Tuesday, December 30, 2003

white males discuss the future of the Republic

EJ Dionne rebuts Steven Den Beste. Apparently, it's all about the white male vote and "exciting your base" in 2004. All in all, Dionne makes the more airtight case, probably because he hasn't taken as an axiom that "Democrats are inevitably going to crash and burn most spectacularly next year", an assertion that Steven treats as axiomatic and builds his essay around, despite placing it at the end. I don't fault Steven for articulating his preference for the 2004 outcome but it's not a serious analysis, it's a narrative.

Serious analysis of 2004 hinges on recognition of certain points: that Gore would have won in 2000, even without florida, if Nader had not spoiled certain swing states (and a Nader run this time around will not likely be a threat). This also means that the Democrat can win without the South if he compensates by picking up one swing state (such as Arizona, which has a Democratic governor this time around, who has already endorsed Dean).

Another important point is the influence of the Hispanic vote, which the GOP has courted but which has been heavily alienated by President Bush's hard-line towards Mexico and the failed promises regarding worker programs from the 2000 election. And another point is the general trend towards issues that favor the Democrats, chronicled by the book The Emergent Democratic Majority (whose authors also run an informative blog devoted to the issue). Note that the midterm elections in 2002, though portrayed as a rout by the Republicans over the Democrats, actually were won by small margins - only a few ten thousand votes here and there and the outcome would have been the polar opposite. The loss is almost entirely due to the fact that the Democratic leadership failed to energize their base, and the election was won solely on teh strength of voter turnot efforts. Since then, Dean has stepped up to the plate in that regard).

2004 will be a close, tough race for both sides. Any prediction to the contrary is wishful thinking. And I have to wonder at the validity of Steven's implied assertion that all white males vote on the basis of "Jacksonian" worldview. There are more issues on the table than the one on which Steven's attention is focused on.

photos of the fallen

The Army Times is running photos of all the dead soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan as a tribute:

In introducing the pictures, under the headline "Faces of the Fallen," the Army Times said: "More than 500 service members died in operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom in 2003, a group that represents the full, rich face of American diversity.


The pictures are small and run in neat columns. The names, ranks and date and place of death are in small type underneath the small pictures. The understatement is devastating.

The paper's senior managing editor, Robert Hodierne, was saying yesterday, "When I looked at the pages, I felt the same as I did when I walked along the Wall."


And the dead are brought back here almost furtively. There are no ceremonies or pictures of caskets at Dover, Del., air base, where the dead are brought. "You don't want to upset the families," George Bush said. That the people might be slightly disturbed already by the death doesn't seem to register.

The wounded are flown into Washington at night. There are 5,000 of them and for a long time you never heard of soldiers who have no arms and legs. Then the singer Cher went into Walter Reed Hospital and came out and gave a report that was so compelling she should walk away with a Pulitzer Prize.

Finally, a couple of television stations and a newspaper here and there began to cover these things. There are miles to go.

For now, Cher, on one day, and the Army Times for the whole year, have served the nation as it should be served.

(aded a link to the transcript of the Cher phone call, via Atrios). Also don't miss the NYT article on the same topic.

the dhimmis in charge of the asylum

I probably earned this swipe from Meryl after my earlier post:

It should also be pointed out that Israel has a large Iranian Jewish population, including Defense Minister Mofaz, who spoke to Iranians via radio recently. In the Islamic nation of Iran, under dhimmi laws, which so-called moderate Muslims like Aziz love to expound upon favorably, Iranian Jews have been consistently persecuted.

I would be interested indeed if someone could find an example of such favorable exposition - here's my best effort.

Meryl's been on a real roll though about the Iranian earthquake - in addition to very publicly examining her mixed feelings in light of the mullahcracy's idiotic refusal to accept aid from Israel (a decision which really pissed off the Iranian people), she's had several link-filled roundups of other information and bloggers' responses.

Free advice to Meryl: if a muslim comes to your door to fix your TV, wear your Star of David as ostentatiously as possible. It's YOUR house. I should clarify that if you go to a fanatic muslim's village in Yemen, you probably shouldn't wear your Star - I know from personal experience what violent hatred against you solely because of your religious beliefs feels like. I nearly had a rock crush my skull for those beliefs.

Saturday, December 27, 2003

that's a big lake

I grew up in Chicago and flew over Lake Michigan dozens of times while flying home from my two-year stint in Boston. So my reaction to this super-imposed scale outline of Israel to Lake Michigan is not that Israel is small (which it is), but rather, that it's a bigger nation than I thought it was.

Now, I'd like to see a super-imposed outline of Houston with Chicago... to put the 200 miles I drive each day dropping off the baby at teh in-laws' before going to school and then back home in proper perspective...

wage subsidies

Bob McGrew explains a fascinating solution to poverty that appeals to both my social liberalism and my fiscal conservatism - wage subsidies:

Suppose you want every worker to be paid at least $10/hour. A minimum wage would just destroy jobs for people with productivity less than $10/hour. Wage subsidies won't, because the government pays the difference between the market wage and $10/hour.

The idea of a wage subsidy is that if an employer pays a worker a $5/hour salary, the government will give that employer a $5/hour subsidy which it would then pass on to the worker. The worker ends up making $10/hour, but the employer pays only $5/hour, so that it's still worth it to the employer to hire the worker and the job is not destroyed. The wage subsidies are phased out on a sliding scale, so that there's no cut-off effects.

In other words, this seems like a way to implement the goal of living-wage campaigns, without destroying jobs or economic efficiency. And, in a way, it's fair: if there are social benefits from higher wages, it makes sense that society as a whole should have to pay them (through taxes), rather than private companies. This is the best way to help the poor that I have heard of yet. It provides a basic minimum while encouraging work (which is the only way to end poverty) and making crime not pay.

The counterargument to the idea is that employers could simply drop the wages they pay to their workers by the amount of the subsidy, essentially turning it into an employer subsidy. Bob addresses this:

Basically, the market will bid up the worker's wage to whatever an employer can gain by employing him. If a worker's productivity is $10/hour and his wage subsidy at $10/hour is $3, an employer can get $13/hour from employing him. So the market will bid his wages up to $13/hour and the employers won't benefit from the subsidies - it will all be passed through to the worker.

This sounds airtight, but IANAE (I am Not an Economist). I'm going to see if I can solicit some hard-nosed conservative ones to comment though...

As Bob notes, the plan will have significant cost. But the point here is that wage subsidies rae designed to supplant standard welfare payments and the Earned Income Tax Credit. Much of the cost could theoretically be covered by reducing (but not eliminating!) these as well as housing assistance, food stamps, etc.

The main reason this idea has merit is because it encourages both a work-based solution to poverty as well as a decent living wage. The idea isn't to argue about what the living wage should be, but rather to raise the overall standard of living in a more effecient and long-term beneficial way than simply spending money on welfare payments.

UPDATE: heavy discussion over at the Dean Blog on the topic - and Steve Verdon also chimes in with a critique that wage subsidies can only work if welfare is dismantled, and thinks that is politically unlikely. I agree that eradicating the welfare system is a bit ambitious, but there should be some way to incentivize people to move towards one over the other.

Friday, December 26, 2003

Big Formula's influence over the AAP

My wife and I are big propoenents of breast-feeding our children, partly for religious reasons and also because of medical ones. It's essentially politically incorrect to question why it's "okay" for parents to "choose" to formula-feed their children.

Now it turns out that the infant formula industry has been dominating the debate - to their financial interest - and have even recruited the American Academy of Pediatricians as lobbyists to the Bush Administration's FDA for their cause. The issue is a new ad campaign that intends to educate women about the health risks of not breastfeeding, rather than the tame approach until now of trying to tell women the benefits of breastfeeding. And this new aggressive stance has really galvanized the formula industry to try and intervene:

November 3rd, 2003 was a big day for Alabama emergency room pediatrician, Dr. Carden Johnston. On that date last month, he was installed as the new President of the 66,000 member American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) at the prestigious organization�s annual meeting in New Orleans. It was also the date that he sparked what has emerged as a major ethical controversy by inadvertently pulling back the curtains on the powerful influence that a particular corporate interest appears to have in shaping AAP policy and action.

�I have to admit that I never imagined that my presidency would start off with such a bang,� Dr. Johnston says, acknowledging the debate now taking place within his organization.

At issue is a letter dated November 3rd that Dr. Johnston sent to Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Tommy G. Thompson, officially expressing the AAP�s concern over the �negative approach� of the federal agency�s soon-to-be-released, pro-breastfeeding advertising campaign. What Dr. Johnston didn�t mention in his letter, however, was that he had developed this sudden and seemingly urgent interest in this issue not via a last minute clinical review of the scientific literature, or even after consulting with the AAP�s own recognized lactation science experts.

In fact, his concern came immediately after aggressive, personal lobbying by representatives of one of the AAP�s biggest financial contributors, the $3 billion U.S. infant formula industry. Within days of a New Orleans meeting with worried formula industry reps, Johnston hurled the considerable credibility and persuasive impact of the esteemed American Academy of Pediatrics into an explicit effort to stifle the most ambitious initiative ever undertaken to promote breastfeeding in the United States.

�Some of us within the AAP have long suspected that the infant formula companies had this sort of direct access to AAP leadership,� explains Dr. Lawrence Gartner, a founding member of the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine and chairman of the AAP�s Professional Section on Breastfeeding. �Dr. Johnston�s actions have revealed the extent of this influence more clearly than anything else I�ve seen. Many doctors within the AAP are very disturbed by this.�


In 2002, DHHS described the upcoming breastfeeding initiative as a three-year, multimedia social marketing blitz worth as much as $40 million in advertising dollars. It is alleged by a variety of organizations representing lactation consultants, physicians, nurses, midwives, and public health activists that the AAP�s last-minute appeal to DHHS prevented the much-anticipated campaign launch from taking place as scheduled this month. Additionally, it appears that representatives of the infant formula industry - with the benefit of prematurely leaked information about the specifics of the ad campaign- have been quietly lobbying federal and Ad Council officials to change the ads� content and tone.

According to the AAP�s own Breastfeeding Section, at least one thousand new scientific and medical papers on topics related to breast and bottle feeding have been published in just the past four years. Taken as a whole, this mounting body of research reveals dramatically different health outcomes for populations of breast and formula-fed babies, even when controlling for socioeconomic and other factors. The new ad campaign was designed to reflect this research and to catapult the issue of breastfeeding into the same category of public health concerns as smoking, carseat use, childhood vaccinations, and SIDS prevention.

(emphasis mine) The article is a great one because it really explores the issue from the analogy of smoking risk - and questions the role of the big formula companies over public health policy in those terms:

According to a variety of sources, members of Congress began hearing complaints about the pending ad campaign from infant formula manufacturers as early as the first week of October, but it was at the AAP convention in November that the industry was able to aim what is arguably the biggest weapon in its lobbying arsenal �the clout of the American Academy of Pediatrics - directly at the the breastfeeding campaign.

�The reason why the infant formula industry is so successful is because they have managed to manipulate health care providers into providing them with a cloak of credibility,� explains Amy Spangler. �The bottom line here is that the president of (an infant formula company) doesn�t have to send a letter directly to a federal official when he can get the President of the American Academy of Pediatrics to do it for him.�

Public health advocates and many individual physicians, nurses, midwives, and lactation consultants have long criticized the cozy financial ties between infant formula manufacturers and major medical organizations such as the AAP, the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. The infant formula industry � part of the larger pharmaceutical industry lobby - is also recognized as one of the most effective and powerful lobbies on Capitol Hill.

Critics of this relationship between baby doctors and formula makers note that because the U.S. infant formula industry �with sales of $3 billion annually � clearly has a commercial interest in impacting parents� infant feeding choices, the industry should not play any role in crafting public health messages relating to the industry�s clear competitor in the marketplace, breastfeeding.

�It is simply not appropriate for these companies to have a say in how publicly-funded health education campaigns present breastfeeding issues,� argues Marsha Walker, RN, IBCLC, and Executive Director of the National Alliance for Breastfeeding Advocacy (NABA), a non-profit group promoting breastfeeding. �It would be like inviting a cigarette manufacturer to have a say in the message of a government sponsored anti-smoking campaign.�

OWH spokesperson Christina Pearson disagrees, however, insisting that DHHS has made it clear all along that the agency wanted to hear from �all sides� on the issue.

While it may be reasonably asked what �sides� exist when speaking of a public health campaign promoting a free or low-cost, healthy alternative over another, expensive and less healthy alternative, the AAP leadership decided that their organization was going to take sides.


Mardi K. Mountford, Executive Director of the the International Formula Council, a trade group representing the interests of infant formula manufacturers takes issue with Dr. Gartner�s assertion that her industry is seeking to discredit or delay the DHHS campaign.

�We strongly encourage mothers to breastfeed if they can, but we don�t believe that women need to be subjected to scare tactics like the ones that are in these ads,� explains Mountford. �Our only interest in reviewing the scientific claims in the ads is that they be accurate so that parents have the information they need to make their own decisions about what�s best for their families�

Mountford�s remarks highlight something that public health advocates have long noted; namely, that the infant formula industry�s tactics in lobbying against initiatives such as FDA regulation of their product, standardization of ingredients in their product, and now, the DHHS breastfeeding campaign are remarkably similar to the strategies employed by tobacco companies in the early years of the anti-smoking public health movement.

According to PRWatch.org, the tobacco industry created what eventually became known as the Council for Tobacco Research (CTR) in 1953, claiming that the organization�s mission was to �find out whether smoking was dangerous��� During the 1980s, internal CTR memos revealed that � the CTR actually worked at "promoting cigarettes and protecting them from these and other attacks," by "creating doubt about the health charge without actually denying it, and advocating the public's right to smoke, without actually urging them to take up the practice." Just as the infant formula industry currently pays for much of the research into breastfeeding in the U.S, for many years the CTR funded most research into tobacco health issues and attempted to insert itself as a �concerned� corporate citizen into the government�s earliest anti-smoking campaigns.

It's a lengthy article and well worth reading in full if you are interested in the topic - I'm of the persuasion that we should regulate direct advertising by the formula companies in much teh same way we regulate tobacco, for almost the same reasons.

abuse of immigrant labor

I wouldn't have noticed if not for Yourish's outraged denial and predictable invocation of anti-semitism, but this story on the exploitation and second-class status of Chinese laborers in the country is quite shocking, if not exactly a surprise:

AN Israeli company has required thousands of Chinese workers to sign a contract promising not to have sex with Israelis or try to convert them, a police spokesman said today.


The labourers are also forbidden in the contract from engaging in any religious or political activity. Those who violate the agreement will be sent back to China at their own expense.


More than half the workers are in the country illegally. Israeli police have increased efforts to deport those working without permits in light of high Israeli unemployment, which has reached 11 per cent in recent months.

Israeli advocates of foreign workers - who come also from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania - say they are held by employers in nearly slave-like conditions, and their bosses frequently take their passports and refuse to pay them.

There is also a story in the Jerusalem Post that talks about the pain of the immigrant laborers, who feel persecuted and miserable due to their condition, and express their emotions through art:

'I send home many letters, but everything I write is a lie. Here there is no room for tears. Even the sun is not warm. The moon has no color, and sheds no light. Moving about is difficult. I wander alone as if I had no family, with boredom in my heart. On every street, I look for a dream."

Written in Mandarin, the text appears at the center of a mural that covers an entire wall of the Midrasha art gallery in Tel Aviv. To its right, an airplane drawn in white chalk takes off above a chain gang of crying workers who carry small bags marked CHINA as they march past an immigration official.

"At first, I didn't understand exactly what they wanted at the gallery," Chen-Loung told me as we settle down to an outdoor table at one of the kiosks scattered along Rehov Naveh Sha'anan, between the city's new and old central bus stations.


Artist Doron Rabina, curator of the Midrasha gallery, conceived of the mural as an act of political protest, an open invitation to foreign workers to voice their feelings about Israel's current deportation policies.

"Foreign Slaves" - the title he gave the exhibition - plays on the similarity of the Hebrew words for "workers" and "slaves." Rabina contacted the Hotline for Migrant Workers, whose director introduced him to several potential participants. Some of them made a great effort to come and meet him. Twenty-four hours before the scheduled opening of the exhibition, however, Chen-Loung was the only one who was not too afraid or too busy to participate.

The article also sheds some mor elight on the conditions that the workers face:

A fee of between $10,000 and $15,000 is the standard payment that Chinese contractors demand in advance from Chinese workers for bringing them to Israel, Chen-Loung explained. Many of them, he said, do not know they are being brought here illegally.

Throughout his years in Israel, Chen-Loung has worked nights at various construction sites. Working 10-hour shifts six days a week, he earns an average monthly salary of $280.

Once they are here, he explains, workers like him are unable to leave because going home means facing a debt they will never be able to repay from the wages they earn in Israel.

"I am angry because the Chinese contractors lie in order to keep bringing more people here who don't know what life in Israel is really like," he says.

"Other immigrants want to stay here and have children, but not the Chinese. It's too difficult for us. We don't speak your language. We can't eat your food. The police hunt us down because we are the easiest to spot," says Chen-Loung.

"Even if Chinese workers want to run away from their employers, they have no idea what to do or where to go. They don't know any of their rights. It hurts me to see them. I don't see a future here for Chinese people. Only stupid Chinese would think of having children here," Chen-Loung concludes.

The problem is not uncommon - abuse of immigrant workers, especially Asian ones, is endemic to the Middle East and the west. Diana also comments on this (with none of the desperate contorions that Yourish underwent). She links to the group ATZUM, which is dedicated to social justice in Israel, based firmly upon Jewish principles.

I have great sympathy for Chen-Loung but I have to question whether their condition would be better had they remained in China - if the abuses can be rectified through law and the actions of groups such as ATZUM, then people like Cheng-Loung will truly be able to reap the benefits of living in a country like Israel (especially since they afren't Arab and have no stake in the occupation conflict). The only real obstacle is people who refuse to see the problem.

Thursday, December 25, 2003

Bush's uranium "goof"

I'm beginning to suspect that far from being a political genius, Karl Rove is actually a complete fraud. How else to explain this?

In an effort to draw support for waging war with Iraq, Bush told the nation in his January speech: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

The source said the report concludes there was no intention to deceive; instead it was "a goof" as the administration searched for examples to share with the public of why the United States believed Iraq was attempting to build a nuclear program.


"They truly believed when it landed on their desk it was right, but they should have checked the information, asked more questions," the source said of senior White House officials. "They truly believed what landed on their desk; they trusted what came out of the CIA."

To summarize, the White House line is now "we didn't mean to LIE, we were just incompetent. And really, it's the CIA's fault anyway." This raises two important questions for the voting public: 1. Where exactly does the buck stop in the Bush Administration? 2. Why should someone who "goofs" around with a matter of national security be considered qualified for this office?

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

where to try Saddam?

My reflexive instinct is that Saddam should be tried by Iraqis, though there is certainly opposition to the idea, suggesting instead that he be tried by a tribunal such as The Hague. Disclaimer, I'm not a fan of the International Criminal Court because the way they have articulated their jurisdiction, it seems to tempting for European powers to try and use it to indict American military personnel on trumped-up war crimes issues as a means of opposing US foreign policy. That may not happen, but I'd need to see safeguards against that kind of Great Game abuse.

I do support the idea of international courts for crimes against humanity. I think that the legitimacy of such things is universally acknowledged, when the crimes are of sufficient scale - Hitler's henchmen indicted at Nuremberg comes to mind. Saddam's crimes against humanity were a full order of magnitude less, in terms of human suffering (evil-ness cannot be similarly quantified).

I should note that the "Saddam = Hitler" signs were out in force across the warblogsphere wile the WMD goalposts rapidly and frantically were moved by the Bush Administration from "he can launch in 15 minutes!" down to "he lusted for them in his heart" - and partisan weapons inspector David Kay's utter failure to dredge up even the appearance of a stockpile has essentially proved the lie to the WMD pretext for invasion. So, observing the large overlap between those same warbloggers and the crowd now calling strenously for an Iraqi-only tribunal, I have to wonder if they have changed their mind about the severity of Saddam's crimes.

I see a straw man argument being constructed that the primary opposition to an Iraqi tribunal is for reasons of legitimacy. However, the real reasons to question the wisdom of this choice are grounded in real concerns - articulated by Professor Juan Cole in an interview with the Ann Arbor News (the interview is reprinted on Prof. Cole's blog). In it, he makes the following points on how an Iraqi trial could hamper the occupation itself:

  • an Iraqi trial may provoke ethnic violence, as it would publicize Saddam's genocidal campaigns against the Marsh Arabs, Kurds, and Shi'a. The ex-ruling Sunni minority is understandably concerned about their perceived complicity in these acts.
  • If Saddam chooses to highlight the US support during the 80's despite his use of WMD against his own people, and the abandonment of the Shi'a in the 90's after the first Gulf War, he could succeed in further poisoning public attitudes towards the occupation by those victimized groups.
  • Saddam could leverage the public stage of the trial to renew his role as symbolic leader to the guerilla resistance. He would certainly be a focal point for the resistance, which has not slowed down despite his capture or the deaths of his sons.

There isn't any sigle priority on my mind higher than succeeding in reconstruction. If there was a required choice between success in Iraq and bringing Saddam to justice, I'd rather he went free.

Cole also points out that it's essentially impossible to have a fair trial for Saddam. It's worth excerpting his thoughts in full:

Q: Is it possible for him to get a fair trial?

A: That's another issue. One of the persons who is calling for a war crimes tribunal in Iraq is Shiite leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, current president of the interim Governing Council. Sixty-three members of his family were killed by Saddam Hussein. I'm willing to concede that the man is an upright man, but I don't know if saints exist to that extent in the world where he has no sense of vindictiveness about this. That's a problem that a lot of the people involved in this have talked about, and for those reasons I really think it is important that any trial occurs in The Hague.

Q: Are there other reasons why any trial should be conducted by the existing format of international war crimes tribunals?

A: There has never been such a tribunal in Iraq before. It's being created from scratch, most of the judges with long experience in Iraq are Baathists and there's no constitution in Iraq. Under what statutes can he be tried?

Q: Does it matter if he gets a fair trial?

A: I think it does matter. First, Saddam still has supporters, and to satisfy those supporters, it's important that any trial is conducted through a fair process. Otherwise, it could be construed that he was treated unfairly.

I also think it's important for Iraq. If there is going to be a new Iraq, it must be founded on the principles of law and fairness. It would not [. . .] bode well that the country's first act would be to railroad someone even as despised as Saddam Hussein.

That's really a subtle point that I think the blood lust on the part of the pro-war partisans tends to obscure (especially since many are on the defensive about the WMD issue). The entire purpose of the occupation (note: NOT the war!) is to rebuild Iraq as a representative givernment, rule of law nation. The case for Saddam should be stong enough that it can be made rigorous. If it is sloppy and governed by emotion, then there will indeed be doubt in the minds of some of Saddam's supporters - and that kernel of doubt will hamper our efforts to reshape the society as a whole.

EVERY man, woman, and child in Iraq MUST be convinced, without any shred of doubt, that Saddam was an evil monster and that everything he represented - including Ba'ath nationalism - is to be utterly and comprehensively rejected. Only a fair trial can achieve this essential objective of the occupation.

I'm not saying (and nor is Cole) that the unfairness of an Iraqi trial is an axiom. But there's a good reason we have change of venue motions in our own justice system.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

reality check

Joshua Marshall pokes a major hole in the Saddam-was-captured-by-Kurds theory (which Tacitus seems to be endorsing).

And Brian Ulrich teams up with Marshall to shoot down the Libya-was-scared-by-Bush theory as well.

I note that Steven puts great emphasis on Libya's cooperation as validation for the Bush policy, but frankly any analysis that assumes Libya's willingness to cooperate is actually a newfound one, is flawed. If you can make an argument for how Saddam's capture speeded up things, then do so, but you can't pretend that Libya's attitude has remained constant since Lockerbie.

Note that Gadhafi seems to acknowledge that the Iraq war had an influence on his decision about his WMD, but not in the way that most of the warbloggers realized:

Asked about his decision, Gadhafi acknowledged that the Iraq war may have influenced him, but he insisted he wanted to focus on the "positive."

He said the world is a changed place in which his country can feel safe without weapons of mass destruction.

UPDATE: Juan Cole also has thoughts on this. More credit is likely due to economic sanctions rather than our recent military prowess:

Qadhafi's regime had been brought to the brink of possible extinction by the sanctions and by Soviet style economic sclerosis. The stars had suddenly aligned him with the US in a desperate struggle against radical Islamism and his old foe Anas al-Libi. Qadhafi apologized for Lockerbie and reportedly offered the victims $1.7 billion in compensation.

The one thing standing between Qadhafi and a return to stability for his dictatorial regime (and efflorescence for his potentially rich economy) was Washington's new campaign against weapons of mass destruction. Libya didn't have much of that sort of thing, though it had dabbled, and it wasn't important to Qadhafi any more. The conflict in Chad (in which Libya is accused of using chemical weapons) had died down. Washington was making it a quid pro quo that Tripoli give these lackluster and small programs up in order for Libya to reenter the world economic system on a favorable footing. It was an easy decision.


The sanctions on Libya were very different from those on Iraq, and peace thinkers need to study why the former worked but the latter didn't. One thing is clear; the Iraq war has hindered, not helped, US-Arab relations, and it is not the reason for which Qadhafi has made up with the West, a process that began some time ago.

And as Cole notes, Libya remains a dictatorship - what was that about Saddam's evil rule being more important than his WMD "programs", again?

UPDATE - ah, now it makes sense. Libya wants to host the World Cup! motivation solved.

private and public forms of web-based communication

A letter I just sent to Gina Venolia of Microsoft Research:

Hello Mrs. Venolia,

I came across your research via a brief mention on Slashdot - I've actually been thinking about the issue of a "unified theory of web communication" for some time now and have also written about the topic on my blog here:

My basic thesis is that the following methods of online communication: blogs, comments left on blogs, and web-based forums are all simply "skins" on the same public content.

I do disagree with you on one thing - I don't think that email (and forum-based private messaging) fits into this mold. There's an important distinction in terms of "private" vs. "public" communication that I think needs to be taken into account at a fundamental level. I would group email, IRC, private messages on web forums, and Instant Message systems as the "private" class of communication.

As web-based forums nicely demonstrate, there is no reason private and public communication can't be merged into the same interface, of course. You can PM another user and have an "inbox"/"sentbox" completely separate from both your posts on the main forum. This is analogous to emailing a blogger in response to something they said. The two forms of communication nicely complement each other because they serve fundamentally different purposes.

I would be very interested in your feedback. I am not a software engineer, I am actually a grad student pursuing a PhD in medical imaging physics, but I have a great deal of experience in building online communities, including a portal for my religious community (www.mumineen.org), a politically-themed blog devoted to Howard Dean (dean2004.blogspot.com), and years of experience on private web forums run on software such as phpBB and UltimateBB, not to mention USENET.

Due to my hobby in thinking about web-based community and communication, I'd very much like to volunteer for any feedback or beta testing or other discussion on the topic, if you have any need of such. Please let me know if there's some way in which I can contribute.


Aziz Poonawalla


PS. I have reprinted my letter to you on my blog. Please let me know if I have your permission to also publish your replies to this discussion.

Sunday, December 21, 2003

Saddam is not a descendant of the Prophet SAW

via Al-Jazeera comes a story not about Saddam's vanity, but rather of the intellectual wasteland that is most modern Arab theologic inquiry. The egotism of Saddam in trying to attach his lineage to that of the Prophet SAW - especially to that of the martyred Imam Husain AS - comes as no surprise. But the fact that the supposed guardians of the records of the lineage itself are so bereft of any principle that they acquiesced in the first place is beyond outrageous, it verges on the obscene. By removing Saddam's name only now three days after his capture, they reveal themselves to be cowards and liars as well.

The name of Saddam Hussein has been removed from the list of descendants of the Prophet Muhammad.

The head of the union of Ashrafs, Al-Sherif Najeh Muhammad Hassan al-Faham al-Aaraji admitted that the ousted president had been able to cheat despite the great value and honour attached to the line which is guarded in Baghdad.

The Ashrafs guard the Prophet's genealogical tree.

"Saddam had forced the origin experts to falsify his genealogical tree so that it went back to the Prophet," he said.

Sadly, this kind of deliberate historical falsification is not limited to genealogy. As long as the collected hadiths of Bukhari are accorded any kind of respect in this world, the worldwide practice of Islam will remain tainted.

can liberty be imposed?

an essay in The New Yorker relates a historical parallel to our Iraq adventure - that of French Algieria:

Unlike the French mission in Algeria, Washington�s goal in Iraq is not to prevent the people from governing their own country but to help them to do so. Presumably, the insurgents�about whose politics, allegiances, organization, and objectives shockingly little is known�also want to see Iraqis in power, if not the same ones that Washington might favor. The question �Is America to remain in Iraq?� would ultimately receive the same negative answer from the occupiers as from the guerrillas. But, as the Bush Administration pushes for speedy elections and a speedy exit, Algeria�s example is again worth bearing in mind. In the early nineties, an Islamic fundamentalist party won elections in that country by a solid majority but was prevented from taking power by the secular military, which refused to accept the democratic election of an anti-democratic government. As a result, the country descended into a civil war that is reported to have claimed a hundred thousand lives.

This really is the nub of the question - are we seeking to give Iraq democracy, or liberty? Both are important and idealistic concepts. Democracy is the will of the people, and is more universal a human desire. Liberty is a freedom to dictate the circumstances of your personal life, such that you can achieve the pursuit of happiness (as defined by our American founding documents) and rests solidly upon the First Amendment - freedom of speech and religion.

I am confident that democracy can be imposed, but the outcome is not guaranteed to be liberty. People don't, as a rule, understand liberty as a concept until they actually have to fght for it, to earn it - as our Founders said, the tree of liberty must be watered from time to time with the blood of patriots. Can liberty be given? I don't think so. It has to be won, not gifted.

I don't doubt that we will succeed in gifting democracy to Iraq. But my prediction is that the result will be a Shi'a theocracy, though unlike Iran the true political clerical leadership of Iraq's Shi'a are more open to the concepts of liberty than the fundamentalists who imposed theocratic rule in Iran were (with the people's democratic blessing).

Ayatollah Sistani will be better than Saddam in all respects - and the true villains remaining on the field are those on the Interim Governing Council who are taking note of Bush's plan to cut and run in time for election 2004, and moving to cement their positions accordingly.

Given a choice between the imposed rule of the IGC and the democratic groundswell of the Shi'a majority, what seems inevitable? Democracy is as desirable, if not more, than liberty, and of the two concepts, only one is within the reach of th emajority of people in Iraq. They will harvest that fruit soon enough.

The Islamic Republic of Iraq is inevitable.

what's the solution, then?

Yourish has an interesting anecdote about a pair of siblings reunited after six decades. It's a touching story, and brings to mind many similar ones I've read about at the Holocaust museum in Los Angeles (thee only one, unfortunately, I've ever had a chance to visit, though the Boston Holocaust Memorial still takes my breath away with its stark and elegant design, which conveys the sheer human cost of the Holocaust in inescapable, visual terms).

But I confess to being completely mystified by the assertion that follows:

This is why Israel was established. This is why Israel must exist. The one-state solution is not a solution for Jews. The palestinians have never protected so much as a single Jewish religious site. What makes you think they'd care about an old man wanting to see his little sister after 65 years?

I'm sorry but I don't really see the connection between the specific story she relates and why a binational state couldn't exist. Her implication seems to be that hatred must be eternal, and exists for its own sake - which is I guess a point where hyper-semites like Yourish and third-party moderate observers like myself disagree. I think it's about the occupation, she thinks that it's anti-Semitism as a pure force of hatred that is an axiom of the world, completely separate from any other type of hatred directed at ethnic groups and religions since the dawn of human history. This really is a rhetorical impasse that won't be readily bridged.

And let's not forget that Jews have propspered and thrived in America more so than any nation on the earth and through all of history - far more so than Israel - and this is precisely because America has no ethnic or religious identity as its foundation. If Jews can succeeed so spectacularly here, despite America being founded by Europeans whose history of violent anti-Semitism remains far in excess of the collective thuggery the Arab world could ever inflict, then it seems that a binational state is (in theory, at least) not an impossible dream. While others have made persuasive arguments as to why a two-state solution must be an interim goal, I remain fully convinced that the American model is the desirable end point, and that any peace in the middle east needs to acknowledge that ideal as the one worthy of ultimate adoption.

But assuming that there's a special resonance to this story that does support the assertion that a binational state could never work, what's the alternative? It's clear from Yourish's other writing that she is a Zionist in the "settlements must remain in the West Bank" sense of the word, not the tamer lowercase-z "Jews have a right to a homeland" sense (which prety much makes me a zionist too).

Consider what outcomes remain, then, if we accept as axioms that 1. Israel must always be Jewish majority and 2. Greater Israel must be secured. I can think of only one logical policy that adoption of these axioms will require, and it does indeed hinge on a group of semitic peoples being driven into the sea.

Fortunately, Sharon seems to disagree. I'll leave judgement of whether he is sincere or not to experts, but his public acknowledgement that settlements are an obstacle to peace and the Jewish self-interest does indeed seem to be the rhetorical death knell of capital-Z Zionism, and at the hand of a Settler PM, no less.

Happy Chanukkah

Jonathan Edelstein has a wonderful post from last year about the historical meaning of Channukah. It's also cleverly titled with the name of a folk song sung by Mediterranean Jews, whose culture is undergoing a revival and whose language incorporates elements of Turkish and Spanish among others. There was a piece on NPR recently about this little-known Jewish cultural tradition but I can't seem to find the link..

Friday, December 19, 2003

the wisdom of FDR for right and left

from Franklin Delano Roosevelt's "Four Freedoms" address to Congress in 1941, comes much that is relevant to today's situation of foreign and domestic uncertainty and challenges. There are lessons here for both right and left. On the issue of the national defense and foreign policy, he said:

Armed defense of democratic existence is now being gallantly waged in four continents. If that defense fails, all the population and all the resources of Europe, Asia, Africa and Australasia will be dominated by the conquerors. Let us remember that the total of those populations and their resources in those four continents greatly exceeds the sum total of the population and the resources of the whole of the Western Hemisphere-many times over.

In times like these it is immature--and incidentally, untrue--for anybody to brag that an unprepared America, single-handed, and with one hand tied behind its back, can hold off the whole world.

No realistic American can expect from a dictator's peace international generosity, or return of true independence, or world disarmament, or freedom of expression, or freedom of religion -or even good business.

Such a peace would bring no security for us or for our neighbors. "Those, who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."

As a nation, we may take pride in the fact that we are softhearted; but we cannot afford to be soft-headed.

We must always be wary of those who with sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal preach the "ism" of appeasement.


The need of the moment is that our actions and our policy should be devoted primarily-almost exclusively--to meeting this foreign peril. For all our domestic problems are now a part of the great emergency.

Just as our national policy in internal affairs has been based upon a decent respect for the rights and the dignity of all our fellow men within our gates, so our national policy in foreign affairs has been based on a decent respect for the rights and dignity of all nations, large and small. And the justice of morality must and will win in the end.

And on the matter of the domestic front, FDR was no less epic in his vision:

Certainly this is no time for any of us to stop thinking about the social and economic problems which are the root cause of the social revolution which is today a supreme factor in the world.

For there is nothing mysterious about the foundations of a healthy and strong democracy. The basic things expected by our people of their political and economic systems are simple. They are:

Equality of opportunity for youth and for others.

Jobs for those who can work.

Security for those who need it.

The ending of special privilege for the few.

The preservation of civil liberties for all.

The enjoyment of the fruits of scientific progress in a wider and constantly rising standard of living.

These are the simple, basic things that must never be lost sight of in the turmoil and unbelievable complexity of our modern world. The inner and abiding strength of our economic and political systems is dependent upon the degree to which they fulfill these expectations.

Many subjects connected with our social economy call for immediate improvement.

As examples:

We should bring more citizens under the coverage of old-age pensions and unemployment insurance.

We should widen the opportunities for adequate medical care.

We should plan a better system by which persons deserving or needing gainful employment may obtain it.

I have called for personal sacrifice. I am assured of the willingness of almost all Americans to respond to that call.

A part of the sacrifice means the payment of more money in taxes. In my Budget Message I shall recommend that a greater portion of this great defense program be paid for from taxation than we are paying today. No person should try, or be allowed, to get rich out of this program; and the principle of tax payments in accordance with ability to pay should be constantly before our eyes to guide our legislation.

If the Congress maintains these principles, the voters, putting patriotism ahead of pocketbooks, will give you their applause.

I can't imagine a leader in today's time making a similar call for personal sacrifice, which yes does indeed sometimes mean that the government needs more money, not less. But as long as we are bound by conservative ideological doctrine, we remain shackled with one hand behind our back (to borrow FDR's metaphor from the previous excerpt).

The closing ofthe address is perhaps the most important part. The Four Freedoms that FDR enunciated there are still to my mind the bedrock of American supremacy and values, and key to human happiness and liberty in the world:

In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

The first is freedom of speech and expression--everywhere in the world.

The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way--everywhere in the world.

The third is freedom from want--which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants-everywhere in the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear--which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor--anywhere in the world.

That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called new order of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.

To that new order we oppose the greater conception--the moral order. A good society is able to face schemes of world domination and foreign revolutions alike without fear.

Since the beginning of our American history, we have been engaged in change -- in a perpetual peaceful revolution -- a revolution which goes on steadily, quietly adjusting itself to changing conditions--without the concentration camp or the quick-lime in the ditch. The world order which we seek is the cooperation of free countries, working together in a friendly, civilized society.

This nation has placed its destiny in the hands and heads and hearts of its millions of free men and women; and its faith in freedom under the guidance of God. Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere. Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights or keep them. Our strength is our unity of purpose. To that high concept there can be no end save victory.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

psychological synergy?

when you combine the concepts of "making shit up" and "wishful thinking", you get some amazing prose:

"There is a psychological synergy between the resistance in Iraq and Afghanistan, so if there is any setback in Iraq it will have a ripple effect in Afghanistan," he said. "Bin Laden and his group will be on the defensive and demoralization may set in."

People who actually know what they are talking about might note that 1. Saddam was an infidel to Osama, that 2, Iraq is thousands of miles from Afghanistan, 3. Saddam had nothing to do with 9-11, and 4. the capture of Saddam is if anything a propaganda gift with which to portray America as unduly harrassing your heroic local Arab leader.

Look, it's fantastic we got Saddam. But let's not count our Osamas before they're caught in their own respective ratcaves, ok?

UPDATE: At Eschaton, Thumb also notes: "wasn't the removal of Saddam and his non-secular rule one of Osama's goals, along with the removal of US bases in Saudi Arabia (I wonder how that ever turned out)? Demoralized? Yeah, you betcha."

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Some links on Saddam's history

Given the misery that Saddam has inflicted upon the people of Iraq, justice demands that his connection to the US deserves to get a wide airing now that he has been captured. It is uncertain if Saddam himself will try and incriminate the US in his defense against war crimes - though Iran has certainly indicated its intent in that regard. Juan Cole provides a succinct summary of the relationship:

Saddam may confirm what former CIA analysts have been telling reporters for years: that Saddam was an agent of the CIA in the 1960s; that the CIA helped him target Iraqi communists in 1963 during a brief period of Baath rule; and that when the Baath came back to power in 1968, the CIA favored Saddam's clan over a rival Baath leader, ensuring that he was in a position to come to power.

Michael Moore makes a similar point, with much more detail:

We created a lot of monsters -- the Shah of Iran, Somoza of Nicaragua, Pinochet of Chile -- and then we expressed ignorance or shock when they ran amok and massacred people. We liked Saddam because he was willing to fight the Ayatollah. So we made sure that he got billions of dollars to purchase weapons. Weapons of mass destruction. That's right, he had them. We should know -- we gave them to him!

We allowed and encouraged American corporations to do business with Saddam in the 1980s. That's how he got chemical and biological agents so he could use them in chemical and biological weapons. Here's the list of some of the stuff we sent him (according to a 1994 U.S. Senate report):

* Bacillus Anthracis, cause of anthrax.

* Clostridium Botulinum, a source of botulinum toxin.

* Histoplasma Capsulatam, cause of a disease attacking lungs, brain, spinal cord, and heart.

* Brucella Melitensis, a bacteria that can damage major organs.

* Clostridium Perfringens, a highly toxic bacteria causing systemic illness.

* Clostridium tetani, a highly toxigenic substance.

And here are some of the American corporations who helped to prop Saddam up by doing business with him: AT&T, Bechtel, Caterpillar, Dow Chemical, Dupont, Kodak, Hewlett-Packard, and IBM (for a full list of companies and descriptions of how they helped Saddam, click here.

We were so cozy with dear old Saddam that we decided to feed him satellite images so he could locate where the Iranian troops were. We pretty much knew how he would use the information, and sure enough, as soon as we sent him the spy photos, he gassed those troops. And we kept quiet. Because he was our friend, and the Iranians were the "enemy." A year after he first gassed the Iranians, we reestablished full diplomatic relations with him!

Later he gassed his own people, the Kurds. You would think that would force us to disassociate ourselves from him. Congress tried to impose economic sanctions on Saddam, but the Reagan White House quickly rejected that idea -- they wouldn�t let anything derail their good buddy Saddam. We had a virtual love fest with this Frankenstein whom we (in part) created.

And, just like the mythical Frankenstein, Saddam eventually spun out of control. He would no longer do what he was told by his master. Saddam had to be caught. And now that he has been brought back from the wilderness, perhaps he will have something to say about his creators. Maybe we can learn something... interesting. Maybe Don Rumsfeld could smile and shake Saddam's hand again. Just like he did when he went to see him in 1983 (click here to see the photo).

and an article in the Village Voice points out that the cooperation between Reagan's government and Saddam occurred with full knowledge of Saddam's style of rule:

What did the U.S. do during this war? Ronald Reagan sent Don Rumsfeld (then chair of drug giant G.D. Searle and a former Defense secretary under Gerald Ford) to be a special envoy to Saddam Hussein. Rummy reportedly got along well with Tariq Aziz, Saddam's foreign minister, and cozied up to Saddam himself, whom Secretary Strangelove now wants to kill. In reports of Rummy's chats with Saddam, the special envoy doesn't discuss torture or the miseries of the local population. But during that era, Reagan officials talked often with Iraqi officials, and the U.S. removed Iraq from terrorist status, freed up loans for agriculture, encouraged arms trading, and helped out Iraqi nuclear development. U.S. policy on Iraq's use of poison gas was to condemn it formally but cultivate a relationship with Saddam, a counterweight to Iran's mad mullahs. American and European firms, meanwhile, sold Saddam equipment that may have contributed to the manufacture of the gas. According to U.S. government communiqu�s, Rumsfeld and Tariq Aziz agreed in December 1983 that "the U.S. and Iraq shared many common interests." And Rumsfeld expressed "our willingness to do more" for Iraq in its war with Iran. When the Iranians tried to get the UN to pass a resolution against the use of gas, Reagan told Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick to stall or, if necessary, abstain.

Note that all of this could be used by Saddam in his defense. While I agree that he should be tried in an Iraqi court, it's no coincidence that the Administration is steadfast against the idea of an international tribunal, where all of this sordid history is much more likely to be aired.

UPDATE: Andrew Reeves in comments says, "Catching evil dictators is a great thing, but it would be better if we did not have a policy of working with evil dictators when it seems in Washington's best interests." EXACTLY - which is why we need to stop rewarding foreign policy ideolouges who think this is acceptable with positions of elected power.

to the victors

Joe Rospars has a detailed, link-rich post on BlogForAmerica about to whom go the spoils. This, on top of filthy kitchens and dirty meals for our troops (via TAPPED).

contradictions about Saddam

Surfing the information overload cohering around the captured-Saddam story, I am struck by the contradictions that abound in evaluating what it all means. The political meme emerged on the Sunday talkshows and the pundit print media that the Democrats should simply give up against Bush, delivered without a trace of irony though the message last week was that Gore's endorsement of Dean somehow undercut democracy. If Gore was Dean's kingmaker, does that make Saddam Bush's?[1]

There's also contradiction regarding Saddam's role in the guerilla resistance. He was found sealed into in a hole without a single communication device, yet also had in possession a cache of documents including (reportedly) minutes of a meeting between guerrilla resistance leaders. So naturally FOX News takes this to mean Saddam was coordinating and funding the resistance. However, Maj. Gen. Ray Odierno (commander of the 4th Infantry Division), noting the lack of comm gear in Saddam's hideyhole, suggested that Saddam likely had only symbolic value to the resistance.

Regardless of whether Saddam is a symbol or the guiding hand, his capture would suggest that attacks would decrease. However, another contradiction: Kos points out a whole slew of new attacks, as does Juan Cole, and Riverbend notes that the capture may unite guerilla factions, who can agree on the common cause of sovereignity now that Saddam is moot.

And what about the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people? There are reports of jubilation at Saddam's capture, as we would expect - but also pro-Saddam demonstrations around Iraq (and in the US), including recent ones such as in Tikrit that was broken up by US tanks, another in Falluja where some demonstrators were killed by US troops, and another in Mosul (surprisingly) that ended with a truck explosion.

What effect will Saddam's capture have on the ultimate goal of Iraqi democracy? That hinges on how the capture is viewed and processed (politically speaking) by the Shi'a majority population. Juan Cole's wife offers the possibility that Shi'a resistance to occupation will increase, emboldened by the removal of the only force they ever feared. However, Syed Hassan al Naji, the Baghdad commander of Muqtada Sadr's militia "the Army of Mehdi", is quoted by CNN as proclaiming "We will be friends with the Americans because of this." And there's no word on reaction from Ayatollah Sistani, whose insistence on elections remains at odds with the Administration's favoritism of the "temporary" Governing Council - though SCIRI did organize marches in celebration.

My sole interest is in seeing the Administration leverage Saddam's capture towards the goal of Iraqi liberation, rather than domestic political gain. I see some positive signs of this, such as France and Germany's increased willingness to comply with debt amelioration (note that the issue of denial of contracts to those ocuntries was hardly a significant threat to them). But given the morass of contradictory claims and facts, it's hard to see what effect the capture will ultimately have - until it's all within the purview of history rather than news, at any rate.

[1] Saletan argues otherwise in Slate.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Saddam captured alive

Congratulations to President Bush, and admiring kudos to the American troops that brought Saddam in to account for his crimes against the people of Iraq and the collective interest of all humanity.

Saddam Hussein was a murderous, brutal thug. He tyrannized the people of Iraq for ruthless political primacy and plundered the riches of Iraq - which belong to the Iraqi people - for his private coffers. In so doing he left Iraq destitute, owing hundreds of billions of dollars in debt to foreign nations, and weakened by the sacrifice of its young blood in the pointless and self-defeating Iran-Iraq war. And he wrapped himself in the holy verses of the Qur'an when it suited his secular purposes, to promote his image in the Arab Islamic world.

I rejoiced when Iraq was freed from his rule (though I opposed the war) and I rejoice that he can now be brought to justice. This is a victory for Iraq.

But is it a victory for the American people? Afghanistan remains a haven for the Taliban, who organize attacks against our troops with impunity and remain a haven for terrorist training. Osama bin Laden remains at large and Al-Qaeda has adapted to our tactics. This momentous success in Iraq comes at a great cost to our national security.

It is clear that some Democrats ascribe great wisdom to President Bush on matters of foreign policy. Including candidates for the nomination such as Gephardt, Kerry, and Lieberman, who supported the war on Iraq, and Clark wose sole claim to qualification is that he can "match" Bush on foreign policy gravitas. As Vice President Al Gore said this week when he endorsed Howard Dean, �It was Osama bin Laden that attacked us� so don't tell me that because Howard Dean was the only major candidate who was right about that war, that that somehow calls his judgment into question on foreign policy.�

Capturing Saddam does not prove that Bush's policies have improved our national security. It does not bring justice to the victims of 9-11[1]. It does not increase the safety of our troops, who have to contend with disbanded Iraqi Army guerillas as well as foreign jihadis, whose main goal is to undermine our occupation by targeting our allies.

Saddam's role in the Iraqi guerilla resistance against our troops was likely limited:

But Maj. Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of the 4th Infantry Division, which captured Saddam, said the ousted leader did not appear to be directly organizing resistance � noting no communication devices were found in his hiding place. "I believe he was there more for moral support," Odierno said. ... Troops found the ousted leader, armed with a pistol, hiding in an underground crawl space at the walled compound, Odierno said ... A Pentagon diagram showed the hiding place as a 6-foot-deep vertical tunnel, with a shorter tunnel branching out horizontally from one side. A pipe to the concrete surface at ground level provided air.

And the terrorist attacks upon innocent civilians - especially Shi'a - are part of Al-Qaeda v3.0, for whom the status of the "infidel" Saddam is of zero consequence (apart from some US-versus-Muslims propaganda purposes).

We must rejoice for Iraq, but our concern for America remains. And we must not cede the debate on foreign policy with this welcome news. Rather, we must demonstrate how it underscores our point - that we remain less safe - and remember that Saddam's capture changes nothing for our troops in Iraq who remain undermanned and at risk as they pursue their mission.

[1]There was no secret meeting in Prague between Atta and Iraqi officials.

no secret meeting in Prague

There was no secret meeting of Mohammed Atta with Iraqi officials in Prague. Excerpt:

WASHINGTON, Dec. 12 � A former Iraqi intelligence officer who was said to have met with the suspected leader of the Sept. 11 attacks has told American interrogators the meeting never happened, according to United States officials familiar with classified intelligence reports on the matter.

Ahmad Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, the former intelligence officer, was taken into custody by the United States in July. Under questioning he has said that he did not meet with Mohamed Atta in Prague, according to the officials, who have reviewed classified debriefing reports based on the interrogations.

American officials caution that Mr. Ani may have been lying to American interrogators, but the only other person reported to have attended the meeting was Mr. Atta, who died in the crash of his hijacked plane into the World Trade Center.


The C.I.A. and F.B.I. eventually concluded that the meeting probably did not take place, and that there was no hard evidence that Mr. Hussein's government was involved in the Sept. 11 plot.

That put the intelligence agencies at odds with hard-liners at the Pentagon and the White House, who came to believe that C.I.A. analysts had ignored evidence that proved links between Iraq and Al Qaeda. Eventually, the Prague meeting became a central element in a battle between the C.I.A. and the administration's hawks over prewar intelligence.


Abu Zubaydah, one of the highest-ranking Qaeda leaders in American custody, told the C.I.A. that Mr. bin Laden rejected the idea of working with Mr. Hussein, a secular leader whom Mr. bin Laden considered corrupt and irredeemable, according to a September 2002 classified intelligence report obtained by The New York Times.

Mr. Zubaydah said that some Qaeda operatives wanted the organization to try to take advantage of Mr. Hussein's hatred for the United States in order to obtain military material or other support from Iraq. But Mr. bin Laden and his top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, were strongly opposed to working with Iraq, according to the report of Mr. Zubaydah's debriefing, which was obtained from Bush administration officials.

Al Qaeda's leadership "viewed the Iraqis, particularly the military and security services, as corrupt, irreligious and hypocritical in that they succumb to Western vices while concurrently remaining at war with the United States," the report says, summarizing Mr. Zubaydah's statements. "The Iraqis were not viewed as true jihadists, and there was doubt amongst the senior Al Qaeda leadership on the depth of Saddam's commitment to destroy Israel and further the cause of cleansing the Holy Land of infidel influences or presence."

Tuesday, December 9, 2003

President 2004

Google Bombs are a legitimate "internal" jihad. Check if it's working...

conservative Lysenkoism

Two essential posts by Chris Mooney and Kevin Drum on how the GOP establishment is following Soviet precedent in trying to use Science for politics, rather than to draft sound policy.

did 9-11 really change everything?

Calpundit comments:

If the Bush administration truly believed that 9/11 had changed everything � and if they truly believed that energy independence was a critical part of the war on terrorism � they'd be willing to embrace some distasteful ideas and jettison some of their old ideologies. After all, in the past we could just say that the free market would take care of this stuff eventually, but if we're really fighting a war then we need to fight a war. Right?

Instead, what we got two years after 9/11 was an energy bill stuffed with politics-as-usual horsetrading: ethanol credits for farmers, subsidies to oil and gas firms, and tax breaks for everyone under the sun. Effect on national security: approximately zero.

In the end, energy policy is one of the reasons I don't trust Bush on fighting terrorism: he obviously doesn't think national security is more important than paying off corporate donors and playing political games. So here's the litmus test for hawks: if you think that after 9/11 liberals need to accept the need for a more aggressive military posture to fight terrorism, fine. But you need to be more willing to accept things like green energy ideas, serious conservation programs, and gas taxes, even if these are things you'd normally oppose.

If you aren't, then you're not serious.

the mushroom harvest is complete, Legolas

The true story of Helm's Deep, revealed. All badger scenes restored.

Saturday, December 6, 2003

Firebird browser tips: integrated search plugins

One of the coolest features in Firebird is the integrated search bar in the menu. Its a small type-in that defaults to Google and returns the search query in the current tab. What makes it so amazing however is that additional search engines can be defined. Click on the default icon (A stylized G for Google) and you'll see a drop down with the option, "add engines..." - clicking this will take you to the Mycroft project on MozDev, where you can instantly install any of hundreds of additional search plugins.

I've currently got Amazon (.com, though the intl versions are also available), Bartleby world history, Dictionary.com, and Google News on there. Actually, I think I'm going to add Ebay right now... ok done. I actually just added Yahoo, IMDB, and Ebay - it just took me a few seconds.

driving out the moderates

Arash has the definitive response to Roger Simon's bizarre assertion that "[w]hat is presently going on in Europe is the hijacking of the left by the Islamic cause" and the Belmont Club blog's character assasination of Tariq Ramadan. Arash notes of Tariq Ramadan:

His grandfather was the founder of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and his brother is somehow linked to an al-Qaeda financier, which makes Ramadan an evil radical. Not quite so. He's an outspoken critic of anti-Semitism and calls for the integration of disaffected Muslim populations in Europe. Recently, he criticized a number of Jewish intellectuals and one non-Jewish intellectual (an half-assed attack, I admit) for supporting the war in Iraq.

Deride the European left all you want, although I find it a waste of time. I have one question, however: How does the admission of Ramadan, a renowned reformist, at an anti-globalism conference translate into support of the "oppression of women and homosexuals." Had there been posters of Osama bin Laden or Mohammad Atta all over the place, than I'd have agreed with you. But that wasn't the case.

Given the reception that Islamic "moderates" tend to receive from neocon-infatuated Bush apologists nowadays (your silence speaks volumes! you don't exist! etc.), I'm not surprised by this.

corporatists masquerading as conservatives

Jonathan Chait in TNR points out that conservatives' rhetoric and the GOP policies (with control of Executive and Legislative branches of government) are worlds apart:

What [Republicans] hated about the Medicare bill was the part about helping senior citizens buy medicine. When the government gives money to sick people, you see, that's incipient socialism. When it gives money to drug companies, doctors, and employers, that's the free market in action.

All this is in keeping with the recent pattern of Republican governance. Last year, the Associated Press conducted a remarkable study showing how federal spending patterns had changed since the GOP took over Congress in 1995. Republicans did not shrink federal spending, it found, they merely transferred it, from poorer Democratic districts to wealthier Republican ones. This, the A.P. reported, "translates into more business loans and farm subsidies, and fewer public housing grants and food stamps." In 1995, Democratic districts received an average of $35 million more in federal largesse than Republican districts, which seems roughly fair given that Democratic districts have more people in need of government aid. By 2001, the gap had not only reversed, it had increased nearly twentyfold, with GOP districts receiving an average of $612 million more than Democratic ones. Justifying this shift, then- Majority Leader Dick Armey said, "To the victor goes the spoils." It would be a worthy slogan for Bush's reelection campaign.

trickle down

Dismantling FDR's legacy is an ideological goal of conservatives. Since it will never happen (the New Deal was the foundation upon which our middle class was built and remains essential to the fabric of our society), they are trying for symbolic victories instead - like replacing FDR with Reagan on the dime. Somehow I think that Nancy Reagan's objections will be irrelevant:

Nancy Reagan voiced her opposition Friday to an attempt by Republican lawmakers to put Ronald Reagan's likeness on the dime in place of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

"While I can understand the intentions of those seeking to place my husband's face on the dime, I do not support this proposal and I am certain Ronnie would not," the former first lady said in a statement released Friday.

"When our country chooses to honor a great President such as Franklin Roosevelt by placing his likeness on our currency, it would be wrong to remove him and replace him with another," she said. "It is my hope that the proposed legislation will be withdrawn."

Watch for similar attempts in a few decades to replace Clinton's legacy of achievement, peace, and prosperity with equally symbolic victories of the Bush mythos. Here's a clue as to the form this might take:

Thursday, December 4, 2003

CSS update

fixed a lot of the problems that bugged me before. The site looks gorgeous in Mozilla or Firebird, it looks ok in IE v6, and I haven't tried it in any other browser, your mileage may vary.

Are you still using IE? Just TRY Firebird. Here's a whole list of reasons why. Trust me, you'll be hooked.


fellow Muslim "TheBit" runs a very rigorous group blog devoted to examining Islamic theology from within, ie the perspective of a practicing believer (as opposed to a secular or a self-hating viewpoint). It is with some pleasure that I note the addition of Harun Moghul, whose name will be familiar to any regular readers of alt.muslim.

Harun's latest entry is a great example of the detailed self-examination that so characterizes the blog. Excerpt:

By questioning Islamic law as a project, however, do not believe I advocate a "salad-bowl" religion or the creation of a religion intent only on blind imitation (commonly referred to as "taqleed"). I do believe that, even from the perspective of the Qur'an alone (ignoring for the time being Hadith literature), certain behaviors are licit and certain others are illicit. Yet the more I search for a firm basis upon which to ground these injunctions, the more elusive it seems. What I find instead is that there is another aspect to the very idea of Islam -- submission -- itself, an idea of inevitability, lacking in the fierce optimism that characterizes some presentations of Islam, especially in the West.

We often view Islam as a religion preaching free will (How often do we hear: "La ikraha fi al-deen," there is no compulsion in religion? [2 256]). Yet I am coming to the view that what we ignore is that the religion of Islam offers free choice in only the most fleeting manner. Faith is a mystery, when we look into it. Law is rationalization of the supra-rational, when we consider it. Reality, from the Islamic point of view, really exists at many levels of comprehension, the more thorough of which must (in my view) admit to the possibility that there is no meaningful choice. At least, none that Islam can (or perhaps even should) provide.

From the Islamic point of view, practicing submission is the only reasonable choice before a person. We are able to accept the divinity of the Qur'an through various investigative techniques, but upon accepting its divinity, we are made to understand that divinity itself is incomprehensible. Not to say that it borders nothingness, as is often the Jewish conception, but that though it is a very real presence in our lives, for improving us or punishing us, the Divine is nonetheless beyond human logic. Once making the choice to live Islam, we can use our intellects to advance understandings of Islam, of its injunctions, but we cannot apply our intellects upon Islam itself, as a faith from God, nor can we apply our intellects to see whether or not we have made a free choice.

I don't see these essays as making a specific point, but rather making a series of observations that, upon reflection, become the basis for further self-examination. They are a starting point for questions, not an end point of answers. As such though it is well-representative of and rightful heir to the 14 centuries of Islamic philosophy and analysis of the faith from within - a rich tradition that today's critics of the faith are blissfully ignorant of, and which I consider TheBut, Asim, and Harun to be today's representatives of.

Wednesday, December 3, 2003

CSS problems

I'm working on the formatting problem - seems to be traced back to a bug in how IE 6 renders CSS. It looks fantastic in Firebird :) It's probably about time I made the site validate, anyway. Look here for a great inspiration.

UPDATE: ok, we now have a table-free pure CSS layout. Still looks best in Firebird or Moz, but if you insist on using IE, it should still be readable :) But - I highly encourage you to try Firebird. Trust me.

Still some layout issues to fix, including the wierd whitespace above and below blockquotes, the refusal of the border between the sidebar and main to display, and the way the text in the main column still wont render the margins I put in. Feel free to suggest CSS tweaks ...

Tuesday, December 2, 2003

and Jesus was black, too

Meryl Yourish might be disappointed, but I actually found the column on 1920's Jewish theologian Franz Rosenzweig's polemics against Islam to be intriguing. The specific attacks on Islam are unoriginal, but the historical context is interesting. Most of the polemical attacks against Islam that I was aware of were from Christian sources stemming from ongoing political dispute over the holy lands (Saladin's memory was still fresh), whereas Judaism at the time was centered in Christian Europe.

I do think that Rosenweig's prophecy that "The coming millennium will go down in world history as a struggle between Orient and Occident, between the church and Islam, between the Germanic peoples and the Arabs," was more of a self-fulfilling one, and that his energies might have been better focused on European/Germanic anti-Semitism rather than the Islamic bogeyman.

As Yourish points out, the same columnist has an essay whimsically titled "Mahathir is right: Jews do rule the world"[1] which goes on to credit Judaism with the invention of democracy, the philosophical framework that made Protestantism possible, and the messianic inspiration of America's founding. Ok, sure, why not? Though the rest of the essay is devoted to specific faults of Arab cultures (because they have no volunteer fire departments or school boards) and the concept of God in Islam (as explained by Jewish polemicist Franz Rosenzweig! quelle surprise), and doesn't really address how the asserted Jewish foundation of the edifice of Western civlization translates into direct rule over the globe by the Elders of Zion. I am sure this will be a topic of a future column.

[1]I'm glad the columnist isn't Muslim, he would have had to contend with accusations of blood libel (since, by trying to justify Mathahir's claim, he is encouraging violence against Jews by giving Muslims convenient rationalizations with which to pursue their murderous intent. Without which no doubt they would have gone peaceably home to volunteer on their local fire departments and school boards).

marketing desperation

As I have argued earlier, Bush's trip to Iraq was good for the troops. It was an action that stood on its own merits and drew universal praise, even from his political opponents (including Howard Dean and Hillary Clinton).

Of course, not content to let something worthwhile stand on its own, the White House saw the need to (once again) try to spin the trip as part of the Bush Mythos, by emphasising the secrecy and mystery of the trip - by lying through their teeth:

On the flight over [to Iraq], Air Force One had come within sight of a British Airways plane, Dan Bartlett, the White House communications director, told reporters on the trip, according to the transcript.

The British Airways pilot radioed over and asked, Mr. Bartlett said, "Did I just see Air Force One?" There was silence from the Air Force One pilot, who then replied, "Gulfstream 5."

There was a longer silence from the British Airways pilot, Mr. Bartlett said, who, seeming to get that he was in on a secret, then said, "Oh."

That's the supposedly liberal New York Times that regurgitated Bartlett's bald lie without scrutiny, by the way. And yes, it IS a lie:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - British Airways said on Monday that none of its pilots made contact with President Bush (news - web sites)'s plane during its secret flight to Baghdad, contradicting White House reports of a mid-air exchange that nearly prompted Bush to call off his trip.

Honor Verrier, a spokeswoman for British Airways in North America, said two BA aircraft were in the area at the time and neither radioed the president's plane to ask if it was Air Force One.

"We have spoken to the British Airways captains who were in the area at the time and neither made comments to Air Force One nor did they hear any other aircraft make the statement over the radio," Verrier said in response to a question from Reuters.

The White House had no immediate comment on the discrepancy.

Bush aides recounted with excitement last week the moment during the flight to Baghdad when they said a BA pilot thought he spotted the president's blue and white Boeing 747 from his cockpit.

This kind of transparent attempt at playing up the drama of Bush's every action is so institutionalized that the Wite House actually thinks it can just lie with abandon and that no one will fact-check them. But it's so trivially easy to do so that the failure of the NYT to even bother is the real surprise here.

The Bush Halo doesn't exist, but the apologists take its existence on faith.

UPDATE: more examples.

Saturday, November 29, 2003


The extended Edition of The Two Towers was... magnificent.

I'm still collecting my thoughts for my review... stay tuned. But I can vouch immediately that the extended footage makes the changes to Faramir's character not just defensible, but essential. And if you hated having elves at Helm's Deep, take solace that the trees were there too.

kudos to Bush

I've been thinking about the GWB visit to Iraq, and found to my surprise that it was difficult to achieve clarity of opinion at first. But I've had some time t think on it and I think that the main thing that should be said about the surprise Thanksgiving visit is: well done.

There's a single reason why it deserves praise. Because for the troops in Iraq, it was an uplifting moment. Regardless of the soldiers' political or religious beliefs, hardships incurred from the long deployment, or problems awaiting them when they return, they are professionals and Bush's visit gave them their due.

Bush is a divisive, politicizing figure, so it's no surprise that his trip to Iraq is being spun hard by left and right. The conservatives see it in tones best described as "reverent-macho". The trip sets historical precedent, these are epic times, Bush is a fearless warrior. Etc.

There's no shortage of inane leftist commentary (see this comment thread at Calpundit for examples). But the conservative defenders of Bush's trip struggle mightily to paint legitimate critiques of the trip as identical to the craven loony bin. Tacitus for example pokes fun at Matthew Yglesias' complaint that no Democrats were invited - but notably doesn't address the more cogent points: that photo ops are nice, but good policy and leadership are better, and the President has no reserve of benefit of the doubt left given all the other craven political stunts he has pulled (including lying about the Mission Accomplished banner, and ridiculously transparent photographic maneuvering). Nor is the fact that the Bush visit was planned in October, but Hillary Clinton's Iraq trip was planned (and publicized) in September. It should be noted that Clinton's trip lasted significantly longer, including an overnight stay, and an actual visit to Baghdad rather than confined to the airport.

The President did a good thing for the troops. Extrapolating it to promote his personal virtue, or his vice, is nonsensical.

I take issue with the claim that Bush's trip is the first by a President to a war zone. I don't see why Bush's supporters feel the need to push this, because 1. it's irrelevant to why Bush's trip should be praised (unless you rank mythologizing Bush's courage as a higher goal than the troops' morale), and 2. it's completely false. Bill Clinton visited Kosovo four years ago in 1999, the former president Bush visited troops in Saudi Arabia prior to the first Gulf War on Thanksgiving 1990, President Nixon went to Vietnam in 1969 and Lyndon Johnson also visited Vietnam twice, and Eisenhower visited the Korean front in December 1952.