Archive for November, 2006


“Interesting but kind of depressing” – Part II: Do the Right Thing?

Ok, on to part 2 of my series on “the Palestinian problem.” Here I am going to discuss the various value judgments usually used in the course of arguing about the current situation. I will discuss later how much all of this should be taken into account, when actually trying to deal with the situation. I must request the apologies of the reader that I am not doing the requisite research required to footnote and annotate all of this, arguably the most responsible way to present this information. Such is both the benefit (and detriment) of the blogger over the so-called “conventional media”: we can say just about anything we feel like saying. That said, I hope you understand that my words are not expressed out of some vast ignorance, at least not one that I myself am aware of. If I have made an error of facts, I hope that those reading this will correct me.

The general idea put forth by the Palestinian side is that a person living in a certain place – for whatever reasons, for a certain amount of time – has some sort of claim of ownership to that place. In a general sense, I think we can agree that this is valid, all else being equal. On occasion, the Palestinians may reference the centuries-defunct claim of ownership conveyed by their connection to the ancient Philistines (who bear a nomenclatural resemblance to the Palestinians, but no more) but more often the claim is simply: “we lived there from [some time, say in 1800-1900] until 1948, when the Zionists kicked us out, we deserve to have our homes back.” The factual nature of the first part of this statement seems to not be disputed too much. Yes, there were many Arabs, who now define themselves as Palestinians (or even did so then) who do not live currently in Israel proper. The second claim is the more controversial one.
Side note: when I say “Israel proper” a slight confusion may arise. This is partly due to my own ambivalence, and partly due to the long-standing ambivalence of the state of Israel itself. You see, technically speaking, with the exception of Jerusalem, Israel never formally annexed what is known as the “West Bank” in some circles, and “Judea and Samaria” in others. This land was last internationally recognized as the property of one single country back when the British owned it as part of the Palestine madate, up until 1947. Since then it was controlled by Jordan from 1948-1967, and by Israel from 1967-present, with certain parts of it under Palestinian control at various times. From 1967 until now, the Israeli government’s attitude towards that territory has been a confusing one, alternately encouraging/supporting and discouraging/uprooting Jewish settlement in the area. The attitude of the Palestinians (for as long as one has been able to speak coherently of an entity called “the Palestinians”) has generally been that they own the area, and like much (or all) of the current state of Israel, they should have jurisdiction and everything that goes along with that.
So now the basic question arises: what do various people or groups of people deserve, land-wise? It’s the question not of what will make people happy, or what will stop violence on either side but what is fair. And this is where things get very, very complicated. Because on one hand, you have the Jews who claim some sort of ownership/connection to/sovereignty over the area as far back as King David, around the 10th century BCE. (Those claims are only disputed by arguing that those calling themselves Jews nowadays aren’t the same group of people as those in King David’s time. I don’t think that this theory is really accepted by many, and besides, that starts getting into ideas about self-identification and group consistency that just muddle everything up further.) On the other hand, Arabs constituted the majority of the population of the Palestinian Mandate up until the Israeli War of Independence. Even though the gap in numbers between the Jewish and Arab populations was closing at that point, the Arabs were a majority. The British, for their part, see-sawed a lot between being pro-Jews and pro-Arabs, due to a long list of pressures from each side. Consequently, nowadays, Jews will point to the pro-Jews moments (e.g. the Balfour Declaration) and the Arabs will point to the pro-Arab moments (e.g. the 1939 White Paper). Let’s be honest, this doesn’t really get anyone anywhere.
Nevertheless, various historical ownership claims come into play in the public discourse about these issues (and basically any land dispute worldwide), so I thought it might be useful to kind of “zoom out” and categorize them:

1) Religious claim. This is very simple. It’s usually some variation on the argument that God gave the land to one group or another, and therefore they deserve it. Needless to say, this argument doesn’t really hold much water in modern diplomacy, the truth of the matter notwithstanding.
2) Ancestral claim. This argument says nothing about recent history, but claims that land is the ancestral property of a group. Somehow, it would seem, by living in a place for long enough, that place becomes ethnically ‘owned’ by that group, even if they are later displaced. It’s kind of a “we were here first/longest” argument, as are a couple others in this list.
3) Demographic claim. This is what I hinted at above, when I discussed the demographics of the area prior to statehood and post-statehood. The argument is that based on self-determination ethics and such, the group that constitutes the majority should be in control of the area. Since both Jews and Arabs were the majority demographically at some point, each side easily brandishes this one.
4) Ownership claim. This is a slight variation on (3). It says that whichever group owns the most land (presumably under some mutually recognized rules for land ownership) should have control of the area.
5) Group ownership/sovereignty claim. I wasn’t sure whether to separate these two, but decided to keep them together, because the idea that a group owns land is basically the same as saying that the group controls the land, and vice-versa. This argument claims that since the ethnic group at one point controlled the area and effective owned the land as a group, they should once more.
6) Third-party claim. This one argues that a third party that has some say about the fate of the area has bequeathed the area to one group or another. This argument would be the easiest to use in public discourse, due to the explicit written nature of the various declarations of the involved parties (usually the British Empire or the U.N.). However, problems arise from the simple fact that the various third parties contradict each other and themselves.

The main reason I’m going through all this is to get to one point, a point that I will expand upon in the follow-up to this post: the various historical claims can be made with various degrees of accuracy by both sides, and besides, history never forced anyone’s hand. So the relevance (not the truth) of these claims to any attempts at peace-brokering is in question. Like I said, more next time.
Ok, so if you’ve made it this far, I’ll acknowledge that this little essay (or whatever it is) wasn’t constructed in the best manner, for many reasons. But if I took the time to go through and add in references and edit for structural coherence, etc, I probably wouldn’t get around to posting it for a while. So I figure you can take this for what it’s worth, and let the comments roll.

Keeping Me On My Toes

So…I’m in the airport right now, ready to fly to visit my family and friends back east. My flight should’ve left 20 minutes ago, but we have yet to board, due to a delay. So I figured I’d blog. It seems I’ve broken out of my 1.5-year-long posting slump lately. Let’s hope it lasts.

To get to the airport, I took a cab. I call up the taxi company, order a cab, and try to figure out why the receptionist keeps calling me “honey.” (It may have been a reference to how some of my friends in college called me Hunny, but that would be odd, since none of those friends work at the All-State Taxicab company.) So after a half day at work, I go home, gather and pack the last few things, and catch the cab waiting outside. The cabbie is nice and jovial and figures out without me telling him that I’m going to the airport. Nice.
We set off at a nice clip, and almost hit another car, but that’s ok, since my motto in driving is “a near miss is still a miss.” (This being my second driving motto, my first being “The brake is on the left, stupid.”) And then as we’re going along, the car hiccups, like we ran over something, or the engine is coming down with the black lung. I raise my eyebrows.
“What was that?” I ask.
“Oh, the air conditioning isn’t working.” He rolls down the windows. Hmmm. Kind of confused here.
“What was that?” I ask again.
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t…?”
“Yeah, I don’t know. I am surprised too.” This would’ve been an ok thing to say if he had said it in an adult-being-concerned voice. But no, he said it with a kind of wonderment, as if the car had just started dispensing free candy out of the broken air conditioning vents, and we were just reaping the benefits.

Note to self: Design candy-dispensing air conditioning system for cars. Make millions and get a tummy ache.

“Oh,” I say, unable to properly respond to this. Then he offers some new information.
“The check engine light is on….like always.”

Great. I am going to die.

UPDATE: I did not die after all.

I’ll tell you my in-the-airport story soon, but I think we may be boarding now.

“Interesting, but kind of depressing”

Story time again. I’m thinking that it’s unfortunate that I don’t really get discussions going in my comment sections, because for once I’m going to address controversial stuff, beginning here, but more so in the next or the next few posts.
On to the story.

I was at work, sitting in a room with a bunch of other engineers, running tests on the system we were working with. While there, two of my colleagues got to talking, one of them Israeli, and the other American. I did my work, and listened in on their conversation, because these meetings of cultures are always interesting. Wouldn’t you know, they started discussing the Native Americans. The American dutifully explained how we wiped out most of the Native Americans – largely through disease. Then the conversation went where you always knew it would:

American: Yeah, the kids learn about all this in school. It’s required. It’s really interesting, but kind of depressing.
Israeli: Yes, we have the same thing with our history.

And that was it. The conversation ended there, mostly because both people were busy and not too invested in the discussion, but I couldn’t help but be curious as to how it would have continued.
Because the Israeli was right. For better or worse, no matter who is to blame, there were many people who were living in Eretz Yisrael, in what is now the State of Israel and was then called Palestine, who are not living there now but never really wanted to leave. Whether by the Jews or by their leaders or by themselves, they were displaced, and their displacement paved the way for the creation of the State. It also created a fairly untenable problem which lasts until today: what to do with these people. The upshot of all of this is that the comparison to the Native Americans is valid, but the Palestinian problem is far more present, and far more pressing than that. As the Israeli hinted to, I suspect it’s an ethical discomfort – something that rankles at the edges of the conscience – for many Israelis. I believe that this is one of the reasons behind the pullout from Gaza last year: we just wanted to put our consciences at rest.

I know this is bound to get a bunch of people disagreeing (cuz dys? You there?), but bear in mind that I’m continuing in future posts. I’ll discuss more later about what we should feel bad about, whether pragmatism, idealism, or some combination thereof should be our guiding star, as well as some of the various typical responses to this problem.

Yes, But Where Do I Find the Lawn Ornaments?

Want to have some fun? Walk into Bed Bath and Beyond and have the following conversation:

YOU: Excuse me, where is the Bedding Department?
BED BATH AND BEYONDER: (pointing) Over there.
YOU: And where are the bath items?
BED BATH AND BEYONDER: (pointing) Right there.
YOU: Thank you. And, uh, where can I purchase the beyond?
BED BATH AND BEYONDER: I hate you and everything you stand for.
YOU: So…you’re all out of beyond?
BED BATH AND BEYONDER: There is not enough fire in hell to express the rage I am barely containing.
YOU: Hmmm…I guess I’ll just look around then. I heard they have the best beyond in town in this place.

A Funny Thing Happened

Funny story. Make of it what you will.

I was just heading out of the cafeteria from lunch and a man, witting with 2 others, called to me in Hebrew, and asked how I was.

“Fine. How are things by you?”
“Do I know you?”
He grinned and gestured genially. “No, but we’re Israelis!”
I smiled. “Oh, ok. Have a good day.”

And I walked on. The whole exchange was less than a minute long, but I couldn’t help but wonder whether the same would’ve happened in the reverse situation – if I had been an American in an Israeli company with a few other Americans sprinkled in.

Listen Up

So a few days ago, I posted an audio post, expecting accolades, pats on the back, and a possible Presidential Medal. But alas, I forgot that few people read this, fewer would be willing to sit and listen to 5 minutes of me prattling about waffles and Monopoly and how every male citizen of the Republic of Tonga has a crush on the same girl from Liechtenstein (a country whose primary claim to fame is that they are the largest exporter of false teeth – no joke!), and even fewer would be so bold or generous as to actually post a comment or give me a backrub. No, I’m here, commentless and with an aching back.

But I decided to invesigate why I had gotten no real response. I realized that though more people than usual had visited my site – likely due to the actual presence of a new post, of all things. But I don’t think people actually bothered to listen to my audiopost because – get this – it was pretty boring. You had to wait till the middle just to get to anything halfway entertaining. I think maybe if I try another time, I should start with a song and dance. Well, you’d only hear the song, but the dance would be hella cool, I assure you.

So it seems that instead of actually posting, I posted about how I should post. In other words, I blogged about blogging. It is a well-known fact that bloggers love blogging about nothing more than themselves, the narcissistic ingrates.

Note to self: a fun side project/post-modern digital perfomance art: make a blog whose every entry is about why I’m blogging, how I should stop blogging, that I’m thinking about stopping blogging, why people blog in general, or why the sitcom Becker was never really given a fair chance. Find a way to make ridicuous amounts of cash money off of this blog – enough to purchase Gary Coleman, or at least rent him once a month.

In the meantime, I leave you with an excerpt from my in-progress novel, Limestone:

Mac woke up and instantly regretted it. He concluded that waking up would just be the first of a series of bad moves that day. He had no clue just how right he was. He rolled sideways and off of the bed. He realized it was not a bed, but a couch. Craig’s couch. He was in Craig’s apartment, he decided, as that was the standard location for Craig’s couch. The word apartment seemed to hold some special importance. He wasn’t sure why. Finally pushing himself up to his feet, Mac decided it was as good a time as any to open his eyes, and tried to. Succeeding on the third try, he discovered that the normally level ground was writhing and twisting like a python, or like he imagined a python might, were it a hardwood floor with furniture on it. He realized that his stomach was trying to tell him something, something urgent. He ran to the bathroom and vomited with gusto. Deciding that he had had such a good time of it the first time, he vomited again.

Vomit jokes. Will they ever get old? No. No they won’t.

Moving Into the 20th Century

So I’m trying something new: audioblogging.
Listen, and all will be explained.
Let me know what you think, whether you prefer text, etc.

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Neil Gaiman, My Hero

As i’ve said, I very much admire the writing style of Neil Gaiman, and for all of those fiction writers out there (and these days I seem to know a few), I direct you to his essays, All Books Have Genders and Where do you get your ideas?.

A sample quote from the second essay:

In the beginning, I used to tell people the not very funny answers, the flip ones: ‘From the Idea-of-the-Month Club,’ I’d say, or ‘From a little ideas shop in Bognor Regis,’ ‘From a dusty old book full of ideas in my basement,’ or even ‘From Pete Atkins.’ (The last is slightly esoteric, and may need a little explanation. Pete Atkins is a screenwriter and novelist friend of mine, and we decided a while ago that when asked, I would say that I got them from him, and he’d say he got them from me. It seemed to make sense at the time.)

Then I got tired of the not very funny answers, and these days I tell people the truth:

‘I make them up,’ I tell them. ‘Out of my head.’

People don’t like this answer. I don’t know why not. They look unhappy, as if I’m trying to slip a fast one past them. As if there’s a huge secret, and, for reasons of my own, I’m not telling them how it’s done.

Oh, and also through Mr. Gaiman’s essays, I discovered the name for the type of fantasy I’m trying to aim for: phantasmagoria. Come on, the word even sounds cool.


I Only Wanted to Begin

Below is the very beginning of the novel I’m supposed to be starting today. I won’t be posting the whole thing as I write it, but email me if you want a link to the online copy I’m saving as I go. in the meantime, enjoy, and please comment on the beginning of what may be an interesting experiment.

Hello. I am your narrator. I don’t really have a name. I am a theoretical construct inextricably linked with the act of telling, not a human being. I lack a hairstyle, a bank account, a family, bodily appendages, a cellphone with Journey’s inimitable “Don’t Stop Believin’” as a ringtone, the ability to appreciate those cute cocktail umbrellas you get in fancy drinks, as well as any number of other accoutrements commonly associated with being human. Thus, I also lack a name. But you may call me Ted. Why Ted? Because I like it, ok? I think it rolls off the tongue nicely. Or it would, if I had a tongue. But I repeat myself. I apologize for that. I have this tendency to repeat things and go off on tangents, thus complicating what might otherwise be a much more straightforward narration. So why am I the one telling this tale at all? Well, the answer is a long story, one that I cannot tell at this time, being preoccupied telling an entirely different story – as we will soon see. Suffice it to say that you’re stuck with me as your narrator. For better or worse, I, Ted, will be telling this story.

A point of clarification would be in order here. I am not the author. The author is the one that decides what should happen, who I should be telling this story about, what messages (if any) should be imparted by this tale, etc. I on the other hand, am left the unenviable task of making sense of the desperate and tortuous meanderings of the author’s pen, as he attempts to arrange his unintelligible thoughts into some semblance of order. I despise the author. He puts the characters through more trouble than they deserve, brings in total non-sequiturs in the name of artistic license, and has mood swings like you wouldn’t believe. To top it all off, he leaves me to be the only one with even a chance of explaining what the hell is happening to the characters, as they surely don’t get it, and the author is more often than not in an opium-induced trance, muttering about dancing with sea elephants or the “Grand Theory of Pants.” He claims that he’s following in the tradition of many great writers, and that the opium allows him to experience a burst of creativity inconceivable while sober. I personally think he just wants an excuse not to pick up his dirty laundry from the living room floor, but don’t trust me. I’m incorporeal. My main point, however, is that the author is a total dirtbag. I loathe him. I am not him. I am the narrator. Ted.

So now, on to the actual story part of the story. It begins, as all great stories do, in a bar. That is not to say that it is a great story, just that it’s trying its hardest. Which isn’t always easy when you’re drinking. Where were we? Ah, yes. The bar.