...are the ones that make the biggest difference


Israel's response - what should we think?

Like many, if not most, people, the current conflict in Israel/Lebanon/Gaza has been on my mind a lot lately, especially the military activity in Lebanon. Personally, I've been all over the map in my thinking on it. Hezbollah, while it does have some limited political legitimacy in Lebanon through holding elected office and through its strong social support network (it has built hospitals, after all) is, nevertheless, a despicable organization comprised mainly of brutal, hate-filled murderers who think nothing of targeting Israeli citizens and infrastructure. They initiated this crisis with their unprovoked aggression and continue to court a military response with the firing of rockets into Israel. And the Bush administration's argument against merely returning to the status quo has a lot of merit. A much larger and more brutal conflict may loom in the not-too-distant future if Hezbollah, and through it Iran, is not put into check during this opportunity.

Initially I thought they got what was coming to them and Israel was undertaking a legitimate military response to a real and persistent threat. I think there is some room to argue that the response was a bit opportunistic in that this was a huge set of airstrikes that were costing more than a few innocent lives in Lebanon over 2 soldiers that could (potentially) be succesfully negotiated for. But, then again, this has been a long and difficult struggle and it is not easy to draw a clear and simple line about what constitutes a mere continuation of previous hostility and what is a new form or level of aggression. In poking around the internet or watching TV, there seems to be a lot of people who think that this is actually an easy distinction to make and it seems a great deal have settled into a black-white polarity in their thinking on this matter. Either Israel is right or it is wrong, and the latter no matter what Hezbollah did or is doing to foment the conflict. If Israel is right, then a cease-fire or UN peace-keeping force should be pushed off into the future, whether by weeks or months, in order to let Israel finish the job. If Israel is wrong, then these options cannot be brought into the picture fast enough to end the attacks. There is very little middle ground and even less nuance in understanding this conflict.

That being said, I will lay out my position: Israel should end all attacks on Lebanon except on active Hezbollah attack points, ie, missile launchers about to be, being, or have immediately been fired. This means no more attacks on population centers, roads or other non-military targets. Israel should withdraw its troops from Lebanon and seek an actual armed UN or NATO force to impose a cease-fire and to assist the Lebanese government in gaining control over its territory.

Here are my reaons:

1) This has been an ongoing conflict for decades and so it actually makes little sense to try to point to a single act as the cause of this latest flare-up. Yes, Hezbollah kidnapped some soldiers, but they did so in support of Hamas and the Palestinians in Gaza who were coming under attack for their own kidnapping operation. Why did Hamas kidnap that soldier? Certainly in response to some Israeli action, which itself was a response to some Palestinian action, which itself was a response to some Israeli action...ad infitum. While I certainly believe that Hamas, Hezbollah and other such groups bear a large balance of the moral culpability in this conflict, we cannot pretend that Israel has been perfectly upright in all its dealings and activity in regards to the Palestinians. The very founding of the modern nation of Israel was actually a bit of ethnic cleansing, forcing Palestinians off of their lands in order to make room for the Jews. And since then, Israel has indeed committed its own fair share of crimes and immoral activity. Even though Israel does not intentionally target civilians, it seems to think very little of inflicting civilian casualties - the Palestinian death toll in the Intifada was more than 3 times that of the Israelis. In the latest conflict, Israel has targeted ambulances and intentionally shelled a UN observation post, and the Lebanse death-toll is somewhere around 10 times the number of Israeli dead. Both sides share in the long and convoluted cords of blame and just because Israel is a Western-style Democracy does not mean that it is infallible or that we should give it a pass on its failings. I am not arguing for moral equivalency, only that the roots of this conflict are too deep to easily make black & white declarations. And because of that, Israel's response may be predicated more on decades of anger and frustration rather than clear thinking on how to best respond to these attacks. I think this long history is churning up more emotion than strategy.

2) Israel's aggressive response is predicated on the notion of eliminating Hezbollah as a military threat. An idea I fully support. But can Israel succeed in this mission? The answer is an unfortunate "no." Yes, Israel may be able to capture or destroy most, or even all, of the rockets and other long-range munitions that Hezbollah currently uses. It may be able to kill or capture most, or even all, of the organization's fighters and leaders. But Hezbollah is not a threat just because of its weapons and it is not limited to its actual members. Hezbollah is an ideology and Israel's response is actually feeding it, helping it to grow and take root. Dealing a strong blow to Hezbollah now will only beat it back in the short term; it will grow back and find new ways to attack Israel. Perhaps it will realize that conventional weapons aren't effective and seek to acquire some form of WMD. Basically, I don't think this is a battle Israel can win in the long-term and I think its chances of success in the short-term are actually pretty low. Hezbollah is dug in deep, it has a well-developed logistics, intelligence and recruiting network, as well as political power and legitimacy in Lebanon and elsewhere. Israel cannot kill it. I don't believe Hezbollah can be negotiated with either, which is why an armed, empowered peacekeeping force is probably the best chance Israel has of achieving a more stable peace.

3) And finally, if the US and Israel is right, and Hezbollah is really just the lapdog of Iran and Syria (to a lesser extent) than a death toll of nearly 600 Lebanese caught in the crossfire is completely unacceptable. I fully believe that a decent percentage of those killed were either actual Hezbollah fighters or were directly supporting Hezbollah's attacks in some other way (ie, storing weapons or housing fighters), but it is entirely inconceivable that even half of them were directly linked in any meaningful way. I don't care what anyone says, a decision to bomb a bunker that is surrounded by civilians is as much a decision to kill those civilians as it is to destroy the military target. Innocent casualties are unavoidable in any modern conflict, but is Israel trying hard enough? I think the death toll proves otherwise and when the sheer numbers are considered in conjunction with attacks on ambulances, neutral observers and vital civilian infrastructure like power stations, we can conclude that Israel is being far too cavalier about the effect its attacks are having on innocent people. That is not at all fitting of a nation that obviously respects the rule of law, the rights of individuals and the spirit of democracy. To argue that Israel must be free(r) from moral restraint due to the barbarity of Hezbollah is arguing for moral equivalency from the opposite direction.

I think 2 & 3 are actually the most compelling reasons for an Israeli withdrawal. Why continue an attack that is costing so many innocent lives if the chance for success is low? Why push forward on something that is only going to make things worse in the long run?



After calling in sick the last couple of days, I got downstaffed today, meaning I've had a 5-day weekend. Thankfully I've got the PTO hours to cover them, so no harm done to the old wallet. Having some time on my hands, I went to Borders to drink some coffee and peruse books and magazines - one of my favorite activities. Whoever came up with that business model deserves a large cash reward. I had been working my way through a biography of Luther but it appears to have actually been purchased. I've also been poking around in NT Wright's books, finding them pretty interesting. I checked out "The Last Word" from the library and have been working through it. Its good if a little simplistic. I also read a lot of culural & political magazines, but since there aren't any new issues out of my usual fare, I popped over to "Discover" magazine, which I do from time to time, and read an interesting article (sorry, but you have to register to view the article) on a debate that's starting to gain some ground in the realm of physics.

For those of you who don't know, physics is plagued by a lack of a "grand unified theory" which works at both the macro (galactic) and micro (subatomic) levels. Einstein's relativity doesn't fly within the atom and quantum physics is persona non grata everywhere else. After reading "The Elegant Universe" some years back, I've found stuff that touches on these issues pretty fascinating. When scientists look at the universe they see that things don't fit within their elegant equations and models, specifically, in the rotational speed of galaxies. Looking at our solar system, the planets closest to the sun rotate much faster than those further out, which is what you'd expect. The further the distance, the less the pull of gravity effects those far flung planets and so they slow down. But this is not the case regarding stars orbiting around the center of a galaxy. The closer stars due rotate faster, but at some point all the rest of the outer stars rotate at the same speed regardless of distance. Newton's laws on gravity say this is impossible, so..."When confronting such a paradox, scientists have only a few options: Question the data; question the theory; or invent something new, maybe even something invisible, to explain the effect." Cue dark matter.

Dark matter is stuff that has mass, and thus generates gravitational pull, but neither emits nor reflects light. Its invisible except, allegedly, in its effects. A lot of astrophysics has concentrated on dark matter since this novelty was proposed and it has become something of a staple in the field. But this mainstay is now being challenged by the theories of Mordehai Milgrom, who proposed a simple change in Newton's laws that not only renders dark matter unneccessary, but also accurately predicts other astronomical phenomenon. It hasn't been proven, but it answers the questions at least as well as the theories of dark matter. But many in the physics community won't even give him a chance to explain himself. He has found it almost impossible to get his papers published and when they are, they are apparently dismissed out of hand. Other scientists are starting to take notice, but it has been a long uphill battle. What we have here is the ugly face of a fundamentalist physics, wherein the key dogmas have already been staked out and any challenge to them is treated as heresy (the article uses that word many times). No matter whether the heresy is supported by evidence, is simpler and/or functions at least as well as other theories.

I find this terribly ironic. Science, which as a whole in the last 100 or so years, has been deeply antagonistic towards faith in something unseen, is now itself fighting to maintain its own faith in something unseen. It is modeling the fundamentalist behavior that so many deride in the religious without realizing its own dogmatic claims.


The seeming impossibility...

of finding a good, balanced church. Ever since deciding that Orthodoxy was not where God was presently calling us, the wife and I have been trying to find a church to call home. So far, we've mainly focused our search on Lutheran churches, since the LCMS is liturgical & sacramental but apparently in no danger of falling into the morass of liberal theology and practice. The first church we went to, St Paul's, we liked very much, but over a few visits we found that the preaching seemed to consistently amount to little more than "we're Lutherans, this is what we believe and isn't that swell?" Now, this is from both pastors and would be fine if they got into the meat behind the doctrine, but they don't. And this is what we've experienced at the other LCMS churches we've gone to so far. Weak preaching has characterized them all, including a more "contemporary" LCMS church that seemed to be trying to copy a goodly portion of the evangelical, low-church playbook. I think there is basically one more LCMS church close to us that we're going to try and then there is a Wisconsin synod church we might check out as well. We've heard some very good things about a Missionary church that we're also going to try, but we're both a bit nervous about heading back into what (from their website) appears to be a pretty typical evangelical church. I'm trying very hard to keep an open mind, to be prayerful and open to God's leading, but after almost a year of "exploration" we're getting pretty anxious to find our place.