Contact Me

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Time for a diet!

There is a lot of talk about how we should cut the debt. Cut social security or medicare. I got an email about cutting Congress' and the president's pay. I read in the news about cutting aid to Israel's neighbors.

Why not put Israel on a diet? Cut 'em loose. Cutting aid to Israel won't harm them, unlike the diet terminology Israel used for Palestinians... see the second and third items below.

Lower the Debt -- End U.S. Military Aid to Israel


February 2006:
"The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet but not to make them die of hunger." – Dov Weisglass


Actual number of calories Gazans need to stay alive was calculated. No joke. The result, the facts on the ground are that virtually nothing gets in. How's that for the "only democracy in the Middle East," the "most moral army in the world ??" Sounds like something else to me.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

It's Easier to Reach Heaven Than the End of the Street by Emma Williams

I'm only on the first chapter and I think I may have hit upon a book Americans can relate to and understand the whole of "the situation" at the same time. She has a respect and understanding for both sides (often said, but rarely the case in this thing) and cuts through and explains the propaganda and myths on both sides. I'm pretty amazed and impressed thus far...

I've finished now, so I'll put my overall impressions up here (I had "in progress, notes as I go" here initially). There are a ton of specifics that I either remember reading in the news when they happened, that I'm impressed she included, etc. I'll just leave them below as examples- I stopped noting them after the first half of the book anyway- there were too many.

This is not your typical memoir. But that's a good thing- and actually probably pretty typical when your memoir is set in Jerusalem and you are as thoughtful as she is and have access to UN, doctors on both sides, and officials. There is a lot of politics and references to historical events and recent events, but I can see this as a memoir because she's honestly trying to sort this out while she's over there. It is one of the most honest attempts I've seen. It is a little hard to tell what her own views are, which is kind of strange in a memoir, but appreciated in anything attempting to explain the conflict. When I first started reading the book, I interpreted the news items and her relating interviews and conversations with a pretty wide variety of people as her own.

My impression due to some of her commentary was that she related to Israelis most- that could be due to a suicide bomber blowing up outside her children's school and near it and in places she frequented. Unlike some who have a strong sympathy for Israel, though, she doesn't ignore or deny Palestinian humanity, rights, the fact that Israel is an occupier, the fact that Israel does wrong. I would be curious how she struck people she lived with in Jerusalem; there were a number of times when her friends would say something against Palestinians and she noted that she remained silent. She definitely seems pretty balanced in the book. She really seems to have sympathy for both people and understand the nuance of both sides' politics. Even if she has bias herself, at least she included pretty balanced historical info and accounts of the recent developments.

What also made the book so good was that it covers a wide variety of issues: Israeli denial of absolute facts- like IDF kills children, UN workers, etc; how she and others self censor depending on who they talk to; media bias; the Wall; American attitudes; among others.

I wondered what could make her so reasonable, besides being British :). Maybe I shouldn't wonder, just enjoy. But this is such a rare occurrence, this genuine sympathy and understanding of both sides, I can't help it.

Maybe being a doctor (she worked in many hospitals, Palestinian and Israeli, in her public health research while there) helped her not be able to ignore the facts. Seeing the maimed and hearing doctors' struggles on both sides must have had an impact on helping her see the similarity in the two sides, the brutality and senselessness of the violence, whatever the source.

Maybe being a UN worker's wife also helped her feel sympathy toward Palestinians. She tells of how an Israeli chased her up the street yelling obscenities in her face upon seeing her UN plates because many Israelis feel the UN is "on the Palestinians' side." I guess that could have driven home what kind of hate could be directed at Palestinians by Israelis, if she didn't get it by listening to her Palestinian friends' experiences.


Continuing with specifics...

In just the second chapter, the interviews and exchanges (p34 and 40, esp) she records relates so many things Western audiences would be shocked to know. I have been reading widely on this, so I'm not surprised by what she writes, but it was satisfying to see her refute all of the myths and reservations I hear people repeat when I dare suggest that Palestinians have (or should have) rights and a homeland.

People would call her from the States discussing the situation and tell her (who was eyewitness to the contrary) things like all the Palestinian deaths are terrorist deaths, Palestinians who were fired upon on Temple Mount after Sharon's infamous visit were all armed, Palestinian mothers push their children to the front lines- that's why there's a high death rate for them, Palestinians know Israel is militarily superior and will retaliate so it is actually Palestinians' own fault they are being killed, the occupiers are the victims, etc. People actually insisted they were right (b/c they read it in Time or this or that American outlet) and she, practically an eyewitness, was wrong!

One thing that absolutely disgusted me was hearing about the "game" soldiers would play shooting steel/rubber bullets into children's eyes. Apparently it takes precision. I'd like to show that to people who like to tell me that Palestinians teach their kids to hate and accompany it with a pic of a toddler dressed in military fatigues... And on the subject of pride in hate and destruction... she references this article in Yedioth Ahronoth as well: Yikes.

She tells about a French journalist friend who was aimed and shot at by a soldier with an M-16, just missing his heart. He explained that it would have hit his heart due to the angle he was standing at, had it not been for the flak jacket. Even more shockingly, Israeli friend of hers completely denied that it happened despite it being taped and played on the news. I hadn't realized the extent of Israeli denial of what goes on. I guess it's only natural that American denial of Israeli atrocities is so prevalent. I am frequently encouraged that Christians reject Christian Zionism and the Jewish claim to land today based on the fact that God said it's theirs- see the Old Testament. Frequently though, as I heard visiting at another congregation, they follow it up with but we should support them for political rather than religious reasons- we are allies, only democracy in the Middle East ??), etc- the usual. Why is it that people who can separate the political and religious still can't see that what Israel is doing is inexcusable. It is not security. It is revenge. It is punishment for wanting rights, a country, a homeland, a life, to live on the land that was stolen by victims of another war. Suicide bombing and killing Israeli civilians is wrong, but how can people so easily get behind targeting journalists, peace negotiators, shooting kids in the eye, shooting kids for sport (pdf), and many other atrocities?? If it's not religious, is it loyalty to the GOP? I can't help thinking that people just don't know what really goes on, but like the author's Israeli friend, if they did, they'd probably just deny it.

She relates another incident that I am familiar with while listening to the radio. The death toll for Palestinians rises exponentially compared to the Israeli one. Yes, I know that all deaths are bad, but this kind of lends credibility to the stories of IDF brutality. She was listening to the radio and the commentator saying that Palestinians must end the killing and violence. (a familiar, tired refrain) Just after that he reports a settler killed a Palestinian ( but of course a Palestinian could still be to blame even though a settler group claimed responsibility) and three Bedouin women were killed by Israeli tank fire. But, Palestinians must stop the violence.

She also tells in passing of one of many events that made her change her plans. I know people probably thought I was exaggerating when I relayed news (I remember, if not this incident, then ones like it) that the IDF bombed Palestinian towns with F-16s, targeting Palestinian police/security forces for a militant attack on an IDF post. What sense does that make? It says Israel considers Palestinian police (and civilians for that matter) militants and does not want Palestinians to make any progress in self governance that agreements supposedly are trying to promote.

In chapter 8, she delivers her baby at Holy Family in Bethlehem. It had been bombed once or twice before she delivered and she described the damage and several accounts of doctors. IDF officials she spoke to and heard from said the IDF is a humanitarian army; it doesn't do things like that. Another one said there was no tank activity there in October- pretty specific- a total lie. At the end of the chapter she talks to a Palestinian Christian who comments that the American Christians are so strange- they have no feeling for fellow Christians- where is their humanity.

I know I am mentioning quite a bit about the Palestinian side. This is because people rarely seem to believe that things are that bad for Palestinians or that the wacky things they hear about Israel, a democracy, doing this or that, isn't just propaganda. Peppered throughout the book are the author's experience with suicide bombings and her sympathy for Israelis who live in constant fear- I feel like people are pretty well acquainted with this- so it doesn't strike me as amazing as the understanding of the Palestinian point of view. The Israeli point of view is no less valid. Just want to make that clear.

Sharon comes to power or at least becomes very active during her stay in Jerusalem. I know I was completely dumbfounded by Bush's total complicity in crimes of the occupation and Sharon's knowing he can get away with murder and acting on it. I knew he was bad when it was happening. Looking back, I think I was probably kind in any analysis I may have done. Rereading the things that were said and done- it's unbelievable. He was a monster- worse than I probably thought back then. She mentions two things (p169 and p251) I remember I couldn't believe hearing and, further, couldn't fathom how things stayed the same after. Sharon stepped away from his carefully constructed straw man of Arafat (he wants the whole thing, wants to push Jews into the sea) and let slip that Arafat wanted to push Israel back to the 1967 borders (the horror!). The second was Sharon admitting there was an occupation and it was bad for everyone. Amazing- suddenly he was contradicting many fans in US government, AIPAC, etc. Through all of this, Bush never changed anything, never held Israel accountable. Those were truly hopeless times- for Iraq nonsense and for progress in the Palestinian Israeli conflict.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Miral by Rula Jebreal

Miral by Rula Jebreal

It was written in several parts: Hind, Nadia, Fatima, Miral, Hani.

At first I wasn't sure I'd like it. The first part, Hind, was written from a distant, omniscient point of view rather than stepping into any one character's shoes. It seemed more like instructions for the movie, but more prose than stage direction.  This sort of thing wouldn't have been so out of place in a memoir, but in a novel, it left me wondering when it was going to pick up or get a little more personal. It was hard to get into, but this first part was definitely necessary to set the story up. You need the info later. I wish there had been a better way to accomplish it, though. We do meet Miral near the end of this part, so I decided to hold on to see what happens with her.

In Nadia's section, Part II, there is an abrupt change. It seems to have no connection to anything else and I was totally confused. The story begins to be told from Nadia's point of view, which is a definite improvement. Maybe that is why the story grabs me at this point and I decide I will probably finish it.

Fatima's part is pretty much about Nadia. Fatima is in prison for a failed terrorist attack, which is an interesting perspective. Also a good part of this section is that Jebreal takes an opportunity through Nadia to explore an aspect of the identity question- are you Israeli, Palestinian, neither, etc.

Miral is Nadia's daughter and that is the name of the next section. Things are starting to be a little more connected. I thought it was interesting that Nadia thought everyone treated her with more respect because they thought she was in jail for what Fatima was (planning an attack). Jamal, Fatima's brother, moved Miral and Rania to Hind's school and changed their last name in part because the family name was tainted by Fatima's attack. Having to send them to the orphanage/school was so sad- as were the orphans' stories.

The way Haifa is described was something I had heard of Jerusalem (Kai Bird's book) pre-1948 or 1967- Arabs and Jews together, many nationalities, politics consciously ignored, harmony, parties, etc. I had never heard that of Haifa; maybe different cities experienced their times of peace at different times. 

I enjoyed the strong, beautiful, independent women with a variety of perspectives as main characters throughout the book. The book focuses on women who don't trust men, who don't follow the predictable path and who want the freedom to find their own way.

One thing I felt was left hanging was that we never really found out what happened to Nadia's first child. She left it with her mother after forgiving her, with the guarantee that her sister and her husband would look after her. In one way, I guess that's enough, but I kind of wanted to know what happened to her, if Miral met her, if she could have been worked into the story- she did find out about her having a different father than Rania. Also, I would have liked to have heard more about Ruba, Nadia's youngest sister. It makes sense that she was much younger and so wasn't as close with Nadia and Tamam, but I wonder if she was abused as well and if she ever saw her mother, Nadia or Tamam.

The personal stories stood out to me. We often group Palestinians into one or two neat categories- Palestinians or Israeli Palestinians, extremist Palestinians or moderates, diaspora or Palestinians in Palestine. This book gives us some food for thought that there are many different reactions to grief and tragedy, different reactions to the occupation, different ways to think of identity. There is occupation related tragedy and the same abuse and death all of us are familiar with (sometimes compounded by the occupation).

I ended up really liking the book. I got the movie from Netflix soon after and it was also great, but reading the book first was extremely helpful. I hadn't realized the book was at least partly autobiographical. That added a lot, IMO. I tend to like a memoir more than a novel anyway.  :)

This has an interview with the author:

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Cutting aid to Israel's neighbors

Cut aid to Israel instead or in addition and free up some serious cash... and our conscience!!! And moving the embassy to Jerusalem in the same bill?! Republicans complain about "activist judges" and they're trying to write international law and preempt negotiations! They are a funny bunch!

And this quote below is pretty hilarious when you consider people like Avigdor Lieberman are sitting in Israeli government, cabinet and positions such as Foreign Minister. I mean we welcomed this guy and talked to him like an equal! But when you consider we are occupiers as well (They understand well that in order to save face and make money and get what you want, you've sometimes got to kill a lot of innocent people, but you shouldn't think too much about that part.), perhaps we feel more of that extra special warm and fuzzy bond people always talk about...

The Republicans would also cut off security assistance to Lebanon, the Palestinian Authority and Yemen if Islamic militant movements such as Hezbollah and Hamas hold any position in government.

And what do people always say about the UN or any criticism of Israel? There must be an equal and opposite action against Palestinians? Or is that a law in thermodynamics... or both. Whatever. Anyway, if they are going to support moving the embassy to Jerusalem for Israel, they should also support Jerusalem as the capital for Palestinians and suggest the Palestinian leadership move there, too. I mean, if you're going to insist that any bill or resolution with criticism of Israel also have criticism of Palestinians to be legitimate or at least not blatant anti-Semitism, we've got to bite the bullet and divide the capital. It's only fair.

This cutting of aid to Israel's neighbors is a problem all the way around. We are handing extremist groups a prime recruiting tool on a silver platter! Not to mention, we'd be grouping entire populations of moderates and the whole spectrum with a few extremists. We are definitely asking for more extremists. I mean, when you are a moderate and are treated like an extremist, what incentive is there to take the high road? Why cooperate with the US? Why not attack us?

Edit: I think since this has been in draft form, this has been rejected in the House, but I can't find where I read or heard that...

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Greek frappe

In the days before I made the cold brew iced coffee, my husband introduced me to the Greek frappe. That could also be why I didn't jump on the iced coffee. This stuff is also really really good. And easy.

Put 2 heaping teaspoons of instant coffee, 2T sugar or some sweetener and 6oz refrigerated cold water and shake well.

Apparently the absence of oil makes a ton of foam or something like that.

Pour over ice and scrape out the foam- that's the best part. Add a half cup of skim milk and 1T half and half or whatever combination you like.

*If you had fancy flavored syrup, you'd add that instead of sugar, but after shaking instead of before.

Some other info:

Of course there is this:

Iced coffee- not just talk anymore

So, I finally got around to making iced coffee.  (And a week and a half later, I got around to posting it!) It wasn't that big of a deal. I don't know why I thought it would be. I guess some of those sites take a picture of each step- i.e.- this is me measuring the coffee, these are the grounds in the container, this is me filling the water, etc.- make it seem really involved because there are a thousand pictures.

Anyway, I did it and it was awesome!

Here's my post about talking about doing it:

I talk about course grind coffee in the post, but some of the links don't specify. I don't know where I got that. I used "random grind". We went to the store and tried to grind coffee for Turkish coffee with cardamom, but it ended up very uneven and decidedly not fine. More like normal to coarse with random beans and chunks thrown in. It was Java Time in case you're wondering the brand. Sometimes I think my husband is testing me to see at what point I will just throw out the bag of random coffee he brings... It wasn't the worst I've had and it was a dark roast, so that was a plus.

Here's what I did:

  • Added 1 cup of grinds in a 32oz mason jar and filled it with water like the instructions say, leaving an inch at the top. Shook it to wet all the grinds. 
  • Steeped for more than 12 hours. Some people say 8 hours is fine; 12 or more will make it bitter. I'll have to try the 8 hours version. 
  • 12 cup coffee filter over a strainer over a bowl, poured half the liquid and waited 0.5 hours. Changed filter, poured rest and waited 0.5- 0.75 hour. Refrigerate. 
  • I used about 4 oz coffee concentrate, 2-3 oz milk, a few tablespoons of half and half, and 2 tablespoons of sweet condensed milk. I didn't try the simple syrup method, but hope to soon. I don't think I'll bother with dissolving sugar or sweetener in cold coffee, given my many unsuccessful attempts at sweetening cold tea up north...for you northerners, the secret is 1.5 cups sugar per gallon boiled with your water (8 teabags)!! Pointing at the Sweet and Low makes me want to point you back to elementary science class. Ok, not really, but restaurants do have the capability to heat water, I'd think.


In scanning some recipes and trying to see if the concentrates were the same strength, I ran into the dry measure problem. Not a big deal, but kind of interesting.

My thinking was 2 c = 1lb...

From a cookbook, before I remembered you can find anything online:
For wheat flour, 3.5c = 1lb
For granulated sugar, 2c = 1lb
For cocoa, 4c= 1lb

One guy measured 5.4 cups in 1 lb Folgers.
Another site said 4.75c = 1lb coarse grind and 5c = 1lb for fine.

Anyway, take that for what it's worth. Or measure your own. And post it online.  :)

Monday, July 11, 2011



Since this round of flotillas have been overwhelmingly unsuccessful, a few from the flotilla are trying or have done a flytilla. I had thought this would be more impossible than a flotilla, but we'll see. I'm pretty sure they have to fly into Israel and if that's the case, it's not like the flotilla going to Gaza. Going directly to Gaza protests the fact that Israel is supposed to have removed itself completely, but actually still controls it and doesn't allow trade or enough food and supplies in. The fact that you have to fly into Israel also makes kind of the same point, since they're not allowed to fly to the Occupied Territories...

Flotilla failure:

Baghdad Burning by Riverbend

This book, Baghdad Burning (I), is the publishing of Riverbend's blog. She's a girl from Iraq and I wish I'd have found her blog at the time of the invasion. I had visited some of the blogs she did, The Angry Arab and Raed in the Middle and Juan Cole, but I don't think I ever saw hers. She really breaks things down (what we did and how it affected Iraqis) and explains customs.

With the whole Gay Girl in Damascus hoax (two more links here and here) and anonymity of the internet, I do wonder sometimes if she's too good to be true and not who she says she is. Either way, I agree with her assessments, but one always wonders...

This will probably be less a review than random things that stood out to me. I've got 4 pages of notes, so I hope it doesn't get long and boring. It brought back some thoughts and feelings I had at the time of the invasion and highlighted things I'd not thought of or forgotten. All those things I didn't know or have forgotten definitely added insult to injury or injury to injury. Each event that came next was more ridiculous than the first. The invasion on false pretenses was bad, but everything that came The mismanagement descriptions I heard were very, very kind indeed! Especially when you figure in that some of it was probably intentional. A sad, sad time for the US and Iraq, not to trivialize Iraq's reality at all.


The way she describes the idea of the rotating presidency is great. I probably didn't understand a lot of the detail that was going on after the initial attack. I had the luxury of not really having to be invested in the outcome- I opposed the war after all. What was I thinking?!

My major moment was when it was proposed that we were going to attack Iraq. (Probably because I didn't have to see everyone dying and being taken away for questioning, though.) I knew there was serious doubt on the WMD and later 9/11-Al Qaeda link, but I wanted to believe what people told me when I voiced my fears- that the president has more information than us, that we were right in attacking, etc. War is serious, but the quick way it came about with the ridiculous 48 hour ultimatum, virtually no real opposition, no serious journalistic scrutiny left me absolutely stunned. I really thought we'd come to our senses before an attack actually happened- there's be troops for show and a behind the scenes deal of some sort. I woke up to news that we actually did attack Iraq and time stood still- it was an alternate reality- this wasn't supposed to happen. Either that day or that weekend, I remember being at a restaurant with family and hearing the reports of bombings and seeing the video footage. I kept staring- flinching at the explosions. I was so mad I wanted to throw something. It wasn't supposed to happen. Thinking back, being at a restaurant with family while they were getting bombed should have been equally infuriating...

I have forgotten a lot of the details because when I heard about Iraq, I thought of how I opposed it or what I could have done to stop it (stupid, I know) rather than listen to the reports. I'm glad to read them in Riverbend's blog now and get some context on things I may or may not have had an opinion about at that time.

She mentions the firing of the army and people who worked in the government ministries. I do remember sharing her opinion that it was absurd. I couldn't believe how shocked they were that some undesirables infiltrated the border- DUH! I think the subject of talk/news was theories on how/why there was chaos and violence and such and I remember thinking how stupid that was. When you fire all the people who used to run stuff, nothing gets done, people will cross borders. Easy.

National Day. This is one thing I don't remember so well, but I definitely share her disgust about Bush (or whoever is carrying out his wishes) declaring April 9, the day Iraq was invaded (I'm thinking this was March) or Saddam removed, a day Iraqis should celebrate. Of course Bush would see it as an accomplishment, but to make Iraqis celebrate a day in which they were invaded, killed, occupied and bombed to the preindustrial age is crazy. Shows how little we thought about Iraqis in the whole process. Fitting in the backwards, Bush way. It made me think of the way birthdays of leaders in N. Korea are made to be such a big deal and celebrated by everyone with special performances and everyone is supposed to be so happy about it and yet these are the people responsible for the poverty and isolation of the country... National Day should be a day Iraqis take pride in being Iraqi. They should choose some day that has meaning to them- like the day they boot us out or something that doesn't have anything to do with military.

Her descriptions of watching Bush and Rumsfeld are similar to the way I felt back then. I do remember not being able to look at their smug faces, but I had to see what they were saying- I couldn't turn it off. I appreciated getting her view of the consequences of their actions that I didn't have before. I only knew they were wrong and I was infuriated no one here bothered to put any real questions- the media slept- or turned into Bush's mouthpiece. Not too much different than the countries we criticize for no freedoms- yet we did that to ourselves!!

I also didn't realize there was a 9/11 memorial service in Tikrit in 2003! The nerve! She thinks it may be used as proof in the future of the missing 9/11 link-   these scenes will be superimposed on the past and treated as evidence for that. In 2011, I say impossible. When I'm old and telling my grandchildren people today (2060) are delusional if they think 9/11 was the reason for the Iraq invasion, I wonder if they'll smile and nod and think I'm totally off my rocker. So I guess the jury's still out.

Earlier in the book she mentions Americans taking over the palaces of Saddam Hussein. It angered me at the time. It still does, but now I see it was pretty fitting since we acted no better and probably worse than Saddam Hussein himself. It kind of set the scene for the US plan for Iraq- take the best for yourself and totally disregard everyone else. But then again the US plan for Iraq also says a lot- our plan for governing a place that isn't ours and supposed to be free...

September 29, 2003 She has an entry about sheiks. I don't recall hearing about this as it happened. The Americans gathered a bunch of them together and wanted them to "cooperate" with them since sheiks have a lot of influence/respect over large groups of people. In return they wanted a timetable for withdrawal and expected they'd get to participate politically, since they won't be able to get their people on board (rightfully so) if they get nothing in return for the bombing, killing, raids, detentions, etc. Jay Garner said no to both. Americans called it a conference and the sheiks' response was that it was just giving orders, no conference. They were then blacklisted and targeted for raids by the Americans. She made the good point that humiliating sheiks hurts democracy more than Iraq's "tribal tendencies." She uses herself and her pre-war job and freedom as an example of how tribes are family and order, not backwardness and chaos.

She says the world is waking up (p91) and gives this ebook or site: Embedded: Weapons of Mass Deception by Danny Schechter at . Another site mentioned is (September 25 post). Apparently some company sells or sold a toy Iraqi house with blood on the walls and a proud American soldier. It's called Forward Command Post? Sickening. I checked snopes- it's no joke. I don't remember this at all. One of the article rightly offers- what if Afghan kids played with burning and collapsing twin towers? The animosity toward "the other" is represented; the only difference is that the average Afghan doesn't support Al-Qaeda, but most Americans support our troops. In looking up the links, I read people saying it was no big deal; kids play with GI Joe and army men... The toy was definitely a Middle Eastern style house and the way the "war on terror" is/was being fought- punishing Afghans for Al-Qaeda who was only loosely associated with the Taliban who weren't representative of Afghans, invading a country on false pretenses (Iraq)- it's more propaganda than a toy for a 5 year old.

She explains some about the significance of jewelry in this part of the world, which is very different from ours. It's the dowry, it's a family's savings (especially in places that become unstable due to conflict such that the value of their currency plummets). In American culture, it's more of a sign of affluence or preference (to have a lot of it) than anything like family savings. She said troops would steal/confiscate it because they thought it suspicious (they must have gotten rich dealing in weapons, drugs, terrorism) for them to have so much gold jewelry...which could be true if you apply American culture to Iraq and ignore the culture of the people. Still no reason to steal, though if it was pocketed by the soldiers. Kind of funny thought I had- their gold jewelry is used as savings and such, but it is more pure, and way more ornate than ours. Our gold is primarily decorative rather than for savings, but it is pretty plain- especially the more affordable stuff. :) I have a few things from the Middle East and they are my absolute favorite.

I enjoyed her description of tea making (p108). Theirs is flavored with cardamom. I didn't realize that. Cool. Earlier bamiya and other food I recognize and eat is mentioned. She describes it all as Iraqi; I had thought of some of it as more Palestinian/ Lebanese...  ;)

p112- She tells about an incident where troops have dogs searching Ministry of Oil employees and throwing Qurans to the ground. Outrage ensued. I'm pretty sure this is before the Abu Ghraib story broke. I don't remember hearing about searches and dogs and throwing Qurans except in the prisons. It could be selective reporting or my bad memory. I remember hearing so much about how soldiers are being made to learn about customs and culture so as to be "more effective" and not so ugly American- I wonder if all that press was before or after this? I really thought the troops were making an effort, but can you really teach or force people to hear what you're saying about others and respect others??

p130 Her recipes! I've got to check that out. Hope it's still around.

p152 The Bush visit on November 27, 2003. He wanted to show people it was safe, but the story she tells is one of daily dangers- still. I like how she puts it- she wants him to walk on the streets, not drop in on hand selected troops to show how "safe" it is.

p155 Iraq's Nuclear Mirage by Imad Khadduri. I don't remember this, but apparently he is a physicist who had some connection to the nuclear program and wrote a tell all book about how things were shut down in 1991 and teh current WMD things is garbage and everyone knew it.

p161 The Iraq Census Bureau wanted to have a census to have elections by September 1 or something like that and the US said no. I didn't remember that either.

p165 The capture of Saddam Hussein. It seemed like a big deal to Riverbend. I was expecting it not  to be I guess, since life under Saddam was better than occupation. There were pro-American demonstrations, which I remembered seeing along with footage of the statue being pulled over and the flag on his head. (Seems like there was some "scandal" where a US flag was on it first, then they decided it was better to put the Iraqi one there.) There were also anti-American and pro-Saddam demonstrations at which women and children were rounded up with men and arrested. I don't recall hearing about those.

p174 She describes Christmas in Baghdad, enjoying the lights and festivities with Christian neighbors. It was interesting to learn about Baba Noel (Santa). He dresses the same way, but doesn't come in to deliver gifts through a chimney because there aren't any chimney's and he's mainly a mascot rather than a FedEx- and no reindeer.

p207  This explanation of the bombing of a shelter full of women and kids in 1991 was so horribly tragic, like hearing about 9/11. And Americans replied that this was a legit target?? Unbelievable. She breaks it down with international law, which was great. I don't know what I thought then. I wasn't as up on world events and various schools of thought in 1991(I was a naive 13) as presently. Now it's clear the legit target thing is garbage.

She talks a few times about America punishing a whole city or area for action against troops. I guess I didn't realize that went on or went on so much. Maybe I have forgotten. War is inherently ugly and so I guess I didn't distinguish between horrors at times. I remember hearing about the 4 contractors that were dragged through the streets and treated brutally and all the outrage in the US. I remember some really sketchy stuff with Blackwater, how they do military tasks, but aren't held accountable in any code of justice and really are mercenaries and criminals. She connects Fallujah and the hundreds upon hundreds dead to this event. I'm not saying it's not true, but I don't remember this in our media. I absolutely believe that is the correct connection and that we called the women and children terrorists- unfortunately I believe it.

I completely can empathize or sympathize with her on the repulsion she felt about Bush speeches. He angered me. I didn't want to hear his voice or see that smug expression, but I wanted to see if he had come to his senses yet. I wondered if he'd ever "man up" and admit wrongdoing on ANYTHING or everything. No luck.

Riverbend explains things so well for us Americans. I have enjoyed the detail and context- not enjoyed descriptions of war- but you know what I mean- it fills in some blanks that were left intentionally by the government and media or my bad memory. It is a new context or perspective.

Two great observations from Riverbend:

1. p262 Americans are shocked at the Abu Ghraib scandal; Iraqis are well acquainted with the events already. Americans were outraged at Iraq showing American POWs on TV- thought Arabs were animals for showing soldiers alive and well, if tired, captive and reading from a script. Americans had no problem showing many images of Iraqi detainees as the recipient of dozens of compromising, embarrassing, immodest and disgusting abuses- what does that say about Americans?

2. Nick Berg (p264). She makes the point that beheading was probably chosen because this would horrify Americans like others things wouldn't (she makes a good point, doesn't she?). In a similar way, Americans chose sexual crimes against Iraqis because this is a fate worse than death to them. I would add the choice of dogs is the same due to the opinion of many Muslims about dogs. Both sides had the same thinking and did horrible, illegal, wrong things, but the US wanted to call Abu Ghraib a "stain" and get rid of it quick.

p276 The picture she paints surrounding her aunt dying of natural causes really got to me.  (Natural causes at that time is not so natural with the stress of living under occupation and raids, but that's relative...) It brings up issues I didn't really think about at the time it was happening- so many dead to bury, cemeteries filling up, scheduling nightmares for grief-stricken families. Things they shouldn't have to worry about. Misery on top of misery. As if war doesn't bring enough suffering and upheaval, room in the cemetery is limited, her aunt's space was given away due to necessity (war casualties) and they had to bury her where they didn't plan to. I also didn't think about the scheduling a wakes at mosques being tough because of so many dying that month from non-natural causes.

Her last post included in the first Baghdad Burning book made a good point. She describes a person dying and asks if it was 9/11/01. No, it was Falujah, 9/11/04. I hope it makes people think about what's permissible to do to others. Victims are victims.

My stuff from around the Iraq war, ~2003:

There is at least one letter to the editor about Iraq that I wrote on here:

This is my first blog. Check out the second link in the old entries and you'll probably see some entries on Iraq. It's not organized well. Part of that is my fault and part of it is the pitas blogging site. You may have to use the search function because I'd talk about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and add something about Iraq on the end sometimes...Sorry about that!

I had tried to find a bunch of emails I received when I emailed churches (same beliefs as me, not varying denominations) around the world to see if everyone's take was that the Bible says Bush is doing the right thing or that we must support him, etc, like the consensus in the US. They, like me, questioned the approach, attacking Iraq and considered verses about peace and not just submitting to government.

Here's my blog from ~2006-2007 or so. Yahoo has changed the address several times and annoyed me to no end, so I moved to Google blogger.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Stamp hysteria

Oh no! Say it isn't so! See my response below.I have not edited the actual email much, only to make it more readable on my background. All punctuation, capitalization and fear-mongering has been preserved in its original form.


                                              GOD BLESS YOU ALL
   DON'T BUY IT AND DON'T USE IT !!!   REFUSE TO TAKE THEM ANYWHERE!   Don't let anyone sell them to you!
Apparently they think That putting hearts and butterflies on the new
Stamp will make most people not realize That the rest is Arabic and probably not
Something we want to support. 

New Stamp - the Second one!!!
This image is a larger version of the Eid Custom Postage product.

New 4
4-Cent Stamp Celebrates
A Muslim Holiday.
If There is only ONE thing you forward today.. Let It be this!

President Obama has directed the United States Postal Service to REMEMBER and HONOR the EID MUSLIM Holiday season with a new commemorative 44-Cent First Class Holiday Postage Stamp. 

To adamantly & vocally BOYCOTT this stamp,
When you are purchasing your stamps at the post Office.

All you have to say Is 
"No Thank you, I do not want that Muslim Stamp on my Letters or any of my mail!"

To Use this stamp would be a slap in the face to All those AMERICANS who died at the hands of Those whom this stamp Honors.

REMEMBER The MUSLIM bombing of Pan Am Flight 103!

REMEMBER the MUSLIM Bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993!

REMEMBER the MUSLIM bombing of the Marine Barracks in Lebanon!

REMEMBER the MUSLIM bombing of
Military Barracks in Saudi Arabia!

REMEMBER the MUSLIM bombing of The American Embassies in Africa!

Bombing of the USS COLE!

Attack on 9/11/2001!

REMEMBER all The AMERICAN lives that were lost in those Vicious MUSLIM Attacks!

Pass This along to Every 
that You know and get the word Out!   
Honor The United States of America.
 My response:

I have to say this first- I'm not mad at the forwarder at all-- just the creators of the forward and hysteria. I should probably leave this alone or delete it or whatever, but I won't....

I don't know if you looked at this before forwarding... but I have to chime in. I don't mean any offense, but knowing some Arabs and Muslims as I do, I have to say this stamp is nothing to worry about. Please forgive me if I seem a little peeved. I'll add my piece (since you've given me yours) and then I'll be fine.

First, Obama didn't actually tell the post office to issue this stamp. This is another attempt at trying to get people to believe Obama's a "closet Muslim" and lying about being Christian. See snopes:

Second, it seems like a pretty crazy, big leap, don't you think? It's Arabic, so don't support it? I have a New Testament in Arabic. This is a pretty broad generalization- don't buy it 'cause of the Arabic. Things like this foster hatred of the unknown and "the other." It tries to tell you- you don't have anything in common with people who speak Arabic- don't bother to translate the script- let's judge them wholesale on their language (or color of their skin...didn't we get over that? No to that too, huh?)- and oppose and boycott whatever they "support".

The tone of this thing is pretty vicious also. "Remember the Muslim bombings," with Muslim in all caps. And if you didn't get the message, the last line implores you to remember all the American lives lost in vicious Muslim attacks. The email doesn't mention that our good friend Israel had some very important knowledge about the Marine barracks incident, but didn't share it due to the nature of the give and take relationship- we give and they take.

From the forward: "To Use this stamp would be a slap in the face to  All those AMERICANS who died at the hands of Those whom this stamp Honors."(??!!) MANY nationalities died on 9/11 (is that what they're talking about?), MANY members of MANY religious groups- they were all Americans (or maybe on visas, but you get my point). This line aims to divide Americans. This forward is a slap in the face to Americans. I'd rather boycott emails like this (but I think commenting might do more good- or at least I won't be silently complicit). Muslims serve in our armed forces and Muslims died on 9/11, alongside white, black, German, Swedish, Hispanic, Jewish, Italian, etc Americans. This makes it sound as if this stamp honors terrorists (?!)-- and Arab Americans or Muslim Americans either do not exist or cannot possibly function in a democracy or not be a terrorist in general.

On a practical note, I seriously doubt you would be offered this stamp first or as the only option at a post office anyway. When you go to the counter and ask to buy stamps, they normally just hand out the flag or bell forever stamps- or whatever is on them. If you don't want the Eid stamp on your letters, we do have the option to pick something else. At my small local post office, we usually have 5 or 6 choices and online you have ~100. And in the little vending machines, I have only seen the bell and flag type. I seriously doubt post offices will force this particular stamp on you or require you to have it on your letters.  :)  My question is--will they use this stamp to "track" Muslims? I'm joking (I think).

I take major issue with using this stamp being unpatriotic (and having all those American flags at the bottom of such a hateful message). That's ridiculous! We believe in freedom of religion, do we not? And God doesn't force Christians to obey; that is our choice (there are definitely consequences for the wrong choice... but my point is we aren't forced, we choose). This is a right as enshrined in law as our right to assemble and demonstrate, to speak our mind, to bear arms.

Sure, don't buy the stamp if you don't want it, but to pressure (or harass) others not to buy it or the post office not to sell it because you don't celebrate the holiday represented on the stamp goes against what America is all about- or should be. Our soldiers died to protect THAT right.

Where's the outrage about Hanukkah (or anything else that has appeared on a stamp that's not Christian)?? I'm sure there's a stamp for that and Christians don't celebrate that either. To be fair we should be making a scene at post offices about that, too. Otherwise, this is just about people thinking all Muslims are terrorists. I don't think that is too big of a leap. I thought we were beyond ignorance like that!

Moving on to more facts... This stamp is for the celebration or Ramadan or the Eid feast, not anything remotely associated with terrorism or any particular country. It is not unpatriotic. Ramadan emphasizes some points Christians and Americans would do well to consider, actually- what it means to be hungry, fasting, prayer, devotion, being kind, not arguing, refraining from foul speech, etc. Is this really something to get upset about or make a scene about (going in and shouting, unprovoked- "I do not want that Muslim stamp on any of my mail")? I guess you certainly have that right, but especially if you are a Christian, you should think about your motivation for doing that, how you might accomplish the same in a more self-controlled, respectful manner, and what others are going to learn from that- a Biblical concept or something opposite.

If you take issue with this as a Christian, I can maybe see that. Maybe. It's a Muslim holiday. Christians don't celebrate it. But- no need to hate it and hate Arabic and stage boycotts and and go into post offices demanding stamps with some "American" writing on it. The solution would be simply not to buy it, not to "adamantly and vocally boycott" and make a big deal about it. It's not applicable to you. Must everything be? Like the Hanukkah one. So what? We have the freedom not to buy it. Choose the flowers. Or flag. Or Elvis. Chinese New Year*. Latin Music Legends. Whatever floats your boat.
*Do be advised that the Chinese New Year one does have Chinese characters on it ;)

It's pretty American to have over 100 choices of what to mail your letters with. It's a letter for crying out loud! If there was only one design, I'd definitely think we were moving towards socialism. ;)

-->I was so caught off guard by this one for whatever reason, I didn't mention that whether they're talking about 9/11 or Iraq (Americans dying), my points are basically the same except for the fact that I don't believe soldiers in Iraq are fighting for freedom or that Iraq had anything to do with 9/11. This may be clear to most, but this particular post may not have been clear.

-->I also didn't mention the differences between Islam and what terrorists practice (those who claim to kill in the name of Islam). For the most part, terrorism is political. People have a problem with foreign occupation and oppression (go figure). I think it helps them (justification, recruiting) to bring religion into it, but I certainly wouldn't inform myself on Islam from watching or listening to a terrorist who claims to kill in the name of God (in any religion).

** I didn't go into these probably because the main problem was more broad. It's definitely not that I think these issues aren't important. When I looked back at this, I felt I should have addressed them, though.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Islam in the church...and consumerism, too, I guess

Islam is sometimes mentioned in worship and Bible classes. I'm probably going to seem overly critical, but I'm just trying to sort out what's right- how should I react, what does the Bible say, should I go along with the majority? It's more of an inward criticism or conflict. Or maybe I am hypersensitive on this or maybe it's just one of those things that for me provokes thought endlessly given the political atmosphere and times. There was a lighthearted joke- not a big deal- but it made me think about the way we talk about other religions, etc. It also made me think of some less lighthearted things about Islam I've heard from people I would otherwise consider strong in the faith, as this situation always does.

I also found the strong agreement when radical Islam and suicide bombing was mentioned interesting. That made me think about buzzwords and hot topics that are often mentioned when politics and religion cross over now and then. When certain things are mentioned like abortion, gay marriage, the way culture is going down the tubes because a certain party in in the White House, and I think we can add radical Islam to the list (which is weird since it has very little to do with Islam and nothing to do with Christians), it can really animate and light a fire under a congregation. I use the conservative example here, because this is what situation I am in, but it is the same for the other side as well, I'm sure- same reaction to different buzzwords.

I mean why look at Islam so closely? Aside from the political focus, because I guess that's the real reason. Why poke fun at their beliefs- or things we think are beliefs but are really myths? I see it done with denominations occasionally, but we normally catch ourselves and say we shouldn't be doing that. Not so with Islam. It can be sort of a of a free for all. Maybe it's because when we're poking fun at denominations, we get uncomfortable when we think of a good friend who is involved with one of these groups; whereas many of us don't have this handy check and balance for Islam (I'm just guessing here).

Instead of the jokes, though, I wonder why we don't approach Islam (not just personally, but teach it), or more specifically, radical Islam (since I think this is the focus of the concern), a little more like Paul or Stephen. They both just kept on preaching the truth (wisely- in their case they had the Spirit to lead them to various cities- in our case, we have the Bible that tells us not to provoke, to be be kind, live as we are called) and Stephen even pleaded for their souls as they stoned him to death. I don't recall them spreading rumors about or laughing at their detractors as part of their teaching. They were in more immediate danger than we are from "radical Islam" and yet they were far more sensible about the whole thing (I guess that makes sense, now, doesn't it?). I don't think that they weren't afraid- not at all- but they certainly handled it well and we can and should learn volumes from that. They may have made certain arrangements in their meetings for safety, but I can't really see the superior attitude in the New Testament that I hear sometimes today.

They seemed to have a good understanding of this verse we seem to often forget:

Matthew 10:28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

And also:
Romans 12:18 If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.

I have been seeing this focus on Islam in/by the church since the Iraq invasion or since 9/11/2001. There have been lessons, even lectureships, and of course many a post on a message board (breeding ground for sensational email forwards). Why? Maybe this is becoming one of those issues like abortion and gay marriage for which you must preach zero tolerance and draconian measures in order to be a true Republican and in some cases a true Christian? Is it a reflection of the Republican Party's obsession (see post on Muslim Hearings)?

I wonder why we have to be so concerned? It's not really such a safety issue. Yes, there are those who don't like our policies and want to kill for that. True. But nothing like Rome and Christianity back in the day- not by any means.

I do understand that we are to do this:
Ephesians 5:11 And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them.

On the other hand, there are other issues (I believe) that we should be thinking more closely about than Islam or the smaller minority of radicals. Consumerism. Why do we "need" so much stuff? I'm talking about myself as much as anyone. Having been to the 3rd world, made that vow to do with less, violated said vow so quickly and easily upon return, I  reflect on it some. I think we could do with a lot less, but then in a world of excess, you'd look like you were unnecessarily depriving yourself or worse, your kids. It seems much more in style to decry Islam, abortion, or gay marriage than declaring a war on stuff. I don't think it's a sin to want that Kindle or iPad or splurge on shoes, but at some point you do cross that line. Where is the line? And I think a lot of times that line is closer than we are assuming and saying it is. We are quick to say rich people can and do enter heaven when the verses about the rich young ruler or the camel and the eye of the needle come up. Maybe for good reason. Though it might be hard, it is possible. The problem with it is that I don't hear as much in these types of discussions is how little can we do with? What can I do without? I have too much. I'm talking about myself, here, too, no question. I wonder if we should talk more about giving and buying and having less than clarifying various parables that say it's hard to get to heaven if you're rich?

Wow. This kind of ended up in a different place than I expected. And so ends another post I was going to delete, but will go ahead and post. If I deleted as many posts as I wanted to, I'd only have a handful up here! :)

Finding Nouf by Zoe Ferraris

Finding Nouf was a Middle Eastern fiction I was able to find at my small town library. It was actually a really good story. Maybe bits here and there were contrived, but it really didn't bother me because I enjoyed the story.

I have very few complaints. I was a little put off at how quickly the conservative Nayir was interested in sticking his nose in the not-so-evident crime involving Nouf. The assistant examiner he had to have contact was a woman and his friend/ employer's fiance (he finds out later) that I hadn't expected him to want to get involved with (as in talking to, not romantically). Maybe this was because I hadn't yet gotten into the story. All in all, it was a slight interruption, but wasn't a big deal.

The other thing that stuck out as a flaw to me was the food was never really mentioned. Coffee and tea were often mentioned and that was essential, so I'm glad it wasn't left out, but I think descriptions of food seemed scarce. When we met the American at his house and food was offered, there was some elaboration. In the "families welcome" restaurant, "The Big Mix," the word lunch was used rather than any description of food. I realize food may have been left out because it wasn't the focus of the meeting, etc, but I think it's an essential detail to help us like the characters. What do they eat? What do they like? How does the food in front of them remind them of food from where they are originally from? How do the smells remind them of other experiences? It's an essential part of knowing the characters and it was missing a lot of the time. (Admittedly, the last fiction I read was Crescent, in which food was a major element- but, still!)

Also, it was handy that the main character's uncle happened to have some scientific equipment in his basement- a mass spec of all things and enough stuff to process crime scene samples. That was weird. And kind of unnecessary. Less obvious was Miss Hijazi's job as a tech in a crime lab. It made the story possible, moved it along, but wasn't contrived. It brought an element of women's lib to the table, so she was a great character.

As I mentioned, I did enjoy the mystery very much. I also enjoyed the glimpse into a slice of Saudi culture and the variety of people and attitudes that make up Saudi society. Royalty, the rich, the progressive, the truly and falsely devout, the religious police, vigilantes, Bedouins, and immigrants (the eye doctor and Nayir) were among those discussed.

Several subjects in Middle Eastern culture were woven into the story: hospitality; modesty; attitude toward Americans; helping the American would have been as bad as touching her skin; attitude towards immigrants- even from other Arab countries; contact between or segregation of men and women; women working- various attitudes about it; women driving, escorts/ drivers; concept of such constraints bringing on depravity they were meant to guard against; underground/ hidden brothels and bars; double standards such as it's not as bad to sleep with a non-Muslim prostitute as a Muslim one; there was an interesting but short discussion of the interpretation of the veil- what is should cover- face, bosom, etc (I'd never really heard that one before); there was some Arabic interspersed, which I enjoyed, but I could have done with more! Some of these I I was familiar with, a few were new, some I still didn't understand- all were well done.

I would definitely recommend it. The author is an American who was once married into a Saudi Palestinian Bedouin family. I thought the book was great considering this; I would still like to read more by Arab authors to compare and contrast treatment of various issues like women, religion, etc.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

US flotilla to Gaza!

Here's the flotilla site:

A US State Department rep is saying that aid not necessary. (?) Aid should go through "proper" channels. (?) I guess to say aid is necessary is to admit Israel is doing something wrong and the US is giving them money to oppress people. We can't have that... well, wait...we can't admit that, now can we?

Israel? The Occupying Power? The proper channel is to go through the oppressor and trust them to provide anywhere near adequately for the people it is subjugating? Do you think they are qualified to be fair when they've calculated the number of calories it takes for people to survive (not thrive and be healthy?)? What about that previous track record, complete with humanitarian crisis??


This feels awkward, posting my own link, but history tends to repeat itself more frequently in this conflict than in the larger world. Here's the pasta post with the rather ridiculous exchange of someone asking the State Department why pasta isn't allowed. It kind of highlights a broader point, though, I think:

Also see humanitarian situation on the sidebar...

Israel has always gotten around crimes of oppression and occupation by saying they have left Gaza. They aren't occupying it. They have unilaterally withdrawn (also known to officials as "political formaldehyde" meant to stall negotiations). Who is buying that, anyway? What's the big deal, then? Let Gaza accept the aid on its shores since Gaza is "free" and Israeli waters aren't involved! Or can we get them to admit they are really still occupying all of Palestine? You can't have it both ways. Unless you are Israel.

Clinton's puzzling take:
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters Friday that she didn't think the plan "is useful or productive or helpful to the people of Gaza."

Greek government obviously isn't up for this challenge due to concerns at home and folds:

Physical sabotage and psychological, too:

Israel refuses to deny sabotage:

Israel threatening journalists:

He said journalists who participated in the flotilla would be breaking Israeli law and would be banned from Israel for 10 years, as well as facing confiscation of equipment and other measures.

Israel backing away from threat: