeli mentality. Besides of it being a piece of sheer genius and its brilliant composition, it contains quite a lot of what I would associate with 'Israelness'. It's very not politically correct. It's very sharp. It's outrageous and provocative. It's very 'dughri'.

As to humor I would say that though it's not a joke, its brilliantly cynical. A person who devised it certainly does not lack in sense of humor. In fact, that blog is so deficient on everything related to humor, that i am surprised that its author ventures into this area at all.

The poster demonstrates one aspect of the Israeli mentality that should be considered very encouraging. There should be no doubt that Nasrallah has a point when he calls Israel a spiderweb. This is what Israel has become (in part thanks to the efforts of people such as the author of that blog). Yet on the other hand this ability of the Israelis to turn everything into a cynical joke, does indicate that deep inside the Israelis still retain much of their original mindset, that of toughened survivalists.

I would say that in general there is something mechanical about the 'On the face' blog. Many posts there are as if done by a robot preloaded with a politically correct operating system. And of course when these people see the Israeli spirit expressing itself in such wild and unrestrained ways, their very guts militate against it. But Israelis should never give up to these people and stick to what feels them right. Because it's posters like this one that make the Israelis Israelis. Otherwise the Israelis would quickly turn into regular and indistinguishable from each other politically correct robots now populating large swaths of Europe and North America.

People often complain about Israelis that they are rude, tactless and outspoken. That they are quick to cheat others and each other. And there can be no denying about this. It is as true as that Israelis are very bright people endowed with the wildest imagination possible. That they are survivalists who can make it everywhere from the Northern Pole to the jungles of Cambodia. And there should be no doubt that Israel is a wild place of after-parties where each year people are setting new records in consumption of synthetic drugs. A Lebanese blogger who spent a few after-parties with 'Nobody" in Tel Aviv later admitted that, since he went back to Beirut, he reached the conclusion that there are no proper parties there and that he is planning to come back to Israel precisely for this. The poster perfectly catches and demonstrates all this at the same time.

People rarely get a feel of Israel on the English speaking part of the Internet dominated by Israeli peace loonies who represent the decadent and brainwashed to the point of idiocy culture of Western liberalism, adopted by large chunks of Israel's intellectual elites. Unlike them, the poster in question is like Israel itself. You either like it or not. But this is how Israel is.

From 'On the Face'. . .
used without permission


Some people have expressed themselves in the sense that the message conveyed by the poster is totally messed and creates the impression that what's wrong is mixing alcohol and drugs together. This is probably true and indeed the intended message. The fact is that people don't die from ecstasy as such but from its side effects caused by excessive movement. Given the general tendency of Israelis to overdo everything and their passion for partying, drugs sold in Israel are usually ways stronger than, say, in Europe and can keep people on dance floors for up to 10-12 hours. Some people collapse in the process from overheating and dehydratation.

Alcohol greatly exacerbates the effect because it dehydrates too. Most death cases are indeed caused by the combination of alcohol and synthetic drugs. The majority of ravers know this but many don't take precautions. And this is what the poster basically says. It does not endorse drugs as much as it says: if you do drugs, then at least do it in a way that won't make you die (the main argument against ecstasy is that it apparently affects changes in neuron structure, not that it kills people). So it's not that the message is a confused one. It's more like:

. . . המבין יבין

June 26, 2007

Little Red Riding Hood

From "Politically Correct Bedtime Stories" by James Finn Garner. Copyright 1994 by James Finn Garner. Published by Macmillan Publishing USA.

There once was a young person named Red Riding Hood who lived with her mother on the edge of a large wood. One day her mother asked her to take a basket of fresh fruit and mineral water to her grandmother's house--not because this was womyn's work, mind you, but because the deed was generous and helped engender a feeling of community. Furthermore, her grandmother was not sick, but rather was in full physical and mental health and was fully capable of taking care of herself as a mature adult.

So Red Riding Hood set off with her basket through the woods. Many people believed that the forest was a foreboding and dangerous place and never set foot in it. Red Riding Hood, however, was confident enough in her own budding sexuality that such obvious Freudian imagery did not intimidate her.

On the way to Grandma's house, Red Riding Hood was accosted by a wolf. who asked her what was in her basket. She replied, "Some healthful snacks for my grandmother, who is certainly capable of taking care of herself as a mature adult."

The wolf said, "You know, my dear, it isn't safe for a little girl to walk through these woods alone."

Red Riding Hood said, "I find your sexist remark offensive in the extreme, but I will ignore it because of your traditional status as an outcast from society, the stress of which has caused you to develop your own, entirely valid, worldview. Now, if you'll excuse me, I must be on my way."

Red Riding Hood walked on along the main path. But, because his status outside society had freed him from slavish adherence to linear, Western-style thought, the wolf knew a quicker route to Grandma's house. He burst into the house and ate Grandma, an entirely valid course of action for a carnivore such as himself. Then, unhampered by rigid, traditionalist notions of what was masculine or feminine, he put on Grandma's nightclothes and crawled into bed.

Red Riding Hood entered the cottage and said, "Grandma, I have brought you some fatfree, sodium-free snacks to salute you in your role of a wise and nurturing matriarch."

From the bed, the wolf said softly, "Come closer, child, so that I might see you."

Red Riding Hood said, "Oh, I forgot you are as optically challenged as a bat. Grandma, what big eyes you have!"

"They have seen much, and forgiven much, my dear."

"Grandma, what a big nose you have, only relatively, of course, and certainly attractive in its own way."

"It has smelled much, and forgiven much, my dear."

"Grandma, what big teeth you have!"

The wolf said, "I am happy with who I am and what I am," and leaped out of bed. He grabbed Red Riding Hood in his claws, intent on devouring her. Red Riding Hood screamed, not out of alarm at the wolf's apparent tendency toward crossdressing, but because of his willful invasion of her personal space.

Her screams were heard by a passing woodchopperperson (or log-fuel technician, as he preferred to be called). When he burst into the cottage, he saw the melee and tried to intervene. But as he raised his ax, Red Riding Hood and the wolf both stopped.

"And just what do you think you're doing?" asked Red Riding Hood.

The woodchopper-person blinked and tried to answer, but no words came to him.

"Bursting in here like a Neanderthal, trusting your weapon to do your thinking for you!" she exclaimed. "Sexist! Speciesist! How dare you assume that women and wolves can't solve their own problems without a man's help!"

When she heard Red Riding Hood's impassioned speech, Grandma jumped out of the wolf's mouth, seized the woodchopperperson's ax, and cut his head off. After this ordeal, Red Riding Hood, Grandma, and the wolf felt a certain commonality of purpose. They decided to set up an alternative household based on mutual respect and cooperation, and they lived together in the woods happily ever after.


I know some people who are capable of writing even better stories of this kind. Though in their story Red Hood will sure call the wolf . . . a racist.

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Monday, June 18, 2007

Syriam Esse Delendam

Syrian President Bashar Assad was linked to Sunday's Katyusha rocket attack on Kiryat Shmona, the Kuwaiti Al Siyasah newspaper reported on Monday.

In an exclusive article, the paper claimed that Assad's motive was his anger at the Arab League foreign ministers' positions during last week's Cairo summit, particularly the stances of Egypt and Saudi Arabia, who called for an end to Syrian involvement in Lebanon.

According to the newspaper, Assad reacted harshly to the criticism, saying: "They will see how I will plough up Lebanon."


Looks like this regime won't relax until somebody ploughs its country up. It's high time for Israel to stop flirting with the regime in Damascus and start preparing itself for a war. Syria has recently wrecked or contributed to the collapse of three countries: Lebanon, Iraq and the Palestinian Authority in Gaza. You don't negotiate with a regime like this one.

In the incoming war the IDF would do wisely to repeat the mistake of the last war in Lebanon, which may happen to be very effective in the case of war with Syria, and this is to destroy the Syrian infrastructure in such a way that it will take the regime years to rebuild it. The Syrian economy seems to be just in shape for taking such a blow.


The title of the post is borrowed from the Ecce Libano who is, by the way, back and posting after a long break.


And the Vox is back too.


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Saturday, June 16, 2007

What's Next in the Land of the Mickey Mouse?

Abbas has replaced Haniyeh with Salam Fayyad who until now served as finance minister. Fayyad is probably the only bright spot in the Palestinian Disneyland right now. A free market economist, Fayyad has won his reputation as a dedicated reformer under the previous Palestinian government. Fayyad is also known to have never made secret of his pro Western orientation. In fact Fayyad made it very clear several times that he is looking for a warm peace with Israel. I have no idea if Fayyad has ever expressed his views on the right of return.

The two Palestines seem to be on diverging courses now. Under Fayyad and without Hamas, the West Bank chances to get the sanctions removed are good. Yet the eventual success depends on Abbas. If Abbas and Fatah continue with their shit, their rule in the WB may soon have its days numbered. Fatah has been convincingly defeated by Hamas in the last elections and this time it seems that the Palestinians have plainly got enough of armed militants wandering the streets, lawlessness and corruption. Unless Fatah gets hold of itself, no amount of American and Israeli weapons will save it from another humiliating defeat.

Fatah and the Palestinians in the West Bank have got another lease of life. The world seems to be ready to lift the sanctions and even rain economic assisstance on the government led by Fayyad who is one of the few Palestinian politicians commanding total respect and trust of the West. Abbas can give Fayyad the support he needs to start in the West Bank a bold program of economic reforms that in combination with Western aid may transform the place. A clampdown on militiamen is urgently needed though.

An alternative is for Fatah to obstruct Fayyad, or even better, to engage in internal infighting in an attempt to oust Abbas who is now becoming an object of new conspiracy theories that incriminate him in taking part in a secret plot of dividing the Palestinian nation between Egypt, Israel and Jordan. The end for Fatah in the West Bank may come as swiftly as it has happened in Gaza. Fatah should know that its actions in the West Bank would be compared to Gaza where the servants of Mickey the Rahman and Rahim may soon achieve something the fundamentalists are so good at - restoring order. Fatah should also know that its opponents in the strip have a strong, ideologically committed and largely corruption free leadership. Hamas has demonstrated its clear preference for technocratism in the last elections when its list of university teachers, engineers and doctors delivered a crushing blow to the Fatah list dominated by the party nomenclature.

For the Palestinians it's almost as if they have got their last chance to renounce the madness of uninterrupted resistance and martyrdom and try instead to create a normal society oriented on economic and social reforms in the West Bank. If the West Bank fails to rise to the challenge the consequences are hard to predict as it's hard to see how it can get much worse than it is already.

Salam Fayyad, the Man to the Task

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Friday, June 15, 2007


Economic reforms in Syria and Egypt.

The Media Online

Fiscal Deficit Represents Major Challenge for Syrian Economy

Written by Jihad Yazigi
Published Monday, May 07, 2007

Contrary to the expectations of many the Syrian economy recorded last year a significant increase in its Gross Domestic Product. Real GDP growth reached 5.3 in 2006 after a rate of 4.5 percent in 2005, also much better than most expected.

Direct investment from the Gulf countries and from Syrian expatriates has been flowing throughout the Syrian economy. Real estate is the prime target for these investors and city dwellers can witness this through the construction of new commercial centres, the opening of food and clothing chains selling international brands, the renovation of old buildings, etc. Investment in the tourism sector has also been growing with the announcement every other day of the building of a new hotel or the signing of a management contract between local investors and international hotel management firms. Meanwhile, the financial sector has gone through a revolution on its own and welcomed seven banks and eight insurance firms with foreign capital in the last three years alone. More significant of the health of the Syrian economy is investment in industry. The opening of hundreds of new factories in Syria’s three recently built industrial areas is probably the best reflection of the reverse of the country’s fortunes and the confidence of investors over the long-term prospects of its economy.

At the same time, the Syrian economy is suffering from woes unknown until very recently. One of these is inflation. While it remained relatively low during the nineties, below 5 percent on average during that decade, the official rate of the consumer price index had a two-digit growth last year. The situation in Iraq can be partly blamed for that: Iraqi refugees in Syria, whose number crossed the 1 million-mark, have increased demand significantly. Meanwhile, the closure of hundreds of factories in Iraq has increased demand for Syrian products and reduced supply of Syrian manufacturers to their local market. Also, the peg of the Syrian Pound to the US dollar has meant a fall in the value of the Syrian currency compared to the Euro and a concomitant increase in the value of imports from the Euro-zone, Syria’s main trading partner.

However, the major challenge facing the Syrian economy in the mid to long-term is the threat on its fiscal balance. In 2005, the budget deficit grew for the fifth year running representing 5 percent of GDP from only 1.7 percent in 2002. Oil proceeds are falling, along with output and exports, while subsidies are representing a growing drain on the treasury. Income from taxation is increasing but still represented only 12 percent of GDP in 2005.

Syrian decision makers are not hiding their worries. In a recent interview with a local publication, Mohammad Hussein, the Minister of Finance said, half jokingly, that he welcomed any new proposal to increase the Treasury’s income. In a previous interview he had said that he advised fellow members of the cabinet to think of how to collect money for their ministries before spending it. The single most important decision that would significantly alter the balance and give a margin of manoeuvre for the government would be a lifting of subsidies on petroleum products, mainly diesel. This is what international institutions have been recommending and what the government has said that it was aware it should do. But this would also require a political will and legitimacy that the Government does not appear to have.


Global Economic Forum

February 09, 2007

By Serhan Cevik | London

The continuing increase in Egypt’s public debt stock is a threat to stability. Egypt once achieved significant fiscal consolidation, lowering the government budget deficit from 17.5% of GDP in 1991 to 0.9% in 1997 and gross public debt from an average of 117.6% of GDP in the first half of the 1990s to 75.4% by the end of the decade. Unfortunately, that is now as much in the past as the country’s magnificent pyramids. The budget deficit widened to as high as 9.2% of GDP in 2002 and an average of 6.7% in the past six years, resulting in a marked increase in gross public debt to 96.1% of GDP in the last fiscal year. More importantly, net public debt snowballed from 47.4% of GDP in 2001 to 69.8% last year. Even though favorable global conditions and petrodollar liquidity have so far eased the debt burden and allowed the Egyptian economy to grow at an accelerating pace, we think that fiscal imbalances nevertheless remain an important source of economic distortion and a threat to financial stability.

Cyclical and one-off revenue increases lowered the deficit, but expenditures are growing fast. Thanks to strong growth, higher privatization receipts and the settlement of tax arrears, government revenues increased by 63% on a cumulative basis in the last three fiscal years and stabilized the budget deficit at 8.3% of GDP last year (marginally lower than the average of 8.9% in 2002-2005). However, public expenditures are still growing at a discomforting pace, even after increasing from an average of 32% of GDP a year in 2001-2005 to 38.8% in the past fiscal year. This is why we are worried about the risk of a cyclical downturn on the revenue side that could destabilize public finances.

In light of fiscal imbalances, negative real interest rates present a puzzle. With a disappointing fiscal performance, one would expect to see, at least, an increase in the risk premium. But real interest rates in Egypt have instead declined in recent years and even become negative in the last couple of months, as inflation surged from around 3% in 2005 to above 12% last year. So what is the explanation for this puzzle, especially when the government has no plan for significant fiscal consolidation? A recent IMF working paper provides insightful clues, not just for the Egyptian case but also for the rest of the Middle East (see Manal Fouad et al, Public Debt and Fiscal Vulnerability in the Middle East, January 2007). The authors argue that ‘special financing features’ have helped Middle Eastern countries to avoid debt crises, despite having much higher debt levels compared to other emerging economies. Indeed, all these countries share a similar funding structure, relying heavily on non-marketable debt instruments, a dedicated investor base and, of course, petrodollar liquidity. In addition, with its practically pegged exchange rate regime, Egypt is also attracting carry-trade investors who do not mind negative real interest rates as long as they receive the expected return in dollars and therefore provide even more (short-term) liquidity in the domestic debt market. Nevertheless, all these features do not mean that unsustainable fiscal policies have no effect on the country’s credit quality in the long run.

Good times offer an opportunity to put public finances on a sustainable path. Given the extent and strength of the global liquidity cycle, carry-trade and dedicated regional investors could keep the ball rolling in Egypt’s financial markets, even though macro imbalances have already resulted in overheating of the economy. According to the official statistics (which, by the way, underestimate inflation because of the weight of administered prices and methodological shortcomings), consumer price inflation increased from 3.2% in 2005 to 12.4% last year. We may see some degree of correction thanks to base effects and the aforementioned statistical quirks, but the expansionary mix of monetary and fiscal policies should keep fuelling unbalanced growth dynamics (see The Dangers of Overheating, December 14, 2004). Moreover, the authorities will — sooner or later — have to deal with the consequences of distortionary subsidies and face even more inflation pressures. Unfortunately, we believe that the government’s proposed fiscal adjustment package is too small and too gradual to put public finances on a sustainable path in the foreseeable future.


A very common view in Israel is that the Arab states around are stagnating economically. At least as far statistics are concerned this is not true. Egypt and Jordan have an annual economic growth of about 7 percent for a few years by now. Of the three, Jordan seems to have the most stable and healthy economy.

When it comes to Syria and Egypt the situation is less clear. What is clear is that Syria and Egypt experience similar problems at the macroeconomic level - runaway budget deficits and growing inflationary pressures. Syria is projected to turn into a net oil importer in 2008-2007. Yet as the first article describes the situation the regime maintains costly subsidies on oil products that stress the budget and stimulate the domestic demand for oil at the same time.

In fact the similarities between Syria and Egypt are striking. Both countries are almost forced into reforming their economies by the circumstances. Egypt is a classic case of the runaway Arab demographics and is becoming more and more a mega-Gaza. The country suffers from overpopulation and subsequent pressures on water resources and cultivated land. Food imports are huge as the country is no longer capable of feeding itself.

Syrian demographics are only slightly less intense. The fact that Syria has ways more of suitable land is countered by the huge overpopulation in the area of Damascus. It should be mentioned that the annual growth of 5 percent is not too much for Syria given how poor the country is and that the population growth is stuck at 2.5 percent, which means half of the economic growth is neutralized by the demographics.

Finally both countries are running huge military budgets. And by far the easiest way for them to find their way out of the mess is to cut military expenditures. This is clearly not an option for Syria, yet surprisingly neither it's one for Egypt. Egypt seems to be looking for an overwhelming military superiority over Israel, for reasons I will leave for my readers to figure out. The Egyptian armed forces outnumber the IDF in everything from planes to tanks and the military build-up continues.

There is a certain logic behind the similarities between Syria and Egypt and the differences between them and Jordan. Both Syria and Egypt practiced the Soviet style socialism and the problems they experience at the macroeconomic level are reminiscent of the transition to free market economy in countries of the former Soviet block. Probably those want to find clues to the future of both countries should look into the experience of the more poor members of the former Communist block - undeveloped and low income communist countries that were spared the pleasures of Soviet style industrialization.

Of the two, Syria seems to me a particularly hopeless case with an only half hearted commitment to the reform. Egypt's economic team seems to be ways more professional and dedicated and Mubarak's son, Gamal Mubarak, may reveal himself as a much more serious reformer than his father. Mubarak's son serves apparently a rallying point for the Egyptian reformers.

Probably the primary challenge facing the regimes in both countries is to survive the stage of structural reforms. Hundreds of thousands of workers are to be expected to be sacked in an attempt to rescue what can be still rescued of the state sector. Both regimes are expected to start slashing subsidies on food and gas this year, a measure that should set them on a collision course with their populations. Needless to say the populations are growing more and more susceptible to the fundamentalist message of the Muslim Brothers and the cheap pseudo liberal social populism of the so called secular liberals.

And of course the demographic explosion is still going strong. And we have the global warming. And the food prices are shooting up because of farmers migrating to biofuels and the growing demand from China. Finally thousands and thousands of Syrians, Egyptians and Jordanians work in the Gulf and are the first to be sent home if the move to low carbon economy starts in serious. So don't hold your breath . . . though you are allowed to slow it down a bit.

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Cool MEMRI Clip


One of my two favorite MEMRI clips.


This is my second favorite MEMRI clip. It's no longer on the MEMRI site. Stumbled on it by chance on the Youtube. The quality is poor. Maybe the original file can be acquired from MEMRI by email or something.

A very short version of the same clip but with a bit better quality. Makes me laugh every time I see it

:D :D

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Tohu va-Vohu


I would probably express the feeling of many people living in the region, if I say that the place seems to be quickly approaching the state of total Tohu va-Vohu (Hebrew for total mess NB).

One civil war is ending right now in Gaza. That one was short, but another one is already starting in the West Bank where Hamas and Fatah are trading fire in some places. Yet another civil war or revolution will probably follow shortly and it will be fought between the Fatah old guard led by Abu Mazen and their movement. The Palis are still busy shooting each other, but there are too many reports of a tremendous mismanagement of the Fatah forces in Gaza and a huge scandal should be expected over next days. Given that the Palis are not in the habit of nominating Vinograd committees, my advise to Fatah leaders is to avoid sleeping in their homes.

Lebanon. The Lebanese army appears to be as close to taking over Nahr el-Bared as it was three weeks ago. Very few people find this fact surprising. Meanwhile the Syrians, or the Palestinians, or whoever it is, are back and big planting bombs around the place. An anti Syrian MK was killed today. LP was there but he was not hurt.

Iraq. Sunnis, or Zionists, or whoever they were, have destroyed today the two remaining minarets of the Golden Mosque in Samarra, that lovely Shia shrine whose destruction started the current semi civil war in Iraq. Already several Sunni mosques are reported to have been attacked. Tomorrow morning expect many many bodies found dumped on streets of Baghdad or floating along the Euphrates river. The American surge in Iraq seems to have come to an abrupt and brutal end. Also over last days truck bombers have destroyed a few crucial bridges around Baghdad, means bad news for Iraq's infrastructure and economic recovery (if there is such an animal NB). Of course bridges are nothing compared to the mosque.

To avoid plunging all of you into the state of total despair I will borrow a few lines from Lirun and this is how I am going to end this piece of posting:

surfed this evening after work.. yeah seriously.. surprised hey.. was soo awesome!! anyway was watching how we work it out in the water when there are 40 or so surfers on a single spot all craving the next wave.. so i thought id let you know.. very much the orange rind and flesh story.. we all pick our spots and try not to float in eachother's paddle path.. and then we use patience.. yeah intense i know.. and everyone waits for the wave to be perfect for them rather than forcing themselves on the waves.. in a sense everyone accepts that some waves will be sort of meant for you and that is the one you go for.. you then surf it and then paddle back and then rest it until the next perfect wave.. that way there is room for everyone..



Intensely I hope, and for the good of all of you, that this wave is meant only for the Palestinians. I don't want to surf this wave.

:D :D


Just in Time

Hamas fighters overran Fatah-allied Preventive Security headquarters in Gaza City on Thursday, a key target in their battle to control the entire Gaza Strip, witnesses and a security agency official said.

One witness, Jihad Abu Ayad, said Hamas gunmen were bringing Preventive Security men out of the building and executing them in the street.

Moments after the key security command was taken over, aides said that Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas gave his first order to his elite presidential guard to strike back against Hamas rivals.

. . .

. . .


Mickeys Rule the World

Hamas is reported to have completed takeover of the Palestinian Preventive Security Service's headquarters in the Gaza City. Local residents report Hamas gunmen leading Fatah officers out of the building and executing them on the street.

Hamas members held a prayer in the compound, which they referred to as the "heresy compound." Hamas also changed the name of the neighborhood where the building is located from "Tel al-Hawa" to "Tel al-Islam."

Hamas' media outlets threatened to reach Fatah and the PA's official radio and telelvision stations, and provided the names of senior Fatah officials they planned to execute. "We will reach you," Hamas members told the Fatah leaders.

The strip has been transformed overnight into the land of the Mickey Mouse ... Suddenly the long delayed Islamic state seems to be fast becoming reality on the other side of our southern border.

"This is the first step in the establishment of the Islamic state," a Hamas member told Ynet from inside the Preventive Security Service building. "This is Islam's victory, Allah's victory, and we pray to Allah for bringing us this victory."



Am I the only one who is hallucinating about having heard with my own ears how Hamas was promising to everybody not to rash things with implementing Islamic state ??


The Moment of Sahel in Gaza

The presidential complex having finally fallen into their hands, Hamas militants seal their impressive victory over Fatah in Gaza with an act of Sahel, dragging the mutilated body of a top Fatah militant through the streets.

By Nidal al-Mughrabi 30 minutes ago

GAZA (Reuters) . . .

. . .

While Washington rallied support for Abbas, Hamas stormed remaining strongholds of his secular Fatah group in the Gaza Strip on Thursday, finally seizing the presidential compound, the last bastion of Abbas's authority in the coastal territory.

Jubilant Hamas gunmen hunted Fatah loyalists, killing some and parading one top figure's mutilated body through the streets. "Allahu akbar! (God is Greatest!)," one gunman chanted through a megaphone from a captured Fatah security headquarters.

. . .


And so a new era dawns in the strip - the era of the Mickey Mouse.


. . .

The gunman, Samih Madhoun, was one of the leaders of a 1,500-strong force that had been set up several months ago as a counterweight to Hamas. Madhoun recently said in an interview on a pro-Fatah radio station that he had executed several Hamas fighters and torched the homes of others.

The details of how he was killed were not immediately clear. However, earlier in the day, a prominent Hamas preacher had issued a religious edict, or fatwa, saying that Hamas was entitled to kill Madhoun.

Witnesses said that Hamas supporters paraded his body through the streets of the Nusseirat refugee camp.

. . .


Crowds looted the home of Yasser Arafat in Gaza

While Hamas leaders in Gaza are eager to reaffirm their commitment to the united Palestinian state, crowds of looters broke into the villa of the late Palestinian leader and founder of Fatah and emptied it carrying away everything from furniture to personal items of the father of Palestinian nation. Needless to say that three cars parked at the villa were driven away too. Even if the action was spontaneous and not sanctioned by the leaders of Hamas there is nothing that could have been more symbolic of the ultimate split between the strip and the West Bank.

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