Friday, September 16, 2005


Hubbub over Arafat's Cause of Death

Last week, there were a number of high profile articles in Ha'aretz about the release of Yasir Arafat's medical records to two Israeli journalists, Amos Harel and Avi Isacharoff, and, subsequently, speculation as to the cause of his death (an excerpt from Harel and Isacharoff's forthcoming book was published in the Friday magazine section of Ha'aretz). The articles sparked conversation given allegations that Arafat was either poisoned or suffered from AIDS, or even both (Arafat's personal physician posits a theory that Arafat was poisoned but that the AIDS virus was introduced into his blood to cover up the poison). Interestingly enough, the New York Times ran a more sober story on the medical records, giving no credence of the AIDS theories (headline: Medical Records Say Arafat Died from a Stroke), causing debate as to whether Ha'aretz had been overly sensational in their claims or whether the Times had ignored important evidence. The Times ran a correction, stating that the paragraphs dealing with the AIDS speculation had been cut because of space. Two of the paragraphs that were cut read:
"The records make no mention of an AIDS test, an omission the experts found bizarre. An Israeli infectious disease specialist said he would have performed the test, if only to be thorough and to refute the rumors that surrounded the case.

"He said news accounts during Arafat's illness made him strongly suspect that Arafat had AIDS. But after studying the records, he said that was improbable, given the sudden onset of the intestinal troubles."
Hardly sensational stuff. Ha'aretz ran an article by Harel with the headline "NY Times and Haaretz - why the different stories?" And why? Harel wrote:
How did Haaretz and The New York Times come to such different conclusions, based on the same report? A copy of the report was first obtained during research for the book, "The Seventh War," written by Amos Harel and Avi Isacharoff. The copy was presented by the authors to a Times reporter who was present at the meetings with Israeli experts.

The experts posited three principal causes of death: poison, infection or AIDS, with each doctor assigning a different probability to each option.

The Times, after consulting with its own medical reporters, decided to rule out almost completely the probability of poisoning or AIDS. The Israeli doctors, and Haaretz in their footsteps, thought differently.
Finally, after all the back and forth between an Israeli and an American newspaper, Khaled Amayreh in al-Ahram Weekly writes on the Palestinian perspective, both on the medical records and the reporting on them in Israel and the U.S. The concencus?
For the vast majority of ordinary Palestinians, and also for most PA officials, the widespread belief among Palestinians that Israel killed Arafat has not translated into any serious preoccupation with the affair. In other words, the Palestinian nation as a whole is not very enthusiastic about -- or even interested in -- unravelling the mystery of Arafat's death. Part of this apathy is probably related to the quiet realisation on the part of most Palestinians that it really wouldn't make a big difference if it were proven that Israel killed Arafat.

One Palestinian schoolteacher scoffed at the media fanfare regarding the released medical records. "I can't understand why people are so excited about the possibility that Israel killed Arafat. Israel has killed tens of thousands of Palestinians, including hundreds of political leaders. Israel is our enemy and our gravedigger. Why wouldn't they kill him?"


Mosques in Israel

Meron Rapoport of Ha'aretz writes a great article today, in which he visits the sites of several mosques in Israel that have been converted into synagogues or were abandoned following 1948. Quite a history lesson. One example (from the section on the Wadi Hunayn mosque, now the Geulat Israel synagogue in Nes Tziona):
Based on its Oriental facade, it is no different from other buildings that were built in the same style in the colonies of that era, even in Tel Aviv. It is therefore difficult to notice it was originally a mosque. "Those who are not old-timers here don't know there used to be an Arab neighborhood here, and a mosque, which essentially threatened the existence of the colony," writes [Avner] Kahanov. "The mosque was converted into a synagogue in which people pray for peace."

Kahanov mentions the mosque minaret, which no longer exists. One veteran Nes Tziona resident offers a simple explanation to this mystery. "On May 15, 1948," he recounts, "the entire colony gathered around the mosque. On the following evening, the Arabs disappeared from the center of the colony. We got up in the morning and they had left without a trace. We stood around the mosque, a few Palmachniks climbed up to the minaret, tied a rope around it, gave a vocal 'heave-ho,' and the minaret fell down." The man, who is well-known in Nes Tziona, says even then he felt shame at what he saw. But he is not prepared to speak out. The sensitivity is still too great.

Thursday, September 15, 2005


Where's the trust?

Though we know that freedom is on the march (or so I've heard), there seems to be a global lack of confidence in politicians and governments. The Guardian reports:
Commissioned by the BBC World Service, Gallup interviewed more than 50,000 people in 68 countries, representative of the views of 1.3 billion people worldwide. The main exclusions were China and most of the Middle East, where government restrictions make polling difficult or impossible. Overall, slightly less than half of those surveyed (47%) felt that elections in their country were free and fair. Confidence in elections was highest in Scandinavia (82%) and South Africa (76%), and lowest in West Africa (24%) and the former Soviet Union (25%).

Worldwide, politicians represent the least trusted occupation in the survey, scoring only 13%. Religious leaders are the most trusted (33%), followed by military/police leaders (26%), journalists (26%) and business leaders (19%).

Asked which types of people they would like to give more power to, 35% favoured "intellectuals" (writers and academics), followed by religious leaders on 25%.
And you'd have to imagine that if China and the Middle East were included we wouldn't be seeing a huge leap in the numbers for politicians. But seriously, folks, let's hear if for writers and academics.


Bush to Sharon: We are real men!

This is enough to make you gag:
"All over the world, people want strong leaders. That's how I won the last elections despite the media's belief that I would lose. And I'm sure that you will also win," President George W. Bush told Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at a meeting yesterday at United Nations headquarters in New York....

Bush appeared in jovial spirits during the meeting, smiling and joking a lot, despite his difficult situation in the public opinion polls.
Forget the polls, how about the fucking disaster in Louisiana and the Gulf coast, not to mention the fucking disaster in Iraq.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

A Sardinian Wedding (Photo by my dad)


Abbas aide says PA head will disarm resistance groups

Al-Jazeera reports that Rafiq Husseini, an aide to Mahmud Abbas, said that the PA President will be looking to disarm the militant groups in the Gaza Strip, starting with Fatah-affiliated groups and then including Hamas (and presumably others) after the January parliamentary elections.
"The groups within Fatah will be required to disarm and join the security services, or we will have to treat them as if they have violated the law," Husseini was quoted as saying by the Israeli daily, Haaretz.

"There is no longer an Israeli presence in Gaza, so bearing arms in the streets and the existence of militias are not justified. After January, Hamas will no longer need its weapons either," Husseini added.
Although it's not clear whether Husseini was referring only to Gaza and not the West Bank, it seems that if Abbas does attempt this, he will probably start in Gaza (it would probably be easier to justify to his own constituency, and he is also tasked by the U.S. and Israel with imposing sufficient order in Gaza to justify Israel considering pulling out of some areas of the West Bank). It's hard for me to imagine this actually happening. First of all, notice that this isn't Abbas talking, it's one of his aides. It would seem that Abbas may be testing out the waters to see what the public response is to this, but it would surely not help Fatah, especially leading up to January elections, and may well split it even further. As Arnon Regular notes in the Ha'aretz article, even starting with "Fatah-affiliated" groups will not be an easy task:
There are dozens of armed groups operating in the Gaza Strip under the name of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, the military wing of Fatah, in addition to groups such as the Popular Resistance Committees and the Abu Rish Brigades, which claim they operate under the Fatah umbrella.
Leaving aside the fact that I personally don't think that the PRC claims to operate under the Fatah umbrella or views itself as a "Fatah" group, trying to negotiate with all these groups to disarm is going to be very difficult. None of these groups wants to feel singled out, forced to disarm as other groups maintain their arms, seeing defections to other groups that remain armed or resist disarming (Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the PRCs, etc). Abbas is really in a bad spot here, as he risks doing serious damage to an already hobbled Fatah movement in the Gaza Strip on the one hand, and doing serious damage to an already hobbled PA if he does not win some concessions from the U.S. and Israel on the other (and disarming Gaza militants is obviously in part an attempt to appeal to the U.S. and Israel).

Again, though, some comments from an aide are a far cry from concrete actions. Surely there will be a statement in response from Hamas and possibly some al-Aqsas Martyrs Brigades folks, but at this stage it's just words.


Cosmetic Surgery in the UK

There is an article in the Guardian today by Decca Aitkenhead about the steep rise in cosmetic surgeries in the UK. The article gives some pretty surprising (maybe just to me, though, as the whole concept seems so bizarre -- obviously not a mainstream view) statistics.
[Transform Medical Group] has seen an annual growth rate of 10-20% through the 90s rocket recently to twice as much or more, and this is reflected across the industry as a whole. Cosmetic operations in Bupa [British United Provident Association] hospitals were up by 32% last year, male patient numbers more than doubled, and operations by the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (Baaps) rose by 50%. In the absence of a formal national record, the true number of cosmetic operations today is unknowable. Bupa puts it at around 75,000 a year, with another 50,000 non-surgical procedures such as Botox. By the end of last year the British market had been valued at more than £250m.

Whatever the precise magnitude of the explosion, its impact on us has been overwhelming. A practice widely regarded not a decade ago as physically risky, morally doubtful, prohibitively expensive and socially embarrassing has been rebranded as something so innocuous and sensible as to be mundane. A survey this summer for Grazia magazine found that more than half of women now expect to have surgery. A quarter of teenage boys polled in May thought they might too, while more than 40% of teenage girls said they had considered it....

In the Grazia survey this summer, two thirds of women under 25 said "celebrities influence them into wanting surgery".
The article goes on at length about the role of the media (especially reality television) and what role, if any, "feminism" has to play.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005


The State of D.C. Housing

As somebody who moved into the city one year ago and am moving from one apartment to another at the end of the month, I can certainly attest to the veracity of this article by Lori Montgomery in the Washington Post: Number of D.C. Affordable Housing Units Plunge. According to the article:
In a single year, the median rent in the District jumped by 9 percent -- from $734 to $799 -- while the median home value soared by 32 percent -- from $252,930 to $334,702, according to a report released yesterday by the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute.
These trends (of disappearing affordable housing and growing unaffordable housing), according to the report, contribute to the disappearance of a middle-class presence in the city and also of mixed-income and mixed-race neighborhoods.
To reverse these trends, the task force recommends dedicating a greater portion of the tax revenue generated by the real estate boom to housing programs. City officials should encourage construction of 55,000 units over the next 15 years, the report says, and adopt policies aimed at building "mixed-income and mixed-race neighborhoods."

"We're talking about a substantial increase, perhaps doubling what the city now spends on affordable housing," said task force co-chairman Adrian Washington, president of the Neighborhood Development Co., which specializes in urban redevelopment. "If we don't, we're going to have a city that's even more divided along the lines of race and class."

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