Thursday, November 30, 2006

Blaming the victims

This is sad, mean and counterproductive.
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"It's their fault, and by implication not ours, is clearly a theme that's in the air," said retired Army Col. Andrew J. Bacevich, a Vietnam veteran and longtime skeptic of the war in Iraq. It reminds him, he said, of the sour last days of the Vietnam War, when "there was a tendency to blame everything on the 'gooks' -- meaning our South Vietnamese allies who had disappointed us."

"People never understood the culture and the challenges that we faced in trying to build a new Iraq," a senior U.S. intelligence official said. "There's incredible frustration . . . but it also shows a great deal of ignorance."

"Definitely," said Paul Rieckhoff, who served in Iraq as an Army officer in 2003-2004 and went on to found a veterans group critical of the conduct of the war. "It is growing into an angry, scolding tone." He said he finds it "sad" -- "especially after all the talk of our mission to 'save the Iraqis.' "

The long-term effect of blaming Iraqis also could be poisonous, said Juan Cole, a University of Michigan specialist in Middle Eastern issues. He predicted that it will "infuriate the Iraqis and worsen further the future relationship of the two countries."
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H/T Bill Petti
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Is shifting blame to the victims an important component of shaping the political will to bring this mess to an end? Looks too me like the equivalent of that football player who flipped off the crowd as he left the field after a losing game. No class. None.

I think we're better than that. But maybe not.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Newt Watch -- Professor Bainbridge's take

Gingrich has a penchant for saying just the right words to trigger headlines. I think he does this on purpose so that more people will talk about what he is discussing. At some level he knows that no real criticism of what he says will stick without actual quotes, and whenever he tosses out lines like "World War Three" or "curbing free speech before we lose a city"...all he's doing is waving his rhetorical arms around wildly in order to attract attention. Up close, in context, stuff like this loses its punch in the context of a much bigger package of jawboning, typically about a topic more cerebral (i.e. boring) but likely more important than the bait he tossed out.

Professor Baingridge took a closer look at Newt's most recent verbal smoke bombs and this is what he found.
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Newt's speech strikes this observer as eminently sensible. Political speech out to be at the core of First Amendment protections. People should be free to say whatever they want about politics and elections and to publicize their views as widely as possible. In today's media economy, that takes money. Restrictions on campaign finance thus are restrictions on the core of free speech rights.

To be sure, there is some risk of money leading to corruption. The late Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously opined, however, that “Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.” Prompt and complete disclosure of campaign contributions, as Gingrich recommends, strikes the appropriate balance between free speech and fear of corruption.

As for the war on terror, one is reminded of Ben Franklin's dictum that "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." At the same time, however, as late Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson famously remarked, "The Constitution is not a suicide pact."

There must be a balance. As Russell Kirk wrote, "A just government maintains a healthy tension between the claims of authority and the claims of liberty." Or, as his wife Annette put it, "You can't just have the concept of freedom without order, and that's the first need of all."In a world in which radical terrorists have access to WMD, we can't let either political correctness or extreme claims of personal freedom to protect terrorists from appropriate surveillance. Accordingly, Gingrich is sensibly calling for a proactive discussion of the basic question: What is the appropriate balance between order and liberty?
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Go read the larger Newt quotes and you can see how he comes to these conclusions.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Brian Whitaker on Civil War in Iraq

Ahem. My traffic improved today thanks to a link from the Guardian's Brian Whitaker. "Comment is free" is the Guardian's blog connection and Whitaker is the Mideast Editor. He notes that the term civil war is being used more often regarding Iraq.
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Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general, has become the latest public figure to warn that Iraq is teetering on the brink of civil war: "In fact," he said, "we are almost there."

Less than 24 hours earlier, the king of Jordan said in a TV interview: "We could possibly imagine going into 2007 and having three civil wars on our hands," the three being Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.

There is an understandable reluctance on the part of politicians and large sections of the media to admit that civil war has broken out in Iraq. Instead they continue talking about "fears" of civil war and how it might be averted, but as far as most political scientists are concerned it's a civil war already.
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Iraq is not only in the throes of any civil war but one of the bloodiest in recent history. "It's stunning; it should have been called a civil war a long time ago, but now I don't see how people can avoid calling it a civil war," Nicholas Sambanis, a political scientist at Yale university told the New York Times the other day. "The level of violence is so extreme that it far surpasses most civil wars since 1945."

Some people might argue that this is just a matter of semantics: violence is violence, whether you call it a civil war or not. The point, though, is that being honest about the nature of the conflict helps us to see its true nature more clearly - and possibly to have a better idea of what might be done about it.

Last September, James Fearon, a professor at Stamford university and one of the world's leading experts on civil wars, gave testimony to a committee on national security in the US House of Representatives. His remarks were largely ignored by the US media, though they were noted by a couple of bloggers (Abu Aardvark and Hootsbuddy).

After saying that "by any reasonable definition" Iraq is in the midst of a civil war, Prof Fearon pointed out that civil wars typically last a long time (more than a decade on average) and usually end with decisive military victories (in at least 75% of cases). "Successful power-sharing agreements to end civil wars are rare, occurring in one in six cases, at best."
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I'm happy for the link, of course, but even more pleased that the reality of what is happening in Iraq is finally being openly discussed. Maybe it will result in a change of policy.

Something has to change. What's happening now ain't working.

Greg Djerejian is just a Little. Bit. Pissed.

I knew there was some reason I liked this guy. In my ignorance I had no idea that he was the son of a diplomat, but I should have known. His writing is not only lucid, but filled with hints that he has been spoon-fed the facts of life by a career statesman, his father, Edward P. Djerejian, a forty-year veteran of the Foreign Service.

This is a long post. Don't start it unless you aim to pay attention. But after reading it, my admiration for Greg Djerejian has moved up to the top notch. He opens with a brief outline of how his father has been maligned. Not by just anybody, but by some smart people who ought to know better, including none other than the Blogfather himself.


...with Glenn Reynolds entering the fray and calling my father's predictions “na├»ve” (quite a charge coming from that famed Middle East specialist Instapundit(!)—seemingly always at the ‘aw shucks, sounds good’ ready to link whatever neo-con swill du jour), it appears I have to wade into this recriminatory morass, if for no other reason than to defend a family member I respect.
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Thus begins a fisking to end all fisking. No need for me to go further. Read it for yourself.

He ends, however, on a positive note. This is the mark of a real gentleman.


A final word, to anyone who has stuck with me through this lengthy screed. Look, we're in an awful situation in Iraq right now, and I think this country needs to come together and focus on constructive policy recommendations given how grave the situation is. Therefore I am in favor (and of course I am biased, as my father is involved) of at least giving the Baker-Hamilton Commission a real chance at producing their report and seeing if the broad centers of both parties can perhaps broach their differences and unite via the ISG on a plausible way forward. Predictably, the Baker-Hamilton Commission is getting hit from both the Left (who view it as a fig-leaf for a 'peace with honor' type withdrawal that will hold at bay an immediate withdrawal of our troops) and the Right (where fevered total victory types like Rubin see the Commission as a defeatist, appeasement-loving stab in the back that will cheer jihadists from Jakarta to Alhambra). In an era that seems a long, long time ago--politics were supposed to stop at the water's edge. That bipartisan
tradition appears to be mostly (if not wholly) dead, of course, but now we find ourselves in the worst jam since Vietnam overseas and we really need to start pulling together in serious manner in the face of major strategic challenges.
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This is not to say we cannot air our differences, debate is the life-blood of our democracy, and it is imperative. But let's at least try to be constructive (which isn't to say I've not been guilty of broad-sides not infrequently, but I do try to balancethem with contributions to the policy debate, and I've seen precious little of Rubin attempting to suggest credible policy alternatives of late, rather than carp rather incoherently from the sidelines). This, in a nutshell, was the main reason I was so disgusted by Rubin's drive-by preemptive strike on the Baker-Hamilton Commission--not only because of the gross display of arrogance in criticizing those trying to put out a fire that many of his ideological fellow-travellers played a key part in setting alight (to use Greenwald's analogy)--but also because he spent so much time busily poisoning the well (see his aspersions of various ISG study group members in the linked piece) rather than constructively helping to move the situation forward in collaborative manner. In a word, it was low, but these days, par with the course, I guess.

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"...neocon swill du jour."
I love it. Wish I'd thought of that.
As they say, "Heh."

Tea leaves, crystal ball and civil wars that spread...

One of the arguments against ending the US occupation of Iraq is that our military presence there is somehow preventing the spread of violence into other parts of the region. I have seen maps on television with little smoke streams coming up from Lebanon and Gaza, suggesting that the whole place is like a hot pile of charcoal, wet with lighter fluid, ready to burst into flames at any moment. It's an easy message to buy since our news is packaged and portion-controlled to fit into half-hour evening time slots (the alphabet networks) or even smaller soundbites on the cable channels.

Sorry, I don't buy it. Nothing I have studied in history tells me that civil wars are contagious. Like cancer or kidney disease, they may be terrible for the victim, but civil wars do not spread like chicken pox or the flu. This is not to say that other areas are not at risk. The risk is definitely there, whether it be Lebanon, Palestinian Gaza, or anywhere else you want to mention. But those areas were at risk before the Iraq adventure, and are following very different dynamics. Also, for the moment the leadership in those other two "at risk" areas are not sounding as dangerous as one might think.

Take a moment to read this post by Elijah Zarwan.
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The tensions in Lebanon following Gemayel’s assassination have been reflected in the Lebanese blogs over the past week. One post from Mustapha, in particular, struck me as particularly timely given King Abdallah’s warnings about civil wars in Lebanon, Palestine, and Iraq today...
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He goes on to quote words that indicate that talk of civil war in Lebanon is more a creation of news machines than an upsurge of political and social conflict.
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People the world over will be watching/reading about our civil war unfolding, in the safety of their countries, and a few months down the line, popcorn in hand, they'll start getting bored of our news. They'll start dissing us as inherently violent and saying that we deserve this because we can't stand each other. The very mention of Lebanon would guarantee their reach for the remote control and switch to Jay Leno.

Whoever the bad guy is (Syria or Israel), the above Scenario is HELL, and we shouldn't let it happen. Honest communication should immediately take the place of tense mobilization.

Mustapha is right. This is not about political passions bursting forth in civil war. It is about the threat of that happening on the part of manipulative leaders pressing this or that agenda. The people of Lebanon -- ALL of Lebanon, thanks to Israel's recent thrashing -- are by now sick and tired of bloodshed. I doubt they are ready to resume fighting in any great numbers, no matter how gifted Nasrallah may be as a charismatic leader. At some level, he probably knows that and will not be calling for more sacrifices any time soon. He may be an extremist, but he's no dummy.
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My guess is that in the absence of US forces the parties involved would come to terms more quickly to end the bleeding that is now tearing apart what's left of Iraqi social and political identity. It is madness to suggest that after fighting Americans for the last four years the Iraqis would sit still for Iran or Syria, or even some land-locked independent Kurdistan, to come in and determine their future.
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My friend Abu Khaleel said that Iraq has a long history of peaceful tollerance between Sunnis and Shiites and I believe him. Moreover, most of what is happening -- and this is the argument that there is "no civil war" going on -- is in fact occurring within a short radius of Baghdad. Most of the country is not engaged in the extreme ugliness that we are being fed by the media.
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One more item before I end this post.
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Today's Washington Post has a satirical piece by Anthony Shadid about the Lebanese factions (Again, thanks to Zarwan for the pointer.) which illustrates the light-hearted manner that people in that country sometimes take their politics.
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...advertisements went up this month on 300 billboards across the Lebanese capital and appeared in virtually every newspaper in the country. Thousands of e-mails carried the ads across the Internet to expatriates. Each offered its take on what one of the campaign's creative directors called a country on the verge of "absurdistan" -- cooking lessons by Greek Orthodox, building for sale to Druze, hairstyling by an Armenian Catholic, a fashion agency looking for "a beautiful Shiite face." At the bottom, the ads read in English, "Stop sectarianism before it stops us," or, more bluntly in Arabic, "Citizenship is not sectarianism."
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The campaign, designed for free by an ad agency and promoted by a civil society group, has forced Lebanon to look at itself at a time when the country is spiraling into one of its worst political crises in years. The timing was coincidental, the message universal, in a landscape with ever dwindling common ground: The forces that dragged Lebanon into one civil war are threatening another.
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Many have praised the ads for asking uncomfortable, even taboo questions about a system in which sectarian affiliation determines everything from the identity of the president to loyalty to sports teams. Some have mistaken the campaign for reality. Across the capital, one in six billboards was torn down, prevented from being put up or splashed with paint, usually the tactic of choice for conservative Muslims irked by lingerie ads.
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"They didn't get it," said Fouad Haraki, a 53-year-old shawarma vendor, idly dragging on a cigarette next to a kerosene tank, across the street from billboards that had been defaced. "They just read what was written on top, not what was on the bottom."
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By tradition, the president is Maronite, the prime minister Sunni, the parliament speaker Shiite. Other posts are reserved for Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholic and Druze. Boy scouts are organized by community, not country -- the Mahdi Scouts for the Shiites, for instance. Television stations have their own sectarian bent -- the Lebanese Broadcasting Corp. for Christians, Future for the Sunnis. Christians are partial to the Sagesse basketball team, Sunnis the Riyadi team. There are even two Armenian soccer teams -- Homenmen and Homenetmen -- one faithful to Armenian leftists, the other to the community's right wing. Before this summer's war, Sunni soccer fans loyal to Ansar brawled in a stadium with Shiite youths loyal to Nijmeh. The system, known as confessionalism, dates to long before Lebanon's independence in 1943.
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But there is a growing sense that the decades-old principles underlying Lebanese politics have grown obsolete. In some ways, today's crisis is about the assertion of power -- a coup to its critics -- by the long-disenfranchised Shiite community led by Hezbollah. Hardly anyone can forecast with certainty how the struggle will end, but almost everyone sees it as a turning point, a crisis that intersects raw ambition with ideology, foreign policy, perspective and history, all awash in sectarian combustion.

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The armchair generals who shout directions from living rooms across America have no idea what is really going on over there. And, yes, I include myself in that group. Like Will Rogers, all I know is what I read on the internets.

(And I will be really happy when Beta Blogger gets this annoying problem with spaces between paragraphs figured out. I'm tired of putting stupid-looking periods between paragraphs in order to make my posts format in a visually pleasing manner.)

Doc Searls -- Free your Mind

Reading Doc Searls makes me feel like Butterfly McQueen's character in Gone With the Wind. "Law', Miss Scarlet, I don't know nothin' 'bout birthin' babies" My knowledge of the internets is about as limited as that Senator who splained about tubes and stuff. But this column in Linux Journal excites my imagination as much as watching an extreme sport on YouTube. Just because you can't do it yourself doesn't mean you can't project yourself into the action and pretend. I get the same feeling whenever I hear a good recording of Maple Leaf Rag. Close my eyes and pretend for a moment that is me on the keyboard...
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...The Matrix was a metaphor for marketing. For me this was personal.

When I began writing for Linux Journal in 1996 (as a contributing editor), I was fairly new to Linux and to the free software and open-source concepts that Linux embodies. But I had been working in marketing-mostly advertising and PR-for two decades. For a stretch of the late 1980s and early 1990s, Hodskins Simone & Searls was one of the top high-tech advertising agencies in Silicon Valley. When I left the agency, I went on to become a successful marketing consultant. So I knew how the sausage was made.

Oddly, marketing (including advertising and PR) is not as powerful as you might think. Given the extraordinary inefficiencies involved, the actual influence exerted by marketing (and by advertising and PR in particular), is remarkably small. Even the accountabilities introduced with pay-per-click advertising still involve ratios of "impressions" to clicks that run in the lottery range.

Far more powerful is a belief, held by nearly everybody in the developed world, that the best markets are captive ones. In the Free Software and Open Source movements we call captive markets "walled gardens" or "silos". But to most producers in the developed world, these are ideal. And to most consumers, they are business as usual.

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The carriers claim to be fighting government regulation, when in fact they have known life only inside a regulatory habitat they built themselves and continue to control through an exceptionally powerful lobbying apparatus. Together with the lawmakers and regulators they control, the carriers have created what Bob Frankston (a father of both the spreadsheet and home networking) calls the Regulatorium.

The Regulatorium provides the building codes for telecom and cablecom silos. Telecom (including cablecom) "reform" is entirely about changing the building codes to make the silos more competitive with each other-not to free the captives of those silos or to blow the silos up altogether.

To the Regulatorium, a "free market" for Internet service means you get to choose between a cable and a telephone provider. That's it. These carriers can no more appreciate a truly free market than an agent in The Matrix can imagine a world not run by machines.

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Okay, then. If you don't get pumped letting your inner engineer go crazy, then skip the link and move on. But trust me when I tell you, Doc Searls has vision. Whenever feel like life is getting drab, I can always count on him to write something to make me feel better. Just knowing the future of technology is brighter than the present is enough.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Save Whomever We Can


This one is important.

Take time to watch now.

Then read hilzoy's post. She quotes George Packer (subscription)...


If the United States leaves Iraq, our last shred of honor and decency will require us to save as many of these Iraqis as possible. In June, a U.S. Embassy cable about the lives of the Iraqi staff was leaked to The Washington Post. Among many disturbing examples of intimidation and fear was this sentence: "In March, a few staff approached us to ask what provisions would we make for them if we evacuate." The cable gave no answer. The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad does not issue visas. Iraqis who want to come to the United States must make their way across dangerous territory to a neighboring country that has a U.S. Embassy with a consular section. Iran and Syria do not; Jordan has recently begun to bar entry to Iraqi men under the age of 35. For a military translator to have a chance at coming to the United States, he must be able to prove that he worked for at least a year with U.S. forces and have the recommendation of a general officer--nearly impossible in most cases. Our current approach essentially traps Iraqis inside their country, where they will have to choose, like Osman, between jihadists and death squads.

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We should start issuing visas in Baghdad, as well as in the regional embassies in Mosul, Kirkuk, Hilla, and Basra. We should issue them liberally, which means that we should vastly increase our quota for Iraqi refugees. (Last year, it was fewer than 200.) We should prepare contingency plans for massive airlifts and ground escorts. We should be ready for desperate and angry crowds at the gates of the Green Zone and U.S. bases. We should not allow wishful thinking to put off these decisions until it's too late. We should not compound our betrayals of Iraqis who put their hopes in our hands."

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I can think of nothing to add. The Iraqi nationals who have been faithful to their jobs working for the US will know whether or not they will be safe. Those wanting to flee for their safety must be allowed to and assisted in doing so.

A word or two about #337 $p34l{

Uh, that would be "leet speak" in everyday terms.

What's leet?

Glad you asked. It's the latest in short-cut communication using keyboard and keypad corruptions variants on conventional letters and numbers. Just when us oldsters thought we were getting the hang of things, here comes yet another language to learn.

According to Wikipedia leet derived from hackers, but my instinct is that it has more to do with text messaging and the natual impulse of youngsters to hide stuff from adults than anything else. Text messaging on a keypad takes a lot more strokes than using a keyboard, so anything that can cut down on the number of movements is faster. This means why use two letters when one will do? ( "2" rather than to, two or too for example)

It's all too arcane for my old head, but I am soothed by the hope that it won't be part of commercial messages until the generation that uses it starts handling the money. Oh, wait. That's already here, isn't it? Oh, well, the next big thing will be a teevee message that says...
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%05 P3$3rv3 %37 4n07h3r br34l{ 90P4%...47 M(40n4#p$!!!

...or, as we used to say, "You deserve yet another break today...at McDonalds!!!"

Now you know.
Here's a link to a handy leekspeek translator.
Run with it!
This little factoid post was inspired by a YouTube video found at Andreas Wacker's Blogsnow. (The Blogsnow link is now gone, but since the video was put up in April, it's considered ancient history by now and Blogsnow may be programed to drop it.)

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Two years ago it was time to get out...

Surfing over my own site I came across this from before the 2004 election, two years ago. The steady drumbeat of 9/11, 9/11, 9/11 was about to make me crazy as the president continued to wave that bloody shirt. I will forever remember it as one of the most crass and irresponsible campaign efforts I have ever seen. I am just an old guy blogging and it was clear to me that it was already time to wind up the mission in Iraq.

The connection between September 11 what is happening today in Iraq is virtually non-existent. We are in Iraq because a lot of good people made a lot of mistakes in good faith (another great phrase, don't you think?) but were not able to admit it for political reasons. The end of the Saddam era in Iraq may become one of the most important and beneficial events of the Twenty-first Century, and I'm glad that it happened. Although the tyrant is no longer there, the aftermath of his poison remains and America has an obligation to finish what it began, like the doctor who removes a limb has an obligation to his patient help him recover from the trauma then provide him with a prosthesis.

But American young people are not sacrificing their lives in Iraq because of September 11. They are there because criminals released by Saddam from Iraqi prisons are running unchecked among a diminishing population of decent Iraqis. They are there because outside forces, probably Sunni and certainly of the extreme fundamentalist stripe, are penetrating the porous borders of that country and are raising hell. They are there in order to make good a commitment to hold elections in January, one way or another. But they are not there because airplanes crashed the World Trade Center three years ago.

The connection, of course, IS world terrorism. But that is the beginning and the end of the connection. I am firmly persuaded, no matter whatever else may be true, that our presence in Iraq is feeding the forces of terrorism with eager recruits. We are not ameliorating terrorism by waging war in Iraq. We are, in fact, doing just the opposite. And thanks to modern telecommunications, we may be recruiting more terrorists outside of Iraq than there.

Little by little the WTC rationale for a US military presence in Iraq has morphed from GWOT to flypaper to planting the seeds of democracy to mission accomplished to staying the course to God knows what. It now looks as though the end may be near, but only after the forces that oppose what has clearly become an "occupation" have come together, stronger and better organized than they were two years ago.

The population of Iraqi people who might be US sympathizers has diminished. For some, family or friends have been killed or injured in "collateral damage," resulting in a change of mind and attitude. Others have left the country altogether. Those who remain, whether Sunni or Shiite, risk more than it is worth to let anyone know how they might feel.

Gone is the outside chance that the US might somehow intervene as peacemakers in the civil war that is already in progress. How can constructive intervention be possible for any force that is a component of the conflict?

We are now what Professor Bainbridge calls "dead enders...Those are the people who pursue lost causes beyond the point of rationality." Read what he writes about dead-enders.
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The Iraq dead-enders are making a classic economic mistake. The relevant economic concept is sunk costs, which teaches that what is done cannot be undone. Sunk costs are those costs that already have been incurred and cannot be reversed, such as the costs incurred in developing a new product.

The rational decision-maker does not factor sunk costs into his analysis. When I lived in Illinois, I had University of Illinois football season tickets. Inevitably, the last game of the year would be played in lousy weather — snow or sleet or something likewise awful. I would propose staying home instead of going to the game.

My good wife would insist that we should go because we had paid for the tickets. So I would explain sunk costs: We had already paid for the tickets. We could not get our money back. The sole question was whether the utility of going to the game outweighed the utility of not freezing to death. The cost of the tickets was irrelevant to that calculus. (The good wife grasped this concept quite easily, being a smart cookie, and not infrequently uses it for her own nefarious purposes.)

The time, effort, money and — yes — the lives we have spent in Iraq are sunk. Nothing we do going forward will bring the dead back to life, nor recover the billions of dollars poured into Iraq. We do not dishonor the memory of those who have died in the service of our country when we say that decisions about what to do now in Iraq.

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Cold-blooded? You bet.
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The calculus of decision-making in war is exactly that: cold-blooded. Why do you think I'm so damned opposed to it? In the meantime, let's make yet another cold-blooded commitment as described so well above and make that one final, necessary step and get the kids home before too many more get killed or wounded.

Rural Training School, Richmond, Kentucky

In conversation yesterday with a coworker I mentioned having gone to school once in a one-room school. She looked at me surprised and seemed not to know what I was talking about. She had no concept of a "one-room school."

"You mean all the subjects were taught in one room? No changing classes for different subjects?"
"No, I mean all the grades were in one place."

"Every grade was separated in a little room by itself?"

"No. Every grade was in a single room. First grade in the first row, second grade in the second row, and so on for six grades."

"Wow! It must have been a really big room!"

"No, there were only four people in my grade. The grade behind me was the biggest; they had seven in that grade."

Even after I described the school she still seemed not to get it. The idea was too far out.

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There are probably a lot of people still around who went to one-room schools, but the number is surely shrinking. With today's home schooling I think the notion would not be crazy at all, but for a generation that has never experienced anything but herding of students by the hundreds, even thousands, the idea is strange for sure.
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Because of frequent family moves I attended five different elementary schools in Kentucky and Georgia, two states not famous for public education. Statistically I ought not to have amounted to much, but that is why my views on education do not conform to most popular opinions. I am a firm believer that all education is from, by and for the student. Teachers are mainly facilitators and it is the value the family places on education which makes the difference between poor, fair and outstanding academic performance. How else to explain the stellar results with Asian students sitting in the same classrooms with fourth generation or more American kids with lackluster or failing marks? But, as usual, I digress...
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The Rural Training School in Richmond, Kentucky was built for the purpose of allowing student teachers from what was at the time Eastern Kentucky State Teachers College to have on-the-job training. My mother had graduated from Eastern (now Eastern Kentucky University) in 1939 so the idea of my going to a "rural" training school was not unheard-of. The thirty-five or so children who went to that school were collected by bus from a few miles along the Lancaster Pike and provided just the right number of students to be taught and coached by young, newly-minted teachers before they got assigned to permanent jobs.
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I don't remember much about the student teachers, except that they were only there a short time. But Mrs. Scott was the principle and had been there for years before I came and was there years after I went on to other places. She was the perfect model of old-fashioned educator, teaching both students and younger teachers at the same time.
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I could fill pages of description and stories, but most readers would find it tedious. Suffice it to say there was no indoor plumbing. Boys and girls outhouses were not too far from the back door. Several times we took field trips in a caravan of cars. I first saw a museum, a zoo, and the state capital on trips from that school. Every Friday morning those who wanted to participate could hike across the field that separated us from the college and go swimming in a year-round indoor pool, after which we came back for lunch and the rest of the school day. Lunch, of course, was always whatever came from home. One-room schools don't have lunchrooms. From time to time the whole school participated in indoor recreation, probably due to bad weather, but I always remember it was better than playing outside. We played games, painted or drew pictures, using powdered colors mixed with water. I remember pushing all the desks to the sides to play drop the handkerchief or dancing the Virginia Reel. We performed plays, told stories, asked riddles and found all kinds of fun activities other than studying.
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On and on the memories go. Such were the lessons that passed for academic excellence half a century ago, but I think we learned more about real life, about getting along with other people, about values than students now do (or don't) in school. We didn't have report cards (to my disappointment). Much more focused and a lot less open for misrepresentation, each evaluation period Mrs. Scott personally wrote a short letter home to each student's parents letting them know what was going well and what was not. Tough to finesse those letters if you had any problems with deportment. Ask me.
Teachers made study notes and tests using a hectograph, a precursor to the mimeograph consisting of tray of gelatin. The master paper was hand-written using a purple mimeograph pencil, then placed face down on the hectograph tray and moistened slightly. After a minute it was peeled up leaving the ink in the gelatin. Copies could then be made by placing paper down on the surface, then peeling them off with the inked side a copy of the original. After two or three copies, the surface had to be moistened again with a sponge, and the process would continue until the ink became too light to see...usually after about ten or twelve pages. Small classes didn't need more than that, so it was a practical, cheap method to make copies. The only drawback was the tray had to rest for a day or two while the ink sank to the bottom until it could be reused. I don't think they ever wore out. When my kids were small I ordered a hectograph from an office supply catalogue so we could play with it at home. They were fascinated and we had fun for a time making pictures to color.
The post is getting out of hand. I'll stop here. As I was writing, I had a flash that someone else from that same school might come across my little remembrance and get in touch. This is the age of search engines and it's not a wild idea anymore.

Newt for president?

Stranger things have happened. Even if he never makes it to the playoffs, his participation will bring some important issues to the discussion table, like health care.
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Gingrich has routinely defied the odds, going from an obscure backbench history professor to House Speaker. He then lost that post after the GOP's 1998 House losses and re-invented himself as a healthcare visionary praised by business and medical groups.

The former House revolutionary has always been considered a wild card in the '08 race. He still has a huge and animated following among conservatives, and his healthcare reform work - he founded the D.C.-based Center for Health Transformation - has enabled him to broaden his appeal to Democrats and centrists.

I missed it but Southern Appeal took note.

I've been watching this guy from the sidelines for a long time.

Syrian connection with Gemayal assassination -- interesting rumor

UAE blog notes what is presented as a "roumor" that fifty-five minutes before the event, a newspaper editor in Damascus called a Lebanese newspaper for the details. Details are not provided, but the story is not altogether unbelievable. It would not be the first time that Syrian actions in Lebanon were clumsy.
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Rumour

Al Seyassah daily learned from authoritative sources in Beirut, that one of the editors of the Syrian National News Agency (SANA) placed a phone call to a pro-Syrian Lebanese newspaper at 3:05 pm on Tuesday. The caller inquired about the details of the assassination of Lebanese Minister for Industry Pierre Gemayel, raising eyebrows at the Lebanese newpaper. The timing of phone call was 55 minutes before the assassination was carried out.Ten minutes after the call was place, the Syrian editor placed another phone call in order to apologize for a misunderstanding.

http://www.alseyassah.com/alseyassah/First_12.asp

Google translation of the page.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Chuck Hagel (R) on leaving Iraq

Tomorrow morning's Washington Post...
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There will be no victory or defeat for the United States in Iraq. These terms do not reflect the reality of what is going to happen there. The future of Iraq was always going to be determined by the Iraqis -- not the Americans.

Iraq is not a prize to be won or lost. It is part of the ongoing global struggle against instability, brutality, intolerance, extremism and terrorism. There will be no military victory or military solution for Iraq. Former secretary of state Henry Kissinger made this point last weekend.

The time for more U.S. troops in Iraq has passed. We do not have more troops to send and, even if we did, they would not bring a resolution to Iraq. Militaries are built to fight and win wars, not bind together failing nations. We are once again learning a very hard lesson in foreign affairs:

America cannot impose a democracy on any nation -- regardless of our noble purpose.We have misunderstood, misread, misplanned and mismanaged our honorable intentions in Iraq with an arrogant self-delusion reminiscent of Vietnam. Honorable intentions are not policies and plans. Iraq belongs to the 25 million Iraqis who live there. They will decide their fate and form of government.

It may take many years before there is a cohesive political center in Iraq. America's options on this point have always been limited. There will be a new center of gravity in the Middle East that will include Iraq. That process began over the past few days with the Syrians and Iraqis restoring diplomatic relations after 20 years of having no formal communication.

What does this tell us? It tells us that regional powers will fill regional vacuums, and they will move to work in their own self-interest -- without the United States. This is the most encouraging set of actions for the Middle East in years. The Middle East is more combustible today than ever before, and until we are able to lead a renewal of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, mindless destruction and slaughter will continue in Lebanon, Israel and across the Middle East.

We are a long way from a sustained peaceful resolution to the anarchy in Iraq. But this latest set of events is moving the Middle East in the only direction it can go with any hope of lasting progress and peace. The movement will be imperfect, stuttering and difficult.

America finds itself in a dangerous and isolated position in the world. We are perceived as a nation at war with Muslims. Unfortunately, that perception is gaining credibility in the Muslim world and for many years will complicate America's global credibility, purpose and leadership. This debilitating and dangerous perception must be reversed as the world seeks a new geopolitical, trade and economic center that will accommodate the interests of billions of people over the next 25 years. The world will continue to require realistic, clear-headed American leadership -- not an American divine mission.

The United States must begin planning for a phased troop withdrawal from Iraq. The cost of combat in Iraq in terms of American lives, dollars and world standing has been devastating. We've already spent more than $300 billion there to prosecute an almost four-year-old war and are still spending $8 billion per month. The United States has spent more than $500 billion on our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And our effort in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate, partly because we took our focus off the real terrorist threat, which was there, and not in Iraq.

We are destroying our force structure, which took 30 years to build. We've been funding this war dishonestly, mainly through supplemental appropriations, which minimizes responsible congressional oversight and allows the administration to duck tough questions in defending its policies. Congress has abdicated its oversight responsibility in the past four years.

It is not too late. The United States can still extricate itself honorably from an impending disaster in Iraq. The Baker-Hamilton commission gives the president a new opportunity to form a bipartisan consensus to get out of Iraq. If the president fails to build a bipartisan foundation for an exit strategy, America will pay a high price for this blunder -- one that we will have difficulty recovering from in the years ahead.

To squander this moment would be to squander future possibilities for the Middle East and the world. That is what is at stake over the next few months.


Eloquent, clear and accurate. Those of us who objected to this terrible war now seem to be in better company. Some will blame opponents of the war because we did not "win." My only reply is simply, "Win what?"

H/T Andreas Wacker

Theology: Liberal, Conservative, Progressive, whatever...

This is why I love Gordon Atkinson.
He's one of my favorite Baptists.
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Much of my life has been spent trying to find a balance between progressive, or liberal Christian ideas and the conservative, evangelical Christianity of my youth. That’s probably why I’m still a Baptist. The Baptist community is broad and diverse.

I think The Church needs the full spectrum of her theology. Look, when it comes to God, our language isn’t going to cut it anyway. How descriptive can we be of a being that is utterly beyond our comprehension? The language of conservative Christianity speaks to many people. I appreciate that. Hell, I love it. It brings me to tears.

On the other hand, liberal or progressive Christianity speaks to others, myself included. There was a time when liberal theology came to my rescue. It kept me in the game, you might say, while I worked things out for myself. It also made me intellectually proud, and that is a dangerous thing. Pride, in all of its many forms, is truly a spiritual killer.

Were we to be given a glimpse of the true nature of God, I wonder if our theological differences would be vaporized in that blinding moment of enlightenment. We might come away from that experience laughing at words like liberal, conservative, doctrine, and theology.

But whether you use conservative or liberal theological language, the central issue of our faith – as I see it – is finding a passion for the life and teachings of Christ and giving yourself to Him. Becoming a disciple, as we say, and by that I mean trying to live a Christ-like life. The details of your theology are far less important than that commitment.

Trying to live as Jesus lived is a humbling experience. It tends to shatter the pride of the intellectual and subdue the dogmatism of the provincial. Christian living drives us to a place in the middle that we might call Grace.

Theology is nothing more than language. And as nice as language is, it cannot stand up to the beauty of a life given in the service of God and humanity.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Get. Out. Now.

Found at Gregory Djerejian's blog, Belgravia Dispatch. This is from a National Review article.
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At the Democratic convention in Chicago in 1968, while his policemen were beating up the demonstrators along the Loop and in Lincoln Park, Mayor Richard Daley apparently told Lyndon Johnson that it was time to pull the troops out of Vietnam, once and for all. "How am I to do this?" Johnson asked pleadingly. To which Daley is said to have replied: "You put the fucking troops on the fucking planes and you get them out of there!"
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What could be plainer?
Any questions?

The post is long and thoghtful. I just wanted to get attention by snipping this one paragraph.

Lebanon Update

There really isn't much to update at the moment. We are at yet another in a series of historically fragile moments when political power hangs in the balance. No one has any clear idea how it will turn out, but this most recent assassination of prime minister Pierre Gemayel has the government again at the brink of collapse.

Blake Hounshell recommends reading two reporters, one from the Washington Post, the other at the New York Times. Both have good background information. Neither ventures to say much about what might happen next.

Anthony Shadid's report includes this...
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In a city whose segregated diversity can sometimes feel claustrophobic, checkpoints went up Wednesday in Ain Rummaneh and other Christian areas to deter vendettas. News broadcasts blared from passing cars, one delivering remarks by a Gemayel ally, Druze leader Walid Jumblatt. "We are the legitimate ones, and they are the outlaws," he said.

People huddled around televisions airing the condolences in Bikfaya. There, hundreds walked behind Gemayel's coffin, waving the white-and-green flags of his Phalangist Party.Across the street from Ain Rummaneh, in the largely Shiite neighborhood of Shiyah, where Gemayel was reviled, it was business as usual -- traffic coursing past open shops as residents ignored a three-day period of mourning.

"Homegrown bananas!" one vendor shouted.

"These are the worst days the country has gone through," said Yusuf Raad, a 23-year-old shopkeeper, who as a Shiite was a distinct minority in Ain Rummaneh. "Everything is possible in a country that is so divided."

Raad ran through the conflicts that have left Lebanon divided into two camps -- one coalescing around Hezbollah, with its allies Iran and Syria, the other around Siniora's government and his allies, backed by the United States and France. That division dates to Hariri's assassination and has left the country in a cold war of sorts for nearly two years.

Raad was glum about the future: If the problem isn't foreigners, it's the Lebanese themselves, too willing to follow their communal leaders. He pointed again and again across the street, at the site of the bus attack in 1975. It was a spark then that ignited a war already simmering. Lebanon is too fragile, too volatile, he said; it can take only so many
provocations.


"Too willing to follow communal leaders" is an important part of the problem. Lebanon's hybrid version of representative democracy has "consociational" features, insuring that minorities are protected from annihilation by law. No matter how off to the edge leaders venture, they can always know that they will have willing followers. This may be the downside of protecting minorities from the political consequences of extremism.
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Michael Slackman writes...
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The so-called Cedar Revolution after Mr. Hariri’s murder was hailed as a chance for Lebanon’s notoriously fractured religious communities to unite. While that has revealed itself as a false promise, Mr. Gemayel’s funeral served as an opposing bookend to the optimism of March 14th. The Cedar Revolution led Syria to withdraw its military forces from Lebanon, and at the same time the United Nation Security Council ordered an investigation into Mr. Hariri’s murder. On Wednesday, the Security Council moved with uncommon speed and expanded the investigation to include Mr. Gemayel’s death.

The March 14th forces insist that Hezbollah and its allies have tried to block formation of a tribunal to hear evidence in order to serve their Syrian allies. Hezbollah and Syria have denied that, but the charge was raised again and again today.

“On March 14th, you held an uprising against the tutelage system for the sake of independence and freedom and now you are doing it again for the sake of sovereignty, freedom and justice and the international tribunal,” said Saad Hariri, son of the former prime minister and leader of the Sunni party called the Future Movement.

Outside, when the funeral-turned-political rally was ending, security forces directed the departing crowds away from one particular street because — they said — Hezbollah supporters were hurling stones at people. They pointed to a yellow Hezbollah flag waving in the distance.

All around town, the streets of the capital were lined with Lebanese Army forces, and state security. There were armored vehicles and lots of men with automatic weapons. Military forces closed all the roads leading to President Lahoud’s residence, in Baabda, east of Beirut. Riot police were in position in case any part of the crowd downtown tried to march toward the residence. The day began in Bikfaya, the Gemayel family village, 20 miles from downtown Beirut. The village itself is a symbol of the divisions that challenge Lebanese unity. At the gateway to Bikfaya stands a Soviet-Style statue of the Phalange Party founder. During the civil war, the Phalange armed the largest militia, fought to oust Palestinians from Lebanon and was reviled by Muslims.

There are as many opinions about what might happen next in Lebanon as there are commentators. In retrospect it is hard to imagine that anything that Israel did to Lebanon made any important difference one way or the other. Infrastructure damage was horrendous, of course, but from a public relations standpoint they had nothing to lose. If Lebanon can be brought this close to a return to a Pax Syriana by a few strategically effective killings, the Cedar Revolution is close to being stillborn.

Two short videos for the season

Rocketboom dedicates one day's reportage to New York City's Rescue Mission. Sincere. Not snarky this time. Similar efforts are going on all over the country. Whether or not the sparks of hope will ever catch fire remains to be seen. Homeless people are a notch below those for whom the minimum wage debate is important. Here is where the safety net is most needed and least available.

Motion Abbey points to Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in a well-made short clip with a somewhat nihilistic ending...
I think they call it art.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

John Birge, Charles Laughton and Jack Kerouac

This two-hour program from 2000 was played last night on WABE in Atlanta, and is being rebroadcast today at noon. I found the link for my and your enjoyment any time we want to listen again.
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As Thanksgiving brings family together to share common blessings and a bountiful meal, host John Birge brings classical music and stories together in a thoughtful, contemporary reflection on the meaning of the holiday. John's special guests this year include best-selling author and humorist Anne Lamott and Pulitzer prize winning poet and environmentalist Gary Snyder.

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The voice of Charles Laughton is worth the time it takes to hear the whole program, but if your time is limited, find the second hour and advance the slider to 35 minutes to hear him reading Jack Kerouac. This reading is followed by the most wonderful personal story that no synopsis from me can do justice. Then, fifteen minutes into the Charles Laughton segment, he reads Psalm 104 in that timeless and unforgettable voice.

Enjoy your day.
I hope you make space in your day for this highly recommended twenty-five minutes listening to Charles Laughton. It is from an out of print recording from 1962.
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If you would like to follow along as Laughton reads Psalm 104, I have put together a transcript at the end of the Thanksgiving post below which has the full NIV version for comparison.

Thanksgiving, 2006

For the Beauty of the Earth

We give you thanks, most gracious God, for the beauty of earth and sky and sea; for the richness of mountains, plains, and rivers; for the songs of birds and the loveliness of flowers.
We praise you for these good gifts, and pray that we may safeguard them for our posterity. Grant that we may continue to grow in our grateful enjoyment of your abundant creation, to the honor and glory of your Name, now and for ever. Amen.


For the Diversity of Races and Cultures

O God, who created all peoples in your image, we thank you for the wonderful diversity of races and cultures in this world.
Enrich our lives by ever‑widening circles of fellowship, and show us your presence in those who differ most from us, until our knowledge of your love is made perfect in our love for all your children; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.


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From The Book of Common Prayer.
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And this, Psalm 104, is altogether appropriate for Thanksgiving Day. You probably never stopped to consider that storks nested in pine trees, that that great Leviathan has been out there in the oceans since Biblical times, and this wonderful line that rings true for those of us in the food business, "wine that gladdens the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread that sustains his heart."
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Praise the LORD, O my soul. O LORD my God, you are very great; you are clothed with splendor and majesty. He wraps himself in light as with a garment; he stretches out the heavens like a tent and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters. He makes the clouds his chariot and rides on the wings of the wind.

He makes winds his messengers, flames of fire his servants. He set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved.

You covered it with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains. But at your rebuke the waters fled, at the sound of your thunder they took to flight; they flowed over the mountains, they went down into the valleys, to the place you assigned for them. You set a boundary they cannot cross; never again will they cover the earth.

He makes springs pour water into the ravines; it flows between the mountains. They give water to all the beasts of the field; the wild donkeys quench their thirst. The birds of the air nest by the waters; they sing among the branches. He waters the mountains from his upper chambers; the earth is satisfied by the fruit of his work.

He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate— bringing forth food from the earth: wine that gladdens the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread that sustains his heart.

The trees of the LORD are well watered, the cedars of Lebanon that he planted. There the birds make their nests; the stork has its home in the pine trees.

The high mountains belong to the wild goats; the crags are a refuge for the coneys.

The moon marks off the seasons, and the sun knows when to go down. You bring darkness, it becomes night, and all the beasts of the forest prowl. The lions roar for their prey and seek their food from God. The sun rises, and they steal away; they return and lie down in their dens.
Then man goes out to his work, to his labor until evening.

How many are your works, O LORD! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.

There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number— living things both large and small. There the ships go to and fro, and the leviathan, which you formed to frolic there.

These all look to you to give them their food at the proper time. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things. When you hide your face, they are terrified; when you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust. When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth.

May the glory of the LORD endure forever; may the LORD rejoice in his works-he who looks at the earth, and it trembles, who touches the mountains, and they smoke.

I will sing to the LORD all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
May my meditation be pleasing to him, as I rejoice in the LORD.

But may sinners vanish from the earth and the wicked be no more. Praise the LORD, O my soul. Praise the LORD.
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Last night's reading by Charles Laughton was my inspiration for looking up Psalm 104. Like any good actor Laughton elides a few verses, but the result is a version more dramatic in the hearing than it could ever be in silent reading. Taken from the King James version, here is the text he uses.
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O LORD my God, thou art very great; thou art clothed with honour and majesty. Who coverest thyself with light as with a garment: who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain: who laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be removed for ever.

The waters stood above the mountains. At thy rebuke they fled; at the voice of thy thunder they hasted away. They go down by the valleys unto the place which thou hast founded for them.

He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth. And wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth man's heart.

The trees of the LORD are full of sap, where the birds make their nests. As for the stork, the fir trees are her house.

Thou makest darkness, and it is night: wherein all the beasts of the forest do creep forth.

O LORD, how manifold are thy works! The earth is full of thy riches. So is this great and wide sea, wherein are things creeping innumerable. There go the ships: there is that leviathan, whom thou hast made to play therein.

He looketh on the earth, and it trembleth: he toucheth the hills, and they smoke.

I will sing unto the LORD as long as I live: I will be glad in the LORD.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

November 22, 2006

It's been forty-three years ago but it seems more recent. I still can't look at the date and not remember the event. Glancing back to my posts from last year and the year before I find something like a replay of the time. As a nation we still have not learned that waging war is not an effective means to win friends and bring about constructive change.

This year I have nothing new to add. Thanks to a calendar circumstance this year tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day. Strange juxtoposition...an assassination anniversary on the eve of Thanksgiving. No stranger than the Eucharist, though. It's appropriate to remember death when celebrating life. Each gives meaning to the other.

This morning I was reading the comments at John Scalzi's list of what it means to be poor. It's an uneven piece of reading to say the least, but when a post accumulates over three hundred comments and has to be redirected to another link for three hundred more...that indicated it has touched a lot of readers very deeply. Andnot all of them are positive in their remarks.

Most of the comments are from the heart, you can tell. Why else should there be such an outpouring?

On this Thanksgiving Eve I am copying one of those comments. It illustrates why a day of thanks is appropriate, and reminds us all not to take anything for granted. It is from "cookie September 4, 2005 02:24 AM."
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Growing up poor means that even after you've earned two college degrees (on scholarship) and finally gotten a good job (on merit), you don't trust and still don't feel comfortable around middle-class and rich people because these are the people who used to make fun of your people.

Growing up poor means having to listen to people who never experienced poverty and don't know any poor people ranting about what poor people "should" do.

Growing up poor means that you're always looking over your shoulder because even if you're now successful, you also know that it could be taken away in a minute with a catastrophic illness or accident. You can get back into the cycle of late fees and charges due to simple car repair issues.

Growing up poor and making it in the middle-class world means that people will make white trash and trailer jokes around you not realizing that your mom and many of your relatives still live in trailers.

Growing up poor can give you skills that kids from middle class families don't have. You can grow your own food and have few moral qualms about hunting animals to eat. You know how to fish.You know which wild plants are edible and how to prepare them. You can sew, knit and crochet--not because these were hobbies, but because anything you could make, grow, or harvest wild was one less thing you had to buy.

Growing up poor is having compassion for other poor people who did not have the same opportunities or who do not possess the same talents that got you out of poverty (I am a singer and my voice "bought" my education for me).

Growing up poor means that the loans you took to pay for living expenses in college made it difficult to actually pay for living expenses AFTER college because even with a college education, a good-paying steady job in your field wasn't immediately available---and you get yourself further in debt because you have to play "check roulette" with creditors and bounce a few.

Growing up poor means that your credit rating is shot because it took you so long to pay off that student loan because you were not able to make regular monthly payments.

The statements about how growing up poor means that you don't know how to deal with money all ring true for me. If you've never had any, it's difficult to know what to do with it once you *do* get some. My tendency is to spend it right away because who knows when you'll get more?

Growing up poor means that because of the financial stress of your youth and now only being able to get by despite a decent job, you tell your kids that if they want to go to college, they must do it on their own through merit or by working to put themselves through. It also means that you have no problem encouraging your children to join the military if that's what it takes.

Growing up poor means that you consider yourself rich because even if you struggle to make those house and car payments, you actually know people without either a house OR a car and appreciate your own modest living arrangements so much more.

We now have all the trappings of a middle-class life, but even for middle-class people, we struggle to keep one car on the road, keep up the house payment, feed the family and buy the "right" clothes to fit in at our middle-class jobs. We live paycheck to paycheck (and since I am a musician in addition to teaching part-time at a college, we live from gig to gig). Many people who call themselves middle-class are actually rich in our eyes. They may have two cars or even two houses and still call themselves middle class! To us, that's unbelievably wealthy!


You see "being" poor is not the same as "growing up" poor. There can be an escape from the first but escaping the second often involves more healing than money can buy. Poverty, like combat, doesn't effect everyone the same. As the comment above shows there cn be scar tissue of the mind and soul that doesn't go away.

Mark Lynch on blogging

Long, reflective, well-written and candid.
All the right qualities for any good blogger. Highly recommended reading.
I just came across this link and have to go to work. I'll read it later more closely.
Expect the comments thread to be intelligent, too. Most comment threads are an exercise in carping but this audience is usually more civil.

Bird Flu Update

CFR has a summary of what is curently known (and unknown) about H5N1, including an ABC News report that is cautiously reassuring.

With regard to raising this flag, Hinrichs says that for a bird influenza virus to reach the level of a pandemic and become dangerous to humans, three things must occur. First, the bird virus must be virulent or capable of causing disease. Second, it must be a new virus that can avoid our existing immune system. And third, the virus must be able to spread from human to human.

"At the present time, the current H5N1 virus has only the first two characteristics," he says. "Dr. Kawaoka's research findings add to our ability to detect the basic element of the third characteristic, the ability to pass infection from human to human.
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"By analogy, the current H5N1 virus is like an enemy that possesses a nuclear device, has the intention of using the nuclear device, but does not have a delivery missile," Hinrichs says. "When all three are present, the enemy becomes fully capable, and we must increase our readiness to respond."

So far, not a single case of human-to-human transmission of H5N1 has been recorded. Also, the United States remains apparently untouched by H5N1, as no human or bird cases have yet been reported in the country.

Combat Cowards

Advocating war is easier when you and your family are not endangered by it. I've reached a Rangel-like breaking point with my TV pundit colleagues who championed the Iraq war and now say we can't leave even if we went there for the wrong reasons. For every one of them, I have a simple question: Why aren't you in Iraq? Or why did you avoid combat in your generation's war? The one unifying characteristic that all of us men in make-up on political chat shows share is fear of combat. Every one of us has done everything we can to avoid combat or even being fitted for a military uniform. Just like George Bush, Bill Clinton, and Dick Cheney, we are all combat cowards. It takes a very special kind of combat coward to advocate combat for others. It's the kind of thing that can get you as angry as Charlie Rangel.

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That's how it ends, this Lawrence O'Donnell essay. Read the whole thing.

Being Poor

With the minimum wage now being seriously debated again it's time to read what it means to be poor. There are several "lists" but this one is the best I've seen. The writer is John Scalzi. I don't think he's poor, but his heart is clearly in the right place. I referenced it in a footnote to a post last year when the New Orleans victims were being blamed for their own plight, not only by a lot of ignorant citizens, but also by some really stupid public officials who eventually paid a serious political price for their thoughtless remarks.

Being poor is knowing exactly how much everything costs.

Being poor is getting angry at your kids for asking for all the crap they see on TV.

Being poor is having to keep buying $800 cars because they're what you can afford, and then having the cars break down on you, because there's not an $800 car in America that's worth a damn.

Being poor is hoping the toothache goes away.

Being poor is knowing your kid goes to friends' houses but never has friends over to yours.

Being poor is going to the restroom before you get in the school lunch line so your friends will be ahead of you and won't hear you say "I get free lunch" when you get to the cashier.

Being poor is living next to the freeway.

Being poor is coming back to the car with your children in the back seat, clutching that box of Raisin Bran you just bought and trying to think of a way to make the kids understand that the box has to last.

Being poor is wondering if your well-off sibling is lying when he says he doesn't mind when you ask for help.

Being poor is off-brand toys.

Being poor is a heater in only one room of the house.

Being poor is knowing you can't leave $5 on the coffee table when your friends are around.

Being poor is hoping your kids don't have a growth spurt.

Being poor is stealing meat from the store, frying it up before your mom gets home and then telling her she doesn't have make dinner tonight because you're not hungry anyway.

Being poor is Goodwill underwear.

Being poor is not enough space for everyone who lives
with you.

Being poor is feeling the glued soles tear off your supermarket shoes when you run around the playground.

Being poor is your kid's school being the one with the 15-year-old textbooks and no air conditioning.

Being poor is thinking $8 an hour is a really good deal.

Being poor is relying on people who don't give a damn about you.

Being poor is an overnight shift under florescent lights.

Being poor is finding the letter your mom wrote to your dad, begging him for the child support.

Being poor is a bathtub you have to empty into the toilet.

Being poor is stopping the car to take a lamp from a stranger's trash.

Being poor is making lunch for your kid when a cockroach skitters over the bread, and you looking over to see if your kid saw.

Being poor is believing a GED actually makes a goddamned difference.

Being poor is people angry at you just for walking around in the mall.

Being poor is not taking the job because you can't find someone you trust to watch your kids.

Being poor is the police busting into the apartment right next to yours.

Being poor is not talking to that girl because she'll probably just laugh at your clothes.
Being poor is hoping you'll be invited for dinner.

Being poor is a sidewalk with lots of brown glass on it.

Being poor is people thinking they know something about you by the way you talk.

Being poor is needing that 35-cent raise.

Being poor is your kid's teacher assuming you don't have any books in your home.

Being poor is six dollars short on the utility bill and no way to close the gap.

Being poor is crying when you drop the mac and cheese on the floor.

Being poor is knowing you work as hard as anyone, anywhere.

Being poor is people surprised to discover you're not actually stupid.

Being poor is people surprised to discover you're not actually lazy.

Being poor is a six-hour wait in an emergency room with a sick child asleep on your lap.

Being poor is never buying anything someone else hasn't bought first.

Being poor is picking the 10 cent ramen instead of the 12 cent ramen because that's two extra packages for every dollar.

Being poor is having to live with choices you didn't know you made when you were 14 years old.

Being poor is getting tired of people wanting you to be grateful.

Being poor is knowing you're being judged.

Being poor is a box of crayons and a $1 coloring book from a community center Santa.

Being poor is checking the coin return slot of every soda machine you go by.

Being poor is deciding that it's all right to base a relationship on shelter.

Being poor is knowing you really shouldn't spend that buck on a Lotto ticket.

Being poor is hoping the register lady will spot you the dime.

Being poor is feeling helpless when your child makes the same mistakes you did, and won't listen to you beg them against doing so.

Being poor is a cough that doesn't go away.

Being poor is making sure you don't spill on the couch, just in case you have to give it back before the lease is up.

Being poor is a $200 paycheck advance from a company that takes $250 when the paycheck comes in.

Being poor is four years of night classes for an Associates of Art degree.

Being poor is a lumpy futon bed.

Being poor is knowing where the shelter is.

Being poor is people who have never been poor wondering why you choose to be so.

Being poor is knowing how hard it is to stop being poor.

Being poor is seeing how few options you have.

Being poor is running in place.

Being poor is people wondering why you didn't leave.



If you skimmed the list, go back and read it more carefully. Every item represents a concrete problem for someone without enough financial resources. I know that many readers will scan this list with a bad attitude, quick to jump to the obvious conclusion that too often poverty is the consequence of "bad choices." I respectfully ask that if you are in that group you take a few minutes to read my rant about lifestyle choices.

I'm sick of hearing well-off people with bad habits they can afford complaining about poor people with bad habits they cannot afford. Having money means being able to escape the consequences of being irresponsible. Being judgmental about povety makes a successful person look a bit trashy to me.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Roller Man Video

Be sitting down when you watch.

Think Winter Olympics luge without snow or sled...just a guy in a protective suite covered with rollers. How about streets and sidewalks?
Makes me know how old I'm getting...

H/T Motion Abbey

Jeeves and Dubya Wooster

"...But, if I may, sir, with respect to Iraq?”

“All right, then. Give it to me straight up.”

“Might I suggest, sir, a regional conference?”

“Dash it, Jeeves, we’re at war. You can’t go conferencing with bullets flying all over the place.”

“Indeed, sir. And yet if we were to invite, say, Iran and Syria and some of the other affected countries to sit down for what is, I believe, referred to as ‘networking,’ it might take some of the pressure off yourself?”

“You mean the sort of how-d’ye-do where everyone sits at one of those huge U-shaped tables and makes endless orations all day?”

“That would be the general notion, yes, sir.”

“Now, steady on, Jeeves. You know I hate those things. You sit there with an earphone, listening to interpreters jibber-jabber about how it’s all your fault. I’d rather take my chances playing Blinky with Cobra Woman and Cactus Butt.”

“You wouldn’t actually have to attend personally, sir. Indeed, I could represent you, if that would be agreeable.”

“I say, would you, Jeeves?”

“Certainly, sir. Indeed, sir, it is my impression that you have been working much too hard as it is. Might I suggest that you winter at the ranch in Crawford? I believe the climate there this time of year is thought to be salubrious.”


From The New Yorker via Exploding Aardvark

Monday, November 20, 2006

Pope Benedict XVI in Regensburg revisited

Now that the dust has settled (i.e. mid-term elections are now past) it's time to revisit Pope Benedict's remarks to a group of scholars in Germany. John Burgess and Donald Sensing point to a remarkable letter published just after the event.

I linked at the time to a WSJ piece that more or less defended the Pope, but like everyone else I was led to believe that most of the "Muslim world," whatever that is, was offended by his remarks. Indeed, the piece I linked opened with this...
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Although many Muslims have apparently found Pope Benedict XVI's recent oration at the University of Regensburg deeply offensive, it is a welcome change from the pabulum that passes for "interfaith" dialogue. Since 9/11, his lecture is one of the few by a major Western figure to highlight the spiritual and cultural troubles that beset the Muslim world.
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From there he began what struck me as a reasonable defense. But by way of balance, I also linked to a gripping entry by Blake Hounshell telling about being uncomfortable as an outsider visiting a Cairo mosque during Ramadan.

It's very easy to be swept up in the passions of the moment. I find myself no less prone to that temptation than anyone else. Maybe that's why I often come across as too non-committal or too ready to seek reasoned calm when killing people seems to be the only way out of a problem. But as usual, I digress...

The point is this letter. If Sensing and Burgess say read it, then it's worth reading. Islamica Magazine, the link source, introduces the letter thus:

In an unprecedented move, an open letter signed by 38 leading Muslim religious scholars and leaders around the world was sent to Pope Benedict XVI on Oct. 12, 2006. The letter, which is the outcome of a joint effort, was signed by top religious authorities such as Shaykh Ali Jumu‘ah (the Grand Mufti of Egypt), Shakyh Abdullah bin Bayyah (former Vice President of Mauritania, and leading religious scholar), and Shaykh Sa‘id Ramadan Al-Buti (from Syria), in addition to the Grand Muftis of Russia, Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo, Slovenia, Istanbul, Uzbekistan, and Oman, as well as leading figures from the Shi‘a community such as Ayatollah Muhammad Ali Taskhiri of Iran. The letter was also signed by HRH Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal of Jordan and by Muslim scholars in the West such as Shaykh Hamza Yusuf from California, Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr of George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and Professor Tim Winter of the University of Cambridge.

All the eight schools of thought and jurisprudence in Islam are represented by the signatories, including a woman scholar. In this respect the letter is unique in the history of interfaith relations.

The letter was sent, in a spirit of goodwill, to respond to some of the remarks made by the Pope during his lecture at the University of Regensburg on Sept. 12, 2006. The letter tackles the main substantive issues raised in his treatment of a debate between the medieval Emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an “educated Persian”, including reason and faith; forced conversion; “jihad” vs. “holy war”; and the relationship between Christianity and Islam. They engage the Pope on an intellectual level concerning these crucial topics—which go well beyond the controversial quotation of the emperor—pointing out what they see as mistakes and oversimplifications in the Pope’s own remarks about Islamic belief and practice.


The Muslim signatories appreciate the Pope's personal expression of sorrow at the Muslim reaction and his assurance that the words of the Byzantine emperor he quoted did not reflect his personal opinion. By following the Quranic precept of debating “in the fairest way”, they hope to reach out so as to increase mutual understanding, reestablish trust, calm the situation for the sake of peace, and preserve Muslim dignity.

Christianity and Islam make up more than half of humankind in an increasingly interconnected world, the letter states, and it is imperative that both sides share responsibility for peace and move the debate towards a frank and sincere dialogue of hearts and minds which furthers mutual understanding and respect between the two religious traditions. Indeed, the scholars point out, both religions teach what Christianity calls “the two greatest commandments”. The commandment that “the Lord our God is one Lord” and that we shall love Him with all we are is enshrined in the first testimony of faith in Islam, “There is no god but God.” The second commandment “to love thy neighbor as thyself” is also found in the words of the Prophet, “None of you believes until he desires for his neighbor (in another version, his brother) what he desires for himself.” The signatories also point out the positive contacts the Vatican has had with the Islamic world in the past, with a hope that they will continue and even grow in the future.
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This introduction is as remarkable to me as the letter itself. Clearly the editors of this publication have serious intentions about building bridges, an impulse I find virtually non-existent in our own swaggering popular press.

Thanks and praise to Donald Sensing and John Burgess whose calm, clear heads are islands of reason in a sea of confusion. That's why they stay on my blogroll.