Sunday, December 31, 2006

Gratuitous Kitty Shot of the Week

Here are the mighty Kimba and his sidekick, Kiko, having a spritz around Kiko's House in the snow.

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Saturday, December 30, 2006

Saddam Is Hanged; Osama Remains Free

The man known as Saddam Hussein Abd al-Majid al-Tikriti, responsible for three decades of brutality against his people, has been hanged. Osama bin Laden, the man responsible for the 9/11 attacks that were a justification for toppling the Iraqi dictator, remains free.

Saddam, 69, was dressed in black, given a Koran and taken to an Iraqi compound known as Camp Justice in the northern Baghdad suburb of Khadimeya during morning prayers on Saturday.

After a judge read out the sentence, a hangman stepped forward to put a hood over Saddam's head, but he stated that he wanted to die without it. Images like the one above show a once ferocious man who had lost his dignity and all but given up.

President Bush had gone to sleep at his Texas ranch (as in actually sleeping rather than sleeping through his presidency) and was not roused when news of the hanging came.
In a strange footnote, the execution took place on the Muslim holiday of Id al-Adha as celebrated by the country's minority Sunnis. Shiites, who control the government, begin their celebration on Sunday. Saddam had been sentenced to hang for ordering the 1982 killings of 148 Shiites in the town of Dujail.

In keeping with Islamic tradition, he was to be washed, wrapped in white and placed in a coffin before being buried at a secret location later in the day.

Click here for a roundup of news and reaction. The BBC has a video here from Iraqi state television of the proceedings leading up to the hanging but not the hanging itself.

Once upon a time, Saddam's execution would have been cause for an enormous celebration in Iraq and an enormous sigh of relief in the free world. As a reluctant supporter of the U.S. invasion early on, I looked forward to this day. Even as things began to unravel in late 2003, the discovery of a cowering Saddam in a rat hole made me enormously proud of the soldiers on the ground even as I was coming to realize that the men who had sent them to hunt him down were arrogant liars.
I wanted Saddam to face justice in The Hague, but reluctantly agree with the White House-orchestrated decision to have him tried in an Iraqi court. The resulting proceedings were a modest if wobbly triumph despite the repeated efforts of the dominant Shiites to manipulate the proceedings as Saddam himself might have had he still been in power, as well the suspect timing of a death sentence read out two days before a do-or-die mid-term election for George Bush's Republican Party.
Once upon a time, the White House hoped that a guilty verdict, death sentence and execution of a dictator whose crimes beggar belief, would enable Iraq to exorcise its demons. Me, too. But it won't make a jot of difference to a people whose lives are overwhelmed with death and destruction worse than Saddam visited on them.
Sadly -- so sadly -- Saddam's hanging is little more than yet another violent act in a place where lives are now measured by how many family members a person has lost to kidnappings and suicide bombings that are an inevitable result of a mission so fraught with failure that future historians will have no difficulty characterizing it as the worst foreign policy blunder in U.S. history.
As extreme as it may have seemed at one time, it is worth considering whether Iraqis were better off under Saddam Hussein.

That would have been a extraordinary question to ask in 2003. Saddam was, after all, a saber-rattling tyrant. He operated a feared secret police, a system of prisons and psychiatric hospitals full of people who were tortured and held without charge or trial, as well as rape camps. But three and a half years later, the question has taken on a shocking legitimacy.

And in turn leads to another question:
George Bush and his neocon brain trust have taken a broken country and broken it all over again. They have succeeded in doing the impossible by making many Iraqis nostalgic for the bad old days.

Will Saddam Hussein's legacy be martyrdom instead of infamy?
Oh, by the way, Osama bin Laden is still alive.

James Brown (1933-2006)

James Brown provided a big part of the soundtrack of my life, so profuse apologies to the Godfather of Soul for belatedly noting his Christmas Day passing.

Of the many great songs that Brown wrote and covered over a five-decade career, "It's a Man's World" sticks out. That may seem a curious choice. Brown was nothing if not a mysoginist, and the original lyrics were penned by a woman, Betty Newsome, who happens to have been one of his former girlfriends and drew on Biblical references and her stormy relationship with Brown for inspiration . . .
This is a man's world, this is a man's world
But it wouldn't be nothing, nothing without a woman or a girl

You see, man made the cars to take us over the road
Man made the trains to carry heavy loads
Man made electric light to take us out of the dark
Man made the boat for the water, like Noah made the ark

This is a man's, a man's, a man's world
But it wouldn't be nothing, nothing without a woman or a girl

Man thinks about a little baby girls and a baby boys
Man makes then happy 'cause man makes them toys
And after man has made everything, everything he can
You know that man makes money to buy from other man

This is a man's world
But it wouldn't be nothing, nothing without a woman or a girl

He's lost in the wilderness
He's lost in bitterness

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Best Holiday Wishes From Kiko's House

Hey, we're back from the mountains and a memorable trip into New York City and will reusme blogging shortly, okay? Okay.
-- Best Wishes from KIKO, KIMBA, The DF&C and SHAUN

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Best Holiday Wishes From Kiko's House

There is no light quite like winter sunlight coming through the trees on a mountain morning.

Blogging will be . . . er, light over the next few days while celebrate the holiday at the mountain retreat, visit family and friends, dash into New York City for a show, and count our blessings.
-- Best Wishes from KIKO, KIMBA, THE DF&C and SHAUN

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Timeless Wisdom of T.E. Lawrence

The foundation of my thinking about the interaction between Westerners and Arabs -- which is to say Christians and Muslims -- is "The Seven Pillars of Wisdom," T.E. Lawrence's seminal account of his tireless efforts as a British Army liaison officer to unify various Arab factions and lead them in a guerrilla war gainst the occupying Turkish army in World War I.

Written by the real Lawrence of Arabia, who is rather accurately depicted in David Lean's epic movie, "The Seven Pillars" resonates as powerfully today as it did when it was published in 1926. As a military history, it is indispensible.

Writes Tony Perry, a Los Angeles Times blogger embedded with troops in Iraq:

"The Marines see their challenge as being the same as the one faced by that young English officer: organize an Arab fighting force to confront a common enemy. Lawrence was working for the British, helping direct an Arab uprising against the Ottoman Empire during World War I. But then as now the Westerner’s promise was the same: a measure of safety and self-governance if the foe can be defeated.

"The Marines have long looked to the experiences of T.E. Lawrence as a guide. As they prepared for the invasion of 2003, Lawrence's writings, particularly his '27 Articles,' published in the Arab Bulletin in 1917, were required reading for Marine officers and senior enlisted.

"Now, as the quick knockdown of Saddam Hussein's regime has turned into the hard slogging of waging a counter-insurgency, Marines say Lawrence's advice and warnings are more timely than ever. On the ground in Iraq’s volatile Anbar Province, Marine officers swear by Lawrence. Col. Larry Nicholson, commanding officer of the 5th Marine Regiment, says in picking officers to interact with Iraqis he looks for 'people skills' -- not the kind of attribute one usually ascribes to a fighting force.

"Nicholson was wounded by a rocket attack on his headquarters at Camp Fallouja, went home to recuperate, and then returned to the fight. When he tells Iraqis that he has shed blood in Iraq, it makes an impression.

Like most Marines, Nicholson is a hard-charger. The Corps' doctrine calls for Marines to seize an objective and move on swiftly. Holding and expanding territory, that’s for a more ponderous outfit like the Army. But like others here, Nicholson has had to learn patience. Lawrence counseled that the Arabs do not warm quickly to strangers, if at all, and that alliances are formed slowly, if at all.

" 'I spend a lot of my time eating goat and sipping tea at dinners and meetings where the first half is spent talking about families,' " Nicholson said. 'If you can’t do that, you can’t do the job.' Lawrence also counseled that it is sometimes difficult to decide which tribal leaders are real and which are poseurs. State Department operatives working with the Marines in Anbar bemoan time lost working with 'fake sheiks.'

"If Lawrence had one major warning for Westerners inserting themselves into Arabia, it was this: 'The foreigner and Christian is not a popular person in Arabia. However friendly and informal the treatment of yourself may be, remember that your foundations are very sandy ones.' "

"He also suggested modest aims: 'It is their war and you are to help them, not to win for them.' "

More here.

Beautiful Photograph du Jour

"Choices Maze" by Crocrosse (2006)
Crocrosse reached way back to Andre Mollet's "Jardin de Plaisir" for this maze design with a snowy holiday feel that she adapted using scissors, glue, scraps and Photoshop. Mollet's book on landscape gardening, published in Stockholm in 1651, includes plates of the maze and other aspects of the historic garden at Plaisir in the far western suburbs of Paris.

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

12 Reasons Why More Troops Won't Work

Some 10, 20 or 30 thousand additional troops at so late a date in a war that required three times the 140,000 troops that former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld allocated will have little impact. American troops have become central to the problem; they are no longer central to the solution.
An increasing number of Iraqis depend on sectarian militas for protection from the onslaught of kidnappings and killings. More troops aren't likely to change that.

Training of Iraqi army and police recruits to replace U.S. troops continues to fall behind. Many recruits are assigned to units based on their political and religious beliefs. The desertion rate is high. Some units side with and protect sectarian militias.

The long-held view that U.S. troops cannot make inroads unless the Iraqis first ease sectarian tensions is now being turned on its head: It is disingenuous to believe that more troops will enable the Iraqis to then ease sectarian tensions.

Previous efforts in June and August to restore stability to the worst neighborhoods in Baghdad by injecting more U.S. troops failed because death squads simply adapted to American tactics.

U.S. troops do not have the training or language skills to be big-city beat cops. Posting additional troops on Baghdad street corners is an invitation for carnage.

It is notable that the Baghdad government has not called for more troops. It almost seems like a bit player at this point, not the full-fledged partner that was going to assure a brighter future for long-suffering Iraqis.

No less an authority than the Joint Chiefs of Staff say that it does not make sense to send additional troops without a coherent strategy on how to use them.

That said, there is no new strategic ground to be broken. There are only so many ways to skin this particular cat. All have been tried -- and failed.

The Army already is at the breaking point. Sending additional troops will cause tremendous upheaval in deployment schedules, including the further extension of tours that already have been repeatedly extended and further the drawing down of dangerously depleted stateside National Guard units, all of which will further degrad morale.

Military options cannot be considered in isolation from political options. Sending more troops without concomitant initiatives to mend the dysfunctional Baghdad government and reach out to all of Iraq's neighbors undermine the entire effort.

No matter how many troops are sent, they cannot stay indefinitely. Time is on the side of the militias and insurgents, and they will simply wait out the Americans.

The War & Bush's 'Come to Jesus' Moment

Even at this late date, I still pray that George Bush finally sees the light on the Iraq war.

That too is the view of the Nitpicker, who in a turn at Unclaimed Territory, noted that after hearing positive things about the president's Washington Post interview, he thought that:
"Bush had at least met the reality-based community halfway. This should be the Come to Jesus Moment those few Americans still hanging on to the shreds of this debacle."
This is what Peter Baker had reported in the WaPo about the interview:
"As he searches for a new strategy for Iraq, Bush has now adopted the formula advanced by his top military adviser to describe the situation. 'We're not winning, we're not losing,' Bush said in an interview . . . The assessment was a striking reversal for a president who, days before the November elections, declared, 'Absolutely, we're winning.' "
While this is what the president actually said:
WaPo: "Are we winning in Iraq, in your estimation?"

Bush: "You know, I think an interesting construct that General [Peter] Pace uses is, 'We're not winning, we're not losing.' There's been some very positive developments. And you take a step back and look at progress in Iraq, you say, well, it's amazing -- constitutional democracy in the heart of the Middle East, which is a remarkable development in itself."

WaPo: "Can we come back to General Pace's formulation about winning, not losing? You said October 24th, 'Absolutely, we're winning.' And I wanted to -- "

Bush: "Yes, that was an indication of my belief we're going to win . . . "
Shame on the WaPo for such sloppy reporting. And shame on the president for being as delusional as ever.

Quote du Jour on the War

"The arrogance and the incompetence that brought the United States to this moment in Iraq cannot release it from the obligations and the interests, some of indefinite duration, that require its persistence there. Much of this work is defensive in character, such as managing Kurdish autonomy to prevent a wider regional war, stopping the formation of an Al Qaeda mini-state in Anbar province, and challenging Iran’s clandestine warfare. Then, too, there remains a moral obligation to attempt to protect from mass violence and ethnic cleansing the majority of Iraqi civilians, who still participate peacefully in the constitutional system established by preĆ«mptive American force. The record of the past three years makes clear, however, that none of these goals can be achieved through a prolonged occupation carried out by a hundred thousand or more American combat troops. The President remains a long way from seeing this, and so the troops remain a long way from coming home."

Leaks 'R" Us: Bowed But Not Beaten

Another indication that George Bush is one worn down president:

On February 10, 2004, responding to the news that the Justice Department had launched an investigation into who revealed the identity of Valerie Plame, the president told reporters:
"If there's a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is. If the person has violated law, that person will be taken care of. . . . I want to know the truth."
On December 20, 2006, responding to a question regarding the leak of a classified memo that questioned the ability of Iraqi Prime Minister Al-Maliki to help U.S. interests, the president told reporters:
"You know, there may be an ongoing investigation of this, I just don't know. If there is, if I knew about it, it's not fresh in my mind. . . . And we've had a lot of leaks, . . . as you know, some of them out of — I don't know where they're from, therefore I'm not gonna speculate."

We're Having a Bit of a Makeover

You may have noticed that Kiko's House is looking a bit different these days.

We're doing a bit of a makeover with the help of an expert on blog formatting and the usual sage advice from the cats.
While I like the basic look of Minima, the Blogger template style that I use, too many other people use it, as well, and it was looking . . . well, stale. I also wanted to make the "sidebar" items more user friendly and have arranged the Archives and Recent Posts lists before the Links.
I know about as much HTML as I know Urdu, so that even with expert help the makeover is going to be a long, slow slog.
If there's anything you don't like about it, please say so.

Beautiful Photograph du Jour

This is a hexagonal dendrite snow crystal. I wonder how many it took to blanket Colorado and the Midwest in the first major blizzard of the season?

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Joan of Arc and Judith of Murdoch

If there were blogs back in Joan of Arc's day, feminists would have accused her enemies of having her torched because she was a woman.
Not without justification, mind you.
And so it comes as no surprise that some feminists are questioning whether Judith Regan was booted from Rupert Murdoch's publishing empire because she is a woman and not because she was so appallingly deaf to the marketplace that she consorted with O.J. Simpson to publish a book on how he "might" have committed the murders.

Zuzu at Feministe, who calls out Regan on non-gender grounds, has a pretty good debate going on among her readers that is a window into the minds of the Feminism Police. You know, the people who will try to have you busted for not hewing to their Taliban-like rules. (Pun and irony intended.)

Meanwhile, Lindsay Beyerstein at Majikthise has a pretty good debate going on about the debate, where I added my hairy chested two cents' worth:
"Being a bald 6-foot-2 male, I dare not comment on whether La Regan's firing was gender related.

"If it was, that's peripheral to the fact that she is a raving a--hole who had lost all sense of proportion when it came to the marketplace.

"She has beaucoup male company in that respect."

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What is so interesting to this to a hairy chested observer is that discussions about high-profile women almost inevitably devolve into food fights over whose Feminism Police badge is bigger and before long no one is arguing over the original premise.

A good example was the kerfuffle over Loretta Nall, the Libertarian Party candidate for governor in Alabama, who as an Associated Press scribe put it, "[is] campaigning on her cleavage and hoping that voters will eventually focus on her platform."

Nall provoked a debate on whether a woman can be a feminist and a libertarian if she shows cleavage. (I'm not making this up.) That debate lasted for about a half an hour until the Feminism Police raided the joint and arrested everyone for having a civil discussion.

My own view is that feminism is in the eye of the beholder.
I am qualified to say that because some of my best friends are women and my mother was one. I read Kate Millet, Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, Djuna Barnes and Anais Nin when most men wouldn't be caught dead doing so (although I have to say that Barnes is one of the most overrated writers in English literature, while Nin was a rank plagarist).
But face it, feminism is a third-rail issue and no matter what one says, they're going to catch grief from one quarter or another.

So bring it on.

Bob's Mother & The Ghost Of Iraq Future

Despite the magnitude of the deaths -- 28 here, 57 there and 210 somewhere else, 550 one week and 700 the next -- the carnage in Iraq is so predictable that it has begun to numb my senses.
Single-malt Scotch is too expensive, so the only way that I have been able to deal with this disconnect is to pretty much stop blogging on individual incidents such as the bomb blasts in Baghdad this week (70 dead, dozens wounded on Tuesday, another 17 dead, dozens wounded today) and focus on the Big Picture.

But what about my fellow Americans, who are a pretty numb bunch to begin with?

Most are figuratively if not literally shopping at the mall, and beyond the yellow "Support the Troops' ribbons on their SUVs, the obscenity that the Iraq war has become is an abstraction. That is unless they are the very rare person who knows a war veteran or happens to stroll past an electronics store at the mall and catches a big-screen glimpse of the carnage before they avert their eyes and continue on to Victoria's Secret.

How then to punch through the national novocaine and bring home a war for which President Bush has not ever asked for sacrifice, only lip service? And continues to stubbornly state that "victory" remains America's goal?

Never mind that the carnage doesn't seem to register in the Oval Office, nor is there any rush to complete a comprehensive review of a war that the U.S. rushed into like a house on fire in the first place. Wrapping up that review will have to wait until after the New Year. In the meantime, the president will decamp to Crawford with Laura and the Twinsies for some photo-op brush clearing and a suicide bomber-free old-time family Christmas.

Is there even a faint hope that someone -- someone whose last name is not Sheehan -- can leverage what legions of gray beards have been unable to do and shock George Bush out of his dream world?

When I ponder this fantasy -- and it is a fantasy -- I think of Bob Layton's mother.

Bob and I attended university together. He was a Robert Redford-handsome engineering major, president of a fraternity, head of the campus ROTC detachment and engaged to marry a beauty on whom I had an unrequited crush.

Bob went off to Vietnam a freshly minted Infantry second lieutenant, where he was soon blown to smithereens. By the time he left this mortal coil, the trickle of American flag-draped pine boxes being carried out of the rectums of cargo planes to the central morgue at Dover Air Force Base had become a flood.

Bob's mother was heartbroken. But she also was angry. Angry about President Johnson's serial lies concerning the progress of the war, the changing rationales for being in Vietnam, his refusal to acknowledge and correct mistakes, and a humility-free "trust us" condescension that had taken her son from her forever.

I'll give David Halberstam, Uncle Walter Cronkite and the anti-war movement some credit, but it was Bob Layton's mother and mothers like her who ultimately turned America against the obscenity that the Vietnam war became and drove LBJ from office.

History is repeating itself in Iraq in some respects. And so this holiday season I would like to think that it my fantasy comes true through a contemporary version of that classic scene in Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" when an uninvited guest pays a visit to Ebenezer Scrooge's bed chamber.

Picture the president settling into a long winter's nap when he hears the clanking chains of the Ghost of Iraq Future and then these words:

"President Bush. Oh, President Bush. Bob Layton's mother is here to see you."

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If you ever visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., say hello to Bob for me. Or better still, run your hand across his name on the granite wall. It's on Panel 21W, Line 54.

'We're Not Winning, We're Not Losing'

The drugs must be working.

President Bush now says that the U.S. is neither winning or losing the war in Iraq.

But he also says that the U.S. military needs to be made bigger to cope with what ails the world, and he interprets the Democratic mid-term election victory not as a call to bring the war to an end, but to find new ways to win it.
Okay, maybe the drugs aren't working.
In any event, Michael van der Galien has an excellent round-up of these developments and more here.

Meanwhile, Dick Polman makes a terrific point at American Debate about the Really Big Speech that Bush plans to deliver on the war after the New Year:
"What puzzles me, however, is why anyone at this point would assume that anything Bush says is going to (a) break new strategic ground, or (b) quell the sectarian chaos, or (c) lodge in the American memory. On the contrary, we seem to have forgotten that he has delivered dozens of speeches on Iraq over the past few years, most of them instantly forgotten, with nary a phrase that can be invoked years from now as testaments to either his eloquence or prescience."
More here.

And Captain Ed at Captain's Quarters finds fault:
"Bush tried to cast his new assessment on Iraq as consistent with his earlier statements, but that's risible on its face. Before the election, he said that we "absolutely" were winning in Iraq. Now he says that he meant it as an absolute commitment to winning there, but that was not how he phrased it then. Insisting that the two statements are somehow equal undermines his credibility in a silly cause. We're obviously not winning in Iraq, and while we're not be losing, it's not the same thing.

"And let's not pretend that the expansion of the military represents some continuity of thought, either. Bush fully backed Donald Rumsfeld's vision of military transformation from a Cold War strength-through-numbers paradigm to the modern rapid-response force that would address the post-Soviet world. It hasn't worked as planned, mostly because the strategies it was designed to support did not get used. Once we decided to stay in Iraq after Saddam's removal -- a decision made for good reasons in the war on terror -- the Cold War style of military was needed for the long-term administration of the country. It takes boots on the ground to pacify insurgencies, perhaps not as many as Eric Shinseki predicted, but more than we have now."

More here.

Hilzoy's take at Obsidian Wings:

"For the White House to consider sending troops to Iraq without having a clear mission in mind, because they can't think of anything better, is just shameful. George W. Bush has spent his entire life not having to bear the consequences of his own failures. Back in what might charitably be called his business career, those consequences were financial, and they were borne by rich people who were willing to accept them for reasons of their own. Now, Bush is proposing to avoid recognizing that he has failed again by asking young men and women to lay down their lives, without having bothered to come up with a clear idea of what they are supposed to be doing. Children will grow up without a parent; soldiers will have to spend months in Walter Reed learning to live without an arm or a leg; people who have suffered traumatic brain injury will have to figure out how to go on when they can't remember simple things, or concentrate, or control their moods; and for what?"
More here.

Chart du Jour on the War

The New York Times has updated its most excellent chart on the state of Iraq.

Note the authors:
"As 2006 winds down, two developments inside Iraq stand out: the failure of the previous year’s election to produce any sense of progress, and the commencement of Iraq’s civil war, dating back to the Feb. 22 bombing of the hallowed Shiite mosque in Samarra and escalating ever since.

"It is still possible to find signs of hope in our running statistics on Iraq — the number of Iraqi security forces who are trained and technically proficient, the gradually improving economic output, the number of children being immunized. But those same children cannot feel safe on the way to school in much of today’s Iraq; economic growth is a top-down phenomenon having little effect on the unemployment rate or well-being of Iraqis in places like Anbar Province and the Sadr City slum in Baghdad; and those increasingly proficient security forces remain politically unreliable in many cases, just as inclined to stoke sectarian strife as to contain it."

More here.

Cartoon du Jour on the War

Tom Toles / Washington Post

Dubya's Library: Will There Be Any Books?

The wickedly fertile mind of J.C. Christian, Patriot has been hard at work on a design for the George Bush Presidential Library. Above is the design for the first floor Rotunda of Blame.

Much more here.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Three Years & Nine Months Into the War . . .

This damaged tank, armor plate and turret rearranged and one set of tracks off, is an apt metaphor for where the U.S. is in Iraq as we slouch toward the New Year.

Three years and nine months into the war, attacks against U.S. troops are at a record high, which is all the more extraordinary because many units are staying in barracks except for occasional forays out among the locals.

Three years and nine months into the war, the Pentagon acknowledges that Anti-American cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr's sectarian militia is more dangerous than Al Qaeda, which despite President Bush's fulminations always has been a bit player in the insurgency.

Three years and nine months into the war, another grim milestone has been passed with the 25,000th American casuality. At the present rate, the U.S. death toll will exceed 3,000 early in January.

Three years and nine months into the war, the effort to win the hearts and minds of Baghdad residents by restoring and keeping crucial municipal services is an unmitigated disaster. Some neighborhoods in the capital are the equivalent of the South Bronx in the 1970s and police and coalition troops dare not tread there. Most of the capital is in perpetual darkness because insurgents control the power grid. There's also a shortage of drinkable water.

Three years and nine months into the war, the government of Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki totters on the verge of collapse. When he convened a reconciliation conference over the weekend to discuss how to stem the unrelenting bloodshed, no representatives of Shiite or Sunni extremist groups attended. No representatives of insurgent groups attended. No new ideas were presented.

Three years and nine months into the war, there is a paucity of ideas about how to attain President Bush's goal of "victory" because that goal is no longer attainable. From the outset, goodwill was a much more precious asset than bullets, but that commodity was long ago squandered. Now no amount of bullets will win the day, which the Joint Chiefs of Staff acknowledge by unanimously agreeing that no more troops should be committed because the White House continues to fail to define the mission.

Three years and nine months into the war . . .

'I Do. I Do. I Do Believe in Iraq'

I've been reading Attawie's blog for some time now, and the slow but sure politicization of this young Iraqi artist (and fellow Pisces) has been a sight to behold. Not a pleasant one, mind you.

Her most recent post:
“At my age, I know there's no such thing like Santa, or fairies, but in a moment I needed to believe anything said to me so I can come to believe that Iraq is coming back, and we Iraqis, inside and outside Iraq, would go back to live our ordinary lives again.

“Life seemed to be much easier before ‘liberation’. I know some people would say this is against the new Iraq's democracy but I believe we've all had enough of ‘the new Iraq’. We've seen children slaughtered, women deflowered, men dragged from their homes to their unknown destination, when the next day they can be found in a plastic case cut into pieces or thrown on the piled up garbage round the corner. Enough massacres and killings, enough hearing about tragic endings of loved ones, we have had enough.

“For so long, since the mandatory U.S. forces put their feet in Iraq, I knew that it's not going to get any better. I, somehow, kept debating with friends I've known since forever, that the United States' troops are not here to free us and give us democracy. Apart from the real reason, and apart from what lies they gave us, which by the way we have had enough of that too, I still hope Iraq would be better than ever. . . .

“I know this post might shock some friends of mine remembering my words about ‘I never talk politics nor religion,’ but it's for Iraq's sake. It's for the only home I knew. The only people I love. It's for the homeland which we talk about in our songs and sob tears for. Not for the houses which are being demolished. Not for the buildings which are being destroyed now. Not for the trees that are already cut and replaced by barriers. It's for Iraq.”

More here.

Uh-Oh Little Town of Bethlehem

This Christmas will be the gloomiest in memory for the biblical town of Bethlehem. More than 150,000 tourists used to visit the birthplace of Jesus, but this year many fewer are expected and will bypass Bethlehem's historic inns for hurried day trips amidst fears of bomb attacks.

Reports Jane Flannigan in the Daily Mail:
"Those who are prepared to make the journey will be confronted by a huge concrete wall, measuring 25 feet high and topped by electrified razor wire, which cuts West Bank Bethlehem off from neighbouring Israeli-controlled Jerusalem. At the wall, pilgrims will have to pass through a checkpoint, manned by Israeli soldiers armed with automatic weapons. . . . Israel has stated that the wall between Israel and the Palestinian West Bank is necessary to prevent suicide bombers from entering Israel and attacking its citizens. The effect of the barrier, increased Israeli security measures and the ongoing conflict in the region have had a devastating effect on tourism to the Holy Land, once the backbone of its economy. Only a dozen or so bookings have been made at Bethlehem's 250-room five-star Jacir Palace hotel, and none of them have been confirmed."
More here.

Beautiful Photograph du Jour

Another eyeful from Mark Holder, who photographs Australian flora and fauna. More here.

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Monday, December 18, 2006

A Lesson About Breast Cancer Therapies

The big lesson from the news that breast cancer rates for U.S. women have dropped dramatically is that you shouldn't take at face value what the pharmaceutical industry -- and your personal physician -- say is good for you.
More than 200,000 American women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year and some 40,000 die. So it was great news when researchers reported that the incidence of all types of breast cancer fell a 7 percent in 2003, the latest year for which statistics are available, from the year before. This was the first decline after increases for several decades.
Researchers say the most likely explanation for the sharp decrease is is that millions of women have abandoned or sharply decreased their use of hormone therapy, which had been hyped by the pharmaceutical industry as the best way to treat menopause symptons and push back the encroachment of old age.
It became obvious that there was a dark side to the therapy: Prolonged use of the most popular hormone combinations caused an increase in breast cancer, heart attacks and strokes and, counter to cure-all claims, did not prevent Alzheimer's, depresession or urinary incontinence.

This is but a small victory. The incidence of breast cancer remains high and more research needs to be done, as well as the development of more effective -- and honestly marketed -- medications and therapies.
* * * * *
Meanwhile, it appears that mega-drug maker Eli Lilly has engaged in a decade-long effort to play down the health risks of Zyprexa, its best-selling schizophrenia medication.

More here.

Squirrels & the War in Iraq

Squirrels may not constitute the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I have come to understand from watching the yard full of them at Kiko's House that they are able to adapt because they learn from their mistakes.
The only predators squirrels face hereabouts are hawks and BMWs, so they pretty much have the run of things. That noted, they figure out pretty fast what works and does not work for them.
When I undetook an annual ritual and put up a big bird feeder and little suet feeder outside the kitchen window about three weeks ago, there was an invasion of squirrels. They were younger squirrels for the most part. I know that because I recognize the veterans. (You're right. I need to get a life.)

Anyhow, for a day or so, these younger squirrels did all sorts of acrobatics to get onto the pegs arrayed around the big feeder. But they quickly figured out that these machinations were much more work than the payoff. Similarly, they left the suet feeder to the woodpeckers, flickers and nuthatches after quickly figuring out that suspending themselves over, under or next to it was much more work than . . . you get the idea.

Then there is the Bush administration, which while far better resourced than the squirrels at Kiko's House, seem to be even duller witted because it simply is unable to learn from its mistakes.

The time to send additional troops to secure Iraq was three years ago, but there is a growing sense that up to 10 brigades constituting as many as 35,000 troops will be pulled from depleted ranks elsewhere and ordered to Iraq in the New Year.
As any squirrel with two acorns to rub together would tell you, they will be much too little much too late.

Just ask Colin Powell.

Iraq II: A Sad Commentary on the Times

With great fanfare, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki convened a reconciliation conference over the weekend to discuss how to stem the unrelenting bloodshed.
No representatives of Shiite or Sunni extremist groups attended.

No representatives of insurgent groups attended.

No new ideas were presented.
Sad, isn't it?

More here.

Iraq III: Map du Jour on the War

This, according to U.K.'s TimesOnline, is the latest iteration of the map the U.S. military uses for Baghdad to show its ever widening ethno-sectarian divide.
Translation: It's a road map for the civil war.
More here.

Iraq IV: A Recipe For Disaster

Victor Davis Hanson, who has been a reliable gauntlet thrower downer from the outset of the war, seems to be hitting the hard stuff again:
"If we add another 30,000 or so troops to Iraq, in a final effort to win the war, then we must change (widen) the rules of engagement. Only that way can America ensure that it simply does not create more targets for the insurgents, add a larger logistical trail, and ensure more Iraqi dependency on our soldiers.

"What would that entail?

"Putting Iran and Syria on notice that we will bomb terrorists flocking across their borders.

"Give an ultimatum to militia heads, especially Moqtadar Sadr, to disband or face annihilation from the United States.

"Expand the rules of engagement in all matters dealing with IEDs, with a shoot on sight rule concerning anyone found implanting or aiding such efforts."

Seems like the perfect recipe for a region-wide war, no?

More here.

Iraq V: Quote du Jour on the War

Signe Wilkinson / Philadelphia Daily News

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Happy Birthday, Jane

Mother and Child by the Sea (1840) by Johan Christian Dahl
Today would have been my mother's 81st birthday. I don't want to get all maudlin because she would have wanted nothing less.

But I woke up this morning with W.H.'s "Stop All the Clocks" bouncing around in my head. (Yes, that's the poem that Matthew reads during his eulogy in "Four Weddings and a Funeral.") So herewith a wee adaptation of the opening stanzas of said poem, which is my favorite about dying and death.

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message She Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

She was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

Gratuitous Kitty Shot of the Week

Behold the mighty Kimba, here watching birdies frolic in the yard at Kiko's House.

* * * * *
Do you want your kitty to be world famous like Kimba?
Send a photo as a .jpg attachment to an email to

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Hoofing It & 'The Places In Between'

Rory Stewart on the first day of his 600-mile walk
It never ceases to amaze me how there are so many confluences in life. What I mean is that something happens and then something else happens that ties in to the first thing.

We're talking about small confluences here:

A couple of weeks ago I took apart the derailer on my trail bike. I still haven't been able to put it back together and probably will have to take the bike in for a professional look-see.

I try to avoid driving, and in the meantime have been a walking fool, which has been wonderful given the unseasonably mild weather around Kiko's House.

The second confluence arrived in the form of a book -- "The In Between Places" by Rory Stewart -- that I began reading after my futile attempts to reassemble the derailer.

Stewart, a young Scotsman, set out to walk from Iran to Nepal in 2000, but never made the leg in Afghanistan because of the ascendancy of the Taliban and then the U.S.-led invasion after the 9/11 attacks. He finally started the uncompleted leg in January 2002.
"You are the first tourist in Afghanistan," he was warned by an Afghan official before commencing his journey. "It is mid-winter - there are three meters of snow on the high passes, there are wolves, and this is a war. You will die, I can guarantee."
Stewart did not die and lived to write this marvelous book, which is one of the best travelogues that I've ever read and an intimate look at the inscrutible Afghan tribes whom he encountered on his often perilous trek. It has been the perfect companion for my own modest walks hither and yon.

Bonnie Dobson's 'Morning Dew'

Walk me out in the morning dew my honey,
Walk me out in the morning dew today.
I can't walk you out in the morning dew my honey,
I can't walk you out in the morning dew today.

I thought I heard a baby cry this morning,
I thought I heard a baby cry this today.
You didn't hear no baby cry this morning,
You didn't hear no baby cry today.

Where have all the people gone my honey,
Where have all the people gone today.
There's no need for you to be worrying about all those people,
You never see those people anyway.

I thought I heard a young man moan this morning,
I thought I heard a young man moan today.
I thought I heard a young man moan this morning,
I can't walk you out in the morning dew today.

Walk me out in the morning dew my honey,
Walk me out in the morning dew today.
I'll walk you out in the morning dew my honey,
I guess it doesn't really matter anyway,
I guess it doesn't matter anyway,
I guess it doesn't matter anyway,
Guess it doesn't matter anyway.

* * * * *
Here is another in our series of songs appropriate for the trying times in which we live.
In the 1970s, the Grateful Dead sometimes would close their shows with a jam-infused "Morning Dew," a song about "life" after a nuclear apocalypse written by Canadian singer-songwriter Bonnie Dobson.

(Image: John Martin's "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse")

Friday, December 15, 2006

Another All-American Tragedy

You may have heard that there was another school shooting the other day.
Shane Halligan, a teenager in suburban Philadelphia, came home with a bad report card and was ordered by his parents to buckle down. This camouflage-wearing Eagle Scout, who dreamed of joining the military, returned to his high school the next day with a sawed-off AK-47 semi-automatic rifle and fired wildly into the air before he shot himself to death.
Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce Castor said township police, whose headquarters is only a few blocks from the school, were in the building within 50 seconds of being called and their presence "kept him from firing additional rounds and possibly hurting people."

The AK-47 contained 12 unspent rounds, Castor said, and two more were found in the boy's pocket. An empty 20-round box of ammunition was found at Halligan's home, where his father kept seven firearms, including three military rifles.

* * * * *
The incident, headlined "An All-America Boy, An American Tragedy" in the Philadelphia Daily News, shattered the usual tight-knit community, provoked the usual outpouring of grief and raised the usual questions about why a kid who had everything going for him could do such a thing.

Then there was Shane's father, John Halligan, standing in a sea of dozens of candles held by his son's classmates at a vigil, explaining that he was "floored by this. I truly believed he wouldn't hurt himself." Halligan begged the teenagers to share their emotions with family and friends: "You gotta talk."

If you detect a note of cynicism, you're right.
I wrote and edited dozens of cliche-sodden Shane Halligan stories in my newspaper career. Alternately, as the father of two children now in the early years of adulthood and the uncle of a nephew in his late teens, I have brooded on the forces churning in young minds that sometimes cause them to snap. I also have mused on what I and other parents and care givers can do to help kids deal with and ease the pain that can be an overwhelming aspect of adolescence.
Yet I keep coming back, as I did when pondering Shane Halligan's life, to how superficial the discussions and news accounts and commentaries are. And then I thought a dreadful thought: Should Shane Halligan and the people closest to him not have taken more responsibility?

The answer is an unequivocal "Yes."
Please read the next post by someone who believes that everyone should take more responsibility.

And click here to read about another school-related incident not long ago in which no one seemed to want to take responsibility.

Reverend Auntie's Sermon

A man who calls himself Reverend Auntie believes that everyone should take more responsibility. Here are excerpts from a "sermon" in response to a post on the Shane Halligan shooting-suicide by my good buddy Will Bunch at Attytood:

This is going to be long. It may become a sermon. For Rev. Auntie is sick to the heart. But what Rev. Auntie is sick of is the adult and community dissembling around the topic of school shootings. The denials and lies. The coverups out in the open.

The PDN [Daily News] story about the Montco teenager was full of that.

I don't see this kid's actions as "tragedy." Some bolt out of the blue.

I see them as inevitable. How could anyone NOT see this coming?

Adults teach young people to worship war, guns, violence, and domination. Thoroughly. Systematically. And then after their kids murder themselves or others, and cause trauma, everybody's all wide-eyed and teary and "oh-we-just-didn't-see-this-coming!"

So let's take a look at the psychopathology called Violence Denial Disorder.

The PDN story said that "there was nothing unusual" about this teenager. Which proves nothing in a society where being normal means taking your place in the war machine -- war on other humans, war on other species, war on nature, whatever. Kill for the rich, get some of their privilege. (Though of course YOU, poor sap, end up with the wounds, the PTSD, the illnesses, the mental health problems. . . . But we'll give you a shiny piece of metal, special thanks for keeping the oil flowing to bolster the Bushes' and Cheney's and Binladen's and Saudi princes' profits! Oh yeah, and you get a few drops, to run your old Chevy to the corner store, for food that'll kill you early.)

Someone in the PDN story goes on to say this boy was eager to join the Army and go to kiddie boot camp.

GROW A CLUE, PEOPLE. Kids who grow up fantasizing about pumping up as big men, then getting paid and rewarded to kill others, will, of course, be made into heroes by those adults in their circles who think war is the answer.

But the likelihood of them growing up to be productive, creative, calm, content, loving, mature, peace-making citizens is pretty low. Unless like Big Brother you redefine war as peace and machismo as a great contribution to civilization.

Oh yeah, and this teenager was a military history "buff" who obsessed on details of the two most bloody and brutal wars in human history--hundreds of millions of murders, unprecedented torture, cruelty, bloodshed.

Oh yeah, and he wore military camouflage to school.

Oh yeah, and his dad was stockpiling AK-47s (and what else? and against whom?) and ammunition and kept the bullets unlocked.

Oh yeah, and the kid obviously knew enough about firearms at 16 to know how to modify as well as use one.

Oh yeah, and at age 16 he had a car and could drive himself to school (who gave him the money for all that? a kid who earned such privileges for himself wouldn't have time to obsess on the details of the mass murders of the 20th century).

Oh yeah, and he was a member of a jingoistic, theocratic society (Boy Scouts) that rewards elitism (Eagle Scouts). A single-sex society that sends viciously mixed messages about homoeroticism to minds too young to contain that tension, never mind resolve it. A society that rewards violence against gay or questioning kids, therefore implicitly causing panic and turmoil among children who may be questioning, but know it's not safe to talk about their feelings. You're either the bully, or you're silent. Or you pose as the bully. The best you can.

Oh yeah, and he was a member of a church that preaches an apocalyptic message, with salvation only for the few who agree with them and damnation for everyone else.

Oh yeah, and he hung out with some of society's most macho, reckless, often suicidal members--volunteer firefighters, men who by virtue of getting themselves killed are called "heroes" and "great family men" even though their recklessness deprives women and children of a husband and father.

Oh yeah, and this teenager's time at home was so unsupervised that he could get into a supposedly locked weapons locker, assemble tools and a work area, and saw off an AK-47 with nobody noticing the work in progress, nor note the weapon missing, nor the ammo.

Oh yeah. Nobody could have seen this coming.

My black ass.

The adults in his life are in deep, profound, socially rewarded denial. THAT is the tragedy.

His actions were an inevitability. This kid dreamed of killing, obsessed on it, was taught that that was a good thing to dream of--violence, machismo, and aggression in the name of ideology or creed or set of fairytales about the afterlife. (Rev. Auntie is here to tell you: Jesus's love is about LIVING and LOVING, not about any of that horse hockey after death.)

Maybe this boy didn't have the patience to wait till he could kill with social sanctions (in the Army). Or maybe at the moment when he thought he wouldn't get to do it with sanctions, when his dad's threat that his grades would keep him from becoming a macho killer, he took things into his own hands.

But the fact is, he learned the most essential lesson of empire: I destroy that which I project my fear onto.

What he destroyed was himself. What does that tell us?

It's really sad that a kid with all his privileges would feel so hemmed in he'd commit suicide in this way. Auntie's guess is that he felt he couldn't stand up under the weight of all that machismo. Five-foot-five and pasty pale and facing the adult world, and adult expectations, that he couldn't possibly live up to. . . .

Merciful Christ, this kid's life was a logjam of machismo and violence. A train-wreck of it.

And then on Monday, his parents make him sick with fear and shame and humiliation that he'd never get to be a Real Man, because of his grades keeping him out of Real Men Camp, i.e., the army.

Sorry, but this sort of thing doesn't "just happen." Adults teach children this way of thinking, this way of action. Churches teach it. Friends and family teach it. Television, movies, books, and magazines. Systematically. Daily. Constantly. And then deny it when it all explodes. Deny it, redefine it, pretend something surprising or unforeseeable happened.

I have compassion for the suffering of anyone negatively affected by this kid's actions. I've been shot at. I've lost relatives, friends, and loved ones to bullets. I know about the anguish.

But it's inevitable that a kid raised with violent, macho values will eventually go seriously wrong. This child killed himself. If he hadn't, what damage he would have caused to others later, trying to live up to the stereotypes of malehood he was surrounded with? Who keeps track of that? Nobody. It's expected. . . .

How desperately lonely he must have been. Nowhere is this better proven by the fact that in his hour of mortal engagement, his self-implosion, the best anyone around him can say, of all those supposedly caring adults and teens, is that "they had no idea." "They're so shocked." "How could they have guessed?"

In other words, the person this boy was, his real self, was a person they didn't know. He had feelings and concerns they weren't aware of.

In effect, he didn't exist in their eyes. Not the real him.

What child can live with that kind of isolation? We are a social species. We go nuts without real, meaningful contact. . . .

Regarding the Montco teenager, all these comments by adults about how "they had no idea" amounts to them parading their indifference to him, while recasting it as some sort of innocence. A virtue on their part.

It isn't innocence, it's disengagement. It's a threat, for it says to teenagers, "You will be what we say, what we expect. If you can't, we will reject you. And if you disturb us, we will call you disturbed. And if you crack, we will disavow knowledge of your soul. We don't want to know; all we want is your successful conformity. If your soul is at odds with our expectations, too bad. You'll get no support or attention from us. We will not make the effort to identify with your isolation, your pain, your shame, your fear. Conform, or we will ignore you."

Which adults in this boy's life failed to pull him away from his morbid fascination with mass murder (20th century world wars) and take him to the mountains, or the seashore, or a garden, and give him more healthy, life-sustaining interests?

Which adults bought him things -- guns, cars -- instead of doing their job of getting, and staying, intimate with a teenager's soul, starting in childhood, and being there for him?

Where were his parents as he was sawing off a spray-and-pray automatic weapon in their own house?

Who was at home? What did they make of the noises he was making? Who heard, and pretended not to, or failed to hear, and check, and notice, and ask?

Teenagers demand adult treatment, but they need supervision and attention more than toddlers. Nowhere, no time, more than after a bad report card.

You mean to tell me that after a dressing-down for failing to live up to the parents' grade expectations, the parents didn't make extra efforts to spend every moment with or near him, watching for how their words might have fallen on his soul? That the very same night of this scene, they detached from him so severely that he could make lengthy preparations to commit self-murder? Hoisting and preparing a weapon. Writing a suicide note. And NOBODY NOTICED?

Are these typical parents, who don't notice the kid's performance till the report card comes in? Then lets them know that they're going to be a failure. "It's not to our liking."

Gee, thanks, mom and dad--I already know that; I already know you expect things of me that I can't deliver, and I'm trying, and I can't, I just can't.

What kind of parent justifies their own behavior -- "It's what any parent would do" -- at such a moment? What are they trying to prove?

But in such a family being wrong, being vulnerable, having doubts would be the ultimate transgression, wouldn't it?

. . . To even insinuate, as the Montco DA did (damn you, sir!), that "he did this to go out in a blaze of glory" spits on this child's psyche, on his suffering. There was no glory involved, and this is a lie told about a child whose truth no one cared to hear. This isn't about the "illogical thoughts" of "undeveloped adolescent minds."

This kid ended his life in an adult way. He murdered the person he was closest to, because he couldn't haul himself over the mountains piled in his path by adults who didn't see that he was painting himself into a corner with his efforts to conform to their expectations. Adults who chose to distance themselves from how it feels to be a kid who is failing, the terror of that, the humiliation. . . .

Auntie's guess, based on raising two dozen of other people's kids and counseling thousands?

This child murdered himself rather than grow up to kill others.

If he'd wanted a murderer's glory, he would have taken others with him. Instead he destroyed himself in a way that disguised how lonely, how inadequate he felt. "Remember me as big, as mean. I may be forsaken, but as I destroy who I have become--my masks burned into my flesh--I will be in death what I never could have been in life: a killer. Of my false self."


Thursday, December 14, 2006

Iraq: Doubling Down & Out?

Are the Joint Chiefs of Staff indicating that they don't believe there is a military solution to the Mess in Mesopotamia?
Reading between the lines, that it my tentative conclusion from a Washington Post story on their meeting with the president and vice president.
More here.

Quote du Jour on the War

A slip of a sort by President Bush, speaking at the Pentagon on Wednesday (emphasis added):
"I thank these men who wear our uniform for a very candid and fruitful discussion about how to secure this country and how to win a war that we now find ourselves in."

An Update on The War on Civil Liberties

A federal court ruling on Wednesday would appear to be a victory for President Bush in that it upholds much of the vile Military Commissions Act, while acknowledging some habeas rights for Joe and Jane Sixpack.
I'm too busy frying other fish at the moment, but Glenn Greenwald has a detailed post at Unclaimed Territory about the implications of the ruling.
Click here.

A Dream Extinguished

Courtesy of Jesus' General

We're a Little Late to This Story . . .

. . . but J.C. Christian, Patriot responds to the shocking -- just shocking -- news that eating soy-based foods makes you gay and shrinks your wee-wee.

An excerpt from his letter to the jerk who started the whole thing:
"I do however disagree with your solution to the problem. Dropping soy from the American diet is not the answer. America's agribusiness heroes deserve better from us. The same goes for our automobile and oil industries as well. If we stop feeding soy products to our manchildren, who's going to buy tomorrow's Hummers, Dodge Rams, and Ford Excursions? After all, there'll be no incentive to spend that kind of money on a big, expensive, powerful vehicle if every guy is packing one of those huge, Italian 3+" man-cannons in his briefs. Men compensating for tiny thingies are what drive the American automobile market. The auto companies would need to retool without it.

I think it might be better to feed our manchildren even more soy so that the nation's agribusiness, auto, and oil corporations can provide even bigger dividends to their stockholders. It's what Our Leader's ownership society is all about."
More here.

Jamaican Plants That Are Good . . .

. . . for you and aren't ganja.
Andrew reports at The Foundation Dub Joint that Jamaican researchers have identified two native species that are said to help cure five cancers, potentially giving that country's beleaguered economy a lucrative share of the global chemotherapy drug market.
More here.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Iraq: Buying Time, Taking Lives

Do you think Santa will leave coal in my stocking?
Under other circumstances, the announcement by the White House that President Bush is postponing making "tough decisions" on the Iraq war until after the New Years because of the complexity of the ongoing policy review would be outrageous.
Why the hay is the White House only now undertaking a policy review?

Go ahead. Just shoot me.
It is probable that what is driving the postponement decision is that there is nothing, in practical terms, that the White House can do to alter events on the ground in Iraq or perceptions at home.

How's this for perceptions:
* An L.A. Times/Bloomberg poll finds that 70 percent of Americans want a new direction in Iraq.

* A CBS News poll finds that Americans think the war in Iraq is going badly and getting worse, and think it's time for the U.S. either to change its strategy or start getting out. Some 43 percent say the U.S. should keep fighting, but with new tactics, while 50 percent say the U.S. should begin to end its involvement altogether. Only 4 percent say the U.S. should keep fighting as it is doing now.

* A WaPo-ABC News poll shows seven in 10 Americans disapprove of the way the president is handling the situation in Iraq -- the highest percentage since the war began. Six in 10 say the war was not worth fighting, while a majority say they agree with the Iraq Study Group's recommendations.

* A Newsweek poll finds that 48 percent of Americans say they want U.S. forces home within a year and 67 percent want them back within two years. Only 23 percent believe they should stay as long as it takes to achieve U.S. goals.

* A Gallup poll finds less than half of Americans are willing to say that they have a great deal or a fair amount of trust in Bush to recommend the right actions for Iraq.

Iraq & Saudi Arabia's Turki Trot

Is anyone buying the explanation that Prince Turki al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the U.S., has abruptly resigned after only 15 months on the job "to spend more time with his family"?

First of all, things change very sloowwwly in the Saudi kingdom. Turki's predecessor, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, was ambassador for 22 years.

Secondly, the departure comes only days after Turki dismissed a consultant for suggesting in a Washington Post op-ed piece that the kingdom would back Iraq's Sunni minority with money and weapons if the civil war grows wider. The ruling family and most Saudis are Sunnis.

Saudi Arabia denied the assertion, which nevertheless is widely viewed as accurate.

Thirdly, the resignation comes amid talk that the White House is considering a so-called "80 Percent Solution" for Iraq in which it would take sides with the Shiites against the Sunnis in the civil war.

Kind of adds up, don't you think?

More here., as well as a late-breaking story here on Vice President Cheney getting read the riot act by King Abdullah when he visited Saudi Arabia.