Friday, July 28, 2006

Vanishing Act

Each bed with a child in it, or his wife,
his brain lined with sleeping bees,

my father is having to leave the house
with delicacy, easing the dead bolt open

in the dark. The house exhales him.
I'm thinking of a driving lay-up, of a girl

in homeroom, blue necklace, brown skin.
Transistor radio on my pillow, volume low.

I know some things, not enough. My eyes
are closed, I'm listening hard, that song

again, Knock down the old gray wall,
my father standing beside his car—gone,

key in his hand, snowflakes in his hair.
At dawn, an Indian head test pattern will stare

from the TV, the freezer will churn out
its automatic ice. On the windowsill

an iris in a vase will have taken
the last water into its cut stem. I will

notice it, how it is there, and had
stood there the whole time, that flower.

-- Chris Forhan

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Gouge, Adze, Rasp, Hammer

So this is what it's like when love
leaves, and one is disappointed
that the body and mind continue to exist,

exacting payment from each other,
engaging in stale rituals of desire,
and it would seem the best use of one's time

is not to stand for hours outside
her darkened house, drenched and chilled,
blinking into the slanting rain.

So this is what it's like to have to
practice amiability and learn
to say the orchard looks grand this evening

as the sun slips behind scumbled clouds
and the pears, mellowed to a golden-green,
glow like flames among the boughs.

It is now one claims there is comfort
in the constancy of nature, in the wind's way
of snatching dogwood blossoms from their branches,

scattering them in the dirt, in the slug's
sure, slow arrival to nowhere.
It is now one makes a show of praise

for the lilac that strains so hard to win
attention to its sweet inscrutability,
when one admires instead the lowly

gouge, adze, rasp, hammer--
fire-forged, blunt-syllabled things,
unthought-of until a need exists:

a groove chiseled to a fixed width,
a roof sloped just so. It is now
one knows what it is to envy

the rivet, wrench, vise -- whatever
works unburdened by memory and sight,
while high above the damp fields

flocks of swallows roil and dip,
and streams churn, thick with leaping salmon,
and the bee advances on the rose.

-- Chris Forhan

Monday, July 24, 2006

Last Words

The night sky's a black stretch limo, boss in the back
behind tinted glass. You could say that.

Down here's a dungeon, up there's the glittering
ring of keys in the sentry's fist. The self

exists. Beauty too. But they're elsewhere.
You could say that. Or not speak till commanded to.

Dawn, alone on the porch, I watch
the one map unfold and flatten before me—

same toppled TV antenna in the berry vines,
same cardinal, bright wound in the pasture grass.

My wound is my business. I've wearied of it.
From now on, morning will be attended

by its own noises only, evening will approach
without palms in its path. Let the horses

steam in the field, the sun-struck
river blanch. I'm boarding the troop train.

-- Chris Forhan

Sunday, July 23, 2006

A Child’s Guide to Etiquette

Never put your personal spoon in the common jelly bowl.
Spread your napkin upon your lap. Do not grasp.
Eat what meat your fork can get to; the rest of the lobster must be given
up for lost.
A girl must lay her silver down while still a trifle hungry.
She must not eat unchaperoned.

A boy does not take a girl’s arm on the street. The street is no place for
He must not allow his mother to lug the coal up or sift the ashes.
If he does, he is a cad. A boy is shiftless, a vulgar bounder. He is not
He wears a dark suit, but not in a theater box. In a box a tuxedo is worn.
In a box a boy keeps his thoughts to himself.
A girl keeps her hat on until she is seated. The theater itself wears no hat.

Snow is a hat worn by mountains, the tallest of which do not remove the
hat in summer.
Sunlight settles like a shawl upon the hills and dewy berry fields.
The sun is not a wag or hail-fellow-well-met. It does not loaf or shirk.
It keeps its face funeral-ready, as you should.
Away you go in the car. Father and Mother. Puff and Baby Sally.
Away you go into the country. Spot and Jane.

Jane is a proper girl. She avoids provincial phrases and slang, as yep and
boy friend.
She says not yes but yes, Mother, and arranges rosettes in the icing.
She wears a high-collared simple dress and tarries amid the lilac, on her
head a crown of stars.
She may stop dancing when she wishes. A boy must dance until the music
He must scold his bold friend.

A boy is clothed in a purple cloak, is brought up on charges, agrees to
them with the air of one much pleased. He raises his hat to his
A girl, in the presence of her father, removes her breasts.
She removes the washbowl’s plug so the waste water drains completely.
A boy need not detach his hands, but he must not thrust them into his
A clothes brush must be packed for the train, and a plain dressing gown.

Away you go. You are on a train. You are speaking with courtesy and
reserve in the dining car.
You are slipping off your shoes. You are leaving them for the porter.
The porter will pocket his tip discreetly.
The porter will polish your shoes in the night.

-- Chris Forhan

Saturday, July 22, 2006

. . . Lebanon

BEIRUT, Lebanon - The deadliest day yet in the deepening two-front Middle East crisis claimed more than 70 lives Wednesday in Lebanon, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and northern Israel, with no immediate cease-fire in sight.
"The country has been torn to shreds," a desperate Lebanese prime minister, Fouad Siniora, said at a meeting he had called of foreign diplomats, including the U.S. ambassador.

"Is this the price we pay for aspiring to build our democratic institutions?" he said in a bitter and emotional speech. "Can the international community stand by while such callous retribution by the state of Israel is inflected on us?"

In the Lebanese capital, bombs and rockets fell throughout the day, including, Israeli military officials said, a wave of aircraft that dropped 23 tons of explosives on a suspected Hezbollah bunker in the south. The attack appeared to be part of the ongoing effort to kill Hezbollah's leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah.

In the first land combat in Lebanon during the current conflict, two Israeli soldiers were killed and nine wounded when they were set upon by Hezbollah guerrillas near Naqura. A tank that came to rescue them met with fierce shelling.

Small groups of Israeli commandos have been slipping in and out of southern Lebanon to assess damage and, presumably, locate targets. At nightfall, Israeli tanks and artillery on their side of the border stepped up their barrages, commanders said, for fear that Hezbollah fighters might mount an incursion into Israel.

Two loud explosions boomed over Beirut even as about a thousand U.S. citizens boarded a chartered cruise ship, the Orient Queen, for Cyprus in the first large stage of an evacuation that has left the Lebanese even gloomier about what might lie ahead.

The Lebanese government, weak and divided, is unable to deal with the crisis. Despite the hopes raised by the so-called Cedar Revolution, which ended nearly three decades of Syrian control, the government remains trapped in the sectarian straitjacket of a system that apportions political offices by religion. Siniora has not spoken directly to Nasrallah since the war broke out nine days ago, and dealings between the government and the Hezbollah chief are through the Shiite speaker of parliament, Nabil Berri, who is loyal to Syria.

At the United Nations, the Americans, who have signaled that they will give Israel more time to continue the bombardment of Lebanon to weaken Hezbollah's military power, opposed a French proposal for a Security Council resolution calling for a lasting cease-fire.

"It is very hard to understand from the people calling for a cease-fire how you have a cease-fire with a terrorist organization like Hezbollah," John R. Bolton, the U.S. ambassador, told reporters.

In Washington, U.S. officials said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice might travel to the Middle East on Sunday, dropping off a team of diplomats to hold talks before continuing to Asia on Thursday on a previously scheduled trip. But she has canceled stops in South Korea, Japan and China, and could return to the Middle East after Asia, the officials said. That schedule could give Israel additional time to shell Hezbollah before having to negotiate a cease-fire.

Before heading to the region, Rice will travel to New York to the United Nations to discuss with Secretary-General Kofi Annan what could happen once there is a cease-fire. The discussions will include Israeli demands for a 12-mile buffer zone in southern Lebanon. There is some talk about placing international troops in that zone and along the Syrian border to prevent the import of more rockets from Syria and Iran.

Sounding an alarm about humanitarian conditions in southern Lebanon - where Israeli bombs, rockets and shells have pounded villages, roads and bridges, much of the population has fled and supplies are running short - Louise Arbour, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, said the fighting could amount to war crimes.

"The scale of the killings in the region, and their predictability, could engage the personal criminal responsibility of those involved, particularly those in a position of command and control," said Arbour, the former war crimes prosecutor at the World Court.

The violence Wednesday sprawled over both sides of the border, even killing two Israeli Arab brothers, ages 3 and 9, as they played outside in the Galilee town of Nazareth, by one of roughly 120 rockets Hezbollah launched into Israel.

Israeli weaponry rained down on Lebanon throughout the day and into the night, according to Lebanese authorities, killing 63 people, most of them said to be civilians and one known Hezbollah fighter, apparently in the Naqura firefight.

Southern Lebanon, the heartland of Shiite villages dominated by Hezbollah, was particularly hard hit.

In the village of Serifa, a neighborhood was wiped out - 15 houses flattened, 21 people killed and 30 wounded - in an airstrike. The town's mayor, Afif Najdi, called it "a massacre."

A convoy escaping the town was later bombed by warplanes, killing several people and injuring many others.

"I'm all alone and there's no one to save me," said Fatmeh Ashqar, 27 years old. She had severe neck wounds and burns, while a passenger riding with her, Alia Aladeen, had severe head injuries that left her in a coma.

"Maybe she will live, maybe she will not," said Dr. Abdullah Shihab at Jebel al Amel Hospital where at least 18 of the wounded were taken. "But she is ultimately in God's hands." Further north in Ghaziyeh, one person was killed and two were wounded when an Israeli missile struck a building housing a Hezbollah social institution and a neighboring home. And in the village of Salaa, an airstrike destroyed several houses. Six people were killed in an airstrike in the southern town of Nabitiyeh.

In the Bekaa region, another Shiite and Hezbollah stronghold, 11 people were killed in an Israeli airstrike on a four-story building in Nabi Sheet, near the ancient city of Baalbek.

The Israelis also bombed two bases of the pro-Syrian Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, in Sultan Yaacub.

Homes in southern Lebanon received taped phone calls in classical Arabic, warning that they needed to evacuate because strikes would hit home by home. The recording ended by saying it came from the Israeli army.

The Israelis also used a radio station near the border to broadcast warnings into southern Lebanon for residents to leave.

The radio warning also stressed that any truck, including pickups traveling south of the Litani River would be suspected of transporting weapons or rockets and would therefore be a potential target.

While much of bombardment was directed at poor Shiite areas, the Israeli's new emphasis on trucks - they have hit several carrying medical and relief supplies and even cement in the past few days - brought the war home to one of Beirut's most wealthy Maronite Christian areas Wednesday morning.

Warplanes fired rockets into two dirty red trucks carrying water-drilling equipment - apparently mistaken for rocket tubes - parked in a vacant lot, sending the well-to-do neighbors scrambling to their balconies and then, in several cases, loading their cars and heading for the mountains.

An Israeli army spokesman, Capt. Jacob Dallal, told The Associated Press that Israel had hit "1,000 targets in the last eight days - 20 percent missile launching sites, control and command centers, missiles and so forth."

He refused to rule out a land invasion. "There is a possibility - all our options are open," Dallal said. "At the moment it's a very limited, specific incursion but all options remain open."

Brig. Gen. Alon Friedman, a senior army commander, told Israeli army radio: "It will take us time to destroy what is left."

Even as much of the attention was focused on Lebanon, fighting raged between Israelis and Palestinians in both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, with 13 Palestinians killed in a series of Israeli raids.

Fierce fighting in the Mughazi refugee camp in central Gaza overnight and into Wednesday morning left at least seven Palestinians dead. By 9 a.m., the lobby at the Aqsa Hospital in nearby Deir al-Balah was jammed with cots holding as many as 60 wounded Palestinians, mostly militia members but some children. The wounds appeared to be mainly shrapnel from tank fire.

A reporter and and a cameraman for al-Jazeera television were slightly wounded covering the fighting and an ambulance driver who attempted to come to their aid was also wounded.

At least three other Palestinians - one a woman - were killed in other incidents.

In the West Bank city of Nablus, about 50 Israeli armored vehicles, including tanks and bulldozers demolished a Palestinian security compound and a half-dozen other Palestinian government buildings.

-- JAD MOUAWAD, The New York Times

Goodbye to Beirut

IN THE year AD 551, the magnificent, wealthy city of Berytus — headquarters of the Romans' East Mediterranean fleet — was struck by a massive earthquake. In its aftermath, the sea withdrew several miles and the survivors — ancestors of the present-day Lebanese — walked out on the sands to loot the long-sunken merchant ships revealed to them.

That was when a giant tsunami returned to swamp the city and kill them all. So savagely was the old Beirut damaged that the Emperor Justinian sent gold from Constantinople to every family left alive.

Some cities seem forever doomed. When the Crusaders arrived in Beirut on their way to Jerusalem in the 11th century, they slaughtered every man, woman and child in the city.

In World War I, Ottoman Beirut suffered a terrible famine — the Turkish army had commandeered all the grain and the Allied powers blockaded the coast. I still have some ancient postcards I bought here 30 years ago of stick-like children standing in an orphanage, naked and abandoned.

An American woman living in Beirut in 1916 described how she "passed women and children lying by the roadside with closed eyes and ghastly, pale faces. It was a common thing to find people searching the garbage heaps for orange peel, old bones or other refuse, and eating them greedily when found …"

How does this happen to Beirut? For 30 years, I've watched this place die and then rise from the grave and then die again, its apartment blocks pitted with so many bullets they look like Irish lace, its people massacring each other.

I lived here through 15 years of civil war that took 150,000 lives, and two Israeli invasions and years of Israeli bombardments that cost the lives of a further 20,000 people. I have seen them armless, legless, headless, knifed, bombed and splashed across the walls of houses.

Yet they are a fine, educated, moral people whose generosity amazes every foreigner, whose gentleness puts any Westerner to shame, and whose suffering we almost always ignore.

They look like us, the people of Beirut. They have light-coloured skin and speak beautiful English and French. They travel the world. Their women are gorgeous and their food exquisite.

But what are we saying of their fate today as the Israelis — in some of their cruellest attacks on this city and the surrounding countryside — tear them from their homes, bomb them on river bridges, cut them off from food and water and electricity?

We say that they started this latest war, and we compare their appalling casualties — more than 300 in all of Lebanon by last night — with Israel's 34 dead, as if the figures are the same.

And then, most disgraceful of all, we leave the Lebanese to their fate like a diseased people and spend our time evacuating our precious foreigners while tut-tutting about Israel's "disproportionate" response to the capture of its soldiers by Hezbollah.

I walked through the deserted centre of Beirut yesterday and it reminded me more than ever of a film lot, a place of dreams too beautiful to last, a phoenix from the ashes of civil war whose plumage was so brightly coloured that it blinded its own people. This part of the city — once a Dresden of ruins — was rebuilt by Rafiq Hariri, the prime minister who was murdered scarcely a mile away on February 14 last year.

The wreckage of that bomb blast, an awful precursor to the present war in which his legacy is being vandalised by the Israelis, still stands beside the Mediterranean, waiting for the last UN investigator to look for clues to the assassination — an investigator who has long ago abandoned this besieged city for the safety of Cyprus.

At the empty Etoile restaurant — best snails and cappuccino in Beirut, where Hariri once dined with French President Jacques Chirac — I sat on the pavement and watched the parliamentary guard still patrolling the facade of the French-built emporium that houses what is left of Lebanon's democracy. So many of these streets were built by Parisians under the French Mandate and they have been exquisitely restored, their mock-Arabian doorways bejewelled with marble Roman columns dug from the ancient Via Maxima a few metres away.

Hariri loved this place and, taking Chirac for a beer one day, he caught sight of me sitting at a table. "Ah Robert, come over here," he roared, turning to Chirac like a cat about to eat a canary. "I want to introduce you, Jacques, to the reporter who said I couldn't rebuild Beirut!"

And now it is being unbuilt. The Martyr Rafiq Hariri International Airport has been attacked three times by the Israelis, its shopping malls vibrating to the missiles that thunder into the runways and fuel depots. Hariri's transnational highway viaduct has been broken by Israeli bombers. Most of his motorway bridges have been destroyed. The Roman-style lighthouse has been smashed by a missile from an Apache helicopter. Only this small jewel of a restaurant in the centre of Beirut has been spared. So far.

It is the slums of Haret Hreik and Ghobeiri and Shiyah that have been pounded to dust, sending a quarter of a million Shiite Muslims to schools and abandoned parks across the city. Here, indeed, was the headquarters of Hezbollah, another of those "centres of world terror" the West keeps discovering in Muslim lands.

Here lived Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the Party of God's leader, a ruthless, caustic, calculating man, and Sheikh Mohammed Fadlallah, among the wisest and most eloquent of clerics, and many of Hezbollah's top military planners — including, no doubt, the men who planned over many months the capture of the two Israeli soldiers last Wednesday.

But did the tens of thousands of poor who live here deserve this act of mass punishment? For a country that boasts of its pinpoint accuracy — a doubtful notion in any case, but that's not the issue — what does this act of destruction tell us about Israel? Or about ourselves?

In a modern building in an undamaged part of Beirut, I come, quite by chance, across a well-known and prominent Hezbollah figure, open-neck white shirt, dark suit, clean shoes.

"We will go on if we have to for days or weeks or months or …" And he counts these awful statistics on the fingers of his left hand. "Believe me, we have bigger surprises still to come for the Israelis — much bigger, you will see. Then we will get our prisoners and it will take just a few small concessions."

I walk outside, feeling as if I have been beaten over the head. Over the wall opposite there is purple bougainvillea, white jasmine and a swamp of gardenias. The Lebanese love flowers, and Beirut is draped in trees and bushes that smell like paradise.

As for the inhabitants of the southern slums of Haret Hreik, I found hundreds of them yesterday, sitting under trees and lying on the parched grass beside an ancient fountain donated to Beirut by the Ottoman Sultan Abdelhamid. How empires fall.

Far away, across the Mediterranean, two American helicopters from the USS Iwo Jima could be seen, heading through the mist and smoke towards the US embassy bunker complex at Awkar to evacuate more citizens of the American Empire. There was not a word from that same empire to help the people lying in the park, to offer them food or medical aid.

And across them all has spread a dark grey smoke that works its way through the entire city, the fires of oil terminals and burning buildings turning into a cocktail of sulphurous air that moves below our doors and through our windows. I smell it when I wake in the morning. Half the people of Beirut are coughing in this filth, breathing their own destruction as they contemplate their dead.

The anger that any human soul should feel at such suffering and loss was expressed so well by Lebanon's greatest poet, the mystic Khalil Gibran, when he wrote of the half-million Lebanese who died in the 1916 famine, most of them residents of Beirut:

My people died of hunger, and he who

Did not perish from starvation was

Butchered with the sword …

They perished from hunger in a land

rich with milk and honey …

They died because the vipers and

sons of vipers spat out poison into

the space where the Holy Cedars and

the roses and the jasmine breathe

their fragrance.

And the sword continues to cut its way through Beirut. When part of an aircraft — perhaps the wing-tip of an F-16 hit by a missile, although the Israelis deny this — came streaking out of the sky over the eastern suburbs at the weekend, I raced to the scene to find a partly decapitated driver in his car and three Lebanese soldiers from the army's logistics unit. These are the tough, brave non-combat soldiers of Kfar Chima, who have been mending power and water lines these past six days to keep Beirut alive.

I knew one of them. "Hello Robert, be quick, because I think the Israelis will bomb again, but we'll show you everything we can." And they took me through the fires to show me what they could of the wreckage, standing around me to protect me.

A few hours later the Israelis did come back, as the men of the logistics unit were going to bed, and they bombed the barracks and killed 10 soldiers, including those three kind men who looked after me amid the fires of Kfar Chima.

And why? Be sure: the Israelis know what they are hitting. That's why they killed nine soldiers near Tripoli when they bombed the military radio antennas. But a logistics unit? Men whose sole job was to mend electricity lines?

And then it dawns on me. Beirut is to die. It is to be starved of electricity now that the power station in Jiyeh is on fire. No one is to be allowed to keep Beirut alive. So those poor men had to be liquidated.

Beirutis are tough people and are not easily moved. But at the end of last week, many of them were overcome by a photograph in their daily papers of a small girl, discarded like a broken flower in a field near the border village of Ter Harfa, her feet curled up, her hand resting on her torn blue pyjamas, her eyes — beneath long, soft hair — closed, turned away from the camera.

She had been another "terrorist" target of Israel and several people, myself among them, saw a frightening similarity between this picture and the photograph of a Polish girl lying dead in a field beside her weeping sister in 1939.

I go home and flick through my files, old pictures of the Israeli invasion of 1982. There are more photographs of dead children, of broken bridges. "Israelis Threaten to Storm Beirut", says one headline. "Israelis Retaliate". "Lebanon At War". "Beirut Under Siege". "Massacre at Sabra and Chatila".

Yes, how easily we forget these earlier slaughters. Up to 1700 Palestinians were butchered at Sabra and Shatila by Israel's Christian militia allies in September of 1982 while Israeli troops — as they later testified to Israel's own commission of inquiry — watched the killings. I was there. I stopped counting the corpses when I reached 100. Many of the women had been raped before being knifed or shot.

Yet when I was fleeing the bombing of Ghobeiri with my driver Abed last week, we swept right past the entrance of the camp, the very spot where I saw the first murdered Palestinians. And we did not think of them. We did not remember them. They were dead in Beirut and we were trying to stay alive in Beirut, as I have been trying to stay alive here for 30 years.

I am back on the coast when my mobile phone rings. It is an Israeli woman calling me from the United States, the author of a fine novel about the Palestinians.

"Robert, please take care," she says. "I am so, so sorry about what is being done to the Lebanese. It is unforgivable. I pray for the Lebanese people, and the Palestinians, and the Israelis." I thank her for her thoughtfulness and the graceful, generous way she condemned this slaughter.

Then, on my balcony — a glance to check the location of the Israeli gunboat far out in the sea smog — I find older clippings. This is from an English paper in 1840, when Beirut was an Ottoman metropolis: "Anarchy is now the order of the day, our properties and personal safety are endangered, no satisfaction can be obtained, and crimes are committed with impunity. Several Europeans have quitted their houses and suspended their affairs, in order to find protection in more peaceable countries."

On my dining room wall, I remember, there is a hand-painted lithograph of French troops arriving in Beirut in 1842 to protect the Maronite Christians from the Druze. They are camping in the Jardin des Pins, which will later become the site of the French embassy where, only a few hours ago, I saw French men and women registering for evacuation. And outside the window, I hear again the whisper of Israeli jets, hidden behind the smoke that now drifts 30 kilometres out to sea.

Fairuz, the living legend of Lebanese song, was to have performed at this year's Baalbek Festival, cancelled now like all the country's festivals. One of her most popular songs is dedicated to her native city:

Peace to Beirut with all my heart

And kisses — to the sea and clouds,

To the rock of a city that looks like an old sailor's face.

From the soul of her people she makes wine,

From their sweat, she makes bread and jasmine.

So how did it come to taste of smoke and fire?

Disgracefully, we evacuate our precious foreigners and just leave the Lebanese to their fate.

-- Robert Fisk

Friday, July 21, 2006

. . . Iraq

The National Guardsman in the frame looks grim. His bunkmates are cutting up a bit, clowning for the camera. The cameraman tries to coax some action out the unwilling documentary subject, who refuses: "I'm not supposed to talk to the media," he says. You can hear the insult's sting in the cameraman's shouted protest: "I'm not the media! I'm not the media!" The sharp denial reflects a key collateral campaign in the Iraq war: to keep soldiers strictly on message.

But there's no question that the soldier behind the camera in "The War Tapes" is part of this war's media. Just as Vietnam had been America's first "living-room war," spilling carnage in dinnertime news broadcasts, so is the Iraq conflict emerging as the first YouTube war. Growing up in a world where they can swap MP3s as well as intimate details about their lives via MySpace or Facebook, American soldiers are swapping their Iraq experience as well. There's a byte-enabled intimacy to "The War Tapes," the film that bills itself as the first documentary about the war filmed by those fighting it. Critics of the mainstream media's war coverage might hope that the soldier's unmediated view would be a more positive one. Vice President Cheney complained last March that the public's dwindling support for the war was due to the "perception that what's newsworthy is the car bomb in Baghdad," rather than what success has been had "in terms of making progress towards rebuilding Iraq." Talk show host Laura Ingraham encouraged those covering Iraq to "talk to those soldiers on the ground" in order to get a sense of all the good things happening there that should be "celebrated." By that logic, putting cameras in the hands of those soldiers on the ground should provide enough celebration for an "Up with Iraq" musical.

There's music in a lot of the soldiers' videos, but precious little uplift. In "The War Tapes," one soldier/auteur complains frequently about the risks he and his comrades take to protect the property of the Halliburton subsidiary subcontracted to feed the troops: "Why the f--- am I sitting out here guarding a truck full of cheesecake?" he laments. After another guardsman supplies a Bush Administration-approved justification for their presence (freedom and democracy for the Iraqi people, stability in the Middle East), the cameraman asks, "tell me how you really feel." Deadpan, he continues: "After that happens, maybe we can buy everybody in the world a puppy."

Videos uploaded to the Internet by soldiers themselves depict, if anything, an even grimmer reality. Earlier this summer, the Council on American-Islamic Relations stoked a minor controversy over the video "Hadji Girl," which featured a uniformed Marine singing about falling in love with an Iraqi girl only to be ambushed by her family, after which he "hid behind the TV/ And I locked and loaded my M-16/ And I blew those little f___ers to eternity." Many defended "Hadji Girl" as gallows humor, but on the web there is no shortage of just plain gallows, either. A search for "Iraq" and "combat" at or will field dozens of semi-pro snuff films of varying degrees of gore. Many are set to music — power ballads, speed metal, and in one case, an ironic lounge-act crooner.

Raised on Nintendo and Arnold Schwarzenegger movies, the troops fighting this war want to experience the kind of battle promised to them by Splinter Cell and Total Recall. The videos they make are an attempt to salvage a war whose coherence crumbled soon after Saddam's statue fell. However, while they offer the credibility of an unvarnished image, they lack any meaningful context of what came before and after the clip, or what's happening outside the frame. One veteran described them to the Wall Street Journal as "kind of like the ESPN highlight reels — the music is pumping and everyone was running around." Another soldier told the Los Angeles Times, "If I had a copy of it, and MTV called, I'd sell it." He may yet get a chance. MTV is airing a special — "Iraq Uploaded" — about these homemade documentaries July 21.

The special closes a loop in pop culture, since these clips are essentially music videos. Traditionally, historians have explained soldiers' documentary efforts — letters home, snapshots — as an attempt to force a narrative onto a situation that's out of control. But these videos don't even try to tell a story. They don't need a plot. Highlight reels at least give it a point: Blow stuff up.

If these dispatches lack a coherent explanation for why the bombs are going off, recall that the Bush Administration has been rather cagey about that, too. They have their own highlight reel, after all: A montage of 9/11, Colin Powell holding up a vial of anthrax, Zarqawi's death mask presented in a gilt frame on a curtained stage. There's some flashes of mortar fire, but this edit contains no footage of dead soldiers or even coffins, no images of the abuse of detainees.

However, video is not the only medium, or the only way we remember. In "Combat Diary," a returning Marine talks about having to drink himself into a stupor every night in order to sleep. Making a music video out of the horror of war won't keep the images from haunting your dreams.

-- Ann Marie Cox

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Isaiah 11

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.

The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of power,
the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD -

and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears;

but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.

Righteousness will be his belt
and faithfulness the sash around his waist.

The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling [a] together;
and a little child will lead them.

The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.

The infant will play near the hole of the cobra,
and the young child put his hand into the viper's nest.

They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.

In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious.

In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to reclaim the remnant that is left of his people from Assyria, from Lower Egypt, from Upper Egypt, [b] from Cush, [c] from Elam, from Babylonia, [d] from Hamath and from the islands of the sea.

He will raise a banner for the nations
and gather the exiles of Israel;
he will assemble the scattered people of Judah
from the four quarters of the earth.

Ephraim's jealousy will vanish,
and Judah's enemies [e] will be cut off;
Ephraim will not be jealous of Judah,
nor Judah hostile toward Ephraim.

They will swoop down on the slopes of Philistia to the west;
together they will plunder the people to the east.
They will lay hands on Edom and Moab,
and the Ammonites will be subject to them.

The LORD will dry up
the gulf of the Egyptian sea;
with a scorching wind he will sweep his hand
over the Euphrates River. [f]
He will break it up into seven streams
so that men can cross over in sandals.

There will be a highway for the remnant of his people
that is left from Assyria,
as there was for Israel
when they came up from Egypt.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006


CAIRO Hezbollah is a Shiite militia. Its followers hang pictures of the grandfather of the Iranian revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, in their offices and in the towns. And it says its mandate is to liberate Lebanon and Lebanese prisoners from Israel.

None of that matters to Ahmed Mekky, 40, an Egyptian lawyer and a Sunni Mulism. Like many other people around the region, Mekky says he supports Hezbollah because it is doing what the Arab leadership has been frightened to do for too long - standing up to Israel and the United States.

"We are praying that God would make Hezbollah victorious," Mekky said as he stood beside a newspaper kiosk in downtown Cairo Wednesday. "All the Arab governments are asleep."

Perhaps more so than at any time since Iraq's occupation of Kuwait, the bloodletting between Hezbollah and Israel has highlighted the huge divide between many Arab countries, and between many people and their leaders. Sunni Arab leaders in Jordan, and Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and other Gulf Countries, see in Hezbollah a dangerous beachhead for Iranian influence in the region. They have criticized Hezbollah for the raid that led to the Israeli attack on Lebanon.

But the longer the conflict drags on, the more these leaders are finding their own credibility called into question. The longer satellite television shows images of civilians killed and maimed by Israeli bombs, the more these leaders face hostility from their own people. The longer Hezbollah fires rockets into Israeli cities and towns, killing and wounding Israelis the longer these leaders have to face questions about why they do not take similar action as well.

"People know that the Arab governments are impotent and are always looking for excuses to justify their failure to do anything," said Adnan Abu- Odeh, a former adviser to King Hussein of Jordan. "In fact, historically, this episode is another example of how Israel embarrasses the moderate regimes in the region."

The attacks on those who have not stood with Hezbollah have been biting. Al Dustoor Newspaper, an Egyptian opposition weekly newspaper, mocked President Hosni Mubarak in a headline comparing him to the Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah. Nasrallah's son died in 1997 during the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon. Mubarak has been accused of positioning his son, Gamal, to take over as president in six years. The headline: "The difference between a leader who offers his son as a martyr and a leader who offers his son as a successor!"

In Egypt, 75 prominent academics, political leaders and former government officials, issued a statement declaring solidarity with Hezbollah, commending Nassrallah, and criticizing Arab governments as "silent and impotent."

It is impossible, of course, to talk about one "Arab Street," because opinions are as varied as they would be in any multicultural, multinational, multireligious region. But it has gotten to the point that even some of those who are critical of Hezbollah for the cross-border raid into Israel, are calling for unity in standing up to Israel and the United States.

"What is certain is that Hezbollah's step and that taken by Hamas before it, lacks political wisdom," wrote the Saudi journalist, Dawood Al Shiryan, in the pan-Arab newspaper, Al Hayat. "But to insist on calling the resistance to account for this mistake now that Israel's violent response has been launched has created a political reality that is difficult to describe."

Should Hezbollah and Hamas emerge victorious, he argued, leaders of countries like Egypt and Jordan will be isolated from the leaders of those groups. And if they lose, Egypt and Jordan will bear part of the blame. In many ways, the dynamics of the region were predictable. Hatred of Israel runs deep, even when it is not visible at the surface. Arab governments have struggled for legitimacy while often relying on security forces and restricted voting rights to maintain their monopoly on power. And the experience of the Arab League, an organization that was supposed to advocate for the combined Arab interest, has repeatedly demonstrated that Arab states cannot agree on a common interest.

But this crisis has proved particularly vexing to the leadership and galling to many people because it came after the Palestinians elected as their leaders another group that so-called moderate Arab leaders did not trust: Hamas. In the public view, their leaders failed to come to the aid of Hamas when its funds were cut off by the West and then failed to do anything when Israel attacked in Gaza in response to the kidnapping and killing of soldiers. Even in Syria, which has offered strong rhetorical support for Hezbollah during this crisis and is accused of having helped arm and train it in the past, there is growing frustration that tough words are not followed by tough deeds.

The Syrian authorities have cracked down recently on people who speak out against the government, so people were afraid to be identified. But in recent conversations at a café in the center of town, many people expressed just that sentiment. "The Syrian leaders don't want war with Israel, but what's the use of supporting Hezbollah under the table," said a retired lawyer who was afraid to be identified for fear of retribution.

In Egypt, the public sentiment toward the government is even more hostile. People repeatedly said that their government was hiding behind the idea that it was trying to block Shiite, or Iranian influence, when they believed it was really doing America's bidding. At the moment, Iran appears extremely popular among many ordinary Sunni Muslims.

"I wish we would send them reinforcements so that they can defend themselves, even if we send them medicine," said Gharib Hamed, 33, a pizza deliveryman in Cairo. "Hezbollah says that Iran is supporting them. I wish the Arab states would all help Hezbollah too. I am impressed with Iran's role."

Mahmoud Abdel Aziz, a cashier at a grocery store in the residential area of Zamalek was watching the Egyptian satellite news when he expressed his own frustrations with Arab leaders. "If I could go fight with them, I would," he said. "Where the hell are we?"

Katherine Zoepf contributed reporting from Damascus.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

14,000 Civilians killed in Iraq: 2006

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- More than 14,000 civilians have been killed in Iraq in the first half of this year, an ominous figure reflecting the fact that "killings, kidnappings and torture remain widespread" in the war-torn country, a United Nations report says.

Killings of civilians are on "an upward trend," with more than 5,800 deaths and more than 5,700 injuries reported in May and June alone, it says.

The report, a bimonthly document produced by the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq, covers May and June, and includes chilling casualty figures and ugly anecdotes from the insurgent and sectarian warfare that continues to rage despite the establishment of a national unity government and a security crackdown in Baghdad.

The report lists examples of bloody suicide bombs aimed at mosques, attacks on laborers, the recovery of slain bodies, the assassinations of judges, the killings of prisoners, the targeting of clergy -- all incidents dutifully reported by media over these three-plus years of chaos in the streets.

The U.N. agency says it has been made aware since last year of the targeting of homosexuals, "increasingly threatened and extra-judicially executed by militias and 'death squads' because of their sexual orientation."

The intolerance propelling the anti-gay prejudice extends to ethnic and religious minorities and others whose manner of dress doesn't meet the standards of religious extremists.

"On 28 May, an Iraqi tennis coach and two of his players were shot dead in Baghdad allegedly because they were wearing shorts. Similar threats are said to be made to induce men to conform to certain hair styles or rules regarding facial hair," the report says.

Women face intolerance -- and violence -- as well.

"In some Baghdad neighborhoods, women are now prevented from going to the markets alone. In other cases, women have been warned not to drive cars or have faced harassment if they wear trousers. Women have also reported that wearing a headscarf is becoming not a matter of religious choice but one of survival in many parts of Iraq, a fact which is particularly resented by non-Muslim women."

Academics and health professionals have been attacked, spurring them to leave the country or their home regions, causing a brain drain and a dislocation in services.

"Health care providers face difficulties in carrying out their work because of the limited supply of electricity and growing number of patients due to the increase in violence," the report says.

Kidnappings have been part of the chaotic Iraqi scene since the insurgency began, with many hostages killed even after a ransom is paid. The abductors are not only motivated by sectarianism or politics; organized crime appears to be involved with some of the kidnappings.

"On some occasions, sectarian connotations and alleged collusion with sectors of the police, as well as with militias, have been reported to UNAMI. Although there are no reliable statistics regarding this phenomenon, because Iraqis often are afraid to report such crimes to the police, the kidnappings are likely a daily occurrence," the report says.

For children, the "extent of violence in areas" other than the Kurdish region "is such that likely every child, to some degree, has been exposed to it," it says.

"In one case the body of a 12-year-old Osama was reportedly found by the Iraqi police in a plastic bag after his family paid a ransom of some 30,000 U.S. dollars. The boy had been sexually assaulted by the kidnappers, before being hanged by his own clothing. The police captured members of this gang who confessed of raping and killing many boys and girls before Osama," the report says.

Cultural symbols

"Civilian casualties resulted mainly from bombings and drive-by shootings, from indiscriminate attacks, in neighborhood markets or petrol stations, or following armed clashes with the police and the security forces," the report says.

"Civilians were also targeted or became unintended victims of insurgent or military actions.

"Terrorist acts against civilians have been aimed at fomenting sectarian violence or allegedly motivated by revenge and have targeted members of the Arab Shia and Sunni communities, including their cultural symbols, as well as markets in Shia neighborhoods."

Figures from the Medico-Legal Institute in Baghdad and the Ministry of Health show that the total number of civilians killed from January to June was 14,338.

In late June, the Ministry of Health "acknowledged information stating that since 2003 at least 50,000 persons have been killed in violence and stated the number of deaths are probably under-reported." the report says.

"The Baghdad morgue reportedly received 30,204 bodies from 2003 to mid-2006. Deaths numbering 18,933 occurred from 'military clashes' and 'terrorist attacks'" between April 5, 2004, and June 1, 2006.

The report also notes the probes by the United States into the alleged killings of 24 civilians in Haditha by U.S. troops as well the deaths caused by military operations throughout the country.

Other developments

At least 45 people were killed and 60 others wounded Tuesday morning when a suicide car bomber detonated in a busy Kufa marketplace where day laborers gather, Iraqi police said.

The attack took place around 7:30 a.m. near a Shia shrine.

Kufa is considered a holy place by Shia Muslims and is just outside Najaf, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) south of Baghdad.

Meanwhile, gunmen wearing Iraqi army uniforms on Tuesday stole 1.24 billion Iraqi dinars (about $675,000) from Rafidain Bank in western Baghdad early Tuesday afternoon, Iraqi emergency police told CNN.

An in the northern city of Kirkuk, a roadside bomb killed six policemen, Kirkuk police said. Another police officer was wounded in the incident, which occurred at 11:30 a.m. in Hawija.

On Monday, in a coordinated attack in Mahmoudiya, south of Baghdad, at least 40 people were killed and wounded dozens, and small-arms fire killed a U.S. soldier in the capital.

The incidents took place as Sunni-Shiite sectarian violence festers in and near Baghdad.

The killing of a U.S. soldier on Monday -- which occurred at 12:55 p.m. (0955 GMT) in western Baghdad -- brought the number of U.S. military deaths in the Iraq war to 2,548. The soldier was from Multi-National Division Baghdad.

Friday, July 14, 2006

HAIFA, Israel — Shops were open, streets bustled with traffic and restaurants were packed with customers Friday in this seaside town just 25 miles south of the Lebanese border.

Still, there were signs life here had changed: Radios and televisions blared frantic newscasts, some supermarkets ran short of canned goods and residents talked openly of war.

Indeed, some people in Haifa seemed to look forward to a fight with Hezbollah guerrillas.

"Israel should act now and do whatever needs to be done," said Shmuel Rottman, 78, who has lived in Haifa all his life. "We're going to put them in their place, and we have to do it while we still have time."

The two rockets fired on Haifa on Thursday landed feebly on sidewalks near the city center, causing no casualties. But they sent a message that hundreds of thousands more Israelis were now within range of deadly attacks.

Other places were not so lucky: In the town of Meron, an Israeli family was sitting in its living room as the Jewish Sabbath began at sundown Friday when a Hezbollah rocket blew a hole in the wall of the house, killing a woman and her 5-year-old grandson. The force of the blast threw the boy into the yard below.

Brush fires erupted in open fields throughout northern Israel, as Hezbollah kept up an almost nonstop barrage of rocket fire.

Thousands of residents fled the northern towns of Nahariya and Kiryat Shemona, often targets of Hezbollah rocket attacks, leaving behind virtual ghost towns, as the only residents who opted to stay holed up in bomb shelters.

Angered by the Hezbollah attack and almost nonstop rocket barrages on their towns and villages, Israelis gave the army widespread support for its largest operation in Lebanon in two decades.

Itzik Zachari, 31, said Hezbollah had crossed a line with the attack and said he was "looking forward" to fighting Hezbollah in Lebanon.

"I was really shocked," he said. "I know they have that kind of weapon, but to use it against Haifa is a declaration of war."

Israel launched its attack on Lebanon after Hezbollah carried out a brazen cross-border raid Wednesday, capturing two soldiers.

On Friday, Israel demolished the Beirut home and office of Hezbollah's leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah. Nasrallah was reported safe, and said on Hezbollah television that the group was prepared for "open war" with Israel.

With Hamas militants in Gaza expanding the range of their homemade rockets along the southern border, Israel finds itself sandwiched between militant groups that are using inaccurate but sometimes deadly rocket fire to sow fear.

"When the Katyusha fell, we understood that it was war," said Judy Golan, 55, referring to the type of rockets fired by Hezbollah. "We were waiting for it."

Haifa, the third-largest city in Israel, is the deepest target inside the country ever hit by Hezbollah. It is home to Israel's largest passenger ship port, oil refineries and several key industrial installations.

It is 25 miles from the Lebanese border to the north. Hezbollah now has rockets that could go about 40 miles, Israeli army chief of staff Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz said.

In Haifa on Friday, the army allowed residents to remain outdoors for most of the day despite the threat of more rocket attacks.

And while restaurants and streets were full, beaches were less crowded, and bread shops sold out quickly. Some gas stations had stayed open well past closing time Thursday.

By evening, the army ordered Haifa residents back into bomb shelters or bombproof rooms in their homes, preparing them for a weekend to be spent mostly indoors.

"I'm a little scared," admitted Taner Elizarov, 24. "There's a feeling of war."


KENNETT SQUARE, Pa. - Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro has developed a severe case of laminitis, a potentially fatal disease caused by uneven weight distribution in the limbs, and his veterinarian called his chances for survival “a long shot.”
Dean Richardson, the chief surgeon who has been treating Barbaro since the colt suffered catastrophic injuries in the Preakness on May 20, said the Derby winner’s chances of survival are poor.

“I’d be lying if I said anything other than poor,” Richardson said Thursday at a news conference at the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center.

“As long as the horse is not suffering, we’re going to continue to try” to save him. “If we can keep him comfortable, we think it’s worth the effort.” If not, Barbaro could be euthanized at any time.

Richardson said if Barbaro doesn’t respond quickly to treatment, “It could happen within 24 hours.” Richardson said the laminitis, a painful condition, has all but destroyed the colt’s hoof on his uninjured left hind leg.

“The left hind foot is basically as bad a laminitis as you can have. It’s as bad as it gets,” Richardson said, while adding that horses can recover from the disease. He said he has discussed the situation closely with owners Roy and Gretchen Jackson, who have stressed that their main concern is for Barbaro to be pain free.

Richardson said Barbaro’s injured right hind leg — the one that shattered at the start of the Preakness — is healing well, but because a horse has to be evenly balanced to carry his weight, laminitis set in on the other foot.

A procedure called a hoof wall resection removed a large portion of Barbaro’s left rear hoof.

“He is in a foot cast at this moment,” Richardson said. “We’ll see if can regrow his hoof. We’re talking about months and months and months. What we’re doing on this horse is absolutely unusual, but it’s not unheard of.”

The grim update came after nearly six weeks of what was considered to be a smooth recovery. Barbaro underwent five hours of surgery May 21 so a titanium plate and 27 screws could be inserted into three broken bones and the pastern joint. He has had three more operations in recent days.

“I really thought we were going to make it two weeks ago,” Richardson said. “Today I’m not as confident.” Barbaro won the Derby by 6-1/2 lengths, was unbeaten in six races and expected to make a Triple Crown bid before his misstep ended his racing career. He was taken to the New Bolton Center hours after breaking down and underwent five hours of surgery the next day.

At that time, Richardson said the chances of the horse’s survival were 50-50.

Since the break down, there has been a public outpouring of sympathy as well-wishers, young and old, showed up at the New Bolton Center with cards, flowers, gifts and goodies. And thousands of e-mails poured in to the hospital’s Web site to voice concern and support.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Red Buttons, the carrot-topped burlesque comedian who became a top star in early television and then in a dramatic role won the 1957 Oscar as supporting actor in "Sayonara," died Thursday. He was 87.

Buttons died of vascular disease at his home in the Century City area of Los Angeles, publicist Warren Cowan said. He had been ill for some time, and was with family members when he died, Cowan said.

With his eager manner and rapid-fire wit, Buttons excelled in every phase of show business, from the Borscht Belt of the 1930s to celebrity roasts in the 1990s.

His greatest achievement came with his "Sayonara" role as Sgt. Joe Kelly, the soldier in the post-World War II occupation forces in Japan whose romance with a Japanese woman (Myoshi Umeki, who also won an Academy Award) ends in tragedy.

Josh Logan, who directed the James Michener story that starred Marlon Brando, was at first hesitant to cast a well-known comedian in such a somber role.

"The tests were so extensive that they could just put scenery around them and release the footage as a feature film," Buttons remarked.

Buttons' Academy Award led to other films, both dramas and comedies. They included "Imitation General,""The Big Circus,""Hatari!""The Longest Day,""Up From the Beach,""They Shoot Horses, Don't They?""The Poseidon Adventure,""Gable and Lombard" and "Pete's Dragon."

"He proved it was no accident by winning an Oscar that comedians can be in movies," said fellow, legendary comedian Jack Carter. "He was more than a comedian, he was a wise man."

Carter said he and Buttons often were used as "closers" at celebrity roasts and other gatherings of comedians. He added that Buttons, who did many speaking engagements late in his life, culled his many punchlines from his own life.

"Red never had an actual act. His act was his life, and that's why it came so naturally," Carter said. "He was brilliant at it."

A performer since his teens, Buttons was noticed by burlesque theater owners and he became the youngest comic on the circuit. He had graduated to small roles on Broadway before being drafted in 1943.

Along with dozens of other future stars, including Mario Lanza, John Forsythe, Karl Malden and Lee J. Cobb, Buttons was enlisted for "Winged Victory," the play that famed director-playwright Moss Hart created for the Air Force. Buttons also appeared in the 1944 film version, directed by George Cukor.

Discharged in 1946, Buttons returned to nightclub and theater work. In 1952, CBS signed him for a weekly show as the network's answer to NBC's Milton Berle.

"The Red Buttons Show" was first broadcast on CBS Oct. 14, 1952, without a sponsor since the star was virtually unknown. Within a month, the show became a solid hit and advertisers were clamoring.

Buttons drew on all his past experience for monologues, songs, dances and sketches featuring such characters as a punch-drunk fighter, a scrappy street kid, a Sad Sack GI and a blundering German. The hit of the show was a silly song in which he pranced about the stage singing, "Ho! Ho!... He! He!... Ha! Ha!... Strange things are happening!" It became a national craze.

After a sensational first season, "The Red Buttons Show" began to slide. Reports circulated that the star had fits of temper and frequently fired writers, and the show ended after three seasons.

"Certainly I made mistakes, and mistakes were made for me," he said in 1960. "When you go into TV cold, as I did, it's murder."

While the failure was a severe blow to the normally optimistic comedian, he soon recovered and resumed his career as a guest star on TV shows. A straight role on "Suspense" brought him to the attention of Logan, who cast him for the career-making "Sayonara."

In 1966, Buttons starred in another series, "The Double Life of Henry Phyfe," as a humble accountant enlisted as a government spy. The show lasted only six months.

Over the years Buttons remained a steady performer on television, appearing on such series as "Knots Landing,""Roseanne" and "ER." He also took his act on the road, appearing at Las Vegas, Atlantic City, conventions, and returning to his beginnings in the Catskills.

Still in good health at 76 ("They call me the only Yiddish leprechaun"), he appeared in New York in 1995 with an autobiographical one-man show, "Buttons on Broadway."

It was his first Broadway show since 1948, when he appeared in a play with the unfortunate title of "Hold It." One critic, Buttons recalled, began his review: "`Hold It?' Fold it."

Buttons was born Aaron Chwatt on Feb. 15, 1919, son of an immigrant milliner, in a tough Manhattan neighborhood where, he once said, "you either grew up to be a judge or you went to the electric chair."

He struggled through schools in Manhattan and the Bronx — "Mom and Pop went to school as often as I did; they should have graduated with me." He started performing at the age of 12, winning an amateur contest singing "Sweet Jenny Brown" in a sailor's suit.

At 16 he was working as a singer and bellhop in a gin mill on New York's City Island. Since all bellhops were called Buttons and Chwatt had red hair, he got his new name.

During his summer vacation, he worked as a singer on the Borscht Circuit — the string of Catskills resorts catering to a largely Jewish clientele where Danny Kaye, Sid Caesar, Mel Brooks, Hart and others trained for stardom.

In later years, Buttons became a favorite at testimonial/roast dinners with his roaringly funny "Never had a dinner" routine. He cited famous figures who had never been so honored. Examples: "Abe Lincoln, who said `A house divided is a condominium,' never had a dinner"; "(Perennial presidential candidate) Jerry Brown, whose theme song is 'California, Here I Go,' never had a dinner." (When he did "Buttons on Broadway," he altered the routine and named people who never did one-man shows.)

In 1982, Red Buttons finally had a dinner. The Friars Club honored him with a star-filled roast and a life-achievement award.

"When I was a kid in the Bronx and watching and dreaming from the second balcony," the guest of honor said, "in my wildest imagination I couldn't have written this scenario tonight."

Buttons was married and divorced twice in his early career. He and his late third wife, Alicia, had a son and daughter, Adam and Amy. In addition to the children, Buttons is survived by a brother and sister.
Wadi Nisnas, Haifa

At least one rocket has struck the northern Israeli port city of Haifa, hours after a threat by the militant Lebanese group Hezbollah.

Hezbollah denied firing any rockets. There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage.

Haifa, Israel's third largest city, is more than 30km (18 miles) from the Lebanese border and was thought to be out of Hezbollah's range.

Israel has been carrying out ground, sea and air raids on Lebanon.

It imposed the blockade following the capture of two of its soldiers by Hezbollah militants on Wednesday.

Israeli warships have blocked Lebanese ports, and Beirut international airport was closed after Israeli bombing.

About 50 Lebanese people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the raids.

Hezbollah had said it would attack Haifa if Israeli planes bombed Beirut.

It has fired dozens of rockets into Israel in the past two days, but none have so far gone further than 20km (12 miles) inside the country.

At least one Israeli has died in the attacks and dozens have been injured.

The Israeli ambassador in Washington, Danny Ayalon, described the Haifa incident as a "major escalation" of the crisis, which began with the soldiers' capture.


Beirut 1966-2006

BEIRUT, Lebanon (CNN) -- Israel's warplanes bombed Beirut's international airport and its navy blockaded Lebanon's ports in a sharp escalation of a military campaign Thursday.

Hezbollah guerrillas fired scores of rockets from Lebanon into northern Israel in the most intense bombardment in years.

Some 45 people and two soldiers have been killed inside Lebanon since Wednesday, the country's health ministry said, while the rocket attacks killed at least one woman in Israel.

Beirut's Rafik Hariri International Airport was forced to close after Israeli fighter jets hit all three of its runways, leaving huge craters that made them unusable.

Two other Lebanese airports were attacked Thursday morning, the Israel Defense Forces said.

The IDF gave no details, but Lebanese army sources said that the Rayak Air Base in the Bekaa Valley near the Syrian border had been hit as well as a small military airport in Qulayaat in northern Lebanon.

Israel said it targeted the international airport in the capital's suburbs because it was a transfer point for weapons and supplies to Hezbollah, the militant group that captured two Israeli soldiers and killed eight others in raids this week.

Lebanese Interior Minister Ahmed Fatfat called the airport strikes a "general act of war," saying they had nothing to do with Hezbollah but were instead an attack against the country's "economic interests," especially its tourism industry. All Beirut-bound flights are having to be diverted.

Lebanese Information Minister Ghazi Aridi called for a comprehensive cease-fire, saying the Lebanese government had nothing to do with the Hezbollah attacks.

After Israel's airport strike, planes began dropping leaflets warning residents of an impending attack on an area of southern Beirut where Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah is believed to live. (Watch initial reports on the runway bombings -- 6:00)

If such a strike happened, Hezbollah said it would attack the northern Israeli city of Haifa, where 300,000 people live.

The U.S. Navy moved a small military tug out of Haifa after the threat.

Israel: 'We mean business'
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Thursday he fears a "regional war is mounting" with Israel's military campaigns in Lebanon and Gaza, where forces were deployed after last month's capture of an Israeli soldier.

"This is not our interest and will not bring peace and stability to the region," Abbas said, referring to "this [Israeli] aggression."

President Bush said all countries had a right to defend themselves but warned Israel to take care not to "weaken" Lebanon's government.

Bush also stressed during a visit to Germany that Syria "needs to be held to account."

Hezbollah enjoys substantial backing from Syria and Iran and is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and Israel. The group holds posts in Lebanon's government.

Israeli Security Cabinet Minister Isaac Herzog said: "We are taking strong measures so that it will be clear to the Lebanese people and government ... that we mean business."

The United Nations will send a team to the Middle East to urge both sides to use restraint, a spokesman for Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Thursday.

Captives named
Israeli airstrikes were aimed at targets used by Hezbollah for storing weapons, the IDF said.

Warplanes also hit al-Manar television station because Hezbollah uses it to incite and recruit activists, the IDF said. A broadcast tower was destroyed and three people injured, but the station was able to continue broadcasting, al-Manar editor Ibrahim Moussawi said.

Israel's Cabinet authorized a "severe and harsh" response to the abduction of the two soldiers, named Thursday as Ehud Goldvasser, 31, from Nahariya, and Eldad Regev, 26, from the Haifa suburb of Kiryat Motzkin.

Hezbollah called for a prisoner exchange but, as in Gaza, Israel has rejected the call.

Hezbollah chief Nasrallah told reporters that seizing the soldiers was "our natural, only and logical right" to win freedom for Hezbollah prisoners held by Israel.

Nasrallah said the two soldiers had been taken to a place "far, far away" and that an Israeli military campaign would not win their release.

More than 70 Katyusha rockets have hit Israel in the past 24 hours, the IDF said.

Missiles critically injured one person and hurt at least 10 others in Safed, about 13 miles (20 kilometers) from the Lebanese border, which local officials said not been hit by Hezbollah rockets since 1972. (Watch the rocket's explosion and town chaos -- 1:45)

Also in northern Israel, a woman was killed and 15 people hurt in a rocket attack in Nahariya, and at least 38 people were injured when rockets hit the Arab village of Carmiel, Israeli ambulance services said.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

War in Middle East

BEIRUT, Lebanon Hezbollah fighters launched a raid into Israel and captured two Israeli soldiers Wednesday, triggering an Israeli assault with warplanes, gunboats and ground troops in southern Lebanon to hunt for the captives.

At least seven other Israeli soldiers were killed in the two Hezbollah raids, the army said.

Israel also reported it killed another Hezbollah guerrilla as he tried to infiltrate a military base in northern Israel during a second raid.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called the first Hezbollah raid "an act of war" and held the Lebanese government responsible, vowing that the Israeli response "will be restrained, but very, very, very painful."

The Israeli military planned to call up thousands of reservists. Residents of Israeli towns on border with Lebanon were ordered to seek cover in underground bomb shelters.

Israel's forces are now fighting on two fronts, after the kidnap of an Israeli soldier by Palestinians in Gaza two weeks ago prompted an offensive in Gaza, reports CBS News correspondent Robert Berger.

CBS News chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan reports an air strike targeting Hamas commanders missed, and instead killed a Palestinian family of nine — including seven children.

"As bodies were pulled from the rubble here, you could feel the crowd, the anger of the crowd," Logan said in an exclusive report from the scene.

Israel said it launched the air strike in the Sheik Radwan neighborhood, a Hamas stronghold, because Hamas commanders there were planning more attacks on Israel. Israel also said the home it attacked was a "meeting place for terrorists."

The Israeli army said its most wanted terrorist, Mohammed Deif was wounded, but Hamas denied it. Deif has narrowly escaped several assassination attempts in the past.

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, on a visit to Rome, condemned the Israeli attack in southern Lebanon, reports CBS News correspondent Sabina Castelfranco. He also demanded the immediate release of kidnapped Israeli soldiers.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State David Welch, on a visit to Cairo, said the capture of the two Israeli soldiers was "a very dangerous escalation" that "puts at risk all the effort that's being put forth by many to find a solution to the current situation."

Britain blamed Hezbollah for this latest escalation of mideast violence, condemning the kidnapping of the Israeli soldiers and the shelling of Israel, but said it wants a measured and proportionate Israeli response. France echoed that, reports CBS News correspondent Larry Miller, calling for the soldiers' unconditional release. Germany described the Hezbolah raid as an "irresponsible new escalation." There was support for Hezbollah from Syria, which claimed the "occupation provokes the Palestinians."

Wednesday's events threatened to complicated efforts to win Cpl. Gilad Shalit's release. The Shiite Lebanese Hezbollah said it had kidnapped the soldiers to help win the release of prisoners held in Israel. Hamas had made identical demands in seizing the Israeli soldier.

Jubilant residents of south Beirut, a stronghold of Hezbollah, and Palestinians in the Ein el-Hilwa refugee camp fired their guns in the air and set off firecrackers for more than an hour after the capture of the Israeli soldiers was announced.

By the afternoon, seven hours after the Hezbollah raid, Israeli military aircraft were striking large areas of southern Lebanon — targeting bridges, roads and Hezbollah positions in areas as deep as halfway between the Israeli border and the Lebanese capital, Beirut, Lebanese security officials said.

An Israeli army statement said the air force attacked more than 30 targets in south Lebanon to prevent the transfer of the kidnapped soldiers.

Several dozen ground troops entered southwestern Lebanon across the border where the soldiers were snatched, apparently only going a short distance in, witnesses said.

But Army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz warned the Lebanese government that the assault would widen. He said the military will target infrastructure and "turn back the clock in Lebanon by 20 years," if the soldiers were not returned, Israeli TV reported.

Hezbollah leadership has told CBS News that the capture of the two Israeli soldiers is yet further pressure to force Israel to release Palestinian detainees, reports Logan.

"We shall not surrender to arrogance and we will not negotiate with terrorists," Olmert said.

Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah said he would not release the two captured Israeli soldiers except as part of a prisoner swap.

It would be an "illusion" if Israel thinks a military campaign can win the release of the soldiers, Nasrallah said.

"No military operation will return them," he told a news conference in Beirut. "The prisoners will not be returned except through one way: indirect negotiations and a trade."

Olmert said the attack was not an act of terror but an attack by a sovereign state on Israel. The Lebanese government, of which Hezbollah is a part, "must bear full responsibility," he said.

Hamas also appeared to toughen its demands for the safe return of Shalit, the 19-year-old soldier its militants seized two weeks ago, saying Hezbollah's actions strengthened Hamas' position.

"We have proven to this enemy (Israel) that the one option is the release of Palestinian, Lebanese and Arab captives. All captives, without exception," said Osama Hamdan, Hamas' spokesman in Lebanon.

"What happened has strengthened the issue of the captives, and the enemy will submit to our choice, which is the exchange of the captives in return for the release of the soldiers," he told Al-Jazeera television.

Hamas had previously demanded the release of some Palestinian prisoners in return for Cpl. Gilad Shalit's release.

Hamdan did not say whether Hamas had consulted with Hezbollah, but he said there may be subsequent "coordination and an understanding."

Hezbollah, which has been clashing with Israel for more than two decades, has repeatedly expressed its intent to kidnap Israeli soldiers to trade for Arab prisoners.

Israel occupied a small strip of southern Lebanon for 18 years before withdrawing in 2000 after high casualties on both sides raised public complaints in Israel. But Israel and Hezbollah still clash over a small sliver of border territory. Chebaa Farms, claimed by Lebanon.

Hezbollah fighters have controlled the Lebanese side of the border with Israel since Israeli forces pulled out. Lebanon is under U.N. and American pressure to disarm the Shiite guerrilla group and move its own military into the south, but the government has refused to do so, calling them a legitimate resistance group.

Israel has carried out several prisoner swaps with Hezbollah in the past to obtain freedom for captures Israelis. These include a January 2004 swap in which an Israeli civilian and the bodies of three Israeli soldiers were exchanged for 436 Arab prisoners and the bodies of 59 Lebanese fighters. In 1985, three Israeli soldiers captured in Lebanon in 1982 were traded for 1,150 Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

incoming train in Mumbai, India

Incoming Train in Mumbai

The Rainy Season

Mumbai, India (AP) - Seven explosions ripped through packed commuter trains during rush hour Tuesday in India's commercial capital, killing more than 100 people and injuring 300 in what officials said was a well-coordinated bomb attack by terrorists.

India's major cities were put on high alert after the blasts, which appeared timed to impose maximum carnage on the bustling city of 16 million. Its crowded rail network was thrown into chaos by the blasts and authorities were struggling to determine the impact.

Mumbai Police Chief A.N. Roy said on Indian television that 100 people were feared killed and more than 300 were injured.

"We are busy in the rescue operation. Our first priority is to rescue the injured people,'' he said. However, heavy monsoon downpours were hampering the effort.

The Press Trust of India news agency, citing officials, said at least 137 people were killed.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called an emergency Cabinet meeting, and said that "terrorists'' were behind the attacks. Home Minister Shivraj Patil told reporters that authorities had "some'' information an attack was coming, "but place and time was not known.''

Vilasrao Deshmukh, the chief minister of Maharashtra state, where Mumbai is located, said bombs had caused the blasts. He said the death toll had reached 105.

"The official information is that these are bomb explosions,'' the minister said.

Police were also reportedly carrying out raids across the country following the explosions, presumably in search of suspects. One television report said a suspect was in custody.

A senior Mumbai police official, P.S. Pasricha, said the explosions were part of a well-coordinated attack.

Witnesses reported seeing body parts strewn about stations, and Indian television news channels broadcast footage of bystanders carrying victims to ambulances and searching through the wreckage for survivors and bodies. Some of the injured were seen frantically dialing their cell phones.

The force of the blasts ripped doors and windows off carriages, and luggage and debris were strewn about, splattered with blood. Survivors were seen clutching bloody bandages to their heads and faces. Some were able to get up and walk from the stations.

Pranay Prabhakar, the spokesman for the Western Railway, confirmed that seven blasts had taken place. He said all trains had been suspended in Mumbai, and he appealed to the public to stay away from the train stations in Mumbai, India's financial and commercial center and principal port on the Arabian sea.

Indian stock markets could plunge Wednesday if nervous investors dump shares following the blasts.

"Terror attacks like these could negatively swing the risk profile of India. Investors, sitting on the sidelines, would definitely rethink to put in money,'' said Trideep Bhattacharya, Asia head of technology research at UBS Securities.

The bomb blasts occurred after the stock markets ended. The financial capital suffered similar serial blasts in 1993 that included the Mumbai Stock Exchange, killing more than 250 people.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Tuesday's attacks, but the blasts came in quick succession _ a common tactic employed by Kashmiri militants that have repeatedly targeted India's cities.

The first explosion hit the train at a railway station in the northwestern suburb of Khar, said a police officer who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

India's CNN-IBN television news, which had a reporter traveling on the train, said the blast took place in a first-class car as the train was moving, ripping through the compartment and killing more than a dozen people.

Roy, the Mumbai police chief, said the other blasts targeted trains, railway tracks and platforms. One explosion occurred near an underground subway station.

The purported attacks came hours after a series of grenade attacks by Islamic extremists that killed eight people in the main city of India's part of Kashmir.

Dozens of militant groups have been fighting Indian rule in Kashmir, demanding the mostly Muslim region's independence, or its merger with Pakistan. India accuses Pakistan of aiding the militants, who run training camps on Pakistan's of Kashmir. Pakistan denies the charge.

India and Pakistan have fought three wars since the subcontinent was partitioned upon independence from Britain in 1947, two over Kashmir.

Accusations of Pakistani involvement in a 2001 attack on India's parliament put the nuclear-armed rivals on the brink of a fourth war. But since then, Pakistan and India embarked on a peace process aimed at resolving their differences, including their conflicting claims to all of Jammu-Kashmir.

The Pakistani Foreign Ministry issued a statement late Tuesday condemning the attacks.

"Pakistan strongly condemns the series of bomb blasts on commuter trains,'' the ministry said in a statement. President Gen. Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat offered condolences over the loss of life, the statement said, adding "terrorism is a bane of our times and it must be condemned, rejected and countered effectively and comprehensively.''

In Washington, two U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity while events were unfolding, said it was too early to know for certain what group was behind the attacks. But both officials said they were likely part of the sectarian violence over Kashmir.

One of the officials said the attacks' coordinated nature and their targeting of trains at peak travel times match the modus operandi of two Islamic extremist groups that have been active in India during the last several years: Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, or Army of the Righteous, and Jaish-e-Mohammad, or Army of Mohammed.

The U.S. government has designated both groups as terrorist organizations and considers them affiliates of al-Qaida. Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department said it had no information about whether there were any American casualties. - AP


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