Saturday, June 30, 2007

4GW and Air Strikes

It's been a while since I complained about the war. This post will get me up to speed. Cernig and Fester have put together a pair of posts that fit together like a pair of boxing gloves illustrating that "there is no surer or faster way to lose in 4GW than by calling in air strikes."

First off, for those unfamiliar with the term, 4GW refers to Fourth Generation Warfare. Wikipedia provides CliffsNotes but in short it refers to conflicts between state-sponsored military enterprises and grass roots movements using tactics and strategies that most professional warriors would call not fighting fair. There is a whole academic and theoretical enterprise dedicated to the topic. The uninformed reader is urged to do some homework.

The reason that the Korean "Conflict" (still unfinished, by the way), the Vietnam "Conflict" (a wholesale loss) and the current debacles in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq were/are so messy is that US forces have not been able to "win" in the old-fashioned sense of the word. Winning in every case might involve the annihilation of whole populations of people whom we claimed to be trying to help. There is a curious contradiction to the line "It was necessary to destroy the village in order to save it."

Currently we are not destroying villages. Instead we are killing more non-combatants than perpetrators with the result that swelling numbers of those we are "helping" are becoming candidates for recruitment by the forces we are fighting. One of my earliest stories when I started blogging was about this very dynamic. Nihad Had to Die is a real story about real people showing how the clumsiness of conventional military tactics can cultivate enemies from among a population that might otherwise have been at least neutral, if not supportive of the mission.

Al Qaeda and the Taliban seem to be getting better at baiting US, UN and other conventional military forces. The last four years have provided them with lots of practice. Iraq and Afghanistan seem to have become training grounds for up-and-coming AQ and Taliban stars. Consider this...

Coalition Kill More Afghanis Than Taliban This Month

Following hard on accusations by locals in Iraq that 17 dead "Al Qaeda gunmen" were actually innocent civilians, comes even more shocking news.One set of air strikes in Afghanistan yesterday killed between 50 and 80 villagers, all civilians, according to locals - which means that in the month of June, coalition forces managed to kill more Afghani innocents than the Taliban did!
In Afghanistan, the civilian deaths caused by US and Nato-led troops have infuriated local people and prompted President Hamid Karzai to publicly condemn foreign forces for careless 'use of extreme force' and for viewing Afghan lives as 'cheap'. The increasingly fragile President has urged restraint and better co-ordination of military operations with the Afghan government, while also blaming the Taliban for using civilians as human shields.

Everybody knows that innocent people die in war. That's why we have the sanitary-sounding term collateral damage. What seems to have been forgotten is that collateral damage in old-fashioned wars was mathematically small compared with casualties from the main event. With Fourth Generation Warfare the numbers are the same or backward: often the targets are "collateral" as dead and injured non-combatants outnumber dead or injured perpetrators. Am I the only person to work this out? Where are the risk-reward people when you need them?

Airstrikes in Pakistan

Via Brian Ulrich at American Footprints is this report from the Jamestown Foundation on a new NATO tactic of calling in air strikes against targets in Pakistan...
Air strikes in general are not a good thing in a counterinsurgency. 4th Generation warfare expert, William Lind, asserts that absent a license to commit genocide, the proper number of air strikes called for by the counterinsurgent force in a year is zero...air strikes are increasing in Afghanistan with the predictable blowback as innocent civilians are being killed. Taliban and Pashtun nationalist guerrillas are able to predict the probable reaction of US forces and commanders to a sharp engagement --- call in air and artillery and blast the problem to smithereens --- and have been able to take advantage of that mindset.

We are fighting smoke with water.
What ever happened to the notion of winning hearts and minds? It was the right approach. Instead we are breaking hearts, changing minds for the worse and creating more problems than solutions.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Nour Escaped!

On a morning flush with bad news and disappointments there is a ray of sunshine. An email from Lisa Ramaci-Vincent joyfully announces that Nour al-Khal, Iraqi translator who survived the assault and murder of journalist Steven Vincent, has at last arrived safely in the US. Her story is a tawdry reminder of the catastrophic and tragic policy failures over the last four years in Iraq.

Lisa writes:

She will be living with me for the foreseeable future, and I will help her get set up here; tomorrow we go for her Social Security number, Medicare, and a work visa.

She is incredibly happy to be here - she keeps repeating, "I am safe. I am not afraid." in tones of astonishment, as if it has been so long since she has not had to be she no longer remembers what it's like - and this morning she told me that, for the first time in years, she is sleeping well.

Thank God she is safe. She has been through hell. Her survival is a mathematical exception to the fate of many, if not most of the patriotic Iraqis who have been involved with the US adventure in her country. Not all have been supportive, but all associations with the American presence have put their lives at risk.

She arrives in America exactly when our elected representatives have once again failed to come to terms with the question of how best to handle a tide of immigrants that is basically keeping the US economy afloat in a competitive global economy. It is significant that it took the orchestrated efforts of a number of key people in high places to get her to safety.

It remains to be seen what will happen next in the lives of Lisa and Nour. Their story has all the elements of the most dramatic of documentary or entertainment films, but my guess is that both of these brave and determined women will be more focused on substantive goals than turning the death of Steven Vincent into yet another drama du jour.

Welcome to America, Nour! I hope the time will come when I can have the privilege of seeing you in person. The story that you and Lisa have to tell is a microcosm of how the best of good intentions can result in the worst of tragedies. But that is only the opening chapter. What happens next can illustrate how those who survive tragedy can, in the words of Faulkner, prevail.

Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only one question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat. He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid: and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed--love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, and victories without hope and worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.

Until he learns these things, he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man. I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal because he will endure: that when the last ding-dong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet's, the writer's, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.

Faulkner, writing in 1950, was referring to the threat of thermonuclear war. Those were the days of "duck and cover," of demagogic politicians looking for Reds behind every tree and fellow travelers who were really Communists disguised as ordinary people. It was a time when reputations and careers were being destroyed by high-profile fear-mongering power seekers in positions of authority.

I heard a story recently about an auction of some previously unpublished letters of John Steinbeck, several of which document a prescient understanding in 1948 of television as a revolutionary medium. He actually wrote a few scripts and formed a company with a view of being a part of the future. But he later changed his mind, not because he thought the venture was unworthy, but because he understood that just the association of his own name would stain the enterprise and make the public not want to have anything to do with it. He was among those many writers being targeted by Washington zealots whose misguided effort at patriotism destroyed the careers of so many people. We will never know how the input of one of the country's most famous writers might have affected the course of what Newton Minnow later famously called "that vast wasteland."

Today's Global War on Terrorism has displaced the shapeless menace of an international Communist Conspiracy, and today's super-patriots are wearing different outfits, but the dynamics are very much the same. And countless numbers of well-meaning ordinary people who look to their leaders to tell them what to do and think rather than doing their own tough homework assignments are being led blindly down some of the same trails that the public was traveling fifty years ago.

If the War in Iraq has done nothing else it has produced a host of martyrs in the cause of seeking truth. Steven Vincent was one of those martyrs. The output of his individual efforts may only merit a footnote in the finished narrative. He was published in the New York Times but was not, as I understand it, a staff reporter. But his insights about what was about to happen at the time of his murder proved to be even more threatening than he could imagine. He was on to something very big and very important. And that is why he was killed.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Beatbox...talent? skill? exercise? disorder?

This summer I have been watching a rash of "talent search" variety shows that are all the rage. Singing, dancing, magic, juggling...two nights ago a contortionist was so good it was painful to watch what he was doing. Actually I haven't been tempted to sit and watch entire programs. Most of what is being presented it really terrible, but well-timed rewards (as in the case of Paul Potts) keep the ratings up. I have to credit the producers with having developed an impressive unnoticed talent: keeping millions of viewers glued to their screens with practically nothing in the way of meaningful content. It's amazing what animals can be inspired to do by a handful of M&M's. Same principle with humans.

I suppose we all have an inner voyeur that needs to be fed. To that end, here is a YouTube version of a performer on a French show that was good enough to merit posting at 3Quarks, illustrating that even the most intelligent people among us are sometimes enjoy a well-done sideshow.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Thanks. I needed that.

The last few days I have fallen into a blog-funk. It's not easy trying to ally with those who now identify themselves as "Progressive." The perfectly good word Liberal has gone out of fashion, a passe throwback to the Cold War...and we all know the Cold War is over and we won.


The Russians are a bit jumpy about yet another installation of missiles near their borders and they don't buy the notion that they are strictly defensive. We're telling you, fellows, that the birds in your cherry tree are only eating worms. They aren't there to eat cherries. Ya'll are getting all jumpy over nothing....

But I digress.

A swelling tide of tadio talk show influence and a level of public indifference to serious problems almost got me down. The impact of Cindy Sheehan's tent folding and NPR's handling of Michael Moore (He had to smack them around a little...) had a subtle impact. Here are two links this morning before I'm off for work. Both gave me a lift just knowing that not all of us have thrown in the towel.

Cernig's collection of links from Monday are like a six-pack of cold beer on a hot afternoon. It gives me great satisfaction to read stuff like this...

And so we find ourselves now with an administration and a party that puts its own gain and its own power not just ahead of the good of the nation, but supplanting the good of the nation, so that this country is now nothing but a fiefdom for the corporatocracy, to be plundered by those who seek ever more power and ever more money -- even if it means taking the entire country down.

And yet, Americans are still more interested in who the next Top Chef will be, or how Paris Hilton is doing in jail, or whether Angelina is pregnant again than they are in the world in which their kids will live.

Sometimes I wonder why people with children don't seem more engaged in the process, and why they don't seem to care about the crimes that their government is committing against them and their children. Is it really just about being too busy holding two jobs and taking the kids to soccer practice or is it something more? Is it a willful ignorance because to acknowledge what's happening is to be obligated to do something about it? Isn't part of being a parent and protecting your children protecting their future from those who would destroy it in the name of self-enrichment and the amassing of power?

And finally, Deborah White's personal insights tell me that some of us are still out there doing the spadework and coming to terms with staying involved. Her recent contacts with the Clinton and Obama camps show a substantive difference in two approaches to campaigning that merits watching. I understand and appreciate both, but the part of me that is still young and idealistic leans toward Obama.

Read the whole piece to understand this conclusion.

I can enthusiastically support either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama in 2008. And truthfully, I haven't yet decided which Democrat I'll vote for in California's primary next February.

But this I can tell you: Barack Obama is taking a big gamble, relying on a youth-oriented grassroots movement to create a groundswell to carry him to the White House. Like it or not, this campaign strategy rarely wins federal elections in the U.S.

Bob Dylan may have warbled "The times they are a'changing," but the country elected Richard Nixon as president in 1968.

But here's the thing: Obama owns ALL the 2008 buzz. And in a few weeks, it'll be revealed that he has the biggest bucks, too. And by a healthy margin.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Nathan Brown -- "The Peace Process Has No Clothes"

Nathan Brown, a professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, is a distinguished scholar and author of four well-received books on Arab politics. Brown brings his special expertise on Palestinian reform and Arab constitutionalism to the Endowment and his research interests also include Egyptian and Palestinian politics, legal reform in the modern Middle East, as well as democratization. Brown’s most recent book, Resuming Arab Palestine, presents research on Palestinian society and governance after the establishment of the Palestinian Authority.

Brown was previously a scholar in residence at the Middle East Institute. He has recently been a member of the international advisory committee on drafting the Palestinian constitution and consultant to the UNDP's program on governance in the Arab world.

More weekend reading. Thanks to Marc Lynch for this pointer (and too many others...Hey, I'm just a layman trying to get a handle on stuff).

In the sixteen months since the election of a Hamas majority in the Palestinian parliamentary elections, international actors have combined severe sanctions and ameliorative half-measures married to no long-term policy or strategic vision. A boycott of most parts of the Palestinian Authority (PA) has been coupled with an emergency aid program for some of its employees that manages to keep many institutions barely afloat and many salaries half-paid. In other words, international actors facilitated slow decay instead of immediate political collapse. Having staked out a harsh position immediately after the January 2006 Palestinian elections, the United States and Europe then sought to soften the edges off the measures without rethinking the strategy behind them. As Palestinians slid toward civil war, the international actions only eased the way. To be sure, international diplomacy and meetings have continued but without a clear vision or purpose other than an illusory one: that it is capable of undermining Hamas without making either Palestinian society or its institutions feel any negative effects. U.S. diplomatic engagement—markedly low throughout most of the Bush Administration—did finally pick up but in the service of no discernable strategy nor even a clear set of tactics.

The Israeli government is similarly adrift, compliant with but clearly unconvinced by American diplomatic efforts and uncertain on how to respond to the challenge posed by Hamas. And the Palestinian leadership itself betrays deep fragmentation and lack of initiative, with Hamas leaders themselves only a partial exception. Indeed, it is no longer clear how much the term “Palestinian leadership” refers to anything viable at all. Those who lead routinely find themselves following their foot soldiers. Certainly the Hamas takeover of Gaza was centrally coordinated, but it is not clear by whom or why. Thedisorder has allowed armed groups associated with the two main blocs to act with only limited coordination (especially on the nationalist side but also among the Islamists). The only time the various camps of Palestinian society regain some coherence is when they are fighting each other. And more alarming still is the emergence of shadowy radical groups that may make even Hamas seem pragmatic.

The ad hoc international coalition known as the Quartet (the United States, the E.U., the UN, and Russia) has backed a strict set of conditions for the Palestinian government to meet in order to receive international recognition (and direct financial assistance). In the meantime, it has barred all direct international assistance to most of the Palestinian government. The United States has blocked all official contact with any Palestinian affiliated with any part of the Palestinian government that is overseen, even indirectly, by an official deemed connected to Hamas. And it has threatened all public and private actors against any transfer of funds to any Palestinian body that it regards as under Hamas influence. When the Palestinians formed a national unity government in March, the international reaction was slow and limited, effectively undermining what was admittedly a shaky experiment.

I haven't even started reading, but I can tell where this is going. US/Israel "policy" (if the word can be accurately used) seems to have been, and continues to be, benign neglect with the aim and hope of Palestinian self-destruction. This is where terms like interests and principles collide.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Digby and "Take Back America"

[Welcome M. Simon's referrals. He took note of this post as well as leaving the first comment. I responded via another post.]


Will Rogers said it best: "I'm not a member of any organized political party...I'm a Democrat."

Today's netroots collection are cyber-heirs to that sentiment.
If you really want to know what is going on politically, get ready to go deep and dirty, make notes, remember a lot of names you never before heard of, and don't expect to come up with a lot of soundbites that flow easily into a two-minute snip. Political ferment on the Left is as complicated as I have observed in my adult life...and as promising.

At no time during the last forty years have so many disparate opinion-makers come together in common cause. We owe this phenomenon to the magisterial autocracy that has blatantly shoved its way into Washington over the last fifteen or twenty years. Both of the mainline parties have been complicit, each allowing the other to exploit the other in the hope that when their turn came the favor would be returned.

That dynamic is now under attack.

This is important.

Make no mistake about it. A great swing of the pendulum is about to get underway.
This is not a short clip. It will take a quarter of an hour if you don't pause and reflect on what she says. If you do, it may take longer. But Digby, this previously pseudonymous blogger, comes across as one of the most articulate voices of what is emerging as a new American Left. (That would be "new" with a lower-case "n" and "American" with a capital "A.") is the home of Take Back America. Video from the Gala Dinner at Take Back America 2007 in Washington, DC - ... all » June 19, 2007. The blogosphere's most famous unknown makes herself known, and accepts the Paul Wellstone Citizen Leadership Award on behalf of the entire progressive blogosphere.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Michael Yon Report, June, 2007

Dr. Bob brings this to our attention, saying...

This piece is his finest. Whether you support the effort in Iraq, or think it detestable and vile, or are in the vast masses of uneasy disenchantment and fearful frustration about this conflict, you owe it to yourself to read this. Finer writing, sharper analysis, and keener insight you will find nowhere else.

He is absolutely right. This most recent essay by Michael Yon will stand as one of the most credible reports of this war to date. In a matter-of-fact manner he lays out the mistakes and keeps moving. Hind sight may be clear, but too often when it reveals tragedy there is a strong tendency on the part of those responsible to rush to denial. But Yon is a reporter, not a policy maker. He has a heart and deep sympathy for those given the mission to execute policy. And to some degree he shows understanding, if not sympathy, for those whose errors in judgement have led to more problems than solutions. I have been following his reports since the start of this war.

As one of those who Dr. Bob describes as regarding this war as "detestable and vile", I read these lines with appreciation for Michael Yon's candor. His willingness to lay out ugly realities and keep moving does nothing but underscore the sincerity of what he says next. He clearly likes General Petraeus and wonders why his likes could not have been in charge from the beginning. But he doesn't waste energy on recrimination, speaking his mind and getting on with the narrative.

I don't say it carelessly: This essay is essential reading.
Like it or not, what Michael Yon says is important, timely and factual.
No one who wants to be informed will skip this piece.

Smart politics leaves more people standing with their heads, and so discretion has to be seen as vital to the war effort. Reports claiming that no political progress is happening here because the Iraqi parliament seems stalled are tantamount to claiming that when the US Senate bogs down the stop lights don’t work on Main Street USA. At the same time, no one is interested in going for the broomstick once they’ve seen the man behind the curtain, so smart politicians don’t let that happen, especially when the stakes are this high.

Al Qaeda was never at this table and no one is planning to set a place for them now. They are mass murderers anywhere they can be: Bali, Kandahar, London, Madrid, New York and now, Iraq. This enemy is smart, resourceful and tough, and our early missteps created perfect conditions for the spread of their disease in Iraq.

Political solutions only work with people interested in a resolution where all parties can move forward. Al Qaeda is more interested in an outcome where they dominate through anachronistic anarchy. Our philosophies are so fundamentally different that fighting is inevitable. They want to go backwards and are willing to kill us to do so. We are unwilling to go backwards, and so they started killing us. Finally, we started killing back, but only seriously so after they rammed jets into our buildings, by which they hoped to cause the same chaos and collapse in America (where they failed) that they are fomenting in Iraq (where they are succeeding).

The doctor has made a decision: Al Qaeda must be excised. That means a large scale attack, and what appears to be the most widespread combat operations since the end of the ground war are now unfolding. A small part of that larger battle will be the Battle for Baquba. For those involved, it will be a very large battle, but in context, it will be only one of numerous similar battles now unfolding. Just as this sentence was written, we began dropping bombs south of Baghdad and our troops are in contact.

Northeast of Baghdad, innocent civilians are being asked to leave Baquba. More than 1,000 AQI fighters are there, with perhaps another thousand adjuncts. Baquba alone might be as intense as Operation Phantom Fury in Fallujah in late 2004. They are ready for us. Giant bombs are buried in the roads. Snipers—real snipers—have chiseled holes in walls so that they can shoot not from roofs or windows, but from deep inside buildings, where we cannot see the flash or hear the shots. They will shoot for our faces and necks. Car bombs are already assembled. Suicide vests are prepared.

The enemy will try to herd us into their traps, and likely many of us will be killed before it ends. Already, they have been blowing up bridges, apparently to restrict our movements. Entire buildings are rigged with explosives. They have rockets, mortars, and bombs hidden in places they know we are likely to cross, or places we might seek cover. They will use human shields and force people to drive bombs at us. They will use cameras and make it look like we are ravaging the city and that they are defeating us. By the time you read this, we will be inside Baquba, and we will be killing them. No secrets are spilling here.

Our jets will drop bombs and we will use rockets. Helicopters will cover us, and medevac our wounded and killed. By the time you read this, our artillery will be firing, and our tanks moving in. And Humvees. And Strykers. And other vehicles. Our people will capture key terrain and cutoff escape routes. The idea this time is not to chase al Qaeda out, but to trap and kill them head-on, or in ambushes, or while they sleep. When they are wounded, they will be unable to go to hospitals without being captured, and so their wounds will fester and they will die painfully sometimes. It will be horrible for al Qaeda. Horror and terrorism is what they sow, and tonight they will reap their harvest. They will get no rest. They can only fight and die, or run and try to get away. Nobody is asking for surrender, but if they surrender, they will be taken.
Michael Yon is still a believer. And I remain opposed to what is happening. Although I don't like what I see, I understand and appreciate what is happening. The flypaper concept is working, but it is also creating as many flies as it attracts. As he said at the beginning of his essay...
Al Qaeda and associates had little or no presence in Iraq before the current war. But we made huge mistakes early on and are pumping blood and gold into the region to pay for those blunders. When we failed to secure the streets and to restore the stability needed to get Iraq on its feet, we sowed doubt and mistrust. When we disbanded the government and the army, and tolerated corruption and ineptitude in reconstruction, we created a vacuum and filled the ranks of an insurgency-hydra with mostly local talent. But when we flattened parts of Fallujah not once, but twice, primarily in response to the murders of four of our people, we helped create a spectacle of injustice and chaos, the very conditions in which Al Qaeda thrives.

I am not convinced that additional violence is the proper course of action, but like the layman confronting an arm or leg rotting away from infection, frostbite or irreparable damage from an accident, I also know that amputation is sometimes the only way that life can be saved. I honestly don't know what might be better. All I know is that what is happening is despicable and I want it to come to an end as soon as possible.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Teflon at the Top...Nothing Sticks

I'm passing this on just for the fun of it. Nothing's gonna happen, of course, but it illustrates a measure of duplicity everyone knows about.
Something like the morning after "Boy, was I drunk last night!" defense of date-rape.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Paul Potts -- The Final (Winning) Performance

It's up. Here it is.
Same piece...slick, cleaned up, less abridged, more professional. He will never be the same, but nothing will ever match the excitement of that first spine-tingling discovery performance.

Fundamentalism Examined

The writer discusses fundamentalism. Until the reader trips over some obvious give-aways, he might be reading about any variety of fundamentalism...Muslim, Christian or tribal.

I understand by fundamentalism strong adherence to an archetypal point of view and a fierce conviction of its fundamental truth, to the exclusion of any other alternate idea. Any alternative is resisted by a fundamentalist and treated not as a legitimate substitute stemming from a rational free choice, but as a detrimental antithesis of the fundamental truth of the archetype. The archetype is a model to be emulated and reproduced, not dissected or scrutinized.

Fundamentalism is an emotional, collective phenomenon in that it gives room neither for rational choice nor for individual freedom. No matter what your mind tells you, you are not allowed to leave the fold or swerve from the ‘right path' followed by the community of the faithful.

Such a mode of thinking and behaving is typically characteristic of archaic, rural and peasant societies, which are generally small, isolated and homogeneous. In such societies, collective sentiments embrace the greater part of the individual sentiments and they have an extreme force as manifested in the severity of the punishment inflicted on those who violate them. Violation of the social imperative arouses strong indignation. To insure conformity and avoid violation, social acts, especially sacred rituals, are characterized by particularization and extreme precision.

Repressive laws, which stress punishment, reveal the force and extent of common sentiments, as well as the particularization of such sentiments. The stronger and more widespread and particularized the collective sentiments, the more crimes there will be, crime being defined simply as the violation of social norms. A crime is viewed as an offense committed by an individual against the collective sentiments, which must be avenged. It is a breach that demands reparation, and the punishment of the guilty is the reparation offered to the feelings of all. This is in contrast to restitutative laws, which aim to restore order rather than avenge the deed.

In pre-industrial, pre-scientific societies - or what anthropologists and sociologists call folk societies - the predominant mode of thinking and behaving is traditional and conservative. The society is held together not so much by complimentary associations and mutual interdependence, but by binding sentiments and common beliefs. It is based not on utilitarian and expedient considerations, but on shared moral principles, on the organization of human sentiments into implicit convictions and judgments as to what is right and wrong.

Submergence of individual personality in the group in traditional societies limits the possibility of free choice and individual preference. Variation is suppressed and any deviation from social norms is condemned. All persons in the community are supposed to be exact replicas of one another, not only in feelings, beliefs and values but also in dress and personal appearance. If any one ever makes the slightest attempt to assert his uniqueness or individuality, he will be subject to censor and derision. This unitarian view is manifested not only in the ethical and religious sphere but also in the social, political and economic spheres.

Traditional societies are characterized by a unitarian and static conception of the universe. Not only do they censure individual variation but they also do not tolerate temporal change. Social change is equated with personal aging. It is not progress and evolution. It is decay and degeneration, always for the worst. According to this conception, the further we go back in time the closer we get to the ideal golden age of pure innocence. It is this nostalgic view of history, which gave rise to the worship of ancestors in religion, as well as the romantic movement in literature.

We have to keep in mind that the idea of cultural evolution and social progress, as well as the idea of individual liberty, are late discoveries in the intellectual development of mankind. The Greeks had their golden age; the Hebrew prophets from Amos to Hosea decried the lavish civilization of David and Solomon; and the Rechabite movement sought to return to the rustic simplicity of nomadism and life in tents. Until two centuries ago, Europeans were still debating the merits of the ancients versus the merits of the moderns. Individual liberty and freedom of choice are the products of the principle of laissez-faire, which is concomitant with capitalism and market economy, themselves products of the industrial revolution, itself a product of the scientific revolution.
For a fundamentalist, the real purpose of religion is not to deal with earthly concerns or achieve success and happiness in this world, but to turn away from the transitory world and turn to God to worship Him and please Him and maintain good relations with Him in order to deserve His grace and guarantee a safe passage to heaven after death, which will compensate the devotee for all the self-denials he imposed on himself in this life.

According to the fundamentalist all events in this world - no matter how big or small - are pre-destined by God. No human effort, no matter how great, could change the course of destiny or exercise any control over this material world. The only thing one can do is to submit completely to the will of God and put one's full trust and faith in His providence. Life on earth has no meaning or value except as a testing ground for religious virtue. One should turn away from the material snares of this evil world and devote oneself completely to the worship of God. The only mission worth pursuing in this worldly existence, for which one could get great dividends in the hereafter, is to bring the lost sheep of the Lord back to the fold, by hook or crook.
In many cases, what fundamentalists need in order to readjust is social rehabilitation, not to engage them in theological dialogue. The way to deal with fundamentalism is not to kill fundamentalists or throw them in jail. Fundamentalism is like grass, mowing encourages it to grow quicker and thicker. Only through giving them hope and a fair chance to succeed and to realize their ambitions and fulfill their aspirations in this world can we turn fundamentalists into worldly creatures.

The means to achieving this objective is through equality before the law, justice in courts, equity in the distribution of wealth, improving health and education, and other amenities in this life, which would make it worth living - for everybody, not just the privileged few.

He slipped up there when he suggested "equity in the distribution of wealth."
Any schoolboy could tell you the writer must be a Communist.

Ask me if I care. I'm impressed with the insights and more impressed with their origins.
My problem is having been reared Southern Baptist. I was nearly grown before I discovered that Roman Catholics are Christians, too.

Saad A Sowayan, born in ‘Unayzah, Saudi Arabia, is Professor of Folklore and Anthropology at King Saudi University in Riyadh. He received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley. ... He is currently engaged in a major project of collecting traditional vernacular Arabian poetry and narratives from oral sources. His main interest lies in dialectology, oral literature, and Bedouin and desert culture.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

"Bin Yah!" -- Protecting the Gullah people

The Gullah people of the Atlantic Sea Islands are a small and vanishing treasure of the American cultural tapestry. The current Smithsonian Magazine writes about their situation.

In the early 1900s, long before developers and tourists discovered the area, Gullah family compounds—designed like African villages—dotted the land. A matriarch or patriarch kept his or her home in the center, while children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren lived around the perimeter. The family grew fruits and vegetables for food, and the children ran free under the protective watch of a relative never too far away. They spoke a Creole language called Gullah—a mixture of Elizabethan English and words and phrases borrowed from West African tribes.

Their ancestors had come from places like Angola and Sierra Leone to the American South as slaves during an agricultural boom. Kidnapped by traders, these slaves were wanted for their knowledge of cultivating rice, a crop that plantation owners thought would thrive in the humid climate of the South's Low Country.

After the Union Army made locations such as Hilton Head Island and St. Helena northern strongholds during the Civil War, General William Tecumseh Sherman granted the slaves freedom and land under Special Field Order No. 15. The proclamation gave each freed slave family a mule and 40 acres of land in an area 30 miles from the Atlantic Ocean that ran along the St. John's River. The orders, which were in effect for only a year, prohibited white people from living there. The descendants of these freed West African slaves came to be known as Geechee in northern Georgia and Gullah in other parts of the Low Country. They lived here in relative isolation for more than 150 years. Their customs, their life along the water and their Gullah language thrived.

Yet real estate development, high taxes and loss of property have made the culture's survival a struggle. For many years after the Civil War, Gullah land "was considered malaria property. Now it has become prime real estate," says Marquetta Goodwine, a St. Helena native also known as Queen Quet, the chieftess of the Gullah Geechee Nation. "In the 1950s, there started an onslaught of bridges. The bridges then brought the resorts. I call it destruction; other people call it development."

"Bin Yah: there's no place like home" explores the potential loss of important African American / Gullah communities in Mt. Pleasant, SC due to growth and development. Through the testimonies of the residents themselves, the film explores the culture, the history. the importance of land and the concept of home, giving voice to those who seldom have had a chance to be heard.

A proposed highway extension threatens to bisect these close-knit neighborhoods of cousins and kinfolk, established by freed slaves and home to generations of their families for hundreds of years/ Many residents are artisans and craftspeople, practicing traditional skills including sweetgrass basketmaking, brought over from West Africa and handed down from mothers and fathers to sons and daughters. Mt. Pleasant is the primary place in the U.S. where this grass is harvested and "sewn" into this particular type of basket.

Bin Yah will attempt to preserve - at least on film - the memories of the special places that may be lost as the struggle between the real "bin yah's" and "come yahs" escalates.

Link to the Charleston (South Carolina) Documentary Film Festival.


October, 2007 followup...

I see the Bin Yah clip is no longer available.
Here is a link to the You Tube site where I vound the clip, listing other related videos.
And here is a trailer for another documentary about the Gullah people.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Palestinian Civil War

Israel's Six Day War came to an end forty years ago last Sunday. It is significant that forty years later the details are still being disputed. The Wikipedia entry is "locked" because nearly half a century later arguments about the war remain unresolved. Here is the disclaimer:

This page is currently protected from editing until disputes have been resolved.Protection is not an endorsement of the current version. Please discuss changes on the talk page or request unprotection. You may use {{editprotected}} on the talk page to ask for an administrator to make an edit for you. ...The neutrality of this article or section is disputed.

Today's Civil War among the Palestinians is part of the legacy of the Six-Day War. Understanding the current conflict means looking into history. And this is where most people start skipping paragraphs and say "Don't bore me with all these details, just get to the point."

I can't do that because I don't know what that point is. But as I do my homework I can toss out some ideas worth thinking about, some of which scare even me.

First off, here is a newsreel from 1967 that catches the spirit of the time.

At the time of the war I was on duty in Korea. Even at that distant outpost on the opposite side of the world the excitement of the moment was palpable. There was one Jewish private that was following the war reports daily with all the excitement of a World Series. One morning he came yelling into the barracks "Guns for the Jews! Sneakers for the Arabs!!"

Aside from the speed with which the IDF executed the war, the political and diplomatic aftermath has proved to be its most enduring legacy. On this fortieth anniversary here are three readings recommended by Dr. Leon Hadar, who's own piece will be released soon.

1. Henry Luarnes,"1967: a war of miscalculation and misjudgment" in Le Monde Diplomatique.

2. David Remnick, "The Seventh Day" in the New Yorker.

3. Havrey Morris, "And on the Sixth Day the World Changed" in The Financial Times.


That should keep the reader busy for a while. As you read, pay attention to anything that might relate to today's reports coming out of Gaza, the West Bank and Lebanon. All three areas are places where displaced Palestinians have been living since the establishment of Israel, one between Israel and Egypt and the Sanai, one between Israel and Jordan, and one separating Lebanon and Syria from Israel. The geography alone is very telling.

Here is a snip from the Remnick piece in the New Yorker...


So profound was the Israeli national delirium in the days and weeks after the war that it was impossible for most Israelis to think straight about the long-term consequences of retaining conquered territory. After being told that the state was in mortal danger, Israel was now in possession of Biblical Israel—the Western Wall, the Temple Mount, all of Jerusalem, the Tomb of the Patriarchs, in Hebron, and many other such sites scattered throughout the West Bank. Once the Old City was secured, on the third day of the war, Dayan, the most theatrical of all Israeli commanders, flew by helicopter to Jerusalem and staged his arrival in the manner of General Allenby, the British general who took Jerusalem from the Turks in 1917. “We have returned to the most holy of our places,” Dayan declared. “We have returned, never to part from them again.”


General Shlomo Goren, the chief rabbi of the I.D.F., blew a shofar at the Western Wall and advised his commanding officer, Uzi Narkis, that now was the moment to blow up the Dome of the Rock, the mosque that sits on the Temple Mount. “Do this and you will go down in history,” Goren said. “Tomorrow might be too late.”


Narkis refused the lunatic suggestion and even threatened the rabbi with arrest. Nevertheless, the national poet, Natan Alterman, was accurate in declaring, “The people are drunk with joy.” A photograph of a weeping I.D.F. soldier at the Western Wall was published all over the world and seemed to embody the new conflation, for many Israelis, of the state and the sacred, the military and the messianic. The song “Jerusalem of Gold” displaced, for a time, the traditional anthem “Hatikvah.” In the daily Ma’ariv, the journalist Gabriel Tzifroni described the “liberation” of the capital in terms rarely used in traditional news reporting: “The Messiah came to Jerusalem yesterday—he was tired and gray, and he rode in on a tank.” When the fighting broke out, Ben-Gurion had written in his diary, “There was no need for this. I believe it is a grievous mistake.” But now Ben-Gurion was suggesting that the walls of the Old City be destroyed. Eshkol himself, posing the question of how Israel was going to rule a million Arabs, briefly considered a plan of transferring hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to Iraq and elsewhere.

Did you catch that? The Messiah riding into Jerusalem, tired and grey, riding on a tank?
Toward the end of the piece we find this...

The Israeli leadership could not conceive of itself as anything less than benign, and even persuaded itself that a subjugated Arab population would come to appreciate its overlords. “The situation between us,” Dayan creepily informed the Palestinian poet Fadwa Tuqan, “is like the complex relationship between a Bedouin man and the young girl he has taken against her wishes. But when their children are born, they will see the man as their father and the woman as their mother. The initial act will mean nothing to them. You, the Palestinians, as a nation, do not want us today, but we will change your attitude by imposing our presence upon you.”

The spirit was willing but the flesh was weak. Forty years have passed and we still have a rape rather than a seduction. The difference, of course, is whether or not the bride says "yes" or "no." From all indications the answer is still an emphatic "NO!"

Coming round to the point of this post, we can see civil war in the "territories" as fallout from the Six-Day War of 1967. It seems to be a classic case of divide and conquer. It's no accident that Gaza and the West Bank are not on the same page. Or that Palestinians in Southern Lebanon are in a world of their own.

Most news reports I have seen focus on Gaza with little or no attempt to explain how the conflict there relates to the greater reality of events in the West Bank or Lebanon. I suspect this owes more to the limitations of television than any deliberate attempt to mislead. By limitations I mean more than the obvious appeal of visual images. We all know If it bleeds, it leads. A worse limitation is the impatience and disinterest of the viewing public. If it requires thinking, it's not profitable.

Here are a few links that might require thinking...

Rafah Today Pictures and commentary by a Palestinian photo-journalist

Proxy Wars Bill Noxid's "alternative" analysis bordering on the conspiratorial, whose views may not be popular but hang together pretty well.

UN’s Mid East Envoy Slams Isolation of Syria and UN Kowtowing to US.
Josh Landis links to this report via the Guardian which tries to make sense of why the UN envoy to the Middle East is running into so much trouble. I am reminded of the tensions that come steaming out of Washington whenever a special investigator tries to get information out of the White House.

There is an old saying that in the Middle East you can’t make war without Egypt and you can’t make peace without Syria. The first half is no longer valid, but I sense that the second remains true. For the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, keeping Syria at arm’s length is particularly galling. Those who advocate it seem to believe that it is possible to pursue an Israeli-Palestinian track while isolating Damascus. I know that that is the thinking; it has been made perfectly clear by the US Envoy, who reported to his Quartet colleagues that, in discussing the Arab initiative with the “Arab Quartet”, they put to them whether the Arabs would be prepared to reciprocate if Israel reached an agreement only with the Palestinians – as opposed to the comprehensive withdrawal from all occupied territory (including the Syrian Golan provided for in the Beirut agreement of 2002 as the requirement for gaining normalization with Arab countries). The Arab Quartet, we were told, had replied in the affirmative.

And finally, there is Gaza journalist Laila El-Haddad whose video reports from Gaza are excellent. She doesn't have the scope or depth of Yon or Totten, but the integrity of her reporting is every bit as good. She blogs at Raising Yousuf, Unplugged: diary of a Palestinian mother. Yesterday's post, Underground Economy, tells how the tunnel network between Gaza and Egypt are a desperate economic response that has resulted from one of the most desperate situations imaginable. Children, because of their size, are a vital link in the chain.

If the reader follows no other link in this post, choose this one from among all the rest. June 5 the Canadian Broadcasting Corp aired a report that included footage and commentary from Laila El-Hadid that is makes the images of the video a gripping story.

Also, Laila El-Haddad reporting on Gaza violence is a YouTube link to more of her reporting.

So there you have it. That's all I drug up about the Palestinian Civil War. Most of it is what can be called alternative views, but that's why you're reading a weblog, isn't it? If you want the party line, then turn on Fox or CNN or one of the other popular news feeds.

Incidentally, I'm not the only one noticing the similarities between current events and those of forty years ago. Michael Totten's post title says it all...Feels Like 1967 Again.

Have a good day.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Samarra Requiem

Short version: Mideast Youth is a student-owned independent 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.

This post appeared this morning. The writer is identified as being from Iran. He is commenting on the most recent attack on the historic Samarra mosque in Iraq.

His words, in sharp contrast to images normally advanced by the media, are more sad and helpless than angry. I was touched by his reference to the "butterfly effect" because I recall how a Ray Bradbury short story captured my fourteen-year-old imagination long ago. My post title is misleading because a requiem is a lamentation for the dead and the site is anything but dead. If anything it is more important than any time in its history.

Once upon a time, an Arab Caliph got out of Baghdad. Riding here and there, he finally arrived at a very beautiful suburban area of Baghdad.

The beauty of the place was really amazing. He ordered to make a palace and a small town there, and named it: ‘everybody who saw this place, got happy’.


A history teacher in high school told us this story.

Right now, I wonder how ‘Chaos Theory‘ is able to predict the ‘Butterfly Effect‘ of that decision (the decision of Caliph to build a city right there).

If that king were sick that day, if his horse were not riding that way, if that day were within winter not spring, and too many more IFs, we might never see that city on the map.Indeed, if one of these IFs had come true, that city would have been wiped off the map before its appearance!

One more question: if the Caliph were still alive in these days, would he name the city ‘everybody who saw this place, got happy’ again?

I’m not sure. Yesterday, this city saw again one of the most… sorry! I can’t find a proper adjective to describe my feeling. Check news headlines for yesterday attacks on Samarra, in Iraq. The holy shrine of 2 Shia Imams got exploded again.

Waiting for a time to see peace brought back to Iraq, and see that ‘everybody who sees this place, gets happy’.

God Willing

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Paul Potts -- Singer on "Britain's Got Talent"

Welcome, Visitor,

My enthusiasm for Paul Potts is even greater thanks to the impact of this You Tube video. This post is drawing more traffic than of any of the 2,200 published here in three years of blogging. Links in the first comment are worth following if you're interested in Potts' progress.

If you have the time, please look around. Feel free to leave a comment. My interests are eclectic and my opinions eccentric by most measures. But I'm having a ball blogging into my retirement. And at this point, I'm not trying to get you to buy anything.

Thanks for reading.



From the pearls before swine department...

Sorry. I couldn't resist. Television talent shows are as old as the medium. It's a sure-fire format that will always be around. Ted Mack, Arthur Godfrey, The Gong Show...I remember way back.

I'm not a stickler for grammar, but Britain Has Talent would be just as easy to understand and wouldn't contribute to the vulgarizing of the language as much as Britain's Got Talent. I don't expect the Queen's English from the USA but from the UK I expect better.

This one's a treat. Worth a minute or two of your time.
Thanks, Josh Claybourn.

Bloggers are all over this story.

I think we are all very hungry for something to just make us feel better. What better way than to see an unmistakably ordinary guy with such a gift carried with uncommon modesty?
How could anyone not want to see him do well?

And I swear the first line of this post was written before I found this.

There is also a Wikipedia article published within hours of his first success.

Followup, November 25, 2007...
Paul Potts was a guest on NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday this morning. He now is selling a CD and is touring the US.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Little Mosque on the Prairie

Broaden your world, I guess. This Canadian pop television comedy series has completed its first season and will apparently be aired for another.

I'm not a television person but this series is worth knowing about from a social/cultural standpoint. According to an NPR blurb it is intended to put the "fun" into fundamentalism. Uh, that would be Muslim, not Christian fundamentlism. My guess is that just watching a few minutes would make most Christian fundamentalists a bit squirmy.

I came across the YouTube link on a UAE blog while surfing randomly among the scores of links at UAE Community Blog, a group on my aggregator. I recall hearing about the show last year when it first aired but thought little about it since we all know Muslims are all terrorists and Mosques are nothing but hiding places for sleeper cells.

From a release last year by the Canadian Broadcasting Corp...

It hasn't even aired yet, but CBC's "Little Mosque on the Prairie" is getting the type of advance buzz most publicity departments would kill for.

The show, a comedy about Muslims trying to interact with their small-town neighbours in a fictional Canadian prairie town called Mercy, has been written up in the New York Times and the Houston Chronicle, with CNN and Stephen Colbert, the fake late-night talk-show host, also taking notice.

All this despite the fact that "Little Mosque" doesn't premiere on CBC-TV until Tuesday, Jan. 9. The show will then air on Monday nights at 9 p.m. ET, repeating on Wednesday nights at 8 p.m. ET.

The advance attention is gratifying to the show's creator, Zarqa Nawaz, who huddled on-set recently in a full-length Muslim head scarf while noshing on shepherd's pie. After all, Nawaz says, she's writing about what she knows and the issues and characters she holds dear.

"I grew up in a mosque, I got married in a mosque, I spend a lot of time in a mosque - mosque is a really important part of my life," she says, warming up inside a heated minivan on a chilly autumn day of shooting in the far reaches of Toronto's west end, currently filling in for the Prairies due to the show's suddenly compressed shooting schedule.

The CBC is so pumped by the attention the show started getting - largely on the strength of its title and premise - that it decided to take advantage of the buzz and premiere the show in January instead of waiting until next fall. That meant the show's production crew had to move into overdrive to get the initial episodes ready for broadcast.

The temporary change in location from Saskatchewan to Toronto has meant Nawaz, a 39-year-old mother of four children ranging in age from six to 12, is frequently separated from her family.

"It's very hard," Nawaz says, sounding like any other working mother and not the brains behind what is arguably one of the most talked-about Canadian TV shows in years.

"I haven't seen them in a month; my husband's doing everything. But he's good that way. He has more patience with them, and they actually listen to him and do what he says. When I came back home, he had them all making their own lunches, and I'm talking the six-year-old. A six-year-old, making his own lunch!" she says with a laugh.

Nawaz, who was born in England, grew up in Toronto and moved to Saskatchewan 10 years ago, is witty, good-natured and clearly adored by everyone on the set, from the actors to the production assistants constantly popping by to make sure she's warm and well fed.
Her primary goal for "Little Mosque on the Prairie," Nawaz says, is that people laugh when they watch it.

"I don't know what it is about me, but the more serious and outrageous the situation, the funnier it becomes to me and I end up spinning it comedically," she says, pointing to her short film "BBQ Muslims."

The short got big laughs when it screened at the Toronto International Film Festival in 1996. She wrote it following the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, when Muslims were initially blamed before Timothy McVeigh - decidedly not a Muslim - was finally charged.

"When that happened, it was so outrageous. They obviously had no evidence, yet they were pulling Muslims off planes and then suddenly they arrested this white guy, Timothy McVeigh. And I just thought right away, wouldn't it be funny to make a film about that?"

And so "BBQ Muslims" was born, starring Nawaz's friends and relations in a story about two Muslim brothers sound asleep one night when their gas barbecue blows up. They are immediately suspected of being Middle Eastern terrorists, although neither of them have ever set foot in the Middle East.

"I didn't realize at the time that . . . it was kind of ground-breaking, but it was," says Nawaz, a former CBC Radio reporter who was quickly bored by journalism and decided to study film.

"It screened at the Toronto film festival and people really laughed, and that's when I realized 'Wow, I can do this and I can make people laugh.' It was weird to discover this new thing in me that I didn't know about. I was good at creating really funny scenarios, and that's what I'm really hoping for with this show."

Wikipedia link.

Official Website.

I'm not interested in watching the series, but what I have linked is the second YouTube clip of the first episode, complete with commercial ads which I find as interesting as the content of the program. I'm always interested to know what audience the ads are aimed at.

I see McDonalds is one of the sponsors. Hmm. That's interesting. If they think it's worth ad space it must be harmless. But you never know. After all the Chinese are trying to kill our pets.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Attacks on Iranian Baha'is

One of my closest Army buddies was a Baha'i from California who first made me aware of his faith and served as a personal example of what it meant to be a Baha'i. The reason that we both were assigned to Fort Sam Houston was for the Army's modified basic training and subsequent MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) training to be part of the Medical Service Corps in 1965. Steve and I were drafted as Conscientious Objectors during the Vietnam Era and Fort Sam was the only place where basic training without weapons was conducted.

But that's another story.
The reason for this post is to bring attention to Iran's policy of persecuting it's Baha'i communities. It should be noted that the faith began in that country in the last century and is firmly committed to non-violence.

Reports and documents filtering out of Iran over the last six months indicate a widespread and calculated effort by the government to maintain and gradually intensify the persecution of Iranian Baha'is.

The evidence tells of continued efforts by the government to identify and monitor Baha'is; further incidents of abuse and discrimination directed at Baha'i students and children; stepped-up efforts to deprive Baha'is of their livelihood; and ongoing attacks on the Baha'i Faith in the official news media.

"The cumulative trend is one of an exceedingly ominous nature, and something of grave concern to Baha'is around the world," said Bani Dugal, the principal representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations.

"The considered view is that these recent incidents are being provoked and often methodically planned by the Information Ministry, in order to create fear, make the Baha'is physically vulnerable, and instill in them social and occupational insecurity," said Ms. Dugal.

"The clear intent is to separate Iranian Baha'is from their fellow citizens by generating suspicion, mistrust, and even hatred so that the social, economic, and cultural progress of this innocent religious minority continues to be blocked and its community life destabilized."

Thanks to Serendip for the link.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Edith Piaf -- The Movie Opened This Week...

I'm a Piaf fan.
Gonna see the movie when it comes to town.
You Tube has a bunch of videos.
[Yo! Check out the little icons that now pop up along the bottom of the screen after you have viewed a YouTube video! That's a neat piece of marketing if I ever saw one!]

TPMTv Reports on Voter Fraud Hearing

Peter N. Kirsanow is a Member of the National Labor Relations Board, receiving a recess appointment from President George W. Bush on January 4, 2006. Prior to his appointment, he was a partner with the Cleveland, Ohio law firm of Benesch, Friedlander, Coplan, and Aronoff LLP in the Labor and Employment Practice Group. His practice focused on representing management in employment-related litigation as well as in contract negotiations, NLRB proceedings, EEO matters, and arbitration.

Mr. Kirsanow frequently testifies before and advises members of the U.S. Congress on various civil rights and labor related issues, appearing most recently before the Senate Judiciary Committee to support the nominations of Chief Justice John G. Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito to the United States Supreme Court. Previously, he served as senior labor counsel of Leaseway Transportation Corp. and labor counsel for the city of Cleveland. He has extensive experience in public sector employment matters as well as in industries such as heavy manufacturing, trucking, health care, radio and television, and employee leasing.

He talks better than me.
Just listen...

"In 2001 a major voter registration drive in the black community of St. Louis produced three thousand, eight hundred new voter registration cards. When some of the names appeared suspicious, election officials reviewed all the cards and determined that nearly every single one was fraudulent. Dogs, the dead, and people who simply didn't want to register to vote were among the new registrants."

Maybe he's making it all up.
Ya think?

Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo TV (aka TPMTv) at YouTube is a lot more interesting than either C-SPAN or the alphabet networks. Check it out.

Today's New Word -- "Pluripotent"

Research reported this week by three different groups shows that normal skin cells can be reprogrammed to an embryonic state in mice. The race is now on to apply the surprisingly straightforward procedure to human cells.
If researchers succeed, it will make it relatively easy to produce cells that seem indistinguishable from embryonic stem cells, and that are genetically matched to individual patients. There are limits to how useful and safe these would be for therapeutic use in the near term, but they should quickly prove a boon in the lab.
This may be the most exciting news of the decade. These stories have a way of deflating after the first soundbites, but this one seems more promising than most.
About that word pluripotent...
Last year, Yamanaka introduced a system that uses mouse fibroblasts, a common cell type that can easily be harvested from skin, instead of eggs. Four genes, which code for four specific proteins known as transcription factors, are transferred into the cells using retroviruses. The proteins trigger the expression of other genes that lead the cells to become pluripotent, meaning that they could potentially become any of the body's cells. Yamanaka calls them induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells). "It's easy. There's no trick, no magic," says Yamanaka.

Peace Witness

From YAR blog, this first-person account of direct action civil disobedience in our time. I find it reassuring that the seeds of non-violence are alive and well in the next generation. In this post "Nicholas" relates the story of his arrest for anti-war activity. One definition of ministry is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. This man is doing both and has my deepest admiration and respect.

My beliefs in nonviolence originated with my family. It wasn’t about belief or creed or religion or spirituality: it was the simple understanding that violence was under no circumstances to be used to solve a problem. I never got into fistfights with my younger brother because it was just not done. I wasn’t even allowed to own Ninja Turtles or Power Rangers because they were too violent.

But while my family was able to craft an understanding of nonviolence for me, my desire to act comes from my faith. As a member of the Church of the Brethren, I am committed to following the only we creed we have: “Continuing the work of Jesus: Peacefully, simply, together.” And, while getting arrested Thursday was a small part of that, I’ve still fallen terribly short of what I could accomplish.

We are entering our fifth year of war in Iraq, and Cliff tells us his contact at the Pentagon says an invasion of Iran is a “done deal.” It’s estimated that between 650,000 and one million Iraqis have been killed as a result of this war, in addition to 3,250 U.S. soldiers and thousands of other coalition troops and civilian contractors. And the terrible tragedy of it is, we live in a democracy. As Gandhi said, the government operates only with the support, or at least consent, of the people. So the bloodbath in Iraq isn’t the administration’s fault. It isn’t congress’s fault. It’s my fault.

As long as we quietly obey the letter of the law and go about business as usual, we are guilty of every death in Iraq. The blood of hundreds of thousands of innocent people is on our hands because, presented with the sickening horror of conditions there, we turn our backs. Or we comment how we’re against the war, hold a sign at a protest, write an article in a newspaper, contact our representative… we accept the strict guidelines of the system, a system that has been deliberately and effectively crafted to keep us quiet and submissive.

Fear keeps us in line. A far greater fear and stigma surrounds arrest than did forty years ago, to be sure. Rules stack upon rules until we all have jobs, careers, and reputations to worry about, so we pretend we can’t do anything about the travesties we witness. It would have been easy for me to just walk away from it all, but then instead of answering to the district attorney, I’d be answering to myself and to God.

Jesus said, “Love your enemies.” Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” And Jesus said, “Take up your cross and follow me.” You cannot tell me that Jesus would read about the deaths, rapes, thefts, kidnappings, bombings, loss of infrastructure, and continuing violence in Iraq and then go back to his quiet home and do his homework. You cannot tell me that the logical conclusion of Jesus’ message is a near-silent complaint by someone who is still obediently upholding the status quo. You cannot tell me that Jesus was not being arrested right beside me. In fact, if I were truly serious about doing my part, I wouldn’t have been getting arrested in the federal building Thursday: I would have been in Iraq standing in front of a tank. That is the kind of radical discipleship that Christianity is really about.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Michael Novak on Taxes and the Economy

Writing in First Things, Michael Novak summarizes some pedestrian statistics of which everyone should be aware, concluding that things aren't as bad as they look for those at the bottom of the economic heap.


In April 2007, the IRS received more tax dollars than in any month in its prior history. The new tax policies of the last few years are soaking the rich heavier than they have ever been soaked before. The rich are paying a larger percentage of the income tax than ever before (85 percent in 2004, compared to 65 percent in 1979). They are also paying higher amounts of raw dollars each year—but they have not been complaining.
It seems to me that an economic system that works like this is far better than any prior economic system in history, whether landowning, agricultural, traditional, or early industrial—let alone the Mickey Mouse socialist systems of Eastern Europe and China. Whatever its faults, the American economy has proved itself capable of absorbing about ten million new immigrants every decade, nearly all of them poor, and helping them to rise out of poverty by themselves within ten years.

In fact, close study shows that if any American does the following three things—works even at a minimum wage all year round, stays married (even if not on the first try), and finishes high school—his or her chances of being poor are only 7 percent. He or she has a 93 percent chance of moving out of poverty fairly quickly. The vast majority of individuals at the bottom sure keep doing that, decade by decade. The actual population at the bottom keeps changing and churning.

His upbeat take on the overall state of the economy provides great comfort to financially secure, well-fed readers with well-ordered lives. Or, stated differently, if you are among those paying more than their "fair share" of taxes, you may be excused from fretting about the problems of the great unwashed already taking from more than they contribute to the economic pie.

He's right, of course. And the anti-capitalist rhetoric of the Old Left seems increasingly hollow with the upward and onward drumbeat of global business. One of last night's hits took me to the memory of Arthur Schlessinger with his old-fashioned anti-Communist views and Novak's essay reads like an echo of Schlesinger's critics.


He exemplified the insouciance of Lionel Trilling, who dismissed conservatism as irritable gestures trying to pass themselves off as ideas.

It's hard to recover from such a well-aimed barb, especially when it hits the bulls eye. But the fact is that without habitual introspection even the most pious of Christians can lapse into a habit of smug confidence that so easily captures the intellect of their most articulate critics. I am thinking here of Christopher Hitchens, the most articulate atheist alive today, and his condescending, mean-spirited denunciation of people of faith. No matter how tempting it may be to imagine that we are living in the most beneficial and uplifting of times, having left in the last century the evil half of Dickens' vision

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

I'm sorry to report that we still have problems of the "worst of times" and there is no excuse for ignoring them.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Eight-minute drama

A battle between a pride of lions, a herd of buffalo, and 2 crocodiles at a watering hole in South Africa's Kruger National Park while on safari.

"...giant sucking sound" moment

Just for grins, this was from 1992.
Prescient words from the third party guy...

What he didn't anticipate was an influx of immigrants. The "sucking sound" turns out to have been a flood of workers coming into, not out of, the country.
So here are some questions:
If unemployment is now under five percent, then who might be doing the work if several million immigrants are removed from the work force?
And what would that do to wages?
And when wages go up, what impact does that have on prices?
Am I missing something, or don't higher wages and prices drive inflation?
Just asking.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Josh Landis in Syria

I have been reading Landis for over a year. He is predictably pro-Syrian but as an academic expert he brings plenty of critical analysis to anything he writes. His wife is from Syria and her parents live there. He has moved to Damascus for the summer and reporting first-hand on what he sees and hears. Anyone wanting up-to-date information about Syria should read what he Say's.

His first post upon arriving was personal rather than political. It makes for a good introduction to the man and his family.

A long flight on Emirate Airlines brought us in at 4 p.m. Wednesday afternoon. We started our trip at 4:00 a.m. on Tuesday morning. We knew we were in the Damascus airport when the smokers began to light up in the baggage reclamation area. But a year and a half makes a difference. This time the smokers collected self-consciously around the big holes in the wall where the baggage conveyor belts come through from the outside so that their smoke would blow outside! Progress of sorts. Another small change was that my father-in-law was unable to talk his way past the security personnel and sneak into the baggage reclamation area to greet us. Last time he did. A security upgrade for Damascus airport.

The meeting was joyous. My son, Kendall Shaaban, who is 3 and a half, hid behind me when his grandparents tried to hug him and smother him with kisses, causing some consternation. He pretended not to know them after a year and a half. As soon as we were in the car, however, he began to say "sitti" and "jiddi," much to his grandparents’ delight, which earned him many kisses and cheek pinches. After one night in Damascus, Manar and Shaboula departed with Manar's parents, Abu and Um Firas, up to the village, Bayt al-Murj near Qadmus, which is high in the Coastal Mountains - (We don't say Alawite Mountains any more - at least not if one is Syrian), where it is green and cool. I will follow them Tuesday next.
Last night I had dinner with one of Syria's leading economists, Jihad Yaziji, who puts out the Syria Report, the country's best English language economic digest. His wife Sana cooked up the most delicious roasted eggplant smothered in burnt onions and garlic, cooked wheat, salad, and humus. Not only is Sana a fine cook but she is also an excellent graphic designer who until recently has raced between Damascus and Beirut to do the layout and help publish the Arabic version of Le Monde Diplomatique. They moved from Paris two years ago as part of the growing number of young entrepreneurs who have been bringing their skills and businesses back home and testing the waters of Syria's economic opening. They are happy, even if frustrated by the slow change and managerial chaos of Syrian economic life.

Jihad is convinced that there is a real consumer boom going on in the country. I teased him about his positive attitude because when I left in 2005, he was quite gloomy about Syria's economic prospects. He confessed that perhaps he shouldn't be too upbeat, but then went on to tick off a list of consumer statistics, beginning with the fact that the number of cars registered in Syria has doubled in two years. Cars are still about twice as expensive in Syria as they are in the States, nevertheless, the big drop in prices in 2005 has led people to pull out savings from God knows where. It is not only cars. Most large consumer items have seen big increases in sales. The lowering of tariff barriers among Arab States and Turkey has made many new items affordable and they are pouring into the stores. Jihad insists that Syrians are learning to be competitive, especially in low end production, processed foods, clothing and textiles.

Much, much more at the link. Landis is an easy read and his enthusiasm for everything shows clearly. Lest one think he presents everything through rose-tinted lenses, be sure to scan the comments thread. Plenty of slings and arrows there, but he leaves them for all to read.

The real reason to read Landis it to learn something about Syria and where it fits into the overall picture of the region. Not to put too fine a point on it, the current dictator, Bashar Assad, is no saint, but he is also no one's fool. Taking a page from an American public relations expert, he seems to have told everyone on his team, "It's the economy, stupid!" To speak of Syria is to speak of Bashar. And imagining that he is a cardboard figure who can be easily knocked around is indulging in a serious fantasy.

Today's post is long and comprehensive. Read it slow and pay attention. From what I gather Syria has undergone some important changes recently. This is not to be underestimated since together with Jordan and other countries neighboring Iraq it is hosting a crippling multitude of refugees.

I will begin with my conclusions about the presidential referendum and the many street “hafles” or parties, parades, and festivals that preceded and followed it. I have moved the conclusions to the top because this post is long.

1. Bashar has completed the process of power consolidation begun with the 10th Baath Party Congress of June 2005.

2. He has gained legitimacy in the eyes of Syria’s elites, who are betting on him and seriously considering bringing their capital back to the country. Many, particularly expatriates have yet to do so and are hedging their bets, but many local capitalists have everything they own here. The “Ehsani” expatriates have invested considerable capital in Syria over the last three years but, I believe, are still holding back. (Ehsani is a contributor to Syria Comment. We will see if he agrees.)

3. Everywhere the posters are of Bashar only. He does not share the ground with Nasser, Nasrallah, Basil al-Assad, or his father any longer. Today, it is all about Bashar, who stands alone.

4. The parades exuded “modernity” and professionalism. This is new for Syria. Syrians like it, even if they think way too much money was spent on them. It is the message Bashar al-Assad has worked hard to convey. It is how he is marketed inside Syria. He is staying on message. He is “Mr. Modernizer,” even though the West is trying to convince Syrians that he doesn’t get it, is not new at all, and is just keeping the Assad family in power.

5. Syrian nationalism has largely replaced the old Arabism. The parades were all about Syria, its long history, and many different civilizations, peoples, and varied culture. They were not about Arabs, militarism, or the Baath Party. (Who knows, Bashar may even try to steal Phoenicianism from the Lebanese. God forbid!)

6. Bashar has not stuck a dagger in the Baath Party’s heart, but he has definitely circumscribed its authority.

7. Democracy: Bashar ran his campaign against Iraq and Bush. Many banners extolled “security, safety, and stability” – “al-`amn wal-istiqrar.” This was a no brainer for Syrians. The campaign presented Syria’s choice as being one between Bashar and Bush or between Syria and Iraq. For Syrians, American democracy promotion in the Middle East means following the path of Iraq, Lebanon, or the Palestinian Authority, the three countries that have accepted or been forced to follow the US democracy agenda. Carpenter tried to present democracy as a disembodied magic that one can just import by following certain practices, such as free elections. There is no doubt that many Syrians yearn for more democracy, but they are now well aware of its attendant dangers, especially in a region as troubled by sectarian and ethnic differences, identity crises, and a weak sense of national community.

8. Syrians have not completely made up their minds about this regime. They want to see what will happen to the “reform” process, which could easily be reversed or stall. This is the BIG question. Many hope that following the president’s inauguration on the 17th, there will be a new government nominated quickly. They hope that the president’s new power will be used to confirm his reform agenda. These hopes will probably be dashed, as nothing has happened quickly or with resolution in Syria. There are big interests standing in the way of the 5-year plan. Local industrialists do not want Turkish tariffs to come down, for example. Many businesses depend on protected markets and privileges that the 5-year plan will eliminate. I have heard two contradictory predictions about the reform process made by well-informed people. One is that Dardari, on whom economic reform hopes have been pinned, will be out in 2 to 5 months. The other is that he has the backing of the president and will be given an important role in the future government. This is a sign of the nation’s confusion over the reform process. Many foreign investors are still sitting on their land purchases or have yet to enter the market. Unemployment is still way too high. The Iraqi influx has undercut Syrian employment and driven up prices. Inflation is eating away at the standard of living of ordinary Syrians. The floundering state sector and economic subsidies are sucking off state revenues. Only big foreign investment can balance these negatives. To get this, Bashar must make some big decisions. He seems to have the power now, but will he use it to discipline the privileged few, who have their feet on the brakes?


Deputy Assistant Secretary Scott Carpenter made a big to-do in his anti-Syrian press conference about the regime squandering 50 million dollars on the “scam” process. “Seeing the government spend upwards of $50 million or more on this process is an indication of how out of touch really the regime is with its people,” he explained.

Capitalist Sponsorship of the Regime

This is an entirely new phenomenon in Syria: capitalist rather than Baath Party sponsorship of the regime. We have seen it emerge only in the last five years. It took on a particularly striking form after Syria’s military withdrawal from Lebanon, when Syria began copying the Cedar Revolution’s notions of “hafles” or street parties. Rich Syrians were asked to get out a display of support. Throughout the referendum process, local street parties were sponsored at almost all the major street corners and parks in center city. There were tents, music, and young people dancing. Food and sweets were handed out to passers by. Rich businessmen advertised their sponsorship of the hafles openly in order to get maximum credit. The music blared until the wee hours of the morning. All city residents were delighted when they finally came to an end; they could sleep. As many said, “Enough already! This is too much. We get it.” Syrians did not misunderstand the message. They understood that the state was declaring its presence and proclaiming its strength and ability to mobilize the elites.

Many Syrians have explained to me that one of the reasons it went on so long was because the message was directed at the outside world. Assad was telling the West: “Istuflu” or “stick it.” “You think I am ready to collapse or weak? You are wrong.”

Carpenter argues that the pageantry of the referendum is a clear sign of the President’s illegitimacy. To prove this he referred to a Web poll carried out by a small exile group, the results of which indicated 80% of its readers voted against Bashar al-Asad. Presidential referendums in Syria, as in much of the third world, are not about the democratic process, however. They are about a show of “za`ama” or authority and the backing of national elites.

In Syria, the recent referendum demonstrated that the moneyed national elites are willing to back the president, not only with their cash, but also with institutional resources.


“Failure is an orphan, and success has a hundred fathers,” as the saying goes. Bashar is a success. Big money is betting on him as it never has before, to which the whole country is witness. A good source told me, “businessmen didn’t know that the hafles and activities surrounding the referendum would be so big, so many, and last so long. It wasn’t all planned. A dynamic established itself and the moneybags of Syria felt compelled to jump in and outdo their competition.”

Bashar’s ability to navigate the very dangerous obstacles that have been thrown up before him since the US invasion of Iraq is astounding. Almost every Syrian I have met over the last week has reiterated this truth, some with considerable satisfaction, made all the more manifest because I am an American from Bush country. They are impressed with Bashar the politician, even as they express their disapproval of “the system” and its corruption.

Landis is Daniel in the lion's den. In many ways his reports are as important as those of journalists Totten and Yon. I'm sure that as soon as he has spun out enough rope, Tony Badran will be out to hang him, but in the meantime I'm enjoying Josh Landis' reports.

Totten and Landis, incidentally, are not on the same page. Totten predicts a war with Syria.

And Tony Badran can hardly speak a word about Landis or his peers without sneering.