Sunday, October 31, 2004

Under the radar, it seems...

My earlier post about scrubbing the White House website whiter can now be considered dated. Looks like the federal webmaster has restored the missing data.
Brad is sure it is because of his valiant quixotic efforts. I tend to agree from the little I know, which is this: all but the first of the links I selected for this blog did NOT work when I tried them. They do now. I leave the rest of the fact-checking to smarter sleuths than me.
As they say, we report; you decide.

Chalk it up to 'one for the little guy'!

In the wake of our series of reports on the White House quietly removing embarrassing Audio and Video from their website, it seems the bulk of that material has now been restored online! Thanks, no doubt, to the adverse attention they received via wire reports and Washington Post articles that our reporting was able to spur, the Administration seems to have gone through thousands of web pages and restored the previously available media to them.

I will update the old post when I get to it.
Or not.

Byzantine Orthodox Christianity

From time to time I look in on a low traffic weblog, Summa Contra Mundum, kept by one "Athanasius" whose writing is a fresh delight. Here is someone whose faith is blind, beutiful and uncompromising. When we are walking in light, as our African friends like to say, there is no need to be either apologetic or defensive.
By way of introduction here are two links:

I stumbled across a website recently called Magnatune, a record label that publishes music mostly via the internet. They seem to specialize in early music, but have a variety of other genres as well. I was drawn to the site because of the recordings they have from the Monks and Metropolitan Choirs of Kiev-Pechersk Lavra.

Magnatune is neat because they allow you to listen to the music via streaming MP3's or WMA's before you buy. You can listen to the entire album whenever you want, as much as you want, if you have high-speed internet. If you choose to buy the album, you pay them as much as you want to pay them (I paid 8$), half of which goes to the artist. Then you get to download MP3's or CD-quality WAV's or FLAC's. I did that with the Russian Orthodox Chants album, which I burned to a CD I can take in my car.

They have several recordings of Byzantine music; I will probably buy them all. Even if you don't buy them, you can listen. Click here for some beautiful music.

If you haven't yet clicked for the music, do it now. You can listen as you read, and it can go on playing after you leave the blog.

Second, here are words to live by:

I've found out something in my 33 years of life, especially the 14 years in which I've been trying to live a good Christian life. Here it is: Prayer always works against temptation. If you are being severely tempted, to anger, to lust, to despair, to whatever your particular vices are, prayer will always work. Say "Jesus, help me," or "Holy Mother of God, save me" or "St. Michael the Archangel. . ." and God will send help. It's true. It always works.

So, why do I still sin? (And I do still sin.) What happens? I can feel the temptation coming on, coming on like a freight train. I know, intellectually, that if only I begin to pray, the temptation will pass by without harm. But I don't pray. Why? There's some sort of gap between the recognition that prayer will save me, and the actual act of praying. That gap is so small, and yet feels like the Grand Canyon. To go from the state of tempted-not-praying to redeemed-from-temptation-by-praying is the most difficult thing in the world. I could run a marathon easier than I could do this.

Obviously, the answer is never to allow myself to get into the state of not-praying. I must take St. Paul's advice and pray without ceasing. St. John Chrysostom says somewhere that it is impossible to sin while one is praying--I need, therefore, to pray all the time, if I want to be freed from sin.

Please pray that God will teach me how to pray, and will replace my stony heart with a real heart that constantly calls out to God.

Regarding Halloween

Josh Claybourn's post tells all you need to know about the day, including a couple of links to round out the picture. Go read the rest. It's not too long.

Joshua Claybourn's Domain: "Halloween began as the Celtic New Year. On that day, the Irish believed, the dead returned to earth, says Broedel. 'The Irish believed the dead could come back and wave 'Hi.' Most of the ghosts were considered friendly, and the dead's visit wasn't linked to the devil or anything evil, for that matter. That association came later.' This seems to be the biggest difference between what Broedel is saying, and what many Evangelicals profess. Broedel suggests 'the dead' would historically be the 'good' spirits, and that over time - especially recently - the evil spirits have become the focus. Some Christians will probably disagree.
Eventually the holiday was Christianized, becoming All Saints' Day and then All Souls' Day. Most Halloween traditions are Christian, according to Broedel. Trick-or-treating, for example, evolved from the practice of collecting alms for the poor to save your soul. "

Update: Josh Claybourn now contributes to the group blog In the Agora.

Our neighbors across the street are from Mexico. They were decorating the yard for Halloween last week and I spoke with the high school son about their customs. I incorrectly presumed from past exposure to dias de los muertos that it was a rather over the top version of Halloween. The boy said that in most of Mexico people in the country honor the saints that have died, and the observance is on November 1 and 2. In and around Mexico City and other urban areas, however, the emphasis is more on October 31 and the religious significance is being lost to commercial interests. Too bad.
Stories like that don't help me worship the marketplace with the same fervor as my libertarian friends.

Listen up!

This is the opening of an important message from my friend Bob Anderson:

Perception is illuminated by axioms at root of our mental abstraction process. Our internal reality model is a product of those abstactions multiplied against the external feedback we generate and receive.

Got that?
Now take a look at his new weblog, Secundum Christum, Latin for "Based on Christ."

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Reflections before Tuesday

Tuesday's election is the next big world event. Even our enemies are trying to weigh in with their own brand of influence pedaling. When the Russian premier endorsed Bush I figured that was as far as reality could be stretched. Then we got a Real Live Terrorist on the air, scarf and all, threatening severe consequences if we didn't vote the right way. Talk radio, the CIA and the rest of the spin machine quickly elevated this guy to the status of a Kerry operative, suggesting that a vote for Kerry would be a vote for appeasement. Refereneces to Neville Chambarlain were mentioned. Remember what happened in Spain? Remember how bombing trains resulted in a wholesale reversal of Spanish public opinion?

Entire populations in France, Germany and Russia have been branded with ugly adjectives because those countries failed to march in lock-step with the Coalition of the Willing (love that phrase, implying lack of courage on the part of all who fail to join).

Now comes Osama Himself, looking all executive-like, sitting behind a desk and telling everybody that he not only isn't dead, he is alive and wanting to put in his two cents worth in time for next Tuesday's vote. Ain't that something? The big guy himself is putting in an appearance that will surely make even the most dedicated supporter of the opposition think again about betraying the Commander in Chief at this, his hour of need.

The word for this is blackmail.

Holding hostages and killing them when demands are not met is blackmail.
Releasing hostages safely is also blackmail.
Threats to strike American targets at home and abroad is blackmail.
Killing patriotic (unarmed, by the way) Iraqi troops in training is blackmail.
There can be no one left who does not understand the dynamics of blackmail.

I don't like to feel blackmailed. No one does. Even if I was about to do something anyway, it rubs me the wrong way to have somebody tell me I have to do it or else. If I am about to correct a mistake, or apologize, or ask my wife for advice, or do something at work that I am really not required to do, or volunteer my time to help the community or donate my hard-earned, after-tax money to some cause... if I am about to do any of that and somebody tells me I "better do it," then it pisses me off and makes me not want to do it just to show them I have the option.

That's the way I am beginning to feel about this election. I have tried my best to be clear-headed and unemotional. I have read and studied, sought the facts, looked at alternatives and come away (once again) with the sad conclusion that I don't like either candidate. The candidates I would have preferred were left in the dust long ago. Some of them quit politics in disgust before that.

But even when I am about to cast a vote for the less disagreeable of two alternatives, having the feeling I am being blackmailed triggers in me an impulse to rebel, just to show them who's in charge of at least one person's vote. That's the feeling I get when the headlines keep beating the drum with messages about terrorism.

I don't need to be told about terrorism any more.
I got it.
I got it on September 11, 2001.
I got it when I looked at that horrible video of a beheading.
I got it when the President rode it into the ground during the GOP convention. And I still got it, thanks. More reminders are out of order for me. Every time I hear someone mention September 11 now I want to puke.

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

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

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

Having said that, I reserve the right to vote for an alternative as my conscience dictates. I have lived my adult life standing for constructive, peaceful alternatives. I have faced the word "coward" in a very personal way and discovered that the use of that word is really another form of blackmail. It is a rhetorical device calculated to manipulate the emotions of the persen so branded for the purpose of making him yield to peer pressure.

There is a very thin line that divides peer pressure from mob behavior. I think that some time in the last several months a lot of people have crossed that line. I have read passionate appeals, in English, from Iraqis who truly believe that if George Bush is not returned to the White House then the forces of evil will have prevailed in Iraq. By extension, when the forces of evil prevail in Iraq, then they are also about the prevail all over the world. I want to reach out an hug those passionate writers in a warm and comforting embrace, to assure them that in the end the forces of good will prevail...they make me want to cry in sympathy.

It's not easy to grasp, but when I vote Tuesday to send a message to Washington that there are still plenty of us left who do not like what is going on both there and abroad, it would be best if I didn't have to listen to how ignorant and unpatriotic I am. There are at least two levels of political reality that separate me from Washington, not counting the level of ignorance that seems to prevail there. The first is the electoral college. Thanks to that system I live in a Red State. It wouldn't matter if I lived in a Blue State, the same system would insure that any vote that I make contrary to the majority in my state is mainly symbolic. The second level lies, as my friend Catfish points out, in our being a republic, not a democracy.

The memorable words of Ben Franklin echo in my head. After the constitutional convention someone asked Franklin what do we have, a monarchy or a republic. He replies "a republic, if you can keep it."

Sometimes I wonder if we can keep it, Dr. Franklin.

Despite all the checks and balances, the incredible power of lobbies, the pork barrel nature of appropraitions, the fact that a century after that first constitutional convention we finally got around to freeing slaves, and a century after that we were able to admit that "separate but equal" really meant "unequal." I went to a birthday party yesterday for a lady who was a child when women finally got the right to vote in America. I guess we are hanging on to the republic. Keeping track of political progress is like watching a tree grow. As long as it greens up in the spring and lives for another season, life goes on for another year.

But I sure will be glad when this election is over.

Friday, October 29, 2004

VC is not always Vietnam Catfish

In this case, it means "venture capitalist." That's someone who underwrites new business ventures by putting his (or somebody's) money where his mouth is. You need to be pretty savy about a lot of things to do that for a living.

Here is an endorsement for Colorado initiative #36 which would divide electoral votes from Colorado to reflect the way citizens voted in the Presidential Election, rather than the current, winner-take-all, system.

Feld Thoughts: I just voted and it felt good: "The anarchist is me voted for Colorado Amendment 36 (proportional voting). Last time I checked, we lived in a 'one vote for each person country', although I can't ever remember whether we live in a democracy or a republic (and - after reading this link - I still can't tell.) Lots of folks rail against the electoral college - I took my mandatory semester of government in high school and couldn't figure it out. Colorado's proportional voting amendment is retroactive, so if it passes, the 9 Colorado electoral votes will be allocated proportionally (making Colorado most likely a 5-4 state.) My election prediction at this point is that Kerry will win by 3 votes, Colorado Amendment 36 will pass, Colorado will go 5-4 to Bush, the Bush faction will sue for unconstitionality of the retroactivity of Amendment 36, and the Colorado Supreme Court will have some fun in November and December (and we won't find out who our new president is until 2005 sometime.)"
This guy has his finger on a lot of pulses. He has to predict market trends and business responses with reliability in order to pay the rent as a venture capitalist. I haven't looked at the individual companies in the left side bar of his blog listing "my companies" but just having a list impresses me. My list would be quite short. And it wouldn't even be "mine".

The MESOPOTAMIAN on the Presidential Election

It seems the whole world has been polarized by the US elections. Here an Iraqi blogger clearly endorses Bush's return to the job.

THE MESOPOTAMIAN: "If you think that President Bush has done a good job and is the better man to lead the war on terror, then no more needs to be said.

If you think the President did a bad job and made mistakes and got us all in a mess, then he must not be let off and must stay to clear the mess. Letting him off now will release him from his responsibility to finish the job and tidy up.

If you replace him now with the Senator, then both men will have ready excuses for any future failure. The one will be able to say that he was not allowed to finish his work and the other can say that it was not his fault anyway, because the other made such mistakes as to make any remedy impossible.

Here is an open and shut case. Folks, think logically, and you will find that there is only one answer and one choice, dictated with mathematical precision by simple logic."

Foreign observers don't see the distance that separates the population on the street in America from the centers of power in Washington.

For example, I live in one of the "red states" which have already been conceded to Bush by one and all. Thanks to the electoral college syetem, since there are not enough voters from the loyal opposition in my state, the whole slate of electors will award all the electoral votes to Bush, even if there is a razor thin divide among the votors. So much for "making your vote count."

Colorado has advanced the idea that electoral votes might be apportioned to reflect a divided electorate, but every commentary I have seen has maligned the idea because it would make Colorado into a state where no presidential candidate would waste his effort, presumably because he couldn't get something for nothing (i.e. electoral votes not awarded the old fashioned way, in effect disenfranchising those who didn't vote in his favor).

Still Kickin'

Yogi Berra is interviewed in a WSJ piece. He hasn't lost his way with language.

OpinionJournal - Leisure & Arts: "It's a lucky few who get to visit a museum and talk with the person it's named after. As Yogi Berra himself said at the 1998 dedication of the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center here: 'This is a great honor. Usually you have to be dead to get something like this.'"


"Yogi," someone asked toward the end of the evening, "is this going to become an annual event?"

"Well, yeah," replied the Hall of Famer, "if we do it every year."

Thursday, October 28, 2004

New undies for the fashion-minded vamp

Not likely I'll ever see any of these, but it illustrates how entrepreneurial geeks can be. There is still a population that would stare and blink unknowingly, but that bunch is disappearing.

ThinkGeek :: HTTPanties:
"What's your status?
If you've ever run across a '403 Forbidden' error on a web site, it means you've either stumbled onto the wrong page, or you've been snooping where you shouldn't be! One nice thing about the Hypertext Transfer Protocol that runs the web (HTTP for short) is that it includes helpful status codes such as '404 Not Found' when a resource can't be found and '403 Forbidden' when the web site you're knocking at does not want you to come in.
One rarely seen status code is the elusive '200 OK' which basically means that everything went fine, and you're seeing the page you're supposed to be seeing!
We thought it sure would be handy if life came with status codes, but since it doesn't, we did the next best thing and printed them on stuff you wear. But not just any old stuff - we had to try something different, and print them on undies. So we bring you HTTPanties for the discriminating woman who would prefer a web-savvy and somewhat-direct approach in the romance department. "

With a nod to Garrison Keillor

It's a dark night in a city that knows how to keep its secrets, but high above the mean streets, a light burns on the 12th floor of the Acme Building, where Vee Cee--hard boiled, world-weary, yet surprisingly articulate--is trying to find the answers to life's questions. In his big swivel chair under the bare bulb beside the beat-up gray file cabinet, he awaits the call of his clientele: the disappointed, the paranoid, the embittered, the rejected. But instead of a paying customer,what does he get? A knock on the door ... Link

A new writer on the scene picks it up from here...

The beautiful blonde is mesmerized by Vee Cee, the hunk of all hunks.

"How can I please you, Vee?" They had just met in a singles bar and had returned to Vee's crib.

"No one can please Vee, my love, even tho all of womankind has tried," his hand gently unclasping her bra strap."

"Make passionate love to me, Vee Cee! I will be your love slave," she gasps unable to control herself.

Just a teaser, you know. You'll have to click to the site to discover the denouement.

On the mortality of Yassar Arafat

Via Kesher Talk we have this tidbit...

Roger L. Simon: Arafat Deathwatch - Is he already dead?: "Arafat goes to a fortune teller and asks: 'On what day will I die?'
The fortune teller said: 'It will be on a Jewish Holiday.'
Arafat said: 'Which one? Rosh Ha'Shonah? Yom Kippur?'
The fortune teller said: 'I do not know, but what ever day you die, that day will be a Jewish Holiday.'"

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

James Lileks has a fantasy

We'll go right to the end because it's the best. And easiest to get. In his usual manner, Lileks is all over the place this morning, opening with Natalie and the laptop to a minifisking of Andrew Sullivan. The Bleat ends with this deliscious tidbit:

LILEKS (James) The Bleat: "I have a fantasy. Kerry wins. He's having a summit with Tony Blair. In the middle of the conversation, Chirac calls up; Kerry excuses himself and has a brief chat about a new resolution to let French oil companies bid on reconstruction projects, and they have an amiable conversation in French. Kerry hangs up.

"Your predecessor," Blair says, "spoke to him in English."

"I know," says President Kerry. "He couldn't speak French."

"He didn't have to," Blair notes. He gives a tight smile. And sighs. And gets down to explaining what now must be done.

If Tony B. ran against Kerry in this country, I wonder who'd win? I'd vote for him. Everything else aside, he gets it. He always has. "

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Comic relief from Lileks. Lord, we need it more than ever.

Backfence: Weighty issues, pounds of advice: "Hamburger buns with little interlocking tabs baked in, like the dealies on weightlifting weights that keep them from spinning against each other. Each bun half would be baked separately, rather than sliced, and the tabs would be long enough to allow them to touch the other bun even after you loaded them up. That would prevent the dreaded bun slump that happens when you fully load a burger with the God-intended lettuce, tomato, pickles, onions, mustard, mayonnaise and ketchup. "

What does it mean? IED

Military Factory - Military Weapons - Improvised Explosive Devices: "Improvised Explosive Devices are 'home-made' devices made to mame, harrass or kill.

They typically are thrown or laid on the sides of roads or on the roads themselves (unseen by a passing vehicle occupant).

Improvised Explosive Devices (or IED's) may be created using various household chemicals or military components in the right combustable combinations. Various packages can also be used to deliver the bomb - from paper bags and steel pipes (pipe bombs) to card board boxes and milk crates. Other packages that have been used include mortar and howitzer shells.

Ingredients as simple as cooking oil have also been known to be used in Improvised Explosive Devices. Improvised Explosive Devices can be set off by a timer, a timed fuse or a cell phone.

Improvised Explosive Devices is commonly used by guerilla forces utilizing offbeat tactics where materials and weapons must be improvised (ala Molotov Cocktails - simple fragmentation bombs made from flamable contents in glass bottles). "

Wampum: Homework on the missing explosives

Dry, plain language about what went missing and a couple of terse remarks about consequences.
Wampum: cribbed from the Orange Book: "If we're lucky (for a very large value of 'we'), most of it will be wasted in spectacularly large IEDs in an already IED-materials-rich enviornment. Maybe we'll all (for a very large value of 'we') will be lucky. If we're not lucky, three quarters of a million drops of rain is a lot of raindrops to attempt to dodge."

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Podcasting: Radio on demand, cousin to VOD

It's coming. Learn about it now so you won't be left out when it gets here.

Since the Net and the Web came along in the early and mid-90s, I've had a growing impatience with waiting around for stuff on the radio I might care about. Another way to look at it: All radio, commercial and noncommercial, including what we call the 'content', was turning into the same kind of stuff-to-endure as the advertising and promotional announcements that paid for it. But now most of my radio listening is to what Adam Curry and others are starting to call podcasts. That last link currently brings up 24 results on Google. A year from now, it will pull up hundreds of thousands, or perhaps even millions.

* * * *
What matters is that all the standards we're working with here are open. They're the new and growing infrastructure for a new class of 'casting. It won't replace old-fashioned broadcasting, just as FM didn't replace AM, and TV didn't replace radio. And it's not narrowcasting, which is conceived as broadcasting for fewer people. It's podcasting. I'll create an acronym for it: Personal Option Digital 'casting. Link

Got that?
Personal Option Digital = PODcasting
Doc Searls just made up the acronym. Adam Curry is a refugee from MTV and Radio, living in Amsterdam. He produces a streaming example of what Doc Searls calls Podcasting. It sounds like a radio variety show. Give it a try. Remember, you read it here first. Now go read about it...

Scrubbing the White House to be even Whiter

Not surprised.
Looks like unofficial official records are being modified. The White House website is like the Nixon or LBJ tapes, except it isn't secret. Oddly, any systematic attempt to mess with content is sure to attract more negative attention than anything being expunged. Why, in the name of good sense, would anybody even start such a thing?
Brad Friedman is on the case. Seems like he may have been one of the original architects of the official site. Wouldn't somebody stop to think that he, or someone, might be watching? That sort of thing is politically risky.

After reviewing scores of pages of White House transcribed Press Conferences by George Bush, it seems that the removal of certain audio and video clips has perhaps been strategically or systematically orchestrated. Here's a few examples of some of the pages that have had their linked Audio and/or Video clips removed, along with some of the notable Bush quotes -- that "notability" is mere conjecture on my part -- from their transcripts that perhaps the White House would prefer not be easily available to folks anymore (NOTE: The Audio and Video links are still on the following pages, but the content for them, when those links are clicked upon, is no longer available.)

March 29, 2001:
"Press Conference by the President" Notable Quotes:"Mis-underestimate" and more.
July 22, 2001:
"Press Conference by President Bush and President Putin"Notable Quotes:"And I assured them that from a fiscal perspective, one, we're going to hold the line on spending.""I said my administration has had a full-scale review of the climate issue; that we're in the process of developing a strategy as quickly as we possibly can and one that we look forward to sharing with our friends and allies. A strategy that begins with the notion that we want to reduce greenhouse gasses in America.""And they're going to find out that when I say we're interested in reducing greenhouse gasses that we mean it."
July 23, 2001:
"Press Conference by President Bush and Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi"Notable Quotes:"it is an issue [stem cell research] that, on the one hand, deals with so much hope, hope that perhaps through research and development we'll be able to save lives. It's also an issue that has got serious moral implications. And our nation must think carefully before we proceed. And, therefore, my process has been, frankly, unusually deliberative for my administration. I'm taking my time."
March 22, 2002:
"Press Conference by President Bush and President Fox"Notable Quotes:"He is a dangerous man who possesses the world's most dangerous weapons.""I hope that, of course, he allows inspectors to go into his country, like he promised he would do. Not for he sake of letting inspectors in, but to showing the world that he has no weapons of mass destruction." Link

It's Sunday night, 8:30. I just tried the White House links from my home page. The first one, featuring the famous "misunderestimated" quote, works perfectly, audio as well as transcript. The others, however, keep holding on "connecting" but don't seem to get through.
Could it be that someone is putting the poop back into the horse? Boy, word travels fast.

Real Live Preacher

Preachers aren't supposed to use profanity but this one does. Well, not exactly, but he quotes accurately when someone else uses profanity. His stories are short, like the parables of the New Testament. He really is a preacher. And for a long time the members of his little church had no idea that he had a much larger ministry on line with his Real Live Preacher weblog. He was found out, however, and as his reputation grew he was also persuaded to publish a book, which he has done.
He still tells stories, though. This one only takes a minute or two to read. Here is an excerpt:

I become vaguely aware of a red pickup coming to a stop near me. When it doesn't move on, I lift my head and see a man wearing a John Deere cap and sunglasses looking at me from inside the truck. The electric window glides down and he speaks to me.
"You a visitor?"
"Yes," I say, pleasantly. I think that maybe this is his first time here, and I feel a desire to help make his orientation easier than mine was. I want to invite him to ask questions, so after a brief pause I ask, "Why?"
He stares at me for a moment, then slowly turns and looks straight ahead. He drums his thumbs energetically on the steering wheel as if he is considering what to say to me. When he finally speaks he keeps his hands on the wheel and continues to stare straight ahead.
"No reason."
This is, of course, a lie. You don't stop your pickup, roll down the window, and ask a stranger a question without some kind of reason. Not in Texas, anyway. Link

Ribbons for a cause

Thank goodness, it isn't just me. Every time I see one of those ribbon thingies I have a pang of guilt because I don't know what it means. (Like when someone says something about sports that even children apparently understand and I don't know what they are talking about.) Jeff Jarvis came across this comprehensive list:

Black: Anti-gang, Melanoma, Mourning, In Memoriam
Brown: Colorectal Cancer
Burgundy: Hospice Care, Multiple Myeloma
Dark Blue: Child Abuse, Water Quality, Crime Victim Rights, Arthritis
Gold: Childhood Cancer
Gray / Grey: Urban Violence, Brachial Plexus, Brain Cancer, Diabetes Awareness
Green: Ecology,Environment, Organ Donor, Ovarian Cancer, Missing Children, Leukemia, Childhood Depression, Bone Marrow Donation, Lyme's Disease, Tissue Donation, Worker Safety, Lymphoma, Glaucoma, Light Blue: Prostate Cancer, Scleroderma, Trisomy 18
Light Violet/Lavender: Hodgkin's Disease, General Cancers, Epilepsy, Rett Syndrome, Gynecological Cancer
Off Pink: Bone Osteoporosis
Orange: Racial Tolerance, Cultural Diversity, Feed the Nation, Highway Safety, Hunger, Leukemia, Lupus
Orchid: Testicular Cancer
Pearl: Lung Cancer, Multiple Sclerosis
Periwinkle Blue: Eating Disorders, Pulmonary Hypertension
Pink: Cancer, Breast Cancer, Birth Parents
Purple: Violence, Children with Disabilities, Domestic Violence, Pancreatic Cancer, Alzheimer's, Crohn's & Colitis, Cystic Fibrosis, Fibromyalgia, Leimyosarcoma, Lupus
Red: HIV/Aids, DUI Awareness, Substance Abuse, Epidermolysis Bullosa, Lymphoma
Teal: Ovarian Cancer, Substance Abuse
White: Right to Life, Alzheimer's, Adoptee, Diabetes, Student Sexual Assault Child Exploitation and Abuse, Retinal Blastoma
Yellow: Come Home, POW/MIA, Support, Equality, Endometriosis, Adoptive Parent, Suicide, Spina Bifada, Missing Children, Troop Support

Imagine a wearable grid, something like military bigshots wear over their hearts on dress uniforms, horizontal ribbons organized on a board. Can you see it? It could become a fashion statement.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Wampum: Flu Vaccine Shortage Snipe Hunt

Ran out of flu vaccine, we did.
Curious why?
Politicians try to blame each other, but the bottom line is the bottom line.
This, too, shall pass.

The shortage of flu vaccine has nothing to do with evil trial lawyers driving compaines out of business. Republicans should, but won't, stop suggesting otherwise. Trial lawyers (along with 9/11) are the all purpose boogie man on which anything can be blamed in GOP circles. Evidence just does matter. That is why they are not part of the reality-based community. Link

Do your own research, of course. Don't accept anything without checking the facts.

Wampum is a well done, failry low-key site. Indians don't see the government in the same way as others not subject to generations of questionable treatment. And that's putting it charitably toward the government.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Slashdot | Neal Stephenson Responds With Wit and Humor

Roller-coaster time!
No time this morning to go into detail, but here is a corner of creative genius that is light years ahead of political pundits and science. It derives in part from comic books.
Don't laugh. Comic books are serious stuff. Did you know that the typeface you have seen on the drop-down lists a tousand times called "comic sans" is lifted directly from comics? It is. Look it up. Comic books are very much into making stuff clear and easy to grasp. That's why the lines are so clear.

I was put on the track of comics by a Neil Gaiman reference in Stephenson's interview. Gaiman's bio makes it a point to mention his comic book origins. I have to credit that root for today's pop cyberculture if only because it predated everything else and was its only counterpart in the fifties. Even with the advent of technology the cross pollenation between comics and the cyberworld has continued. Dick Tracy's wrist radio is now for sale everywhere in a not too different form .

In case you run across references to Beowulf writers and Dante writers here is an explanation:

Nowadays, rock stars and movie stars are making all the money. But the publishing industry still works for some lucky novelists who find a way to establish a connection with a readership sufficiently large to put bread on their tables. It's conventional to refer to these as "commercial" novelists, but I hate that term, so I'm going to call them Beowulf writers.

But this is not true for a great many other writers who are every bit as talented and worthy of finding readers. And so, in addition, we have got an alternate system that makes it possible for those writers to pursue their careers and make their voices heard. Just as Renaissance princes supported writers like Dante because they felt it was the right thing to do, there are many affluent persons in modern society who, by making donations to cultural institutions like universities, support all sorts of artists, including writers. Usually they are called "literary" as opposed to "commercial" but I hate that term too, so I'm going to call them Dante writers. And this is what I mean when I speak of a bifurcated system.

So here we go...

To set it up, a brief anecdote: a while back, I went to a writers' conference. I was making chitchat with another writer, a critically acclaimed literary novelist who taught at a university. She had never heard of me. After we'd exchanged a bit of of small talk, she asked me
"And where do you teach?" just as naturally as one Slashdotter would ask another "And which distro do you use?" [Look out! This word distro is a landmine.]

I was taken aback. "I don't teach anywhere," I said.

Her turn to be taken aback. "Then what do you do?"

"I'm...a writer,' I said. Which admittedly was a stupid thing to say,
since she already knew that.

"Yes, but what do you do?'

I couldn't think of how to answer the question---I'd already answered it!

"You can't make a living out of being a writer, so how do you make
money?" she tried.

"From...being a writer," I stammered.

At this point she finally got it, and her whole affect changed. She wasn't snobbish about it. But it was obvious that, in her mind, the sort of writer who actually made a living from it was an entirely different creature from the sort she generally associated with.

And once I got over the excruciating awkwardness of this conversation, I began to think she was right in thinking so. One way to classify artists is by to whom they are accountable

Don't miss the account of Stephenson's three big fights with William Gibson, another writer. Here is the first one:
The first time was a year or two after SNOW CRASH came out. I was doing a reading/signing at White Dwarf Books in Vancouver. Gibson stopped by to say hello and extended his hand as if to shake. But I remembered something Bruce Sterling had told me. For, at the time, Sterling and I had formed a pact to fight Gibson. Gibson had been regrown in a vat from scraps of DNA after Sterling had crashed an LNG tanker into Gibson's Stealth pleasure barge in the Straits of Juan de Fuca. During the regeneration process, telescoping Carbonite stilettos had been incorporated into Gibson's arms. Remembering this in the nick of time, I grabbed the signing table and flipped it up between us. Of course the Carbonite stilettos pierced it as if it were cork board, but this spoiled his aim long enough for me to whip my wakizashi out from between my shoulder blades and swing at his head. He deflected the blow with a force blast that sprained my wrist. The falling table knocked over a space heater and set fire to the store. Everyone else fled. Gibson and I dueled among blazing stacks of books for a while. Slowly I gained the upper hand, for, on defense, his Praying Mantis style was no match for my Flying Cloud technique. But I lost him behind a cloud of smoke. Then I had to get out of the place. The streets were crowded with his black-suited minions and I had to turn into a swarm of locusts and fly back to Seattle.

Neal Stephenson's writing is classified as postcyberpunk. Postcyberpunk is heir to cyberpunk (duh), a subspecies of science fiction. Pop films springing from this genre include Bladerunner, The Terminator series, Robocop and the like. Stephenson is a wellspring of creativity, as this Slashdot interview displays.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

About elections and the war in Iraq

Both the administration and its opposition have succeded in making the upcoming presidential election a plebiscite on the war. The administration has an advantage because we are led to view the war though the lens of September 11, 2001 (now three years past, incidentally). That defining moment marks the formation of a political will to defeat terrorism, but it by no means marks the start of terrorism. Efforts to defeat terrorism have been going on for a long time, but the term "war" only got applied when American popular consciousness finally caught up with global reality.

Most Americans believe that the war in Iraq is the same as the War on Terror. It is true that there are terrorists in Iraq and they are responsible for much of the conflict, but terrorism is an international, not local concern. By focusing on a local conflict in the form of a conventional war the US is feeding rather than delimiting the forces of terror.

Often cited as a justification for the war is the "fight for democracy and freedom". The meaning of freedom is not the same for Iraqis as it is for Americans. And democracy is by no means what we really want because of the plain threat that there will be a tyranny of the majority, one of the principal problems with democracy recognized long ago.

This piece makes me wonder if we really want democracy in a place where the majority is so ready to abuse a minority group.

Talking to my relatives in Iraq makes me certain things are not going well for Christians, who constitute an estimated 3 percent of Iraq's population, or 800,000 people. My aunt has complained many times about the Christians' situation in Basra since the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime. Islamic extremists are now trying to impose Iranian-style rules in the city. They started by burning liquor stores owned by Christians, and prohibited the sale of alcohol in public. My aunt left with her family for Syria in August. Link

Pro-war sentiment has now crystalized to the point that to speak of being against the war is tantamount to treason. As I listen to talk radio and television is sense that few people remain who are willing to speak openly about trying to find a way for the US to bring this conflict to an end. We want to "win", of course, but the meaning of that word is as elusive today as it was when it was used forty years ago regarding the ostensible defeat of Communism in Southeast Asia. There is no way to recognize when we have won, because the problems we are fighting are multiplying rather than diminishing.

What is the connection between terrorism and Christian liquor store owners? You don't see it? Neither do I, but that is very much beside the point. If significant numbers of devout Muslims see a connection, then there is one. As far as terrorism is concerned, the reality has more to do with planting and inflaming a conflict rather than trying to figure out a way to avert one. Vigilante groups are an expression of democracy at its most basic level.

Likewise, when a handful of civilians, no doubt under the tutelage of a trained, card-carrying "terrorist", get together to build, plant and watch over a roadside bomb in hopes of detonating it as an American convoy goes past, the impact of terrorism is spreading, not shrinking. When a community feels threatened eveyone becomes a soldier. For every roadside bomb that detonates, there are many more that do not. When I hear stories of roadside bombs killing people, I think of the tragedy and loss of life, but I also think of many others that are set and ready, like so many mousetraps or fishing lures, that didn't go off. Each of these enterprises represents a spreading disease in Iraq. Trying to wipe them out is like drinking prune juice as a remedy for diarrhea.

"If we didn't fight them there, then we would have to fight them over here."

Sorry. I don't get it. What would that little coven of locals do? Take up a collection from their friends and neighbors in Fallujah or Basra and catch a plane to America? I think not. Their coach, on the other hand, the real terrorist who put them up to what they are doing, he might do just that. But when the American artillery opened up, it would not be him in the sights, any more than it is now. It would be the hapless pawns he convinced to do his work.

Muckraking in the Twenty-first Century

In language that can only come from sanctimonious clerical origins, a wordy petition seeks repentance on the part of the president because he has not been a good Christian.

There was a time that circulating a petition meant putting words on a piece of paper and having people sign their actual name with a real pen or pencil. Now through the magic of technology, anyone with an axe to grind can advance any proposition into the public discussion, no matter how obscure the origins may be. Whether or not any names get collected is secondary to the impact of the effort. Modern muckrakers have electronic assistants collecting information from the internet as they sleep to furnish enough grist to keep them in business for several lifetimes.

Muckraking in the twenty-first century has reached Googled proportions. This scrap of trivia is brought to you via Kos, a left-leaning blog that according to Power Line (three lawyer buddies of Glenn Reynolds) gets three quarters of a million hits a day.

Letter of Complaint - United Methodists Call for Accountable Leadership: We, the undersigned, do hold that George W. Bush, a member of Highland Park United Methodist Church* (UMC) in Dallas, Texas, and Dick Cheney (local membership unknown) are undeniably guilty of at least four chargeable offenses for lay members as listed in 2702.3 of the 2000 Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church. These offenses are: crime, immorality, disobedience to the Order and Discipline of The UMC, and dissemination of doctrine contrary to the established standards of doctrine of The UMC. For these offenses, we the undersigned call for an immediate and public act of repentance by the respondents. If the respondents do not reply with sincere and public repentance for their crimes, we demand that their membership in the United Methodist Church be revoked until such time that
they sincerely and publicly repent.

The site goes to some pains to talk about correcting the language of the petition regarding the address of the congregation cited. Details like that seem unimportant compared with the irreversable impact of the document.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Exploding TV

Television as we know it is on the verge of a technological explosion. This is not going to happen next week, but it will happen faster than most people will expect. It's not too early to start doing your homework.

Yesterday we talked about what happens when TV content becomes available and addressable the way web content is today. We talked about Video On Demand (VOD), TV delivered over phone lines (IP TV), Video on the Internet (Streaming), and Downloadable Video (Bit Torrent). Link

These are the terms to remember (for the moment) until one or more emerge as dominant.
  • VOD
  • IPTV
  • Streaming (Internet VOD)
  • Bit Torrent (Downloadable VOD)

Jeff Jarvis is at the forward edge of all this. He seems to be one of the coffee klatch buddies who get together to plan the next the Next Big Thing. Despite his credentials ["JEFF JARVIS is former TV critic for TV Guide and People, creator of Entertainment Weekly, Sunday Editor of the NY Daily News, and a columnist on the San Francisco Examiner. He is now president & creative director of This is a personal site."] he comes across very modestly. He is into VLOGing, the video counterpoint to blogging. His blogroll and VLOGroll are worth a look.

: [Colon. That's how he writes.] The way to make big money in the longrun in the explosion of TV is to go around the present players. The current networks can't act subversively because cable MSOs have them by the balls (and won't let them put content out there on the internet to compete with cable) and rights-holders and lawyers have them by the neck (and will stop them from distributing content) and they're addicted to big money -- big expenses, big revenue, constant growth.

So learn lessons from the explosion of the print industry thanks to the advent of online: Many of the big players will be new players -- video Googles, Yahoos, Netscapes (RIP), eBays, Amazons, CraigsLists, and so on. Oh, there'll be money made by the old guys in addressable video; they'll make it sooner. But eventually, the subsversive companies will do to video what, for example, CraigsList has done to papers.

Walled gardens (AOL = cable MSOs; Pathfinder = oldstyle networks) will not prevail. Open, distributed, ad hoc networks will win.

Interactivity won't mean pushing a button to get "more about this" while you watch a TV show (as ITV is now defined, insultingly and boringly). Interactivity will mean recommending TV shows to the rest of the world, remixing TV shows, making TV shows: citizens' TV.
New tools and citizen producers will reduce the cost of producing TV to a comparative nil and there goes the barrier to entry to video. Link

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Service, marketing and that order

Two items caught my attention this morning as I listened to the radio. The first was a story about caviar. The other was about Starbucks. Both concern food and marketing, which have been my life for about thirty-five years.

The gold standard for caviar is Caspian beluga sturgeon. Without going into detail, Russian caviar has been a treasure from the beginning because the supply is smaller than the demand. Like estate wines, saffron, ivory or gold, the supply is not likely to grow, but opportunities are there for well done, high-end alternatives.

It takes years for a sturgeon to mature enough for a viable caviar harvest, but domestic aquaculture has been on the job long enough now that a niche market has developed. I was surprised last year whe on a trip to Kentucky I learned that former tobacco farmers were experimenting with raising shrimp, of all things. Far from a coastline, in ponds, domestic shrimp is being grown for market, so caviar from Idaho or California is not a crazy idea.

Changing the subject for a moment, a couple of weeks ago I was listening to the radio on the way to work when a new music album was being played followed by an in-depth interview with the group that just released it. On an impulse, I stopped at a mall with the intention of buying the album.

I admit to being old, but I had forgotten how old I was until I realized that they don't sell records any more. They don't even sell tapes, for that matter, except for a small display at the rear of the store. It's like trying to find suspenders. Thrift stores and flea markets is as good as it gets.

Music today means compact discs. And not necessarily a commercially produced CD. Four years ago, before Napster got castrated, one of my employees was downloading music and burning CD's to be used as Christmas gifts, each one with music especially picked for the person receiving the gift! That was a lot more creative than fruitcake. And the idea has not gone away.

Starbucks is rolling out a CD burning service in conjunction with their coffee. The idea didn't just pop into someone's head last year and emerge as a fully-developed marketing plan a year later. They were thinking out of the box for some time.

Starbucks has been quietly preparing for an entry into the music business for more than a decade. It has had modest but growing success with its 'artist's choice' albums and other compilations that showcase musicians that appeal to its core customers. Five years ago, Starbucks bought HearMusic, a small group of West Coast record stores founded by McKinnon and staffed by music aficionados. HearMusic was the first to offer CD listening stations in the early '90s. Link

The food business has always been vigorously competetive. My career started with retail cheese, a boutique idea grabbed by grocery chains as soon as demand made it feasible. Cafeterias were preempted by food courts (and their little sisters, buffets and food bars). Labor intensive products are cranked out by factories as technology has made it easier, safer and cheaper to use butter, pie shells, mayonnaise, artificial flavors, frozen pre-breaded items, poultry and other meats without bone or gristle and an endless list of canned, packaged and substitute products.

American Soldier

Found a blog being published by a young trooper in Iraq. Of course this may lead to the end of his writing, but so far he is still on the internet.

I will go out on a limb and because this is my forum, I will say that I agree with what they did....They said the vehicles were deadline. That means that they are not suppose to leave the motorpool (garage), unless a commander signs off on it...When you are strolling down a MSR in Iraq, you don't want to break down. You don't want to even stop; hell you would rather take a piss in a Gatorade bottle [than] stop! Link
The story is getting legs, as they say, thanks to the alphabet networks. They are trying not to politicize the thing, of course, because the election is only a few days off.

About the draft

Nothing betrays the contradictatory thinking of the public more than discussions of a military draft. Anti-war people invoke the possibility of drafting as a political tool to frighten others into also becoming anti-war. Hawks labor to disassociate themselves with the draft, saying that the all-volunteer army can do the job.

...the draft is the issue designed to scare otherwise apathetic students into voting.

If patriotism and "supporting the troops" has any meaning, it should also mean "Yes, I believe in what you are doing, so much, in fact, that I am willing to put my life on the line (like you are) or encourage eligible family members to join you." It seems to me that anyone supporting a war effort should also support the draft, if only in the interest of consistency.

Democracy is like a cafeteria line. Those standing in line want the line to move. "You need to get those people on down the line so we don't have to wait so long!" But when it comes that person's turn to be served, the time for being rushed is past. "Don't rush me, young man! I'll make up my mind, but I don't like being pushed!" (So what were you doing all the time you were waiting?)

The volunteer army is long as it ain't me who is volunteering.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Introducing Rachel Lucas

There is a handful of gifted writers on the internet who write so well that when they rant the result is sheer poetry. Rachel Lucas is one of these people. She quit blogging for a while, but she is getting back into the groove after a long break.
I don't agree with everything she says, but I have to admire the way she says it. As Freddy said to Liza in My Fair Lady, "It's the new small talk.You do it so awfully well."

And then there's Bush. Oh, god, there's Bush. You know, I'm not really sure what he said last night because I was fixated for the first half hour on that piece of foamy spit stuck in the corner of his mouth. It was disgusting and I could not look. I'm not kidding. I hate it when people get that dry-spit thing in the corner of their mouth. Makes me sick. In elementary school, one of my teachers had a problem with that, and I remember my nausea and repulsion to this day. WIPE THE CORNER OF YOUR MOUTH, MRS. SPENCER, OR I'M GOING TO HURL. It was
hard on me; I was only seven. Link

That snip followed the debate, obviously. There is content to her stuff, believe it or not, but like a Mardi Gras queen the form is often better than the content.

Here she is doing wallpaper herself, having to prepare a wall that was not done with that great "stripable" paper that comes off so well.
Really, I'm just trying to help. Feeling sociopathic? Want to do something downright inhumane but don't want to go to jail? Looking for ways, through home decorating, to express the side of yourself that's ruled by pure, galling, blackhole-like malice? Then there you go. Indulge yourself. Wallpaper unprimed drywall and call it a day. Good for you and have fun in hell. Link

Rachel Lucas cusses, but not as much as she seems to be doing lately. After she gets back into the groove, I predict that her vivid imagination will outrun the need to cuss. That has been the case in the past. Her screeds are ten times as effective and much more satisfying than cussing.

That's why I like blogging. Where else can you find fresh, creative writing and thinking, and in such abundance? The more I read, the more I am amazed at the variety of human experience. I have noticed that after a while bloggers sometimes burn out, or have writer's block. Three or four of my favorite writers have either quit blogging or gone on to something else. I read today on the Blogger news notes that Evan Williams, one of the co-founders of Blogger, has left. Since Google bought Blogger, I expect he had more than cab fare. His weblog has archives going back to 1999. My guess is that like most creative people he will get into something else that will do well.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

A released Jordanian's account

A Jordanian truck driver tells about being held hostage and being forced to witness a beheading. This post, like another one that I posted earlier, is hard reading. The details are graphic. I am not posting those details to my blog, but the links can be pretty disturbing, so be advised accordingly.

Here is a link to MEMRITV, The Middle East Research Institute TV Monitor Project. In this clip the man is being interviewed by a journalist. His words are translated in Arabic and English subtitles. There is nothing visually disturbing, but the account is graphic. MEMRI TV

The same interview was referenced by Fayrouze Hancock in her weblog fromDallas on Friday. She also didn't dwell on the graphic details of the article, but she ended with the most important part, his assesment that "There is no resistance. They are all criminals and thieves." Here is the link to the Daily Star story. The Daily Star is a Lebanese publication with an on-line edition in English.

There is something pornographic about focusing on the ugly details of human bahavior. But there is also something hypocritical about turning away when we as citizens are sponsoring a war. As sponsors, particularly of a preemptive war, we need to see conflict in more sanitary terms. It is okay to see the most graphic of blood and death on a screen as long as we know it is a production and the special effects and cinematography are top notch. But when we are forced to think about a real enemy we need to have the image short and easy to understand, unmitigated and demonstrably evil, worthy only of annihilation.

It is unsettling to imagine that there may be a food chain of terror, beginning with ordinary criminals who simply grab people, in the same way that thieves steal automobiles, to be sold on the aftermarket for profit. That seems to be the pattern suggested by the Farnaz Fassihi email I mentioned last week. The unsettling part is that dropping a bomb on a bunch of people, excusing collateral damage, no longer works because the innocents outnumber the guilty.


Alaa, the writer of the Mesopotamian, speaks passionately in favor of the reelection of George Bush. I have made reference before to "speaking from the heart". You can tell when it is happening, and this is just such a case. At a couple thousand hits a day, this is not just another blog. Here is a compelling argument that deserves to be read.

Note that we are not saying that President Bush is perfect, nor even that he is better than the Senator, just that the present situation is such that a change of leadership at this crucial point is going to send an entirely wrong message to all the enemies. Unfortunately, it seems to me that many in the U.S. don't quite appreciate how high the stakes are. The challenge is mortal, and you and we are locked in a War, a National Emergency; and in such circumstances partisan considerations must be of secondary importance.

This is an excerpt. The whole thing will take a minute or two longer to read, but it is worth the time.

China sends riot police to Haiti

My buddy Catfish sometimes speaks of "synchronicity." This morning's example:

My post regarding Cuba mentions China and the irony of watching communism implode all over the world, except here in the Western Hemisphere, on another island not far from Haiti/Domincan Republic, where Castro's stripe of socialism is extant, thanks to US protection. China, however, is sending riot control police around the world to help maintain order in that misery-begotten country. James Monroe must be turning over in his grave.

As they say, truth is sometimes stranger than fiction. Go figure.

Ninety-five Chinese riot police, including 13 women, left Beijing for Haiti on Sunday, the first Chinese troops to be deployed to the Western Hemisphere.
A small advance team left China last month.
"This is a very hard task but we are full of confidence to succeed in this mission," one woman officer told state television.
The force has spent three months training and passed exams administered by the United Nations.
Specially trained for riots and crowd control, the force will join up with a multinational force on the troubled island.
"This is our country's obligation in safeguarding world peace. China, being a responsible major country in the world, should play such role," Vice Minister of Ministry of Public Security Meng Hongwei told state television.
China has participated in peacekeeping missions since 2000 in East Timor, Liberia and Kosovo, among other places, but it has never sent combat troops.
The 125-member team will have its work cut out in Haiti where about 50 people have been killed since September. Its capital Port-au-Prince has been beset by violence between ex-soldiers who helped topple President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and supporters of the exiled leader who fled on Feb. 29 after US and French pressure to quit.
Brazil is leading a UN force that numbers about
2,600 soldiers. It is a fraction of the 6,700 troops and 1,600 police authorised for the mission to stabilise Haiti after the February revolt in which more than 200 people were killed.


One of my favorite one-liners is by Deng Xiaoping, former Chinese premier, who said "It doesn't matter what color the cat is as long as it catches mice."

Oh. My. God.

A newcomer has joined the family. I would be a very poor example of a grandfather if I continued to write daily posts to a weblog and failed to mark today's historic event as a life-changing moment.

The picture is actually ninety degrees counterclockwise to gravity, but it's better to show it this way than have everyone turn their heads over to look into this wonderful new face. The moment was captured by one of those clever picture phones belonging to his aunt. This picture becomes one of the first defining documents in the formation of a new life.

And isn't that who we are? After all is said and done, we are at least a compendium of documentary records. We can argue and debate all day over what we may have done or said, or what we meant to do or say. Just listen to a presidential "debate" and make of it what you want. But in the end, it's the documents that people need to see. So here is the most important new document in our family, establishing that another citizen is about to start shaping world events.

A warm welcome, my child, and may God richly bless you and your proud parents. A new baby is as close to perfection as human experience can know. It doesn't get better than this.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Babalu Blog: Today's Cubanism and Florida electoral politics

Trivia time!
Don't know when I might ever need to know this, but it's worth filing. I found reference to "no hair on her tongue" together with an explanation, on a Cuban-American blog.

Today's Cubanism
Again I have no idea where this particular Cubanism
originated, but it is also very widely used. I also don't really understand the corollation of the metaphor, but, then again, it's a Cubanism, it ain't supposed to make sense.

No tener pelo en la lengua.
Literal translation:
Not having hair on one's tongue.
If someone doesnt have hair on their tongue, it means that they are a person that says it like it is.
Michele, a lo igual que Kelley son dos que no tienen pelo en la lengua. (Michele and Kelley are two that don't have hair on their tongues.) Link
Anyone interested in Cuban-American politics might want to bookmark this site. I have watched from a distance for years as expatriot Cubans in Florida became the tail wagging the dog in presidential politics. Because Florida is such an important state in the electoral college no candidate has ever been willing to risk losing the Cuban vote.

Consequently, any overtures -- social, economic, political, or even diplomatic -- toward Fidel Castro, have been out of the question. The only position that flies in Florida is that Castro is such an evil dictator that somebody should take him out. Kennedy actually tried to do so, and every administration since has fed Cuba with only the longest of long-handled spoons.

This is not to say that Castro is a great guy or that the system in Cuba is anything to brag about, but other Communist dictators and worse have had better diplomatic and economic treatment over the last thirty or forty years. As a result, the Evil Empire imploded, China is opening up, the Balkans have unraveled, and dictatorial demagagues world-wide are now forced to use religious fundamentalism [even in America, come to think of it] rather than [anti-] socialism to garner mass support.

In the meantime, America has in effect preserved and protected its own pet Communist in a little cage ninety miles from Florida, by insuring that none of the forces attacking the rest of world Socialism have been able to get at Cuba. Some keep boa constrictors, some exotic birds, some tarantulas, but the US keeps Cuba. Every four years presidential candidates of all political pursuasions will not risk losing the Cuban votes in Florida, and between elections, whoever is in power keeps those eggs in the basket and is careful that they don't get broken.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Idle Thoughts

"...something wrong with this picture."
That's a phrase that has been playing in my head for the last twenty-four hours. Like a musical line that won't go away, it keeps repeating...over and over.
I thought it was Twain who said something about the world's being covered mostly by water but it was Ambrose Bierce who defined "ocean" in his Devil's Dictionary:

Ocean: A body of water occupying 2/3 of a world made for man...who has no gills.

Something wrong with this picture.

I was thinking about the elections in Afghanistan. Voting is a new activity for those people. We see pictures of women voting, and old men for the first time in their life. Our eyes get moist with emotion as the whole is presented to America as the poster child for foreign policy success following a war. And Afghanistan furnishes the world with seventy-five percent of the global supply of heroin. Something wrong with this picture.

The number of uninsured people in the US was thirty million when the Clintons famously crashed and burned in a vain effort to do something about it. The number is now in excess of forty million and the only remedy continues to be a marketplace free-for-all (excuse an ironic figure of speech) in which insurers compete to see which can more successfully avoid insuring the population needing their services the most. Something wrong with the picture.

Matthew Yglesias pointed out that at $7700 per family health insurance would be a bargain compared with what is now reported to be over five grand per person. His final comment after running the numbers bandied about in the last debate was "Too bad Kerry has no such plan and the president just made it up."

Yep, something very wrong with the picture.

And I keep thinking about that guy with rat-seasoned greens. How come the server didn't notice? Has anyone tried to find out who cooked or served this delicacy? Or if anybody working there at the time (who may have moved on to greener pastures) had any connections with this guy elsewhere? Just wondering.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Under The Radar

Yet another "morning after" a presidential election debate and a few items are lost in the shuffle.

First, my poor former employer got slapped with some bad press yesterday. A customer reported finding "rat parts" in his plate that seemed to be in the turnip greens.

MORROW, Ga. Oct. 12, 2004 � The Piccadilly restaurant
chain has recalled a brand of turnip greens sold at some of its 132 restaurants after a customer at a Georgia outlet bit into greens containing rat body parts.

The parts came into the restaurant in Morrow frozen with the greens, which were supplied by a vendor, the chain's regional manager, Clint Celestin, said Tuesday.

A spokeswoman for the local health department, Sheryl Taylor, said her agency's investigation was inconclusive as to the source of the contamination.

Celestin did not know exactly how many of the restaurants, located mainly in the Southeast and mid-Atlantic region, were affected by the recall.

"We had all that product removed from all of our stores that day," he said of the Sept. 1 incident. "Anything that was opened was thrown away. Anything that was unopened in the freezer was picked up by our supplier and sent back to the vendor."
The customer, Collis L. Warren, said he was halfway through his meal when he said to himself: "That looks like hair or fur." The 40-year-old truck driver added that he may have inadvertently eaten some of the rat.

His lawyer said Warren plans to sue. Mike Misuraca, Piccadilly Cafeterias' risk manager, said he could not comment on the pending lawsuit.

The health department identified the vendor that sold the turnip greens as Magic Valley Fresh Frozen Inc., of McAllen, Texas.

Larry Griffin, the company's president, declined comment Tuesday on the incident.

This incident occured over a month ago, but the news just got published. I am left wondering why the time lapse between the event and the reporting? Not being a conspiracy nut, I can't buy the notion that some group is out to get the company, but the circumstnces do make me want to say "I smell a rat." Somebody may be using blackmail to improve an out of court settlement. Hmmm.

* * * * * * *

Next, and not related to the first item, I came across a reference to what was supposed to be a "private email" from a (now former) WSJ journalist. This document is being passed around the internet but has not made it to prime time.

Being a foreign correspondent in Baghdad these days is like being undervirtual house arrest. Forget about the reasons that lured me to this job: a chance to see the world, explore the exotic, meet new people in far away lands, discover their ways and tell stories that
could make a difference.

Little by little, day-by-day, being based in Iraq has defied all those reasons. I am house bound. I leave when I have a very good reason to and a scheduled interview. I avoid going to people's homes and never walk in the streets. I can't go grocery shopping any more, can't eat in restaurants, can't strike a conversation with strangers, can't look for stories, can't drive in any thing but a full armored car, can't go to scenes of breaking news stories, can't be stuck in traffic, can't speak English outside, can't take a road trip, can't say I'm an American, can't linger at checkpoints, can't be curious about what people are saying, doing, feeling. And can't and can't. There has been one too many close calls, including a car bomb so near our house that it blew out all the windows. So now my most pressing concern every day is not to write a kick-ass story but to stay alive and make sure our Iraqi employees stay alive. In Baghdad I am a security personnel first, a reporter second.

It's hard to pinpoint when the 'turning point' exactly began. Was it April when the Fallujah fell out of the grasp of the Americans? Was it when Moqtada and Jish Mahdi declared war on the U.S. military? Was it when Sadr City, home to ten percent of Iraq's population, became a nightly battlefield for the Americans? Or was it when the insurgency began spreading from isolated pockets in the Sunni triangle to include most of Iraq? Despite President Bush'srosy assessments, Iraq remains a disaster. If under Saddam it was a 'potential' threat, under the Americans it has been transformed to 'imminent and active threat,' aforeign policy failure bound to haunt the United States for decades to come.

Iraqis like to call this mess 'the situation.' When asked 'how are thing?' they reply: 'the situation is very bad.

"What they mean by situation is this: the Iraqi government doesn't control most Iraqi cities, there are several car bombs going off each day around the country killing and injuring scores of innocent people, the country's roads are becoming impassable and littered by hundreds of landmines and explosive devices aimed to kill American soldiers, there are assassinations, kidnappings and beheadings. The situation, basically, means a raging barbaric guerilla war. In four days, 110 people died and over 300 got injured in Baghdad alone. The numbers are so shocking that the ministry of health -- which was attempting an exercise of public transparency by releasing the numbers -- has now stopped disclosing them.

Insurgents now attack Americans 87 times a day.

A friend drove thru the Shiite slum of Sadr City yesterday. He said young men were openly placing improvised explosive devices into the ground. They melt a shallow hole into the asphalt, dig the explosive, cover it with dirt and put an old tire or plastic can over it to signal to the locals this is booby-trapped. He said on the main roads of Sadr City, there were a dozen landmines per every ten yards. His car snaked and swirled to avoid driving over them. Behind the walls sits an angry Iraqi ready to detonate them as soon as an American convoy gets near. This is in Shiite land, the population that was supposed to love America for liberating Iraq.

For journalists the significant turning point came with the wave of abduction and kidnappings. Only two weeks ago we felt safe around Baghdad because foreigners were being abducted on the roads and highways between towns. Then came a frantic phone call from a journalist female friend at 11 p.m. telling me two Italian women had been abducted from their homes in broad daylight. Then the two Americans, who got beheaded this week and the Brit, were abducted from their homes in a residential neighborhood. They were supplying the entire block with round the clock electricity from their generator to win friends. The abductors grabbed one of them at 6 a.m. when he came out to switch on the generator; his beheaded body was thrown back near the neighborhoods.

The insurgency, we are told, is rampant with no signs of calming down. If any thing, it is growing stronger, organized and more sophisticated every day. The various elements within it-baathists, criminals, nationalists and Al Qaeda-are cooperating and coordinating.

I went to an emergency meeting for foreign correspondents with the military and embassy to discuss the kidnappings. We were somberly told our fate would largely depend on where we were in the kidnapping chain once it was determined we were missing. Here is how it goes: criminal gangs grab you and sell you up to Baathists in Fallujah, who will in turn sell you to Al Qaeda. In turn, cash and weapons flow the other way from Al Qaeda to the Baathisst to the criminals. My friend Georges, the French journalist snatched on the road to Najaf, has been missing for a month with no word on release or whether he is still alive.

America's last hope for a quick exit? The Iraqi police and National Guard units we are spending billions of dollars to train. The cops are being murdered by the dozens every day-over 700 to date -- and the insurgents are infiltrating their ranks. The problem is so serious that the U.S. military has allocated $6 million dollars to buy out 30,000 cops they just trained to get rid of them quietly.

As for reconstruction: firstly it's so unsafe for foreigners to operate thatalmost all projects have come to a halt. After two years, of the $18 billion Congress appropriated for Iraq reconstruction only about $1 billion or so has been spent and a chuck has now been reallocated for improving security, a sign of just how bad things are going here. Oil dreams? Insurgents disrupt oil flow routinely as a result of sabotageand oil prices have hit record high of $49 a barrel. Who did this war exactly benefit? Was it worth it? Are we safer because Saddam is holed up and Al Qaeda is running around in Iraq?

Iraqis say that thanks to America they got freedom in exchange for insecurity. Guess what? They say they'd take security over freedom any day, even if it means having a dictator ruler.

I heard an educated Iraqi say today that if Saddam Hussein were allowed to run for elections he would get the majority of the vote. This is truly sad.

Then I went to see an Iraqi scholar this week to talk to him about elections here. He has been trying to educate the public on the importance of voting. He said, "President Bush wanted to turn Iraq into a democracy that would be an example for the Middle East. Forget about democracy, forget about being a model for the region, we have to salvage Iraq before all is lost."

One could argue that Iraq is already lost beyond salvation. For those of us on the ground it's hard to imagine what if any thing could salvage it from its violent downward spiral. The genie of terrorism, chaos and mayhem has been unleashed onto this country as a result of American mistakes and it can't be put back into a bottle.

The Iraqi government is talking about having elections in three months while half of the country remains a 'no go zone'-out of the hands of the government and the Americans and out of reach of journalists. In the other half, the disenchanted population is too terrified to show up at polling stations. The Sunnis have already said they'd boycott elections, leaving the stage open for polarized government of Kurds and Shiites that will not be deemed as legitimate and will most certainly lead to civil war.

I asked a 28-year-old engineer if he and his family would participate
inthe Iraqi elections since it was the first time Iraqis could to some
degreeelect a leadership. His response summed it all: "Go and vote and risk being blown into pieces or followed by the insurgents and murdered for cooperating with the Americans? For what? To practice democracy? Are you joking?"

Google the name Farnaz Fassihi and see what comes up.

The first comment mentions the Riverbend blog. I have followed that blog intermitently for some time and found it to be predictably anti-American. The woman seems to be grinding an axe, but her insights are worth a look. No one doing homework on Iraq should ignore any source of information.

Update: The Iraqi elections in January, 2005, were a different story. The same reporter had a glowing column in the Wall Street Journal, copied for the record in a blog.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Speaking of Faith (dot Org)

Yeah, yeah, I know. If you listen to National Public Radio you must be hopelessly lost in some blind alley of liberal malarky, beyond the pale of undestanding that most intelligent Fox News viewers take for granted. Sorry about that. Been doing it for years and as a result am vain enough to think that I am better informed than most people with whom I talk.

Anyway, the most recent airing of Speaking of Faith featured an in-depth interview with Vincent Cornell, high-brow scholar, muslim by conversion in the sixties, and Director of Islamic studies at the University of Arkansas. In one hour my understanding of the faith was expanded to about twice what it was before. With rare and straightforward candor, in standard American English, I listened to someone explain the faith in a language I could understand, including critical statements which would likely get him killed by radical muslims in many parts of the world.

The Wahhabi movement is an ultra-conservative, puritanical movement of Islam. The reform movement originated in the Arabian peninsula in the 18th century and was founded by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahab. A proponent of al-Wahab's teachings, the tribal leader Muhammad ibn Saud championed the movement and from then on Saudis have become the movement's main supporters; it's the dominant school of Islam in Saudi Arabia today. Devout Wahabis believe that other Muslims, particularly the Shiites, have abandoned their faith in one God, tawhid, and have distorted Islam. The Wahabis accept only the Qur'an and the authentic Sunna, customary practices of living modeled on the life and teachings of the prophet Muhammad, and reject 1,400 years of the development and interpretation of Islamic theology and mysticism. They oppose veneration of saints and relics, prohibit decorating of mosques, and ban luxury. Anyone who does not accept these tenets is considered a heretic.

The terms Shiite and Sunni are used routinely in news reports, although the vast majority of listeners have no clue what they mean. There are important differences between these two parts of the faith, including a fundamental difference in how they are organized (or in the case of Sunnis, disorganized).

The point is made that what is happening to Islam today has a historical comparison with the Protestant Reformation in Christian traditions, but with the two opposing views expressed differently in organizational terms. Shiites, it seems, are latter-day reformers (compared to "Protestants"), but with a structural coherence as strong as the Catholic Church. Sunnis, on the other hand, represent the older, more established roots of tradition and are in an overwhelming majority worldwide. But the Sunni tradition places so much emphasis on individual responsibility that central authority never developed as the faith spread. This internal tension underlies much of the conflict that is being seen today.

Toward the end of the program, Krista Tippet raises the inevitable question about so-called "martyrs" to which Cornell starts an answer almost before she completes the question. "This is an easy one" he starts, and continues to explain that the use of the word martyr is absolutely wrong in referring to suicide bombers or anyone who decides to sacrifice a life in the name of faith. Martyrs are chosen by God and circumstances, not individuals. Those who voluntarily die, particularly if they are at the same time taking the lives of innocents, cannot be considered martyrs in any way. Suicide bombers are not following the faith; they are violating it.

It begs the question, of course, why we do not hear anyone say this in any meaningful way. He replies that the issue is being discussed among the leaders of Islam all over the world, but translations are not forthcoming. Apparently these comments among the learned are sotto voce due to radical extremists who occupy center stage. Cornell refers to what is happening in world Islam as "ferment," pointing out that when something is fermenting, "scum" floats to the top.

For anyone who wants to invest an hour learning about this critical and timely topic, I can recommend going to the site, tuning in to the audio, and enjoy a cup of coffee as you broaden your horizons.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Kurdistan is not Iraq.

It has been my contention from before the "war" that the U.S. may well be messing in a civil war. Here is a statement from a Kurdish source that supports that notion.

The first Gulf War led to the virtual independence of three Kurdistani provinces and the internationalisation of the protection of Kurdistan through the Security Council Revolution 688. Then the establishment of a protected Kurdistani region and the SCR 986, which gave 13 per cent of the revenues of Iraqi oil to Kurdish-controlled Kurdistani provinces, consolidated the political and economic infrastructure of the de facto Kurdistan state. The Iraq War in 2003 gave us even a greater and more total opportunity by liberating the rest of Kurdistan and getting rid completely from even the existence of the Iraqi colonial state. Link

Thoughtful students will already know the facts, but the majority of Americans neither know nor care about the details of what may be happening over there. Nevertheless, in our blind and rowdy efforts to "support the troops" we are in danger of slipping into a no-win situation.

Iraq is not a state that Kurds can identify with. Arabisation of Kurdistan did not start with Saddam. It started as early as 1930s with the banning Kurdish language and education in Mosul and with Haweja project in Kirkuk in 1937. Iraq has from the very beginning a doubly colonial state: plundering Iraqi and Kurdistan oil on behalf of British imperialism and exercising internal Arab colonialism against Kurdistan through policies of underdevelopment, Arabization, imposition of the Arabic language, culture and religion, political oppression, cultural assimilation and then murder and genocide.

I don't expect anything of substance to happen until after the election. All conversations about our involvement in Iraq are heard in terms of position placements in electoral politics instead of serious concerns about solving problems abroad.

Even then the boring details of foreign policy are not the stuff that makes for interesting conversation at parties, so I don't think any popular swell of interest is likely. Let us hope that the right people in government will be able to speak, and whoever is in charge is smart enough to pay attention. (Thanks to Aziz Poonawalla for the link.)

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Shannon Love is on to something, again

Shannon Love unveils a fresh idea: The McGuffin-Delusion. You need to go learn about it and read my comment.

The McGuffin-Delusion arises when someone argues that an instance of technology represents the source of a problem and not the individual who controls the technology. I think it shows up in a lot of technology related political discussions.

I named it after Alfred Hitchock's description of his plot device, a McGuffin, that every character in the story searches for believing it will solve their problem. In Hitchock's movies, however, the real issues are the relationships between people not the physical objects they seek. Link

I think he is dealing with something bigger than he appreciates. I didn't exactly say so in my comment, but he is smart enough to figure it out.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

The morning after, revisited

Ain't it great? We now live in a time when you can go to bed early and still know what happened as you slept. All you have to do is go on line and read what others have posted. If you don't like one point of view you can pick another and have a raft of support either way. Neat, huh?

I think the president was set up by one of the questions that came from the crowd. "Please give three instances in which you came to realize you had made a wrong decision, and what you did to correct it." This was a resonable point since Kerry had set a precedent in the first debate.(Kerry, you remember, hit one out of the park during the first debate with his "I made a mistake in how I talk about the war, but the president made a mistake in invading Iraq. Which is worse?" ) The president demurred with a revealing non-answer: "Now, you asked what mistakes. I made some mistakes in appointing people, but I'm not going to name them. I don't want to hurt their feelings on national TV."

Sure. Short and sweet. Just right for a sound bite. But making mistakes is getting to be more stylish than it once was. Unfortunately, correcting mistakes is more important than covering them up. Ask CBS. Ask the NY Times. Ask Trent Lott.

Josh Marshall has a telling comment about this bit of verbal prestidigitation. This morning's surfing has me looking at all kinds of stuff, but his comment is unique in it's insight.

In the president's world, accountability and punishment aren't for the folks who make the mistakes. They're for the people who recognize the mistakes or, God forbid, admit them. And when the president had a chance to come up with any mistakes he might have made in four years as president the one that instinctively popped into his mind were the times he'd appointed folks who turned out to be from the second category, rather than the first.

This is all of a piece. In the Bush world you never admit mistakes. The only mistakes the president can think of are the times he appointed people who do admitted mistakes --- who put reality above loyalty to the president.

No one likes admitting mistakes. And it's often especially difficult for public officials to do so. But recognizing mistakes --- on the inside, if not for public consumption --- is how you prevent mistakes from metastasizing into disasters. Which all explains a great deal about how we got where we are now in Iraq. Link

I try not to read more into what people say than exactly what they say. But I also listen carefully for what they do not say. Here the president had the door wide open to be the in-your-face bubba that his carefully groomed image suggests. He loves to be with a living crowd of people like he had last night. He was in his element. All he had to do was think for a moment and spit out a few examples of screwups that would have enhanced his credibility more than hurt his politics, but he couldn't think of a thing. Even drunks dismiss all kinds of crazy behavior by saaying "Boy was I drunk! I can't believe I yada-yada-yada..."

This is the picture of someone who doesn't make mistakes. Just ask him. Not the real kind like you and I make. He is, in fact, a professional politician who manages his politics with the precision of a business manager (remember, he has an MBA from Yale). I don't consider this part of his background a liability, by the way. The ability to delegate and follow up is not optional to being a good president. Jimmy Carter is a great person, but as a chief executive one of his shortcomings was a strong tendency to micromanage when he might have been delegating. I sense that John Kerry has some of the same quality. This, added to the deliberative style of the US Senate (that's a nice way to say jawboning to death), also works to Kerry's disadvantage.

I recognize the type thanks to a lot of years in the business world. I have had the good fortune to work closely with three or four people whose management styles cover the spectrum from one end to he other.

To illustrate a point, imagine two types of management professionals. One is able to use the inevitable mistakes that he makes to show to his subordinates how human he is, how easy it is to mess up, and also how smart it is to see a mistake and be proactive about making a correction. The other is someone whose mistakes are evident to everyone but himself. Any attempt on the part of someone else to bring up the possibility of a mistake is met with a kill-the-messenger response.

I have worked with both types of people and recognize them instantly. For the reflective person, pegging the type is as easy as noticing hair color or whether the person says tomato or tamahto. Sorry I feel this way, but the president is cut from the second type of fabric.