Friday, March 31, 2006

Stephen Vincent and Lisa Ramaci remembered

Apparently the president has read Stephen Vincent's book, In the Red Zone. He sent a personal hand-written note to Lisa Ramaci, Vincent's widow.

Judith Weiss posted an email received by Lisa Ramaci, together with photos from New York of a public tribute to journalists slain in Iraq. Go read. Look. Remember.
Judith Weiss LINK.
Cross-posted at Winds of Change. LINK.

It brings back all the rage I felt at the time of his death, reading about the tawdry manner with which his widow was treated. My post from December has the details.

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First, let me say that Steven Vincent died for this book. He was murdered because he wrote brutally honestly about the dark underbelly of Iraq, about how here (and much of the Middle East) life is cheap and what passes for culture twists minds and perpetuates continued ignorance in the majority of the populace. Steven is gone now, but his opus is still available and if you only read one book about Iraq in your entire life, then In the Red Zone should be that one book.
I read this book in one sitting, from cover to cover, all 240 pages in the span of about six hours. Everything you need to know about the war, Shia, Sunnis, Kurds, the occupation, what the future could hold - it's in here. The good, the bad and the ugly are all laid out for you. This book will be of equal fascination to both pro and anti-war readers because Steven didn't sugarcoat a thing when he wrote In the Red Zone. He didn't sugarcoat Iraq one iota and he died for it.
Life is cheap in cultures that glorify death. Steven found that out the hardest way. His death has a silver lining - Nour - his brave Iraqi intrepreter. She was shot by the same vicious parasites that killed Mr. Vincent but survived and is still somewhere in Iraq (as far as I know), guarded, silenced or both. Steven and Nour are microcosms of the relationship between America and Iraq. Read In the Red Zone. It will force you to make adjustments to everything you thought you knew. In the Red Zone is Chapter 1 in the story of 21st century. Other Americans and Iraqis will be stepping forward to write Chapter 2. Are you one of them? Which side will you step forward on?

FEMA and Rex 84

Do I believe it?
Nah...I'm not a conspiracy nut.

But I do read and surf the net. This is one of those I report, you decide stories.

Rex 84, short for Readiness Exercise 1984, was a plan by the United States federal government to test their ability to detain large numbers of American citizens in case of massive civil unrest or national emergency. Exercises similar to Rex 84 happen periodically. Wikipedia LINK.

There over 800 prison camps in the United States, all fully operational and ready to receive prisoners. They are all staffed and even surrounded by full-time guards, but they are all empty. These camps are to be operated by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) should Martial Law need to be implemented in the United States and all it would take is a presidential signature on a proclamation and the attorney general's signature on a warrant to which a list of names is attached. Ask yourself if you really want to be on Ashcroft's list. Friends of Liberty LINK (with state by state detailed listing of prisons)

There over 600 prison camps in the United States, all fully operational and ready to receive prisoners. They are all staffed and even surrounded by full-time guards, but they are all empty. These camps are to be operated by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) should Martial Law need to be implemented in the United States.
The Rex 84 Program was established on the reasoning that
if a mass exodus of illegal aliens crossed the Mexican/US border, they would be quickly rounded up and detained in detention centers by FEMA. Rex 84 allowed many military bases to be closed down and to be turned into prisons. LINK to Above Top Secret (dot com) with photos.

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Here is something from today's Miami Herald.
Mexico Edition, if you will.

Reduction of demand is key to victory

The United States should make a "bigger and more integrated effort" in the fight against drugs, according to the government´s highest-ranking law official.
"There has to be a direct fight [against drugs] in the United States, too, just like the one we are fighting," Daniel Cabeza de Vaca, the attorney general, told the Financial Times in an interview.
"If they fought like we are fighting here, they would surely have a problem of violence much greater than the one we have."

Cabeza de Vaca´s frank critique of the U.S. government´s efforts in the war against drugs comes amid a wave of killings in Mexico, particularly in the cities that border the United States. Many of them are believed to be drug-related.
The violence has raised concerns on both sides of the shared border, influencing the debate about border security and illegal immigration.
Both issues were expected to be high on the agenda when President Vicente Fox met with U.S. President George W. Bush during a two-day summit in the resort of CancĂșn together with Stephen Harper, Canada´s newly elected prime minister.
The summit coincides with debate this week in the U.S. Senate over immigration reforms, including proposals for increased vigilance along the southern U.S. border and tougher penalties on U.S. employers who hire illegal immigrants.
Cabeza de Vaca was quick to say that he and his team have perceived a healthy change of attitude within the U.S. government on the issue of drugs, however.
"At least they now accept co-responsibility for the problem," he said.
In the past, U.S. policy toward drugs resembled "that of the ostrich: to bury its head in the sand and blame everyone else."
Even so, more needs to be done on the U.S. side.
"It is a problem that in large part they provoke because they are the main consumers, the dirty money comes from there and the people who live from drugs are not here: they are over there selling in the streets."
Cabeza de Vaca defended the Mexican government´s policy of pursuing the leaders of the drug cartels, even though analysts say this has fueled the drug-related killings as lower-ranking cartel members fight it out on the streets for control of the business.
But the attorney general warned that the war against drugs would be won only if U.S. authorities were successful in reducing demand at home.
"The hard facts show an increase in demand, a demand that continues to place a lot of pressure on the drugs market," he said.
"We need to reduce the pressure coming from drug consumption in the United States, and that flows of money and arms be controlled."
There was "no indication" that the flow of arms to Mexico from the United States was drying up or that it was being combated effectively, he said.
"There are still around 100,000 points of sale for guns very close to the border and, well, with every day that passes more and more turn up here."
"The quantity of deaths in Mexico, the quantity of police that spend their time combating drugs, the resources that we direct [at drugs] are, in proportion to our gross domestic product, far superior to those that the United States puts forward," he said.
We got a drug problem. They got an arms problem.
We got an immigation problem. They don't object to the money they send back.
They need it to stay alive and pay for security, such as it is.
Just which way does the money flow anyway?
Our currency is printed and distributed by the Treasury Department.
Their currency is grown in the fields.
... anybody connecting the dots, yet?
Just some stuff to think about when immigrants take to the streets April 10. It hasn't happened yet and already I hear serious, otherwise smart people talking about bulding a wall or fence along the Mexican border.
I haven't heard anything about a Canadian fence, although I think that border would be a much easier point of entry for any putative terrorists who didn't want to attract attention. When I snuck into the circus once because I couldn't afford a ticket, I entered the tent arouond back where the performers went in and out. Didn't attract any attention at all. Even took a date! Can you believe it?
Just ramblin'.
Time to go to bed.

Borders' CEO barks back...

Before you get to the good part, do your homework.

Borders and Waldenbooks stores will not stock the April-May issue of Free Inquiry magazine because it contains cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that provoked deadly protests among Muslims in several countries."

For us, the safety and security of our customers and employees is a top priority, and we believe that carrying this issue could challenge that priority," Borders Group Inc. spokeswoman Beth Bingham said Wednesday.

More at the link.

Here is another link to the San Fancisco Gate, same story.

So a bunch of bloggers decided to pounce on Borders to teach them a lesson...
This post at Red State illustrates the point.

Can anyone surmise their reaction if Jerry Falwell came in and told them the Bible should be on the top shelf? They'd politely tell him no and show him the door and the press would ridicule the "Christian extreme right." Or the local Rabbi asked that the Torah be given pride of place on the shelf?

Well, Borders will get one thing from it. I've bought my last book from Borders.

There's more. Lots more, including a volley of righteous indignation from readers in the comments thread.
You get the idea.

Now go to Gerard Vanderleun's blog and read the reply letter from Borders.
No snip can do justice to the whole letter, so go read the whole thing. Really, this time, just do it. Then enjoy the comments. This is about the most satisfying piece of prose I have read all year.

At Borders we make a "business" out of Free Speech and Free Expression. It's a core value. Three other not-so-obvious and possibly competing core values at Borders are 1) Make a profit, 2) No riots in the store, ever, especially not in the Children's section, and 3) All employees and patrons get to home at the end of the day without a side trip to a hospital.

Now you and the other bloggers who are sitting around safe in your undisclosed locations may feel that I have a duty to carry the 46 copies of Free Inquiry magazine with those drawings of the Prophet (Peace be upon his raggedy ass.) in the name of being the last, best bastion of Free Speech in America. I feel your pain, but after due consideration I must respectfully instruct you all to just pound sand.

Who do you think we are up here in Ann Arbor, the 82nd Airborne?

"Day of Action" April 10 -- HEADS UP!

My little blog has never had so much traffic. I feel like the canary in the mine. My careless post last week about the Immigration National Day of Action is getting more hits in less time than anything I have ever posted. The majority of my hits are from Google and other searches but the most interesting statistic of all is Entry Pages ranked by recent popularity.

My post on the Day of Action is ahead of even the home page and the next two or three others together.
The numbers are relatively small by internet standards. Only 33 in all at last check. But compared to past history they are exponential.

A lot of people are using the internet to find out about April 10. I have no way to know if they are thinking of participating, looking or reporting, but the interest is really elevated. My instinct, based on the screen shots of the last such event -- which was all over the country, by the way, not just in San Francisco -- is that we can expect to see a breathtaking amount of people in the streets on April 10.

Just remember, if you haven't already heard it, that you may have heard it here first.

See April 2 post

See April 3 post


E-mail blogging today.
Anyone with email (everybody?) knows about the endless supply of cutesies and forward-thises
that clutter the inbox. Even spam filters don't stop content from loving friends who can't help themselves, but I excuse them all because "it's the thought that counts." And hey, I do the same thing myself from time to time, so I'm in a glass house.

Anyway, I got this list of actual classified ads from a buddy ijn Florida.
Are they real?
Who cares?

8 years old. Hateful little dog. Bites.
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1/2 Cocker Spaniel, 1/2 sneaky neighbor's dog.
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Mother, AKC German Shepherd. Father, Super to leap tall fences in a single bound.
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Looks like a rat ... Been out a while. Better be a reward.
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Also 1 gay bull for sale.
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$300 Hardly used, call Chubby.
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California grown - 89 cents lb.
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Must sell washer and dryer $300.
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Call Stephanie.
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Complete set of Encyclopedia Britannica, 45 volumes. Excellent condition. $1,000 or best offer. No longer needed, got married last month. Wife knows everything.

Generational growth moment

Last night, I was watching American Idol with my 7-year-old daughter. She asked me, "Mommy, what does the person who wins American Idol get?" I said, "They get to make a record."

She thought a minute and asked, "Mommy, what's a record?"


Thursday, March 30, 2006

I'll step in it...

Bullshit, that is.
Jeff Jarvis says the use of that word has a solid political history.

It's so deep now that most people have given up wearing boots.
It's like the word bastard...too many children of unwed mothers running around to risk using the word.

The "Freemen" Standoff remembered

Today's twenty-year-olds were only ten at the time, more interested in toys than current events. Today's thirty-year-olds might have had their politics shaped in part by what was happening around them at the time. Now that is a scary thought, but it may explain why there is such a hunger for talk radio extremism, and why there is such a strong irrational baseline paranoia in the country that many ordinary people give warriors a higher status than peacemakers. (Strong authority figures are always more reassuring in times of crisis than negotiators. When people get out of line they start to look like punks, and it's more satisfying to see somebody kicking ass than talking.) Older people, thirty to fifty, began to wake up from their long political naps and start paying attention to the world around them. Bill Clinton, by then becoming more Republican than the Republicans, was elected to a second term, the economy was moving swimmingly well and the pre-9/11 world was in tall cotton.

But some segments of society were not part of the flow. This reflective article from the Billings Gazette looks vack at the time.

In 1993, David Koresh, a religious fanatic who claimed to be Jesus, gathered the faithful at a compound in Waco, Texas. A 51-day standoff with ATF agents ended April 19 in a bloodbath and fire that left 80 inside the compound and four agents dead.

That, in turn, inspired Timothy McVeigh to bomb the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City exactly two years later on April 19, 1995. His revenge for Waco took 168 lives, including those of 19 children in a day care.

The anti-government movement was sizzling across the country and especially in the West, where suspicion of government authority is woven into the social fabric.

Further infuriating the radical conservative movement was the election and pending re-election of President Clinton, whom many in rural America considered on a par with Satan himself.

Rural Montana has a broad streak of political individualism converging with a generally conservative nature and a strong distrust of government, said Jim Lopach, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Montana.

"I wasn't surprised by the developments in Eastern Montana," he said. "What I was surprised at was the extreme nature of it."

Lopach, who grew up in Great Falls, picked up the flavor of Eastern Montana political culture in 1973 when he worked with the first local government study commissions. Under Montana's 1972 Constitution, elected review commissions were mandated to study their existing government every 10 years and decide whether changes should be offered to the voters.

What citizens told these first study commissions was that they wanted to minimize their governments, Lopach said."

They didn't see government as important in their lives," he said. "There was a pronounced fear of interlocal or inter-governmental cooperation. There was always a fear that it would lead to too much government and a loss of control."

David Neiwert also remembers. He was on the beat at the time, waiting and watching during the long standoff. His comments are worth reading.

Really, it doesn't seem like it was ten years ago that I was freezing my ass off standing out in the eastern Montana plains watching a lot of other journalists do nothing but freeze their asses off, waiting for something, anything to happen at the Freemen compound near Brusett, just outside of Jordan.But damn, it was. Anything since then has been fun in comparison, so that may explain why time has flown by.
The elderly ranchers on whose property the standoff occurred served their sentences and have returned to the county, but the property is no longer theirs. Most of the radical "Freemen" themselves who were responsible for the standoff are still in prison, though a few are due to get out soon...
Certainly, the thing I remember best about the standoff were the journalists I met on my first day in Jordan who'd had their gear hijacked by the Freemen. They'd made the mistake of driving down the road past the Clark place, where the Freemen had put together a sentry post (complete with shooting positions) atop a hill overlooking the road, from which they would drive down and harass people. ...The other memorable part of this was watching the Freemen in court, expounding on their constitutionalist gobbledygook and frazzling the nerves of the normally decorous federal judges.

He concludes with something of a prophetic warning: really wasn't all that long ago that right-wing extremists were talking about revolution, threatening and sometimes killing federal officials, law enforcement officers, and innocent bystanders, attacking mainstream American values, and committing acts of domestic terrorism serially.

It's also worth remembering that they really haven't gone away, either. It seems that Democratic presidents in particular inspire their deepest paranoias; the next one is pretty certain to bring them back out of the woodwork, and perhaps stronger than ever.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Kadima wins -- Sharon was on the right path

I don't follow Israeli politics closely, but this seems important. One would think that the Hamas win in Gaza would trigger a backlash in Israel but Israeli voters are not that easily bent out of shape. CFR has a summary and links to a variety of analyses.

Confirming expectations, Israel's new centrist party was the big winner in the March 28 parliamentary elections, capturing twenty-eight seats (Haaretz). The government will likely be run by a coalition formed by the centrist Kadima, the leftist Labor party—which won twenty seats—and a handful of smaller parties (CSMonitor). The once prominent Likud party had its worst showing in years, taking eleven seats. This leaves Likud leader and former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on the ropes, with members of his own party calling for his resignation (FT).

Such an outcome would have been unimaginable a few short months ago. Then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon sent a shock through the political system by founding Kadima, drawing mass defections, and ending a generation of politics that pitted right versus left. But gone now is Sharon himself. The blow he dealt to the political system was quickly followed by an even more devastating one: a stroke that left Israel's most forceful leader in a coma (WashPost), his career at an end. These events alone would have completely changed Israeli politics. Yet a third bolt from the blue—the victory of the terrorist group Hamas in Palestinian elections—looms even more ominously over the process.

More at the link...

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I have been following an Israeli blog, An Unsealed Room, for a few weeks. Allison Kaplan Sommer is the writer. I gather from her past comments that the blogger's husband is a well-placed government official. She speaks with some knowledge and authority. This was posted "this morning," which occurs several hours ahead of "this morning' in North America.

It's 7 AM Israel time. I collapsed of blogging exhaustion at about 12:30 PM -- I gave up waiting for Olmert to speak.

I woke up to the same news as last night -- the Likud has been smashed to pieces, Kadima will form the government, but they did slightly worse than predicted, dropping from polls showing 32-30 seats, when in reality, they only got 28 and have got to be disappointed. This will make it harder for them to make any really bold moves. And Labor will have them over a barrel in demanding key ministerial positions.

A key strategic error in the campaign -- they acted like confident front-runners, so even those who really wanted them at the helm felt free to vote their social issues and support smaller parties.

I like that Olmert's first act was to reach out to the Palestinians. You've got to try.

Since that post she has added more for those who are interested. I like how she explains stuff.

Kurds in Virginia

I want this post to be at the top of the page today.
Go read it now.

Taxes, Social Security and illegal workers

"Fifty billion dollars a year is collected from illegal workers who will never receive any benefits." That does not take into account other federal and state taxes, sales taxes and other economic activity fueled by their participation.

I was just waking up and heard something like this on NPR's Morning Edition. It's not online yet, but here is the link. Audio should be available later, so if I got it wrong I will make a correction. But I think I heard right.

Fifty. Billion. Dollars.
That's a lot of french fries and chicken legs, as we used to say in the food business.

I know a lot is collected because I know for a fact that illegal workers have the same deductions for FICA and Medicare as everyone else. And even though I know of several illegal workers who lost their jobs, some after two or three years empoloyment...

I never saw a single dime on the P&L Statement indicating that the US Treasury returned money collected on their behalf because they couldn't find an account in which to make a credit.
US Treasury returning money! Hehe...sounds like a joke, no?

Welcome newcomers

For reasons that I can't discover my traffic is improving. I have always known that my views are too marginal, my interests too eclectic to attract many readers. But thanks in part to those very qualities my traffic seems to be overwhelmingly the result of internet searches more than regular readers. This doesn't particularly bother me, although I really enjoy reading comments. I am flattered to imagine that there could be more than a handful of regular subscribers. Looking at the stats is always interesting. I notice this morning there are three readers in the little indicator box, and when I check recent entry page popularity, this is what I get:


Imagine that! The toilet brush and white trash posts are geting more traffic than what I consider some of my more important subjects. If past history is any indication, subscribers usually go away after a short time, all except for one, who I expect is someone who either knows of me personally from some other setting, or has simply forgot to edit his or her aggregator.
Go figure.
But whatever...Welcome to Hoots' Place. whoever you are.

(Note: for some reason the links don't work from this post. I tried. I guess I messed up the links when I made the post, but you get the idea. They are all real and the people looking for them got where they were going. Curiosity-seekers can do a Google site-search and find whatever they want. Cheers. Hoots.)

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Tom Watson quote

This is excellent. I have nothing to add. Go read the whole post.

Only a fool or a nativist proposes a 700-mile fence along a peaceful border, or institutes long jail sentences for 11 million men and women and children whose only crime is coming here looking for a better life. Neither is feasible. Neither is American.

Patriot Act in action

Barkley Rosser posts this on Max Sawicky's blog:


The following is something that has not hit the media at all, other than a story in the Harrisonburg Daily News-Record that simply repeated FBI propaganda about this awful case. Harrisonburg, Virginia happens to have one of the largest enclaves of Iraqi Kurdish population in the US. They all came in the late 1990s to flee from Saddam Hussein's regime after working for pro-US NGOs and having their lives threatened. They applauded at the fall of Saddam.

However, four of them have been arrested for transferring funds to their families and charitable organizations in Iraqi Kurdistan without a license, a felony offense under the Patriot Act and the act to keep Cubans from sending money to their relatives in Cuba. One has been convicted in a trial in which most of the evidence was not allowed and in which the FBI suggested that the defendant was a terrorist. These people were cowed into not talking to the media, and now they are all in deep trouble. Their homes have been raided, their money seized, even things like medical insurance cards (with one wife pregnant), applications for citizenship are off, they are facing deportation, and so on. They were assigned a Croatian translator for the court. There is a serious string of outrages associated with this with no coverage by any serious media. The FBI agent in charge even told them, "I know you are not the bad guys, but too much paperwork has gone forward on this."

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This is obscene.
There are contact people at the link with email addresses and phone numbers to contact for anyone wanting to help.
Stuff like this makes me want to be either young, free and foolish again or independently wealthy so I could really raise a stink. The best I can do at the moment is spread the word by blogging. It's almost like sports. One good hit is all I need to hit one out of the park. The closing lines of the piece are sad but true.

Unfortunately this is what we are coming to in America right now, the FBI trying to prove it is fighting terrorism after all the revelations of its incompetence, and violating peoples' human rights.


Finally, a column reporting from a sympathetic perspective on the plight of the Kurds of Harrisonburg appeared in yesterday's (April 12, 2006) Harrisonburg Daily News-Record, our main local newspaper. It was written by Ruth Stoltzfus Jost (her name is misspelled at the head of the column), a Mennonite lawyer here in Harrisonburg, and is entitled, "We Know You're Not The Bad Guys." It provides many useful details regarding their situation.

More at the link.

Eugene Volokh also noticed and made a few comments.

Jane Galt on Healthcare

Jane Galt has advanced an elegantly simple plan for universal health care.

Have the government pay for all health care expenditures above 15% of adjusted gross income, and cover 100% of health care expenditures by people living under 200% of the poverty line.

These few words do not begin to reveal the load of thinking that lies behind them. They are from Part IV of a series of posts that lead the reader through various arguments that went before. I never found Part I, but I did print out the other three posts in sequence so I could read them sequentially without distractions.

I learned a lot and thought a lot as I read. She has done her homework and makes her proposal with a goodly dose of pragmatism, but the part I like is that she has a heart as well. That component -- call it compassion, bleeding heart, whatever -- is conspicuously missing in most of what I read about health care. There is general agreement that the system is broken, but most of what I come across has either a let-them-eat-cake or they-deserve-what-they-get or welfare-makes-people-lazy attitude. I don't find any of that here.

It's past time that serious people start paying attention. Fortunately, this post has caught the notice of a couple of very smart people, and Tyler Cowen. If the reader has not done so, I recommend reading the whole dissertation by Jane Galt first. This will not be easy. If you make a document it will run to about eight pages if you don't print any of the comments. To appreciate fully what she is doing it is important to follow all the stuff she left out of her final proposal.

Tyler Cowen raises some imporant questions that have to be considered. By the time I found his post I had already read Kling's comments, but Dr. Cowen linked to them as well. When Arnold Kling advances the notion of "mandatory savings accounts, so that people save enough to have $100,000 when they reach 65 to cover the cost of remaining lifetime care" [see post] I think he is living in a fool's paradise, but at least he is reading some of the alternatives.

This morning I am tempted to get on a soapbox again, but nothing I add here will have any real impact. My blog is nothing more than a cog in the machinery of a great public discussion, and nothing I say will travel too far. But I can at least aim readers in the right direction who are serious about thinking and learning.

[My blog is a cog. I like that...Blogcoggery...Bloggety-Cog...throw a wrench in the cog...or a wrench in the Blog...or a wench...hey, this could get to be fun...'Scuse me. Keep movin']

Outback Steakhouse in Korea

Via Argghhh Blog we learn that Outback is one of the largest restaurant chains in Korea. If you follow the link, be sure to check out the menu links provided. Reading the description brought back a flood of good memories of eating out in Korea long, long ago. I experienced a level of customer service there that was like nothing I had ever seen before. Looks like things have not changed.

I tried to copy and paste a snip for my blog, but the site has some kind of "don't touch me" feature that won't allow ordinary people like me to do that. I wanted to do a longer post, but it's too much trouble and I'm on my way to a more important topic.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Juan Cole comments on yesterday's events in Iraq

All hell broke loose in Iraq on Sunday, but I'm darned if I can figure out most of what happened or why. It seems possible that the US committed two major military blunders that will worsen its relationship with Iraqi political forces.

I haven't linked too much to Juan Cole lately because several of the blogs I have been following by others specializing on the ME seem not to hold him in high esteem. One thing is sure: like it or not, he is one of the acknowledged experts on the area, whether or not he lives there, speaks Arabic, or anything else. He's an academic. It's his job to stay informed. Anything more is simply a difference of opinion.

Today's blogpost is worth reading. If he says up front he can't figure out what is going on, that tells me things are really a mess. Candor like that is worth a lot in my book.

I don't feel too embarrassed now about my own post at the time.

They call such evils "peace"

For the idea of making idols was the beginning of fornication, and the invention of them was the corruption of life, for neither have they existed from the beginning nor will they exist for ever. For through the vanity of men they entered the world, and therefore their speedy end has been planned.

For a father, consumed with grief at an untimely bereavement, made an image of his child, who had been suddenly taken from him; and he now honored as a god what was once a dead human being, and handed on to his dependents secret rites and initiations. Then the ungodly custom, grown strong withtime, was kept as a law, and at the command of monarchs graven images were worshiped.

When men could not honor monarchs in their presence, since they lived at a distance, they imagined their appearance far away, and made a visible image of the king whom they honored, so that by their zeal they might flatter the absent one as though present. Then the ambition of the craftsman impelled even those who did not know the king to intensify their worship. For he, perhaps wishing to please his ruler, skilfully forced the likeness to take more beautiful form, and the multitude, attracted by the charm of his work, now regarded as an object of worship the one whom shortly before they had honored as a man.

And this became a hidden trap for mankind, because men, in bondage to misfortune or to royal authority, bestowed on objects of stone or wood the name that ought not to be shared.

Afterward it was not enough for them to err about the knowledge of God, but they live in great strife due to ignorance, and they call such great evils peace.

For whether they kill children in their initiations, or celebrate secret mysteries, or hold frenzied revels with strange customs, they no longer keep either their lives or their marriages pure, but they either treacherously kill one another, or grieve one another by adultery, and all is a raging riot of blood and murder, theft and deceit, corruption, faithlessness, tumult, perjury, confusion over what is good, forgetfulness of favors, pollution of souls, sex perversion, disorder in marriage, adultery, and debauchery.

For the worship of idols not to be named is the beginning and cause and end of every evil. For their worshipers either rave in exultation, or prophesy lies, or live unrighteously, or readily commit perjury; for because they trust in lifeless idols they swear wicked oaths and expect to suffer no harm.

But just penalties will overtake them on two counts: because they thought wickedly of God in devoting themselves to idols, and because in deceit they swore unrighteously through contempt for holiness. For it is not the power of the things by which men swear, but the just penalty for those who sin, that always pursues the transgression of the unrighteous.

Wisdom of Solomon 14: 12-31

Tempting as it was, I decided not to hyperlink various words and phrases to contemporary events and trends. I made a couple of connections last month.
The intelligent reader can supply his own connections.
Or not. Who knows? Maybe Solomon was out of line...Maybe that is part of the reason this book never made the finals of American, excuse me...the canon.

"This article may not conform to the neutral point of view policy."

Thus spake Wikipedia about the article entitled World War IV.

We'll see how long it lasts...
The article, that is. Not the War.
The article may go but the War will continue.

[Note to the grandchildren, about twenty years hence: Hi, ya'll! Having fun yet? ]

Riverbend nominated for award

An anonymous Iraqi woman has been nominated for one of the Britain's most prestigious literary prizes, after writing a blog charting "three years of occupation and bloodshed" in Baghdad.

Alongside literary giants such as Alan Bennett, the 27-year-old Iraqi university graduate has been longlisted for the £30,000 (NZ$85,000) Samuel Johnson Prize, the most valuable award in non-fiction.

Writing under the pseudonym Riverbend - the blog (see link below) chronicles three war-ravaged years in her home city and calls for the withdrawal of US troops. Baghdad Burning, published by the independent publishers, Marion Boyars, is among 19 candidates for the award which is open to any writers whose books are published in English.

Other contenders include Untold Stories by Alan Bennett, After The Victorians by AN Wilson, and a biography of Mrs Beeton by Kathryn Hughes. Little is known about the author of Baghdad Burning, who prefers to remain anonymous.

From the New Zealand Herald, H/T UAE Community Blog

Saddam Hussein trial watch

The trial of Saddam Hussein has gone idle as civil order in Iraq continues to deteriorate. The most recent question addressed by the Grotian Moment blog is Issue #35: What Happens to the Saddam Trial if Civil War Consumes Iraq.

David Scheffer authors the principle comment, published a week ago, which is followed by several others reflecting various alternative views. I'm not sure what to make of the significance, if any, of the absence of any remarks by Michael P. Scharf himself, lead council for the prosecution.

If you have time on your hands this makes an interesting read, including arguments about the death penalty. There is something surreal about the image of a high-profile trial in which every measure is being taken to insure the safety of all participants, against the specter of the breakdown of order -- such as it was/is -- in the country. Scheffer's opening paragraph concludes with a pragmatic assessment of the situation...

Whether the trials remain open or closed, witnesses increasingly will fear giving testimony. One can imagine the threats to judges, prosecutors, and defense counsel rising and, with their families at risk, many may abandon their important roles in the trials or be killed or wounded trying to fulfill their duties. Even journalists will find it very difficult to cover the trials each day, particularly if their editors and producers deploy them to cover the civil war and a potentially crumbling government, or pull them out of Iraq all together for their own safety. Trial delays will multiply. As the American security umbrella begins to fold, security will become increasingly problematic.

"As the American security umbrella begins to fold..."

It begs the question: security for whom? The individual who supposedly triggered this war is now the beneficiary of a higher level of security than almost anyone else in Iraq. These are strange times indeed in which we live. I want to write something that will help my grandchildren understand what is going on but I cannot find the words. There are too many contradictions. They will have the advantage of hindsight, knowing the eventual outcome, but at this moment we live in a cloud of unknowing. That phrase "fog of war" doesn't come close to the blindness of our condition.

This essay at 3Quarks by Mark Blythe is instructive.

(Mark Blyth is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University. He has also been a visiting professor in the UK, France, Germany, and Singapore. He is the author of Great Transformations: Economic Ideas and Institutional Change in the Twentieth Century and is currently working on three projects: a book on party politics and political economy in advanced welfare states called The New Political Economy of Party Politics, an edited volume on constuctivist theory and political economy entitled Constructivist Political Economy, and a series of papers on probability, randomness, and epistemology in the social sciences, which may or may not end up a book.)

An oft heard remark about Iraq today (at least where I hang out) is something along the lines of “Well, it may be bad over there, but at least they (the Iraqi people) are better off than they were under Saddam.” Such a response strikes me as simultaneously reasonable (it may be true) and false, insofar as it may be little more than the ‘last line of defense’ justification of many folks for what is increasingly seen as a losing proposition. Bush’s recent declaration that finishing the war will be effectively ‘someone else’s problem,’ seems only to strengthen the latter interpretation. But let’s take the claim of “at least they are better off than they were under Saddam” seriously for a moment. For if it is true, then one might hope that the future is not so bleak after all.

He takes a look at several indicators comparing life in Iraq before and after Saddam. Tucked into the narrative is this piquant metaphor:

...if you throw yourself out of a building and break both your legs... the ability to crawl away on your elbows...could be considered a success -– on average.

He was discussing economics, but the image really applies to the whole circumstance of Iraq. His concluding paragraph falls short of optimistic. I want to argue with him, but I can't.

Overall then, conditions in Iraq may be ostensibly better today than they were in the past, on average, but they may feel worse, and that’s what counts. Even though the body count is lower, even though there is more electricity, and even if there is more wealth in the country, such factors, and focusing on such factors, may be less important to understanding where Iraq is heading than we think. The Iraqi people “may be better off now then they were under Saddam”, but if it doesn’t feel any better to the people on the ground, we should not expect less bodies and more wealth –- on average –- to really make a difference.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

April 10 -- a "National Day of Action"

That's a Monday. What kind of "action" isn't clear. I expect last Friday's events to look like a dress rehersal for one really gigantic expression of solidarity among immigrants, mostly Latinos.

As the Senate prepares to debate immigration reform, the coalition of union and civil rights groups announced a National Day of Action on Immigrant Rights on April 10.

The groups plan rallies in San Antonio; Chicago; Denver; Las Cruces, N.M.; Los Angeles; Milwaukee; New York; Philadelphia; Tucson; and Washington.


In a nationwide poll conducted by Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn., 88 percent of respondents thought illegal immigration was a serious issue. At least 25 percent opposed driver's licenses for illegal aliens.

The poll was conducted in late February and surveyed 1,892 registered voters. The margin of error was 2.3 percentage points.

Quinnipiac found that 39 percent want to reduce the level of legal immigration and as many as 62 percent oppose easing requirements for illegal aliens to become citizens.

Wade Henderson, executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, said the immigration system is broken and that legislation such as Mrs. Sensenbrenner's would do little to rectify it.

"With measures like HR 4437, Congress appears to be heading down a dangerous and discriminatory path," he said.

Advocates will call for comprehensive immigration reform April 10 during a National Day of Action on Immigrant Rights.

Protests are scheduled for the District, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, New York, Philadelphia, San Antonio, Las Cruces, N.M., and Tucson, Ariz.


...the nation’s two labor federations and their allies have launched mass protests and lobbying for positive immigration reform. Demonstrations began March 10 with a 400,000-person march in Chicago’s Loop. And the AFL-CIO, Change to Win, La Raza Unida, LULAC, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and others will build up to a mass march in D.C. during a “National Day of Action” on April 10, leaders told a D.C. press conference on March 22.

Marches will also occur that day in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Denver, Philadelphia, San Antonio, Milwaukee, Tucson and Las Cruces, N.M., among others.


Saturday was the second day of similar marches across the country. The rallies were spurred by efforts to crack down on illegal immigration. The Senate is preparing to debate legislation increasing penalties for undocumented aliens and people who hire them.

The marches are expected to culminate in a "National Day of Action" April 10 organized by labor, immigration, civil rights and religious groups.


Hmm...I'm off on Mondays. Just like the good old days. I can wear a white teeshirt. Get in the streets. If I could be an honorary Jew, I could also be an honorary Latino on April 10.

Update #1:
Since this post was published traffic on this blog has multiplied with searches about April 10. Since that time there have been a number of additional posts pertaining to that event.

Undocumented workers are rebuilding New Orleans

LULAC -- League of United Latin American Citizens (Includes a detailed summary from The Immigrant Legal Resource Center explaining the legal problems with HR 4437, the proposed bill that seems to have prompted immigrant groups to take to the streets.

Lazy Mexicans

Cubans in America are refugees, not immigrants

Andrew Sullivan, London Times, Sheriff Bush and the Latinos

"If these were northern Europeans pouring across the border, nobody would care." (Chris Matthews)

Update #2:

Additional links outside this blog pertaining to immigrant issues generally and Monday's nationwide rally specifically...

FIRM - the Fair Immigration Reform Movement -- state by state list of locations and contacts.

New American Opportunity Campaign -- coalition of various groups -- list of upcoming events

NCLR Homepage (National Council of La Raza)

Asian American Justice Center, Homepage

*** ***
*** ***
Hootsbuddy's advice: This event on Monday looks to be big. Really big. What that means is that a lot of people will be taking part who otherwise might never be in the same room together, yet all have found common cause moving them to speak out.
There are two big types of "leadership." One has to do with setting a good example, doing the hard, boring, thankless work of organizing, coordinating and cleaning up afterward. The other is to "find a parade and get in front of it."
Know what kind of leaders you are seeking and which to avoid. Do not allow the excitement of the moment cause you to do anything you might later regret. You can always get more pushy, more militant, more aggressive should the need arise. But once you have traveled down that path it is not easy to return.
Some people have nothing to lose and therefore are willing to risk everything, even their safety and future, for the chance to 'get something."
Those with something to lose tend to be more careful about what they do, what they say, and how they behave. If you have something to lose, remember the difference.
I pray that Monday will be a wakeup call for everyday Americans who have never been privileged to know anyone other than people like themselves. Unfortunately, that is probably most Americans. If you have to awaken someone who is asleep, he will awaken in a better humor in response to quiet gesture than a splash of ice-water. Sheer numbers is a powerful statement.

"...thrust U.S. troops into their bloodiest conflict with Shi'ites in two years"

U.S. troops mounted two raids against Iraqi Shi'ite forces in Baghdad on Sunday, killing up to 20 gunmen in an assault around a radical mosque and arresting over 40 Interior Ministry personnel guarding a secret prison.

The incidents prompted angry accusations against U.S. forces by powerful politicians from Iraq's Shi'ite majority.

Details were sketchy but the two operations looked like U.S. strikes against sectarian Shi'ite militias of the kind the U.S. ambassador said on Saturday must be brought to heel if Iraq is to form a unity government and halt a slide towards civil war.

It comes as Washington has increased pressure on the ruling Shi'ite Islamist political bloc to bring minority Sunnis into government -- it is even planning landmark talks with hostile Shi'ite Iran to try to break the impasse -- and thrust U.S. troops into their bloodiest conflict with Shi'ites in two years.

Hmm. "...brought to heel..." Here's the link.
Great turn of a phrase there. Some of the allies are getting out of hand, it seems.
Further down in the story we find...

Senior aides to Sadr accused U.S. troops of shooting dead more than 20 unarmed worshippers at the Mustafa mosque after tying them up. The mosque's faithful follow Sadr but the aides denied they were Mehdi Army gunmen.

"The American forces went into Mustafa mosque at prayers and killed more than 20 worshippers," Hazim al-Araji said.

"They tied them up and shot them."

Another Sadr associate, Transport Minister Salem al-Maliki, said: "There was a dirty invasion by the U.S. forces.

"This was part of an escalation programme to drag Sadr's group into another battle or to obstruct the political process."

Earlier, in an unusual admission, Interior Ministry officials said a police major accused of taking part in death squad killings had been arrested in Baquba, northeast of Baghdad.

Arkan al-Bawi is the brother of the provincial police chief.

In an indication of the scale of the violence, Iraqi forces said they could not identify 30 bodies found on the main street of a village near Baquba on Sunday. Most had been beheaded.

Remember that Sadr is our putative ally now. It was his aides, not he, who made the accusation that US troops were acting up. I notice, too, they are not called "coalition" forces.
"Death squad killings" were reported...police chief's brother implicated...bodies with heads missing...
This is not a good thing. Not good at all.
This is also not a big surprise. Such eventual complications were pointed out last year when there was a realignment of...of what? Military objectives? Diplomacy? Foreign policy? Muddling?

I did a post last year that can now be revisited with new insights.
The CFR had a fairly unsettling report that proves now to have been on target.

There is a growing chorus of complaints from Sunni Arab leaders that the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) has been infiltrated by Shiite militias that engage in torture, kidnappings, and, in some cases, deaths squads against Sunnis. Though Iraq’s leadership downplays these outbreaks of violence, experts say there is widespread evidence that an increasing number of members of the Mahdi Army, led by the hot-headed Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, and Badr Organization are joining the ranks of Iraq’s military and engaging in paramilitary-style policing methods.
These militias have put the U.S. government in a difficult bind: On one hand, experts say, these groups are effective in fighting the Sunni-led insurgency. Last year, the U.S. military fought alongside militia groups in counterinsurgency operations in Mosul and Samarra. On the other hand, these groups are fueling sectarian tensions and infiltrating the military, which raises doubts as to where these soldiers’ allegiance lies.

But U.S. officials seem unworried by the spread of militias. “They are increasingly an Iraqi problem, not a U.S.problem,” says a senior Defense Department official who preferred not to be named. Though Iraqi militias were technically banned by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in June 2004, the U.S. military is “encouraging existing militias into the security services—that is true,” says the Defense Department official. “We continue to examine their loyalties but also are trying to build loyalty [to the Iraqi state].”

U.S. officials were not worried. Iraqi problem, you know.
"...examining loyalites..." I bet.

If I may be so bold as to quote myself...

Clearly we cannot discern among the many groups that make up the Iraqi population. I don't know how many there are, but there are a lot more than three. This is a very poor taxonomy to decide whether or not we are supposed to be killing people. And outsourcing the job to thugs is not the best way to create good public relations.

We are not on the side of many angels in Iraq. Our intentions may be good, but our connections are badly out of synch with our ideals. The Badr Brigade and its wicked offspring-- our official allies, incidentally -- do not make the US look any better in the eyes of everyday people there.

Monday update: Richard Boudreaux, Los Angeles Times, in Seattle Times

The incident is politically explosive because the mosque is a stronghold of followers of the radical Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose Iranian-backed movement has a powerful bloc in parliament and a large sectarian militia.

Sunday's clash was the most serious between that militia and U.S. forces since al-Sadr led two anti-American uprisings in 2004.

In increasingly insistent language, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad has been pressing Iraq's leaders to disband such militias, which he blames for much of the sectarian killing that has spiraled since the Feb. 22 bombing of a Shiite shrine in the mostly Sunni Arab city of Samarra.

Dozens of people are found dead each day in a shadowy campaign of executions.

More to read at the link, if you have the stomach.

(That part about disbanding militias interests me. If that can be accomplished in Iraq, getting a handle on gangs in U.S. cities should be a snap. Oh, I forgot. I don't think Iraq has a Second Amendment yet. Sorry, I couldn't resist.)

Sunday also brought more violence. In addition to the 30 bodies discovered by the highway, police said 13 corpses were found in other parts of the country and 10 other Iraqis were killed. They included a 13-year-old boy hit by a bomb blast as he walked to school in the southern city of Basra.

Arkan Bawi, a police major accused of heading a death squad in Baqouba, was summoned to Interior Ministry headquarters in Baghdad and placed under arrest. It was unclear what prompted the rare instance of an official investigation into such charges.

Meanwhile, U.S. troops investigating alleged abuse of prisoners by the Interior Ministry raided a detention facility but left after determining 17 Sudanese there were being held legally, an Iraqi official said.

End of story.
Excuse me...Sudanese? Seventeen of them? In Iraq? Held legally?
That looks like a story to me.
But the investigators left? Or so the Iraqi official said.
Hello out there....
Anybody listening???

Jimmy Carter and Guinea Worms

For untold generations here [Nigeria], yardlong, spaghetti-thin worms erupted from the legs or feet — or even eye sockets — of victims, forcing their way out by exuding acid under the skin until it bubbled and burst. The searing pain drove them to plunge the blisters into the nearest pool of water, whereupon the worm would squirt out a milky cloud of larvae, starting the cycle anew.

"The pain is like if you stab somebody," said Hyacinth Igelle, a farmer with a worm coming out of a hand so swollen and tender that he could not hold a hoe. He indicated how the pain moved slowly up his arm. "It is like fire — it comes late, but you feel it even unto your heart."

Now, thanks to a relentless 20-year campaign led by former President Jimmy Carter, Guinea worm is poised to become the first disease since smallpox to be pushed into oblivion. Fewer than 12,000 cases were found last year, down from 3 million in 1986.

New York Times has a Sunday feature.

Too bad so many otherwise sensible people disregard the Times as just another leftist rag of that despised MSM. But what the hey! When the talk about Jimmy Carter it only proves the point, right? On this weekend of progressive resurgence, with embarrasement about that guy's plagiarism, Latinos in the street and the president's slip about "future presidents" (plural)...I expect a lot of big guns are being loaded for some big journalistic volley next week.
I, for one, can wait.

Pandagon on Latino Liberation Day

I don't read Pandagon much because I simply don't have enough time in my life. I spend so much time reading stuff I don't agree with that listening to the rest of the choir is a luxury more than a mission. But this comment on Friday's massive Hispanic demonstrations in San Francisco gets it about right.

This may be the straw that breaks the Rethug camel’s back. The 30% or so clinging to the delusion that Dear Leader is god will turn on him on this issue.

The freeper set is so virulently hateful towards undocumented workers (who are here mowing their lawns, working in restaurants they nosh in and picking the fresh produce they buy, of course) that this is the issue that will eat the GOP alive — and the pols know it.
[Quote from the link...]
As I’ve discussed in prior posts, this is a complicated issue, fraught with political landmines for both parties, but as the GOP clowns are in charge of things, Bush and the the Rethugs on the Hill will be the ones to take the fall if they accommodate the xenophobic cretins or the businessmen bed buddies who love the cheap, exploitable labor pool.

Play that tiny violin and watch the racist Freepi explode…

There follows a revealing collection of actual snips from a single comment thread from the Free Republic blog. Hats off the anyone with the patience and discipline to sift through piles of ore to find these nuggets. I'm glad there are peope able to do that. David Neiwert is another one.

With people like that doing the spade work I don't feel so lost when I read the news. At some level I know that the seething, savage, thoughtless, careless quip-tossers may be in a loud and swelling majority, but as long as they are not on the side of the angels I may have something to fear but can submit to defeat in the sure knowledge that my soul is headed in the right direction.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Clorox Toilet Wand ad

I saw this ad in the doctor's office and knew it had to be shared.

Tried to find it online but to no avail, so I had to go out and buy this month's Reader's Digest and scan it.

Caption says:

Just be glad we don't make toilet paper.

No exclamation point, either. That's classy.
Where do you go to nominate an advertisement for awards? This one has to get in the running.

(And another thing...was this a custom ad for little periodicals that one is more apt to find while sitting on the John?)

It's a big outfit, kinda like the government. So if you want to get your own, I already looked it up.
Amazon has the goods.
The ad is on page 84 of the April Reader's Digest.

Sunday night: Woo-hoo...I got my first hit from the Clorox page at Google Finance!
Hi, Guys! Welcome to Hoots' Place.

Zayed reports from Baghdad

This is from yesterday's post at Healing Iraq blog. The irony of the blog name is inescapable.

Please don’t ask me whether I believe Iraq is on the verge of civil war yet or not. I have never experienced a civil war before, only regular ones. All I see is that both sides are engaged in tit-for-tat lynchings and summary executions. I see governmental forces openly taking sides or stepping aside. I see an occupation force that is clueless about what is going on in the country. I see politicians that distrust each other and continue to flame the situation for their own personal interests. I see Islamic clerics delivering fiery sermons against each other, then smile and hug each other at the end of the day in staged PR stunts. I see the country breaking into pieces. The frontlines between different districts of Baghdad are already clearly demarked and ready for the battle. I was stopped in my own neighbourhood yesterday by a watch team and questioned where I live and what I was doing in that area. I see other people curiously staring in each other’s faces on the street. I see hundreds of people disappearing in the middle of the night and their corpses surfacing next day with electric drill holes in them. I see people blown up to smithereens because a brainwashed virgin seeker targeted a crowded market or cafĂ©. I see all that and more.

Don’t you dare chastise me for writing about what I see in my country.

Another Iraqi blogger living in London, using the screen name Salam Adil, puts together a summary of current Iraqi voices at Global Voices Online. Those of us who follow Iraqi blogs have already seen this material, but the casual reader who would like to see a collection of thumbnails can find them here. The piece is cross-posted at his personal blog, Asterism.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Korea note -- ROK & DPRK cooperation

Business Week had a little article with a big story. I haven't run across any online note, but the implications are enormous. Dear Leader is apparently allowing North Korean workers to work for South Korean companies under tight controls.

For decades, there has not been much traffic across the demilitarized zone dividing North and South Korea, where hundreds of thousands of soldiers are on constant alert. But these days, some 200 cars, trucks, and buses cross the border every day.

They're going to the Kaesong Industrial Complex, a dusty outpost that is North Korea's boldest economic initiative in decades. Just an hour north of Seoul, Kaesong is cordoned off from the rest of North Korea by seven-foot-high fences patrolled by squads of soldiers.

Just after 7:00 a.m., Monday through Saturday, dozens of buses from North Korea enter Kaesong, ferrying some 6,000 northern workers to 11 South Korean-owned factories to make shoes, clothing, pots, and other low-tech goods. Another 28 South Korean outfits have signed agreements to set up plants there, while 1,000 more are considering such a move, the Seoul government says.

The idea behind the effort is simple: North Korea is home to a huge, cheap, and underemployed workforce. South Korea needs a low-wage manufacturing base to compete with China. By 2012, Kaesong could be home to 725,000 jobs and generate $500 million in wages annually for the North Korean economy, figures Park Suhk Sam, senior economist at Bank of Korea. After a five-year tax holiday expires, another $1.8 billion might tumble in annually from corporate taxes levied on South Korean companies operating there. "The overall impact on the North will be huge," Park says.

North Korea's "Dear Leader," Kim Jong Il, has little choice but to experiment, given the dire condition of the North's economy. True, Kim's first priority is political self-preservation, so any opening will be measured. But since 2002 he has embraced -- however grudgingly -- tentative economic reforms. State-owned farms and factories that exceed production targets are now rewarded with higher wages. And Pyongyang has eased price controls and opened private markets where food and consumer goods are sold. "North Korea is pushing ahead with changes to the extent that they will not jeopardize its regime," says Paik Hak Soon, a security expert at the Sejong Institute, a Seoul think tank.

For South Korean companies, Kaesong offers plenty of advantages. North Korean workers at Kaesong earn about $50 a month, around half the average wage for unskilled workers in China and less than 10% of what South Koreans earn. Kaesong "offers better business conditions than China," says Moon Chang Seop, president of shoemaker Samduk Stafild. The company has invested $10 million in its spotless Kaesong factory, where some 1,200 workers cut and stitch shoes.

Outsourced work for South Korean capitalists may not be exactly what Marx and Engels -- or Kim Il Sung (Kim Jong Il's father) -- had in mind, but it could be the only hope for Pyongyang.

This is a very significant story. I am amazed that it is not getting more attention.

Now get a load of this...

A U.S. Congress staff member visited a joint North-South Korean industrial project in the north to learn more about it, the U.S. Embassy in Seoul said Tuesday.

Douglas Anderson, a staffer on the House International Relations Committee, looked around the South Korean-run industrial complex in the Northern border city of Kaesong for several hours on Monday, said embassy spokesman Robert Ogburn.

''He has wanted to go up and see and what it was like, and we sent a couple of embassy guys to go with him,'' the spokesman said.

South Korean media reported that it was the first time U.S. officials have visited the industrial zone, but Ogburn said it's not. ''Working-level people have been there before,'' he said, without giving further details.

The Kaesong industrial complex is one of the showcase inter-Korean projects launched after the landmark 2000 summit between the two country's leaders.

Fifteen South Korean companies now operate at the complex, using cheap North Korean labor. They started producing kitchenware and other goods in late 2004.About 6,000 North Korean workers are employed at the factories.

South Korea hopes that a potential free trade agreement with the United States could include goods made at a joint industrial zone in North Korea.

But Washington is against it as a free trade deal only applies to goods originating within the territories of the two parties of the agreement _ South Korea and the United States

Great, huh?

More here.

So what am I missing? Is US policy so fixated on North Korea as an enemy that anything resembling a rapprochement of the two Koreas is anathema?

The Marmot's Hole, which I consider the preeminent Korean blog in English, posts about this development. It looks as though things are developing between the two Koreas with or without the advice, participation or approval of any of the big powers. That would mean China, Japan and the U.S. There is a chance that these moves are being done with tacit U.S. approval, but I don't give the State Department that much credit. Or if the State Department is involved, it would come as a surprise to me if the administration is in the loop.

In case sensible ideas don't work out, deniability remains a safety net. I'm not sure what the safety net is when dumb ideas result in spectacular failure.

Muddling Through

One of the odd symptoms of corneal dystrophy is being waked up from a deep, satisfying sleep by sharp pain. During the day, when the cornea is open to air, it settles down and feels natural. In fact, one of the ways to get comfortable is to hold a hair dryer at arm's length and allow warm air to waft directly on the eyeball, which helps take excess moisture from a swollen cornea and make it feel better. Believe it or not, it also makes the vision better as blurry becomes more in focus.

There must be some bizarre, symbolic connection here. Here I am in the middle of the night, waiting for my eye to dry out a bit so I can go back to sleep, and I come across these two wonderful quotes. Completely unrelated sources come to the same conclusion. Leon Hadar first:

If you accept the notion that the modus operandi of the Bush administration's foreign policy is muddling through, that it really does not have a "National Security Strategy," all the "inconsistencies" suddenly make a lot of sense.

He concludes with an obliquely optimistic stinger...

For some, it might sound like bad news. Perhaps we should regard it as good news if we recall that the only time that the Bush administration was not muddling through was when it decided to invade Iraq. It thought that it knew what it was doing. Now it finally recognizes that it does not. And that's progress.

Just before reading this I came across Churchill's great take on the Yanks...

"Americans always do the right thing after they have tried everything else".

...cited by M. Simon who concluded his assessment of the administration's foreign policy in exactly the same way.

It is a weakness and a strength. Why strength? Because eventually the right policy will be found. What is required is time.

The Brits BTW have a name for this managing style - they call it muddling through. We Americans put it in a fancy dress and call it adapting to circumstances.

Time to go back to bed. Maybe things will look better in the morning.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Dr. Bob on addictive behavior

With his usual compelling clarity Dr. Bob hammers away at a durable myth. In my case he is preaching to the choir, but I want to spread the word.

I was listening to Bill O’Reilly on the radio recently, discussing a sports figure whose career was ended by drug use. He was using it as a segue into his philosophy about drug laws, enforcement, legalization and addiction. Now, I generally like O’Reilly, and agree with him maybe 60-70% of the time, but he–and almost all conservatives I’ve listened to on this topic–are way off base about this issue. His conclusion, in essence, was that all this discussion about “diseases” such as addiction was an excuse to avoid personal responsibility and create victims–addiction was, pure and simple, a personal choice made by individuals, who could just as easily choose to give it up and live responsible, upright lives.

It’s a sentiment I understand fully. And it’s fully wrong.

Even if you don't care to read the post go look at the picture of a smoking cat.


Texas arresting people in bars for being drunk.


I don't think I can improve on this story unless there are more arrests for indecency because men are unzipping their trousers to pee.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

"Was it self-defense, an accident or cold-blooded revenge?"

Time Magazine documents a horrible tragedy from November.

...According to eyewitnesses and local officials interviewed over the past 10 weeks, the civilians who died in Haditha on Nov. 19 were killed not by a roadside bomb but by the Marines themselves, who went on a rampage in the village after the attack, killing 15 unarmed Iraqis in their homes, including seven women and three children. Human-rights activists say that if the accusations are true, the incident ranks as the worst case of deliberate killing of Iraqi civilians by U.S. service members since the war began.

...The military announced last week that the matter has been handed over to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), which will conduct a criminal investigation to determine whether the troops broke the laws of war by deliberately targeting civilians.

I don't have what it takes to even read through the whole article. For anyone interested, there are slides and further descriptions at the link.

Hammer of Truth blog has a synopsis with predictable carping in the comments.

Independent On-line story (UK)

This is madness. Sheer madness.

In yesterday's press conference the president came across to me as sincere in his convictions and absolutely sure of his moral stand. I can remember as though it were last week that many people I knew and loved, even my own family members, came across the same way years ago when they argued against both the civil rights movement and opposition to another war. And they were wrong. Tragically, sincerely and inescapably wrong. So, too, is the president.

It has been said that war is an extension of diplomacy by other means. That may be true, but it fails to go far enough. At its most powerful, war is an extension of faith itself. At some point the fulcrum of faith moves from divine to secular. At that point our efforts no longer serve the forces of light and fall into a great deception which unwittingly serves the forces of darkness.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Personal Notes

Tonight I need to do a little personal blogging. A couple of things have been on my mind for a day or two that need to get into words. Where to start.....?

Before I forget, there was a great moment this morning on the way to work. I stopped for a cup of coffee at a convenience store and there was a woman in front of me making a transaction. In order to get thr full benefit of the moment, you have to get in the mood. If you're not from the South or have never lived in the South this is not easy. We have a wonderful social matrix down heah that has no equal any place else. If you are able to enjoy this morning's post about White Trach Palace, the post just under this one, you might get where this is going. Remember, I had just composed that post less than an hour before I stopped for the coffee. This is what I saw.

She was about five feet, four inches tall, with hair bleached out at the outer length but a kind of sandy brown coming in from the roots. I didn't see any grey, but she looked at least forty-five years old from the lines on her face. A bit of grey streaking would have been natural, but I think her hair was tinted to cover it up.

She wasn't wearing her teeth, but she had a friendly, toothless smile and pretty good posture. She was wearing a teeshirt with a characature of an Indian in profile, pot-bellied with one feather and slightly bucked teeth, wearing a loincloth front and back. The caption under the cartoon said "SQUAT." she was wearing jogging pants that stopped short of her sneakers, showing about half of her white socks.

She was spending twenty-two dollars to buy scratch-off lottery tickets. She spent the entire amount and walked away with a little handful.

I got my coffee and make a mental note to remember to blog the moment, so here it is. Sons and daughters of the South will understand. All the rest can just move along to the next item...

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Tonight my eye is okay, more or less. But as of the last week or two I have been seeing poorly in my left eye. Really strange. After going to two opthalmologists I have been given the term corneal dystrophy. A bit of Googling and I found out the condition is chronic, not acute, and can take a range of forms. I will know more when I go back for my Friday appointment, but meantime I have been reflecting on the significance of my eyesight as an easy blessing to take for granted. Corneal dystrophy is a "condition" rather than a disease, rather like freckles or ingrown nails or male pattern baldness. Just happens in some individuals. The good news is that, worst case scenario, corneal transplants have a very high success rate. Also, there is something called Fuchs' Corneal Dystrophy which may or may not be what I have.

This brings me to the question of blogging. Hours of pecking on the keyboard and staring into the monitor is what blogging is all about, so being able to see okay is important to that activity. Gardening, woodworking, cooking...almost anything else -- would be easier on the eyes. But for the moment I'm still motivated to blog.

I don't have any real traffic, and most of my hits are from searches. As close as I can figure there must be fewer than fifteen or twenty regular readers of my blog, and those are all "lurkers." Comments are very few and far between. Even the troll seems to have lost interest. So why do I keep it up?

I blog to my grandchildren. When I am catching something and making comments I am speaking to the next generation in the hope and expectation that one day about twenty or thirty years from now one of them might be curious about what his or her old Grandpa may have said about this or that. I may or may not be alive, but even after I am gone I hope the Google cache will still have a storage place for my blog. Like an old newspaper clipping turning yellow and crumbly my blog may be an important link bondingme with my heirs. The words and ideas I leave behind will be far more important than any material stuff.

I know this to be the case because I have such a treasured place for my own grandparents and those who went before them. Every scrap of history and geneology has been important to me, not because it makes me any better, but because it contributes to who I am. My maternal grandfather died when I was only a boy, but I have nothing but admiration and respect for his legacy. I remembered him a few days after Christmas last year and included some of his writing in a blog post. Most recently I came across a wonderful letter he had written in 1905, a letter of reference for a young woman who was in one of his Sunday School classes. It was composed in the courtly and formal manner of the time, and it gave no suggestion that that same woman was to become his second wife within a few years, his first wife being lost in childbirth. She was, of course, my maternal grandmother, who kept not only that precious letter but more as well, including a three-page note from her own father, one of my great-grandfathers, written in pencil in 1889 when she was a college student. I am carefully assembling these family documents in sheet protectors to keep in a three-ring notebook.

Yes, I know all this is pedestrian and boring for everyone else, but for my grandchildren they will come across this post and know that they have discovered a crack in the old guy's shell that showed something of his humanity. That's not an easy guy thing to show, you know, even in these enlightened times.

Before I quit I have to tell a great story about the youngest grandchild. (You knew this was coming, right?) Seventeen months old soon and he just had one of those developmental moments that make you want to cry. His mother is a perfect mom, nurturing and involved with his every move. And his father is also a superior parent. They made the decision that she would be a stay-at-home mom and they would live on his earnings alone. (My wife and I did the same thing so it is not surprising. We knew what it was to do free stuff for entertainment. We lived in a house for nine years with no air conditioning, took walks for entertainment, and at one point had no television for a year because the one we had broke. Thankfully, those days didn't last more than a few years.)

So this little toddler goes into the bedroom where Mom is doing something, reaches up and says "Up." This means pick me up. This time Dad is home, right down the hall, and Mom is busy.
First time ever in his little life she says to him, "Mama's busy right now. Go let Daddy hold you."

He looks up silently. Understands. Turns and begins walking down the hall toward Dad. Slowly.
"Come on, Buddy, Daddy will hold you," says Dad holding out his arms. And at that moment the little guy bursts into tears, heartbroken that his Mama isn't going to hold him this time.

It's a beautiful picture that we can never forget. I wasn't there, but just the telling of the story by my wife was all I needed. How could any parent receive any greater blessing than to see his own children being a good teachers and role models for the next generation? Some day when I am gone he will read this post. He won't remember the moment. But when he reads, tears will form in his eyes and he will know how dearly he was loved. Blogging doesn't get any better than this.