that is,

a shout-out on the interstices of music, food, life, and more

14 November 2007

Long weeks and Long days

To those who might be checking this out after a protracted absence, I truly am going to try and maintain something of a blog. The purpose of writing is twofold -- to share with you, dear reader, the daily folds and wrinkles of life as happens here in Damascus and to keep my own record that I can refer to in the future when my sieve of a brain has gotten the best of me. Accountability!

What better place to (re)start than laughing at myself? In my earlier posts I talked about finding a place to live... this place has totally worked out and I've just started taking advantage of the sizable terrace to enjoy morning workouts. Delightful, refreshing, invigorating, and with at least two sets of neighbors' eyes curiously wondering what that asian girl is doing as she swing her legs around in an armada, dips down for a mealua de campaso, and stretches out in a handstand. I tried out some kata as well and ran through drem exercise, remembering just last September when I What I think the neighbors didn't see me do was LOCK MYSELF OUT! Oi, a sweet morning buzz turns into smoke signals!

My roommate was sight unseen and all of a sudden I wished for those friendly (I hope) neighborly eyes that might send Damascus' best firefighters out to rescue the foreigner. Haha. I tinkered with the stubborn door, jammed my thumb in the other patio door, and banged my head against the window.... the window! Sure enough, the screen slid back easily and the glass slid back just as easily. Whew... I clambered through the kitchen, watered the plants, and went back outside to stretch a little before calling it a morning.

Foibles aside, I've settled into a good rhythm here. Why not begin with yesterday? I'm translating a proposal on "Trauma and Music in Beirut" from English to Arabic and spent a chunk of the morning inputting the edits that my tutor and I reviewed yesterday. Private lessons with Dalalah have been quite excellent and highly recommended to those engaged in the lifelong pursuit of acquiring Arabic. We meet for six hours a week and the personalized, integrated curriculum includes articles on the role of culture (artistic, traditional, popular in music and dance) in Syria and in the greater Arab world. We've watched documentaries from Al-Jazeera's documentary channel, and my favorite is translating songs like Fares Karam's current billboard chart "Khetyar Al Akkaze"...yow! what a song! I hear it everywhere now. I'll elaborate on its smart lyrics in a future post about gender relations and masculinity in public spaces (hint, hint, check back soon)...

Next I spent two hours in the library of IFPO -- Institut Francais Proche-Orient -- which is more or less the main portal for academics working in Syria. More translation work, this time a chapter on dabke from a book on Syrian folklore published in 1987. Ironically enough I didn't actually retrieve the book from IFPO's holdings, rather, a friend of a friend offered his autographed copy for temporary loan when he heard of my interest in dabke traditions... perhaps an example of the chance nature of encounter during ethnographic fieldwork? The text is actually quite lovely in that it offers descriptions of regional styles and raises questions about the distinction between a unified Syrian cultural form and regional variation. Or, to quote from p261:هل دبك هو الدنك و دبكة هي الدبكة؟
Though trite and perhaps oversimplified, this question remains current if we think about Bab Al-Hara, the melodramatic miniseries that aired during Ramadan and portrayed an early twentieth century era when "a man was a man." Again, many thoughts to table for the moment

Next I grabbed a quick falafel and carrot juice (total value USD 1) for lunch, tried to pick up a pair of jeans that were being hemmed but apparently not ready due to electricity outages, and headed out to the suburbs. Every Tuesday afternoon I visit with two families and work with the kids on English lessons. The families both arrived from Baghdad about a year or so ago and the kids are trying to keep afloat in their elementary school classes in which they are placed according to age rather than level. This is not as problematic as it could be, but they definitely benefit from unadultered attention and I benefit from feel-good work that builds networks of intimacy. What kind of intimacy? Yesterday the kids were rather hyper so after helping M. prepare for his test on possessive pronouns, we started doing cartwheels, handstands, and bridges all throughout the apartment. The family is incredibly gifted in terms of gymnastic flexibility and the kids used to take classes at a sports club in Baghdad. And it definitely all comes from their high-spirited mom, who after three children is as flexible as a newborn child. They insisted I show them some capoeira moves and Lotus kata forms, which of course I obliged!

I headed out several hours later, grabbing some fresh samoon as I do every Tuesday, and met up with a friend visiting from Hama (city in a mountainous region north of Damascus). We had met several weeks ago at a gathering of American and Syrian twenty-somethings interested in exchange and he encouraged me to try to see some dabke in Hama. Unfortunately these plans didn't quite work out but dinner was simply lovely... especially when our conversation ended on how obsessed our families are with Costco! (Dad, take note.. Costco may be a more universal phenomenon than Starbucks).

A quick note on the venue: La Casa is my new favorite restaurant in Damascus. Its perfect anytime of day or night-- the fastest free wireless in the city and quality espresso make for a good morning. Daily lunch specials of homecooked Syrian cuisine are attractive. Moreover, when I informed our server that I'm lactose-intolerant and not interested in the cream (that burdens nearly every dish) they offered a special fish entree that was splendid. Grilled white fish topped with a spicy (hard to find here!) heated tomato relish popping with bakdonis (parsley), filfil (bell peppers), and more. And the ambience is relentlessly charming as the multiple rooms are fashioned after all that a house contains-- a sidewalk patio, outside terrace, salon, bedroom, bathroom, kitchen -- and a playful change from the Old City's restored spaces.

After dinner, my friend had to head back to Hama and avoid evening traffic, so I went over to Dar Al-Assad, the opera house, to catch a dance performance. The cultural life of this city is ideal for a culture vulture like myself. Whereas last week featured the annual Damascus Film Festival, this week features Meeting Points 5, a contemporary arts festival that speaks for itself (see future posts). This evening presented a solo dance by an artist from Tunisia. Unfortunately we left less-than-impressed with the choreography and the performance. I hesitate to elaborate too much on a critical review of the show, except to say that there was neither one element that eclipsed others (such as narrative, technique, gestures, interplay between music and movement) nor a distinct aesthetic that emerged. Perhaps I learned more about my own aesthetics... (NB: on the other hand, last night's performance by a Brazilian modern dance company, Grupo de Rua de Niteroi, was stunning and provoked much discussion... more later).

The evening ended quietly with tea and chocolate at a nearby cafe and I came home to prep for the next day.

17 October 2007

a great birthday

thanks to everyone for birthday kisses blown from every direction... i felt like a very lucky gal, especially among those who gathered in person to help me celebrate...

09 October 2007

A Pilgrimage to Sadad

For three years now, close friends have insisted that I join them for a respite in their place of origin, a Syriac Orthodox village that is twice named as Sadad in the Bible. Though several Damascenes did not recognize the name of the village when I told them where I was going, it seemed to me that everyone should know about this place that maintains, with nary an investment in cultural heritage, persistent links to its biblical legacy. For instance, my hosts claim to be of Sadad-- both husband and wife were born in the village and can attest to kinship structures that maintain the purity of their ethnic-religious identity. As they tell it, each generation has been born in Sadad. My girlfriend laughed when I told her I was the complete opposite-- a cocktail of persons from different regions and ethnicities in China who immigrated to North and South America (south Caribbean coastline) in the late nineteenth century, not to mention blends of Eastern Europeans who disembarked in Beantown, Mass. about a century ago. Nevertheless, I was recognized by my hosts as a person of the Book, e.g. one of Sammi linguistic descent, and, assuming that I therefore possess intrinsic interest in related matters, they proceeded to identify for me precisely where Sadad appears in the Arabic-language Bible.

I had first heard of Sadad back when we met in 2004 and got a sense of the community when they showed me pictures of their wedding. It truly was a hafla to remember -- more than 1,000 guests with music and dancing until the wee hours of the morning. I had tried to visit Saddad that summer but was held up in Beirut at the time, so it was with great anticipation that I met my friend at Sahat Bab Touma (the Christian area of the Old City). Saddad proved to be well worth the wait -- we settled back comfortably in his newly financed Ford sedan and cruised for an hour or so until we sighted the entrance to the town. Fruit trees -- riman (pomegranate), tin (fig), and mishmish (apricot) dangled over the road with ripe fruit hanging with temptation, making me wonder how Eve was ever seduced by the apple when she had so many other delicacies to nibble on. N. pulled over to the right and showed me a sed, or natural reservoir, that served as the source of water and the cause celebre of Saddad's inhabitance since time immortal. About fifty years ago, the sed dried up and the town began to use another reservoir that continues to supply water and fish (farm-stocked by the Ministry of Agriculture). Yet inexplicably, the water came back this year and now this mythical sed is filled with about 5 feet of water and at least twice as much green algae.

We continued on and N. pointed out all that was "very old," a qualifier which, laughingly, turned into a leitmotif for the weekend. I wasn't able to get a handle on exactly what "very old" could mean in terms of different phases of housing but several of the fourteen churches date back to 1100 AD. Each church is named after a different saint and that evening, during the Festival of St. Sarkis and St. Bakhos which falls on the fourth Sunday after the Festival of the Holy Cross, we visited three of them. I wasn't sure what to expect in terms of a festival, but there was no centralized celebration, ritual gathering of community, or formal preparations (dress, food, etc.). Rather, old and young began to visit churches after sunset and made individual prayers at each altar. Greetings were exchanged communally and people inquired about each other's health, families, and jobs. I was introduced as a close friend (rafeeqa) of both N. and J. from America, and was received warmly with many a handshake. The interior of the churches differed remarkably in just the three that we visited. Due to construction, Mar Girgis (St. Georges) was closed to the public but we picked up a key prior to entry and I was informed that J's grandmother was the guardian of this key until she passed away several years ago, a role that afforded her intimate knowledge of many community relations ;-). This church is known in Saddad for its chandeliers and of the many that hung from the ceiling, one corner chandelier in particular dates back to centuries ago. While paintings on the rear walls of the church had been restored as of four years ago, those on the front walls also bore testimony to the passing of time. As well, R. showed me the baptism chamberpot that has been in use for something like 800 years, up to and including the baptism of both N. and his 3 y.o. daughter. "very old?" "very old."

The two other churches that we visited were linked to the festival -- the very old Mar Bakhos, that is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Set down into the earthground level with a low ceiling, it was rather scant of ornament, decoration, and lavish investment, and beloved because of this simplicity. Across the street, the main church (Mar Sarkis) was preoccupied with the festive gathering of a youth group (mixed boys and girls of high school age), but we had a chance to look briefly at, you guessed it, more and more ancient paintings. Like in the other churches, the paintings were inscribed with Aramaic, which is still spoken in this town -- although at the present moment, it's understand as a passive language by the older generation rather than an active language by all generations as in Maaloula, a nearby town that's also Syriac Orthodox and on the verge of becoming a household name in the States ("The Bread of Angels" by Stephanie Saldana).

The rest of the evening was filled with the restive activities of weekends in the village -- casual, relaxed conversation punctuated by meals, coffee, and evening walks. I was shown to my bed at 7:30pm, (laughing to myself that this was the same time that the 3 y.o. was being put to bed) but one thing led to another and I finally retired from my hosts at about 1:30am, having fully renewed our friendships.

The next morning came quickly and by noon, we were headed back to Damascus.
But not empty-handed! I fell hard for a certain mezze dish of Sham called makdous, or stuffed eggplant. R. carefully explained to me how she makes this preserved concoction over the course of four days, once a year in the middle of September (about two weeks earlier). The stuffing is attacked first, and this particular variation had red peppers (sweet and hot), almonds, and tomatoes as well as salt, pepper and garlic. These are laid out in the sun to dry for two days. Meanwhile, 30kg of baby eggplants are prepared by salting, soaking, and smushing before also being put in the sun to dry. On the fourth day, the eggplants are split open and stuffed, then stacked thickly in jars with olive oil. Absolutely delicious!

I also became acquainted with a variety of cheese distinct to this region of Homs -- the shanklish. It's basically fermented goat cheese that's rolled in zaatar, itself a very popular spice blend of thyme, sumac, and sesame that one finds all over the region as a topping in all sorts of dishes. Aged about two years, shanklish is as moldy and strong as Danish blue cheese and is excellent when paired with bites of makdoush, or with khubz and a pat of butter. This is certainly the land of finger food!

My lovely hosts also showed me how they make their own araq, and when my Syrian Arabic dialect is good enough, I hope to post the how-to video that we shot in their basement cellar.

My other obsession this weekend was with the construction of houses. New houses, such as the one that houses their barrels of araq, are made from concrete which is a bustling and live industry across the greater region of Syria and Lebanon. What I was primarily interested in, however, was the roofing. Why? According to popular narratives, the dabke (footstomp) dance originated from the communal gathering of village dwellers to make the material for roofs. The sharp, heavy attacks of the footwork are attributed to the stomping of men (and women during wedding parties) as they prepare mud for year-long protection and insulation. I saw several "very old" houses, no longer inhabited of course, that featured this kind of material and design which is associated with rural life. A. took me on several tours to see other roofs which were supported by akhshaab, or criss-crossed wood planks, set in with concrete, as well as small strips of branches bundled together for garden roofing. Each property also featured outside gathering areas covered overhead by latticework that was gracefully draped with grapevines.

03 October 2007

Shaabi or Expat? From Jdid El Artouz to Sha'alan

The apartment search... one always hopes to recognize "the find" within the first set of viewings and lucky are we to have found a geminite place. Located in the metropolitan hub of Damascus, Sha'alan, this apartment was released to the market earlier this morning by its former occupant, a BBC journalist. I'll post pictures once we move in but suffice to say it's got everything one could hope for, including a reasonable landlord who took USD 100 off her first asking price without much hassle or negotiation (bargaining strategy #1: the puppy dog eyes of two young female students...) It's equipped with new appliances (stove, fridge, microwave, washing machine, and water cooler) in a kitchen that's not only big enough to prepare for a dinner party but that invites light at any time of day. The salon offers a workspace and new sofas that rest in front of a TV equipped with satellite (standard here, and excellent to practice al-Jazeera Arabic and soap opera Syrian Arabic). The bedrooms are both huge, fully furnished with mirrors, cabinets, nightstands, et al. (far above the standards of any other room I've seen) and distinguished only by the size of windows. A Western-style bathroom.. and did I mention the terrace?!!! gleefully gorgeous, overlooking the cafes and nightlife of Sha'alan and already outfitted with a trim array of plants and greenery. Haram! I'm still trying to catch my breath from this steal!

Returning home to Jdid El Artouz, the suburb that has offered harbor while I look for a place, I did become somewhat wistful of leaving a "real" domestic environment. By this of course I mean local chickpea stands (literally the legumes themselves, washed, salted, and soaked for cooking) and Iraqi samoon stalls (delicious freshly baked bread that bubbles in the brick oven before settling into a round flatbread that's somewhat thicker from the standard Levantine khubz flatbread; comes in a variety of shapes, including a quadrangle (some say oval) shape topped with sesame seeds, of which I picked up two for dinner). And, I suppose, "real" means shaabi, or popular and with the people. I always like to travel deep -- in Chicago, New York, and Spokane as well as Syria -- and brush shoulders, exchange quips, and tour those streets that invite intimacy, however public such may be. Also, Jdid El Artouz is "normal" by which I mean that one leaves behind the airs of a big city such as Damascus. Transactions with shopowners, teens in an internet cafe, etc. are straightforward and helpful without the aggression or attitude that may characterize urban life.

At the same time, people are not curious about me and my presence in this suburb in the same way that people regularly ask about my nationality and ethnic origins in Damascus. Rather, some shopkeepers made it clear that they would prefer for me to pay for my yogurt and leave promptly after our transaction. I could speculate on several reasons for this coldness but ultimately I'm not sure how to interpret my outsider status and the ways in which it's negotiated by our exchange. Jdid El Artouz, so my host tells me, is a very open and mixed middle-class neighborhood in terms of religion and I've seen women walking around alone and unveiled with some frequency (mostly during the daytime), as well as kids playing, older men chatting and taking coffee on terraces and in front of shops, teens hanging together in front of mobile phone shops. Perhaps people wish to preserve that which I'm appreciating right now... and in the face of recent, rapid socio-economic transformation in Syrian society, I wish I could join them.

How did I end up in Jdid El Artouz? Most Damascenes do a doubletake when they hear that I'm staying so far outside the city as this is quite an unusual arrangement not only for a foreigner but for anyone who conducts regular business in the city. When I first arrived here in Damascus on Sept 23, I took a hotel because I simply did not have much time to arrange details when I was trying to leave the States. After signing up for a mobile phone line with Syria's alternate phone company (MTN), I contacted some twenty-something folks (thanks to a good friend in Lebanon) and asked if they knew of any available rooms. One generous soul replied with a better offer -- to stay at his place until I found my own. So here I've been, crashing in this sculptor's studio for several days... I'll certainly miss my time in this creative, earthy space and treasure the friendship that's emerged from our time together. But one must move on... my big thanks to you know who you are!

Ramadan Karim! Damascus and Beirut, a year or so later

This first week has been a flurry of catching up with old friends, apartment hunting, orientation sessions, as well as walking around Damascus and Beirut and letting one layer of memories tease another layer out. I'm far from settling in (didn't sleep in the same bed twice for the first ten days or so...) and have held back from blogging because it turns out to be quite difficult to reclaim oneself from the dizzy state of disorientation that threatens to overwhelm any prior experience of being in the region.

More or less, I"ve been picking up my broken Arabic again, figuring out how to get from A to Z and not realizing it will take an hour longer than planned for, remembering the Olympic sport of "egress" in Damascene public transport (eg getting in and out of microbuses), learning to tune out the constant blare of horns by irritated drivers (this might never become habituated), constantly reminding myself to drink more water, foregoing showers after I forget to turn on the electric water heater, constantly eyeing internet cafes for a wireless connection that has yet to function properly, navigating the Ramadan schedule (more on this below).

I also wondered whether to organize this blog by daily life -- from one day to the next -- or thematically by impressions? Today we begin with the latter:

As I discovered with NYC several years ago, one of the best ways to intimate oneself with a city is to look for housing. And to permit one's instinct to dictate whether one prefers one neighborhood over another, even if the preference is based on superficial impressions and general cluelessness. Finding shelter is more important than withholding judgment!!

So I've decided that I'd love to live in the neighborhood of Afif, also close to Muhajireen. Why here? It's nestled against Mount Kassiyoun and the streets rise steeply from the main drag of Muhajireen, which curves around the mountain's slope. One can also ascend majestically up the stone pedestrian staircases. It's bustling with storefronts that service the local middle-class residents, from fresh produce stands and bodegas to shawarma stalls, pizza huts, and barber/salons. These appear to be mostly services and products for a Syrian-Arab population -- as opposed to Somalian, Nigerian, Malay, Iraqi, Yemeni, Circassian, Armenian, and many other ethno-linguistic minorities that live in greater Damascus. I did notice a sign in Chinese as I passed by service ("ser-vees" a public mini-bus) today but the shop was closed due to Ramadan so perhaps I'll return to check it out.

The shops are tucked into each other with a physical intimacy that differs from, say, Abu Roumanneh or Sahat Maalki which feature tall apartment buildings with extensive roof terraces that border wide, tree-lined avenues. There is an absence of modern sidewalk cafes that one finds in Sha'alan, a destination neighborhood for cosmopolitan youth and emerging entrepreneurs (and expats!). But these neighborhoods are only five minutes away by taxi, or a nice 15-min walk.

I'd looked at two places in Muhajireen last week and been somewhat taken by them. The first was a room in a "beit arabi" or traditional Syrian house that features an inner courtyard with bedrooms, matbakh (kitchen), and hamam (bath) set off from the courtyard, which may feature a fountain or garden that offers shade, respite, and a space to gather. These kinds of residences are normally associated with the "old city" neighborhoods of most Middle Eastern cities. This charming "beit arabi" was all the more charming as several friends who graduated from the Institute of Fine Arts five years ago established an artist's colony and rehabilitated many of its exterior features... oh so bohemian! But a little too much so, as they said that there were still several repairs to be done and I know that I'd prefer a fully functional kitchen (being mostly vegetarian in Damascus is not easily maintained). Also I'm a bit nervous about the winter in Damascus -- supposedly it's very drafty and cold -- and the traditional houses are built to resist summer heat through natural ventilation.

The second place I saw through a local broker. Finding the broker was a small story in itself, a typical "adventure" of a newcomer trying to use her broken Arabic to get around. I arranged an appointment by mobile in Arabic but couldn't understand the exact location of the office, so I hailed a taxi and, as suggested by the broker, called him again. The phone was handed directly to the taxi driver who delivered me promptly to the destination in Muhajireen. I then met with the landlord of the 2-bd flat and he showed me all the features of the residence. Souffage heating (a must in any apartment worth its salt!), one electrical outlet per bedroom, a salon with satellite TV, a Western-style toilet and bathroom (though the tub was about 3/4 size?!), and a large kitchen that overlooks a small garden. I could imagine quiet mornings with coffee... that then proceed out to the cozy strip of Muhajireen where I would catch a service and get caught up in the constant bustle of urban Damascus. Very nice!

But what really clinched my intrigue with this neighborhood was a small exchange today. It's Ramadan in Damascus -- a statement that means nothing and everything. Certainly our daily lives are structured around the setting of the sun and the streets empty out at 6pm as everyone gathers in homes for iftar, the meal that breaks the Ramadan fast. Before iftar, one can purchase all sorts of seasonal sweets and pastries, most of which appear to be a variation of dates, date paste, date syrup, date juice, et al. I was en route to Bab Touma at about 6pm today and asked a woman on the street how I might get to the Christian area by service (all in Arabic of course!) This led to an extensive conversation about which routes were best, where we lived, and how to navigate the city. Meanwhile all the taxis that passed by us were full with passengers and a service refused to show up, so we continued to chat a bit. Finally, we ended up in the same service (to her surprise, as she had claimed that the service I was looking for didn't pass by this intersection). The service climbed up the hill casually and stopped to let off a few passengers, let on some more. We passed by a large mosque next to a shawarma stand that was starting to line up with customers. Men were stepping outside of the mosque door, putting on their shoes, while other men passed by with a large bag of round, flat bread (khubz) resting over the right lower arm. And then, I caught a whiff of hot dates (tammar). "Hajj, b'fadhali!" An affable elder (affectionately called "hajj" in public) held a tray of bite-size pastries -- just enough bite to break the fast -- and passed them to each of us passengers in the service. Mmm.. hot and fresh maamoul and croissant dough! The woman and I looked at each other... "Ramadan Karim!" and she departed with a friendly, crinkly smile for me, and I in return.

16 August 2006

chicago says i love beirut

ukrainian village

promontory point,
hyde park

I-90, bridgeport

river west


14 August 2006

before // during // after?

the corniche,
May 2006

snapped en route to rehearsal.

the corniche,
August 2006

Lebanese men playing cards on a rock at the Mediterranean sea off the Corniche in Beirut.
With a population tempered by long years of conflict, many people try to continue with their lives as normal, despite the current uncertainty in the country. @

current arts projects

here's a couple of long overdue links:

1. saturday's "global webjam" gathering of self-identified lebanese intellectuals in their watering hole ('de prague' in hamra, beirut):

2. "from beirut to... those who love us" a video letter. personal highlight is rima khcheich, who opens the letter with her singing.. last april, she gave one of the best concerts in the past year. i was in bliss, also from tony underwater's taqasim on upright bass. she also has new CD out, yalalalli (released at the concert). live performances better than the recording. and there's a second (newer) video letter, "deadtime" on the same page.

3. ethnomusicologist ted swedenberg dedicated a night of radio programming (broadcast out of arkansas) to lebanon... check out his playlist. i think he spent part of his childhood in beirut?


hersh strikes again

While not the sensational(ist) expose of his abu ghraib article, Seymour Hersh publishes a piece in this week's new yorker that builds on the investigative journalism in san francisco chronicle/guardian/the hindu (see previous posts), et al. concerning the degree of preparation behind idf's "operation just reward." hersh links preparedness to the bush hooligans' interest in the war, a 'new middle east,' and specifically air force operations.

Hersh does not reify these into a great conspiracy theory. In fact, he's very careful to note that basically noone really knew what an other was doing or when the act might occur (israel, bush administration, halutz, nasrallah, ahmadinejad, rummy, et al.). but critical support was gathered... hence cheney knew from the outset that israel needed 35 days to complete the operation, once it started.

For me, the article explains why mainstream media currents (WSJ, Newsweek, Time, Fox, CNN, NY Times) consistently objectify Lebanon as a catalyst for Bush administration geopolitics in this war. Because Cheney really wanted to see how things would go in Lebanon as practice for Iran. Lebanon really is the punching bag of the Middle East! But I think I didn't quite realize how much Lebanon is also the punching bag of the White House.

It sickens me that as American media consumers, we are constantly fed these stories about the interconnectedness of Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas when really this is the view from the White House that doesn't match reality on the ground. What a sick game to be caught up in. It makes the scholar's transgression of Orientalism look like child's play. Just go peruse the last four weeks of WSJ op-eds and you'll see my point.

None of this is new. None at all. But the exacting level of detail corroborates our earliest suspicions (e.g. why the u.s. wasn't moving very fast to evacuate its nationals) and disgusts me at new levels. No degree of hyperbole is enough to express.... anyways, it's 7am and I haven't gone to sleep yet... ears still ringing from dancehall at a's goodbye party, where we bid her off to cairo for the year...

highlights for me:
- parallels with kosovo (which explains olmert's press comments about two weeks ago)
- callousness of cheney
- Hersh in a followup interview: "Nobody digs like the Iranians. The Persians have been digging holes since the 11th century."


pushing the anti-semitic button:

Postwar self test: Are you an anti-Semite? (Haaretz)
By Bradley Burston

[scroll down for my answers]

One of the more fruitless debates between critics and supporters of Israel, is where to draw the line between candid criticism of Israeli policy, and anti-Semitism.

As a public service, we present the following post war self-test, to assist readers in placing themselves along the continuum which stretches from taking rational issue with Israeli policy, and ends in Jew-hate.

1. There is only one neighborhood grocery store [makolet] still operating in the Katyusha-shredded northern town of Kiryat Shmona. Up from the bomb shelters during a lull in attacks, shoppers seeking milk, bread, infant formula and other staples, congregate outside the grocery, waiting to enter.

A Hezbollah rocket attack on the crowd is:

A. Morally indefensible. Israel is careful to bomb only Hezbollah targets, many of which the organization regrettably locates among civilians, who are thus forced to act as human shields.

B. Wrong, if understandable in the context of guerilla warfare. Both sides should make every effort to keep non-combatants from being hurt.

C. Heroic. An example of self-defense. The rockets, a relative slingshot compared to the Israel's Goliath-scale arsenal, cause negligible damage in comparison to the slaughter which Israeli has inflicted in massacre after massacre from air, land and sea. Moreover, there are no non-combatants in Israel. Every infant is a potential soldier, women serve in the army, even the handicapped and elderly volunteer for service in the armed forces.


2. You are handsome, famous and inebriated when you are stopped driving in Malibu, California by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Dept. Suspecting the arresting officer of Judaism, you consider informing him that "The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world."

You would take this course of action:

A. Over your dead body.
B Only after 6-8 drinks.
C Cold sober.


3. You are CNN. When Lebanese civilians are killed, injured or rendered homeless in Israeli air strikes, you identify the victims as Lebanese civilians and elaborate on their suffering. When Israeli civilians are killed in Hezbollah rocket attacks, you should:

A. Identify them as Israeli civilians and elaborate on their suffering.
B. Identify them as Israelis, thus calling into question whether they are civilians.
C. Omit them, and elaborate on the suffering of Lebanese civilians.


4. The Jewish lobby in the United States:

A. Represents Israel's interests as pro-Arab lobbyists represent theirs.
B. Crosses the line at times, but serves a legitimate role.
C. Runs everything.


5. Jostein Gaarder, author of the book "Sophie's World," last week sparked a storm in his native Norway by writing, in the context of IDF operations in Lebanon, that Israel had lost its right to exist.

Referring to the killing of Lebanese children, Gaarder said "We note that many Israelis celebrate such triumphs like they once cheered the scourges of the Lord as 'fitting punishment' for the people of Egypt."

Gaarder also wrote that the first Zionist terrorists started operating in the days of Jesus.

The proper response to Gaarder is:

A. Condemn him, to the point of boycott.
B. Encourage rational debate on the issues he raises, bearing in mind his subsequent statement saying that he was misunderstood.
C. Applaud him for braving the media's censorship of honest discussion of Israel and its supporters.


6. The Jewish people

A. Have a right to a state of their own in the Holy Land.
B. Have a right to an independent state alongside Palestine
C. Have no inherent right to a state, nor an inherent right to reside in Palestine.


7. You are watching BBC coverage of the Israeli military reading Guardian coverage of the Israeli military. Your blood pressure:

A. Goes through the roof. The aneurism light is on.
B. Is unchanged.
C. Improves.


8. Rising gasoline prices are a result of:

A. Oil industry profiteering, global warming, and growing consumption in the U.S., China, and elsewhere.
B. War and political instability in the Middle East.
C The actions of Israel and its supporters.


9.Israel's actions in Lebanon were:

A. Expressions of self-defense.
B. Misguided expressions of self-defense.
C. Worse than the Nazis.


10. When Iranian President Ahmadinejad calls the Holocaust a myth and says that Israel should be erased from the map he:

A. Should be taken seriously, as Hitler's Mein Kampf should have been,
B. Should be viewed as a demagogue, exploiting and inciting Muslim anger at Israel.
C. Saying what millions of people honestly believe, and with good reason.


To Rate Yourself:

Score 10 Points for every answer A.
Score 20 Points for every answer B.
Score 30 points for every answer C.

If you scored between 100-150:

You are not an anti-Semite, though you may have some issues with Arabs.

If you scored between 150-220

You are not an anti-Semite, though some to your right may call you one.

If you scored between 230-300

Just because you don't think of yourself as a flaming anti-Semite ...

Score: 180

True to my Libra self, I can see many perspectives...

11 August 2006


Can we begin breathing now?------------------
(and the cynic inside me asks, we were here a week ago, is this deja vu?)


Friday, August 11, 2006; 4:26 PM

The Security Council, PP1. Recalling all its previous resolutions on Lebanon, in particular resolutions 425 (1978), 426 (1978), 520 (1982), 1559 (2004), 1655 (2006) 1680 (2006) and 1697 (2006), as well as the statements of its President on the situation in Lebanon, in particular the statements of 18 June 2000 (S/PRST/2000/21), of 19 October 2004 (S/PRST/2004/36), of 4 May 2005 (S/PRST/2005/17) of 23 January 2006 (S/PRST/2006/3) and of 30 July 2006 (S/PRST/2006/35),

PP2. Expressing its utmost concern at the continuing escalation of hostilities in Lebanon and in Israel since Hizbollah's attack on Israel on 12 July 2006, which has already caused hundreds of deaths and injuries on both sides, extensive damage to civilian infrastructure and hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons,

PP3. Emphasizing the need for an end of violence, but at the same time emphasizing the need to address urgently the causes that have given rise to the current crisis, including by the unconditional release of the abducted Israeli soldiers,

PP4: Mindful of the sensitivity of the issue of prisoners and encouraging the efforts aimed at urgently settling the issue of the Lebanese prisoners detained in Israel,

PP5. Welcoming the efforts of the Lebanese Prime Minister and the commitment of the government of Lebanon, in its seven-point plan, to extend its authority over its territory, through its own legitimate armed forces, such that there will be no weapons without the consent of the government of Lebanon and no authority other than that of the government of Lebanon, welcoming also its commitment to a UN force that is supplemented and enhanced in numbers, equipment, mandate and scope of operation, and bearing in mind its request in this plan for an immediate withdrawal of the Israeli forces from Southern Lebanon,

PP6. Determined to act for this withdrawal to happen at the earliest,

PP7. Taking due note of the proposals made in the seven-point plan regarding the Shebaa farms area,

PP8. Welcoming the unanimous decision by the government of Lebanon on 7 August 2006 to deploy a Lebanese armed force of 15,000 troops in South Lebanon as the Israeli army withdraws behind the Blue Line and to request the assistance of additional forces from UNIFIL as needed, to facilitate the entry of the Lebanese armed forces into the region and to restate its intention to strengthen the Lebanese armed forces with material as needed to enable it to perform its duties,

PP9. Aware of its responsibilities to help secure a permanent ceasefire and a long-term solution to the conflict,

PP10. Determining that the situation in Lebanon constitutes a threat to international peace and security,

OP1. Calls for a full cessation of hostilities based upon, in particular, the immediate cessation by Hizbollah of all attacks and the immediate cessation by Israel of all offensive military operations;

OP2. Upon full cessation of hostilities, calls upon the government of Lebanon and UNIFIL as authorized by paragraph 11 to deploy their forces together throughout the South and calls upon the government of Israel, as that deployment begins, to withdraw all of its forces from Southern Lebanon in parallel;

OP3. Emphasizes the importance of the extension of the control of the government of Lebanon over all Lebanese territory in accordance with the provisions of resolution 1559 (2004) and resolution 1680 (2006), and of the relevant provisions of the Taif Accords, for it to exercise its full sovereignty, so that there will be no weapons without the consent of the government of Lebanon and no authority other than that of the government of Lebanon;

OP4. Reiterates its strong support for full respect for the Blue Line;

OP5. Also reiterates its strong support, as recalled in all its previous relevant resolutions, for the territorial integrity, sovereignty and political independence of Lebanon within its internationally recognized borders, as contemplated by the Israeli-Lebanese General Armistice Agreement of 23 March 1949;

OP6. Calls on the international community to take immediate steps to extend its financial and humanitarian assistance to the Lebanese people, including through facilitating the safe return of displaced persons and, under the authority of the Government of Lebanon, reopening airports and harbours, consistent with paragraphs 14 and 15, and calls on it also to consider further assistance in the future to contribute to the reconstruction and development of Lebanon;

OP7. Affirms that all parties are responsible for ensuring that no action is taken contrary to paragraph 1 that might adversely affect the search for a long-term solution, humanitarian access to civilian populations, including safe passage for humanitarian convoys, or the voluntary and safe return of displaced persons, and calls on all parties to comply with this responsibility and to cooperate with the Security Council;

OP8. Calls for Israel and Lebanon to support a permanent ceasefire and a long-term solution based on the following principles and elements:

- full respect for the Blue Line by both parties,

- security arrangements to prevent the resumption of hostilities, including the establishment between the Blue Line and the Litani river of an area free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the government of Lebanon and of UNIFIL as authorized in paragraph 11, deployed in this area,

- full implementation of the relevant provisions of the Taif Accords, and of resolutions 1559 (2004) and 1680 (2006), that require the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon, so that, pursuant to the Lebanese cabinet decision of July 27, 2006, there will be no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than that of the Lebanese state,

- no foreign forces in Lebanon without the consent of its government,

- no sales or supply of arms and related materiel to Lebanon except as authorized by its government,

- provision to the United Nations of all remaining maps of land mines in Lebanon in Israel's possession;

OP9. Invites the Secretary General to support efforts to secure as soon as possible agreements in principle from the Government of Lebanon and the Government of Israel to the principles and elements for a long-term solution as set forth in paragraph 8, and expresses its intention to be actively involved;

OP10. Requests the Secretary General to develop, in liaison with relevant international actors and the concerned parties, proposals to implement the relevant provisions of the Taif Accords, and resolutions 1559 (2004) and 1680 (2006), including disarmament, and for delineation of the international borders of Lebanon, especially in those areas where the border is disputed or uncertain, including by dealing with the Shebaa farms area, and to present to the Security Council those proposals within thirty days;

OP11. Decides, in order to supplement and enhance the force in numbers, equipment, mandate and scope of operations, to authorize an increase in the force strength of UNIFIL to a maximum of 15,000 troops, and that the force shall, in addition to carrying out its mandate under resolutions 425 and 426 (1978):

a. Monitor the cessation of hostilities;

b. Accompany and support the Lebanese armed forces as they deploy throughout the South, including along the Blue Line, as Israel withdraws its armed forces from Lebanon as provided in paragraph 2;

c. Coordinate its activities related to paragraph 11 (b) with the Government of Lebanon and the Government of Israel;

d. Extend its assistance to help ensure humanitarian access to civilian populations and the voluntary and safe return of displaced persons;

e. Assist the Lebanese armed forces in taking steps towards the establishment of the area as referred to in paragraph 8;

f. Assist the government of Lebanon, at its request, to implement paragraph 14;

OP12. Acting in support of a request from the government of Lebanon to deploy an international force to assist it to exercise its authority throughout the territory, authorizes UNIFIL to take all necessary action in areas of deployment of its forces and as it deems within its capabilities, to ensure that its area of operations is not utilized for hostile activities of any kind, to resist attempts by forceful means to prevent it from discharging its duties under the mandate of the Security Council, and to protect United Nations personnel, facilities, installations and equipment, ensure the security and freedom of movement of United Nations personnel, humanitarian workers, and, without prejudice to the responsibility of the government of Lebanon, to protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence;

OP13. Requests the Secretary General urgently to put in place measures to ensure UNIFIL is able to carry out the functions envisaged in this resolution, urges Member States to consider making appropriate contributions to UNIFIL and to respond positively to requests for assistance from the Force, and expresses its strong appreciation to those who have contributed to UNIFIL in the past;

OP14. Calls upon the Government of Lebanon to secure its borders and other entry points to prevent the entry in Lebanon without its consent of arms or related materiel and requests UNIFIL as authorized in paragraph 11 to assist the Government of Lebanon at its request;

OP15. Decides further that all states shall take the necessary measures to prevent, by their nationals or from their territories or using their flag vessels or aircraft,

(a) the sale or supply to any entity or individual in Lebanon of arms and related materiel of all types, including weapons and ammunition, military vehicles and equipment, paramilitary equipment, and spare parts for the aforementioned, whether or not originating in their territories, and

(b) the provision to any entity or individual in Lebanon of any technical training or assistance related to the provision, manufacture, maintenance or use of the items listed in subparagraph (a) above, except that these prohibitions shall not apply to arms, related material, training or assistance authorized by the Government of Lebanon or by UNIFIL as authorized in paragraph 11;

OP16. Decides to extend the mandate of UNIFIL until 31 August 2007, and expresses its intention to consider in a later resolution further enhancements to the mandate and other steps to contribute to the implementation of a permanent ceasefire and a long-term solution;

OP17. Requests the Secretary-General to report to the Council within one week on the implementation of this resolution and subsequently on a regular basis;

OP18. Stresses the importance of, and the need to achieve, a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East, based on all its relevant resolutions including its resolutions 242 (1967) of 22 November 1967 and 338 (1973) of 22 October 1973;

OP19. Decides to remain actively seized of the matter.

© 2006 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive

i don't want to push the anti-semitic button, but the "disproportionate" vote of the UN human rights council is alarming. 27 voted for a resolution that does not acknowledge Hezbollah's violations of human rights and seeks to investigate Israeli state violations in Lebanon... and 11 European countries + Canada + Japan rejected said resolution.... more later.

one resilient voice

heard about this earlier this week, thought i'd paste the link--

@ lollapalooza in chicago last weekend, patti smith sang to the "limp little dolls caked in mud"
and distinguished herself as one of the only (please, i hope this is wrong) critical voices in the songwriting spheres of the states...

wherefore the silence, yaa celebrities/artists/poets?
some response, any response