Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Look. Listen. Learn.

Take a look at this.
Amanda Baggs is altering the way I look at people.


Want to see what she's typing?
Go read her post. (I think "FC" means facilitated communication.)

Oh, and incidentally she doesn't typically type in that position. Her post explains why. In the comments thread we find...

I was mainly typing in that position so my head wouldn’t be blocking the screen, normally I use the computer either from my wheelchair or the beach chair I bashed into and knocked over (that was the loud clatter) in the video. (The beach chair being for when I have trouble sitting upright.) [The post explains why she shows the monitor to the webcam.]

Weblog "Bloggie" Awards Voting is in Progress

Time to vote for Weblog Awards.
None of my nominees got into the finals. Durn!
But there are lots of categories, and lots of places I never heard of.
Good place to graze, especially for a newcomer who wants to get a taste of what the logworld is all about.
Anyone can vote. All that is required is an email address to validate and process the choices. Voting ends at 10:00 PM, February 2. Friday, Groundhog Day.

Debussy: Clair de Lune

Motion Abbey found this.
Take a moment to relax. Well, five minutes, actually...

Monday, January 29, 2007


I need more hours in my day. Life is spinning out of control and there isn't enough time to do everything I need to do and still have time for what I prefer to do. Today I have to install a door in a rental house that was broken into, yesterday we had to skip a church service at the church we have been attending over three years to go to a different service where the retiring rector was officially retiring, preaching his last homily before joining the ranks of the bishop's backup cadre. (I discovered there is actually an official diocesan chaplain to retired priests! Figure that one out.) I could go on, but all readers can relate. We all seem to have more to do than time in which to do them.

What has brought about this morning's hand-wringing is yesterdays discovery of Amanda Baggs and an entire universe of disability rights advocates and their resources that makes me want to plunge into a Quixotic charge in yet another direction. Unfortunately I can see that I already have too much on my plate and am forced to make choices about what I can reasonably read about, write about and do about...
Shades of Toffler!
The age of overchoice is smothering me with a vengeance...
The best I can do is grab a handful of links and stuff them into my blog-pocket like that pile of notes and cards that piles up where I get dressed. They are all important, you know. Names and numbers of people, reminders, shopping lists, notes to follow-up later. And when the pile starts to spill off into the floor I go through it, consolidate and copy the important stuff on a single piece of paper, fold it neatly, and put it back to start a new pile.

Amanda is now on my blogroll and I'm looking forward to her posts. I simply don't have enough time to read all she has written, but she has an extraordinary sense of balance and her essays seem to all be treasures. I looked at one of her first blogposts and skipped about at random and never came across anything I didn't appreciate. A Google search returned thousands of hits, including a post from Autism Diva which includes another video along with the text of what Amanda was sharing. There's more. Lots more. But the damn phone is ringing and I don't have time to continue. An entire world is out there and I simply don't have enough time to go there and learn as much as I want.
Just damn.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

In My Language -- Video by a Gifted Autistic Woman

This may be the most remarkable Internet discovery I have come across.
I saw this video at BoingBoing and was deeply touched. My wife and I watched it together and recalled a couple of personal experiences we have had with friends who have autistic children. We don't know any autistic adults (that we know of) but after seeing this video I may want to go make the acquaintance of some...

Be patient, now, and let the video play. Watch, look, listen, and read this part of my post while she gets past the first part of the video "in her own language." About five minutes from the end there is a voice-over by a computer-generated reading program which audibly reads from a typed script that this remarkable woman has typed! She explains to the reader/viewer what she is doing and what she is thinking about.
I have seen the piece enough that I have almost memorized the melody she is humming...

Don't stop here.
There's MORE....
She has a blog.
And she's perhaps the most inspiring figure I have come across in a long time.
Here is a link to her blog. It's all I can do not to link to today's three-minute video she made in response to a comment left by some dreadful troll who questioned her credibility.
Go discover this woman for yourself. Read what she writes. And watch today's video.

Yves Rossy the Jet Man

This man can fly. For real.

Wonderful video and story from Motion Abbey. Go watch for yourself.


When I first found this at the first of the month there wasn't a YouTube video to embed.

Now there is, but the "official" video seems better crafted and I recommend seeing that version and reading the linked site rather than playing this one again.


Model Face Animation Video

I'm trying not to let these overtake my blog, but they are coming so hard and fast it's not easy to leave them out. The advanages of video snips are visual variety and sounds that break the monotony of reading, voice explanations (which sometimes explain the obvious to the thinking-impaired) and sheer entertainment. The downside is that you can't scan them. You can't expect to "get the gist" of it; the reader/viewer has to invest the time it takes to grasp what's being presented. But I do like that a reader can skip or enjoy the embedded video, like flipping the pages in a magazine, without leaving the site. That's a big advantage that oversomes the downside. But enough of that. Here's the next one...

Found this at 3Quarks, where Abbas Raza found it at Lindsay Bayerstein's who....well forget where it came from - just see it.

Feeling sorry for Sitemeter -- Updated

Posted Jan 21
Updated Jan 28

It took a few days but I finally got an explanation for Site Meter is behind. Also found out that there is an official Sitemeter blog.

There are 3 servers in particular that have been consistently displaying excessive lag, sm5, s24, and s27. If you are on one of these servers you have probably noticed that your stats have been delayed by an hour or more.

The problem has arisen as a result of our current server configuration and a handful of sites and blogs that have exceeded typical traffic loads. We are in the process of restructuring our server configuration so that the entire network will be load balanced and lag will no longer be an issue. Unfortunately this is not a quick fix and it will take a few months to complete.

In an effort to create a more short term solution we are choosing to enforce our “No Pornographic or Illegal Content” policy. If you have a site or blog that contains Pornographic or Illegal material on any of these servers your site may be removed at our discretion from our data tracking program. It is our hope that by doing so we can reduce the delay for those sites abiding by our policy.

Alternatively, you can, if you so choose, create a new account which will move you to our newest server where lag and delays are not an issue. This will of course require that you replace your existing code with new code. Your stats will begin again but you will have access to your old data for 6 months using your old account login. If you are a paid account on one of these three servers and you decide to move please let us know what your old account is so that we can stop billing your old account.

Whew! That was close. I guess I got past the anti-porn rules. Happy me! Still in the system.
I'm only 1884 minutes behind at this writing and everything will be cleared up in just "a few months." I guess you get what you pay for, which in this case is nothing. Back on track by summer, maybe.
§ § § §
§ § § §
Another update: (Last one, we hope...)
This morning, January 29, Sitemeter has caught up.
Neato! Thanx, ya'll!
Much better than the fallback positions I had tried. Found Execupundit among the referrals. Very impressed with that site. Even more impressed with 'lil old me that such an erudite reader slipped Hoot's Place on the blogroll. Thanks to Execupundit, too.

§ § § § § §
§ § § §

SiteMeter is way behind.
Poor thing.
It has bitten off more than it can chew.

"The statistics for visitors from the last 960 minutes are not yet available."

This has been going on for several days now. It has been a good experience for me. Shows me how addicted one can become to senseless behaviors (such as reading the referrals more than the content of better places). After all, when you drive an automobile you are much safer when you only glance at the rear-view mirrors occasionally. Much better to pay attention to the road and traffic ahead.

Later...almost 3pm...

The statistics for visitors from the last 1215 minutes are not yet available.

Looks like it's getting worse. That's almost a day's stats.
Anybody know a good hit counter?

Ya know, I was just checking around last week about how much more I could get if I upgraded to a paid service with Site Meter. They have some really impressive resources. But this bit of limping is making me hesitant.

Who knows? Maybe they have the freeloaders like me on the back burners because they have so much paid business the equipment can't handle it. That's not a crazy idea. I would do the same thing if it were me. In fact, I've done something like that in the food business. There are subtle ways to encourage poor customers to leave when you need their tables for others. Why do you think the air conditioning sometimes gets so cold that hanging meat wouldn't spoil? Or some disagreeable, loud-talking patron gets seated at the next booth?

FOIA -- Freedom of Information Act

I've been tracking the FOIA blog for a while and noticed this today.

The Associated Press has this report on a man whose FOIA request from prison led to his freedom. Roy Brown was convicted of murdering a woman. Once he was in prison, he made a FOIA request on the case and learned that there was evidence about an ex-boyfriend of the woman that Brown and his attorneys never saw. Brown wrote a letter to the man accusing him of the crime. The man then committed suicide; a judge later ordered his body exhumed for a DNA test. The man's DNA matched that found on the shirt the woman wore the night she was murdered, and Brown was released from prison.

It's nice to see a FOIA request having this type of effect.

The linked story also makes reference to a man in Georgia who was released from prison last week after spending twenty-plus years in jail for a rape conviction, having been cleared by DNA evidence.

I cannot imagine how these men must feel. What happened to them was not only wrong, it kept on being wrong year after year while decades went by. This is not the same as somebody breaking in line at the grocery store, or even having your property vandalized. These are examples of mind-boggling, world-class wrong. These are the exceptions, of course. The criminal justice system has a disagreeable mission and mostly does it well. But when I hear stories like these I want to peer into the minds of those who have been wronged and look for a level of patience, wisdom and forgiveness that must be more well-developed in them than for the rest of us in the population.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Matthias S. Klein analysis of developments in Iraq

This article linked at Aquol strives to make sense of the quagmire in Iraq. MSK says that "commumnalism" is a better term than "sectarian" when discussing the dynamics and shape of the socio-political scene there.

After the war [2003], when the allied forces set up a new administration, the issue of communalism could have been addressed. The U.S. and allied leaderships could have promoted unifying, national groups and countermanded centrifugal forces in order to overcome the existing rifts and stem the sectarianist tide. Ethno-sectarian identities were strong, but it was still a far way from there to a civil war.

Instead, the American administration and their allies viewed the Iraqi population through the prism of ethno-religious sectarianism and adopted the notion that Iraqi society is fundamentally made up and thus characterized by a plethora of distinct sectarian groups. Hence, the members of the first Administrative Council were selected according to their ethno-religious identity, in order to achieve full representation of all groups. This cemented the communalist system in Iraq and enhanced the self-perception of Iraqi society as a sectarian one. Political groups working along communalist lines were free to propagate their views, non-communalist groups were sidelined, and those Iraqis who hadn't already subscribed to a sectarian worldview now came to take it up or were forced to follow and abide by this dominant trend. Many of those who did not want to go down that path emigrated.

Sound analysis, with a follow up at Aquol. This is not every one's cup of tea, but for the reader trying to get his head around the madness that continues to unfold in that part of the Levant we still insist on calling Iraq, it shines yet another light.

To expand on the article, first of all I would suggest that we start using the term "communalism" instead of "sectarianism". The latter always implies that the bones of contention between the various groups (dare I call them "sects"?) are fundamentally religious and unchangeable, as in "Sunnis and Shi'ites differ because they disagree on who the leader of the umma should be". Already in Iraq that matrix doesn't work at all: Kurds in Iraq are 90% Sunni & 10% Shi'ite yet there are no ties of solidarity between, say, Sunni Kurds and Sunni Arabs or any "sectarian conflict" between Sunni and Shi'ite Kurds. The Kurds in Iraq - Sunni OR Shi'ite - think of themselves as a distinct community based on ethnicity and language, not religion.

The same goes for Tajik vs. Turkmen vs. Pashtun in Afghanistan, Azeris vs. Persians vs. Lurs vs. Bakhtiaris in Iran, etc.pp.

Communalism is a better term because it goes at the heart of the issue: the development of primary identification not with a state or nation, but with a community based on a sub-or supra-national ethnicity or religion. In a sense, communalism can be a first stage of nationalism, i.e. the moment the "community" attains a state of its own it becomes a "nation".

The writer is not optimistic about what is currently unfolding.

Therefore, even if Gen. Petraeus manages to "pacify" large parts of Baghdad, that doesn't solve anything. First of all, he doesn't have the manpower to extend that "peace zone" to other parts of the country, and absent a political solution that includes a deal negotiated and accepted by ALL groups any "pacification" will only be temporary.

Anyone not already too fed up with reading about Iraq is urged to fit this one piece into your assignments. Clear thinking about a cloudy subject. As I said, this is not every one's cup of tea, but for those of us who eat a little International Relations with our morning cereal, it's good stuff.

§ § § § §

As if to underscore the point, Mark Lynch's blog has a spate of posts also looking at developments in Iraq. They are too long to parse here, but briefly, a guest post by Greg Gause from the University of Vermont describes the Sunni-Shia tensions and another post surveys several other opinions and descriptions. Finally, Lynch weighs in with a few words of his own.

And no, I haven't ingested all that stuff myself. I've only scanned it. I link it here for general reference because in the end the conflict will still be concluded not by reasoned analysis but by power politics and military might. (And, uh, the elephant in the room is still petroleum. I sometimes think we tend to lose sight of why American kids are dying in conflicts in the Middle East and not in some other, less tractable part of the world. When Global Capitalism falls short of hegemony, the military has to step in and insure US "interests." 'Scuse me, please. Just my own jaundiced view.)

§ § § § §
After all that, I need a pick-me-up.
This video from the Dove helps a little.
The Lebanese struggle is in many ways an echo of what's happining in Iraq. Or is it the other way around?
I don't know.
Unless and until the message of this video takes root, generations yet unborn will still be facing the same intractible struggles we witness today.
Just under fifteen minutes...

Friday, January 26, 2007

Noonan Kudos for Hagel and Kerry

If I were younger and more impulsive I could have a crush on this woman. She can piss into the wind and make it look like the smart thing to do. And I just love her for that. Read this.

Mr. Hagel has shown courage for a long time. He voted for the war resolution in 2002 but soon after began to question how it was being waged. This was before everyone did. He also stood against the war when that was a lonely place to be. Senate Democrats sat back and watched: If the war worked, they'd change the subject; and if it didn't, they'd hang it on President Bush. Republicans did their version of inaction; they supported the president until he was unpopular, and then peeled off. This is almost not to be criticized. It's what politicians do. But it's not what Mr. Hagel did. He had guts.

A note too on John Kerry, who, on the floor of the Senate, also talked about Iraq this week, and said he would not run for president. ...The Democrats have no idea what they stand for, the Republicans only remember what they stood for.

But there was Mr. Kerry, liberated by the death of a dream and for once quite human as he tried to tell it the way he actually saw it. Took the mock right out of me. Good for him, and for Mr. Hagel. I wonder if we are seeing the start of a new seriousness.

She's good.
Really good.

Don Crowdis, World's Oldest Blogger

At ninety-three, the creator of Don to Earth blog is still not ready to go. In a moving post he admits having to face that dark portal but he still doesn't like the idea.

I've floated on the remark "Been there, done that" for some time now, but the notion that the moment is approaching when I can no longer say this bothers me. The truth is, I don't want to go.

Take a moment to catch his post. Time permitting, check out the nearly two-hundred responses by his readers. Good stuff.

He got Boing-lanched lately.

The President's Health Care Proposal

It's too early to get all worked up about the details. After Congress gets through with the plan it has scant chance of being recognizable in it's current form. But the thrust of it is two-fold. First, it uncouples health care from employment and second, it recognizes that those who cannot afford to pay for their own health care, whether through insurance or any other form, are and will remain the problem of the states, not the federal government.

No bloviating here. I will just say that both of these observations, if so, meet with my approval. (Yeah, I know. Everyone was waiting for that. Right.)

Employer-subsidized premiums are not now a taxable benefit to the employee. In fact, thanks to another wrinkle in the system, neither are the employee's co called "contributions." Thanks, Big Insurance Lobby. I wish I had a way to sell a product that had a sure-fire way to make a profit and get it to market with the promise that When you do business with me, all your expenses are tax-deductible.

The White House website splains it all with clarity...

The President's proposed standard deduction for health insurance will help make basic private health insurance more affordable for families and individuals – whether they have insurance through their jobs or purchase insurance on their own. For those who remain unable to afford coverage, the President's Affordable Choices Initiative will help eligible States assist their poor and hard-to-insure citizens in purchasing private health insurance.

That's about all you need to know. The bitter pill that Americans will have to swallow is that the time has come for everybody to start chipping in on health care costs, not just working somewhere where the employer is paying the freight.

The "poor and hard-to-insure citizens" have been with us from Bible days and will not be vanishing from the population. The time has come for the richest society on the planet to come to terms with that fact. There is no easier way to say it.

H/T Fred Clark who has good observations of his own about some of the other presidential proposals.

Music Animation Video

They're getting better all the time.
I couldn't pass this one up.
Tip The Fat Lady Sings...

What A Clip - video powered by Metacafe

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Strength in numbers

This is my kind of trivia.

For years, biologists have puzzled at the strange shape of rodent sperm. As opposed to the sperm of most other mammals, which have paddle-shaped heads, the sperm heads of many rat and mouse species are curved like scythes. About 10 years ago, scientists studying the European woodmouse discovered that these hooks allow groups of up to 100 sperm to attach to each other, and that these "sperm trains" moved faster than sperm swimming alone.

You know the rest. It's another illustration of selection of the fittest. Something like cutting the dandelions over a single summer leaves only the ones with short stems growing at the end of the year...the ones too short to be taken out by the mower blade.

Next come the labels that tell us that this is not evidence of evolution. It's just another tool that Satan uses to confuse the faithful.

H/T 3Quarks.

Global Warming comment

Pieter Dorsman has a few cool remarks about global warming, pointing to Unstoppable Global Warming: Every 1500 Years, a book with a growing string of positive reader reviews at Amazon.

(I just love this. By reading the reviews I can get the gist of the thesis, come to a general conclusion, and move on with my life having saved all the hours it would take to actually read the book. Thanks, all.)

Excuse the digression, please. I have been listening to all the arguments and coming to pretty much the same conclusion about global warming myself: the phenomenon is real but is more a geological/meteorological/solar macro event than anything else. Mankind has been here before and with any luck will be around for the next cycle.

As usual, there are nuts on all sides who want to be in one kind of denial or another, depending on their respective agendas. The talk show hosts would have one believe that global warming is all a hoax, politically motivated by environmentalists who want to see the destruction of global capitalism, and activists on the other side want to advance their good stewardship cause. One side excuses waste and environmental pollution and the other would have us running our kitchens without food service film.

I'm growing as tired of the discussion as the one about gun control.

Lets move on. Actual people are getting killed in the Middle East and we still have a president in office who has two more years to get us into deeper trouble than we already are. And he's smart, politically savvy as well as unwilling or unable to change direction or admit to a mistake. To me that's a much more pressing threat than global warming.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Starwars Hands

Today's Motion Abbey discovery is terrific.
This is multimedia art at its best. A minute and a half.
Just enough. Any more would be too much.
Something classical about this piece...
Can't quite put my finger on it. (Oops! Pun?)

Is Iran the president's next target?

Odd question, isn't it? America's attention is supposed to be on domestic issues, and to the extent that we look abroad, the majority of people are trying to figure out how to get loose from the quagmire of Iraq. Even when the president calls for "winning" or "finishing the job" or "supporting our friends" the implication is that US entanglements will be loosening ASAP.

But last night's SOTU address mentioned Iran four or five times, referring to that country's support, backing or control of enemy forces. We have been here before. The rhetoric is building. Abetted by the antics and words of Iran's president, the pieces are being put in place for another military adventure in Iran.

This post by Rodger Payne reflects my suspicions exactly. Go to the original and check out his supporting links. I hope he's wrong, just as I hope a doctor is wrong when he expresses a bad prognosis.

I didn't watch the "State of the Union," but I skimmed much of it already and will read it soon. I noticed that President Bush has again somewhat ambiguously suggested that Iran has provided "support" for Shia militias in Iraq. Rumors have been flying in Washington that the administration is making the case for war against Iran -- and preparing for it militarily too.

Here's the kind of hearsay the President has apparently heard about Iran in Iraq. General Casey to CNN's Wolf Blitzer, March 19, 2006:

We have very good information that improvised explosive device technology is coming from the country of Iran into Iraq, destined for Shia insurgent extremist groups.

I do not have intelligence that will allow me to say that someone within the Iranian government is specifically doing that or supporting that operation.

I suspect that's the case, but I cannot document it.
Some reporters, to their credit, are trying to find out if there's any hard evidence.

This was a headline in the LA Times, January 23: "Scant evidence found of Iran-Iraq arms link."
U.S. troops have found mortars and antitank mines with Iranian markings dated 2006, said U.S. Army Col. David W. Sutherland, who oversees the province. But there has been little sign of more advanced weaponry crossing the border, and no Iranian agents have been found.
The story digs a bit and doesn't find any concrete evidence.

The Brits are doubtful too. From The Washington Post October 4:
"I have not myself seen any evidence -- and I don't think any evidence exists -- of government-supported or instigated" armed support on Iran's part in Iraq, British Defense Secretary Des Browne said in an interview in Baghdad in late August...

Maj. Dominic Roberts of the Queen's Dragoons said: "We have found no credible evidence to suggest there is weapons smuggling across the border."
As we learned in late 2002 and early 2003, however, sometimes a government doesn't need credible evidence to justify a war.

Apparently, some in the adminstration want even to make people believe that Iran is helping the Sunni, but the LA Times article notes that State Department and CIA officials have "privately expressed doubts."

No kidding. Even right-leaning bloggers realize that the claim seems pretty foolish. NewsBusters made fun of Keith Olbermann Tuesday for quoting the LA Times, which was debunking the administration.

Go figure.

Bottom line: what should the general public make of the administration turning up the heat on Iran?

As the NY Times reported January 20, Senator Jay Rockefeller (Chair of the Intelligence Committee) thinks he smells a rat:
“To be quite honest, I’m a little concerned that it’s Iraq again,” Senator Rockefeller said during an interview in his office. “This whole concept of moving against Iran is bizarre.”
Bizarre? Yes.

Dangerous? Almost certainly.

Unthinkable? No.

That's why the media and foreign policy analysts have to stay on top of this issue.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

PJM Straw Poll

Just for fun, check out the Pajamas Media straw poll.
Then cast your vote. "Vote early. Vote once a week."
Interesting take on the democratic process. It allows you to change your mind if new information comes to light. Too bad the real political process doesn't work that way. Or maybe not.

They say next week the poll can be embedded into blogs.
I'll try to remember to follow up so all three of us can vote from here.

Steve Rosenbaum: Hillary note (comparing Obama)

Worth quoting...
H/T Patrick Ruffini

Obama's words feel like his own. Both convincing and colloquial. Direct and spoken without any sense that he's being asked to read 'copy'. His delivery is authentic. In stark contrast, Hillary is struggling with words that are not her own. You can practically see the tele-prompter reflected in her eyes....when she then says - "Let's talk, lets chat..." you can just see the speech writers trying to find a way to soften her with the word 'chat'. Please. Hillary Clinton doesn't 'chat' - and it's not credible coming out of her mouth.

And thanks, Pieter Dorsman for a load of good links and comments.

This is the part of campaigning I like. I haven't made any final decisions and everybody is pretending to be nice.

Well, mostly everybody...

Made in China

This is part of the reason that the US wants China as an ally, not an enemy. Aside from the market potential of those millions switching from a cash economy to a credit economy (thus spending lots of future income right this minute, before it moves from "receivables" to "deposits"), in the event of an altercation with North Korea, how better to deal with a pit bull than with the owner?

See Christian Science Monitor article.

A Pentagon report last year detected Chinese ambitions to build a fleet capable of protecting the sea lanes that carry the country's vital oil imports through the Straits of Malacca, and of operating even farther afield, in the Indian Ocean.

China's growing political and economic interests, especially its worldwide appetite for imported raw materials, mean that it sees defending those interests in ever broader terms, says Dr. Roy.

"As such a big country, with an ever more global outlook, what China needs to do to defend its national interests will inevitably impinge on the interests of other countries," Roy predicts, and "it will demand a degree of diplomatic skill" to assuage neighbors' suspicions of Chinese intentions, he adds.


Monday, January 22, 2007

Snakes on a.....WTF

This is no goofy movie. This is the real deal. A drought in Australia is causing thousands of snakes to penetrate urban areas with scary results.

Australian wildlife officials warn that a serious drought is driving tens of thousands of snakes into urban areas.

Many venomous reptiles are moving into residential and business areas in search of moisture.
Last week a 16-year-old boy in Sydney died from a bite by an Eastern Brown, one of the world's deadliest snakes.

Many parts of Australia have been hard-hit by the drought, described as the worst for more than 100 years.

Experts have warned that an army of snakes is on the move, looking for water. Driven by extreme thirst they have been discovered in gardens, bedrooms and even Australian shopping centres.

Hospitals have reported a rising number of snakebites. Toxicologists have said there have been 60 serious cases since September.

H/T Blake

Sunday, January 21, 2007

He said -- she said

Just checking over at Firedoglake to see about Jane Hamsher and this is what I came across.
No comment from me. TRex covered it pretty well.

Sunday Morning Free Will Comment

This three-paragraph homily floated into the internets a couple of weeks ago. I'm catching it before it gets lost because it's worth keeping...

The fundamental fact of Christian moral teaching is this: sin is the opposite of free will. We are only free when we are able to do the good. We are free when we can do the true good despite any passions or habits we have leading us to lesser, apparent goods. Get this fact down, and the rest of moral theology makes sense.

I was thinking today how this affects the question of free will versus determinism. If freedom is the opposite of sin, then to be determined is to be enslaved to sin. The question "Is man free?" is wrongly formulated; the question should be "Are you free?" To which I answer, "Kind of. Sort of. Well, not really. I am not free--I do the wrong even when I know what is right. I must admit that I am not free, but I hope to be free someday."

Freedom is not ours by nature, at least not anymore, but it can be, through the grace of God. We aren't free, but we are free to be free; we can ask for help.

St. Paul made similar observations. Compare the end of the seventh chapter of Romans.

When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Art Buchwald, R.I.P.

Years ago Buchwald was on the radio with that wonderful voice, described in this WaPo obit as "like he was trying to hold a dime under his tongue while talking." As I was getting ready to go to class I often heard his crazy stories. One of my favorites was about a friend of his who was working on a new strain of laboratory mice that would revolutionize science and medicine.

His friend said that most laboratory research involving rats was based on statistics. The stats were derived from how many test animals lived or died or suffered ill effects or none at all from various experiments. His plan was to go to all these places and collect the rats that didn't die or didn't suffer the bad effects from whatever it was that was being tested.

He then would interbreed them and produce a new, disease-resistant line of laboratory rats that would then produce different results. Consequently, lots of substances that were shown to be harmful would then be declared safe and all kinds of revolutionary improvements would come about.

The man had a wonderful, gentle, crazy, fertile imagination for everything. No matter what happened he could find a funny angle. And he was always non-partisan and non-judgemental. That's why I liked him. And that's why he will be missed.

Cars on Ice Video

Just over two minutes of tension watching several drivers suffer the consequences of bad judgement on slick streets. Thanks Motion Abbey and BoingBoing.

I am reminded of Mark Twain's wonderful criticism of James Fenimore Cooper's really stupid Indians...

The ark is one hundred and forty-feet long; the dwelling is ninety feet long. The idea of the Indians is to drop softly and secretly from the arched sapling to the dwelling as the ark creeps along under it at the rate of a mile an hour,and butcher the family. It will take the ark a minute and a half to pass under. It will take the ninety-foot dwelling a minute to pass under. Now, then, what did the six Indians do? It would take you thirty years to guess, and even then you would have to give it up, I believe. Therefore, I will tell you what the Indians did. Their chief, a person of quite extraordinary intellect for a Cooper Indian, warily watched the canal-boat as it squeezed along under him and when he had got his calculations fined down to exactly the right shade, as he judge, he let go and dropped. And missed the boat! That is actually what he did. He missed the house, and landed int he stern of the scow. It was not much of a fall, yet it knocked him silly. He lay there unconscious. If the house had been ninety-seven feet long he would have made the trip. The error lay in the construction of the house. Cooper was no architect.

There still remained in the roost five Indians. The boat has passed under and is now out of their reach. Let me explain what the five did -- you would not be able to reason it out for yourself. No. 1 jumped for the boat, but fell in the water astern of it. Then No. 2 jumped for the boat, but fell in the water still further astern of it. Then No. 3 jumped for the boat, and fell a good way astern of it. Then No. 4 jumped for the boat, and fell in the water away astern. Then even No. 5 made a jump for the boat -- for he was Cooper Indian. In that matter of intellect, the difference between a Cooper Indian and the Indian that stands in front of the cigar-shop is not spacious. The scow episode is really a sublime burst of invention; but it does not thrill, because the inaccuracy of details throw a sort of air of fictitiousness and general improbability over it. This comes of Cooper's inadequacy as observer.

If the reader has not read this classic, it may be worth a few minutes of your time to catch up.

The Neuroscience of Glossolalia (Speaking in Tongues)

Science meets faith department:

In the study, the researchers used imaging techniques to track changes in blood flow in each woman’s brain in two conditions, once as she sang a gospel song and again while speaking in tongues. By comparing the patterns created by these two emotional, devotional activities, the researchers could pinpoint blood-flow peaks and valleys unique to speaking in tongues.

Ms. Morgan, a co-author of the study, was also a research subject. She is a born-again Christian who says she considers the ability to speak in tongues a gift. “You’re aware of your surroundings,” she said. “You’re not really out of control. But you have no control over what’s happening. You’re just flowing. You’re in a realm of peace and comfort, and it’s a fantastic feeling.”

Contrary to what may be a common perception, studies suggest that people who speak in tongues rarely suffer from mental problems. A recent study of nearly 1,000 evangelical Christians in England found that those who engaged in the practice were more emotionally stable than those who did not. Researchers have identified at least two forms of the practice, one ecstatic and frenzied, the other subdued and nearly silent.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Dr. Freud.

I report, you decide. I don't speak in tongues but most of the people I know, love and respect do. The phenomenon is at least as old as the New Testament and many would say long before that.

The link came from a trackback of blogs responding to a WaPo article referring to the aborting of pre-born children whose mothers' amniocentesis tests were positive for Down Syndrome.

Friday, January 19, 2007

L'Enfant Sauvage -- The Wild Child

One of the most haunting films I recall from my younger days of foreign and art films was a Truffaut quasi-documentary about a boy discovered running wild near a French village near the beginning of the nineteenth century. A Vincent Canby review describes it well, and the Times has a link to the trailer.

As if to satisfy the increasing curiosity about Natural Man, that is, man uncontaminated by civilization, there began to be found throughout Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries all sorts of "wild children," boys and girls who had apparently been raised in messy but graceful states by wolves and bears, and by just about everything except kangaroos, which aren't often found in Europe in any state.

Between 1544 and 1731, no fewer than ten such wild children were reported. However, it wasn't until 1799, the year seven by le calendrier républicain (itself the product of a revolution that attempted to make reason a religion), that anyone tried to systematically study and educate one of these creatures whom Carolus Linnaeus, the Swedish scientist, had earlier classified as a distinct human species (Homo ferus).

In that year, Jean-Marc-Gaspard Itard, a doctor at the National Institute for the Deaf and Dumb in Paris, was given custody of a boy, between ten and twelve years old, who had been found living wild in the forests of Aveyron in southern France. With immense skill, patience, and love, and with more than a little pride, the doctor set out to prove what he took to be the beliefs of Locke and Condillac, that the total content of the human mind is supplied by experience. The doctor assumed that Victor, as his wild child came to be called, had a mind capable of using experience.

I mention the movie today because of a story from Vietnam which is eerily similar. A young woman who went missing nineteen years ago at the age of eight has been found and returned to her father. The description of her condition reads like another bizarre instance of a "wild child."

A girl who went missing in the jungles of Cambodia in 1988 has miraculously been found 19 years later, identified by her father through a scar on her arm. Now a 27-year-old woman, she speaks no intelligible language, and was found with hair down to her legs.

More at the link. I blog this merely as a curiosity. It makes me want to rent the movie and see it again. I can still remember images of this lonely little boy, after he had been trained and domesticated, sitting at a window at night, peering at the moon.

It's a shame that the USA Today reporter and others commenting on this story are likely too young to remember this wonderful film.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Jane Hamsher...This is why blogging is better than other news sources...

Sometimes I feel a bit isolated from the mainstream because I no longer pay much attention to TV, quit subscribing to magazines several years ago and newspapers before that, and only listen to the radio when I'm driving. (Listening to Neal Boortz and Michael Savage keeps me up to speed on the chattering classes, Clark Howard is a ray of consumer-advice sunshine when I catch him, and the rest of the radio diet is filled in from an NPR menu.) So the rest of the time I spend reading and blogging, which gives me the feeling that I am normally about twenty-four to thirty-six hours ahead of the news cycle, and way better informed by my reading than I would be if I stuck with the shallow stuff.

A post at Firedoglake illustrates how bloggers think and write. I guess the reason I am attracted to the medium is not because of any particular social or political bent, but the fact that the credibility level seems better. No editing, no sucking up to advertisers, no climbing the corporate ladder stuff. Well there are link-whores, trolls and nut cases, but how far do you have to travel anywhere to avoid their like? Certainly not pop media!

This post by Jane Hamsher captures all the best the blogworld has to offer. And her peers, both friends and opponents, respond with overwhelming support. They had to close the comments thread at 765 items because the response was so great. Go take a look.

(I'm still waiting for Blogger to figure out that the word blogger is not a misspelling as their spell-checker would have it. Is this medium still in its infancy or what?)

Followup Sunday, Jan 22:

She's back from the hospital. Tons of support and well-wishers...

Iraq Slogger profiled by N.Y. Observer

The recently-formed Iraq Slogger has become, in fact, the "go-to source" for all things newsworthy about Iraq. This profile in New York Observer treats Eason Jordan and his new baby with courtesy and muted respect. Good read.

In the clash between media culture and media counterculture, Mr. Jordan suddenly looked like Patty Hearst. His 23-year CNN career was over; his 18-year marriage ended in divorce. After a lifetime in Georgia, he relocated to New York, to a roomy loft in Soho—with maps of Baghdad, Mosul and Tikrit on the wall inside the entrance.

And he was blogging. When a Reporters Without Borders representative said it was “idiotic” to blame sectarian violence on the media, Mr. Jordan wrote that the spokesperson was “dead wrong,” and that some Iraqi outlets “explicitly incite violence.”

IraqSlogger combines media analysis with original reporting, drawing on a small team of reporters in the U.S. and a network of Iraqi sources.

“It was clear from my own time in Iraq—and I’ve been there 16 times—that while there’s no shortage of people with guns, there is a shortage of information that is reliable and timely,” Mr. Jordan said.

The tug-o-war between the so-called left and right bloggers is encapsulated in the Jordan/Malkin tiff. A denouement remains to be seen, but in the meantime Iraq Slogger is getting well-established. As someone eager to keep up with events in Iraq, I find Slogger to be much easier to digest than the truly excellent but more-than-I-needed-to-know Today in Iraq. (In future years, theirs will be an absolute treasure trove for historians piecing together the chaotic events of the last few years.)

Duke University Defended

The infamous Duke lacrosse team story has stained the reputation of one of the country's solid old schools. This summary of events by a junior staffer at First Things is a measured narrative of what has happened to this point. As a grad student at Duke, Jordan Hylden has been following the news from the beginning of the story, unlike most people who only pay attention when headlines catch their attention.

At this point what started as a juicy, high-profile case, replete with sex, violence and racism, has turned into a piece of over-proofed fluff. Unfortunately, the spillover has not been positive for Duke's reputation.

A fair consideration of the evidence reveals legitimate criticisms of Duke faculty and administrators, but not at the level of those made by our editor, Joseph Bottum. While it is no doubt correct to criticize the Group of 88 for their overblown rhetoric and unfair pre-judgment of Duke lacrosse players, it is also not appropriate to extend that criticism to the vast majority of Duke faculty. And while it is legitimate to criticize President Brodhead and his administration for overreacting at times, their overall conduct can be read as ameasured response to an extremely difficult crisis. Certainly, it did not resemble anything like “throwing its own students overboard.”

That’s my judgment, and I certainly hope it to be true. After all, as I said, I’ll be a Duke graduate student next fall, and I certainly don’t want to run into teachers who hate me or administrators trying to run me out of town. Which brings me to my final point. Given that I don’t think the lacrosse scandal should keep me away from Duke, what is it that drew me there in the first place? Why do I think that Duke should be a top destination for young conservatives and Christians?

If there is any lesson to be learned from this story it is not about Duke, but about the state of post-secondary education in America in general. What happened there is fairly generic in the overall landscape.

But the problem with these criticisms is that none of this is particular to Duke. From what I learned at Harvard, and from what I hear from my friends at other schools, I can personally testify that this is a nationwide problem, not a Duke problem. Jody’s criticisms, like Wolfe’s, ought to raise questions for serious Christians about sending their children to any major U.S. university, not just Duke. Many parents, rightly seeing this as a serious question, will opt instead for a school like Wheaton or Steubenville. I can’t argue with that choice—making the right decision here has a lot to do with a student’s maturity level. But if one nevertheless decides to opt for a major national university, Duke again ought to stand out as a top choice due to its strong Christian presence, both in the faculty and in the student body, which acts as a significant counterweight to the mainstream student culture.

His reference to Wolfe refers to Tom Wolfe's "I Am Charlotte Simmons (which takes place at “Dupont University,” by which he obviously meant Duke) had much to do with this. A graphic Rolling Stone article followed, and the Duke lacrosse scandal of course fit nicely into the narrative."

This informative article reflects particularly well on First Things. I doubt that most periodicals would allow any subordinate to disagree with and criticize a senior staff member so completely. It illustrates how civilized people can manage a civil disagreement and remain mutually respectful, keeping their disagreement on point and not ad hominem. My own impression of Duke is limited to a couple of people, both of whom I respect, although they are cut from very different fabrics. Stanley Hauerwas is on the faculty of Duke Divinity school and is highly respected in his field. And Bill Wilson is a dedicated Christian professional whom I have been privileged to hear teach.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Morning Reading, January 17, 2005

I should have reorganized my blogroll long ago. Bloglines folders have always been there but I have no excuse for not having used them. Kinda like putting off cleaning out the garage. Anyhow, I have read a lot of stuff in the last two hours and these two (unrelated) long pieces stick in my head.

3 Quarks links to an in-depth article about Dubai in New Left Review. (Oops! Already I lost readers because the source has the wrong name. Oh well, ignore it at your own informational expense.) Very informative piece. Like reading about Hollywood or Disney World. Makes you wish you had unlimited discretionary income to go and see it. The part that impressed me was that Dubai seems to be crafting a revenue stream for its future that will continue after their little piece of the oil patch has, for practical purposes, gone dry.
Dubai, in other words, is a vast gated community, the ultimate Green Zone. But even more than Singapore or Texas, it is also the apotheosis of the neo-liberal values of contemporary capitalism: a society that might have been designed by the Economics Department of the University of Chicago. Dubai, indeed, has achieved what American reactionaries only dream of—an oasis of free enterprise without income taxes, trade unions or opposition parties (there are no elections). As befits a paradise of consumption, its unofficial national holiday, as well as its global logo, is the celebrated Shopping Festival, a month-long extravaganza sponsored by the city’s 25 malls that begins on 12 January and attracts 4 million upscale shoppers, primarily from the Middle East and South Asia.
Other cities in the region, of course, have free-trade zones and high-tech clusters, but only Dubai has allowed each enclave to operate under regulatory and legal bubble-domes tailored to the specific needs of foreign capital and expat professionals. ‘Carving out lucrative niches with their own special rules’, claims the Financial Times, ‘has been at the heart of Dubai’s development strategy’. Thus press censorship (flagrant in the rest of Dubai) is largely suspended inside Media City, while internet access (regulated for content elsewhere) is absolutely unfettered inside Internet City. ...
In addition to these enclaved regimes of greater media and business freedom, Dubai is also famously tolerant of Western vices, with the exception of recreational drugs. In contrast to Saudi Arabia or even Kuwait City, booze flows freely in the city’s hotels and expat bars, and no one looks askance at halter tops or even string bikinis on the beach. Dubai—any of the hipper guidebooks will advise—is also the ‘Bangkok of the Middle East’, with thousands of Russian, Armenian, Indian and Iranian prostitutes controlled by various transnational gangs and mafias. The Russian girls at the bar are the glamorous façade of a sinister sex trade built on kidnapping, slavery and sadistic violence. Al-Maktoum and his thoroughly modern regime, of course, disavow any collusion with this burgeoning red-light industry, although insiders know that the whores are essential to keeping the 5-star hotels full of European and Arab businessmen. When expats extol Dubai’s unique ‘openness’, it is this freedom to carouse and debauch—not to organize unions or publish critical opinions—that they are usually praising.
3Quarks LINK

Here is another long read by Carl Savich writing in Serbianna reflecting on cruel and unusual punishment in general and the recent grotesque hangings in Iraq. This is not for the feint of heart. And if you are politically sensitive, better skip this one. It might make you mad.
A punishment is cruel and unusual when the victims are deprived of their human dignity. By videotaping and showing the execution to foreign journalists, indeed, occupation journalists, the hanging is turned into a media circus and Orwellian “spectacle”. Human dignity is not being respected. The victims are butchered like dogs or cattle. The hanging is like a racist lynching from US history. And then their sufferings and last moments before death are broadcast around the globe to show how the “global hegemon” has “won” in Iraq.
Second, a beheading in a hanging is regarded as cruel and unusual punishment. The victim should not be decapitated in a hanging. In a long drop hanging, a careful calculation is made to avoid a decapitation, taking into account the weight and height and physical stature of the victim. A decapitation can only occur by plan and premeditation. A strangulation is also something that occurs through planning and pre-meditation. The problem is that it is difficult to prove that the hangman planned such a result. It is euphemistically termed a “botched” hanging. From the evidence, Hassan was allowed to drop at least 8 feet, the maximum being 9 feet in a long drop hanging. Based on his weight and height, the drop should have been much shorter. How do you “botch” something like this? The only rational conclusion is that the beheading and decapitation was planned in advance. What is the motive?
This is clearly a sectarian lynching, an act of revenge against a Sunni Muslim victim perpetrated by a Shiite Muslim. The decapitation is meant to send a message to the Sunni Arabs: Sunnis, you are finished as a people in Iraq. You will no longer be in power. This is what we will do to you if you resist us. This was the message of the earlier hanging of Saddam Hussein as well. This is not justice, but revenge or vindictive triumph. The inevitable result is to fuel sectarian violence and to preclude a reconciliation. At the very least, an investigation should be launched to determine how this hanging was “botched”.
There's more. Lots more. And it gets worse. But if you're into trying to grasp why the dark side of our nature has such a powerful hold on mankind, this can be an equally powerful antidote. If more people could bring themselves to reflect on their attitudes supporting capital punishment in light of readings such as this, widespread support for this barbaric practice might wane.

Iraq Job Corps

The week before Christmas, the Pentagon asked Congress to approve a supplemental $100 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, on top of the estimated $500 billion spent to date. The administration should direct a small percent of that amount to create an Iraqi Citizen Job Corps, along the lines of FDR's civilian conservation corps during the Great Depression. The Job Corps can operate under the supervision of our military and with its protection. The Army Corps of Engineers might be particularly helpful in directing this effort. It will place our military in a constructive relationship with the Iraqis--both literally and figuratively.

Today, Iraq has almost 200 state-owned factories that have been abandoned by the governing authorities since the outbreak of war in 2003. Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Paul A. Brinkley has led a team to 26 of those facilities, traveling far beyond the Green Zone to idled plants from Fallujah to Ramadi. Mr. Brinkley believes that under Department of Defense leadership, at least 10 of these facilities could be re-opened almost immediately, putting more than 10,000 Iraqis to work within weeks. This should be done without delay--and it is only the beginning.

Uh, beg pardon...This ain't the "beginning." It's more like the end. The time for a boost or a helping hand is not after you beat the shit out of someone, but before. Where were you guys three years ago???

Sorry. A feeling of outrage just washed over me. That's not the right question. It's not about you guys but the message. The question should have been Where was this thinking three years ago? The answer, of course, is that three years ago such an idea was being ignored amid the sabre-rattling, fear-mongering and the waving bloody shirt.

Monday, January 15, 2007

MLK Remembered

This year Coretta King is with her late husband. The King holiday will take on new meaning as the next generation tends the flame. I pray they can persevere. The non-violent approach to conflict resolution is like watching a tree grow. The "Tyrone Brooks" link is no longer active in my last year's post, but be sure to visit the other one.

I may post a few links today as I come across them. Already I have seen two references to Letter from a Birmingham Jail. If the reader has not already done so, I recommend reading it. If you don't recall what it says, then read it again.

The Fat Lady Sings is nostalgic.

Has anybody here seen my old friend Martin?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
He freed a lot of people,
But it seems the good die young,
I just looked around and he's gone.

Didn't you love the things they stood for?
Didn't they try to find some good for you and me?
And we'll be free.
Someday soon, it's gonna be one day.

Has anybody here seen my old friend Bobby?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
I thought I saw him walkin' up over the hill,
With Abraham, Martin and John.

The first headline I heard on the radio this morning reported the hanging in Iraq of Saddam Hussein's half-brother along with another convicted man from the same group of defendants. Not having made the coffee yet I was unprepared when the second sentence of the story said the hanging made the man's head come off. Damn. That's tough to hear first thing in the morning. All I could think as the coffee perked was So this is our ally, the client state in Mesopotamia that is to be a model of civilization and representative government in the region, the society to which several thousands more of our children are going to....what?....Serve their country?

Serving their country?

I'm not connecting the dots yet. Perhaps it will all come clear later. Those of us who opposed this war from the jump take no pleasure in saying "I told you so." At least some of us don't. I don't. All I can hope for is that once again we might learn that non-violence may not be a perfect remedy but war is not a better alternative.

Somewhere between non-violence and war there is a range of available resources to conflict-resolution that includes more assertive diplomacy that doesn't send ambiguous signals to tyrants like Saddam, serious targeted economic sanctions not stained with the corruption endemic to the oil-for-food program that preceded the first Gulf War, and a distinction between annihilation and police actions -- a subtle difference alien to most military thinking and training. When I heard the words "Hearts and Minds" I was encouraged, but when I heard "Shock and Awe" I was dismayed.

So what has this war to do with the King Holiday? If you cannot answer that question you need to do more homework. Last year at this time I put together a personal remembrance of the Sixties where the reader can find a link to the connection King made between what he was preaching and another war with many of the same features as the one now being waged. I have nothing more to add.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

"...a political blunder of positively biblical proportions."

This delightful post heading comes from Blue Crab Boulevard's story pointing to the new Speaker of the House as she steps into a really big pile of you-know-what. Politics at that level is all cut from the same fabric, so I'll be interested to see which of her political opponents is deemed clean enough to take her to task. Members of her own party certainly won't risk such a thing, so it's all up to the Republicans.




I heard a talk show host complaining about it a couple of days ago, but there have been so many cries of "wolf" from that quarter that it's about a credible as an extramarital affair on Jerry Springer.

You gotta hand it to the gal. She knows when and how to get away with stuff. Better to do it now, flush with political capital. When that's all gone it's down to business.

Michael Yon Reporting, January, 2007

Michael Yon's reporting is truly excellent. His on-the-ground accounts from two years ago are a gold standard for wartime journalism. Rather than cobble together reports by interviewing key people from the relative safety of the Green Zone or other secure location, he chose to "walk the line" with CSM (Command Sergeant Major) Mellinger.

He's back in Iraq, again travelling with CSM Mellinger, and turning out more good reports. Pay particular attention to the maps.

West of Baghdad, Al Anbar Province is a vast, lawless frontier stretching to the Syrian border. The population is almost exclusively Sunni Arab, leaving little cause for sectarian violence but plenty of room for other reasons to fight. (View the region on this map and see the breakdown of religious affiliations on this one.) Major cities in Anbar Province, such as Fallujah, are fantastically dangerous. Yet the Marines and Army, along with some Navy and Air Force personnel, are probably stretched as thin here as the Border Patrol between the U.S. and Mexico. No matter how they spread it, our fighters simply do not have enough paint to cover the barn called Anbar.

The fighting is brutal. Snipers on both sides take their toll on heads, while hidden bombs can take America’s toughest tank—the mighty M1, weighing in at roughly 150,000 pounds—and heave it into the air, sending its heavy turret sailing a hundred yards, and flipping the rest of the burning hulk on its back like a giant, exploding turtle in what is called a catastrophic attack. When such bombs detonate under Humvees, the scattered remnants can fit into the trunk of another Humvee. Smaller IEDs and platter charges rip through the vehicles like a cannonball through fog, leaving some dusty mud-cratered roads looking like the moon.

As with “shaped charges,” which have been falsely touted as high-technology imports, EFPs or Explosively Formed Projectiles (a new and fancy name for a “platter charge”) are often just easy-fab cheap weapons that an illiterate person can be taught to make. That said, there is evidence that some EFPs in Iraq are higher-tech “factory made” bombs.


Ramadi is the capital of Al Anbar Province and is the location for several stops on this patrol. The enemy snipers here have become good and even excellent. Just during the time we were in the area, they killed four of our people. No matter the metric, whether per capita or in absolute numbers, Baghdad is surely dangerous, but Anbar is worse in every measure, and Ramadi is the worst place in Anbar, which explains why CSM Mellinger keeps driving out there, walking the line.

The enemy follows different rules. Any attempt to explain the fate of two of our soldiers who were captured by terrorists in 2006 south of Baghdad would defy decency. It should suffice as coda that the enemy rigged their tortured and mutilated bodies with explosives. CSM Mellinger said that Iraqi forces had just caught one of the perpetrators and handed him over to our people. I asked if we were going to turn him back over to the Iraqis. The CSM said firmly, “We don’t give back people who kill Coalition Forces.”

Then he told me a story about a courageous and respected Iraqi commander who’d accompanied his patrols all over Iraq for nearly a year. When the dead body of this same Iraqi commander was brought into the morgue, doctors found gruesome signs of torture. His legs were beaten by planks of wood. A drill had been used to bore holes into all of his ribs, his elbows, his knees, and into his head. Doctors estimated the man endured this torture for days. Apparently when the fun was over, or they’d extracted what they needed, or the terrorists were worried about being discovered, or they had another victim waiting for their attentions, they shot him. CSM Mellinger, with just a momentary flash of anger in his eyes, said the Iraqi forces know who did this, and it’s only a matter of time. But time bends when every day in Iraq brings with it a hundred new stories of murder, torture and bodies scattered by bombs.

There is no question that Michael Yon knows what's happening in Iraq as well as anyone. His writing rings true and his objectivity is tempered only by patriotism and sensitivity to the human elements of his reports, whether ally or enemy. I found this by Joseph L. Galloway in his online magazine (already drawing hostile verbal fire in the comments):

Hoping for a Miracle
January 10, 2007

There’s an old sign posted at U.S. Army Ranger School. It says simply: “Hope is not a method, unless you are the chaplain.”

President George W. Bush went on national television this week and laid out for the American people a plan for a “New Way Forward” in Iraq that appears to be based on nothing more than hoping for a miracle.

He did precisely what was predicted: Announced a temporary escalation of American forces in Iraq by the curious number of 21,500, or approximately five brigades. Four brigades will deploy into the bloody streets of Baghdad and one brigade into the equally bloody towns of Anbar province to the west, the seat of Iraq’s Sunni Muslim insurgency.

The Decider said that he’s laid down the law to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Maliki cannot put the huge Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City off-limits to American forces, and he must begin disarming all sectarian militias, especially the Mahdi Army commanded by radical, anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al Sadr.

The president made a perfunctory nod at humility, noting that if there’ve been mistakes in the conduct of the Iraq War _ and, boy, have there been some doozies _ that he bore responsibility for them.

Then he turned belligerent and uttered thinly veiled threats of unspecified U.S. military action against Iraq’s neighbors, Iran and Syria. President Bush already had underlined and telegraphed those threats by ordering a second aircraft carrier battle group to the Persian Gulf and sending additional minesweepers to the same theater.

Let’s review the bidding on this. As the Iraq misadventure heads toward its fifth year, everyone, including Bush, has admitted that the situation is grave and deteriorating and that constant combat deployments have stretched our Army and Marines to the breaking point.

Before the announced “surge” of the additional 21,500 troops to Iraq, we were already tapped out for any combat-ready reserve to deal with emergencies elsewhere in this troubled world. We have fewer than 10,000 troops who could in theory respond to trouble somewhere else. Say, Korea.

Iran occupies a very long and largely unguarded and unpoliced border with Iraq, whose Shiite majority shares the religious beliefs of the Iranians. Those Shiites sit squarely astride the U.S. supply lines that stretch some 300 miles through southern Iraq from Baghdad to Kuwait City.

Iran also sits on the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, through which supertankers haul Middle East oil to Japan, Europe and, yes, the United States.

Does anyone suppose that we can send bombers to strike Iran’s nuclear enrichment plants _ widely dispersed and dug deeply into the granite under mountains _ and not expect that action to set the Middle East on fire and paralyze economies at home and abroad by sending the price of oil beyond $100 or even $200 a barrel?

Does anyone think that Iran’s ayatollahs wouldn’t signal Iraqi Shiite militias and Iran’s own deeply embedded commando teams inside Iraqi to launch new and deadly attacks against our troops scattered across the Iraqi battlegrounds and cut our long and vulnerable supply lines that feed, fuel and provide ammunition to our forces? And what signals might the Iranians send to their Hezbollah allies in Lebanon and beyond, and to their Shiite allies in western Afghanistan?

The Iraq Study Group certainly urged the Bush administration to engage with Iran and Syria, but they recommended diplomatic engagement, not military engagements.

Throwing another 21,500 American troops into the cauldron that is the Iraq civil war is not a new way forward. It’s not even new: We’ve done this several times before, and it won’t work.

Expanding a war that we’re losing in Iraq to a neighboring nation three times larger, with a much better army and far more whacked-out religious fanatics, is hardly something that our commander in chief should even be dropping hints about at this juncture in a growing disaster.

Good God, man, what were you thinking during the last six weeks of supposedly listening to advice from all comers? Is this the best you can do?

Just when we begin to think that things couldn’t get much worse, they do.

Pardon me if I’m reminded of a time long ago when another disaster of a President, Richard M. Nixon, thought that he could turn a losing war in Vietnam around by bombing and invading neighboring Cambodia.

It didn’t work in Cambodia. It only set the stage for a Communist Khmer Rouge genocide that took as many as 2 million Cambodian lives after Indochina fell.

Perhaps it’s time for all of us to hope for a miracle. We can all hope, and pray too, that this commander-in-chief comes to his senses before he sets our world afire in the two years he has left in the highest office in the land.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Viral Video: Msg From Soldier in Iraq

This video is just under eight minutes.
No shocking revelations. No extreme views. Just one ordinary soldier speaking from the heart, and a good heart it seems to be.
It is linked at Iraq Slogger.

Here is a snip from a December post at his blog...

...We have so much stuff right now that we are running out of space. But the excess stuff will not be wasted. We are packing it up and bringing it around to the civilian workers who are here from countries such as India, Guyana, and the Philippines. I met one of these workers from the Philippines at the PX the other day and we met for coffee one evening and talked about his situation. He is about 27 and has a wife and 3 children at home. He has been away from his family for over a year and is not likely to see them for at least another year. He told me that he works for a sub-contractor that provides workers to AAFES (that's the organization that runs the px). According to him, the contractor gets about $3000 per month for each worker it provides AAFES. Out of that $3000...the average worker is given a measly $600 per month! With no benefits. They live in large open-bay tents with heaters and air conditioners that work only half the time. To add insult to this, the workers have to pay the placement agency thousands of dollars just for the privilege of working. The average worker has to pay $500 dollars a month for the first 6 months. Which means he or she is working for about $100 monthly until they are able to pay off what they owe the agent. Pretty outrageous huh? It disturbs me that there is so much disparity between what government pays the contractors and what is actually passed on to the workers. I think that this type of exploitation is horrible and is one of the most offensive things I have seen since I have been here. Don't ask me why I am so offended by this but I guess it's just the bleeding heart liberal in me.

He follows that with a commitment that he and some of his buddies will make it a point to visit some of these civilian workers at Christmas and see to it that they know how much they are appreciated.

My question is this: How come these jobs are not being performed by Iraqis instead of imported laborers from halfway around the world?

Of course I know the answer. But that is simply an indication that we truly have no idea who they are or how they think. I'm sure there are some Iraqis on the payroll, but they consort with Americans at their peril. The answer to the question is more disturbing than the question itself.

Robert Kaplan on [the demise of] Arab Nationalism

ROBERT D. KAPLAN is a correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly and a visiting professor at the U.S. Naval Academy. He is the author of "The Arabists," among other books.January 7, 2007.

Okay, then. We know he's a card-carrying expert. And like most experts he knows how to write clearly and advance an argument. This piece in the LA Times sparkles with insight and is a must-read.

...just as communism exited the European stage exposed for what it always truly was — fascism without fascism's ability to make the trains run on time — secular Arab nationalism will exit the stage revealed for what it always was: a despotic perversion of the western nation-state that lasted as long as it did mainly because of secret-police techniques imported from the former Soviet Union.

Arab nationalism's roots go back to the revolt against European colonialism in the early decades of the 20th century. But as it developed, it faced a serious problem: Because it was organized around the artificial national borders that these same colonialists had drawn — which generally ignored ethnic and sectarian lines — the result, in too many cases, was multiethnic rivalry and the subjugation of one part of the population by another.

In Iraq, for instance, the national borders created a state in which the majority Shiites were subjugated by the minority Sunnis (as we all now know). In Syria, the majority Sunnis came to be subjugated by the minority Alawites, who constitute a branch of Shiism (and who had been favored in the armed forces by the French). In Lebanon, it was the Shiites who ended up subjugated by both Christians and Sunnis.

And this...

The two extremes in the Arab world became Tunisia and Iraq. Tunisia, a small country of Sunni Arabs with no internal divisions, which traced its borders back to ancient Carthage, produced Habib Bourguiba, the Arab version of the enlightened Turkish modernizer Kemal Ataturk. Iraq, a Frankenstein monster of a country assembled from warring ethnic and sectarian groups by the British, produced Saddam Hussein, the Arab Stalin.

After you read the whole thing and finish cooing over Kaplan's insights, take another look. The elephant in the room is the unmentioned fact that post-colonialism, post WWI, post-WWII, and post-Cold War, the overarching dynamic of the region has been the quest for petroleum and all that goes with it. Long before the term "NGO" was coined, the most important of all non-government organizations was (and continues to be) a business "community" that morphed from "colonial" to "global" without taking a breath.

Any survey of modern MENA development that fails to mention oil is like a diorama at the zoo. Nice habitat, but where is the animal?
(And yes, even if the topic was "Arab Nationalism," no political commentary can carry much weight without considering the importance of economic issues.)

H/T Chirol at Coming Anarchy

V-8 Juice Redux

For some reason I have been getting a number of hits the last couple of days to Trivia: What are the Eight Vegetables in V8? a post I put together almost a year ago.

Anybody know why that should be? Is V-8 in the news and I missed it?

Friday, January 12, 2007

The Rapture, Are You Ready?

Driving through the rural countryside of the Bible Belt one is apt to come round a turn and confront a boldly-painted sign that says "Jesus is coming soon!"

Or "Are you ready?"


Apocalyptic warnings have been around for centuries.
This is the YouTube generation's equivalent of those warnings...

Different take here, but somehow related...

First, look at this.

Then go here.

Thanks, Abbas.
If I fail to post a link to this wonderful blog I won't be doing my job.

"They lost the war..."

It was not my intention to say much about the president's speech or the proposed (pick one: escalation, surge, deployment, increase, other) in Baghdad. But Sarah Robinson says it so well I have to link to her remarks.

There's no step the Democrats can take on Iraq that won't leave this one tied around their necks for the next three decades, too. If they force Bush to leave now, Republicans will accuse them of undermining The Plan. (There was a plan? Do tell.) If they don't, a Democratic president will be stuck cleaning up the mess in 2009. (Guess what: cleaning up GOP messes is nothing new for Democratic administrations.)

If our new Congressional Dems really are falling for this piece of GOP bullshit, we need to rush to our phones and keyboards and set them straight, today. Iraq may be terrifyingly like Vietnam in some very critical ways -- but this is one place the analogy does not hold. And the only way the GOP is going to sell that back-stabbing myth again this time is if they manage -- if we allow them -- to stuff some very big facts down the memory hole.

The fact is that this war, from its ill-conceived beginning to its ignominious end, is a 100% pure GOP production. ...

The fact is that they lost the war the day the White House stopped listening to the intelligence agencies, and started listening to the echo chamber in their own empty heads.

They lost the war the day Colin Powell stood up and lied to the world about Saddam's threat.They lost the war, even before it started, every time an administration official got on TV and told the American people vast whoppers about the plans and purposes of the war -- lies that were being told on pretty much a weekly basis throughout 2002 and into 2003, as this Mother Jones website clearly shows.

They lost the war the day they sent Eric Shinseki and his requested 400,000 troops packing, and tore up longstanding Pentagon plans for how to invade, occupy, and rebuild a country.

They lost the war the day they secured the Oil Ministry instead of the streets, public buildings, and national monuments -- and the weapons depots from which the materials for IEDs are still coming.

They lost the war the day Donald Rumsfeld said "Free people are free to commit crimes and make mistakes and do bad things" -- essentially giving carte blanche to a regime of anarchy.

They lost the war, big time, the day they disbanded the Iraqi Army; and the day (right about that same week) that they decreed that the rebuilding jobs would go to overpaid Americans instead of the millions of desperate Iraqis who needed good jobs and intact cities to maintain the cultural, economic, and physical infrastructure of civilization.

They lost the war when they failed to give American troops effective cultural training, including basic language training and sufficient translator support. This resulted in countless Iraqi deaths based on nothing more than miscommunication; and ensured that American soldiers and Iraqis would come to despise each other. It did not have to be this way.

They lost the war when the Republican Congress swallowed its own doubts -- and even the growing fears about its own incumbency -- to continue to ratify this war.

They have lost the war a hundred other ways in the four years since -- because, as I am by no means the first to point out, this was intended from the start to be a generation-long war, which would rage from India to Israel, from Turkey to Tehran. There was never a plan for victory. There was only the plan to create as much chaos as it would take, for as long as it would take, to ensure that in the end the US energy companies would control the taps on the Middle East's oil supply, and thus ensure American control over a rising China for several decades to come.

The only way the "stabbed in the back" myth is going to work this time is if the GOP manages to make everybody forget every little bit of the above history. And Lord knows they’re working overtime to make that happen: it's why they sneer at "blaming Democrats," and insist that we only talk about what's happening now, instead of how we got here. What's done is done. We must look ahead.