Thursday, July 13, 2006

Welcome to 1982

Well, that little Middle East detente was nice while it lasted.

Two raids on Israeli territory by radical terrorist groups have provoked Israel into a two-front, all-but-full-scale war in Gaza and southern Lebanon. Both raids involved the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers. Hezbollah (the Lebanese group) and the radical elements of Hamas (the Gaza group) are both guilty of firing rockets into Israel, killing Israeli civilians. Furthermore, Israel's response has killed civilians on both fronts, as well as made life rather miserable for the people who live in the affected areas.

Of the two incidents that led to the current military brouhaha, the one in Gaza was the most understandable. Tensions have been rising in Gaza since the pullout; Gazans have been firing rockets into Israel's territory for quite some time, and Israel has responded in kind. Both sides have killed civilians in these attacks, it being rather difficult to tell a rocket where to land once it's fired. (The Hamas-led Palestinian Authority has inflamed this particular tension, doing nothing to stop the rocket attacks from their side and often fabricating civilian deaths in order to create an emotional response - see the family-on-the-beach incident.) Israel has increasingly isolated Gaza from the outside world, preventing the economic activity that might be the solution to the whole Palestinian problem.

As a result, it can't be said that the kidnapping of the Israeli soldier by the Hamas militants came completely out of nowhere. It was the logical next step in the escalating tensions, and understandable as simply more activity by an overzealous, if incompetent, resistance movement. It was allowed to happen because of a crippling power struggle within the Palestinian Authority that has pretty much sapped its ability to control the Gaza area.

The Gaza incident leaves Israel in somewhat of a pickle. Certainly it cannot allow cross-border raids on its land go unpunished. Furthermore, Israel can't rely on the impotent, balkanized PA to help round up the raiders - the PA's response has ranged from condemnation (Abbas) to outright encouragement (Haniyeh). But nor is Israel right in laying waste to Gaza; their current response, which has destroyed bridges and power plants, essentially punishing all Gazans for the actions of the terrorists, is disproportionately heavy-handed. The capture of the Hamas legislators and attacks on Palestinian ministries really doesn't help. Israel needs to respond to such raids firmly, but in a manner that doesn't punish the innocent; a non-violent police incursion into Gaza - no bombs, no indiscriminate gunfire, just an investigative team trying to solve a kidnapping - might have sufficed. Had that team been fired upon, they would have the right to begin escalation... but not until then.

And finally, someone needs to send the Hamas bunch a copy of "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" or something. You know, to show them how a real resistance movement conducts itself. I've said it before, and I'll say it again - you want to resist something, do it right. Indiscriminate violent attacks don't work. So stop it. Dumbass.

The second attack - by Hezbollah on Israel from the north - was completely unprovoked. Israel ended its ill-fated military presence in Lebanon almost a decade ago, and has pretty much left its northern neighbor alone since then. The attack was caused by Hezbollah's hard-on for violence, their growing marginalization since Syrian influence has begun to wane, and the presence of a convenient scapegoat. It's easier for Hezbollah to blame Israel for their shrinking influence in Lebanon than it is for them to comprehend the fact that the rest of the war-weary Lebanese are just sick of them. The incursion into Gaza gave Hezbollah the excuse they needed to launch their attack.

More challenging than explaining the Hezbollah raid, however, is measuring a response to the raid. Israel certainly cannot be blamed for wanting to strike back against an unprovoked act of aggression. But flying warplanes over Beirut? Probably not a good idea. Laying waste to southern Lebanon probably wasn't a smart move either. Blockading the entire country and bombing the airport in Beirut was just plain dumb. Israel should remember that the northern Lebanese aren't too keen on Hezbollah to begin with; diplomatic pressure on the Lebanese to divest Hezbollah of its role in the government as punishment would have probably been a better response, and it probably would have been well-received among the Lebanese Christians and Druze (and maybe even the Sunnis). The fact is that this was not yet an act of war. Had Lebanon failed to punish those who carried out the raid, it would have been; however, Israel did not give the Lebanese the time or the opportunity to act.

So what can we do now? Probably not much. We could set up negotiations between Beirut and Tel Aviv to get the full-scale war on southern Lebanon replaced with a more appropriate response, and we could issue repeated calls for everyone to calm the hell down. Outside of that, we may just have to wait for this to play itself out and help the central actors pick up the pieces afterwards. Bush was absolutely right to criticize Syria for its role in supporting Hezbollah, but I don't see how dragging yet another country into this mess would help it. What we really need is a good peace partner with ties to the Arab militants to help us calm things down. The Saudis could probably help in Gaza; however, there's only one big Shiite country that would hold any sway with the Shiite Hezbollah, and we don't really get along with them too well. If Iran helps to cool things down of their own accord, that would be great, but we're not going to be able to convince them to do so.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

America Meets World

Ben has an excellent blog post about the great news from Washington that the Bush Adminstration is going to start applying the Geneva Convention rules to the prisoners at Guantanamo. This was catalyzed by the recent Supreme Court decision ruling that the military tribunals were unconstitutional.

This is a very welcome change for the Administration. I think they may be starting to realize how much lawless places like Guantanamo hurt our image overseas and do more harm than good to the War on Terror.

As for the question of what should replace the tribunals... I'm not sure. I don't see the problem with tribunals as long as the defendants are present and can answer to the charges against them - we could model the tribunals on the Nuremberg ones that worked so well after World War II. Barring that, I think I lean towards the full court-martial option.

Also, a moment of blog-silence for the victims of the horrific bombing in Mumbai.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Sophomore Slump?

Fellow blogger Aaron Coyner recently referenced the phenomenon of the "sophomore slump" in his recent review of Three Days Grace's new album. It's a good review and I suggest reading it but it got me thinking... I don't think the "sophomore slump" exists.

The "sophomore slump" in music occurs when a band exhibits a significant fall-off of quality between their first album and their second. It's often expected from bands.

But to me, second albums aren't generally any worse than the first album. Some of the most influential albums from the past decade were sophomore efforts: Live's "Throwing Copper," Nirvana's "Nevermind," Radiohead's "The Bends." Solid, generally well-regarded sophomore efforts came from Everclear ("So Much For The Afterglow"), Alice in Chains ("Dirt"), Collective Soul (self-titled) and Rage Against the Machine ("Evil Empire"), among others. Furthermore, three of my personal top-five albums - Vertical Horizon's "Running on Ice," Guster's "Goldfly," and Sister Hazel's "...Somewhere More Familiar" - are second albums. Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Second Helping" is also near the top.

(Yes, including "Running on Ice" is a little bit dishonest since Vertical Horizon didn't really hit it big until their third album, and their fourth album was a bit of a letdown. But there's no such thing as a senior slump. Similarly, "...Somewhere More Familiar" was Sister Hazel's breakthrough album, but in that case the album that followed it, "Fortress," was no less spectacular.)

Music critics often list certain acts as proof of the existence of a "sophomore slump" - however, the critics often don't know what they're talking about. Counting Crows' "Recovering the Satellites" is every bit as good as their debut, "August and Everything After" - it's just very, very different. Similarly with Matchbox-20's "Mad Season." Other times the quality of the second album is simply overshadowed by the sheer awesomeness of the debut: "Versus" was not a bad album, but there's no way Pearl Jam could top "Ten." Similarly, Hootie and the Blowfish released a very good second album in "Fairweather Johnson," but they simply couldn't live up to the inflated expectations generated by "Cracked Rear View" (that, and "Fairweather Johnson" was a significantly different sound that was probably less friendly to rock radio).

So I don't think the sophomore slump exists. Often, it's a figment of a band changing their sound somewhat after their debut, or it's a product of unrealistic expectations generated by a spectacular first effort. A fall-off between first and second albums does occur with some bands (see: Bush, Oasis), but not any more often than later in the album sequence. In fact, I think it's more common that the second album generates more buzz than the first, and the fall-off occurs later down the road (see: Creed, Nickelback).

Any thoughts from my musicophile readership?

I Am Shaqueeter

Fun fact: the only hit produced by a Google search on the word "shaqueeter" is a PDF of the April 2002 Slant issue where, in an article written by yours truly, Jerry Falwell references Shaqueeter 8:2.

You may now return to your regularly scheduled lives, already in progress.

Also, on the soccer front... I don't condone Zizou's headbutting, but Marco Materazzi is the dumbest schmuck on the planet if he thinks anyone will buy his excuse of "I don't even know what an Islamic terrorist is." (Official consensus right now is that Materazzi said "your mother is a terrorist whore," referencing Zidane's dying mom and thus provoking the cranial assault. Kinda harsh.)

Monday, July 10, 2006

Spoiler Alert

I suppose that in a World Cup beset by diving and horrible refereeing, it's somewhat appropriate that the Italians - masters of the dive - won. Seriously, I think I saw Greg Louganis celebrating in a blue jersey on the sideline after the game ended.

Also, one wonders - will head-butting now become an acceptable form of conflict resolution among the French? I sincerely hope so, since that would make any future trip to France that much more entertaining. Rude waiter? Head-butt his ass into the escargot.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Happy Fourth

I would write a whole blog entry here, but why do so when E.J. Dionne has already said everything I wanted to say?

The constant struggle to live up to our high ideals is the glory of our great nation. So here's to 230 years of trying to form a more perfect union, and here's to 230 more.


Monday, July 03, 2006

Calm Down, Idiots

So let me get this straight. Palestinians fire rockets into Israel. Israel fires rockets into Gaza. Palestinians kidnap an Israeli soldier and demand the release of 1,000 prisoners (some political prisoners, some homicidal maniacs). Israel asks the Palestinian government to help find the criminals. The Palestinian government, for reasons that will never be known to anyone with a brain, refuses. Israel responds by kidnapping half the Palestinian government and invading Gaza, cutting off power and food supplies in the process. Also, they destroyed the prime minister's office. The maniacs who took the soldier are trying to blame Israel for his imminent doom. Israel is blaming Palestinian terrorists for the havoc being wrought on Gaza right now.

You know what Israel/Palestine needs? A giant joint. Seriously. Let's have our army roll up a half-mile-long joint (we can ask for donations for the main ingredient in exchange for immunity from future drug charges), light it up, and air-drop it over Gaza. We can drop another one on the Jerusalem area. Personally, I'd rather deal with ten million cases of the munchies than more militaristic stupidity.