Monday, February 28, 2005

The Arab world is trembling...for some reason

This is from Gulf Daily News, The Voice of Bahrain.

A suspect accused of inciting resentment against the government is being held in custody for 15 days pending investigation, the General Prosecution said last night.
He was arrested following a tip-off from the Information Ministry that a website, Bahrain Online, run by him was broadcasting news, pictures and information inciting hatred.
The suspect has admitted the charges as well as using a phone line registered in his sister's name.

This comment from a blogger...

The above news piece is another example of poor journalism. Firstly, there was no tip-off. The Ministry of Interior has been building a case against BahrainOnline since 1998, and your clue is as good as mine as to the specific pieces of writing they are using as evidence. ... The pulse from the forum is that the majority of users feel responsible for Abdulemam's incarceration as he is taking the flack for what they write. Meanwhile registered members have gone up to 20,000. It is a known fact that the government agents have also tried to participate in the forum at times to sway debates. The government fails to realise that BahrainOnline cannot be closed down, it has only increased its popularity. There are another 30 moderators who now run the site. Will they go down too? Some of their names came up in the interrogation.

The government fails to realise that the internet is an information medium beyond their control. Arresting Abdulemam will severly backfire on the them and the so-called reforms. Protests have been organised and another martyr born. Im almost sure the Parliament will not raise this severe breach of freedom of expression and carry on with scaremongering the nation.

Yet another scene to the political play. This time are they serious or will another Royal decree save the day? Ladies and gentleman, the curtains have been drawn, welcome to Bahrain - the model of Arab democracy.

Tuesday Evening, March 1...

At time where our country needed strong truth and reconciliation following the black era of the nineties, here is the government yet again fueling further hatred for itself. After trying to infiltrate it, then competing with it, now its using all its force to close the forum down. As someone suggested, had the King agreed to an online interview on BahrainOnline, he may have swayed reader views for his benefit.He really needs to sack his domestic PR campaigner. I mean how could he do this after an odious speech on peace, security an stability a few days ago, who is he kidding!

International coverage is picking up:

Good articles on Gulf News, this has an interview with a lawyer. Abdulla Hashim states that the charges the guys are accused of can carry up to 20 years in Jail. In addition, a good article in Reporters Without Borders . Story has also been reported by Al-Jazeera and Reuters. A BBC Radio Five interview with Curt Hopkins of the Committee for the Protection of Bloggers can be heard here (skip to 1:44:00)

These young people are really sticking their necks out. I haven't noticed a lot of attention on Bahrain, perhaps because it is supposedly run by an enlighened king. Progressive, you know. Right.

Snips from Lebanon

The army has sealed off downtown Beirut amid growing fears Sunday that the government was mobilizing loyalist mobs to disrupt a massive sit-in planned by anti-Syria opposition around parliament in a bid to topple Premier Karami's government the next day.
The opposition on Sunday vowed to maintain its call for the peaceful sit-in on Monday in defiance of a ban on public demonstrations.
Every street and alleyway leading to parliament building midway between the Mosque and the murder scene were fenced off by steel barricades with troops standing guard in full combat gear. Glamorous restaurants, nightclubs and sidewalk cafes that thrive on weekend were closed by the army since Saturday evening.

Nevertheless, thousands of youths linked their hands in a human barricade stretching from the grave to the murder spot under glaring projectors all night Saturday-Sunday, chanting "Syria Out."

The tumultuous crowds at the gravesite abruptly fell totally silent when Hariri's sister, legislator Bahia Hariri, appeared on the scene. She knelt at the grave which is covered by layers of roses and surrounded by layers of burning candles and read verses from the Koran for the peace of her brother's soul and then walked away with tears welling down her cheeks.

Chants against Syria and Karami's government rang out anew from the protestors when Hariri's sister left. Many opposition activists set up giant TV screens near a makeshift small township of tents at Martyrs Square to watch the parliament session if Speaker Nabih Berri decides to maintain plans to televise it live.



Eyes on Beirut

Anyone who would like a front row seat to another historic sequence of events should direct his attention to Lebanon.
The popular press carries so many reports of bombs and assassinations that it is hard to figure out which ones are most imporant. All are tragic, like the street crimes other tragedies that the media uses as they create what passes for news. But not all are historic. My sense is that events now unfolding in Lebanon are not routine. Forces that have been in place for years, the balance of power called by one source "Pax Syriana" because of Syria's powerful influence in the region, are beginning to shift. The political equivalent of a tsunami seems to be about to happen.

This most recent car-bombing of a Lebanese leader has galvanized popular opposition to Syrian overseers in a way that has not happened before. It is possible that Syrian power can again succeed in subduing yet another attempt to disturb Syrian hegemony. But this time, finally, there seems to be something of a critical mass that has not been seen before.

Bloggers who live in the area are reporting.
Here are snips from one blog that read like a movie script.

Monday post:
As many people know by now, the opposition to the government here has planned a general strike for Monday, Feb. 27 to coincide with the parliamentary deliberations on the Hariri assassination and the expected confidence vote. There is also a planned surge in the ongoing demonstrations at Martyrs' Square in downtown Beirut (see previous posts) on the same day, and Lebanon's security services have been busying themselves since yesterday afternoon erecting barricades, diverting traffic, closing area business (including pubs and restaurants in the downtown area), and basically making their presence felt quite effectively.

New TV (and others) echo the report that all demonstrations and protests are banned until further notice, and a curfew will be in effect starting Monday morning. I am not sure when exactly this curfew will begin, or even which parts of the city are affected - this is often the case with such announcements here. Maybe the Interior Ministry's announcement was originally explicit and clear and the television stations just messed up their version of the announcement; getting accurate information about anything around here often requires the ability to read minds as well as to disregard the reams of inaccurate information that many people are so eager to provide. Regardless, nobody seems to care right now; my wife and I just came from Monot Street (most of the restaurants and clubs are open, but they are empty - best time to get a late dinner, by the way) in lower Achrafieh. Instead, everyone seems to have made the last half-kilometer walk from Monot down to Hariri's gravesite, for there are thousands of people there right now.

I have no idea how they authorities here are planning on enforcing a curfew in THIS town anyway.

Agence France Presse seems to have better information than Lebanese television - the protest ban goes into effect at 1:00 a.m. local time. Also, it appears that as I write this, interior ministry troops have begun exercising crowd control measures to disperse the protesters in the area. And right in the middle of a speech by Nayla Mouawad, too. Their efforts seem to be having little effect on the core group of protesters, only on new arrivals, it seems.

And this morning...
Future TV reports that Walid Jumblatt is now with the protesters in the downtown area (haven't seen him yet on TV, but all his deputies are there at the time I write this). Also, far from the intentions of the security services surrounding the protest site, Lebanese soldiers appear to be yielding to protesters that manage to evade the primary dragnets around the area - just letting them through in some cases, and in others waiting for a crowd to develop before letting them join the core group. Right now, it looks like additional protesters are having a fairly easy time getting in to the demonstrations as long as they come on foot and just keep walking until they find a weak spot in the cordon. One commentator on Future even noted that soldiers themselves are directing protesters to the aforementioned weak points. We can infer that there exists substantial sympathy for the opposition within the Lebanese army at this point. Prime Minister Karami is watching his comments about the weakness of the army develop a life of their own, I guess; he should not be at all surprised.

In the October 2000 demonstrations in Yugoslavia that deposed Slobodan Milosevic, it was precisely this kind of sympathy for the opposition within the security services that ended the Milosevic government. Milosevic had become too reliant on his interior ministry police and on rural thugs who were on his payroll to intimidate his opponents, and he paid for it when a real opposition to his regime developed. Ultimately, the checkpoints of his own police were coopted with money; demonstrations grew in numbers and in strength; security cordons collapsed; the parliament was breached. Within days Yugoslavia had a new president, and within weeks Milosevic had been arrested by his own interior ministry police.

As I said in a previous post, following Lebanese politics is not only dry, but complicated.
This is different. The streets is where the political rubber hits the road.
For anybody who is interested, two or three bloggers seem to be doing an excellent job of reporting. If any of them has any hidden agenda, I have not been able to find it so far.

Abu Aardvark............Across the Bay............Caveman in Beirut

This is exciting and important stuff.
Those who fail to make room on their plate for some of this will later wish they had.

* * * * *
...the political elite of the opposition, the Maronite Church, and the masses -- are saying on the streets. They want a free, independent and sovereign Lebanon. Jumblat has been talking like the most ardent Lebanonist of the '40s. The idea of a consociational Lebanon ... is what people are effectively saying when they come together for Lebanon, as Lebanese Druze, Maronite, Sunni, Shiite, etc. In other words, the thing that unites them in their diversity is Lebanon. But not any Lebanon, rather, it's a Lebanon where all these communities coexist and share power. You cannot get any more Lebanonist than that.
...Lebanese Muslims got a taste of the Arab order for a quarter of a century, where they paid a high price in assassination and heavy-handedness. Finally, it was enough. Syria tried to hit the Druze (Hamade) and the Sunnis (Hariri) and both have dumped that quintessentially Arab nationalist political order and opted for a free, pluralist (i.e., one that doesn't deny the Sunnis' Arab identity) and sovereign Lebanon with its political system which is based on consensus and compromise, not assassination and oppression. So it was indeed that "shared enemy" so-to-speak that managed to spark the conviction that the best way for Lebanon (and Lebanese Sunni Muslims and the Lebanese Druze) is for it to be separate from Syria and to run its affairs in its own way (in anthropological terms, this is called the "circumstantialist" understanding of the formation and formulation of ethnic identity and the drawing of ethnic boundaries. It's responsive and interactive. It's opposed to the "primordialist" view which sees ethnic identity as a pre-established static constant.) It wasn't the civil war alone that gave rise to a nation (cf. Theodor Hanf). It was life under the Pax Syriana that made all the Lebanese realize that they can do a lot better dealing with themselves by themselves in a Lebanon big enough for all of them and shared by all of them as their homeland. Josh Landis once wrote on his site how the Lebanese Sunnis were stuck: on the one hand, they have sympathies for an Arab identity, and most adopt it. On the other hand, as Lebanese, they also have a sense of uniqueness. However, as Josh pointed out, they don't have an independent Lebanese narrative of their own! The Lebanese narrative is de facto a Christian-written narrative. Ironically, as Asher Kaufman points out in his book, this narrative (even the Phoenicianist element) has become so pervasive that even those who oppose it are influenced by it. But more importantly, maybe these current events, which have drawn Jumblat into an effectively Lebanonist rhetoric, will inspire that Sunni narrative. That needs to be watched closely. The Syrians knew the importance of the Sunnis when they planned the hit. Unfortunately, they didn't plan on this reaction. They certainly didn't plan on the "lebanonization" of the Sunnis.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Lessons and reflections from The Anchoress

Okay then. (Thanks SKB)
This is why I link here.
Two good hits in one day.

First, regarding children (also mentioned in the post I just published), quotes from Tim Russert and James Lileks.

Russert: "Who are our children? How do we get into their hearts and minds," Russert asked, "to get them to see the value of our values?" In dealing with his own son, Luke, Russert added that he tells him, "You are always, always loved, but you are never entitled."

Comment: I wonder if Russert knows just what a huge statement he has made - one that may well be in conflict with his own ideology - because it is profound on many levels, emotionally, spiritually, materially - even politically.

Lileks: This morning she [speaking about his little girl] was painting, and what had been a portrait of her and her friend turned into a self-portrait, with the friend morphed into a house. And then she said something that's stayed with me all day: "All of my mistakes are giving me ideas." You can turn that one around in your head all day long. All your life, for that matter.

Comment: Indeed.

Also, just above this post, another fine blogservation about the Pope, euthanasia and God's will.
Go, go read.

Try not to kill anyone...

I'm blogging this paragraph because I like it and might want to refer to it sometime in the future. It's well-known. I have come across it before.
This is from a book review found in American Digest.

So you want to understand an aircraft carrier? Well, just imagine that it's a busy day, and you shrink San Francisco Airport to only one short runway and one ramp and gate. Make planes take off and land at the same time, at half the present time interval, rock the runway from side to side, and require that everyone who leaves in the morning returns that same day. Then turn the radar off to avoid detection, impose strict controls on radio, fuel the aircraft in place with their engines running, put an enemy in the air, and scatter live bombs and rockets around. Now wet the whole thing down with salt water and oil, and man it with 20-year-olds, half of whom have never seen an airplane close up. Oh, and by the way, try not to kill anyone.

At the time of the first Gulf War the Today Show did a couple of on-site remotes from an aircraft carrier. One of the statistics mentioned was that the average age of the crew was something like nineteen or twenty. These are our children. We are critical when our enemies send their children to do us harm, but that is the way that wars are fought.

You go, guy!

In post 9/11 America, asking 'Why?' when someone from an airline asks for identification can start some interesting arguments. Gilmore, who learned to argue on the debate team in his hometown of Bradford, McKean County, has started an argument that, should it reach its intended target, the U.S. Supreme Court, would turn the rules of national security on end, reach deep into the tug-of-war between private rights and public safety, and play havoc with the Department of Homeland Security.

At the heart of Gilmore's stubbornness is the worry about the thin line between safety and tyranny.

"Are they just basically saying we just can't travel without identity papers? If that's true, then I'd rather see us go through a real debate that says we want to introduce required identity papers in our society rather than trying to legislate it through the back door through regulations that say there's not any other way to get around," Gilmore said. "Basically what they want is a show of obedience."

John Gilmore is, by this writer's account, the consumate geek.
Thanks to having been at the right place a the right time, plus the over-orderly mind of a computer programmer, this man is not only rich (thirty million?) and willing to stand on a principle.

When techies burn out, they tend not to do strange things. They are, by nature, already a few degrees off plumb. So they revert to the ordinary. Gilmore burned out in the late '70s. He got on a motorcycle and rode west.

"He just packed up his stuff and moved off," Pat Woodruff said. "I don't know where he went at this time."

He went to New Mexico. Gilmore worked for a while in the lowest of mechanical technologies: a traveling carnival. He ran the Tilt-A-Whirl.

"You have to watch the thing closely and know when someone's going to lose it, so you move back," he said.

Fun read in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about an interesting, if sotto voce, man of our time.
Link from Boing-Boing who got it from elsewhere, etc...

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Kidney stones in Mosul

Najma's dad is a physician. He also started a blog. Here he talks about his medical history of kidney stones. Anyone who has ever experienced the joy of a kidney stone can relate.
This is not about politics. It's about being a doctor and still having to live with the limitations of modern medicine. In a way, this story is about all kinds of endurance, not just having to tolerate the pain of a clinical problem.

Two years later, I still in the military service but this time in the north front, I started to complain of more severe loin pain and occasional renal colic, I was the only doctor in that unit, we have no any facilities as X ray, or lab. exam. But we have almost all type of medicine we need. when I discharged from the military service at the mid of 1984, I started to check my self. The result was surprising to me, there was a large stone in my right kidney filling all the renal pelvis. I consult the best urology surgeon in Mosul, he decided surgery with possibility of kidney removal if there is a noticeable damage to the kidney. During the operation he decided to preserve the kidney as he found it still in a healthy condition.

The stone was very big and friable it fragmented in his hands during removal, although he made washing to the area but many fragments are left in place, to become multiple new stones afterward. That mean I started with single big stone, and ended with multiple small stones.

I tried to take some medication to dissolve the stones, both pharmaceutical and traditional drugs that prepared from herbs. The result I get; I ended with three stones in the renal pelvis, there sizes are 8-10 mm. in diameter. These stones continue to enlarged and cause more pain.

The decision come again from the urology surgeon, operation.
In 1986 I had the second operation to remove the renal stones. This time the stones were solid and non friable, but, this happen only to me, the surgeon remove two stones and lost the third. He couldn't found it. At that time, the facilities in the hospital was too poor, they didn't have portable x-ray machine or an ultra sound devise. So the close the wound when they give up and can't found the stone.
That mean I ended with one large stone in my kidney after two major operations.

Another Iraqi blog, Life in Baghdad, is kept by another family member, an uncle.
Last week he posted a string of quotations from famous people, with his response to each.
The list was lengthy and diverse. From the variety and range of ideas makes me think it was from a personal journal or scrapbook rather than some canned source.

"If you hit bottom, there is no way but up" Arabic proverb

- We Iraqis, and for the past 35 years, we’ve always thought that we had hit the bottom, but amazingly enough, it always turns out that what we had hit was not yet the real bottom. This situation still holds.... Please define ‘bottom’ we do need to know where we stand.

Lebanese politics

How dry can you get?
Politics is pretty dry as a topic. Most people have no interest in their own politics, much less politics from the other side of the world. (Oddly enough, everyone rises to the occasion when election time rolls around, and you would think that the streets were swarming with experts. All you have to do to dispell that idea is just listen to the ignorance that spews forth until the flash catches the popular attention. But I digress...)

The Head Heeb is doing due diligence to learn about Lebanese politics.
All we learn from the news is that a bunch of kids are engaged in some kind of "Chechnya-style protest" against Syrian influence. Knowlege of the region is about as complete for most Americans as the geography of Antarctica, but since there is a war on just across the fence, and since Israel is just across the fence, there is no sense of embarrassment about commenting, either dismissing events there as unimportant or reducing them to an idea about the size of an aspirin. Sorry 'bout that, but the place is about as complicated as it gets from a political point of view.

And here it is again, that word "consociational."

The central aspect of the Lebanese political system (other than Syrian influence, which will be discussed later) is a consociational distribution of power among religious groups that dates from the French Mandatory period. The Lebanese system has a party-political as well as a confessional axis, and party allegiances sometimes cut across religious lines - two of the Hizbullah delegates in the current National Assembly are Christian - but as Hassan Khrayem points out, the party axis is very much the weaker of the two. Less than a third of the parliament elected in 2000 formally belongs to a political party, and while some of the independent MPs are allied with organized factions, many others belong to one-person or family-based groupings. In the absence of a strong party system, the sectarian divisions are the bases of power - which, in a self-fulfilling process, has encouraged the formation of parties with strong sectarian and weak ideological foundations.

The religious divisions are also the ones that have caused wars. At independence, the National Pact of 1943 apportioned parliamentary seats and government portfolios at a 6 to 5 ratio between Christians and Muslims, which reflected the country's demographic balance under the census of 1932. During the succeeding generation, however, this arrangement became steadily less equitable as the Muslim population began to outnumber the Christians. The parties' failure to agree on a reapportionment was one of the driving forces behind the outbreak of the civil war in 1975 (map here), which lasted more than a decade, devastated the country and resulted in intervention by Syria and Israel. In 1989, the civil war was brought to an end under Syrian sponsorship by the National Reconciliation Accord, commonly known as the Taif Accord, which provided for an even distribution of seats between Christians and Muslims, divided the three top political positions among Maronites, Sunnis and Shi'ites, and cast Syria as the guarantor of the Lebanese political system. The first postwar election in 1992 was held under the Taif system, as have the subsequent elections of 1996 and 2000.

The Lebanese consociational system, both under Taif and before, isn't a simple Muslim-Christian division; instead, both the Christian and Muslim allotments are subdivided among individual sects. The 64 Muslim seats, for instance, are divided into 27 each for Shi'ites and Sunnis, eight for the Druze population and two for the Alawites. Of the 64 Christian seats, 34 are reserved for Maronites, 14 for the Greek Orthodox community, eight for Greek Catholics, six for Armenians, one for Protestants and one for everyone else. (The Armenian seats are distributed five for the Orthodox and one for the Catholic.)

Got that?
That's only the beginning, from Part I of a series in progress.
Unlike most places, the comments thread is also civil and instructive. And unlike most bloggers, Jonathan Edelstein takes time to interact and respond to comments, much like speakers do in a question-and-answer period after a talk.

Part II is up today. I plan to follow along and learn something. At least if I say something about Lebanon - and you can be sure that in the days to come there will be good many words written and spoken about Lebanon - I won't have to be too embarrassed if I say something that strikes an informed listener as ignorant.


From the comments thread of Part Two, a discussion of various options for a "reformed consociational system." Jonathan is making an inquiry of one "Tony," whose comments carry some credibility.

What do you think a reformed consociational system would look like? I can think of several possibilities:

1. Redesign Taif: continue the sectarian apportionment system in parliament, but with some reforms (larger or nationwide electoral districts, proportional representation, periodic reapportionment with failsafes, rotation of top jobs, etc.) This could become easier if cross-sectarian alliances become the norm.

2. Reinvent Malaysia: have political competition take place between umbrella coalitions of parties (representing the "right" and "left" or other applicable cleavage) with each coalition apportioning seats along consociational lines. What you say above about political gatherings could potentially be the nucleus of a Malaysia-type system.

3. Reinvent Belgium: have one-man-one-vote at the national level but devolve power simultaneously to the regions (where local ethnic/confessional majorities can have influence) and to cross-regional authorities representing the various confessional communities. I'm not sure if there's a constituency for any kind of federalism in Lebanon, but if a federal system does come on the table, the Ottoman millet legacy might make Belgian dual federalism plausible. (Belgian constitution here).

4. Reinvent the United States: have a bicameral legislature with a non-consociational lower house and a consociational upper house. I'm not sure if there's a constituency for this either; it would work best in conjunction with decentralization, but it might also work without.

5. Reinvent Fiji: have a unicameral parliament with a certain number of consociational seats, a certain number of "open" seats and a constitutionally mandated distribution of cabinet posts. This might actually come under the "redesign Taif" category, although it would be a major redesign.

Combinations of one or another might also happen. Anything else?

Friday, February 25, 2005

Bloggers as newspaper readers

I have been thinking about this post ever since Pejman mentioned it yesterday.

I have a very simple suggestion for mainstream media types who feel in any way threatened by bloggers: whenever you hear the word “blogger,” think: “reader.”

After all, bloggers who aren’t discussing your newspaper are irrelevant to you. And bloggers who are discussing your newspaper are simply part of your readership.
In other words, they’re your customers. And, while the customer may not always be right, the customer deserves to have his complaints heard.

The main difference between your readers who are bloggers and your other readers is that your blogging readers have a voice – one that you can’t entirely control. On an individual level, each voice is ridiculously small; for 99% of bloggers (including me), it can’t even arguably begin to compare to the power of the newspaper’s voice. Still, it’s more than we had before.

While the voices of the bloggers may tend to be more critical, they are also more engaged. For them, reading the newspaper and thinking about news are important pursuits. These are the people you should be listening to.

Once you realize that bloggers are your readers, it may help you be less dismissive of bloggers’ opinions.

After dealing with many thousands fo the public for my whole working life I have learned that when you can satisfy the most demanding and critical people, you can catch them all. People who are a thorn in your side are the ones who make you raise the bar for your own performance. The customer who complains about something is letting you in on something you may not have known. If you had known it, presumably it would not have been a problem because it would have been corrected.
And if the customer thinks it is a problem and you don't, you have a bigger problem than you think. And it ain't with the customer.

Audio discoveries...NPR, Podcast...

This story was on All Things Considered this evening and is too good to miss.
As Israel withdraws from Gaza she leaves behind a curious trace of the past, special car tags that indicate "stolen cars"!
Apparently car thieves in Israel were able to fence their stolen cars in Gaza during the 1990's when the Palastinian Authority took control. The owners had been reimbursed by insurance, so the cars were in service, but identified by special plates.
Now with matters being shifted, the companies are bringing lawsuits to recover their money. The decision has been made by the authorities to charge higher fees for the stolen cars in order to recover the loss.
This is a really wierd story.
Takes about four minutes.

When I linked to Lileks' podcast Wednesday I took off on what I thought was a fantasy...that someone might skip blogging altogether by using a microphone to simply read from the screen while surfing, thereby skipping all the keyboard trouble of editing, spell checking, and all that.
A comment was left.

Imagine no longer. Subscribe to the Rip & Read Blogger Podcast. I've done over 70 shows of just what you are talking about. I also include some C-SPAN, NPR, and other sources. I do it from a script, though.

This guy is another podcaster, lifting his material from the internet.
He has a good voice and clearly devotes a lot of energy into what he does.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Too little, too late

Okay. It's about events in the Darfur region of Sudan.
This is going to sound cynical. I made passing reference to Darfur last September.
What is happening in Iraq is a tragedy of almost biblical proportions, although it is not much worse than the tragedies in Sudan (tens of thousands dying), North Korea (cannibalism reports because of food shortages) and other parts of the world that never make the evening news.

But that was during an election campaign. It was an aside remark in a post focused on an entirely different matter.

That seems to be the way things are done. Popular discussions are unable to bite off and chew more than one or two big issues at a time. It's hard to tell if the media is responding to a natural inclination for masses of people to remain blind to more than a couple of issues at a time, or if that blindness results from a cause and effect response of the masses to market economic forces driving most media reporting.
[Caution: That last sentence has a complex thought. Readers tending to the dull side are advised to read it again because it has the seeds of an enresolved but very important debate.]

Moving ahead...the election was followed by a post-mortem followed by the holidays. Everyone "knew" that the next big story was going to be elections in Iraq - whether, when and how - so it would have been a waste of valuable air time and column inches to take a serious look elsewhere. Besides, we have to allow for unscheduled events like a tsunami, or the death of Johnny Carson, or the next important development in some high-profile court battle by this or that celebrity. Don't want to spend so much for bread that we forget about the circus.

So finally, finally, finally...
Someone important at one of the flagships of media (NYT, registration required) "notices" that something important is going on in Africa. Never mind that it has been going on for a year or so. The magnitude of human misery seems finally to have reached critical mass. I suspect that, as in the case of Abu Ghraib, it is the pictures that have made the difference.

This African Union archive is classified, but it was shared with me by someone who believes that Americans will be stirred if they can see the consequences of their complacency.

As I said, this is going to sound cynical, and so it is.
Too many people are, quite literally (great word, literally - notice the root similarity with...) illiterate.
When all else fails, a picture is worth, as the saying goes, a thousand words. At last an archive of photos is beginning to surface. (We have to believe, don't we, that in an age of disposable cameras, cell phones with cameras and internet images, that no one has yet succeded in taking pictures in Sudan. ) Is it fair to ask if revenue streams that flow from controlled access to photo images, whether they be copyright considerations or some other, less respectable under the table arrangements, have anything to do with what seems about to happen?
Don't know. Just asking...

Nevertheless the Times ends on a compelling end note:

I'm sorry for inflicting these horrific photos on you. But the real obscenity isn't in printing pictures of dead babies - it's in our passivity, which allows these people to be slaughtered.

During past genocides against Armenians, Jews and Cambodians, it was possible to claim that we didn't fully know what was going on. This time, President Bush, Congress and the European Parliament have already declared genocide to be under way. And we have photos.

This time, we have no excuse.

Here are two links listed in the Times editorial. To it's credit, both are hypertexted in the on-line edition. Thus far, according to the paper, response has been "pathetic." Their word, not mine. and

Memeorandum lists other places commenting on this issue.

I'm sure that now, finally, finally, more will follow.
This morning I don't feel so much on the margins, even if the matter seems to have escaped instattention.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

This I don't like. At all.

Arguing and polarization is one thing. I like debate and discussion as well as anyone. It is the very nutrient source of the democratic process.
Lumping great piles of people, sources, organizations and movements into a database and labeling them "The Enemy" is something else again.

When Deborah White linked to Discover the Network I made note of it to check it out later. Last night I took a look, and WOW! I haven't run into such a coordinated effort at stuffing a cannon with ideological grapeshot since walking into an American Opinion bookstore in Florida one afternoon and picking up a harmless-looking magazine, leafing through to see what it was about. I found one of the ugliest defamatory descriptions of Eleanor Roosevelt by Westbrook Pegler imaginable. Until that moment, I was naive enough to believe that no one would be that nasty in any magazine or column that might be printed and sold. What a wake-up call that was.

Talk about innocence lost. That was a formative moment in my life. Now, years later, I remember it as though it was last week. By then the era of Joseph McCarthy was becoming a dim memory, but the fires of the same cause were still being kept alive by HUAC, the House Committee on Unamerican Activities. It was no longer fashionable for politicians to browbeat high profile people, soil their reputations with unfounded accusations and questions about their patriotism, and compile blacklists. But there were many people who couldn't tell the difference between an extremist from the KKK and a local favorite son who may have been running for office. It was the time that Barry Goldwater pronounced, "Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice. Moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue."

I don't know if I was more angry or frightened by events unfolding around me. But it makes no difference. All I can say now is that in retrospect I was witnessing the indications that an era of serious debate and conflict was beginning. What followed was not pretty.

Matthew Iglesias has an inciteful post this morning.

Turns out Jimmy C.'s not the only one "on the other side." The good people at Powerline actually think that "The whole mainstream of the [Democratic] party is engaged in an effort that is a betrayal of America." That there would be a very serious problem for our nation's security, and I take it the call to start up a new Gulag won't be far away. Is even Norm Minetta in on the plot? For that matter, the overwhelming majority of federal employees are, by this standard, on the other side. A somewhat paradoxical situation, to be sure, but just another day in the life of the increasingly-deranged hawkosphere.

Last week he took a swipe at Power Line for what looked to be a careless line that could have been nothing more than an editorial oversight. I blogged it at the time and didn't think too much more about it until now. This morning's follow-up, together with the link to Discover the Network do not strike me as coincidence.

I don't know how many people are aware of this site, but I find it as scary as anything from the days of my youth when the nation was coming unglued, it seemed, at every seam. I mentioned Zbgniew Brzezinski in my other post. I ordered one of his books after learning about him from Future Shock, that now-forgotten very important book of the sixties. Here are words of Brzezinski, published in 1970:

There is something awesome and baffling about a society that can simultaneously change man's relationship to the universe by placing a man on the moon, wage and finance a thirty-billion dollar-per-annum foreign war despised by a significant portion of its people, maintain the most powerful and far-flung military forces in history, and confront in the streets and abet in the courts a revolution in its internal racial relations, doing all this in the context of the explosion of higher learning and its rapidly-expanding and turbulent universities, of rotting urban centers, of fumbling political institutions, and of dynamically growing frontier industries that are transforming the way its citizens live and communicate with one another. Any one of the above aspects would suffice to transform values and self-image of a society, and a few might be enough to overthrow the system. All together, they create a situation that defies analogy to other societies and highlights the singular character of the contemporary American experience. (Between Two Ages, America's Role in the Tecnetronic Era, p. 195)

This description of the sixties is as accurate and comprehensive as I have seen. The writer is trying to make observations that are not loaded with value judgements. If anything, he stands in awe (he says so) of a scene that looks like something from a novel, but was, in fact, a description of the way things were. He is correct that any one of the aspects of social change he described could have a transformative effect on the future. The system was not overthrown, but those events cast a very long shadow.

The fabric of the time was woven of extreme positions. I am old enough to know that extreme positions may sometimes be needed to hold things together. But I am also old enough to realize that extreme positions can result in a lot of what we euphemistically call "collateral damage." Just last night I was listening (helplessly) as a black speaker carefully and correctly listed a devastating list of social and cultural challenges facing the black community, which he called "the village." It was surely someone of importance, but I don't know. I turned off the radio and came on in to the house, because like so many segments of today's society our black neighbors have circled the wagons, for better or worse, having long ago stopped listening to anything that I or any other concerned white people might have to say. (In fact, black leaders themselves are challenged to say anything that will make a difference. Witness the unwelcome response to what Bill Cosby is saying.) This is only one dimension of the larger problems caused by polarization, but one which anyone, black or white, should be able to understand.

This is yet another too-long post, and probably only a couple of people other than I will bother to read it. But I had to get it off my chest. In the same way that the specter of the Great Depression transformed the way that our parents' generations understood life, that the specter of Terrorism is now overshadowing every thing that is happing now, both at home and elsewhere, so too did the extremism of the Sixties make a lot of us wary of broad brushes that cannot paint small details.

This website that Deborah White found is one of the most despicable places I have ever seen, not because it is not well-done, but because at a time when most of the population thinks and acts in soundbites, ideas that do not extend to a paragraph, much less a chapter (and forget about reading an entire book), a little knowledge does, in fact, become a very dangerous thing.

Lileks' podcasting

Talked about it before, and here it comes, a little at a time...
Just as blogging makes everyone a journalist, podcasting makes everyone a broadcaster. In this sixteen-minute romp James Lileks, one of my favorite writers, launches his first podcast.

Audioblogging, The First Attempt. Something I banged together just to DO IT, instead of endlessly worrying how it could be perfect. It's a sixteen-minute segment on the various introductions of the old 'Suspense' radio show.

I can envision a future podcast by a blogger, wearing a headset microphone, sitting down at the keyboard for his morninng surf, and simply reading from the monitor and commenting as he reads along...Imagine how much more content could be covered in a short time if one didn't have to take valuable time to stop what you're doing and put together a post, running a spell check, viewing and reviewing the result, publishing, double-checking the links, yada-yada-yada...

The downside, of course, is that in order for someone else to share what you have done, THEY have to invest the time it takes to listen. Ain't no scanning and glancing to a podcast.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Speaking up for Iranian bloggers

The blogworld is alive today with references to two Iranian bloggers who are in trouble with authorities in Iran. They are not in trouble because they have actually done anything wrong. They are in trouble because the authorities do not like what they wrote on their websites.
There is a distinction between political prisoners and ordinary criminals. Criminals represent some kind of threat because of behavior. Political prisoners are a threat because of their ideas.

In the end, ideas are really more threatening than behavior. If there is any dynamic to human behavior, criminal or praiseworthy, it starts with ideas. In efforts to limit the flow if ideas in Iran, the authorities are admitting that they have run out of ideas that can compete in a contest in which freedom of thought and inquiry is the prize. For them, it is the political equivalent of running out of bullets.

The notion that you and I can agree to disagree is a novelty for many people. So powerful is the urge to control others that there are those who would rather kill or die than embrace that simple concept. Let us pray, first for the minds, then for the hearts, of those who are so in bondage to their ideas that they would rather die or kill than allow others to disagree.

LINK ........ LINK ........ LINK ........ LINK

Wagging The Long Tail

The Long Tail has been mentioned before.

Here it is again, in this link...

About provides the Times a platform to explore microcontent without having to - necessarily - extend the Times' brand to everything. And as I've told anyone who will listen to me, I think microcontent is key to winning in the Web 2.0 publishing world.
When publishing folks from mainstream newspapers tell me that blogging is far too small to possibly impact their businesses, I often ask this question: Would you rather have scores of microsites with a combined revenue of $15 million, profits of $3-5 million, and a double digit growth rate, or a newspaper group with revenues of $50 million, profits of $5 million, but declining growth?

The Times actually has a profitable and growing newspaper group, and it's much bigger than an average publisher, but my point is this: the opportunity in publishing is clearly moving down the tail, and if you want to win, you need to play down the tail as well. allows the Times to do just that. About is based on Six Apart's MT, for one, so if they want to extend the Times own brand into blogging, they're already halfway there.

I just love that term "microcontent." Also "microsites." Does my ego good!
Lots of meaning in little punches.
Jeff Jarvis is on top of all this with this and another good link.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Contrarian comment on Hunter Thompson

The next thing I know there's a gun in Hunter's hand and three rounds into the ceiling of the bar. (Did I mention that there were apartments where people were sleeping above the bar?)

Then I think there was a blur of Andre, in suit and tie, coming over the bar with the mallet. Then more blurs and everybody is out on the street dragging a semi-conscious Hunter back down the alley mumbling something about getting his gun back. After that I don't remember much and, frankly, haven't thought all that much about Thompson in the three decades that have intervened.

This morning I think even less of him. Yesterday, it would seem, he left in the same way that he lived -- gun-crazy, thoughtless, self-obsessed and selfish to the last second. A gunshot suicide at home, leaving his wife and son to discover and deal with his ruined corpse and clean up the room. What a man.


That's just the ending. Pretty tough stuff.
You should see the first part and comments.
We report. You decide.


I was entirely out of the loop with Thompson. Never read him, and reading about him has done nothing to cause me to start. It seems a lot of people have elevated him to an echo of sainthood in the same way that Sartre exhalted the gifts of Jean Genet, a card-carrying morally retrograde imitation of life if ever one existed. I am also reminded of Lenny Bruce, another popular name who seemed to take pride in being intentionally nasty.

Emily, posting at It Comes in Pints, doesn't hold back...

You didn't just kill yourself - YOU SHOT YOURSELF. IN. YOUR. OWN. HOME.
This means that the person most likely to find you would be a loved one. Somebody who cared about you. Somebody who would have listened, taken heart, done ANYTHING THEY COULD in their power to stop you at that moment if you'd only given them a second's regard in the last moments of your life that you held in selfish, pathetic self-absorbtion.

That's the mild part.
At that point she's just warming up.
A blog that normally has about two or three posts on a screen used three screens to ventilate her screed. There is a lot of profanity. I'm not one to admire profanity, but when you think of the insanity of human behavior in war, the grotesque distortion of principle causing otherwise decent people to admire rather than regret the necessary pain and suffering caused by their warriors, profanity pales in contrast as morally offensive.
In this case, considering the badly misguided admiration of a writer's talents compared with his mean and selfish final act, rage and profanity seem oddly appropriate.

Inching toward one another...

Several times during the last week or two I have come across unrelated sources that cautiously broach the subject that Christians who may not have the same political orientation may not be counterfeit after all. This is a hopeful trend and I would like to do anything possible to move it forward.

Dave Goodwin notes today...
Since the US election it seems as if the Left is trying to reach out to Christian voters and address the perception that they are hostile to people of faith. We are seeing an increasing number of "progressive Christians" trotted out (Jim Wallis is a classic example), almost as if to say "Look, we don't hate Christians! Here's one to prove it!".
...concluding with...
It will be interesting indeed to follow this, and to see where it leads for progressive Christians. One prays that it will result in a return to the Christian influence on progressive politics that powered such movements as Abolition and Civil Rights, and a blunting of the influence of those in the secular Left who would see Christianity completely removed from the public square.

The title of the post refers to a "LEAF FROM THE ENEMY'S BOOK." All in caps we can't tell if the reference to "enemy" is identifying Satan Himself or a more generic use of the term. I'm hoping for the latter. That bit about "trotting out" Jim Wallis was also a bit too salty for my taste.

Mark (Daniels, I think) at Stones Cry Out posted comments on the Barnabas Project a few days ago...
Although Christians today, particularly Evangelicals and, increasingly, Catholics, are often associated with the Republican party, the truth is that faithful Christians are found at all points on the political spectrum. ...I think that we politically conservative Christians have much to learn from Christians who are left of center. I think it is good for us to be constantly reminded of the oppressed and less fortunate and that it is our duty to help them. I think we ought to expose ourselves more to our brethren who are more left leaning politically.
...but he quickly adds...
I believe the reverse for politically liberal Christians (not, by the way, to be confused with liberal Christians--those who are necessarily orthodox). I think that politically liberal Christians ought to regularly expose themselves to conservative Christian thought.

Again, the taxonomy is precisely defined so as not to step too deeply into political doo-doo.
And again, I am hoping for a good outcome as I water this seed.

I forgot where I found it, but the Moral Politics Test is an interesting variant alternative to the Political Compass.

This test is a morality-based political test. It finds your political position not by asking you what you think about political issues but by defining your Personal Moral System.
Political opinions are shaped by your moral values. Once we map your personal moral system, we can accurately tell you what your stance is on any political issue.

Like the Political Compass, individual opinions and beliefs are plotted on a two-dimensional matrix rather than a one dimensional line. Neither of these wins academic points, but both provide a good starting point for reflection and discussion.

The old one-dimensional categories of 'right' and 'left' , established for the seating arrangement of the French National Assembly of 1789, are overly simplistic for today's complex political landscape....On the standard left-right scale, how do you distinguish leftists like Stalin and Gandhi? It's not sufficient to say that Stalin was simply more left than Gandhi. There are fundamental political differences between them that the old categories on their own can't explain. Similarly, we generally describe social reactionaries as 'right-wingers', yet that leaves left-wing reactionaries like Robert Mugabe and Pol Pot off the hook.

Finally, check this out... state is authorized by God with the legitimacy to "require" that its citizens pick up a rifle and shoot it at whatever target is put in front of them. Men are not, under any circumstance, intended by God to be uncritically obliged to serve the warring objectives of modern empire, however just the war may be. The privilege of conscientious objection must be esteemed above the obligation to murder when Uncle Sam says it's right. Whether or not a Christian is given a special dispensation of grace when he chooses to kill his fellow man while engaged in just military conflict is another matter.

That is from the pen and the sword by Ben Cole, enigmatic blogger self-described in one hundred points, including...

thirty one: I left Baylor after one year because of the "liberals."

thirty two: I will begin my PhD at Baylor this fall.

thirty three: Either I'm liberal, or Baylor wasn't.

Last Sunday his post included...

In case you are not already among the burgeoning conservative intelligensia that reads First Things magazine, then my advice: run, don't walk, to the nearest bookstore and purchase a copy. Readers of First Things (ROFTERS) have become the subcultural soul of illuminated young minds in our generation. First Things groups are popping up around the nation like fever blisters after a high school prom. In fact, Baylor University has just begun a ROFTERS group, organized, in a small part, by your dear friend(s) here at Pen and the Sword.

and later in the same post...

If a group of liberals were meeting regularly to discuss magazines like Sojourners or if, by chance, there existed a group that hadn't read the headlines proclaiming the death of communism more than a decade ago and chose to sit around and read Marxist propaganda--would anybody truly be concerned? Of course not, and I'll tell you why.

Liberal socialism and communist marxism don't really threaten anybody anymore--Cuba notwithstanding. But since the 1950s conservatism has been on the rise, and the "enlightened" holdovers and utopian dreamers of yesteryear who conveniently forget the brutalities of marxism and national socialism still haven't got the point: Your ideas are irrelevant...your doomsday prognostications about "four more years" of social conservatism are silly...your only safe haven is the ivory tower in which you have shielded yourself from the inevitable.

These two last snips don't seem to be from the same source. Remarks about being a conscientious objector made me feel right at home, like something from the Sixties. That kind of talk has been near treasonable since September, 2001, and worse still now with a hot war in progress. But the snarky swipes at a group of moldy Socialists forming a group to discuss Sojourners (not exactly, but that was the inference) could be right from a radio talk show on a slow day. (You can always tell when news is slow. It's time to either beat up on Liberals or rail about public education.)

Go figure.

My own little blogroll has a link to Deborah White (Heart, Soul, etc.) representing a rare breed, progressive evangelicals. No, that is not an oxymoron; go see for yourself.

Like Goodwin (Revenge of Mr. Dumpling) I hope for some kind of left-right entente. I have complained repeatedly about the polarization caused by the abortion debate. I am sure that both sides are frozen in a very unhealthy way by their respective political identities. Lately, I have added my energies to preventing the dismantling of the Social Security System. There are a good many debates that could benefit from some serious Christian attention (not necessarily left or right - which are political terms - but morally compelling arguments uncontaminated by political correctness).

Let the discussions continue...

Market Economics 101

When Austin High School administrators removed candy from campus vending machines last year, the move was hailed as a step toward fighting obesity. What happened next shows how hard it can be for schools to control what students eat on campus.

The candy removal plan, according to students at Austin High, was thwarted by classmates who created an underground candy market, turning the hallways of the high school into Willy-Wonka-meets-Casablanca....

"It's all about supply and demand," said Austin junior Scott Roudebush. "We've got some entrepreneurs around here."


Pejman picked up the link with "Surprise!"

This from the comments thread is great...
turning the hallways of the high school into Willy-Wonka-meets-Casablanca

Rick: Last night we said a great many things. You said I was to do the thinking for both of us. Well, I've done a lot of it since then, and it all adds up to one thing: you're getting on that schoolbus with Victor where you belong.

Ilsa: But, Richard, no, I... I...

Rick: Now, you've got to listen to me! You have any idea what you'd have to look forward to if you stayed here? Nine chances out of ten, we'd both wind up in detention hall. Isn't that true, Louie?

Captain Renault: I'm afraid Principal Strasser would insist.

Ilsa: You're saying this only to make me go.

Rick: I'm saying it because it's true. Inside of us, we both know you belong with Victor. You're part of his work, the thing that keeps him going. If that schoolbus leaves the parking lot and you're not with him, you'll regret it. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.

Ilsa: But what about us?

Rick: We'll always have French class.

(Incidentally, the first comment by M. Simon is serious, however.
Also worth a look.)

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Condi for president in 2008?

Vice President Dick Cheney likely will step down next year due to health reasons and be replaced by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, according to a report by geopolitical expert Jack Wheeler.




Yo, Miss Debi, take a look at this...

Jeff Jarvis and Bill Keller (editor, NYT) exchane emails.
Jarvis posts both billet-douxs this morning so we can see how high-profile people compete to out-casual one another, without giving an inch when engaging in a polite power struggle. (Takes a bit of reading between the lines and drawing unsupported inferences to work that out, but the emails can be read at several levels. Check the comments.)

Snip from Mr. Keller...

While we probably have our differences on the role of the MSM (btw, I personally favor 'elite media,' at least as it pertains to the NYT) I would like to make clear that I consider blogs relevant and important. I do not hold them in disdain, as you imply. I won't risk embarrassing my favorite bloggers by identifying them (except to say that buzzmachine is bookmarked in my office and at home) but I find the best of them to be a source of provocative insights, first-hand witness, original analysis, rollicking argument and occasional revelation. As I'm sure you will agree, you can also find bloggers who are paranoid, propagandistic, unreliable, hate-filled, self-indulgent, self-important and humorless.

Pretty good read.
Nothing surprising, unless you come from the camp that thinks professional journalists don't have a clue. They don't call them pros for nothing. This exchange illustrates that, if nothing else.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Cool Lesson

As I have mentioned before, in an effort to stay connected with kids and pop culture I sometimes take a few lessons in being "cool."
Most of the time they don't take, but I still keep trying. So here, without further ado, is my blog link to Numa Numa, as seen on the Today show, yet another multimedia phenomenon that, unbeknownst to me, has been sweeping the internet.
Thanks to American Digest, I suppose, for raising my consciousness.

Weekend essay reading: The Anchoress

Just in time for coffee and reflection time, another good piece from The Anchoress.
She covers a lot of territory as usual, but the theme is literally about issues of life and death.

I'd rather have ten people in wheelchairs thinking clearly and giving us living examples of the wisdom to be gained, and the heroism to be found, in embracing their limitations, then a hundred gorgeous beings who open their yaps to deliver vapid, empty pronouncements on whatever trendy thought is popular that week.
When my brother was dying, during those long months, occasionally a well-meaning person would ask me if I didn't think it would be better - more "compassionate" - if we couldn't simply give him "a needle or something" that would end his ordeal a few weeks earlier. All I could do was relate as best I could what a terrible loss it would be to all of us if a single moment of our time with S - and his time with us - was hurried away. When one's time has come, one's time has come, of course...but until that time, we wanted S with us, and he wanted to be with us, too, which is why even the doctors and nurses could stood in wonder at his lingering and life-force.

Some disagreed with me. One friend in particular thought there was something heartless in my "arrogant certainty" that S's suffering (and ours) could have any sort of genuine purpose. "Look at what your poor mother is going through!" She said.

I did. Oh, I did. Even now, remembering what this dear, tireless woman endured at her son's deathbed, I cannot stop the tears.

But ask my mother what she would have preferred and she will tell you - having S, in any condition, is so much better than the world without him, a world she's endured for a month, now, with a pain that seems gargantuan compared to any pain she might have felt before.

And after you finish that, go to the main page , then down two posts to get current with the case of Terri Schiavo. Follow the links there to her previous posts.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Miss Debi and The Grey Lady

Deborah White is excited.
She just went to work for which just got bought by the New York Times.

I'm not sure if this means I am very short-termer, or if my journalistic fantasy of working for the Times has divinely materialized.
Whatever happens happens. In the meantime....I work for the New York Times!

Fred Wilson is a savy venture capitalist who has been at the forward edge of internet technology...I almost said "for a long time" but realized it's still pretty new...since it was fresh. I think he is a dot-com survivor, but I don't know. I do know he keeps an interesting blog, and he thinks the Times acquisition of is a good thing.

I had a long brainstorming lunch with two particularly savvy media guys yesterday and we spent a lot of time on this notion of a network where creativity and advertising happens on the edges. That's with its guides model of content creation and its Google-like CPC revenue business model. There are literally hundreds of businesses emerging on the web that look like this and they are very powerful business models because they cost very little to operate.

If you look at the economics of Marketwatch vs, you'll see the benefits of this edge business model. Marketwatch's EBITDA was 10% of its revenues at the time it was purchased.'s EBITDA is 33% of its revenues. That's operating leverage and operating leverage makes growth much easier.

I pointed out to my friends at lunch that if you combine a network like that with a traditional centralized network, you get something even more powerful. The two can feed each other and create even more value.

Congratulations again, Deborah White, on your new new job.
I don't think you need worry about being a short-termer. You have the smarts to keep your new bosses happy. Just bear in mind that outfits like the Times, around for a long time, can still have a lot of old farts who need stroking.

The next big story?

Sebastian Holsclaw links today to this story. Go read, if you have the stomach.

An Iraqi whose corpse was photographed with grinning U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib died under CIA interrogation while in a position condemned by human rights groups as torture - suspended by his wrists, with his hands cuffed behind his back, according to reports reviewed by The Associated Press.

How long? How long?
What will it take to put a stop to torture?
How many people will read this story and dismiss it...
Yet another piece of disinformation by the great liberal conspiracy?


(With a nod to Josh) Yes, this is an example of PASWO blogging, pure and simple. Ever since I came across the acronym I have thought about weaning myself of the habit. It's shallow, emotional and ultimately pointless.
But I have observed that in everyday conversation, particularly among ordinary people (I get to eavesdrop a lot in the food business...the service staff sees and hears more than the potted plants, although they get about the same degree of attention from diners) a lot of interactivity between and among people tends to be devoid of content. Shared righteous indignation may be one of the strongest bonds of human group behavior. Listen to talk radio. Remember parental admonitions about marginal individuals among your your peers when you were young. Better yet, pick a comments thread just about anywhere and try to track where it leads...

But I digress.
My point is aimed at shaping an attitude about torture. Let us assume for the sake of discussion that this report is fiction.
The larger question is this: When, if ever, and to what degree is torture admissable human behavior?
My answer has to be "never."

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Too, too good not to miss!

An indignant Israeli is suing a pet shop that he says sold him a dying parrot, reports the Ma'ariv newspaper. Itzik Simowitz of the southern city of Beersheba contends the shop cheated him because the Galerita-type cockatoo not only failed to utter a word when he got it home, but was also extremely ill. Mr. Simowitz adds that the shop owner assured him the parrot was not ill but merely needed time to adjust to its new environment.LINK

If this doesn't strike a chord, then you need to go read the famous Monty Python sketch.
I had forgotten how screamingly funny it is.
Now it happens!!!
Thanks, Pejman

Stones Cry Out: The Barnabas Project

Although Christians today, particularly Evangelicals and, increasingly, Catholics, are often associated with the Republican party, the truth is that faithful Christians are found at all points on the political spectrum.

I never heard anybody just come right out and say it like that. As a tired old relic of the sixties who never let go, I have had to get used to the word "liberal" as a pejortive adjective or noun, something just this side of demonic.

The Barnabas Project is apparently a bridge-building exercise, hopefully with a view of finding common ground that Christians both left and right might share. Let's hope the project gets off the ground and bears fruit. I'm not too optimistic, since every time I approach a subject such as capital punishment or national health care I can see eyes rolling, teeth gritting and tight smiles trying to appear tolerant of unspeakable ideas.

Yesterday's post by Debi White urges a complete read of John Dear's A Culture of Pharisees. (Debi's blogroll might be a good place to start this project, by the way, since 2 blogs seems to be a modest start, to say the least.)

Most North American Christians are now becoming more and more like these hypocritical Pharisees. We side with the rulers, the bankers, and the corporate millionaires and billionaires. We run the Pentagon, bless the bombing raids, support executions, make nuclear weapons and seek global domination for America as if that was what the nonviolent Jesus wants. And we dismiss anyone who disagrees with us.

We have become a mean, vicious people, what the bible calls "stiff-necked people." And we do it all with the mistaken belief that we have the blessing of God.

John Dear is a Jesuit priest and the author/editor of 20 books including most recently, "The Questions of Jesus" and "Living Peace" both published by Doubleday. He lives in New Mexico where he is working on a campaign to disarm Los Alamos.

This may be too far left to qualify for the Barnabas Project, but if you aim to catch any fish, you gotta get in the water. I love reading Stones Cry Out and have only the deepest respect for who they are and what they stand for, as I do most Conservative sites that I visit. That old commercial that chanted "baseball,hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet" might just as well have had a second verse linking nominal Christians with everything American. It's downright unpatriotic to be irreligious. It follows, then, that if you are not conservative, then you must be heathen.

It is a sad reality that the American Left took root in the same secular soil in which the European Left has grown and flourished. People of faith have fared no better on the political left than "left-leaning people of faith" have fared on the right. We are a red-headed stepchild to both sides, respectable black preachers notwithstanding. White liberals were politely invited out of the movement years ago, thank you. For years we have been without a place to call home. It is a tragedy, since so many of us feel nearer the heart of Jesus than most Conservatives we know.

I feel humbled

Google (Advanced Search) is amazing, but more powerful still is a slowly acquired personal note-base. Since my interests are, to say the least, broad I am more interested in note-taking software than any other kind. As far as Macs go, I've pretty much tried them all. The one that suits me down to the ground is an application called NoteTaker from AquaMinds. I could write thousands of words of praise for this brilliant software but I'll save that for another time. Suffice it to say that, over time, NoteTaker has become my own personal and local Google.

The most valuable part of NoteTaker is its ability to create clipping services. Dozens of times a day when I see something that catches my interest, I'll select it on the screen and send it to NoteTaker in the background. At the end of the day, I'll take a look at it and dispatch various items to one or several other NoteTaker notebooks I've created. Each item will have the title and the URL of the page it was clipped from. Right now I have about 36 "notebooks" with up to 50 different subject pages each. They run from about 100K up to 12 megabytes in size. And they are all indexed -- automatically in the background. I use NoteTaker for everything from notes on financial matters to exceedingly complex novels and non-fiction projects I'm working on. I literally would be lost without it.


My efforts at blogging seem primitive.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Matthew Yglesias: good point

A little while back I did a post which led a commenter (the most excellent Praktike, I believe) to suggest it was time to revisit "The Paranoid Style In American Politics" and with the news that the increasingly influential Power Line blog thinks "Jimmy Carter isn't just misguided or ill-informed. He's on the other side," I think that's clearly right. Jimmy Carter left office as one of the least-loved presidents ever, and you'd still be hard-pressed to find a liberal who'll mount a really full-throated defense of his tenure in office. But on the other side? Not some academic or blogger or activist type, but a veteran of the United States military and a former President of the United States. On the other side. A traitor. These are serious allegations, seriously demented.

I don't think it's at all unreasonable to say that Hindrocket owes Carter a serious apology. Flinging this sort of totally unsubstantiated allegation is disgusting and utterly destructive of any effort to have serious debate about anything. Is Jimmy Carter really in league with the jihadist forces responsible for the murder of thousands of Americas? Is this what Power Line's fans and those who link to them believe? That a jihadist agent managed to get himself elected president? That an ex-president turned traitor?

I can't think of anything to add.
He said it well. Apparently a bunch of trackbacks and some one hundred sixty-plus comments also are mostly in agreement.

(And I'm tired of hearing a lot of latter day moaning and cheap shots about the Carter presidency. I'm biased, of course, because I happen to think that Jimmy Carter's worst mistake was micromanagement. And in his attempt to do the right thing, he angered a lot of people by not being mean enough. I may be the only person who voted for him because he had Zbigniew Brzezinski as an advisor. I knew of Brzezinski from reading Alvin Toffler's Future Shock in 1969.)

Changing the Filibuster Rules

Senate Majority Leader Bill First has the votes needed to change filibuster rules, which would clear the way for easier confirmation of judicial appointments, according to The Washington Times.

Hugh Hewitt agrees with Frist "that the Constitution does not provide 41 Senators the power to block nominees. Thus every time a filibuster is employed against the nominee, damage is done to the Constitution's intent. I think that is a damage worth halting at the first opportunity."

And Hugh argues that the fact that Republicans may need to use the nominee filibuster at a later date is unconvincing because it is "the embrace of extraconstitutional means to reach political objectives."

Yes, but not unconstitutional. We should be careful seeking rule changes that serve immediate political goals but may be dangerous for long term protection of the power of the political minority. I'm not ready to assume that the current domination by the Republican Party will last. The political landscape could easily trend back toward the Democrats, particularly if inroads into the Hispanic community don't continue.

This morning's post by Jim at Stones Cry Out urges caution about changing the rules to limit filibuster.
I agree, but for a different reason. He is concerned that the loyal oppositon would not be all that loyal with a sharper tool at their disposal. My reason is more general.

Today's generation really doesn't know what is meant by the word "filibuster," mainly because no senator or congressman has demonstrated the tactic for a long time. All we have heard is saber rattling threatening a filibuster.

I remember when the filibuster was a living reality. It was used by Southern politicians to fight against the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The longest filibuster in history is Strom Thurmond's stretch of 24 hours and 18 minutes opposing a civil rights bill in 1957.

At the time I was involved with the civil rights movement I thought that a filibuster was an unmitigated evil, a way that a minority of nasty people could stand in the way of progress by opposing the majority. As i grew older, I learned that securing a majority is not the same as selling the result. Anyone who believes otherwise need only to look at today's sharply divided opinions following the last presidential election.

A filibuster does not absolutely stop a bill. It can be overcome by a cloture vote, which is a super-majority. It used to be 67 votes in the Senate, but the rule was changed in 1975 to reduce the required number to 60. The required super-majority is shrinking as the years go by.

Why is a super majority important?
I believe that there are instances where the minority view is so strongly held, so resistant to change, that without that super majority the results will be so lacking in good will that "victory" will be somewhat hollow.

I know from personal experience that even after cloture was invoked in 1964 resentment ran very deep in white circles. It is fair to say that that resentment is alive and well today, although it is no longer popular to express it openly as in the past. A change of behavior was all that was achieved by law. A change of the law does not reach, and cannot reach, into hearts and belief systems. That is a change measured in generations, not sessions of the legislature.

Confirmation of presidential nominees is only symbolic.
At the heart of the debate are deeper questions that the majority wants to avoid.

It seems I am arguing that in some way a super-majority will somehow improve good will but that is by no means the case. If anything, a super-majority tends to make the losing side even more durable, less open to good will no matter how it is expressed. The much vaunted "will of the majority" is invoked, along with an unwillingness to examine, much less honor, any core objections at the heart of the opposition. What happens next has less to do with good will than behavior.
In the case of validating a presidential appointment, the super majority manifests an uncompromising level of political will, insuring that the losing side will become less likely to continue obstructionist tactics. The losers are apt to become more cynical, if less active, instead. ("We'll give them enough rope so they can hang themselves.")

It is a clear political example of push coming to shove. The super majority says to the losers "Get over it." That seems to be the message coming from Washington these days, whether the topic is spending money we don't have, misappropriating the funds we do have, tearing at the fabric of Social Security, waging war, or turning a cold shoulder to a growing mass of uninsured citizens.
I, for one, want there to be no question in the future who to hold responsible for the results of today's policies.
We will have to wait and see if enough people "get over it" to make it work.

I found a broken link to be corrected, so while the file is open something can be added.

Thinking further about the idea of a super-majority, it seems a step toward the coalition concept found in parliamentary systems. Coalitions, of course, are political solutions to NON-majorities whereby a constellation of opponents join hands for the purpose of creating enough votes to get something done...despite other disagreements.

We may be coming to a turn where a simple majority is no longer effective. The two-party system has operated wonderfully well for a long time, mainly by subsuming otherwise opposing views under party "platforms." It is no accident that the term plank is used when describing a party's position. It is an oblique way of saying that not every person in the party buys into the principle, but for the sake of political efficacy all have agreed to that plank for the purpose of this particular election. For that reason political platforms, like bleachers, are forever being torn up and rebuilt as the seasons change. Without this pliability, neither party would have any chance of pursuading voters to abandon the other and vote differently.

There is now a lot of talk about red states and blue states. A careful look at a map of the results of the election will reveal that very few states are pure to either color. What appears upon a closer look is that the red/blue divide more likely follows social and economic interests within every state, with urban areas distinct from rural, high-income counties distinct from low-income, etc. One need not drive as far as another state to find someone else of a differing opinion. Sometimes a walk across the street will be far enough.

Despite a clear mixing of the two opinions all over the place, we allow ourselves and our pundits to fall into the lazy and inaccurate habit of talking the language of red/blue states, rather than being clear about this or that individual idea. It's much easier to call names and paste labels than to embrace the hard work of figuring out how best to deal with issues one at a time.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Stones Cry Out, Drew and Ron Sider

This morning's reading came across Stones Cry Out. Writer Drew talks about last month's review of current trends in an article by Ron Sider. (I caught the same article and blogged about it at the time.) Drew points to an archived 1992 CT article about Sider worth noting.

I have to read more, but at a glance, Sider looks like my kind of man.
There are the links for anyone interested in reading further.