Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Abu Khaleel's taxonomy of Iraqi chaos

Abu Khaleel has not posted for a while, but this latest offering is an example of clear thinking that might form a framework of understanding for the confusing picture of what is happening in Iraq.

The three basic elements of violent forces in Iraq:

Putting aside subjective values of good and evil for the moment, the task is to attempt to 'categorize' the various forces at play in present-day Iraq since the invasion. The objective is to understand the otherwise inexplicable events of senseless violence.

For that purpose, I propose the following broad categorization to describe the multitude of active forces that have been using mostly violent means to pursue their agenda in Iraq:

R- External-agenda Forces

G- Iraqi-agenda Forces

B- Criminal gangs

The picture is complicated for several reasons. One of which is that most groups do not publicly declare their true intents and positions. Another main reason is that the degree of interaction between the various groups is truly astounding, hence the spectacular range of colors! The most widely used vehicles have been funding and guns! The result: mostly red, innocent blood and a gray, devastated country.

Nevertheless, this picture may provide a better basis for analyzing the various forces at play in Iraq today than the "with us, against us" vision or the Sunni-Shiite view! The only assumption I make is that each group pursues its own interests and objectives without moral qualms.

This picture may serve to understand better what has been taking place in Iraq over the past few years. But, more importantly, it may serve to help look ahead at possible solutions out of the present quagmire… and why the task is so formidable! But that is another story for another day. All I wanted to do in this post was to introduce this view.

These are the thoughts of a sensible, clear-thinking Iraqi man whose only intention is conflict resolution. He has put his finger on waht seems to be the main problem, each group seems to be pursuing its own interests and objectives without moral qualms.

From what I have read none of the parties to this conflict otherwise prone to "moral qualms" hesitates to compromise whatever ramains of that morality by forming alliances or employing others devoid of all sense of guilt or shame. Kidnapping, assassination and hostage-taking seems to have become the most lucrative business in the country. And sadly, the very people who should be providing the moral brakes on such behavior -- and this includes every group advertising itself as moral, whether US forces, Sunni or Shiite clerics, or political representatives representing legitimate constituencies -- ALL at one time or another are guilty of employing criminals to accomplish whatever they imagine might be short-term advantages.

It is important to note that although all these groups have fallen short of their owen individual moral underpinnings, it does not mean that every individual in each group is equally guilty. I am reminded of Reinhold Neibuhr's Moral Man and Immoral Society which makes an important distinction between the actions and behavior of individuals versus the collective behavior of groups to which they belong.

John Burgess on NCUSAR

The National Council on US-Arab Relations is currently hosting a conference in Washington and John Burgess is blogging the event. NCUSAR (not to be confused with the CAIR which more often makes the news) appears to be a solid assembly of movers and shakers at the intersection of business and international relations. These people are not "grass-roots." These are the people who groom the grass.

This first report is worth reading.

The first session addressed Taking Stock of the Saudi Arabian-US Relations, with Abdallah A. Alireza, Minister of State of the Saudi Council of Ministers taking the lead. He focused on Saudi Arabia's needed to develop intellectual capital and how the new King Abdullah University for Science & Technology is intended to do just that...

Alireza also noted, with dismay, that US imports into the KSA had declined 13% over the last year and blamed it on the extraordinary difficulty Saudi businessmen have in getting visas to visit the US and make deals...

Three panelists then spoke: Ambassador Robert Jordan (for whom I worked 2001-2003) presented a "balance sheet" on the relationship...

Dr. Khalil Al-Khalil, Member of the Majlis Al-Shoura and Professor at Imam Mohammed ibn Saud Univ. spoke next about educational reform in the Kingdom...

Dr. Eleanor Abdella Doumato spoke next on "Teaching Islam"...

The final panelist was Dr. Bandar Al-Aidan, who basically reprised the history of US-Saudi relations. Of particular note, though, was his comment that Saudi Arabia not only had cooperative programs with the US concerning Soviet expansion in the Gulf region, but also in Europe.

I was particularly interested to see this by Ambassador Jordan:

Among other issues, he noted that the war against terror and, more recently, concerns about a nuclear Iran have drawn the US and Saudi Arabia closer together. It seems that this issue is even starting to pull the KSA and Israel together, though whether or not that can be parlayed into something wider remains to be seen.

Because the Arab-Israel conflict has historical roots that are literally biblical, we are tempted to believe that it is as much a part of the landscape as the rivers, mountains and deserts. It is hard to imagine any kind of alliance between these two sides. It seems that events in Iran, with reverberations in Iraq some have called "controlled chaos" may be inspiring both sides to examine their differences in a different light.

Take a look at this...

The same Jewish group who gave food assistance to underprivileged Jews during Rosh Hashanah and Sukkot is now turning to help an unlikely crowd: underprivileged Muslims who will celebrate the end of the holy month of Ramadan next week with the holiday of Eid Al-Fiter.

On Tuesday, 150 members of the Jewish Reform Movement, in cooperation with the "Kavod Foundation" gathered in Jerusalem to assist with the packing of canned goods and other provisions to be delivered during the holiday to needy Muslims in East Jerusalem.

Hat tip to Aziz Poonawalla for the link. He also links to another story with a similar thrust.

A group of American Muslims is using compassion to counter the violent reactions of fellow Muslims who were angered by Pope Benedict XVI's controversial remarks about Islam. The Florida office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said Thursday (Sept. 21) that it will deliver $5,000 in seed money to help repair six churches in the Palestinian Territories that were damaged by Muslims who were infuriated by the pope's speech.

"We're still waiting for a detailed report from the Catholic Near East Welfare Association to find out the full cost of the damage," said CAIR-Tampa Executive Director Ahmed Bedier, announcing the campaign with Catholic officials in St. Petersburg, Fla. "But the response has been received well."

The Rev. Robert Gibbons, vicar general for the Diocese of St. Petersburg, is accepting the donation on behalf of Catholic Near East Welfare Association, a New York church agency that offers humanitarian and pastoral support to churches in the Middle East and around the world.

These stories fail to feed the high-profile ugliness that so excites the passions of both Left- and Right-leaning advocates of deepening conflict, but they indicate that reasonable, peaceful alternatives to mistrust and hard-line thinking are not altogether dead.

Followup, November 2

John Burgess' wrapup report was more general but also worth a look. After what had been a substance-filled series of events, the ending was something of a disappointment.

...the conference was very worthwhile. The final hurdle, though, was missed…

The notional keynote speaker was Nasser bin Hamad bin Mubarak Al-Khalifa, Ambassador of Qatar to the US and Mexico. He really didn't have much to say, though he did provide a few instances of pro-forma insult-tossing against Saudi Arabia...

Al-Khalifa was followed by Lt. Gen. (Ret.) David Bambo, currently of the National Defense University, who seemed to misgauge his audience. His address was light on substance, unfortunately. I was reminded of speeches given by military officers to local Chambers of Commerce or Rotary Clubs, where no one will challenge or interrupt the speaker out of deference to his position. Lots of platitudes and broad generalities; no real information. I'm sure he'll do better next time.

What really tarnished the program for me, though, was the de facto keynote speaker, former Amb. W. Charles (Chas) Freeman. Freeman seems to have slipped into "Bush Derangement Syndrome". From the dais, he essentially stated the Bush Administration had singlehandedly undone years of progress in the Middle East. Rather than discuss mistakes that had been made—and there assuredly have been many serious ones—he appeared satisfied to impute dishonorable motives to Bush and his Cabinet. I don't actually recall all that much progress in the region over the past quarter century, particularly when it comes to the promotion of representative governments, transparency, rule of law, independent judiciary, reduction of extremism, or peace. For some in the audience, mostly Arabs of various backgrounds, this was "red meat to the lions". Perhaps he felt it necessary to "fire up the base" on the eve of American elections. Perhaps he truly believes it. This, though, is the kind of uncritical pandering to all causes Arab that served to marginalize former Amb. Richard Curtiss, his "American Educational Trust", and its Washington Report on Middle East Affairs with its overtones of Antisemitism. And this is a great pity, because Freeman once knew better as he ably represented the US during Desert Shield/Desert Storm in Riyadh.

I'm disappointed, too, that Dr. Anthony, host of the conference, felt the need to offer his support in the manner he did. He opened the question period with his own inflammatory remark: "In 1948, the United States had no enemies in the Middle East" and now it has many. I am hard-pressed to figure out what friends in the Middle East the US had in 1948. The Bey of Tunis? King Farouq? The French in Algeria? Perhaps the Trucial States under the dominion of the United Kingdom? Anthony is usually better than this. I hope he can return to a more serious critique in the future.

This is why I read John Burgess. He's nobody's patsy.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Cremation of Sam McGee

Halloween YouTube.
Worth your time. A little over eight minutes.

H/T Andreas Wacker

Afghanistan war is "cuckoo"

Tony Blair's most trusted military commander yesterday branded as "cuckoo" the way Britain's overstretched army was sent into Afghanistan.
"...Anyone who thought this was going to be a picnic in Afghanistan - anyone who had read any history, anyone who knew the Afghans, or had seen the terrain, anyone who had thought about the Taliban resurgence, anyone who understood what was going on across the border in Baluchistan and Waziristan [should have known] - to launch the British army in with the numbers there are, while we're still going on in Iraq is cuckoo..."

Hey, I didn't say it. He did.
But I may as well have.

Daylight Saving Time will change next year

...and the year after that.
And the year after that.

In 2009, Daylight Savings Time begins on March 8 and ends on Nov. 1

When the clocks fall back at 2 a.m. this Sunday, Amtrak trains running on time will have to wait in the station for one hour before resuming their journey. Springtime overnight travelers find their trains suddenly one hour late, but their engineers just keep going and try to make up the time.

Michael J. Totten on many subjects...

If anybody has the right to say "Been there...done that" it has to be Totten. After following his travels and writing all over the Levant and Egypt I couldn't help feeling relieved when he finally got his careless self back to North America where he might be safer. I'm sure he would say he doesn't take chances, that he's very cautious about where he goes and who he gets into cars with, but anyone who has read his stuff knows better. As for credibility...I can't think of anyone who's candor is more grounded in experience.

His blog is a great read.

This reminds me of something I learned last time I went to Iraqi Kurdistan, as a consultant not a journalist. A friend on the Council of Ministers told me one of my blog essays, Iraq Without a Gun, was translated into Kurdish and published in Erbil's daily newspaper. This was news to me. (The concept of intellectual copyright has not made its way to the Middle East yet.)

In that essay I mentioned the lying cheating bastard Mr. Araz who picked me up from the airport. His company wanted to charge me 350 dollars a day for a driver and translator, about twice the going rate. And to make sure I hired a driver every day he told me it was dangerous to go anywhere by myself.

It isn't dangerous in the Kurdish autonomous region. More people are killed from violence in Oregon, where the crime rate is low, than in Northern Iraq. But Mr. Araz played up it up for all it was worth, hoping I would pay extortionist rates to stay safe. (Needless to say, he did not get the job and I was not kidnapped or killed.)

I had no idea when I wrote that piece that it would be translated into Kurdish and published in Mr. Araz's hometown. I had no idea I would instrumental in ruining him, that I would publicly "shame" him in his conservative Muslim society that prides itself on hospitality and friendship with Americans. But that's exactly what I learned had happened.

Bigotry against Muslims in general, rather than hostility to terrorists and fanatics in particular, is a bit of an issue in the rightosphere....and occasionally even in my own comments section. It's a problem I should probably mention more than I do.

The inverse is easily as big a problem. Bogus claims of "Islamophobia" are trotted out just as often by the bigots' evil twins.

I want to publicly commend Dean Esmay for challenging right-wing bigotry (you heard me) against Muslims. It ought to go without saying that I am not referring to opponents, peaceful or otherwise, of Al Qaeda, Hamas, The Taliban, Hezbollah, Wahhabism, Algerian Salafism, etc., ad nauseum. I am referring here to those who demonize a billion people -- including my wonderful old West Beirut neighbors, as well as the Iraqi Kurds who love us more than anyone else in the world -- as mortal enemies.

See also his comments about Nabih Berri. I've been looking at that guy's role in the whole Israel/Lebanon mess for some time, waiting for him to make a move. Looks like that might be happening. Or maybe not. In any case, it illustrates the complexity of the issues in that part of the world that Americans think are about as complicated as an opinion poll deciding who might win a World Series.

Uh, don't miss the comments thread. Unlike many such places, there is a lot of meat to be found there.

Berri is indeed one of the most corrupt politicians out there. He's by no means a "good guy" on account of mentioning peace with Israel. More than likely, this is maneuvering on his part. Berri has been adept over the past 3 decades at reinventing himself in order to maintain his power (read ability to steal money by being in power). He hitched a ride on the Syrian bandwagon for years. That bandwagon has been quickly fading, since 2003, and Berri, being the sly individual he is, has most likely recognized that fact and is looking for a new bandwagon to hitch himself to. He's one of those guys that sides with whoever he believes will be the winner.

In today's middle east (and this is the point I've been trying to make for a few months now), there appears to be an increasing push for a reconciliation (or at the very least a thawing) between the moderate Arab states (US allies like Saudi Arabia & Egypt) and Israel, to counter a common enemy: the extremism coming out of Iran (and its proxies Hezbollah and Hamas). As Zvi pointed out, it is probably no coincidence that Berri made these comments on the heals of a visit to Saudi Arabia. Berri, most likely, sees that the Syrian bandwagon is going nowhere, and that the future lies in the moderate Arab camp (i.e Saudi Arabia and Egypt).

Posted by: bad vilbel at October 24, 2006 06:33 PM

Finally, it's time to add another neologism to my vocabulary: Jafi.
Short for "just another frothing Islamophobe" as coined by Aziz Poonawalla, whom I haven't been reading lately but need to get caught up.

This post is getting rather long, but this one link has to be last but not least. Ali Eteraz, according to Totten, is a moderate American Muslim who writes with Dean Esmay. This vignette is better than a YouTube video.
Go Read.
“Where is Ali Eteraz?” said the amazing Jafi. “Where is the one Muslim who knows moderation? Tell me, is the anomalous Ali around or should I leave? I don’t have much time. If he is not around I will be forced to find another moderate Muslim and that will be a very difficult task because Islam does not produce very many Muslim moderates. Does someone have Irshad Manji’s number?”

In his underwear because he was enjoying the company of a delicious white girl, Ali Eteraz came running to the Jafi. “Sir, I am here, a moderate at your service. I hope I have not kept you waiting.”

The Jafi looked at Eteraz and smiled. “What’s with the gettup?”

“I was sitting around waiting for you to come by and ask me to demonstrate my moderation and I saw this woman and thought why the hell not. Besides, having grown up in repressed Muslim environments I have never truly been exposed to such openness in matters sexual. Sir, did you like my casual use of the euphemis: ‘why the hell not’? I am trying to be more American.”

Marc Cooper on the upcoming election

Who's Marc Cooper?

I’m also host and executive producer of the weekly syndicated Radio Nation that airs on scores of public radio stations in the United States and Canada.
Every week or so I also write a regular politics column for
L.A. Weekly where I am also a senior editor. I also frequently contribute commentaries to the Sunday Opinion section of the Los Angeles Times.
The last couple of years I have spent a lot of time reporting in Las Vegas. This allowed me to sharpen my already awesome Blackjack skills (I prefer hand-pitched single deck). You can read all about it my most recent book,
The Last Honest Place in America: Paradise and Perdition in the New Las Vegas.
In between Blackjack tournaments, I teach journalism at the USC Annenberg School of Communication and also serve as Senior Fellow for Border Justice at
Annenberg’s Institute for Justice and Journalism.

I can't recall why I added him to my aggregator, but I'm glad I did.
This post is a delightful romp. Sometimes politics is a come-one-come-call participation event. This time it's mainly a spectator sport. Give 'em some more rope.

Reading pieces like this you have to wonder how and when else can you have so much fun and still keep your clothes on?

Gypsy legend of the nails

Gordon Atkinson recalls a story from seminary days about an experience with Gypsies. He tells it in his customary down-to-earth way and gets to the point without a lot of hoopla.

David and I worked together driving limousines while we were in seminary. Driving a limousine is NOT a glamorous job. Glamorous people don’t hire limos very often. You mostly end up with drug addicts (the back of a limo is a safe place to do drugs), people who have fallen into money and are spending it as fast as they can, and prom dates. Prom dates are the worst. Drunken abusive kids, vomit on the carpet, and no tip.

Just what I need. More trivia. But it's like candy. I can't help myself.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Iran Election Day December 15

When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to office last year I had the distinct feeling that his election came as a surprise to a good many intelligent Iranians. It was as though they woke up one morning and discovered a dark horse had somehow won the race. A good many of us Georgians had the same feeling when Lester Maddox became governor of Georgia in the Sixties.

Iran's reformers are worried about possible manipulations in the country's forthcoming elections, the news agency ISNA reported Saturday.

'We reformists are worried whether the elections would be healthy or not and whether there would manipulations on elections day and vote counting,' leading reform activist Mohammad-Reza Khatami, the younger brother of former President Mohammad Khatami, told ISNA.

The election for the Experts Assembly - a clergy body in charge of supervising the performance of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei - and for the City Councils will be held on December 15.

Although none of the elections are politically very significant, but still they will be the first occasion to test the political mood in the country following the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president in June last year.

Khatami said that the two bodies in charge for the elections - the senate-like Guardian Council and the interior ministry - are both close to President Ahmadinejad's political wing and therefore voiced doubts over a neutral handling of the election process.

Further down we read 'The situations is worrisome as they (conservatives) do not fool around as far as eliminating political rivals is concerned.'

Hmm. Where have we heard anything like that? Anybody ever cry "Foul!" after any US elections? Heard anything about Diebold voting machines lately?

I will be watching Iranian politics closely for the next few weeks.

Monty Python Cheese Shop

If I fail to grab this one I will regret it later. No doubt it is too obscure for everyday appreciation, but for me it is a rare find. My career in the food business started with four years in the cheese business, retailing imported and domestic cheeses of all kinds. You must listen carefully to the list of cheeses the customer runs over. Every one is really the name of a cheese, most of which I have either sold, tasted or heard about. It brings back long-lost memories for me to watch this snip. I once could quickly discern the difference on a blind tasting between gouda and edam, unless either were aged. Likewise between danish blue, stilton, gorgonzola and roquefort. And of course between canadian and domestic cheddars. The list seems endless. Notice the collection of cheese keepers on the counter and shelves in the background.

H/T Pejman

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Talking with God

Esther is a small-town midwestern American who is now living in Tehran with her husband Keivan, an Iranian malcontent. She is way past calling herself a youth, so is no longer offended when people call her a girl. She has been keeping a blog about her life in Iran for three years now at View from Iran.

Ahmadinejad talks with God

I happen to have the full conversation that I pieced together after talking to many Iranians. As you probably already know, Ahmadinejad is not the only leader who speaks to God, but there is also W, and, surprisingly Chirac. Last year, I heard bits and pieces of the conversation and am now ready to report it to you.

Chirac first: “Mon Dieu, what is in store for me and my country in the coming year?” Chirac asks when he encounters God.

“I’m afraid I don’t have very good news for you… You’ll have riots, cars will burn, there will be a lot of political unrest. It’s just not very good, I’m afraid.”

Chirac leaves crying. He runs into Bush on his way out. “Hey what’s up frogface?” (W and Chirac are really good friends as they keep insisting to the rest of us.)

“Nothing good, I’m afraid. What a bad year I have in front of me!”

When W comes before God,he is also the recipient of some bad news. “What can I say?” God tells him. “Last year was bad with the hurricanes and the problems in Iraq and this year will be even worse with scandals and continued problems in Iraq and vast unpopularity at home.”

W leaves crying as well. All good news for Iran’s Ahmadinejad who is certain that W’s tears will be his cries of joy and whose turn to talk to God has come. When he enters God’s heavenly conference room Ahmadinejad is drenched in God’s tears.

“I have come before you to ask what is in store for my country,” Ahmadinejad says.

“I know,” answers God. “That’s why I’m crying.”

Read it here:
Victory certain in nuclear row due to relation with God: Iran leader
(I guess he was not paying att’n…)

Addendum May 21, 2007

Two posts with foul language have been left at this post.
I'm not sure the commenter(s) realize that I'm in sympathy. Surely they (or he) must know that profanity is offensive and not apt to make anyone into a friend. Even sympathetic listeners do not want to be associated with that kind of language.

Also, I don't think the reference to "hizbolla" means the same from Iranian dissidents as it might in Lebanon, the place most Americans associate with Hezbolla.

I saw that same picture (linked above) at a post yesterday from Serendip. There is also a link to a YouTube video showing the apprehension and police abuse of a girl on the street by Iranian police. Today there are several more posts with pictures of Iranian students and others protesting the authorities.

Looks like the kettle is starting to boil.

Volokh on blogging Election Day

Words to the wise, here. Bloggers who imagine themselves to be proto-journalists may go snooping around the polls next week looking for fresh meat.
Caution is in order, say the lawyers. Some stories are not fair game.

Election Day Bloggers' Legal Guide:
Lauren Gelman of the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School passes along
this item:

Lots of bloggers are planning to cover the 2006 general elections on November 7. But what are the legal issues that you need to understand?

Such as: Can you be in the voting area except to vote? (Not in Delaware) Can you ask people how they voted? (Not within 50 ft of polling place in Rhode Island). Can you take photos? (In CA it is illegal to photograph, videotape or otherwise record a voter entering or leaving a polling place). And so on.

More at the links.

Robert Fulghum on Baptism

This time I got the spelling right. Fulghum with a "u," not with an "a."
Anyway, he's in Crete and tells about Christian baptism, both theirs (Orthodox) and his (Southern Baptist).

This child will not have a formal name until it is baptized. And that event takes place somewhere between one and two years of age. A child is carried into the church, stripped naked, handed over to the priest - a stranger in a black dress - and lowered into a cold bath. The child is terrified, goes red and rigid, screams, and often pees. Much to the amusement of the Greeks. It’s not as bad as it seems. It’s worse. I have seen this with my own eyes.

Ah, but what right have I to speak critically of such things? Me, a heathen, heretic, and certainly neither Greek nor Orthodox.

I speak with authority. For one thing, once upon a time, I was baptized. According to the Book. Not sprinkled like the Methodists as if you were going to be ironed. Not just dipped in an indoor pool for the sake of convenience. Baptized according to scripture - outdoors in a river, following the example of John the Baptist and Jesus. My mother was a serious Southern Baptist. And her cousin from Muscle Shoals, Alabama, urged her to take no chances and do it right. The cousin, it seems, was a “Two-seed-in-the-spirit, foot washing, Flowing Water Baptist.” When she sang the old hymn, “Shall We Gather At the River” it wasn’t about a picnic.

The summer I was 12, dressed in white shirt and pants, I was properly baptized in the Brazos River – more formally named by the Mexicans, “Brazos de Dios” - the Arms of God. My mother was pleased. I was not. I was scared. My uncle Roscoe had told me to stay out of the river because there were alligators and poisonous snakes in it. But I lived. Was thereby “saved.” And was told I would therefore be going to heaven.

When I tell the Greeks about my baptism, they are impressed. Like I’ve got a platinum membership card. An insurance policy that can’t be canceled. I don’t believe one can save one’s soul. I don’t know what that means. I believe one can only live one’s life, saving nothing, spending it well. But it’s comforting to have my after-life contingencies covered.

And. If it should prove to be the case that there is a heaven and I go, I imagine my mother pointing me out in the great golden hall. “Look, there’s my boy, Bobby. He may have lost his mind when he grew up, but he was properly baptized and so he gets to sit very close to the front. The dippers and sprinklers and child-washers are way back there –up in the bleachers.”

He also comments about politics and voting. And he hasn't withdrawn his nomination of Oprah for president.

[Aside: Contrast Fulghum's remarks with the snarky, condescending tone of this takedown from The Independent. H/T The Anchoress. I am reminded of another British arbiter of taste whose equally condescending verbal assault of a benign old gentleman from the Midlands said more about the source than the target. Pop culture is often one of democracy's most damning qualities. Look at the groupies of almost anyone in show business. Who said "No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public"?]

And this I also like...

AT LUNCH with the Metropolitan of Athens – a Bishop of the Orthodox Church - here at the Academy to address a conference on bio-ethics. A sizeable man – PhD – world traveler – lecturer at Harvard for several years – both thoughtful and light-hearted. I asked him if the Greek Orthodox Church was as dogmatically positioned as American Christians about abortion, stem-cell research, the death penalty, and the right to die. His answer surprised me. He said that in such complex matters, it is the role of the church to support the spiritual strength of those who must make difficult decisions. How sane.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Tour Second Life

Gotta grab this for blogging. Don't have time to read and study it all, but I already know from the graphics it will be another blog post. This looks really cool.

Go take a look. If you're there by tonight, you'll beat me.
See you later.


Okay, then.
As Caesar would say, Veni, vidi, vici. Well, not altogether "conquered", but I read enough not to feel entirely ignorant. Looks like something important is about to happen, but at this point the promise is bigger than the present. Here's an article from the Boston Globe that says what needs to be said better than I. Saves me the trouble of writing more. What we have here is a puppet show.

Launched in 2003 by California-based Linden Lab, Second Life is a website where users create animated cartoon avatars to represent themselves -- usually as humans ( often buff, busty, beautiful humans ) , and sometimes as fanciful or furry creatures. Linden sells land in this virtual frontier, and users (a.k.a. "residents") design and make everything from virtual stores for the land to virtual sweaters for the avatars. They buy things and sell things that exist only "in world" -- so many that last month $6.6 million in user-user transactions changed hands. They role-play, gamble, teach classes, make music, open restaurants, push politics -- all as they guide their avatars through the elaborate virtual landscapes and cityscapes that give Second Life its stepping-into-Wonderland quality.

"Second Life is no more a game than the Web is a game. It's a platform," says John Lester, 39, of Somerville, Linden's community and education manager. "This feels exactly like it felt when the Web was first coming out. I remember feeling the hair on the back of my neck standing up."

The avatar Tuna Oddfellow, dashing in silver mohawk and windswept cape, has a virtual Gothic mansion, "Collinwood," that a fellow Second Lifer and aficionado of the old "Dark Shadows" television show built for him gratis.Oddfellow -- in real life Matthew Fishman, 38-year-old magician and fund-raiser from Watertown -- also runs a virtual wedding business, complete with invitations, catered food, disc jockey, and premarital counseling, for avatars he's convinced are committed to each other.

"I can't marry you in Second Life," Fishman says in an interview, "unless you realize you have First Life emotions."

In Second Life, Fishman has experienced both heartbreak and friendship. Last October the woman behind an avatar whom Oddfellow was dating died. They'd never met in real life, but, as avatar Oddfellow, he typed words of comfort to her son's avatar and was comforted himself by avatar friends. He conducted her virtual funeral.

I can't marry you in Second Life unless you realize you have First Life emotions. Indeed. I cannot help the urge to say Been there, done that.

I don't want to splash cold water here, but years ago I had to come to terms with the question of multiple identities on the Internet, posting at a Yahoo message board. Most people understand that for a variety of reasons it is not advisable to advertise one's real identity for all the world (literally) to see, so alias screen names and "profiles" have been around from the start. Here is something I wrote on the subject in 2001.

I find it hard to manage one alias, let alone several, but there are people who have as many as the Yahoo rules will allow. One individual on this board has at least three or four of which I am aware. It makes for confusion to the reader to try to keep up with more names, but that is the intent of some with ideas too poorly formed to be consistent. Public schizophrenia is the only way for them to avoid obvious contradictions or, in many cases, publish red herring ideas or character jabs with the intent of inflaming or distracting others from thinking clearly.

Message board protocol is for me a kind of disciplinary activity. I cannot resist exercising the manager in me when I see problems that need to be corrected or writers in denial about parts of themselves or the world around them. I also invest energy wrestling with the question of credibility. How does one establish and maintain credibility in a world of shifting ideas, no binding rules, and transitory traffic? Credibility is the only currency that buys respect in politics, in business, in religion, in life. And respect is the only meaningful tool in the leadership toolbox. In many ways the message board presents the same challenges that running a cafeteria does, but without having to smell like onions or grease when you get done.

For the moment I suppose I'm just old-fashioned. I'm having enough of a challenge being Hootsbuddy. My hope for the future is that we can all move to identities that are clearer, not more opaque. And by that, I mean writing and interacting on line with a measure of civility that would be appropriate if we were in the same room about to ask someone at a nearby table, "Excuse, me, but if you are finished with the ketchup, may we have it over here?"

YouTube Redux

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about Google's purchase of YouTube and included several links, including this one.

This morning I came across it once again in another context and was again taken away by its sad but whimsically beautiful charm. Viewers have left more than three and a half thousand comments and this ten-minute clip has been watched over seven hundred thousand times. There are video as well as written responses. Clearly, this piece touches deep places in many people.

Below the screen is this...
"This is a video response to The Beauty of Being Human"
The message is smart and inspiring, but the effect is clinical. The speaker talks about faith, God, free will and truth, but never in a way that reveals anything about himself. In the cleanest possible manner he does all he can to separate message from messenger. I suspect he wants the message to carry itself by the power of its truth, but the end result is muted because it lies there with little passion, the passion that only comes from a personal revelation on the part of the messenger.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Dr. Leon Hadar's comments

I swear, the longer I live the more I like what I read coming out of CATO. I never expected to write a sentence like that but go look at this.

...the president could become an ex-president if he persists in following the policy narrative drawn by his neoconservative advisors. By continuing to depict the ouster of Saddam Hussein as part of a grand imperial American plan to make Iraq and the Middle East safe for democracy, Bush will only dig himself into a deeper hole.

Bush should recognize before it's too late that, not unlike other dogmatic ideologues in history, the neoconservative intellectuals who argue that Iraq could be turned into a shining model of democracy for the Middle East are advancing their own wishful thinking and political agendas. They are not advancing the interests of the rest of America.

The notion that Iraq and most of the Arab Middle East could be transformed into a full-fledged democratic system is nothing short of a fantasy. Much of the region is at the stage of political development that Italy and much of southern Europe were in middle of the 19th century.


To lower public expectations about Iraq would require the White House to accept that the two most likely scenarios under which U.S. troops could exit from Iraq will shatter neoconservative dreams. Those scenarios are (1) the rise of an authoritarian leader who could maintain a unified Iraq by centralizing power in Baghdad, and (2) the division of Iraq into three separate Kosovo-like mini-states, under some kind of regional and international safeguards. That could be an American-Turkish protectorate in the Kurdish North; a European-Arab military presence in the Sunni areas; and a U.N. authority in the Shiite parts.

Only by transforming the current Pax Americana strategy in Iraq, by allowing America's allies a chance to sit in the post-war driver's seat, will the Bush Administration be able to persuade France, Germany, Russia, and India to share in paying the costs of stabilizing and reconstructing Iraq.

It's a formula for certain success for Republicans in general and the administration in particular. It scares me that I like it, but I do. When all is said and done, what's best for Iraq really is what's best for us all. If that means letting the people who started this mess off the hook, then so be it.

Sadly, even though a crazy old blogger who doesn't want to admit he's inching toward Libertarian thinking can see clear reasoning behind this piece, the logic still won't stand a chance in Washington. It smacks of humility, and that is more alien to politicians than straightforward candor.

Inside a Baghdad hospital

Update August 7, 2007
This post was visited by someone looking for the video but the link is no longer active and I cannot find another. The video archives for BBC is probably unavailable after a period of time.
Here are a couple of links with written descriptions and pictures that may be of interest. I wish I had copied more from the comments thread.
BBC has a very large amount of video and audio stories on line. Even with today's technology storage and filing issues must be a nightmare.


BBC Television aired a powerful documentary that is drawing comments such as these...

I was unprepared for such a powerful and insightful account of the situation in Iraq. It is harrowing to see how helpless the people are against an unseen enemy. This is a true eye opener and must be shown again with better publicity.
Alex Stevens, Horsham

What a magnificent programme. I watched it in frozen horror, unable to stop the tears cascading down my face.
Varvara Black, Lytham St Annes

I was immensely moved by tonight's episode of This World. I was surprised to see such an insightful documentary on the troubles in Iraq on the BBC due to the restrictions on Western media in the country. The use of an Iraqi doctor as the journalist allowed this programme to fully explore what life is really like in Baghdad. It has changed my view on Iraq and I will rave about it to my peers.
Chris Rush, Glasgow

The video is just over nineteen minutes and is worth a look. American audiences accustomed to seeing all manner of bloody scenes on our own doctor and crime programs might very well dismiss what they see as well-done drama, but in this case the blood, screams and dialogue are real and unrehearsed. I couldn't bring myself to watch the whole thing for the same reason that I have yet to watch Spielberg's Schindler's List and a few other films. I already got the point. My hope is that by furnishing this link I can somehow get the attention of someone with more influence than me to step up his or her efforts to bring an end to the horrible madness raging out of control in Iraq.

Zayed at Healing Iraq linked the video with his own remarks.
This video filmed by an Iraqi doctor is a must see. I am amazed that someone could actually film the terrible conditions inside one of Iraq's most dangerous hospitals, Al-Yarmouk Hospital in western Baghdad, in these troubled days. I was struggling to keep my tears from flowing because I was watching it with an American friend 2 days ago. But at one point, when an injured Shi'ite woman lying in an ambulance started screaming at the camera, "Bring Saddam back! It wasn't like this under his rule!" I lost control.

This should be on every American tv channel. Go see it.

While you're at Zayed's blog, take a moment to read the previous post describing the murder of a young hairdresser. His brother Nabil blogged it first.
She was dragged out of her taxi by 4 gunmen, a sack was put on her head and then they opened fire. Her corpse was left on the street for over 3 hours because no one dared to go near it. The worst was when Iraqi troops arrived at night to pick up the corpse. They had to shoot it several times to ensure it wasn't booby-trapped with explosives, something that is becoming more and more common in our area of Baghdad.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Afghanistan -- more parts to the puzzle

A couple of weeks ago I wondered what the heck was going on with Afghanistan. Since then it has become clear that what the US has done in Afghanistan may be more disastrous than what we have done in Iraq. There won't be much in the way of domestic political repercussions, but from what I have been reading developments in Afghanistan may turn out to be more counterproductive to US interests than events in Iraq. That is an incredible statement, but in terms of where each of the two countries may be ten years from now, my guess is that the US will have a better image in the minds of Iraqis than Afghans.

Two readings are recommneded.

This analysis by UPI's Shaun Waterman is excellent. Brian Ulrich at American Footprints provides the link along with several others. The more I read, the more I recall the word "inscrutable" from old references to all things Asian.

Finally, Elizabeth Rubin's first of a two-part series in Sunday's NY Times Magazine is long, well-written and revealing. Printed out it can run to 23 pages, but I was able to copy it to a document, stretch the margins, format two columns and reduce it to fifteen.
Highly-recommended reading...

To find out how the opium trade works and how it’s related to the Taliban’s rise, I spent the afternoon with an Afghan who told me his name was Razzaq. He is a medium-level smuggler in his late 20’s who learned his trade as a refugee in Iran. He was wearing a traditional Kandahari bejeweled skull cap, a dark blazer and a white shalwar kameez, a traditional outfit consisting of loose pants covered by a tunic. He moved and spoke with the confident ease of a well-protected man. “The whole country is in our services,” he told me, “all the way to Turkey.” This wasn’t bravado. From Mazar-i-Sharif, in northern Afghanistan, he brings opium in the form of a gooey paste, packaged in bricks. From Badakhshan in the northeast, he brings crystal — a sugary substance made from heroin. And from Jalalabad, in the east on the road to Peshawar, he brings pure heroin. All of this goes through Baramcha, an unmanned border town in Helmand near Pakistan. Sometimes he pays off the national soldiers to use their vehicles, he said. Sometimes the national policemen. Or he hides it well, and if there is a tough checkpoint, he calls ahead and pays them off. “The soldiers get 2,000 afghanis a month, and I give them 100,000,” he explained with an angelic smile. “So even if I had a human head in my car, they’d let me go.” It’s not hard to see why Razzaq is so successful. He has a certain charm and looks like the modest tailor he once was, not a man steeped in illegal business.

Razzaq’s smuggling career began in Zahedan, a remote and unruly Iranian town near the border with Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is filled with Afghan refugees who, like Razzaq and his family, fled after the Russian invasion in 1979. Razzaq apprenticed as a tailor under his father and eventually opened his own shop, which the Iranians promptly shut down. They said he had no right as a refugee to own a shop. He began painting buildings, but that, too, proved a bureaucratic challenge. He was paid in checks, and the bank refused to cash them without a bank account, which he could not get.

Razzaq was newly married with dreams of a good life for his family. So one day he took a chance. “I had gotten to know smugglers at my tailoring shop,” he told me over a meal of mutton and rice on the floor of my hotel room. “One of them was an old man, so no one ever suspected him. The smugglers asked me to go with him to Gerdi Jangel” — an Afghan refugee town in Pakistan — “and bring back 750 grams of heroin to Zahedan. The security searched us on the bus, but I’d hidden it in the heels of my shoes, and of course they didn’t search the old man. I was so happy when we made it back. I thought I was born for the first time into this world.”

So he took another chance and managed to fly to Tehran carrying four kilos in his bag. Each time he overcame another obstacle, he became more addicted to the easy cash. When the Iranian authorities imported sniffing dogs to catch heroin smugglers, Razzaq and his friends filled hypodermic needles with some heroin dissolved in water and sprayed the liquid on cars at the bus station that would be continuing on to Tehran, Isfahan and Shiraz. “The dogs at the checkpoint went mad. They had to search 50 cars. They decided the dogs were defective and sent them back, and that saved us for a while.” Eventually, he said, they concocted a substance to conceal the heroin smell from the new pack of dogs.

After the fall of the Taliban, Razzaq moved back to Helmand, built a comfortable house and began supporting his extended family with his expanding trafficking business. Razzaq’s main challenge today is Iran. While the Americans have turned more or less a blind eye to the drug-trade spree of their warlord allies, Iran has steadily cranked up its drug war. (Some 3,000 Iranian lawmen have been killed in the last three decades battling traffickers.) To cross the desert borders, Razzaq moves in convoys of 18 S.U.V.’s. Some contain drugs. The rest are loaded with food supplies, antiaircraft guns, rocket launchers, antitank missiles and militiamen, often on loan from the Taliban. The fighters are Baluch from Iran and Afghanistan. The commanders are Afghans.

Razzaq’s run, as he described it, was a scene out of “Mad Max.” Three days were spent dodging and battling Iranian forces in the deserts around the earthquake-stricken city of Bam. Once they made it to Isfahan, however, in central Iran, they were home free. They released the militiamen, transferred the stuff to ordinary cars and drove to Tehran, where other smugglers picked up the drugs and passed them on to ethnic Turks in Tabriz. The Turks would bring them home, and from there they went to the markets of Europe.

Should he ever run into a problem in Afghanistan, he told me, “I simply make a phone call. And my voice is known to ministers, of course. They are in my network. Every network has a big man supporting them in the government.” The Interior Ministry’s director of counternarcotics in Kabul had told me the same thing. Anyway, if the smugglers have problems on the ground, they say, they just pay the Taliban to destroy the enemy commanders.

Razzaq has at times contemplated getting out of the smuggling trade, he said, but the easy money is too alluring. Depending on the market, he can earn from $1,500 to $7,500 a month. Most Afghans can’t make that in a year. Besides, he said, “all the governors are doing this, so why shouldn’t we?”

So what's the difference between Iraq and Afghanistan? Well, there are too many to list. But after all the fluff is blown away, one pays the way with oil, the other with poppies. We can hope for peace and reconcilliation with oil-based economies. But unless and until drugs are made legal, we will always be at war with countries that pay their bills with drug money.

Woodward's State of Denial panned in Saudi Arabia

Amir Taheri is one of the world's best informed journalists and a reliable expert on all things in the Middle East. I have linked to his writing a couple of times. His review of Woodward's latest book (out just in time for the election and the holidays, incidentally) is pretty rough.

Among Woodward's many talents is an exceptional nose for the mood of the market. This is why "Bush At War" presented George W as a decisive leader surrounded by a team of exceptionally competent advisors and aides. This was at a time that the United Sates had just engineered the fall of the Taliban in a matter of weeks, with minimal losses for itself. The next instalment of the trilogy, "Plan of Attack" also portrayed Bush and his team in glowing terms because the US had managed to overthrow Saddam Hussein in just three weeks.

"State of Denial", however, comes at a time that a majority of Americans question Bush's handling of the Iraq in the post-Saddam extra. Therefore, Woodward repositions himself as a critic of the administration, especially of Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The same Rumsfeld who had been presented as a military wizard in Woodward's two previous books is now portrayed as an arrogant, confused and incompetent bureaucrat whose dismissal was desired by those closest to the president, including First Lady Laura Bush.

Ouch! He hits a few more nerves as he goes on, but I'm afraid he's exactly right.
These interested in more serious journalism, might be angered by Woodward's ill-informed, pretentious and flippant treatment of a complex issue. Woodward, however, must be regarded as part of the entertainment industry. Re-writing history to reflect the mood of the moment is an entertaining pursuit popular throughout the American media.

...ending with a prediction.
Here is a guess: Woodward's next book will appear after he 2008 presidential election and will reveal the "secrets" of how the winner, whoever he or she is, managed to win thanks to a team of dedicated, knowledgeable and competent aides, and despite dirty tricks played by the loser and his camp. The 2008 book will be followed by another in 2010, revealing the "secrets" of the new president's failure, brought about by incompetent aides engaged in bitter feuds.

Good take-down, I'd say. I wasn't tempted to buy the book before. Now I'm not even gonna use quotes from it, no matter how delicious they might be.

H/T John Burgess

"Somehow a narrative is more important than reality."

Kevin Tillman is the brother of the late Pat Tillman, whose birthday will be (or was) November 6, the day before election day.

Go read his comments on what has happened since he and his brother joined the military.

It is Pat’s birthday on November 6, and elections are the day after. It gets me thinking about a conversation I had with Pat before we joined the military. He spoke about the risks with signing the papers. How once we committed, we were at the mercy of the American leadership and the American people. How we could be thrown in a direction not of our volition. How fighting as a soldier would leave us without a voice… until we got out.

Much has happened since we handed over our voice:

Somehow we were sent to invade a nation because it was a direct threat to the American people, or to the world, or harbored terrorists, or was involved in the September 11 attacks, or received weapons-grade uranium from Niger, or had mobile weapons labs, or WMD, or had a need to be liberated, or we needed to establish a democracy, or stop an insurgency, or stop a civil war we created that can’t be called a civil war even though it is. Something like that.
Somehow America has become a country that projects everything that it is not and condemns everything that it is.

Lots more at the link. Today's cries of a frustrated, out of power political minority. Primary source material for future historians.

H/T Slactivist.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

CRAYON -- a new way to do marketing...

Okay, then. I'm on the bandwagon. Thanks to blogsnow I just heard about crayon. I'm not clear yet exactly how it will work, but it is a hybrid creation involving both Second Life and the real world. Anything I say about Second Life will only reveal my complete ignorance, but in the last several weeks I have come across at least half a dozen unrelated references to this cyber-phenomenon. A growing number of people live, move and have their being on line via avatars who (which?) become extensions of their persona.

I just clicked on the Second Life link and found an interesting bit of stats. Take a look at this...

Second Life Time: 3:58 AM
Total Residents: 1,110,224
Logged In Last 60 Days: 459,062
Online Now: 6,137
US$ Spent Last 24 Hrs: 604,529
Where I am blogging it is about seven in the morning, but in Second Life it is four in the morning. There are over six thousand people logged on and over half a million dollars has exchanged hands in the last twenty-four hours.

That ain't chicken feed.

The new company is called crayon and will be fully open for business this coming Thursday October 26 when we launch from Crayonville Island, our headquarters in Second Life that’s been under construction during the past few months.

So the first thing to tell you is that crayon is a both a real and a virtual company.

We’re real, in the sense that all of us involved are physical, real human beings based in real locations, on the US east and west coasts plus me here in Europe.

That's enough for now.
Just remember where you saw it first.

Eat vegetables and stay smart

This is old news for nutritionists, vegans and others who have been saying the same thing for years, but yet another "report" is in the news this morning that validates the connection between brain health and a well-balanced diet.

Compared to people who consumed less than one serving of vegetables a day, people who ate at least 2.8 servings of vegetables a day saw their rate of cognitive change slow by roughly 40 per cent," study author Martha Clare Morris of Rush University Medical Centre in Chicago said.

"This decrease is equivalent to about five years of younger age."

Researchers followed the eating habits of 3718 senior citizens over a six-year period and found that consumption especially of green leafy vegetables were linked to a slowing of cognitive decline.

The study looked specifically at a population of "seniors."

Fruit consumption didn't have the same benefit, but my observation is that without fruit in the diet, all the brain health in the world won't do much for constipation.

Monday, October 23, 2006

In stable condition

Oldie but a goodie. It still applies in this case...

"Slobodan Milosevic is in stable condition after dying in a Dutch hospital."

Oh, why the line?
He was called to vote in a Belgrade referendum.

Peggy Noonan on dancing with the politicos

Noonan has to be one of my favorite writers. She has a way with words and images that sets her above ideology. She sees through the fog and knows whether to expect a tanker, a luxury liner or an aircraft carrier. In Friday's column she talks about politicians and how some of them know how to "dance" and others, well, seem to be faking it.

The dance is where you see the joy of the joust. It's a gifted pro making his moves. It's a moment of humor, wit or merriness on the trail; it's the clever jab or the unexpected line that flips an argument. It's a thing in itself and is so much itself, so distinctive, that whether you are left, right or center, red team or blue, you can look at the moves of a guy on the other side and say with honest admiration: "Man, that was good."

That's how I feel when I see someone -- even when it's someone I don't agree with -- score well. It's the reason I like Neal Boortz. Or Newt Gingrich. And yes, even the president. These are people who are like cats. No matter what happens they will always land on their feet.
Bill Clinton is still the master. Last week he went to Iowa, in the middle of the country, and told Democrats to reach out and embrace with love all these poor Republicans who no longer have a home. Their party has been taken over by "the most ideological, the most right-wing, the most extreme sliver of the Republican party!" Republicans are good--it's their leaders who've gone nutty! "Forget about politics. Just go out and find somebody and look them dead in the eye and say, 'You know, this is not right.' "

He's moving to drive a wedge between an unpopular president and his frustrated party. It's a move to reframe, to separate and pick off. And it's exactly how to go at moderate Republicans right now, not with a punch but a hand on the shoulder.

It's classic Clinton. He gets real nice when he smells blood. You may say he has a natural advantage: The dance is what he was born for; governing was his problem. But give him his due. He can foxtrot.


Sunday, October 22, 2006

Vegetable-Industrial Complex

There they go again...Those darned environmentalists are on one of their librul soapboxes over at the New Yawk Times complaining about how American bidness is in bed with greedy capitalists instead of doling someting about problems with our environment. In this case they are talking about the business and manufacturing environment instead of trees, lakes and endangered wildlife.

Soon after the news broke last month that nearly 200 Americans in 26 states had been sickened by eating packaged spinach contaminated with E. coli, I received a rather coldblooded e-mail message from a friend in the food business. “I have instructed my broker to purchase a million shares of RadSafe,” he wrote, explaining that RadSafe is a leading manufacturer of food-irradiation technology. It turned out my friend was joking, but even so, his reasoning was impeccable. If bagged salad greens are vulnerable to bacterial contamination on such a scale, industry and government would very soon come looking for a technological fix; any day now, calls to irradiate the entire food supply will be on a great many official lips. That’s exactly what happened a few years ago when we learned that E. coli from cattle feces was winding up in American hamburgers. Rather than clean up the kill floor and the feedlot diet, some meat processors simply started nuking the meat — sterilizing the manure, in other words, rather than removing it from our food. Why? Because it’s easier to find a technological fix than to address the root cause of such a problem. This has always been the genius of industrial capitalism — to take its failings and turn them into exciting new business opportunities.

And off he goes. Great observations by Michael Pollan.
...the way we farm and the way we process our food, both of which have been industrialized and centralized over the last few decades, are endangering our health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that our food supply now sickens 76 million Americans every year, putting more than 300,000 of them in the hospital, and killing 5,000. The lethal strain of E. coli known as 0157:H7, responsible for this latest outbreak of food poisoning, was unknown before 1982; it is believed to have evolved in the gut of feedlot cattle. These are animals that stand around in their manure all day long, eating a diet of grain that happens to turn a cow’s rumen into an ideal habitat for E. coli 0157:H7. (The bug can’t survive long in cattle living on grass.) Industrial animal agriculture produces more than a billion tons of manure every year, manure that, besides being full of nasty microbes like E. coli 0157:H7...often ends up in places it shouldn’t be, rather than in pastures, where it would not only be harmless but also actually do some good. To think of animal manure as pollution rather than fertility is a relatively new (and industrial) idea.

More at the link.
H/T 3 Quarks

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Skidboot video

Today's video is a don't miss.

Reporter: Skidboot is going blind. Doctors say there is nothing they can do. Skidboot's performance days are numbered now. But David says they'll get through it...together.

David Hartwig: If God gives me a thundersorm I'm gonna thank Him, if he gives me a blind dog it just means me and Skidbood can have more personal time together. We're not gonna begrudge any thing. Life is too precious to be upset. And this dog - I will lead hand him everywhere when he's so blind he can't get around - it won't bother me at all.

It's about a remarkable dog, and yes, he has his own web site. He comes to us through the reporting of Texas Country Reporter, Bob Phillips.

Partisan comment

As election time draws near I find it harder to resist posting something partisan on my blog. Believe it or not, I try to stick to material intended to move readers opinions by presenting unexpected content from sources with which they might otherwise agree. I am a message only kinda guy, but I also give a lot of weight to messengers. When one of us peace nuts advances the case for non-violent responses to the provocations of North Koream that's not news. But when Newt Gingrich advances a non-violent response, that's worth noting.

Interestingly enough, it is a Newt reference that takes me to this piece.

Modern bipartisanship can be simply defined as Democrats repeatedly getting taken to the cleaners by Republicans. Until the rules of the game are changed it will remain so whether Democrats are in the majority or not. That pathetic Charlie Brown with the football ritual is what Joe Lieberman is running on and what Joe Klein is angling for with his Blankslate Obama love-fest. (Norquist called it date rape but that's too kind -- the Liebermans and Kleins love being in the spotlight giving wingnuts lapdances. They enjoy every minute of their rightwing orgy --- they just don't want to take responsibility when they turn up with wingnut transmitted diseases.)

It is going to take some deft media management and skillfull legislative action to stop this pattern, but stop it we must. We have had more than two decades to assess this and this is how the conservative movement works. You can almost feel the relief (and even the glee) in some of the recent right wing claims that losing will be good for the party.
This time the stakes are so high and the failures so manifest that we cannot allow this zombie revolution to rise again. No matter how tempting it is to let bygones be bygones and get to work to "fix" the problems, the Democrats must recognize that fixing the problem requires discrediting this Republican revolution once and for all. Until that happens, they will keep coming back and each time they do they destroy a little bit more of our democracy.

We may win this one but we are basically the janitors, winning the contract to clean up after the conservative frat boys trashed the place for the last few years. And Daddy Broder believes it when his boys tell him it was the cleaning people who caused all the damage because he just can't bring himself to admit that they are out-of-control misfits because they come from good families and dress so nicely when they come to the club. We need to make sure the dean and all his friends have their noses rubbed in what their boys have been up to all these years before we can ever hope to do anything but take out the garbage and change the sheets every few years.

As I have said before, I have tried all my adult life to think, act and vote as a Republican. Working in management, paying the max into Social Security for twenty years and being a Section Eight landlord should by now have made me into a dyed-in-the-wool Republican. But something in my temperament, genes, faith or blood always gets in the way.

Sorry 'bout that. All I know to do is disclose my biases and hope my friends will understand. I don't have to go far to find among them infidelity, substance abuse, parental neglect, financial irregularities, and a long list of more benign vices...all of which are part of the landscape. It's an easy matter to shrug and quip "Well, we're all only human...want another cup of coffee?"

All indications are that Democrats are about to regain whatever passes for "control" in Washington. My reaction is tepid at best, but I cling to some hope that such a move might drag the political center of gravity somewhat closer to just that: the center. You want some insight into my thinking? Read both links above from top to bottom. Tom Watson and Digby say it far better than I can.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Mideast Youth blog gives us hope

Lots to be thankful about when these young people write their stories.

The director of the women’s group, an Orthodox Jewish woman (who only feasted on vegetarian stuff) told us about her discussion with her Arab pharmacist.

“Ramadan Kareem” she told him.

“How do you know about Ramadan?”

“Do you know I’m going to an Iftar tonight?”

“Why are you going to an Iftar? With whom? What kind of group are you with?”

“A group of women, Jewish, Moslem and Christian get together and we celebrate holidays together.”

He still couldn’t get it. “Why? Are you against anything?”

“No we’re not against anything. We’re simply pro-peace.”

“Oh peace” he shrugged. “It’s no use talking about it.”

“That’s exactly my point” she continued. “We don’t talk about it. When we get together, we live peace.”

Richard Haass on a new Middle East

From Financial Times

*Visions of a new Europe-like Middle East that is peaceful, prosperous and democratic will not be realised. Much more likely is the emergence of a new Middle East that will cause great harm to itself and the world.

*The US will continue to enjoy more influence than any outside power, but its influence will be reduced from what it once was.

*Iran will be one of the two most powerful states in the region. It is a classical imperial power, with ambitions to remake the region in its image and the potential to translate objectives into reality. Israel will be the other powerful local state, but one that is in a weaker position today than it was before this summer’s crisis in Lebanon.

*Iraq at best will remain messy for years to come, with a weak central government, a divided society and sectarian violence.

*Militias, both a product and a cause of weak states, will emerge throughout the region wherever there is a perceived or actual deficit of state authority and capacity. Terrorism will grow in sophistication. Tensions between Sunni and Shia will increase. Islam will fill the political and intellectual vacuum in the Arab world and provide a foundation for the politics of a majority of the region’s people.

*Force is not terribly useful against loosely organised militias and terrorists who are well armed, accepted by the local population and prepared to die for their cause. the region’s people.

*Diplomacy is also called for. One step that could only help would be to establish a regional forum for Iraq’s neighbours to help manage events there akin to that used for Afghanistan. This would require ending US diplomatic isolation of both Iran and Syria, which in any event is not working.

Just a few snips. Read it and weep think.
Tip to Dr. Hadar

Deepak Chopra takes a few hits

That title is actually an exercise in understatement. The two links found at 3Quarks are the fisking equivalent of an old Cowboy song...

Ther wuz bluud on the saddle
And bluud on the ground
And a great big puddle
Of bluud all around...

If you find fisking entertaining, go take a look.

One of the writers at Respectful Insolence continues a smack-down started by Phyrangula. Between the two of them they leave poor Deepak in a quivering heap.

I'm not attracted to this kind of verbal savagery. It's too much like professional wrestling. But fisking is like sports. From time to time there is something like a World Series or Superbowl that no one can ignore, even those of us who find sports and playing cards a monotonous waste of time. This seems to be one of those occasions.

I learned a new word: woo.
You know you're in for some first class Chopra woo (or, as I think I'll call it from now on, Choprawoo, given that Dr. Chopra has "distinguished" himself with a certain kind of credulous woo that has become his trademark and therefore deserves a word of its own to describe it) from the very beginning...

From the comments...
The mystery of articles like this cannot be solved without answering one essential question. Why is Deepak Chopra so stupid?
btw, "Chopra woo" is redundant.

And a couple more...

>>>So intelligence exists independent of biological organisms? My god, the chiropractors have been right all along!

>>>I burst out laughing at the very first Choprawoo line:
"The mystery of life cannot be solved without answering
one essential question. Why are human beings intelligent?"

So, 1 millions years ago (before any intelligent human beings), there was no mystery
to life? It was all perfectly understandable until that dad-burned intelligence appeared?
Yeah. Right.

Quite long comment threads at both links. Everyone having a good time piling on. Something like a food fight but not as sticky.
Good for insomnia, though.

Shaker Nabulsi on Arab neo-Liberalism

Shaker Nabulsi, PhD is an American/Jordanian writer. He gained his BA in literature from Ain Shams University, Cairo, and his PhD in education from Kennedy Western University, California.Dr Nabulsi is a freelance writer, and a political commentator on Alhurra TV. He is a columnist for Al-siyasa (Kuwaiti), Al-raya (Qatar), Elaph electronic newspaper, Middle East Transparent website, and Modern Discussion website.He has written and contributed to 42 books covering topics in history, education, religion, and politics.

The writer describes a long tradition within the Arab world that most Americans would insist is non-existent, or worse, another example of how deceptive our enemies are and how they are trying to trick us into thinking they are intelligent humans instead of the heathen savages we know them to be. I don't know which is the deeper ignorance, that of the Arab world or that of the West. According to this writer these Arab neo-liberals "have been under attack by the extreme right wing in the Middle East, which has accused them of living in the shadow of the neo–conservatism of the Bush administration."

Since the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, the Arab world has sought to build ideological alternatives to the powerful challenge presented by the jihadists, whose message exploded onto the global scene that day with such catastrophic power and immediate impact.

The task of creating a full-blown ideological alternative to the terrorists’ message has been a faltering one. Its effectiveness has been dependent on the successful resurrection of ideas associated with Arab liberalism – ideas which once defined the Arab political consciousness as a foil to oppose colonialism, and which need today to be proven as ‘authentic’ as those which are the mainstay of the jihadist creed.

The ‘Arab Liberals’ who are the intellectual root of the re-emergent trend of today, first appeared at the end of the 19th Century, in the form of two generations of enlightened thinkers.
In a short period of time, these neo-liberals gained a high profile, primarily by collecting – in the first of instance of its kind in Arab history – three thousand signatures from various Arab intellectuals in all parts of the world, which was then sent to the United Nations. The petition called on the UN to establish an international tribunal to prosecute terrorists, including people and institutions who incite terrorism, citing in particular religious clerics.

The petition, which was presented to the UN Secretary General on 8 October 2004, stated the following: “It is not enough for the [UN] Security Council to adopt resolutions ‘condemning’ terrorism. What will be more effective is the establishment of an international tribunal affiliated to the UN organization for the prosecution of individuals, groups, or entities involved, directly or indirectly, with terrorist activities including, but not limited to, fatwas issued by religious clerics in the name of Islam calling upon Muslims to commit terrorist acts.”
Since their emergence as a bloc of intellectual opinion, the neo-liberals have been under attack by the extreme right wing in the Middle East, which has accused them of living in the shadow of the neo–conservatism of the Bush administration.

The neo–liberals themselves have rejected this accusation, notably by highlighting three significant differences between them: first, that neo-liberals accept modernity, whereas neo-cons do not. Second, that neo-liberals refuse to use religion to dominate the masses, whereas neo-cons accept it. Third, that neo-liberals accept peace as a solution for ending struggle, believing that war will not bring stabilization. The neo-cons, by contrast, believe that war can be an answer.

Time will tell whether or not the neo-liberals will continue to expound and broadcast the message of their predecessors. Up to now, the neo-liberals have lost every round they have fought in the Arab World. They lack popularity and are widely misunderstood.

The main problem lies in the fact that their enemies have sought to portray them as the allies of US policy in the Middle East – a policy that is so widely and deeply hated. The Palestinian issue will remain the – and their – biggest test. Without solving this one, perennial problem, the neo-liberals will find it hard to define the relevance of what they are pursuing; their belief in modernity and democracy will fail to take root unless that solution starts to emerge. Only then will there be an opportunity to build on the strong body of ideas that amount to the Arab world’s own, home grown alternative to radicalism and extremism. But until peace arrives in Palestine, no sound of modernity or democracy will be heard.

Once again the question of Palestine rears its head. It is an easy matter to dismiss the entire argument of this writer by claiming that point is a straw man. Given the passion with which that issue is symbolic of the East-West conflict, as well as its obvious religious overtones, it would be wise not to be in denial about the importance of finding a peaceful end to that conflict.

This highlighted paragraph above distills three important ideas that critically divide the discussion: modernity, religion and peace.

In a convoluted and revealing manner, each of these three areas represents a sticking point in the conversation. Unfortunately, the "Arab neo-liberal" position is more compelling than arguments opposing them.

They argue in favor of modernity while the US finds itself allied with those political and social leaders who regard modernity more as a threat than a remedy to problems.

They argue that religion should not be used, to borrow a word from Marx, as an opiate, whereas the loudest voices on both sides of the conflict frame the debate in harshly-polarizing clash-of-religions terms.

And finally, by advancing the cause of peace, these idealistic thinkers marginalize themselves, like their Western counterparts, as overly-idealistic, maybe even cowardly individuals, not willing to go to war for what they believe.

I have never understood the widespread idea that war somehow leads to peace. It is a contradiction in terms, but one that most of the world readily accepts as certain as the law of gravity.