Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Amazing Grace -- a review

Amazing Grace, the movie, has been released.

Pejman Yousefzadeh saw the film.

He liked it.

It is easy for us to live our twenty-first century lives and to reassure ourselves that the triumph of William Wilberforce and other abolitionists over the British slave trade was as sure as morning following night. The truth, however, is that the victory of Right over Wrong is always a too close run thing for those who seek to be in the Right. People who are in the Right must always fight scared, if only because the stakes are so high. And in the event that I have not spelled matters out explicitly enough, linger over the next two sentences: No victory over an abomination can be taken for granted, even if those victories follow one after another at a dizzying pace. No triumph can be assumed, even if we sometimes think we have stumbled onto a treasure trove of them.

Victories of Right over Wrong take time. They take effort. They take sweat. They even take lives. There is nothing inevitable about them. And that is how it should be. Because if it were otherwise, then heroism would be devalued. Courage would be an everyday trait instead of an exceedingly rare one. Valor would be as natural as breathing, instead of being a prized and rare quality of the soul. And eloquence in service of the truly noble deed would put people to sleep instead of waking them up.

Tony Badran takedown of Seymour Hersh

Seymour Hersh has released yet another blockbuster article in The New Yorker. A line under the title reads "Is the Administration’s new policy benefitting our enemies in the war on terrorism?"

Note the line ends with an interrogation, not an exclamation point. This seems to be a professional writer's touch. It's also a good technique for threading one's way between fact and innuendo. I have come across several references to this article in my reading. A good many smart people follow closely what Hersh says but after reading a different takedown of Seymour Hersh a couple of years ago I always think "salt shaker" when I see the name.

Have I read this most recent piece?
Nope. I will leave that to someone else.
This time it's Tony Badran instead of Chris Suellentrop.

I have enough trouble discovering the truth without having to pick my way through a lot of rhetorical prestidigitation trying to discover what is real and what is suggested. And I say this as someone who deeply wants to believe what he says. No one reading my blog will mistake me for either a supporter of the war or the administration, but throwing a lot of stuff against the wall to see how much will stick is no way to drive home a position.

March 1
Michael J. Totten also noticed. One more nail in the coffin.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Time Magazine: Behind the Sunni-Shi'ite Divide

I have posted so much about this subject that I'm tired. If people are reading my posts they are not bothering to leave comments, pro or con. Since so much material is already available to search engines one more item will get lost in the volume, but this piece is especially well-done. These people have done their homework. No big news, but the uninformed reader trying to figure out what's going on in Iraq should find a quiet place to read and stay on task reading this piece until it sinks in.
Thanks, 3Quarks.

...Hatred has gone mainstream, spreading first to victims of the violence and their families--the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who have lost loved ones, jobs, homes, occasionally entire neighborhoods--and then into the wider society. Now it permeates not only the rancorous political discourse of Baghdad's Green Zone but also ordinary conversations in homes and marketplaces, arousing a fury even in those who have no obvious, pressing grievance. Neither Muslawi nor Hussein has suffered personal loss, but they are relatively able to tap into the same loathing that motivates the Shi'ite militias and Sunni jihadis. "The air has become poisoned [by sectarianism], and we have all been breathing it," says Abbas Fadhil, a Baghdad physician. "And so now everybody is talking the same language, whether they are educated or illiterate, secular or religious, violent or not."


It's too early to tell if the new operation will damp down sectarian tensions. "There are more ways in which this could go wrong than go right," says political analyst Tahseen al-Shekhli. "We have seen too many plans fail to have any faith in this one." Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a lifelong Shi'ite partisan, has shown little patience for Sunni grievances and has failed to start an oft-promised national reconciliation process. So despite his professed conviction that the security operation is working, chances remain high that it will eventually falter, brought down by the inability of Sunnis and Shi'ites to find a political settlement or the reduction of U.S. forces that is
bound to happen one day.

Nour al-Khal Should Come to America

She was an Iraqi translator and fixer for Steven Vincent, a freelance journalist who broke a story in the NEW YORK TIMES about how the Iraqi police force was being infiltrated by Iranian-back fundamentalists and Shiite militiamen loyal to Moqtada al-Sadar rather than the central government.

According to his widow in broad daylight one day a death squad roaming the streets of Basra in a police car "wrestled Steven into a truck to take him to his death." The 5 kidnappers apparently had no interest in his translator, the 5 foot tall Nour al-Khal and tried to push her away. She would not go so they eventually threw her in the truck as well. bound and gagged for 5 hours---Steven was beaten, even bitten on the leg---and then both were put back in a truck, taken to the outskirts of the city, set free, told to run, and then SHOT IN THE BACK. Steven died but Nour al-Khal who "literally took a bullet for him, three, in fact," somehow survived.

Nour al-Khal is now in hiding in a small apartment and Lisa Ramaci-Vincent wants to repay her and bring her to America. But of course she is having trouble. "I have dealt with officials at the Baghdad embassy and the state department. I have filled out forms, I have made countless calls, sent innumerable e-mails. I have pledged to stand financial security for her. I have gotten a promise from the UN bureau chief of Al-Arabiya that he will hire her when-if-she gets here. And each path I have gone down has proven fruitless. I have been told SHE DOES NOT QUALIFY FOR REFUGEE OR ASYLUM STATUS BECAUSE IRAQ IS NOW A DEMOCRACY, AND THERE WOULD BE NO REASON SHE WOULD NEED TO FLEE..." [ABC News blog link]

Iraq is now a democracy and there is no reason she needs to flee. She doesn't qualify for refugee or asylum status. Right. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of people who have nothing to do with politics or journalism are dying in Iraq as "collateral damage" and this woman who worked as a translator for an American journalist, who took two bullets already because of that association, doesn't qualify for refugee or asylum status. That's horse shit, plain and simple.

The murder of journalist Stephen Vincent was two and a half years ago. And Nour al-Khal, his translator who survived their horrible ordeal, is stuck in Iraq, hiding for safety, unable to get permission to come to America, despite continuing efforts on the part of Vincent's widow, Lisa Ramaci-Vincent.

This shameful footnote to the Iraq adventure should be talked about, written about, complained about, gossiped about, and yelled about until someone with courage enough to make something happen gets proactive instead of reactive about the issue.

Is there no one in authority to cut through miles of red tape and make this happen? There seems to be no problem with detaining foreign nationals with no basis other than their being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Representatives from member nations of the UN, some of whom are card-carrying official enemies of the country, come and go in New York (and elsewhere, no doubt) with diplomatic immunity. And this young woman cannot be cleared to leave Iraq to come to the United States. What ever is wrong with this picture?

I just re-visited my post at the time and as I read I got angry all over again.

The story was not especially high-profile at the time it happened and few will now remember the details. It is burned in my memory because I was following closely at the time, but I'm an exception. Professional journalist who make a living writing about the news cannot pay the rent by getting stuck on a single story. Those who fall into that trap, no matter how principled their cause, soon need to do something else to pay the rent.

As a blogger I'm not limited by the need to get paid. It is my privilege and responsibility to write what needs to be written with the quiet satisfaction of knowing that the content of what I'm writing about will stand or fall on its own merit, whether or not anyone wants to pay to read it. last night I listened with half an ear to the circus on TV surrounding the disposition of the body of the late Anna Nicole Smith. Who is the world cannot by now recognize that name and relate all kinds of details about her tragic life and death? Compare and contrast that level of public involvement with some of the following links...

Iraq Slogger story link.

Testimony of Lisa Ramaci-Vincent for the Hearing Held on January 16, 2007 before the Senate Judiciary Committee Regarding The Plight of Iraqi Refugees.

Even Fox News was unable to ignore the story when it surfaced again last month.

A delayed refugee crisis in Iraq has left thousands of translators, aides to Americans in Iraq and others fleeing religious persecution and violent reprisal seeking escape to an unwelcoming United States.

Bush administration officials say the government will expand the number of open slots for Iraqi refugees to 20,000 in 2007 if funding is approved. The United States continues to work with international organizations to aid Iraqi refugees in neighboring countries of Jordan and Syria.But officials admit that the refugee problem they anticipated after the 2003 invasion of Iraq didn't reach full force until this past year when sectarian violence grew and millions were displaced or fled the country.

"At present, more Iraqis are fleeing their homes to other areas of Iraq and to neighboring countries then are returning," said Ellen Sauerbrey, assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration, said in testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee last month.Sauerbrey is among several State Department officials named to a new Iraq Refugee and Internally Displaced Persons Task Force to be spearheaded by Undersecretary of State Paula Dobriansky. The task force will try to coordinate assistance for refugee resettlement, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced Monday.

In its "fair and balanced" manner, of course, the story had to be fleshed out with enough content that the Fox audience would not throw up at the mention of yet another immigrant wanting to come into the country. Starting with a reference to Senator Kennedy, whom everyone knows is a child of Satan, the story made clear that he was all for it (despite the fact that the Administration was behind it) so there must be something sinister that is not being reported.

Democratic senators last month slammed the administration for not coming to the aid of vulnerable Iraqis and leaving them at the mercy of their adversaries.

"We can no longer ignore the plight of millions of people — many of whom have helped our efforts," Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., said during the Jan. 16 hearing. "We know that America must respond."

Notice how "Democratic senators...slammed the administration" even though the Democratic Senator from Massachusetts spoke positively about the issue. This is whiplash double negative spinning at its poetic finest. Don't forget the story was headlined ("Iraq Translators Face Closed Door U.S. Immigration Policy") as an immigration issue, not a story about human rights, democracy or even the US activities in Iraq.
Several problems were listed, including the fact that "the U.S embassy is in the heavily fortified Green Zone and...the staff is ill-equipped to handle applications." Not high on the list of priorities, no doubt. Embassies have to be careful not to process too many applications, I suppose.

Besides "the United States has provided more than $800 million in assistance since 2003 to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other U.N. and non-governmental agencies that handle services and resettlement of refugees from temporary sanctuaries in Jordan and Syria to 'third countries' like the United States." The UN is being paid to handle the problem and we know how wonderfully efficient that body is.

And don't let's leave out a few words from the U.S. Freedom Foundation and the Heritage Foundation.

Fred Peterson, national security expert with the U.S Freedom Foundation in Washington, a balanced approach keeps in mind domestic security as well as the goal of ensuring Iraq is a place where people want to stay, not flee.

James Carafano, national security expert for the Heritage Foundation, said it was unfair to suggest that the White House was in denial.
"They're not stupid, they know he numbers are fleeing out of the country," he said, noting that typically government bureaucracy is "reactive and not proactive."

Maybe the Fox audience isn't hurling by this point but I sure need to. National Security is at risk, you know. And everyone knows how very slow bureaucracies move.
Well who in hell is in charge of the bureaucracy, tell?
If this is fair and balanced reporting then I'm among the next American Idol finalists. This is what I call drowning the baby in its first bath. I don't know what makes me more disgusted, the content of the sorry story or the truly ugly spin with which this last reference has been sprayed.
Update, June 29

Ray Bethell flying kites...Unbelievable!

Meet Ray Bethell, kite flyer extraordinaire.

Wikipedia article.

H/T The Fat Lady Sings

Kitelife Magazine website has a fantastic presentation of this same video. When you double-click on the screen it toggles to full-screen. Go there when you are ready to watch again.

Nearly 800 American civilians have been killed in Iraq

From FOIA blog...

Nearly 800 civilian contractors to the Pentagon have been killed in Iraq.That's according to figures gathered by The Associated Press. More than 33-hundred have been hurt doing jobs normally handled by the U-S military.

A retired Air Force reservist says the figures show "another unseen expense of the war." His brother-in-law was killed while driving a truck in Iraq, a death he says doesn't get the publicity or respect it deserves.

The Pentagon has subcontracted with companies like Halliburton and Blackwater for some dangerous duties, like guarding prisoners and protecting military convoys. There are 120-thousand contractors in the war zone, along with 135-thousand U-S troops.

The A-P obtained contractor casualty numbers through the Freedom of Information Act. Experts say contractors have never before represented such a large portion of the U-S presence in a war zone, or done so many security and military-like jobs.

Contractors are paid at least six times more than a new Army private who would likely be driving a truck or doing some other unskilled work.

Sez here "This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed."

Wonder why?

This information strikes me as important. I can't decide whether people are uninformed or just indifferent.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Amanda Baggs on CNN

Amanda Baggs is about to receive the recognition she deserves. When I checked my referrals and saw that about eighteen percent were looking for the video I posted I knew something was up. Sure enough she is featured in a blog post by Dr. Sanjay Gupta, chief medical correspondent for the health and medical unit at CNN.

Last week, I met a remarkable woman. Amanda Baggs is 26, super-intelligent and witty. She lives in Burlington Vermont, on a beautiful lake and is very skilled at shooting and editing videos. In fact, it was one of her videos on YouTube that caught the attention of CNN. I had met her only through e-mails and the Internet. I'd be telling you a very different story. But I was able to visit her in person.

Despite the friendly invitations and our lively e-mail banter, Amanda would not look at me when I walked in the room. She wore sunglasses and sat in a wheelchair, even though her legs are fine. She could make some noises, but could not speak. Amanda has what doctors call low-functioning autism. If it were not for a device that synthesizes words as she types on a keyboard, we would not have been able to communicate with her at all.

She taught me a lot over the day that I spent with her. She told me that looking into someone's eyes felt threatening, which is why she looked at me through the corner of her eye. Amanda also told me that, like many people with autism, she wanted to interact with the entire world around her. While she could read Homer, she also wanted to rub the papers across her face and smell the ink. Is she saw a flag blowing in the wind, she might start to wave her hand like a flag. She rides in a wheelchair, she says, because balancing herself while walking takes up too much energy for her to also type and communicate. To an outside observer, the behaviors would seem eccentric, even bizarre. Because Amanda was able to explain them, they all of a sudden made sense. In case you were curious, there is no possible way that I was being fooled. Amanda, herself, was communicating with me through this voice-synthesis technology.

It really started me wondering about autism. Amanda is obviously a smart woman who is fully aware of her diagnosis of low-functioning autism, and quite frankly mocks it. She told me that because she doesn't communicate with conventional spoken word, she is written off, discarded and thought of as mentally retarded. Nothing could be further from the truth. As I sat with her in her apartment, I couldn't help but wonder how many more people like Amanda are out there, hidden, but reachable, if we just tried harder.

I am a neurosurgeon and Amanda Baggs opened my eyes about the world of autism. I am eager to hear what you think of her story and if you have stories of your own.

According to him, Amanda will be featured tonight on Anderson Cooper 360.

There is a cascade of comments at the site, generally positive and definitely several notches above the blog-norm for comments threads. No big surprises but interesting reading.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Michael Totten points to good reporting by CBS

Michael Totten says...

If I could distill everything I heard, saw, and learned in the Kurdistan region of Iraq into a 12-minute video, it would look a lot like this. (Fourth video on the right.)

Click that link. Watch. This is marvelous work from 60 Minutes, some of the best mainstream media journalism I have seen out of the Middle East, the absolute antithesis of Diane Sawyer's useless interview with Syria's Bashar Assad last week.

I only caught one factual error. The Iraqi flag is not banned in Kurdistan. It still flies in the city of Suleimania, but it's the old version of the flag before Saddam Hussein wrote Allahu Akbar on it.

60 Minutes has done truly excellent work capturing the essence of this lovely place and these wonderful people and editing it all down into such a brief and comprehensive introduction.

As you watch and listen pay close attention to words like Arab, Israel, Muslim, Kirkuk and Peshmerga. Totten didn't mention it, but the short video next in line, interview with an American student who went back to Kurdistan, is also worth a look. We may be watching the first prime minister of an independent Kurdistan.

James Fearon's comments on Civil War in Iraq

This post was put together in November, but it remains pertinent to discussions of the war in Iraq so I'm bringing it to the top. Despite reality, the term civil war is still not being used to describe what is happening there. I suspect the reluctance may derive from some "slippery slope" fear that if we start using terms like "civil war" then next thing you know somebody might start talking about ethnic cleansing or genocide. We wouldn't want that, now would we? It might cause a reassessment of our political bedfellows.

As we speak, a blending of religious, tribal and ethnic traditions that has been part of the historic fabric of Iraq is slowly coming unraveled. That part of the world has seen people living together from Bible days, even intermarrying, who have in recent times become bitter enemies. Communities, neighbors, even families are being torn to pieces by the events of the last few years.

Cowboy Hegemony

The international hubris of the US is breathtaking. With less than three centuries of history, we presume to teach the rest of the world a lesson in becoming a melting pot operating as a representative democracy. How very short our memory is with a generation still alive whose grandparents participated in one of history's bloodiest wars, the American Civil War. And anyone who thinks the depravity of our own people just three or four generations back is not comparable to what is being reported in Iraq is simply in denial of more historic facts.


James Fearon has impeccable credentials as a political scientist and commentator on international relations. Mark Lynch points to remarks he recently made before a House subcommittee suggesting that what is occurring in Iraq can be understood as a civil war. If that is the case, he says, it is not realistic to expect a resolution any time soon. [PDF link here]

Civil wars, Fearon points out, typically last a long time (on average, post-1945 civil wars have lasted a decade), and when they end, "they usually end with decisive military victories. Successful power-sharing agreements to end civil wars are rare, occurring in one in six cases, at best. When they have occurred, stable power-sharing agreements have usually required years of fighting to reach, and combatants who were not internally factionalized."

In other words, once a civil war starts it is unlikely to end until one side wins. In Iraq, Sunni-Shia fighting hasn't yet come close to producing either a clear victory or a stable equilibrium reflecting the real balance of forces on the ground: each side reasonably believes that further military action could help its cause, and that the other side believes the same. This creates what rational choice theorists call a commitment problem: there is no reason that Sunnis would believe that the Shia would continue to honor any agreements made under US auspices once the Americans left. Fearon concludes that "Civil wars for control of a central government typically end with one-sided military victories rather than power-sharing agreements, because the parties are organized for combat and this makes trust in written agreements on the allocation of revenues or military force both dangerous and naive."

Remarks of both Mark Lynch and James Fearon are worth reading. Fearon is of the opinion that in the wake of a US withdrawal Iran will attempt to fill the void, creating for itself more problems than solutions.

...Fearon expects that Iran will likely intervene heavily in a post-American Iraq, but that this will hurt Iran more than the US: "As in Lebanon, we can expect a good deal of intervention by neighboring states, and especially Iran, but this intervention will not necessarily bring them great strategic gains. To the contrary, it may
bring them a great deal of grief, just as it has the US." Iran would find itself bogged down in the turbulence of Iraq just as the US does today. As a result, "the scenario of a Lebanon-like civil war in Iraq... probably implies less Iranian influence in the Middle East as a whole."

My own opinion is that any (further) Iranian intervention would by necessity be restricted to Shiite areas, leaving Kurds, Sunnis and possibly Shiite Arabs prey to other "neighboring states." Ahmedinejad's "controlled chaos" in Iraq could get out of hand at the same time that he might have to face Turkey, Russia or angry Moslem cousins, not to mention meddling Europeans.

The more I think about it, the better I like Dr. Hadar's suggestions I blogged about last week. [ed. last year] This is realpolitik at its best.

...the president should re-embrace the kind of "humility" in foreign policy that he projected during the 2000 president race. Then, it seemed that he did not support the grand designs of "nation building" in Iraq and working with a coalition of other powers to maintain stability in Iraq and the Middle East. Now that the war is over, the United States should declare victory and use its power to secure limited, core U.S. interests. Those are (1) that a new government in Baghdad doesn't maintain ties with anti-American terrorist groups and (2) doesn't try to develop or acquire WMD.

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

The comments thread at Aardvark's has drifted into carping as though Iraq is a piece of political meat to be cut up for body parts. Poor grasp of history in my view. Many see the world through nationalistic lenses while much of the world is figuring out how to modernize tribal, ethnic, confessional and other traditional bonds without paying that much attention to nationalism. Whether Iran is one state or three, the same conflicts will remain until they are resolved. International intervention can pacify the place as well as any other device. It's time to end what appears to be cowboy hegemony.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Balm that aching conscience...

H/T Tom McMahon

Happy Chinese New Year

For Chinese New Year, a musical video by Lu Chunling, Li Yi, Xu Fengxia and Zhang Zhenfang in Amsterdam - presented by www.flogoe.blogspot.com

"The two stars of the ensemble are the 85 year old Lu Chunling (standing on the picture with his flute) and the 72 year old Li Yi (sitting, holding his banjo). Lu is a master of the bamboo flute. His instrument and virtuosity lead him to play in front of well known people as Queen Elizabeth II and Mao Zedong. The lively and lovely grandpa told the audience during the performance that he has been in the Netherlands 50 years ago, quite some things have changed since his first visit, when he was in his mid-30s. Li Yi is a recognized player of the Chinese banjo. Xu Fengxia (behind her citer on the picture) and Zhang Zhenfang were contributing to the great performance with their instruments, the citer and the erhu." (From the panel description at You Tube.")


Zamfir -- The Lonely Shepherd
In the name of sheer romantic Occidental beauty, here is the master of the pan pipes...

Fairhaven School in Upper Marlboro, MD

"Voices from the New American Schoolhouse explores life outside the usual educational box. Narrated exclusively by students, the film chronicles life and learning at the Fairhaven School in Upper Marlboro, MD which practices an undiluted form of freedom and democracy that turns mainstream education theory on its head. Filmmaker Danny Mydlack enjoyed unrestricted access over a two-year period to produce this candid and unblinking encounter with kid-powered learning. " (from the YouTube panel description)

Not for every kid. But this is education at its best. I'm cheating by digging about in my old posts for ideas. But it was a good post last year, and I think it still has a lot to say.

So excuse me for repeating myself:

Readers may find it interesting that my own education was a patchwork of six elementary schools before high school, including two years in a one-room school with grades one through six. I attended third and fourth grades there with three others in my grade. The largest grade had seven pupils.

There was no such thing as "open education" in those days, but the kaleidescope of learning envitonments had much the same effect. I became very good at adapting, which has served me well in my adult life. Through it all, however, it was my family -- parents, mainly, but the extended family as well -- who were the real engines for learning. Not because they were all that erudite, but because they ALL valued and supported the notion of learning, which is a very different thing from going to school. Write this down: Schools cannot be in loco parentis. That role cannot be delegated. At some point we all choose, whether or not we are aware at the time, who our role models will be. It is a blessed parent who is allowed to play that important role. None should willingly argue for anything else.

General William Odom and Hugh Hewitt

I don't listen to Hugh Hewitt, but this transcript makes me wish I had. His guest was retired General William Odom, arguing for an immediate withdrawal from Iraq. If this were a debate, I would call this match a draw. But given where Hewitt clearly wanted to go, the General emerges as the winner.

Read the action. Better than a boxing match. Point after point for Odom.
(Thanks, John Robb)

HH: Are the statements of President Ahmadinejad alarming to you?

WO: No.

HH: Why not?

WO: Because I’ve done a study on Iranian foreign policy back from the fall of the Shah’s time up to about 1995. And not withstanding all the rhetoric, and which I believe some of, that we would find the Iranians pursuing a very radical foreign policy in Central Asia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. They were not. They were pursuing…they did not try to steal nuclear weapons up there. They did not spend money into the hands of Islamic radicals. The money that came in for Islamic radicals was brought by Pakistani bagmen from Saudi Arabia. The Iranians pursued a very conservative policy. They’ve had two radical policies. One was toward Hezbollah and Israel, and the other’s been toward us.

HH: Do you believe that they were responsible for the massacre of the Jews at the synagogue in South America?

WO: They might well have been.

HH: Do you believe that they have armed Hezbollah with the rockets that rain down on Israel?

WO: Yes.

HH: Do you believe they would use a nuke against Israel?

WO: Not unless Israel uses one against them.

HH: Could you be wrong about that?

WO: Of course you can be wrong about the future.

HH: Are you gambling with Israel’s future, then, to allow a radical regime…

WO: No, Israel’s gambling with its future by encouraging us to pursue this policy.

HH: So Israel should not take unilateral action, either?

WO: That’s up to them, but I think it’ll make it worse for them. Israel’s policies thus far have made its situation much worse. If you read all of the Israel press, you’ll find a lot of them there are firmly in my camp on this issue. And I’ve talked to many Israelis who are very sympathetic with the view I have on it. You’re making it much, much worse for Israel.

HH: Are you familiar…

WO: If I were an Israeli right now, given Olmert’s policies and Bush’s policies, I would fear for my life.

HH: Are you familiar with…

WO: So I would say the policy you’re advocating is a very serious threat to Israel.

How Not to Talk to Your Kids

...or, as the sub-title says, "The Inverse Power of Praise."

For anyone interested in "motivating" others, whether offspring, protege or subordinate, this article is a must-read. The writer is addressing specifically the overdone use of "praise" in the matter of child rearing but as I read I was nodding to myself all the way through recalling years of coaching, teaching and teeth-clenching invested in leading subordinates (and yes, even peers) in the food business to better (read more profitable....in business the metric is much easier to state than with parenting) results.

Having wasted most of my professional life preaching much the same message and having it tossed aside, I don't expect at this late date that anyone will bother to come round and say "You know, you were right all along." But I cling to the notion that someday in the distant future, after I have gone to my reward, posts like this will be uncovered in the mouldering masses of bloggerdom, washed off like a piece of jewelry found in the mud, and put into some one's collection as an artifact worth keeping.

Cutting to the chase, constant praise on the part of parents, however well-intended, has the effect of spoiling the impact of actual achievement on the part of the youngster. Too much praise is typically counterproductive, producing results that are quite the opposite of what the parent wants.

For a few decades, it’s been noted that a large percentage of all gifted students (those who score in the top 10 percent on aptitude tests) severely underestimate their own abilities. Those afflicted with this lack of perceived competence adopt lower standards for success and expect less of themselves. They underrate the importance of effort, and they overrate how much help they need from a parent.

When parents praise their children’s intelligence, they believe they are providing the solution to this problem. ...Everyone does it, habitually. The constant praise is meant to be an angel on the shoulder, ensuring that children do not sell their talents short.

But a growing body of research...strongly suggests it might be the other way around. Giving kids the label of “smart” does not prevent them from under performing. It might actually be causing it.

...those who think that innate intelligence is the key to success begin to discount the importance of effort. I am smart, the kids’ reasoning goes; I don’t need to put out effort. Expending effort becomes stigmatized—it’s public proof that you can’t cut it on your natural gifts.

... this effect of praise on performance held true for students of every socioeconomic class. It hit both boys and girls—the very brightest girls especially (they collapsed the most following failure). Even preschoolers weren’t immune to the inverse power of praise.

Sincerity of praise is also crucial. Just as we can sniff out the true meaning of a backhanded compliment or a disingenuous apology, children, too, scrutinize praise for hidden agendas. Only young children—under the age of 7—take praise at face value: Older children are just as suspicious of it as adults.

Psychologist Wulf-Uwe Meyer, a pioneer in the field, conducted a series of studies where children watched other students receive praise. According to Meyer’s findings, by the age of 12, children believe that earning praise from a teacher is not a sign you did well—it’s actually a sign you lack ability and the teacher thinks you need extra encouragement. And teens, Meyer found, discounted praise to such an extent that they believed it’s a teacher’s criticism—not praise at all—that really conveys a positive belief in a student’s aptitude.

In the opinion of cognitive scientist Daniel T. Willingham, a teacher who praises a child may be unwittingly sending the message that the student reached the limit of his innate ability, while a teacher who criticizes a pupil conveys the message that he can improve his performance even further.

Those snips should be enough to catch the reader's interest. I blog this as important reading for anyone interested in human behavior of any kind. We all recognize bullshit praise when it comes from the boss. It's less easy to spot when it comes from a family member, but even then we know how to separate sincerity from bologna.

In the end it is the learning curve, not the coaching, that makes the difference. That's a tough principle for anyone to follow, especially parents. We want so deeply to see our children succeed that we ache when they fail. Nevertheless, every failure is really more than a simple shortcoming. At worst, failure can be the last straw, the final disappointment that causes someone to give up. But for the lucky one who at some level knows that success is within reach, every failure is nothing more than another notch in the development of character.

H/T Pieter Dorsman for noticing.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Moises Naim and Thomas Barnett on Globalization

Moises Naim is editor of Foreign Policy Magazine. His observations of how global connectedness are up to the minute and prescient.

Thomas Barnett is known most recently as the author of The Pentagon's New Map, which outlines a paradigm of military/diplomatic analysis that is all the rage in many quarters.

"Chirol" at Coming Anarchy makes a trenchant observation intersecting these two analysts.

The idea if connectedness and disconnectedness is one important part of Thomas Barnett’s Core/Gap theory. According to the theory, the more disconnected a country is the more dangerous it is. Connectivity is measured in terms of flows of people, money, goods, energy and information. Therefore, the stronger the flow is, the less of a threat the country is. In addition, the economics of any given country are a much stronger indicator than politics of whether it is a threat or ally.

Yet, in his book Illicit, Moises Naim speaks of a similar phenomenon using the terms “bright spot” and “black hole” along the same lines as Barnett’s Core/Gap:

“The more the fortified and successful bright spots are at defending themselves, the more value there is in breaching their fortifications. The brighter the bright spot, the more attractive and lucrative it is for the networks operating from black holes to find ways to deliver their products and services inside it. Illicit trade is essentially determined by price differences. “

Thus, the cocaine that sells in the United States for hundreds of times what it costs in Columbia provides a strong incentive to be smuggled. The same goes for weapons, exotic plants and animals and other illegal goods. One could say in a globalized world, goods naturally gravitate to where they can be sold for the highest price, legally or illegally. The same could be said for a Walmart toy produced for pennies in China and sold for 10 times more in the United States. Globalization’s centrifugal effect leads goods, people, money and energy to move to the top of the value chain so to say. Imagine a drop of oil rising to the top of a glass of water.

It therefore would be prudent to revamp Core/Gap theory as thus far it has been assumed that connectivity in and of itself is a good thing like no bad publicity, yet much of Barnett’s so-called Gap is indeed very well connected to the rest of the world via black globalization. Countries like Afghanistan, Nigeria and Iraq are well connected smuggling arms, black market oil, drugs and more easily in and out of the country. The same could be said for human trafficking in Eastern Europe. It is exactly this connectivity that makes them global threats. Thus, despite the constant flow of goods, people and services these areas are still indeed the Gap. The key point is that Gap isn’t just a lack of “Core” properties. It isn’t the opposite, it’s simply a member of another group inside the same network.

A splendid graph at the link illustrates the point.

I have been trying to make sense of why the newly-revamped, American-designed model of Afghanistan continues to be the world's principle source of illegal narcotics. Come to think of it, Mexico, our NAFTA buddy here in North America, seems to be part of the same pipeline. Maybe we can't do much about it, but at least this explanation makes sense.

The more I read, the more I come to the conclusion that legalization of narcotics is inevitable.

Tony Badran and others on Syria

Writing in Beirut's Daily Star, Tony Badran talks about Syria's intransigence in diplomatic negotiations. Assad still works to recover a Pax Syriana which made Lebanon a Syrian appendage.

In all likelihood, the point of such leaks is to present the Saudis (but also the Iranians) with a fait accompli and tell Riyadh that it has to deal with Syria directly and accommodate its demands, or else face mayhem in Lebanon. The timing is important: In March, an Arab summit will be held in Saudi Arabia. The targeting of civilians, not to mention the continuous threats directed against the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon stationed in the South, is intended to show that Syria will not hesitate to escalate its activities to whole new levels.

This has been Syria's method since the forced extension of President Emile Lahoud's mandate in 2004: to force "respect" through brutishness. However, it allows no margin for maneuver, even for President Bashar Assad's allies in Lebanon or those outside who are working under the illusion that they can "draw Syria in from the cold." In many ways it is a replay of Assad's misreading of the political winds when UN Security Council Resolution 1559 was passed. At the time, Assad misguidedly thought he could bend the international community to his will.

At his blog he references an excellent explanatory piece in the Weekly Standard by Lee Smith worth reading in full, concluding with the following...

So, will the wise men who counsel we sit down and talk with Damascus--the Brzezinskis, the Powells, the Obamas, the Bakers, and Djerejians--will they have the decency at last to recognize what their high-minded posturing can no longer obscure? This is how Syria negotiates, with its knife on the table and dripping with blood.

This aspect of Assad's regime seems so alien to the benign-looking, soft-spoken gentleman blinking sweetly at Diane Sawyer. Most Americans have never heard of Alawis, the offshoot faith from Islam that Assad represents. These three paragraphy are a nutshell explanation of how Assad appears to be working.

Since the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri two years ago, every single attack in Lebanon has targeted either a Christian or a Christian area. Lebanon was once a country known as a refuge for minorities. And yet, Christians have been singled out for attack by a Syrian regime that is itself run by another Middle Eastern minority, the Alawis.

Before Hafez al-Asad made a deal of political convenience with Imam Moussa al-Sadr to acknowledge the Alawis as real Shia Muslims, their blood was believed to be licit, by both Shia and Sunni. The fourteenth century jurist Ibn Taymiyya ruled that the Alawis were "more infidel than Jews or Christians, even more infidel than many pagans."

That fear of being swept along in a current of their own blood, as they themselves are letting Christian blood, is what keeps the Alawi regime from being able to negotiate or make peace with Israel, or indeed anyone, and it is why they embraced Arabism and became more "Arab" than even the Sunnis. It is also why they must be flexible enough to incorporate Islamism as well. As a minority sect running a Sunni majority state in a Sunni majority region, they have no choice but to follow regional trends. And they have no legitimacy except for what they can establish through violence. That is how things work in Syria. In Lebanon, there is an agreement between minorities, however difficult, to share power. It's not surprising that Syria's ally in Lebanon, Hezbollah, would prefer to play by Syrian rules.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Russian Climbing Video -- Parkour

I found this two years ago and was very impressed.
Now I can embed it, so I'm running it again. I don't know much about it other than what's obvious. Scares the fool out of me every time I see it.

I recall a few months a couple of years ago some kid got killed jumping decks on a parking garage. Via Google I learn that deer have done the same thing.Wierd. Really wierd.

Wikipedia article Parkour...
Parkour is an activity that is very difficult to categorize. It is definitely not an extreme sport, but a discipline that resembles martial arts. However, most traceurs are content to simply put parkour in its own category: "Parkour is parkour".
The most characteristic aspect of parkour is efficiency. The basic meaning of this is that a traceur must not merely move as fast as they can, but move in a way that is the least energy-consuming and simultaneously the most direct. In addition, since parkour's motto is ĂȘtre et durer (to be and to last), efficiency also involves avoiding injuries, short-term or long-term.
According to founder David Belle, the spirit of parkour is guided in part by the notions of "escape" and "reach", that is, the idea of using physical agility and quick thinking to get out of difficult situations, and to be able to go anywhere that one desires.
More at the link.
Updated March 1, 2007
Google Video provides a fifty-minute documentary on parkour from the BBC.
A Parkour documentary in which a group of traceurs travel around Britain to find the best spots. Traceurs including: Sebastien Foucan, and the UrbanFreeFlow team.
According to this piece, the French traceurs present a gold standard, but the form is spreading...

Here's the documentary Google Video direct link.
And here's the link for the first screen.
For some reason embedded Google Videos are much more difficult to handle than those from You Tube. You would think that with Google having Blogger and You Tube as a wholly-owned subsidiaries they could make their own videos work as well as those of the former competitor.
Before I added this second video the first one worked beautifully.
I didn't touch a thing editing the addition.
Now they both went screwy.
Go figure.
Here's another one, a French documentary with English subtitles.

Another Update, April 21, 2007

The New Yorker has the most comprehensive article to date about Parkour.
Thanks 3 Quarks for the link.

Friday, February 16, 2007

At the Baghdad Morgue

Something in me doesn't want to link here. The story is too horrible. Readers with delicate sensibilities are advised to skip this post and move on. I decided to link because the US military continues to be the dominant force in Iraq which at some level makes me as a citizen complicit in this terrible scene. (No US forces are mentioned in this report, by the way. Some would conclude that it therefore has nothing to do with us.) H/T hilzoy

Anglican Communion Annual meeting

Most of us who have watched the painful divisions of the Episcopal Church in America for the last several years have no expectation that yet another meeting will yield any surprises. As the years tick by the divisions seem to get deeper and more clearly defined. There's no conflict like a Christian conflict. When righteous indignation runs amok even the most calming voice cannot lay oil on the water without creating more turbulence. Leave it to the Catholics to put together a more or less objective description of what's going on. First Things has the story.

No fewer than thirty-seven Anglican archbishops have assembled at a hotel in Dar-es-Salaam, charged with the task of deciding what to do about the communion’s recalcitrant American branch, otherwise known as the Episcopal Church. Archbishop Williams’ biggest problem is that not all the archbishops are on speaking terms with one another. “I fear the situation slipping out of my control,” he went on to tell the BBC. Indeed, it may already have done so.

Peter aka geriatric 1927 -- BBC Interview tonight

BBC television will broadcast tonight a program including an interview with YouTube's Grandpa, Peter, whose series of videos is becoming a social treasure of our time. In this twelve minute clip he begins by talking about what it's like to approach the age of eighty, then turns his remarks to what it's like to be the icon that he has become. Those of us who have been following his series know how much he loves jazz and blues music, and it delights me that he ends this video with a song by Nina Simone.

This is not everyone's cup of tea, but if your life has a few minutes to spare this is a dose of pure fun.

"I have made friends within the BBC. I think they may have, uh...may have, uh, persuaded me because they came to interview me not before they came to film me and the producer brought a most beautiful girl who...I don't know what her purpose was...she didn't really say anything but she sat on the sofa and I feel sure, looking back, that it was part of their ploy.

"Anyway, it did work."
Here is the link to the BBC clip and report.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

A Qaeda Redux

This is important.
Any comments from me are beating a dead horse.
I'm blogging it so I don't lose it.
Thanks to Mark Lynch for publishing it.

Underestimating al-Qaeda
by Lawrence Wright

I think it's a terrible mistake to discount al-Qaeda's operational abilities, now and in the future.
If you read the accounts of al-Qaeda insiders, the war on terror was essentially over in December 2001, after U.S. and Coalition forces swept aside the Taliban and pummeled al-Qaeda. According to al-Qaeda's own inner circle, 80% of its members were captured or killed. Yes, the leaders escaped, but they were scattered, destitute, and unable to communicate with each other. The organization lived a kind of zombie existence, neither dead nor fully alive.
Iraq brought it back to life.

Al-Qaeda now has four major branches: Europe, Iraq, North Africa, and the old mother ship. Obviously, most of AQ's effort is in Iraq, but when the U.S. inevitably begins to withdraw from that country, AQ will be able to boast of an extraordinary victory over the last remaining superpower. The jihadis who went to Iraq will begin to return to their own countries, empowering the local cells, which have been proliferating in the Arab world and the west and which have only lacked a degree of high-level training to make them really lethal. These veterans, with their experience, their networks, and their resolve will become leaders of this new generation of jihadis. There is every reason to expect that they will be as cunning and dangerous as their predecessors, if not moreso.

Nor is the old AQ inoperable. Clearly, the leadership, bin Laden and Zawahiri, are able to direct their followers through their very active media organization, al-Sahab. The loss of their sanctuary in Afghanistan proved to be a temporary inconvenience; now AQ enjoys training facilities in the Tribal Areas of Pakistan, the Sunni provinces of Iraq, in Mali, and probably still in Afghanistan and Somalia.

Al-Qaeda's ideologues and planners, such as Abu Bakr Naji, foresaw the need as early as 1998 to reorganize AQ in a more horizontal fashion, more like street gangs, as we have seen in Madrid and London. Yet we are learning that even these supposedly ad-hoc, indigenous groups had contact with AQ proper and may have received training in AQ camps.

There is a bitter irony in the fact that the Bush Adminstration resurrected its defeated foe by carrying the war to Iraq, a country that bin Laden had never placed on his list of profitable regions to wage jihad, simply because he knew it was a Shia-majority country. His rival and eventual protege, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, took that decision out of bin Laden's hands and forced a shift in al-Qaeda's strategy.

The lessons I draw from this are that AQ is stronger now than at any time since 9/11; that the war in Iraq has given AQ a tremendous propaganda victory; that the movement is both vast and nimble; that it will survive the deaths of any particular individuals; and that the prospects for long-term conflict with the U.S. and Europe are almost certain.

Deborah White and others on Hubris of the Press

Deborah White was one of my first real contacts in the world of blogging. We not only share an old-fashioned Liberal sensibility but the Christian faith as well. Our brand of politics and/or faith may not be every one's cup of tea, but it's more cohesive than most public discourse about those topics.

In this column she drives home a basic idea, that civility and a fundamental respect for privacy is eroding in today's dog-eat-dog world of reporting. And that includes ALL the press...print, broadcast and, yes, even blogging. She has put her finger on a real problem. That is why my blogroll has so many holes in it. I love satire and snark as well as the next guy, but a droning pedal tone of complaining about stuff grows weary in my ears. And there is a difference between trivia and leering voyeurism.

...it's routine for partisan pundits, from conservative Rush Limbaugh to liberal Al Franken, to grant airtime and print space only to leaders who support their iron-clad worldviews.

Of course, conservatives have complained for decades that the so-called liberal media reports from a radically-biased perspective.

I have my own frustration with pundits who cite the Moonie-owned, ultra-conservative Washington Times newspaper (and similar) as a credible, objective news source, and the Wall Street Journal, in recent years, has brashly trumpeted its conservative slant.

None of that is especially new, though.

What's new, and most galling of all, are members of the political press who punish leaders who don't stroke the reporter's ego; who don't provide 24/7 access on demand; who don't respond to every intrusive personal query; who don't always present a happy smile, a pat answer and warm approval of every crass word written about them.

[...]Examples abound from both sides of the political aisle: Journalists who gloat that they can make or break a candidate. Bloggers who withhold support until they receive sufficient fawning attention. Reporters who probe into the darkly sensational because they despise the politician. In the articles cited, Mike Allen, Maureen Dowd and the like are acting purely for their self-interests. And their rants have not one scintilla to do with public good or the public's need to know.

Call me naive if you will, but I still believe in a modicum of civility and privacy. Our country, our families, our children would be in a better, healthier place if we focused on the formidable issues of our day, and ignored trashy, Anna Nicole-like distractions.

Democracy works only when the political press upholds its responsibility to the public, and doesn't indulge in a narcissistic, influence-hungry, gossip-driven shadow of the best traditions of American journalism.

H5N1 Blog has a post that underscores her point. Remember, she is not even remotely connected with this guy, but this morning I came across what seems to be the same observation about the press from each of them.

Strictly in the interest of timely and accurate information the blogmaster at H5N1 has been sticking to his task with the tenacity of a bulldog. The prospect of a bird flu pandemic has lost a sense of drama since it's not exploding (yet) with waves of sick and dying victims. Today's announcement of contaminated peanut butter is getting more coverage, even though that will be old news this time next week. But the threat of a bird flu pandemic, boring as it may be, will remain.

Look at what he writes about the press.

In our own media, reporters and editors have to fill a bottomless news hole, on a cycle now reduced to far less than 24 hours. As they scramble from the Grammy awards to Anna Nicole Smith to possible war with Iranto a flu pandemic, they don't have much time to check facts.

Even back in the lackadaisical 1980s, I saw the effects of this scramble. I had the luxury of a weekly column in a Vancouver daily. I could interview someone, write my column, and then check back with my source to make sure I'd got my facts and quotes right.

You wouldn't believe the surprise and gratitude my sources expressed when I checked back. University presidents and school principals were used to hit-and-run interviews by reporters with urgent deadlines. What appeared in print was rarely what they'd actually said.

So they saved me from some embarrassing goofs, and I managed to report what they'd really been trying to say. They were also happy to talk to me for later stories.

But I'm not blaming the reporters and excusing the sources. In a mess like this one, the sources need to pester the media, early and often. Healthcare bureaucrats and specialists should invite their local media people in for a good lunch and a long talk about what the hell is really going on.

The media folks just want a good story, and it might as well be an accurate one.

This has another welcome effect. Reporters and editors divide the world into two classes: targets and sources. Targets are psychopathic liars, usually elected politicians and corporate CEOs, who understand only bullying and shaming. Sources are friends who give them the truth in a usable form.

To qualify as sources, healthcare officials need to establish good relations with their local media long before the culling starts. That will at least give them a chance to put the scientific side of the story before the public, and to minimize the errors of fact and interpretation.

Nokia N93 -- State of the art camera phone

But they don't call it a camera phone any more. How about a multimedia computer?

Being a neo-luddite, I still don't have my first cell phone. (My problem is mainly social. I am so turned off my the growing number of people in my environment who walk around with tilted heads that I don't want to be anything like them. It's so rude...but don't get me started.) But I get very excited keeping up with the technology.

I'm impressed with this. H/T Doc.

...Today CNN has shown the Nokia N93 in its coverage of the 3GSM World Congress in Barcelona, and had a segment shot exclusively with the cameraphone.

Yes, many purists among camera afficionados will thumb their noses at cameraphones, like the 35 mm camera fanatics pooh-poohed the early digital cameras ten years ago, and the Hasselblad-crowd looked down at the 35mm camera crowd in previous decades, etc. But it is now clear, that the high-end cameraphone has graduated to the major leagues, if CNN is willing to put cameraphone content out on the air, without any indication that this was an emergency situation out of a war zone etc - by which cameraphones have been used in the past....

Autism and speech

Regular readers already know of my admiration of Amanda Baggs, autism spokesperson extraordinaire. In today's blog post she puts into (typed) words a description of what it is like for her to communicate using spoken language. Pretty short and to the point. Worth a moment of your time.

...the standard overload stuff reminded me of something: This is what it felt like to use speech (including having the “speech-generating modules” online even when not directly speaking) for a few hours, when I was at my best.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Happy Valentine Day

I found this at Mideast Youth. Despite all the rhetoric and sabre-rattling making the news, I remain optimistic that in the long run there is a bright future. If the so-called leaders of the world can refrain from waging war and polarizing their respective constituencies long enough, the next generation has what it takes to lead the way to a better world. This group of young people illustrates that fact wonderfully well.

Mideast Youth is a network dedicated to eliminate extremist ideologies and ignorance from the Middle East.

Arabs, Iranians, Kurds, and Israelis post side-by-side to prove the fact that moderation, interfaith understanding, and sanity does exist in the region.

The blog on Mideast Youth is shared by people from completely different countries and backgrounds, therefore not all of us hold the same opinions regarding certain issues, most of which are sensitive, such as the status of women in Islam, modern Zionism or whether the current war in Iraq is justified or not. However, we debate these serious matters while maintaining respect for each other at all times, despite our radical differences.

While we debate controversial issues, we keep in mind that Mideast Youth is an “online cyber democracy.” We keep in mind that tolerance and mutual respect should always exist amongst us no matter how much our opinions differ. Last but most certainly not least, we do our best to practice what we preach.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Vali Nasr Interview at CFR

I will make this as brief and to the point as possible.

Talk is increasing of starting another war by attacking Iran.

I hope there is an important agenda, because the reason being presented to the public is a transparently irrational as the original reasons given for the whole Iraqi adventure, namely that Iran is indirectly killing Americans by supplying hardware to Iraqi forces doing the killing.

Simply stated...
Iran is a Shiite country.
Shiites don't like Sunnis.
Sunnis don't like Shiites.
(The last two lines are understatements.)

Iraq is the first Arab-majority country with a democratically-elected Shia majority.
The forces we call "insurgents" are either...

Shiite militias fighting Sunnis (NOT Americans, because the US is on the side of that "democratically-elected Shia majority"---remember the purple fingers!)

Sunni forces fighting BOTH Shiite AND American forces.

It is ridiculous to argue that Iran is aiding Sunni forces.

Part of an interview with Vali Nasr, a card-carrying expert whom I have been reading for some time now. If he has any private agenda it is simply that as a Shite whose family has closely associated with the former ruler of Iran, Shah Reza Pahlavi, he now lives and works (as does the Shah's family) in America and wants only the best for the two countries that are closest to his heart.
Q. U.S. military officials in Baghdad had a press briefing in which they showed some lethal equipment they said was made in Iran, which is being used by Shiite militias. It wasn’t clear to me what the purpose of all this was.
A. I don’t think the purpose has anything to do with Iraq. It is all part of putting pressure on Iran. They’re displaying these things at a time when massive bombs planted by insurgents are killing Shiites and five American helicopters have been shot down byinsurgents. The majority of attacks on Americans and American casualties are inflicted by insurgents.
Q. By “insurgents” you mean “Sunni insurgents”?
A. Yes, Sunni insurgents. These are the same outfits we’ve been confronting all along. This posture is not driven by logic or the facts on the ground in Iraq. It’s part of the overall policy of the United States to put greater pressure on Iran to make it more amenable on negotiations on the nuclear issue and a host of other issues.
Q. Some people suspect this is all a prelude to U.S. military engagement with Iran. What do you think?
A. The threat is there, without a doubt, and particularly when you have two countries that have an arena of disagreement and confrontation, don’t have any communications between them, and are running around across each other in a chaotic place like Iraq. Even if there is no preplanned military confrontation, there’s always the chance of it happening. We’re in a situation where tensions between them can very clearly spiral out of control. And obviously the impasse over the nuclear issue represents the biggest challenge.
Q. Now just one more question on this briefing the Americans had in Baghdad. Do you have any doubt this is true? Or is this old stuff that just is coming to light now?
A. There is no doubt the Iranians have been providing support of various kinds to the Shiite militias. And this is not necessarily to do with the United States. It has to do with the larger fight against Sunni insurgents. Some of this is old news. Some of it still has to be proven. There are still more assertions than hard evidence. What is important is not that these things exist. It’s that the United States has decided at this time to make an issue of them. [ed. I want to know why? The reasons being offered are not persuasive.]
Q. Now why do you think the United States has tried to make an issue of this?
A. I think it has to do with a whole new policy toward Iran which is more confrontational. Putting Iran in the spotlight in Iraq is a part of a policy of escalating pressure on Tehran, as well as also potentially preparing the American population for more drastic action against Iran by trying to single it out as the problem in Iraq, whether or not that’s actually true.
Q. You don’t really think it is true, do you?
A. Well, I think there are many countries that are a problem in Iraq. And the main problem in Iraq right now in terms of stability and casualties is the [Sunni] insurgency, not the Shiite militias. Alternatively, the insurgency is the one that’s been at war with the United States and is still killing both Shiites and American soldiers. Ultimately, stability in Iraq has to include dealing with the insurgency. We ought to talk to everybody in Iraq, not just Iranians, but the people who are also supplying and supporting the insurgents.
If the reader is still with me, here are some links to previous posts regarding this writer and the issue he is discussing.
It no longer surprises me that so many of the public can be led mindlessly by the nose to shape the political will necessary for waging war, but I refuse to watch and say nothing about it.
I may not have any influence, but I am also not stupid.
Unless and until I see or hear better reasoning, I will remain steadfastly opposed to yet another military adventure, this time in Iran.
Koby raises valid questions in a comment. I will answer here.
1) Would Iran never even consider helping Sunni forces if doing so furthered their larger strategic objectives in the region? How can we know this?
Anything is possible, I suppose. All I know is that past enmity between Iran and its Sunni enemies ran deep enough that Iran's children were enlisted to fight them. Read my post about the Basiji Army and try to imagine how they might now have dampened that vengeance enough to furnish those same enemies with weapons. We are dealing here with a universe I cannot grasp, so anything I say is based on logic and an expectation of a reasonable outcome, neither of which appears to apply in this situation.
2) If not according to the administration's story, then how DO we explain Iranian-made IEDs killing U.S. forces in Iraq?
As I understand it, an Improvised Explosive Device is just that: improvised. Where the components originate is not as important as who improvised it/them, when and under whose direction. Having the instrument is important, but it is not the same as connecting it with a perpetrator. Even then it important to establish whether we are looking at a few random events or an identifiable, deliberate trend. We aren't discussing a minor issue here, we are contemplating an international war. The standard of evidence must be as high as possible before we start sending more of our own children off to fight and die.
3) Is work to quell the violence in Iraq--whomever is perpetuating it--not a worthy objective given where we are right now and what is at stake going forward?
Of course it is. The question is whether going to war with Iran is the best way to "quell the violence in Iraq".
4) Why is a more confrontational stance vs. Iran inappropriate in light of complete diplomatic failure to date (by ALL parties) and by the expressed threats to Israel and known capabilities for deploying nuclear weapons?
We will have to disagree on declaring complete diplomatic failure by all parties. As long as we are not at war, diplomacy, by definition, is still working. Threats and known capabilities have always been around and have not heretofore been casus belli. Of course we are now in the era of "preemptive" moves by the world's single remaining Superpower. Nothing is stopping the US from taking any actions it chooses, other than whatever remains of common sense and (dare I say it) some sense of decency. I am simply arguing against going to war with Iran.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Trivia for my regular readers

Greetings, friends,

My best guess is that about fifteen or twenty people read my blog with any regularity. That is giving myself a generous number based on the number of "unknowns" among the Sitemeter referrals. Most people have more email addresses on their morning "forward" group. (I am on a few, so I receive a lot more email content than I ever post. Occasionally I get something via email that I blog, but most of the time I figure it is like jokes, photo shop cuties, snide political comments and the like...most everybody will hear them sooner or later so I don't need to pass them on.)

This is the fun part of blogging. Despite my low readership, this blog is now getting upwards of three or four hundred hits a day thanks to a single post that I put up in December. Of that number seventy-five to eighty percent are going to that single post. Last year I experienced the same increase as April 10 approached because I had done a bit of reading a couple of weeks before and put together a couple of posts leading up to the event that made the news that day. I knew as the day approached that it would be old news for me and those who had searched Google for "Day of Action" ahead of time. But for a lot of folks the events of April 10 came as a surprise.

I conclude that Barack Obama is getting a lot of curious attention. No way to know what that might mean, but I thought you might be interested. For the moment my little post is coming up toward the top of Web searches for "Obama" with the word "religion." Take out the word religion and the post sinks. Blog searches don't have the same results, just Web searches.


Nina Simone: For all We Know and Others

Because it's beautiful and I want to keep it. When I hear it an exquisite sadness brings me close to tears.
Here we hear the influence of her early classical training. Part of the sadness is that she was never to become the concert pianist that she aspired to become. She was a student at Julliard and wanted to go on to Curtis but that was not to be. In addition to her race and background, Nina Simone had a disagreeable temperament. I read somewhere that she fought depression and may have had BPD. Like so many creative people she is a tragic figure with a rich and memorable legacy.

She gave voice to the powerful undercurrents of the Sixties in a way that you didn't have to be black to understand. Mississippi Goddam comes across like a clenched fist. This is not her best rendition but it's what I found at YouTube. Too flat...she seems tired...singing to pay the rent. Here's another link to a poor video with a more soulful sound track. More passion. Great lines..."This is a show tune...but the show hasn't been written for it yet..."

Love songs? Think not?
You gotta be kidding.
Check this...

Don't leave me
We must forget
All we can forget all we did till now
Let's forget the cost of the breath
We've spent saying words unmeant
And the times we've lost hours that must destroy
Never knowing why everything must die at the heart of joy
Don't leave me don't leave me
Don't leave me don't leave me

I'll bring back to you the pearls of rain
From a distant domain where rain never fell
And though I grow old I'll keep mining the ground
To deck you around in gold and light
I'll build you a domain where love's everything
Where love is king and you are queen
Don't leave me don't leave me
Don't leave me don't leave me

Don't leave me
For you I'll invent
Words and what they meant only you will know
Tales of lovers who fell apart and then fell in love again
There's a story too that I can confide
Of that king who died from not meeting you
Don't leave me don't leave me
Don't leave me don't leave me

And often it's true that flames spill anew
From ancient volcano's we thought were too old
When all's said and done scorched fields of defeat
Could give us more wheat than the fine April sun
And when evening is nigh with flames overhead
The black and the red aren't they joined in the sky
Don't leave me don't leave me
Don't leave me don't leave me

Don't leave me
I will cry no more
I will talk no more hide myself
To look at you and see you dance and smile
And hear you sing and laugh
Let me be for you the shadow of your shadow
The shadow of your hand the shadow of your dog
Don't leave me don't leave me
Don't leave me don't leave me

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Gar Alperovitz on Decentralized Government

Gar Alperovitz better not run for office. He thinks way too clearly and advances arguments that sail far above the heads of most voters. In other words, I am deeply impressed with what he says.

►The top 5% of Americans own just under 70% of all financial wealth.

►The top 1% of Americans now claim more income per year than the bottom 100 million Americans taken together.

►The top 2/10th of 1% makes more on the sale of stocks and bonds in one year than everyone else combined.

The distribution of wealth ownership in America is truly feudal--and deeply corrosive of our democracy. Is the growing concentration of wealth inevitable, or are there innovative models and policies that begin to point the way toward more equitable ownership of wealth by individuals, workers, communities?

That excerpt is from a promotional site for his book America Beyond Capitalism. When I read that I didn't need to go further. I know when there is something wrong with a picture, and there is something wrong with that picture. Like the little boy pointing at the king's new clothes, this man sees plainly what most other people miss. Everyone who is informed, left or right, Democrat or Republican, knows that the gap between rich and poor in America is getting bigger all the time. It has been a trend for three decades.

Anyone who thinks that gap is acceptable is either at the top of the economy or scrambling hard to get there. Talk show hosts will toss off this observation as an illustration of how this disparity is simply a motivating factor to encourage everyone to work harder and become more productive. Something like Amercan Idol is making everyone a better singer. Or the NBA is making all young men into better basketball players.

Writing in the NY Times, Dr. Alperovitz looks at how centralized government is crippling America's progress in a number of areas. I have already come to the conclusion that education, the minimum wage, and health care for the indigent are all problems better resolved at the state level with minimal federal control. Now I have found someone thinking similarly. He points to California under the leadership of Governor Schwarzenegger as a case in point.

Governor Schwarzenegger is quite clear that California is not simply another state. “We are the modern equivalent of the ancient city-states of Athens and Sparta,” he recently declared. “We have the economic strength, we have the population and the technological force of a nation-state.” In his inaugural address, Mr. Schwarzenegger proclaimed, “We are a good and global commonwealth.”

Political rhetoric? Maybe. But California’s governor has also put his finger on a little discussed flaw in America’s constitutional formula. The United States is almost certainly too big to be a meaningful democracy. What does “participatory democracy” mean in a continent? Sooner or later, a profound, probably regional, decentralization of the federal system may be all but inevitable.

Anyone who writes in Mother Jones [PDF Link] has to be a lunatic after my own heart. In the current issue he advances visionary ideas.

The institutional power arrangements that have set the terms of reference for the American political-economic system over roughly the last half century are dissolving before our eyes–especially those that once constrained corporate economic and political power. First, organized labor’s capacity to check the giant corporation, both on the shop floor and in national politics, has all but disappeared as union membership has collapsed from 35 percent of the labor force in the mid-1950s to a mere 7.9 percent in the private sector today. Throughout the world, at the heart of virtually every major progressive political movement has been a powerful labor movement. Liberalism in general, and the welfare state in particular, would have been impossible without union money and organizing. The decline of labor is one of the central reasons traditional liberal strategies are in decline.

Second, globalization has further enhanced corporate power, as the threat to move jobs elsewhere erodes unions’ bargaining capacity, while at the same time working to reduce taxation and regulation. (The corporate share of the federal tax burden has declined in eerie lockstep with union membership—from 35 percent in 1945 to 10.1 percent in 2004.) This in turn has intensified the nationwide fiscal crisis, further undercutting efforts to use public resources to solve public problems ranging from poverty and hunger to energy conservation and even simple repair jobs such as fixing decaying roads, bridges, and water systems throughout the nation.

Third–and most important–the Republican "Southern Strategy" has now completed the transformation of a once (nominally) Democratic South that at least voted for Democratic presidents into a reactionary bastion of corporate power based on implicit racism and explicitly religious divide-and-conquer fervor. Bill Clinton’s brief moment occurred just before the full consolidation of this Southern stranglehold. Very few observers have grasped the full implications of this shift: The United States is the only advanced political economy where the working class is fundamentally–not marginally–divided by race. It is also the only one where a massive geographic quadrant is now essentially beyond the reach of traditional progressive politics. George Bush, though extreme, is no accident; nor can the core political relationships that now define the South be easily unraveled. Hence, yes, a Democrat might be elected president one day. But no, such a shift is not going to nurture an era of renewed liberal or progressive reform. The system of power that once allowed this no longer exists. Period.

No need to continue. I've said as much as necessary to make a bookmark for future reference.

That's one more brick on the wagon. When the day comes that America shows signs of imploding from the weight of its many neglected problems, those of us who have been watching helplessly from the sidelines (along with a smart minority of thinkers like Gar Alperovitz) will stifle the urge to point and say we told you so.

The only significant trend that he doesn't mention in the context of this analysis is the impact of the millions of Latino immigrants who will very soon become a factor in the body politic. Whether or not that group will accelerate or slow a trend to regional division remains to be seen.

Thanks to John Robb for the pointer.