What does it mean?

November 28, 2005

View from the other side

Michael Totten reports:

Al Ghajar village, where the fighting broke out, is an odd place. One side is Lebanese. The other side is controlled by Israel. All the villagers on both sides of the border are Alawite, a minority sect -- some say heretical -- that long ago splintered off Shia Islam. Historically the village was part of Syria. The Alawites of Al Ghajar belong to the same ethnic-religious group that holds almost all the levers of power in Syria.

The Lebanese side of the village is the poorest and most forlorn place I've seen anywhere in the country. Many houses are crumbling cinderblock boxes or shanties with tin roofs and walls. The mosque is squalid. Barren ground is strewn with rubble and rocks. I saw barefoot children dressed in rags playing in filthy streets. Somehow they managed to smile.

The Israeli half of the village is on the other side of the Wazzani River. There the houses and apartment buildings are trim and freshly painted. They're decked out with satellite dishes. Cars look brand new. I saw no evidence of squalor from where I stood on the Lebanese side of the line.

From 1967 to 2000 both sides of Al Ghajar were controlled by Israel after it took the Golan Heights from Syria in the Six Day War. But in the year 2000, when Israel withdrew its occupation forces from South Lebanon, the United Nations declared that one side of the village is actually Lebanese, not Syrian.

UPDATE: Pictures! Really amazing, must see.

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November 27, 2005

The wisdom of Rabbi Zusha

והרי אנו חייבין לברך על הרעה כשם שמברכין על הטובה

V'harey anu hayavin l'varekh `al hara`a k'shem shem'varkhin `al hatova

And you see, we are required to bless [God] on the bad just as we bless [Him] on the good

Ra`av on B'rakhot 5:3

The Magid of Mezeritch was the spiritual heir of the Ba`al Shem Tov. One day someone came to him with a question: "The Talmud tells us we should bless God for the bad things that happen to us, just as we bless Him for the good. How is it possible to do such a thing?" The Magid of Mezeritch replied, "For that you must go to Reb Zusha of Anipoli."

So the man went to visit Reb Zusha of Anipoli. When he got there, he found Reb Zusha living in great poverty, his family was beset by affliction and disease. Yet, Reb Zusha greeted him cheerfully. "The Magid of Mezeritch has sent me," he said, "to learn from you how it is possible to bless God for the bad things that happen to us as, just as we bless Him for the good."

Reb Zusha thought for a while. "I am sorry," he finally replied, "I cannot answer your question - nothing bad has ever happened to me."

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More quotes:

"If it were offered to me to exchange places with Abraham, I would refuse. What would God gain from this? He'd still have one Zusha and one Abraham."

"When I appear before the heavenly court they will not ask, 'Why weren't you Moses'. They will ask, 'Why weren't you Zusha'." 

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Rabbi Zusha didn't write any books. His words were later collected from among the works of his students, and published in M'norat Zahav (מנורת זהב).

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Trackback from Soccer Dad, Haveil Havalim #47:
Welcome to Soccer Dad, I am your host for Haveil Havalim #47. Jewish personalities Rishon Rishon (translates to "First of all"), Rishon Rishon tells of the wisdom of Rabbi Zusha. Not Quite Perfect is the official artist of Haveil Havalim....

November 20, 2005

Bush's willing executioners

Quote of the day:

But what do Rockefeller and Reid and Kerry believe deep down? That voting for the war seemed the politically expedient thing to do in 2002 but that they've since done the math and figured that pandering to the moveon.org crowd is where the big bucks are? If Bush is the new Hitler, these small hollow men are the equivalent of those grubby little Nazis whose whining defense was, "I was only obeying orders..."

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November 16, 2005

The System makes the man

As much as I am a champion of the individual, and of communities in free association (as opposed to government-determined communities), I do think that to a very large extent, the "system" determines our behavior. A large bureaucracy, for example, will promote laziness and indifference in even among the most hard-working and caring. Similarly, one of the underappreciated strengths of the US is not just its democracy, but its particular system of democracy, especially separation of powers, that makes it simultaneously flexible, democratic, and strong. The Israeli system, in contrast, encourages venality and fractiousness - it's a wonder that it functions so well.

All this is a big problem because most people are not systems thinkers. They don't understand its insidious nature, and tend to favor direct solutions to problems - solutions which usually have the effect of entrenching failed systems yet further. An example from Thomas Sowell (via John Ray):

Many people are blaming the riots in France on the high unemployment rate among young Muslim men living in the ghettoes around Paris and elsewhere. Some are blaming both the unemployment and the ghettoization on discrimination by the French.

Plausible as these explanations may sound, they ignore economics, among other things.

Let us go back a few generations in the United States. We need not speculate about racial discrimination because it was openly spelled out in laws in the Southern states, where most blacks lived, and was not unknown in the North.

Yet in the late 1940s, the unemployment rate among young black men was not only far lower than it is today but was not very different from unemployment rates among young whites the same ages. Every census from 1890 through 1930 showed labor force participation rates for blacks to be as high as, or higher than, labor force participation rates among whites.

Why are things so different today in the United States -- and so different among Muslim young men in France? That is where economics comes in.

If I had the energy, I would start a blog called "Breaking Paradigms" which did nothing more than point to facts such as this one - "in the late 1940s, the unemployment rate among young black men was not only far lower than it is today but was not very different from unemployment rates among young whites the same ages" - facts which should make people reconsider their long-held assumptions.

The problem with that, of course, is that most people don't let facts get in the way of their opinions. I understand that most people don't have energy to do otherwise, and I respect that - there are a lot of areas where I haven't made the effort to reconcile my opinions with the facts. Just please don't pontificate to me on a subject unless you are willing to do so!

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November 15, 2005

Instapundit Quip

From here:

IS BUSH ACTUALLY ISRAELI? When he defends himself, the press says he's escalating.

For some context, see this video (link from here).

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November 13, 2005

Victim of Fashion?

Fashion gives, fashion takes away. Even in politics. Even in war. Steven Den Beste (he's back!) reports:

Even given that the western press tends to be more sympathetic to the terrorists than to western governments in the war, an ongoing campaign of car bombings in Iraq eventually becomes boring and gets consigned to the rear pages of the newspaper.

That means that the terrorists have to come up with increasingly spectacular escapades in order to maintain the attention of the western press. A couple of years ago the new innovation was video decapitations, but eventually the novelty wore off.

But the other side of the coin of headline fatigue is revulsion. Increasingly spectacular escapades become increasingly vile atrocities. They get the headlines, alright, but repel more people than they attract. This week's bombing in Amman is a good example of that; the reaction to it in Jordan was universally extremely negative on the "Arab Street" and al Qaeda's apparent anonymous-public spokesmen (online) found themselves trying to do spin and damage control.

When publicity and mind-share are your only real weapons in a war, you eventually become caught between the Scylla of boredom and obscurity and the Charybdis of nearly universal aversion for you and your cause. This is often how terrorist campaigns begin to wind down.

Applying this closer to (my) home, I think the effects are only indirect. The great overlooked factor in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that it is driven by outsiders, mostly Arabs and other Muslims, and their money. If Israelis and Palestinians were left alone to work out our own problems, I think we would.

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November 10, 2005

10th Century Comparative Linguistics

I must have been starved for an Afro-Asiatic linguistic blog. Here's another post from Jabal al-Lughat:

Yehudah ibn Quraysh was a rabbi of the late ninth/early tenth century from Tahert (modern Tiaret, in Algeria.) Shocked to hear that the Jews of Fez in Morocco were neglecting the study of the Targum (an Aramaic translation of the Bible), he wrote a letter to them intended to establish that they could not and should not get by on the Hebrew alone - because other languages, especially Aramaic and Arabic, are essential in elucidating the Hebrew. In the process, he casually noted most of the correct sound correspondences between Hebrew and Arabic, and ended up writing what amounts to an extensive comparative dictionary of the three languages, even throwing in 9 Berber comparisons and 5 Latin ones at the end. He definitely hedges his bets on the cause of this obvious similarity between the three languages, but seems to come surprisingly close to the correct explanation - common descent - at times... something to bear in mind next time you read about Sir William Jones having founded comparative linguistics in 1798.

Follow the link above for an excerpt from Quraysh's work, in Arabic with English translation.

While I'm at it, here are a few more interesting Jabal al-Lughat links.

UPDATE: If you want to buy a Hebrew translation of the book, you can get it here.

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November 08, 2005

The Definite Article in Central Semitic Languages

My previous post implys that the definite article in Hebrew (ha- + gemination) and Arabic ('al- or 'a- + gemination) are cognate. I wasn't sure about that, so spent next few days combing the web in a vein effort to find some information on the subject. I found some bits and pieces, but, to my surprise, no direct treatment of the subject, either cursory or in-depth. Until, somehow reading my mind, Jabal al-Lughat himself, in a response to my post, gave me exactly what I was looking for! The following is mostly based on his post, and the discussion it generated. But it includes my own speculation, based on very little evidence, so reader beware!

Evidence in favor of cognates:

1. ha- and 'al- have identical, and somewhat unusual, behavior

2. ha- induces gemination, implying assimilation of a consonant (l?)

3. there are some cases where Hebrew: h corresponds to Arabic: '

Evidence against cognates:

1. The h ~ ' correspondence is not a regular Hebrew/Arabic correspondence

2. The only letter in Hebrew that regularly assimilates to a following consonant is: n, not: l

So what's going on? Let's look at a chart of Hebrew and Arabic demonstratives, to get a better picture. I've added Aramaic to give more breadth. (If anyone can give me the data for other Central Semitic languages, I'll add it!)

this this trans. these these trans. the
Hebrew
זה, זאת ze, zoot אלה, הללו eelle, hallaaluuha- + gemination
Arabic هَذَا hadhaa أُولاءِ 'uulaa'al-, a- + gemination
Aramaic הא, הן, דא haa, haan, daa הני haanneey-aa (postfixed)

Notes: The Hebrew transcriptions depart from my usual orthography by indicating long vowels and gemination, ze is masculine, zoot feminine, hallaaluu is attested in Hebrew only from the Talmudic period.

So it looks to me like Hebrew ha- and Arabic al- come from Proto-Central Semitic "this" and "these", respectively. Since they have identical, and somewhat unusual behavior (they are applied to both nouns and their adjectives, but to only the last noun in a compound), my guess would be that the Proto-Central Semitic article agreed in gender and number with its noun (as adjectives do). Later, after the two languages split, different forms became generalized.

Here is how Andrzej Zaborski interprets this (and other) evidence:

The Arabic, Canaanite and Modern South Arabian definite article has a common origin and goes back to an original demonstrative pronoun which was a compound inflected for gender, number and probably also for case. It can be reconstructed as *han(V)- for masc. sing., *hat(V)- for fem. sing. and *hal(V)- for plural. Assimilations of -n- and -t- to the following consonant (including -n-l- > -ll- and -t-l- > ll) neutralized the opposition of gender and number and led to a reinterpretation of either hal/’al- or han/’an->’am- synchronically as basic variant. In Aramaic the suffixed definite article was due not to simple suffixation of ha but to a resegmentation of the postposed compound demonstrative ha-ze-[n(a)] and suffixation of enclitic ha > -a which has been generalized.

So are they cognates? Well, I wouldn't say they are not!

UPDATE: As I was writing this, Jabal al-Lughat posted again, on the subject of behavior of articles.

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November 03, 2005

`Iid Mubaarak عيد مبارك

Today is the beginning of the Muslim festival `Iid al-Fitr (عيد الفطر). This post from Jabal al-Lughat gives a little linguistic background. I would like to take this opportunity to point out how similar Arabic is to Hebrew. Here are the words (plus some morphemes) in his post:

Arabic Arabic Trans. Hebrew Cognate Hebrew Trans. Comments
عيد  `iid מועד mo`ed Both words means 'festival', however the root of mo`ed is y-`-d (y > w > o, in this word). I'm not sure how these words would correspond: metathesis of y and `? It could be an illusion.
مبارك mubaarak ברוך barukh Both words means 'blessed'. Clear cognates.
-ak -kha 'Your' in both languages. Hebrew k > kh after vowels when not doubled. Clear cognates.
صحّا sahhaa צח sah I don't really believe this one. Hebrew means 'pure', 'clear'. I can't tell from the post if the Arabic is actually Algerian dialect - if so, the sound correspondences could be different.
ال- al- ה- ha- 'The' in both languages. In Arabic the -l- often assimilates into the following letter. Similarly, in Hebrew, ha- is followed by a doubled letter, when possible.
فطر fitr הפטיר hiftir Arabic means 'break fast'. Hebrew means 'end' (verb). Noun is haftara (הפטרה). Also niftar (נפטר) - die, and many others.
صغيرsghiirצעירsa`irArabic means 'small'. Hebrew means 'young'.

For consonant correspondences see here

The name of the site contains two words, jabal and lughat, which look like cognates to Hebrew g'vul (גבול) - 'border', and loa` (לוע) - 'mouth [of an animal]'.

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November 01, 2005

Blues by the Beach

A good friend of mine used to work often at Mike's Place, playing the blues. I went to hear him a couple of times. Now there's a film out:

Short on money, and ready to pack it in and head home to New York, he stopped in at a little Blues bar down by the Tel Aviv beach called Mike's Place.

He had found his muse.

A film about Mike's Place would be the perfect story to tell -- one not shown on the world's news cameras. Here was a little slice of Israel where the subjects known as "politics" and "religion" were kept out on the sidewalk, where Israeli Jews, Arabs and world travelers could mix and the only thing they had to have in common was a love of music, booze and a good time. This was going to be a perfect look at the Israel we never see, the majority Israel, stripped of its obsessions and looking as Israel looks to the Israelis -- normal.

And that's how it went for awhile, with Baxter carrying the camera, conducting interviews with the staff and generally living the life and capturing the moments and the personalities.

But then the story took an unexpected turn.

It was blown up, in an act of terror.

Spread the word. Some pics.

(PS: My friend wasn't there at the time.)

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