Saturday, September 29, 2007

Lindsay Bayerstein, Photographs

Fact Check (dot) Org -- Hoots' Referral and Opinion

As a subscriber to Fact Check.Org I receive intermittent reports on a variety of stories passing under their close scrutiny.

We are a nonpartisan, nonprofit, "consumer advocate" for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics. We monitor the factual accuracy of what is said by major U.S. political players in the form of TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews, and news releases. Our goal is to apply the best practices of both journalism and scholarship, and to increase public knowledge and understanding.

The Annenberg Political Fact Check is a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. The APPC was established by publisher and philanthropist Walter Annenberg in 1994 to create a community of scholars within the University of Pennsylvania that would address public policy issues at the local, state, and federal levels.

We all know politicians say things that are not right. Sometimes they don't know they are wrong (ignorance), sometimes they do (lying) and sometimes they play the first while living the second. Voters, like members of a jury, are charged with deciding which is which. This site is another tool in the toolbox. From what I can tell, they really don't operate with any political agenda so I commend them to my readers for consideration.

As the presidential race continues I watch all the candidates from both parties, trying to decide who I would like to have as president. Unfortunately those I like are not good presidential material, either because they lack what pundits call "electability" or because the qualities I like are coupled with other qualities I can't support...qualities ranging from goofy to dangerous. At the nether edge of things, I like a lot of what Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich say, but both violate a rule I heard long ago that needs to be better known: Always tell the truth, but don't be always telling it. Among the Republicans, Thompson and Giuliani look good, but I can't tell if I like them because of who they are or because I have been watching too much television. Among the Democrats McCain and Dodd come across as having the best character and credibility, but both are lackluster and not likely to be selected. For both parties, we are stuck with nominees who look "electable" even if other qualities are, shall we say, somewhat dim.

Fact Check.Org's last two spotlights are good examples of how they work. The last one examines what candidates SAY they would do IF they become president. The other one looks at how the president and Congress wrestled over S-CHIP appropriations.

Stuck in Iraq? September 27, 2007

Bush's False Claims About Children's Health Insurance September 21, 2007

Don't be misled by the headlines. The reports are fat with details, quotes and other solid information. Headlines in this case are calculated to get attention. Content, on the other hand, is solid meat.

So where am I leaning?

I like Obama best of all the candidates but I think he lacks the political muscle to do as he would like in Washington. Mrs. Clinton, baggage and all, has that muscle. Of all the issues facing the country, universal health care is for me the most important. I recall her first run at that windmill from years ago, during Bill Clinton's first term. She took on the whole Congress, both Senate and House, and went down fighting all the way. Congress did all in their lobby-larded power to kill what they perceived to be a deadly snake. And if Hillary Clinton has any worry it should be whether or not that scar tissue has healed enough for another try.

The choice is between a Cocker Spaniel and a Rottweiler.

My money is on the Rottweiler.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Neuhaus on politics and religion (and more...lots more...)

First Things is one of the gems of my blogroll. Time permitting, whenever "Neuhaus" appears in the aggregator pane I click to the original and chill for a moment as I read. It's like pulling a cold beer on a hot afternoon. He reminds me of the farming side of my family. Men who spend their days in barnyards can walk a straight line through a minefield of cattle, horse and pig droppings without stepping in any. Fr. Neuhaus does that with current events.

Today's column would be a good one to introduce this man to anyone who has preconceived notions about piety and how we get there. Who could guess that this most impressive and insightful scholarly priest was once a young buck who had many of the same life experiences as anyone else?

I left Canada at age 14. Today it sounds like something close to child neglect, but in our family, as in many others of the time, it was assumed that by about age 14 or 15 you were old enough to get on with your life more or less on your own. More or less, since I went to a church-related school in Nebraska, where my oldest sister, Mildred, was married to a faculty member. That was for the third year of high school.

Toward the end of the year, the president of the school—whom I would later meet as president of the seminary I attended, Concordia Theological Seminary in St. Louis—suggested that I might be happier somewhere else. I had organized beer parties in the dormitory and a panty raid on the girls’ residence. (When did panty raids go out of campus fashion? That surely is a historical marker worthy of scholarly attention.) Only a little to my surprise, I discovered that the school viewed such activities with distinct disapproval.

After wrapping a friendly rhetorical arm around fellow Canadian immigrant David Frum, he takes gentle issue with him for his characterization of the American Civil War as depicted by Ken Burns' PBS narrative. Eventually he gets to the gentle punch line...

" purpose is simply to register a complaint to the Society of Canadian Transplants (if there is such a thing) against David Frum’s letting the side down by failing to demonstrate the wisdom that is supposed to accompany our perspectival distance from the puzzlement and wonder that is the United States.

Turning next to politics, he points to two items of note, Katha Pollitt's Onward, Secular Soldiers writing in The Nation, and Can She Reach Religious Voters? by Michael Gerson in the Washington Post.

Excuse me, but my PC just decided to download something important (everything is now in slow motion) and I have to take a shower and go to work. I wanted to grab a couple more great lines from Neuhaus but you'll have to find them yourself. I feel like someone putting a box of chocolates back without getting just one more. But it's time to stop.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Marc Lynch at CATO -- Sunnis and the Surge

Matthew Hogan at Aquol...

...the Sunni leaders are stating to their very anti-US constituency that cooperation with the USA is merely tactical and the result of insurgent victories which forced the US to assist them in certain common aims of fighting al-Qaeda and fighting some Shiite militias. They view the government and al-Sadr as "Iranian" and they eventually want the entire US occupation out. In addition, the conditions are such that further sectarian fragmentation is underway and no matter how long the US stays, it appears the conditions will remain ripe for sectarian war.

He said it better than I. Little for me to add.

Here is the video.

"The idea of bottom-up reconcilliation is fatally just makes no sense, either empirically or theoretically. Even if you have Sunnis participating in the Iraqi police forces they do so in unintegrated units with the clear knowledge that the leadership of these institutions of the state are dominated by Shi'ia sectarian forces. This isn't a glass ceiling, it's a stainless steel ceiling and everybody knows it. As long as the institutions of the state look as they do, there is no possibility for bottom-up reconcilliation."

I cannot fathom how these realities are escaping notice in Washington. As I have said before, I'm just an old guy blogging and I know these facts and can validate them independently. I'm not reading classified documents but I see no indication that anyone in leadership is doing so either. Sectarian conflicts in Iraq are as clear, intractible and historically embedded as the rivers and desserts. This is not a secret.

Neither is the displacement and casualty level of a significant number of civilian non-combatants.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Regarding Iraqi Refugees

If the Iraqi refugee problem is not dealt with, it will likely "default" into precisely the conditions which have made the Palestinian issue so potent and so destabilizing over the decades: a large population of permanently de facto stateless persons spread across multiple Arab countries, whose personal and communal traumas resonate deeply with core political narratives (Arabist or Islamist or sectarian). Might they be expected at some point to form some kind of diasporic political movement like the PLO? Might they become a receptive audience for and instrument of new forms of transnational politics, mobilized by ambitious Arab leaders or movements against their host regimes? Could an Iraqi "state within a state" form in parts of Jordan or even Syria? Will these Iraqi refugees be eventually integrated into their societies, or will they be confined to refugee camps? Or will they become a UN mandate, along the lines of the uneasy UNRWA custody of the Palestinian refugees? Will they suffer the kinds of enforced marginalization experienced by Palestinians in Lebanon? Are these questions even being asked?

Marc Lynch points to the next big challenge facing world leaders, not just in the Levant but anywhere the seeds of extremism are taking root. The Iraq adventure has transformed one of history's most politically diverse countries into a churning, violent mess where the very population upon which a new and better society might be build is fleeing for safety. Reading Jon Alterman at CSIS we find this...

Iraq’s refugees give little sign of returning home, and it is no wonder why. Iraq continues to unravel, and life is especially dangerous for the cosmopolitan petit bourgeoisie whom many assumed would inherit post-Saddam Iraq. Today’s Iraq is no place for a doctor or a professor, especially one with a young family. Sectarianism plays in as well. Perhaps half of the refugees are Sunni Arabs, a group that represents about a fifth of the Iraqi population but had been the backbone of Saddam’s regime. They see their country sliding not only into Shi’a control, but to rule by a Shi’a mob that is bent on revenge.

In many ways, however, fleeing the country provides only a brief respite. Few refugees are allowed to work in their new homes, and savings are running out. Children are sometimes barred from school, and others go to schools bursting at the seams. Health care, when it is available, is often expensive. The refugee flow has dramatically boosted housing prices, not only raising costs for the new émigrés, but also squeezing the young and working class in countries such as Syria and Jordan who see affordable housing sliding beyond their grasp.

If anyone of prominence in America is concerned about the magnitude of this challenge I sure haven't read or heard about it. Maybe someone can set me straight. A teacher once said, "Anything I say in this class is important and might be on an exam. But if I take the trouble to write anything on the blackboard it is TOTALLY ESSENTIAL and you are responsible for knowing it."

With that in mind I urge the reader to pay attention to the material to which the Aardvark points and makes comments. This material is totally essential and you can depend on it...this will be on our next exam.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Why Boston Terriers can't watch scary movies...(Updated)

I can't embed this one.
Armstrong Floors has a great video ad.

Half a minute of your time.

Well...more perhaps. I've tried the link several times and it won't load. I know it can because I saw it a few times, but I guess the server is not good enough to handle the traffic. If I were Armstrong and had paid for the space I would be raising hell when the server couldn't show the ads that were obviously made at some great expense. Server traffic has to be a lot less expensive than minutes of broadcast time that vanish at once.

(It's amazing that in the age of technology the biggest companies with the deepest pockets are sometimes the ones with the stupidest, clumsiest efforts at using that technology. I personally had a terrible time with our mortgage company, one of the world's biggest, when I accidentally made a one-digit error setting up an online account with our bank to make monthly payments. The first one went through, but the next two got misdirected or lost altogether and there was a big standoff between our bank and the mortgage company for weeks and no one knew how to unravel the mess. All had the name and address of me and my wife so there was no reason that one damn incorrect digit should have caused such a problem. Doesn't any human being know how to read anything but numbers? When it finally got settled I decided it was best to stick with snail mail and old-fashioned written checks.)

When companies fail to release good stuff via You Tube they are missing a great opportunity. Perhaps the agencies that put together the ads won't let them. I dunno. I know that professional photographers sell pictures to their clients they don't sell the "rights" to the pictures. Try to get one of your brand-name, labeled, professionally-printed portraits reproduced somewhere and see what happens. You can do it all day on your own scanner, but your friendly local photo store won't touch it.

In our lifetime we will live to see the collapse of a copyright house of cards. Technology is rapidly making such notions as obsolete as running boards and drive-in movies. (Ask me about obsolescence. I spent my life in a cafeteria. There was a time when scratch cooking was the best. No longer. Factory-made products have arrived. And I have discovered that obsolescence isn't all that bad...)

[September 23]

I first saw the ad about the time the post was first published in April. As you can see in a comment, the Armstrong people got a You Tube account soon after that, but they didn't enable embedding.

It didn't take long for someone to snag the ad and enable embedding, so here it is...

Piano tuning and repair after Katrina (Updated)

[May 6, 2006...]

Radio blogging again.
Some of the best journalism available today is broadcast. Too bad, because it is lost the moment it is played, unless the program is replayed later. In some ways it is like a magnificently-decorated cake or ice sculpture. A creation for the moment, gone forever once played...

Thanks to the web we can now access radio archives. This morning I listened to an eleven-minute story I want to share. Peter Spring went to New Orleans to offer his skills as a piano tuner. He's helping repair instruments damaged by Hurricane Katrina. That is the totally inadequate description of what you are about to hear. No spoilers from me, but you might want to get a kleenex. Do yourself a favor and's too good not to listen.

[September 23, 2007...]

Nearly a year and a half have passed and here is a followup. Peter Spring is still in New Orleans and his mission is alive and well. As I write this I am listening once again to the NPR program that first gave life to this story. If you have not yet listened, you need to do so right now. The link is still active and still I don't want to give much away.

The Stephen Spring Foundation

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Oregon musician and piano tuner Peter Spring awoke one morning determined to help the overwhelmed people of New Orleans cope with their devastating grief and loss. Having lost his 22-year old son Steven to cancer in 2002, Peter understood first-hand the power of music to heal even the deepest wounds. In September 2005, he established The Steven Spring Foundation to honor his son's memory and love for music by collecting and distributing instruments to hurricane survivors.

Since its founding, The Steven Spring Foundation has put hundreds of donated instruments into the hands of New Orleans Jazz musicians, music students, and children. By doing so, The SSF has brought the healing power of music to the people who need it most: to working musicians who become productive again through the donated instruments that they receive, to dedicated amateur players who are grateful to be able to express and release the deep, powerful feelings raised by the storm and its aftermath, and to all the fortunate listeners who reap the emotional benefits that only music can provide.

Today the SSF remains dedicated to utilizing the power of music to revitalize New Orleans. Using an all-volunteer staff, the SSF continues its mission of helping local musicians and music students to rebuild their lives following the destruction of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Providing donated instruments and free training remain some of the the Foundation's most inspiring and rewarding activities. We urge instrument donors to personalize their gift with a brief note, story or photo in order to create the personal, human connection that is the heart of all healing.

Go ahead.

Drill into the links.

The Times Picayune published a feature in June

He said he gives himself another three years in New Orleans. Before he goes, he hopes to start a church in his Bywater shop and call it the First United Temple of Harmony, a place open to music lovers of all faiths. On the walls, he would hang pictures of Louis Armstrong and Johann Sebastian Bach.

Music, Spring said, is the "deepest most visceral connection to the divine."
His time in New Orleans has confirmed another deeply held belief: "I have absolutely no doubt that I am in the right place doing the right thing."

Learn the story.

I hope you are as impressed as I am.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

In Iraq, Private Contractors Outnumber US Troops

A tour of duty in Korea (1966-7) gave me a taste of how civilians make Army life more agreeable. That was a long time ago, but I have no reason to think it's worse now. This article from Seattle Times gives a snapshot of Iraq, where civilians on the US payroll actually outnumber the troops. (H/T truthout)

More than 180,000 Americans, Iraqis and nationals from other countries work under federal contracts to provide security, gather intelligence, build roads, improve infrastructure, forge a financial system and transport needed supplies in a country the size of California.

That figure contrasts with the 163,100 U.S. military personnel, according to U.S. Central Command, responsible for military operations in the Middle East. The Pentagon puts the military figure at 169,000. An additional 12,400 coalition forces are stationed in Iraq.

It's hard to know how much of the mission is out-sourced, but my guess is that today's non-conscription military does everything possible to make life agreeable for those in uniform...aside from keeping them safe in military conflict. Some duties cannot be delegated, but from what I gather, Blackwater may have military duties as part of their job description. Nothing surprises me any more.

I was blessed during the Vietnam conflict. Half my training class was sent to Vietnam, but the rest of us went to Korea. After a few weeks of processing I was assigned to a small medical detachment on a missile base near Taejon. The grounds were cleanly landscaped and housing was in permanent concrete block barracks, comfortable year-round. Civilian employees did everything...laundry, cutting grass, cooking and serving in the snack-bar, haircuts, whatever. Each morning I slipped into a freshly ironed uniform, starched, ready to wear, hanging neatly by my bed. My boots were freshly shined and someone made the bed when I left for the day. The dispensary has a civilian janitor to keep the floors and restrooms tidy. Korean civilian cooks worked in the mess hall kitchen.

I have no idea how many civilians were employed at that base, but it was covered by a modest payroll deduction that took care of the administrative details. We didn't have to worry about anything but personal hygiene and staying sober. There was even a licensed steam bath and massage operation on base, available year-round. There you could enjoy a sauna, shower and full body massage administered by trained young women whose job in life was keeping the troops happy. (These girls were not prostitutes, by the way. There were plenty of them available outside the base but that was not part of the officially contracted civilian services, except that when they tested positive for STD's they were brought to the dispensary for antibiotic shots. I assume the shots were furnished gratis with a view of keeping the troops healthy. I never knew of charges for medicine or services to civilians.)

I'm sure my memories are quite different from those who were sent to Vietnam. And life in Iraq has to be unimaginable. But I have no reason to think that with civilians literally outnumbering those in uniform, their lifestyle is wholesale pain and suffering without relief for the duration of a tour. I've spent a career in the food business and know first hand that there is a big gap between the everyday reality and the perceptions of those not in the business. It's covered by the word mystique. A similar mystique also shrouds the military lifestyle. I've also been there and done that. Beyond that, I think patriotic Americans really don't want to know the details.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Hootsbuddy's Image

This is Jake. Very telegenic, don't you think? I posted about him a time or two.
I have picked this image to use with my profile.

Jena 6 -- Radley Balko, Glenn Reynolds and Hootsbuddy

This is a messy story that's not getting any better. I am pleased that Glenn Reynolds saw fit to publish Radley Balko's remarks. Unfortunately, the narrative has a lot more turns than news reports have time or space to include. These links will be a good starting point for anyone not familiar with the background.

Yesterday I came across some harsh criticisms taking progressive blogs to the woodshed for their deafening silence on the matter. I understand the criticisms and at some level agree. But after the MoveOn fracas over the Betray-us ad flap I understand how progressives might be gun shy about stepping into another pile of shit. (After all, General Petraeus literally wrote the book on counter-insurgency and has an earned doctorate from Princeton. Anyone who trashes that kind of leader looks worse than the target. Tacky, if you ask me.)

Back to Jena...

The Civil Rights movement is not over and won't be in our lifetime. We didn't get in this mess in one or two generations and we won't put it behind us any faster. We are now in an early phase of the beginning, nowhere close to the end. We can argue all day about what's legal or what's reasonable, but in the end as long as there are arguments about race and discrimination, the conflict has not gone away. The day may come when we read about all this in a dusty history book, but until then we have work to do.

This morning I listened to a flashback to 1957 when President Eisenhower sent federal troops into Arkansas to do for that state what Governor Faubus has refused to do...had in fact used the Arkansas national guard to do exactly the opposite.

The showdown came in the fall of 1957.

Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus vowed "blood will run in the streets" if black students tried to enter Central High.

On the first day of school, Faubus ordered the Arkansas National Guard to turn the students away.

Some two weeks passed and the nation waited to see what President Eisenhower would do.

Eisenhower had acted, sending in the 101st Airborne to escort five boys and four girls to high school.

Contrast that federal initiative with the hands-off, let's-wait-and-see attitude now sitting quietly in Washington. These are times which call for leadership and decisive action, once more, to send a message to ALL Americans that the segregation that Radly Balko described so well in his summary may still be around, but it is not part of what we stand for and those days will eventually come to an end.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

I'm like Prissy:

Lawzy, we got to have a doctor. I don't know nothin' 'bout birthin' babies.

My understanding of global economics falls between little and none. Lord knows, I have trouble enough with my own household. But I remember double-digit inflation and the recession of 1974. It cast a shadow over my working life as ominous to me and my generation as the Great Depression put a permanent fear into those of my parents and their peers.

So this makes me uncomfortable...

"Saudi Arabia has $800bn (£400bn) in their future generation fund, and the entire region has $3,500bn under management. They face an inflationary threat and do not want to import an interest rate policy set for the recessionary conditions in the United States," he said.

The Saudi central bank said today that it would take "appropriate measures" to halt huge capital inflows into the country, but analysts say this policy is unsustainable and will inevitably lead to the collapse of the dollar peg.

Jim Rogers, the commodity king and former partner of George Soros, said the Federal Reserve was playing with fire by cutting rates so aggressively at a time when the dollar was already under pressure.

The risk is that flight from US bonds could push up the long-term yields that form the base price of credit for most mortgages, the driving the property market into even deeper crisis.

"If Ben Bernanke starts running those printing presses even faster than he's already doing, we are going to have a serious recession. The dollar's going to collapse, the bond market's going to collapse. There's going to be a lot of problems," he said.

The Federal Reserve, however, clearly calculates the risk of a sudden downturn is now so great that the it outweighs dangers of a dollar slide.

Former Fed chief Alan Greenspan said this week that house prices may fall by "double digits" as the subprime crisis bites harder, prompting households to cut back sharply on spending.

Air strikes to Iran or what?

What would be the political impact on the presidential election of another war? Sure would be an effective red herring.

I dunno.
Just asking.

It has always been very stupid to bet against America being unable to bounce back. We strike Iran and there's a lot of happy Sunni dictatorships and one very estatic Israel, all of whom will go out of their way to show some thanks and gin up an appropriately grateful PR blitz. Much sand gets kicked up and even if we don't set Iran's nuke program back at all (highly likely), we've sent our signal (our failures in postwar Iraq don't mean our Leviathan still can't bomb at will).

We're so freaked out over Ahmadinejad's "messiah returning" complex when our president has just as strong religious beliefs, a clear sense that time is running out on his term, and he's actually--unlike Ahmadinejad's weak presidential position--got the power to execute his will--and a real record of doing it.


I mean, if Tel Aviv, Riyadh and Tehran all want it to happen, who are we to say no?

Thomas P.M. Barnett link.

Via John Robb.

Greenspan hasn't lost the touch

He's out but not down. Alan Greenspan can still spin out obscurities with the best of them.

It doesn't, however, induce us to then conclude that, if the model doesn't forecast -- which implies that it has not captured the appropriate structure -- we nonetheless tend to use the structure of the model to do analysis and draw significant conclusions about how the inner workings of relationships occur even though the coefficients which we're employing clearly don't forecast anything worthwhile.

Actually, if you have a chance to listen to him talk -- and don't drift off to sleep -- he speaks now with a lot more clarity than he allowed himself to use when he ran the Federal Reserve. Terry Gross interviewed him this week on Fresh Air and he is much more forthcoming than he has been for the last two decades. He's promoting a book, of course, but he's also tirelessly drumming away at a serious theme that continues to be ignored by practically everyone -- the looming coming catastrophe that is Medicare.

His opinions about deficits, the housing bubble and other topics are covered in the program, but when he refers to Medicare he paints a very disturbing picture, adding that no one in or out of Washington is addressing some basic problems. Oddly, he's not talking about money as much as infrastructure. He contends that the coming impact of the baby boom generation on the national health care delivery system looks like a train wreck because the infrastructure to handle it is not there and moreover is not being planned.

Medicare is not a financial issue -- it's real resources. We need to make certain that there are an adequate number of hospitals, physicians, nurses and a whole medical infrastructure, including the pharmaceutical industry, to supply the medical services which this very large retired population is going to require. And that in order to do that we have to realize that we cannot solve the problem by raising taxes because there comes a point in which you actually undercut the ability of the economy to grow and create tax revenues....Taxes are not enough...there have to be some adjustments in the underlying Medicare benefits. And if we are going to do this, we have to communicate to retirees that there will be some adjustments.

He goes on to suggest that there will have to be a means test for Medicare, concluding that "the sooner we do it, the better off we are." As one of those boomers counting down the months to retirement, I don't particularly like what I heard, but I can't come up with any arguments that he's wrong.

This interview is recommended listening for anyone who respects Alan Greenspan. And those who do not are few and far between. Anyone who held his job through as many administrations as he served, both Democrat and Republican, speaks with authority.

If the economy goes to hell in the next few years, it will not be because of anything that Alan Greenspan did wrong. Most likely it will be because he is no longer there to help avert whatever problems caused the mess.

As the interview ended he explained in very understandable language a very simple principle that governs his thinking about interest rates. He notes that through the end of the nineteenth century and until the thirties, inflation was not a global problem thanks to the gold standard. He does not advocate returning to the gold standard, but now that we have switched to "fiat money" the best way to control inflation is to regulate interest rates in a way that replicates what the gold standard might indicate as the economy rises and falls.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Google Docs & Spreadsheets

Two dead PC's ago I was shopping for a replacement. One salesman told me that in the future we won't need PC's. A dumb keyboard plugged into the internet is all we really need. He may be right.


I like how my bank takes care of bills on line.


I like how I can access my blog from anywhere.


I like how photo images can be viewed from anywhere, either by everybody or by whatever group has the password.


You can see where this is going. But my friend Bob tells about a group of hackers who got hold of some one's online valuables and threatened to destroy them if they didn't get paid. Cyber-terrorism, cyber-blackmail, cyber-extortion...I dunno. We already have identity theft and no one seems to know how to prevent that.


There is no end to risk-taking. I hear people are returning to New Orleans to set up housekeeping on sinking ground already several feet below sea level. Just yesterday I got a promotional piece from my mortgage company pumping "five year interest only loans." (Haven't they learned anything? Sheesh!) There is no end to human folly. I'm gonna open a free Google Docs site as soon as I have something more to write about that what's already on a Google blog.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Robert Fisk: "It is the death of history?"

The savage ugliness of Taliban extremism shown by the destruction of the historic and irreplaceable Buddhist statues in the Bamiyan valley and elsewhere in Afghanistan has a contemporary equivalent in Iraq where looting of historic artifacts has become a cottage industry.

As Donald Rumsfeld said, "Stuff happens."

I am reminded of Lenin's line...You can't make an omelet without breaking eggs.

The legions of antiquities looters work within a smooth mass-smuggling organisation. Trucks, cars, planes and boats take Iraq's historical plunder to Europe, the US, to the United Arab Emirates and to Japan. The archaeologists say an ever-growing number of internet websites offer Mesopotamian artefacts, objects anywhere up to 7,000 years old.

The farmers of southern Iraq are now professional looters, knowing how to outline the walls of buried buildings and able to break directly into rooms and tombs. The archaeologists' report says: "They have been trained in how to rob the world of its past and they have been making significant profit from it. They know the value of each object and it is difficult to see why they would stop looting."

Good News! It's about Times!

A Letter to Readers About TimesSelect

Dear Readers:

Effective Sept. 19, we are ending TimesSelect. All of our online readers will now be able to read Times columnists, access our archives back to 1987 and enjoy many other TimesSelect features that have been added over the last two years – free.

If you are a paying TimesSelect subscriber, you will receive a prorated refund. We will send you an e-mail on Wednesday, Sept. 19 with full details.

Why the change?

Since we launched TimesSelect in 2005, the online landscape has altered significantly. Readers increasingly find news through search, as well as through social networks, blogs and other online sources. In light of this shift, we believe offering unfettered access to New York Times reporting and analysis best serves the interest of our readers, our brand and the long-term vitality of our journalism. We encourage everyone to read our news and opinion – as well as share it, link to it and comment on it.

We welcome all online readers to enjoy the popular and powerful voices that have defined Times commentary – Maureen Dowd, Thomas L. Friedman, Frank Rich, Gail Collins, Paul Krugman, David Brooks, Bob Herbert and Nicholas D. Kristof. And we invite them to become acquainted with our exclusive online journalism – columns by Stanley Fish, Maira Kalman, Dick Cavett and Judith Warner; the Opinionator blog; and guest forums by scientists, musicians and soldiers on the frontlines in Iraq. All this will now reach a broader audience in the United States and around the world.

This month we mark the 156th anniversary of the first issue of The New York Times. Our long, distinguished history is rooted in a commitment to innovation, experimentation and constant change. All three themes were plainly evident in the skillful execution of TimesSelect; they will be on full display as becomes entirely open.


Vivian Schiller
Senior Vice President & General Manager

This has nothing to do with Rupert Murdock's acquisition of WSJ.
Surely not.
As she said, "the online landscape has altered significantly."
Damn right, it has.

Great screed by Jesse Wendel at Group News Blog.

Snip here...

The New York Times simply failed to understand that no one pays to get more crap in their inbox -- even really good crap by terrific writers. It's a crap mountain out there and I ain't paying to add more shit to the pile I already don't have time to read. If some article is so goddamn good (that my Mom convinces me) I just have to dig down through the dung to read, well, she can either cut and paste me the whole thing herself, or point me to a site carrying the article regardless of The Times' stupid policies.

Rocket Boom on You Tube

Too many places in the sidebar. Even with Bloglines I can't keep up.
Anyway, I don't kow how long this has been going on, but since I last checked Rocketboom is now available for embed from You Tube.
There was a time when I never missed Rocketboom for a day. But as the novelty wore off I let it slide. So here's what it looks like now. Amanda Congdon left and was replaced by Joanne Colan last year. The format reamained basically the same and never missed a beat.

This is the Ed Sullivan show of cyberspace.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

This American Life -- "Meeting the Pros"

Radio blogging here....

I just listened to this week's NPR program This American Life.
Ira Glass may be the most gifted storyteller of our time and his work keeps getting better and better.

This evening's program has three stories.

Go to the link.

Click Full Episode

It's an hour program and you probably don't have time to listen to it all. All three "Acts" are good, but I recommend the second.

►The first is the story of a youngster who loved basketball so much that he practiced way into the night. Unfortunately, he was just another youngster only 5" 10" and no matter how good he got the chances of hitting the big time on a basketball court were slim to none. But he went to a tryout for a Nike Commercial and handled a basketball so well he was selected and became famous overnight. The You Tube link is not trick photography.

►►►The second story is about gambling. There is no way I can summarize this episode. You have to listen. To do this, drag the time indicator to 20 minutes and listen...It starts with a report on the World Series of Poker and is about professional poker players. This episode takes 26 minutes and is worth every moment. Set aside time, go get a drink and enjoy...

►The end story is okay but struck me as a time filler. It's well-done but didn't catch my imagination. I was pleased to find that someone other than me knows of Michael Csikszentmihalyi. That's another story altogether, so unless you have a lot more time on you hands, it's okay to skip this one.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Robert Fulghum update

A few times since I started blogging I have linked to something by or about Robert Fulghum. Sometimes when I later referred to what I had linked, it no longer worked. He moved or the site went away...something. It was clear that this is not a man pursuing anything but his own vision. If the world wants to tag along, then it is their job to keep up. Little things like updates from him, or even permalinks to past contacts, are not part of his makeup. Here is a link to an earlier post.

This morning's The Infinite Mind re-ran their program on Aspergers Syndrome (local NPR station) and by chance I tripped over a post about Robert Fulghum from two years ago. I'm no expert, but part of the reason for this post is that what I heard in the radio program makes me wonder if Fulghum has Asperger's. Without going into detail, he seems to exhibit a lot of the qualities. Listen to the program and decide for yourself. (They charge now for listening, dammit. I already hear more free stuff than I can listen to, so I don't pay to hear more. Maybe you can be lucky enough to hear a broadcast on NPR. If not, I guess you have to pay...)

Yes, of course he has a Wikipedia article.

Here is a link to a recent Fulghum "essay." Read here for some insights into the creative mind of this gifted writer.


In interviews in advance of the publication of a new book I’m often asked about being a writer - the how, what, and where of it. Usually I duck and weave because I would rather write than talk about writing. Still, in a way, I have elaborated my version of the writing life in a work of fiction - my novel, THIRD WISH - published in Europe. Since it may be a long time, if ever, before the novel appears in English, I’ll share what I’ve written.

In the last volume, two characters are talking about their craft - one, named Alice-Alice is an actress and the other, nicknamed “Dog” (his name is Daniels Doggett). As always in fiction, the ideas are those of the author.


“Is that enough about being a writer?” Daniels asked. “No, keep going. What else?” “If you insist.” “I insist.” “I’ve written reams of nonsense verse. And nonsense recipes for nonsense dishes and meals. That’s why I like old Edward Lear so much - he could let his mind run free. He attached his destiny to whimsy and pulled his toy on a string behind him across the world. He allowed foolishness and delight free rein. But he always still had the rein of reality firmly in hand.
“Anything else?”

“Lists. I have lists of the contents of closets that don’t exist. And love letters between people who never met in person. And instructions for how to assemble devices that won’t work even if put together as described. And there’s more. This is the Loony Division of David Daniels Doggett, Inc. It’s one way I keep my restless mind from boiling over.

He fell silent and looked away.

“Don’t stop.”

“Well . . . part of the writing comes from reading. I read my way through the Encyclopedia Britannica when I was in high school - and also the yellow pages of the telephone book - a thesaurus or two, several rhyming dictionaries, and too many books of quotations to count.

“I once planned to read every English word in existence, and got up to “R” in the Complete Oxford English Dictionary. Someday I’ll finish that task, though there’s a supplement of new words from time to time and I’m losing ground. I used to write down all the words I liked for one reason or another, but I’ve stopped doing that. The list got too long. I liked too many words.

“Don’t think I’m obsessive compulsive. These habits come and go in a haphazard way. My head is like a construction site on wheels. I have a collection of titles for books I’ll never write. I don’t have to write them. I can imagine the whole book. It’s usually a book I wouldn’t want to read, anyhow.”

He laughed.

“Give me some examples,” she said. “Tango Lessons for Satyrs.” “A Travel Guide For Imaginary States.” “Macaroni for Myrtle – the Opera.” A sequel to the Orient Express – “The Occidental Service Station.” “The Cow Did It.” “Words For What Cannot Be Said.” “What The Tree Thought.” “Great Zen After-Dinner Speeches.” Stuff like that.”

“Oh,” she said. “I’d at least pick up the book and look at it, wondering what-the-hell kind of mind was at work.”


“Keep going,” she said.

I am tempted to grab the entire piece. It's somewhat long for a blog post, though, but worthwhile reading. Go now before we lose yet another Fulghum link and read before he or the link vanishes once again...

Friday, September 14, 2007

Qin Shi Huangdi and the quest for eternal life

This morning's most intriguing read is from New Statesman. If you're in a hurry, keep moving. This will take a few minutes, although you might want to scan, mark and come back later...

There are at least three levels of reading here. First, of course, is a narrative, the story of how China's first emperor became obsessed with the idea of eternal life...realized in a magnificent obsession that survives as one of history's most breathtaking personal monuments to that quest. Second, the reader can reflect while reading on how this man's vision puzzles together with what we know of history elsewhere. The pyramids of North Africa and Central America come to mind and the echoes of a concern with life after death that resonate from them.

Finally -- and this is one that is easy to miss -- at the top of the article there is an icon (Listen )connecting the reader with a computer-generated voice reading the article. I was already impressed with the content, but I found this wonderful cyber-bauble to be just as interesting. Listen closely to a sophisticated, mildly British invisible reader and see if you are as impressed with her inflection and timing as I was.

The reports of the First Emperor's burial arrangements were written by Sima Qian, the same historian who declared that the ruler was a man possessed. From his Records of the Grand His torian, we learn that Qin Shi Huangdi was born Ying Zheng and inherited the Qin kingdom at the age of 13 in 247BC. He proved to be a tyrannical leader, conquering the nine warring feudal states of the region and declaring himself the first emperor of a new nation in 221BC. Under his rule, the borders were mapped, weights, measurements and currency were unified, and a political and legal system was formulated. As if that wasn't enough, he also started building a huge cross-country fortification that would be continued and completed by successive dynasties, and which stands today as the Great Wall of China. Qin is pronounced "chin"; the ancient family name was lent to a nation on the rise.

He ended up deep within the man-made mountain beneath my feet. Qin Shi Huangdi's ruthless pursuit of earthly power during his brief, 11-year reign over unified China was undermined by a paranoid fear of death. During his lifetime, the secret of immortality became his overriding quest. He set off on epic journeys in search of the elixir of eternal life, but died aged just 50 while searching for the legendary island of the immortals off the east coast. Power passed to a young prince so out of his depth that China was soon engulfed by civil war.

Thanks to Morgan Meis at 3Quarks for this link.

War with Iran...the drumroll continues

Matthew Hogan at Aqoul keeps up with a swelling boil on the body politic, a festering sore painful to see, coming to a head, wanting to be lanced...

Will it take another baptism in the blood of young Americans to wash away this sin?

It appears that I may have been right to call attention to those saying a war on Iran is being rolled out by the Administration. An informed and expert source in DC affirmed it to me as well a few days back. And it looks like the usual suspect sources are now marketing it. (Love the part where we can mysteriously tell that the Germans really want us to attack even as they back away from sanctions against Iran. Saying "no" when they really mean "yes", those Teutonic teases!) Michael Ledeen appears to be the one whose job is to incite the converted; he who says that al-Qaeda and Iran are interchangeable terms and at one point called Dubai, an "Iranian colony". Man, all them dang camel jockeys are the same and interchangeable, and that thinking is how one manufactures a war. Anyway, Aqoulites and Aqoulite wannabes with Iran-specific knowledge are needed to weigh in, now and in the future.

Read it and weep.
The new, improved unitary executive has plans that ordinary mortals need not question.
I wish I knew a way to apply the brakes to what seems to be a runaway train.

Michael Blim Looks at Health Care (re-posted)

This was first posted in June.

I'm reposting it because it is relevant to what passes for "national debate" regarding available health care. As the presidential election race plods on every candidate seeks to look smart and tell less than the competition. We are snowed with meaningless soundbites, but through the storm an informed electorate is expected to select a candidate who will improve one of the country's most glaring shortcomings, how to distribute among ourselves a fair portion of the world's best health care.

Those who worship at the altar of market economics tell us with a straight face that everything will be okay and no one needs to mess with the world's best system of delivering good medicine and professional services. No need to mess with big pharma. No need to tinker with an inadequate supply of professionals. No need to mess with the insurance companies whose mission is to deselect those who most need to be insured with the goal of delivering attractive profits to investors. The best we can expect from that crowd is a cap on liability settlements..."tort reform" they call it. Those malpractice premiums are eating away at profits, so that is the best way to attack the problem. Riight. +

Oh, and the not-for-profit sector is in the game as well. While sucking virtually every dollar of revenue from the insurance industry by cooperating with billing practices derived from already-rationed health care (those with insurance are covered and those without are not covered) this subset of the industry simply writes off what passes for "community health," upwards of half to two-thirds of what would otherwise be tagged "profits." So, yes, non-profits are an important part of the problem. (A true non-profit would start by encouraging EVERYONE hurt or getting sick to seek immediate medical attention, not putting off needed care until their problems becomes untreatable or more expensive because of being uninsured. In the absence of universal health care, the only device available would have to be a means test...hello, market economics...but some baseline universal coverage could be devised that would eliminate even that.)

The world's most important economy should be embarrassed by the overall substandard health of its people. This conversation will not end any time soon. With this year's presidential election it is once again resuming.

Read what follows and think about it...


Today's "Below the Fold" feature from 3 Quarks should be read by everyone. I'm not a well-placed health-care professional or educator but I do work in a health-care system. Like the writer I have watched the trends he describes up close and personal for nearly five years. He's not so much complaining as looking around helplessly and asking what in the world should we do? He says clearly that the system is not only irrational but incapable of self-correction.

...self-preservation being keenly desired by many does not necessarily encourage rational choices. To the question of what is enough, for many, the answer is simply the egoistic reply of what is best for them. [Our two] choices – one to ration care by making it expensive, and the other to ration care by eliminating patients – are the unfortunate products of a system incapable of rationalizing itself.

A reader comment adds "If you want to live longer, stop going to doctors. because, given half a chance, they will kill you." I won't go that far, but my ninety year old mother still takes no prescription drugs and is in excellent health, despite the fact that she smoked unfiltered cigarettes for forty years before she finally quit. Go figure.

It is important to remember that this essay is not about specialists. It is about "family doctors" or, in insurance language, primary care physicians. Primary care physicians have two points in common with police officers. First, they're not always available when you need one. And second, those in the greatest need are often least likely to have access ...unless they have enough money.

Michael Blim teaches anthropology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He writes about equality and global justice and is the author of Economy and Equality: The Global Challenge (2005).

I lost my family doctor last week. Or rather, he has decided to undertake a boutique practice, and I can’t afford the annual fee. So, in a way, he is leaving me, and I am not happy about it. Last week a friend of mine received a “Dear John” letter from her family physician. He is cutting 400 patients from his list, and he had selected her to be one of them. He is leaving her, and she is not happy either.

My friend and I are medically well connected. Both my partner and my friend work at a major research hospital in Boston. They know lots of doctors who know lots of doctors. And still, both of us are scrambling to find a family physician. Many have closed their practices to new patients, and even a well-placed word doesn’t always unlock their availability.

There must be primary care doctors who are not being overrun by patient demand, but in my quest to find a new doctor, I haven’t come across any with good track records in Boston that are not.
As the supply grows, so in turn does demand once more, fed by our unquenchable desire for more health and more well being. We return once again to the question: What is enough? The answer is presently unknowable for three reasons.

First, enough is defined now in terms of differential resources. If you have money or even proxy money such as insurance, private or federal, you can answer the question much more robustly. The lack of money or insurance for others defines in effect what is enough for them. The fact that persons making less than $20,000 a year spend 15% of their income on medical care and those making more than $70,000 spend just 3% of their income on medical care suggests how much more low income individuals are affected by medical costs than those with high incomes. I suspect, though I cannot prove it here, that high income individuals not only are better protected by insurance, but that they have more disposable income to devote to more health care consumption. This last might explain why hospitals are installing those hotel-like hospital wings complete with chefs and concierges, and thus making health care into a “quality experience.”

Second, the private system of medical care today is driven by the profit motive in which expanding our notion of what is enough in part creates greater demand for their products. For them, more is better, particularly as professional medical knowledge and ethics are being subjected to a business model. They can answer for their own interests, but their opinions of necessity are partial, and would probably boil down to the argument that we can never have enough, as health is more generally treated as an immeasurable human good.

Third, self-preservation being keenly desired by many does not necessarily encourage rational choices. To the question of what is enough, for many, the answer is simply the egoistic reply of what is best for them.

Read the whole thing. It will only take a few moments and will leave you with plenty to think about. Politicians are finally getting around to talking about health care. As the election season approaches I keep hearing that old joke line, "Hi! We are from the government and we're here to help you!" I'm already pulling on my boots.

There will be plenty of references to the "profit motive" in the coming months, suggesting that profits are somehow bad. This is a trap to be avoided. The fact is that non-profit (or as the fashionable locution so delicately articulates "not for profit" ) systems are just as bound by good business practices as their profit-making cousins. The difference is that the non-profit sector exists in order to furnish medical care to those in greatest need who either cannot afford to pay or come in the door larded with insurance. As a result billable sums that would otherwise flow into profits are written off in the interest of community health.


As an aside, since Obama mentioned health care there has been a noticeable spike in interest to my Obama post ...better than fifty percent of all hits for the last couple of days. I don't see this as an indicator of popularity of the candidate as much as interest in the topic. Michael Moore's film will also be like lighter fluid on the fire.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Fight for Kisses

Been there.

Done that.

Lost...both times.

Fred Clark on Fear

Fred Clark has put together another fine little essay, Be not afraid. The moment I saw the title I had a flashback to a retreat weekend some thirty years ago during which the spiritual refrain was taken from the last verse of John 16, "In this world you will have tribulation but be not afraid, for I have overcome the world." Some translations say be of good cheer or other such words, but Fred's title (as well as a litany of injunctions that appear through the whole Bible) speaks frankly about confronting fear.

No one needs instructions about the connection between fear and terrorism. It is no accident that that wonderful phrase, War on Terror, has been conceived to commence and continue what seems to be new a way of life in American foreign policy. Fear is the most important component of this "war." Gone are the days of "nothing to fear but fear itself." Fear, it seems, has become a way of life. In fact, if you don't grasp and express the notion you may be skating somewhere between ignorance and treason.

Glenn Greenwald says it well...

Every now and then, it is worth noting that substantial portions of the right-wing political movement in the United States -- the Pajamas Media/right-wing-blogosphere/Fox News/Michelle Malkin/Rush-Limbaugh-listener strain -- actually believe that Islamists are going to take over the U.S. and impose sharia law on all of us. And then we will have to be Muslims and "our women" will be forced into burkas and there will be no more music or gay bars or churches or blogs. This is an actual fear that they have -- not a theoretical fear but one that is pressing, urgent, at the forefront of their worldview.

And their key political beliefs -- from Iraq to Iran to executive power and surveillance theories at home -- are animated by the belief that all of this is going to happen. The Republican presidential primary is, for much of the "base," a search for who will be the toughest and strongest in protecting us from the Islamic invasion -- a term that is not figurative or symbolic, but literal: the formidable effort by Islamic radicals to invade the U.S. and take over our institutions and dismantle our government and force us to submit to Islamic rule or else be killed.

Readers are urged to go read Fred's post in full and follow the links. (Spare yourself the commnets thread unless you have a good deal of time. Interesting conversation, but drifting way off the subject.) He packs a lot of smarts into very few paragraphs.

Check out this new US ally (tragic update)

It's been less than a week and the man pictured here with the president has been killed. In retrospect my irreverent post comes across as snarky, but the fact is this man would have been the target of an American attack earlier in the war. His assassination illustrates the madness of this war as much as anything else.

"The assassination was carried out by means of an explosive device placed on the car [of Sheikh Abu Risha]," Hamid al-Hayess, a fellow member of the Al-Anbar Awakening Council, told RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq. "The car flipped over, which led to the death of the sheikh, God be merciful. Sheikh Abu Risha, as you know, was the strongest [force for] national reconciliation, the termination of sectarian violence, and [the defeat of] Al-Qaeda in western Iraq. He was considered to be the spiritual, and physical leader of that area."

The assassination came hours before Bush is due to deliver a televised address outlining his future strategy for Iraq.

The Pentagon called Abu Risha's death a "tragic loss" and expressed hope that the movement he led against Al-Qaeda will survive him.

Al-Anbar security chief Colonel Tariq al-Dulaymi told Iraqi state television that Abu Risha was on his way home when he ordered his convoy to stop so he could help a handicapped man he saw sitting on the side of the road. "Soon after he got back in his car the bomb exploded," the police chief said.

He is now officially a martyr. In the case of martyrdom, Mark Anthony had it wrong: the good lives on and the evil is oft interred with their bones.

[First posted September 8...]

...The pictures themselves speak volumes: look at Bush's shit-eating grin and Abu Risha's detached contempt, and figure out which is the supplicant in this scenario.
An hour with Bush was really quite a coup for Sattar Abu Risha. The head of the Anbar Salvation Council has a rather unsavory reputation as one of the shadiest figures in the Sunni community, and as recently as June was reportedly on his way out. As a report in Time described him,


Sheikh Sattar, whose tribe is notorious for highway banditry, is also building a personal militia, loyal not to the Iraqi government but only to him. Other tribes — even those who want no truck with terrorists — complain they are being forced to kowtow to him. Those who refuse risk being branded as friends of al-Qaeda and tossed in jail, or worse. In Baghdad, government delight at the Anbar Front's impact on al-Qaeda is tempered by concern that the Marines have unwittingly turned Sheikh Sattar into a warlord who will turn the province into his personal fiefdom.

Marc Lynch is a political science professor at Williams College, Williamstown, MA.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Julia Botros (Intasara Loubnan)

Found this at Babbling Bahrania.
I like it. The singer is obviously very popular and the venue is impressive.
I can't read Arabic.
Have no idea what this is about. No help from Wikipedia. Web searches yield little.
Comments at You Tube are a polyglot collection of who-knows-what.
One place called it "patriotic Lebanese song."

I found this on a blog linked way down a search page.
This video clip from Maronite Christian singer Julia Botros entitled Ahiba'y (My Lovers...or more Accurately My Dears) is one such track that celebrates Hezbollah. While the song does not refer to Hassan Nasrallah or the movement by name it is still overtly suggestive. The image of Nasrallah at the beginning of the video was edited in outside of the television studio for the online version.
Lyrics of the video are translated. A comment notes the connection between music and politics. I find it interesting that the music is pro-Hezballah and the singer is described as Maronite Christian.
If you recall, there have also been dozens of songs and music videos made here in the US by pop and country artists expressing support for the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Music is one of the oldest tools used to garner public support (just think how often "The Eyes of Texas" gets played here in Austin). Thanks to YouTube, you can easily find them, and countless such music videos supporting every cause under the sun. I even came across a video with Arab singer Haytham Yousef called "Saddam, Our Father" expressing support for him in pre-war Iraq. Using popular music as a way of garnering public support isn't anything new.
However, I personally feel that when pop culture icons mix with political organizations, it's a delicate dance on the line between entertainment and propaganda. After all, if they are hoping their song of support will cause more people to support a political group, isn't that pretty much the definition of propaganda?
Another thing I think is interesting is the lack of dissenting musicians from much of the Middle East. In the US, for every Darryl Worley (who's biggest hit, "Have you Forgotten?" has gotten praise from the military for its supportive lyrics,) there's a Green Day (who's entire album "American Idiot" was blasting the current administration.) Even in Israel, rap group Hadag Nachash regularly criticizes the government's policies and they've topped the charts several times.
Music isn't a monopoly held by one political party or another, but why is it that you won't see much minority opinion in pop culture? For example, there have been several anti-Syrian demonstrations in Lebanon with hundreds of thousands of people, but would a video like this have been made for the other side?
Good question.

The day after 9/11, 2007

Here is a collection of links that nay be of interest in coming years...

Hilzoy is tired (and so am I)...her post is elegant.

Yes. And I am so tired of it. Tired of people who casually conflate Iran and Al Qaeda -- oddly, the same people who used to conflate Iraq and al Qaeda. Tired of "explanations" of Islam that have as much intellectual integrity as, say, an explanation of Christianity that took its central texts to be "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I come not to bring peace but to bring a sword", and "Happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us -- he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks." Tired of people who act as though any attempt to understand people in the Middle East and how we might best respond to them is a sign not of plain common sense but of weakness. (Here is a sentence from Kamiya's article: "It was vital that we think clearly about our response, who attacked us, why they did, and what our most effective response would be." And here's how Flopping Aces glosses it: "In the Left’s twisted world, they would rather fall to a knee and bow a head to their Islamic master, although they either don’t know it yet or won’t admit it.") And tired of the insinuation that minding, or even noticing, the fact that we have thrown aside our ideals for nothing is a sign of hating my country.

But I bet I'm not nearly as tired of this as the average Iraqi. And I bet I don't mind the uses to which 9/11 has been put -- the deployment of it for partisan ends, which I find obscene -- nearly as much as someone whose husband or wife or child or father or mother was murdered that day.

It's time for this to stop. It's time for us to recover our honor, try to help put our country back together again, and mourn 9/11 the way it deserves to be mourned: soberly, thoughtfully, seriously, for itself, and not in the service of any extraneous end.

Cernig notes plans for an extended war with Iran.

Despite the experts at the IAEA saying they are making progress on resolving Iran's outstanding nuclear questions and haven't found any evidence of a weapons program at all. Despite accusations of Iran meddling in Iraq being so feeble that even Petreaus can't find a powerpoint way of talking up the actual figures.

The wingnuts want their new war - the one they (erroneously) believe will save Iraq, Bush's legacy and the GOP's chances in '08. Oh, saving the world? That can go hang as long as the Republicans own what's left.

Helena Cobban notes the obvious, which seems to have gone unmentioned by other observers. Maybe that's how we have come to expect our leaders to behave.

I did watch a bit of the Petraeus-and-Crocker show on C-SPAN this afternoon. Oh how handy for the administration to have this whole thing happening during the week of September 11, eh?

Today it was a joint hearing of the House Foreign relations and Armed Services Committes. I guess the main thing that struck me was the cock-a-hoop way that Petraeus preened his way around the hearing room, gladhanding everyone like a seasoned politician... Whereas Crocker looked anguished, concerned, and very uncomfortable.

Also, whenever the Congress members asked questions that were not specifically directed to one or other of the two "witnesses", Petraeus jumped right in and answered them without even seeming to ask Crocker if he wanted to go first. Even when they were on clearly political (as opposed to more military) subjects.

It was alpha-doggist discourse-hogging of the first order. Fairly nauseating, all in all.

Digby points to an essay in Salon by Gary Kamiya she calls "indispensible.
I think she's right.

Democrats have effectively challenged the reign of nature and instinct in the domestic realm. But they cower when it comes to war. They are afraid to criticize the irrational, instinctive nature of Bush's "war on terror" because they believe their political Achilles' heel is the perception that they are "weak on national security." They are afraid they'll be seen as wimps. Beaten down by Republican propaganda that asserts that America's only choice is between the GOP's macho John Wayne and the Democrats' dithering Hamlet, they pathetically don their cowboy hats and tank helmets, a tactic that actually reinforces the very image of weakness it is intended to dispel. Unchallenged by the Democrats, the right wing's master narrative about American power and the need to carry a big stick has carried the day.

Tom Watson gets the prize for finding the tackiest commercial exploitation of a national tragedy.

Meanwhile, our Diana-like self-rending and its attendant mass hysteria continues, though blessedly muted (no special sections in today's papers). That the memories live on, that one living American will ever forget, that no living New Yorker will ever forgive are a stipulation to human nature. We don't need to be reminded of it by Presidential campaigns and talk show hosts. Indeed, dredging up that mass wave of grief on the same date each year does the event itself - and its very human survivors - a disservice. It's offensive to tell New Yorkers to remember, as if these grief-sellers and fear-mongers and campaign managers think that any one of us doesn't know what the number 343 stands for.

Yes, this goofy coupon for cheap fries "in honor of our fallen heroes" is a sad commentary. So too is the request for more soldiers in the wrong country - or for primary votes - written on Twin Towers requisition forms.

Professor Bainbridge points to George Will who concludes...

A democracy, wrote the diplomat and scholar George Kennan, "fights for the very reason that it was forced to go to war. It fights to punish the power that was rash enough and hostile enough to provoke it -- to teach that power a lesson it will not forget, to prevent the thing from happening again. Such a war must be carried to the bitter end." Which is why "unconditional surrender" was a natural U.S. goal in World War II, and why Americans were so uncomfortable with three "wars of choice" since then -- in Korea, Vietnam and Iraq.

What "forced" America to go to war in 2003 -- the "gathering danger" of weapons of mass destruction -- was fictitious. That is one reason why this war will not be fought, at least not by Americans, to the bitter end. The end of the war will, however, be bitter for Americans, partly because the president's decision to visit Iraq without visiting its capital confirmed the flimsiness of the fallback rationale for the war -- the creation of a unified, pluralist Iraq.

After more than four years of war, two questions persist: Is there an Iraq? Are there Iraqis?

Good questions. I'm beginning to wonder about them myself and it's not even four years into the future.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Rgarding prejudice and racism...

Two comments left at my post linking Sara Robinson's essay deserve an answer. Underlying both is a thread of resignation suggesting that working against the corrosive effects of prejudice and racism is an endless, perhaps hopeless exercise in futility. This is a notion that I can agree with. I wrote as much the first year I started blogging in Discrimination is alive and well, everywhere

...during a tour of Korea, hosted by the Army Medical Service Corps, I learned first hand that Koreans were no less prone to prejudice than we were. Not only did they discriminate among GI's of color (which they had learned, of course, from the military itself, watching how military units were segregated by color during the Korean conflict) they were also able to discern among various Asian racial groups, pointing out those who looked Chinese or Japanese or Korean, even among their own population! I learned that their Declaration of Independence began "We declare ourselves to be an independent nation and an independent race..."

My sad conclusion early on was that prejudice in all its forms seems to be an inborn characteristic of mankind. I reared my children with deliberate efforts to vaccinate them against the poison of prejudice, but sometimes I sense that the lesson is still not learned. I do understand at a visceral level how tough the battle can be to stay clean of this bad thinking.

Sometime in the seventies white people were politely but firmly invited out of "the movement" as black leaders were able to say in so many words "thanks but no thanks; this is our issue, not yours" which, when you think of it, is another form of the same thinking. I could go on for hours about this subject, but nothing would be added to the store of knowledge that would change any minds. I can only point to others who are still manfully fighting the demons and hope that in time the landscape can change for the better.

Having said that, I must add that my concern for the subject has been embedded in my character for a lifetime.

There have been changes, to be sure. I now have to face young black people who take one look at an old white man and immediately conclude that I am of the generation that their parents and grandparents told them about, so I must be one of them. Surly, presumptive, ignorant, smart-assed attitudes that pop up in my face as the result of that prejudice make me want to become something I am not, say things that could shame them instead of winning respect and trust on today's terms, not because of anything I might have done in the past, but how I behave and respond in the present. And that's not easy for someone who was in the street before some smart-alec was born. But that has become the discipline of these later years.

As for the question of black-on-black issues, or the effect on other groups...Asian, Latino, whatever...those issues are important as well. But I'm not them. For whatever it means I can only claim credibility as a white man because that I who I unmistakably am. Anything else is an artificial construct. Interesting to talk about, but not where the rubber hits the road with me.

Yes, it has to do with "social justice." By definition that is where it fits the social and political models. But for me, the impulse runs deeper. It is an exercise of Christian faith, something like the story of the Good Samaritan, but different. Christendom in today's world has a magnified opportunity to let the Light shine. And I don't think enough Christians grasp that reality and have yet to embrace what it might mean, really, in global terms.

Of the three main faiths that have come from the children of Abraham--Judaism, Christianity and Islam--only Christians have a clearly stated mandate to love enemies, seeking forgiveness and reconciliation to resolve conflict. I can imagine hairs rising on the necks of Christian readers whose impulse to talk about "justice" instead of "mercy" this evening...this the anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center. But that is precisely when we need to stir up our faith. Not when we know we are right, but when we know we are being commanded to do something we want to resist with all our being. I dare not go on with that line of discussion other than suggesting that a Christian contribution to conflict resolution in the Middle East (or anywhere, for that matter) is to bring to the table the notion of forgiveness and reconciliation.

In contrast to that massive challenge, overcoming personal prejudice seems a lot less important. And a lot more desirable, maybe?

This is a poor answer to those two comments. But it is the best I can come up with. I don't want to make my thinking normative for everyone. But I won't stop pecking away at what I think is a better way to live out my understanding of faith. This is what I wrote last year at this time...

It took only five years, but the effect of terrorism on America is becoming a measurable success. We have been transformed from the world's avatar for peace, democracy, freedom, economic success and political stability into however those ideals can become corrupt.

Instead of peace we stand for war.

Instead of democracy we stand for the support of monarchies, autocrats and the suppression of popular opinion.

Instead of freedom, we stand for domination. Most humanitarian efforts are administered by Americans in military uniforms instead of civilian clothes.

Global portfolios are not graded according to how well they lift poor people out of economic hardship but how good the ROI looks this quarter, this year, of for the latest five-year trend.

The previous post repeats these words in a social and/or political context. I record them here in the context of faith.