Saturday, October 30, 2004

Saturday hyperbole alert 

Some evidence that medication can wear off too quickly. Ewen MacAskill of the "Guardian" analyses the impact of the new bin Laden tape and manages to get a fair way into his piece making reasonable and non-controversial points, before fianlly losing plot:
"On his own terms, Bin Laden has been a success... In Saudi Arabia, he has partly achieved his original goal by forcing most of the US soldiers to leave..."
Does that mean that if there is some sort of a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the terrorists would have won?

And finally this: "Nor has Bin Laden been capable so far of mounting further attacks in the US since September 11. But his video last night could prove almost as damaging." What, more damaging than killing 3,000 people and causing more than $2 trillion damage? Time for another pill.


Kerry and African-American vote 

John Kerry's been doing a lot of black churches campaigning lately, trying to convince the African-American community that he would be the second African-American president in US history.

If the polling is anything to go by, his efforts aren't paying off:
"Senator John Kerry beats President Bush among African American voters (69 to 18 percent) according to a new poll released today by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.

"Only 22 percent of African Americans give President Bush high job ratings, 67 percent of them view him unfavorably, and almost three-quarters of them disapprove of the president's handling of Iraq.

"And yet, in a surprising contradiction, more African Americans say they are willing to vote for President George W. Bush on November 2 than did in 2000, even though his favorable rating is lower now than it was four years ago."
Twice as many , in fact.

Pundits are skeptical:
" 'If they're saying Bush is at 18 percent among black voters, that's a non-starter,' said Morris Reid, a Democratic communications strategist who said blacks consider Mr. Bush's record so terrible that 'if he gets 5 percent of the African-American vote, I'll be shocked.' Some Republicans also scoffed at the numbers privately, saying Mr. Bush will be lucky to match the 8 percent of the black vote that he received in 2000."
For the Republicans, it's just hosing down expectations, for the Dems it's some very tortured logic - don't believe the African-Americans when they say they'll vote for Bush; it's impossible.

Still, a swing by African-Americans towards Bush would more than compensate for any swing against by Arab and Muslim Americans. We'll find out soon enough.


The other October Surprises 

Every news outlet out there is reporting on this week's "Lancet" study, which estimates that 100,000 Iraqi civilians might have died as a result of the Coalition invasion and subsequently. Not quite an October Surprise but yet another piece of bad news from Iraq that will be used mercilessly for the next few days to bludgeon the Bush Administration.

I'm not a statistician, so there's a challenge for some folks among you who are good with numbers to see whether the study holds water from a scientific point of view. I will only add that I'm somewhat suspicious not just because the study's authors make no bones about their political agenda, but also because the number is six times the maximum estimate by the fiercely anti-war Iraqi Body Count project, which relies on counting the actual casualties instead of statistical extrapolation. As an aside, I'm currently reading John Keegan's history of the Second World War, and one number has jumped out at me about an hour ago: 600,000 German civilians are estimated to have died as a result of the Allied bombing campaign. This campaign went on for five years and involved fleets of heavy bombers dropping a staggering amount of explosives onto densely populated German cities. The number of 100,000 dead simply doesn't ring true based on what we know about the Coalition tactics as well as the weaponry used.

Update: The first demolition of the Lancet study at Chicago Boyz (via Instapundit).

Then there is the new Osama tape.

Can John Kerry please take off that fake beard?

And no, I'm not engaging in an exercise of moral equivalence between Kerry and bin Laden. Far from it - I have no doubt that John Kerry is as sincere as George Bush when he says he wants to see al Qaeda destroyed.

But for goodness' sake, why does the new and improved Osama sound like he's reading a Democratic Party script, mixed with a fair dose of soft left op-ed commentary? How do you react to quotes such as these?
"I am telling you security is an important pillar of human life. And free people don't let go of their security contrary to Bush's claims that we hate freedom... [W]e fought you because we are free people, we don't sleep on our oppression. We want to regain the freedom of our Muslim nation as you spill our security, we spill your security..."
Doesn't this sound like Michael Moore's "Iraqi insurgents are Minutemen" claptrap? And doesn't Osama know how to play on the liberal guilt, the victim culture and the cult of the oppressed? Sadly, I'm sure many will continue to fall for the "we're all freedom lovers" line, forgetting all about the Taliban/Wahabbi theocracy oppressing women, stoning homosexuals and beheading infidels.
"I am so surprised by you. Although we are in the fourth year after the events of sept 11, Bush is still practicing distortion and misleading on you, and obscuring the main reasons and therefore the reasons are still existing to repeat what happened before..."
The first part of the paragraph is pure Kerry.
"I will be honest with you on the moment when the decision was taken to understand. We never thought of hitting the towers. But after we were so fed up, and we saw the oppression of the American Israeli coalition on our people in Palestine and Lebanon, it came to my mind and the incidents that really touched me directly goes back to 1982 and the following incidents... In these hard moments, it occurred to me so many meanings I can't explain but it resulted in a general feeling of rejecting oppression and gave me a hard determination to punish the oppressors..."
What is this, a freakin' Oprah interview? Anyone's got a tissue for OBL?
"We didn't find difficulty dealing with Bush and his administration due to the similarity of his regime and the regimes in our countries. Whish half of them are ruled by military and the other half by sons of kings and presidents and our experience with them is long."
Hello, Michael Moore, again.
"Before Bush and his administration would pay attention and we never thought that the high commander of the US armies would leave 50 thousand of his citizens in both towers to face the horrors by themselves when they most needed him because it seemed to distract his attention from listening to the girl telling him about her goat butting was more important than paying attention to airplanes butting the towers which gave us three times the time to execute the operation."
Another Democrat talking point/left-wing blog fodder - dumb Bush who just kept reading a book to schoolchildren while his country was under attack. And fancy the gall of Osama in telling us that Bush is incompetent in protecting his country from terrorism. If that was really the case, surely Osama would be happy to keep him as a President?

Who the hell is writing Osama's scripts nowadays? It sure is a long way from his old "jihad and brimstone" rhetoric. Unbelievable.

Update: Powerline makes the same point.

Update II: INDC Journal has so much more:
"In addition, the infidel George Bush is outsourcing America's future with tax cuts to the wealthy. Where are the 1.6 million jobs? The infidel Bush is the first infidel since the infidel Herbert Hoover to lose jobs! Awake from your slumber, America! The infidel John Kerry has a plan. You can do better, Insha'Allah!"

"Let me tell you, I spoke to the infidel Christopher Reeve a week ago, and if the infidel John Kerry is elected President, Insha'Allah, the infidel Christopher Reeve will walk again!"

"The infidel Mary Cheney is a lesbian."
Pure gold.


Friday, October 29, 2004

911 Families: "We have been silenced by the mainstream media for too long" 

Tim Sumner, Sergeant First Class, US Army (retired), 9/11 family member, and webmaster and cofounder of 9/11 Families for Stronger and Safer America, writes to me:
"After weeks of asking them to do so, the Bush/Cheney campaign finally posted our open letter on their website. They said that while they appreciated our grassroots support from day one, they would not use us for political purposes.

"We replied, 'that is exactly why you should publish our open letter and signatures. You didn't ask us; we are asking you. You have not "used us" as MoveOn.org did in March 2004 when it held an antiwar rally down near Manhattan's Ground Zero where it hosted a press conference for a small group of 9/11 family members to berate President Bush and demand that he pull that campaign ad with its fleeting glimpse of rescue workers carrying a flag-draped coffin from the WTC. Those few 9/11 family members were not speaking for us yet the mainstream media portrayed it as if they were. That could have been our loved one being reverently carried from where terrorists murdered them. We wanted America to remember 9/11. We wanted America to remember our President has not waivered in going after the terrorists who attacked our nation.'

And we told the campaign, 'We blame terrorists for murdering our loved ones. On 9/14/01, the same day that George W. Bush stood in the smoking ruins of the Pile with rescue workers as they chanted USA, USA, USA and said "I can hear you and those that did this will hear from all of us," Michael Moore stood in London and said, "America brought 9/11 upon itself." We are not those few 9/11 family members who, from the beginning, misdirected their understandable anger and who let themselves be used or actively sought to be used by President Bush's political opposition and the blame-America-first-and-always crowd.'

"And lastly we told the campaign, 'Will the Bush/Cheney campaign, out of its sense of respect for us, inadvertently do what the mainstream media has done to us and refuse to give a public voice to our support for President Bush? Will November 2nd come and go without America knowing that 242 (now 248) 9/11 family members recognize and greatly appreciate President Bush's relentless pursuit of terrorists and those that harbored them? Before the election, will voters be kept from knowing that a large group of 9/11 family members--whom we believe represent a huge majority of 9/11 family members--believe President Bush was right to free Iraq and remove Saddam Hussein from power due to his history of supporting terrorism (including bin Laden and al Qaeda) and harboring terrorists such as Abu Abbas, Abu Nidal, and Abu Zarqawi?'

"Yesterday, the Bush/Cheney campaign relented and did what we asked them to do.

"We have been silenced by the mainstream media for too long. The Bush/Cheney campaign had to be (to its credit) dragged kicking and screaming into publishing our open letter to America and our signatures onto its website. We thank them for their respect. And we thank them for letting us stand with them now.

"So my friend, I ask you to please post this blog and this URL onto your website: http://www.georgewbush.com/911Families/

"God bless America, Australia, and all those who stand with the coalition of the willing."
Do yourself a favour, go and read it, and tell others to do the same.


Guest blogger: The Empire writes back 

As you're undoubtedly aware, not that long ago British left-wing daily "Guardian" launched an action to encourage their readers to write to voters on Clark County, Ohio and lobby them to exercise their vote for the common good. One of Britain's eminent scientists, Richard Dawkins, was one such person who availed himself of the opportunity to ask Clark County not to vote for George W Bush.

Then one of regular readers of this blog, Steven B. Wylie, a businessman from Nashville, Tennessee, wrote back. Here's the exchange, prefaced by a brief explanation from Steve:

"Richard Dawkins is holder of the Charles Simonyi Chair of Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University and author of numerous books, including "Climbing Mount Improbable" and "The Blind Watchmaker," the latter work a winner of the Royal Society of Literature’s Heinemann Prize and the Los Angeles Times book award. He is also a noted secular humanist. He joined other authors and intellectuals such as Antonia Fraser and John LeCarre in the UK Guardian’s campaign to write to the voters of Clark County, Ohio, and urge them to vote out Bush. Below is a copy of his letter printed in the Guardian. After reading it, I managed to track down his email address at Oxford and send him a retort. To my slight surprise, he wrote back, prompting a full rebuttal from me. I am awaiting his reply.

Richard Dawkins’ letter published in the Guardian on October 13, 2004:

Dear Americans,

Don't be so ashamed of your president: the majority of you didn't vote for him. If Bush is finally elected properly, that will be the time for Americans travelling abroad to simulate a Canadian accent. Please don't let it come to that. Vote against Bin Laden's dream candidate. Vote to send Bush packing.

Before 9/11 gave him his big break - the neo-cons' Pearl Harbor - Bush was written off as an amiable idiot, certain to serve only one term. An idiot he may be, but he is also sly, mendacious and vindictive; and the thuggish ideologues who surround him are dangerous. 9/11 gave America a free gift of goodwill, and it poured in from all around the world. Bush took it as a free gift to the warmongers of his party, a licence to attack an irrelevant country which, however nasty its dictator, had no connection with 9/11. The consequence is that all the worldwide goodwill has vanished. Bush's America is on the way to becoming a pariah state. And Bush's Iraq has become a beacon for terrorists.

In the service of his long-planned war (with its catastrophically unplanned aftermath), Bush not only lied about Iraq being the "enemy" who had attacked the twin towers. With the connivance of the toadying Tony Blair and the spineless Colin Powell, he lied to Congress and the world about weapons of mass destruction. He is now brazenly lying to the American electorate about how "well" things are going under the puppet government. By comparison with this cynical mendacity, the worst that can be said about John Kerry is that he sometimes changes his mind. Well, wouldn't you change your mind if you discovered that the major premise on which you had been persuaded to vote for war was a big fat lie?

Now that all other justifications for the war are known to be lies, the warmongers are thrown back on one, endlessly repeated: the world is a better place without Saddam. No doubt it is. But that's the Tony Martin school of foreign policy [Martin was a householder who shot dead a burglar who had broken into his house in 1999]. It's not how civilised countries, who follow the rule of law, behave. The world would be a better place without George Bush, but that doesn't justify an assassination attempt. The proper way to get rid of that smirking gunslinger is to vote him out.

As the bumper stickers put it, "Re-defeat Bush". But, this time, do it so overwhelmingly that neither his brother's friends in Florida nor his father's friends on the Supreme Court will be able to rig the count. Decent Americans - there are absolutely more intelligent, educated, civilised, cultivated, compassionate people in America than in any other country in the western world - please show your electoral muscle this time around. We in the rest of the world, who sadly cannot vote in the one election that really affects our future, are depending on you. Please don't let us down.

My retort, emailed to Professor Dawkins on Oct. 21, 2004:

Dear Professor Dawkins

My God, Sir! Do you know what you are saying?

The mentality embedded in lines like this is ludicrous:

"We in the rest of the world, who sadly cannot vote in the one election that really affects our future, are depending on you."

Here is what I and many others are really hearing:

"We...are depending on you."

In other words, rather than take any responsibility yourselves for the current state of the world, you blame others. It's as if you are a teenager cussing out your lame-O parents before demanding your allowance and the keys to the car. To continue the analogy, if you don't like the rules of the household, then move out! As parents over here would say, get a job and see what it's like to have to support yourself. Don't like American "hegemony"? Fine, we don't like it either; but until you "kids" grow up and move out, you’re going to be eating what we put on the table and that's that!

This effort of yours at placing the responsibility for your future on us reminds me that Oskar Schindler couldn't even walk down the streets of Germany after the war for his fellow citizens throwing rocks at him. They couldn't stand him because he was a reminder that they could have done something but chose to do nothing. You believe you have no greater moral responsibility than to fling off some piece of condescending and pretentious bullsh*t to us ugly Americans.

Steve Wylie
Nashville, TN USA

His email back to me, October 26, 2004:

Dear Mr. Wylie

I find it very hard to follow your letter. You don't seem to have grasped the point, which was that, far from wanting MORE American involvement in our affairs, it would be very nice to have less American interference, and none at all of the Bush military interventionist variety. Then American elections could be treated as purely internal affairs and nobody else need take any interest in them. We are intensely concerned about the present American election because one of the candidates has an avowed policy of unilateral military adventurism, and a record of unilateral abrogation of international agreements to protect the entire world environment.

Since it was you who raised the analogy of childish dependency, I can't resist pointing out how childish is the evident motivation of many Bush voters. He makes them feel 'safe', poor babies. How bizarre this is, given that it was Bush who failed to listen to warnings about Al Qaeda (too busy obsessing with Saddam Hussein to notice the REAL threat), Bush who (possibly through no fault of his own) let the 9/11 atrocity take place, and Bush who failed to catch Osama bin Laden because he diverted attention to the totally irrelevant Iraq instead. Now Bush is trading on the childish fears of a nation of blanket-hugging thumb-suckers, even though most of what they have to fear is directly caused by Bush himself.

The world waits anxiously, and powerlessly, to see whether the adult half of the American electorate will prevail, and elect a real President: an adult, thoughtful man, capable of independent thought, and above all capable of CHANGING HIS MIND when changing evidence warrants it.

Yours sincerely

Richard Dawkins

My rebuttal, sent October 28, 2004:

Dear Professor Dawkins,

You find it very hard to follow my letter, yet you somehow found the time to write me back. Thank you.

However, I find it equally difficult to follow yours. I’m a little confused after you said in your Guardian letter that “there are absolutely more intelligent, educated, civilised, cultivated, compassionate people in America than in any other country in the western world,” yet in your reply to me you call us a “nation of blanket-hugging thumb-suckers.” Is this a scientific observation, Professor? A particular classification: the cultivated, mid-American thumb-sucker, prone to compassionate smirking? Or should I gather that you were being disingenuous in one or the other statement?

Also confusing is your “point” of less American interference in your affairs, specifically of the “military interventionist variety.” Are you an Iraqi? Or Afghani, perhaps? I don’t understand then the wish for less interference in your country. Maybe we’re arming Scotsmen? Are we threatening to bomb Westminster if you don’t stick it out with us in Iraq? Pressuring J.K. Rowling to work faster on the next Potter book, is that it?

But let’s be serious.

In the Guardian, you ruefully admit that the world is no doubt better without Saddam and then go on to proclaim, “The world would be a better place without George Bush, but that doesn't justify an assassination attempt.” Well, let’s think about that logic for a moment. On the one hand we have Saddam Hussein, a murderous tyrant of the first order. On the other is George Bush, commander-in-chief of the most powerful military in the world and in your view a sly, vindictive idiot, surrounded by “thuggish ideologues.” The world, you say, would be a better place without either of them.

The proper way to get rid of one, according to you, is to vote him out. How would you have gotten rid of the other? Discounting deus ex machina (or Darwin ex machina, if you prefer), some sort of action must take place, correct? You seem to concede that there was a “REAL threat” in Al Qaeda, so you are presumably for action, when it is warranted. When would action have been warranted in Saddam’s case? Given the abundant evidence for how well Oil-for-Food was working, it was only a matter of time before sanctions collapsed and all the yellowcake and tons of (missing?) explosives at Al-Qaqaa would find a use somewhere. As a secular humanist, what’s the tipping point for doing something? How many mass graves?

But you’re against the invasion, right? Maybe you think we should we have sent in Super-Dooper Squad X to give Saddam a Hollywood ending? Put on the stealth pajamas and be in and out before you could say, “Shaken, not stirred”? If such a plan were plausible, I think we could find a few Kurds who would agree with it. Surely you don’t believe nothing at all should have been done?

Yet given all you find to fault with President Bush regarding “warnings about Al Qaeda,” you seem to suggest that he could have done something to better prevent “let(ting) the 9/11 atrocity take place.” I’m sorry, Professor, that almost sounds like you’re saying we should have done something preemptive. Again, what is the tipping point? Why do you give “warnings about Al Qaeda” greater credence than the intelligence claiming WMDs in Iraq? You agree the world is better without Saddam. You also believe the world would be better without Bush, yet you don’t justify his assassination. Given the way you think, I don’t understand why you should not. You apply a very oily logic when it comes to making the world a better place, Professor Dawkins. Maybe I could understand it better without this thumb in my mouth.

Why write us in the first place? I mean, given the logic above, what was the logic behind trying to affect our election? Well, let’s don’t kid each other, it’s because you believed you could make a statement and because you believed we might listen. Correct?

I’m sorry, Professor, but your beliefs remind me of why a child writes Santa Claus.

As I’m sure you know, kids write Santa because they believe he’s up there in the North Pole and they believe he’s going to listen to them. When they reach a certain age, they stop believing and consequently stop writing. Why do you believe in us enough to write us, may I ask? Yet you don’t believe, I would hazard, in the benefits of writing the good people of, say, Clark County, North Korea. Or Clark County, Iran. Or Clark County, Cuba. Clark County, Sudan, perhaps? Maybe Clark County, Syria? Why not? Where is your belief in these people?

I must admit to a bit of unfairness here, Professor, in that I am able to know a great deal more about you by benefit of your status, than you can know of me (of relatively little status). Maybe you’ll grant this to me since I sprung to buy two of your books, The Blind Watchmaker and The Selfish Gene, after you wrote me. I’ve just begun reading them, but given what I know about you so far—though nowhere near comprehensive—I find that who you are in your letters is in a curious contrast to your published thoughts and beliefs. You said in The Selfish Gene, for instance:

My own feeling is that a human society based simply on the gene’s law of universal ruthless selfishness would be a very nasty society in which to live. But unfortunately, however much we may deplore something, it does not stop it being true. (…) Be warned that if you wish, as I do, to build a society in which individuals cooperate generously and unselfishly towards a common good, you can expect little help from biological nature. Let us try to teach generosity and altruism, because we are born selfish. (p. 3)

Your book was first published in 1976, but may I presume that this quotation is still a relatively accurate reflection of your beliefs? If so, then I find it striking that you write to us, “the intelligent, educated, civilised, cultivated, compassionate people in America…” Wouldn’t it make more sense to write to those who do not possess these attributes? Shouldn’t you be teaching “generosity and altruism” somewhere other than the one place you admit has “absolutely” more of it than “any other country in the western world”? But if you truly believed we are as you describe, then you would face the contradiction that maybe we know what we’re doing by supporting our “smirking gunslinger.”

However, if you believe in the power of the pen to move Bush out of office, then what do you believe will realistically move the citizens of countries like North Korea or Iran? Why is writing us a better use of your time, Professor, than writing, say, the beheaders of Mr. Bigley? Could it be that you reserve a program of letter-writing only to those you perceive as rational? Yet I would be willing to bet that you don’t find any use in writing these others, do you? Why not? Why not write them and tell them their leaders threaten world stability and peace, so oust them please? Even a thumb-sucker such as myself can see that were you to get Iranians and North Koreans to get rid of their smirkers, our smirker wouldn’t stand a chance. Or do you admit that this is irrational and therefore futile? To paraphrase Orwell, how many Ghandis are there in Iran and North Korea that we never hear about?

Then again, how rational is it to await “anxiously” and “powerlessly” on a “nation of blanket-hugging thumb-suckers” (though cultivated and compassionate), ruled by leaders in your description who are thuggish ideologues and war-mongers. Are you a rational being or not, Professor Dawkins? Are you sure you don’t want to reconsider assassination?

What is the proper effective response, then, to irrationality?

I know you’re an avowed atheist; you’re even listed on celebathiests.com! But yet you expect to be able to “build a society in which individuals cooperate generously and unselfishly towards a common good…”

Why? What is the point? To build it for what purpose? If nature, though possessed of an amazing design, is still essentially meaningless, where do you expect this society of yours to take us? Not that you and I will live long enough to know, but what is the use or purpose of us? What’s the ultimate point? Either we are just “clockwork oranges” and what does it matter, or perhaps we contain a meme that pushes us to attain godhood ourselves, to become all-powerful consciousness-possessing deities.

That makes as much sense to me as this “common good” you speak of. Why shouldn’t becoming what you deny, a god, be the goal? I would say there’s a great deal of historical evidence that supports this idea; it explains the justification for the killing, the slaughter, the so-called unilateralism. If the godhood meme is valid, then why shouldn’t the Stalins, the Osamas, the Bushes of the world gather unto themselves all that they can get? A universe populated by conscious beings is not much different than one without, is it not? A universe without Bush is not much different than one with Saddam. Everything in between is really just for comfort then, isn’t it, Professor? And who should care about your comfort except you? Unilateral military adventurism, Islamist terrorists, Beslan, Dachau, Gulags, killing fields… what do these really matter to you as long as you can’t see them from your living room window?

So you write to us, Professor, when you might as well write to Santa Claus for all the difference it makes.

You ascribe to our president an “avowed policy” of “military adventurism.” Why, Professor Dawkins! That’s merely your opinion! Is it adventurism for 50 million people to no longer live under despotism? Hail the adventurers, I say. But then on the other hand, why shouldn’t they live in despotism? If it weren’t for Bush’s “military adventurism” taking down the Taliban and working to create the conditions for democracy, could you honestly say you cared about the people of Afghanistan? Enough to do something about it? Was there someone you could have written? Did you write anyone about them before 9/11? After? Does the end justify the means? I don’t know, I’m asking you.

One thing I do know, there are plenty around these days who do think the end justifies the means, products of a moral relativism that we have science to thank for, Professor, not religion. A whole host of Osamas and Hitlers and Stalins out there. And why not? Why conform to secular humanism? Why not secular non-humanism?

As you yourself say, a “society based simply on the gene’s law of universal ruthless selfishness would be a very nasty society in which to live.” Can you offer anything to the contrary that can prevent the spread of that idea if enough people decide that it’s worth it to them to live this way?

“We are not bound by any circumstances, or to anybody, and we will continue to fight as is convenient and advantageous to us and by our rules.”
-Shamil Basayev, mastermind of the Beslan massacre

Therefore there are only really two categories of people, aren’t there? Those who cause discomfort, and those who take it away. Or, if you will: the comfortable versus the uncomfortable. The only point, then, to your intense concern in our elections is simply one of it affecting your comfort. Kill the messenger, isn’t that it?

I can offer myself as evidence to the contrary of your assertion that Bush supporters are motivated to vote for him because he makes us feel safe. You, who apparently make decisions and base actions on how it affects your comfort, may truly believe this. He is a discomfort to you, therefore you deduce that he must be a comfort to his supporters. You assert that he muffed 9/11, missed bin Laden, was wrong about Iraq and that he somehow squandered this “free gift of good will” (a gift mysteriously bestowed and withdrawn to suit your fancy, as if it were a meteor that landed on the twin towers and not airliners). Commensurate with someone who sees the world in terms of how it affects their comfort, you find “childish” our “evident motivation” to support our president. But that is not, sir, what motivates us cultivated thumb-suckers.

It may be difficult for you to grasp this, since it likely offends many of your sensibilities, but most of us know that what Bush is doing may ultimately mean we are less safe. Less comfortable, if you will. It is taking a chance, Professor, that perhaps by performing radical surgery on this malignancy that it might help save the entire patient. Most of us recognize that the patient was eventually going to die without it. He may die anyway, but rather than simply attend to his comfort, to anaesthetize his last few days by administering your recommended panacea of thoughtful mind-changing, some of us choose to base our corrective on history and some other beliefs that you find bothersome to your plans for the “common good.”

Yet you tell us this is “not how civilised countries, who follow the rule of law, behave.” Of all people, Professor, you should know by now how non-scientific and irrational it is to put your faith in something as illogical as men and women behaving according to the “rule of law.” Though I’m sure there were quite a few using that one on their way to the gas chamber.

To paraphrase Romano Guardini, you deny Revelation yet still insist on benefiting from its values. I’m not saying whether or not I deny Revelation, but I recognize that once the species gets the idea that it can bend the benefits as is “convenient and advantageous,” your idea of “civilised” ceases to have validity. Welcome to the brave new world, doctor, it’s the one you believe in.

I grasped your point. Did you grasp mine? You want less interference from us? Then you do something to create conditions and “expect little help from biological nature.” Isn’t that what you believe, Professor? You accuse us of a “childish dependency” yet you wait around writing letters and expecting us to fall in line and “cooperate generously and unselfishly” with your ideas. Thank God (oops!) for Tony Blair and others of your countrymen who think differently.

But who knows? It’s a close race. It may yet happen to the benefit of your comfort: hospice, not surgery.

Sincerely Yours,

Steven B. Wylie
Nashville, TN USA

You can contact Steve at kiloran37 "at" yahoo "dot" com. By the way, I've been trying to convince Steve to start blogging - you can see why.


Straw kittens and Holocaust deniers 

Tim Blair very ably defends yours truly from the assault by two leftie Australian bloggers, John Quiggin and Tim Dunlop, who don't like very much the "Good news from Iraq" series (see the top of the sidebar for links). I won't rehash the arguments - go and read Tim's post as well as his readers' comments - it's pure gold (thanks guys!) - but I can't leave without mentioning two quotes:

John Quiggin: "Arthur Chrenkoff has made it his mission to report the good news [out of Iraq]. A lot of the time this consists of impossibly cute kitten stories..."

Which prompted Tim to write: "Dunlop and Quiggin have invented a new argumentative tactic: the straw cat. Take a look through Arthur's exhaustive compilations, which cover all manner of developments in Iraq, from investment and rebuilding to diplomatic agreements and humanitarian aid. No kitties, however..."

I've defended myself
often enough, so I won't bother again, except to repeat: John Quiggin has a right, just like every other reader, to assign any weight he considers appropriate to stories I compile - and that includes dismissing all the good news as "impossibly cute kitten stories." I write not to convince that all is rosy but to provide the other side of the story so that people can make an informed assessment. On a personal note though, history will judge who's right. I'll bet on a cute kitten. Cute kittens grow up to be cute cats; dead horses just keep on decomposing.

And this fascinating analogy from Tim Dunlop: "Life went on pretty normally for a lot of German people while Jews were rounded up into ghettos under Nazism but was there an Arthur Chrenkoff blogging away somewhere in Australia telling us all that we shouldn't put so much emphasis on all that nasty stuff? Would there have been a chorus of other bloggers happily linking? And tough luck if you find the comparison offensive."

Tough luck, indeed. I happen not to find the comparison offensive; not to me personally - but that probably says less about me than making this comparison says about Tim Dunlop.

An Arthur Chrenkoff probably would not be blogging away somewhere in Australia but in the occupied Poland. My great grandfather was killed by Gestapo, my grandmother willed herself to death (lack of medicines also didn't help) not wanting to go through another Soviet occupation of what used to be eastern Poland (first in 1939-41, then in 1944). My grandfather was wounded in the September '39 campaign; the other grandfather fought from the first to the very last day of the war in four campaigns across Europe; both came within an inch of being killed by drunken Red Army officers just after the war. All this doesn't personally make me a better person, a hero or a sage, but it certainly makes me able to spot a bullshit argument when I see one.

Now, I don't think Tim Dunlop is actually comparing me to a Holocaust denier - more of a Holocaust minimiser or ignorer, but his argument shows just how far the moral bankruptcy of the left has progressed. Throwing the Holocaust analogy with the reckless abandon of drunken sailors has done nothing to illuminate the present but much to debase one of - if not the - greatest tragedy of the last century. Ditto with the obsession about comparing, implicitly or explicitly, anyone on the right to Hitler and Nazis. One doesn't have to be a Jew - a modicum of common sense will suffice - to be disturbed that anyone sane can compare the American actions in Iraq with the Nazi actions in Europe.

German Pastor
Martin Niemoller is often quoted for his famous warning "First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew..." Sadly, people like Tim Dunlop and much of the hysterical left who think that Bushitler is already coming after them will not be able speak out when the real bad guys come because it's difficult to speak out when you have long time ago pissed against the wall your intellect, judgment and moral sense.


P J is from Mars, "Independent" readers are from Venus 

The readers of Britain's leftie "Independent" daily chat with P J O'Rourke. The highlights:

"Is George W Bush stupid? Anthea Holden, Birmingham

"No... But there is very little to be gained from asking whether a politician is stupid. The question should be: 'Are they wise?' Reagan was perhaps not too bright, but he was very wise. Time will tell how wise Bush is, but my gut instinct is, not particularly.

"France is a great country, whose leaders are brave and principled, and whose culture and society are beacons to the world. Discuss. Catherine Price, Northampton

"Every moral compass needs a butt end. Whichever way the French are pointing, we can go in the opposite direction with a quiet conscience.

"If elected, can John Kerry live up to the expectations of left-wing Europeans? Elaine Sumner, London

"If Stalin couldn't, I don't think Kerry's going to be able to...

"If you were President of the United States, how would you have handled Iraq? Would you have done a better job than George W Bush? Kieran Gallagher, Belfast

"As George Bush is a man of deeply average intelligence and so am I, I think I would have done just as badly."
Mind you, just before you think that P J has turned soft in his old age, he adds: "having covered the first Iraq war and seeing what the Iraqis did to Kuwait, it certainly would have been on my mind to wipe them out."

Waiting for the "Independent" to launch a letter-writing campaign to P J.


Thursday, October 28, 2004

My pet idea - one step closer to reality 

The regular readers will hopefully keep on indulging me as I keep bringing this issue up. For quite some time I've been writing about removing US visa requirements for the Poles as a perfect symbolic gesture of appreciation for Poland's strong support for America in the war on terror and the war in Iraq. As reader Dave commented the last time I wrote about it, the issue is a big deal in Poland:
"I spend my summers teaching English to the top high school students in Poland. I was amazed at the change in attitude toward the US in the last year. Poles love America and demand nothing in return for their support. Increasingly, the Poles feel like they get no respect for their duty in Iraq. Poland has asked for one favor-that Poles traveling to the US be treated with the same respect as those from the rest of the EU. That Poles must pay $100 to apply for a travel visa to the US, while the rest of the western EU can basically walk right in to the US, is seen as sign of disrespect to the Poles. About 1/3 of the applications are denied, costing the applicant $100, 2 weeks salary for the average Pole. Bush could have rewarded Poland for their service, instead Bush took Polish support for granted. There is a limit to Polish support..."
A few days ago, John Kerry promised he would do a better job at bribing the "Coalition of the Bribed" than Bush, and would work to have the visa requirement removed. I'm happy to report we're one step closer to achieving that objective, regardless who's in the White House after November 2 (link in Polish). The bill to that effect has been introduced on 16 September by Sen Barbara Mikulski (Dem) and Sen Rick Santorum (Rep). Until recently the bill was being blocked using a rare procedure called "secret hold", which allows the blocker to remain anonymous. All we know is that the "secret holder" was a Democrat. However, following an extensive lobbying campaign by the Polish-American community, the unnamed Dem has now dropped his or her objection and the Mikulski/Santorum bill will be coming up for vote on 16 November.

I know that there is a lot more to visa-free entry - in particular, the adherence to a stringent security regime - but if the French and the German can do it, so should the Poles.

Stay tuned.

Update: Readers in the comments section inform me that the Bill in question is S. 2844. Thank you to all those who promised they will contact their Senators.

I also take onboard comments that the visa requirements are in place for Poles because many tend to be overstayers and waving visa requirement would cause a Polish exodus to America. I'm not one to encourage illegal immigration, particularly into somebody else's country, but a Polish influx into the US (and I'm skeptical whether the old country would really empty if the American gates were thrown open) would not necessarily be a bad thing. Contrary to common perception, nurtured I'm sure in part through traditional "Polish jokes", Polish-Americans are actually in top 5 of the wealthiest ethnic groups in the United States (correct me if I'm wrong).


Those missing explosives 

A few interesting developments since my yesterday's post:

Iraqis are becoming insistent that the removal of explosives in question must have occurred after the Americans first arrived at the installation:
"A top Iraqi science official said on Wednesday it was impossible that 350 tonnes of high explosives could have been smuggled out of a military site south of Baghdad before the regime fell last year.

" 'It is impossible that these materials could have been taken from this site before the regime's fall,' said Mohammed al-Sharaa, who heads the science ministry's site monitoring department and previously worked with UN weapons inspectors under Saddam.

" 'The officials that were inside this facility (Al-Qaqaa) beforehand confirm that not even a shred of paper left it before the fall and I spoke to them about it and they even issued certified statements to this effect which the US-led coalition was aware of'."
Not surprisingly, the "New York Times" is telling a similar story:
"Looters stormed the weapons site at Al Qaqaa in the days after American troops swept through the area in early April 2003 on their way to Baghdad, gutting office buildings, carrying off munitions and even dismantling heavy machinery, three Iraqi witnesses and a regional security chief said Wednesday."
With this little caveat:
"The accounts do not directly address the question of when 380 tons of powerful conventional explosives vanished from the site sometime after early March, the last time international inspectors checked the seals on the bunkers where the material was stored. It is possible that Iraqi forces removed some explosives before the invasion.

"But the accounts make clear that what set off much if not all of the looting was the arrival and swift departure of American troops, who did not secure the site after inducing the Iraqi forces to abandon it."
There's of course a world of difference between looting and removing almost 400 tons of explosives: looters stripping buildings of valuables and carting off machinery is simply not in the same leagues as removing 40 truckloads of explosives.

Bill Gertz, meanwhile, adds a new twist to the saga, quoting a defence department official:
"Russian special forces troops moved many of Saddam Hussein's weapons and related goods out of Iraq and into Syria in the weeks before the March 2003 U.S. military operation, The Washington Times has learned.

"John A. Shaw, the deputy undersecretary of defense for international technology security, said in an interview that he believes the Russian troops, working with Iraqi intelligence, 'almost certainly' removed the high-explosive material that went missing from the Al-Qaqaa facility, south of Baghdad."
True or not (and I'm with Deacon on this one; it's rather curious we haven't heard this one before and it seems a lot like one of those stories that pop up all the time on World Net Daily and Debka and then disappear without confirmation), I doubt that we'll hear more about this story; a few days before the election "Bush is to blame" has got a lot nicer ring to it than "A permanent member of the UN Security Council, which John Kerry would like to see more involved in Iraq, has been implicated in helping Saddam remove and hide explosives banned by the UN."

One last thought: the American armed force have either already destroyed or secured for destruction some
400,000 tons of explosives. We know that 380 tons are missing. That's 0.095 of a per cent of the known total.

And John Kerry calls that
"disturbing" and "devastating."

Perhaps he should be more careful not to set up a standard for a mission success that's impossible to achievable in real life.

Update: Not 380 tons?
"The information on which the Iraqi Science Ministry based an Oct. 10 memo in which it reported that 377 tons of RDX explosives were missing — presumably stolen due to a lack of security — was based on 'declaration' from July 15, 2002. At that time, the Iraqis said there were 141 tons of RDX explosives at the facility.

"But the confidential IAEA documents obtained by ABC News show that on Jan. 14, 2003, the agency's inspectors recorded that just over 3 tons of RDX was stored at the facility — a considerable discrepancy from what the Iraqis reported."
That's 239 tons and the whole thing is slowly starting to resemble the "great looting of the Baghdad Museum" (remember how the 170,000 looted items have magically turned into only 25 objects actually missing?)

And there is more:
"The IAEA documents from January 2003 found no discrepancy in the amount of the more dangerous HMX explosives thought to be stored at Al-Qaqaa, but they do raise another disturbing possibility.

"The documents show IAEA inspectors looked at nine bunkers containing more than 194 tons of HMX at the facility. Although these bunkers were still under IAEA seal, the inspectors said the seals may be potentially ineffective because they had ventilation slats on the sides. These slats could be easily removed to remove the materials inside the bunkers without breaking the seals, the inspectors noted."
Increasingly, it's looking like the only thing missing on the American watch is the accusers' credibility.


Arafat's endgame? 

Preparing for the end?

"Top Palestinian leaders are gathering at Yasser Arafat's battered headquarters in Ramallah amid reports that the longtime Palestinian leader's health is rapidly deteriorating."
There's an old tale retold by the ancient historian Arrian of young Alexander the Great laying on his death bed in Babylon, surrounded by his trusted generals who over the previous decade had conquered most of the known world at his side, all now uneasily waiting for Alexander to appoint his successor from among them. Alexander, always a ruthless realist at heart, despite his semi-divine pretensions, is said to have finally answered their question "Who do you leave your empire to?", "Hoti to kratisto" - to the strongest.

If and when Arafat finally shuffles of this mortal coil, it is of course possible that the dominant section of the Palestinian establishment will want to continue business as usual. But this is not a long term strategy, because business as usual - particularly in the Middle East - does not solve anything; it merely perpetuates an inherently unstable and unsatisfactory status quo. And history shows that such a state of affairs can only last so long.

Hence, with Arafat finally gone after towering over the Palestinian cause for four decades, the Palestinians will have two simple choices: radicalisation or normalisation. Should they choose the former, the extremists will assume complete control over the Palestinian destiny launching their people onto the armageddon path of a one-state solution - Arab Palestine from Jordan to the sea. Should the Palestinians choose the latter, it will be their best opportunity to resolve the Middle Eastern crisis and finally move towards normalcy. The final settlement might look similar to Ehud Barak's proposal in 2000; a Palestinian state taking virtually most if not all of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, coexisting peacefully with Israel wound back to its pre-1967 borders. Sovereignty and peace might finally give the Palestinian people a chance to resurrect themselves, and being among the best educated and the most hardworking people of the Middle East, a chance to channel their energies, creativity and passion into making up for the decades of lost time and finally building a normal, decent future for their next generations.

I hope they choose the latter - I hope that at Arafat's deathbed the "strongest" will be those most realistic and most moderate. And I wish them well.


A fresh start for Australia 

I was there when the history was made.

No, nothing like the Dealey Plaza in Dallas in 1963, or the Berlin Wall in 1989, or indeed Manhattan in 2001, but an open office space of the 4th floor, 333 Adelaide Street in Brisbane, where for the past two weeks the Australian Electoral Commission has been painstakingly counting the Senate vote in Queensland.

At 11am the AEC official pushed the button on the computer and a specially designed software started the complex task of counting and allocating preferences in our overly complicated Senate election system.

It was all over in five minutes, and for the first time in Australia's history a state elected four conservative Senators (three Liberals and one National Party) out of the six positions which were contested this time around.

This means that for the first time in a quarter of a century Australia's center-right government has a majority in the Senate and can finally push through reforms that were stalled for the past eight and a half years by the combination of the Labor opposition, minor parties and independents.

Not any more. Here's to a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reshape Australia into a more prosperous, more competitive and more open country. Here's to some long overdue reform.


Chrenkoff endorses... 

...John Kerry.

Just kidding.

I'm not an American citizen, have already had my own election a few weeks ago when I happily voted to re-elect John Howard, most of you would know where I stand anyway, and in the end I'm preaching largely to a small but devoted group of the converted.

But there are so many other endorsements out there anyway.

I'm heartened by the number of moderates among my fellow bloggers who have thought about the issues seriously and will be voting for Bush - people like
Ann Althouse, Michael Totten, Meryl Yourish and Marc Danziger to name just four.

I'm amused by the number of people who seem to think very little of Kerry, but will nevertheless be voting for him while holding their noses - people like
Andrew Sullivan, Mark Brown and Jacob Weisberg (hat tip: Best of the Web). Sullivan and Dan Drezner, in fact, are two prominent blogosphere hawks who are nevertheless throwing their lot with Kerry.

I'm even more amused by the diversity of opinion among writers and contributors for the
"Slate", where everyone except one editor, two contributors a brave intern endorses Kerry. At least there are anti-war people there voting for Kerry, as well as pro-war people voting for Kerry.

Speaking of "Slate", Christopher Hitchens's strange endorsement has been a teaser. As
Tim Blair writes, the Brit seems to have flip-flopped since his other recent piece endorsing (kind of) Bush. I read Hitchens's "Slate" endorsement and it seems to me that the "John Kerry" tag put next to his name is a work of an editor - for the life of me, I can't say whom Hitchens really endorses and who he would vote for (Dan Drezner is similarly confused - I think that's exactly the way Hitchens likes it).

Meanwhile, the neo-paleo-con Scott McConnell, the executive editor of Pat Buchanan's
"American Conservative" endorses Kerry.

I don't necessarily ascribe to the view that "S11 changed everything" - but it certainly changed a lot of things, though mostly through exacerbating tensions and uncovering faultlines that were already there since at least the end of the Cold War. The 2004 election is the first presidential contest where the chicken are really coming home to roost - and what strange bedfellows it had made.


If Muslims could vote for their American Idol 

Some interesting perspectives from the Middle East on preferred candidates in American Presidential elections.

First, this report from Iraq, and another endorsement Kerry could do without:
"Leaders and supporters of the anti-U.S. insurgency say their attacks in recent weeks have a clear objective: The greater the violence, the greater the chances that President Bush will be defeated on Tuesday and the Americans will go home. 'If the U.S. Army suffered numerous humiliating losses, [Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John] Kerry would emerge as the superman of the American people,' said Mohammad Amin Bashar, a leader of the Muslim Scholars Association, a hard-line clerical group that vocally supports the resistance."
The Muslim Scholars Association seems to represent the more strategically minded wing of insurgency - for there is also the "all the infidels are bad" school of thought:
" 'The nation of infidels is one, and Bush and Kerry are two faces of the same coin,' said Abu Obeida, nom de guerre of a leader of Fallujah's al-Noor Jihadi regiment. 'What is taken by force will be returned only by force, and we don't care what the results of the elections are'."
Isn't it fascinating to see how similar the worldviews of the hysterical jihad and the hysterical far-left really are? Mowafaq Al-Tai, an architect and intellectual, sums up the spectrum of insurgent views:
"The most pro-Kerry, he said, are the former Saddam Hussein loyalists — Ba'ath Party members and others who think Washington might scale back its ambitions for Iraq if Mr. Kerry wins, allowing them to re-enter civic life. The most pro-Bush, he said, are the foreign extremists. 'They prefer Bush, because he's a provocative figure, and the more they can push people to the extreme, the better for their case'."
But what of the ordinary Iraqis? "Mr. Bashar, a professor at Baghdad's Islamic University, said he and many of those who oppose the U.S. presence in Iraq were rooting for Mr. Kerry. 'I think if Kerry wins, he's going to try to get world support and United Nations involvement,' he said during an interview at Baghdad's Um al-Qura mosque. 'You'll see a different situation in Iraq if the United Nations is involved'." And isn't it also fascinating to see how similar the worldviews at universities are, whether Boston or Baghdad? But, needless to say, But Nazar Judi, a 41-year-old money trader who had his right hand cut off by Saddam Hussein's security forces nine years ago and replaced with a prosthetic limb by the US Army "is squarely in the Bush camp."

A broader, regional perspective comes from this opinion piece by Abdul Rahman Al-Rashid in "Arab News". Al-Rashid concludes that:

Palestinians, although never quite happy with any occupant of the White House, would prefer to see Bush re-elected, as the Democrats are perceived as being more pro-Israel.

The Saudis also opt for Bush. Kerry is seen as hostile to the Kingdom.

Iraqis, according to Al-Rashid, are grateful to Bush for the liberation but think that Kerry's presidency would be more conducive to reconciliation, both within Iraq as well as in the international community.

"The Syrians, more than any other Arabs, would wish to see Bush go down in the hope that it would end the pressure on their country." Al-Rashid thinks they're kidding themselves.

The Egyptians are also anti-Bush. Al-Rashid observes: "This Egyptian mood is no different from the Europeans’. Bush’s defeat will make it easy for those who want to reconcile with the American government without risking losing face. This is a position that best suits Washington’s former allies before the invasion of Iraq, the French and the Germans, who will need to cooperate with Washington in Iraq and the war against terrorism. The Europeans need reconciliation but it will not be easy for them to change their earlier positions with Bush in office."

And moving east of the Arab world, Ayaz Gul reports on how Pakistan and Afghanistan are looking at the American elections. His conclusion: the Pakistani elites tend to prefer Bush, whom they see as having established a good relationship with their country; the average Pakistanis, however are counting on Kerry to reduce the tensions between the United States and the Muslim world. Afghanistan, according to Gul, doesn't really care who the next president will be, as long as their country is not forgotten again.

Update: More on Iraq: "A survey of 2,000 Iraqis around the country conducted last week by the Iraq Center for Research and Strategic Studies in Baghdad shows 58% of Iraqis say they don't care who wins the U.S. presidential elections. Of those who do care, 22.5% prefer Democratic candidate Sen. John Kerry and 16% prefer President Bush. Bush has the strongest support in the Kurdish north, a semi-autonomous region where opposition to former leader Saddam Hussein was strong. Kerry is preferred by the minority Sunni Muslims and even many Shiites, according to the poll."

The article makes an interesting point: "During the three decades Saddam was in power, the only exposure Iraqis had to the United States was through government propaganda. So Iraqis tend to see U.S. politics and government through the prism of their own system. Iraq's history is one of domination. From that perspective, invasions are about gaining riches and land, not about building democracy in another country. That's why Iraqis have a hard time believing that the United States is spending billions of dollars to foster democracy."

Post-Totalitarian Stress Disorder, anyone?


Guest blogger: Rebuilding Afghanistan, Part 3 

This is third, and final, part of the series by guest blogger Rob, relating his personal experiences and impressions of reconstructing Afghanistan. You can find part one here and part two here.

Strengths and shortcomings of the impact of international aid in Dawlatabad

On the positive side much was done to help this economically devastated area to survive the draught and get back on their feet again. Realize that into this draught stricken area large numbers of refugee families returned during the year 2002, to further strain a depressed economy. The emergency food aid helped people survive that year and the agricultural programs helped farmers get back on their feet and become self-sufficient once again.

The Afghans in this area stressed the need for improved traveling conditions on their roads to both the district center which is where the main market is and also to the city of Mazar. The roads constructed have vastly improved transportation times to both of those locations although one more road needs to be repaired to speed up transportation from one side of the district to Mazar. The road is not paved, but 3 years later it is still far superior to the road before hand. Individual villages still need better access to these graveled roads and hopefully one day soon there will be paved roads to the district centers.

Afghans in Dawlatabad stressed the need for education to be a priority in reconstruction. They felt that one of the lessons learned from the years under the mujahadeen and the Taliban was that education is critical for the development of their lives and country. An increase in students from at best 2,000 to 14,000 and all of the administration that goes with that is impressive. There are still huge issues with the quality of education and the training of teachers as well as suitable classrooms for the students, but progress is obvious. By the end of 2004, half or more of the schools in Dawlatabad will be meeting in a school building and 5 of those will be brand new.

Along with 14,000 children in school at least another 4,000 adults have attended literacy courses with good results. Just considering literacy statistics for the country and assuming only half of the children and adults who attended courses have become "literate", the literacy rates in the district will have more that doubled in that time and the statistics for women would have quadrupled or more.

Water was a critical need in the area during 2002 and much was done to improve access to potable water during that time. A hundred new shallow wells and about 15 deep wells were dug to provide easier access to better water. Before the villagers mostly drank from the irrigation ditches, but they dried up during the draught and now 4 or 5 months of the year the ditches are dry. Many of these wells are not being used now because the water table has dropped or minor repairs are needed, but the communities have the capacity to repair them if they make it a priority. Many of the deep wells were not successful because either the water turned bad or the well itself collapsed or the pipes became clogged.

Mazar today

A couple of months ago I was thinking back to our early days here and remembered the weekly coordination meetings led by the UN. In those days the topic of discussion was almost always the identifying of areas where the population was starving and help had not yet arrived. I reflected on my normal trips to the village where most of the requests were for emergency food aid. As I was pondering these things I began to notice the differences in Mazar as well. Whereas before I couldn’t find a computer printer anywhere in town, now I would guess Mazar itself has at least 15 or 20 stores all selling computers. I talked to people coming in from the villages, not to beg for food or work, but to buy a small generator so they could watch TV in the village. Businesses are bustling from the impact of outside investment combined with the ingenuity of Afghan businessmen. The 47 IDP camps from 2 years ago are a distant memory with all of the people having been returned to their place of origin.

People walk the streets now with much less fear of being attacked by gun toting "soldiers". In fact you can now travel around in the city and not see any of these "protectors" of Afghanistan. This is a different world than the one I arrived in 2.5 years ago.

Factional tension still exists here and rears its ugly and bloody head from time to time. The rule of gun still overrides the rule of law in most places. Women’s rights, human rights for that matter, have progressed slowly. The streets in Mazar remain in terrible repair. Kabul’s influence isn’t easily felt in this part of the country. Disarmament is still more a theory and a goal at this stage. But what did you expect in a land where most of the "open minded", well educated and well off have fled some time during the last 25 years and still are waiting to see what happens. The really large projects like road construction, nationwide education projects and issues of governance all require time and don’t have simple solutions. Much of the investment from the large donors has been focusing on these critical areas of national and local governance and policing. Do we have a long way to go still? Without question.

I’ve spent many long hours pondering nation building and development as I’ve watched the efforts of the international community and read the commentaries from the Western and local press. I’m amazed that people would think that in 2 years the ideas of villagers from rural, ultra-conservative Afghanistan would instantly change and they would quickly join the modern world. The very essence of the word "development" implies the necessity of time. Development requires change that is essentially springs from within the people. This means great amounts of attention on education, infrastructure and maybe most importantly patience and persistence. Think of how many generations it took for change to take place in Western countries. Let’s help the Afghans find their own way, but not on our time table. These cannot be ideas imposed from the outside on the Afghan people. Ask the Soviets what happens when you try that!

If you want to contact Rob directly, you can email him at txtrain2004 "at" yahoo "dot" com. A warm thank you to Rob for sharing his experiences, and kudos to him for his hard work to make a difference on the other side of the world. Let's hope the work of his and many others will eventually bear fruit in Central Asia.


Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Media matters - or maybe not 

Another media study finds skewed media coverage:

"A new study for the non-partisan Project for Excellence in Journalism suggests that in the first two weeks of October, during the period of the presidential debates, George W. Bush received much more unfavorable media coverage than Sen. John Kerry."
The study analysed coverage of "The New York Times," "Washington Post," "Miami Herald" and the Columbus (Ohio) "Dispatch," the cable channels CNN and Fox (focusing on two programs: the Aaron Brown and Brit Hume evening shows), as well as the PBS NewsHour and the three morning shows and three evening news programs on CBS, NBC and ABC. In all, 817 stories were assessed. This is the result:

"59% of stories that were mainly about Bush told a mainly negative story, while 25% of Kerry stories played out that way. One in three stories about Kerry were positive, one in seven for Bush."
"Editor & Publisher" notes that this result might not necessarily indicate political bias, as in the run-up to the 2000 election these proportions were reversed in Bush's favor.

Meanwhile, in the newspaper endorsement stakes - a game, which arguably doesn't impact on the result but can certainly excite political junkies (like this
breathless analysis: "FLORIDA: Bush is in big trouble here, at least if newspapers have any sway. Every single large paper has gone for Kerry, with the Orlando and Bradenton papers abandoning Bush and The Tampa Tribune (formerly for Dubya) sitting it out. This is how bad it is for the president: As far we know, his two biggest Sunshine State catches so far are the Ocala Star-Banner and The Ledger in Lakeland. So let's give this state to Kerry. In fact, if Bush pulls this one out, ["Editor & Publisher"] promises never to give any weight to editorial endorsements in the future.") here's the latest tally:

"Kerry now leads in endorsements 142 to 123 and in the circulation of those papers (roughly 17.5 million to 11.5 million)."
And across the Atlantic comes this chastising from British public media honcho:

"BBC World Service and Global News director Richard Sambrook... took the U.S. news nets to task on their own turf for 'wrapping themselves in the flag' and not asking the tough questions about the Bush administration's reasons for going to war in Iraq.

"Sambrook, speaking at Columbia U.'s Graduate School of Journalism, warned that such perceived partisanship of the news media may be playing a part in exposing journalists covering Iraq and other trouble spots around the globe to danger."
It seems that Sambrook doesn't actually follow the American media, and thinks that jihadis don't either.


On His Satanic Majesty's Service 

Another first for religious tolerance:

"The mother of the British Navy's first officially recognised Satanist says her Devil-worshipping son is a sweet and loving man who used to accompany her to church.

"Leading Hand Chris Cranmer, 24, a naval technician from Edinburgh, made history when he became the first British serviceman allowed to perform Satanic acts and rituals associated with the Church of Satan on board Royal Navy frigate HMS Cumberland."
They're just a misunderstood bunch, those Satanists, says the mom: "[U]nless you read into it, you think it's all death and horror... The church has 11 rules, rather like commandments. Most of these rules are perfectly acceptable and reasonable. For example, you do not hurt children or animals. There is a rule saying you can be sexually promiscuous and enjoy life, but most people in today's society do that anyway."

To paraphrase President Nixon, we're all Satanists now.

Sophie Masson is not convinced:

"The devil likes grim jokes, you see. Now somewhere in one of the navy's warships, a young Satanist with an emblematic name - Christopher means 'the bearer of Christ', 'Cranmer' was also the surname of a martyr of the Protestant Reformation - may well be earnestly expounding the scripture of the 'Satanic Bible', with its love of the strong and contempt for the vulnerable. It's not a comforting thought."
Sadly, I'm sure that for those who already believe that Bush and Blair and Western armed forces are evil incarnate as they are, the presence of a Satanist in active service will almost come as a relief.


The October Surprise - on Bush 

Maybe Teresa Heinz Kerry will be disappointed - maybe Bush and Rumsfeld won't be pulling the Osama rabbit out a of a hat just in time to steal the election that rightfully belongs to her husband.

Maybe this election's October Surprise has not been engineered by the incumbent but against him.

It seems that
CBS's "60 Minutes" was planning the last possible October Surprise, on the 31st of the month, dumping the "380 tons of missing explosives" story on Bush, with not enough time for the President to effectively respond to the story before the election day.

We now know that the "60 Minutes" was scooped by the "New York Times", which jumped the gun and published the story six days earlier, on the
25th of October.

There is some speculation that
the source of the story is the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei. ElBaradei has a history of strong disagreement with American Middle East policy; furthermore, his candidacy for the third term as the director general of the IAEA is being opposed by the Bush Administration.

ElBaradei, in turn, was relying on a letter of 10 October he received from
Mohammed Abbas, a senior official at Iraq's Ministry of Science and Technology, who reported that the disappearance of the explosives occured sometime after 9 April 2003 (copy of the letter here).

The letter is curious; as the
"New York Sun" story reports, "one U.N. official who is well versed with monitoring procedures told the Sun that there is no way for the Iraqis to know whether the material was looted at that date or was hustled out of Iraq earlier, during the war. 'We are talking about 40 trucks worth of this stuff,' the official who asked not to be named told the Sun. 'It's a huge operation'." The date of the removal also seems to be contradicted by the NBC story, relying on its embedded reporters, as well as American soldiers connected with the al-Qaqaa installation (see the comments section of this post).

The question now is: we know why the mainstream media would want to land this one on Bush only a few days before the election; we also know why ElBaradei would want the world to know; what we don't know is - is the Abbas letter simply something that opportunely and coincidentally played into ElBaradei's agenda, or is it itself a part of the plan? And if so, why would Iraqi officials want to damage Bush?

Stay tuned.


The Hanoian Candidate  

The "New York Sun" reports on some interesting Vietnamese documents:

"The communist regime in Hanoi monitored closely and looked favorably upon the activities of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War during the period Senator Kerry served most actively as the group's spokesman and a member of its executive committee, two captured Viet Cong documents suggest.

"The documents - one dubbed a
'circular' and the other a 'directive' - were captured in 1971 and are part of a trove of material from the war currently stored at the Vietnam Archive at Texas Tech University at Lubbock. Originally organized by Douglas Pike, a major scholar who is now deceased, the archive contains more than 20 million documents. Many are available online at the Virtual Vietnam Archive and, as the election has heated up, have been the focus of a scramble for insights into Mr. Kerry's anti-war activities. The Circular and the Directive are listed as items numbered 2150901039b and 2150901041 respectively. Their authenticity was confirmed by Stephen Maxner, archivist at the Vietnam Archive."
In itself, this is nothing new. It's self-evident that communist regimes "looked favorably" on the efforts of various "peace" and "anti-war" groups in the West. The only question is to what extent such groups were in contact with the commies and whether they received any foreign assistance.

And this in turn brings up some interesting questions about John Kerry's activities after his return from Vietnam. Just who was he meeting up with in Paris in 1970 and what was really discussed? Kerry says he was exploring avenues for the release of American prisoners of war. One day, when Vietnam is free again, the Hanoi files will be open and we might finally get a chance to learn what had transpired - that day couldn't come soon enough.


Guest blogger: Rebuilding Afghanistan, Part 2 

This is second part of the account by guest blogger Rob of his work in reconstruction of Afghanistan. For part one click here.

How has the reconstruction of Afghanistan progressed?

This is the question being asked by Afghans themselves and the international community who has been funding the reconstruction these past few years. I frequently read in the Western press that Afghanistan has been forgotten because of the Iraq war. I also hear from local leaders and my Afghan friends that they don’t see where these billions of dollars donated to Afghanistan have gone. I agree that frequently the money isn’t always used efficiently and some projects have been less than successful, but I decided to step back and compare the difference 2.5 years has made in the area I know best, Dawlatabad.

My statistics aren’t based on grandiose claims made by donor countries, NGOs or the Afghanistan Interim Administration, but from what I see on the ground. I think this is the best judge of what has really happened. Most of the credit should be given to the Afghans themselves, who have endured hell and are still standing and finding new ways forward. With that said, I also believe the combined efforts of the Afghanistan Government, UN agencies and international and national NGOs has had a considerable impact for good in Dawlatabad.

One of the first major programs in the spring of 2002 was the national Back to School Campaign. Supported primarily by the people of Afghanistan, but also by CAFE in Dawlatabad and UNICEF throughout the country huge steps were taken to make education available again to both girls and boys everywhere. I remember during this time speaking to a village leader that said they would not allow girls to attend school, but slowly those ideas changed and his village now boasts of a girls school with around 900 students in total!

By mid-2002, approximately 10,000 children were attending school in Dawlatabad District. By 2004, this number has swelled to over 14,000 students, in 18 official schools, being led by 377 teachers and organized by a more professional education department. The salary of all of these teachers is a part of the support provided by the international community. In addition CAFE provided chalk boards, school supplies for students and teachers and all of the forms needed for the administration of the different schools. UNICEF provided text books printed by USAID and other school supplies for the students and teachers.

Adults in Dawlatabad also expressed a keen interest in learning to read and write as a new era was dawning in Afghanistan. In 2002, over 1200 women had organized and asked CAFE to help them form literacy courses. In cooperation with the provincial literacy department and Save the Children U.S.A. 67 courses were organized for these women. Soon after that women from other villages began to request courses and then the men began asking as well. By 2004, through CAFE alone approximately 4,000 adults had participated in literacy courses in the district. Other NGOs have also organized literacy courses in Dawlatabad during this time, but I don’t have access to their statistics. Needless to say, in a country where the rural literacy rate for women is somewhere around 5-10% great strides have been made.

In 2001, the district had only 3 usable school buildings and these had no chairs and were in pretty poor condition. Now in 2004, the district currently has 7 schools meeting in buildings with 3 more under construction as I write. Three of these are brand new buildings with three more to be completed by Fall. By the end of this year over half of the schools will be able to study in suitable facilities!

Most of the international aid effort in 2002 was slanted towards emergency relief efforts. For the entire calendar year the World Food Program through a national NGO ensured that every family was provided 50 kgs of wheat, 12 kgs of pulses and 5 liters of cooking oil per month. This helped many poor families to just survive the year until harvest time. The following winter another distribution of the above amounts was provided for 3 months for the poorest 5% of families in the district through CAFE.

In January 2002, CAFE, in response to requests by the villagers in Dawlatabad procured 104 metric tons of improved wheat seed and 180 metric tons of fertilizer to provide seed for 1,000 plus farmers trying to recover from the draught. Over the next 2 years an additional 130 metric tons of improved wheat seed was provided for farmers on a loan basis in order to reestablish the supply of wheat seed in the district. The district is once again largely self sufficient in food production and no longer faces the food shortages of 2001. Calculating an average harvest rate of 35 per kg of wheat per 1 kg of seed, the amount of wheat harvested in 3 years through this program would have been 6,300 metric tons of harvested wheat. This money is spread throughout the district because the landless families work on the farms of more wealthy land owners for their livelihood.

Also as a part of the emergency relief programs in the winter of 2001-2002, CAFE provided winter clothing and bedding for the landless families which are the poorest in rural settings. This included blankets, clothing, shoes, socks and warm hats for the children. About 3000 families were included in these distributions.

In 2002, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and the Afghanistan Development Agency (ADA) began a large project to connect the district center to the provincial center and to create one good road that connects the other villages to the district center. Approximately 30 kilometers of some very poor road was leveled and then graveled to create a significantly improved transit route through the district. What at one stage was a 1.5 hour drive is now down to 30 minutes or less. Also all of the labor for the road construction project and the school constructions also has come from the district market and thus been a benefit for the local economy.

In 2002, UNHCR, in order to support the massive return of refugees to Afghanistan designed a shelter/water program in areas of high refugee return. In Dawlatabad, being a high refugee return area, this meant that 400 families who were either recently returned refugees or very poor families from villages with many returnees were provided materials for constructing a 2 room house. As a part of this project water was also highlighted as an issue and 100 hand dug wells with hand pumps were installed throughout the district. This project was implemented by Samaritan’s Purse with some help from CAFE in the digging of wells.

In 2003-2004, the National Solidarity Program was begun countrywide by the Afghanistan government’s Rural Rehabilitation and Development. Dawlatabad District was one of 3 districts chosen from the 14 districts in Balkh Provinceto participate in this program. Based on the size of the village, somewhere between $30,000 and $60,000 will be given to a development committee formed by the village to use towards solving needs that they have determined themselves. Many villages are using this fund to set up large generators and wire the village for electricity others are graveling roads from their village to the main district road. The impact of these projects is just now beginning to be felt, but the villages are highly engaged in the process.

Also a large group of international agencies, donor agencies and the Afghanistan Government are looking at the needs for reconstructing the irrigation system in the north which supplies water to over 500,000 citizens in the rural areas. Structural and technical research has been carried out as well as socio-political research has already been carried out to determine the best course of action for this rehabilitation. In 2004, a several year $10 million project should begin to provide solid engineering and structures to the current system which is in disrepair. This will not solve the water problems in the North, but will be a large step in the direction of providing "fair" distribution of the available water resources.

Stay tuned for the last part of Rob's account of reconstruction. If you want to contact him directly, email txtrain2004 "at" yahoo "dot" com.


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