Monday, July 31, 2006


Medieval fresco from Lebanon

I've waited a bit to touch this topic. I find it almost to frustrating and depressing to address. Steve sponsered an interesting conversation about it on his blog, and I would just like to add to the comment I left there, especially centering on the question why I consider the Israeli response disporportionate:

1) The Israeli attacks have killed over 500 people and displaced three-quarters of a million people from their homes. In a population of under four million, this is about one-fifth of the inhabitants of the country. This is catastrophic.

2) Many of the targets seem to be attacked (in the most generous interpretation of what's going on) with anything but surgical precision. In the past few days we have seen the appalling massacre of civilians, many of them children, at Qana, a bombing of a UN Post, and an attack on a Lebanese military jeep by an unmanned drone that killed a soldier and wounded three others. In the latter case, and Israeli Army spokeswoman says they thought a Hezbollah militant was inside the jeep, but that afterwards, an "investigation later revealed that an officer and soldiers from the Lebanese army were hit, and they were not the target of the attack. Therefore the army expresses regret about the event."

In the case of the Qana attack, the Israeli government claimed that it had warned the residents of the village to leave before the attack. Leaving is a difficult proposition for many Lebanese, given the current refugee crisis, the difficulty of traveling for the poor, and the fact that Israel has attacked people trying to leave conflictive areas. It is hard to conclude that Israel makes eny effort whatsoever to spare civilian lives in this military operation.

3) Israel's attacks have not been limited to strikes on Hezbollah, but have included attacks on Lebanese infrastructure. One bombing of a power plant near Beruit has resulted in a catastrophic oil slick. It is very difficult to argue that what we are witnessing is only a military operation against a terrorist organization and not a war against an entire country.

Meanwhile, the government of my own country has fought any attempts to call for a cease-fire and continues to speed up bomb deliveries to Israel. This is not surprising, since the Bush administration's first instict in any conflict seems to be to react militarily. I am afraid, however, that Israel is not helping its own security in the long run. They are only creating an unstable Lebanon where poverty and hopelessness and memories of massacres incubate in slums where the only alternative offered will be that of extremism. The operation may reduce Hezbollah's operational abilities in the short term, but at a great cost.

Like I said, very depressing and frustrating. I lament the deaths of the Israelis who have been struck by Hezbollah's missles just as I lament the death and destruction suffered by the Lebanese. Still, I can imagine nothing coming out of this new war except more brutal suffering for everybody involved.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

meditations on turning forty

The seven ages of man, made famous in the English-speaking world through Jacques' speech in
As you Like It. I'm the old guy on the right, dressed in pilgrim garb.

I turn forty today and I must admit I'm not going gently into that good birthday. I know I should be a sport, but... At least I'm not spending the day the way I planned, rolled up into a ball in the closet and sobbing. Imperatrix pulcherrima Africae occidentalis has organized a party for me tonight in a bar in the East Village. They even said I could bring an ipod full of my music (wait until everyone hears the rap in Latin). So I should have a good time.

What is it about turning forty that bothers me? The physical decrepitude, the loss of youth, the lack of achievement in my life? No, I'm fine with that. My constitution is that of one who is clumsy but sturdy and I go forward slowly in good health none the worse for wear, like a patient burro. I never really liked youth, so I'm fine with losing it. It is true that I am middle-aged and have the income and savings of a college student, but hey, I've lived a couple different lives and now I have a family I love and am doing something I find worthwhile.

It's just that I got to forty so quickly. Just yesterday I was five years old listening to my grandfather telling me about how his grandmother arrived from Ireland as a child, her suitcase in one hand and her little sister in the other. Then a blur passed by. I woke up and I'm forty and my grandfather has been gone for thirty years, dead like so many people I have loved, and the train shows no sign of slowing down. What happened? I was in Madrid last week and I said to myself, "I spent ten years here? It's been six years since I lived here? Where did all the time go?"

Life is short, life is precious. Really, I have nothing to complain about. Perhaps this wee bit of melancholy and panic is good medicine that will teach me to appreciate all that God has given me, the beauty of every passing second, the miracle of love.

Time to take stock of things, order some Chinese dumplings for lunch, and go out and face the world in my fortieth year.

Friday, July 21, 2006

the return

Leon Cathedral, night.

I have returned. It was great being back in Spain after five years. When I arrived, it was as if I hadn't left, but somehow overnight they had changed the currency and set up Turkish restaurants all over Madrid. Good work was done in the archives and good eating in the bars and restaurants. Once I had the chance to walk through Madrid, I saw some real changes, for better and for worse. There was more of an effort to restrict traffic in the center, which was good. There was a greater variety of people, making a city which always cosmopolitan even more so. At the same time, life was faster and more stressful. My friends who still live in Madrid want to go someplace smaller. There are Starbucks everywhere, which a city with so many great cafes does not need. Things were more expensive, but still relatively cheap for someone who lives in Manhattan.

Right now I have jet lag compounded by New York mugginess, so I'll leave the details until later. I also am suffering the effects of the last week of my stay, which involved staying up late with friends at night and getting up early to go to the archives. There is never much sleeping done in Spain in the summer. Still, a great trip. Now I think it's time for a siesta -- a New York siesta.

Monday, July 03, 2006

hasta luego

Rose window, Leon Cathedral.

I am off to Spain for my research trip. If I don't have time to blog while I'm there, see you all in a couple of weeks.