Tuesday, August 30, 2005

African Bullets & Honey

This is why I love blogging.

When not blogging, this is what I do in the Welshcountryside: wear stupid looking helmets and swing around on wires.

This morning I have come across a beautiful, well-crafted blog by a guy from Kenya. I presume from today's pictures that he is for the moment living in Britain, and working in a job - as do so many extraordinarily gifted people from around the world -which pays the rent but does not allow him to be seen or appreciated as the richly-endowed person he really is. I may be tilted in my opinion because among my former employees was a charming, hard-working girl from Kenya whose smile sould sell anything, whose hourly job in a cafeteria was only a stepping stone in her life. (Last I heard she was learning to fly helicopters in the British military, even though she was studying computer science when I knew her.)

Never having been to Africa, and not likely to get a chance, African Bullets & Honey may be as close as I ever come. But what a great trip is is.

He reprints an essay by Orwell which in the light of tody's world needs no fisking to reveal the noblesse oblige, white man's burden attitude it exemplifies.
Written in 1936, George Orwell's 'Shooting an Elephant' is a classic examination of the nature of colonial power and the curious administrative and moral posture of the colonialist. Go here for more of his essays.
How many people could put so much into so few words? And with grace. I'm envious.

He also links to other Kenyan bloggers. I haven't explored there yet, but Diary of a Mad Kenyan Woman looks interesting. Part of the banner reads Why suffer alone? Why suffer in silence? I demand an audience for my ramblings. Besides, they will make you feel superior, sane,noble and charitable as well as infinitely intelligent as you will undoubtedly be able to dismiss them as nonsense. They are, in fact, just the diary of a Mad Kenyan Woman..

This discovery is a dividend from being on the Pundit Dome Second Page. I would not likely have come across this blog otherwise.

Qualifying a candidate for SCOTUS

It is tempting to cook everything down to a couple of hot-button issues and apply to John Roberts (or any other nominee for the Supreme Court) a pass/fail test to determine whether or not he should be approved. We have heard a lot of discussion about "originalist" this or "living constitution" that, leading us to believe it's just a matter of figuring out whether this guy is gonna toe the line and be good, or be a renegade on the bench that would rather make new laws than apply the ones we already have.

Well just a minute. It isn't all that simple.

Pull on your hip boots and download an 85-page document linked at Volokh Conspiracy about the Ninth Amendment, which "means what it says."
Lookit this...

Although the Ninth Amendment appears on its face to protect unenumerated individual rights of the same sort as those that were enumerated in the Bill of Rights, courts and scholars have long deprived it of any relevance to constitutional adjudication. With the growing interest in originalist methods of interpretation since the 1980s, however, this situation has changed. In the past twenty years, five originalist models of the Ninth Amendment have been propounded by scholars:
The state law rights model,
the residual rights model,
the individual natural rights model,
the collective rights model, and
the federalism model.
This article examines twelve crucial pieces of historical evidence that either directly contradict the state law and residual rights models, undercut the collective rights model, or strong[ly] support the individual natural rights and federalism models.
Evaluating the five models in light of this evidence establishes that the Ninth Amendment actually meant at the time of its enactment what it appears now to say.

Got that? Good.
I ain't gonna touch it. That eighty-five pages may as well have been about astronomy. All I want to do is find a politician of good character who will act on my behalf and do the necessary homework to make a good decision.

Wait. Politician of good character strikes me as an oxymoron. Maybe I should go back and start reading and studying for myself.

As if eighty-five pages were not enough, comments have also been turned on. The author is soliciting feedback. Lawyers must eat paper for breakfast instead of cereal.
I love this piece of instructions regarding comments...

And if you think this is the other people's fault -- you're one of the few who sees the world clearly, but fools wrongly view you as a crank, a blowhard, or as someone who overdoes it on the hyperbole -- then you should still rewrite your post before hitting enter. After all, if you're one of the few who sees the world clearly, then surely it's especially important that you frame your arguments in a way that is persuasive and as unalienating as possible, even to fools.

Update Tuesday, August 30

From Legal Fiction by Publius...
Originalism reminds me of what Harold Bloom once said about Edgar Allen Poe. If I’m remembering him correctly, he said that he didn’t really respect Poe but conceded that he might be missing something given the respect that Poe gets from scholars whose opinions he truly respects. I feel that way about originalism. I just feel like I’m missing something. It all seems so uncompelling to me. In my opinion, it’s a flawed theory whose only saving grace is that it’s almost never applied in practice. But there are a lot of wicked smart (say in Boston accent) folks out there who do believe in it – and strongly. That’s what I’m trying to understand.

Good reading and lots more there, via Southern Appeal.
Steve Dillard really likes Clarence Thomas. He quotes Publius:
Justice Thomas is openly hostile to precedent that is inconsistent with the original understanding of the Constitution. Presumably, he would disregard it all if he could gain a majority for his views. Thomas’s jurisprudence may be worthy of debate, but what is not debatable is that Thomas would be uncontrolled by past decisions – and thus by the collective wisdom of the judiciary and its experiences over generations. He would be a bull in the china shop of precedent, breaking anything that got in the way.

I just love it when people trying to be conservative get tangled in their own petard. It reminds me of arguments that begin with "You said..." when the speaker is face to face with me and I am trying to make plain my meaning.
I don't really care what I may have said, even if it is a contradiction to what I am about to say. If I am standing here trying to make myself plain, let's first try to understand today's point, then we can dig around in how I may have changed my mind.

And yes, times change and people can and do change their minds.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Andrew F. Krepinevich, Jr. "How to Win in Iraq"

Don't let the title fool you. It may as well have been called "Why we are not winning in Iraq."
It's lengthy but excellent. The author has the best of credentials. The publication is as respectable as they come.

ANDREW F. KREPINEVICH, JR., is Executive Director of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments and Distinguished Visiting Professor of Public Policy at George Mason University. He is the author of The Army and Vietnam. LINK to the article.

Since 1922, the Council has published Foreign Affairs, America's most influential publication on international affairs and foreign policy. It is more than a magazine—it is the international forum of choice for the most important new ideas, analysis, and debate on the most significant issues in the world. Inevitably, articles published in Foreign Affairs shape the political dialogue for months and years to come. LINK

Instead of a timetable for withdrawal, the United States needs a real strategy built around the principles of counterinsurgency warfare. To date, U.S. forces in Iraq have largely concentrated their efforts on hunting down and killing insurgents. The idea of such operations is to erode the enemy's strength by killing fighters more quickly than replacements can be recruited. Although it is too early to tell for sure whether this approach will ultimately bring success, its current record is not good: even when an attack manages to inflict serious insurgent casualties, there is little or no enduring improvement in security once U.S. forces withdraw from the area.

This is one of the best outlines for success that I have read, and as readers of this blog know I don't see a lot of military writing I like. Despite the snip above, the overall tenor is one of optimism. Unfortunately, I see several problems. Anything we do now may be too little, too late, and by the author's estimate it would be a decade or longer to be successful. Moreover, it would require the administration to embrace a strategy so alien to its current direction that half the military command, not to mention the core support elements of the civilian world, would see it as betrayal. The political will essential to success simply does not exist nor could it be formed around this proposal.

The ideas are sound. The writer's "oil-spot strategy" (not that oil, just oil in general) would begin by establishing small but secure safe zones all over Iraq that would in time spread (as does an oil spot on fabric) until most of the country would be safe from the blackmail of insurgent violence. It's an excellent idea.

That's too bad.
David Brooks likes it. [Instead of trying to kill insurgents, Krepinevich argues, it's more important to protect civilians. You set up safe havens where you can establish good security. Because you don't have enough manpower to do this everywhere at once, you select a few key cities and take control. Then you slowly expand the size of your safe havens, like an oil spot spreading across the pavement....the strategy has one virtue. It might work.]

So does Cernig, who is trembling because he finds himself in agreement with Brooks!

And so do I. But hey, who asked me?

Rocketboom! Updated post from May

Rocketboom is here, via Doc.
Gotta have Quicktime installed to watch and hear. (Sorry, Bob.)
Vlogging is coming of age. This is a ten minute piece that is as authentic an interesting as anything on the evening news. Amanda is on the case and she's on the ball. First, a short piece about a building collapse in Brooklyn. Next, an extended interview with a family that tells of police brutality....still, after all the bad press.
This is exciting stuff. Not because the content is all that hot, but when the technology gets going, the whold world will become transparent. We just THINK we're connected now!

From the comments thread:

They portray us (Rocketboom) like we want to overthrow regular journalism.
We don't.

We are a show. And we are biased. We CAN and WILL show only one side of a story if we so desire. If you are looking for typical "journalism" you won't find it here.

PLEASE point to us and tell everyone why we are NOT the future of regular journalism. That is not what we are intending to do here.

But, for the record, I approached three or four different police officers from that precinct yesterday. None of them would speak to us. If anyone else would like to pursue them—do so! By all means. But I am not interested in chasing after them. May 20, 2005 11:34 AM

She's right.
This ain't your MSM evening news. The archive goes back into last year. Not all the links responded, but enough did to give a flavor of what Amanda Congdon is about.
I liked this one, especially the music.


May 22, Rocketboom makes the New York Times (Registration site, AND the story goes to a pay-to-read archive after a couple of weeks).

Funny? Want to be a Weatherperson?" read the ad, posted on May 9 on the Craigslist Web site. "If you think you're funny and at least one person outside of your immediate family concurs, please e-mail a copy of your resume and head shot."

Though the "job" in question was an unpaid gig with Rocketboom.com, a no-frills video blog shot five evenings a week in its creator's one-bedroom apartment on West 81st Street, more than 300 faux meteorologists clamored to try out, and two dozen were given audition slots, first come first served.

The team behind Rocketboom, a 34-year-old Web designer named Andrew Baron and a 23-year-old actress named Amanda Congdon, were the first to admit that they really had no clue what they were looking for. Rocketboom is a gently snarky daily newscast featuring Ms. Congdon sitting behind a desk made out of a fireplace screen turned sideways, with a $10 world map as backdrop. In the do-it-from-your-bedroom-in-your-boxers world of video blogs, one of the critical virtues is not to have even a whiff of television polish about you.

"Our audience likes things more natural," Ms. Congdon said of the 30,000 viewers, from Central Park West to Singapore, that the site attracts daily.

That reminds me.
I need to blog about Craigslist, the classified equivalent to Indeed.com for jobs.

This post was originally published May 21.
It is now the end of August and the numbers have more than doubled. Today's Rocketboom linked to their latest media blurb in Business Week Online.

Don't bother looking for Congdon on your cable channel lineup. Rocketboom is a video blog, posted at rocketboom.com, and in 10 months it has become the mostpopular site of its kind on the Net. The brainchild of former musician Andrew Michael Baron, who writes the shows with Congdon, the three-minute mock news program covers everything from tech trends to pop culture with frank irreverence, sly humor, and a big dollop of unabashed silliness.

The approach is resonating with viewers. Daily downloads have doubled in the past six weeks, to 50,000. If they stay on that pace, they'll soon approach the 200,000 viewers of an established cable show, such as CNBC's Kudlow & Cramer. "There was this excitement early on that we videobloggers were at the forefront of something, but we didn't know what would happen," says Baron.

If you have fast access turn up the volume and have a look.

Warriors with honor

This paragraph is an eloquent description of how real soldiers should be trained. Via Paulo Cohen-Myers a piece from the New York Sun...describing Israeli soldiers removing the settlers from Gaza...

...here is the consolation that came to me, even in those hours, from the mere nature of the state of Israel, in the shape of its unique and amazing creation, its soul, the Israel Defense Force and the police. The amazingly sweet, understanding, and yet firm, professional, and morally clear attitude of the Israeli soldiers and policemen created a sincere, warm but uncompromising relationship with the very people they were removing. This will be forever an example for all the armies of the world. And a guarantee that, in a democracy, you can continue speaking and protesting and praying (oh, how many words were spent from the two sides, as if a single soldier who refused the orders could stop the disengagement) without shooting and using force, except in very few cases. The disengagement has been the image of a morally motivated democracy in motion.

It doesn't get any better than that. The rest of the article is well worth the reading.
I have nothing to add.

Live television feed on line from New Orleans

Via Wikipedia, here is a link.
Update: That one is down. Here is one from Jackson, MS.

Katrina blogging

The Wikipedia groupies are doing as well as anyone keeping up with the storm.
For a site that did not exist until lately it is a fantastic piece of work.

Most expect Katrina to be the costliest natural disaster in US history. Some early predictions in damage exceed $100 billion, not accounting for potential catastrophic damage inland due to flooding (which would increase the total even more), or damage to the economy caused by potential interruption of oil supply. At least 100,000 people without means of transportation are believed to remain in the city, although some have made their way to "shelters of last resort" including the Superdome. The government made no attempt to assist those without cars evacuate. It is worried that if the city floods, it will be nearly impossible to get them out of the shelters leaving tens of thousands of Americans at risk of death over the coming days.


So far, nine fatalities have been reported in Southern Florida: three in Broward County, one in Miami-Dade County, and four in Miami. A family of five feared dead was rescued by the United States Coast Guard [9]. Furthermore, more than 1 million customers were left without electricity [10]. TheAmerican Red Cross will be providing substantial support to those affected [11]. Shortly before midnight on August 29, local television stations WAPT and WWL reported the first deaths in Louisiana related to Katrina: three nursing home patients who died, probably of dehydration, during the gridlocked evacuation of New Orleans.

I think that means last night's "midnight," since August 29 is only a few hours old at this writing. That's a picayune criticism on my part.

I'm still impressed.

Mohammad Ali, where are you now that we need you?

I came across this while surfing for stuff about Katrina, doing my morning reading. Very timely, I think.

I wrestled with an alligator,
I tussled with a whale,
I have handcuffed lighting,
Thrown thunder in jail.Yesterday,
I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalized a brick.
I'm so mean I make medicine sick!
Good catch, Abbas. From what I have read there will be alligators and worse to fight in the next day or two.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Beginning of the end in Iraq

Tom Watson senses a turning point in public opinion about the war. I think he's right.

...we have returned to 1968: there is a mounting anti-war movement in America. This time, however, it is different. For one, it is not led by student radicals: we do not have a draft, so the college-bound upper middle class does not worry about the rigors of the battlefield. No, this movement is in the center - not so much the political center (it's heavy with liberals to be sure) as the center of regular American life: people with homes, jobs, cars, retirement plans, vacations, and high-speed Internet access. This is no "Michael Moore fringe" as the righties are keen to say ...No, this movement is very much like the one within the modern Roman Catholic Church in America, the lay movement of Voice of the Faithful, sickened by bureaucracy and yet loyal to the core: its leadership populated by Rosary Society types with plenty of gray hair and mass card buyers among them.

This is the movement of Cindy Sheehan, who has clearly survived the Swiftian smearing of the right to emerge into the broad sun-lit plains of the American mainstream, a brave and embattled Gold Star mother, the type of real-world person (looming divorce, mourning for her son, stricken elderly mother) that Americans can - and do - identify with easily. Camp Casey has become Camp Homeland, as the President's approval ratings slip below Nixon's, and a majority of Americans now oppose the disastrous Iraq adventure. Unwittingly perhaps, television preacher Pat Robertson - in his silly, addled call for assassinating Venezuela's socialist president - spoke for this movement; such an act was cheaper, cost less in lives and fortune. If we are honest, we can admit the Reverend Pat's words were thoughts that connect our Iraqi day-dreams; why didn't we just bump off Saddam?

The only people who will read the rest of what he wrote will already be persuaded.
For the rest of you, before you leave, here is the end...
...Camp Casey will move from Texas to Washington DC, and indeed, will spread to cities and towns across the United States. And the moral relativist press will be finally shaken from its torpor. Even Russert will admit the waste. Even Andrea Mitchell will see the failure. Even Ruppert Murdoch will turn Fox to oppose the war from the right.

The war itself is over, the retreat will begin shortly, and Iraq will settle in to its own bloody reinvention over the next decade. And America, my country, will reel.

Katrina watch

As this is written the worst Carribean hurricane to date is aiming at New Orleans. This is the Gulf Coast equivalent of The Big One that is expected in California, except that this is a storm whereas that will be an earthquake. After dodging this bullet season after season, it seems the Big One, barring unforeseen circumstances, is about to happen. We will know tomorrow the magnitude of the disaster.

Mixter's Mix points to an AP story...
Catastrophic. Environmental disaster of biblical proportions. New Orleans may turn into a giant cesspool.

When Hurricane Katrina hits New Orleans on Monday, it could turn one of America's most charming cities into a vast cesspool tainted with toxic chemicals, human waste and even coffins released by floodwaters from the city's legendary cemeteries.

Experts have warned for years that the levees and pumps that usually keep New Orleans dry have no chance against a direct hit by a Category 5 storm.

That's exactly what Katrina was as it churned toward the city. With top winds of 165 mph and the power to lift sea level by as much as 28 feet above normal, the storm threatened an environmental disaster of biblical proportions, one that could leave more than 1 million people homeless.

"All indications are that this is absolutely worst-case scenario," Ivor van Heerden, deputy director of the Louisiana State University Hurricane Center, said Sunday afternoon.

The center's latest computer simulations indicate that by Tuesday, vast swaths of New Orleans could be under water up to 30 feet deep. In the French Quarter, the water could reach 20 feet, easily submerging the district's iconic cast-iron balconies and bars.

Estimates predict that 60 percent to 80 percent of the city's houses will be destroyed by wind. With the flood damage, most of the people who live in and around New Orleans could be homeless.

"We're talking about in essence having -- in the continental United States -- having a refugee camp of a million people," van Heerden said.

I have heard that the Red Cross has no plans to send people into the area in advance to set up and man relief stations because it is too dangerous. Only after the storm has passed will those efforts begin.

Tonight we watch, wait and pray for God's grace. It is vain to pray for safety in the face of such monumental human vanity. God's grace is manifest in His willingness to love us despite our collective ignorance and rejection of Him in the aftermath of natural disasters such as this.

Official warning for New Orleans area, 8:00 pm local time...

Conservative look at flypaper

First, Belgravia Dispatch is not a rag from the left. Believe it.

Second, as recently as last week the president was defending the war in Iraq by saying if we don't fight them over there, we will have to fight them at home. That line of argument is called the "flypaper" idea. It was specifically called that two years ago by David Warren. (http://www.davidwarrenonline.com/Comment/Jul03/index150.shtml)

Third, this somewhat longish essay should be required reading.

**** **** **** **** ****
**** **** **** **** ****

...The sore thumb of the U.S. occupation -- and it is a sore thumb equally to Baathists and Islamists, compelling their response -- is not a mistake. It is carefully hung flypaper.

Well it's quite a "playground" all right, with almost 2,000 U.S. servicemen dead, approximately 15,000 wounded, other coalition fatalities and casualties, not to mention myriad Iraqi ones, including many innocents. But let's put aside Warren's, shall we say, poor choice of tone, and, instead stick to a substantive rebuttal, OK? Here's what's wrong with flypaper:

1) It assumes a finite number of jihadis willing to die.

2) Indeed, and related to 1, it ignores that Iraq may be creating more jihadists--not all of whom are rushing to Damascus en route to parts Anbar.

3) It further ignores the fact that some jihadists, terrorists and fundementalist radicals are gaining valuable experience in terror tactics in Iraq, as CIA reports have indicated, and then heading back out of country to theaters like Europe to pursue attacks there.

4) Flypaper, of course, also ignores dozens of terror attacks outside of Iraq since the advent of hosilities there in early 2003, witness (and this is not a comprehensive tally): [Long, detailed list of casualties follows...]

5) As serious observers of international terrorist organizations well realize, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the PFLP, PFLP-GC, DFLP, Abu Sayyaf, Jemaah Islamiyah, Chechen separatists (and quite a few other groups besides) are not rushing their forces into Iraq to fight the American Satan near the Green Zone or in Anbar Province--as they've got their own battles to wage.

6) It follows, of course, that Warren's argument that flypaper acts to protect Israel is risible (leaving aside, of course, why American policymakers should be hugely pre-occupied with creating "a good, solid, American excuse, from which Israel has been extracted" (Warren's words) as the very center of a war strategy ostensibly, one would think, primarily concerned with the U.S. national interest, rather than any other countries--yes even including close and important allies).

7) UBL and his henchmen know full well that a mega-terror attack on the scale of 9/11 in a London, New York or Los Angeles would have a hugely larger impact than dozens felled in the latest car bombing of a Shi's shrine near Karbala. You can hang the flytrap from Casablanca to Jakarta and al-Qaeda operatives will still be trying to hit major Western metropolises. [...]

8) Dare I even raise it...the moral angle: [To quote another source '...has anyone thought about why we're justified in using another nation as flypaper in the first place, even if it was a viable, effective strategy? What gives us the right to use a sovereign nation as a catch basin for carnage so we can go on blissfully consuming and merrily flipping real estate here?']...Do Iraqi lives just not matter?

9) ...Flypaper is really happening. It's true! Iraq is jihadi central, big time, and they are pouring in in massive numbers. And what if, just, we lose Iraq, with more and more Iraqis radicalized...because we have failed to provide security there because of said influx? Than what?

10) A final problem with flypaper. It's a lie, and it will fly back and smack the President hard in the face when the inevitable next terror attack occurs in the U.S. Those listening and relying and believing his stump speech, credulous people in the heartland, who really think 'we are fighting them there so we don't need to here'--well, they will feel profoundly deceived. That's not good when you are already languishing at 40% in the polls.

There ya go. Ten reasons. Count 'em...
His words, folks, not mine.
Read it for yourself.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

The Fair Tax Book, good review

I finally came across mention of Neal Boortz' and John Linder's book.
Positive review at Wizbang.

...a perspective on our current tax system that I hadn't even considered before reading this book. The fourth amendment guarantees our right to privacy from unreasonable searches and seizures, yet the IRS has full authority to look into even the most obscure of my financial transactions based on nothing more than a suspicious whim. If some auditor at that bureaucratic feels the need he or she can force me to lay open my personal finances so that they can see if I've been spending my money at church bake sales or strip clubs. Which is, of course, none of their damn business. But in order to enforce our current tax system they are invested with the power to know.

Go read.

Bring Me the Head of Hugo Chavez

From The Whiskey Bar...[Hyperlink to post title]

"Maybe Pat thought he could shake something loose with a little fascist hatemongering -- or at least draw attention to the fact that America's fourth-largest supplier of oil is run by a charismatic, enormously popular leader who (gasp!) builds health clinics for the poor and (horror!) distributes land to tenant farmers, even as he (shudder) promotes workers' cooperatives, and (outrage!) squeezes taxes out of giant oil companies.

"The irony here is that Chavez's brand of Huey Long-style socialism is being paid for by the enormous windfall revenues now being pumped out by the county's oil industry -- which in turn are a product, at least in part, of the insatiable U.S. thirst for imported crude. No wonder the Venezuelan oligarchy (the same creole elite that has owned Latin America since the conquest) hates his guts. Instead of looting the oil El Dorado for their benefit, he's milking it for the benefit of the country's impoverished mestizo majority. (And if some of that loot has also found it's way into Hugo's offshore bank accounts, or those of his political and military cronies, well ol' Huey would have understood. Populists aren't required to take a vow of poverty after all.)"

"But how Robertson's own interests fit into the picture is not clear. In this case Pat may be following his ideological obsessions, not his financial ones. He certainly isn't the first Southern ultraconservative to show a sentimental weakness for Latin American-style fascism. I remember, for example, Jesse Helms's father-son relationship with Roberto D'Aubusson -- the Salvdoran death squad leader who ordered the hit on Archbishop Oscar Romero. Let's hope Lucifer gives Jesse a few extra pokes in his fat white ass for that one."

Lots more, actually, concluding with this:

"Bottom line: Thanks to soaring oil prices, Chavez has managed to escape the trap that usually awaits leftist Third World leaders who won't dance to the IMF's tune or kowtow to the global superpower, but who also don't want to make the great leap forward into Stalinist repression and communal poverty. For the moment at least, he doesn't have to worry about capital flight, or economic strangulation or "structural adjustments." Not as long as he's got his hands on the spigot that keeps the go juice flowing."

Friday, August 26, 2005

Abu Khaleel: Jokes from Iraq

Abu Khaleel, the screen name of a cyber-friend in Iraq, has posted again. This gives me a lot of satisfaction and relief, because his last post was not a happy one. His last post, titled "Pit of Despair," was published after the London bombings. He wrote then "I felt anger, but it was an anger of another kind. /What angered me most was that I have somehow found out that I had less compassion than I should for those people who suffered or lost their lives. Have I lost part of my humanity and capacity for compassion… or the ability to feel for the suffering of other people?/ It is a loss indeed. But it is also my loss… of part of my soul." Writing from a place deep inside, he was the image of a good person struggling with bad impulses in the face of an evil that threatens to overwhelm even the best of us.

A look at the comments thread at that last post shows that I am not alone in my concern. Down in the list he indicates that he took leave for a rest in Jordan. He is welcomed warmly back to his keyboard by several people other than me.

Today's post on his other blog, A Glimpse of Iraq, is about jokes, of all things. Jokes, of course, are one of the social index markers. Even in bizarre situations the human capacity for humor is used to maintain sanity and overcome depression. As far as we know, animals don't joke, although I wonder about some pets I have seen. (One of Abu's stories, by the way, is about a parrot.) As a student of folklore long ago I was introduced to jokes and story-telling from an academic angle. The Aarne-Thompson index has been around for a long time as the definitive catalogue for folk takes. Academic analysis spoils the humor, but it also shows the universality of the human experience. Jokes grow in the same social soil.

Humor does not cross social barriers as easily as pictures or scientific data, but I see the expression of irony as an indication of psychological good health. There are several "good ones" including this...

A jackal met another one in the western desert making a quick dash towards the Jordanian border. He asked him what the hurry was. The other said that Saddam’s people were killing everyone who had three balls. The first said, “But surely you don’t have three balls!” The other replied, “Of course not! But they only count them after cutting them off”.
And this....
A Jew living in the mainly Shiite town of Kut in the south was pressured by some of his friends to convert to Islam. Finally he promised to do it the next time he went to Baghdad.

After he came back from the promised journey, he was asked by a friend about what he did. The man replied, “Well, as soon as I got a taxi in Baghdad I told the driver what I wanted to do, so he took me the this mosque called Abu Haneefa (the founder of a major Sunni sub-sect) I talked to the Imam there and everything went well and we finished in 5 minutes”.

The friend snapped indignantly, “So, you became a Sunni? Damn you! You should have remained a Jew!”

Welcome back to blogging, Mr. Khaleel. You were missed.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Le Monde: Moscow-Tehran-New Delhi-Beijing axis

The blog host at Nur al-Cubicle is kind enough to translate a piece from Le Monde not likely to get any attention in North America. Comments allude to "unipolar" and "multipolar" world orders which I take to mean a world dominated by a single "superpower" versus one with at least two "super-powers," with the counterbalancing power being an alliance of several states, not a single entity.

This seems arcane at first, the ramblings of tobacco-scented university profs sitting in a dark club room sipping drinks. But there is nothing arcane about joint military exercises involving several thousands of Russian and Chinese participants.

On Thursday 25 August, China and Russia are scheduled to complete their joint military maneuvers which has engaged 8,880 troops: 7,000 Chinese, 1,800 Russians, 17 planes and 140 warships and submarines for an entire week. The exercises, which initiated in Vladivostok, the great Far Eastern port, and concluded in the Yellow Sea off the Jiaodong Peninsula of eastern China were the first of its size between the two countries.

The goal of the maneuvers is to test the combat ability of our forces to better face the new challenges which await us in the Asia-Pacific region and in the world in general, explains the Russian Chief of Staff Yuri Baluevski. Meant to test the ability of Russian and Chinese forces to meet new threats, the maneuvers gamed a Russo-Chinese intervention in a third country caught in the throes of "an ethnic conflict", and victim of "terrorist attacks".

The exercise, dubbed "Peace Mission 2005," is supposedly a practice exercise by Russia and China to be prepared in the event of problems in some of their smaller neighbor countries. Problems, indeed, with the US poking about in that part of the world.
Alexander Duguin, the "Pope" of Russia's Eurasian Movement, has one opinion. According to him, the "color-themed revolutions of 2003 and 2004 in the post-Soviet space" have pushed Moscow and Beijing to strengthen their military partnership. The American influence has been felt in Georgia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. This proves that Washington is intent on reforming the post-Soviet space and on pursuing its own interests to the detriment of Russia and China, whose positions have become more vulnerable, explains Duguin.

Since 2001, Moscow and Beijing have formed the nucleus of a new regional coalition: The Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Inspired by the War on Terror, the alliance also includes four central Asian republics: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. On July 5th, it was the through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization that Uzbekistan demanded the departure of US troops stationed at the Karshi-Khanabad base in the south of the country since 2001. Recently, the group has granted observer status to Pakistan, India and Iran.

The final paragraph may be the most interesting.
The creation of a Moscow-Tehran-New Delhi-Beijing axis which guarantees Russia, a continental country, "access to warm water ports" while conferring on it the status of a Third Rome (according to the Manifesto of Eurasian-ness created by Alexander Duguin ) is viewed favorably by the Kremlin which is happy to show that it can turn towards the East incase of rejection by the Europeans. It is India, Russia's largest buyer of weaponry, with whom Russia will hold its next large-scare military exercises in October.

Interesting. Yes.
Moscow-Tehran-Delhi-Beijing...Russia as a Third Rome...turning Eastward in case of European rejection...
Veeery interesting.

I didn't take two quarters of Russian History and forget everything.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Morning reading sample

Nothing jumps out of the monitor this morning with burning importance, but there is a spate of items that caught my eye. (In the back of my mind I continue to be haunted by yesterday's post pointing to the degradation of the human mind when children are cross-trained to become warriors. Atavism at its most disgusting. But I will lay that one aside for the moment. )

Nur al-Cubicle, which I just discovered, has been patiently recording snips and reports gleaned, I presume, from assorted news releases, magazine and neswpaper articles. Copied without hyperlinks, these notes are being piled up like so many clippings for a scrapbook, in an archive going back to a year ago last April. Noted without much comment, this blog is a repository of information that in years to come will be a treasure trove for historians looking for minutiae as well as analysts trying to make sense of the current madness we call "developments in the Middle East."

I am reminded of a similar site, Today in Iraq, which is doing very much the same thing but with links. Yesterday alone the blogmaster amassed a breathtaking pile of data...
Bring ‘em on: Eleven Iraqi policemen killed and 15 persons...
Bring ‘em on: US forces in Ramadi targeted by three apparently coordinated car bombs...
Bring ‘em on: US troops and insurgents involved in fierce fighting...
Bring ‘em on: Eight policeman killed and 11 wounded in suicide bombing...
Bring ‘em on: Five Iraqis, one US soldier, and one US civilian contractor killed and twenty people wounded...
Bring ‘em on: Eight Iraqi police killed in bus ambush...
Forced constitution: Iraq's tentative efforts at consensus politics...
Vote postponed: Iraq's Shiite Muslim majority and its Kurdish allies moved Monday toward fundamentally reshaping their nation...
Not enough: The head of the committee drafting Iraq's constitution said Tuesday that three days are not enough...
Killing the pacifists: Sufis seek...to transcend worldly existence...Their mysticism has contributed to their pacifist reputation...found themselves the targets of attacks.
Shortages: Water and electricity shortages...
Sabotage: Saboteurs...halted Iraq's entire oil export capacity for most of Monday...cost the country almost $60 million in lost exports and rattled already-jittery world markets.
An Islamic Republic, apparently: The United States has eased its opposition to an Islamic Iraqi state to help clinch a deal on a draft constitution...
With a constitution even less progressive than Saddam’s: The Iraqi constitution adopted in 1990 under Saddam Hussein ... made no mention of Sharia...although Islam was named the official state religion.
So we can expect this sort of thing to become routine: The executions are carried out at dawn on Haqlania bridge, the entrance to Haditha. A small crowd usually turns up to watch even though the killings are filmed and made available on DVD in the market the same afternoon.
One of last week's victims was a young man in a black tracksuit. Like the others he was left on his belly by the blue iron railings at the bridge's southern end. His severed head rested on his back, facing Baghdad. Children cheered when they heard that the next day's spectacle would be a double bill: two decapitations. A man named Watban and his brother had been found guilty of spying.
Not to say that the new constitution is all bad for everybody: If Iraq's National Assembly meets its deadline, it will release a draft constitution to be voted on by the people in two months.
After all, resourceful people do ok whether there’s a constitution or not: British officials are seriously concerned about the level of corruption in the Iraqi defence ministry, after the embezzlement of vast amounts of money earmarked for the country's security forces.
Screw the Geneva Conventions: One of the US soldiers convicted of mistreating prisoners at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison says his superiors made it clear those incarcerated were to be abused.
Screw inhibitions about cruel and unusual punishment: ...a new batch of photos from Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison ..reportedly far worse than the sickening originals...Pentagon is trying to block their release.
Screw due process: The Pentagon said on Monday it has released three Guantanamo prisoners...leaving about 505 jailed...
And still do nothing about a real terrorist threat: Ten years after the Oklahoma City bombing left 168 people dead, the guardians of American national security seem to have decided that the domestic radical right does not pose a substantial threat to U.S. citizens.
A draft internal document from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security...lists the only serious domestic terrorist threats as radical animal rights and environmental groups...
At least one sector of the US economy is booming: Special Forces personnel ... re-enlistment bonuses of up to $150,000 ...are being spurned...because retention of key combat personnel is being eroded by far better money offers from federally hired "private security companies"...Once on board and back in the private sector of dangerous military operations in Iraq, these highly trained fighters and specialists can make up to a quarter of a million dollars or more (most of it tax-free) in a year's worth of salary -- certainly better than Army pay.
There are about twenty more citations including half a dozen stories about casualties gathered from local papers. Volcano, HI, Centreville, MI, Arlington, FL, Wildomar, CA, Indianapolis, IN, Elk Grove, CA.
It is hard to believe that with this level of documentation public opinion about the war can be so moribund. There was a time that I was amazed, but I have come to accept collective ignorance as part of the human condition.

The Mad Canuck takes a close look at the proposed new Iraqi constitution.
From the preamble...
We, the Iraqi people now rising from suppression and looking forward to a future in a republican, federal, democratic and pluralist system, have made a pact to respect the rule of law, reject the politics of aggression, give attention to the rights of women, men and children, spread the culture of diversity, and uproot terrorism.
The preamble, of course, carries no legal weight, but it rings with an idealism that inspired the creation of this document.
The Canuck makes a good many ovservations including this...
Article 36 The State guarantees:
1. Freedom of expression by all means.
2. Freedom of the press, printing, advertising and publishing.
Very good. This seems a lot broader than the wording in the last version I saw. This should definitely protect activities like blogging.
I cannot understate how important freedom of expression is in a true democracy. If people are not free to criticize the government, there is no accountability.
There is an inciteful comment already in the comments thread, pointing out the importance of language specificity. Differences between the definite and indefinite articles are USUALLY clear in English, not so clear in other languages. And many languages don't have articles at all, or divide them in different ways. In Russian or Latin, for example, you would say, "Islam main source for legislation" and the question of which article should be used in English translation would be debatable. Is there ambiguity in the Arabic?
We don't know, do we?
But that's not our problem.
Ruling castes, and ruling classes, never know how to bow out graciously.
This latest wrinkle in instant messaging is VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) phone service.
In time I may get used to it, but so far I am not tempted to play in that yard. For one thing, the people I would like to speak with are not available in real time when I am, I very much doubt that I would be able to understand their use of English without a lot of practice, and most of all, I don't think as fast as I would like.
Writing, I have time to develop thoughts as I go. I can even edit out stuff that I really don't want to say. But when I'm speaking (or banging out typo-plagued IM's) I am very apt to say something that I would regret. But damn! It's too late. Somebody already got it in writing already (or stored in an audio file?) and I can't do anything about it.
Besides, there was a time when I did have IM several years ago.
I didn't like being interrupted when I was busy.
Like Henry Fonda was called by Kate Hepburn, I guess I'm just an old poop.
It is not my place to evaluate the various explanations and origins of homosexuality in individuals, though I believe that the Biblical worldview clearly leads to the conclusion that sexuality is twisted in every possible way, including genetic and psychological predispositions. An enlightened and compassionate view of homosexuality would certainly embrace the fact that every gay person did not choose to be and does not choose to remain homosexual in orientation. (That can be said while affirming that many persons DO choose such behavior and do make choices that influence their orientation.)So it isn't difficult to know exactly what is going on with a Focus On The Family web site entitled, "Is Your Child
Becoming Homosexual?"
Following a list of signs to look for that your male child (not concerned with girls, I guess) might be growing up queer, he comments...
I remember sitting in the theater and being offended at the stereotypical lengths Hollywood was stooping to in order to make the audience buy the idea that large numbers of people really were gay, and just didn't know it because they weretrapped in small town America.
I'm feeling somewhat the same way reading this list. Exactly what is Focus On The Family trying to do with these stereotypes? I'm sure homosexuals felt "different" than other boys. So do millions of boys who aren't homosexuals. Could we get a bit more specific than "different," since such a term must need a wink to be understood.
Crying easily is gender confusion? I guess that means we need to tell boys not to cry. Be a real man. Suck it up. Real boys don't cry, and all that. Archie Bunker, your phone is ringing.
It's a good piece and not altogether destructive. But it points to a good many contradictions. At the conclusion he says...
Focus On The Family is to be commended for its constant efforts to help families with children. There are many good resources linked from this site that encourage the positive involvements of fathers in the lives of their children. Information about the effects of distant and conflicted parents is very helpful. The information in this list, however, leaves me with the impression that the evangelical war on homosexuality is sometimes manifested by looking at our own children with very biased and fearful eyes.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Time Magazine on the Mid-East

When you're in the magazine business you gotta sell magazines. Too much serious content, too much mental effort and you're SOL. So it comes as no surprise that Time online only mentions a couple of the blogworld's better sites with the story sexed up a bit.

Some otherwise serious bloggers have spent the summer fascinated by a niche in romance literature with its own fan website: Sheikhs and Desert Love. Eerie, a contributor to 'Aqoul, a blog mostly about news from the Middle East, noting a significant increase in the number of romance novels featuring handsome desert nomads, provided a helpful graph documenting their rise. Yin Shui Si Yuan dismissed these romance novels as "incredibly ill-informed, orientalist, romantic fantasies involving oil sheikhs." Political Animal's Kevin Drum and Abu Aardvark's Marc Lynch have found the subject an amusing distraction from the August doldrums.

I have been following the Aardvark for over a year but only discovered Aqoul last week. Such is the challenge of ferreting out quality content using the internet. If I were a grad student focusing on the subject some helpful prof would furnish me with a page of references, but out here in the world tracking hyperlinks takes more time. One thing is certain: pop magazines are very little help.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Gathering clouds in Iraq

Blogger Fayrouz, writing from Dallas, Texas, has been a cheerleader of what promised to be an emergent democracy in the middle of the Middle. She was almost giddy last December as the country was getting ready for elections.

In the late 90s, an Australian TV reporter traveled to Iraq and spent a week with an Iraqi family documenting their daily life. He did a great job showing the negative effect of the U.N. sanctions on the ordinary Iraqi people. The documentary ended with his Iraqi host taking him to an Iraqi wedding. The wedding guests were dancing and singing loudly. They looked like they owned the whole world. Most of us, who watched his documentary, would always remember his closing statement:

This nation will never die.

Why I'm telling this old story? Today, I watched a video of dancing Iraqi troops (Via Operation Truth) -- You need to setup your browser to open .WAV files with Windows Media Player. These are the new recruits of the new Iraqi army. They look full of energy and happiness. It made me happy and sad at the same time. Happy because it asserted the above statement in my head. Sad because of the continuous suicide bombing against the Iraqi people.

Don't try the link. It's no longer active. Something symbolic there. I recall watching it at the time. Festive dancing by a bunch of off-duty guys from the new Iraqi security force.
That was last December and a lot has happened since then.

Responding to a report in the Wa Po yesterday, she writes what reads like a requiem for her beloved country. The report spelled out in tedious detail how various militia groups, principally Kurdish, seem to be taking up where American forces and other adversaries leave off, controlling the country by force. This is a far cry from the representative democracy that idealistic people hoped for.

Shiite and Kurdish militias, often operating as part of Iraqi government security forces, have carried out a wave of abductions, assassinations and other acts of intimidation, consolidating their control over territory across northern and southern Iraq and deepening the country's divide along ethnic and sectarian lines, according to political leaders, families of the victims, human rights activists and Iraqi officials.

While Iraqi representatives wrangle over the drafting of a constitution in Baghdad, the militias, and the Shiite and Kurdish parties that control them, are creating their own institutions of authority, unaccountable to elected governments, the activists and officials said. In Basra in the south, dominated by the Shiites, and Mosul in the north, ruled by the Kurds, as well as cities and villages around them, many residents have said they are powerless before the growing sway of the militias, which instill a climate of fear that many see as redolent of the era of former president Saddam Hussein.
Across northern Iraq, Kurdish parties have employed a previously undisclosed network of at least five detention facilities to incarcerate hundreds of Sunni Arabs, Turkmens and other minorities abducted and secretly transferred from Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city, and from territories stretching to the Iranian border, according to political leaders and detainees' families. Nominally under the authority of the U.S.-backed Iraqi army, the militias have beaten up and threatened government officials and political leaders deemed to be working against Kurdish interests; one bloodied official was paraded through a town in a pickup truck, witnesses said.

"I don't see any difference between Saddam and the way the Kurds are running things here," said Nahrain Toma, who heads a human rights organization, Bethnahrain, which has offices in northern Iraq and has faced several death threats.
In the streets of Basra, a dreary, dun-hued port of 1.5 million people on the banks of the Shatt al Arab, the local police force of 13,600 has become as much an instrument of fear as security. Mohammed Musabah, the governor of Basra, acknowledged that the police were infiltrated by religious parties, the most powerful of which is the Supreme Council. His police chief, Hassan Sawadi, went further. He told the British newspaper the Guardian that he had lost control over three-quarters of his police force and that militiamen inside its ranks were using their posts to assassinate opponents. Soon after, Musabah said, the Interior Ministry ordered Sawadi not to speak again publicly.
The total number of prisoners is unknown. Sinjari declined to give figures. In June, the U.S. military said it had logged 180 cases in Kirkuk alone. Sunni Arab and Turkmen political leaders in the city estimated there were more than 500. Wisam al Saadi, deputy director of the Islamic Organization for Human Rights, said in the last two months 120 families from Mosul have lodged complaints but many more are afraid to come forward. Nawazad Qadir, a Kurd and the director of the Irbil branch of the Iraqi Red Crescent Society, said hundreds of "extremist detainees" are being held in that city while still hundreds more are in the other Kurdish-run prisons.

The report is long and full of details. Probably just another made-up bunch of stuff from the librul-dominated mainstream media.

In the form of a letter to one of her commenters, Fayrouz has a hard time finding anything encouraging to say.
Our people, my friend, don't call themselves Iraqis any more. They call themselves, Shia, Sunni, Kurds, Assyrians, Chaldeans and other names EXCEPT Iraqis. Do you see the soul of our problem? We don't belong to a unified nationality. We belong to a tribe, an ethnic group, a religious sector - NOT Iraq.When Saddam was removed from power, most of the international community thought this great nation of mostly educated and intellectual citizens would overcome their differences and put their hands together to build a democratic country. They were wrong in their assumption. The Iraqi people were tired of 35 years of a brutal ruling government, who oppressed minorities. We found ourselves drifting to the fractional identity instead of the unifying one.

Then came the governing council which, I believe, is the root of our political problems. The American administration thought it was a great idea to bring Hakim and his kind into the government. Why on earth did we remove a secular government to replace it with pro-Iran groups? What was the logic used in the selection of the governing council? Why couldn't they install more like Iyad Allawi and Adnan Al-Pachachi?

With the appointment of pro-Iran parties in the governing council, came the power of the militia. When a country doesn't have an army or a police force, gangs take control of the streets. You and me live in the United States. We see it in the poor parts of American cities where rape, drug abuse, murder and other crimes are the way of life.

Did I see this coming? Yes, I did. What I didn't see coming is the refusal of many Sunnis and other minorities to vote in the January election. Wasn't that great to hand over Iraq to the religious parties then cry over it?

There is more. I urge you to read it all.
She concludes with this sad overview. I cannot think of anything constructive or helpful to add, except to say that I think she may be right.
I have no doubt the ordinary American people want the best for Iraqi people. But, with 2006 senate elections and 2008 presidential elections not that far away, I'm expecting a quick exit from Iraq. Politicians from both sides, liberals and conservatives, have started to say, "They had elections. They'll have a constitution very soon. We did our best. We can't do any more." Not exactly in those words, but something along those lines.

Politicians follow the wind's direction. The wind has changed regarding Iraq. This war has resulted in too many deaths from both sides and the huge spending of the taxpayer money. All this would have gone well with the American voters. But, when that money and blood goes to establish an Iranian-style government and to strip Iraqi women from their rights, then the politicians lose the hearts and minds of their devoted voters.

We all failed Iraq. Iraqi people failed Iraq when they refused to unite for the sake of a bleeding land. The allied governments failed Iraq when they did a poor job in establishing a reasonable government, a poorer job in establishing law and order and gave a blind eye to the growing control of the militias in different parts of the country.

We all contributed to the dark future of Iraq because each of us had a different priority.

Newt on Healthcare

John Hawkins interviewed Newt Gingrich.
Transcript is online.

John Hawkins: ... Health Care in this country is certainly expensive and a lot of people are uncovered. Briefly, what do you think we need to do to fix it?

Newt Gingrich: Well, I’m giving a speech today at the National Press Club on transforming the Medicaid system and I’m going to say that my goal should be for every American to have health insurance coverage. We should start by vouchering Medicaid money so that people who are the healthy poor can go out and buy insurance and be part of the insurance pool. We should then provide tax credits for the working poor and small businesses and then the current tax deductibility for everybody above that.

We should apply the same tax deductibility whether you personally want to buy your own insurance or whether you buy it through a company. Right now as you know the bias is against those who want to buy their own insurance and in favor of those who go to work for somebody else and I think everybody should have the same tax advantage in buying health insurance.

I also think that if you focus on health savings accounts where people have an incentive to save, an incentive to manage their own health, that you can dramatically bring down the cost of health care by giving people engaged in better health behaviors and better health activities. I think in that process that you have the right to know price and quality before you make a decision. Also you get to be an informed purchaser of health just as you are any other part of American life.

John Hawkins: What do you think about the idea that the Wall Street Journal recently brought up about having health care companies from all around the country able to compete for the business of anybody in a single state?

Newt Gingrich: I think we should create a national health care market. You know, all the big companies exist under what’s called a (inaudible) in a national market and I think that you ought to have the same right to buy into that kind of market if you want to. I mean, if you want to stay in your state’s mandated requirements, that’s fine, but that ought to be a choice for you, (instead of being a) captive of your state legislature.

Ziiinng! Right over their heads! And Gingrich has been saying stuff like this for years. I am amazed that he keeps getting away with it. I suppose nobody thinks it has a chance so he can dance as much as he wants in an ivory tower. I can hear it now...Oh, that's just Newt, waxing poetic again.

National health care market...bigger bureacracy...tax incentives for the working poor...vouchers, already...federal authority over states' rights....If this is conservatism, then color me red!

The comments thread is a study in backbiting, ad hominem arguments and other snarky rejoinders. I didn't have the energy or time to wade through it. (Over a hundered entries and growing...)

(Thanks, Anchoress . And prayers for her and her family.)


It looks as though the drama of Jews being taken from their Gaza digs may have been just that: drama. This morning I came across a couple of unrelated sources with a somewhat jaundiced view of the event.

From Imshin...

Last night viewers of Channel 10 News got to see an item showing the police and the army breaking into the women’s part of a synagogue in one of the Gush Katif settlements. Huddled in one corner together were thirty or forty schoolgirls of about thirteen or fourteen years of age, who had apparently locked themselves in there and had been there for two days. As the camera moved closer, viewers were surprised to see a grown-up among them, a woman. Viewers were even more surprised to be told that this woman, who had been sitting with them, locked up, refusing to come out, not cooperating with army and police attempts to negotiate, was their teacher.

According to the reporter, this teacher, the obviously very charismatic Rabbaneet (wife of the Rabbi) Something-or-other, was much loved by her students. Her husband had sadly been killed in a terrorist attack.

Today at work everyone was talking about it. “Did you see those kids in the synagogue?” Without failure the next thing said was, “Did you say the crazy look their teacher had in her eyes?”

So it wasn’t just me who had noticed.

I have a daughter that age. The phrase that comes to mind is parental neglect. Neglect if the girls were there with their parents’ consent. Neglect if they were there without it. Neglect that none of the parents seemed to have thought that their daughters’ beloved teacher perhaps had an unhealthy influence on their daughters, that she was perhaps somewhat unstable. Of course, I don’t know this about her or them, I’m just surmising, but you must admit, it does look very strange, doesn’t it?

I have had a change of heart. Last week we were all so moved by the settlers’ pain at being removed from their homes, from their lives. We cried and cried along with them.

As the days go by, and we take stock of what we have been seeing, much of the settlers’ tears are looking less and less sincere to me, and more and more like, at best, the result of a hysterical frenzy spinning out of control, and at worst – a mechanical emotional manipulation.
Today as I watched a little kid on TV screeching abuse at soldiers, completely hysterical, I was filled with disgust and derision for parents who not only tolerate such behavior from their children, but actually encourage it.

People in Israel proper, at least the ones I know, no matter which way they lean, are getting a bit fed up.

Right now, it’s looking like the evacuation of Sa-Nur and Homesh in the Northern Samaria this week are going to be far more violent than the evacuation of Gush Katif. I do believe Israelis have been desensitized enough to the suffering of the settlers and their supporters, as a result of the behavior of many of them, that they will be less than horrified if the evacuators are not as gentle in their tactics this time around.

And this AP story by Louis Meixler...

As Israeli soldiers dragged Jewish settlers from their homes, one settler walked in front of about a dozen television cameras and wailed: "How could they do this? This the land of Israel." When the cameras were turned off, he stopped crying and walked away.
Another family invited a television crew into their homes and then insisted that soldiers drag them out.

There's no question that settlers were genuinely grieving over the loss of their homes, their livelihood and their dreams. But they were also keenly aware that their struggle was being broadcast across the world, showing how difficult it is for the Jewish state to pull settlers from occupied land.

"The (settlers') goal was to create a legacy, a trauma that was so big ... that no Israeli government would dare to do something similar in the future," Nahum Barnea, a columnist for the Yediot Ahronot newspaper, told The Associated Press.
And that goal may, along with intense media coverage, have dovetailed with the aims of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who has said that Israel will not consider pulling the bulk of its settlers from the West Bank, the heartland of biblical Israel, despite pressure from Washington to evacuate more settlements.

"The political decision to let the media in was to get every favorable point in world public opinion," said veteran military correspondent Ron Ben Yishai, now a commentator for Yediot Ahronot.

"The reason was to show the world, look how it is when we have to evict ... people from Gaza," Ben Yishai said. "Try to imagine what will happen if you try to evict all the settlements in Judea and Samaria," he added using the biblical names for the West Bank.

The Israeli army, which sometimes limits press coverage of military operations, let more than 500 journalists — one for every three settler families — into Gaza to cover the withdrawal, even providing shuttle buses and refreshments. Journalists were in almost every settler home, embedded with military units and broadcasting live from synagogues as the army dragged settlers out of houses of worship.

"Every side, the Palestinians, the Israelis, the settlers all know the media is the most dominant tool to achieve your goals and they use it," said Maj. Sharon Feingold, a spokeswoman for the Israeli army.

Rafah Pundits picked it up at once. A search showed it to be pretty widely distributed. It's an interesting meme.

We'll see how far it spreads.

I am beginning to sense that the blog world, very much like talk radio, is tilted heavily toward the political right. Oh, there are plenty of sites on the lunatic fringe (Notice the derivations of "moonbat" and "lunatic" - luna=moon...), but like that circus in Texas, they represent a rag-tag bunch of ideologues with little common purpose and virtually nothing in the way of focus. Contrast that image with the scrubbed and respectable image of the right, standing proudly under the flag, flanked by business executives on one side and military commanders on the other. They are so clean you can almost smell the aftershave.

I dunno. This polarization seems to be getting worse rather than better. My sympathies remain with the disposessed, but it is getting harder and harder to know who they are.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

The safety net that wasn't

This makes me so angry I want to spit. I can't even write about it.
Don't talk to me about how competition in the marketplace is so great for everybody.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Jonathan Edelstein on refugees and their children

The brilliant, patient and rigorous analysis of Jonathan Edelstein focuses on the challenges of the protection and entitlements of refugees all over the world. This topic has renewed importance as the Middle East enters a new period of ferment. Anyone who imagines that the United Nations is not important is living in a fool's paradise and needs to read this until the facts sink in. Like it or not, there are large populations of refugees who are not going to vanish simply because those of an isolationist mindset would have it so.

Two UN Agencies deal with refugees, United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). I'm trying to make this simple, but the issue is by no means easy to understand. Like all bureaucratic institutions the years have left behind a lot of conflicting and overlapping institutions. Before anybody gets all huffy about the ineficiencies of the UN, they might want first to figure out why our own bureaucracy maintained the REA from 1935 until about a decade ago, long after the need was gone.

The differences between the two agencies are not only administrative, however; they also use different definitions of refugee status. One freuqently-cited distinction between the two is that Palestinian refugees can bequeath their status to their children, while other refugees cannot. This distinction, however, is often more theoretical than practical, as children of non-Palestinian refugees are often able to obtain refugee status in practice, and is also critical to protecting the status of
stateless Palestinians' children. It is in fact other aspects of the UNRWA's mandate, particularly its third-country citizenship rules, that are potentially subject to abuse and political manipulation.

That's just for starters. This is another thicket of stuff I have run into trying to grasp the facts of what is happening in the Middle East and elsewhere. Again, it isn't quick and easy reading, but once the content is digested, events that look crazy at first glance begin to make a little more sense. For example...

The United Nations has made some attempt to rectify [the problem of how to legally handle the rights of the children of refugees] in the International Convention on the Rights of the Child. Article 7 of that convention provides that a child shall have "the right to acquire a nationality," which has often been interpreted to obligate states to grant citizenship to stateless children born on their soil. Many countries, however, aren't signatory to the ICRC or refuse to implement Article 7 in practice. This leads, in some circumstances, to stateless children living under circumstances worse than refugees...
Hello. It turns out that the "rights of the child," so often cited as some sinister conspiracy on the part of evil people to destroy the family or advance some other demonic agenda, is not as bad as advertised. It is instead an attempt to untangle some pretty thorny practical problems.

There is a lot more, but this stands out as the status of Palestinian refugees (heard that word before, have we?) gets renewed scrutiny. I mentioned the other day that Lebanon may be ready to excuse some of their Palestinian population ("forces") to relocate in the now available, presumably safer and more appropriate, Gaza area. Consider the financial impact on both areas.

The fact that there refugee camps no doubt due in part to financial incentives. if the camps close, the UNRWA money will stop flowing, and the financial assistance provided by the United Nations is invaluable to poor countries like Jordan and the PA that would otherwise have to shoulder the burden of resettlement. However, the continuation of refugee camps containing third-country citizens is also an exercise in political exploitation. It enables Palestinian advocacy organizations to paint the Palestinian refugee problem as much greater than it would be under UNHCR rules, given that they can claim nearly 1.8 million Jordanian citizens (and potentially 1.65 million PA residents) who would not be regarded as refugees elsewhere in the world. If the same definition were used for the post-World War II German refugees, for instance, as many as 20 million people might be able to claim long-term refugee status. The UNRWA rules thus exaggerate the magnitude of the Palestinian refugee problem as compared to other long-term refugee populations.
Like a house of cards, anything that touches one part can have consequences affecting the whole structure.

In addition, unlike the granting of refugee status to stateless Palestinians' children, the operation of camps for Palestinians who have acquired third-party citizenship really does provide an incentive to make their conditions worse. As long as UNRWA administers these camps, the host countries will be disinclined to extend their own services and to integrate the camps into the national infrastructure and economy. Jordan, for instance, is legally responsible for providing roads and basic sanitation to the camps under its jurisdiction, but has generally provided minimal infrastructure and left most day-to-day operations to the UNRWA. In addition, the camps have been poorly integrated into the national transportation system and haven't been included in most economic development and jobs programs. This is a condition that artificially enhances the misery of the 280,000 Palestinians living in these camps, and the political incentives generally favor this misery being continued rather than alleviated.

He concludes...

The Palestinian refugee problem could be administered much more effectively and fairly if the UNRWA were merged with the UNHCR....

A major obstacle to this, however, is the status of stateless Palestinian children....

In addition, any adoption of the UNHCR rules with respect to Palestinian refugees would have to be accompanied by transitional measures. A sudden cutoff of United Nations funding to the camps in Jordan, for instance, would leave the residents in limbo until Jordan can extend its slender resources to integrate them into the national infrastructure. The closure of the camps, or their transformation into ordinary towns, would have to be gradual and accompanied bysubstantial international aid for their residents' integration or resettlement. The idea of ending the UNRWA or merging its services with the UNHCR is one that is worthy of discussion and planning but that cannot be accomplished until measures are taken to protect the status of those in need.

Let's hope that people other than Jonathan's small community of commentators and I are working on this. Surely they must be.

When I allow myself to remember that John Bolton is now the US Ambassador to the United Nations it makes me shudder. All I can say is I hope that all that we have seen, read and heard about this man are slanderous lies, that beneath his tough exterior lives a person able to come to terms with these nuances.

Unite Against Terrorism

An online petition speaking out against terrorism has been initiated.
Endorsements are coming from all over the political and religious spectrums.
I am passing it on. It says, in part...

The vast majority of the victims of al Qaeda's violence have been Muslims. Those who have suffered at the hands of violent Islamic Fundamentalist movements in Iran and Algeria have also been ordinary Muslims.This terrorist violence is not a response by 'Muslims' to the injustices perpetrated upon them by 'the west'. Western democracies have been responsible for some of the ills of this world but not for the terrorist murders of these deluded Bin-Ladenists.

These attacks did not begin in 2003. The first attempt to blow up the World Trade Center took place ten years before, in 1993.These terrorists do not hate what is worst in the societies they attack, but what is best. They despise individual liberty, critical thought, gender equality, religious tolerance, the rights of minorities and political pluralism. They do not criticize democracy because it sometimes fails to live up to its principles; they oppose those principles.

In areas of conflict, the terrorists have damaged attempts at peaceful and political solutions to problems. They choose killing and reject mutual recognition, accommodation, negotiation, understanding, and compromise.In the face of such an enemy, we believe it is vital that democratic political forces in all countries unite. We need a global movement of solidarity linking together communities threatened by terror. United we stand against terror.

Among the growing list of signatories is Christopher Hitchens, whose on-point comment says...

Association with this statement and with many of its fellow-signatories involves two commitments. The first is the elementary duty of solidarity with true and authentic resistance movements within the Muslim world, such as the Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq and the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, who were fighting against Ba'athism and Talibanism (and the latent alliance between the two) long before any American or British government had woken up to the threat.

It should go without saying that, though the suffering of their peoples was intense, neither Jalal Talabani nor Ahmed Shah Masoud ever considered letting off explosive devices at random in foreign capitals. I have my political and ideological differences with both groups, but these differences are between me and them, and are not mediated through acts of nihilistic murder.

My second commitment is equally elementary. The foreign policy of a democracy should be determined only at election times or by votes in Congress or Parliament. It is one hundred per cent unacceptable even to imply, let alone to assert, that a suicide-murderer or his apologists can by these means acquire the right to any say in how matters are decided.

Thanks go to Scott Fergusson, whose energy and vision are grooming PunditDrome into one the most exciting developments in the blog world. He says...
I support this statement because it plainly asserts that terrorism is NOT a characteristic of Islam; but a perversion of it--a view apparently not held by a certain popular conservative echo blog that does not appear on PunditDrome.
I don't often say this, but Pass it on...