Friday, May 30, 2008

First Contact in the Amazon

Images of an uncontacted tribe deep in the Brazilian Amazon. They have spears and bows and arrows and are preparing to fire on the photographer snapping pictures from a helicoptor. Pretty cool.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Cool Quote

“While it’s true that knowledge is power, mystery has its own special sweetness.”
-David Grossman, The Zig Zag Kid

Monday, May 26, 2008


Last week President Bush touched off a media firestorm which is sure to rear its head again this fall. He lambasted “appeasers” who “believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along.''

Ironically Bush uttered these words in Israel, a country that is currently doing the very things he was condemning. The Israelis are indirectly negotiating with Syria (through Turkey) and Hamas (through Egypt). The Syrians are state-sponsors of terrorism; they give money, training and sanctuary to both Hamas and Hezbollah, and are strongly suspected of being behind the 2005 assassination of Lebanese President Rafik Hariri. Meanwhile, Hamas – who violently seized control of the Gaza Strip in June 2007- indiscriminately fire missiles onto southern Israel and are responsible for innumerable suicide bombings.

Let’s put aside for the moment issues like the correctness of criticizing from abroad (personally I don’t really care) or whether an outgoing President should inject himself into the new Presidential campaign (Bush’s comments were –at least in part- a shot at Obama after all). The President is speaking to a fundamental issue regarding our way forward in the Middle East and the fight against terrorism.

There are those who compare negotiating with terrorists and their state sponsors to Neville Chamberlain’s naïve 1938 dealings with Hitler. Hitler very clearly spelled out his intentions in Mein Kampf and letting the Germans take hold of the Sudetenland was futile. In no way did it stop the Nazis from carrying out the rest of their agenda.

Like Hitler Iranian President Ahmedinejad has made in very clear what he wants to do: acquire nukes and “wipe Israel off the face of the map.” Consequently, negotiating with Iran would be an act in futility as well.

The other side of the coin is that diplomacy and appeasment are not the same. We lose nothing by sitting down to talk with our enemies. We negotiated many times with the Soviet Union (even under Ronald Reagan) and under Bush's watch have done so with Iran, Libya, and North Korea.

I have to say that I’m more inclined to talk with no preconditions (with nation states, not terrorists nor any other non-State entities). However, deep down I harbor doubts that this indeed may be naïve, and I do think we should be very careful in what and how we negotiate. Here are two good op-eds from the New York Times on the issue: Yes, We Should ------ No, We Should Not
For an excellent read I highly recommend The Shia Revival, by Vali Nasr. It’s a real eye opening book that summarizes the split between Sunnis and Shia and their history of relations. But the crux of the book is about the sectarian conflict(s) unleashed by the War in Iraq, why they came about, and why they are so important, not just to Iraq, but to the entire region.

Gregg Graduating

As I grow up- well, I’m done growing- as I age, the years come and go faster and faster. It seems only yesterday that I graduated from college, yet in truth I graduated three years ago. Last weekend my family and I packed up two cars and set off from Jersey City on an eight hour journey through cornfields and cow pastures to Pittsburgh. We were headed to Carnegie Mellon University to see my little brother graduate from college.

He graduated with a BS in Physics and will begin a PhD program in the fall (my little brother the mad scientist). It’s nice to see him succeed, but damn.

Rain was forecast for the day of the graduation but just as the ceremony began the sun poked its way through the clouds. Al Gore was the primary speaker and he gave a decent if unspectacular speech about energy policy (to my dad’s disappointment he held off on declaring himself a candidate for November). As he was talking I playfully asked my uncle why Gore wasn’t recounting how he invented the internet. My uncle murmured something back about the former VP not wanting to perjure himself.

But the speaker who really moved the crowd was CMU Computer Science professor Randy Pausch.

Professor Pausch was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer and given three to six months to live… last August (no, he hasn’t “beaten” it though, it didn’t look like he had that much longer to live), and he gave a short, truly inspiring speech about living life to the fullest, if you want to watch the speech -about six minutes long- it's posted below.

For a much longer version of the speech check out Pausch's homepage here and scroll down a bit to "the Last Lecture" (it’s like 70 minutes but it’s good).

During the ceremony the CMU President also announced the university had just graduated its first class on its Qatar campus (that’s right, Qatar, the small Middle Eastern country).

Carnegie Mellon’s Qatar campus isn’t a study abroad site. It’s a local Carnegie Mellon with local matriculating students. Now, I’m not sure quite how I feel about CMU’s Qatar venture, but they’re not the only American university to do this (NYU, where I will soon be attending again, is in on the game as well), but it’s pretty interesting and is a story that I’m sure most Americans do not know about.
Which brings us to other Middle Eastern issues.
Life is now moving forward in Lebanon once again as the various factions have come to a power sharing agreement. But I'll save writing about this for another day or so.

And no, I’m not so presumptuous as to think anybody either does or should care about what I think regarding the all too explosive events- both literally and metaphorically- in the Middle East. I write about it (and other things) to attempt to organize my thoughts and further my own understanding of the world. It’s a vitally important region of the world and will only continue to be. Its problems (and by extension ours) aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Tom Friedman Again, Almodovar, and Doug Feith

Is New York Times columnist Tom Friedman back from the dead?

He wrote a touching Mothers' Day column last Sunday and today wrote a well reasoned column regarding Iran, and Middle East policy. He's come to some pretty illogical conclusions in the past (like the 2006 election of Hamas being a GOOD thing for peace because it would moderate Hamas policies-- just as the Nazis moderated their policies after being confronted with governing), but his latest columns have been pretty well reasoned and have added to the conversation. Take this for instance:

"The big debate between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton is over whether or not we should talk to Iran. Obama is in favor; Clinton has been against. Alas, the right question for the next president isn’t whether we talk or don’t talk. It’s whether we have leverage or don’t have leverage."

He also points out that, like Afghanistan, in the past Lebanon has been a graveyard of imperial dreams.
I just read in Spanish newspaper El País that Pedro Almodóvar is filming another movie with Penelope Cruz. Almodóvar's one of the top directors in Europe. His last film, Volver, was good but not great, but he's won a plethora of awards and his movies are always very interesting. Watch the first half of La Mala Educación (with Mexican Gael García Bernal speaking with a Spanish accent), it will blow your mind.

The movie's called "Abrazos Rotos" (Broken Hugs), the article didn't reveal anything about the film's plot but, judging from Almodóvar's past work, I can assure you that their will be a love component and some really fucked up sexual thing (incest, child molestation, crossdressing, whatever. It's always there in his movies). Once you get past that stuff his movies are always entertaining and original.

Also, I almost forgot but former Under-secretary of Defense Doug Feith (an ideological architect of the Iraq War) was on the Daily Show the other night promoting his new book, War and Decision.

Jon Stewart(who I'm not always a big fan of) conducted one hell of an interview, much better than you'd see on CNN. No soft ball questions, and did his best not to let Feith talk his way out of anything or "misremember" the past. here it is:

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Gracias a la vida

Gracias a la vida/ que me ha dado tanto/ me dado la sonrisa/ y me ha dado el llanto
-Carlos Gardel (Tanguero de los Tangueros)
I've been critical of Tom Friedman in the past, but this really is a great Mothers' Day column. I especially appreciate the Israeli General telling Friedman he's an optimist because he's so short he can only see the full half of the glass.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Is America Finished?

Here's an interesting review of Fareed Zakaria's new book, The Post-American World, from the New York Times Book Review. The review addresses why talk of America's demise may be premature.
Also, Zakaria has a new Foreign Affairs show premiering on CNN this June which I am looking forward to. He is a very intelligent analyst (and the editor of Newsweek International) and hopefully his show can raise the level of dialog like Charlie Rose. Here's a link to his website.

New Maradona Documentary

In other news. . . . A touch more light hearted than the preceding posts. . . . .

I attended Santiago’s film festival a year and a half ago and saw Amando a Maradona, a documentary of the life and crimes of Diego Maradona, one of the best players to ever touch a soccer ball but also known for his tragic drug addictions. True story: At the summit of Zidane's career in 2000, Michel Platini- a former French soccer great himself- was asked to compare Zidane with Diego. He responded, “what Zidane can do with a soccer ball Diego could do with an orange."

Now at next month’s 61st annual Cannes Film Festival one of the headliners will be “Maradona” another documentary of the soccer great. The doc's been produced by the award winning Emir Kusturica (his name means nothing to me, I have no idea who he is). I Can’t wait to see it though.

Here's a song about Diego by Manu Chao, with footage of him playing as a youth:

La vida es una tombola (Life is a lottery)

Friday, May 09, 2008

Whither Obama

Back to domestic politics. I’m not thrilled with any of the Presidential hopefuls, but then again I’m a cynic.

It now appears that Obama is a few steps away from securing the Democratic Presidential nomination. Now, when Obama speaks he moves me, he really does. Next to him any other politician seems like flat soda; and I agree with most of his policies.

And yet… I don’t think he’s adequately explained the Reverend Wright fiasco. (By the way, the reverend’s latest ramblings are pretty comical, really: By criticizing Wright’s inflammatory sermons people are criticizing the black church. Criticizing the black church is the same as “talking about his mother,” and if you think Wright’ll let anybody talk about his mother, “you’ve got another thing coming.” -- That's literally what he said, watch it on YouTube)

Obama has since (rightfully) disowned him, nevertheless by Obama's own admission Wright has been a very influential figure in his life. How exactly so? How has he influenced his thinking? Where exactly does he agree and disagree with him? There are many churches that do community service without the whole “God Damn America” thing (and in his sermon he said “America,” not “the U.S. government of 1847 that did _X_," give me a break) or the rhetoric about the government being responsible for the AIDS virus. Why did he stay at Trinity Baptist all this time?

Why did he stick with Wright for so long, and even have him baptize his children? Lately Obama supporters have been portraying Wright as a “crazy uncle.” However crazy he may be, he was Obama's “uncle” by choice, not by blood.

What else worries me is Obama’s (lack of) experience. Yes, he is very intelligent, but at the end of the day he’s a first term senator and has basically been campaigning for President since he arrived in the Senate.

He’s going to need someone with a lot of experience for VP (Richardson, anyone?) which brings us to the proposed Barack-Hillary ticket. There is a better chance of Osama Bin Laden converting to Judaism than Hillary being Obama’s VP candidate.

All this talk of how Hillary can pull in white working class votes is utter nonsense. Yes, she can do that in Democratic primaries against a black man with a Muslim name. But that does NOT mean she can do it in a general election against John McCain.

She’s one of the most divisive figures in America. A very conservative friend of my father’s registered as a democrat in the New Jersey primary solely to vote AGAINST Hillary. Ask yourself, would any other politician inspire this much revulsion?

She's battle hardened and has survived everything the Republicans have attacked with? I would bet you all the money in my bank account that for years Republicans have been collecting everything they can about her and just waiting until she's the candidate. They have files full of scandals and circumstantial evidence of anything and everything. Lying about dodging sniper fire won't be anything. Hillary coming anywhere near the Democratic ticket would be the best thing that could possibly happen to the Republican party since Ronald Reagan.

Moreover, do you think Obama wants Bill meddling in his campaign?
With all that said, I just cannot see Obama winning come November. I’m no fan of McCain either but I’ll post about him another time.

The News from Beirut

The state is the organization that holds a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence
-German Sociologist Max Weber

The more things change, they more they stay the same. Lebanon again looks to be on the brink of civil war. In the past few days Hezbollah has seized control of entire districts of Beirut and has violently clashed with pro government forces. See the New York Times article here.

These current Beirut events should put to rest the claims that Hezbollah is not a terrorist organization but are “noble patriots fighting Israeli imperialist aggression.” In reality this argument should have been given up after Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon in the summer of 2000. Perhaps Hezbollah stuck around to combat the imperialism of the Syrians who formally occupied Lebanon through 2005? Oh, wait, that's right... they get funding from Syria.

What makes them a terrorist organization? Look no further than their 1994 bombing of AMIA, Buenos Aires’ Jewish Community Center, which killed upwards of 85 people (
while treating the attack very seriously, Argentine authorities have yet to make any arrests after 14 years of investigation).

Now it should be evident to even Noam Chomsky and his acolytes who these people really are:
An extra-national Shiite terrorist organization with links to Iran and Syria that contribute to the instability of Lebanon and the greater region.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Too Old to Learn a New Language?

There are many things I wish I could do. Playing soccer again is one of them, but that’s a story for another time. I wish I had more money, I wish it were a nice day out, but above all I wish I could speak Hebrew, the language of my people.

Learning a language is hard though, and very time consuming. Especially a non-Indo European language. That’s why I envy little kids for their language ability. Who cares if you can’t cross the street or tie your shoes, when you’re four years old you can learn a language in mere MONTHS. Even more, a four year old will learn to speak with a NATIVE accent, that’s almost super human. Oh, to be young again.

When I was 17 I spent a month touring around Israel. Upon returning to beautiful exotic New Jersey I went to Barnes & Noble and bought a Hebrew language text book. I was going to learn the language of my people. Yet here I am lamenting years later so there’s little need to recount the outcome of this noble endeavor.

But six months ago I decided to take a Hebrew course at the 92nd Street Y. The class was relatively small, we met once a week, and the teacher was a Sabra, a native born Israeli. Yet the class didn’t go so well. We moved though the material very quickly. I was still struggling with the alphabet when we were reviewing past tense verb conjugations. Moreover, due to personal issues I was having, I didn’t have time to study the vocabulary or do much work on my own.

Now I’m thinking of ordering a Hebrew Rosetta Stone program. This (quite pricey) computer program is supposed to be highly effective in foreign language acquisition and is what the U.S. State Department uses with its Foreign Service Officers. Click here for a free demo

The program takes its name from the Rosetta Stone, an ancient Egyptian artifact (shown right). Egyptian hieroglyphics had long baffled western archaeologists when Napoleon’s army invaded Egypt and in 1799 uncovered the stone. It was engraved with an ancient Greek text, along with translations of two different sets of Egyptian hieroglyphics.

Archaeologists of that era were familiar with ancient Greek and used it to break the hieroglyphic code. This proved to be a watershed moment, archaeologists then used the deciphered text to make sense of other hieroglyphics which had been prior deemed undecipherable. The computer program is supposed to work the same way and be an invaluable tool in learning a new language. We’ll see.

Israel Turns 60

Sixty years ago this week David Ben Gurion gave a wink to all our ancestors, then he icily smiled and gave the finger to Hitler and his Nazis, Torquemada and his inquisitors, the Cossacks, Islamists, Romans, Assyrians, Babylonians, Ancients Egyptians and every other anti-Semite who has ever lived when he announced the founding of the State of Israel.

This post is meant to celebrate the Jewish state and all it’s achievements in the last sixty years. I am not attempting to refute anti-Zionists/ anti-Semites, nor condemn anybody for any policies. Nor am I attempting to call Jimmy Carter an asshole (all this, perhaps, will be done another time).

“Freedom is the oxygen of the soul.” –Moshe Dayan

“Above all, this country is our own. Nobody has to get up in the morning and worry what his neighbors think of him. Being a Jew is no problem here.” –Golda Meir

"Many say the message of the Holocaust is to never forget. I disagree. The message is, it's harder to kill us when we have AK 47's."
There are articles everywhere you look about Israel’s 60th. Why? What makes the Jews so special? Do you know how few Jews there are in the world? There are more Basques than there are Jews. If you're now asking yourself who the Basques are do not feel discouraged, what does the average person know about the Basques? Nothing. There are only 13 million of us Jews the world over, yet our name is known where ever the wind blows. I’ll post my thoughts on this issue another (more sober) time.

Here’s a thought provoking piece from Jeff Goldberg of the Atlantic (again) on Israel’s future. It’s been much discussed in the blog world, some people love it, others hate it. Here’s an op-ed from the International Herald Tribune.

Friday, May 02, 2008

The Death of Ari Ben Canaan

The real life Ari Ben Canaan dies at home in Tel Aviv.

*Israel's turning 60, I'll post about that, and other developments, soon.