About Me

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Armchair theorist, poet, and occasional IT manager, Sascha B. is equipped with a Master's Degree in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Texas, and is not afraid to use it. His work has been published by the University Press of America, Edwin Mellen Press, University of Texas Press, and a variety of small journals nationwide. He is also the proprietor and baker for 3141 Pie, of which you should eat many.

The Deal

I stopped blogging in 2013, when life overtook me. My father became ill and died shortly thereafter, and my mother was left with increasing dementia. I became the primary caregiver, and now orchestrate my mother's care and our family estate.

Now, I am coming up for air again.

Looking for the next book to read. All suggestions welcome.

My reading list is over here.







Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Giving Thanks?

It's 6:30am. The BBC is reporting that the Lebanese Industry Minister, Gemayel, has been assassinated.

I have been having one of the least fun months I've known in a while.

I think I'm done here on this venue.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

After the Fall

It seemed that the good news kept coming yesterday: the Democrats took the House; Pelosi took the Speakership; Rumsfeld got the boot at long long last; Montana and Virginia went from red to blue, giving the Democrats a 51 seat majority voting bloc in the senate...I believe this is the first election in 10 years where I feel as though some little of what I care for was voted in, with the majority, for all the right reasons.

Now the hard part comes: can Pelosi maintain an effective yet still aggressive stance, without failing to mend fences? Can Bush constrain himself from the veto stamp? Are we looking at 2 years of possible rebuilding and redirection, or just 24 montsh of gridlock? We'll see. A new SecDef (though no idea if that means a new strategy), a new Congress, a new hope.

It's a bright sunny morning here in SF, full of light and San Francisco Values. I'm looking forward to the next few days.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

All Quiet?

No, not really. Iraq is a quagmire, Afghanistan is erupting, Washington is imploding, Darfur is being cleansed, North Korea is posturing, the Dow is bloated, and the Oracle World conference in SF is bringing back bad memories of dot-com days.

However.

for the sake of maintaining my own sanity, and not succumbing to existential despair, I am taking a hiatus from any further significant comment here until after election day, November 7. With eyes toward some significant change that day, and some hopeful news from the voters in all 50 states, I will hold my thoughts, my rants, and my breath until the results of the election are in.

Until then, enjoy the mayhem we have sown. And try not to despair.

BOOK RECOMMENDATION OF THE DAY: Richard Dawkins' rant, The God Delusion. A polemic indeed. Not always entirely on target, occasionally cringe-inducing, always entertaining and thought-provoking, this personal expose and inquiry into the evolutionary underpinnings of religious faith and belief and morality is not for the faint of heart. But if you have any interest in asking why, as opposed to simply what and how, then this is a book for you.

Oh, and it's pretty funny too, in that bitter, witty, informed English way.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

"arrogance and stupidity"

Fascinating. I guess the White House was too busy with the upcoming elections to vet this interview.

Another crack widens.

Monday, October 09, 2006

And While We Are Here

"BAGHDAD, Iraq - The brother of Iraq's Sunni Arab vice president was assassinated Monday by gunmen who broke into his home, the third of the politician's four siblings to be slain this year. Sunnis blamed Shiite militias and demanded a crackdown to stop the capital's raging sectarian violence."

-Sinan Salaheddinap, for AP
Thank goodness it isn't civil war.

Oh wait: Fareed Zakaria thinks it is....

The Point Being....
"North Korea is more than just another nation joining the nuclear club. It has never developed a weapons system it did not ultimately sell on the world market, and it has periodically threatened to sell its nuclear technology. So the end of ambiguity about its nuclear capacity foreshadows a very different era, in which the concern may not be where a nation’s warheads are aimed, but in whose hands its weapons and skill end up."
That's David Sanger, in today's NY Times, pointing out the real threat of the events in North Korea.

I'm not worried about Kim Jong Il lobbing a bomb into my backyard. I'm worried that through indecision, and indifference, and distraction, we have unleashed an awful genie from a fragile bottle.
Jane's Says

hmmm. Maybe I wasn't so wrong in my estimates after all...
"The figure of .55 kT, however, seems too low given the 4.2 register on the Richter scale. This could suggest - depending upon the geological make-up of the test site - a yield of 2-12 kT. If, however, the lower yield is correct, it would suggest that the test had been a "pre- or post-detonation" event (ie a failure), as it had been anticipated that North Korea's first nuclear test would have a significantly higher yield."

-Joseph Bermudez Jr for Jane's Defense Weekly

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Oh Shit.
SEOUL, South Korea -
North Korea's official news agency said Monday the country has performed a successful nuclear test.
Well, we'll have to see what the reports say. I didn't think they'd actually pull it off the first time around. And to think that somehow our government is still convinced that it is more of a priority to build a wall on the Mexican border....
AP: North Korea says nuclear test successful
The Gubernatorial Debate

THE BILLING:
Arnold vs. Angelides.
THE FINAL CALL:
A Draw.
THE OUTCOME:
Nobody Cares.
Aftermath

Anthony Shadid has an interesting post-mortem take on the war in Lebanon; while it draws less conclusions than it does present anecdotes, it portrays a couple of critical points in a glaring light:

Hizbullah is far too integrated with Iran for the health of a democratci future in Lebanon;

The Shia in Lebanon who support Hizbullah, and leaders the of that group, have allowed themsleves to fall into the same fallacy of narrow complacency that has plagued the modern Arab Middle East, as a woeful alternative to being willing to think outside the tunnel of ideology, and historiographic re-writing of painful truths;

Despite the admission of errors on both sides of the conflict, for the Lebanese at leasst it appears that there has been no lesson learned, no understanding gained, and the only take-away is the death and destruction provided to Lebanon (and Israel) by the anger, hate and intransigence of the people in power----that's real power, not necessarily elected power.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Trends

It would seem that Palestine, through internal incompetence and external neglect, is self destructing with remarkable speed. On the one hand, the US failed disastrously to provide a firm jand in shepherding the young government to an effective point politically; on the other, the fractionalized anger that has been present for so many years is now rising to the top of the froth, and without funds, or aid, or support, the worst of all sides' natures appear to be taking prode of place.

Imagine if the Democrats in Congress, led by Nancy Pelosi, credibly threatened to assassinate Bush and Cheney, and Rice, and the entire cabinet. That's where these guys are at.

Read more: Reuters: Palestinian group threatens to kill Hamas leaders.

Monday, October 02, 2006

On Being Inscribed

Today was Yom Kippur. I did not pray. I did not eat. This evening, toward the end of the day, I scurried shamefully past the storefront being rented by the local Chabad Lubavitch congregation for a house of prayer this day, scandalized in my heart to see the room full of my fellow Jews, praying, and feel outcast, and longing, and at the same time feeling...nothing.

I fasted, for myself and my own reasons, but I was not today a part of my community. And this is my choice. I feel deep spiritual comfort in these forms, but at this time, this day, it does not feed my soul more than that: a comfort in the form. Not in the content. At least, not today.

I have broken my fast with a steak larger than my head, smothered in porcini mushrooms and shallots, and sweet corn and peas cooked with ginger; a loaf of fresh rye bread, an apple, and a bottle of Tignanello. Later, after my stomach has eased into itself again, I shall have some cheese and more apple, and chestnut honey. And I shall ponder the meaning of what I make of my own solitary, half engaged, nearly apostatic sense of spiritual grounding.

Tomorrow, at work, perhaps I will return to thinking on the confusions of Washington. And the issues of our day at large. Perhaps I will confer with the other hemi-demi Jews who also engaged in fractional aspects of observance, and who have their own reasons, and their own paths, and their own spiritual hungers to share, and hide.

We all have our self-directed questions with which we toss and turn at night. This is one of mine: Who am I, now that I am so much myself?

Friday, September 29, 2006

I Should've Guessed

AP: NEW YORK - Henry Kissinger has been advising President Bush and Vice President Cheney about Iraq...Kissinger, who served in the Nixon and Ford administrations, has been telling Bush and Cheney that "in Iraq, he declared very simply, 'Victory is the only meaningful exit strategy.'"
I'm Trying To Care

But I just don't. Call me cruel. But this just isn't newsworthy.
SAN FRANCISCO / Homeless feel unwelcome
Congress Just Made A King

And they don't even seem to realize it.
"...the bill empowers the executive branch to detain indefinitely anyone it determines to have 'purposefully and materially' supported anti-U.S. hostilities. Only foreign nationals among those detainees can be tried by the military commissions, as they are known, and sentenced to decades in jail or put to death.

At the same time, the bill immunizes U.S. officials from prosecution for cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment of detainees who the military and the CIA captured before the end of last year. It gives the president a dominant but not exclusive role in setting the rules for future interrogations of terrorism suspects."
Many Rights in U.S. Legal System Absent in New Bill - washingtonpost.com
Habeus Corpus? R.I.P.

How very very sad for us. George Bush and the Congress have, with this torture bill, made a mockery of all that we are as a nation.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Outlook Gloomy
"Beyond the rankings, the study found that across the board -- from elite universities to less-selective colleges -- the typical senior did poorly on the civics literacy exam, scoring below 70 percent. This would be a D or F on a basic test using a conventional grading scale.

That shows, the researchers said, that the students don't have -- and the universities generally aren't teaching -- the basic understanding of America's history and founding principles that they need to be good citizens."
It's no wonder we now promote polivies which undermine our own civic identity: it's because we aren't learning or teaching who we are. Read the article; the findings at all 50 schools are disturbing, even the schools who, according to the study's methodology came out on 'top'. Another great quote:
"Stanford focuses more on teaching theory and critical-thinking skills than facts. The teaching of facts and historical dates is considered "old-fashioned" in academe."
Facts are old-fashioned. I love that.

Read the train wreck here: Top-flight colleges fail civics, study says / Cal and Stanford seniors test poorly.

UPDATE: and I forgot--here's the link to the full report. Of particular interest are the cumulative raw scores for each school. The Ivy League stands out as top scoring...but they peak out in the high 60s. A failing grade, indeed.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Totally Off Topic

Have you ever stopped and counted the things you have lost in your life?

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Dumbest Statement Yet In CA Gubernatorial Campaign

It pains me more each day to be pushed like this, away from my own party's candidates and forced to (even halfheartedly) agree with the Governor's camp.

It isn't that Angelides is bad at heart; but this blatant sort of political pandering without thought for policy consequences is worse to me than the status quo of leadership by bastardism.

AP: Calif. Gov. Opponent: Guard Out of Iraq

Friday, September 22, 2006

Ahh, Unity.
"GAZA (Reuters) - Hamas said on Friday it would not join any Palestinian unity government that recognized Israel, rebuffing President Mahmoud Abbas who told the United Nations any future coalition would do so and also renounce violence."
'Nuff said.

Read more: Hamas rebuffs Abbas.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Word Of Warning

Blogging will be thin here over the next few days or even a week or two; I've taken a new full-time job, and the new work and schedule will not only require some getting used to, but the download of massive amounts of information 9 hours a day will be taking up most of my brain for a while. That's not to say that I haven't noticed the bloodless coup in Thailand yesterday, or the continuing fray in Congress over the president's plan to gut the Geneva conventions and bring America into line with the Soviet Union's Gulag morality, or the unceasing debate over the Pope's remarks, or Iran, Iran, Iran.

In any case, I'll try to check in with some premium ranting very soon!

Monday, September 18, 2006

Quote of the Day
"“MTV speaks uniquely to a group of people who are endlessly fascinated with watching themselves,” she said."
Couldn't have said it better myself.

Read all about the latest narcissism-fest, a 'virtual' Laguna Beach...:
Not in the Real World Anymore - New York Times

Sunday, September 17, 2006

"NEWS FLASH: Violence sweeps through Islamic world after Pope intimates Islamic world a hotbed of violence."
OK. So I made that up. But really: how many Muhammad cartoon / Papal speech incidents are we going to have to endure, that result not in vituperative political and rhetorical response, but in firebombs, murder, and hate? When The Onion starts to have the feel of reality rather than humor, we are in trouble, people. We really are.
Wit
"The pope's suggestion that compulsion and violence are inherent features of Islam has outraged the Muslim world. In Afghanistan, where apostates are subject to execution, the parliament and the Foreign Ministry demanded an apology. In Yemen, where religious conversion is punishable by death, the president has threatened to sever diplomatic ties. In the West Bank, Palestinians attacked four churches with guns and firebombs. And a Somali cleric added his two cents: 'Whoever offends our Prophet Muhammad should be killed on the spot by the nearest Muslim.'"
That's Roger McShane in Slate today, shoveling out a heapin' helpin' of heavy irony on the response to the Pope's quoting Manuel II Paleologus, Emperor of Byzantium.
Don't Believe The Hype
"To his critics, Mr. Bush is a “King George” bent on an “imperial presidency.” But the inescapable fact is that war shifts power to the branch most responsible for its waging: the executive. Harry Truman sent troops to fight in Korea without Congressional authority. George H. W. Bush did not have the consent of Congress when he invaded Panama to apprehend Manuel Noriega. Nor did Bill Clinton when he initiated NATO’s air war over Kosovo..."

"The White House has declared that the Constitution allows the president to sidestep laws that invade his executive authority. That is why Mr. Bush has issued hundreds of signing statements — more than any previous president — reserving his right not to enforce unconstitutional laws."


That's John Woo, making a rather feeble argument to show why Bush can not only break the law--because the Constitution says that he can (???)---and that the individual who decides whether a law is binding on the President is...the President.

He's wrong. This has nothing to do with a "strong" executive; this is about negating the balances that support the pillars of our nation and our society.

Read his infuriatingly un-American op-ed here: How the Presidency Regained Its Balance - New York Times

Friday, September 15, 2006

The President's Dangerous Inadequacy
"Bush said the Geneva Convention's ban was 'very vague' and required clarification. 'What does that mean, 'outrages upon human dignity?' That's a statement that is wide open to interpretation.'"
If this president cannot, as a moral being and a self-professed Christian, identify what an outrage upon human dignity is, then any response at this point other than a complete alteration of the current state of affairs in his government is utterly useless.

AP: Bush fights GOP revolt over terror bill.
Baghdad Under Siege?
"Iraq's interior ministry has announced plans to increase security in Baghdad by digging trenches around the city, and surrounding it with checkpoints."
Dig a moat. That's the ticket. Good lord, how did we bring it all to this?

BBC: Trenches plan to secure Baghdad

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Farewell, Governor Richards...

May you rest in good peace. You will be missed:

Ex-Texas Gov. Ann Richards dies.
Palestinians disunited over unity government

The quotes?
"Hamas does not and will not recognize the occupation and will not accept any government agenda that may imply a recognition of the occupation."
-Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri.

Under his deal with Hamas, a unity government "will respect the agreements (Israel) signed with the PLO."
-Mahmoud Abbas
I find this funny, in a terrible, sad way:

Hamas, Abbas in disharmony over unity policies

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Another Black Eye

I don't have much love for the Governator, but I've even less for Angelides and the status quo ante type of Democrat he represents. This escapade simply strengthens my feeling that, in the governor's race, I won't be casting a vote with my party come election day...

Rival admits leaking Schwarzenegger tape.
Bastard Alert
"Cyclists who wear protective helmets are more likely to be knocked down by passing vehicles...The study found drivers tend to pass closer when overtaking cyclists wearing helmets than those who are bare-headed."
Read this, and then ponder your own driving habits...

BBC NEWS: Wearing helmets 'more dangerous'
The Day After 9/11

So we have al Qaeda offshoots storming the US embassy in Damascus, and HP Chair Dunn is stepping down. And I am off to the clinic for a rather unpleasant medical test. Sigh. What will you be up to today?

Sunday, September 10, 2006




Hewlett Packard Poke
"'When boards get fearful sometimes they do stupid things,'' he said.

'This is a sign of the times,'' Challenger said. 'Think of how Bush has been handling the leaks in his administration.'

'This sends an atrocious message to the company about business ethics at the top,'' he said. 'It should be taught in business school as something not to do.'"
I don't need to connect the dots, do I? Things other than wealth tend to trickle down...

The boardroom intrigue behind implosion at Hewlett-Packard

Saturday, September 09, 2006

walls of constantinople breached
Historical Anecdote

I've just been rereading John Julius Norwich's A Short History of Byzantium, which for anyone interested, is a great overview of more than 1,100 years of fascinating and crucial history for Western and European society.

What struck me this time was that, at the fall of Constantinople, it was a German arms dealer and manufacturer who provided Mehmet II with his large cannon, which allowed for the destruction of the Anastasian Land Walls, and the blockade of the Bosphorus. It would seem westerners have been able to assist in their own destruction through this sort of short-sighted greed for a very long time: from the Viking invasions to the fall of Constantinople, to the arming of Iraq and Syria and Iran and Pakistan today, we appear to be happily able to disregard the outcomes of our actions in favor of profit.

Just a thought.

Friday, September 08, 2006

The Long And Short Of It

I've accepted a new job, and in the whirlwind of interviews and decisions and trepidations I've not been blogging much---trying to focus on getting my stories in to my editor on deadline, and little things like that, before my life gets overwhelmed by a new unfamiliar 9-5 schedule.

That said, we are also heading into election time, and the 5th anniversary of the attack on the Towers, and the propaganda is flying free: between the President's recent speech regarding our now admitted "secret" CIA prisons and the military tribunals, and the upcoming absurdist docudrama by Disney on Clinton's failure to seek-and-destroy Osama, and Blair's unshocking "I will step down soon" statement, and the war, the war, the war...well, I'm pretty fed up. I hear solid talk from a tiny handful of analysts and writers on both right and left, but otherwise I hear nothing but a mix of hysterical hype on one end of the spectrum, to dismaying milquetoast blather on the other. The democrats are once again missing an opportunity to take the reins of leadership, while the republicans are split between the somewhat sane and the woefully fearmongering neoMcCarthyites, who feel that intimidation, fear, and humiliation are appropriate traits for American policy to enshrine.

I look forward to beginning work in the non-profit world. At least there the assumption is that we are trying to have a positive impact on lives.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Editor! Editor!

The NYT runs an interesting little article on theworldwide Zoroastrian community today, and it's a nice look at a neglected religious tradition. But the following graf really bugged me:
"Zoroastrianism predates Christianity and Islam, and many historians say it influenced those faiths and cross-fertilized Judaism as well, with its doctrines of one God, a dualistic universe of good and evil and a final day of judgment."
Now, in essence, every statement there is correct. But come on: in the historical march of time, it was Zoroastrianism, which then influenced Judaism, which gave birth to Christianity, and then in a spurt of monotheistic nascency, Islam was born. In that order. The presentation here, misplacing Judaism in the listing, is the sort of thing that a religion page editor should nix. Unless, of course, they have some ulterior motive for relegating Judaism to a separate trend in history. Weird.


Zoroastrians Keep the Faith, and Keep Dwindling - New York Times
New Strategy, Old Problem

with the release today of the new National Strategy For Combating Terrorism, the administration is embarking on a forceful and possibly quite effective propaganda campaign. It is on the one hand heartening to see, as there is much that is good in this strategic overview. But what is more glaring to me is what is missing: No mention of Pakistan, the only known nexus for the dissemination of WMD to terrorist entities. North Korea, another serious red flag in the international field. London and Madrid, two of the worst terrorist attacks in the West since 9/11. Osama bin Laden, seemingly now a non-entity to the Bush Administration. You won't find these particulars in the report; not in the successes list, not in the challenges list, nowhere. Who do we list here? "The United States currently designates five state sponsors of terrorism: Iran, Syria, Sudan, North Korea, and Cuba."

Cuba? Cuba??? AQ Khan, with the implicit go ahead of the Pakistani government, provided at least two states and an unknown number of other entities with nuclear materiel and capacity. And we are going after CUBA??? Sometimes even my outstandingly large ability shrug off our government's baldfaced attempts to sway opinion with blatant idiocy grows strained.

Still, I'm glad to see a coherent strategic thought coming out of the White House. Despite its echoing of our pre-Iraq invasion sabre-rattling. Despite its ignoring some of our primary problems. Despite its clear intent to prepare us for a possible (and inappropriate) war with Iran. I hope that some Democrat grows balls enough to call out this piece productively; I would think it shouldn't be too hard to shred the rhetoric of "America is safer, but not yet safe." As though safety were an absolute goal that we could reach...

Sigh. Read more here, here, and here.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Bad News

This tidbit from AP, carried by NYT, and The Malaysian Star, and other news outlets, is mostly interesting in its implicit indictment of the West's work at "freeing" this nation. The UN report on which it is based notes the major rise in opium harvests in the Southern provinces, where the Taliban are currently ranging pretty freely again. The official response to this is to blame the Taliban; but when confronted with a more than doubling of the crop in a northern province, where there is no insurgency, the blame is placed (mostly) on "the lack of government control and the presence of powerful warlords and corrupt local officials."

Now, I don't want to be completely negative here, but isn't this effectively the same sort of situation we went in to try and alleviate? A violence ridden nation with corrupt leadership, churning out the world's supply of opium? Strong rebukes from Costa and the UN are good, but shouldn't the rebukes land a bit more squarely in the lap of the US and the coalition which has been unable to complete the mission it went in to do so many years ago?

Read it all here: Opium Harvest at Record Level in Afghanistan.
Apropos of Absolutely Nothing

Direct from The Telegraph, we have...

Planet Rock's top ten guitar solos of all time!

  1. Comfortably Numb - Pink Floyd

  2. Sweet Child O Mine - Guns N Roses

  3. Freebird - Lynyrd Skynyrd

  4. Eruption - Van Halen

  5. November Rain - Guns N Roses

  6. Stairway to Heaven - Led Zeppelin

  7. Sultans of Swing - Dire Straits

  8. Aqualung - Jethro Tull

  9. Hotel California - The Eagles

  10. Child In Time - Deep Purple


We report. You decide.
Spain In Mesopotamia II

This report from the NYT today adds an even more interesting twist to the symbolic semi-nationalist pride shown by the raising of the flag of Kurdistan across the north of Iraq. An influx of Arab refugees into Kurdistan creates pressures there we haven't yet seen til now: NYT: Iraqi Arabs See Unlikely Haven With Old Foes.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Spain In Mesopotamia?

I really don't think that Iraq can endure a fragile federalism like the one that governs Spain. With this rather symbolic action by Barzani and the Kurdish government, There may be significant backlash. Not so much about the Kurdish flag being raised over Sulaimaniyeh, but more over the Iraqi flag being lowered.

This, coupled with this last quarter's significant increase in violence, is not good news for Iraq as a whole (though perhapd for Iraqi Kurdistan), nor for US current policy. It will be curious as well to see what the response is from Ankara in the North...

Read all about it--AP: Kurdistan president replaces Iraqi flag.
Berkeley Meets Mel

Ah, Berkeley. Never was my kind of town, really. Too much NIMBYism sugar coated with the rhetoric of being "progressive." But truly, it's this sort of so-called evenhanded approach to all points of view which makes me churn inside. Not all ideas are of equal merit. Not all opinions are valid enough to stand on their own, even if they are widespread. Becky O'Malley appears to miss that critical, editorial truth:
Why did Berkeley paper run anti-Jewish column?

Thursday, August 31, 2006


Apropos of Absolutely Nothing

A beautiful, absurd, pop culture musical train wreck:

Why Am I Underwhelmed?

With much fanfare, NASA and Lockheed Martin announce the awarding of a contract to LM to build the next generation of manned spacecraft. Or at least try to. Last time, after nearly one billion dollars of expenditure, they gave up. That was a decade ago.

I'm not holding my breath.

Then again, it could turn out well: a bloated government contracting agent entrenched in the bureaucracy of running up costs may have a chance in this 21st century of ours to really, really innovate, and turn out something fabulous. On time and under budget. Or maybe something like the ill-fated Mars Climate Orbiter. Remember that Lockheed/NASA winner? That's the one that blew to bits because half of it was designed in inches, and the rest in centimeters. And you know what? they aren't the same size! But anyway, like the spokesperson said, this isn't about doing it right, or doing it well, or finding solutions to the problems we've faced in the past; "it's about exploring; it's about adventure. It's great to be with NASA and go out and explore."

Just remember, kids: this time, EVERYTHING in INCHES, or EVERYTHING in CENTIMETERS. No mix and match? OK?

Read more here: Lockheed Martin Wins NASA Moon Contract.
Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em

...But you won't need to smoke so many of 'em any more: seems that the ever-clever tobacco industry has been quietly increasing the nicotine content of their nicotine-delivery products, to the tune of 10% on average in the last six years. And 30% for Kools, since it's always good business to hook the folks in the 'hood a bit harder...

That's a lot of new addiction. It's no wonder so many friends of mine are finding it harder and harder to quit. I wonder how calmly we'd take this sort of action if it were the liquor lobby instead of the tobacco lobby: if suddenly all the vodka on the market crept up from 80-90 proof to 100-125 proof. Think that would be taken in stride, and that "no comment" responses would be acceptable?

Hah.

Nicotine Up Sharply In Many Cigarettes
Real Terrorism

Simultaneous bombs, set off by cell phone remote control, in 22 of 30 bank branches. On payday. Imagine what the response would be if it happened here. Imagine what the outrage would sounds like, if it had happened here. Imagine how quickly we would take arms, if it happened here.

But it's in Thailand.

Mai pen rai.


22 Bombs Explode in Thailand, Killing 1
Workers Of The World Unite!

Just heard on NPR that the Industrial Workers of the World---the IWW, or "Wobblies" union---has claimed that they now have organized and represent Starbucks workers in a number of shops in the Chicago area. This could be a fun story to watch.

The Wobblies have been staging a slow comeback since the late 80's; the fact that they've targeted Starbucks is to me both meaningful, and amusing. Starbucks, in the meantime, is refusing to recognize the unionization of the shops, stating that they have not certified the IWW as a collective bargaining group, and therefore will ignore the fact that they now have union shops in their midst.

I never really believed in "The One Big Union," but if the Wobblies can do something for the Starbucks barista-clone drones, I'm all for it.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

He Says It Better Than I Can

Andrew Rice in Slate Magazine recaps the economic situation better than I did below, with this:
"The slight rise in median household income, to $46,326, is the first in six years. That's the good news. But the rest of the Census Bureau report makes for grim reading. For one thing, wages are actually shrinking relative to inflation, which suggests that incomes are rising only because more household members are working at more lousy jobs. The number of people without health insurance rose slightly, to a record 46.6 million. So did the number of uninsured children. The proportion of Americans living in poverty held roughly steady, at 12.6 percent, but of that group nearly half were really poor, earning less than half of the poverty-line cutoff of $20,000, 'the highest such percentage ever recorded,' an analyst tells the NYT."

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Bad News (And A Silver Lining?)

The bad news? 12.5% of all Americans live in poverty. Thats one in eight. Next time you're out on the street look around you, and think about what that means.

The good news? "It was the first year since President George W. Bush took office in 2001 that the poverty rate did not increase."

Now, two things here: if we are touting this as an example of the rising boat of our economy, this isn't too good a metric. We aren't hearing that the poverty rate declined; only that it didn't increase. That still leaves a legacy of five years of increasing poverty. At the same time, one of the primary motivating principles of the free market economy we currently tout so forcefully is that while we do generate vast discrepancies between the richest and the poorest, in the long run we expect that while the richest will get much richer, so too will the poorest be slightly less poor. And to my mind this type of information runs directly against proof of that.

I must admit, I don't think that a massive number of those living in poverty is ever a good sign for an economy. And in terms of purchasing power and standard of living, the difference between "not nearly enough to feed my family" and "Even less than not nearly enough" is not a reasonable measure that can be used in terms of the rising boat. Even if the boat is rising, these folks are the unplugged holes in the prow.

Every eighth person in the nation. Think about it. Is that the economic boom you want to be a part of?

Reuters: Data show one in eight Americans in poverty.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

The View From One Year On

Well, it's a year since the Katrina disaster, Burning Man is upon us again, and the world is, while not in crisis, in a fit of discomfiture that could lead to nearly anything. Iran is starting up their nuclear reactor in defiance of the US, Europe is pledging troops to Lebanon, but there is still little in the way of rules of engagement, and feet on the ground there are still far away; a college student "accidentally" packs a stick of dynamite in his airline luggage, while a small boy who is disgruntled about having to fly with his parents shouts to the TSA folks "I have a bomb strapped to my leg!"

Iraq festers, and the warmongers spin the new rationales for a strike against Tehran.

And on and on. There is an overarching pattern here, and it isn't one of crisis, nor of hope: we are at a point globally where the rules we have followed for the last 70-80 years are losing their validity, and the vacuum has yet to be replaced with a functioning body of coherent laws for action. In Lebanon this summer we saw clearly that even in the microcosm of a single conflict, this is the case: Hizbullah (and presumptively Iran and Syria as well) engaged in a game where the rules that had been in place had been changed. But they didn't see that, and their opponent saw no reason to clarify: Israel has been in all actuality, pretty good about announcing when they are changing the rules they play by (for better or worse). Another example is the mess the US made of Abu Ghraib, and Guantanamo. And in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and elsewhere, people like bin Laden and groups like al Qaeda have their own set of rules they wish to see as the set matrix for the global near future. The question remains though, as to whose new rules will endure.

I think that Burning man is an apt symbol for this: a group of people attempting to alter the rules of engagement on a sociocultural level, but at the same time epitomizing what much of the world external to that culture (Western, American, pluralistic) sees as the failure of these times: sexual promiscuity, self-indulgence, pagan fetishism, etc. I suspect that if it weren't so damn far out in the desert, Black Rock City would be a prime target for terrorism. Of course, it wouldn't have quite the impact that other attacks might: there are plenty of mainstream Middle Americans who would likely quietly pleased if a few hundred thousands freaks, artists, tribalists, and grungy un-christian exhibitionists were done in...

Friday, August 25, 2006

And You Thought It Was A Free Market World...
"Since the beginning of this summer, at least a half-dozen companies, including eBay and Nike, have disclosed in their routine Securities and Exchange Commission filings that they're now protecting their executives from real estate market forces. The terms in the filings vary—'protection against loss'; 'loss protection'; and 'price protection'—but the meaning is the same: They are essentially guaranteeing that executives' homes will sell for a good price. In other words, companies that depend on free markets are making sure their own executives are safeguarded from them."
You know, it isn't the idea of the perks that rankles me; that the guys at the top of the heap are able to grab more is part of why they are at the top of the heap in the first place. It's the shameless hypocrisy of demanding an open market while at the same time subverting it that gets me.

Read it all, and let your bile rise: The latest infuriating perk for corporate executives. By Michelle Leder - Slate Magazine

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Do Not Trust The Intelligence Of Those You Have Elected

Matthew Yglesias notes today at Talking Points Memo the following absurdity, which doubtless passed the scrutiny of countless congressional busybodies:
"Thanks to a reader's observation, I find myself reading the House Intel report (PDF) on Iran and wondering why the missile range graphic shows the missiles being fired from Kuwait rather than, say, Iran. Note also that the outer circles describes the range of a missile that doesn't exist."
It's lovely. The House Report is here. The graphic with Iranian missile threats (real and imaginary) emanating from Kuwait is on page 15.

This is politicized warmongering at its very worst: not only incorrect, but demanding better 'intelligence' from other agencies at the same time as it exposes its own utter lack of same.
Maybe It's a Planetina? A Planetette?

This may wreak havoc with my astrological chart...
BBC:Pluto loses status as a planet.
A Small Step Toward Sanity

So Plan B has at last been approved--for 18 and over. I can't really see any downside to this decision, though I do expect we will soon be hearing about more christianist pharmacists refusing to provide access to the drug to either OTC customers or minors with prescriptions. But at least it is a move in the (to my mind) right direction.

‘Morning After’ Pill Is Cleared for Wider Sales - New York Times

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Assad Has His Say

While the rest of the international community is scrambling to get the troops along Lebanese borders, Syria has a different take on things:
"Syrian President Bashar Assad was quoted as saying he would consider such a deployment along the Lebanon-Syria border a 'hostile' move toward his country.

'First, this means creating a hostile condition between Syria and Lebanon,' Assad told Dubai Television, according to excerpts released by the TV station ahead of the broadcast. 'Second, it is a hostile move toward Syria and naturally it will create problems.'"
In a way, I can see his point: deployment along the Lebanon-Syria border is tacit acceptance by the UN that Syria is actively supporting Hizbullah, and continued military and/or terrorist activity within Lebanon. After the kick in the ass they had getted booted out of the country already, this might feel a bit like a slap in the face. A deserved one, but a slap nonetheless.

Read: AP: Syria warns against deployment of troops.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Updates

I've been up on the Russian River and its environs over the weekend, and after such a pleasant time diving and rafting and eating and drinking, I've little interest in commenting on the crappy ass state of the world. Listening to the presidential press conference this morning didn't help, either. I guess I've just got enough personal confusion and stress going on that the world's woes seem slightly less disastrous to me right now. Among the random issues consuming my mind: I heard from my credit card fraud division this morning. It seems someone got hold of my credit card number, and has been (unsuccessfully, thank goodness) trying to purchase any amount of software and online goodies over the last four days. It doesn't give a body a warm fuzzy feeling. That, and the fact that I've had to shut the ringer on my land line off due to the repeated calls from random strangers at all hours...

Sigh. Anyone got some good news out there?

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Scare, Threat, Or False Alarm?

A 28 year old woman "of Pakistani origin" held in West Virginia after her carryon liquids test positive for explosives at the airport: BBC: US airport in 'explosives' alert.
Another Stunning Rebuke

I've been reading judge Anna Diggs Taylor's decision halting the President's warrantless eavesdropping program. It is interesting on a number of levels, and it will be even more interesting to see how the administration chooses to contest it. Most notable is her adamancy on grounding the decision in the constitutional structure of government's balance of powers:
"In this case, the President has acted, undisputedly, as FISA forbids. FISA is the expressed statutory policy of our Congress. The presidential power, therefore, was exercised at its lowest ebb and cannot be sustained." (p.36)

"The duties and powers of the Chief Executive are carefully listed, including the duty to be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States,49 and the Presidential Oath of Office is set forth in the Constitution and requires him to swear or affirm that he “will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

The Government appears to argue here that, pursuant to the penumbra of Constitutional language in Article II, and particularly because the President is designated Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy, he has been granted the inherent power to violate not only the laws of the Congress but the First and Fourth Amendments of the Constitution, itself.

We must first note that the Office of the Chief Executive has itself been created, with its powers, by the Constitution. There are no hereditary Kings in America and no powers not created by the Constitution. So all “inherent powers” must derive from that Constitution." (p.40)
This isn't about Bush hating; this is about a backlash against the expansion of the executive against the far bounds of constitutional authority. And as I said above, I think the most telling thing will be what tack is taken by the administration in challenging this decision.

By their actions we shall know them. Read the decision (pdf) here.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Feminine Mystake

If you are a woman, and you have an interest in your own well being in the context of Western civilization, read this article.
"Hassan Nasrallah, the Shi’ite cleric who leads Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy in Lebanon, regularly issues bloodcurdling threats against the Jews. “If they (the Jews all gather in Israel,” he has said, “it will save us the trouble of going after them on a worldwide basis.”

For some on the left such words are merely understandable hyperbole, provoked by decades of Israeli ill-treatment of the Palestinians, but I prefer to take Islamic fundamentalists at their word when they spout insults about Jews being the descendants of “pigs and apes” and launch their chillingly apocalyptic tirades.

Why? Because they not only talk centuries-old nonsense about the place of women in society, but they also purposely oppress the female sex whenever they are given the chance. As regards their treatment of women, there is no discernible difference between their acts and their words."
Check it out: Wimmin at War - Review - Times Online
Chivalry in Time of War is Long, Long Dead

A classic exqample of why the Middle East is such a clusterf---k of a place. Murder is celebrated, but confraternity will get you hauled in:
BEIRUT, Lebanon - A Lebanese general was ordered arrested Wednesday for appearing in a videotape drinking tea with Israeli soldiers who had occupied his south Lebanon barracks during their incursion of the country.

Lebanon is in a state of war with Israel, although it signed an armistice in 1949. To this day, Lebanon does not recognize the State of Israel.

Lebanese law forbids any dealings with Israel. A Lebanese citizen faces arrest and prosecution for having such dealings.
Read it all here: AP: Lebanese general held over Israeli video
From What I Can Glean...

Israel won't fully depart from Lebanon until the new 15,000 troop unifil patrol is in place. The UN says it may be up to a year before that happens, and they still have no firm commitment from any member nation for troops.

Hizbullah has no intention of disarming, and the Lebanese army has no intention of making them disarm. Hizbullah also only intends to withdraw from the border if no one pokes around into their remaining infrastructure of bunkers and caches. And if no one is allowed to shoot at them.

France won't provide troops until Hizbullah leaves the south; Hizbullah won't leave the south without conditions that defeat the purpose of the multinational force, and without the total departure of Israel. Israel won't leave until the multinationals are there; we could repeat this ad infinitum in a round or a canon, set to music, and it still wouldn't get any better...

The US government is pumping up the "optimism" angle in the press (except for Rice, who is repeating her "we-can't-disarm-them-we-can't-make-anyone-do-what-they-don't-really-want" line still), but I think they are alone in that right now. Israel is in an uproar internally at the war's failures and missteps; what little acceptance there was of Israel anywhere in the Levant has curdled utterly; Iran is providing Hizbullah with $150 million to lead the relief effort in what is left of the Lebanese non-state; I'm trying hard to see an upside politically for anyone but the beleaguered Lebanese, and it isn't coming to me yet.

I would not be surprised to see Olmert's government in a bit of a tumble by the end of the year; and I will be even more surprised if we don't see a massive resurgence in support for Hizbullah in Lebanon, with them taking an ever greater de facto role in the day to day management of social and civil affairs. Rather than being the state within a state, if they continue to lead the rebuilding effort, and continue to receive massive support financially to promote that from Iran, it would be unremarkable to see them become the State itself in very short time.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Thoughts
"Again, do not overrate what Hezbollah did: The group did not conduct offensive operations; it was not able to conduct maneuver combat; it did not challenge the Israeli air force in the air. All it did was survive and, at the end of the war, retain its ability to threaten Israel with such casualties that Israel declined extended combat. Hezbollah did not defeat Israel on the battlefield. The group merely prevented Israel from defeating it. And that outcome marks a political and psychological triumph for Hezbollah and a massive defeat for Israel."
-George Friedman, Stratfor: Geopolitical Intelligence Report - August 15, 2006
Cease-Fire: Shaking Core Beliefs in the Middle East
Friedman makes some critical insights in this update; the potential change in the mindset of the Middle East is a massive shift in the power politics pertainig to Israel. And dismayingly, I suspect that this will mean more, rather than less violence. If Hizbullah --- and by implication Iran and the radicalized Shia of the region --- are empowered to engage Israel militarily, under the premise that while they may not win, it is likely that they won't lose, then we face a future of hell. And this has ramifications for internecine Arab and Islamic strife as well; at this juncture the only force to remain standing after war with Israel is a blatantly Islamist group whose primary sponsor, Iran, is outside the Arab world, and a rising force in the region.

What Friedman neglects to note is the wild swing in power away from the nation states of the region, to the paranational groups like Hizbullah. It was not Egypt, or Syria, or even Lebanon who held off the Israelis: it was Hizbullah, the non-nation. In this respect, it carries much the same force as al-Qaeda's success in attacking the US on 9/11: not a nation, but an idea with an army. In al-Qaeda's case, an army of 20. In Hizbullah's, an army of thousands. But the power dynamic is the same. And in this respect, if we do not learn rapidly how to approach this new threat, we will have lost the upper hand in maintaining a stable polity.
Boobs Redux

I just don't know what to say about this one...: Reuters: Breast implants save woman's life?

Monday, August 14, 2006

A Funny Sort Of 'Cease-Fire'
"(08-14) 08:15 PDT JERUSALEM, Israel (AP) --

Israeli soldiers killed six Hezbollah fighters in four skirmishes in Lebanon after the U.N.-imposed cease-fire took effect Monday, the army said."
Yup. It's only skirmishes, rather than carnage. I guess we should be grateful.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

The New Meaning Of 'Ceasefire'
"Hezbollah, a member of the government, says it will abide by the resolution but retains the right to continue attacks until the last Israeli soldier has left Lebanese soil."
And Israel won't leave Southern Lebanon until the UN arrives. So effectively, you have a hot war for at least another month, and realistically longer than that. At the same time, the Lebanese government has once again balked at the notion of disarming Hizbullah. And if the armed militia remains in the south, then Israel will likely not stand down.

A failure of will on the part of the US, of Europe, of the Arab world...We are not seeing the end of a war; we are seeing the first battle in a new one.
BBC: Lebanon falters over truce detail.
Bedazzled

A vision of comedy that still is close to ideal to me. Dudley Moore and Peter Cook commenting on love, attraction, stardom, art, and desire. Watch and learn, O Grasshopper:

Poor Prophecy

So call it another bad prediction; I really didn't think the old bastard would make it to his birthday. But Fidel is 80 today, and grinning. It's impressive; stomach surgery at 79 is no laughing matter.

It will be interesting to see how much he can recover, and if he can take back full authority from Raul. If he does it will be a remarkable thing, not just physically but politically (a Latin American nation coming under the power of the head of the military, who then peacefully cedes power back). And if not, well...then it will be a very interesting season.

Castro "better" on 80th birthday | News One | Reuters.com

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Apropos of Nothing

Every morning, my land line rings. Between 8:30am and 8:55am. Every morning. Including weekends.

A bit of background: of the people I actually know in my life who might telephone me, there are only four (or possibly five) who will ever call me on my landline. And they all know better than to call prior to 10:00am in the morning. All the other calls are telemarketing calls, pleas for political support, or charity, or wrong numbers.

The caller never leaves a message.

I would chalk it up to a telemarketing call, or even a call from the Democratic party trying to get me out to do some grassroots something or other, except for the oddity of this call coming in every single morning. Even Democratic organizers take a few weekends off.

I've turned off the ringer on my landline now; I prefer to sleep in on weekends, and I'm tired of bothering with it. If anyone wants to reach me, they can call me on my mobile. And if you don't know my mobile number, then it is very likely that I don't want you reaching me in the first place.

And if it's you, Dems, a little lesson: early morning calls without a message are highly unlikely to motivate me to reconsider my distaste for the vast majority of what we as a party have been doing (or not doing) of late. Actions speak louder than the ringer on my phone.

Particularly before 10:00am.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Under Seige?
"Scepticism is not limited to radicals. A poll of British Muslims published this week found 45 percent believed the September 11 attacks were a conspiracy between America and the Israel.

'The cynicism is there because of Forest Gate and what happened to Menezes,' said Fareena Alam, editor of Muslim monthly magazine Q-News said.

Abul Khair, who runs an Islamic bookshop near the East London Mosque in the Whitechapel district of east London, said: 'The government says it's Muslims, but it's propaganda. Muslims can't do such things. It's not allowed.'"
Yes, the situation of Israel complicates matters. But this sort of attitude is disturbing to find, and even harder to change. The bookshop owner, Abul Khair, is worth noting: his quote is a classic example of a good person in denial of the presence of evil. I remember growing up, hearing time and again that there were no such things as Jewish alcoholics, or Jewish wife beaters, or Jewish child molesters. The reason? "Jews don't do such things. It's not allowed."

Of course, staring me in the face were the alcoholics, the wife beaters, the "uncle who touched my sister funny", the drug dealers, all of them deep in the Jewish community. The community was in denial as a form of self-protection, as a form of pride, all that. In the end, over the last 35 years, attitudes began to change. Unfortunately, for the world at large, we cannot afford to wait for the Muslim community to come to terms with its own fringe failures. If we cannot engage in positive outreach to the overwhelming majority of the Muslim world that is not interested in blowing up planes, then everything else we do will in the end, in human terms, be accounted as a failure.

Truth is the best medicine, but it can be a bitter pill. Reuters: Muslims "under siege" after plane plot report - UK

Thursday, August 10, 2006

mental flossScrub My Brain

Maybe we are on the path to brain maintenance that is on par with toothpaste: plaque fighting, preventative, and easy.

AP: Scientists make discovery in Alzheimer's.
Slippery Slope II
"Common Article 3 was, according to its written history, 'left deliberately vague because efforts to define it would invariably lead to wrongdoers identifying 'exceptions,' and because the meaning was plain -- treat people like humans and not animals or objects.'"
In the end, the only thing that defines us is the body of values that comprise our goals, our ideals, and our lives. The current attempt to amend the War Crimes Act, and thus our responsibilities in view of the Geneva Conventions, is a scandal. The protection of those who have already accepted the Path of Least Resistance on the road to success through the abrogation of our morals, our standards, and our beliefs as a nation, will do nothing to aid our current struggle.


Read it all here: WP: War Crimes Act Changes Would Reduce Threat Of Prosecution
Slippery Slope I
"The only beneficiaries of this chaos are Iran, Hezbollah, al-Qaeda and the Iraqi Shiite leader Moqtada al-Sadr, who last week held the largest anti-American, anti-Israel demonstration in the world in the very heart of Baghdad, even as 6,000 additional U.S. troops were rushing into the city to 'prevent' a civil war that has already begun."

While the tone of this piece may be a bit hysterical, I think that is the intent: if we don't actually sit up and pay attention, some of the posited hyperbole that Ambassador Holbrooke voices here really may be staring us in the face sooner than we think: WP: The Guns Of August.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Bedtime Reading?

It's good to see that someone has come out with a book that covers this topic in a manner that not only will be entertainingly controversial, but also is somewhat catholic in its coverage, and even better, agrees with much of what I have been seeing and saying anecdotally for most of my adult life:

SF Chronicle---FEMME MENTALE:
San Francisco neuropsychiatrist says differences between women's and men's brains are very real, and the sooner we all understand it, the better.

Friday, August 04, 2006

The OC

Blogging today and the next few days from the family home in Laguna Beach, that land of perpetual beauty that not even MTV can leave well enough alone. It's gorgeous here, of course: hot summer weather with a warm breeze, and today at the beach (beneath Bette Davis' old home) the great crashing waves of clear blue water splashed all the beautiful toned bodies lying on the white sand between the rocks. I kept my shirt on, for fear of frightening the teenage girls with my morbid San Francisco pallor and belly roll, and played at catching sand crabs with my nieces.

The nicest part is, that even while taking a holiday with my brother the diplomat, world events and the woes and worries of nations take a back seat to hugs from little children, and buckets and spades, and the jaw-dropping scenery all around us.

I expect the wars will still be there for us next week. And congress will still be full of less than sudden dynamic activity and change. And so it goes.

I'm off to pour myself a beer, and sit on the back deck, and look out at the canyon and the green rolling hills of California now.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

A Skunk In The House

You wanna know what stinks in the Washington heat wave? The glaring difference in approach between the few sane ones left in congress, and the movers behind policy in the white house.
"“We must remain a nation that is different from, and above, our enemies,” said Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona."
That's in regard to our approach to the Geneva Convention, and torture.
"The differences between the administration and the Senate were most pronounced when Mr. McCain asked Mr. Gonzales whether statements obtained through “illegal and inhumane treatment” should be admissible. Mr. Gonzales paused for almost a minute before responding.

“The concern that I would have about such a prohibition is, what does it mean?” he said. “How do you define it? I think if we could all reach agreement about the definition of cruel and inhumane and degrading treatment, then perhaps I could give you an answer.”" (emhasis added)
But I'd bet you a dollar he wouldn't answer, even then. This man, and his masters, have put means far before the ends, and have left the lofty land of morality and honor far, far behind.

Read it here: White House Asks Congress to Define War Crimes - New York Times

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Today's Raves

I'm not sure whether I am more entranced by Mel Gibson's vitriolic rant against Jews (to Officer "Sugar Tits". Good lord, the man is an ass!), or by Castro's stepping aside to undergo surgery and having his brother Raul take the reins of government. And at the same time, Israel has decided to push 15 miles into Lebanon, before anyone can gather a peacekeeping force for the South.

If Castro dies, we will have quite a furor off the coast of Florida. I wonder how this might play into the election, and the exile Cuban vote, and the ongoing debate over the embargo. Perhaps we should give them Gibson as a possible political successor to Fidel. It certainly couldn't hurt.

Oh, and in case yo think that things in Iraq were getting any better:
(08-01) 09:57 PDT BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) --

A roadside bomb blew up a bus Tuesday, killing 24 people as violence across Iraq left 63 people dead. Among the dead was a British soldier killed in a mortar attack in the south, while the U.S. military announced that an American soldier was killed by a roadside bomb on Monday.

A provincial governor said that 45 people from his predominantly Shiite region had been kidnapped in a Sunni area of western Iraq while traveling by bus out of the country.

Gunmen in Baghdad also kidnapped the spokesman of a political coalition including Shiite, Sunni, Kurdish and independent parties.

In the once-fashionable Karradah neighborhood of Baghdad, a car bomb exploded during morning rush hour near a bank, killing at least 14 people and injuring 37, said police Lt. Col. Abbas Mohammed Salman.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Not Alone

Seems that Peter Beinart, at least, is thinking along the same discouraging lines I am in regard to the Democratic responses to al-Maliki's congressional visit. Some high notes from his piece in WaPo:
"House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid demanded that Maliki eat his words or be disinvited from addressing Congress. "Your failure to condemn Hezbollah's aggression and recognize Israel's right to defend itself raise serious questions about whether Iraq under your leadership can play a constructive role in resolving the current crisis and bringing stability to the Middle East," wrote Reid and fellow Democratic Sens. Richard J. Durbin and Charles E. Schumer on July 24.

How, exactly, publicly humiliating Maliki and making him look like an American and Israeli stooge would enhance his "leadership" was never explained in the missive."

"The Democratic Party's single biggest foreign policy liability is not that Americans think Democrats are soft. It is that Americans think Democrats stand for nothing, that they have no principles beyond political expedience."
Read his whole piece here: Pander and Run

Thursday, July 27, 2006

babytalk cover
We Are Such Boobs

I sometimes am just amazed at the wickedly purtianical streak that runs through America. Reading some mothers' reactions to the image of a nursing baby on the cover of parenting magazine Babytalk I want to run and hide; that these women are so distressed, that they sexualize themselves to such an extent that one woman shredded the 'zine rather than have her son see the cover, I just don't know what to say to that.

I sort of want to plaster the cover all over building walls across the country now. If we can't see a woman nursing, but we're ok with blood-spattering movies and games, war in foreign lands, and all that, then once again, we've got a major problem.

AP: 'Breast' cover gets mixed reaction Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Dear Lord

It grows ever more embarrassing to be a Democrat in this country; if this is the depth of understanding of the Democratic leadership of the nature and complexity of the Middle East and the Arab world, then despite the disgrace and horror of the current administration, we may still be better off with the Democrats not calling the shots in foreign policy right now. This just in from AP:
"Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean on Wednesday called Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki an 'anti-Semite' for failing to denounce Hezbollah for its attacks against Israel."
Okay. Al-Maliki is Shia. Hizbullah is Shia. Hizbullah is the only credible military force in the Arab world in the context of the conflict with Israel. Al-Maliki is trying to build a multi-sectarian base for his country which is quickly degrading into civil war. He is surrounded by Shia neighbors who will be vital as allies if Iraq is to survive.

And Pelosi and Dean want him to denounce Hizbullah? do they also want him to instantly lose any credibility he has as an independent leader, not a lapdog of the perceived "US-Israel-Jewish lobby"? Do they want him to be assassinated?

I wonder: I am quite prepared to denounce Hizbullah, but also equally ready to denounce the actions Israel has taken, including its killing of UN personnel; also the tacit approval of the US government for their actions. Does that make me an anti-semite? A self-hating Jew, perhaps?

I beg anyone who has any sense among the Democrats: Pay attention to realpolitik just a bit more. There are ways to keep support of American Jewry and AIPAC types without acting like total asses.

Dean calls Iraqi PM an 'anti-Semite' - Yahoo! News.
Must Reads

As the situation continues to deteriorate in Lebanon (UN observers killed by Israel, continued shelling of Haifa, death and destruction everywhere), Abu Kais' From Beirut to the Beltway blog continues to be an excellent site for the ongoing discussion in and out of Lebanon. And also, linked from there, this translation of an article on Voices on the Wind (from Lebanon and Beyond): Right and Responsibility, Translated from an article by Dr. Radwan el Sayyid. I really do recommend taking a look. And hoping that somehow, this war will resolve itself soon.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

O Tempores!

All I can say is, I'm glad someone else said it. I don't think I could bear the shame of such honesty.

Ashcroft Nostalgia.
blues brothers on a mission from god
A Message From God

Interesting (and perhaps serendipitous) timing on this one: the discovery of a 1200 year old book of psalms in an Irish bog.
"The book was found open to a page describing, in Latin script, Psalm 83, in which God hears complaints of other nations' attempts to wipe out the name of
Israel."
Read the whole gospel here: AP: Ireland worker finds ancient psalms in bog.
Unsurprising

So at last a controlled study of 12-step programs shows what I've said for years: that they are effectively placebo. This isn't to negate they can provide, but to recognize that in many ways, they merely replace destructive addictive patterns of behavior, with a pattern that is less destructive, but no less a feed for patterns of addictive action. Also interesting is the terribly defensive stance of the psych guy they interview: not of AA, but of cognitive therapy, and its scientific basis:
"Some of the wisdom embodied in A.A., such as the notion of persons, places and things that trigger drinking, are very much a part of cognitive-behavioral therapy, which is a scientifically driven, empirically validated treatment,” Dr. Nunes said.

“A.A. has helped a lot of people,” Dr. Nunes said. “There are a lot of satisfied customers. On the basis of that, we have to take it seriously.”
Like I said: placebo.


Review Sees No Advantage in 12-Step Programs - New York Times
Fascinating

So Arlen Specter is going to sue Bush over the constitutionality of the signing statements? This should be one to follow.

Sen. Specter Readies Bill to Sue Bush

Monday, July 24, 2006

FYI

If you are looking for someplace to track just what is going on in Lebanon---just the bare bones facts/events---you should keep up with the BBC's timeline. It is a decent high level running tally of just what the hell who is doing to whom...
Monday Yet Again

So, Condi's off in Beirut, which is good, but likely unproductive. I am interested in Olmert's comment though, as reported in Ha'aretz, that he is open to a joint Western-Arab peacekeeping force. More rant inducing to me is the report on Pakistan's new weapons grade reactor, which looks to expand their capacity of nuke production ten- to twenty-fold:
"'Such a reactor could produce over 200 kilograms of weapons-grade plutonium per year, assuming it operates at full power a modest 220 days per year,' it says. 'At 4 to 5 kilograms of plutonium per weapon, this stock would allow the production of over 40 to 50 nuclear weapons a year.'

There was no immediate reaction to the report from the Bush administration. Albright said he shared his data with government nuclear analysts, who did not dispute his conclusions and appeared to already know about the new reactor.

'If there's an increasing risk of an arms race in South Asia, why hasn't this already been introduced into the debate?' "
It's a damn good question. And considering we just approved the shipment of all those F-16s the other week, I'm wondering: in what way do we win from supplying a nuclear arms race between to rival nations who are non-signatories to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, who hate each other, and at least one of whom has a glaring record of terrorism, instability, and rash behavior?

Read more: WP: Pakistan Expanding Nuclear Program.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Poor Lebanon

Here, in the WSJ Friday, is Fouad Ajami, saying far more eloquently than I can why the current war has one loser no matter what, and that is Lebanon.
"In an earlier time, three decades ago, Lebanon was made to pay for the legends of Arabism, and for the false glamour of the Palestinian "revolutionary" experiment. The country lost well over a quarter-century of its history--its best people quit it, and its modernist inheritance was brutally and steadily undermined.

Now comes this new push by Damascus and Tehran. It promises nothing save sterility and ruin. It will throw the Lebanese back onto a history whose terrible harvest is well known to them. The military performance of Hezbollah, it should be apparent by now, is not a performance of a militia; nor are unmanned drones and missiles of long range the weapons of boys of the alleyways. A formidable military structure has been put together by the Iranians in Lebanon. In a small, densely populated country that keeps and knows no secrets, Hezbollah and its Iranian handlers have been at work on this military undertaking for quite some time, under the gaze of Lebanese authorities too frightened to raise questions."


Read the whole editorial: WSJ OpinionJournal - Extra
It's All About Floyd
Floyd Landis claims the yellow jersey after finishing third in the time-trial - the penultimate stage of the Tour.
Yeah. An American wearing the yellow. Again. Eat them freedom fries, all y'all: BBC: Tour de France.
And what's More...

This, from Dennis Ross today, also in TNR:
"In the end, this conflict is not about Israel. True, Israel may be a foil, but Iran has bigger fish to fry. Hezbollah and Hamas are tools in the Iranian game of self-promotion, furthering an Islamist agenda, and undoing Western influence in the area. The Syrians, for their part, seem to believe that Iran is on a roll, and better to be playing along with it than with others, and they clearly see little price for doing so."
Why Israel's war is an opportunity for the United States.

I get an uneasy feeling that neither the president, nor the Secretary of State, are connecting the dots on the situation in the region. Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Israel, Palestine, Houston, we have a problem....
A Truth
"Over the last few decades most, if not all, Arab-Israeli crises have occurred when the United States has been either unable or unwilling to play an aggressive role as a mediator; and most have only abated after the United States has finally thrown itself into the middle of them."
That is John Judis, saying what I wish the administration would hear a bit clearer, in TNR this week.

Only American diplomacy can resolve the Middle East crisis.
Israel Is Our Bitch

I don't know when it was ever more clear than with this NYT Headline: U.S. Speeds Up Bomb Delivery for the Israelis.

Let your bitch do your dirty work, give her some bombs to kill your terrorist enemies, and you can clean up the diplomatic mess later when the smoke clears and someone else has removed the bodies, and the mothers are done keening.

This sort of thing makes me sick.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

A Strange Morality
"'It is a strange morality indeed that pins the moral status and life of the embryo on the question of who is paying for the research.'"
This from a legal expert at the University of Edinburgh, after Bush's veto. Strange indeed: it is the morality of American privilege. When Roe v. Wade gets overturned, expect the same morality to apply to abortion: If you can afford to pay, the law won't be a bother. For the rest, well...we've never really cared too much about the folks who allow themselves to become poor, anyway.

This is a harbinger of what to expect moving forward in a theocratically informed America. Be aware: BBC NEWS--Bush 'out of touch' on stem cells.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

And There You Have It
"WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush said on Wednesday he used his first veto to block legislation expanding embryonic stem cell research, putting him at odds with top scientists, most Americans and some in his own Republican Party."
Brilliant. Just brilliant. I wish we could breed more leadership like this. Make torture legal, spy on your own citizens, but when it comes to making a visionary leap into a better future...get out that red pen.

Bush casts first veto to block stem cell bill.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006


At Least He Is Sticking To What He Knows

Better the Pope writes about Jesus than about marriage, or children, or homosexuality...But even so, while it may be a good book, I doubt it will wind up with the cachet of, say, The Da Vinci Code.


Read more: AP Report: Pope writing book about Jesus.
A Voice From Over There

A Lebanese blogger's view on the current disgrace:
From Beirut to the Beltway: Iran fights Israel in Lebanon
Theocratic Leadership

Amazing that President George "never met a law I didn't like" Bush is set to cast his first ever veto against a bill that has overwhelming public and political support, and is only firmly rejected by the ultra-christian pro-lifers. The opportunity to save thousands is going to be overridden by the opportunity to appease a handful of reactionary fanatics. So has politics in this day led us.

Reuters: Senate to pass stem cell bill, Bush set to veto.
King George Alert
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Tuesday that President Bush personally blocked Justice Department lawyers from pursuing an internal probe of the warrantless eavesdropping program that monitors Americans' international calls and e-mails when terrorism is suspected.
Another flagrant example of Bush deciding that expediency wins over legality, and that he can have the final say, above and beyond the law, and the nation, and the constitution...

In Testimony, Gonzales Says Bush Blocked Inquiry - New York Times
A Good Thought
"Do they deserve, the bad ones, all the rights that are afforded? No. But are we required to do it because of what we believe? Yes," - Lindsey Graham, Republican senator from South Carolina, speaking out on a the administration's ill-thought stance on military tribunals.
On this day of war, and tsunami, and suicide bombs, and death, it's nice to hear this from an unexpected source. Bravo, senator Graham. I only wish we heard more words and sentiments like these from our leaders right now.

What we do makes us who we are. You cannot escape the reality of this.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Poke A Sleeping Lion

In the end, Hizbullah will fail in their aims, if for no other reason than their leader, however shrewd, has a glaring blind spot:
"'When the Zionists behave like there are no rules and no limits to the confrontation, it is our right to behave in the same way,' Hasan Nasrallah, Hezbollah's leader, said in a Sunday address televised on the movement's al-Manar satellite channel."
Rules and limits no longer pertain. Israel as launched a unilateral policy to secure and cohere its power and safety. If Nasrullah truly believes what he says (which is as in all these situations, of course, debatable), then there is no hope for Hizbullah, and distressingly, no hope for the Lebanese who live with them.

More here: WP--Mideast Deaths Mount as Attacks Intensify.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Ummm, Wow.

So Condi Rice is now in favor of Israel fighting this war as a proxy for the US against the forces of "terrorism"---in this case, Hizbullah. On one level, albeit a very lofty and theoretical level, I understand this realpolitik thinking. If Israel can weaken the fulcrum of the Syria-Iran-Hizbullah-Hamas interaction, then the US will have furthered its aims in the region without further engendering potential harm domestically. But in real terms, this is a horrifically disturbing policy. We have what little democracy that exists in the region at risk of collapsing into civil war and catastrophe, and rather than trying to coerce a semblance of peace to foster what little good may be left, we are standing by and letting the bombs drop, while the ultra-christians are cheering on the imminent Rapture.

Where is leadership and diplomacy when we need it most? Who now will act as a grownup in this world of children, and help shepherd us to sanity?

Rice Says Israel May Need to Prolong Offensive - New York Times