Friday, April 25, 2003

Pop culture meets fine art. The art of Isabel Samaras. (via Primal Purge)

The Birth of Ginger

Update: Sorry, when I posted this originally I forgot the link to Isabel Samara's website which has many more of her paintings (lest you think the 'Birth of Ginger' the only opus).
Victor Davis Hanson is optimistic about prospects for Iraq.

The sheer number of factions emerging in Iraq is proof of the birth-pangs of democracy, the principled reluctance of the United States to impose its own rule, and the near-impossibility of fundamentalists controlling the wide political landscape. For all their sinister cabals, Marxism and Khomeinism are both spent forces that have no resonance outside (and little even within) a bankrupt Cuba, North Korea, or Iran. These tired ideologies are more like the dreary bureaucracy of the 1980s Soviet Union than the Communist juggernaut of the postcolonial late Forties. If a few agents and saboteurs inside Iraq are dealt with promptly and firmly in the next few weeks, there will be little chance of mass uprisings.

Pessimists shudder at the sight of screaming zealots in the streets of a freed Baghdad. But they forget that a taboo of restraint has been broken in the last month, and that there are 100,000 American soldiers there who have just obliterated the Republican Guard. After seeing the deaths of their friends, they have little if any patience for organized street toughs. Americans have bled to free Iraq, and we won't hesitate now to use overwhelming force to stop a few cowards from ruining what our own dead helped to achieve.
Brain Bunk

Here is something to show Grandma (or your local school board director) during your next conversation about learning and brain development.
David Ignatius, writing in the WaPo, says liberating Iraq was a good deed even of WMD are not found.

Muslims believe that two angels sit on our shoulders, one recording our good deeds, the other our bad ones. In Arabic, the good deeds are known as "hasanna." They are the gifts we give others without counting the cost to ourselves, or the benefit.

The decision by George W. Bush and Tony Blair to defy global opinion and invade Iraq was a hasanna -- a good deed. Perhaps it will bring the United States a reward in greater security, perhaps not. But it was a virtuous act that freed a desperate people from a tyrannical regime.

If you travel this country and listen to Iraqis, it's hard not to conclude that in moral terms, this war was worth the pain and suffering it caused. The stories you hear on every street corner about life under Saddam Hussein still break your heart. People here doubted anyone would rescue them from the torture chamber that was the Iraqi state, least of all the United States. And now they are free. That's a hasanna.
Personally, I don't much care if the U.S. reports about weapons of mass destruction prove to be imaginary. Toppling Hussein's regime was still right.

I agree but think it highly unlikely that WMD will not be found since, as has been pointed out many times in the last few weeks, Hussein had many unaccounted for in 1998 when inspectors were kicked out. So you have to imagine that while not under the eye of inspectors in the intervening 5 years he destroyed all his remaining stockpiles. I also wonder what goes on in the heads of all the naysayers who wanted to give Blix and Co many more months or years to search for weapons, but are becoming impatient because US forces haven't found any significant caches in the last week and a half since the war ended. Part of the reason for rounding up the top Ba'athist leaders is to get information on the locations where weapons are being stored.
Scott Ritter has come to the defense of George Galloway. He hints that the documents found discovered may be suspicious.

But I was also shocked because of the timing of these allegations. Having been on the receiving end of smear campaigns designed to assassinate the character of someone in opposition to the powers that be, I have grown highly suspicious of dramatic revelations conveniently timed to silence a vocal voice of dissent.

Well Scott, the timing is due to the fact that the war has been won and the coalition forces are now going through siezed Iraqi papers. And by the 'receiving end of smear campaigns' does he mean the news reports of his 2001 arrest for trying to lure a 16 year old girl he met on the Internet to a Burger King? I'm sure this is just a pre-emptive defensive measure so that when they find the records of payments to Ritter or incriminating photos of him with 14 year olds he will be able to claim they are also part of a grand plot.

Thursday, April 24, 2003

A double dose of Steyn today with his superb piece in the Spectator on the U.N....huh...yeah, What is it good for? Absolutely nothing...say it again y'all.

Now another Middle Eastern war has come and gone, and the bien-pensants are anxious that once again an obsolescent institution be glued back together and propped in position. This time it’s the UN. The Spectator has it exactly backwards: it’s not the irritating ‘do-gooders’ among its ranks, but the do-badders. The ‘oil-for-palaces’ programme (as Tommy Franks calls it) is a classic UN boondoggle: it was good for bureaucrats, good for Saddam’s European bankers, good for George Galloway (allegedly), but bad for the Iraqi people. A humanitarian operation meant to help a dictator’s beleaguered subjects has instead enriched the UN by more than $1 billion (officially) in ‘administrative’ costs. There’s no oversight, no auditing, nothing most businesses would recognise as a legitimate invoice, and, although non-essential items can be approved only by the secretary-general himself, Kofi Annan has personally signed off on practically anything Saddam requested, including ‘boats’, from France. The UN, France, Germany and Russia are desperate to keep the oil-for-palaces programme going, and they figure they can bully the Americans into going along.

The excerpt is brief because otherwise I would've had to include the whole thing. Just follow the link.
Could painted cars become a thing of the 20th century? Yes, if General Electric has its way. GE's Lexan® SLX plastics technology is very cool stuff. If you don't think this is a big deal, consider this: For auto-makers, painting doors, bumpers and other body parts is an expensive and time-consuming process -- it's estimated that they spend $200 million dollars on painting equipment and facilities in each factory. Considering how many factories there are in the world, that's some serious dough.

Ahhh...the wonders of technological invention and innovation. They never cease to amaze...
Mark Steyn on the looting of the Iraqi National Museum.

The National Museum fell victim not to general looting but to a heist, if not an inside job, for which the general lawlessness provided cover. Am I sorry it happened? Yes, because it has given the naysayers, who were wrong about the millions of dead civilians, humanitarian catastrophe, environmental devastation, regional conflagration, etc., one solitary surviving itsy-bitsy teeny-weeny twig from their petrified forest with which to whack Rumsfeld and Co. The retrospective armchair generals are now complaining the generals didn't devote enough thought to saving armchairs from the early Calcholithic age. It isn't enough for America to kill hardly any civilians or even terribly many enemy combatants or bomb any buildings or unduly disrupt the water or electric supply, it also has to protect Iraq's heritage from Iraqis.
... it was taken for granted that anything unearthed by Western archaeologists in the Middle East would be taken to the British Museum or the other great repositories of the past's glories. For all the casual slurs about "cultural imperialism," British imperialists were more interested in other cultures than anybody before or since, and, if they hadn't dug it up and taken care of it, we'd know hardly anything about the ancient world.
But now we know better. So Iraq's past was entrusted not to the British Museum but to Saddam Hussein. I use the term "Iraq's past" loosely. Mankind's first experiments in agriculture and village life took place on the soil of what is now Iraq. Inhabitants of this land invented writing, and the first legal code, and possibly the wheel. But in the millennia between Gilgamesh, King of Nippur, and Saddam Hussein, President of Saddamland, any connection, ethnic, linguistic, religious or cultural, between the subjects of the former and those of the latter has withered to nothing. An Iraqi is no more likely than a Texan to be a descendant of Sumer, and the Lone Star State can stake a more plausible claim to Sumer's civilizational inheritance.

Present-day Iraq was home to the ancient cultures of Babylonia and Sumeria in much the same way that my property in New Hampshire was once home to NBC celebrity doctor Bob "Doctor Bob" Arnot. It would be foolish to come to me asking for advice on the side-effects of Rogaine: Doctor Bob's legacy is not to be found at my pad. Likewise, whatever the innovations in writing, law, agriculture and village life once pioneered by previous owners of the lot, modern Iraq has squandered them: Writing? Banned. Agriculture? We drained the marshes. Village life? Do what we say or we'll kill you. Law? You gotta be kidding. Mesopotamia may be "the cradle of civilization," but civilization learned to walk and talk and graduated to long pants in Greece and Rome and London and North America and Australia and India and Japan and St. Lucia and Papua New Guinea, and what was once the cradle became, in the last four decades, the toilet of civilization -- a place incapable of inventing the industrial shredder but anxious to import them for the purpose of feeding human beings into.
Andrea Harris is trying to help Madonna on her spiritual journey.
The SARS hysteria is truly getting out of hand:

"Dr. Dixon, a fellow at the Centre for Management Development at London Business School, said if current trends continued, there could be a billion cases within 60 weeks."

Remember how during the AIDS hype back in the mid-1980's AIDS was supposed to kill one in five heterosexuals by 1990? It never happened did it. I wonder how many people you could poll on their biggest worry today would say AIDS? People seem to forget that we don't live in a linear world. If we did, and you kept your foot on the accelerator in your car, you would eventually hit the speed of light and not top off somewhere in the 100's (55 if you drive a GEO).
North Korea and Cuba have been nominated for the UN Human Rights Commission. The UN is trully a farce.
Bring back Bubba? According to a forthcoming academic study, excess return in the stock market is higher under Democratic than Republican presidencies: nine percent for the value-weighted and 16 percent for the equal-weighted portfolio. The difference comes from higher real stock returns and lower real interest rates, is statistically significant, and is robust in subsamples. According to the authors of the study, the difference in returns in not explained by business-cycles variables related to expected returns, and is not concentrated around election dates. The difference in returns through the political cycle, they say, is therefore a puzzle.

Go figure...
Be sure to read David Brooks piece in the Weekly Standard on the collapse of the 'Dream Palaces'.

GEORGE ORWELL was a genuinely modest man. But he knew he had a talent for facing unpleasant facts. That doesn't seem at first glance like much of a gift. But when one looks around the world, one quickly sees how rare it is. Most people nurture the facts that confirm their worldview and ignore or marginalize the ones that don't, unable to achieve enough emotional detachment from their own political passions to see the world as it really is.

Now that the war in Iraq is over, we'll find out how many people around the world are capable of facing unpleasant facts. For the events of recent months confirm that millions of human beings are living in dream palaces, to use Fouad Ajami's phrase. They are living with versions of reality that simply do not comport with the way things are. They circulate and recirculate conspiracy theories, myths, and allegations with little regard for whether or not these fantasies are true. And the events of the past month have exposed them as the falsehoods they are.
Mean Mr. Mustard takes on the PoMos. (Be careful Mustard, you're stepping into Big Arm Woman territory). Actually I meant to link to the NYT article a few days ago but it sort of slipped through the cracks so enjoy the comments at MMM and BAW.
A general strike is currently scheduled for July 9 in Iran. While I don't think toppling the regime in Iran will be as easy or as quick as the article implies, you definitely see the early rumblings of a regime change. It's only a matter of time before Iran is finally free and I don't think direct US intervention will be needed.
Will British MP George Galloway be tried for treason? One can hope.
Den Beste adds another essay to several written previously trying to understand the motives of the French in their recent actions.

I've variously entertained the idea that what has motivated the French behavior was resentment about their diminished place in the world, a sinister attempt to create and lead a world anti-American coalition (especially including much of the Arab world), actual delusions that they were more important than they really are, straightforward pandering to the crowd that got out of hand, a sustained case of miscommunication with America based on deep and unrecognized differences in cultural assumptions, outright fear of American power and American motives, attempts to cover up years of illegal deals between French companies and Iraq in violation of UN sanctions, outright corruption of the French government due to direct bribery by Iraq, Iraqi blackmail of key French political figures, fear of an armed insurrection by France's large and increasingly hostile Muslim minority, fear of the economic damage to France if it loses access to the Iraqi market and loses its privileged place in the UN "oil-for-food" program, personal ambition by Chirac to "leave a political legacy" (and he will, but not the one he wanted to), personal fear by Chirac that once he leaves office he'll cease to be immune to criminal indictment in a major bribery scandal.

To some extent probably many of these are factors, but none of them has ever really seemed adequate. The prizes in each case don't seem to match the price being paid.

But it seemed to me that there may be at least two other factors involved: desperation and resignation. In both of these, it's not really current events which motivates them as much as the fact that the long term outlook for France is truly dismal.

Read the rest, the picture isn't pretty.
Oh No! A new ecological disaster. Clams are dying off by the thousands in a German lake, because the water is too clean. (via BusinessPundit)
Here is a great quote from one of the human shields:

"I know little about Saddam Hussein, only what I hear from Amnesty International, but the people of Iraq, the people I saw, seemed okay. I mean, I didn’t see much evidence of a dictatorship there except a lot of soldiers and an awful lot of pictures of Saddam Hussein. I think he spends most of his waking hours posing for sculptors and artists and photographers.”

This reminds me of the quote from Marion Berry, where he says that aside from all the murders, Washington has a low crime rate.
The Media Research Center has a great rundown of news coverage of the war and how the networks did. I think Lesley Stahl's interview of Colin Powell, five days into the war, sums it all up:

LS: The Powell Doctrine in military terms is that you throw a massive force, if you're going to go to war, make it huge. There are now criticisms, we're beginning to hear, that this force isn't massive enough.

CP: It's nonsense... The United States armed forces, with our coalition partners--the British principally, and the Australians--have gone 300 miles deep into Iraq in a period of five days. That is a heck of an achievement.

LS: Yeah, but our, the rear is exposed.

CP: It's not. Exposed to what?

LS: Exposed to Fedayeen, exposed-...

CP: Fine. So? We'll get them in due course.

I just love how he completely blew her question off. He was essentially saying "just because you feel like panicking every time someone shoots a round in our direction doesn't mean I have to, especially when it has no effect on our advance."
In case you are one of the people whining about the looting of the antiquities or the lack of evidence of weapons of mass destruction, here is a reminder of why we had to topple Saddam:

Kadhim Sabbit al-Datajji, 61, a resident of the poor Shiite neighborhood known as Saddam City under Mr. Hussein, said his trouble began when the eldest of his seven sons became old enough to join the Baath Party, but did not. "Some Baathists in the neighborhood began asking why no one in my family was a party member and saying that with so many children, my family could cause trouble," he said. "They asked, `Why don't you or your sons join? We think you are in an opposition party.' "

He now has a walleyed stare to show for eight years in prison. He is quick to pop out his glass eye for a visitor — and to tell of how he lost the real one to torture.


Mr. Datajji spent over two years in a lightless, six-foot-square cell from which he was summoned for what he said were countless sessions of torture. Sometimes they hung him by his arms from behind, pulling his shoulders out of joint. Sometimes they beat him with a thick wooden club and sometimes jolted him with electricity. Sometimes, he said, they did all three. One day, they pulled out four of his toenails.

"At the beginning, I was afraid, but it became normal," he said. "Of course you scream, but it is normal to scream."

Some people died; he does not know why he survived.

"I can't even imagine it now," he said. "It's something like watching a video for me."

After two and a half years, he was sentenced to 15 years for sedition and moved to Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison, sharing a 15-foot square cell with 30 to 40 other prisoners. When cellmates fought, he said, everyone was punished with more torture.

After a few years, his right eye became swollen from so many beatings. A doctor in the prison hospital promised an operation.

"I thought they were going to fix my eye," he said, "but when I woke up I had just one eye left. They had cut the other one out."


Mr. Ghanem was drafted just after Iraq was defeated by the United States in the Persian Gulf war in 1991.

He deserted once, in 1992, and lived on the run before returning to the army in 1994 when Mr. Hussein offered amnesty to deserters. After he left again for a week to help his widowed mother, he was told that Mr. Hussein had ordered one ear lopped off all conscripts who left their units.

Doctors gave him an injection and he lost consciousness, he said. When he awoke, the right side of his head was wrapped in bandages. It was Sept. 15, 1994.

"I started crying," Mr. Ghanem said. "I felt crippled. I felt oppressed. I hated Saddam with all of my heart, but I didn't know what to do."

He was sent to prison where he said he saw hundreds of others missing one ear. Many, like Mr. Ghanem, had inflamed wounds.

His mother came every Friday, selling off household appliances to buy painkillers and antibiotics for her son. Others were less fortunate. Mr. Ghanem described a medieval scene in which delirious and dying inmates lay on the prison's dirt floor screaming from pain. "The right side of some of the men's heads were puffed up like red balloons," he said. Two of his friends died from infections.

Many inmates had tuberculosis, Mr. Ghanem said, and when he developed a cough in 1996 he was sent under guard to a hospital. He managed to slip into a crowd, and ran away once more.

In 1999, Mr. Hussein offered deserters amnesty again. Mr. Ghanem returned to the army, and was sent to the Jordanian border.

As war with the United States drew near this spring, he said his unit was ordered to fire on Iraqi civilians trying to flee to Jordan. When the war began, his unit simply dissolved and he went home again, this time, he hoped, for good.

"Saddam, God curse him, treated my son like an animal," said Mr. Ghanem's weeping mother. "Only animals have their ears cut off."


Mr. Salman said blurrily that his offense was cursing Mr. Hussein last December, after a brawl with a local intelligence officer who had taken away two of Mr. Salman's uncles after a Shiite uprising in 1991.

Mr. Salman, 23, and another uncle had gone to seek information about the missing men, he said. After the brawl, which ended with a fedayeen member shooting in the air, he and his uncle fled, but returned home after 10 days on hearing a false rumor that it was safe to do so. Mr. Salman and three of his uncles were arrested within hours.

For two months, he said, the men were repeatedly tortured at a prison in the Zaiona district of the capital.

Then, on March 5, Mr. Salman was blindfolded and bundled into a van. Residents of his neighborhood say the van arrived in the afternoon with an escort of seven trucks carrying more than a hundred black-uniformed fedayeen wearing black masks that only showed their eyes.

They rounded up neighbors for what was billed as a rally; Mr. Salman's mother was ordered to bring a picture of Mr. Hussein.

Two men held Mr. Salman's arms and head steady, and pointed a gun to his temple. Another man with a video camera recorded the scene.

"I was standing and they told me to stick my tongue out or they would shoot me, and so I did," Mr. Salman said. "It was too quick to be painful but there was a lot of blood."

The fedayeen stuffed his mouth with cotton and took him to a local hospital, where he got five stitches, no painkiller and was returned to prison.

Moaed Hassan, the owner of the tea shop outside of which the deed was done, said the fedayeen officer who cut the tongue held it up to the crowd and shouted, "You see this? This will be the fate of anyone who dares insult the president." He then threw the bit of flesh on the ground; another fedayeen officer scooped it up and said it would be given to Uday Hussein as a present.
Michele echoes exactly my own feelings about all the called for boycotts.

I don't believe in boycotting people because of what they say. Sure, I make fun of George Clooney and Madonna for trying to be political pundits when they are not, but I am not going to give up George Clooney movies just because he subcribes to an opposite ideology than I do. I like George Clooney movies.

On the other hand, I don't own anything by Madonna, but that's because I think she is a talentless hack and has nothing to do with her political stance.

So when the Dixie Chicks did their little "I hate George Bush" number over in Europe, I thought it was nothing more than a misguided, opportunistic sound-bite - the girls trying to connect with their Blair-bashing, USA-hating audience. Sure it was crass and even a bit idiotic on their part. But that's what free speech gets you. You take the good, you take the bad. They come part and parcel with the freedom to run your mouth.

I would extend her comments about celebrity boycotts to include the various suggested nation boycotts (like boycotting French products, French calls to boycott British products, etc). I think they're mostly useless and a waste of time. Many artists, intellectuals, etc... have been great shits in their personal lives, frequently hurtful and abusive to their loved ones and many were truly odious in their support of monsters like Hitler and Stalin. If I judged every artist by their personal behaviour I would have to give up an awful lot of beauty and enjoyment too. So I choose to judge their works seperately from the people themselves. This is even more true of cases where it is just an honest disagreement of opinion. Well meaning people can have honest disagreements. All these stars have a right to their opinion and I have a right to disagree. I perfectly respect people who's views differ from mine. Most of my friends are left-liberal (I live in NY after all). That doesn't mean I won't sometimes try to change their opinion if I think they're wrong, and I have done so loudly on occasion, but mostly we talk about other things we enjoy in common, like art, books, music, etc... while sharing wine and food.

Just remember if two people agree about everything, one of them is redundant.

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

Jeff Jarvis on attempts to impose a theocracy in Iraq by Shia fundamentalists:

And now consider this, on the Shia majority in Iraq threatening to impose a theocracy and bloody-stump Sharia law:
:Ayatollah al-Sadr would have wanted an Islamic government for Iraq, based on the Koran and on Sharia (Islamic law). “It will be a different kind of democracy from the West. We believe that the aims of America are different from the aims of Islam,” Abdullarida al-Nasiriyah, a teacher from Basra, said....
Shias in Najaf seem to be undecided about the desirability of the harsher aspects of Islamic law, such as amputation for thieves and the stoning to death of adulterers. But women, they insist, will have to cover themselves in public.

And, according to Ayatollah Salih al-Taiee, one of Najaf’s leading clerics: “We will fight to prevent the drinking of alcohol.” This need not be undemocratic, he said. The logic is that since Shias make up a majority of the population and since all Shias believe in Islamic law, the Sharia codes represent the will of the Iraqi people.“This is a chance for America and Britain to show their respect for Islam in an Islamic country. If they do not, there will be great hatred against them, ” the Ayatollah added.

Now here's my point: Religious fanatics scare me -- and not just Muslim religious fanatics who try to kill me. We have religious fanatics in our country, too. We have them in our Senate. We have them leading one of our largest allegedly mainline denominations. They have the religious freedom to do as they please; that is their sacred right -- their only sacred right -- in our country. But they do not have the freedom to impose their religion on others. That is the protection all are afforded. And that is the protection we must afford the Iraqis. For this Ayatollah to say that imposing religious tyranny is democratic is, of course, bullshit. For him to say that if he doesn't get to do that, he'll hate (read: kill) us is a threat. We can't allow the fanatics to rule fanatically. Does that mean we are imposing democracy, modernism, (gasp) Westernism on them? Call it what you want but yes: The people -- not the Ayatollahs, not the tyrants -- must rule without tyranny and fear and with freedom for all. That's the starting line. That is one thing that all Americans, hell, all civilized people -- left, right, prowar, antiwar -- must support: That is how we must define freedom for Iraq.

Lawrence Solomon describes life in the workers paradise, Fidel's Cuba.

Some Cubans outside government - increasingly those who obtain patronage positions in the tourist industry, where they receive tips and other payments in U.S. dollars - manage comfortable, if meagre, existences. With dollars, they can shop in the many "dollar" shops, where they can obtain some of the consumer goods, medicines and dairy products that most Cubans, prior to the Revolution, could readily obtain.

The great majority of Cubans, however, are left to fend for themselves in a pitiless system. Most must "do business" to survive, as Cubans put it, because most cannot subsist on the typical wages - the equivalent of about 50 cents a day - that the government sets for them. The old woman at the lunch counter begged for food; other Cubans beg for old clothes or for medicine, or sell peanuts on street corners. Young men sell cigars and other goods in the burgeoning black market; young women sell their bodies in the burgeoning sex trade.

Without dollars, life is grim. People line up at dimly lit government distribution centres, ration books in hand - libretas, the government calls them - for their monthly allocation. The books, which were established in 1962 to "guarantee the equitable distribution of food without privileges for a few," entitle Cubans to 2.5 kilograms of rice, 1 kilogram of fish, 1/2 kilogram of beans, 14 eggs and sundry other basics at subsidized prices. Through the libreta, each Cuban also gets one bread roll a day. Every two months, a Cuban is entitled to one bar of hand soap and one bar of laundry soap. Fresh fruits and vegetables come infrequently; meat might come once or twice a year. Until the mid-1990s, children under seven were entitled to fresh milk, but fresh milk, like butter, cheese and other dairy products, is now off the shelves. Before the revolution, two litres of fresh milk cost 15 U.S. cents, well within the means of the poor.
Mark Steyn on the looting of the Iraqi National Museum:

The National Museum fell victim not to general looting but to a heist, if not an inside job, for which the general lawlessness provided cover. Am I sorry it happened? Yes, because it has given the naysayers, who were wrong about the millions of dead civilians, humanitarian catastrophe, environmental devastation, regional conflagration, etc., one solitary surviving itsy-bitsy teeny-weeny twig from their petrified forest with which to whack Rumsfeld and Co. The retrospective armchair generals are now complaining the generals didn't devote enough thought to saving armchairs from the early Calcholithic age. It isn't enough for America to kill hardly any civilians or even terribly many enemy combatants or bomb any buildings or unduly disrupt the water or electric supply, it also has to protect Iraq's heritage from Iraqis.

That assumption speaks volumes.

It is rather interesting that the left is more interested with the survival of ancient pieces of wood, clay and gold than it is in the freedom of living and breathing individuals.
CotV #31 is up at Kitchen Cabinet.
It looks like the fight in Afghanistan is far from over. Nation building is never easy.
Jonah Goldberg suggests the Swiss model for Iraq.

But the main and obvious reason why I bring up Switzerland is that I am flummoxed by the fact nobody else has done so in all the talk about rebuilding Iraq. Switzerland is peaceful now, but it was formed by warring tribes of Germans, Italians, French, and Romansch, and divided along religious lines in a strategically vital region of Europe not unlike Iraq's place in the Middle East. It seems to me the Swiss model is almost precisely what the Iraqis need. Militarily, Switzerland is a threat to no one but invaders; its neutrality and armed pacifism are a matter of national pride, as is its desire to be a force for good in the region and the world. It's rich, stable, improbably happy — and, yeah, just a little boring in the eyes of the rest of the world. In a sense, History has ended in the Swiss Alps, and that's the way everyone likes it. Who would be crying in their beer if we could say the same thing about Iraq?
The beauty of the Swiss model is that it is far more of a federal system than ours (though far less of one than the one we should have). Forgive me if I take two seconds to wax lyrical about the joys of federalism. This is the system — not theocracy, not benevolent dictatorship, and certainly not pure democracy — which guarantees the most happiness for the most people. Why? Because federalism contains virtually no ideological, metaphysical, or theological assumptions about how other people should live.

It seems like a sensible model to me, although I'm not sure what's wrong with balkanization, why we don't just let the main ethnic groups which tend to be geographically concentrated anyway to form their own nations. I have never understood this need to maintain lines arbitrarily drawn after WWI. While I understand an independent Kurdistan would piss off the Turks and Iranians, I don't really care. They will learn to get used to it. I don't see how it's much different politically than a strong Kurdish canton on the border. It is not true, however, that no one has brought it up before this. I have seen it suggested in a few pieces in the past few months as, for example, here.
Lileks celebrates (sort of) Earth Day.

Then today I read an article about the Ecological Footprint Quiz, You can find out how many acres it takes to sustain your lifestyle, and how many planets it would take if everyone lived as you did. My score: Six point six planets! Whoo-hoo! I’m supposed to be chastened by this, but to be honest my first reaction is start working on that warp drive, Zephraim; we’re going to need lots of class M planets.

The quiz is so riddled with BS it’s hard to know where to start; like most of the doom & gloom models, it presumes static reactions to dynamic events: if everyone in the world lived like I did, we’d need more resources. Maybe yes, maybe not, but if everyone lived like I did they’d have fewer children, and this would affect not just what people need today but what they’d need tomorrow. It also presumes that greater demand for resources requires us to loot more planets, when it’s likely that the resources can be found right here under Gaia’s sofa cushions. That was the gist of the old Ehrlich vs. Simon debate - as the price of a resource goes up, people try to find more of it, which expands the supply and depresses the price. Repeat until matter-replicators are invented.
Again, this is what drives me nuts about the eco-movement. We’ve made great progress in the last 30 years, thanks in part to the scolds, thanks in part technological developments set in motion by a desire for efficiency, or by a vague sense that the scolds might have a point. But it's never enough. Planetary collapse is always right around the corner. Perhaps it is - but one of the reasons I'm innured to the nightmare scenarios is because I've heard them all my life. They're the boys who cried wolf every day, even as wolf skins were worn by the village elders, wolf-steaks served for supper, wolf-heads used to scare off other wolves, and wolf-blood used to make wonderful vaccines that prevented lycanthropy. Yes, we have made great progress. But a wolf could kill us all any day!

He also has some choice words for Rick Santorum.
Labour MP George Galloway, who has been very vocal in denouncing the war with Iraq and America in general, may not have done so for the purist of reasons. The Telegraph had a story yesterday about documents found in Iraq which listed substantial bribes paid to Mr. Galloway over the last 10 years. The London Times has an article today that says the Attorney General is considering an investigation into the use of funds raised by a Galloway run charity to help children in Iraq.
The London Times has a report on kickbacks to the Iraqi regime from the food-for-oil program.

Diplomats said yesterday that Saddam Hussein’s regime sometimes exacted an illegal surcharge of as much as 55-75 cents (30-45p) a barrel on its daily oil sales of some two million barrels under the programme, although the amount was generally 15-25 cents.

“We thought they were getting at least $500 million a year in illegal kickbacks,” one Western official said.

The money funnelled to Baghdad helped to finance its banned weapons programmes, but it could also have been used to buy influence abroad.

Iraq was able to choose which companies were awarded lucrative contracts to export oil or to import food or other humanitarian supplies.
There's a line in the movie "The Commitments" that the Irish are the 'Blacks of Europe'. Daniel Jennings has a column picking up on a line from Edna Ferber that America is now the 'Jew among nations'.

The popular 20th Century Jewish American novelist Edna Ferber once wrote "the United States seems to be the Jews among nations. It is resourceful adaptable, maligned, envied and feared... its peoples are travelers and wanderers by nature, moving shifting, restless."

Sadly enough, recent events have proven that Ferber was right. The Jewish people and the United States have a lot in common, both are successful, resourceful, adaptable, highly creative, inventive and hated. Like the Jews, Americans are increasingly the objects of hatred, fear, jealousy, bigotry, prejudice, violence and terror from all corners of the globe and the political spectrum. 

In particular, America and Americans are now the target of a vicious, irrational, destructive, well-organized, well-defined, popular and widespread campaign of hatred, prejudice and hysteria similar to that directed against the Jews before World War II. Anti-Americanism has become as popular and as widespread as anti-Semitism was in the 1920s and 30s and its effects could be just as destructive and as tragic as the wave of anti-Semitism that gave rise to Adolph Hitler and the Final Solution. 
Today, the problems of nations and peoples all over the world are blamed upon America. The collapse of the Argentine economy, human rights violations committed by Latin American dictators in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, vicious and oppressive governments in the Arab nations, starvation and poverty in Africa, are all blamed on America. The crack cocaine epidemic and the AIDS virus are both blamed upon the CIA. Some anti-American bigots even had the audacity to blame the Sept. 11, atrocity on the United States.

This nonsense is spread all over the world by the entertainment and news media. Many of these myths have become tenets of faith among the world's intellectuals. Hollywood movies, Arab newspapers, American network television and scholarly books are full of absurd anti-American conspiracy theories which are treated as historical facts. On a more basic level Americans and America are always portrayed as shallow, arrogant, imperialistic, violent and evil. 
Newt Gingrich lays out the case for transforming the State Department which has shown itself to be less than useless in the recent (and less recent) past.

The diplomatic highpoint for the United States was President Bush's speech at the United Nations General Assembly on September 12, 2002. At that point, the case had been made emphatically that the burden was on the UN Security Council. The Iraqi dictatorship had violated UN resolutions for 12 years--it was the United Nations that was under scrutiny because it was obvious that the regime of Saddam Hussein had failed. As President Bush said, it was time to "choose between a world of fear and a world of progress."

The State Department took the President's strong position and negotiated a resolution that shifted from verification to inspection. This was in part done because of internal State Department politics because verification would have put the policy in the hands of people who disagreed with the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs' propensity for appeasing dictators and propping up corrupt regimes.

The State Department then accepted Hans Blix as chief inspector--even though he was clearly opposed to war and determined to buy time and find excuses for Saddam. The State Department then accepted Blix's refusal to hire back any of the experienced inspectors thus further drawing out the process. The process was turned from verifying Iraqi compliance, in which case the burden was on Saddam and Iraq had clearly failed, to pursuing United Nations inspections in which case the burden was on the United States.
Without bold dramatic change at the State Department, the United States will soon find itself on the defensive everywhere except militarily. In the long run that is a very dangerous position for the world's leading democracy to be in. Indeed in the long run that is an unsustainable position.

Our ability to lead is more communications, diplomatic, and assistance based than military. People have always admired us more than feared us.

The collapse of the State Department as an effective instrument puts all this at risk. We must learn the transforming lessons of the last six months and apply them to create a more effective State Department.
Craig Barrett of Intel thinks that expensing stock options is much easier said than done and will not necessarily add to accuracy in financial reporting:

The usual method for expensing employee stock options is to derive an estimate using the Black-Scholes model. But this model was not designed for valuing employee options, instruments that are not tradable. Despite results that are inherently inaccurate and unreliable for this purpose, Black-Scholes is the only model available.

To see how unworkable the model is, consider Intel's experience from 1995 through 2002. The information in question is published in the footnotes of our annual report and is widely available. If we had been required to expense options using Black-Scholes during this period, we would have expensed over $3 billion just for the portion of those options where the price is currently underwater (where the exercise price is higher than the current market price). These options may never be exercised unless the stock price increases in the future -- yet we would have to carry their "value" as an expense.

In addition, regardless of price, we also would have had to record an expense for vested options that will never be exercised because they were granted to employees who have since left the company. Black-Scholes does not give an accurate representation of the financial picture at Intel. In fact, a $3 billion error is so large that it makes a mockery of all the controls, certifications and accounting demands that Sarbanes-Oxley invokes.
Walter Williams has a short lesson on economics.

Why is it that Michael Jordan earns $33 million a year and I don't even earn one-half of one percent of that? I can play basketball, but my problem is with my fellow man, who'd plunk down $200 to see Jordan play and wouldn't pay a dollar to see me play. I'm also willing to sell my name as endorsements for sneakers and sport clothing, but no one has approached me.

The bottom line explanation of Michael Jordan's income relative to mine lies in his capacity to please his fellow man. The person who takes exception to Jordan's salary or sees him, as my letter-writer does, as making "little contribution to society" is really disagreeing with decisions made by millions upon millions of independent decision-makers who decided to fork over their money to see Jordan play. The suggestion that Congress ought to take part of Jordan's earnings and give it to someone else is the same as arrogantly saying, "I know better who ought to receive those dollars."
PETA is becoming more deranged every day. They want the town of Hamburg, N.Y. to change its name to Veggieburg.

PETA's Joe Haptas tells WBEN News it will give the Hamburg school district $15,000 worth of veggie burgers if the town changes its name.

This is just one of the reasons I stopped contributing to PETA years ago. What exactly do they think they accomplish with idiotic stunts like this except to make people shake their heads in disbelief? How about Hamburg, Germany or Frankfurt? And let's not forget Turkey. (via Best of the Web)
Man bites dog (really)

Police charged Russell, 33, of 133 Whittier Ave., Syracuse, with injuring a police animal, resisting arrest and obstruction of governmental administration Saturday night in Armory Square.
According to police reports, Russell grabbed Renny by the throat and started choking the animal and biting it on the left side of his neck.
(via Best of the Web)

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

In case you haven't seen it yet, here is the SNL bit on getting back to hating the French.
Quote of the Day

"Paradise is exactly like where you are right now...only much, much better"
-Laurie Anderson
Also in yesterday's WSJ, Abou El Fadl discusses one of the prerequisites for establishment of democracy in Iraq, the restoration of the rule of law which has been destroyed during the Ba'athist reign.

Iraqis already have some experience in this realm. In the 1950s the country made an ambitious effort to adopt a system of law that was efficient, modern, and at the same time, Islamically legitimate. The Iraqi Civil Code of 1953 was one of the most innovative and meticulously systematic codes of the Middle East. Iraqi jurists, working with the assistance of the famous Egyptian jurist Abd Al-Razzaq Al-Sanhuri, drafted a code that balanced and merged elements of Islamic and French law in one of the most successful attempts to preserve the best of both legal systems. In 1959 Iraq promulgated the Code of Personal Status, which on the issues of family and testamentary law was at the time the most progressive Muslim code of law. Importantly, for our purposes now, this code merged elements of Sunni and Shiite law to grant women greater rights in marriage, divorce, and inheritance.

All creative legal activity, of course, ended when the Baath party came to power in 1968 and Saddam formally ascended to the presidency in 1979. For the most part, since coming to power, Saddam involved Iraq in a series of wars that enabled him to declare a constant state of national emergency and to rule mostly by executive order. Legal institutions lost all vestiges of independence, and civil society was co-opted by the ruling party. Iraqi law could no longer be described as either Islamic or French, but as distinctly and uniquely Saddamian.
About friggin time. France is proposing the end of UN sanctions against Iraq. I guess they realized that they would have looked like complete schmucks if they left them in place.
Stanley Kurtz discusses the democratization of Iraq in yesterdays WSJ. He thinks it will be much more difficult than proponents imagine. I'm not sure I agree although I don't expect it to be a cakewalk, but his points are worth noting.

Iraq has closed itself off from the West for so long that we don't know exactly how its kinship and tribal networks function beneath the level of political power, especially since it is a relatively urbanized country, where perhaps only 15% of the population still lives in traditional tribal settings. The best we can do is to use a modern Arab metropolis like Cairo as a proxy. Though Cairo is in many respects a modern city, traditional kinship ties matter tremendously within it.

In Cairo, for example, marriage negotiations, and the extended process of family scrutiny that such negotiations entail, are unbelievably complicated--and potentially quite dangerous. A single untoward remark or social misstep by any family member can sink a prospective marriage; failed negotiations in turn put the family reputation--and thus the marriageability of every family member--at risk. Since the families you ally yourself with in marriage determine your level of access to credit, education, food, housing and a host of other goods, loss of reputation is a disaster. The social importance of reputation explains why a practice like veiling is so difficult to reform. With a family's honor tied to the modesty of its female members, a young woman's refusal to veil will likely result in the loss of marriage prospects not only for her but for everyone in her family--and with those prospects, the path to success.

Democratization skeptics, like The National Interest's Mr. Garfinkle, believe that the presence of such nonmodern beliefs and practices--and the corresponding absence of democratic habits and beliefs--will act as a massive cultural barrier to democratizing Iraq or any other Middle Eastern tyranny. Even if we hold elections in post-Saddam Iraq, these skeptics reasonably argue, it is likely that either another tribal clique will move into power (elections becoming mere proxies for ethnic and tribal conflict, eventually leading to coups and civil strife) or a broad Islamic movement will take charge (a traditional way of overcoming tribal hostility), and we'll face an elected Islamic theocracy. Neither alternative, needless to say, will lead to a modern democratic society.
Larry Miller explains that there are no Palestinians.

A brief overview of the situation is always valuable, so as a service to all Americans who still don't get it, I now offer you the story of  the Middle East in just a few paragraphs, which is all you really need.

Don't thank me. I'm a giver. Here we go:

The Palestinians want their own country. There's just one thing about that: There are no Palestinians. It's a made up word. Israel was called Palestine for two thousand years. Like "Wiccan," "Palestinian" sounds ancient but is really a modern invention. Before the Israelis won the land in war, Gaza was owned by Egypt, and there were no "Palestinians" then, and the West Bank was owned by Jordan, and there were no "Palestinians" then. As soon as the Jews took over and started growing oranges as big as basketballs, what do you know, say hello to the "Palestinians," weeping for their deep bond with their lost "land" and "nation."

So for the sake of honesty, let's not use the word "Palestinian" any more to describe these delightful folks, who dance for joy at our deaths until someone points out they're being taped. Instead, let's call them what they are: "Other Arabs Who Can't Accomplish Anything In Life And Would Rather Wrap Themselves In The Seductive Melodrama Of Eternal Struggle And Death."
David Horowitz provides a report on 'the most successful and pervasive blacklist in American history', that of conservatives on American college campuses.

The most successful and pervasive blacklist in American history is the blacklist of conservatives on American college campuses, their marginalization in undergraduate life and their virtual exclusion from liberal arts faculties, particularly those that deal with the study of society itself. Because it is a blacklist enforced by academics, there has been no academic study of the problem. Consequently, the evidence regarding its mode of operation and the extent of its impact is anecdotal or confined to research that is incomplete. Nonetheless, its reality is undeniable.
At the beginning of April, after the United States and Great Britain had liberated Iraq, and after the streets of Baghdad were filled with Iraqis celebrating their freedom, the Academic Senate at UCLA voted to “condemn America’s invasion of Iraq” by a vote of 180-7. Such a politically partisan vote would itself have been regarded once as an abuse of the university, more appropriate to a political party than an institution devoted to scholarship and research. But the more extraordinary fact was that in a nation where 76% of the population support the war after the fact, 95% of the faculty senate at a state-funded academic institution were passionate enough in their opposition to “condemn” it.

The absurd under representation of conservative viewpoints on university faculties obviously does not happen by random process. It is the result of a systematic repression (and/or discouragement) of conservative thought and scholarship at so-called “liberal” institutions of higher learning.
How has this monopoly of the academic campus come about? To begin with universities are feudal institutions whose organizational structures are hierarchical and collegial and thus closed to scrutiny and oversight. The dean at the aforesaid journalism school who agreed that a faculty without conservatives was antithetic to the idea of a university confessed that there was absolutely nothing he could do to alter the situation. Faculty hiring is controlled by senior members of the faculty itself, at the departmental level. Unless bound by greater scruples, they can hire – and do hire -- only people who agree with them and share their prejudices. Outside the hard sciences, there is no bottom line for bad ideas or discredited perspectives. Ideological prejudice is a self-perpetuating phenomenon.

It's a long piece but well worth reading in it's entirety.
You just have to wonder whether some politicians think before they speak. Check out Senator Rick Santorum's comments on the Supreme Court sodomy case:

"If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual (gay) sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything."

Actually my first reaction is, well yes, you do as long as it is all consensual. But I know he wasn't saying it from a libertarian point of view. But he isn't. He is saying that two consenting adults don't have the right to sex with each other because HE finds it disgusting and immoral.

Naturally the Gay Rights groups are in an uproar (rightfully so). Just when you think the GOP is going to have clear sailing because of the war, one of their leaders in Congress has to remind you that they will constantly be trying to find a way to shoot themselves in the foot.
Finally an Earth Day celebration I can support:

Charles Krauthammer has some comments about Syria.

Why is he being so bold? First, because he fears that if the winds of freedom are allowed to blow from Iraq, they will topple him, yet another Baathist dictator who survives on terror and fear. Second, because having American military power next door might give encouragement to democratic opponents at home and constrain his capacity to support terrorism and suppress Lebanon (which Syria still occupies).

Nonetheless, it is still a bit crazy to take on the world superpower the morning after a most astonishing demonstration of arms and will. Which brings us to Reason Three: Assad is not very smart. By training, he is neither a military man nor a politician. Relatively new on the throne and with little legitimacy, he may feel this is his opportunity to acquire Arabist credentials among the cutthroat Baathist elite that disdains him -- by making Syria, and thus himself, "the heart of Arabism."
What to do? No one wants to invade Syria. No one wants to see the United States occupying a second great Arab capital. To be sure, the very knowledge of that reluctance seriously weakens our hand. Nonetheless, we have coercive power short of invasion. We've already employed one, cutting off the pipeline that sends Iraqi oil through Syria. That deprives Assad of about $1 billion out of a government budget of $7.5 billion.
This should be followed by further ratcheting of economic pressure -- up to and including a blockade of Syrian ports, if we determine that Syria is actively supporting anti-coalition fighters in Iraq.

We have other instruments beyond economic ones. We should quietly let Syria know that if its provocations continue -- if, for example, it does not turn over the Iraqi leaders it is harboring -- we reserve the right of hot pursuit, striking at the time and in the manner of our choosing. This does not mean a land invasion. It could mean a sudden taking out of Damascus's air defenses or destroying one of Assad's Republican Guard equivalents.

The effect on Assad would be profound: His policy of provocation, designed to show power and command, would instead show weakness and fragility -- a potentially fatal demonstration in a regime that, like Hussein's, rests on brute force, a small ethnic and religious minority and a bankrupt Baathist ideology.

In Iraq, America demonstrated the capacity, extraordinary and historically unique, to destroy a regime while leaving the country intact. Assad needs to learn the lesson of Iraq: Change regime behavior -- or suffer regime change.
Daniel Pipes makes the point that it is not the coalition's fault that the Iraqi antiquities were looted:

These academics overlook one tiny detail, however: It was Iraqis who looted and burned, and they did so against the coalition's wishes. Blaming Americans for Iraqi crimes is deeply patronizing, equating Iraqis with children not responsible for their actions.

The academics also overlook another fact: the extreme rarity of such cultural self-destruction.

The French did not sack the Louvre in 1944. The Japanese did not burn their national library a year later. Panamanians did not destroy their archives in 1990. Kuwaitis did not destroy their historic Korans in 1991. Yes, looting took place in all these cases, but nothing approached what The Associated Press calls Iraq's "unchecked frenzy of cultural theft."

And a frenzy it was. At the National Museum of Iraq, perhaps the greatest storehouse of antiquities in the Middle East, "the 28 galleries of the museum and vaults with huge steel doors guarding storage chambers that descend floor after floor into unlighted darkness had been completely ransacked," reported one eyewitness.

The devastation at Iraq's national library and archives was worse, for both institutions were purposefully incinerated. Much of the country's culture and records was destroyed; "nothing was left in the national library's main wing but its charred walls and ceilings and mounds of ash." The smoldering shell contained the charred remnants of historic books "and a nation's intellectual legacy gone up in smoke." Iraq's main Islamic library, with its collection of "rare early legal and literary materials, priceless Korans, calligraphy and illumination" was also burned.

This descent into barbarism is so unusual, it has only a single precedent - Iraqi actions in '90-'91.

* In Kuwait: When Kuwait was an Iraqi province, Iraqi troops plundered the national museum, set fire to the planetarium, ransacked libraries and otherwise crippled the cultural infrastructure.

* In Iraq: During the instability that followed Iraq's loss, anti-government elements engaged in a looting rampage, pillaging regional museums and other cultural institutions, stealing some 4,000 items. Archaeologists published a catalogue, "Lost Heritage: Antiquities Stolen from Iraq's Regional Museums," to prevent trade in these artifacts.

The blame for the looting in Iraq, therefore, lies not with the coalition forces but with the Iraqis themselves. Yes, the coalition should have prepared better, but Iraqis alone bear moral responsibility for the cultural wreckage.

Apparently the crime problem in Britain has gotten so bad, even the prisons aren't safe anymore.

LONDON - Thieves in Britain broke into a safe and stole 650 pounds ($1,020) -- from a prison.

The crime took place in the reception area of Spring Hill open prison near Aylesbury, about 40 miles northwest of London, a British prison spokesman said Monday. The thieves also broke into prisoners' lockers.

Police are investigating the Friday night break-in, the spokesman said.
I think the people at NOW are really making a big political mistake by arguing whether Scott Peterson can be charged with double murder for killing his pregnant wife and nearly-born son (his wife was 8 months pregnant). First, this case has absolutely nothing to do with abortion, it's a murder case, and by essentially defending a murderer (by trying to lessen the charges against him) to further their own political agenda they are looking smarmy. Second, it will crystalize in many people's minds that NOW is not pro-choice, they are pro-abortion as the choice of the woman in this case, as far as we know, was to have the baby. If they were really pro-choice wouldn't they be decrying the death of the wanted baby and not what the murderer was charged with?

This is why I hate the abortion issue. Both sides are just so extreme. One believes you should be allowed to have an abortion as long as the baby is still in your womb, even if it's a viable infant, capable of breathing and surviving on its own. That makes no sense to me since I don't think a fetus turns into a baby magically when it is moved the one foot out of a womb and into the world. Life obviously begins before this. The other side believes that all abortion should be illegal including when the fetus looks like something you would find in a pond.
"How about a nice game of chess?"

Actually instead of chess playing supercomputers, it seems the Pentagon is now using ex-Steely Dan/Doobie Brothers guitarist, Jeff Skunk, to help them with military simulations.

Jeff "Skunk" Baxter scares the hell out of his friends at the Pentagon, and not only because of his trademark walrus moustache. The grizzly, pony-tailed guitarist, whose laid-back riffs lent a distinctive sound to Seventies bands Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers, spends his spare time playing war games at the Department of Defense. Skunk always takes the role of "red" - America's enemy.

"What they are looking for is someone who thinks outside the box; non-doctrinal thinking," Baxter says. "I win a lot."
Here is a shocker. One of the biggest opponents in parliament to UK involvement in the war with Iraq was in the pay of Saddam:

A confidential memorandum sent to Saddam by his spy chief said that Mr Galloway asked an agent of the Mukhabarat secret service for a greater cut of Iraq's exports under the oil for food programme.

He also said that Mr Galloway was profiting from food contracts and sought "exceptional" business deals. Mr Galloway has always denied receiving any financial assistance from Baghdad.

Asked to explain the document, he said yesterday: "Maybe it is the product of the same forgers who forged so many other things in this whole Iraq picture. Maybe The Daily Telegraph forged it. Who knows?"

I wonder what else we will uncover.
Masked wrestler, The Great Sasuke, has won an assembly seat in Iwate Prefecture in Kyodo. He intends to retain his mask during assembly meetings. Given the general state of Japanese politics, this should raise the level of seriousness and gravitas in the assembly.

Monday, April 21, 2003

On a lighter note, isn't this the fodder for a horror movie. Melt some butter Marge, the aliens are coming.
Nat Hentoff takes the UN Human Rights Commission by the scruff of the neck and holds them to account for their support of tyrannical regimes and African slavery
The Canadian Liberal Party is upset because the opposition Alliance Party has been letting American Congressman know what Liberal Party members have said about the United States:

Liberal MPs are accusing Alliance MPs of souring Canada-U.S. relations by distributing newspaper articles and other related materials to American politicians highlighting the government's opposition to the war in Iraq as well as anti-American statements made by Grit MPs.

Liberal MP Sarkis Assadourian (Brampton Centre, Ont.) said he learned about the situation during a recent trip to Washington, D.C., as part of the Canada-U.S. Inter-Parliamentary Group when one of his American counterparts, Republican Congressman Don Manzullo, showed him the documents.

Mr. Assadourian said the incident cast a pall over the meetings, which took place during the war, and that he was stuck doing damage control.

"When I was there I was shown letters and speeches and newspaper articles that Liberal Party Members of the House of Commons had spoken up against the Americans regarding the war in Iraq," he said.

"It doesn't help the situation. It doesn't help trade. It doesn't help the border issue. The best thing is for people to show leadership and look forward."

That's just great. It's not the fact that you didn't support the US in its hour of need that is hurting relations it's the fact that the opposition let the Americans know that's the issue. I would say that we should invade Canada next but then we wouldn't be able to avoid dealing with them.
Not only has Castro used to world's focus on Iraq to step up suppression of dissidents, but that other great socialist humanitarian, Robert Mugabe, has also used the lack of world attention to unleash a reign of terror in Zimbabwe.

Hidden from a world whose gaze has been fixed on Iraq, a full-scale reign of terror has been unleashed on opponents of the Zimbabwean President, Robert Mugabe.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of Zimbabweans were arrested and tortured as Mr Mugabe, apparently taking advantage of the lull in international scrutiny, stepped up his campaign of repression during the three weeks of the United States' war on Saddam Hussein.

The 79-year-old President marked the 23rd anniversary of independence yesterday with a speech in which he warned that he would tolerate no challenge to his rule. He accused Britain and the US of attempting to "recolonise" Zimbabwe because they opposed his seizures of white-owned land.

Great dictators think alike, I guess.
Janet Daley describes her recovery from socialism in the City Journal.

What decisively transformed my views was my growing understanding of the consequences of the welfare state that Britain had constructed out of a wartime command economy: it both reinforced the fatal passivity of the lower classes and provided a moral justification for the paternalism of the upper classes. The realization was slow but inexorable. It came through concrete example and abstract argument. By the end, it was so blindingly obvious that I wondered how anyone could ever not have seen that the socialist solution—the great, generous dream of perfect fairness—was inevitably destructive of the human spirit.

Welfare programs in Britain far exceeded anything that even the most radical Democrat would propose in the United States. When I arrived in 1965, more than half the population of the country lived in government-subsidized (“council”) housing. Council estates were not simply bigger and more ambitious versions of the housing projects familiar to Americans. Elite opinion saw them not as a stop-gap remedy for the very poor, but as an ideologically preferable alternative to private property. Government effectively seized whole tranches of major cities—including Hull, Sheffield, Liverpool, and East London—and turned them into what can only be described as working-class reservations: social ghettos where people were rehoused in a massive social-engineering exercise that ran roughshod over familiar neighborhood patterns and family networks. Officials often justified this move by the fact that heavy wartime bombing had destroyed vast areas of housing in the industrial cities. But the socialist ambition was not just to build new homes to replace the old, or to alleviate slum conditions. It was, quite consciously, to build a new society, in which the housing of many would be in the hands of the state, whose own commitment to fairness and the redistribution of resources would eliminate the squalor that private landlordism produced. (This mentality survived through to the 1980s—which is why Margaret Thatcher’s belief in a “property-owning democracy” and her policy of allowing tenants to buy their council houses seemed so dangerously radical.)
This was the reality of the collectivist ethic in which each should be striving for all, not for himself and his own. It amounted to the infantilizing of people, who had come to believe that they could not, positively should not, be making life-determining decisions for themselves, because their choices might deprive someone else. This view permeates the philosophy behind the National Health Service. The present Labour government still mouths the received wisdom that it is wicked to pay privately for an operation (even though you continue to support the state system through your taxes), because doing so will be using some of the finite resources that might have gone to an NHS patient. The reason, of course, that the resources are quite as finite as they are is because the central government controls and rations the entire system. The number of medical-school places cannot expand according to need, as they would in a market system, but can only increase by government order—and economic stringency keeps them to the minimum thought necessary. Better for more patients to wait for surgery than for any of them to have an advantage over others.

The logic is remorseless. What cannot be had by everyone (at the same time) should not be had by anyone. Equality means that everyone should suffer deprivations in a uniformly inadequate service. If improvements are to be made in a public service like health care or education, they must be made universally at the same instant, so that no one, at any moment, can be said to be disadvantaged.

Indeed. (via Pejman)
And Mike Hendrix suggests there are some things we can learn not to do from the Germans (and the residents of the Bay Area). Although he does like one proposed idea in this column by G. Pascal Zachary in the SFGate (Hendrix comments in bold):

I wish to propose an immodest remedy for this sorry situation: We, the people of the Bay Area, need to leave the United States. We are held prisoner by a foreign power, colonized by an alien civilization. We require cultural and social self-determination. We demand, in short, a declaration of independence — and our own nation.

Hey, here’s a better idea, and one requiring a lot less effort on your part: why don’t you just fucking move, you jackass? You like Germany so much, why not just go there? There are planes leaving every single day. Of course, given that immigration in Europe and Scandinavia is very strictly and severely limited due to the fact their economic system of choice is a complete failure and they’re already suffering from rampant unemployment and a bloated welfare state because of it, you might find it difficult to get in. But we already know how little regard you have for reality anyway - give it a shot. Please. Just get out of the country you hate so much - there’ll be some socialist loser-state that’ll take your sorry deluded ass in, I’m sure.

Oh, and by the way, can we go ahead and openly acknowledge your anti-Americanism once and for all while we’re at it here? Will you please now abandon any pretense you ever had to patriotism, which you’ve always regarded as a sign of limited intellect and sophistication? Will you please stop shrieking when those of us who truly do love and appreciate our country simply point out the truth about you and your despicable ideological brethren?

I realize that my suggestion is a delicious fantasy. Americans since Jefferson have been attracted to the myth of the sturdy individual, the self- reliant small town. For alternative thinkers, “small is beautiful” remains a rallying cry. While American pluralism allows for experimentation on the state and local level, for some more radical autonomy is desirable. The historian Arthur Schlesinger bemoaned in the 1990s “the disuniting of America,” but radicals see the United States as too big, too unified, too homogeneous. Independence is a rational response to a loss of identity.

How incredibly ironic, that someone who favors big-government Nanny Statism would decry America as “too big.” Another fine example of how problematic and alien the real world is for this psychotic dolt.

Might the liberation of the Bay Area unlock similar positive change? Think of the model social legislation that a Bay Nation could enact: bans on guns altogether, full legalization of same-sex unions, an expansion of public television and radio, complete decriminalization of marijuana, basic health care for all, environmental protections that would be the envy of North America.

Yeah - and rampant crime, insanely high taxes, and a stillborn economy with no hope at all of ever competing or providing for the needs of its citizens on any scale whatever. A government that starts out as a politically-correct dictatorship and slides into more and more strong-arming of its subjects as your new asylum-nation descends into political and social chaos. Which of course, being a good and proper Loon, you will champion as the lovely emergence of unparalleled tolerance and creativity - as the soon-to-be-starving protesters hold massive puke-ins and you can’t even afford to hire more union garbage men to clean up the mess. Previously unheard-of levels of unemployment as the last destitute handful of businesses flee your confiscatory taxes and ridiculous equality-of-results-not-opportunity legislation. You know, I’d truly love to see this. It’d be just what you deserve to live with, every day of your life.
Den Beste suggests some things we can learn from the French, like pulling out of all military involvement with NATO.

Sunday, April 20, 2003

Claudia Rosett suggests that the reason the U.N. may oppose lifting Iraqi sanctions is that it means they may have to finally open the books on the Food-for-Oil windfall they have gotten from administering that program. This also suggests why they preferred to give sanctions a few more years (or decades) to work.

The oil-for-food program is no ordinary relief effort. Not only does it involve astronomical amounts of money, it also operates with alarming secrecy. Intended to ease the human cost of economic sanctions by letting Iraq sell oil and use the profits for staples like milk and medicine, the program has morphed into big business. Since its inception, the program has overseen more than $100 billion in contracts for oil exports and relief imports combined.

It also collects a 2.2 percent commission on every barrel — more than $1 billion to date — that is supposed to cover its administrative costs. According to staff members, the program's bank accounts over the past year have held balances upward of $12 billion. With all that money pouring straight from Iraq's oil taps — thus obviating the need to wring donations from member countries — the oil-for-food program has evolved into a bonanza of jobs and commercial clout. Before the war it employed some 1,000 international workers and 3,000 Iraqis. (The Iraqi employees — charged with monitoring Saddam Hussein's imports and distribution of relief goods — of course all had to be approved by the Baath Party.)
Bureaucratic lags notwithstanding, putting a veil of secrecy over tens of billions of dollars in contracts is an invitation to kickbacks, political back-scratching and smuggling done under cover of relief operations. Of course, with so little paperwork made public, it is impossible to say whether there has been any malfeasance so far — but I found nothing that would seem to contradict Gen. Tommy Franks's comment that the system should have been named the "oil-for-palace program." Why, for example, are companies in Russia and Syria — hardly powerhouses in the automotive industry — listed as suppliers of Japanese vehicles? Why are desert countries like Libya, Syria and Saudi Arabia delivering powdered milk?
Then there is the program's compensation commission, which is supposed to dole out 25 percent of all oil-for-food proceeds to people and companies harmed by Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in 1990. It has so far dispensed $17.5 billion and approved a further $26.2 billion. Who decides on compensation claims? Commission members are picked from a "register of experts" supplied by Mr. Annan. One staff member told me that that this register cannot be released because it is "not public." The identities of the individual claimants are, of course, "confidential."

Lifting the sanctions would take away the United Nations' remaining leverage in Iraq. If the oil-for-food operation is extended, however, it will have a tremendous influence on shaping the new Iraq. Before that is allowed to happen, let's see the books.
The Best of the Worst country song titles of all time. (via Daily Rant)

Some favorites:

  • Billy Broke My Heart at Walgreens and I Cried All the Way to Sears
  • Get Your Biscuits In The Oven, And Your Buns In The Bed.
  • How Can You Believe Me When I Say I Love You, When You Know I've Been A Liar All My Life?
  • How Did You Get so Ugly Overnight?
  • I Flushed You From The Toilets Of My Heart
  • I Want a Beer as Cold as My Ex-Wife's Heart
  • I Went Back to My Fourth Wife for the Third Time and Gave Her a Second Chance to Make a First Class Fool Out of Me
  • If I'd Killed You When I Wanted To, I'd be Out of Jail By Now
  • If You Can't Live Without Me, Why Aren't You Dead?
  • I'm So Miserable Without You, it's Almost like Having you Here
  • Mama Get The Hammer (There's A Fly On Papa's Head)
  • My John Deere Was Breaking Your Field, While Your Dear John Was Breaking My Heart
  • She Got The Ring And I Got The Finger
  • Thanks To The Cathouse, I'm In The Doghouse With You
  • You're The Reason Our Kids Are So Ugly
  • Get Your Tongue Out Of My Mouth, Because I'm Kissing You Goodbye.

The Emperor thinks there may be some connection between accomplishment and hard work.

It's not "easy" working crummy jobs so you can afford to get your degree, one class at a time so you can make something of yourself. It ain't "easy" working your fingers to the bone to get that promotion. It ain't "easy" working interminable hours as a buttfuck "sales associate, third grade" at the local Super Target so you can get a free Business Education in return.

And you know why?

Because it never was MEANT to be "easy".

If it was "easy", every man jack, even a worthless lazy fuck like yourself, would be doing it and there's be no accomplishment in doing so. The goalposts would just be moved another notch.

Ever wondered how this nation became the strongest, richest and most successful nation on this Earth? It sure as Hell wasn't because succeeding here was "easy", it was SPECIFICALLY because it ISN'T.

You see, successful people shape this country and, in order to BECOME successful, you have to apply yourself. You have to go the extra mile, you have to show willingness to sacrifice temporarily for a long-term gain, you have to show AMBITION and DEDICATION.

Hmmm...he could have something there.
Christopher Hitchens explains that Saddam was not preferable to Halliburton and the war was not just a big administration plot to get contracts to Cheney's old company.

None of these hysterical predictions came true, but now I can't open a bulletin from the reactionary right or the anti-war left without being told that Iraq is already worse off without Saddam Hussein. And how can we tell that Iraq is worse off? Because contracts for its reconstruction are being awarded to American corporations. Of the three feasible alternatives (that the contracts go to American capitalists, or to some unspecified non-American capitalists, or that Iraqi oil production stays as it was), the supposed radicals appear to prefer the last of the three.

This view, which admittedly expresses a wider concern, can stand some examination. The Iraqi oil industry was until March 2003 a fiefdom of the Baath Party. Its revenues were mysteriously apportioned but went to the upkeep of a militaristic and dictatorial regime. Its physical plant was much decayed, as a consequence of U.N. sanctions. The oil-for-food program was exploited in the most cynical manner by members and clients of the palatial Saddam regime, who used the semilegal trade to enrich themselves while starving and neglecting the population. (By the way, now that sanctions can be properly lifted, let us remember that their very imposition was opposed by the anti-war spokesmen, who would have scrapped them without conditions even though they had been imposed by the sacrosanct majority of the United Nations.) Meanwhile, vast contracts were awarded, on the basis of political favoritism, to Russian and French consortia. At moments when the Baathist authorities felt themselves insecure, they would threaten to set fire to the oil wells or—as in late March—would actually do so.
At any rate, a burning well is a tough proposition and an uncapped well—permitting a wholesale discharge—an even tougher one. The situation was being handled by Boots and Coots, a fire-control company with an almost parodically American name, which is based in Houston. Boots and Coots, which also worked in Kurdistan and Kuwait after the much worse conflagrations of 1991, is subcontracted for the task by Kellogg, Brown, and Root (another name Harold Pinter might have coined for an American oil company), which is in turn a subdivision of Halliburton. And "Halliburton," which admittedly sounds more British and toney than Boots and Coots, was once headed by—cue mood music of sinister corporate skyscraper as the camera pans up in the pretitle sequence—Vice President Dick Cheney.

Well, if that doesn't give away the true motive for the war, I don't know what does. But unless the anti-war forces believe Saddam's fires should be allowed to burn out of control indefinitely, they must presumably have an idea of which outfit should have got the contract instead of Boots and Coots. I think we can be sure that the contract would not have gone to some windmill-power concern run by Naomi Klein or the anti-Starbucks Seattle coalition, in the hope of just blowing out the flames or of extinguishing them with Buddhist mantras. The number of companies able to deliver such expertise is very limited. The chief one is American and was personified for years by "Red" Adair—the movie version of his exploits (played by John Wayne himself!) was titled Hellfighters. The other main potential bidder, according to a recent letter in the London Times, is French. But would it not also be "blood for oil" to award the contract in that direction? After all, didn't the French habitually put profits in Iraq ahead of human rights and human life? More to the point, don't they still?
(via OTB)
John F. Burns describes the last days of the Ba'athist regime in todays NYT. It's somehow strangely ironic to read of the end of Hussein and his 20+ year reign of terror on the birthday of his hero and role model, Adolf Hitler. Like a giant circle of evil closed.
Germany is not an ally of the U.S. as this article shows. Germany and France have taken the place of the old U.S.S.R. in opposing us at every opportunity. We need to treat them accordingly.