Friday, February 29, 2008

The Sederot Gambit

Sederot (sometimes spelled Sderot) is an Israeli town in the country's south, only one kilometer from Gaza. On Feb. 27, a college student in Sederot was killed by a Kassam rocket. Hours later, a father of four was killed by a Grad rocket in neighboring Ashkelon, reported the Jerusalem Post.
Shortly after a student at Sapir College in Sderot was killed and one other person was wounded by shrapnel in a Kassam rocket attack, a barrage of four Grad missiles struck the Ashkelon area. According to Channel 1, one person was wounded by shrapnel.

The Sapir College casualty has been identified as Roni Yihieh, 47, of Moshav Bit'ha near Ofakim. Yehieh, a father of four, was critically wounded when a rocket hit a parking lot on the western Negev campus, and died shortly after being evacuated to Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon.
Hamas has been firing the anti-personnel rockets into Israeli towns and countryside with regularity for years.

On Oct. 23 of last year I visited the towns of Sederot and Ashkelon. Six rockets fell near Sederot not long before my group arrived. Here are the remains of three of them (all photos and video taken by me).

There is a large rack of exploded rockets outside Sederot's police station. They have a diagram explaining how the rockets are made.

These are purely anti-personnel rockets. The warhead section contains only a couple of pounds of high explosive to propel pellets or ball bearings intended to do nothing but shred flesh. The rockets lack the explosive power to destroy buildings, although they can penetrate unreinforced walls or roofs and cause substantial damage:

Israel has tethered three blimps around the northern perimeter of Gaza with automated warning sensors and systems.

The town official who showed us around said it is optically based. When a launch is detected, warning speakers in the town - there are a lot of speakers - announces "red dawn" over and over. Townspeople have only 20 seconds to seek shelter before the rockets hit. The town continues to build shelters such as this one.

Here is a video of the extent of the rack of recovered detonated rockets. This rack shows only six months worth of rockets launched. Some people of Sederot have been killed before the latest round of attacks, including children, as well as some Israelis in the surrounding areas.

Bret Stephens writes about the dilemma facing Israel because of the rockets Hamas rains down on the south Israel town of Sederot.
The more vexing question, both morally and strategically, is what Israel ought to do about Gaza. The standard answer is that Israel's response to the Kassams ought to be "proportionate." What does that mean? Does the "proportion" apply to the intention of those firing the Kassams -- to wit, indiscriminate terror against civilian populations? In that case, a "proportionate" Israeli response would involve, perhaps, firing 2,500 artillery shells at random against civilian targets in Gaza. Or should proportion apply to the effects of the Kassams -- an exquisitely calibrated, eye-for-eye operation involving the killing of a dozen Palestinians and the deliberate maiming or traumatizing of several hundred more?
He goes on to discuss the lack of Israeli options in more detail - read the whole thing - but the elephant in the living room is this: as long as Europe and the United States hold Israel and Hamas to two different standards, then Israel can only suffer these attacks with little hope of ending them. Hamas is a terrorist outfit founded for one reason only: the destroy Israel. As Stephens points out,
Hamas has also made no effort to rewrite its 1988 charter, which calls for Israel's destruction. The charter is explicitly anti-Semitic: "The time will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews (and kill them); until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: O Muslim! there is a Jew hiding behind me, come on and kill him!" (Article Seven) "In order to face the usurpation of Palestine by the Jews, we have no escape from raising the banner of Jihad." (Article 15) And so on.
What Israel has been doing is conducting "targeted assassinations" of senior Hamas leaders and of those involved in the manufacture and deployment of the rockets. The strikes have mainly been done by guided missiles fired from attack helicopters. But of course, the West condemns those strikes, apparently for no other reason that sometimes, despite Israel's pains to be precise, other Gazans are killed or wounded. That and the now-reflexive response that "it's Israel's fault" no matter what happens.

From Israel's own perspective, invading Gaza is not an option. It would bog the country down for years of occupation at prohibitive cost in both money and lives of Israeli troops. And of course it would also be condemned by the West and the UNSC. Finally, Israelis are acutely aware that a a Jewish country, founded because of the Holocaust, is morally restrained in unique ways from "going Roman" on Gaza, no matter how many rockets fly from there.

So Hamas gets to play its Sederot Gambit with impunity and insignificant cost to itself or to Gazans. Hamas can make life unendurable for thousands of Israelis who simply want to live in their own country. And the gambit is working not because of Israel's own lack of options, but because the West, which could make life very hard for Hamas and could interdict its supplies of lethal materials from Iran, averts its eyes, pretends it isn't happening, and washes its hands of the whole situation.

Update: Herb Keinon, reporting from Israel, says that Israel may be about to launch a "large-scale incursion into Gaza."
According to defense sources, the goals of such an operation - reportedly in the planning stages for weeks if not months - would not "merely" be to reduce the threat of rocket fire and rocket manufacturing in the Gaza Strip, but would also likely entail paralyzing the Hamas government's ability to operate, and even include "regime change."
We'll see. The Olmert government pretty much proved in 2006's Lebanon invasion that it does not have the stomach or the will to bring military campaigns to actual decision. There's no real reason to think it will be more determined this time.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

"Merely a theory"

Florida education officials show they are uninformed about what "theory" means in science.

"Florida will teach evolution but only as theory":
TALLAHASSEE, Florida (Reuters) - Florida education officials voted on Tuesday to add evolution to required course work in public schools but only after a last-minute change depicting Charles Darwin's seminal work as merely a theory.

Bending to pressure from religious conservatives, the State Board of Education on a 4-3 vote included the "theory" language as part of a retooling of the state's science standards for public school education.

The compromise would require teaching that Darwin's proposal -- that natural selection has driven the evolution of many species from a few common ancestors over billions of years -- has yet to be conclusively proven.
That some scientific claim is "just a theory," and therefore may be dismissed, is an accusation that actually makes no sense. It's really "just a theory" that gravity holds us on the earth with a force equal to the inverse of the square of our distance from the planet, but does anyone care to jump off the Empire State Building tomorrow because, hey, gravity is "just a theory?" Our understanding of how wings keep airplanes up is just a theoretical understanding, but millions of people per month literally bet their lives that the theory is correct.

Theory is to science as money is to finance. Theory is to science as scales are to music. Theory is to science as yard lines are to football games.

A theory is how scientists express the interpreted results of many observations carried out over a long time. A theory is how scientists make sense of their collective experience. The formulation and reformulation of theory is, I think, grounded in the deep human need to establish meaning. Because we exist in nature, we are compelled at a most fundamental level to explore what nature means. Science is a very powerful and reliable way we do that. Science, and scientifically-based meaning, can no more exist apart from theory than Barry Bonds' home run record could exist apart from baseball.

The source of contention, of course, is that conservative Christians object that evolution is not "proven" and therefore mustn't be taught as such.
During more than two hours of testimony, scientists and religious representatives argued over whether teaching that humans evolved from a single-celled species over hundreds of millions of years should be taken as gospel.
Ironic that, eh: should evolution be "taken as gospel." Heh!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

How Nietzsche refuted atheism

A long essay by Edward T. Oakes, "Atheism and Violence," discusses and refutes the recent books of Richard Dawkins, Chris Hitchen, et. al., that if all humanity would only renounce religious belief, then violence would cease and permanent peace would result. Curiously enough, the rant-filled Friedrich Nietzsche, who claimed that "God is dead" and originated the germanic idea of the Superman, offers the best argument against these arguments, claims Oakes. 
The point, rather, is that Nietzsche saw. However much he (usually) advocated what ought to be most abhorred, he at least recognized that true morality and Christian belief are siblings. Moreover, in tones redolent of Jeremiah he saw the consequences to civilization as a whole when its citizens lose their faith in God. For what will take the place of God will be only a passionate—and largely empty—politics:
For when truth enters the lists against the lies of millennia, we shall have convulsions, a
spasm of earthquakes . . . the likes of which have never been dreamed. Then the concept of politics will be completely dissolved in a war between spirits, all authority structures of the old order will be blown into the air—one and all, they rest upon a lie; there will be wars the likes of which have never existed on earth. From my time forward earth will see Great Politics.
Such are the contradictions of atheism. With hope in progress gone, with the lessons of the twentieth century still unlearned in the twenty-first, with technology progressing, in Adorno’s words, from the slingshot to the atom bomb (a remark cited in Spe Salvi), with a resurgence of religiously motivated violence filling the headlines, all that the new atheists can manage is to hearken back to an Enlightenment-based critique of religion. But they find their way blocked, not so much by Nietzsche (whom, as we saw, they largely ignore) but by the ineluctable realities he so ruthlessly exposed. Not Nietzsche, but the history of the twentieth century has shown that godless culture is incapable of making men happier. All Nietzsche did was to point out that no civilization, however “progressive,” can dispel the terrifying character of nature; and once progress is called into question, the human condition appears in all its forsaken nakedness.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Jesus died for your mortgage

The most successful satire strikes so close to believability that the reader/listener/viewer can't actually know it is satire unless told so.
According to Billings, the average unchurched person in suburban Chicago isn’t interested in religiosity. They want, he suggests, a “deep spirituality that fits into their busy schedule.” Instead of making Jesus challenging or complex, Billings offered a Jesus that “gives people exactly what they want.” ...

Pastor Billings credits last Easter’s mailer for the increase in weekly attendance–which is up to 4000. One new member, George Eliason praises the approach: “Look, I really love what Jesus offers. But most churches make it inconvenient to be a Christian. Journey does a great job conforming Christianity to me, rather than asking me to conform to some abstract “rules” spouted off 2000 years ago in the Middle East.”
It's satire, and so noted at the very end. But sadly, it is believable.

Pentecost - Filled with New Wine

Acts 2:1-21 1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.   2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound lik...