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{Friday, May 31, 2002}


Canadia
Only in Canada can you have a cultural icon say, and have people agree with him, "Nonono, it's ok. He wasn't kicking him with the skate, he was kneeing him in the head."
God bless us.
- Eric Burnett

And you know, because it is Canada, that the guy getting kneed said "sorry." (via Steph)

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{Thursday, May 23, 2002}


This is the way we create dystopia, create dystopia, create dystopia...
(This is the way we create dystopia / so early in the morning)

Which is to say that a company called Maxygen proposes to encode DNA sequences as music and then copyright the tunes. This story comes via Zem, who notes that copyrighting is being pursued because it allows looters to "gain a much longer legal protection than is offered by a patent." Of course, Zem also notes that a copyright is intended for an "original work of authorship" which in any sane world ought not to extend from DNA tunes to DNA itself.

Even if one could get a copyright on the tune, only the broadest interpretation of copyright law would allow a content owner to argue that this gave them control over the underlying DNA. This just happens to be exactly the kind of broad interpretation of copyright that corporations now have thanks to the DMCA, or are pursuing with the CBDTPA. As my office-mate says: "those fucking assholes."
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A jug of wine, a book of verse...
and thou
beside me, singing in the wilderness
*

Or, in the words of Jim at girlrepair: a boy, a digital camera,
a merry-go-round: who needs drugs?







* Here are two tidbits on that marvel, the Rubaiyyat..
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That stupid phrase
My first thought was always that it just sounded too silly to say with a straight face. How can you utter the sentence, "I am an anti-idiotarian," and remain credible as a smarter-than-thou pundit? Come on. The obvious response to those words is, "Oh yeah? Well I don't talk like a six year old."

That know-it-all, Blowhard (I wonder if that comma was necessary) has a much less aesthetic objection to the word "idiotarian."

Just as we are all full of shit, we are also all idiotarians. Here's a fun mental exercise to illustrate my point. Think of the sum total of your thinking ten years ago. Can you think of numerous instances where you were simply dead wrong? I certainly can. If you don't think you were wrong on a lot of things ten years ago, you really need to start a rigorous course of introspection.

[...]

You can also play this game with history. Think of the near universal consensus on things such as spontaneous generation, the all-pervasive ether, the central position of the the Earth amongst all the other heavenly orbs, etc, etc. Imagine yourself back in those times. Chances are you would have agreed with all of this standard issue idiotarianism. Not all of us - true geniuses are exempt by definition - but most of us.

This is the kind of wisdom Blowhard also displays on issues like option accounting in corporate financial statements, steel tariffs, and the God-given right to THC. I think if we work on him really hard, we can get him to agree to Jim Henley's proposed solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We will be too busy trying to get laid to do this, and so hundreds of people will die.

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{Monday, May 20, 2002}


The power of persuasion
"In my opinion it is a grand book.... Morally and philosophically I find myself in agreement with virtually the whole of it; and not only in agreement with it, but in deeply moved agreement."
- John Maynard Keynes, on Friedrich Hayek's The Road to Serfdom

(Hayek's book is the classic exposition of the perils of Keynesian economics.)

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The Persistence of Memory
Andy Kashdan has taken his blog away for good. Visiting the old site for A libertarian reads the paper is pointless. Even the old posts are gone. All that's left for posterity is this (and this). Make sure you read the FAQ.

And thank you Internet Wayback Machine!

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{Friday, May 17, 2002}


Fairtunes
Musiclink, the music patronage service I mentioned a few weeks ago, has their new site up, and the service is now active. An article in Time Magazine also clued me in to how they plan to make any money: they will hold on to all donations for 60 days before handing them over to the artists, profiting from the float.
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Ruthie is back. I missed her. "Well, I've missed you," she writes and I know she is talking to me -- though not the real me.

Ruthie gave me a coat once too. We've already established that this is a tragic gesture.

But Ruthie is back, you fools. No one appreciates her like I do.
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Two Kinds of People
:: What the War Taught Me: There are two kinds of people in the world -- those who think there are two kinds of people, and those who believe that there is one kind of person in different kinds of circumstances.

[ Rebecca Blood, via adnan ]


I've added Rebecca's blog to Unobjectionable Content. It has been exceptionally good for a long, long time. Check the archives yourself.

Her thoughts on the war struck a chord in me, first of strong agreement and then of uncertainty. Let me to slip into the vernacular of religion for a moment -- sometimes, even for an atheist, it is the most appropriate language. I believe in evil. I believe that some people choose to sin -- to do horrible things to others -- and that these people are not "the same" as those who choose not to do such things. There is a gap between a victim and a victimizer, though this difference need not be permanent; if you believe in change then there can be earthly redemption. But the difference exists, and to ignore it dishonors the victims and the righteous.

If Rebecca is saying that circumstance trumps free will and absolves humans of moral responsibility for their choices, then I think she is wrong.

But what I responded to in her words -- and what is probably her true meaning -- is the notion that false distinctions between "us" and "them" have often been used to justify evil. Every human society has taboos with regards to harming people, and every society finds ways around those taboos by choosing who is considered a person and who is not. Today we are more sophisticated with language, and might not be so obvious as to say that our victims aren't human, but when we wish to do ill we'll find ways of getting the message across.

It's a crime to do this. It is a total obliteration of individuality. Duality makes your achievements, your guilts -- your merits, credits, and debits -- irrelevant. What does it matter that you fell in love with your cousin when you were twelve? That you cheated on you SATs? That you invented a safe substitute for nicotine or once let your brother take the rap for snapping the leg off the new dining room table? When there are two kinds of people, there are no unique, particular selves.

That idea is what I reacted to. Rebecca said it all in forty words. There are not two kinds of people: there is either one kind, or there are 6 billion kinds.
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Big Red Buttons
"it's clear. something's going to happen. i'm not sure if it's space aliens or communists, or both..." (via we are full of shit)

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{Monday, May 13, 2002}


Hindsight
In hindsight, I don't think the post on Al-Jazeera (below) is good enough to be on this blog. I didn't really say anything original, and the news itself is only mildly interesting in its own right. The best thing about the post is probably the last line, but that's an awful lot of work for a small payoff.

And you know what? I knew all that even before I hit [PUBLISH]. So the title of this post is misleading.

Maybe next time I'll have the fortitude to refrain from posting until I have something worthwhile to share. The pressure to produce new content daily isn't huge, but that doesn't mean a person can't succumb. ;)

Some good, long posts are in the works and on the way but I'm travelling this week and so may not get to them until later.

Perhaps you might peruse the Archives.
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Bahrain Bans Al-Jazeera TV
In other news from Looking-Glass world, "Arabic television station Al Jazeera has been banned from reporting from within Bahrain." The BBC reports that Bahrain has accused Al-Jazeera of being "biased towards Israel and against Bahrain" (via Zem).

Al-Jazeera itself (web site in Arabic) is based in Qatar, Bahrain's next-door-neighbor to the Southeast. The station is often criticized in the U.S. for its slant against Israel and the West while at the same time the authoritarian regimes of the Arab world accuse it of exactly the opposite failings.

In the past, Algeria and Yemen have lodged complaints against the station. Tunisia and Libya have temporarily withdrawn their Ambassadors to Qatar in protest of Al-Jazeera broadcasts, and Yasser Arafat "temporarily closed Al-Jazeera's Ramallah bureau because of a promotional trailer for a documentary series about the Lebanese civil war" that portrayed him in an unflattering manner.

Bahrain's ban comes during its first election in almost thirty years, and the first election during which women can vote and also run for office. While other world and Arab media were in Bahrain to cover the event, Al-Jazeera was prevented from entering the country.

"We will not deal with this channel because we object to its coverage of current affairs. It is a channel penetrated by Zionists."
- Nabil al-Hamr, Minister of Information, Bahrain

Regardless of Bahrain's griping, Al-Jazeera represents the best of the Arab world, and indeed, the best of news media generally. Their coverage of the intifada has rivaled every global media organization, and their reporting in Kabul was controversial enough that their local Afghanistan broadcast office was "accidentally" bombed by the U.S.

The mindset of Al-Jazeera is global, fractious, and modern. It recalls the sort of culture that flourished in Lebanon before the war and Egypt during the time of Nasser. When my father was a university student in Cairo in the 60s it was still possible to see women in mini-skirts, to hear criticism of Islam and praise of the United States. How things have changed.

If Al-Jazeera can bring back the mini, the international turmoil will have been well worth it.

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{Sunday, May 12, 2002}


Filibuster
According to one Irish institution, the longest debate on record was held at another Irish institution: University College Galway.

Students of the University's Literature and Debating Society (affectionately known as the Lit 'n Deb), with staff and guest speakers, debated the motion that "This house has all the time in the world" for exactly 28 days, February 2 -- March 2, 1995.

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{Friday, May 10, 2002}


Rick's Teen Anguish Poem
oh god,
why
am I so much more sensitive than everybody else?
why
do I feel things so much more acutely than them,
and understand so much more.
I bet I'm the first person who's ever felt as rotten as this.
could it be
that I'm going to grow up
to be a great poet and thinker, and all those other wankers in my
class are going to have to work in factories or go on the dole?
yes, I think it could.


[ The Complete Guide to Rick's Poetry: Rick's Teen Anguish Poem ] (via LinkMachineGo)
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?
Hey... um, where'd my blogspot ad go? What the hell is up, people?

(Men are not good at saying thank you. That will be my cover).
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Add Applications to Your Blog
"You can add links (called AppLinks) to your Blog page (or any web page for that matter) which connect to documents and their fully-functioning native applications."

Applinks has unseated Fairtunes as the best thing ever, even though it costs $12 per month. I'm perfectly happy to pay for a service like this. Try this AppLink to a Microsoft Word document. "Go ahead, type away. Try THAT with your PDF file ;)."

Yes, it is pretty darned cool.
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Get 'em!!
The Fighters of the Kingdom of Israel sounds like a cheesy version of the Justice League of America (Zionist powers activate! Form of red heifer!), but in actuality they are a bunch of real people with bad marketing sense.

Also they kill Arabs. Only eight so far, but "many wounded."

And they have leaflets with snazzy get-out-the-vote slogans: "Jews who are fed up have arisen and decided to get revenge against the Arab enemy!" Go team! The Fighters are using leaflets with this brilliant copy (and more!) in order to recruit new people scum to their cause. Can't you just hear the rallies?

2-4-6-8 let's keep up the racial hate!

1-3-5-9 time to do some occupyin'!

Or maybe ... What do we want? To "inflict additional death on the Palestinians and their children."

When do we want it? ...

Personally, I would have left out the word 'additional.' Sounds better that way.

I'm not sure if the Fighters are affiliated with Gilad Shalhevet. Maybe they're the same group. The Gilad guys also murder Arabs, but that doesn't mean they can't find the time to make death threats against Israelis who criticize the occupation. It's not clear whether anyone from either of these groups has been arrested, but on the positive side, the Jerusalem Police do deserve three cheers for nabbing Yarden Morag and Shlomo Davir, two settlers who were trying to blow up a hospital and a girls' school (same link as Gilad Shalhevet above).

Help end the menace of Arab hospitals today!

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{Wednesday, May 08, 2002}


Spamster
The New Scientist reports on a promising anti-spam solution based on everyone's favorite peer-to-peer information sharing technology (via Net Marketing).

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{Tuesday, May 07, 2002}


Passion
"They were alone in the house. It was a cold, dark, stormy night. The storm had come up quickly and each time the thunder boomed he watched her jump.

She looked across the room and admired his strong appearance. She wished he would take her in his arms, comfort her, protect her from the storm, she wanted that...

Then the power went out. She screamed. He raced to the sofa where she was cowering. He did not hesitate to pull her into his arms. He knew this was a forbidden union and expected her to pull back. He was surprised when she didn't resist but instead clung to him. The storm raged on, as did their growing passion...

There came a moment when each knew they had to be together. They knew it was wrong... Their families would not understand... but... so consumed in their passion, they didn't hear the door open... the click of the light switch... the power was back on, and..."

PASSION.

(Text by Craig Good, via p e a c e d i v i d e n d)
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The Pink Pistols
I never read Instapundit (not even enough to have something against it). Rand Simburg, who I also never read, points to an interesting series of posts on Instapundit about the Pink Pistols, a gay group in favor of gun-rights. They have received a warm reception from Guns & Ammo magazine and the NRA, though there has been at least one case of bigotry.

But, anyway, a gay gun-rights group. I love this country.
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musiclink :: Patronage, Not Piracy

Fairtunes is the best thing ever a web service that connects fans with artists directly, harnessing the revolutionary changes online music distribution is bringing about in the recording industry. Fans can use the web site to make a financial contribution to an artist, securely, with their credit card, in the name of a particular song or album. Fairtunes will locate any artist the user specifies and forward them the money in a fast and accountable way. (via Off On A Tangent)

I tried to use the system, and was foiled. A little investigation on the musiclink main page and I discovered this message:

Watch this site for major changes coming in the next few weeks! We are more commited than ever to the direct support of artists. In the coming weeks, we will be announcing new plans and new partnerships. We have temporarliy disabled our Patronage system until these changes are fully complete.


Hmm.

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{Monday, May 06, 2002}


But Daddy, I Need to Go
Norm Jenson over at onegoodmove gives an extrapolation of current trends (via the comments to this post from Jak).

There is a contract between the network and the advertiser. There may soon be a more formal contract between the network and the viewer. One day soon you may sit down in front of your TV and see the following:

In order to view this program it is required that you watch the commercials. To that end you certify that you have read this contract and agree to the following:

1. I have already been to the bathroom.

Norm's parody is spot-on (read the whole thing, there's more). The comments that inspired it, made by Jamie Kellner, the CEO of Turner Broadcasting, have been all over the blogosphere. If you haven't heard yet, here's the short-short version: "Any time you skip a commercial ... you're actually stealing."

Kellner's comments are obviously inane for the simple reason that there is no contract between the viewer and the network or advertiser. Turner Broadcasting may not like it that they can't guarantee an audience for every commercial, but advertisers aren't paying them for a guaranteed audience.

An iron-clad guarantee that advertisements will be watched is something that can only be provided by -- you guessed it -- the viewer. And since we are (so far) still living in a free-market economy, viewers will have to be compensated for this service if anyone expects them to render it. Content providers could start by producing less crap, but I won't hold my breath.

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{Sunday, May 05, 2002}



"You're not half as megalo in your blog as you are in real life."
- My so-called "best friend" Saurabh


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{Saturday, May 04, 2002}


Song of the day: "Into My Arms," by Nick Cave.

This isn't all true.

Last week I missed my chance to see Nick Cave. They say he was excellent.

"It's not every night a couple thousand people get fucked by Nick Cave." (Friday, May 3rd. You'll have to scroll down, because she doesn't have permalinks)

I can remember when I first heard him. It was at school -- 1995 or 1996. Candice had come to visit. She came twice, once for me and once for my roommate John. Actually she came three times that year, and once the next, didn't she? To see Boston or me or John or maybe to get away from things that had nothing to do with us. In a very important way Candice and I were never able to communicate.
________________________________________

This is how we met:

I am in London. It's 1992 or '93. I am a senior in high school on a trip with my French class. We should be in France, of course, but our teacher is wily, and has finagled for us a few days in England first.

Toad the Wet Sprocket is the music we're leaving behind when we leave home. The radio was full of All I Want and Walk on the Ocean that year. Other things too, but those songs become the soundtrack of the trip for me.

Not the soundtrack to this story. That's Nick Cave.

In Piccadilly we run into another school group. They are from Massachusetts and we are from New Jersey. We should hate them, but it's foreign soil now, and as outsiders we are united.

Besides, there are girls.

We stay at the Kensington Close Hotel. I can't remember who found out that the other group was staying there too, but someone did, and on our last night in England me and Mo and Greg end up in a room belonging to Candice and another girl. Greg would later in that same trip explain how Pearl Jam's Ten was the best album ever made.

I remember that the other girl smoked and had long hair. Candice was thin but not tall, with brown hair down to her jaw, and bangs. She had pale skin and a sly laugh that was also innocent, something that's easy to pull off when you're fifteen. She was cute, and pixie-ish.

We spent the night prank calling the girls' classmates. I did a passable British accent. I was "Robert" from the Front Desk and I'd been asked to inform the class that they were to meet an hour earlier tomorrow morning in the Main Dining Room. Many, many of them showed up at the ungodly hour of 7am the next day, confused and tired. People trusted Robert implicitly. Later, Candice told me that when she'd admitted the prank to her classmates nobody had believed her.

The next morning my group was on a ferry across the English Channel, headed for France. Hers was in England for two more days and then, like us, to Paris. Maybe it was some kind of package being sold to all the teachers that year, and our Professeur wasn't so wily after all.

I'm above deck, cold. The water is grey and the spray of it washes on deck more than once. It's windy, and the boat rocks with the waves. I spend fifteen minutes looking for my coat: a brand new black wool overcoat I'd bought especially for the trip. England was chilly and I'd worn it almost every day and already managed to reduce one button to a single thread of tentative connection. It was bound to fall off. The more I search, the clearer it becomes that my coat isn't on the ferry with me.

The ring-tones of European phones don't sound the same as American ones. They are distant but resonant, as if coming from within a far-away bathtub. This is true of your typical land phone in Europe, not just the satellite phone on the English Channel ferry.

"Can I have room 215 please?"

[...]

"Hello?"

"Candice?"

"Who's this?"

"It's Jim. We met yesterday, remember?" I can't think of anything to do but the accent. "...Pardon me, this is Robert from the Front Desk..."

"Jim! What are you doing? Where are you calling from?"

"Well, um ... I'm on the ferry. I think I sort of left my coat in the hotel."

Three days later we see them randomly at a Tube station in Paris. They're on the other side of the platform.

"Candice!"

"Jim! I have your coat!"

And Mo, who's borrowed the lighter of the other girl, tries to give it back. He throws it across the tracks, but his arc is too high. It hits the ceiling and shatters. We all look embarrassed, and there's nothing to do but stare and then try not to stare. I break the quiet.

"We're going to the Eiffel Tower tomorrow night," I shout. "At nine!"

"I'll meet you there!"

She shows up wearing my coat. I still have a picture of us at the Eiffel Tower that night; Candice and her friend and Paris. Candice is tiny in my coat, but her smile is big.

"I sewed the button on for you."

I still have the coat, too.
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Candice introduced me to Nick Cave in 1995 or 1996. She was visiting me in Cambridge. I'm pretty sure that her visit was for me that time. It was hot. I remember that. Hot days were so rare. She was barefoot, wearing a loose black dress, tidying and messing up the apartment, looking at our stuff, playing music. I remember thinking that it was nice to have girls hanging about the place. We were waiting to leave, to go out and buy CDs or clothes or something. To eat and later we'd rent Brazil because she said we had to. How right she was.

But first, me: "What the hell is that?"

"It's Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds," she said, arranging tapes next to the stereo.

"Oh. ... It's terrible." I remember thinking how we were just unlike each other in so many different ways.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. I'd never heard of them. It sounded horrible; not like music at all.

Later on I tried to thank her for introducing me to Brazil. I did thank her. But I'm left with the feeling that somehow I'd been misunderstood. Despite trying, she and I could never communicate. I'm not sure how we stayed friends, or what our friendship was based on. I didn't understand her any more than she did me, but I almost always liked her.

The last time we saw each other was 1999. She invited me out of the blue to spend Memorial Day weekend in her home-town with her family. We had a good time. Jess was there too. I haven't mentioned her. Candice had a tongue stud and Jessica had a belly-button ring and I was about to start working for a venture capital firm. We spent two hours singing along to Neil Diamond.

Sweet Caroline ... bah da da! ... good times never seemed so good

I saw Zero Effect on video sometime around that year too (another detective story, maybe it all does fit together). "Into My Arms" was Zero Effect's love song. I had no idea who wrote it. I barely knew what it was. Was it really music? Was it a poem? Was it prose? The words would repeat in my head for the next week.

I don't believe in an interventionist God
But I know, darling, that you do
But if I did I would kneel down and ask Him
Not to intervene when it came to you


I found the song. And there it was: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. I found the bootleg of Nick singing it live on Letterman and listened to it about seven times in one night. I thought back to years ago in that apartment in Cambridge, but I couldn't tell you now what I heard then or whether it was sublime or terrible. I don't think it's the music that changed.

It took me a while to catch up. But I got here.

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{Friday, May 03, 2002}


Song of the day: "Mother Nature's Son," by The Beatles.

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{Thursday, May 02, 2002}


Reenhead Rocks Out!
The lovely and talented Reenhead re-works Blind Melon's "No Rain" into an epic ballad of the legal profession.

I would hereby link to her original post, but because guess who has no just got permalinks?! It's from Tuesday, April 30th. And in case you can't make out what she's singing, I too have put the lyrics in the comments.
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Human Rights Watch Reports on Jenin
Jak mentions that Human Rights Watch has issued a report on Israel's military operation in Jenin.

The Israeli attack on Jenin began on April 3rd, and the bulk of Palestinian resistance had surrendered by April 11th. The Israeli Defense Force closed the camp to journalists and humanitarian and medical aid throughout the fighting (from April 4th to April 11th) and even after the fighting had essentially ceased. Israel did not open Jenin to outsiders until April 16th. In the words of Human Rights Watch, "Israeli authorities denied humanitarian organizations access to the camp during their offensive, and continued to prevent humanitarian access to the refugee camp for days after military operations had ceased, despite great need."

Human Rights Watch sent a team of three investigators into the Jenin camp once it was re-opened, and they stayed for seven days, from April 19th to April 28th.

HRW's arrival only after nearly two weeks of closures makes it difficult to be certain what happened in Jenin, and while the team was experienced, they were obviously working at a disadvantage. The IDF repeatedly denied HRW's requests for information, which is no surprise since their conduct throughout the month of April served to ensure that the international community would have no first-hand knowledge of what was happening in Jenin.

Now we have the first report from an impartial body, and flawed as it must be due to the limits placed on the investigators' ability to gather evidence, it is also the best information available on what happened in the camp.

HRW identified only 52 Palestinians who'd been killed by the Israeli Defense Force, of whom 22 were civilians.

Human Rights Watch has confirmed that at least fifty-two Palestinians were killed as a result of IDF operations in Jenin. This figure may rise as rescue and investigative work proceeds, and as family members detained by Israel are located or released. Due to the low number of people reported missing, Human Rights Watch does not expect this figure to increase substantially. At least twenty-two of those confirmed dead were civilians, including children, physically disabled, and elderly people. At least twenty-seven of those confirmed dead were suspected to have been armed Palestinians....

Human Rights Watch found no evidence to sustain claims of massacres or large-scale extrajudicial executions by the IDF in Jenin refugee camp.

[...]

Human Rights Watch investigated and found no evidence to sustain reports that the IDF had removed bodies from the refugee camp for burial in mass graves.

I have repeatedly cited Human Rights Watch's reports on the intifada as fair and unbiased, and I am inclined to trust them, particularly because they have not stinted in condemning abuses on either side.

While finding no evidence to support claims that hundreds were killed, HRW documented "serious violations of international humanitarian law," by the IDF, "some amounting prima facie to war crimes." The following are excerpts from the report and the press release issued with it:
  • "civilians were killed willfully or unlawfully"
  • "days of sustained missile fire from helicopters" ... "evidence of indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force by the IDF"
  • "helicopters struck many houses in Jenin refugee camp that were inhabited only by civilians, and where no Palestinian fighters were present"
  • "extensive and disproportionate destruction of the civilian infrastructure of the camp"
  • "Throughout the camp, at least 140 buildings were completely leveled, many of them multi-family dwellings, and more than 200 others were severely damaged, leaving an estimated 4,000 people, more than a quarter of the population, homeless"
  • "Israeli troops used Palestinian civilians as human shields"
  • "the IDF blocked emergency medical access to Jenin camp. Soldiers repeatedly fired on Red Crescent ambulances, and in one case shot to death a uniformed nurse, twenty-seven-year-old Farwa Jammal"
  • "Fifty-seven-year-old Kamal Zghair, a wheelchair-bound man ... was shot and then run over by IDF tanks on April 10 as he was moving in his wheelchair equipped with a white flag down a major road in Jenin"
In the end Human Rights Watch's report gives neither side exactly what it wants. The wildest claims of the Palestinians -- that there had been a massacre of hundreds and that the IDF had carted off bodies to bury in mass graves -- were not supported by the investigation. The protestations of the Israelis -- that they only targeted terrorists and that civilian deaths were accidental collateral damage -- were also shown to be false.

We are left, as usual, with blood on the hands of both sides. But the power as ever remains with Israel, as does the responsibility to end the conflict by ending the occupation.

In the near term, we have this report, and the final comments from the investigators that "[a]lthough Human Rights Watch's research has been extensive, we do not pretend that it is comprehensive. Further inquiry is still in order, particularly as the excavation process proceeds." For your own inquiries, the press release is here and the 48 page report is here.

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{Wednesday, May 01, 2002}


Hamas' startling announcement
The San Francisco Chronicle has scooped every other news outlet covering the Middle East with what has to be the biggest story coming out of the region all month: Hamas is willing to stop attacks on Israel if it returns to pre-1967 borders (via political hobbyist).

Unlike the Palestinian Authority and Fatah (Arafat's political party), who have both accepted a two-state solution, Hamas has long held that its goal is the end of the state of Israel. If the recent news is true, it represents a stunning reversal.

The announcement was made by Ismail Abu Shanab, a member of Hamas' five-person executive committee, in a two-hour interview with Robert Plotkin, of the Chronicle's Foreign Service arm. Although the interview took place on Friday, three days ago now, confirmation of the story is nowhere to be seen (I checked CNN, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Ha'aretz, the Jerusalem Post, and al Ahram Weekly). Also lacking is confirmation from other Hamas members that Abu Shanab's words are true.

Asked if he was speaking for the entire Hamas organization, Shanab said, "Yes."

Shanab, 50, is considered a moderate within Hamas, an acronym in Arabic for Islamic Resistance Movement. Other Hamas leaders either could not be reached to confirm his remarks or would not comment to an American reporter. Neither could it be independently ascertained whether Hamas' military wing, the Izzedine Qassam Brigades, agreed with the apparent new policy.

There is certainly cause for skepticism, given the decades of rejectionism and violence that would be abandoned under this new policy. "Hamas has refused to support previous peace plans and has rejected calls for a cessation of violence, including the use of suicide bombs, against Israel." Is all of this changing?

My first reaction is surprise, with hope close on it's heels. Shanab is highly-placed, and gave the comments in a lengthy interview. These don't appear to have been tossed-off remarks. But on the other hand, some of the concessions are so dramatic that it is hard not to doubt them.

On the highly controversial "right of return" of Palestinian refugees, Shanab said that while it remained a central issue for Hamas, its resolution was not necessarily a precondition for a peace agreement. He said, "It is a complex issue and has 50 years of complexity. So let's solve it, but not right away."

Hamas, being more flexible even than Fatah on the issue of return. Time for another Through the Looking Glass post! The question on everyone's lips is surely 'what is going on?' -- or it would be, if any of the major media outlets had picked up the story.

If we assume that the offer is genuine, it is fair to ask why it came about. The Chronicle mentions speculation that the offer was "aimed at preventing a huge Israeli military move against Hamas in the Gaza Strip." This is possible. The IDF's current incursions have been focused on the West Bank. Has Israel's show of force there led to this tendering of an olive branch by Abu Shanab (who gave his interview from Gaza, not the West Bank)?

It might have. There is no doubt that force works as a negotiating tactic. Terrorism is an example of this (how much attention was paid to the Palestinian cause before they started killing innocent people? None). But efficacy is not a moral justification, and I believe that Sharon's re-invasion of the West Bank is wrong whether or not it "works." Recent terrorist attacks suggest that it hasn't worked, but the news from Hamas is significant.

The key, though, is that Hamas seeks a meaningful gain in exchange for their offer. A return to the '67 borders is close to the end-game for Palestinians, and in this context Hamas' offer is not simply a response to Sharon's force, but an active attempt to secure the final aim of the Palestinians: a state side-by-side with Israel delineated by the 1967 borders.

Will it happen? Offers like Hamas' certainly don't hurt.

posted by Jim Somewhen | Link | Guestbook | Add Comment

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