Monday, February 28, 2005

Sgt. Kimberly Snow

You may have never have heard of Sgt. Kimberly Snow, but you have probably seen her work. Her name seemed to come up more than anyone else’s in the bylines of stories and photos coming out of Fallujah last November. This article prepared for the Danger Forward publication was brilliant. Sgt. Snow wrote stories about courage under fire, about brotherhood among soldiers, about the anguish and pains of battles as well as vividly portraying combat:

After arriving at the Marine base camp, the scouts spent a few restless days in preparation for the main assault.

On Nov. 8, the day had arrived. A 2 a.m. wake-up call for the scouts, who would be the first to position for the initial push late that night. By 5 a.m., they rolled out into a wet, cold morning, rain and wind whipping at the men up in the turrets.

“Man, I feel sorry for the Marines,” said Spc. James Taylor, who sat shivering miserably in one truck’s turret. “They have to live here all the time.”

Her reporting of battles is similar to Red6's of Armor Geddon [whom she later mentions in the same article] and affirms Lt. Gen. James Mattis’ infamous comment: "It's fun to shoot some people.":

On day two at about 7 a.m., the troops again began taking sniper fire. “That sniper’s still targeting us, my truck just took a couple more hits,” said Cowles.

“Yeah, he’s targeting the LRAS, he knows we’re scanning for him,” responded Danielsen.

As the gunners responded by returning fire from their turrets, Danielsen grabbed an AT-4 (shoulder-fired rocket) launching it into the building the shots originated from. The blast sent a shock wave rolling through the nearby vehicles, and elicited cheers along the screen line.

“He ain’t shooting from there anymore, is he?” he said with a laugh. “Whew!”

“No way, man,” said his gunner, Sgt. Trevor Bremer.

Later in the day, the troops again began receiving sniper fire. As Taylor scanned the city through the LRAS, he spotted another sniper in a window about 1200 meters out.

Sgt. Omar Torres, an infantryman and sniper from the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry scout platoon joined the men on the road, bringing with him his .50 caliber M107 sniper rifle. With Taylor acting as a spotter, he sent several rounds into the building.

“Oh man, you nailed him,” shouted Taylor who was still watching through the LRAS. “That was so cool, he just exploded!”

Her job wasn’t just to make nice pictures and stories for the folks back home either:

One member of his troop was Sgt Kimberly Snow, a "combat camera" photographer whose job was to record what happened in the battle to prevent the insurgents later boosting their cause with propaganda. "If they're firing out of a mosque or a hospital I don't care where she is, bring Sgt Snow forward. So when we level that thing, we have pictures to show they were using it as a bad place," said Capt Mayfield. He urged his men to play close attention to where they were firing. "God forbid I don't need to blow up a mosque and somebody yells about it," he said.

When I read her stories, I was not only impressed with the stories she wrote, but I also became intrigued about the author. I don’t know what I would give to be able to sit down and have a cup of coffee with Sgt. Snow now that she is back stateside. She has probably seen more than anyone else in Fallujah. And when you see the pictures she has taken, you have to consider it amazing that she came out unhurt. I am surprised that more hasn’t been written about her.

Frontline's A Company of Soldiers

Another annoying thing about living outside the States is missing all the great (along with the crappy) TV programs, that never make it across the Atlantic. I was just reading online about PBS' A Company of Soldiers. The New York Times critic said:

'A Company of Soldiers,' an excellent 'Frontline' documentary on PBS tonight, does not presage peace or quagmire in Iraq. Instead it casts a light, close up and unwaveringly, on how the occupation looked and felt to a small group of soldiers in a small outpost in southern Baghdad at a particularly violent period in November 2004. And that snapshot, of course, says more about the nature of war than any number of satellite photos and Pentagon briefings. With a bumpy night-vision lens, the filmmakers show just how unwieldy urban warfare is. They show how camaraderie hardens into love under fire and how violence, when it rains down out of nowhere, shocks and terrifies even the best-trained troops.'

I was really bummed out for about a minute, but then I found out that I can thankfully see it online, too! The full 90 minutes! Yay! So far I have encountered difficulties viewing it, but hope that it is only due to heavy traffic to the site, and that I will eventually be able to watch it.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Buy Blue vs. Buy Red

How can Democrats help their party? The answer is simple according to this website: buy blue! Buy Blue Org’s motto is “In today’s America there is a more powerful act than voting blue…and that is buying blue.” Wow...did I just read that correctly? Did a left-leaning political group tout the power of money, over the power of the political process? There might be hope yet...

The organization's website offers a listing of corporations rating them over a spectrum from dark blue, to dark red, according to company practices and monetary donations to political parties. Of course, this list can be used in reverse for those wanting to buy red!

It occurred to me that if people really started following this nonsense (it assumes that people make purely emotional choices about purchases, which is a luxury only afforded by the wealthy), that America would also be divided along a consumer level.

  • Democrats would shop at bookstores like Barnes and Nobles and Bookstar, and Republicans could only shop online at Couples and friends who crossed party lines would be able to enjoy coffee at Borders Books.
  • Tourists to Hawaii would be mostly Democrats as the inter-island carriers, Aloha and Hawaiian are solid blue.
  • Southwest, Continental, Delta and Northwest Airlines would start a frequent flyer program called the Red Fliers Club.
  • Republicans would have difficulty finding hotels as most hotel chains are solid blue.
  • Best Buy would be the Bush Country of electronic stores, and all Republicans would have Dell computers. Conversely, all Democrats would have Apples (hmmm, this is making a little sense come to think of it) and their only electronics shopping possibility would be the neutrals Fry’s Electronics and The Good Guys.
  • Kmart would be neutral territory, while Target and Walmart would be Republican stomping ground.
  • Republicans would regretfully have to cut up their Costco membership cards, and only shop at Safeway and Vons.
  • Democrats would order from the LL Bean catalog, and Republicans from JC Penny’s.
  • All engagement rings for Democrats would come from Kay’s Jewelers, while Republican damsels would sport bling bling from Zale’s.
  • Any self-respecting Republican chick would only suds up with products from Bath and Body Works, while Democrat femmes would only deign Aveda worthy of their soft skin.
  • Democrats would pretty much have to give up on using phones and the internet, there would also be no more late night convenience shopping at Minimarts or AM/PMs, or pretty much any convenience store for that matter.
  • If you wanted to show your red pride, you would only eat Jolly Ranchers, Kit Kats, Reese’s (gees, the list goes on…let me put it this way, you wouldn’t be a happy camper if you were a Democrat with a sweet-tooth).
  • Republicans would eat at McDonalds and Burger King, while Democrats sipped coffee at Starbucks. (I guess some of this segregation has already started.)

Well, you get the point. Consumers would be segregated according to party preference. Eventually there would be Democrat and Republican malls, Democrat and Republican supermarkets, Democrat and Republican transport, etc. Thankfully, most Americans don’t want to further divide the country and Democrats and Republicans alike will still be able to share a meal of Big Macs and celebrate the purplish hue of Consumer America.

Friday, February 25, 2005

PFC receives demoralizing letters from 6th graders

ALa has this story about school children who wrote a soldier serving in Iraq demoralizing letters. From the content of their letters, it really seems like they were coached in some way. I am really glad that the soldier spoke up about this. I wonder if any other soldiers have had a similar experience.

It's one thing to write a letter like that yourself, but to encourage 21 eleven-year olds to write such letters is just harassing the soldier, not to mention the questions it raises about indoctrinating the students. It really irks me when teachers use classrooms as their own personal soap-boxes.

Yay! Yay! I got mail!

Something told me I should check my email...and 'lo and behold, there was news from my boyfriend. He has arrived safe and sound.

*Sniff* I miss him.

Okay, I digress: I can see that this will be a roller-coaster of emotions going up and down from email to email, or phone call to phone call. I am on a high now, but I know that I will get a little mopey eventually.

Okay, back to keeping myself busy...

Gender Confusion in sports

The news of a female athlete from Zimbabwe actually being male caught my eye. I can remember watching some of last summer's Olympics are swearing up and down that one of the female runners was a man. It wasn't so much her face, as also her body. But a friend watching with me convinced me that this relatively well known track star just looked male, but was really female. Well, now I am not so sure. An article in the Herald revealed:

The world athletics body no longer conducts gender determination tests, and the Olympic movement ceased these in 1999. The International Olympic Committee legally recognises transsexuals provided hormone therapy ceased at least two years ago. Sport in Britain was relieved a year ago when the Gender Recognition Bill was amended to allow UK sports bodies to decide, case by case, whether individual transsexuals should be allowed to compete. Now they must meet medical criteria and live in their new genders for at least two years before applying for a new birth certificate.

Last year I read Jeffrey Eugenides' novel, Middlesex. It's the fascinating story of a a hermaphrodite who was raised as a girl until he was a teenager when it was discovered that he was genetically a boy. Hermaphrodism is a condition that affects more people than we realize. Most hermaphrodites decide which sex they will be, and live their lives according to it. And this was the case with the Zimbabwean, Samukaliso Sithole. It was decided when s/he was younger, most likely by her parents, that she would be female.

However, it troubles me that in recognizing such a condition, sport commitees are giving an unfair advantage to those atheletes who are genetically male, but consider themselves female, and compete against other females. It is slightly reminiscent of the scandal at the Para-Olympics, when it turned out that some of those competing weren't handicapped in any way, shape or form.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Kids do the darndest things

Last week, my boyfriend and I went to eat dinner at his landlord's place. His landlord's 5 year-old granddaughter, Evi was also there, and decided she wanted to draw a picture of me with crayons.

She looks at me intently and starts sketching my blue sweater first. Then she takes the orange crayon to make a round circle for my face. She peers at my face, taking in my eyes and my hair, and my earrings. She takes a light blue crayon to fill in my eyes, and then a yellow crayon for my hair. But before starting on my hair, she looks again, and then decides to to take a brown crayon. She made a few streaks with the brown close to what was supposed to be my head. And then she picked up the yellow crayon again, and finished the picture with longer strokes. I took that as a sign that my roots have to be done again.

To buy or not to buy?

Living in a country in which you don't plan to live for life poses a few problems when it comes to long term investment. This is most true when it comes to buying appliances or any electric gadget. Europe is on the 220V versus the US' 110V electricity system. Which means that if you buy a 220V appliance in Germany, you won't be able to use it in the states...Sure you can buy an adapter, but still, who wants adapters all over the house for the rest of their lives?

Thus, whenever I am thinking of making a purchase, I have to ask myself if I really, really want to buy this, if I am only going to be able to use it for another year or two. Bearing in mind this is the same question I have been asking myself for 8 years, and thus never purchased a microwave. Had I known I would be here for 8 years, that microwave would have already paid for itself.

I have a little going-to-bed ritual: open the windows to let freezing air in at night, fill two hot water bottles with boiling water, and snuggle up under my 3(!) feather comforters. I love being snuggly warm, but also have fresh cold air in the room. I wake up more refreshed in the morning, and end up sleeping less.

Well, today I saw an electric mattress warmer for 30 Euros. It was big enough for a queen-sized bed. It would be so warm. I could turn it on 15 minutes before going to bed, and then get into a pre-warmed bed. That would be heaven! I stood in front of that blanket like a kid in front of a pet store. But finally I had to decide that it wasn't worth it for just 1 1/2 more winters in Germany. It was one of those "grrr" moments of living in a country that won't be your home for life.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The Adopt-a-Terrorist Retraining Program

This is a parody letter written to critics of the US's treatment of the Taliban and Al Qaeda detainees currently held at Guantanamo Bay,Cuba.

The glass is now half full in Iraq

I can't quite put my finger on it, but there is a definite difference in the news about Iraq nowadays. News doesn't really reflect reality, it just projects a certain reality. It usually projects what people what to see.

So what is interesting is how reporting about Iraq is experiencing a turnaround of sorts. Perhaps people are just getting anesthetized to the violence in Iraq, and they don't react much to pictures of car bombs and the destruction of IEDs. And so perhaps the news is now trying a different tact.
However, quite possibly, people really want to perceive the situation as better in Iraq. In the last few days I have seen a lot of positive things on TV. ZDF, a German public television channel, has been making a lot of interesting reports on the Iraqi economy, on universities, and basically daily life. And there wasn't one burning car to be seen in any of their footage. Don't get me wrong, they weren't denying that Iraq was in a major crisis, it was just that everyone they interviewed belonged to the group of people who believed that now was a time to roll up their sleeves, and work for a better future.

I won’t go so far as to say there is a genuine improvement of the situation in Iraq, but that the way people see the situation has changed. And the tipping point was the elections. So no matter how “useless” or “undemocratic” or whatever criticism one can make about the January Iraqi elections, they definitely served a great purpose in changing people’s perceptions.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Grass Widow for a Year

I am a grass widow now. My boyfriend left this morning for Afghanistan to do his part in Operation Enduring Freedom. It’s strange, because him being gone, isn’t as bad as the anticipation of him going, if that makes any sense. I compared the last few weeks of our time together like a bandaid being slowly pulled off. It is almost as if I did most of the mourning before he left, but once we said our goodbyes, and I was on my way back to my apartment I felt as if a great weight had been lifted. The journey has started.

His departure date got delayed a few days, which was welcomed. But when someone said, in an effort to comfort me, “maybe you’ll be lucky and his departure will be delayed again,” I replied that I hoped it wouldn’t be, as it was just prolonging the agony and putting off the inevitable. The sooner he leaves, the sooner he comes back. And the time before he leaves, although precious in itself, feels like dead time, like the eye of the storm.

Last night he took me to the train station and we said our goodbyes. It wasn’t half as dramatic or traumatic as I had expected. I was the one getting onto the train, I was the one hustling to get going, and he was the one left behind waving goodbye. As I stepped onto the train and turned around to hug him goodbye, it was so similar to our usual goodbyes that I almost forgot that this was it. We were actually both laughing at the hectic situation, there was no long drawn out hug, no tears, no drama. I told him I loved him and was going to miss him, and as I pulled away from him, he promised to write and said: “have a good trip.” I thought it was so amusing that he was wishing me a good two hour train trip, while he was going to be taking a way more arduous journey. But I just left it at that, said thanks, and got onto the train.

I thought I was doing well, until he called on his cell to say goodbye one last time before flying. Since we have spent the last two weeks together, we didn’t really have much to say. So I started to tell him how well I was doing, when my voice started to crack a little, and so I finished the sentence: “…until you called.” He made cooing noises, which didn’t help much…lol. And we both decided to wrap up the phone call ASAP, and that he should contact me as soon as he could upon arriving in Afghanistan.

So, I guess this is a journey for us both. His is physical, and mine is emotional. And when he comes back, we will both be better people, because of it.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Home Grown Iraqi Commando Units

Reading Riverbend's blog, I came across the name Badir’s Brigade. I assumed it was a local Bagdhdad militia. Today at Phil Carter's site I found this article that talked about such locally formed units. The pop-up units although less in number are more succesful when it comes to loyalty than their US trained counterparts, and the US is working on trying to co-opt them. It is an interesting issue, but surely raises questions about what responsibilities and legal status such units have.

Saturday, February 19, 2005 mean soldiers really aren't blood thirsty killers?

There was something that I became really aware of in the “aftermath” of the 2004 elections: that the mainstream media is extremely disconnected from a large portion of the population. Just because they can’t comprehend a certain point of view, they either pretend it doesn’t exist or give false motives for this position. Up until the election it seemed pretty clear to most of the media that Kerry was going to win, because most of the people they interviewed were Kerry supporters [they usually didn’t venture far beyond their social circles]. And when Bush won, they decided it was because of moral values.

The military, just like “red-state” America, just doesn’t overlap much with many journalists’ social circles. Consequently, many journalists had pretty simplified ideas of what makes a soldier tick. And surprise, surprise, upon reporting as embedded journalists many were shocked to have their prejudices challenged.

Myrna Blyth quoted a reporter from the Washington Post, who had embedded with troops in Iraq:

First of all, she said she was "overwhelmed by the military," but she did learn by being embedded that members of our armed forces were not "blood-thirsty maniacs." Yes, she really did say that.

In fact, she said, they were "really decent people." And even "sweet." Of course, after being shot at they were eager to shoot back — a military attitude that seemed to surprise her.

She also reported that when she asked soldiers why were they in Iraq, every single one told her, "to help the Iraqi people." Again she was surprised that the military could create such a unity of purpose even though, she said, she didn't see any "brainwashing" going on. She also noted that many soldiers had no opinion about the war. They had gone where they were ordered to go, like all good soldiers. Such an attitude seemed to dazzle her as well.

She didn't have anything much to say about "reporters as citizens," but clearly she appeared to be one citizen who had very little familiarity with, or understanding of, or even quite possibly respect for the military before her tour of duty. In a way, it is kind of sad that only after some first-hand experience did she learn what most American citizens believe: that American soldiers are "decent people." And that it is those soldiers, not our journalists, after all, who protect our freedom of the press.

If someone is sent to report on a football game, they are expected to have some knowledge of the game, the teams, and the rules, if someone is sent to report on a movie premiere, they are supposed to have some knowledge about the actors, the storyline, and the people attending the event. But somehow the same is not expected of many reporters going to report from war zones. Although I am glad that most reporters are finding out that the military is different than they previously though, it makes me a little disappointed that the people sent to report on work of American troops previously had such low regard for and ignorant views of the US military.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

To paraphrase Clinton: It's the debt burden, stupid!

Two men buy houses and get mortgages. Man A earns an annual salary of 150K, and gets a mortgage for 400K. Man B has an annual salary of 15K, and gets a mortgage for 60K. Man B’s debt represents a sum that is 4 times his annual salary. Man A’s debt is a larger sum, but it is only 2 2/3 his annual salary. So, although technically Man A is in deeper debt than Man B, Man B’s debt (coupled with the fact that he has less disposable income) is more of a burden than Man A’s debt burden. This makes sense, right?

So when everyone is yelling about America having the biggest deficit in history, they are completely disregarding the fact that our Gross Domestic Product is higher than before, and thus our debt is, relatively, lower. In fact, our national debt may be higher than many other countries, however their debts represent a larger percentage of their GDP. The Skeptical Optimist has made some great graphs illustrating just this: America’s national debt burden history and America’s current national debt burden compared to other countries' national debts.

Also worth reading, is his post, Rethinking the Surplus.

The Reasons for going to war vs. the Reasons for fighting a war

A lot of people complain about the war in Iraq, saying the reasons that we started it, aren’t the same reasons for which we are still fighting it. They say that Bush mislead us into war about WMDs, and now in an attempt to save face, he is claiming that this war is about spreading democracy and the global war on terror.

The original reasons for going to war, often have the same fate as plans for war: they usually don’t last the first few minutes of battle, instead being replaced by newly emerged reasons.

Take the American Civil War. Yes, slavery was a key issue, but the war wasn’t about freeing the slaves. The Southern States were feeling that the Northern States were disregarding their wants and needs, and didn’t find that belonging to the Union was further beneficial to them. The Northern States decided that the Union should be held intact and didn’t want the Southern States to secede. The Northern States definitely wanted to phase out slavery over time, but they didn’t go to war to free the slaves. They went to war to force the south to stay in the Union. The Emancipation Proclamation should make it clear to everyone: it stated that slaves in the rebel states were free, but those in slave-holding states loyal to the Union still remained in bondage. The Emancipation Proclamation punished the rebel states, but wasn’t going to punish the loyal states. Even four years into the war Lincoln stated about the reasons for going to war: "...but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came." So, although the American Civil War ended slavery, that wasn’t the original intent. I am sure that a lot of Northerners complained that Lincoln was changing the reasons of the war, that the war was brutal and shouldn’t be fought, no peace could be worth all that death and destruction. However, somehow now it is looked back upon with some national pain, but a feeling that is was necessary, and was the second birth of the USA.

I happened upon this article and it sums it up quite well, using WWII as its example:

So it may well be with Iraq. The original hypothesis of Saddam, in 12-year defiance of UN sanctions, using his WMD against the West or transferring them to terrorist groups was definitely a valid premise for military action. Yet even if the hard evidence of WMD stockpiles is never found, the value to the world of his removal, with new humanitarian transgressions emerging every day, is undeniable. The opportunity to establish a new democracy in a region that has never had one, with its promise of fundamentally reshaping the dynamic of the Middle East’s relationship to the rest of the world is a potentially epochal moment in modern history. The difficulty of achieving that objective should not be confused with the legitimacy of undertaking the task itself.

Ironically, Poland’s freedom, whose invasion by Germany was the catalyst for the beginning of European hostilities, was never achieved. The Soviets rolled into Poland from the east on their way to Germany, and kept Poland under Soviet control for the next fifty years! Thus, the entire rationale for starting World War II remained unfulfilled at the conclusion of hostilities in 1945. Does that mean the war shouldn’t have been fought?

That’s irrational.

And that pretty much says it all.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Newspaper threatens critical blogger with lawsuit

Monday, February 14, 2005

Fuel-Guzzling American energy policy has tied our hands

Believe me, there is nothing I find sexier than a man who drives a truck. However, it really drives me nuts that gas consumption in America is so insanely high and doesn't need to be. Everytime I return to Los Angeles, I am amazed at how many people there are sitting alone in their cars...and these cars aren't tiny...usually they are some form of SUV or other gas-guzzling contraption. And although they call LA a jungle, you certainly don't need a 4x4 to navigate through its wild streets. The car-pool lanes are almost always empty, while the other lanes advance at a snail's pace. And the public transport system is a joke when compared to most European cities public transport.

Living in Europe I have seen what can also be done, without reducing one's quality of life. Car driving when living in a city is not desirable, because public transport is inevitably quicker and parking is impossible or expensive. Driving long distances is mostly done by train, if you are a single traveler, because driving would be more expensive (and once again this is usually the quicker way, not to mention less stressful). Gas here is 3-4 times the price in America. And when you do drive a car, it is usually a more efficient car, smaller than the average car in America.

I would definately say that this is one of my pet peeves, along with the American aversion to proper garbage disposal (preferring burying everything, because "hey, America is so big, we can always dig holes and bury our crap") and water conservation (in Los Angeles, one would almost think it is a constitutional right to have a green lawn and a fill swimming pool, and don't even mention water-recycling to them...they will yell back "from toilet to tap?" despite the fact that many places in the world (and the US) recycle their used water in some way or another).

Today I read a great article in the NY Times about how America's love affair with fuel guzzling practices is financing the same regimes we would wish to change:

By adamantly refusing to do anything to improve energy conservation in America, or to phase in a $1-a-gallon gasoline tax on American drivers, or to demand increased mileage from Detroit's automakers, or to develop a crash program for renewable sources of energy, the Bush team is - as others have noted - financing both sides of the war on terrorism. We are financing the U.S. armed forces with our tax dollars, and, through our profligate use of energy, we are generating huge windfall profits for Saudi Arabia, Iran and Sudan, where the cash is used to insulate the regimes from any pressure to open up their economies, liberate their women or modernize their schools, and where it ends up instead financing madrassas, mosques and militants fundamentally opposed to the progressive, pluralistic agenda America is trying to promote. Now how smart is that?

In another article published a few weeks ago, the same journalist authored another piece, entitled "The geo-green alternative."

Yes, there is an alternative to the Euro-wimps and the neocons, and it is the ‘‘geo-greens’’. I am a geo-green. The geo-greens believe that, going forward, if we put all our focus on reducing the price of oil — by conservation, by developing renewable and alternative energies and by expanding nuclear power — we will force more reform than by any other strategy. You give me $18-a-barrel oil and I will give you political and economic reform from Algeria to Iran. All these regimes have huge population bubbles and too few jobs. They make up the gap with oil revenues. Shrink the oil revenue and they will have to open up their economies and their schools and liberate their women so that their people can compete. It is that simple.

By refusing to rein in US energy consumption, the Bush team is not only depriving itself of the most effective lever for promoting internally driven reform in the Middle East, it is also depriving itself of any military option. As Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, points out, given today’s tight oil market and current US consumption patterns, any kind of US strike on Iran, one of the world’s major oil producers, would send the price of oil through the roof, causing real problems for our economy. ‘‘Our own energy policy has tied our hands,’’ Haass said.

The Bush team’s laudable desire to promote sustained reform in the Middle East will never succeed unless it moves from neocon to geo-green.

Obviously continuing with our current energy policy is more economically efficient in the short-term...but it really doesn't make sense to fight these regimes with one hand, but support them financially with the other. People should start seeing that reforming our energy policy isn't necessarily a Birkenstock-granola issue, but actually a (it might sound trite, but it's true) patriotic issue. Want to support the troops and help in the Global War on Terror? Well, a good start would be to stop indirectly financing the terrorists.

Blogger invited to write editorial for the LA Times

My hometown newspaper invited one of its biggest critics, blogger Patterico, to write a critical article in an experimental column in which (in the words of the newspaper) "the Los Angeles Times invites outside critics to rip a Southern California newspaper whose most popular features include a weekly column on celebrity real estate transactions."

Sunday, February 13, 2005

The UN takes credit for Iraqi elections

This would be laughable, if it weren’t so baffling: Kofi Annan has written an editorial in the Washington Post, basically giving the UN the credit for the Iraqi elections. Even better, he doesn’t even mention the US role in there at all. I mean, to an alien it would seem that the UN was the only body in Iraq.

Here are some shocking lines:
[...]we all share a common agenda: to move Iraq from the starting point -- its successfully completed elections -- to a peaceful, prosperous and democratic future.

Oh, I get it...after the coalition forces have done a lot of the dirty work, the UN is going to swoop in and take credit for the little help they offered? If the elections were to have been a massive failure, do you think Kofi Annan would have taken responsibility for that too?
And get this: for them THIS is the starting point. Everything before doesn’t count for anything. Unbelievable.

I could go on, but Wizbang has already done it better.

Friday, February 11, 2005

The Demise of the Republican Party? Nice try...let me pat you on the head and give you a gold star for trying!

I found this article countering the Republican assertions that the Democratic Party is falling into an abysmal pit, by saying that the Republicans have it is the other way around. Political mudslinging is really amusing, it’s the grown-up version of “I know you are, but what am I?”

Anyway, I thought I would examine a few of the author’s assertions:

  • Deny science when its findings are not agreeable to your base. Republicans, notably, are on the wrong side of the largest issue in human history: human driven, rapid climate change. They’ve chosen instead to live in a Crichton-esque science fiction fantasy in which real science has no standing and human actions have no tragic, irreversible, and global ecological consequences. This is not just boneheaded, it is a form of criminality for which we have, as yet, no adequate words.
Real Science? Hmmm...that’s funny. What the author truly wants to say here is that some theories are better than other theories that contradict said theories.
Plus, I love the dig at Michael Crichton once again...I mean, it’s not like he’s a real scientist or anything, so we should completely disregard any theory he has. Oh, wait, actually he IS a doctor, and he has accumulated a lot of scientific experience. So, maybe the guy isn’t totally living in some fantasy world.
The Bush Administration has admitted that global warming is a real phenomenon. I think they are just a little more careful with the decisions they make, and how those decisions can be detrimental to certain groups. Reforms are put in place, but they can’t be implemented immediately.
And they are not going to jump onto the bandwagon of the newest climatic Armageddon. Somehow people would like to think that global warming is something unique to our age, that it thus must come from our abuses of the atmosphere. The Earth’s temperature has been steadily rising since the 1860’s, so one could definitely argue that industrialization brought around this global warming. Okay, so how to you explain this?:
A careful examination of the climate record reveals that Europe experienced a prolonged warm period known as the Medieval Warm Period (hereafter referred to as MWP) between the years 600 and 1150, cooling of the climate between the years 1150 and 1460, a brief warming between the years 1460 and 1560, followed by dramatic cooling known as the Little Ice Age (hereafter referred to as LIA) between the years 1560 and 1850.

I am not saying that climate changes can’t be attributed to man-made sources, I am just saying that it isn’t as clear cut and obvious as some would lead us to believe. And just because we don’t believe them, they call us criminal fanatics.
  • Deny the looming approach of peak oil extraction thereby advancing the potential of economic, political, and social chaos when global oil supply and demand diverge as soon they will.
  • Deny the proven potential of superior technologies, design strategies, and policies that would move the country toward energy efficiency and a secure energy base of solar and wind power as well as the reasons of self-interest and economic advantage for doing so.

According to an article published in the New Yorker in October, 2004, American energy independence isn’t as simple as the politicians like to pretend:

Power generated from waves, windmills, and solar panels is weak, intermittent, and expensive—at least twice the cost of electricity produced from coal or gas. When it is cold or dark, solar panels don’t produce energy; when it is calm, wind turbines don’t turn. To insure continuity of supply, renewable power plants have to budget for large amounts of overcapacity, a problem that isn’t going to disappear. And, although alternative energy is getting cheaper as technology improves, the same is true of energy generated from hydrocarbons. “He”—Kerry—“is asking for an awful lot without telling us how he’s going to get there and at what cost,” Robert Ebel, a veteran oil-industry executive who once worked for the C.I.A. and now heads the energy program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, in Washington, said.

And I think that last comment is pretty much true of a lot of the jibes from the Democratic Party: they have a lot of ideas, but don’t really grasp what implementing them would mean and cost in the long run.
Also, once again, the Republicans don’t deny that there is any looming problem, they are just dealing with it in a less hysterical fashion. In a report published in May, 2001, The Bush Administration’s National Energy Policy Development Group wrote:
“America leads the world in scientific achievement, technical skill, and entrepreneurial drive. Within our country are abundant natural resources, unrivaled technology, and unlimited human creativity. With forward-looking leadership and sensible policies, we can meet our future energy demands and promote energy conservation, and do so in environmentally responsible ways that set a standard for the world.”

  • Deny the true costs of air and water pollution thereby undermining the health of Americans.

I don’t know about this, so I won’t comment on it.

  • Deny the human and economic effects of pandering to the wealthy, thereby undermining social cohesion and the sense of fairness? Historically, often a prelude to societal breakdown and revolution.

Ha...that is funny. Pandering? Well, if any party is guilty of pandering, it would have to be the Democratic Party’s pandering to those in poverty, which definitely undermines social cohesion. Take this speech by John Edwards, and tell me he isn’t villifying the wealthy:

Bush honors wealth while we honor work
The fundamental difference between George Bush and us is that he honors wealth, and we honor work. We believe in giving real chance to every single American. He takes the side of insiders, we take the side of regular Americans. Look at this tax cut. He's about rewarding wealth, not work. He wants to make sure that we leave out millions and millions of working families and put a priority on cutting taxes for those who get money from trust funds, instead of those who drive the cars & answer the phones for those who get money from trust funds. These are not the values of the American people! What's the thread connecting all this? They value wealth, they want to protect it. They value wealth, while we value the work that creates it. We cannot play defense with this President, we must play offense. We must take this right at him, in the toughest possible way. This is a fight about values, this is a fight for the American people and it is a fight we will win!
Source: Speech at the Take Back America Conference, Washington, DC Jun 5, 2003

  • Deny any and all mistakes, bad judgment, and corruption, relying on spin not truth and thereby building a solid reputation for mendacity and incompetence.

Once again...this isn’t unique to the Republican Party. Basically, if you are a politician, your reputation won’t be clean by the time you make it to a higher office. Most politicians will deny mistakes and bad judgment until their backs are against the wall and they are forced to admit failure, otherwise it is business as usual.

  • Deny the limitations of military power to impose order on a recalcitrant world and thereby condemn the U.S. to a future of international isolation, conflict, and endless terrorism.

I could also counter with: the Democrats deny the limitations of diplomacy to impose order on a recalcitrant world.

  • Deny the great vulnerability of the American infrastructure to malice, malfeasance, and acts of God, thereby laying the groundwork for a future of recurring disasters.

I really don’t understand where the author is coming from here. I think the Republican Party, the official fear-mongering party, as the left likes to point out, is really astute at pointing out weaknesses in American infrastructure. I think everyone is aware of how vulnerable America is to wrong-doing, corruption and acts of God (interesting choice of words there...I am assuming the author means natural disasters). I think since 9/11, the numerous corruption scandals currently in the news, the hurricanes which blasted the South-East this year, and the Asian tsunami have kept everyone in awareness. The Republican Party certainly isn’t the “let’s take the batteries out of the fire alarm” party, so I guess I really don’t understand what the author means here. Anyone have any ideas?

  • Deny the necessity for civil discourse, honesty, and transparency in the conduct of public life, thereby holding the citizenry in contempt and promoting a spirit of meanness.

Once again, I am thinking that this is the pot calling the kettle black. Holding the citizenry in contempt? If one party should be guilty of thinking people are too stupid to know what is good for themselves and families, it would be the Democrats.

  • Deny without admitting it the democratic values of the country enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and Bill of Rights, the Gettysburg Address, and the Four Freedoms of Franklin Roosevelt, thereby undermining democracy at home while purportedly fighting for it in Iraq.

I am guessing that he is referring to the Patriot Act? I guess the media isn’t covering the loss of rights. I keep on hearing hysterics about the erosion of democracy in America, but have yet to see concrete examples of Americans losing their rights and freedoms. Maybe I am not looking in the right direction.

I have to admit that the Republican Party doesn’t completely represent my beliefs, however I identify with it more than the Democratic Party, because they just seem to be more reality and solution based, rather than the hypothetical elitist discourse of the other party. And this author’s fantasy-filled rant just further justifies my reasoning.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

The Rise and Fall of China

I came across an interesting post today, discussing an ariticle suggesting that the bubble of China's impending world domination is threatening to burst, because its population is getting too old too fast. And unlike other countries experiencing a rapid increase of the median population age, China hasn't prepared nearly as well. Very interesting read.

There are no stupid questions, just a lot of inquisitive idiots

I am a little tired of stupid questions.

A great source of mental anguish is Ted Kennedy. That guy is just so full of stupid questions and comments, that it would provide enough material for an entire blog.Last week, he rhetorically asked an audience at the University of Massachusetts, "If America can train the best military in the world in 13 weeks, why can't we train the Iraqis in eight or 12 or 15 months to fight and die for their country?" Um, there are so many things wrong with that question, I don’t even know where to start. But let me just counter with this: well, if we give a group of people a training course in operating Windows, they should then be able to run Microsoft Corp. by the end of it.

Michael Moore also never fails to make me go, huh? Like this exchange between Michael Moore and Bill O’Reilly back at the DNC in 2004:

MOORE: So, you would sacrifice your child to secure Fallujah? I want to hear you say that.
O'REILLY: I would sacrifice myself..
MOORE: Your child? It’s Bush sending the children there.
O'REILLY: I would sacrifice myself.
MOORE: Say, “I, Bill O’Reilly, would sacrifice my child to secure Fallujah.”
O'REILLY: I’m not going to say what you say, you’re a, that’s ridiculous…, it seems like Moore had O’Reilly cornered, because O’Reilly wouldn’t say he would sacrifice his child to secure Fallujah. Instead of the correct conclusion: no parent wants to sacrifice their children, Moore prefers to see in O’Reilly’s refusal, that O’Reilly doesn’t think the cause is worth the death of his child. Imagine asking any parent, if they want their child to go to war. No matter how supportive a loving parent is of the cause of a war, they won’t want to sacrifice their child. I am sure that if you had asked any parent during WWII, if they were willing to sacrifice their child for the invasion of Europe, they would have been reticent to answer. It has less to do with a lack of belief in the cause, than the tugging at parental heart-strings.

Okay...that’s about all I want to waste on this, but I found this funny link along the same lines:
Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions (or Comments):
The rest of the world doesnt like us anymore:
- Oh I know!, thats why everyone, everywhere is trying to come here.

Iraq is just like Vietnam:
-Yeah, I remember when our troops invaded North Vietnam and captured Ho Chi Mihn and put him on trial for war crimes, and then turned sovereignty over the the Vietnamese in less than a year. You're right, the parallels are striking.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Wow...this is an anti-German rant...*ouch*

Let me preface this by saying that I love living in Germany...however, it gets a little boring to constantly hear about the ills of America, and it's fun to be on the other side of such a rant once in a while. Well, I found one such rant today. Here's an excerpt:

Life has become so “wonderful” under the Socialist-Green German government that hundreds of Germans are turning to neo-Fascist, neo-Nazi parties for answers.

You poor, poor terrorists!

Why is it that the terrorists seem to completely disregard human rights, except when it comes to their own? Then, all of the sudden, human rights become important.

This post also echos a lot of my criticism about I won't need to write that post.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Want to read another great story turned down by the MSM?

The son of a former brigadier general in Saddam’s army returns to Iraq as an American soldier to help rebuild the country he left as a child. Sounds like a great story, doesn't it? Well, it is. Sad to say no one in the main stream media wanted to pick it up.
Thank goodness for the internet, and blogs, so that Sminklemeyer can finally publish the inspiring story. [You'll need to scroll down a little to the middle of the post.]

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Ever heard of the saying, there's no honor among criminals, dumb**s?

I just watched the interrogation video of Ahmed Abdullah al-Shayea made available to Newsweek:

Twenty-one-year-old Ahmed Abdullah al-Shayea had come to Iraq from Saudi Arabia to join the infamous terrorist known as Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi in a holy war against the American infidels. On Christmas morning, 2004, he got his first assignment, to park a tanker truck full of explosives near the high walls around the Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad. He didn't know that four fellow terrorists in a Jeep Cherokee following a safe distance behind held the remote-control trigger. When they pushed it, an explosion thundered across the city, killing 10 Iraqi policemen. But al-Shayea, unlike scores of other bombers who've been vaporized beyond recognition, was blown through the windshield and, against all odds, survived.

A few weeks later the authorities realized that he wasn’t an innocent bystander and kidnapped him from the hospital to interrogate him. This interrogation led to the apprehension of three Zarqawi aides last week.

It is a short clip, with subtitles, and al-Shayea is still wrapped up in bandages, his burnt skin making him look 40 years older. You can tell that this filmed interrogation has taken place after the actual interrogation, and that he is now just repeating answers that they had laboriously gotten out of him over the past few hours, and now were packaging together into a neat little video that they could hand out to the media.

The questions the interrogator asked on the film were only interesting in an anecdotal form. The point of the film was to get him to tell his story to the viewers, they weren’t trying to get actual information from him anymore. They asked him where he came from, how he had gotten into Iraq, his itinerary, and how it came to that final day. He said he was ordered to Baghdad, and was supposed to drive a fuel tanker somewhere, meet with some other guys, and hand over the truck. He didn’t realize that in actuality, he was a suicide bomber, being set-up; his buddies blew up the tank by remote as soon as the truck stopped at the pre-arranged “meeting point.”

Here is a transcript I made of part of the tape. The ending is head shakingly mind boggling: [The interrogator's questions are in bold.]

Are you regretful?
What do you want from Iraqis?
I want them to live in peace.
The terrorist criminals that you met in Rawa, Anna, and Ramadi …what are their nationalities?
Arab nationalities, Tunisian, Moroccan, Saudi, Egyptians, Syrians…one from Macedonia. Mostly, the majority are Iraqis.
What was the objective of the terrorists from what they told you?
They said we were against Americans. We killed the Americans and the police and the Iraqi National Guard and civil defense because they collaborate with the Americans.
What do you think of Osama bin Laden? Sheik Osama bin Laden?
He’s nothing to me.
What does he represent to you?
He’s nothing, he doesn’t represent anything to me. He kills Muslims.
How about Zarqawi? What do you think about him?
Zarqawi. If they are Muslims, all should take revenge on him for what they did to me.
What do you mean? Who should take revenge?
To take revenge on them for what they did to me.
Now you suggest they are criminals, for the horrible thing they have done to you?

Newsweek’s video ends there. But you just hoped that room erupted in guffaws of laughter when they stopped the tape. You almost felt pity for the guy. He obviously wasn’t very bright, because he didn’t see the irony in what he was saying.

He didn’t say who was supposed to take revenge, but I guess it to mean everyone. So now he wants us to conveniently forget that he was part of a plot to kill many people, but he wants these same people to now help him get revenge on his buddies, because they were going to kill him too?

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Finally: an Inaugural Protest Sign that I agree with

I'm with you there!

The guy who took that pic, who labels himself a liberal, also has a moving description of observing Iraqi voters in Washington DC.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

I am like a bulimic on a binge with those positive articles coming out of Iraq right now

I am like a bulimic on a binge with those positive articles coming out of Iraq right now...and I know that the next cold front is coming in, and it will be a while before we see anything like this again. So I am lapping it up.

Here is another feel good story from a blog from Iraq:

I spent the morning in a meeting with an Iraqi officer and a tribal leader from al Anbar. That's a pretty typical situation. There's always more to it than straight up work, though. [...]

The meeting progressed, with greeting-countergreeting being followed by point counterpoint. It was in Arabic, and I'm not yet good enough to keep up with everything. During the conversation there were some sharp statements made, accompanied by broad hand gestures. As they sat there, wagging fingers across the table at each other, I interpreted in my mind.[...]

But my satiric smirk turned to a real smile when I noticed that these sharply pointing fingers both shared one key similarity.
They were both dyed blue.

*Sigh* Oh, that's beautiful. This is like one long Hallmark Special.

Okay, I am not naive enough to think that everything is sweet and beautiful now, but I think that things are definately more positive. To quote an Iraqi voting official that was interviewed on CNN: it represents "a paradigm shift"...whoa, Iraqis beware: Bullshit Bingo is on its way to your country!

See Al Franken Cry...

I have found another frighteningly enjoyable blog: EtherHouse.

Some snippets:

On the Iraq/Vietnam comparison: Why the left needs Iraq to be Vietnam:
Lefties need Iraq to be Vietnam. No matter how obvious the mismatch, they'll just hammer Iraq into the hole that Vietnam left in their cause until it fits. They need Vietnam back because it was the shining hour when they held the moral high ground and all the media reflected their glory back at them.[...]
Isn't it ironic that those who protested it the most are the ones who desperately want their beloved Vietnam back?

And there is also a post linking to a video where you can see Al Franken crying about how mean Fox News is.

This post at Protein Wisdom (found via EtherHouse) about many reporters critisizing VP Cheney for wearing a parka to the Auschwitz liberation anniversary had me in stitches:

[...]my guess is that Gore could have shown up at Auschwitz wearing a suit made from Jackie Mason and trimmed with the ass hair of Woody Allen, and Givhan would have bent over backwards to frame the Democratic VP’s fashion choice as “a daring deconstruction of the kind of traditional ceremonial mourning practices that have turned commemorations of singular events like the Holocaust into mundane—and cynically commodified—photo ops for heads of state and /or their proxies.”

I love the Internet.

Democracy isn't a right-or-left thing, folks. It's a right-and-left thing, remember?

- Jeff Jarvis

Oh, the hypocrisy of it all. It's so mind boggling:

Sunday I watched the TV coverage of the Iraqi elections, and while I will say that Fox's coverage was slightly over-the-top euphoria (e.g. "an explosion caused 4 people to be killed": there was no way their newscasters were going to report anything in any negative light) and focused mostly on the Kurds voting in the north, it irked me that those reporters from the more left leaning news outlets were bending over backwards to try to find some negative angle. CNN had a reporter there, who was from the LA Times (it was confusing to me, too) and you could see the strain in this woman's face as she had to admit that everyone she had interviewed was happy and optimistic. It was a sad day for the MSM: they had to look very hard to find some bad news.

I had to smirk when they fell back on old faithful: visiting wounded soldiers at Walter Reed. But, aha, foiled again: all the interviewed soldiers remained positive, despite their sacrifices.

If it weren't a Sunday, I am sure they would have exploited a soldier's funeral, to re-iterate the (American) human cost of Iraqi freedom.


Chris Allbriton finished his election day post with this great summation:
Which is why, several of us journalists here are going to call this elections for the Iraqis. My friend Mitch and I were discussing this and regardless of who wins in the polls, the Iraqis won here and proved themselves—for a day, at least—stronger than the insurgency. And that's a very big symbolic victory. A huge one, in fact, and Iraqis should take great pride in themselves. When they had the opportunity, they stood up and were counted. The real losers were the Sunnis who didn't participate. They missed a golden opportunity to take part in a process that, while flawed, were the only game in town. I don't know what's going to happen next, and a civil war may still erupt, but if it does, the elected government—one elected by Shi'a and Kurds, for the most part—will have the moral high ground in it.

But the next day he remembered that some might feel validated through the previous day's elections, and wanted to quickly take the wind out of their sails:

This country is still a mess [...] Be sure and mention all this to the war-boosters, who are, dorkily, coating their fingers with blue ink as a sign of solidarity “with the Iraqi people.” Hm. I don't remember them doing that for Afghanistan... Why don't they just 'fess up and say they're giving the finger to us doubters? This is not solidarity; it's a taunt along the lines of, “We were right, nyah nyah!” instead of a celebration of democracy.

The House of Wheels has a good round-up of what the left leaning blogs had to say about Sunday.

And I loved this:

Let’s face it folks, to the Left the glass is ALWAYS half empty. That’s if they even see the glass at all.
None of the Left’s predictions about Iraq have come true, yet it is still a disaster, still a quagmire, still an evil right-wing/neo-con/CIA plot, etc. They accomplish this neat trick of logic by moving the goal posts. That should be their new motto “The Left, moving the goal posts since… forever.

Jeff Jarvis sums it up best:

"Whether it's Kerry or any of these bloggers, it would be the grownup, mature, generous, humanistic, caring -- yes, dare I say, liberal -- thing to do to be glad that people who lived under tyranny are now giving birth to democracy. "