Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Enduring Hypocrisy of The War on Drugs

By any objective measure, the so-called War on Drugs has been a failure.

The term was first used by President Nixon in 1971, but the war itself didn't get underway in earnest until the Reagan administration with agreements with drug-supplying countries to curb the import of marijuana, cocaine and heroin into the U.S.
A quarter of a century later, the War on Drugs has failed to stem the flow of illegal drugs, the street prices of which are at record lows, while filling American prisons with hundreds of thousands of men and women whose only crime was to get caught with a joint or bag of marijuana.

This is not to say that dealers whose wares have addicted the dumb and defenseless shouldn't have been apprehended and incarcerated, but the number of people whose lives have been ruined because of so-called victimless crimes and are innocent by almost any measure is staggering.
The underlying hypocrisy of the War on Drugs is hard to miss -- unless you think like most politicians, cops and social conservatives.

Americans abuse ernormous quantities of cigarettes, alcohol and prescription drugs in an orgy of socially acceptable mood altering that makes marijuana seem all the more benign, especially when imbibed by terminally ill people in the 12 states where voters have approved referenda allowing its use for that purpose.
Yet the Justice Department, with the support of a Food and Drug Administration that in true Bush Era fashion has allowed politics to trump science, threatens to bust the 65-year-old man who smokes a joint to relieve the nausea and pain of chemotherapy. I know. My father was one of those people.
This bring me to the main purpose of this post -- the growing evidence that psychedelics do a whole lot more than make people high and can be beneficial in the treatment of some of the most intractible medical conditions.

Dr. John Halpern is a leader in this promising field of research. As associate director of substance abuse research at Harvard University's McLean Hospital, he is running tests with LSD as a treatment for super migraines known as cluster headaches and is treating late-stage cancer patients with MDMA. That psychedelic is better known as ecstasy, a drug as misunderstood today as LSD was in the 1960s.
Halpern's biggest challenge is not funding, and to give credit where it's due, the FDA is helping underwrite his MDMA research.

The problem is overcoming the social stigma of using drugs unfairly branded as dangerous that do far more good than harm.
To hear a radio interview with Halpern, click here.

The Casualties From the Next Terrorist Attack

Ya gotta give Newt Gingrich credit. He's always thinking.
The Newtster argues that if the next terrorist attack destroys an American city, the first casualty will be the First Amendment, followed possibly by the Internet.

Gingrich isn't arguing that restrictions on free speech are good. He's arguing that they're inevitable if that happens.
More from Gingrich himself here.

(Hat tip to Wretchard at The Belmont Club)

Iraq in the Time of the Refuseniks

If you think of Iraq as an old-fashioned amusement park carousel with the horses and rest of the menagerie rising and falling in organ-music syncopation as it rotates, the events of the last several days would have sent it spinning so fast that it would be a blur. And as for the riders? Only the toughest won't be thrown off.
President Bush worked on earning a new moniker -- The Refuser -- in drawing a big line in the sand at a time when taking a deep breath, as well as a cue from the reality-based community, seemed wise.

He refused to acknowledge that his own national security advisor had written a secret memo stating that Iraqi Prime Minister Al-Maliki is seemingly not be capable of keeping Iraq together.

He refused to contemplate troop withdrawals even if the Iraqis didn't get their bloody house in order.

He refused to stop telling The Big Lie -- that the U.S. is in Iraq to fight Al Qaeda -- when the reality is that the terrorist group insinuated intself into the war well after the invasion and primarily because of Rumsfeld's botched occupation.

He refused to acknowledge that Iraq is in civil war despite a mounting chorus of voices, most recently that of former Secretary of State Colin Powell, that the violence in Iraq met that standard.

He refused to entertain opening lines of communication with Iran and Syria with the treat of the war spilling over into the Middle East seeming to be greater than ever.

And he said he'd refuse any Iraq Study Group recommendation that didn't comport with his own fantasy world.

Said Iraq Study Group, according to a published report, refused to propose a timetable for a complete troop withdrawal.

The Pentagon refused to comment on a report that about $2 billion worth of equipment, from rifles to tanks, is wearing out or being destroyed every month, about a quarter of the total per month cost of the war.

Refusing to accept reality, retired Army General Barry McCaffrey said that "we've got 24 months" to better equip and train the Iraqi army and police. The reality, of course, the army is a dissolute mess despite all the training to date and the police already are in the fight -- working with Shiite militias to exterminate Sunnis.

Meanwhile, Al-Maliki, upset over disclosure of the memo, refused to meet with Bush on the opening day of their sitdown in Jordan.

Moqtada Al-Sadr, the anti-American Shiite cleric and Al-Maliki's puppet master, refused to call off a boycott of the government after the prime minister disobeyed him and flew to Jordan.

Finally, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, told visiting Iraqi President Jalal Talabani that he refused to accept the status quo and declared that the first step toward securing Iraq was the “exit of the occupiers.”
Round and round the carousel goes. Where it stops no one knows.

Iraq II: Cutting the Baby in Half

As expected, the Iraq Study Group has charted a "safe" middle course between the realists and the neocons regarding U.S. troop withdrawals from Iraq, according to published accounts..
In Solomonic terms, it "cut the baby in half."
We are entering an intense period of gamesmanship here where people say is not necessarily what they will do and visa versa.

The study group's report is not a blueprint for getting the U.S. out of Iraq. The president does not have a blueprint for getting the U.S. out of Iraq. Michellle Malkin and the right-wing punditocracy certainly doesn't have a blueprint.
I fear that events -- and they are likely to be even bloodier than what we have witnessed to date -- will be the final determinate, not a commission of graybeards or a weak commander in chief.
For an excellent roundup on the study group and reaction, click here.

Iraq III: Quotes du Jour on the War

"In the face of escalating civil war, of an increasingly Hobbesian conflict of each against all, the calls still coming from the U.S. military, the administration and Capitol Hill to step up our training of Iraqi forces seem light-years off the mark. The problem with Iraqi security isn't that Iraqi forces are poorly trained. It's that, like the rest of their countrymen, like the very government whose uniform they wear, they're not really invested in fighting for a unified, nonsectarian Iraq. Why do we expect them to defend an ideal that their countrymen either never believed in or were compelled to abandon under pressure of civil war?

"But on matters Iraqi, much of the Beltway -- and not just the administration -- remains impervious to fact. "We've got to get the Iraqi army and police better equipped, better trained and into the fight," retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey declared recently. "And I think we've got 24 months." The police, of course, are already into the fight, many of them working with Shiite militias to execute Sunnis. They are, from any dispassionate perspective, proficient enough. Train them for 24 months and they will be the terror of the Earth.

"We have plumb run out of mission in Iraq. We have enemies galore, but, other than the Kurds, precious few friends. We defend the idea of Iraq in the absence of Iraqis willing to do the same. We are at best a buffer -- unable to deter the daily atrocities but ensuring by our presence that they won't grow cataclysmically worse. Since we cannot deter the sectarian polarization, however, the cataclysm will follow our leave-taking whether it comes sooner or later."


"Bush simply has failed to run his war. Historian Eliot Cohen describes how, in contrast, the best American wartime president conducted himself: 'Lincoln had not merely to select his generals, but to educate, train and guide them. To this end he believed that he had to master the details of war, from the technology to the organization and movement of armies, if only to enable himself to make informed judgments about general officers.'

"Bush has taken the opposite approach and — for all his swagger and protectiveness of executive prerogatives — is becoming a disturbing study in lassitude in the executive branch."

Update on The Mormon Blog War

A guy by the name of Steve Evans has a particularly repugnant take on the Mormon Blog War detailed here yesterday.
In a post at By Common Consent headlined "Sqush him? Starve him? Poison him?", he asks how Mormons should respond to Andrew Sullivan, who kind of sort of fired the first shot.
You know from the headline how Evans feels. Hold your nose and then click here.

Meanwhile, someone with a wicked sense of humor has put up a "shadow" site to Ann Althouse's epynomymous blog that is called Altmouse. This has particular pungency for Yours Truly because of Althouse's willful misrepresentations of what I wrote regarding the Mormon Blog War.

A sampling of the musings of Ms. Altmouse (see photo):

I am above all intrablogicological blogging blogger blogblogwars, as my loyal commenters know. It is only the partisanship of others that causes me to constantly be involved in blog-fights. After all, if everyone would simply agree with me, as they should because my opinions are nonpartisan, then they would have no cause to disagree with what I say. Why is this so hard for them to understand?
For the record, I linked to her. More here.

Ancient Computing: And We Think We're So Smart

The ancient Antikythera Mechanism continues to blow minds a century after it was found in an ancient shipwreck off of the coast of Greece.

The mechanism, arguably the worlds first computer, calculated and showed astronomical information such as the phases of the moon in the second century B.C. through a series of bronze gears and dials.
It has now been examined with high-resolution imaging systems and three-dimensional X-ray tomography, revealing a phenomenal degree of technical sophistication.
More here.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Anatomy of a Blogstorm

I’ve been witness to plenty of blogstorms, but never have been at the center of one. Until the other day.

A blogstorm (my word) is a cyberblogical disturbance that can be triggered by the slightest difference in point of view. A blogger says "it’s Yin" and a reader posts a comment saying, “No, knucklehead, it’s Yang.” This usually is as turbulent as things get, but sometimes the heavens are aligned in such a way that a lot of people pile on the blogger and then Know It Alls from other blogs join in, and what began as a wee flickering flame becomes a full-blown blogstorm.

With all the really important stuff going on in the blogosphere these days (the Mess in Mesopotamia, O.J. Simpson still looking for the murderer and the question of whether Brittney will take back K-Fed), it is instructive that my maiden blogstorm started over something as trivial as underwear. Yes, underwear. Before this blogstorm had burned itself out, it had spread from the confines of a middle-sized blog to a bigger blog and then (cue "Jaws" theme music) one of the biggest blogs of all. (!!!)

This then is the anatomy of a blogstorm:

There I was last Sunday morning putting off painting the kitchen. Instead, I was assembling a gaggle of posts for Kiko’s House entitled "The American Trifecta: Religion, Race and Politix."

I figured that my item on religion -- whether Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney would have a tough time running for president because he is a Mormon -- also would be a good post for that middle-sized blog, The Moderate Voice, where I am a coblogger.


I like to get out ahead of stories, have an edgy writing style, stand behind what I write and like to include photos or other images with my deathless prose. So while my post on Romney was factually accurate and had historic perspective, I gave it some edge by mentioning that another blog commentary about Romney noted that some Mormons wear church-approved underwear. I wondered:

“Can Romney endure the media exposure that awaits him? What if his great-great grandfather was a bigamist? And what about that underwear?”

I dressed up the posts with a photo of Mormon underwear plucked from Wikipedia and, drawing on my big city tabloid newspaper roots, I provided another dollop of edge by headlining them “Presidential Politix & Mitt Romney’s Underwear.”

Well, I hadn’t even painted half of one wall of the kitchen when the proverbial hit the fan. Comments began pouring in from members of the Church of Latter Day Saints (LDS) who were upset that I would mock their religion, let alone publish a photo of their official underwear. No curse words, mind you, but they got their point across.

So we had the makings of a Category 1 blogstorm.

Most blogstorms quickly branch off into substorms, as did this one. In addition to Mortified in Moab and other aggrieved LDSers, there were comment threads on:

* The sanctity of underwear and other religious garb.

* Whether The Moderate Voice had broken free of its moorings by publishing my post and was drifting into a shark-infested sea of invective.

* My badness. One commenter, in a rush to find something negative about me, went to Kiko's House, dredged up a post on Thanksgiving and screamed that I was a "religious bigot" because I had suggested throwing cranberry sauce at people who were oblivious to the rot in American society. (Good thing I didn't suggest tossing the whole turkey.)

* Some readers managed to navigate through the mounting hysteria and discussed what the post was all about to begin with – the scrutiny that Romney faced and whether he was a viable presidential candidate.

In no time at all, the blogstorm hit Category 2 as Mormon bloggers began piling on. Leading the charge was Guy Murray at Bloggernacle Times with a well orchestrated series of attacks.

I dunno. Maybe it’s the air in Utah, but these cats were reading right past what I had said and were taking it very personal, as they say in Philadelphia. Some actually compared my inclusion of the underwear thing as being akin to the Danish cartoonistist who penned the Mohammed cartoons.



Ann Althouse is a law prof at the University of Wisconsin. That’s where Dick Cheney hid out to avoid being sent to Vietnam. Dick was studying how to start a pretty big war of his own, which he would do with great flourish when he grew up to be a vice president.

Althouse has an eponymous middle-sized blog with a little of this and a little of that and a lot of politics and law stuff. She has a loyal following and is a certifiable blog diva.

I myself was Althouse Neutral until about the time I finished painting the second wall of the kitchen. That’s when it was brought to my attention that she had accused me of ridiculing Romney’s religion and possible choice of underwear in The Moderate Voice post.

At this point the blogstorm had reached Catagory 3.

It was obvious that The Diva hadn’t read a word of my post except the headline, or if she did read it she nevertheless was going to grossly mischaracterize it in the service of the ax she happened to be grinding, which was meant for Andrew Sullivan’s neck even if it drew my blood.

The Diva was on a big game hunt and Little Me was getting trampled by her elephant.

Andrew has a blog called The Daily Dish, which is one of the top 100 blogs ranked by readership in our part of the solar system. The Diva had taken offense at his discussions about the hijacking of her Republican Party by so-called “Christianists.”

Silly, silly me. I attempted to bring Althouse’s gross mischaracterization to her attention, but she kept turning that dang elephant my way and charging me. I was accused of ruining The Moderate Voice and being sexist, as well, which of course has become a last refuge when you're firing blanks.

(My mother told me never to pick scabs. The Diva apparently didn't learn that lesson, because she charged her elephant at me again the next day. Meanwhile, after repeatedly going after Sullivan, she alit from her elephant the day after that, took off her pith helmet, wiped her sweaty brow on the sleeve of her safari jacket, surveyed the savannah and issued a transparently insincere "why can't we all get along" plea to Andrew. And then got back on her elephant and c-h-a-r-g-e-d.

But back to our story . . .

I was well into painting the third wall of the kitchen when the blogstorm blew right past Category 4 and topped out at Catagory 5.

This was a not coincidental link to The Diva's posturing on my Mormon mendacity by Glenn Reynolds, who is the Bilbo Baggins of the blogosphere and holds court at Instapundit, which is one of the top 20 blogs. (!!!)

Why not coincidental?

First of all, The Diva and Reynolds are both lawyers, which is the second oldest profession, you know. Lawyers will say anything they want because they know they can get away with it. I know this to be so from substantial experience reporting on trials, being on the receiving end of lawsuits and depositions, and from doing consulting work in legal malpractice, which I must tell you is a very fast growing field in Wisconsin and Tennesse, but nowhere more so than in New Jersey. So it's easy for lawyers to become a bloggers. They just can't charge $250 an hour.

Second of all, The Diva fills in for Reynolds when he’s off testing new kitchen appliances.

I rest my case, Your Honor.


What lessons have I learned from my maiden blogstorm?

* Mormons are no different than members of other religious groups. Anything less than a big wet kiss (or in their case, a firm handshake) is viewed as an attack on their faith. So easy. So intellectually lazy. That said, I removed the offending photo from The Moderate Voice post because it was a distraction.

* Ann Althouse was wrong. I didn’t screw up The Moderate Voice. It not only seems to have weathered the storm, but perhaps even drawn some new readers and triggered a (generally) healthy debate about the meaning of “moderate” and “centrist” and what TMV’s roll in the blogosphere should be. You see, unlike too many blogs, including The Diva’s, TMV maestro Joe Gandelman welcomes healthy dissent.

* I was reminded of why I blog. Because I love it. My own underwear is made of Kevlar, so I’m pretty much immune from elephant charges. And while I was gratified when Kiko pointed out that my TMV post came up at the top when she Googled "Mitt Romney,” I’m not in the game for ego gratification.

Oh, and by the way, I finished painting the kitchen.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Winning in Iraq One Can of Silly String At a Time

(Editor's Note: The following story is absolutely true.)
Necessity is the mother of invention, and so when U.S. troops in Iraq found that Silly String was an effective way to spot nearly invisible trip wires they asked their commanders to order up cases of the child’s toy.

No can do, they were told.
Not content with that answer, Army Specialist Todd Shriver, who is stationed in Ramadi, then asked his parents, Marcelle and Ronald Shriver of Stratford, a South Jersey suburb of Philadelphia, to send him some of the stuff.

The Shrivers published their son's request in parish bulletins at two area churches, triggering (pardon the term) a run on Silly String in area dollar stores.

Silly String is considered a hazardous material, so shipping it requires following certain guidelines. The Shrivers are working on that.

The churches are accepting donations of Silly String and money for shipping.

They are St. Luke's RC Church, 55 Warwick Road, Stratford, NJ 08084-1732, and Our Lady of Grace RC Church, 35 White Horse Pike, Somerdale, NJ 08083-1796.

'My Pet Goat' & The Bush Presidential Library

But will the library include "My Pet Goat"?
It is deeply offensive that The Decider wants to raise $500 million to build a president library and think tank at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

Beyond the fact that George Bush is probably the least literate and most poorly read president since God knows when, his administration's penchant for secrecy extends to papers that routinely are made available to the public after a president leaves office.
So what the hell is he going to put in his library? How about "My Pet Goat," the book he was reading to a Florida kindergarten class when he bemusedly reacted to the news that a jetliner had crashed into the first World Trade Center tower.
One of The Decider's first acts after being inaugurated in 2001 was to issue a little-noticed executive order misleadingly entitled “Further Implementation of the Presidential Records Act.”
This order effectively overturned an act of Congress and a Supreme Court decision guaranteeing public access to presidential papers and will make it far more difficult for Americans to learn of government abuses. Surprised?
In 1978, Congress passed the Presidential Records Act, declaring that the U.S. will retain ownership and control of presidential records. The act was a response to the clashes between Congress, the Supreme Court, and the Nixon administration over who owned Nixon’s records, including Watergate era tape recordings.

The act requires that the unclassified papers of a president be routinely released 12 years after the president’s term ends. There are provisions to justify non-disclosure of information that could threaten national security.

In restricting access, the White House misrepresented both the 1978 law and the new executive order.

Said Bush at the time:

We responded to a new law written by Congress that lays out a procedure that I think is fair for past presidents.
And White House flak Ari Fleisher (remember him?):
As a result of the new law that is now going into effect, and thanks to the executive order that the president will soon issue, more information will be forthcoming.

More here.

Civil War Roundup: Is Lebanon Next?

With no less an authority than NBC News now declaring that Iraq is in civil war (hey, better late than ever), is Lebanon next?
And while we're on the subject, what about Palestine?
Read more here and here.

Global Warming Goes to Court

Poster by Andrew Cline at Jesus's General
The Decider and his environmentally-unfriendly minions have been in denial about global warming from the jump.
Now the most powerful presidential administration in modern times will argue in a Supreme Court showdown with 12 states that it does not have the power to slow global warming by limiting the emission of harmful gases.
More here.

Beautiful Photograph du Jour

I never cease to be amazed at the rings of Saturn, which I first saw through a telescope a few years ago and have seen with fresh eyes since the Cassini interplanetary probe has been flying past them.

For a not-too-wonkish explanation of the rings and Cassini click here.

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Monday, November 27, 2006

The American Trifecta: Religion, Race & Politix

Would blogging have been anywhere near as much fun in the 1970s? I mean how much would I want to write about Gerald Ford, mirror balls and hot pants?

Today's offerings at Kiko's House are a great example of the bottomless pit of good material.
We've got Religion, Race, Politics and even Underpants. What else is there?
(Poster by Andrew Cline at Jesus' General)

Religion: Mitt Romney's Underpants

I seldom blog on presidential politics (except to give John Kerry well deserved kicks in the slats) because it's tough to rise above the "horse race" aspect of whose running and what the competition is.

But as my The Moderate Voice colleague Michael van der Galien notes, Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is making noises about a presidential run in 2008, and he is an exception to my rule.
Even though Romney is much too conservative for my taste overall, there are things that I like about him, notably his efforts to spearhead health-care reform in Massachusetts, which is the first state to embrace near-universal coverage for all of its citizens. That, dear friends, is where we need to go nationally.

But what fascinates me about Romney -- and you'll be reading and hearing tons about this in the coming months -- is that he is a Mormon and believes that America had a "divine founding."
I am old enough to remember the controversy over John F. Kennedy's Catholicism when he was running for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1960. Some people tried to make his religion an issue (you know, the Vatican as bogeyman), but it was a non starter.

Romney's faith will be anything but a non starter, and there already are questions about whether a Mormon can make a serious run, let alone be nominated. Whether a Mormon is even a Christian in the traditional sense of the word. Whether Romney wears special Mormon underwear (see photo.) You get the idea.

Leading the charge is Andrew Sullivan at The Daily Dish. For the record, I like this enormously popular (openly gay Catholic blogger) when he is not endlessly plugging his new book. Andrew has written extensively and intelligently about the right-wing Christianist hijacking of the Republican Party, but is off to a rather uneven start on Romney. This may be because Romney opposes Massachusetts' legislative and court endorsement of same-sex marriage.

What matters to me is this:
Although I find aspects of the teachings of the Church of Latter Day Saints to be repugnant, I feel the same way about Roman Catholicism and some other faiths, as well.

Can Romney run as a secularist?

Can he be embraced by a party whose "Big Tent" has shrunk to the size of a Zip-Loc bag and is notably intolerant of anyone other than "their own kind?"

Can he endure the media exposure that awaits him? What if his great-great grandfather was a bigamist? What about that underwear?

It's not likely to be pretty, but it's bound to be fascinating.

Race: The 'You Know What' In Me -- And All of Us

Not surprisingly, the "Kramer" controversy -- comedian Michael Richards being heckled at a Southern California club by black patrons and spewing racist comments in reaction -- refuses to go away.

Never mind that the world is going to hell in a handbasket. The kerfuffle has caught the popular imagination, as well as the attention of ambulance-chasing lawyers who are demanding that Richards walk on hot coals all the way to an ATM where he will withdraw ridiculous sums of money to pay off the hecklers who started the whole thing.
I was unhappily blogging on the war in Iraq, the erosion of veterans' benefits and other distractions when I came across a post by Paul Silver at Austin Centrist that so well captured my own feelings that I have to link to it.
Like Paul, with whom I coblog at The Moderate Voice, I have refused to get caught up in the incident kind of sort of because I don't want to sully my view of the fictional Kramer, that wacky friend to all in "Seinfeld," which I watch fairly regularly (with closed captioning on, the sound off and the radio or a music CD on).

But Paul touched a deeper chord in me. Like him, I come from a notably unprejudiced and welcoming background.

There weren't a whole lot of blacks in the suburban-rural area where I grew up, but my parents were good friends with some of them, and to the shock of some of our neighbors they were invited to swim in our backyard pool. When one fellow became the first black to run for the local board of education, my father volunteered to be his campaign manager, which cost him some white so-called friends. When I rented my first little house in the country years later, the landlord complained when my black friends stopped by. He said didn't want them around his daughter. I loved the place, but it was an easy decision. I told him to take his place and shove it.
All that said, down deep I know I harbor racist feelings that, like Michael Richards and Paul Silver, will come out when I'm very angry. Mind you, I don't think any of us are racists in vile sense of the word, and believe everyone has the same emotions lurking in their gut.
If there is a lesson worth remembering in the Kramer affair, that's it.

Politix: When Loyalty Trumps Loyalty

Say what you will about that speech before the U.N. Security Council in the run-up to the Mess in Mesopotamia. I find Colin Powell to be a good person in an era of evil people. And it's not just because his hobby is an one-time obsession of mine -- restoring old Volvos.

If Powell weren't such a genuine American hero as Vietnam veteran and commander of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, all the while being a trailblazing black, it would be easy to dismiss his years as secretary of state. This most notably includes the way The Decider played him for a patsy and then marginalized him when he alone among White House insiders questioned why the hell the U.S. was invading Iraq in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

Now comes "Soldier: The Life of Colin Powell," a generally sympathetic bio by Karen DeYoung, a Washington Post scribe, that lays bare the central contradiction in his life:
As Powell walked into the U.N. that day, he understood he was being used to persuade not foreign governments but the American people that invading Iraq and taking out Saddam Hussein was a noble cause based on evidence that he knew to be flimsy.

Was Powell unwilling to sacrifice his career for his country?

Was he taking a bullet for his boss?

Was he stretching the time-honored military concept of loyalty to the breaking point?
The answer, I believe, is all of the above.

More here.

I Wonder If He Got to Finish His Search?

H. Donald Wilson, who brought the fabulously successful LexisNexis electronic research database to market, has died of a heart attack in front of his computer.

More here.

Beautiful Photograph du Jour

Another beauty from Steve Goodman, this one photographed in Nepal. More here.

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Sunday, November 26, 2006

Gratuitous Kitty Shots of the Week

Tosca and Norma (top) and Norma (bottom)
Most of the cats who have allowed me into their lives were so-called rescue cats. Kiko, the namesake of this blog, was a motherless runt rescued from a bitterly cold horse stable. Kimba was a runt born to a diseased feral mother.

But neither of these tails . . . er, tales can match those of Tosca and Norma, the beloved kitties of The Scribe, who writes from Southern California that:

Tosca was rescued from a "punk" house back in the '80s. I was at a party and these idiots were swinging her around in a plastic bag for kicks. So I stole her. Norma was sole survivor of a coyote attack in the Hollywood Hills that took her mom and siblings.

When I moved to Spain in 1992, I brought them with me to deflect accusations of a Peter Pan complex. The accusations continued, but it was good to have friends. Tosca was much older and died in Malaga and I buried her under an olive tree. Norma and I moved onto Seville where our fortunes declined and we were shunted off into the Gypsy quarter. It was a dissolute time for The Scribe and coming home from frequent benders at the strangest hours, I'd come across Norma on some dark street and we'd walk home together.

Now she's retired and lives rather quietly, missing the litter box when she wants to make a point about the food service.

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Saturday, November 25, 2006

Iraq: The Train Wreck This Way Comes

Nuri al-Maliki had problems aplenty from the moment he became Iraq's first duly elected prime minister, but his relationship with firebrand anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr was bound to result in a train wreck sooner or later.

Observers of the bedlam in Baghdad have seen the trains chugging toward each other for months, and the only question has been when and over what they would collide.

The answer apparently is Al-Maliki’s visit with The Decider in Jordan next week. Al-Sadr, who controls a sizeable bloc in the Iraqi Parliament and three cabinet positions, says he will call for a government boycott if the sitdown goes ahead as scheduled. Al-Maliki and the White House say it will.

What to make of this?

Perhaps too much and perhaps too little.

Al-Sadr is a notoriously two-faced gamer who often says one thing and does another. He has threatened to pull his supporters out of government before. But he also is the commander of the Mahdi Army, the notorious sectarian militia that not too long ago was in the business of protecting Shiites but has morphed, not entirely with his approval, into an ethnic cleansing machine.

With Iraq devolving from civil war into chaos, the stakes could not be higher:

Al-Maliki needs The Decider but needs to appear to be keeping him at arms length if he is to maintain the support of Al-Sadr and his fellow Shiite pols.

The Decider needs Al-Maliki to rescue his disastrous war policy. Convincing Al-Sadr to back off and help restore order in Baghdad is key to that.

With Allah on his side, Al-Sadr doesn’t need anybody. Except perhaps a personal trainer.


I read several media accounts of the seige on the Health Ministry, the suicide bomb and mortar attacks on Shiites in Sadr City and retaliatory attacks on Sunnis on Friday and today, but this line from the New York Times jumped out at me:
" . . . health ministry, which was besieged for two hours on Thursday by Sunni Arab insurgents armed with mortars and assault rifles."
Other accounts said people trapped in the ministry building had repeatedly telephoned for help but it was slow in arriving.

It took two hours for U.S. and Iraqi troops to get to the site of a major seige?
Two hours?

Iraq II: Quote du Jour on the War

"Woke up at some point in the night on a weird noise, or early morning was it? It was dark. My senses started to realize slowly it was war outside! Heavy shooting! It involved RPG, guns and rifles. In between there was a horrible sound of bombing. I was still not completely awake but those three years made us all experts. It was a bombed car, I could hear the echo, and I could feel the huge flames reaching up to the sky. Another run of heavy shooting. 'Please God make me sleep again' I was praying to Allah. Recited some verses while my eyes were still open. Seconds later silence filled the place, like it was a nightmare, only it wasn’t."

Support the Troops, Screw the Veterans

Two of my hottest buttons are hypocritical politicians and the erosion in government-paid veterans benefits.
With the war in Iraq, the two have come together nicely to make a hot button the size of a volcano.
In fairness, the erosion in vets benefits began during the Clinton administration, but has accelerated since The Decider took the throne and sent hundreds of thousands of Americans to fight in the Mess in Mesopotamia and in Afghanistan.

Many of those veterans have since been discharged, and by one estimate one in five have post-combat physical and mental disabilities requiring treatment, or more than 100,000 to date.
Trouble is, many of these vets are trying to tap into an already overburdened Veterans Administration medical system and are not getting the help they need and very much deserve.

Wait, it gets worse: Given current projections, one expert estimates that about 400,000 eventually will need treatment.
What has the response of Congress been to this looming crisis? To cut back benefits, of course.

Who are the leading benefit cutters? The very Republicans who slavishly backed the war and have yammered on ad nauseum about how we have to support the troops.

A guy by the name of Bob Geiger and a terrific young organization called Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America took a close look at 324 Senate votes on veterans bennies and healthcare in the last five years that affected American troops and veterans. Their conclusion:
All Senate Democrats have been more supportive of the troops and veterans than any Senate Republicans.
Read their ratings for both Senate and House here. And weep.

(Poster by Adam Kline at Jesus' General)

Bird Feeders: Better Than Television

The weather has been unseasonably mild, but we've put up the first two bird feeders at Kiko's House, a big honking feeder that survived a bear attack a few years back and a little suet feeder.
Word got around quickly, and we've already had visits from several kinds of finches and sitkins, sparrows, chickadees, nuthatches and titmooses. Over at the suet feeder, there have been downy and red-bellied woodpeckers, as well as flickers, including the smallest that I've ever seen, a really cute juvenile, sex undetermined.

As usual, the squirrels are trying to get onto the main feeder. Their acrobatics are amazing, but in the end they surrender and end up foraging for spilled seed under the feeder with the cardinals, mourning doves, blue jays, juncos and robins.

Then there's Russell the Crow, a handsome but mischievous fella who alites on and then wraps himself around the big feeder. He has zero interest in the seed, he just wants to keep the little birds from having a go. They tolerate him for a while and then the chickadees and nuthatches start dive bombing him. After a while, he gets bored and flies off.

(Photograph by the National Park Service)

Beautiful Photograph du Jour

Byron Brauchli is an artist, the camera is his brush and Mexico is his canvas.

You can see more of Brauchli's work here.

* * * * *
If you'd like to share a beautiful photograph,
send it is a .jpg attachment to

Friday, November 24, 2006

Iraq: Good News Out of Anbar, But Can It Last?

Sunni women line up to vote in Anbar Province
While I have long admired Bill Roggio for being one of the very few people reporting on the War on Terror to have the cojones to go to Iraq and Afghanistan and keep going back, he used to piss me off because of his adamantly rose-colored view that the U.S. mission in both countries would prevail.

Well, Roggio is bowed but not broken, to turn around the familiar phrase. While many war pundits are blogging from a Starbucks (and I from a kitchen table with a commanding view of a bird feeder), Bill is currently embedded with Marines in vast Anbar Province in the heart of the fearsome Sunni Triangle.

While he acknowledges that things are not going swimmingly overall (witness the horrible carnage this week alone), Roggio says that
"Lost in the current debate over Iraq -- civil war or sectarian violence, success or failure, increasing troops or strategic redeployment, victory or defeat -- is the sea-change occurring in western Iraq. The U.S. military has coaxed a large majority of the Sunnis of Anbar province, perhaps one of the most sympathetic groups to Al Qaeda in the Middle East, to turn on Al Qaeda. The choice wasn't difficult after the tribes saw what Al Qaeda had to offer."
This news is very good.

That is because long after the last Shiite has blown up the last Sunni, Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups will still be doing their thing. You know, the insurgents who were absent from Iraq until Rumsfeld's horribly botched occupation opened the door to droves of them.
The bad thing is that successes like the one Roggio describes, and there have been some, have a way of becoming defeats because of that momentum thingie:

The focus of U.S. commanders shifts, too often because of political dictates back at the White House and Pentagon, or there simply are not enough troops and other resources.
Roggio did not address this issue -- what troops must be able to do to keep the momentum going in Anbar and allow it to spread elsewhere -- in his comprehensive report at The Fourth Rail, so I asked him to do so.

Bill got right back to me and this is what he said:
"Increase the number of troops to clean Al Qaeda out of Ramadi and secure Baghdad, take on [anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr, increase the number of the advisers and put embedded military/police transition teams at the platoon level for every unit, and secure the borders, particularly with Iran."
He goes in depth on the question in a recent podcast with Ward Carroll, the editor of

(Photograph by Erik de Castro/Reuters)

Itaq II: The Time of Proposed Solutions

"In this Time of Proposed Solutions, let us all at least proceed with humility. . . . None of us have some magic answer, but however we got here, we face an immense and complicated mess today. As Colin Powell said, you break it, you own it. And so here we are, hoping against hope a Proposed Solution will move us in more positive direction, while avoiding a too hasty withdrawal that will leave Iraq to the merciless demons we helped unleash by going into Iraq without even the semblance of a serious plan. After all, convincingly midwifing a transition from a brutally repressive neo-Stalinist society towards a viable democracy constituted an immense challenge by any measure, but instead it was characterized by a total dearth of serious historical perspective and regional expertise, in favor of airy powerpoint charts, empty bureaucratic squabbles and grandstanding, and reckless faith-based adventure marked by hubris and swagger and grotesque negligence. The question is, what can be salvaged at this late hour, given this record of bitter dissapointment? And that is a question with no easy answer, I fear."

Update on the O.J. Simpson Blood Money Tour

His book and TV interview may have died aborning, but The O.J. Simpson Blood Money tour rolls on.

The Juice has acknowledged that he wrote "If I Did It" for only one reason -- personal profit, but hides behind his motherless children in rationalizing why:

"This was an opportunity for my kids to get their financial legacy. I made it clear that it's blood money, but it's no different than any of the other writers who did books on this case. . . .

"My kids would have been coming into a lot of money."

Simpson said he got far less than the reported $2.5 million for the book, which the man widely regarded as the killer explained how he might have murdered Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. He won't say how much he was paid, but claims to have already spent the money to pay the tax man.

Oh, and by the way, O.J. says he's still innocent.
More here and here.

Quote du Jour

"Recall the Eisenhower Republican Party. Eisenhower, a thoroughgoing realist, was one of the most successful presidents of the 20th century. So was the prudential Reagan, wary of using military force. Nixon would have been a good secretary of state, but emotionally wounded and suspicious, he was not suited to the presidency. Yet he, too, with Henry Kissinger, was a realist. George W. Bush represents a huge swing away from such traditional conservative Republicanism.

"But the conservative movement in America has followed him, evacuating prudence and realism for ideology and folly. Left behind has been the experienced realism of James Burnham. Also vacated, the Burkean realism of Willmoore Kendall, who aspired, as he told Leo Strauss, to be the 'American Burke.' That Burkeanism entailed a sense of the complexity of society and the resistance of cultures to change. Gone, too, has been the individualism of Frank Meyer and the commonsense Western libertarianism of Barry Goldwater.

"The post-2000 conservative movement has abandoned all that to back Bush and has followed him over the cliff into our calamity in Iraq. On top of all that, the Bush presidency has been fueled by the moral authoritarianism of the current third evangelical awakening."


(Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan at The Daily Dish)

Useless Information du Jour

In the U.S., the day after Thanksgiving is known as Black Friday.

Because of the shift to profitability for merchants, who go from being unprofitable, or in the red, to profitable, or in the black, on one of the major shopping days of the year.

Fire, Fire, Fire, Raging All About

Members of NYFD Ladder 120/Engine 231 and their dog, Tiller
Like many a kid, I was fascinated with firetrucks and firefighters. I still am and sometimes stop by a firehouse near Kiko's House on my bike rides to have a chat with the men and women (yes, women) who are washing the trucks or just hanging out.

Popular Mechanics has a nifty article on the firefighters at the Watkins Street firehouse in Brooklyn, one of New York City's busiest with more than 4,200 runs a year.

Click here.

Further Reflections on Thanksgiving Day

I was a little tough on Thanksgiving in a post yesterday. I wouldn't necessarily change a word, but a couple hours of cell phone time did give me a different perspective.

Between the DF&C and I, we called a 10 or so family members and friends from Buffalo to San Diego.

The friend in Buffalo was cooking dinner for his mother, sister and a houseful of kids and grandkids. The friend who lives on a ranch out in the Utah desert was cooking dinner for his girlfriend and a bunch of archeologists who study the ancient Pueblo ruins in the area. The friends in San Diego, who are brothers, were cooking dinner for their surfer buddies.
All said the same thing in their own way: Don't worry. Be happy.
So I was. And I am.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Thanksgiving 2006

I just don't have it in me to blog about how thankful I should be this Thanksgiving.

While that sentiment has merit, the world seems to be more screwed up than at any time I can remember with too many of the supposed good guys in the fight between Good and Evil doing a pretty good imitation of flirting with the Dark Side.

When I was looking for an image to post with this musing, I found several lovely ones with Pilgrim-Indian themes, but realized how hypocritical it would be to use any of them. The Pilgrims fled to the New World to escape religious prosecution, made nice for about five minutes and then began the slaughter of Native Americans that continues today in more subtle ways.

I settled on the image above because I've always enjoyed studying the expressions on the faces as the grandmother, who looks not unlike my Nana, sets the turkey on the dinner table. (The artist himself is in the lower left-hand corner.)

Far be it from me to tell American visitors to Kiko's House how they should celebrate their national holiday. Feel no guilt when you join millions of other people to shop at the mall or watch hours and hours of football.

Just do me a favor: If someone tells you how proud they are to be an American this Thanksgiving, don't bother to get tangled up in some long winded discussion about what The Decider has wrought. Just ask to have the cranberry sauce passed to you and throw it at them.

-- Love and Peace, SHAUN

"Freedom From Want" was one of the "Four Freedoms" paintings by Norman Rockwell. This oil on canvas was on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post on March 6, 1943, not on or near Thanksgiving Day as is commonly assumed. Rockwell's other "Four Freedoms" paintings can be seen here. Rockwell, a painter and illustrator, is best known for his Post covers. He did 321 in all.

'The Name Of the Road is Your Name'

Just another week in the Iraqi civil war:

On Sunday, a suicide bomber killed 22 day laborers in Hillah and 70 other people were killed or their bodies found throughout Iraq.

On Monday, 92 people were killed or their bodies found, including a popular TV comedian, doctor, judge, two university professors and a journalist.

On Tuesday, 24 people were killed or their bodies found, including a security guard for the head of the national parliament and four university professors.

On Wednesday, the U.N. announced that Iraqi civilian deaths hit a record 3,709 in October. (That extrapolates out to 42,653 American deaths if there was comparable carnage in the U.S.)

On Thursday, over 200 Shiites were killed in a concerted suicide bomb and mortar attack by Sunnis on Sadr City, the huge Baghdad slum. The Shiites responded by firing mortar rounds at the Abu Hanifa mosque, the holiest Sunni shrine in the capital.

Lam Thi My Da is a celebrated Vietnamese poet. She is writing about her homeland in "Bomb Crater Sky," but her powerful words apply to what the U.S. has visited on Iraq, as well.

By Lam Thi My Day

They say that you, a road builder
Had such love for our country
You rushed out and waved your torch
To call the bombs down on yourself
And save the road for the troops

As my unit passed on that worn road
The bomb crater reminded us of your story
Your grave is radiant with bright-colored stones
Piled high with love for you, a young girl

As I looked in the bomb crater where you died
The rain water became a patch of sky
Our country is kind
Water from the sky washes pain away

Now you lie down deep in the earth
As the sky lay down in that earthen crater
At night your soul sheds light
Like the dazzling stars
Did your soft white skin
Become a bank of white clouds?

By day I pass under a sun-flooded sky
And it is your sky
And that anxious, wakeful disc
Is it the sun, or is it your heart
Lighting my way
As I walk down the long road?

The name of the road is your name
Your death is a young girl's patch of blue sky
My soul is lit by your life

And my friends, who never saw you
Each has a different image of your face

* * * * *

Thanks to RubDMC at My Left Wing for sharing the poem.
Photograph by Darko Bandic of
The Associated Press.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

American Public to O.J. Simpson: Drop Dead

The Interview That Never Was: O.J. Simpson and Judith Reagan
America has become a nation of such exerable bad taste that it was gratifying that media baron Rupert Murdoch, the king of scandal, has however belatedly pulled the plug on a book and TV interview with O.J. Simpson in which the man widely regarded as the killer was going to tell how he might have murdered his former wife and her friend.

By the time Murdoch acted, booksellers had returned to HarperCollins over 70,000 copies of Simpson’s stillborn "I Did It."

Said a HarperCollins exec:
"The accounts were treating the book as if it was pornography."
News of the book and interview prompted calls for boycotts and numerous TV stations said they would refuse to carry the program. And Denise Brown, Nicole's older sister, said that the publisher tried to silence the Brown and Goldman families with millions in hush money.
Murdoch gets no credit because it's obvious that he could have pulled the plug on the project months ago if he had scruples.
What he does have is an eye for making buckets of money, and he saw the book and interview as a big fat profit center that would create a tremendous amount of controversy and make a tremendous amount of money.
His News Corporation controls the Fox network, which was going to air an interview next week with Simpson conducted by Judith Reagan, whose ReaganBooks, a subsidiary of News Corporation's HarperCollins, published "If I Did It."

Said Murdoch:
"I and senior management agree with the American public that this was an ill-considered project. We are sorry for any pain this has caused the families of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson."

News Corporation execs apparently had forgotten that projects involving The Juice have met with public outrage in the 11 years since he was acquitted of the two murders following the so-called Trial of the Century. He later was found responsible for the deaths in a civil trial and ordered to pay $33.5 million to the victims’ families.

When the controversy broke, I put in my two-cents worth here as a journalist who covered both trials. David Scott Anderson, who blogs at In Search of Utopia, knew Simpson back in the day and like many African Americans had believed him to be innocent. Why he has changed his mind is worth reading.

American Public to Kramer: You Drop Dead, Too

Joe Gandelman, blogger extraordinaire and a professional ventriloquist, reminds us over at The Moderate Voice that there's an old line that goes something like this::
"When I told people I wanted to be a comedian, everyone laughed at me. Today, I'm a comedian, and no one's laughing at me now!"
He's talking of course, about the kerfuffle over the racist remarks of Michael Richards, who was Kramer in "Seinfeld."

More here.

Iraq: The Focus Shifts From Staying to Leaving

The concept of the "tipping point" has gotten a thorough workout in the Iraq war.

I count three such points:
The first Battle of Fallujah in November 2004. This when when the Pentagon brass, shocked over the rout of Marines by insurgents who took over the provincial capital city, realized that the U.S. could not prevail using conventional tactics.

The bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra in February. This is when it was no longer possible to turn back the wave of sectarian violence and Iraq plunged into civil war.

The mid-term election on November 7. This is when the White House and conservative warmongers finally understood that a majority of Americans not only didn't support the war, they wanted the U.S. to get the hell out.
There has a palpable sense of gloom over the war at the White House and Pentagon since the election. Add to that the avalanche of "victory is no longer possible" statements from former supporters like Henry Kissinger and you picture the giant ship that is the U.S. mission on the verge of crashing into an iceberg.

Now comes word that a super-secret Pentagon review of how to avoid the iceberg has concluded there are three options:
* Send in more troops.

* Send home troops but remain in Iraq longer.

* Pull out.
"Go Big," the first option, reports Thomas Ricks of the Washington Post, would have required several hundred thousand additional U.S. troops as well as heavily armed Iraqi police to try to break the cycle of sectarian and insurgent violence. But the Pentagon study group concluded that there are not enough troops in the U.S. military and not enough effective Iraqi forces.

"Go Home," the third option, called for a swift withdrawal of U.S. troops but was rejected by the study group as likely to push Iraq directly into a full-blown and bloody civil war.

The group then devised "Go Long," a hybrid plan that combines part of the first option with the second one and calls for cutting the U.S. combat presence in favor of a long-term expansion of the training and advisory efforts.

Writes Ricks:

"Under this mixture of options, which is gaining favor inside the military, the U.S. presence in Iraq, currently about 140,000 troops, would be boosted by 20,000 to 30,000 for a short period.

"The purpose of the temporary but notable increase . . . would be twofold: To do as much as possible to curtail sectarian violence, and also to signal to the Iraqi government and public that the shift to a 'Go Long' option that aims to eventually cut the U.S. presence is not a disguised form of withdrawal."

Quotes du Jour on the War

"History is an idea to you; to us it is our life. I’m a typical Iraqi. I love my country. I love my food, my way of life, I love the carpets, the mud of the Euphrates, Iraqi poetry, everything: this is my culture. If I feel proud, I recite my poets, and the rhythm comes back, and no other rhythm can supersede or remove it.

"What made Saddam Hussein powerful? Information. Whenever a person checked into a hotel, a paper with his full name and a copy of his passport was given to the security quarters. Iraq was a castle; a bird could not go in without being checked. If you caused offense, you could be put in prison for good. If you were lucky you would be tried one day; if not, then we have a word in Arabic that means you rot, as food rots.

"America did well to liberate Iraq. But Iraqis were used to tyranny and afraid of freedom. The Americans entered Iraq without a psychological program for dealing with this fact. Iraqis had been programmed according to another system of thought and feeling. America should have considered that."


"If we don't begin a planned exit, there's a good chance we'll find ourselves in an unplanned one.

"It's surprising that by now we haven't experienced the Iraqi equivalent of the 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut or the dragging of a corps of an American soldier through the streets of Mogadishu a decade later. But it seems likely that that day will come.

"So what do we do next:

"In short, develop a withdrawal scenario that includes whatever steps can reasonably be taken to minimize the chaos in our wake. A regional conference, talks with Syria and Iran, improved training and reconstruction efforts, political mediation and efforts to bolster the security of less violent regions should all be part of the package. To the extent we can engage Iraq's neighbors as well as any other global powers who are willing to step up to the plate and help us and Iraq, we should. We should be honest with ourselves and with the Iraqis about what we are doing and why, acknowledging all of the above rather than pretending that we're handing off a country that's in better shape than it is. But we should commit to getting out of there regardless of how the diplomacy and mediation progress.

"Our exit should be as responsible and forthright as our entrance was wanton and misleading. The best thing we can promise troops who are now being asked to put their lives at risk for an all-but-declared failure is that they are taking risks to enable the US to make the best out of a terrible situation, preserving what can be saved of both Iraqi stability (in geographic pockets) and of American credibility. Its by no means the mission they signed up for, but its an important one nonetheless."


"In 1991, for those who keep insisting on the importance of sending enough troops, there were half a million already-triumphant Allied soldiers on the scene. Iraq was stuffed with weapons of mass destruction, just waiting to be discovered by the inspectors of UNSCOM. The mass graves were fresh. The strength of sectarian militias was slight. The influence of Iran, still recovering from the devastating aggression of Saddam Hussein, was limited. Syria was—let's give [then Secretary of State] Baker his due—'on side.' The Iraqi Baathists were demoralized by the sheer speed and ignominy of their eviction from Kuwait and completely isolated even from their usual protectors in Moscow, Paris, and Beijing. There would never have been a better opportunity to 'address the root cause' and to remove a dictator who was a permanent menace to his subjects, his neighbors, and the world beyond. Instead, he was shamefully confirmed in power and a miserable 12-year period of sanctions helped him to enrich himself and to create the immiserated, uneducated, unemployed underclass that is now one of the 'root causes' of a new social breakdown in Iraq. It seems a bit much that [Baker], principally responsible for all this should be so pleased with himself and that he should be hailed on all sides as the very model of the statesmanship we now need."
(Hat tip to Kevin Drum at Political Animal for Nossel quote)