Monday, October 31, 2005

Scooter Libby the, uh, novelist

OK, you now know that Irve Lewis "Scooter" Libby has just been indicted on five felony counts of perjury, obstruction of justice and some other things. You know he's resigned as the Chief of Staff for Dick Cheney. But did you know that he is also a novelist?
...From 1982 until 1985, he served as director of special projects in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs. It was perhaps this post that inspired him to write "The Apprentice," his 1996 thriller that takes place in 1903 Japan.

The novel earned Libby favorable reviews. The Boston Globe called The Apprentice an "alluring novel of intrigue" while the New York Times Book Review said Libby's "storytelling skill neatly mixes conspiratorial murmurs with a boy's emotional turmoil."

Well, now you know. Since the indictment, Libby's book, The Apprentice (St. Martin's Press), has jumped from #16,249 in sales on to #379, as of Friday evening.

This from Writer's Blog (a commercial faux-blog) thanks to Talk of the Town which has a few salacious quotes...

...Like his predecessors, Libby does not shy from the scatological. The narrative makes generous mention of lice, snot, drunkenness, bad breath, torture, urine, “turds,” armpits, arm hair, neck hair, pubic hair, pus, boils, and blood (regular and menstrual). One passage goes, “At length he walked around to the deer’s head and, reaching into his pants, struggled for a moment and then pulled out his...

...well, you get the idea. Just a bit of trivia for Halloween night. A peek at the dark side of this administration's flow chart. Nothing sinister or illegal, you know. But nevertheless revealing .

A look at the Hawza at Najaf, Ayatollah Sistani

Abu Khaleel has posted another rich and descriptive essay, this time about the history of the holy city of Najaf, its educational and religious history and the most important individual in Iraq, the Ayatollah Sistani. This is a short, clear, nonpartisan piece that will only take a few minutes to read.

For more than a thousand years, there have been two main activities in that city: religion and commerce. Commerce in the city derives mainly from its religious activities! Visitor hordes are there for the numerous pilgrims from other parts of Iraq and other countries, most notably Iran, doing ziaras (or holy visits)… or to bury their dead. So many people bury their loved ones in the holy soil of Najaf that the city ended with what is probably the largest cemetery in the world.
The nature of the city was summarized so concisely by a famous Najafi poet, Ahmed al Safi who said:

My town's imports are coffins……
My town's exports are turbans.

"Turbans" refer to the religious clergy. In that city, you see them everywhere. They are a sign of distinction. A scholar who is a Sayyed (a descendant of Imam Ali) dons a black turban. One who isn’t has a white one. Usually, the higher up in the hierarchy the person is the larger his turban! Non-scholars do not wear turbans; however, a Sayyed who is not a scholar usually has something green (or, much less frequently, black) in his headgear. Green headbands (worn by members of the Mehdi Army for example) are something else.

Check out this from Dave Price at Dean's World, as he wonders if Sistani might be Iraq's George Washington.
As Iraq endures similarly uncertain democratic beginnings, they too are blessed with a popular leader who eschews high political office that could easily be his. In fact, Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani has not only not sought office for himself, he has directed all Shia clerics to avoid political office as well. In the current campaign for the December 15th elections, he has gone so far as to refuse to endorse any political party or coalition. In what is certainly one of the greatest ironies in the endeavor to democratize the Mideast, Iraq’s most powerful cleric is also its leading secularist.
Sistani’s leadership in other areas has been equally auspicious. He has consistently called for restraint in the face of hundreds of deaths inflicted by Sunni suicide bombings intended to provoke a Sunni-Shia civil war. When he has disagreed with coalition policy, he has advocated
peaceful, democratic means to achieve his ends. At every turn, he has advocated the path that seemed best for Iraqis rather than that which would accrue power to himself or the Shia clergy.

Michelle Malkin takedown

Michelle Malkin is one of my favorite conservatives. Snappy. Witty. Snarky. Timely. And smart. I have linked to her site several times since I started blogging and will continue to do so, but after reading this assessment of Malkin I will keep a salt shaker handy as I read from now on.

Malkin continues unabated and unabashed, since being conservative means never having to say you're sorry. She's lately taken editors at the "MSM" to task for failing to join her in taking up cudgels against the spooky threat of creeping Islamism in the memorial to Flight 94 victims. More recently, there's been the Oklahoma suicide bombing and her confusion over the failure of the nation's editors to leap to the obviously dubious conclusion that this suicide was potentially part of an evil Islamist plot extending its tendrils to every corner of the nation.
This is just the latest in a string of encounters that David Neiwert has had with Malkin.
I have something of a history with Malkin. I edited her column at the Bellevue Journal American in the early 1990s, while she was syndicated through the Los Angeles Daily News. The LADN only ever employed her as a columnist. Likewise, when Malkin moved to the Puget Sound to go to work for my friend Mindy Cameron at the Seattle Times, it was only as a columnist.

Now, it's true that while at the Times, Malkin did make the occasional foray into providing original reporting within her columns. Indeed, she was rather eager to write various exposes -- but unfortunately, she had trouble doing the requisite legwork to make those exposes actually stick.

This is a long post with many links. Drilling into the links also takes a long time, but I read far enough that he got my attention. Whenever I think I'm ready to become more conservative, some really impressive writer like David Neiwert comes along and gives me a reality check. Being conservative means never having to say you're sorry....Now that's a great line.

And while we're at it, that Cathy Young article he mentions is a quickie and worth a read. She comments on what passed for reporting following the suicide bomber in Oklahoma a few weeks ago.

ON OCT. 1, a tragedy shocked the University of Oklahoma campus in Norman: 21-year-old engineering student Joel Henry Hinrichs III killed himself with a homemade bomb while sitting on a bench about 100 yards away from the university's football stadium, packed with 84,000 fans. Since then, this sad event has mushroomed into a story that touches on some important and controversial issues: vigilance and paranoia in the age of terrorism, and journalistic ethics in the age of the ''new media."
In the Hinrichs seems that the blogs and the mainstream media have brought out the worst in each other, with local TV stations picking up Internet rumors and feeding them back to the Internet.

And, yes, the hysteria has done real harm. The conspiracy theories on the right will still flourish even after the case is closed; meanwhile, many on the left will use this fiasco as an excuse to dismiss legitimate concerns about terrorism as right-wing paranoia and anti-Muslim bigotry. Hinrichs's family has been put through the additional hell of having to publicly defend a dead son and brother against accusations of being a murderous fanatic.

The mainstream media can be arrogant. But the bloggers and their readers are sometimes too willing to accept trafficking in rumor and speculation as a process from which the truth will ultimately emerge through the self-correcting power of debate.

Scary story for Halloween

You want answers? You want the truth? You can't handle the truth!
* * *
This story illustrates why I don't like the idea of detaining people without solid legal reasons.

...When my turn finally came up at the counter, the INS agent asked me more questions than usual, and then closed his counter and asked me to follow him to a large room at the side of the immigration hall. Once there, along with a bunch of other people who had also been pulled aside for extra questioning, I waited for my file's turn to be examined by the officer at the counter there. (The original INS agent had deposited me and then returned to his duties elsewhere.) Finally my name was called, and after some very aggressive questioning about who I am, what I do, where I live, and on and on (and they frequently keep asking the same questions over and over, making one feel like they are hoping to trip you up in case you are lying), I was informed that I was being detained. Two agents handcuffed me and led me to another smaller room. When I asked what I had done, they said things like, "Oh, you know what you've done. You are in trouble, my friend." Then I asked to call a lawyer, and I was informed that I hadn't yet been admitted to the United States, and so had no legal standing. No lawyer would be called, nor would I be allowed to call anyone else. They took my cuffs off, fingerprinted me (very difficult because of my sweaty palms), recuffed me and then left me there.

It was at this point that my knees went a little trembly. I had heard many stories of Pakistanis being held under the Patriot Act without charges for months, and now I had visions of Guantanamo in my head, and I became almost dizzy with the adrenaline rush of fear...

Abbas Raza's Monday musing this week is a study in character develpment. If I had to go through what he did I don't think I would have handled it with the same equanimity.

Halloween post, 2005

Last year I didnt' have much to say about Halloween. I linked to Josh Claybourn's brief remarks, short and sweet.

This year, via ilona, I link to the Christian History Institute, Issue #94, The Hijacking of Hallow's Eve. A history of the observance and corruption of All Hallows Eve ends with a personal statement.

We at Christian History Institute mourn the loss (in many of our Protestant churches at least) of any meaningful celebration of the earlier observance of Hallow's Eve. Our mission is to remind the Body of Christ of our heritage, and surely a day a year to recall the great leaders and martyrs of the faith is one small way to celebrate how God has worked across the ages, surely more important than encouraging kids to gorge themselves on candy.

It's one thing to complain, another to do something. We have prepared a new series of video programs, "Children's Heroes from Christian History." These would serve well for a "Hallow's Eve" gathering for kids as an alternative to Halloween. Besides, it would be better for their teeth.

There is also input from the Orthodox root of the faith.
From an Orthodox Christian point of view, participation in these practices at any level is impossible and idolatrous, a genuine betrayal of our God and our holy Faith. For if we participate in the ritual activity of imitating the dead by dressing up in their attire or by wandering about in the dark, or by begging with them, then we have willfully sought fellowship with the dead, whose lord is not Samhain, as the Celts believed, but Satan, the Evil One who stands against God. Further, if we submit to the dialogue of "trick or treat," we make our offering not to innocent children, but rather to Samhain, the lord of Death whom they have come to serve as imitators of the dead, wandering in the dark of night.

Yesterday Fiona Ritchey told about the connection of Halloween with the old Celtic tradition called Samhain (pron: Sow-een). Listeners to NPR know her program The Thistle & Shamrock.
On Samhain night, our October 31st, the veil between this world and next was believed to be at its thinnest, allowing living to communicate with ancestors. The ancients had no dread of spirits. Dead were encouraged to visit the living, in the hopes that they would come and restore memories, or pass on meanings of ancient customs. So lanterns were placed in windows to guide wandering souls, and food was left at the table for any visitors from the spirit world. When Christianity spread throughout Scotland, Ireland and Wales where this ancient culture still prevailed, it didn't so much replace the ancient ways as absorb them. So in the 8th century the festival of Samhain was re-framed as the Feast of All Saints, with the similar purpose of honoring the dead. Even since the dawn of the Christian era, the ancient beliefs surrounding this supernatural time of year have been preserved, the old Celtic traditions still followed on eve of All Saints, or All Hallows Eve: Halloween.
Modern Christian Evangelicals head the list of groups shunning Halloween as an evil manifestation of forces from the spiritual dark side but I think there are more serious threats to the faith than Halloween. Mega-churches come to mind whose membership is harvested from smaller "feeder" churches in which people are more likely to be held accountable for their behavior. Pop writing comes to mind which offers feel-good religion and cheap grace. But I don't want Halloween to be the occasion that I pick a fight with anybody. I'm already at the edge of enough people's barely-tolerable lists.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Glimpse of Iraq, glimpse of hope

I found it.

Several hours ago I read something that stuck in my head and I lost the source. I didn't recognize it was important at the time, but something kept the thought from disappearing. It involves an idea that Abu Khaleel mentioned that was underscored by a totally different source. That idea is central to solving the ongoing mystery that has been dogging me for weeks: what is the connection between Iran and Iraq, and what are the disconnects?

Look at this:

The rise of the Shiites, Iraq's long-suppressed majority, is one of the most thrilling consequences of Saddam Hussein's overthrow. There is a vast body of scholarly writing about them, but for most reporters - myself included - Yitzhak Nakash's "Shi'is of Iraq" is the most accessible study. Nakash, a professor of Middle Eastern history at Brandeis University, influenced the thinking of some of us by showing that Iraq's Shiites developed on a different historical track than their coreligionists in Iran, and do not generally believe in the wilayat al-faqhi, or the rulership of the clerics. That difference helped to explain why Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's most revered religious figure, has not used his vast power over Shiite believers to intervene even more directly in Iraq's politics. It may also help to check Iran's much-feared influence over its neighbor.

That is Robert F. Worth writing in the New York Times, an essay titled The Reporter's Arab Library. (Times Select, so you have to register and pay to read the rest. Good essay, but the rest is beside my point.)

Now look at this, Abu Khaleel describing the difference between the way Iraqis and Iranians differ in how they relate to their common faith.

Although they never admit it, Iraqis are generally and characteristically rather ‘casual’ about their religion and their adherence to it. This should not be taken at face value. They generally hold it in great esteem and will not tolerate any attack on it; they just don’t adhere to what they regard as ‘inconvenient’ aspects of it. Iranians, on the other hand, are for some reason traditionally more attached to their religion - probably to the extent of being zealot about it!

Iraq is almost universally seen as a holy land by many religious Iranians: It is the land where so many of the divine Imams are buried… and the land where the 12th Absent Imam, the Mehdi, disappeared. It was also the seat of the Shiite supreme clergy.

I don't think I am reading too much into his words to conclude that both sources are saying basically the same thing.

So here is an a UPI story illustrating the same idea:

Grand Ayatollah Sistani, one of the most revered Shiite clerics in Iraq, told Iraqis to vote their consciences in the election, refusing to endorse a party.

Sistani made his position clear through a Friday sermon by Sheikh Abdul Mahdi al-Karbalai in the holy city of Karbala, the BBC reported.

"The marja (Sistani) enjoins Iraqis to participate massively in the forthcoming elections, but does not support any political group in particular," he said. "It's up to Iraqis to make their choice based on their beliefs."

In January's election, Sistani backed the United Iraqi Alliance, helping it win a majority. The Alliance has joined other Shiite parties in a united bloc for the upcoming election, while two Kurdish parties and three Sunni parties have formed two more blocs.

There is hope for the political process as long as clerics resist the impulse to override that process by instructing the faithful how they should behave. Iraqis will learn from experience that there is a better way to govern infidels than by outlawing them politically, emasculating them socially, and punishing them generally when they fail to do as they are told. If and when a "loyal opposition" forms will democracy have a firm footing.

It is easier said than done, but with a Shiite majority the saying part comes easier than the doing part.

Now if we could just get our own clerics to keep their hands off politics...
Talk about a crazy idea!

Iran trivia from The Independent (UK)

Most TV news reports about Iran depict religious revolutionaries who promote militancy abroad and suppress human rights at home. But this is only part of the story:

1 Art-house Iranian films by such directors as Abbas Kiarostami and Mohsen Makhmalbaf wow foreign audiences. But the domestic film industry also churns out hundreds of more popular pictures. Last year's big hit The Lizard, drew the clerics' wrath for depicting a convict escaping prison disguised as a mullah. This year's hit was Girls' Dormitory, about a psychotic killer terrorising students.

2 In the form of Shia Islam practised in Iran, Muslims are allowed to enter into temporary marriages with each other, sometimes lasting only a few hours. Critics say this in effect legalises prostitution, and women who enter into these sigheh contracts are often ostracised. But the practice is defended as a legal loophole to provide inheritance rights for children who would otherwise be born out of wedlock. Sigheh websites have been set up to offer advice to prospective brides and grooms.

3 More than 3,600 Iranians have been killed in the past 25 years fighting heroin smugglers, whose main trade route to the West passes through the Islamic republic. Iran itself has a major drug problem, with more than two million addicts. The government has permitted radical measures to tackle the problem, including methadone programmes and syringe hand-outs to prevent the spread of disease.

4 Transsexuals are permitted to have sex-change operations in Iran by the decree of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini himself. The founder of the Islamic republic passed a fatwa allowing one transsexual woman to have the operation because sexual ambiguity made it impossible for her to carry out her religious duties properly. Iran now has dozens of people who have had a sex change.

5 According to the UNHCR, Iran hosts more than one million foreign refugees - more than any other country on earth. Most of these are Afghans and Iraqi Kurds, who fled their countries during the 1980s and '90s. Iran has in the past spent millions providing them with social security but in return it has acquired a huge workforce prepared to do manual labour for rock-bottom wages.

6 While official dress codes are very strict, many young Iranians delight in pushing back the boundaries of what is acceptable. Teenage girls in Tehran wear the most vestigial of see-through headscarves and tight overcoats that barely cover the bottom. This season gypsy-style scarves are in, featuring traditional Turkmen floral designs. Cosmetic surgery is all the rage, with girls proudly displaying a plaster to show their nose has recently been "fixed".

7 Skiing is a major pastime in mountainous parts of Iran, with pistes that rival those in Alpine resorts. Every winter young Iranians flock to the main slopes near Tehran, where social mores are less tightly enforced. Iran also has cricket, baseball and women's rugby teams, but football remains the most popular sport.

8 Iran has one of the only condom factories in the Middle East, and actively encourages contraception as a means of family planning. Sex education for married couples and major advertising campaigns helped Iran to slow its booming population growth.

9 Satellite television is banned in Iran, but receiver dishes sit in plain view on top of many houses. The most popular channels are run by Iranians based in Los Angeles, who broadcast Iranian pop music and a steady stream of anti-regime propaganda - though many Iranians also scoff at the radical tone taken by the stations.

10 Iran is one of the world's biggest producers of luxury foods. The country has rights to fish more sturgeon - the source of caviar - than any other Caspian Sea nation because of its extensive restocking programmes. It is also the world's biggest producer of pistachios, as well as saffron.

Thanks BoingBoing for the link.

Iraq war as "flypaper"

"I'd rather have this fight over there than over here" goes one popular justification for this war. According to an article from Speigel Online there is a list of extremists, mainly from Saudi Arabia but representing other countries as well, who inspired to become suicide bombers for exactly the same reason. Well, not exactly, but something like it: for them it is a high honor to die in service to their faith. Where better to do so than in Iraq?

Ahmad Sa'id al-Ghamidi wanted to be a doctor. The 20-year-old had enrolled at the University of Khartoum in Sudan and his family had given him money for fees and living expenses, enough to last him until he had his degree. But in the end, that money didn't go for rent or for books on how to heal the sick. Al-Ghamidi used that money to kill.

Incited by the propaganda of al-Qaida and Iraqi insurgents, the young man from Saudi Arabia threw his future away. He gave up his studies and, as one Internet site gushes, he "withdrew all his money ... went to Iraq ... and became the hero of a unique operation in Mosul."

The "operation" was a suicide bombing. Al-Ghamidi blew himself up in the middle of a mess tent in this northern Iraqi city. He killed 22 people, including 18 Americans.

The story of this one-time medical student who became a terrorist is just one in a list of more than 200 obituaries of "martyrs" which have been posted on Islamist Internet sites. Number 114 on the list, for example, is the account of a Saudi businessman "who wanted to break away from worldly things." Number 144 had a pregnant wife when he martyred himself. Number 109 is the story of a karate teacher inspired by the speeches of Osama bin Laden.

And that's just from one list of obituaries. There are more -- partly overlapping; partly supplementing each other; all providing unique insight into the business of jihad in Iraq. Through them, details emerge about communal life in "safe houses," about relations among the mujahedeen, about telephone calls to relatives back home and the planning of attacks. For many young men from outside Iraq, eager to become mujahedeen, the struggle in Iraq was so important that they refused to give up even after being repeatedly turned away at the border. Eventually, though, even they were able to sneak in.
The list of people who gave their lives for jihad is made up almost exclusively of non-Iraqi Arabs. The entries vary in length; sometimes only the name, the cause and the date of death are mentioned. In other cases, friends and companions have put together obituaries that are pages long.

Of course, not all the details are verifiable and the obituaries were put together with the goal of aggrandizing the terrorists' deeds and encouraging others to follow in their footsteps. Entries describing a bomber's body as smelling sweetly of musk or that the ground near him was covered with blood that was "pure" have to be seen in the light of such propaganda goals. Still, these records given an unfiltered account of the religious attitudes and personal experiences of the insurgents and provide the outside world a view of the mujahedeen's daily life.

Depending on whether one supports or opposes US involvement in Iraq's civil war this article can be spun to justify either view. My take is that if Americans were not among the targets the appeal to die a "martyr" would be much weaker, if not vanish altogether.

Most of the mujahedeen volunteers are, if one can generalize from the data from the lists, between 18 and 28 years old. Many of them are fathers; several of the older ones have already fought in Afghanistan and spent time in prison in their home countries because of extremist activities.

A few were highly skilled. One insurgent, gloated a companion, had excellent grades in school. Other accounts tell of sets of brothers among the fallen and some list the telephone numbers of those left behind, so that sympathizers could congratulate the families and express their condolences.

The "Heroes' Stories," wrote al-Qaida in Iraq as it announced the continuation of the obituary series, has as its goal the "lifting of hearts" and the "incitement of young men." Mothers are told that they can be sure that they bore heroes whose memories will not fade.

The twisted nature of this useless heroism becomes glaring in some of the cases. A Syrian, it is reported, traveled with his son to fight in the Iraqi jihad. Both died side by side in the bitter fight in the rebel stronghold of Falluja.

The son, who is now honored as a martyr, was 13 years old at the time.

Thanks to Ritzy Mabrouk, Egyptian "serial News Jockey" and blogger, for the link.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Tom. Watson. Is. Pissed..

Human remains found atop a forty-story building being demolished near where the World Trade Center once stood are almost certainly from that terrible day.

Workers on the roof of the skyscraper, the former Deutsche Bank Building at 130 Liberty Street, came across the fragments last month as they were cleaning gravel in preparation for the building's demolition. The 10 small pieces of bone, ranging from half an inch to two inches, some perhaps from a rib cage, were turned over to the medical examiner's office.
Link to NY Times story]

Tom Watson observes...

They're still finding bone fragments from the dead on the tops of New York skyscrapers, and still the shrapnel of September 11th finds its way through the soft body of American life. Today it ripped the guts from the long public career of Lewis "Scooter" Libby, one of the highest officials in the Bush Administration, as a grand jury charged him in a cover-up involving the deliberate leak of a covert American operative's name in a callous act of political retribution.
The heart of the case against Scooter Libby and Fitzgerald's ongoing investigation is the still beating heart of September 11, 2001 - a heart beat of sacrifice and liberty defended to so many Americans, perverted - utterly perverted - by a group of zealots and pretenders. Make no mistake: the killing machine of 9-11 is still stirring; the jet fuel is still burning, taking the mostly young lives of 2,000 Americans in Iraq - men and women who died because of a sleight of hand engineered by Richard Cheney and the White House Iraq Group.
Led by Mr. Cheney, this Administration used the attack on New York and the Pentagon to launch an unnecessary war against Iraq - an immoral adventure that seems to have no end and no purpose. Iraq has no connection to 9-11. No connection. It never has.

There's more, but you get the idea. By now we are all lined up on one side or the other as the country has polarized as badly as it did during the Vietnam War. I don't think reading this piece will persuade those "supporting" the war to change their mind. And for those of us who find this war a savage and nasty exercise in making more enemies, the piece will be repetitious. But reading these words makes me remember again how helpless I felt as I watched public opinion ignorantly connect the WTC attack with the need to wage a war in Iraq.

Tom Watson is correct. Every time I think of the WTC attack I want to explode with rage. Then I remember all the times I have exploded with rage and how little that accomplished. I felt better for a fleeting moment, but when the moment passed the rage returned and nothing I did with my explosion of anger had done anything to ameliorate the pain.

I know, Saddam was evil and needed to be removed from power.
Okay, that has been done. He's in custody and scheduled for some kind of Justice.
But that does not explain why we continue to remain in Iraq.

That country is having a civil war and we are in the midst of it. We claim to be "fighting for freedom and democracy," but if the truth be known -- if anything like "democracy" were to be had today, with the will of a majority dictating what should happen next -- I very seriously doubt that anything like a majority would be in favor of the United States' remaining in Iraq and continuing this war. The US is no longer seen as a liberator but an occupation force. We may have the hearts and minds of a lot of Iraqis, but mathematically I do not believe that we have anything resembling a majority. And the last time I checked, majority rule is what is meant by the word "democracy."

Vice President Cheney vs. the C.I.A.

Eric Leser, Washington correpondent for Le Monde paints an interesting backdrop to Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation and subsequent indictment of Scooter Libby. Blogger Nur al-Cubicle (basking in the spotlight of the Washington Post for her translation of a three-part piece of investigative reporting from Iraly) scores again translating this piece from Le Monde.

The backdrop to the affair of Valerie Plame, the CIA agent whose identity was unveiled to the press by members of the US Administration, is the years-long war fought between the Vice President, Dick Cheney, and the Central Intelligence Agency.
Dick Cheney is long-time adversary of the CIA. As Secretary of Defense during the administration of Bush père and as Vice President since 2001, he has never missed a chance to denounce the failings and shortcomings of the Agency. Cheney's criticism began at the end of the 1980s, when the CIA failed to foresee the fall of the Soviet Union. When Saddam invades Kuwait in August 1990, Mr. Cheney, then Secretary of Defense, notices with stupefaction the lack of intelligence available to the United States on the Iraqi arsenal. Lewis Libby, who was already working with Cheney, is charged with the mission of investigating the biological warfare capabilities of the Iraqi army.

Just after the 2001 inauguration of George W. Bush, Mr. Cheney created a powerful intelligence center inside Vice President’s office—a parallel national security council. Mr. Cheney not only received the daily presidential briefings issued by the CIA but he attended nearly every meeting on national security at which the President was present.
In his war on the CIA, the Vice President had powerful allies, including Don Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense, and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, both long-standing enemies of the CIA. Paul Wolfowitz was a member of the B-Team, created to monitor the work of experts considered “too soft” on the USSR during the 1970s during George Bush Sr.'s term as CIA director. The alarmist reports published by the B-Team were behind President Ronald Reagan’s rearmament and Star Wars programs.

As to Don Rumsfeld, he headed a 1998 Congressional commission on “rogue states”. The commission concluded that the CIA was incapable of gathering intelligence on these new threats. On the day following 9-11, the Office of Special Plans was created inside the Pentagon. This back-office, placed under the authority of Paul Wolfowitz and managed by his Under Secretary of Defense, Douglas Feith, was to analyze data supplied by the CIA and military intelligence and to report its conclusions to the White House. Working from assertions by Iraqi exiles close to the Iraqi National Congress and its chairman, Ahmed Chalabi, the bureau inflated the Iraqi WMD threat. The office has since been shut down.

Trees, meet forest.

Going for the big one

As the world smolders...there is so much smoke that the fire is still not visible. I can't think of anything intelligent to say about the indictment.

This caught my eye:

The question now is whether he will now turn against his colleagues and master to save his own skin. This story is just beginning. Ultimately, it's about Cheney.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Miered Down

Her name at last has been withdrawn, ostensibly by her.
Right. We'll leave it at that.

Already I notice a large number of Bush supporters have begun to aggregate in a savage and vengeful pack, ready to eat the man alive if he fails this time to name a candidate suitable to their taste. After all, loyalty has its limits, doesn't it?

Big tear forming in my eye...

Carrot Souffle

The holidays are upon us. As we alternate bouts of guilt and indulgence, I have yet another sinful contribution to make for your holiday table: Carrot Souffle. What? you say, I never heard of such a thing! Well, get over it. I can tell you from personal experience that of all the hundreds of offerings that I have had experience with on a cafeteria line, carrot souffle was probably the most fun to sell.

"I'll have some of those sweet potatoes," pointing...

"That isn't sweet potatoes. It's carrot souffle."

"What! I thought it was sweet potato souffle."

"No, ma'am, it's carrots. "

"Well give me some broccoli instead."

"Carrot souffle is really good. Here, taste it," offering a sample.

Customer fumbles with a roll of silver, takes out a fork and cautiously tastes a bit.
"Hey, that's really good. Gimme some of that."

I don't know how many times I have watched that scene. For an otherwise bored and boring cafeteria line worker, standing there for hours doing one of the world's most monotonous jobs, it was a rare chance to have anything resembling a human exchange with an endless line of otherwise faceless people who went past treating the servers with the same measure of indiffernce that they were typically being handled.

"Smile!" the manangement said. "Show some teeth!" (You couldn't always say that, of course, because for many of them teeth were ugly or missing altogether, but it could be another way to lift the mood. Don't get me started.)

Anyway, I found a link to the Carrot Souffle recipe from what I consider a totally reliable source, the blogmaster at Golden Pond, profiled as Vietnam Catfish. (It's a long story.)

If you want to impress the family and add a special dish to the holiday table, have at it. It's more a dessert than a vegetable. Very sweet. I have known it to be cooked in a pie shell like sweet potato or pumpkin pie, and the result is excellent if you haven't made it too fragile. But it is a "souffle" so treat it with respect.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Google Blog and Google Print

Yes, Virginia, there is a Google Blog. I didn't know anything about it until a few days ago because it wasn't "hot." Corporate blogs tend to be greeted by the blog world with a collective yawn, as though real blogs can't be produced except by individuals, or at least a fairly small clutch of individuals not under anybody's restraining thumb. After all, that's the whole point, isn't it? What's the good of a blog if it hasn't the potential to rock at least one boat?

One of the advantages of being old is that I can be gauche without embarrassment. If I want to publish the fact that a blog has been around since April, 2004 and I only just found out, that's my privilege. It's about as exciting as the Discovery Channel, but hey, those guys had a documentary about Katrina before Rita hit, so don't get all snooty about documentary TV. I just wish I had more time to take it all in. Just now I would rather read about ants than put together another blog-post, but I promised myself I would stay on task when I started this blog.

One of last week's posts about Google Print published ("with that paper's permission" already!) an op-ed from WSJ worth reading.

Imagine sitting at your computer and, in less than a second, searching the full text of every book ever written. Imagine an historian being able to instantly find every book that mentions the Battle of Algiers. Imagine a high school student in Bangladesh discovering an out-of-print author held only in a library in Ann Arbor. Imagine one giant electronic card catalog that makes all the world's books discoverable with just a few keystrokes by anyone, anywhere, anytime.

That's the vision behind Google Print, a program we introduced last fall to help users search through the oceans of information contained in the world's books. Recently, some members of the publishing industry who believe this program violates copyright law have been fighting to stop it.

The writer advances the argument for this exciting new Google product, concluding with...
Imagine the cultural impact of putting tens of millions of previously inaccessible volumes into one vast index, every word of which is searchable by anyone, rich and poor, urban and rural, First World and Third, en toute langue -- and all, of course, entirely for free. How many users will find, and then buy, books they never could have discovered any other way? How many out-of-print and backlist titles will find new and renewed sales life? How many future authors will make a living through their words solely because the Internet has made it so much easier for a scattered audience to find them? This egalitarianism of information dispersal is precisely what the Web is best at; precisely what leads to powerful new business models for the creative community; precisely what copyright law is ultimately intended to support; and, together with our partners, precisely what we hope, and expect, to accomplish with Google Print.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Blog Family Tree

Politburo Diktat is putting together a Blog Family Tree, a list of blogs showing an arrangement of sites based on "the one blog that, more than any other, inspired you to start blogging...what I'm doing here is tracking intellectual heritages, or just strong influences. If the idea of blogging came to you fully-formed and no other blogger influenced you, I do not object. But I'm tracking lineages here."

Not scientific, of course, but interesting. I left Hoot's Place listed as the first entry for Stephen DenBeste and I see others have followed. I failed to identify myself as "left, right or other" and by default got listed as "Right!" Go figure.

(I don't really care. I live in an area that inhales the same air as the Sons of Confederate Vets, John Birch Society, and Newt Gingrich. Local radio talk shows are the usual stable, from Limbaugh and Boortz to Michael Savage. And every time I turn around I hear yet another screed vilifying "Liberals...wingnuts...bed-wetters...sickos...left-wing whores" accusing the Left of intollerance! I got over it years ago. I overlook such ranting in the same way that I drive past mobile home parks, truck with gunracks, oversized wheels and noisy motorcycles. I sometimes feel like a nineteenth-century expat living in a primitive place where natives go naked and are led by witch-doctors.)

There are supposed to be tens of thousands of blogs out there, but msot of them are into navel-gazing or showing pictures of their pets. This exercise and the Miers Nomination collection reveals an interesting picture of one dimension of the blogosphere that appears to be, like talk radio, overwhelmingly of one mind.

I am reminded of an observation that a friend of years ago made during the hippie era. He came in from having a cup of coffee at a local grill and said "I just met two identical unique individuals." He was referring, of course, to the need of the day to dress in bizarre colors, tassles and feathers, wrinkled shirts and sandals or bare feet...speak the popular slang...listen to the same get the picture. I remember seeing pre-adolescent kids coming into town from suburbia to imitate the older pre-adolescents who were in their twenties. You could pick them out because their feet were clean as they padded bare-footed along the sidewalk in tie-died shirts and headbands. Today's children of the Right are not very different.

My cyber-buddy Jim Gilbert posed an interesting question at one of my posts inspired by the Harriet Miers nomination. So, how come you're a Progressive, slightly to the Left, and I'm a NeoCon, way to the Right? Are we Hatfield & McCoy (whom my family knew), with the feud settled by Christ (Eph. 2:14-15)?

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace...

I can't answer the question very well. I simply cannot explain. I can only report that whenever faith and politics intersect in my life, my spirit tells me one thing and my mind says something else. When pressed to take a stand -- the Miers nomination is a good example -- I find myself abandoning reason and listening to a signal from the heart. Same is true when I think about war, capital punishment or any number of issues that marginalize me in the minds of my peers. I cannot bring myself to reconcile a spirit/political conflict by going with a political position which is ultimately based on reason instead of faith. It is easier for me to look foolish because I am unrealistic than to advance a logical argument that does injury to my spirit.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Saddam trial comment by Raymond Brown

Raymond M. Brown commenting at Grotian Moment Blog focuses on an event affecting credibility and legitimacy in the trial of Saddam Hussein. Link to the BBC report.

The kidnapping and murder of Sadoun Nasouaf al-Janavi, counsel to Awad al-Bander is more than just a personal tragedy for his family and a blow to his client’s defense. It raises a fundamental challenge to the legitimacy of this first IST trial and conceivably to the functioning of the Tribunal itself. A court cannot claim legitimacy if it is attached to a regime which can not guarantee the physical safety of trial participants. Protected participants must include defense lawyers representing despised or controversial defendants.

Last week's incident is yet another indicator that events in Iraq are being advanced and orchestrated in a manner that can only be described as risky. That word "legitimacy" has a very pliable meaning, it seems, depending on when and where it is used, and by whom. This is from last weeks story.

Saddam Hussein's chief defence strategist, Abdel Haq Alani, an Iraqi lawyer based in Britain, told the BBC: "This incident has proved is what we've been all along saying, that there could be no fair trial in Iraq at this time, there could never be a fair and just trial simply because there's no authority.

"Can anybody imagine that a witness is going to step forward and appear for the defence? If the defence cannot present its witnesses and guarantee safety for them, what kind of a trial is this going to be?

"If lawyers are getting eliminated, executed... how am I going to convince an international lawyer to appear in Iraq in a court and give legal advice on issues of international law of which the Iraqis know very little, including the judges?"

Good questions.

Brown comments:

...the purposeful slaughter of defense counsel shines a bright light on the emerging dark secret of the “system” of international justice (a system I still support.) That secret is the imbalance between the resources of prosecutors and the defense.
It may be that a lifetime spent as defense counsel dealing with permutations of fear and intimidation in municipal and international fora have biased me. It may also be that my strong opposition to the proffered legal, strategic and foreign policy bases for the war in Iraq have predisposed me to see the specter of illegitimacy leach from an occupation regime to the IST whose coattails it has sought to ride to international legitimacy.

Biased or not, I cannot see how a single trial or a judicial system can survive assaults on the quality of its justice if it cannot provide an opportunity for defense counsel to function without fear of non-judicial execution. This is especially true if the accused are persons, like Saddam and his satraps who are already believed to be culpable by all the world except their most fervent followers.

The choice to hold IST trials in Iraq while security remains a deep problem raises the unwelcome aroma of political decision making. Allowing trials to proceed in an environment where the process is tainted by violence and fear undermines legitimacy. Whether the choice is legal or political, it is a bad one.

This also bothers me:

Four of the five judges and most of the prosecution lawyers have remained anonymous for safety reasons.

The names of the chief judge and the top prosecutor were the only ones revealed.

But the defence team's identities were not kept secret, and Saddam Hussein's top lawyer, Khalil Dulaimi, said many had been threatened.

Yesterday's truck bombs in Baghdad further underscore the security issue.
The trial has been put on hold for a few more weeks. Perhaps conditions will improve by then. One can hope. This trial has enormous symbolic importance.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Ben Bernanke becomes the new Greenspan

The president hit one out of the park.

Everybody seems to approve.

(Sorry, Zach. Your guy didn't make it.)

The Gospel According to Anne Rice

I don't have time to read novels any more. Blogging takes all my discretionary time. But if I did, I would be tempted to get Anne Rice's next book. According to Blogsnow this piece from Newsweek/MSNBC Entertainment is getting a lot of links.

In two weeks, Anne Rice, the chronicler of vampires, witches and—under the pseudonym A. N. Roquelaure—of soft-core S&M encounters, will publish "Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt," a novel about the 7-year-old Jesus, narrated by Christ himself. "I promised," she says, "that from now on I would write only for the Lord." It's the most startling public turnaround since Bob Dylan's "Slow Train Coming" announced that he'd been born again.

Get ready.
Rice's most daring to try to get inside the head of a 7-year-old kid who's intermittently aware that he's also God Almighty. "There were times when I thought I couldn't do it," she admits. The advance notices say she's pulled it off: Kirkus Reviews' starred rave pronounces her Jesus "fully believable." But it's hard to imagine all readers will be convinced when he delivers such lines as "And there came in a flash to me a feeling of understanding everything, everything!" The attempt to render a child's point of view can read like a Sunday-school text crossed with Hemingway: "It was time for the blessing. The first prayer we all said together in Jerusalem ... The words were a little different to me. But it was still very good." Yet in the novel's best scene, a dream in which Jesus meets a bewitchingly handsome Satan—smiling, then weeping, then raging—Rice shows she still has her great gift: to imbue Gothic chills with moral complexity and heartfelt sorrow.

Here's the link. In addition to her bio, lifestyle and writing history, there's an audio link to a reading of the opening pages. I liked what I heard. She has done her homework. In addition to the canonical writings she has taken freely from the New Testament Apocrypha.

I have read worse distortions of scripture passing as serious.
And it seems less pornographic than that Passion movie.

Miered down but not stuck

This is better than sports.
I'm gonna post this in red, white and blue.

The Harriet Miers nomination allowed Bush to alter the political landscape in a way that nothing else could have done. Analysts and pundits will be arguing for years whether he did it deliberately or carelessly, but either way it's going to be recorded like a strike in bowling. All the pins fell down.

Ann Althouse seems to have called the best scenario today describing how he is gonna get out of it unscathed. First, here is the "Krauthammer strategy:"

...a way out: irreconcilable differences over documents.For a nominee who, unlike John Roberts, has practically no record on constitutional issues, such documentation is essential for the Senate to judge her thinking and legal acumen. But there is no way that any president would release this kind of information -- "policy documents" and "legal analysis" -- from such a close confidante. It would forever undermine the ability of any president to get unguarded advice.

That creates a classic conflict, not of personality, not of competence, not of ideology, but of simple constitutional prerogatives: The Senate cannot confirm her unless it has this information. And the White House cannot allow release of this information lest it jeopardize executive privilege.

Ann Althouse watches. Listens. Waits. Comments. The president is questioned about withdrawing the nomination, and replies by speaking about his candidate in glowing tones, buuuuut...

...I read this as a sign that the nomination WILL be withdrawn: he's setting up the Krauthammer exit strategy with the documents; he did not address the question that was asked directly; and he fuzzes things over with irrelevant assertions about what a fine woman Miers is.

MORE: Here's the link to the Krauthammer article proposing that Bush set up "a classic conflict, not of personality, not of competence, not of ideology, but of simple constitutional prerogatives," in which an impossible bind requires the withdawal: "The Senate cannot confirm her unless it has this information. And the White House cannot allow release of this information lest it jeopardize executive privilege." And then, of course, you say all the nice things about what "an extraordinary woman" Miers is.

I was watching this press conference on TV, and it seemed as if Bush was making a planned withdrawal speech. He hesitated a lot and put his words together carefully. Note that he did not express confidence that she would be confirmed or that she would make a fine Justice. He focused on her general excellence, unrelated to the position she's been nomited for, and on the Senate, stepping up the pressure to give her a fair hearing -- right after turning up the heat about the denial of the documents. It seems as though he wants the Democratic senators to make more of a stink about the documents so that he'll look more credible blaming them for forcing him to withdraw her name. I'll bet they are too smart to make that move, though. Let him twist in the wind while they hold their fire until the hearings. Or maybe even -- crazily riskily -- just go ahead and support her and leave Bush to solve his own problems, without using them for leverage.

Brilliant. What was left unsaid, often the case, is more important than what is spoken. Sure enough, before hours pass, Bush moves a knight.

President Bush said Monday that he will not release any records of his conversations with Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers that could threaten the confidentiality of the advice that presidents get from their lawyers."It's a red line I'm not willing to cross," Bush said.
Bush did not directly answer the question that was posed to him by a reporter at the end of the meeting whether the White House is working on contingency plans to withdraw Miers nomination in the face of opposition to her from liberals and conservatives. Instead, he said that she is an "extraordinary woman" and that he understands people want to learn more about her.
"Recently, requests, however, have been made by Democrats and Republicans about paperwork out of this White House that would make it impossible for me and other presidents to be able to make sound decisions," Bush said. "In other words, they've asked for paperwork about the decision- making process, what her recommendations were. And that would breach very important confidentially."

Mark Kilmer at Red State thinks it's all over but the shouting.

It's a difficult situation. An impossible situation. It looks like, barring the construction of new criteria, this nomination will fail. If that is not part of the plan, I think it would probably be best for the President to look elsewhere.

Ann Althouse already found a name (Diane Sykes) of a candidate suitable to follow Harriet Miers. Ever since I learned she was a Democrat, I have become an even bigger fan.

Question: When a cowboy plays chess, does the knight wear a helmet?

As I said, this is better than sports.

Arab Autumn?

Orrin Judd points to this from Asharq Alawsat by Mona Eltahawy. Warm your heart. Read the whole thing.

The sight of Iraqis and Palestinians voting earlier this year and of the Lebanese who turned out in their thousands to protest Hariri’s assassination was called an Arab Spring for spurring talk of change in the Arab world.

With Saddam Hussein standing before prosecutors and the names of the rich and the powerful of Syria and Lebanon on the pages of the Mehlis report, October could be the start of an Arab Autumn, in which we shed the old and prepare for the new.
Accountability has come knocking on the door of Lebanon and Syria too. U.N. investigator Detlev Mehlis is to deliver a report expected to point fingers not only at who ordered an assassination that turned Lebanese politics upside down and forced Syria to withdraw from Lebanon but also at the murky world of Syrian-Lebanese client politics and the two-way cross-border corruption it engendered.
Arab governments and officials are fond of saying corruption happens everywhere and happily point fingers abroad. Some Arab papers for example highlighted the plight of former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay who is facing charges of money laundering and conspiracy in a Texas campaign finance case. But rare is the case of corruption brought to trial in the Arab world.

The Mehlis report is changing that.

Autumn is the season when gardeners plant the seeds for spring. Accountability is the seed we’re planting this autumn in the Arab world. Let’s hope it bears fresh and vibrant blossoms.

Born in Egypt in 1967, Mona Eltahawy was a correspondent for the Reuters News Agency in Cairo and Jerusalem and also wrote for the Guardian newspaper from the Middle East. Mona is also a frequent contributor to opinion pages in the US and abroad. Her Op-Eds have appeared in The Washington Post, The International Herald Tribune, The New York Times, and The Christian Science Monitor. She has also been a guest analyst on ABC Nightline, BBC Newsnight, MSNBC,Fox News'' The O''Reilly Factor and various NPR shows. She is based in New York.

Radioblogging - Studs Terkel on NPR

Another of the essays for "This I Believe" was on today's Morning Edition. Studs Terkel, at 93, recorded his essay just before going for heart surgery recently. He speaks about the importance of a "Community in Action."

My own beliefs, my personal beliefs, came into being during the most traumatic moment in American history: the Great American Depression of the 1930s. I was 17 at the time, and I saw on the sidewalks pots and pans and bedsteads and mattresses. A family had just been evicted and there was an individual cry of despair, multiplied by millions. But that community had a number of people on that very block who were electricians and plumbers and carpenters and they appeared that same evening, the evening of the eviction, and moved these household goods back into the flat where they had been. They turned on the gas; they fixed the plumbing. It was a community in action accomplishing something.

And this is my belief, too: that it's the community in action that accomplishes more than any individual does, no matter how strong he may be.

Einstein once observed that Westerners have a feeling the individual loses his freedom if he joins, say, a union or any group. Precisely the opposite's the case. The individual discovers his strength as an individual because he has, along the way, discovered others share his feelings -- he is not alone, and thus a community is formed. You might call it the prescient community or the prophetic community. It's always been there.

And I must say, it has always paid its dues, too. The community of the '30s and '40s and the Depression, fighting for rights of laborers and the rights of women and the rights of all people who are different from the majority, always paid their dues. But it was their presence as well as their prescience that made for whatever progress we have made.

And that's what Tom Paine meant when he said: "Freedom has been hunted around the globe; reason was considered as rebellion; and the slavery of fear made men afraid to think. But such is the irresistible nature of truth that all it asks, all it wants, is the liberty of appearing. In such a situation, man becomes what he ought to be."

Still quoting Tom Paine: "He sees his species not with the inhuman idea of a natural enemy" -- you're either with us or against us, no. "He sees his species as kindred."

And that happens to be my belief, and I'll put it into three words: community in action.

This idea, the notion that a community can be greater than the sum of its parts, is fundamental to many of the best moments in history, both modern and ancient. I am mystified and saddened because so many now worship at an altar of radical individualism to the stated disregard of community values. The Great Depression to which he referred left deep scars on a generation that could not enjoy the fruits of prosperity when it finally came for fear that another depression might return at any time. In the same way our own generation has been so deeply scarred by the Cold War that we often shun constructive and productive community action for fear that the results will take us too close to Socialism.

I can't find a link to today's program yet, but I'm sure one will be available soon. The voice of Studs Terkel will be heard reading his own essay. The report also said he made it through heart surgery just fine, quoting the doctor as saying "They don't make 'em like that any more."

Sunday, October 23, 2005

A Glimpse of Iraq

Responding to an inquiry I made a few months back, my cyber-friend Abu Khaleel has published an excellent essay addressing the complicated relationship between Iraq and Iran. I'm sure I am not alone in being confused the key members of the government in Iraq seem to be overly familiar with key people in Iran. These two countries were at war only a few years ago, and now the newly-elected mayor of Tehran is an old buddy of some of Iraq's key players.

There are so many parts to this puzzle that I have had a hard time putting them together. Just today I was reading an article in Prospect (linked a couple of posts ago) that makes reference to three political parties in South Iraq, one of which clearly has Iranian roots.

The founding leader of SCIRI, Muhammed Bakr al-Hakim, an Iraqi cleric, campaigned for a theocracy in which the Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini would become the supreme leader of a Shia superstate embracing Iran and Iraq. Under his umbrella came the Badr brigade, a paramilitary unit of Iraqi exiles commanded by the Iranian revolutionary guard who had fought on the Iranian side in the Iran-Iraq war.

Many of the leaders of this group still have family in Iran. They are all religiously conservative and committed to the establishment of an Islamic government. Their leadership has long-term connections with the Iranian revolutionary guard and intelligence services. Thousands of their followers receive salaries from Iran, but they would not consider themselves agents of Iran. Many claim to have been humiliated while in Iran and to be committed Iraqi nationalists. [!] Immediately after the allied invasion, al-Hakim recommended compromise with the coalition, no longer calling for an Iranian theocracy but instead for "a democratic free Iraq that reflects the interests of its people." He was assassinated and his group is now run by his less charismatic brother, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, who is one of the most important figures in the national government in Baghdad. [Link to article]

Abu Khaleel's essay is really in two parts. The other part is on his other blog, Iraqi Letters. This part of his commentary is more contemporary. he underscores the point that I just made above about the Badr Brigade, and repeats the same mystery that continues to puzzle me:

In the simplest possible terms, I cannot understand the following: Iran is a declared enemy of America. America invades Iraq. America consistently strengthens the hand of pro-Iranian political parties and their influence on the future shape of Iraq!

The latest source of amusement is that both the US administration and the regime in Iran are enthusiastic supporters of the new draft constitution.

Go figure! This information is consistent with what I am learning from other sources, and it points out specifically part of a complex web of connections between the two countries.

The more I learn, the less I seem to know. But this much is clear. I already know a lot more than most people I speak with and the depth of ignorance that most Americans have about what is happening in Iraq is utterly breathtaking. Concerned citizens owe it to themselves -- and to the sad memory of what will soon be two thousand dead soldiers -- to quit thinking in simple terms and start doing some serious homework about this awful war and what would really be best for Iraq.

Which side are you on?

In 1931, coal miners in Harlan County were on strike. Armed company deputies roamed the countryside, terrorizing the mining communities, looking for union leaders to beat, jail, or kill. But coal miners, brought up lean and hard in the Kentucky mountain country, knew how to fight back, and heads were bashed and bullets fired on both sides in Bloody Harlan.
It was this kind of class war -- the mine owners and their hired deputies on one side, and the independent, free-wheeling Kentucky coal-miners on the other -- that provided the climate for Florence Reece's "Which Side Are You On?" In it she captured the spirit of her times with blunt eloquence.

Mrs. Reece wrote from personal experience. Her husband, Sam, was one of the union leaders, and Sheriff J. H. Blair and his men came to her house in search of him when she was alone with her seven children. They ransacked the whole house and then kept watch outside, ready to shoot Sam down if he returned.

One day during this tense period Mrs. Reece tore a sheet from a wall calendar and wrote the words to "Which Side Are You On?" The simple form of the song made it easy to adapt for use in other strikes, and many different versions have circulated.

Come all you good workers,
Good news to you I'll tell
Of how the good old union
Has come in here to dwell.
Which side are you on?
Which side are you on?
Which side are you on?
Which side are you on?

My dady was a miner,
And I'm a miner's son,
And I'll stick with the union
'Til every battle's won.

They say in Harlan County
There are no neutrals there.
You'll either be a union man
Or a thug for J. H. Blair.

Oh workers can you stand it?
Oh tell me how you can?
Will you be a lousy scab
Or will you be a man?

Don't scab for the bosses,
Don't listen to their lies.
Us poor folks haven't got a chance
Unless we organize.

This is a campaign, ya'll.
Simple people can make big things come to pass.

When you're right, you don't have to be slick or edumacated.
Get it? . . . . . . . .Some of us do.

Homework time: Politics in Southern Iraq

Prospect Magazine has an excellent article about the political situation in Southern Iraq. I have done enough homework to know that the substance is on target. It may not be pretty, but it is correct. The shape of what we call "democracy" is not the same there as in the US.

Abu akil is a typical leader of one of the three groups that now dominate politics in southern Iraq and were associated with the recent conflict with the coalition. These are Da'wa, SCIRI/Badr and the Sadrists. They have militias which are effectively outside the law and have filled the police and the ministries with allies. Sadrists govern two of the four southern provinces and Badr men the other two. With Da'wa (one branch of which is led by Abu Akil) these Islamic parties have taken almost every seat in the south in both the national and provincial parliaments.

Any understanding of the current situation in Iraq depends on a detailed knowledge of these parties. But, as my conversation with Abu Akil indicated, it is difficult to define the differences between them. This is as true for Iraqis as it is for foreigners. The leaders are reluctant to emphasise the differences between their groups, keen to conceal their more extreme views fromthe more moderate electorate and, most importantly, having led covert insurgency organisations for 20 years, are accustomed to keeping their programmes secret. Like tribes rather than political parties, the clearest differences between them lie more in history and leadership than in policy.

That's enough to get you started. It's a lot more complicated than that, but learning about these three components is the foundation.
(Thanks Aqoul, who got it from Belgravia Dispatch. That's not a bad pedigree for an internet piece.)

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Good headline nomination

I'm in a goofy mood tonight, needing a little levity.

I don't read the Brothers Judd much. It's one of the better blogs around, but I can't read everything so I have to scan some and pay attention to others. But this great headling caughtmy eye: IT ONLY LOOKS DEAD.

Story is about a parrot that reportedly died of bird flu, possibly the now famous H5N1 strain. But that's beside the point here. The headline reference, which I have come across before, is to a timeless Montey Python skit that everyone should know about.

If you haven't caught on, you need to go read it now.

I support the Miers nomination

Okay, then.

There I went and said it. I've made fun of the whole affair from the jump. And I also agree that she seems to be (trying to be polite, here) more ordinary than extraordinary. Nevertheless, I support the Miers nomination. No need for me to list pros and cons. The internet is running thick with commentary wiser than mine.

But here's the thing. (Kurt Vonnegut says something like that. The thing was.)

History tells us that our system is made for everyday people. Lincoln's famous "by the people" and all that should be more than an aphorism. If Harry Truman can be president, and be remembered as a good one, then I see no reason why she can't become a Supreme Court Justice. Sitting in the Oval Office for four years is not much time to move along a learning curve, but sitting in tandem with eight other designated experts for the rest of your natural life provides both time and coaching to learn how to do the job. She didn't get to where she is without being a quick study, and after a few predictable mistakes will be as able as the next person to have an informed opinion that can be put into clear and workmanlike prose.

I have looked at a some of the writing of the Supreme Court decisions. And I have studied them in political science and history classes. What I recall most is that the Supreme Court tends to reflect a kind of national consensus, while acting as gadfly and irritant to the other two branches. They call it "legislating from the bench" but that is really an attempt by lawmakers to complain because decisions are being made in the absence of sound law-making. So who do we thank for that? By the time a bill gets through Congress and is signed into law it has been massaged by hundreds of people to the point that it's like a dog with no teeth. In some cases, it is no dog at all when a good barking watchdog would have been sufficient.

It's time the Supreme Court had a simple person of good character in their exalted midst to whom they have to 'splain things in easy to grasp language. If I were there, that's what would have to happen. If most people from the street were there, that would have to happen. And I don't think that is a bad thing.

Let's face it. The reason we need nine justices instead of eight or ten is that a tied vote is like no vote at all, and in the end the odd one is basically a tie-breaker. I have enough confidence in the other eight that they will supply more than enough gravitas to the panel. Leavening on the part of a newly appointed and confirmed Harriet Miers is just what the doctor ordered for an otherwise rarefied and overly-legalistic environment. And with the passing of time, she will become as much a legend as anyone else who bears that responsibility.

Her age? That's a red herring. Plenty of people do well into their eighties, and plenty more screw up long before fifty. Besides, if we can speak rationally about term limits for congress and limiting the president to two consecutive terms, what's the difference between that and the more certain limitations of an actuarial table? If we can pick among a host of candidates now, we can do the same thing when the next vacancy occurs.

There are more substantive issues facing the country than who will take the next vacancy on the Supreme Court. It's past time to move on to other matters.

The reason I titled this post as I did, incidentally, is that NZ Bear is polling. Harriet Miers is an underdog at this writing and I tend to root for the underdog. But after all the smoke clears, I really have to admit that in my mind character trumps expertise. I have seen it for decades among the people I have known and worked with. And my instinct tells me that I'm seeing it again with this good woman.

That's it. Take it or leave it.

Harriet Miers Blog update

Quick, before the sparkler burns out, another look at an inspired parody.
Link to the music.
Then to the site.

If I were a justice
Ya ha deedle deedle bubba bubba deedle deedle dum
In my robes I’d biddy biddy bum
If I were a high court judge!
I’d… be a super jurist!!
Ya ha deedle deedle bubba bubba deedle deedle dum
If I were bum biddy bum confirmed
Yiddle-diddle to the Supreme Court.

I’d sign opinions with a heart on the “I”
Correcting old decisions that were wrong
But I’d never legislate from the bench!!!
And even tho I’d be the most junior justice
They’d make me feel like I belong
Especially that Souter, he’s a mensch!

If I were a justice
Ya ha deedle deedle bubba bubba deedle deedle dum
In my robes I’d biddy biddy bum
If I were a high court judge!
I’d… be a super jurist!!
Ya ha deedle deedle bubba bubba deedle deedle dum
If I were bum biddy bum confirmed
Yiddle-diddle to the Supreme Court.

The end of lightbulbs is on the horizon

No, not the sun.
A new and better LED.

The main light source of the future will almost surely not be a bulb. It might be a table, a wall, or even a fork.

An accidental discovery announced this week has taken LED lighting to a new level, suggesting it could soon offer a cheaper, longer-lasting alternative to the traditional light bulb. The miniature breakthrough adds to a growing trend that is likely to eventually make Thomas Edison's bright invention obsolete.
Until the last decade, LEDs could only produce green, red, and yellow light, which limited their use. Then came blue LEDs, which have since been altered to emit white light with a light-blue hue. LEDs produce twice as much light as a regular 60 watt bulb and burn for over 50,000 hours. The Department of Energy estimates LED lighting could reduce U.S. energy consumption for lighting by 29 percent by 2025. LEDs don't emit heat, so they're also more energy efficient. And they're much harder to break.

Found on Blogsnow.

Miers nomination -- Blogger conference call

A group of bloggers was invited to participate in a conference call yesterday with retired Texas Judge Craig Enoch and White House communications advisor Jim Dyke. Those interested can follow a string of link-tracks to see how each one responded, but the comment that jumped out at me was from Don Surber.

Krauthammer is delusional if he thinks Miers will withdraw. Two words: Recess appointment. Proof: John Bolton.
...the opposition -- led by Michelle Malkin -- has everyone spooked. Everyone except George Bush. He gives the Senate until Christmas to approve and then he recess appoints.
Seems like we've talked about this before.

I don't know how he might get around the wording of Justice O'Connor's carefully-worded letter of intent to resign (...effective upon the nomination and confirmation of my successor.), but where there is a will, there's a way.

I ain't misunderestimating anybody. Maybe the threat of a recess appointment is enough to nudge things along, even if it won't hold water.


I asked Ann Althouse about blogger conference calls and her response puts the whole thing into a better perspective. Her time is more valuable.
Hoots: Yes, I get invited to those conference calls. I should do a post about why I haven't done any yet. Part of it is that they tend to be scheduled right after I get out of class and I'm in a mood for some quiet time. Part of it is that I don't imagine getting much value from it. I'll hear the pitch I've already heard, won't I? Maybe with the right question I could extract some statement that would be interesting to talk about, but that never seems to outweigh my desire to have my time for either pleasure or more efficient reading and reflection.

I have had to endure a few conference calls myself, though none as high-profile as this. I know they take a piece of your day, time-wise, and it isn't flex-time. And for every minute of whatever passes for content you trade off a minute or two for preparation and protocol. Cost-benefit analysis says it's wasted time.

Friday, October 21, 2005

North Korea -- Dan Schorr via Rocketboom


No, not that Dan Schorr. I don't know anything about this one because I just found him via Rocketboom's piece from yesterday. He's been to North Korea and left with beautiful photos and videos. The videos are what caught my attention. (I just hate waiting the time it takes to download videos in exchange for a few moments of content. Dang! That makes me want to buy stuff so I don't have to wait. But that's waiting for the mail...I guess a little delayed gratification is in order...)

Anyway, this is what made me want to post about this blog.

Two hours after boarding our flight, we landed in Beijing and exited onto the terminal. China is no free country, but I felt extremely liberated - Iwas at that moment more aware of my liberties than at any other time in my life. I could walk around. I could talk with people. I could explore, travel, telephone people, check the internet (albeit with some blocked sites). It felt incredible.
Imagine that. After being in North Korea he felt liberated to be in China!
This may be part of the reason.

After two days in North Korea the restrictiveness and relentless propaganda was getting to me a little. I had expected that our trip would be that way, but it was another thing to actually experience two days in which we always had to ask permission before walking anywhere or taking a photograph and couldn't interact with anyone other than those introduced to us. We were always in a confined area, beyond which we were not to venture.

Beyond that, the intensity of the DPRK's message was nonstop - images of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jung-il seemingly everywhere and militaristic/patriotic music playing in many locations. Korean phrases displayed with huge letters around Pyongyang seemed to almost always end with an exclamation mark. It's not a nation of subtety.

Virtually everything, virtually everywhere, had something to do with these two men. We were even told that there was recently a huge festival in Pyongyang that featured two flowers named - ready for this? - the kimjungilia and the kimilsungia. Really.

I'd never seen or experienced anything like it. It was tiresome. It was frustrating. It was also incredibly fascinating.

If you don't have time to study the blog, at least be sure to catch one of the stunning videos.

And, uh, yes...I did post in red on purpose.
It seemed appropriate.

H5N1 up to the minute

World Health Organization FAQ is a comprehensive resource. Thanks H5N1 blog. Come to think of it, that blog is also a wellspring of timely reporting.

The most comprehensive treatment of the subject I have read is the Laurie Garrett article in Foreign Affairs, July-August, 2005. It prints out to about ten pages or so, and makes for interesting reading. Among other things she offers this historical caveat:

In January 1976, 18-year-old Private David Lewis staggered his way through a forced march during basic training in a brutal New Jersey winter. By the time his unit returned to base at Fort Dix, Lewis was dying. He collapsed and did not respond to his sergeant's attempts at mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

In subsequent weeks, U.S. Army and CDC scientists discovered that the virus that had killed Lewis was swine flu. Although no other soldiers at Fort Dix died, health officials panicked. F. David Matthews, then secretary of health, education, and welfare, promptly declared, "There is evidence there will be a major flu epidemic this coming fall. The indication is that we will see a return of the 1918 flu virus that is the most virulent form of flu. In 1918, a half million people died [in the United States]. The projections are that this virus will kill one million Americans in 1976."

At the time, it was widely believed that influenza appeared in cycles, with especially lethal forms surfacing at relatively predictable intervals. Since 1918-19, the United States had suffered through influenza pandemics in 1957-58 and 1968-69; the first caused 70,000 deaths and the second 34,000. In 1976, scientists believed the world was overdue for a more lethal cycle, and the apparent emergence of swine flu at Fort Dix seemed to signal that another wave had come. The leaders of the CDC and the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) warned the White House that there was a reasonably high probability that a catastrophic flu pandemic was about to hit. But opinion was hardly unanimous, and many European and Australian health authorities scoffed at the Americans' concern. Unsure of how to gauge the threat, President Gerald Ford summoned the polio-fighting heroes Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin to Washington and found the long-time adversaries in remarkable accord: a flu pandemic might truly be on the way.

On March 24, 1976, Ford went on national television. "I have just concluded a meeting on a subject of vast importance to all Americans," he announced. "I have been advised that there is a very real possibility that unless we take effective counteractions, there could be an epidemic of this dangerous disease next fall and winter here in the United States. ... I am asking Congress to appropriate $135 million, prior to the April recess, for the production of sufficient vaccine to inoculate every man, woman, and child in the United States."

Vaccine producers immediately complained that they could not manufacture sufficient doses of vaccine in such haste without special liability protection. Congress responded, passing a law in April that made the government responsible for the companies' liability. When the campaign to vaccinate the U.S. population started four months later, there were almost immediate claims of side effects, including the neurologically debilitating Guillain Barré Syndrome. Most of the lawsuits -- with claims totaling $3.2 billion -- were settled or dismissed, but the U.S. government still ended up paying claimants around $90 million.

Swine flu, however, never appeared. The head of the CDC was asked to resign, and Congress never again considered assuming the liability of pharmaceutical companies during a potential epidemic. The experience weakened U.S. credibility in public health and helped undermine the stature of President Ford. Subsequently, an official assessment of what went wrong was performed for HEW by Dr. Harvey Fineberg, a Harvard professor who is currently president of the Institute of Medicine.

Fineberg concluded:"In this case the consequences of being wrong about an epidemic were so devastating in people's minds that it wasn't possible to focus properly on the issue of likelihood. Nobody could really estimate likelihood then, or now. The challenge in such circumstances is to be able to distinguish things so you can rationally talk about it. In 1976, some policymakers were simply overwhelmed by the consequences of being wrong. And at a higher level [in the White House] the two -- likelihood and consequence -- got meshed."

Fineberg's warnings are well worth remembering today, as scientists nervously consider H5N1 avian influenza in Asia. The consequences of a form of this virus that is transmittable from human to human, particularly if it retains its unprecedented virulence, would be disastrous. But what is the likelihood that such a virus will appear?