Monday, July 31, 2006

Bon Voyage, Mel!

Enjoy rehab...say hello to Pat O'Brien and Bette Ford.

And while you're at it, see if you can organize a quiet but intimate get-together for the other pro-Aryan anti-semites in the Halfway House. I'll have some Manischevitz in your honor, dude.

Fucking Jackass.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

In The Wee, Wee Hours

Or, what to do if you're a super-wealthy anti-Semitic idiot with alcohol issues?
Mel Gibson, apparently, knew enough to apologize before the shitstorm that was about to hit.

Awhile back, in these very pages, I observed how actors, specifically Tom Cruise and Mel Gibson, had been actors whose work I respected, but thanks, by and large, to their off-screen exploits and personas, I not only lost all respect for their work but would never again contribute to their popularity by seeing or purchasing any of their movies.

Subsequent to that post, Tom Cruise largely went underground with his "wife," and the stories of the birth of their daughter have included some bizarre circumstances and rules, all of which have been tied to his belief in Scientology.

Mel Gibson, a devout Catholic, stayed out of the public spotlight as well -- until last night.

This morning, I was perusing the various news sites which I frequent to find that Mr. Gibson was arrested late the night prior for drunken driving. I chuckled a bit, knowing that Mr. Gibson, a devout (aka a holier than thou, arrogant prick) Catholic, would be publicly humiliated by doing something so stupid. However, I felt a slight pang of guilt taking pleasure at his misfortune.

Later in the day, after spending some time out and about, I read Mr. Gibson's public statement in response to his arrest:
After drinking alcohol on Thursday night, I did a number of things that were very wrong and for which I am ashamed.

I drove a car when I should not have, and was stopped by the LA County Sheriffs. The arresting officer was just doing his job and I feel fortunate that I was apprehended before I caused injury to any other person.

I acted like a person completely out of control when I was arrested, and said things that I do not believe to be true and which are despicable. I am deeply ashamed of everything I said, and I apologize to anyone who I have offended.

Also, I take this opportunity to apologize to the deputies involved for my belligerent behavior. They have always been there for me in my community and indeed probably saved me from myself.

I disgraced myself and my family with my behavior and for that I am truly sorry.

I have battled with the disease of alcoholism for all of my adult life and profoundly regret my horrific relapse. I apologize for any behavior unbecoming of me in my inebriated state and have already taken necessary steps to ensure my return to health.
After reading this very contrite, frank apology, I felt even more guilty recalling my initial chuckle over his arrest.

Then this evening, after returning home from a night with some friends, I checked my e-mail and noticed there was more to the Mel Gibson arrest than was initially made public. Apparently, it wasn't one of those simple "I'm drunk, officer, here're my keys, sorry" arrests. It was more, at first, like an arrest on the show "Cops." Thereafter, apparently, Mr. Gibson had some pretty sharp words for the arresting officers.

While the initial reporting of the arrest didn't disclose anything specific, later reports went into much more detail. As indicated in the Washington Post article linked in the prior sentence, Mr. Gibson managed to intimidate the arresting officer by suggesting he would get him back and "fuck" him; in addition, he mumbled "Fucking Jews...the Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world." Subsequently, he asked the arresting officer if he was a Jew.

Once he arrived at the station, he was belligerent and nasty; after referring to one female officer as "Sugar-Tits," he then refused to sign the statement prepared by the arresting officer. The report, however, was initially rescinded and a "sanitized" version was made public in anticipation of the anti-Semitic comments; once the original report managed to land online, however, the shitstorm started.

Now that the cat is out of the bag, and anyone who doubted Mr. Gibson was an anti-Semitic idiot with alcohol issues should now see the light (or at least can read it in black and white), I don't wonder whether or not he will lose respect in Hollywood; whether he does or doesn't is irrelevant. The bottom line, for me, is that he's a piece of shit and I know I was right to withdraw any regard or respect for him I once held. And more importantly, I'm glad this incident was documented on both paper and video.

But most importantly, I am thankful that his repulsive, ignorant anti-Semitic rant will forever be linked to his drunken driving and his misogynistic, arrogant condescension of police officers. This way, when he attempts to spend another two hours on film spewing his racist, condescending, limited view of the world, it can be laughed at rather than pored over and studied.

At this point, the only movie I think he'd be capable of spouting his knowledge in would be one with the working title "I'm A Fucking Jackass."

Enough with the book/news versions that have played out thus far...that's a Mel Gibson movie I'd like to see.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Glowing In The Dark

Way too much has happened over the past few days to even let fly a fair recap; Kaia and I each have been juggling loads at work, and I saw a new Geico commercial featuring Little Richard (it's the one that describes a woman who hit a deer on Thanksgiving). Suffice to say, the work has -- for each of us -- been oppressive, but the Little Richard commercial has been nauseating. I'm not having nightmares -- yet -- but they're a-comin'. If you've seen that commercial, you know what I mean.

I'm pleased to mention, by the way, that the friend I mentioned in Michigan, the one who was near death due to advanced strep, bronchitis and pneumonia, is -- finally -- doing much better and is on her way to recovery. Her cell phone has been off (thanks to Caps for the info) but she is, for sure, on the mend. I'm not usually into that hokey "it was all that karma that helped!" kinda person, but after a small deluge of comments and (mostly) e-mails, I'd like to think that the good wishes/prayers/support sent her way at least in part contributed to her recovery.

As for Israel and Lebanon, now that this is going on for awhile, it's almost worthless to discuss it. There's not much progress happening, even with Condoleeza on site, so I have pretty much relegated myself to silent observation until there is something new to discuss. I certainly didn't mean to beat a dead horse with respect to this situation, but -- and I think most people would concur with me -- it's frustrating watching diametrically opposed combatants duke it out with fresh updates every hour or two. The one thing that I will say is that it's interesting to me that, over the past thirty or so years, the major problems this planet has experienced -- at least the ones involving humans and not geologic or oceanic events beyond our control -- have been a result, at least in part, of religious extremism, specifically Islam.

Before someone anoints me the next Salman Rushdie, please note I'm not referring to Islam as a religion; I'm describing Imams and other Muslims who encourage Muslim youths to hate and to destroy. It seems that most of the regimes in the Middle East, apart from Israel, have either sworn or recently (within the past decade or two) abandoned a state-sponsored commitment to destroy Israel. The main issue, as we are now seeing on a national level, is that even those Middle Eastern regimes who portray themselves as modern and progressive still steer their interests in one direction publicly and another privately. Syria and Iran, as an example, are stereotypical Middle Eastern nations: quick to defend or deflect blame from themselves publicly, but happily, in private, providing rogue groups -- Hezbollah, Hamas or whatever flavor of the month comes forward and proclaims their intent to destroy Israel, however possible -- with the means, whether arms, money, protection or a combination thereof.

This is nothing new -- Syria and Iran have and always will be nations that cannot and should not be trusted. The problem -- and what really, genuinely puzzles me -- is that there are a small but vocal contingent of people with whom I've spoken to categorically point their fingers at Israel for being the "aggressor" whenever these situations flare up. Some do the finger-pointing even when the status quo is below conflict level; many accuse Israel of occupying the nation of Palestine, and still more decry the abuses and the lack of human rights within the Israel-Arab interculture. Mostly, I try using facts and history to explain why these positions are fallacies; but more often I just shake my head and add these people to the subconscious list of morons I keep somewhere between my ears. It doesn't help asking these people to advise me when the nation of Palestine was established, or when Mohammad -- the prophet whose cartoon image set off weeks of rioting and calls for newspaper editors' deaths around the world --- visited Jerusalem. And it certainly doesn't pay asking Muslims -- devout or otherwise -- which direction they would face if they needed to perform their daily prayers and were located squarely between Mecca and Jerusalem. There's no point. People who would advocate strapping on an explosive belt to kill civilians -- or praise others that did so -- don't discuss facts, they are chanting their beliefs as if same are a mantra or a given; the fact that they are neither is irrelevant.

Incidentally, there was never a "nation" of Palestine until Israel (which was established in 1948) ceded land to a group of people who have so little in common geographically that they call themselves "Palestinians" rather than "Jordanians," "Egyptians," "Syrians," "Iranians," "Iraqis" or "Lebanese." Mohammad never visited Jerusalem, the quote-unquote holy land that in theory is the impetus for every cry for Islamic Jihad. And any Muslim that prays faces Mecca; they could give a shit for Jerusalem -- that is, unless it is occupied by people who pray to a different god than them.

There I go again...beating a dead horse. I'll leave this be for awhile -- but in the meantime, if anyone needs me, I'll be hangin' with Salman Rushdie; he and I have some cartoons of Mohammad to distribute.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Happy xxth Birthday, Kaia!

So without divulging where Kaia stands on the "over/under the hill" debate, I can happily wish her a happy birthday. No, we're still on separate coasts -- she in California, me on Manhattan Island -- but despite this obvious fact we're still somewhere in limbo waiting to be sharing an address, a home phone number and our physical space on a regular basis. It's a kick in the ass that I had to wish her a happy birthday over the phone, but we're hoping to talk via webcam later; basically, as long as I get a chance to see her eyes and see her smile, then it will have been me who gets a gift on her birthday...

Speaking of Cali, it's been as hot as hell there as it has been here; considering it's been in the mid- to high-80's over the past week or so here in NYC, I can't complain that today has been mild, pleasant, breezy and tolerable. With respect to San Fran, the "official" temps are around 86-87, but Kaia's car's outside temp gauge has been clocking in at over 100, and while Cali is devoid of humidity (at least when compared to NYC), that's still pretty fargin' hot.

The other thing that I rarely remember is that because it's so beautiful in Cali for so much of the year, people -- especially in Northern California, and her parents, specifically -- don't have air conditioning in their houses. So despite the fact that it reached 105 at her parents' house yesterday, it wasn't an insignificant factor that could easily be alleviated by a flick of a switch, as it has been for me. Most people I've been running into outdoors have bemoaned the weather, but we all return to the sanctity and pleasure that is A/C. Mine is cranking away happily at about 80%; it keeps my apartment a cool, meat-lockeresque 68.9 if I leave it on full blast. If I didn't ratchet it down a little I'd be sporting nipples that could poke someone's eyes out (sorry for that mental image).

So...back to Kaia...she's had a fairly mellow weekend thus far, especially because of the weather; San Fran people are used to high sixties and low seventies, and -- again, without A/C -- this heat wave is basically inspiring the City to do errands quickly and get somewhere cool and comfortable. For the most part, San Fran is a comfortable city during the day and chillyish at night, so hearing these temps are reaching the century mark is a little strange especially for city residents.

She spent the late morning/early afternoon with her mom and sister, who took her out for brunch; this afternoon, I'm guessing they'll do something together with her dad, and perhaps later with friends. It's all sort of up in the air, and I feel badly not only for not being there but also that I couldn't help make her birthday special, despite the weather. We agreed I would withhold her birthday goodies until she's here (or I'm there, whichever is sooner) but I did manage to send her a bouquet of some of her favorite flowers; she had to do a work function (bowling and pizza party -- lol) so she had to run out Friday afternoon, so I made sure the florist got to her before she left. I would have had 'em delivered yesterday, but I didn't want to trap her in her apartment all day Saturday, and I knew she was going to be up and out early today, so I feel like getting her flowers to her, especially given her extra-busy schedule, was an accomplishment. And -- I hope -- they made her smile, even if I wasn't there to deliver them in person.

I'm looking forward to our next rendezvous; until then, there's twenty months down and an infinite number to go.

Happy birthday! 8-D


Saturday, July 22, 2006

A Cause for Concern

Despite the conflict playing itself out on the Israeli-Lebanon border, we mostly go about our days with prosaic, if perhaps somewhat subdued, typicality. Life goes on...and unless one is directly involved in the conflict -- whether by geography, politics, religion or due to family/friends' involvement therein -- most of us pretty much continue on the same paths that we observed before this hit the fan. It's been going on in one form or another for the past two thousand years, so this newest chapter in what seemingly is a never-ending saga isn't going to keep many heads turned.

Amid this backdrop, I've been quietly keeping tabs on a friend of mine who has been in the hospital now for awhile. I'm not sure of all the details, and since she lives (and has been infirmed) in Michigan, it's hard to get all the facts straight. Suffice to say that she had some sort of infection -- strep throat, I believe -- that went untreated, then turned into bronchitis; coupled with the original infection, it developed into a high fever that landed her in the hospital. Since that point, they managed to treat (and eliminate) the strep infection, but she's since contracted pneumonia, and she's been sedated. On top of that, because of the extreme nature of the sedation, she's been receiving everything -- nutrients, meds, fluids -- exclusively through an IV.

I'm not sure what point her illness has reached, but her family and her doctors were concerned she wouldn't make it through this. It's looking better now, but until she's out of the woods -- and the hospital, or at least her sedation -- nothing's for sure. I don't normally make -- nor pay much attention to -- appeals for good thoughts or karma, but in this case I hope that anyone coming across this keeps their fingers crossed on her behalf. I have faith she'll pull through, but between the distance and the fact that I haven't spoken to her in awhile keeps nagging away at me in the back of my consciousness, and I know how difficult it is watching someone recuperating while sedated in a hospital bed. It's not a pretty sight, and it's an experience most of us would choose not to have to endure; but the other option, watching someone not recuperate from a long illness, is certainly far less preferable, and I am hoping and praying that "option" is no longer a realistic, viable possibility.
Just Open Your Eyes and See

As you're walking outside,
Or just passing by,
You should take in the sights to see.

If you're out in the country,
And not in a hurry,
Take a small look around to see:

A spider's web,
Sparkling with dew,
Or a butterfly just opening its wings.

When walking through town,
Look down at your feet,
To see all the colorful leaves.

So stop while you're walking
And take in the sights.
Just open your eyes and see.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Some Words of Wisdom

It's a busy day, so the following are a few quotes I have recently come across on the 'Net. This is not as much of a cop-out as it is my way of keeping the news (and this space) current without spending another day belaboring the fingers and rockets pointing at the two participants in this conflict (and putting readers to sleep).

Referring to complaints that Israel was using disproportionate force in its assault on Hezbollah, Dan Gillerman, Israel’s United Nations ambassador, said at a rally of supporters in New York this week:

“You’re damn right we are. If [American] cities were shelled the way ours were, [America] would use much more force than we are or we ever will.”


Israeli Pre-Assault Leaflet Warning Lebanese Civilians:

"Do not sleep or stand with Hezbollah in the same place. We are calling on the Lebanese people and army to avoid giving aid -- direct or indirect -- to Hezbollah elements. Anyone who does so will expose themselves and their lives to danger."


Unnamed US official responding to reporters' questions regarding when/if Condoleeza Rice will be visiting the Middle East to mediate a cease-fire between Israel and Lebanon/Hezbollah:
"When conditions are conducive to do so. Israel needs time to 'defang Hezbollah.'"


Just because your voice reaches halfway around the world doesn't mean you are wiser than when it reached only to the end of the bar.

- Edward R. Murrow (1908 - 1965)

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Yo, Blair! This Shit's Gotta Stop!

My apologies to those of you who have been disappointed in recent days by the content herein; normally, I attempt some sort of levity and humor in the events of daily life, whether that be a homeless freak on a subway with a chain-saw, a doctor detonating a building rather than being a man and having his soon-to-be ex-wife killed by a fledgling, bumbling, lisping ex-con, or a Current Affair-esque conflagration with a blue-haired, mustachioed, moth-ball scented stick-up-her-ass senior citizen on a cross-town City bus.

However, this space -- at least how I've envisioned it since its inception in November, 2004 -- was to be a whiteboard of what's happening between my ears. And as exciting as that sounds, sometimes -- especially when something like a burgeoning, all-out war in the Middle East is raging, I can't in good faith make an attempt at levity without feeling as though I've compromised whatever principles I've used to govern the content herein in the first place. Luckily, there are and have been moments of levity since this conflict has begun; however, they have been few and far between, and though the following might or might not qualify, I have addressed it herein as an attempt so as not to inspire the readers of this space to be overtaken by spontaneous napping at their PC's with the requisite drool-release that would surely damage or render ineffective their keyboards.


It started out as something mildly amusing; however, by the end of the week, much like the daily health reports of the near-fatal Barbaro, it could very well wind up being an inspiration for mass suicide.

Yesterday, President Bush and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair were filmed at the G-8 Summit in St. Petersburg discussing the current state of affairs in the Middle East. The two of them and their wives met at a dinner which they knew would be attended by the press. In past years, for the most part, the event was an innocuous photo op and time for some basic chit-chat and getting-to-know-you bullshit that allowed the attendees some basic down-time. However, in this world of 24-7 news, it turns out there was a live microphone in the vicinity of the two men and their discussion; so in addition to the lovely pictures of, among other things, George Bush slathering butter and consuming a dinner roll, we -- the world -- were privy to Mr. Bush's discussion with his English counterpart.

Their discussion focused on Syria's role in the conflict; Mr. Blair suggested an international peacekeeping force -- sponsored by the UN -- be dispatched to the region to a) control Hezbollah attacks on Israel, and b) to hinder or outright stop Israel's air, ground and sea assault on Hezbollah positions inside Lebanon. His goal, apparently, was to stop the fighting and the bloodshed. More on this later.

Mr. Bush, in response, mentioned Condoleeza Rice's possible visit to the region -- once the violence calmed somewhat. Mr. Blair concurred her visiting the region would -- and need to -- be successful in order to get the entire situation defused.

Then came the eyebrow-raiser.

Below, find the verbatim interchange between Bush and Blair.

Bush: See the irony is what [the UN] needs to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit and it's over.

Blair: Cause I think this is all part of the same thing. What does [Kofi Annan] think? He thinks if Lebanon turns out fine, if he gets a solution in Israel and Palestine, Iraq goes in the right way, he's done it. That's what this whole things about. It's the same with Iran.

Bush: I feel like telling Kofi to get on the phone with [Syrian President Bashar] Assad and make something happen. We're not blaming Israel and we're not blaming the Lebanese government.

When I first read these comments and subsequently watched the video and heard the comments personally, it didn't bother me that Bush used the word "shit." Far from it -- it was nice, for a change, to hear him speak in his own language. Obviously, he and Tony Blair are as exasperated as the rest of us when it comes to this situation and how to defuse it.

Oddly enough, what interested me more than Bush using the word "shit" was the fact that he, essentially, absolved both Israel and Lebanon and placed the blame squarely on Syria, and, to a lesser extent, Iran. I think that's accurate, incidentally; but it will be interesting when this matter is discussed further in front of podiums with prepared, rather than impromptu, speeches.

Normally I wouldn't bother mentioning it here; but I was curious what people felt about Bush's supposed gaffe. I wonder how many among us were disgusted or somewhat repulsed by this interchange due to Mr. Bush's "dumbing down" of the situation.

The other thing I found interesting was that Mr. Bush, upon seeing Mr. Blair, shouted "Yo, Blair!" within earshot, again, of the same microphone that caused this entire interchange to be public. The British press seized on this too.

The Sun observed that Bush sounded "more like a rapper than a statesman." But the remainder of the British press used the interchange to cast a negative light on Tony Blair, suggesting this interchange confirmed he was a lackey for Bush's and America's foreign policy interests. The Independent suggested the conversation revealed "a unique insight into the relationship between the two men." The Daily Mail opined it had "done little to rebuff suspicions that the prime minister is something of a Washington poodle." Finally, The Daily Mirror intimated the conversation cast Blair "as a diplomat in the service of the U.S. government, offering to go to the Middle East on behalf of the U.S. government."

Personally, I don't have much thought on what essentially was a three-minute conversation; I did find it interesting that the whole thing was publicized in the form of audio/video, especially because it doesn't favorably depict either leader. However, I think why I focused on it -- and why I think it's somewhat significant -- is that it shows us that no one really has any one answer for how to solve this crisis. As I've suggested in previous posts, no amount of rationale, sensible thought or debate will ever convince supporters of Lebanon, let alone Hezbollah, that Israel is not the "aggressor" in this situation. I have vacillated between believing Israel's response to the Hezbollah action was excessive and understanding its scope and its goal. What finally convinced me was the US response to Afghanistan and the Taliban post 9/11; the US confronted the Taliban knowing that government was hiding and providing safe passage to Osama bin Laden. The Taliban denied this, although it was a known fact. In response to repeated Taliban denials, the US then proceeded to carpet-bomb the entire country and eliminate, essentially, the Taliban from power. I think Israel's response to Hezbollah's actions have been remarkably, and not coincidentally, similar to ours was on 9/11. To Israel, having one soldier kidnapped is just as bad, if not worse, than a foreign entity -- government, group, what have you -- violating American soil and killing innocent civilians. And frankly, the entire thing was orchestrated by Syria and Iran.

The only question now is whether Iran, in a PR move, attempts to broker a peace to distract international focus on its nuclear program and to receive the respect from lesser nations (like Lebanon, et al) that will solidify its position in the newly-balanced power structure of the Middle East. Knowing that Israel will essentially not stop its assault until its two soldiers are returned and Hezbollah ceases to be a threat to Israeli civilians, Iran can then say either that they were able to save Lebanon from the Zionist aggressor; or if they are not successful in deterring Israel's offensive, they can subsequently present to the world their failure at the hands of the Israeli desire to destroy Islam in the Middle East. The wild card in all of this, of course, is Syria. If Israel attacks Syria (especially if the kidnapped soldiers are transferred there) then all hell will break loose.

As I've advised in previous posts, this will get worse before it gets better.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

The Truth in War: Cry Wolf -- or Bullshit!

As I indicated recently, part of why the latest events in the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah & Lebanon are so distressing is that we're forced to watch from the sidelines when it's clear, on some level, we would prefer if someone -- anyone -- were to inject some measure of rationale thought into the mix or, at the very least, stand up and shout "Bullshit!" in an effort to stop the madness.

There have been some verbal exchanges at the UN between the Israeli and Lebanese envoys to the General Assembly. While some have been terse and less-than-productive, Dan Gillerman, Israel's ambassador to the UN, spoke directly to Lebanon's representative Friday in an effort to explain Israel's actions over the past several days, specifically to eradicate Hezbollah from existence. It's been since reported that Israel, through an Italian diplomatic intermediary, indicated it would immediately halt its offensive upon the safe return of its kidnapped soldiers and the withdrawal from Southern Lebanon of Hezbollah -- whether voluntarily or by command from the Lebanese government.
"You know, deep down, that if you could, you would add your voice to those of your brave countrymen. You know, deep down in your heart, that you should really be sitting here, next to me, voicing the same opinion," said Gillerman.

"You know that what we are doing is right, and, if we succeed, your country will be the real beneficiary. I am sure many of our colleagues around this table and in this chamber, including many or our neighbours, share this sentiment," Gillerman added.
For its part, Lebanon has hinted -- but not yet committed -- it is considering the expulsion of Hezbollah in an effort to a) retain some measure of its sovereignty, at least in Southern Lebanon, where Hezbollah operates much as the Taliban operated throughout Afghanistan prior to 9/11; and b) to reclaim the peace between Israel and itself that was implemented with the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000.

The key here is that the International Community, responding to calls from Lebanon for a cease-fire, has essentially condemned, en masse, Hezbollah's unprovoked kidnapping of Israeli soldiers. Aside from Muslim nations -- and many of same have quietly, without naming Hezbollah specifically, have also condemned the use of terrorism specifically with regard to this specific situation -- almost all nations who have sounded off on the conflict have done so against Hezbollah and Lebanon. France and Russia have done so as well, although they have noted that Israel's response seems excessive.

When it was suggested by an interviewer on Fox & Friends on Friday that Israel's response to Hezbollah's actions were disproportionate to Hezbollah's actions, former Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu used the example of terrorist groups in Mexico or Canada firing rockets onto American soil at American civilians. "You think you wouldn't respond with great force?" he asked.

Keeping in mind that Iran and Syria are public supporters of Hezbollah, the rest of the International Community has rejected Lebanon's hope for international mediation because it is Lebanon, with unspoken assent from the aforementioned Iran and Syria, that legitimizes Hezbollah's existence, not just in Lebanon but in general. Also keep in mind that Hezbollah, aside from Al Qaeda, is responsible for more American deaths due to terror attacks than any other group.

In the meantime, the war of words -- and misinformation -- continues. It seems that any asshole with an Internet connection and an agenda can spew forth without being held to the "Bullshit!" standard espoused at the beginning of this and prior posts.

An example of this comes courtesy of the Council on American-Islamic Relations located in Washington, DC. CAIR, as it is known, issued a statement condemning Israel's offensive against Hezbollah:

"Israel has stated clearly, and demonstrated through violent actions, that it is attacking civilian targets in Lebanon in order to achieve a political goal. This is the very definition of state terrorism.

"Our nation cannot maintain credibility in condemning acts of terror carried out by individuals and groups, while offering diplomatic cover and material support to a state that is engaged in a brutal campaign against an entire civilian population."

Um, bullshit.

Israel is attacking a terrorist group that Lebanon has invited and authorized and protected on its territory. Israel is attacking a terrorist group located in Lebanon only after that terrorist group violated Israeli territory and kidnapped Israeli soldiers. And further, Israel is attacking targets which will facilitate the transfer of those kidnapped soldiers to another country, namely Syria or Iran.

Lebanon is, either by omission or comission, permitting and endorsing state-sponsored terrorism -- not Israel -- in allowing Hezbollah -- an internationally-recognized terrorist group -- to operate in its territory (all of Southern Lebanon is under Hezbollah control) and by permitting Syria and Iran to fund this group, Lebanon is, indirectly, sponsoring anti-Israel terror.

With all due respect to CAIR, any group or entity branding Israel as a perpetrator of state-sponsored terrorism is lacking in credibility. Further, CAIR's claim that Israel is engaging in a brutal campaign against an entire civilian population, yet again, deserves a "Bullshit!" Israel's campaign has been hampered by their concern for the civilians in the areas they have targeted. Terrorists have taken shelter in civilian neighborhoods, and Israel has gone to great lengths -- announcing imminent attacks, dropping leaflets, etc. -- warning civilians to minimize casualties.

Here's a link mentioning Israel warning civilians rather than targeting them. Here's another.
From the former link: "In both the Gaza Strip and Lebanon, Israel has dropped leaflets warning civilians to stay away from places where terrorists gather and launch their attacks." From the latter: "Shortly after the attack, the head of Israel's northern command, Maj. Gen. Udi Adam, warned civilians in southern Lebanon to head north because 'in two or three hours we are going to attack south Lebanon heavily.'"
Hezbollah, on the other hand, is firing rockets into highly-populated towns (eg Haifa) to maximize civilian casualties, rather than attempt to target military targets. Hezbollah used an Iranian drone aircraft to attack a gunship; other than that, their exclusive defense has been firing missiles and rockets into civilian towns.

Perhaps CAIR, as much as the Lebanese and Hezbollah mouthpieces, should -- with regard to credibility -- practice an attempt thereat rather than pointing fingers at Israel or the US.

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa called the Middle East peace process "dead." Speaking at a news conference after a meeting of Arab League foreign ministers in Cairo, Egypt, he said the peace process failed "because certain powers have given Israel every capacity to do whatever it wishes."

I wonder to what certain powers he is referring. Hezbollah, for illegally entering Israeli territory and kidnapping -- without provocation -- Israeli soldiers? Lebanon, for knowingly and happily inviting and harboring a terrorist group and granting it authority to operate on its soil? Syria, for supplying funding, weaponry and assistance to Hezbollah? Or Iran, for supplying Hezbollah with rockets/missiles and unmanned aircraft capable of assaulting Israeli naval vessels?

I understand the use of rhetoric as a tool within the cramped confines of geopolitique; however, when flowery language and verbal intimidation fail to operate, I wish there were a middle ground between rhetoric and all-out war, like that we're witnessing between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

I wish there was someone in the middle who would, finally, shout "Bullshit!"

Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Calm Before, and After, The Storm

In an unsigned editorial published in today's New York Times entitled "Playing Hamas’s Game," the author makes the same point on which I've attempted to expound and focus with regard to the current conflict between, ostensibly, Israel and Hamas and Hezbollah. The crux of the editorial is not to debate whether Israel's current actions in response to the recent kidnapping of its soldiers by Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon are justified or excessive; rather, it serves to point out that, whether or not Israel is right in its actions, both Hamas and Hezbollah stand to gain a huge amount of political currency within the region from the waves of anti-Israel, pro-Arab majorities.

This is the conundrum, both as set forth in the above-linked editorial and in general, as I've tried to convey same herein over the past several days. I personally have no qualms with Israel defending its citizens, both military and civilian, from attack. Further, I wouldn't shed a tear if Hezbollah was excised from the face of this Earth, like the cancerous entity it is. Moreover, if half of Lebanon was laid waste in the process of accomplishing this task, I know few people who would spend more than a fleeting minute lamenting this final result.

However, every shell, every assault, and every mortar Israel launches against its neighbors -- even with the complete justification of responding to the unprovocated kidnapping of Israeli soldiers -- doesn't merely constitute an assault against a terrorist entity but also against Arabs. To be more precise, Arab "freedom fighters," Arab neighborhoods, and Arab interests. And whether or not Hezbollah, or Hamas, are regarded -- by their Arab brethren -- as freedom fighters or, by the West, as the most despicable type of baby-killers, degenerates and punks, this sort of response from Israel -- far from unexpected, of course -- means that these groups now have managed to point out to a new wave of impoverished youth and their families -- blank slates awaiting pro-extremist brainwashing and propagandizing -- that Israel is the enemy, an enemy that kills Arab babies and who is financed by the lazy infidels living and governing the world from Washington, DC.

It's a fine line, frankly. How can a nation defend itself from hostile neighbors when doing so will only incite further hostile behavior and, even worse, inspire future generations therein to do like those generations have done before? And more importantly, does Israel have a choice?

I'll respond to the second question first. A non-response, eg turning the other cheek and playing down the unprovoked kidnapping of Israeli soldiers, which I would refer to as the "Clinton" option, would never work, and would never happen. Israel values each and every citizen targeted by its enemies, and her response to these kidnappings was practically guaranteed. Further, understanding the mentality Israel faces -- the ancient concept of Hammurabi's "Eye For An Eye" code espoused by virtually all Arabs, from a personal to a national to an international level -- a non-response would equate to Israel being regarded as weak and deserving of further attacks, similar if not more extreme. A measured response by Israel would be regarded as ineffective; because terrorist groups would be in a position to say "Israel tried to eradicate us but failed, so, as a result, we won." And an all-out blitz like that which Israel is conducting now -- at least against Hezbollah in Lebanon -- might achieve the stated goal of eradicating (or at least seriously damaging) Hezbollah, but the fall-out will result in the kind of reheated anti-Israel fervor in Arab youth that permits mosques around the region to recruit and encourage young, impressionable arab men and women to study the Koran and to subsequently strap on explosive-laden belts and conduct suicide operations and become cherished martyrs.

The answer: you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't.

Last night at a party for Ozzie's 5th birthday, a bunch of us were discussing this situation and what Israel can -- or should -- be doing in response to these latest provocations. Especially with music and people and dogs and food and noise swirling all around us, it was somewhat difficult to explain to people my position that Israel has every right to defend itself, and that they should eradicate Hezbollah -- and Hamas, for that matter -- but that these entities are multi-headed beasts, so that when Israel cuts off one head, two or three or more grow back. It's akin to a strategy of handling cockroaches by stepping on them. Even when you manage to squash one, there are still another thousand hiding in the darkness, out of shoe's reach. It's a somewhat untenable position, but one that Israel has faced since 1948 and will continue to face until something big happens or some major changes happen in the region.

The problem, essentially, is that these types of incidents are rarely planned and perpetrated by people who actually lead terror groups. The "simple" kidnapping of an Israeli soldier or two always has far greater consequences than mere anger and distrust of terror groups. Iran and Syria, the backers of Hamas and Hezbollah (as I've indicated previously in these pages), are fully aware that Israel doesn't back down from any challenge to its right to exist and defends its citizens -- from one soldier to the entire nation -- with the stubborn determination that has allowed it to survive a virtually constant onslaught of attacks from its neighbors since its inception. And knowing Israel would respond -- both in Gaza and in Lebanon -- on this level guaranteed the Arab world could yet again point at Israel and proclaim them the aggressor, even when the opposite is true. Keep in mind that the "truth" is a funny thing; for the Arab masses, the "truth" is only what's written in the Koran and how these writings are interpreted by Imams, or leaders. If instructors in mosques teach Arab children that the Koran says Jews, aka Israelis, eat Arab children and drink their blood, well then that must be the truth. Never mind that Israeli doctors and hospitals treat Arabs of all ages with the same respect and care that they do Jews. Conversely, for the most part, the same cannot, unfortunately, be said of their Arab counterparts. As I've mentioned previously herein as well, when Israel is about to attack a civilian neighborhood in order to "flush out" terrorists hiding among civilians in Arab neighborhoods, it distributes leaflets in arabic languages warning an attack is imminent and that any civilians who do not wish to be in harm's way should leave the area temporarily. Conversely, Arab attacks -- especially those performed by terrorists -- target civilians in schoolbuses, marketplaces and schools with bombs and explosives laden with shrapnel to excaberate injury and to maim, not simply to murder.

The "truth" is always in the eye of the beholder, whether in the Middle East, Washington or Moscow. But the only real truth that matters is that the people holding the strings that control and fund hate groups like Hamas and Hezbollah "win" either way. One can hope, however, that the increasingly transparent motives and actions of Iran and Syria in connection with these latest incidents will not offer any inspiration to the governments of the Middle East, nor will it win any international converts in the governments of the West. Iran's bid to acquire (and, god forbid, implement) nuclear weapons will still have disastrous circumstances if permitted to happen, and Syria's military, like Iraq's military under Saddam Hussein, is more for show than power. But if the behind-the-scenes players are allowed to stay, like cockroaches, out of "shoe" range, and if their existence, and their roles in these types of conflicts, is ignored, than the problem will never be solved nor will any progress to that aim will ever be accomplished.

In theory, then, the calm periods before, and after, the tension is only a temporary abatement to the heated conflict, to the attacks and counter-assaults, and to the bile that flies unchecked throughout the region. My hope, personally, is that Israel finished the job, so to speak, with regard to Hezbollah. Hamas, at this point, is rooted in and protected by its status within the ranks of the Palestinian Authority. However, assuming Israel's dispatching of Hezbollah is seen as a warning of a possible future for Hamas, this conflict could -- in theory -- lead to some measure of progress vis-a-vis the Palestinian issue.

And if nothing else, it perhaps will result in people understanding exactly why rogue states like Iran and Syria should be ostacized and isolated rather than respected and trusted with technologies that would permit them to kill on a mass level. It's one thing, of course, to acknowledge that these governments are behind terror on a localized scale, eg Gaza, Lebanon, Tel Aviv; it's another to realize that, given the proper technology, their hatred and distrust of the West could lead to destruction and catastrophe on a mass scale -- and I don't mean the scale of 9/11. I'm referring to destruction hundreds of times worse. And that is something we should not -- and cannot -- ever -- allow to happen.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Light The Fuse and Run Like Hell

I'm a bit surprised that a friend of mine, half-jokingly, asked me why I was so interested and focused on the burgeoning conflict in the Middle East. "Why are you so worried? Israel is going to crush a good chunk of Hezbollah, Lebanon will rebuild most of its highways and the airport, and that will be it."

With all due respect to my curious friend, there are so many things to be concerned about vis-a-vis this conflict that I'm not quite sure where to start.

There is the obvious built-in, factory-installed Israel/Islam tension. Most, if not all, Muslims believe Israel should be wiped from the map. Some, ie those who are educated and modern thinkers, understand that Israel's existence is no longer a question but its boundaries and its relationships with its neighbors are. Since, however, the majority of Middle East nations would prefer Israel to be eradicated, there is always a constant sense of uneasy detente between the world of Islam and Israel. By definition, that means that one minor incident -- a kidnapping of an Israeli soldier by a rogue group like Hamas (in Gaza) or Hezbollah (in Lebanon) virtually guarantees the tension ratches up into fiery, no-holds-barred conflict faster than Michael Corleone offing Tataglia, Slacchi, Barzini and Cuneo -- and his brother-in-law, Carlo. Point is: when two sides -- each with an intense hatred of the other -- are forced to accept each other's existence against their wishes, even the most minor misunderstanding could be akin to going to Defcon 1 toot sweet.

Having said all that, there's the issue of oil. If this conflict (or when, perhaps) continues its inevitable escalation towards war, expect the price of crude to skyrocket and, along with it, the price of a gallon of gas. People paying $3.50 now can pretty much figure on $4.25 within a week if this continues. It's not an issue of scarcity; Israel isn't destroying any refineries and, thus far, neither are any other parties in the Middle East (aside from Iraqi insurgents). However, people who set oil prices on this side of the pond are worried that the supply chain will be cut, or will be less efficient, in delivering oil to the US. Assuming that happens -- eg the shit really does hit the fan -- then it's just a matter of time before the worrying starts reaching the higher-ups and the prices soar. This doesn't figure to be a long-term conflict; as soon as Hezbollah gets involved directly, as it claimed today it will do, Israel will go after them with everything they have (meaning air assaults, ground assaults, naval assaults and spec-ops raids). The problem, as I opted not to explain to my inquisitive friend, is that this conflict is not about Israel and Hezbollah and Lebanon.

The main problem, as I see it, is that Iran and Syria are most likely behind, or at least supportive of, the recent kidnappings perpetrated by Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Essentially, Iran wants conflict with the West without being linked thereto; Iran's position is that its nuclear program -- and as a result being in a position to be the most powerful nation in the Middle East -- hinges on whether other Muslim nations will support Iran versus the West or whether Iran's neighbors -- namely, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and, to a lesser extent, Jordan -- realize Iran is fueled by the quasi-maniacal ambition of its President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In Syria, there is an endless supply of funding for terrorism -- both Hamas and Hezbollah receive a lot of funding and weapons through this relationship -- and that is why Israel flew a military jet over Syrian President Bashar Assad's palace last week (in response to the Gaza kidnapping) and why Israel yesterday destroyed the highway connecting Beirut (Lebanon's capital) and Demascus (Syria's capital). It is a quietly-accepted fact that Saudi Arabian money has found its way into terrorist organizational hands in the past; but for the most part, the Saudis, along with the Egyptians and the Jordanians, would rather enjoy stability than risk the inmates taking over the asylum, aka the kingdom.

Incidentally, it was reported that an unmanned Hezbollah-launched aircraft inflicted serious damage on an Israeli warship that was on manuevers off Beirut's coast. It was also reported that the unmanned craft was manufactured in and supplied by Iran.

Basically, the question is whether Lebanon will side with Hezbollah or withdraw its support and protection for the group; the answer to that question is far from a given. In the past, Lebanon sided with Hezbollah because Hezbollah's presence on the Lebanese border provided a miltary barrier to what the Lebanese -- and all Muslims believe -- was Israeli aggression. However, as exemplified by this incident, which began after Hezbollah kidnapped Israeli soldiers -- Israeli aggression was in response to Hezbollah's actions, not the other way around. After a few more days of constant bombardment, the Lebanese government -- and more importantly, its people -- might just realize, as did many Afghanis after several days of US bombardment post-9/11 against the Taliban -- that letting loose the dogs of war isn't always such a wonderful idea. Israel has responded to Lebanon's pleas for a cease-fire by advising them it will not stop its assault until its kindapped soldiers are returned and Hezbollah is banished or destroyed. If Lebanon consults with the remainder of the Mid-East nations, it might find that the majority -- with Iran and Syria dissenting -- would happily take peace with the only price to pay of returning the kidnapped soldiers and banishing -- even in name -- Hezbollah from the current conflict and from the larger picture.

The larger picture, of course, is the unrest created by and colored by the Palestinian question. Essentially, once that issue is resolved -- easier said than done, of course -- then groups like Hezbollah and Hamas will have much less political currency with which to fight Israel. As much as most of the Arab world hates Israel, they are not willing to gamble their own lives in making that sentiment known. By that I mean that if groups like Hamas and Hezbollah are expressing the will of the people -- whether those people are Palestinians, Lebanese or Arabs in general -- knowing Israeli responses will be swift, aggressive and significant means that perhaps these groups will lose their mandates to perpetrate terrorist activities against Israel. Hence why Iran and Syria want conflict in the region and why they support groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. For these two nations, conflict in the region -- namely, between Muslims and Israel -- forces the more conservative nations, like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, etc. -- to pick a side. And almost every time, it's virtually assured that they will side with their Muslim brethren. If this aforementioned conflict is not military in nature but political -- say, a Muslim nation seeking nuclear technology (did someone say "Iran?") -- knowing other Muslim nations will support Iran's quest to possess nukes against the mid-line nations' Western allies will tip the scales and, accordingly, the balance of power.

In short, for nations that are seeking power, fomenting, fostering and supporting conflict in the region can only help.

So essentially, to answer my friend's question, it's not just about oil and it's not just about Israel. This conflict, possibly, could affect Iran's nuclear ambitions and Israel's resolution of the Palestinian issue. It's one thing to observe that Israel will likely crush Hezbollah; it's another to understand, or at least predict, what the result of the conflict will be, whether or not it expands from mere assaults and counter-assaults into all-out war.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Lines In The Sand

Since 1948, when the land of Israel was established, there have been a number of actual "wars" -- but like any country's military history, what lands in textbooks and what actually happens on the ground (and in the air, and on the water) isn't always described as war.

I'm not sure how history will describe the conflict that is occurring right now between Israel and Lebanon -- in fact, I'm not sure if history will even mention it -- but it seems like, yet again, a powder keg with its lit fuse burning ever closer to the inevitable blast.

We can debate, discuss, argue and one-up one another in a futile, masturbatory discussion of who started this latest round of this conflict (this conflict doesn't, of course, refer to the Israel-Lebanese conflict, but the Israel-Arab conflict). However, if you were to ask an Israeli politician why Israel began pounding parts of Lebanon with mortars, rockets and other military accoutrement, he would respond that Hezbollah -- with the backing of the Lebanese government -- attacked an Israeli town near the Lebanese border. Subsequently, he would add, Hezbollah -- which is a terrorist group and some of whose members occupy positions in the Lebanese government (like Hamas in the Palestinian government), arranged for the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier. Israel has attacked places of entry and exit within Lebanon -- airports, ports, bridges and highways -- in an effort to stop the flow of traffic and to prevent the easy transfer of prisoner(s). Lebanon, on the other hand, claims that Israel started the conflict by assassinating a Hezbollah general -- not a Lebanese general, but a higher-up in the Hezbollah organization -- on Lebanese soil, and then when Hezbollah retaliated by firing rockets into Israel, as they always do, Israel mounted a heavier assault -- to damage Lebanon's "tourism industry" -- and was declaring war, essentially, on Lebanon.

It's always nice to be able to sum up 5,000 years of conflict into a five-sentence paragraph. The problem is that we, as bystanders, can't call "Bullshit!" All we can do is stand back, essentially, and watch.

As terrorist groups go, both Hamas and Hezbollah are at the top of the list; but like a villain in a Batman movie, their purpose is overshadowed by one simple flaw: their members are so committed to destroying Israel and killing Israelis that they are willing to die to help accomplish this task. Any group that has suicide bombers in its midst is obviously committed; but in the general discussion of armed conflict, the fact is that some of the members of these groups should be committed -- to mental institutions. In any conflict, each of two or more sides has an interest in a situation, and any compromise which would result must be accepted by both parties. Israel assassinates terrorists that carry out missions to kill, injure and/or kidnap its citizens; this is a given. And the terrorist groups, which- and whatever they are called, retaliate by firing random, semi-guided missiles into Israel, and the conflict reheats itself more efficiently than a TV dinner in a microwave.

So now that we more clearly understand the facts that are loosely associated with the latest round of fighting between the two sides, it seems to me that there are several policies which must be observed and respected. If there is a cease-fire in place -- a loosely-adhered state of affairs with next-to-no teeth and no proper governance -- then Israel shouldn't be assassinating Hezbollah leaders, even if they are despicable characters who barely deserve being categorized as human beings. Conversely, governments in the Middle East -- especially ones whose anti-Israel stance is practically engraved and/or printed on that country's currency -- must, however abhorrent, reign in the terrorist groups and vigilante factions that could upset the temporary truce. Israel has the right to defend itself and its population against attack, and whether or not Lebanon's government was responsible for missile attacks or the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers, the fact that the source of these attacks was inside Lebanon suggests that Lebanon, like the Palestinians with Hamas, a responsibility to halt activity by these various groups.

The Palestinian Authority, in the past, was anything but. Scores of Hamas attacks were happening while Yasir Arafat and his lackeys would watch from the sidelines and claim innocence and ignorance. But everyone knows -- now, and at the time -- that even if Arafat wasn't planning or green-lighting these attacks, it was clear that he and his government, by not preventing them or advising local terrorist group leaders they would not be permitted, was condoning them. Only in the past several years since Arafat's death have the majority of attacks subsided between Palestinian groups and Israel. If there are groups running around in a government's territory attacking another country, then the solution -- if one can call it that -- for the attacked country is to retaliate on the attackers' soil, even if it means crossing a big black line in the sand. And while I understand, in theory, Lebanon's claim of ignorance and innocence with regard to this current ongoing conflict, it's obviously rhetoric that has no legitimate bearing on reality. I know that Muslims and some Europeans find Lebanon a suitable place for holiday; but I can't really include among Lebanon's current, Israeli-inflicted woes as damage to their tourism industry. Then again, perhaps one day Beirut will be a hot choice for Westerners to visit on their vacations. Somehow, I don't see it.

The fact is that, in the post 9/11 world, and I hate referring to the world's current Islamic crisis with that generic, "post 9/11" label, countries who sponsor or host -- knowingly or otherwise -- terrorist groups that attack other nations are going to be hit -- hard. Some people refer to what Israel is doing right now as terrorist; however, when one considers that Israel is defending itself and attacking a nation (some of) whose citizens have kidnapped Israeli soldiers, it's understandable. I think it's excessive for Israel to possibly start a war over the kidnapping of two or three soldiers, but the Israeli mentality has not change in nearly sixty years, so this offensive -- not just here, but also, recently, in Gaza -- is far from surprising. And what most people don't bother acknowledging, or reading in the media, is that whenever Israel attacks a civilian area, in order to minimize civilian casualties, they announce -- whether verbally or by dropping leaflets -- that an attack is imminent and anyone who doesn't want to be involved in the conflict should temporarily evacuate. The problem, of course, is that dead civilians make for good PR.

I think it's fairly clear that this situation is still, and will always be, a "work in progress." When you have two sides diametrically opposed to one another -- where men, women and children are so heavily inundated and indoctrinated with hate that prevent even remote consideration of acceptance of another group's existence -- the question isn't whether the two sides can maintain some measure of lasting peace, but whether the proliferation of nuclear weapons winds up with one annihilating the other.

(Images courtesy

Monday, July 10, 2006

Know Thy Neighbor -- All of Them

So for anyone on the East Coast or who has a functioning web browser -- yes, that includes you -- the news about a building collapse on 62nd and Madison this morning in NYC is common knowledge. If by some chance you missed the news (in print, on TV and online), then you're either in a coma or extremely uninformed -- and that is saying a lot, even for readers of this particular space.

In either case, I was on my way out the door when it happened, which is strange, because the same thing happened on 9/11; I had finished getting myself ready for a doctor's appointment that day and was out the door by the time the news had actually broke. The first news of 9/11 I heard was that a plane had hit one of the towers, and then, thereafter, everything slowly came together -- and, thereafter, very quickly apart.

Today, I was -- yet again -- prepping for a doctor's appointment and had disconnected myself from the otherwise constant media stream of TV, radio and internet news. So by the time I had finished about 40 minutes later with the appointment, I checked in with the office and got the news from my father, who was surprised I hadn't heard the news. Then I quickly headed over to my sister's place and we both figured out how best for her to get to the office and for me to get downtown without being too heavily affected by the catastrophic scene on 62nd. As of this writing, it appears the doctor who had an office in -- and who owned -- the building was suicidal, and the supposed "gas leak" which was the apparent cause of the explosion wasn't an accidental one. I certainly can't envision the notion of suicide, especially by blowing up a building in a high-class part of Manhattan which I own, but I am guessing that Dr. Bartha, the owner of the building and whose suicide was the apparent motive for the destruction of the building, was in pretty bad emotional shape prior to the blast. Now that it's happened, he's likely in pretty bad physical shape, too.

In any case, the 9/11 comparison didn't hit me until just now, but the truth is it's not as momentous or significant as one might think if one lived in, say, Shitkicker, Nebraska. Things happen quickly in this city, and while many of same aren't good or memorable incidents -- memorable in a good way, at least -- it's not a shock to hear a building collapsed or a taxi ploughed into a crowd of 30 people waiting on line for a bus or that someone pushed someone else in front of a speeding subway train. These things happen in big cities, for better or worse, and whether it's a question of "bad wiring," bad medicine, bad genes or bad attitudes, people do some extraordinarily shitty things to one another; unfortunately, a city on the scale of New York manages to magnify and intensify these types of actions rather than mask them. You'd think in a city this large that one building exploding before 9AM wouldn't be big news; but it is. And while that might seem, on first glance, a somewhat naive observation on my part, what I'm actually observing is that I'm surprised things like this don't happen more often. To wit: every time some shitbird tries to kill someone on a train -- whether with a knife, a gun, or, most recently, a power-saw (I shit you not) -- it's all fine n' dandy to get the requisite after-the-fact psychiatric examination, but it amazes me that this stuff doesn't occur -- and, as a result, hit the news media, more often.

Maybe I'm cynical; maybe I'm jaded. Maybe I've lived here long enough to understand that a guy flashing people his quarter-inch killer wearing only a dirty London Fog trenchcoat, a bad goatee and Hello Kitty rainboots isn't worth a priority spot in my short-term memory. Perhaps it's that I know this city, though possessing more energy than any other place on Earth, inspires some people to go bananas after awhile, whether due to circumstances, futility or even the weather. Or it might just be possible that I've done, seen and/or heard it all and very little surprises me anymore.

In either case, I'll do another quick recap of the second week of Kaia's visit next time; there's lots to address, but I wanted to hit the current events first before I delved into the past and the future with my other half. That, and I've got this weird dream rolling around in my head of a trenchcoat, Hello Kitty boots and bad facial hair.


Saturday, July 08, 2006

In The Waiting Line

First of all, my apologies to anyone expecting me to follow up my last post regarding July 4th sooner than I did; Kaia and I wound up both catching some sort of stomach flu that left us feeling less than wonderful, and while it forced us -- for better or worse -- into some together time (ie not going out and seeing friends and doing things), it didn't inspire much in the way of creativity.

Moreover, it didn't provide us with much opportunity to do the things we've come to do while together: so no runs downtown to restaurants, no meeting of friends for drinks or dinner, and no enjoyment of fireworks -- none, at least, celebrating July 4th.

We originally had made plans with friends to hang out for the 4th on their roof-deck, but it turned out they were heading out of town for a few days so our other option, which was equally high on our list, opened up -- a party on a roofdeck with a good friend of ours who lives on Roosevelt Island. Roosevelt Island is a small island off the Eastern side of Manhattan (between Manhattan and Queens, actually) and is a sort of mini-Manhattan. It's got the same types of amenities as does the City -- supermarkets, drugstores, dry cleaners, video stores, Starbucks -- but on a much smaller, and more personal, scale. But instead of it being a suburb of Manhattan that requires a 45-minute commute, it's about ten or fifteen minutes away via a Tram that is accessible in the East 60s. Since our friends advised us they'd be out of town, we were glad since we knew we would be able to attend our friend's party on the Island and then see our other friends once they returned from out of town.

However, the whole stomach flu changed all that; Kaia and I both had the same bug, and we both were going through the motions, but hers started about a day prior to mine, so we ended up doing absolutely nothing. And while three days in an apartment without interruption sounds appetizing, it's not quite what it seems when we're both sick. We actually had fun, for the most part, but we both began going a little stir crazy and desperately wanted to get some sun. She was off work for the entire week, and I ended up staying home Wednesday and Thursday both because I felt so lousy and as a precaution so as not to get my dad or my sister sick. I was running slight fever and I figured I could do some limited stuff, including keeping in touch with clients, and since it was a light week -- most of my clients were out of town and/or their offices -- it wasn't the worst time to miss a day or two.

We wound up spending some time with our friends from out of town, and when she began feeling better I sent Kaia downtown to do some last-minute shopping. She wanted to stay and take care of me, but there wasn't much to be done beyond me doing as she had the day or two prior, which was, essentially, riding it out and handling it as best I could. The only positive or negative, depending on one's perspective, is that we didn't do much of anything regarding dinner. We did get a chance to go back to Jane, which is really a great restaurant -- a bit remote and out of the way (100 West Houston at Thompson) -- but worth the trip. It's one of those places that gets next-to no press, yet is always a perfect place for dinner, whether the two of us, with friends or with a small group. However, we wound up not making it -- yet again -- to Balthazar and we didn't do any other restaurants on our own, although we really enjoyed Eleven Madison Park with my family. But as far as just the two of us doing things on our own, out and about -- we really didn't accomplish much of anything.

The thing is, despite the quasi-brooding, disappointed air of my description of the last few days of Kaia's visit, we were feeling shitty but together, we still managed to enjoy being together. We've tested the waters, so to speak, of spending large blocks of time together -- whether five consecutive days or three consecutive weeks -- and we don't fight, argue or grate on one another. I don't recall -- ever -- being in a relationship where I could -- nor would I want -- to spend all my time with someone without having some sort of "break" (and by break I don't mean a visit to the bathroom). Being with her, even when we were both sick -- arguably the most difficult time to spend with another person in constant, close proximity -- wasn't a bad experience, aside from the sick part. We had fun, and aside from both of us going a little nutty from being locked inside without sunlight and without any excitement, we would happily do it again (aside from the sick part).

So despite the ominous, less-than-thrilling recounting of our three or four straight days of mutual sickness, this perhaps was the most rewarding yet of our visits -- because it confirmed that when each of us was at our worst, we still managed to be together without wishing we were somewhere else (and more importantly, with someone else). As we log the hours and the days, it's becoming increasingly clear that this thing we've created -- incredibly -- seems to be right, no matter what we throw at it or what life throws at us. And even though I've felt like shit over the past week or so, I can't really describe how happy I am, or thankful I am as lucky as I did, that we found one another.

Kaia went home this past Thursday, and as usual, watching her cab pull away was bittersweet; but for the first time since we've been together, it occurred to me that this is something that's bigger than just "me." The lexicon of "we," "us" and "ours" keeps finding its way into my mind, and watching her wave as the cab sped toward JFK didn't make me sad as much as it reminded me that we'll be seeing each other again soon.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The Wings of Icarus: Reflection & Celebration

I had the best of intentions, I really did.

I was about to dive head-first into the deep end of the pool of 4th of July spirit; I'm talking the kind of patriotic, bare-assed jingoism that inspires local car dealership ads, the kind of moronic machismo that pervades middle America, trailer parks on the outskirts of Orlando and the high plains, with infectious, almost self-fulfilling happiness, the kind of thing that makes hot dogs, apple pie and baseball all second-tier items on a white America ladder to excess and happiness.

And I threw it all away.

I nearly sat down at the PC, hearing Kaia's measured breathing and the air conditioner and the sound-soother and the little pops emitting from a candle on my desk, and intended, with every good measure of my being, to put forth a mini-poll about what it means to me and to you, the reader, to be American. I was ready to bare my soul, simultaneously cracking wise and offering up a virtual fireworks display, in some sort of blog-based version of paper hats and New Year's Eve noisemakers. And yet from the long walk from my bedroom to the PC -- all thirteen steps -- it just disintegrated.

For those of you who read this column somewhat regularly -- and I hope each of you find therapy and long-term success curing whatever your psychological dysfunction(s) may be -- you know that my criticism, whether sarcastic or bombastic -- focuses on people, not this nation. Even when I offer up a smackdown on some imbeciles in Congress dicking around with film ratings or the disconcerting content of a Marilyn Manson album, I'm not decrying the American way of life or my ideological identity as an American.

Do I think many Americans, even those who deem themselves intelligent because they manage to e-mail Uncle Elmer in Bunghole Falls about Jethro's polyp-ridden colon, are less-than-intelligent? Yesirreebob. Do I worry about the absence of America's once-great manufacturing, and of our imaginary advantages in technology in weaponry, computers and innovation? Surely. Does it irritate me on several levels that I speak to "Rusty" in Iowa when I call Dell tech support, full-well knowing his real name is Vahishnara and he lives in a mud-hut somewhere in Bangladesh or Ankara? Yep.

I think the older we get -- and I'm not talking about once we surpass 80 years of age -- we begin to see the man behind the curtain of the socialization we endured in kindergarten and the early years of elementary school. Whether that haze lifts somewhere in, say, 11th Grade, or perhaps your second semester of college, it -- unless you are in an ROTC program and or stoned -- must lift. If it doesn't, you can expect a lifetime of pleasure buying Chevy trucks, Ford Tauruses and smile contentedly as you watch, with your wife and 2.4 children, each annual State of the Union address.

My intention isn't to, nor is this commentary aiming to, denigrate or belittle or ignore the significance of July 4th to this nation. But much as Martin Luther King day should be a day of notable significance to the black population of this nation -- even those who reside in states that resist celebrating same -- I think we go about the celebration of the 4th without noting the actual significance thereof. Sure, barbecues, parties and a day off from work are bonuses -- but this day should -- rather, must -- be more than a day to sleep late, socialize and inspire beer ads and car sales. There's -- somewhere within the lexicon of our nation -- something wrong when everyone associates July 4th with hot dogs and consuming other nutritionally-lacking foods but when it comes time to vote, we'd sooner cast our vote for the next American Idol than the President.

In past times, we had fewer distractions to dissuade us from our goals and our lives; one (shitty) television per household and fifteen stations on a barely-functioning transistor radio comprised our entertainment. Now children who can't even spell censorship are surfing the same Internet that spams any e-mail address known to man with larger penis offers, viagra and pyramid schemes and offers up the contents of a portable nuclear weapon. And we have 600 channels of shit -- to paraphrase Roger Waters -- on the TV to choose from, which is why we never really watch any one thing but always seem to find ourselves staring at the TV when it's on.

I suppose, in retrospect, this post wound up being what America -- the real America -- means to me. I think, on some level, this republic has evolved -- or devolved, depending on your take -- into superficiality, excess, leisure and brokering instead of production. And I think in some places, on some level, that is true. It's easier for us to enjoy the excess of this modern nation than to lament same. The glass is never half empty, and despite the addition of 9/11 to our collective heritage and national identity, this nation will continue on its path, whatever that may be. But the question is not so much as how it will all wind up, but how do we insure we instill the right values in the coming generations, rather than simply ratcheting up -- with excess, leisure, privilege and indulgence -- those which have brought us, as a nation, to this point?

It seems to me that we can either accept our roles as parents, guardians, citizens and members of this collective ethic of what it means to be American, or we can, first and foremost, identify ourselves as mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles and friends and neighbors. As far back as the days of the North and the South -- when secession was still a hotly-debated, but untested, concept -- these descriptors were how we as Americans saw ourselves. Except today, modern times and modern technology dictate that secession is no longer a geographic option but a financial and intellectual one.

I won't attempt to predict the future of this nation -- I'm not nearly that arrogant and even less intelligent. For that type of intellectual (but equally non-arrogant) analysis I rely mostly on Thomas Friedman in The New York Times -- and further, I'm far more interested -- rightfully so -- in my personal future with Kaia and our eventual offspring than I am with whether GM will and/or should go out of business and whether America's airline industry could be any worse than it already is.

But while everyone -- in this nation, anyway -- can celebrate this particular holiday with glee, I can't do so without at least taking a moment or three to step back and consider this nation, its place in the world, and our place as citizens thereof.

As of late, I've been watching as Israel pounds Gaza with everything it has in its arsenal to recover a soldier who was kidnapped less than a week ago. And both as a Jew and an American, and with an eye on the war in Iraq as well as the Ross Perot of the conflict, ie al-Qaeda, I've wondered why our identity is linked to whether we'll "win" said conflict rather than simply the fate of our personnel therein. I'm not weeping on my keyboard, but while acknowledging war is hell -- and I've watched "Baghdad ER" on HBO and can confirm that description despite never having wore kevlar in an LZ or a DMZ before -- I think our disassociation from the realities and the problems of the world is, on some level, troubling, but never moreso than on a holiday in which we should -- in theory -- acknowledge the conflicts we've endured as a nation and not simply the victory over the British.

I hope, with the above commentary, I haven't disenchanted, extinguished or shunted anyone who enjoys this holiday or the celebration thereof. I'm far from a party-pooper, and I've seen my share of close calls and movie-quality memories, both as a bystander and as a participant, in both sober and inebriated conditions. Today isn't Labor Day nor is it Veteran's Day, and thus this day shouldn't be regarded with the same sort of traditional, solemn observance that those days, at least in part, command. However, I do regard our increasing superficiality and our unwillingness to pave the future with the lessons of the past as troubling, and if my reminders of our origins somehow shits on the happiness of the day, my bad -- I throw myself on my sword here.

However, if anyone who's managed to read this entire post -- and I congratulate anyone who has (my apologies for its length) -- and somehow realizes that this holiday has some significance beyond the conclusion or commencement of 20% off sales and an extra $500 in benefits in auto financing, then I have -- for better or worse -- done my job.

That's the kind of work I don't mind doing on July 4th, and that's what it means to me. Feel free to comment or tell me I'm full of shit, or to do nothing at all.


Sunday, July 02, 2006

Another Day in Paradise

Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work.
- Peter F. Drucker

Today was a study in meandering. Kaia and I originally had plans to meet a friend but that wound up changing when his plans changed, which we knew might be the case, so we decided we'd take a jaunt down to Soho for one of our weekly runs: Bar 89 or Mercer Kitchen, some shoe shopping (damn Tsubos -- still haven't decided yet), some t-shirts, and a quick run through Z Gallerie. As we were emerging from our quasi-early-morning-cocoon of alcohol and sleep, my sister called to check in with us to see what we had planned for the day; since we were really up in the air and she had no plans, we invited her to come to Soho with us. Another friend had mentioned he'd like to meet up with us at some point in the early afternoon, but we figured we could see him at some point in the next few days and firmed up our plans until my sister picked up Ozzie from the groomer and brought him back home to settle in for a little R&R time in her place.

After the monster clean-up job we completed the day prior, we told her to swing by my place and we'd cab downtown together; she was mostly pleased with the state of the apartment, but since she rarely sees my place unless it's in a state of near-perfection, she didn't realize the magnitude of the improvement that had been bestowed upon my primary living quarters over the previous 48 hours. As I tell many of my clients, I should have followed my own advice and taken "before" pics as well as "after."

In any case, we wound up downtown a little while later and did a run through the usual haunts, except this time we neither hit Bar 89 nor Mercer. Since we'd gotten a somewhat late start, we wound up circumventing some of our other usual stops but managed to pick up things here and there; after a couple hours of making personal contributions to the US economy, however, we wound up tired, foot-weary and hungry, so we went to the better-than-average Mirro Cafe. In a Mediterranean vein, they offer flatbread sandwiches with some not-per-usual toppings and spreads, including a Turkish salad spread, an olive tapenade, and a variety of unusual items. We went pretty conservative in our orders: each of us had grilled chicken, diced, with a variety of toppings, including Kaia's, which featured honey mustard and lettuce and bleu cheese, and my sister's, which combined hummus and some other ethnic flavors. Mine was a Calabrese salad with chicken on flatbread: mozzarella, basil, lettuce, roasted peppers and their extra virgin olive oil/balsamic vinegar dressing. Nothing fancy but more than adequate, and in a pinch, we'll be back. But now that we know they sell 10 oz Diet Coke (glass) bottles for $2 a pop, we'll order sammiches to go and find drinks elsewhere.

Meanwhile, as we continued our quest, we hit the aforementioned Z Gallerie, which is very similar in many respects to Pottery Barn, but less aloof and far more accessible. The stuff is much more unique and much more reasonably-priced, and while PB features a lot of nice stuff, it seems a lot more staid and conservative (read: ubiquitous) than the interesting stuff we encounter each time we hit Z.

Today's item of interest was this coffee table, which impressed me as being a nice combination of modern and traditional and masculine and sophisticated. In other words, it seemed like an ideal piece for whatever living space Kaia and I eventually share. So we checked it out and might go back for it in the next day or three; but in the meantime, the only thing we procured today was an orchid reed scent diffuser, which my sister bought on our recommendation. Otherwise, though, we spent at least a half hour perusing their goods in an attempt to help my sister consider some things to go along with her new couch and the new rug she ordered from Bloomingdales yesterday. So despite not buying much of anything, we had, as per usual, a fun, productive excursion to Z.

Thereafter, both Kaia and my sister did some more shoe-shopping while I paced outside, made phone calls, gave my opinions on the variety of footwear each tried on, and people-watched. As six o'clock approached we opted to skip Lounge at 593 Broadway, full well knowing we'd be there tomorrow. Lounge is an interesting amalgam of a club, a lounge, a hipster fashion store and a music club/space all rolled into one big colossal ball. For me, the best part of Lounge's scene is the rock and roll memorabilia -- signed guitars, album covers, books, shirts and jackets -- featuring some of the most notable people in rock, including David Gilmour and the other members of Pink Floyd; The Ramones; The Police; The Sex Pistols; and, at least the last time were there, a Hendrix-signed Gibson Flying V. For Kaia, stopping into Lounge means she'll get some new lounge/chill mixes (both officially-released and homemade) and advice thereon from Lounge's in-house DJ, DJ Louis. DJ Louis is an exception -- in a good way -- for Soho. He's eminently knowledgeable about his craft, but -- and here's the exception -- he's got zero attitude and all he really wants to do is make people smile and enjoy the stuff emitting from his speakers. Sometime over the past few months, he's burned Kaia -- after offering to do so -- a few of his own homemade discs, and he's also advised both of us which of the stores musical offerings are worthwhile based on his taste as well as ours. People in a position of musical authority -- ie people who work as DJ's for radio stations, rock journalists, musicians, and music snobs (like me) -- tend to dictate to those seeking their advice should listen to whether or not it suits their taste. But for people who gravitate towards gothic metal or elevator-esque music, no matter how open their minds and/or ears might be, would never enjoy 98% of my personal music collection. DJ Louis, in our first meeting, asked us what types of music we enjoyed and within seconds handed us a variety of six or seven different boxed CD sets of music he knew would work within our collective musical taste. And thus far, whether it's stuff he's recommended or discs he's burned for us, we've both dug everything on which he's given his seal of approval.

It was seven and we walked a few quick blocks to Chinatown's Canal Street before the heat, fatigue and the throngs of tourists became too much. We wound up cabbing home in an eventually-air-conditioned cab, dropped my sister off at her building and then went the additional seven blocks to mine. We basically collapsed for awhile, reawakened, had some dinnerwhile watching "Must Love Dogs" (a fun chick/date movie) and then went back to bed. I opted to check back in here while Comedy Central showed -- uncensored -- South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut. So while I banged away on my keyboard, I was somewhat surprised to hear Cartman refer to his crowding fellow students as "shit-faced cockmasters," and then later being told, upon singing "Kyle's Mom Is A Stupid Bitch," to shut the fuck up by Kyle himself. I remember, when Scarface came out, that people were eschewing not only the gratuitous violence but the number of instances therein of the word "fuck." Maybe it's me, maybe I'm getting old, or maybe I'm too loyal a member of the Republican Party, but it feels like the South Park movie (which is incredibly hysterical after the first or fiftieth viewing) is much more vulgar. And it's on basic cable -- uncensored. Okie dokey.

In either case, I'm winding down yet again and heading to bed to join Kaia in her slumber; we're planning to head back downtown again at some point tomorrow, and we might try and run into our friend Lisa (of LisaBinDaCity fame) when/if possible. Otherwise, we plan on continuing our enjoyment of shared time and space and avoiding the extreme weather. There's more we need to do tomorrow, but nothing we need to do more than to be next to one another and spend time enjoying doing nothing beyond that.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Life Is Good

After a late night fixing my PC, I wound up sleeping late -- the office was closed but I originally had intended to go in, but of course I never made it. Kaia let me sleep late as she did some work -- today being Friday -- and then woke me up. We agreed to do some work -- cleaning up the apartment -- and then do something fun.

Around four we spoke to a friend who had been out of town but had just gotten back, and he wound up swinging by the apartment around six. Since we had about two hours, we finished with the major overhaul of my place -- which it sorely needed -- and by the time we finished we were both schvitzin' and tired. We opened a bottle of wine and chilled out on the couch for a few minutes before he walked through the door and we all hung out for a few hours. We didn't have any real plans so him coming by was a nice, if overdue, surprise; so we just relaxed, cancelled our original (and follow-up) reservations and after he grabbed a cab in the rain, we did a quick run to the store to get some provisions (cash, drinks, dessert and some goodies for my doorman).

We got back in, gave my doorman his impromtu care package, ordered some eats from a restaurant nearby and fired up Most Haunted at 10 on the nose on the Travel Channel. Most Haunted is somewhat of a guilty pleasure; it's a show which follows a group of between five and ten people throughout the UK and elsewhere as they visit sites (real-world, physical locations, not websites) that are rumored to be haunted by ghosts. On the surface, it couldn't sound more ridiculous or stupid; however, their approach is so proper and scientific -- they use motion-sensitive cameras, highly-sensitive recording equipment (audio and video) and infra-red cameras -- that it's impossible to watch an episode and not wonder if the existence of ghosts, life after death and paranormal activity is, in fact, possible. Kaia's been watching the show for awhile; I began watching it in the last year or so. The group of people that visits these various places include psychics who get a feel for the location, whether it's a hotel, a bar, a house or an institution (eg a prison, a courthouse or a farm), and usually wind up describing things that have happened at the site in the past (say, in the mid-1800's). Invariably, the ghosts -- and the previous occupants of each site -- are described in gender, age, and, sometimes, in name -- which is bizarre, because the psychic(s) is not given any prior history about the place which is the focus of the show.

At any rate, when we're spending time on opposite coasts, we usually watch "together." Normally, the show is broadcast at 9PM and midnight on Friday nights (although tonight it was on at 10 and 1) so I usually come home and watch the midnight showing, which for her is 9, so we get to absorb the show and then discuss it during the commercials. Invariably, we both have the same reactions -- "did you hear the noise when he said 'if you can see us, please show yourself by banging on the table?'" Holy shit! -- and despite the distance, it's another device we use to instill some normalcy in an otherwise geographically-challenged relationship. For the most part, each episode is a bit chilling and, within twenty minutes of being on the air, is worth the price of admission and memorable. But the real reason why it is so special for us both is because it's something we share, even from opposite coasts.

We ordered dinner rather than head out in the rain, and by the fourth commercial break the eats had arrived. We ordered an eclectic-ish but tasty variety of goodies: guac, salsa and chips; a salad with pine nuts, diced veggies and butter and arugula lettuces; two chicken dishes -- one grilled, the other roasted -- and a side of smashed potatoes. We did a slow work-through on the guac/salsa/chips and the salad -- which, by mistake, I hit with gravy instead of honey mustard dressing -- and we did a lazy, slow couch dinner. The gravy/dressing thing wasn't my fault -- they gave us six small containers, and even now, after realizing the mistake, I can't tell 'em apart unless I give each one a good sniff. And while I noticed the gravy's viscosity wasn't exactly like honey mustard dressing, I wasn't grossed out. It was sorta like a salad with chicken left over from a previous night's dinner, only without the actual chicken. Kooky.

As 11:30 approached, Kaia got tired fairly quickly -- we shared two bottles of red earlier in the night with our friend -- and I put her to bed with the only light in the apartment being a couple candles and the TV's faint glow dancing on the ceiling. She got a call a few minutes after we crawled into bed, so she spoke to her friend in San Fran for a little while and then she hung up, I tucked her in and she fell asleep. While we both worked ourselves silly cleaning the place up, she really worked hard, and while we're planning on hitting Soho to do some walking around tomorrow, I'm not sure if she'll be wanting to do anything due to soreness and fatigue. But either way, we shall see -- we have plans to meet a friend for brunch downtown; the rest is up in the air.

As I got ready to head to bed to join her, I looked around my place -- it looks a lot better than it has, for sure -- but as much as I saw the lack of clutter and miscellaneous crap around me, what really made me smile was knowing she was in bed, the candles going, the ocean breeze in the background (thank you Sharper Image) and knowing that tomorrow I'll be waking up next to her.

Life is good.