Hard News by Russell Brown


Well, that was a debacle. Having killed about a thousand civilians, taken significant losses of its own, flattened southern Lebanon, wrecked the country's infrastructure and set back by years its re-engagement with the free world, displaced about a third of the Lebanese population, seriously undermined its own moral authority and left its target, Hezbollah, with its stocks higher than they've ever been, Israel took the UN peace deal without coming near the lofty goals it announced a month ago. Duh.

The Israeli public, as depicted in this widely-cited column by senior Ha'aretz editorial writer Ari Shavit (the very long comments thread below it makes interesting reading), has now turned on Ehud Olmert and his government, which seems a bit rich.

Even if Hezbollah hadn't demonstrated its unexpectedly excellent degree of preparedness and tactical ability, Israel was always going to face some of the problems which have undone the adventure. It should have staged a short, sharp attack, negotiated a prisoner exchange, launched a long-term diplomatic offensive (before it bombed the crap out of Lebanon, it did actually have people to engage with) - and stayed home.

Instead, as Gaila Golan wrote several days ago, Israel went to war with "little if any consideration … as to just what the results might be. Indeed the pronounced objectives seemed to have changed every week." He continued:

Moreover, we have probably seriously weakened the ability of the already weak and divided Lebanese political echelon, as well as large parts of the Lebanese public, to reduce the power of Hezbollah. The previous trend toward limiting and even disarming Hezbollah has now been stopped, possibly even reversed, since the indiscriminate bombings of Christians, Druze and Sunnis has created a wave of solidarity - against Israel. This may be temporary, of course, but moderates in Lebanon and elsewhere in the Arab world, from Morocco to Egypt to Saudi Arabia, are in fact concerned that Nasrallah has become a hero for the Arab public, including very many non-Shia Muslims. Indeed this is one of the more serious, long-term consequences of the war, and one for which Israel will now be blamed at least partially.

Other Israeli commentators have speculated that what was missing for Israel was the moderating influence of its Big Friend, that Olmert was expecting to be told to calm down a lot sooner than he was.

It appears to be a bit more involved than that. In the New Yorker, Seymour Hersh offers an intriguing insight into thinking in Tel Aviv and Washington. Daniel Levy's Ha'aretz column from last week, Ending the Neoconservative Nightmare (hat tip: Adam Bogacki) seems particularly salient. With more than a thousand civilians a week dying in Iraq, it would seem well past time to stop listening to the crazy people.

There are, inevitably, many voices - usually those of people in no danger of fighting or dying - insisting that Israel should simply have pressed on, and continued to bomb Lebanon even flatter until its enemy was dead (along with, of course, many more Israeli soldiers and civilians). The problem with this theory is that, as Billmon observed all of three weeks ago, "that logic ends in this kind of war: defeat or genocide."

And as Lebanon was unravelling, there came the news of the terror plot being hatched in Britain and Pakistan. I think it's clear there was a particularly horrifying plan in train - but also that its execution was not imminent. None of the conspirators had air tickets and some of them didn't even have passports. And NBC News has both British and US "officials" saying that the British authorities were "pressured" by the White House into making arrests sooner than they wanted.

And in probably-not-unconnected news, the Republican Party, with Cheney to the fore, sought to make maximum political mileage out of news of the plot. The WaPo's Dan Froomkin has a feast of links on that angle in his White House Briefing column.

And now, of course, air travel has become a pain in the ass thanks to emergency regulations that don't always make much sense. BoingBoing - whose authors and readers fly a lot - has been hot on this; pointing out that obliging passengers to dump their potentially dangerous liquids into a big bucket in the middle of a crowded airport is really dumb. Especially if, as some people are supposed, the real danger isn't liquids being mixed to create an explosive device, but to produce hydrogen cyanide gas. There are also reader reports, including one of an incident in which a female passenger at Dulles airport was told to unwrap her banana.

Speaking as someone facing the very real prospect of flying to the US next week and not even being allowed to take a goddamn book to read, I'm not very happy.

Even on domestic flights here yesterday, the alert was up. One of the security people at the Air New Zealand terminal yesterday explained that they had been ordered to wand everyone who passed through, even if the metal detector had not sounded (she then managed to whack me in the nuts were her wand). Oddly, on the return flight from Christchurch, there was (I asked) no such order. No, this isn't making much sense.

I was down in Christchurch yesterday to talk to students at the CPIT Broadcasting School. It was a two-hour talk, but - unlike those at a certain other institution where I've given my time in recent years - the students were engaged and interested and asked good questions. Good course, that.

On Friday and Saturday, I spent some time at Going Bananas. The launch was Friday evening at the city library. Shortly after arrival, I was introduced to New Zealand Chinese Association chairman Kai Luey, who recognised Public Address as the place where Tze Ming blogs: "I call her the stirrer," he said, not altogether unkindly.

Going to a lig organised by OG Chinese had its amusing moments. Chinese don't really drink, and after apparently being slightly appalled at the guzzling last year, the organisers had decided not to pour any drinks until after the powhiri and other opening festivities had been completed, which meant a long, dry hour in a stuffy room. And even then, they ran out of white wine almost immediately. I had my first - and last - taste of golden kiwifruit nectar, whose taste lies beyond my powers of description.

But I was struck by how much networking there was to do at the launch; all the people I was keen to meet, or knew and wanted to talk to. After a series of high-intensity networking conversations, I was starting to feel exhausted. I prudently bailed out on dinner plans and went home, but stayed up late anyway, waiting the replay of the Canterbury-Waikato game. Finally, a good game of rugby.

I caught some of the conference the next day, including a great presentation from Victoria University's Dr James Liu: Chinese New Zealanders – our sense of belonging in the NZ context, in which he cited a lot of interesting research, much of it conducted in New Zealand. Unsurprisingly, he found that the "single most powerful factor" governing the success and ability to integrate of Chinese students here was the level of discrimination they met. Also, an awareness of their cultural identity is a significant positive factor for young Chinese New Zealanders' ability to integrate and participate in society. The least successful were those estranged from their family, their in-group (ethnic community) and their host group (the rest of us).

His section on the much greater "filial piety" of young Chinese New Zealanders in their relationships with older relatives got plenty of laughs. Anyone who thinks Chinese are humorless just isn't telling the right jokes. Get the material right and they'll laugh like drains.

The conference as a whole had a nice buzz about it. I wasn't at last year's event, but there seemed to be many more young people in attendance this year. Good do, and one I'm proud that Public Address sponsored.