Friday, July 29, 2005

Blog Break

I'm taking a short break from blogging for a few days (unless I chicken out, which is possible).
There is enough material in the next two posts to keep anyone busy for numerous cups of coffee.
Take a break. Go surfing. This is really good.
Then come back again and read some more. There's a lot to cover.
That's what I want to do. If we follow through we will be a lot better informed next week than we are now.

Uh, what is it they say? Discuss.

Looking at Egypt

Those who have the stamina are directed to a lengthy, articulate, inciteful post mortem of the Sharm el-Sheikh bombings by Baheyya, whose blog is one of the best-written I have found, not only in Egypt, but anywhere. She is especially complimentary to reporter Anthony Shadid, providing links.

The big question now is whether the fallout from the Sharm el-Sheikh bombings will dampen the democracy momentum, or at least cramp the opposition’s room for manoeuvre. It’s a serious concern, but I don’t see the latest terrorist attacks giving the regime any new lease on life, or even much sympathy. Instead, everyone I know is talking about the security forces’ basic incompetence, about a disreputable Interior Minister who’s apparently immune from accountability, and about the suppressed grievances of Sinai’s Bedouin. It’s no secret that Egypt’s Interior Ministry has a horrible reputation, one it had the chance to salvage by showing some professionalism in the Sharm investigations. Instead, we got conflicting statements, imprecise and later retracted assignations of culpability to Pakistani nationals, and more concern with ferrying the president about the crime scenes than sealing them off for forensic investigators. People are drawing the inevitable comparisons between British police detaining only a handful of people in the wake of the London bombings while Egypt’s round up dozens. As I listened to the premature babblings of Interior Minister Habib al-Adli and Sinai governor Mustafa Afifi, and heard about the expected scapegoating of Sinai police chiefs, I saw in microcosm the basic problem of a dysfunctional regime. Intent on maintaining its own survival, it has long ceased to live up to the most basic of performance criteria.

In the midst of all this, I was delighted to see the inimitable Anthony Shadid reporting from Cairo again. Talk about professionalism, insight, and grace. Unlike commentators like yours truly who pontificate from the comfort of their armchairs, or those who pass off local scuttlebutt as reportage, Anthony Shadid is a superior model of an intrepid journalist. In his latest piece, he ends in the history-soaked alleys of Darb al-Ahmar (where I spent many a long lost childhood afternoon), “a gritty neighbourhood tangled amid the grandeur of Cairo’s medieval glory.” Who else but Anthony Shadid can pen a sentence like that, and who else can give voice to Cairo (and now Baghdad’s) kind denizens with such respect and honesty?

The Middle East Research and Information Project

(MERIP) was established 32 years ago. The original conception of MERIP was to provide information and analysis on the Middle East that would be picked up by the existing media. Issue number one of MERIP Reports, published in May 1971, was a six-page mimeographed publication with three brief articles. Throughout 1971 and 1972, the Report appeared irregularly, and it was only in 1973 that the group made a commitment to publish it on a regular basis. Since then, MERIP has never looked back and, in the words of French journalist Eric Rouleau, "No person, specializing or not in Middle Eastern affairs, can afford ignoring Middle East Report." Professor Rashid Khalidi, a leading American scholar, says "Middle East Report is the best periodical (in English) on the Middle East -- bar none."

Middle East Report provides news and perspectives about the Middle East not available from mainstream news sources. The magazine has developed a reputation for independent analysis of events and developments in the Middle East.
Middle East Report is published four times a year, and most 48-page issues focus on a specific theme. The magazine serves as a resource for academic specialists but is also accessible to the general public. Many issues include "primers" which provide basic but essential background on a theme or a country. Every year, American university professors order back issues of Middle East Report to assign readings to their students.

The electronic arm of the magazine, Middle East Report Online, provides timely analyses of breaking news stories, distributed via e-mail and archived at MERIP’s website.

Pretty dry stuff, huh?
Sorry about that. Just trying to stay up to speed.
Most sources of hard information tend to be like that. This one I found via the Aardvark. Some snips follow.

This about Egypt...
In Egypt, the most populous Arab country and a long-time US ally, a vibrant and creative democratic movement called Kifaya, or Enough, burst onto the scene in December 2004. The Kifaya activists, who span the political spectrum from Islamists to liberals to socialists, took to the streets to demand that President Husni Mubarak step down. On four occasions, the regime has presented Egyptians with a yes-or-no referendum on continuation of Mubarak's presidency­but never allowed anyone else to run. In January, Mubarak seemed poised to pull the same trick to extend his 24-year rule.

But throughout the winter and spring, the forces of dissent gathered momentum. On February 26, Mubarak appeared to relent, pledging to adjust the Egyptian constitution to provide for a multi-candidate presidential election rather than simply another rubber-stamping. But when it came time to approve the amendment, the Egyptian parliament, which is dominated by Mubarak's ruling party, came up with a set of rules that all but lock in the status quo. Only parties recognized by the government can field a candidate, meaning that the powerful but outlawed Muslim Brotherhood cannot compete, and independent hopefuls are required to collect 300 signatures from members of local councils also controlled by regime loyalists.

One would expect the Bush administration to pounce on this transparent rigging of the system. The Kifaya movement certainly did. On the day of the parliamentary vote, Kifaya demonstrators labeled the measure "theatrics" and the movement's leaders published a statement accusing the ruling party of "aborting people's hopes for freedom and democracy." A week beforehand, Bush had seemed to agree, saying that the Egyptian election should proceed "with rules that allow for a real campaign."

But now the US has backtracked. When the Egyptian prime minister came to Washington, Bush did not publicly dress him down. First Lady Laura Bush even called the democracy-limiting measure "a very wise and bold step" as she visited the Pyramids during her recent Middle East tour. "You know that each step is a small step, that you can't be quick."
And in Yemen...
Since June 2004, government forces and tribal forces paid by the government have waged a sporadic though unexpectedly bloody battle with a group calling itself the Believing Youth based in the province of Saada on the border with Saudi Arabia. The Believing Youth, whose numbers are estimated to be between 1,000 and 3,000, were originally the followers of the Zaydi cleric Hussein al-Huthi, a former Member of Parliament for the Zaydi party Hizb al-Haqq (1993-1997). Zaydism is a form of Shiite Islam that is prevalent in northern Yemen's highlands.

While the government has tried to downplay the conflict -- Salih declared it "practically overcome" in mid-April 2005 -- various media and eyewitness accounts attest that people were still being killed in significant numbers until at least mid-May. Although accurate figures are impossible to obtain, the government claimed in May that the number of soldiers and civilians killed in two rounds of fighting had been 525, with 2,708 wounded. The real figure is likely to be much higher than this, and does not include the number of rebels killed. Amnesty International reports that civilian targets have been attacked by "security forces reportedly [using] heavy weaponry, including helicopter gunships." A large number of houses have been destroyed during the conflict, some intentionally and others as a result of indiscriminate shelling.
There are plenty of details.
Looks to me like you gotta be careful when you start talking about freedom and democracy. First thing you know, kids will start believing you and start speaking their minds. Then they start getting out of hand and authorities who have been managing them from birth are faced with one crisis after another. What's an imam to do?
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The regime charges that the Believing Youth call for the reestablishment of the Zaydi imamate that governed northern Yemen for over 1,000 years (with brief interruptions) until 1962. As a sayyid -- one who claims descent from the Prophet Muhammad through his daughter Fatima and her husband Ali -- al-Huthi would theoretically be eligible to claim the title of imam for himself. According to another charge that has circulated, al-Huthi did in fact proclaim himself imam. The Huthis and their former political party Hizb al-Haqq deny both of these politically explosive accusations.

Revival of the imamate is an idea which is rejected by Yemen's Sunni majority and many Zaydi tribespeople, and which stands in contradiction to the goal of the 1962 revolution to weaken the age-old power of the sayyids over other Zaydis who are not members of the religious elite. As a secular former military officer and a Zaydi tribesman who is not a sayyid, President Salih embodies that goal. In 1990, Zaydi religious leaders, including figures now involved in Yemen's two Zaydi political parties, held a conference in Sanaa, where it was declared that the leader of the state was not required to be a descendant of the Prophet and agreed that "the fair and the strong" should rule Yemen. The declaration was, of course, issued under pressure from Salih.

There is some ambiguity in the Huthis' denials of aspirations to bring the imamate back. Badr al-Din was quoted in the March 9 al-Wasat to the effect that the imamate is the "most preferable" system of government for Yemen if the "true and legitimate" imam is present. "Any just believer" can rule the country, he said, if the imam is not present. When asked whether he considered Salih a legitimate ruler, Badr al-Din declined to answer, telling the interviewer: "Do not put me in a difficult position." It is this broader objection to the regime, rather than talk of the imamate, that resonates with disenchanted Yemenis.
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It isn't easy being in charge...
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Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the Arab world. The World Bank estimates that just over 40 percent of the population live in poverty. This condition was likely exacerbated by the government's July 19 decision, in accordance with an economic "reform" package recommended by the International Monetary Fund in 1995, to remove state subsidies on diesel fuel and fuel products. Overnight, the price of gasoline nearly doubled while the price of diesel rose by nearly 150 percent. Many farms in Yemen pump ground water using diesel that, prior to the subsidy removal, was sold to the public for approximately 50 percent of its international market price. With the production of market crops so directly dependent on irrigation, prices of many basic commodities move up and down with the price of diesel. In the days following the removal of the subsidies, prices of non-fuel products appeared to have increased by around 20 percent. On July 26, Salih slightly reduced the fuel prices in an effort to ameliorate the criticism being leveled at the government in the aftermath of the July 20-21 unrest.

Rumors of even larger price increases ran rampant leading up to the subsidy removal. But the regime undertook no public information campaign to dispel them, perhaps because they did not wish to call attention to diesel prices at all. According to a well-informed ex-parliamentarian from the ruling General People's Congress (GPC), high-ranking regime officials smuggled large quantities of subsidized diesel from Yemen's southern ports to the Horn of Africa, transferring at least 20 to 30 percent of the public money used to pay for the subsidies into their own pockets. Concrete evidence of the extent of smuggling is impossible to obtain, but the rapid increase in Yemen's diesel imports makes a circumstantial case.

Though Yemen has its own small oilfields, 70 percent of the diesel consumed per annum must be brought in from elsewhere. While the amounts of other commodities imported remained fairly constant between 1998 and 2003, imports of "petroleum and petroleum products" (the vast majority of which is diesel) leapt from 6.44 percent of all imports in 1998 to 14.86 percent in 2003. The fact that all other categories of imports (including equipment that uses diesel such as power-generating machinery and transport vehicles) actually decreased slightly in this period, combined with the fact that Yemen has no strategic civil or military diesel reserve, make smuggling the only explanation for the increase, or at least a great deal of it. In any event, much of the Yemeni public is convinced that the regime is smuggling diesel. As Islah member Nasser Arman asked some months before the subsidy was lifted, "When the government admits that the subsidies on the oil derivatives go to the pockets of smugglers, why doesn't it audit even one of them?"
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MERIP, with lots more details offered, finally concludes....
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In the atmosphere of confusion that prevails in Yemen, al-Huthi's implied claim that the government is illegitimate has made his rebellion a symbol of the country's extensive problems and the regime's narrowing support base. While most Yemenis (including the Zaydi community) consider the views of the Believing Youth to be extreme, their ability to recruit and inspire sympathy is a testament to the increasing unpopularity of the government.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Iran's election

The Wall Street Journal apparently feels the need to dismiss Iran's elections.

According to an opinion piece in the Online Wall Street Journal today (subscription required), the Iranian election was a sham: "Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's "elected" president, will officially assume his post next month. The elections, no doubt, were a sham and the controversy about voting irregularities is far from settled. Iran's opposition sources revealed that the national ID cards of about five million dead people were provided to regime supporters, enabling them to vote multiple times at multiple locations.
This is a continuation of a theme that began at the time of the event, that since Iran is an autocratic, Islamic, cleric-dominated system, then the elections must then be nothing more than a charade. There was widespread non-participation on the part of those qualified to vote, therefore they were by their non-participation essentially "voting" with their feet that the election had no legitimacy.

Clearly the election was flawed to the point of corruption. (We know that doesn't happen in our country.) But it does not follow that it is without meaning. I expect this Iran's-sham-election theme to be repeated until anyone who disagrees will be seen as a nut case.

I guess those Iranian writers who took the election seriously got it all wrong. My heavy-duty post at the time (it makes me tired to remember it) linked to a sample of well-informed people who not only took the election seriously, but seemed genuinely interested to figure out what it meant that such a barbarian was able to garner so much support. You may put me down as an early example of the "nut case" crowd.

These are the same "elected" officials in Iran, by the way, who warmly hosted their "elected" Iraqi neighbors a couple of weeks back in a tete-a-tete of old former enemies.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Michael Yon

Michael Yon's latest piece is a spellbinder.

Breaking news! Wining and dining best way to woo women!

Thanks to Art of the Blog with best comment...

And just how much money did they get to study this? Does this mean they get to write off all those "dates" as "research"?
I can hear the line now: "Hey baby, wanna 'do some research'?"

More Muslims against extremism

From the Times of London, Beards and scarves aren't Muslim. They're simply adverts for al-Qaeda. This is what a lot of us have been waiting for, responsible Muslims speaking out in plain language to get their house in order. This writer is clear, specific and reasonable.

But Muslims everywhere need to get to grips with a phenomenon that threatens all Muslim countries and Islamic communities in the West. This requires Muslim opinion-makers to take a number of steps.

The first is to discard the notion that anyone who is not a Muslim is an “infidel” and thus not a proper human being. Next, it is important to reject the belief that, since the goal of converting mankind to Islam is a noble one, any means to do so are justified. Muslims should accept diversity and compete in the global market place of faiths through normal channels, rather than ghazvas (raids) against “infidel” centres.

Since there is no power of excommunication in Islam the terrorists cannot be formally banned from the community. But the community can distance itself from them in accordance with the Islamic principle of al-bara’a (self-exoneration). This means that a Muslim must publicly dissociate himself from acts committed by other Muslims that he regards as sinful.

One way of doing this would be to organise a day of bara’a in all British mosques — and hopefully in mosques throughout the world — to declare that terrorism has no place in Islam.

Muslims could also help by stopping the use of their bodies as advertising space for al-Qaeda. Muslim women should cast aside the so-called hijab, which has nothing to do with Islam and everything to do with tribal wear on the Arabian peninsula. The hijab was reinvented in the 1970s as a symbol of militancy, and is now a visual prop of terrorism. If some women have been hoodwinked into believing that they cannot be Muslims without covering their hair, they could at least use headgears other than black (the colour of al-Qaeda) or white (the colour of the Taleban). Green headgear would be less offensive, if only because green is the colour of the House of Hashem, the family of the Prophet.

Thanks Azra Raza for the link.

MEMRI - The Middle East Media Research Institute

The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) explores the Middle East through the region's media. MEMRI bridges the language gap which exists between the West and the Middle East, providing timely translations of Arabic, Farsi, and Hebrew media, as well as original analysis of political, ideological, intellectual, social, cultural, and religious trends in the Middle East.

Founded in February 1998 to inform the debate over U.S. policy in the Middle East, MEMRI is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit, 501 (c)3 organization. MEMRI's headquarters is located in Washington, DC with branch offices in Berlin, London, and Jerusalem, where MEMRI also maintains its Media Center. MEMRI research is translated to English, German, Hebrew, Italian, French, Spanish, Turkish, and Russian. LINK

From time to time I check out this site trying to get a feel for what is happening. I have to say that they pull no punches. They really are just reporting, without editorial comment, the written and broadcast material being fed to readers and viewers all over the Middle East. Much of the material is deeply disturbing, such as clips from Muslim sermons fanning the flames of hatred and resentment of the US, or praising as heroes those responsible for terrorist acts. But at the same time other pieces that are equally harsh in confronting those views.

This series of clips from a Coptic priest, Zakaria Boutrus, is an example of how that most ancient of Christian sects is confronting their Muslim neighbors. Remember, they have been living close together for a long time. That is not to say they really understand and appreciate one another, any more than adversaries in Northern Ireland or Bosnia or Korea or anyplace else "understand" anything about their designated enemies. It should be noted, however, that this priest is speaking from a safe distance in the United States. My guess is that saying what he does would be suicidal if he lived in Egypt, where the program was broadcast.

In an environment where literacy is limited, especially for women, television and radio messages may be the only information stream available to a large part of the population. It seems to me that despite the extreme nature of the material, especially those parts we find most offensive, the media makes a point to air opposition positions such as these. There could be an ulterior motive to inflame hatred even more. But because the content is specific, the tone of presentation is even, I give producers the benefit of the doubt. The headline reads Coptic TV Show Causes Controversy in Egypt.

The weekly show "Questions About Faith" on the Egyptian based Christian Al-Hayat satellite channel features an Egyptian Coptic priest residing in the United States. Father Zakaria Boutrus, the show, and Al-Hayat TV itself, have come under harsh criticism in the Egyptian press. Boutrus and his show have been accused of attacking Islam; of being supported by the U.S. to sow division and strife; and of "mocking the verses of Allah."

Al-Hayat TV has been accused of being the work of foreign agents collaborating with the U.S., and Pope Shenouda III reportedly announced his opposition to the station's broadcasts, and denied that the station was in any way connected with the Egyptian Church. [1]

One episode which aired on July 4, 2005, discusses anti-Christian verses that, according to Boutrus, should be struck from the Koran. Another episode aired on June 27, 2005, discusses a Hadith, which according to Boutrus, is "reminiscent of Hitler." An episode from June 16, 2005, talks about how Islam is spread by the sword.

Interviewer: "What do you mean by terrorism and oppression?"

Boutrus: "Terrorism – 'Urge the believers to fight,' and the hadith: 'I was commanded to fight people until they say: There is no God but Allah.' All this is terrorism and murder. Number six:Stopping the attack on Jesus and the Holy Book in mosques and in all the media. Number seven: Giving people and Muslims the freedom of... You may ask what do I care about the Muslims? No! They must have the freedom to choose their religion and the freedom to express their belief. Number eight:To abolish the punishment for apostasy, to stop torturing people who convert to Christianity, and to stop imprisoning or even killing them. Number nine:Formal apologies must be made by leaders throughout the Arab world for the murder of Christians in countries invaded by Islam. Number ten: Leaders throughout the Arab world should make formal apologies for the insults directed against our faith throughout Islamic history. The viewers may say: 'Is this priest crazy, or what? These demands could only be made by an insane man... To strike out Koranic verses... Does this make any sense? What is he going on about?' OK, if you cannot change (the Koran), why are you asking us to change our beliefs? Why do you demand that we say what you say, or else - the sword?

"(Al-Halabi) says: ' If the Prophet wanted an available woman...' – in other words, an unmarried woman, a widow, or a single woman – '...he was allowed to enter her...' I don't like to use the word i-n-t-e-r-c-o-u-r-s-e. '...without her guardian and without witnesses...' Without witnesses. '...and against her will.' Against her will. 'If he desired a married woman, her husband had to divorce her for him. And if he desired a servant-girl, her master had to give her to him. He can even marry off the woman to whoever he wants, against her will.'"

Interviewer: "We know that the Prophet is allowed what others are not."

Boutrus: "Why? Is he made of different stuff than the rest of mankind?"

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From another clip....
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"Another thing is the punishment for apostasy. 'The punishment of killing any Muslim who abandons Islam is one of the most important factors terrifying all Muslim. He does not dare question the truth of Islam, so that his thoughts will not lead him to abandon Islam. In such a case, he would receive the punishment for apostasy: He would lose his life, and his property and wives would permitted for all.'

"This reminds me of a true story that I heard about the preachers who spread Islam in Africa. They reached a certain place in order to spread Islam, and they asked one of the locals: 'Do you prefer to worship one god and have four wives, or to worship three gods and have one wife?' We, of course, don't worship three gods, but that's what they said. The African said 'I like four women, and I don't care which god. I want four women.' So they told him to say the shahada, and he did.

"Then they told him he had to be circumcised in order to become a Muslim. He asked: 'Do I really have to? I am a grown man.' They answered: 'Yes, you have to, in order to get the monthly stipend, and you can marry four wives.' The man agreed, and underwent the pains of circumcision despite his advanced age. They began to pay him the monthly stipend, and after a few months they cancelled the stipend. The man went and asked: 'Where's the money?' They told him: 'Now you are deep in Islam, you don't need the monthly stipend any more.' He threatened: 'I will abandon Islam.' They said: 'If you leave Islam, we will carry out the apostasy punishment on you.' He asked what it was, and they said: 'We will chop off your head, and cut you into pieces.' This African man began to mumble: 'What a strange religion: when you go in they cut off a little piece of you, and when you go out, they cut you into little pieces.'

"This is the punishment for apostasy that keeps people afraid. Even when they reach the truth, they're afraid to express their opinion. There are other factors, such as upbringing from a young age. Children are brainwashed that Islam is the truth, that Mohammad is the last prophet, that the Christians are infidels and that the Jews are infidels. They repeat it constantly.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Muslim essay on curbing terrorism

Donald Sensing points to a fascinating essay by Ibrahim Amin atThe Free Muslims Coalition, a nonprofit organization made up of American Muslims and Arabs of all backgrounds who feel that religious violence and terrorism have not been fully rejected by the Muslim community in the post 9-11 era.

The thrust of the article is to look at pragmatic methods to deal with the killing epidemic that is sweeping the world.

Broadly speaking there are three types of enemy which we are fighting in this war. The first are the personal killers, those who would crash planes into American cities or set off bombs in Iraq. These are of course the most immediately dangerous individuals....The second group is comprised of those such as Bin Laden who directly command their followers to go out and kill in their name...
But it is the third group which gets the attention from this writer, the mullahs and imams, religious and community leaders who constantly poison the minds of their pupils, constituents, or congregations.

So far, so good. But when I got to the following paragraph I winced. Something here fails to square with both my politics and my faith. Something manipulative that doesn't pass the smell test. I pass along the link because I have a very high regard for Donald Sensing, a former Army officer, now a minister. No one who reads my blog would accuse me of being suspicious of any Muslim seeking solutions to terorism. I am sure that these ideas are being advanced with the best of good intentions, but I think that in the end they will amount to yet another ticking social bomb.
A more cunning method of dealing with the Iago form of villain would be to adopt the exact same tactics. It goes without saying that the average person in the Middle East is guided more by their imams than by the Quran. When it comes to religion, most accept what they are spoon-fed rather than adopting a position after careful personal research and contemplation. Such is human nature. Therefore a logical counter would be to either ‘convert’ hostile imams, help build up the standing of existing imams whose views are in our favour, or set up completely new religious readers. The first option is pretty self-explanatory. Through bribery or blackmail hostile imams could be made to stop spreading their poison, and perhaps even manipulate their followers to turn against the terrorists instead. Naturally this would have to be done very carefully, as with all such actions. Governments are unfortunately rather good at failing at these enterprises, so a great deal of cunning and proper planning would have to be employed. The second and third options essentially amount to the same thing. The west would have to surreptitiously support pro-west, anti-terror religious leaders, and cause them to triumph over their rivals. The methods of achieving this could vary considerably, ranging from giving money and oratorical training to these imams to manufacturing miracles designed to make it appear as if God is endorsing them. Once again it would not be easy, but if done skilfully it should be perfectly possible.

Worth a thousand words

I've been playing with blogging pictures. This was just too good not to steal. Thanks, Cat.

Kurds and the new Iraqi constitution

If the US can claim any group as "allies" in Iraq, it must be the Kurds. But in the struggle to form a new government (read "government that will work best with international petroleum interests") the Kurds are having a hard time being heard.

US indifference to Kurdish sensibilities could have far reaching consequences. The Kurds are engaged in a struggle with the Shi'ite majority of Iraq's constitution drafting committee over the principles that will guide the new Iraq.

The majority draft would make Iraq a ''federal Islamic republic." Rights of women would be sharply restricted as Islamic law replaces Iraq's relatively progressive civil code on matters of inheritance, divorce, and child custody. The document is anti-Jewish, denying Iraqi Jews rights granted other Iraqis. The Shi'ite majority is even proposing to incorporate the ''marjah" -- Iraq's leading Shi'ite cleric -- into the constitution, a step that could give the Ayatollah Sistani powers similar to those Khomeini exercised in the first decade of Iran's Islamic Republic. [ed. The first steps in this direction have already been taken.]

The Kurds oppose all these measures. They are secular and insist that any reference to the Islamic character of Iraq be balanced by a declaration that no law can violate fundamental human rights. They are proud of the progress that women have made in the 14 years of Kurdish self-rule in the north of Iraq and do not want it rolled back. They share none of the antipathy Arab Iraqis feel toward the Jews.

With a population almost unanimously in favor of independence, Kurdistan leaders insist that Iraq have a federal structure that will allow them to retain their secular, Western-oriented political system even if the rest of Iraq falls under the sway of the religious parties. They are alarmed by growing Iranian influence in Baghdad and in the Shi'ite south, and see a strong, self-governing Kurdistan as a barrier to enlarging Iran's influence.

Given the abundant rhetoric about democracy and freedom that has been used to justify the carnage being visited on Iraq, one would think that the Kurds, being the most identifiable group in the country that might be called "allies", would have more sway with Washington. Such is not the case, however.

While the Bush administration professes a hands-off policy toward constitutional deliberations, it has been lobbying hard against a provision that would give Iraq's regions control over natural resources. Having been dependent on payments from Baghdad in the past, the Kurds know that meaningful self-government requires control over their own petroleum. The Bush administration apparently believes a Shi'ite region in the south would be less favorable toward US oil companies than the Shi'ite-run Oil Ministry in Baghdad, but in reality there is unlikely to be a difference. To the dismay of the Kurds, there has been no similar American engagement with regard to the anti-Jewish or antiwoman provisions of the proposed constitution.

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Snips from yesterday's Boston Globe by Peter W. Galbraith, a former US ambassador to Croatia and senior diplomatic fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.
Thanks, Andrew Apostolou at Apostablog.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Blind. Cold-blooded. Mad.

Stories like this make me know that there is pure evil in the world. About that reality there is no dispute.

Tehran, Iran, Jul. 24 – A senior Shiite cleric in Iran has shed light on his involvement in his own son’s execution in his newly-released memoirs.

Gholamreza Hassani, the Friday prayers leader of the city of Urumia and the personal representative of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in West Azerbaijan Province, described in chilling detail how he secured the execution of his son, Rasheed, in the 1980s for supporting a leftist group, the Fedayan Khalq. Rasheed had previously been arrested and imprisoned at the time of the Shah for his role in student-led protests against the former regime.
“When I heard of Rasheed’s execution, I did not have any remorse since I had carried out my duties. When it comes to the Islamic Revolution, I will never balk at my duties, even if it comes to my son”.
Via Pejman

Gershon Baskin

Most Americans have never heard of this man. Gershon Baskin is the founder of IPCRI (Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information), a jointly-run Israeli and Palestinian think tank that works with hundreds of Israelis and Palestinians in government and the private sector. His remarks in the Jerusalem Post aim to encourage and endorse Israel's withdrawal from Gaza, not for political reasons alone, but because he sees the move as an expression of Zionism at it's best.

I always believed that the true fulfillment of the Zionist dream required Israel to find the way to live with its neighbors. The Zionist dream was to create a safe haven for Jews from all over. This, by definition, means that Israel must provide shelter and security for Jews. Political Zionism always found a way to advance the cause by being practical. But Zionism got sidetracked by the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Zionism was not about conflict with our neighbors. It was about creating a just, progressive and humane society based on "Jewish values" for Jews to live and prosper, both in spirit and in substance. Real Zionism accepted the reality that non-Jews would always live within our midst. This was expressed with both eloquence and finesse in Israel's Declaration of Independence. That Declaration has always served, for me, as a kind of statement of intent and of the values upon which this state and this society rests, or should rest.

ZIONISM is not about occupying the West Bank and Gaza. The continuation of the settlement enterprise is an act of suicide for the Zionist dream. It is not only about demographics. It is perhaps even more so about values, morality and lessons that we, as Jews, should understand better than anyone else.

The disengagement from Gaza is a Zionist act. Ending our occupation and domination over Gaza and its people is an action aimed at saving Zionism from those who have tainted the noble aspects of its cause since 1967. The Zionist dream is still in danger and the Zionist enterprise is at risk as long as we continue our occupation and domination over the West Bank and its people. The march out of the occupied territories must continue. We must return to ourselves and build Israel from within.

Helena Cobban is as much a peacenik as I am, so of course she likes him.
Johnathan Edelstein, who tends to be more circumspect, also holds Gershon Baskin in high regard (see comment, end of post). That's good enough for me.

Time to make note of this man's name and work.

Fat Man Walking

No joke.
The guy is serious and this is a good cause. He is thirty-nine years old, walking across the country because he is tired of being fat.

...after consulting the family and getting their blessing I have made the decision to stop this merry go round and dedicate myself to losing the extra weight. I have an addiction and there needs to be dedication and sacrifice to cure addictions. If I had a drug or alcohol addiction I would go to rehab. Well, what I have in mind is rehab for the fat guy.

I am going to take six months out of my life and walk across the United States from San Diego to NYC.

My main purpose in undertaking this journey is losing weight. More importantly though, I need to change the behaviors that have allowed me to be in this situation in the first place. I know that to permanently lose this weight I must learn to be more responsible to myself.

Nuts you say? Well, maybe.

But how nutty is spending a fortune on miracle weight loss drugs or fad diets that never seem to have lasting results or dangerous surgeries that cost about the same as a luxury car?

Living your life without health insurance because you are considered too high risk. What about the fact that only 3% of weight loss attempts are permanently successful?

What about the anxiety, depression and pain involved in everyday activities when you are fat?

I don’t want to miss out on birthdays, graduation, marriages and grandkids because I chose not to take my life back.

That, to me, is nuts. I am going to sacrifice 5-6 months of this life to gain 30- 40 years of a better, leaner, healthier and happier life.

So considering all of that, I would be nuts not to do this.

I think he deserves all the support he can get.
Thanks, Silflay Hraka for the link.

Score one for the waiter

Brighten your day...
Satisfying new material at Waiter Rant.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Hoots has a dream

Sounds corny, doesn't it?
Well if you think the headline is corny, wait til you hear the dream. Downright naive. Profoundly so. Though it doesn't come naturally, I will try to be brief.
I have an ulterior motive here. It is to put the reader in the right frame of mind to read the post that follows, regarding developments in Gaza. Since there is a minimum of bloodshed and a politically fragile process, there is almost no news coverage. Either no one wants to risk derailing a peace process (I'm being charitable here; I don't think the media is that altruistic) or there isn't enough blood to make for good television. Perhaps that is just as well.

One tenet that sets Christianity apart from most of the world's faiths is the notion of reconcilliation and forgiveness. No one who has experienced the liberation that comes from having forgiven someone who has done an injustice will dispute that without that release, an abscess would take root that would enslave them to the grave. Even in the absence of repentance on the part of a perpetrator, forgiveness in the heart of a victim is the most powerful weapon in the Christian arsenal, more powerful than death itself.

The tragedy of Middle East conflict is ongoing in large part because the main adversaries have no tradition of forgiveness and reconcilliation. Central to their faiths is the manner in which they deal with evil. Their response to evil is either to destroy it or distance one's self from it. Anything but embrace it and overcome it with anything resembling love. That is the most important difference between the Old and New Testaments: overcome evil with love. The message resonates through the pages of the New Testament so often it is remarkable how many Christians seem to have missed it.

Alaa makes reference to the real challenge for the non-Semitic western broker in the following post. Here is my dream: the ingredient that Christianity can being to the table in the Middle East is reconcilliation and forgiveness. For a long time I have had this idea, but it seemed so far-fetched that I dared not put it in writing. It seems so crazy and idealistic. After all, there is a war on and what am I doing talking about peace when we need to be girding our loins for more fighting, not less?

Well I'm not alone, it seems. The next post illustrates a step in the right direction. I feel less alone in my thinking than I once did. I am encouraged by what is happening in Gaza. I am hopeful that the peace process can continue.

It is no mystery that terrorists want to destroy places where ordinary Arabs have a chance to interact with and get to know people from outside their culture. In the famous Global War on Terrorism, ignorance and isolation are on the side of tyranny. Understanding and interaction lead to what we so quaintly called in the sixties a "revolution of rising expectations."

Hamid Karzai, president of Afghanistan, was quoted today as saying...

"At this stage we do not have relations of any kind with Israel. But let us wait and see what happens in the future. The more the peace process moves forward, the more a new era of possibilities will be created in the area, especially as our Palestinian brothers see a brighter future, as a state and a nation, Afghanistan can weigh relations with Israel," Karzai reportedly told a reporter from the Maariv daily following a lecture in Rome.


Israel's Gaza withdrawal -- encouraging development

Via Jonathan Edelstein, this...

Most of the 450 farmers of Gush Katif have signed an agreement with the World Bank to leave their greenhouses to the Palestinians for a payment of $4,000 per dunam.
Sources in the Agriculture Ministry said last Thursday that each farmer would be paid an average of $40,000, with which he would be able to build new greenhouses similar to the ones left behind in Gush Katif.
The money from the World Bank will finance some 25 percent of the cost of building a new greenhouse.
According to the cabinet's decision, 66 percent of the investment would be financed with the compensation fees, 25 percent would be financed by the Agriculture Ministry and 9 percent would be financed by the farmers themselves. The overall cost of rebuilding the greenhouses is estimated at $80 million.

The farmers explained their decision to leave their greenhouses intact in Gush Katif, saying that taking them apart involves hard work, as the greenhouses are old and their equipment has eroded. Taking a greenhouse apart and reconstructing it is a lengthy process and requires a great deal of skill, they said.
Agriculture Minister Yisrael Katz argued against leaving the greenhouses to the Palestinians. Katz said in the cabinet that doing so would lead to a tough competition between Palestinian and Israeli produce in Europe's markets.
The World Bank payment will cover the whole of the farmers' own investment in the building of new greenhouses, leaving them a $1,500 charge for each greenhouse dunam they build.
The greenhouses will be built on farming land south and east of Ashkelon purchased by the Agriculture Ministry for this purpose from neighboring farming communities.

His comment:

This arrangement, which was made jointly by the Israeli government and the World Bank, will be a step toward making Gaza economically viable, which will be key to maintaining its stability after the evacuation. Another critical need - housing - may also be resolved with the aid of the UAE, which has announced plans to build a city on the site of the Gush Katif settlements at a cost of $100 million. The UAE's plan will, in all likelihood, tip the scales in favor of demolishing the existing houses rather than leaving them intact and, as a side effect, may lead to the upgrading of the UAE's relationship with Israel. However divisive the withdrawal has become on both sides of the border, there will still be opportunities to be seized afterward.

* * * *
This is a good place to link, once again, Alaa the Mesopotamian, whose most recent post of a couple of weeks ago soared into space with a dream so fanciful that I try not to allow myself to think about it. Remember, now, this is being written by an Iraqi:
...I have the greatest respect and reverence for a people who have given human civilization so much and who were the original monotheists and the first Abrahamites; and that the recent troubles and tragedies of the twentieth century should not obscure and overshadow the thousands of years of glorious history. And you know, the real ethnic Jew and the real ethnic Arab definitely have a common ancestry; this so-called Semitic race, though this does not seem to have resulted in any particular love between the twain. And more; we know for certain from our own knowledge of ourselves, that there are certain traits of character that are quitecommon to both. You see, the true Semitic character is very passionate and intense and tends to be very, very obstinate. The Jews are a particular race of Semites steeled and distilled by many centuries of struggle for survival in hostile environments, who have managed by shear obstinacy to preserve their religious and cultural identity despite tremendous odds and extreme persecution, for thousands of years.
What has reminded me of this right now in the present situation is a sentence of Isaac Deutscher which I can never forget. It goes something like this: “God help those whom the Jews take it into their head to be their enemies!! “ What is so striking about this sentence is that it applies precisely to the Arabs as well. You may draw your own inferences from this which may throw some light on the madness that is going on in these days.
It has struck me suddenly, that perhaps one of the main mystic keys to defusing the whole thing is to bring about a real historic reconciliation between these two surviving branches of the Semitic race, and I don’t mean just solving the Israeli-Palestinian problem, but something far more profound than that. Is this not the real challenge for the non-Semitic western broker, for his own peace and safety, if not for anything else?
Salaam, Shalom
[And if you really want to get stuck, delve into the comments thread that follows this post. Plenty to chew on there...]

Muted voices against terrorism

Here's a first-person account of a visceral anti-terrorism reaction by some young Egyptians, bent on organizing a demonstration in the wake of Saturday's bombings. Follow the posts from there to today. In the academic community, this is what is called the "primary material" of history. Sample here...

Now, can someone tell me what would stop such a car from blowing up inside of Cairo? Can you imagine such a car blowing up at Cairo Train station? The Egyptian Museum? Al Tahrir square in the middle of the rush hour traffic? Fuck it, in the middle of the 6th of October Bridge? Are we getting the picture here? Cause i am, and it sure ain't pretty! What the hell could they do to stop that? Put checkpoints in the middle of Cairo? Before you get on the bridge? GOOD LUCK trying to do that. Too much traffic, too many cars. Just wouldn't work.

Well, what can we do? Kimo and Nagla both are pushing for the protest against the bombing idea,
which you can find here, but I don't know exactly what it would accomplish and I honestly don't know personally anyone who would go to such a protest. You think american youth is apathetic? Ha, you haven't seen apathy till you've met you some egyptians. I was speaking to Izzy today and i told him about the idea and he was like "In this heat? You want me to stand outside in this goddamn weather with like 5 people screaming "No to terrorism"? Are you kidding me? What if someone I know saw me? I would be the AUC's joke!". So yeah, If anyone is gonna organize a vigil or something, then count me in. Hell, e-mail me and i will organize it. But like, what would it accomplish? Tell the outside world that I am against this kind of terrorism? Anyone who reads this blog knows this. I am not sure that protesting would do anything. But since i am fresh out of ideas on what exactly to do, sure, why the hell not?

In the end they were muzzled by the police. This is Egypt, not Iran, but it illustrates my comment yesterday about "opposition" versus the American notion of "loyal opposition."
The first officer looked really torn and dismayed and the other one responded and said " Look. God knows we are with you and share what you believe and think. And If it was up to us we would let you guys stay. What you are doing is a wonderful thing and god knows we are not against you. We lost friends and colleagues in those bombings. But it's the higher-ups. They don’t care what you stand for. They just want to assure that no "hassles" occur in their zones." Just as he was finishing his story, the other officer gets a buzz on his walkie talkie : "did you get rid of them yet?" the voice asks. The Officer says " No sir, not yet!" and the voice from the talkie quickly says "What are you waiting for?" and the guy says " They are not causing any trouble sir, and they all look decent and from decent families." He looked really conflicted, and for a second i really felt bad for him.

The officer then said " Look, there are ways to do this. Inform us first. Call the PR department in the ministry and we will arrange protection for you. They wouldn't say no to something like that. But until you do we can’t let you keep protesting". The other 2 guys started arguing with him: "But it's our constitutional right, yada yada" and while this is happening Najla calls me and asks for updates, I inform her and she was like "I am coming immediately". My attention was then drawn to this new lady standing next to the reporter asking him about what the deal was: How did this thing come into fruition? When did they organize this? She asks me and I explain to her that it is organized by Bloggers and she was like "What? Are you trying to tell me that stuff like this happens in Egypt? That's unbelievable! I am impressed." And she then started calling this guy Gamal Eid who is a human rights activist and got me to speak to him on the phone. He asks me who we are and what we stand for and what our blogs are, and then he is like "Are you guys familiar with
manal and alla? You are? I work with them all the time. Then I will find you guys. What you are doing is great by the way. I wish more people would do things like that!"

Saturday, July 23, 2005

RLP is hangin' on

Gordon Atkinson, aka Real Live Preacher, had too much on his plate. Had to make some serious choices. Good mini-drama for those of us who keep up with what he writes. As usual, the comment thread is a gusher of support.

...I know I have to set my own boundaries with email, and I do a pretty good job of that. But these were emails that no one could igore.

"Dear rlp, my fiance was killed in a car accident. He was a Christian, but I am not. His family wants me to say something at the funeral. I'd like to read something from the bible, but I have no idea what to read. You're the only minister I know. Do you have any suggestions?"

"Dear rlp, I'm 17 and I think I'm gay. I'm scared to death to tell my parents and the people at my church. Do you think I'm going to hell for this?"

You know, that kind of thing. I dare you to not answer email like that. Double dare you.

So in the Spring of 2004, with a new facial tick, headaches that sent me straight to bed when they hit, and a few other symptoms, I admitted to Ben that I wasn’t doing all that well.

“But,” I said defensively, “The chance to write like this may only come once in a person’s life. I just can’t walk away from it.”
Read the whole story here.

Iran: another crack in the wall

As I cruise the internets, I find practically nothing about Iranian affairs. Maybe there is too much on everybody's plates, but what unfolds in Iran is as imporant to developments in that part of the world as what happens East and West of that overwhelmingly Shiite-run country.

The more I read about politics and society in that part of the world, the more I don't understand. It is tempting to look at what happens there through a Western lens. One thing is certain. Despite the powerful image that all totalitarian systems project, there is definitely opposition to much of what is taking place socially, politically, and economically. Unlike countries with a tradition of loyal opposition, any form of criticism there is tantamount to rebellion and is apt to be dealt with even more harshly that we deal with criminals.

Case in point is the matter of Akbar Ganji, a 46-yer-old dissident now imprisoned in Iran.

[I very much want to urge others to start and continue doing their homework on Iran, because in the uncomfortably near future, one way or another, that country is going to become the next big story. It's not easy going. There are names and references that none of us has ever heard of, background information that only seems to have caught the attention of a few academics, journalists and a handful of English-speaking expats. Add that paucity of information to a Byzantine history and a savage regime and you face what seems to be a wasted effort, one yet to hit the radar of most reportage.]

Since 1979, when the mollahs seized power in Tehran, an estimated 2.3 million Iranians have spent some time in prison because of their opposition to the regime. In a sense anybody who is somebody in most walks of life has had some experience of prison in the Islamic Republic. And that includes the Shi’ite clergy. More mollahs have been imprisoned in the past 27 years than members of any other social group in Iran. The revolutionary regime has also executed over 100,000 of its real or imagined opponents and driven a further 4.5 million people into exile, without a second thought.

So, why has Ganji received special attention?

Why is the establishment so afraid of him?

When Ganji first began to act as a dissident in 1996 many regarded him with suspicion. After all he had been a member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard for over a decade before joining the Intelligence and Security Service. In that capacity he had even served a stint at the Iranian Embassy in Ankara “keeping an eye” on exiled dissidents.

So are the Khomeinists sore that one of their own has decided to turn against them?Many Iranians believe this to be the case.

That explanation, however, is not satisfactory. Over the years, countless other Khomeinists have become critics of the regime in one way or another. Most of the “students” who held the American diplomats hostage in Tehran in 1979-80 are now among the loudest critics of the regime. Many of the intellectuals who collaborated in “cleansing” the universities and purging counterrevolutionary academics, writers and scholars have also distanced themselves from the regime. One of them Abdol-Karim Soroush has even become a critic of clerical intervention in politics. Another, Mostafa Mo’in, was the candidate of the “reformists” in the recent presidential election.

Ganji’s case is special for a number of reasons.

To begin with, he is almost entirely a child of the Khomeinist revolution in socio-political terms. By social background, family history, and political upbringing he should be the model Khomeinist. He has fought for Khomeinism, both in the war against Iraq and in campaigns against dissidents and armed secessionists.

Few in his generation have more revolutionary credentials. Mortazavi, the prosecutor, who specializes in tracing the slightest flaw in his victims’ revolutionary profile, has been unable to find any in Ganji’s.

Unlike other in-house critics of the regime, Ganji has succeeded in liberating himself, morally and intellectually, from his Khomeinist illusions.

*** *** *** *** ***
Play whatever mind game it takes to grasp what is happening here. Pretend it's a plotline of a movie or television drama. Or think of it as background information for a video game. Imagine it is another episode of whateve entertainment medium you like...except this is not fiction. This is the real thing.
What I copied here is not the end of a story. It is background to the start of a story.
I am running into more and more remarks advancing the notion that there is no internal opposition to extremism in the countries of the Middle East, whether they be run by religious extremists, kings or some other form of tyranny. As we know from the stories of life under Saddam, opposition to authority is not seen as a principled, gentlemanly counterpoint. No, opposition to authority is practically suicidal.

U.N. Ends War

This post has haunted me ever since I saw it.
Like ilona, I can't think of anything to say.

Banana Phone

Okay then.
(Which reminds me...SKB has folded his tent. Too bad. "Okay, then" will never be the same...)

This will keep you up with the cutting edge of....something, but I'm not sure what.
Get ready to innoculated.
There will be knock-offs.
I'm actually way behind.
Nineteen ninety six, already?

Damn, I feel old. I think I'm ready to quit blogging.

Friday, July 22, 2005


This is a wood creation made from snapshots of Mollie and Jake by a gifted craftsman from the Boston Love board.

Slow day at Hoots' Place

Hello, reader -- or readers, perhaps.
This morning I don't find anything that floats my boat. Better I don't post than put out something I don't have much excitement about.
I have been reading David Neiwert's blog, Orcinus. He's a pro writer whose books, none of which I have read, incidentally, apparently expand on core themes that appear in the blog. I have just recently started reading him, but so far I very much like what I have found. He puts into words ideas that I have been pondering. This is a pearl dated January 2003:

Let's be clear about this: Democracy is not a sport. We are not rooting for a football team here. Questioning the behavior of our leaders, and declining to support their every action, doesn't make you a traitor.In a democracy, we are best served by having an open and lively debate on the direction we take as a nation.

This does not change in wartime. Indeed, in a war such as this one, where our democratic institutions are being directly challenged by right-wing religious fanatics, it is even more important to preserve the right to speak freely.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Thomas Merton, writing in 1966

"Hear what comfortable words," says the priest, from the Book of Common Prayer, leading the congregation into deeper worship the old-fashioned way. Not with loud music, emotional exhortations, sentimental feel-good platitudes or technological legerdemain, but just the words of scripture.

You are fed up with words, and I don't blame you. I am nauseated by them sometimes. I am also, to tell the truth, nauseated by ideals and with causes. This sounds like heresy, but I think you will understand what I mean. It is so easy to get engrossed with ideas and slogans and myths that in the end one is left holding the bag, empty, with no trace of meaning left in it. And then the temptation is to yell louder than ever in order to make the meaning be there again by magic. Going through this kind of reaction helps you to guard against this. Your system is complaining of too much verbalizing, and it is right....

More, via ROFTERS

Dr. Bob on Prayer

Dr. Bob writes about prayer in an essay inspired by Gerard Van der Leun's essay last week.

Instructions for reading: Do not scan this post. Read it slowly and carefully when you have time to reflect. If that time is not now, then mark it to come back to later.

It is in many ways an odd but satisfying conversation: I speak, He listens–yet somehow I know what He is thinking, and He most surely knows my thoughts. It is decidedly non-linear. The questions I ask, the problems I present, are answered–always. But not in words, almost never at the time I speak or ask. But I know they have been answered–although the fruition, the language, the form of the answer may be hours, months, years away. It may arrive as circumstances, or in a conversation with a complete stranger in another time and place, or in an entirely unexpected–even unwanted–change of heart or inner peace about some deeply troubling or puzzling dilemna. Yet I know it is God’s answer–the answer He gave me back at that table, shootin’ the breeze and guzzling joe. It is a conversation freed from time and space–bizarre, but strangely more real than that which we unwisely and hastily call “reality.”

What is eliminationism?

David Neiwert's blog, Orcinus, studies a disturbing trend.

What, really, is eliminationism?

It's a fairly self-explanatory term: it describes a kind of politics and culture that shuns dialogue and the democratic exchange of ideas for the pursuit of outright elimination of the opposing side, either through complete suppression, exile and ejection, or extermination.

I first encountered it in Daniel Goldhagen's Hitler's Willing Executioners, which is in many regards a problematic text, especially insofar as it describes prewar German society as almost uniquely predisposed to antisemitism. But Goldhagen's text correctly identifies and describes the essence of the Nazi campaign against the Jews as eliminationist in nature, something that was made undeniably manifest in the Holocaust.

But while eliminationism's most startling historical example was provided by the Nazis, it also has a long and appalling history in the annals of American democracy. It was manifest in the genocidal wars against Native Americans, when "the only good Indian was a dead Indian": in the many anti-immigrant campaigns waged by Nativists of many different stripes; in night-riding Ku Klux Klansmen, Jim Crow segregation, and the lynch mobs who murdered thousands of innocent blacks during the heyday of white supremacism; in the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans in World War II; in the continuing march of hate crimes that target various kinds of "undesirable" members of society for terrorization and exclusion; and in the lingering far-right "militias" and related hate groups who scapegoat minorities and immigrants, gays and lesbians, government officials, and liberals generally, making them the targets of both hateful rhetoric and actual violence.

If you don't like what you just read, better not read any further. That's just the tip of an iceberg. If you have been lapping up too much talk radio, this is stuff that will only make you angry. By the time you follow the links and let yourself be, to use one of Mr. Boortz' favorite lines "hosed down" as one of the great unwashed, you will be trembling with frustration. Better you should move on to another post.

Michael Yon's latest

Michael Yon's reports are without question among the best war reporting that has ever been published. This one is down and dirty, gripping and illustrated. Here is superb writing that even a pacifist can appreciate.

The temperature down there was at least 20 degrees beyond any measure of hot. The air was filthy with dust, darkness, and the menace that wafted like a stench off all the bombs, bombs, and more bombs. I was sitting on bombs and missiles that I could not identify--there was not enough floor cleared for three men to stand. There were mortar rounds, some with fuses, some without. Some fuses had no safety pins. Some rounds had charges on the fins.

There were surface to air missiles, RPGs, and strange munitions of various sorts. The danger was severe, but with this much explosives, it wouldn’t matter if you were in the hole or a hundred yards away; if this thing blows, game over.

Iraqi Christians -- Canaries in a coalmine

Before the U.S.-led war, roughly 750,000 Christians lived in Iraq, out of a population of 25 million. Most were Chaldean and Assyrian, but there also were Armenian, Jacobite and Greek Orthodox Christians and a small number of Protestants.

Most of them lived either in Baghdad or in northern Iraq around Mosul.Since then, 15,000 to 20,000 Christians have fled to Syria, according to Christian groups, out of "about 700,000" Iraqis, most of them in flight from the war, according to the U.N. high commissioner for refugees.

Bene Diction points to this piece from ReligionNewsBlog. com. It begs the question: How is Iraq getting better off if Christians are fleeing?

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

In Iraq-Iran politics, the plot thickens...

I don't know who else is paying attention, but this stuff isn't a secret.
Looks pretty important to me.
Not the poor-people-peddling-kidneys part. (That's just market economics at work. Great, ain't it?)
The big shots of Iran and Iraq getting together is a lot more interesting.

Read about Roberts

Just, wow!
The name caught everyone off balance, and yet this morning, only a few hours later, there is so much material to read about this man than nobody could possibly read it all if they took all day. And by then, there would be so much to read that it would not be finished in a lifetime.

Isn't it wonderful that we have our political heroes to tell us how to think?
(Hold that thought for the next week or two...Sometimes I get what my wife refers to as "a check in your spirit." I got it this morning, but I'm not sure what it means yet.)

Sandra Day O'Connor heard about President Bush's nomination for her replacement on the Supreme Court while she was returning from a day of fly-fishing in Idaho.

Her first words were unequivocal: "That's fabulous!" she said. She immediately described John G. Roberts as a "brilliant legal mind, a straight shooter, articulate, and he should not have trouble being confirmed by October. He's good in every way, except he's not a woman."

She said she was almost sure President Bush would not appoint a woman as a replacement for William H. Rehnquist because she didn't think he would want a woman as chief justice. "So that almost assures there won't be a woman appointed to the court at this time."

Also LINK****LINK****LINK****BIG LINK ****LINK****
Heck. They're coming in so fast I can't keep up... I gotta go to work.

Best comment so far:

The only issue: After watching two hours of punditry of the nomination of John Roberts... four things are obvious to me:

1. He's going to be confirmed. Key reason: His son's cute little outfit.

2. Despite all the aspects of our lives that can be affected by Supreme Court decisions, the only issue apparently of interest to TV interviewers and the pundits they interview is Roe v. Wade -- The CNN promo for its 11:00 p.m. block was this (and this is a direct quote) : "Who is he? Where does he stand on abortion? Can he be confirmed?".

3. Never in the history of television has the word "affable" been used more times in two hours.

4. One day, his son will never forgive his mom for dressing him in that cute little outfit.

Noted without comment

Poverty in Iraq means there are currently plenty of people willing to sell their kidneys, with middlemen bringing vendor and buyer together.

According to the Ministry of Health (MoH), renal disease is common in the country and more than 5,000 Iraqis currently require urgent kidney transplants. Decades of poor diet, unclean water and lack of medical care have contributed to the high levels of kidney disease.

The main gate of Baghdad’s Karama hospital is the place to go if you want to trade a kidney. A man, who calls himself Bashar, hovers by the entrance, his front business is selling tea and soft drinks but his real trade soon becomes apparent.

"I can get you a healthy kidney. It will cost you US $2,000 to $3,000, you just have to give me your blood type and I will get it for you even before you have finished a cold pepsi," Bashar said, smiling.

Donors are taken into the hospital laboratory where blood tests to establish compatibility are carried out.


* *
* * *
* *
Tue Jul 19
TEHRAN (AFP) - Iran signed a deal with Iraq to exchange crude for refined products desperately needed by its western neighbour as a result of persistent insurgent sabotage.

The two countries' oil ministers -- Bijan Namdar Zanganeh for Iran and Ibrahim Bahr al-Ulum for Iraq -- signed the deal as Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari wrapped up a landmark visit to the former foe, the Iranian oil ministry's Shana news agency reported.

The swap will require three new pipelines across the neighbours' southern border, which will be funded and built by Iran within 10 months, Zanganeh said on Monday.

"The idea is for Iran to buy 150,000 barrels per day of Basra light crude. In return, Iran will provide petrol, heating oil and kerosene," Zanganeh said, adding that the latter two products would come from Iranian refineries but that the petrol would have to be imported.

Iraq has faced chronic shortages of refined products ever since the US-led invasion of 2003, as insurgents have targeted its oil infrastructure, bringing production from the northern fields around Kirkuk to a virtual standstill.

Even though Iraq has the world's second largest proven reserves of crude, the government has been forced to import refined products from a number of neighbouring countries.
* * *
* * * * * * *
* * *
TEHRAN 20 July (IPS) Iraqi Prime Minister Ebrahim al-Ja’fari ended on Tuesday 19 July 2005 a three days official visit to Tehran that some analysts described as “historic” and “opening a new, landmark” in the troubled Baghdad-Tehran relations.
The Iraqi Premier, from the majority Shi’ate community, met all senior Iranian officials, including the leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameneh’i and President Mohammad Khatami, Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former president who was defeated at last presidential elections, Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, the Iraqi-born Head of the Judiciary and Mr. Qolamali Haddad Adel, the Speaker, all of them he knew well for having lived in Iran for almost ten years after the deposed Iraq president Saddam Hussein shut the al-Da’wa Party to which he belonged.
But certainly the most interesting of all the meetings was with Mr. Mahmoud Ahmadi Nezhad, the president-elect, as he was probably the first foreign high ranking personality to have met the next Iranian president, described a fundamentalist Muslim in the line of the leader, meaning anti-American.
That’s the reason why some Iranian analysts believes that the Americans might have encouraged the visit, in the hope that Mr. Ja’fari would be able to brief them on his return about the personality of the future Iranian president who is almost unknown to outside world as well as most Iranians except of the inhabitants of the Capital Tehran, where he served as Mayor for the last two years.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Liberal media

Sorry, folks.
I can't let this get lost. I may want to use it sometime.
Can't find the original, but it doesn't matter. The cheese stands alone.
Decided to post it in red, if you catch my drift.

"We have a Republican president, a Republican Congress and a Supreme Court dominated by seven Republican nominees. The mainstream media in this country are dominated by liberals. I was informed of this fact by Rush Limbaugh. And Thomas Sowell. And Ann Coulter. And Rich Lowry. And Bill O'Reilly.And William Safire. And Robert Novak. And William F. Buckley Jr. And George Will. And John Gibson. And Michelle Malkin. And David Brooks. And Tony Snow. And Tony Blankely. And Fred Barnes. And Britt Hume. And Larry Kudlow. And Sean Hannity.And David Horowitz. And William Kristol. And Hugh Hewitt. And Oliver North. And Joe Scarborough. And Pat Buchanan. And John McLaughlin. And Cal Thomas. And Joe Klein. And James Kilpatrick. And Tucker Carlson. And Deroy Murdock. And Michael Savage. And Charles Krauthammer. And Stephen Moore.And Alan Keyes. And Gary Bauer. And Mort Kondracke. And Andrew Sullivan. And Nicholas von Hoffman. And Neil Cavuto. And Mike Rosen. And Dave Kopel. And John Caldera. And Matt Drudge.
On the X-Files they used to say "The truth is out there." I'm not so sure. And with everything going on in the world today I think we’re finding out why leaning too far to the right is wrong."

Daniel Soshnik, La Crosse, Wisc., in a letter to the editor of local newspaper.

Reporting, reporting, reporting

This doesn't happen very often, but this morning I have come across three or four unrelated sources all looking at the same phenomenon: reporting, information technology and how our lives are being altered as a result.

***Grant McCracken says it's time for advertisers to invest in public transit. I think he's on to something. Theme parks were started by railroads seeking more traffic at the end of the line, especially nights and weekends. Seems to have worked, at least for a while.

As the consumer’s time and attention becomes more fragmented, it becomes harder for the marketer to build brands, manage meanings and create relationships.
That’s when it struck me: now is the time for the big brands to invest in public transit.

The big brands helped create television: Kraft Television Theatre (1947-1958), Texaco Star Theater (1948-1956), General Electric Theater (1953-61), and of course the “soap opera” created by P&G. They created these theatres as a way to commandeer the attention of the US consumer.

Public transit can deliver as much as a couple of hours of attention time per consumer. The cars can be wired for video, or consumers will bring their own 3G devices. (The Tokyo subway rider has been disappearing into a 3G phone for some years now.)

***Jeff Jarvis takes issue with a Guardian writer whose stiff upper lip was a bit disturbed by everyday people reflexively submitting their various first-person impressions of the London tubes bombing. I recall the day it happened being excited that the Beeb already had a feed for that exact purpose.

On September 11th in New York, I didn't know what I was: witness, reporter, survivor. I stayed at the World Trade Center to report after the first jet hit. My wife remains, well, disapproving of that decision, but that's because, as it turned out, the danger was far from over. I, too, disapproved of my decision when I was enveloped by the cloud of destruction.

But danger apart, I knew I had to report. A few days later, I started this blog to continue remembering and witnessing. I also bought a camera phone to replace the plain phone lost in that cloud, because I often thought how different our view of that day would have been if it had been seen at eye level and not from rooftops miles away.

As a journalist, you would think that Naughton would welcome more truly eyewitness reporting, more facts, more stories, more humanity. And who better to provide this than witnesses themselves, now equipped not only with cameras but also with the knowledge that they could report what they saw themselves. Isn't that better than second-hand reporting?

***Finally, Jim Gilbert, recently arrived to the blogging world but a very quick study, has put together an excellent overview of the state of information processing, at least as of this morning. Next week, of course, all this can change. (His blog, like mine, has some kind of template problem that can't line up the sidebar with the content, so you have to scroll down to find the post. I figure by the time I learn how to correct the problem myself, some clever programmer at Blogger will beat me to it and all my efforts will have been in vain. So like a hitch-hiker waiting for a ride, I keep waiting.)

Fads and movements are entirely different creatures. Fads sometimes grow legs and become movements, but usually they're just replaced by TNBT (the next big thing). They fail to sustain momentum, an important quality in movements. Movements, if they stick around long enough to mature, become institutions.Blogging was a fad that became a movement and is becoming an institution. It is, in fact, all three at once, an evolving universe: The twenty thousand new blogs spewing themselves into existence every day, most rife with poor grammar and/or "pictures of my cat," reveal a fad still in progress. So do the multitude that die off daily.
The obvious next step, after blogging and podcasting, would add video to the self-publishing mix, and sure enough,
video-blogging (vlogging) is already a reality, and being hailed as TNBT.

Welcome Anchoress readers!

My, what a happy surprise!
To turn on the computer this morning and discover traffic! Something is up, I figured, and sure enough there was my blog, over at The Anchoress, with the name up in lights and an pile of generous compliments.
I tried to leave a comment, but was apparently not savy enough to make it through the registration thicket, but that's okay. I can do that later.
Meantime, welcome to my little corner. If you find anything you don't like, keep going and look for something you may like better.

( Anchorlanche...Whaddya do next?)

Monday, July 18, 2005

Let's pretend...

Pretend for a moment you are from a country that is very strict, very conservative about the way people speak, look, behave and dress. If you are a guy, imagine that most of the women you have ever seen outside your household were covered up by garments that revealed nothing. If you are a gal, imagine that the men around you, except for sportsmen and outdoor workers have always been conservatively dressed.
Very, very strict, now. Let's say prudish.
You go to England -- Newcastle, perhaps -- and one morning you get up early to see the sun rise over the city and enjoy a cup of coffee.
You look up and see this...

Optical Illusion

Best optical illusion yet. Two checkerboard squares look different but are the same shade of grey. (I got a piece of cardboard and cut two holes in it, placed it over the monitor and saw for myself.)
After your brain gets fried puzzling over that picture click on More illusions for a multimedia link by Edward H. Adelson from MIT.

Gaza Update

I have added to the Gaza post from the other day. I don't want it to get buried in the archives too soon because it is too important and timely.

* * * *
Interesting tidbit.
At least one Jewish settler is ready and willing to give up Israeli citizenship to become legally Palistinian to avoid relocation. This from Haaretz via Jonathan Edelstein.
Jewish settler Avi Farhan, determined not to give up his home overlooking the sea when Israel quits the occupied Gaza Strip, is looking into becoming a Palestinian.
"I have met with Palestinians. I am willing to be a test case for peace and take up Palestinian citizenship," Farhan told Reuters. "It will hurt me to give up my Israeli citizenship, but I want to remain here.
"One Palestinian official suggested he might be allowed to stay in Gaza - home to 1.4 million Palestinians - as long as he obeyed Palestinian laws. Actual citizenship could only be decided on an individual basis and any applicant would have to meet the same conditions as anyone else.

Islamists against terrorism

Anyone who says that Islamic voices are not condemning the violence of Islam's extremists is simply not paying attention.

Here is a string of links compiled by professor Charles Kurzman, UNC at Chapel Hill, North Carolina, at the end of which are links to others in the same vein.
Thanks to The Dove and The Aardvark.

Over the last six months or so, the radical jihadists have seemed to be on the political and intellectual defensive in the Arab and Muslim worlds. The escalating, horrifying bloodshed in Iraq was producing growing disenchantment - see al-Maqdassi's comments over the last few days, or statements by Qaradawi and Huwaydi, or hundreds of commentaries in the Arab press. The whole "Arab spring" moment, and the continuing mobilization in Egypt (especially), has shifted the focus to reform and demands for democracy. Ayman al-Zawahiri's tape broadcast on al-Jazeera is a good example here: he talked about reform, in an entirely defensive and reactive way, and the tape largely disappeared without a trace. The momentum in the mainstream of the Islamic world seemed to be in the direction of rejection radicalism, extremism, jihadism - the fatwas issues in Amman the other day are a good indicator of this.

The London attack can be seen as an attempt by al-Qaeda to impose itself on this internal argument among Islamists and Muslims in the way it knows best: a spectacular, violent attack. A throw of the dice - an attempt to turn the debate back to clashes of civilizations, of an inevitable conflict between the West and Islam, of war and mistrust and fear. To shut down any rapprochement between the West and moderate Islamism - the kind of rapprochement which threatens al-Qaeda and the radicals where it counts, among the Muslim umma. Like 9/11 itself, at least part of July 7 is about asserting the radical "argument" in its own distinctive language, of violence and extremism, in order to win adherents and admirers in
the wider Muslim world.

I suspect - I hope - that al-Qaeda has miscalculated, if those were indeed its calculations. I expect to see widespread denunciations from across the Islamist spectrum - as have already begun to pour in. Of course, we saw the same thing after 9/11. What matters now is how everyone reacts... what happens next. Remember the epic season finale of the second season of Buffy? When the voiceover begins, in my inept paraphrase: "the big moments are going to come. You can't stop that. What matters is what happens next. How you repond. That's when you find out who you are." This could be a decisive moment, in the relations between Islam and the West and inside the Islamic world. Let's make sure that it is decided in the right way.
LINK to The Aardvark