Saturday, January 25, 2003


What's your Inner European?

brought to you by Quizilla

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Serious blogger that I intend to be, I've just checked my statistics. This is what I still have the counters for, after all. (Dropping them would spare a lot of time.) Amazing, the number of people searching the internet for "quitecontrary" (in this spelling!) and "miranda" the last weeks.

I'm thinking about an online poll (ah, but I'll have to register the damn thing first) "what does a blog need counters for?"

Suggestions are welcome:

To Alisa: a chance discovery on Expat Egghead's blog on something we have been talking about
Adrian Egghead on spamming
Election time

Internal Israeli politics are, but for the obvious, not a subject I like to dabble with. I'm well aware of my incompetence, linguistic and otherwise. (Judging by visual impressions alone, is my favourite Israeli party is depicted below: the picture, discovered on a Russian site, belongs in every office of the world.) No rules than can't be broken, here is something that intrigues me:

Almost without exception, Palestinians begin every conversation with the question: "Does Amram Mitzna have any chance of winning?"

Everyone - smiling secretaries in the offices of Paltel (the Palestinian telephone company), the greengrocer who has relatives in an Israeli village, the psychologist who treats children for trauma, a member of the Preventive Security Force who spent 15 years in an Israeli jail, the shopkeeper who bought his grocery with the money he saved in the United States. Some do not even bother to wait for an answer and respond on their own: "Isn't it logical for Israelis to vote for Mitzna after Sharon failed to bring them peace and security?"

During the days when the media was full of reports on Cyril Kern's loan to Sharo, people in Ramallah and Gaza were convinced that was that - finally the moment when the tables would be turned and everything would change.

When told in no uncertain terms that Mitzna has no chance, and that Sharon's popularity remains unchanged, they continue, disappointed: "You mean, we cannot expect a change in the near future? The closure will continue?" And then they check out the rumors making the rounds: Is it true that there will be a curfew until and on election day? Is it true that if the United States declares war on Iraq, a curfew will be imposed on all the territories, like in 1991?

"I understand that the public needs this illusion of a Mitzna victory," says a senior Palestinian journalist, "especially in the expectation that under Mitzna, the closure and siege of all the villages and towns will be called off. This closure causes people indescribable suffering. If it is removed, they are convinced that the support for terror attacks will immediately go down along with the number of attempts to harm Israeli civilians. But what concerns me is that even at the official levels, there are those who are grasping at this illusion. I have not come across a single Palestinian official who did not believe that the story of the loan to Sharon would not have a positive effect on Mitzna's chances of winning."

At the same time, Jabril Rajoub, former Preventive Security Force chief, was attempting to dispel the cloud of illusion blinding some of his Fatah comrades and make it clear to them that Sharon would be the next Israeli prime minister. Perhaps his removal from the circle of power has increased his range of vision about what is happening in Israel. When Labor elected Mitzna as its chief, the representatives of the Palestinian Authority did not hide their satisfaction, and celebrated as if he had been elected prime minister of Israel. The derisive responses from Israel taught them that Mitzna would not benefit if the Palestinian leadership openly expressed its support for him, and apparently in the past few months, the leadership has toned down its public expression of support.

The article by Amira Hass this quote is taken from is highlighted on the front page of "Ha'aretz" English site under its proper headline "They want Mitzna to bring the nightmare to an end" and, as a reappearing teaser "Palestinians and the Mitzna illusion".

The overly simplistic "Mitzna-Mitzna-Mitzna" chant rings of pathetic stories about oppressed workers and peasants yearning for Lenin that I was reared on in primary school - admittedly, something that few "Ha'aretz" readers are likely to be familiar with. If I understand Imshin correctly, "Ha'aretz" is campaigning for the Labor party and/or for the left wing in general. What is the calculation behind a story like this, published so shortly before the elections? Convince the electorate, even though the Palestinians themselves appear to have found out that their appreciation of Mitzna is not the best argument for the Israeli public? It mystifies me.

And now that I am reading "Ha'aretz":

Italians: Israel can call Palermo 'home' - not what you think :-/

Update: Imshin comments on the Amira Hass article. Interesting that it doesn't have the same propaganda fiction ring to her: she debates the subject as if she were presented with hard facts. Ah, the cultural gap ;)

English language archives

Once upon a time, I decided to clarify the mysterious expression "hypocracy". In my mind it translated to something like "power of the small", yet it was used by others in place of "hypocrisy". I asked what sounds like an authority on the subject, the reply:

Thank you for your enquiry to AskOwls.

I am afraid that a wrong spelling, even when in
widespread use, remains a wrong spelling. The
Internet seems to be causing an explosion of
poor spelling, perhaps because so many people
do not check what they have written. The only
standard and acceptable spelling remains

Oxford English Dictionary

How is such a mistake phonetically possible? In all the pronounciation variants I have ever heard, "-crisy" is clearly distinct from that of "-cracy", and the people I know to use the wrong spelling are absolutely literate in other respects. Do I miss something?

Tuesday, January 21, 2003

The German-Jewish festival, Part I: Fisking "Ha'aretz"

An RFC I cannot refuse on a characteristically (when it comes to European affairs) ignorant article

Hard facts first:

In Munich, a Liberal Jewish congregation (as the Reform movement is called in Germany) has been established in recent years. The congregation has about 150 members, the vast majority of them immigrants who arrived from the CIS during the past decade.

The Munich congregation has been established in 1990 by American expats. To the best of my knowledge, few, if any, of its 150 members are immigrants from the ex-USSR, certainly not a "vast majority".

Anecdotal stuff:

"The members of our congregation turned to the mayor of Munich, Christian Hode, ..."

The poor fellow's last name is Ude (pronounced OO-deh). "Hode" means "testicle" in German, but I choose to believe that Ha'aretz intended no offense.

This, however, is utter nonsense:

In the past, the Jewish community received the taxes of German Jews that are designated for religious purposes. Even the taxes of atheistic or secular Jews were transferred to the Central Council of German Jews, which is a civic rather than a religious organization.

Germany has a weird system of "church taxes" (Kirchensteuer). Taxpayers who are officially registered with German authorities as members of recognized religious communities have to part with an additional chunk of their income. Whether they practice the respective religion and to what degree is nobody's business. Nor is it difficult to relieve oneself of this financial burden: all it takes is a written declaration that one is doesn't consider oneself a member of a religious group anymore - an act that in its turn doesn't formally prohibit religious practice to the individual should he nevertheless choose to perform it. Whether and to what extent the abandoned religious communities would still play along is a different matter. After all, this a free country.

There is no formal designation of a "Jew" in Germany other than that as a member of an "official", i.e. benefitting from this regulation, Jewish community. Thus, a Jew who is not registered as such with the fiscal authority isn't forced to contribute financially to the much-lauded Jewish revival in Germany any more than Hans and Mohammed the taxpayers next door do. Nor would such a person appear in any statistics on Jews in Germany. Estimates of the real number of Jews in Germany put it at about twice of the "known" Jews, plus the so-called "non-Halachic" (i.e. lacking Jewish maternal grandmothers or written proof of the said grandmothers' Jewishness) ones. The institution likely to know best is probably the Jewish Agency, unfortunately I am not aware of any exact data on what proportion of Aliyah candidates are/have been "official Jews".

In short, Liberal Jews are free to leave the "recognized" predominantly Conservative/Orthodox communites, which would make them not eligible for the addtional taxation and invest the respective sums in their own communities, whatever their status may be viz the German state. There are no "recognized" Muslim communities in Germany either, which doesn't appear to hamper Islamic religious practice in this country.

This is because the government, in its desire to prove that renewal of Jewish life in Germany is possible, granted refugee status to every Jew who immigrated to Germany from the CIS, with all the financial benefits included in this status.

Immigrants from the FSU are not granted refugee status according to the valid international standard, the Geneva convention on refugees. The original title was a unique German construct known as Kontingentfluechtling, literally "contingent refugee", a legally vague status which did, however, offer work and residence permits and - if needed - basic social welfare in practice. (It has been applied to other "contingents", such as the Baha'is from Iran, Vietnamese boat people and, ironically, Palestinians from Lebanon, before.) I am not up to date on the exact position of the new arrivals, I have heard that this status has been modified.

In order to help the Jewish community with the burden of absorbing the Jewish immigrants, who naturally required welfare services and Jewish education, the German government decided several years ago to grant the community the sum of 1 million euros in addition to the religion taxes, and recently it was decided that starting this year the sum would increase to 3 million euros.

The welfare services that immigrants "require(d)" are/were but for a few exceptions unspecific with regard to their Jewishness. Most of them, especially the really expensive ones, such as healthcare and professional re-education, are general services provided by the state to all citizens and certain groups of non-nationals. The main reason that Jewish communities have to develop welfare-related activities is the occassional narrow-mindedness of the German bureaucracy which tends to push Jewish social workers in the role of ombudspeople for the new arrivals. More on "natural" requirement of "Jewish education" later.

"Religion taxes" are, as I have explained above, nothing that is "granted" by the state to the respective community. True, the state takes it upon itself to collect them, the real source remains nevertheless the regular community members. Thus, it is only the 1 resp. the 3 million euros that are being transferred from the taxpayers-at-large to the Jewish communities with this dramatic gesture. This sounds like a lot of money, but keep in mind that Germany is country of over 80 million inhabitants with a GDP of $1.8 trillion (2001). The sum corresponds to 10 resp. 30 euros p.a. pro Jewish community member: significant for individual projects, but unlikely to benefit every single Jew in need directly. Interestingly enough, the same German state has been supporting security measures for Jewish institutions, probably much higher an expense, for years. The subject has never attracted measurable public attention.

[Regev:]"Their assumption is that everyone registered in the community as a Jew belongs to the Orthodox congregations, ..."

In fact, most communities are Conservative. They have achieved peaceful co-existence with their Orthodox members over the years.

I am not sure what this means:

Regev says that the Reform movement in Germany is even worse off than that in Israel, because the gap between the resources there is greater. He says "There are families who don't come to us for this reason. It's like the families who put their children into the Shas education system, only because of the benefits Shas can offer them."

...but I wonder what exactly the resources are. The situation is not entirely comparable to Israel, since the state support systems are much more generous in Germany. And I doubt that the tiny Reform communities want to run dedicated Jewish homes for the elderly.

So much for the formal part. You may have noticed my irritated tone: the matter is unsavoury if one looks at the context. I'll return to it later.

Update: German readers may be interested in an interview with Paul Spiegel, chairman of the Central Council of Jewish communities in Germany, on the subject.

The site* is now readable. Comments about technical/viewing problems are appreciated.

* Or rather, the front page. The archive pages still look weird, hopefully it will be fixed.

As stated quoted before:

Back over the sill
I bade a 'Come in'
To whatever the knock
At the door may have been.

And thanks to Jonathan for yanking me out of my writing procrastination

One isn't called "Head Heeb" for nothing. Wow, I told on Blogger at Jonathan's place - and it functions. Welcome and come back for more, sorry for the umm... unkempt state... (whispers dear "java.lang.NullPointerException" Blogger)

Monday, January 20, 2003

I can just see old Huseinytch's blogging tutor get one of his legendary fits over this:

THE LEFT FOR WAR I: "Who, you may be asking incredulously, would want their country to be bombed? What would make people want to risk their children being blown to pieces? I thought this too until, last October, I spent a month as a journalist seeing the reality of life under Saddam Hussein.

Strangely, it's the small details which remain in the memory, even now, three months later. It's the pale, sickly look that would come over people's faces when I mentioned Saddam. It's the fact that the Marsh Arabs - a proud, independent people who have seen their marshes drained and been "relocated" to tiny desert shacks - are forced to hang a small, menacing picture of Saddam in their new "homes". It's the child wearing a T-shirt saying "Yes, yes, yes to Daddy Saddam".

If Britain were governed by such a man, I would welcome friendly bombs - a concept I once thought absurd. I might be prepared to risk my own life to bring my country's living death to an end. Most of the Iraqi people I encountered clearly felt the same. The moment they established that I was British, people would hug me and offer coded support (they would be even more effusive towards the Americans I travelled with). They would explain how much they 'admire Britain - British democracy, yes? You understand?'" Well, some people understand. And we'll be coming to rescue you soon. There are some egregious bits of left-wing credentializing in this piece first published in the Independent. But then that makes its moral clarity all the more impressive.

Things change. The "Independent" is carrying the burden of whites these days... Text outside of the quotation marks by Andrew Sullivan

In the meantime, another would-be liberator has examined several other native specimen, with - surprise! - entirely different results.

Thinking aloud: I like Salam's writing, and I would like the site itself as well were it readable in some other way than with Opera in user mode or with the entire text selected...

The Sceptic's Sceptic

There is a strong case for informed scepticism about extreme claims of environmental threats. But excessive scepticism is seldom useful.

The case for environmental scepticism

Sunday, January 19, 2003

Ian Buruma: A squeamish namby-pamby European wimp joins the Washington war debate

Nice article, but what on the earth does the picture (click here if you don't see it) mean? 9/11?
Warning: blogging can be dangerous in a free country (via Instapundit)
A recent salamesque experience. Either my German ISP has been blocking a certain Middle East site or they have been blocking my IP. Why? What did I do? What did they do? I'm soo relieved to see it function after four days.