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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Saturday, 25 November 2006
Thanksgiving is so over...
Topic: Perspective

Thanksgiving is so over…

For your amusement, so be grateful. (More in tomorrow's Just Above Sunset…)

"Persons thankful for little things are certain to be the ones with much to be thankful for." - Frank A. Clark

"Having listened to people for a long time, I believe many of us should be thankful not to be shot." - Leston Havens

"Let us be thankful for the fools. But for them the rest of us could not succeed." - Mark Twain

"Keep your eyes open to your mercies. The man who forgets to be thankful has fallen asleep in life." - Robert Louis Stevenson

"I have strong doubts that the first Thanksgiving even remotely resembled the 'history' I was told in second grade. But considering that (when it comes to holidays) mainstream America's traditions tend to be over-eating, shopping, or getting drunk, I suppose it's a miracle that the concept of giving thanks even surfaces at all. - Ellen Orleans

"Thanksgiving Day, a function which originated in New England two or three centuries ago when those people recognized that they really had something to be thankful for - annually, not oftener - if they had succeeded in exterminating their neighbors, the Indians, during the previous twelve months instead of getting exterminated by their neighbors, the Indians. Thanksgiving Day became a habit, for the reason that in the course of time, as the years drifted on, it was perceived that the exterminating had ceased to be mutual and was all on the white man's side, consequently on the Lord's side; hence it was proper to thank the Lord for it and extend the usual annual compliments." - Mark Twain

"I feel a very unusual sensation - if it is not indigestion, I think it must be gratitude." - Benjamin Disraeli

"Revenge is profitable, gratitude is expensive." - Edward Gibbon

"Gratitude - the meanest and most snivelling attribute in the world." - Dorothy Parker

"Gratitude is a sickness suffered by dogs. - Joseph Stalin

"A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all the other virtues." [Gratus animus est una virtus non solum maxima, sed etiam mater virtutum onmium reliquarum] - Cicero (Marcus Tullius Cicero), Oratio Pro Cnoeo Plancio (XXXIII)

"He is ungrateful who denies that he has received a kindness which has been bestowed upon him; he is ungrateful who conceals it; he is ungrateful who makes no return for it; most ungrateful of all is he who forgets it. [Ingratus est, qui beneficium accepisse se negat, quod accepit: ingratus est, qui dissimulat; ingratus, qui non reddit; ingratissimus omnium, qui oblitus est.] - Seneca (Lucius Annaeus Seneca), De Beneficiis (III, 1)

"In this world of sin and sorrow there is always something to be thankful for; as for me, I rejoice that I am not a Republican." - H. L. Mencken

"It's a sign of mediocrity when you demonstrate gratitude with moderation." - Roberto Benigni

"When I'm not thanked at all I'm thanked enough." - Henry Fielding

"Man always travels along precipices. His truest obligation is to keep his balance. - Jose Ortega Gasset

"One of the effects of a safe and civilized life is an immense oversensitiveness which makes all the primary emotions somewhat disgusting. Generosity is as painful as meanness, gratitude as hateful as ingratitude." - George Orwell

"No favor can win gratitude from a cat." - Jean de La Fontaine

Posted by Alan at 15:02 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Friday, 24 November 2006
The End of Thanksgiving
Topic: Couldn't be so...

The End of Thanksgiving

Here in the states we had our Thanksgiving - everyone ate too much, the kids ran around screaming and laughing on the sugar high after pumpkin pie and this and that, and earlier in the day, as is traditional, the Detroit Lions lost the football game that no one watched (it just seemed to on in the background). Someone might have watched the Macy's parade in Manhattan- it seems it rained.

In Iraq, other things were happening -
So as Thursday began, Sunni Arab guerrillas surrounded and attacked the Ministry of Health, which is dominated by followers of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The guerrillas trapped 2,000 employees in the compound and threatened to kill any who came outside. They also subjected the building to mortar fire. The ministry guards, who are probably Mahdi Army, kept them at bay but lost 7 men doing it. It took US and Iraqi forces 2 hours to respond, and the guerrillas were only finally dispersed by helicopter gunships. The siege probably came in revenge for the Mahdi Army attack on the Sunni-run Ministry of Higher Education two weeks ago.

Then US troops searching for a kidnapped US soldier in Sadr City were approached by van traveling at a high speed, which did not slow as they instructed it. They shot up the van, killing 4 civilians and creating some unhappy families in Sadr City; then this incident was overshadowed by several big attacks.

Steven R. Hurst of the Associated Press reported that the death toll in the string of car bombings targeting Sadr City and other Shiite neighborhoods on Thursday has risen to 161, with 257 wounded. Altogether, he says, "Counting those killed in Sadr City, at least 233 people died or were found dead across Iraq on Thursday." Oh, my. Since Iraq is 11 times smaller in population than the US, that would be like the deaths of 2,563 Americans. On September 11, on the order of 2,783 Americans were killed, and several hundred of other nationalities.

Armed Shiites came into the streets amid the charred and bloody corpses, says al-Hayat, cursing Sunni Muslims and firing their automatic weapons in the air in frustration and rage. They were taking mortar fire. The footage from Sadr City on Aljazeera looked like the seventh level of hell, with vehicles burning, the air thick with smoke, and mortar shells and small arms fire boiling in the background. reports in Arabic that after the car bombs were detonated in Sadr City, the Sunni Arab guerrillas set up checkpoints and attacked ambulances and rescue crews, stopping further ambulances from getting through. The Sunni Arab guerrillas also surrounded hospitals near to Sadr City and prevented cars bearing the wounded from getting through, firing on them.

The Iraqi government imposed a curfew on Baghdad and closed the Baghdad and Basra airports, cutting the country off from the outside worlds. Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that Basra ports were also closed "until further notice."
This has the smell of the end of the noble ideal - tossing out an awful government and introducing a new way of life, a western-style secular liberal democracy with an unregulated free-market economy where entrepreneurs would thrive and everyone would get along, and get rich. It wasn't a bad idea, but like everyone in the world learning Esperanto or everyone in American having a flying car to get around, it wasn't workable. Those who pointed that out were ridiculed, and still are ridiculed - that's just thinking small and not having the courage to try the impossible. Now these faint-hearted folks aren't saying "I told you so" as much as they are just depressed. Those in charge of everything are still thinking big.

But when the Shiite Ministry of Health is under siege in response to the hundreds blown to bits earlier at the Sunni-run Ministry of Higher Education, something is wrong. Imagine the National Institute of Health with its quiet grounds in Bethesda being surrounded and shot up by armed forces angry that someone blew up the Federal Department of Education downtown. Add both sides blocking ambulances to the hospitals of the "other side" - and firing on the paramedics as they slip on body parts trying to find someone relatively intact to save. Washington is a nasty place with some bad neighborhoods and a sadly high crime rate, but it's not like this. Still it's not civil war there - or so we're told.

And no one watches the news on Thanksgiving Day. The administration can be thankful for that. And the Christmas shopping season kicked off the next day - Black Friday. Some stores opened at midnight, others at dawn, the every route everywhere was jammed by the middle of the morning - another day when the news was not on anyone's mind.

Black Friday of course will edge any number of low-margin business just into the black for the year. That's how it got its name. The day can keep you in business, or sink you. It's important.

Black Friday in Iraq seemed to mean something else - "Revenge-seeking militiamen seized six Sunnis as they left Friday prayers and burned them alive with kerosene in a savage new twist to the brutality shaking the Iraqi capital a day after suspected Sunni insurgents killed 215 people in Baghdad's main Shiite district." It should be noted the six Sunni worshippers were doused with kerosene and burned alive "as Iraqi soldiers stood by." There are Iraqi soldiers of this sort and of that sort. These were the wrong sort of the unlucky six - they were Shiite or Kurd guys. They saw no reason to stop this.

What to make of it all? Don Surber argues here that the Democrats big win in the midterm elections here in the states is the real reason for the new chaos in Iraq. They saw we're not serious about bringing peace to Iraq - we tossed out the stern Republicans and elected the wimp Democrats - so they cut loose. This would have never happened if Americans voted the other way. They'd know better. They'd be good, as they'd understand getting out of line would get them slapped down by the young American guys in the sunglasses and body armor. Now they know we're not serious. That's what's really going on.

One wonders if they really care who was elected in Idaho. You can file that under "interesting theory - not provable either way." On the right it's no doubt moving into "conventional wisdom."

The real mystery, of course, is whether Vice President Cheney visited Baghdad on Thanksgiving. No one knows. If he did, perhaps the visit didn't go well. We'll never know.

And the air was full of hindsight and worry. Over in the UK, Boris Johnson, an MP for Henley, seems to have stirred awake - "No quantity of troops could have prevented this catastrophe; and the dreadful thing is that I think Saddam knew it."

So now he decides this? Well, yes -
It was the moment I should have twigged. It was the moment I should have realised that I had voted for the biggest British military fiasco since the Second World War. I was wandering around Baghdad, about 10 days after Iraq had been "liberated", and it seemed to me that the place was not entirely without hope.

OK, so the gunfire popped round every corner like popcorn on a stove, and civil society had broken down so badly that the looters were taking the very copper from the electricity cables in the streets. But I was able to stroll without a flak jacket and eat shoarma and chips in the restaurants.

With no protection except for Isaac, my interpreter, I went to the Iraqi foreign ministry, and found the place deserted. The windows were broken, and every piece of computer equipment had been looted. As I was staring at the fire-blackened walls a Humvee came through the gates. A pair of large GIs got out and asked me my business. I explained that I was representing the people of South Oxfordshire and Her Majesty's Daily Telegraph.

That didn't cut much ice. Then I noticed a figure begin to unpack his giraffe-like limbs from the shady interior of the Humvee. He was one of those quiet Americans that you sometimes meet in odd places.

He was grizzled and in his mid-50s and with a lantern jaw, and unlike every other US soldier I'd met he had neither his name nor his blood group stitched on his person. I grasped at once that this quiet American was no soldier. He had that Brahmin air, a bit Ivy League, a touch of JK Galbraith. Yes, folks, he was some kind of spook.

I remember how he walked slowly towards the shattered foreign ministry building, stroking his chin. Then he walked back towards us, and posed a remarkable question. "Have you, uh, seen anyone here?" he asked.

Nope, we said. All quiet here, we said. Quiet as the grave.

"Uhuh," he said, and started to get back in the Humvee. And then I blurted my own question: "But who are you?" I asked. "Oh, let's just say I work for the US government," he sighed. "I was just wondering if anyone was going to show up for work," he said. "That's all."

And that, of course, was the beginning of the disaster. Nobody came to work that day, or the next, or the one after that, because we failed to understand what our intervention would do to Iraqi society. We failed to anticipate that in taking out Saddam, we would also remove government and order and authority from Iraq.
Oh, that.

As he says, it is now commonplace for people like him, who supported the war, to say that we "did the right thing" but that it had mysteriously "turned out wrong." Now he sees this is "intellectually vacuous." (He's British, after all.) And more troops won't help. What are they supposed to do?

Of course one thing they need there is doctors, but they're all leaving, and according to one doctor, the "hospitals look more like barns" - so what's the point?

Richard Clarke makes the case that "It's time to admit it's over."

That's pretty clear -
Americans tend to think we can achieve almost any goal if we just expend more resources and try a bit harder. That spirit has built the greatest nation in history, but it may be dooming Iraq.

As the head of the British army recently noted, the very presence of large numbers of foreign combat troops is the source of much of the violence and instability. Our efforts, then, are merely postponing the day when Iraqis find their way to something approaching normalcy. Only withdrawal offers a realistic path forward.
And he knocks down the arguments for staying, like the "sink cost" one - we must honor the American dead by staying until we can build something worthy of their sacrifice. It doesn't work in business, and it doesn't work in Vegas - "what is gone is gone, and what is left we should conserve, cherish and employ wisely." But it does feel bad.

But if we leave now there'd be chaos. Here's it's "not so fast" -
The flaw lies not in the concept that chaos will happen, but rather in thinking that chaos would only happen if we withdraw in the near-term. Chaos will almost certainly follow any U.S. withdrawal, whether in 2008 or 2012.

Even granting that chaos after a 2008 pullout may be worse than what would follow a 2012 withdrawal, is the difference between those two levels of disaster worth the cost? This cost comes in American dead and wounded, Iraqi dead and wounded, billions of dollars in military expenditures, the continued damage to U.S. influence in the world, and the further strengthening of radical Islamist terrorists everywhere.
How did that old Fram oil filter commercial go? "You can pay me now or you can pay me later." You're going to pay.

But al-Qaeda will be emboldened by our departure, and we cannot have that. Yeah, but "Al-Qaeda is already sufficiently emboldened." What's the difference? And that's followed by a draw-down plan you can follow at the link. It's what many have suggested.

None of it matters -
President Bush insists on staying in Iraq, and it is easy to understand why. In "The March of Folly" (Ballantine, 1985), Barbara Tuchman documented repeated instances when leaders persisted in disastrous policies well after they knew that success was no longer an available outcome. They did so because the personal consequences of admitting failure would be very high. So they postponed the disastrous end to their policy adventures, hoping for a deus ex machine or to eventually shift the blame.
But everyone knows who's to blame, and it's not the newly elected Democrats. And this is a real war in Iraq, not some Greek tragedy where a flimsy contraption is lowered form the ceiling and an actor aboard speaks in his god-voice and makes everything all better. That's not what's coming down.

As for what is coming down, note this exchange between Matthews on "Hardball" and retired Major General John Batiste -
Matthews: This proposal for beginning a withdrawal within 4 to 6 months, what would that be in terms of policy? Would that make any difference to anything or is that just a political move?

Batiste: I think it's a political move. Chris, I think we're fighting a protracted war against the jihadists, and these people mean business. They have as a stated objective the destruction of our way of life. We got off to a terrible start in Iraq, a strategy that was fundamentally flawed, that opened up Pandora's box, that unleashed hell, and now we've got to get this thing under control quickly.

Matthews: Are we fighting jihadists in Iraq?

Batiste: Exactly.

Matthews: Are we?

Batiste: This is important, Chris. This group, this movement is after us, big time. We need to stop this.

Matthews: We have the Shi'a militia, we have the Sunni insurgents, and we have al Qaeda terrorists in that country. Which group is associated, or is part of this jihad?

Batiste: Clearly the al Qaeda, that foreign influence in Iraq, that has as their stated objective the destruction of our way of life, and my point is, we need to take this very, very seriously. To simply leave Iraq, to set timelines without conditions, set us up to fail big time in the future.

Matthews: The troops we have over there, 140,000 of them, what percent of our troops, what chunk of them are fighting jihadists, and what percent are fighting militias on the side of the government we're putting in there, and what percent are fighting Sunnis who are upset because they're losing out on the loss of power since Saddam fell?

Batiste: To the troops on the ground, it really doesn't matter; they're all the same.
Ah, it's the General Sherman thing. Kill them all and let God sort it out.

Matthews does press it - "Well, help us. What should we do in Iraq? Who should we be shooting at and fighting at, and who should we be defending? What side should we be on in Iraq? Tell us what's going on over there. What should we be doing?"

But he doesn't get much of an answer, other than this is serious, and we need funding - maybe a war tax. The Army and the Marine Corps need resources.

Matthews - "I think you'd be more successful with that argument, General, if you would tell me who we're fighting in Iraq right now, and why should we be fighting them, and who should we be fighting for in Iraq?"

He doesn't really get an answer, other than we need to fight on. It's important.

And then it gets interesting -
Matthews: General, the problem from my perspective, watching this, and you're the expert, the military man, we're reporting on numbers every day, coming out of Iraq, something like 3,700 Iraqis killed by other Iraqis, the Shi'a militia going after Sunni, the Sunni insurgents going after Shi'a - they're killing each other. If that's the case, that Muslim is killing Muslim, how can you describe it as some jihad against the West?

Batiste: That's exactly what it is. Chris, inside Iraq, we're fighting a multi-faceted enemy, but make no mistake about it: we're fighting the jihadists. What do you think the attack on 9/11 was?

Matthews: Wait a minute, let's talk about Iraq. The Iraqis are killing each other, General, every day, over 120 a day on average this month, 3,700 Iraqis being killed each month, by Iraqis; how can you define that as an anti-Western war?

Batiste: It's all part of it, and it's exactly why we need -

Matthews: How so? Just explain how an Iraqi killing another Iraqi is an attack on the West.

Batiste: It's a mix of multi-faceted enemies that are coming at us, and part of it is a civil war - no question about it - but it's why we need a new, dramatic strategy on the ground in Iraq now, to solve this problem.

Matthews: Who are we going to be shooting? Who do we shoot?

Batiste: It's why we need leadership that can explain all this to the American people. We need to stand up —

Matthews: Stand up against whom?

Batiste: It doesn't matter.
It doesn't? This is very curious. You don't deal with a problem by breaking it down, looking at all the parts, and seeing what you're dealing with? You just stand firm? It's a good thing the general is doing talk shows in his retirement, and didn't open an auto repair shop.

Maybe it doesn't matter. Alexander Cockburn argues we're not really controlling event in Iraq -
Imagine a steer in the stockyards hollering to his fellows, "We need a phased withdrawal from the slaughterhouse, starting in four to six months. The timetable should not be overly rigid. But there should be no more equivocation." Back and forth among the steers the debate meanders on. Some say, "To withdraw now" would be to "display weakness". Others talk about a carrot and stick approach. Then the men come out with electric prods and shock them up the chute.

The way you end a slaughter is by no longer feeding it. Every general, either American or British, with the guts to speak honestly over the past couple of years has said the same thing: the foreign occupation of Iraq by American and British troops is feeding the violence.

Iraq is not on the "edge of civil war". It is in the midst of it. There is no Iraqi government. There are Sunni militias and Shi'a militias inflicting savagery on each other in the awful spiral of reprisal killings familiar from Northern Ireland and Lebanon in the 1970s. Iraq has become Chechnya, headed into that abyss from the day the US invaded in 2003. It's been a steep price to inflict on the Iraqi people for the pleasure of seeing Saddam Hussein die abruptly at the end of a rope.

If the US is scheduled for any role, beyond swift withdrawal, it certainly won't be as "honest broker", lecturing fractious sectarians on how to behave properly, like Teacher in some schoolhouse on the prairie. It was always been in the US interest to curb the possibility of the Shi'a controlling much of Iraq, including most of the oil. By one miscalculation after another, precisely that specter is fast becoming a reality. For months outgoing ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad tried to improve the Sunni position, and it is clear enough that in its covert operations the US has been in touch with the Sunni resistance.

If some Sunni substitute for Saddam stepped up to the plate the US would welcome him and propel him into power, but it is too late for such a course. As Henry Kissinger said earlier this week, the war is lost. This is the man who - if we are to believe Bob Woodward's latest narrative - has been advising Bush and Cheney that there could be no more Vietnams, that the war in Iraq could not be lost without humiliating consequences for America's status as the number # 1 bully on the block. When Kissinger says a war is lost, you can reckon that it is.
So basically America is not controlling events in Iraq. If the Shia choose to cut supply lines from Kuwait up to the northern part of the country, the US forces would be in deep, deep trouble. The problem is that there is a precedent.

What to do? Dave Lindorff argues that the first thing Democrats should do in January is to rescind the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) that was nothing but trouble -
The first thing Democrats need to do when they walk into the Senate and House chambers this January is to vote out a joint resolution repealing the September 18, 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), which was the authorization for the U.S. attack Al Qaeda forces and the Taliban government of Afghanistan.

That AUMF has been used, wholly inappropriately and wantonly, by President Bush as the justification for his assault on the US Constitution, for his willful violation of laws domestic and international, and for his unconstitutional usurpation of legislative and judicial power.

The president has claimed that the AUMF, far from simply being an authorization to go to war against Afghanistan and against the Al Qaeda organization there, was an open-ended authorization for him to initiate an unending "War on Terror," which he has subsequently claimed has no boundaries, and will be fought around the globe and within the U.S.

Bush has further claimed, without a shred of Constitutional authority, that this AUMF makes him commander in chief in that never-ending global conflict, and that as commander in chief, he is not bound by either law or Constitution. It is this spurious and sweeping claim of dictatorial power that the president has used to justify his signing statements, which he has used to render inoperative in whole or in part some 850 or more acts passed by Congress since 9-11. It is this same claim that the president has used to justify his deliberate violation of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act - a felony and violation of the Fourth Amendment.

It is likewise this AUMF that he has used to justify his authorization of torture, kidnapping and detention without charge, his refusal to answer legitimate requests for information from Congress and the 9-11 commission, and his ignoring of direct orders from the federal courts.

All of these actions by the president are manifestly unconstitutional, and cry out for his impeachment. (The Constitution clearly defines and limits the president's commander in chief role to simply making him the senior officer of the military, not a generalissimo. Furthermore, as Barbara Olshanski and I explain in our book "The Case for Impeachment," the AUMF never gave Bush any authority at all to conduct war inside the U.S. (In fact, Tom Daschle, who as a Democratic Senator from South Dakota was the Senate Majority Leader at the time the AUMF was passed, specifically denied a last-minute request from the White House to have the words "in the United States" inserted into the wording of the resolution authorization.)
Yeah, yeah - no one is impeaching anyone. But it is over -
Afghanistan is no longer a war. The U.S. is simply contributing military assets to a NATO action in that country at the request of the elected government in Kabul. Such an action requires no AUMF. Meanwhile, the prevention of terror is clearly an intelligence and police issue, not a war.

It too does not require an AUMF.

A simple majority vote of House and Senate would put the U.S. Constitution back in place, and would restore the balance of power between executive, legislative and judicial branches.
That's a thought. And's John Pike thinks the Bush administration will use the AUMF to bomb Iran before the end of 2007. (See the first interview in Part 2, here). But he said that in Canada, so that may be wrong. Still, better safe than sorry. It can be rescinded. It won't be, of course. We'll be told we'll all die if the "tool" is taken away. Sigh.

But all the news got buried in the Thanksgiving holiday. Somewhere in there, that Russian spy died, the one who was digging up dirt Russian President Vladimir Putin - "The bastards got me." Putin condemned the fellow's deathbed statement as a "provocation." If Ann Coulter suggested that the same should happen to Justice Stevens, as she once hoped, it didn't make the news. Everyone was eating turkey then shopping, and Lebanon fell apart after the assassination of the anti-Syrian minister Pierre Gemayel. Too much news is too much news.

Posted by Alan at 22:09 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 24 November 2006 22:38 PST home

Thursday, 23 November 2006
Topic: Photos


No entry today - off to Thanksgiving with the family.

Posted by Alan at 08:05 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 23 November 2006 08:06 PST home

Wednesday, 22 November 2006
Stuck in Holiday Traffic
Topic: Couldn't be so...

Stuck in Holiday Traffic

Wednesday, November 22 - the day before Thanksgiving - and everyone was on the road. It was a day to stay home - just south of the airport (LAX) a truck full of nasty chemicals overturned and they closed the southbound 405, so if you thought about heading down past Long Beach into Orange County or even down to San Diego, you had to think about some other way to get there. Nothing was moving and there were those guys in the HAZMAT suits - just another disaster on the world's busiest freeway, just by the giant airport, as the largest crowd of the year was trying to get somewhere else. Wait… it seems the 101 freeway just over the hill in the San Fernando Valley is, officially, the world's business freeway. It's hard to keep it straight. They all look alike when its three hours after midnight and the six lanes each way are at a dead stop and twenty thousand cars are idling quietly. And disaster is a disaster. They happen all the time.

And traffic disasters are minor stuff. You'll get there eventually, wherever "there" happens to be. It's the rest of life that's the problem.

Ronald Reagan, of all people, got it right back in 1982 - "If history teaches anything, it teaches self-delusion in the face of unpleasant facts is folly."

And that's where we are these days.

Some of it is minor, as in this story from central New York, an evangelical student burns down an Episcopalian church. They had their theology wrong -
Cleveland said Lussier confessed to robbing the Christ Church and setting fire to both houses of worship. He also allegedly admitted to sending threatening letters to three churches in his hometown. He was charged with two felony counts of third-degree burglary and a count of third-degree arson, a felony.

"He didn't think they were following the Bible the way they thought they should," Cleveland said. "He holds to the principle, but he said he went about it in the wrong way."
Well, before he torched the buildings he did gather all the Bibles, bagged them carefully, and made sure they didn't go up in flames. Burning those would be wrong, of course. No word on the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. This should make for an interesting case when the fellow comes to trial. His defense - he had to stop a pernicious misreading of what Jesus really meant - will sound a lot like what is said these days in Iraq. Sarasota is hardly Baghdad, but the idea is the same. There the mosques get blown up - and people too - because the other side just didn't get their theology straight. Of course it's more than that - the history of who had been on top and did nasty things plays a part, as does family and tribe. But it's not that much different.

The scale is different. There things are far more grim -
The number of Iraqi civilians killed in sectarian violence last month has reached a new high of more than 3,700, a report for the United Nations said today. Despite the Iraqi Government's commitment to address human rights abuses, the influence of armed militia is growing, and torture continues to be rampant in the country, the report by the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) said.

The civilian death toll for October was 3,709 - the highest to date - according to the UN figures. The report also said that more than two million have fled their homes since the US invasion to escape the rising sectarian violence. "Hundreds of bodies continued to appear in different parts of Baghdad handcuffed, blindfolded and bearing signs of torture and execution-style killing," the report said. "Many witnesses reported that perpetrators wear militia attire and even police or army uniforms."
And we are under this self-delusion in the face of unpleasant facts - things are not getting better, and we are not bring peace and democracy and other goodies to these folks. Those who can leave are getting out, fast. Those who stay keep a low profile and hope for the best, as friend and family die left and right.

But we will fix things. But Andrew Sullivan suggests we probably can't -
Tragically, the "government" we have instituted cannot meaningfully represent all Iraqis, because the sectarian divisions, deeply exacerbated by the anarchy of the last three years, have become too deep. The government forces themselves - police and military - are increasingly indistinguishable from sectarian militia forces. The Maliki faction is indistinguishable from the Sadr militia. We do not even know at this point which Iraqi faction is capable of delivering order, or where. Which Shiites have actual control of the streets in the South? Which Sunnis can deliver stability in Anbar? Torture and murder have become endemic. We can retrain as many Iraq soldiers and policemen as we want, but it's no use if we are merely training them to be more skillful in a civil war. That's our fundamental dilemma.

We have only one lever over Iran and Syria - and it is - paradoxically - the chaos we have unleashed. Those regimes do not want to see Iraq completely disintegrate. So a policy of drawing down troops, redeploying to Kurdistan, and waiting to see who emerges from the hideous process of ethnic cleansing and civil war is just about the only option we have left. Iran and Syria will have to ensure that a regional conflagration doesn't tear their entire neighbor apart. That is both a blessing for them - how profoundly they would have loathed a democratic Iraq - but also a curse. It means that both neighbors have to worry about instability spreading from outside to within. This is the silver lining of the Iraq failure. And it is a very slim one.
Did Reagan say something about folly?

If self-delusion in the face of unpleasant facts is folly, wasn't it just last month that the president said that he was "trying to figure out a matrix that says things are getting better" in Iraq. It was matter of framing things - a PR problem. Now it's these 3,709 dead folks. Framing that in a way that says thing are getting better is a bit of a challenge.

Tim Grieve gives it a go -
That's the highest number of civilian casualties in any month of the war so far, and it's a staggering number when you consider that Iraq's population is less than one-tenth that of the United States'. If the death toll were equalized for population, it would be as if more than 42,000 U.S. civilians had been killed in the war last month.

An Iraqi government spokesman told the Associated Press that the U.N. number was "inaccurate and exaggerated" because "it is not based on official government reports." Pressed to explain what an "official government report" would show, the spokesman said that one is "not available yet, but it will be published later."

If the president still needs a matrix or a metric or whatever, perhaps he could spend Thanksgiving simply reading the list of ways that Iraqis are dying in his war now. "Hundreds of bodies continued to appear in different areas of Baghdad handcuffed, blindfolded and bearing signs of torture and execution-style killing," the U.N. report says. "Many witnesses reported that perpetrators wear militia attire and even police or army uniforms." Sectarian violence is the primary killer, but the AP says Iraqis "also continue to be the victims of terrorist acts, roadside bombs, drive-by shootings, cross fire between rival gangs or between police and insurgents, kidnappings, military operations, crime and police abuse."

One more metric for the president: In a poll taken in September, 61 percent of Iraqis said they support attacks on U.S. troops. Seventy-one percent want U.S. forces out of their country within a year, and more than half of those want them gone within the next six months.
Could we say they're just a little grumpy, and they'll get over it? That may not fly.

The same day gave us this - "A car bomb exploded inside the government Green Zone on Tuesday in an apparent attempt to kill Iraq's controversial speaker of parliament …"

The Green Zone in Baghdad, behind the walls, where the government works and we have our top folks, is the safest place there. Oops. This is a first. And it's ominous.

And this will take some careful framing - "BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) - More than 140 bodies have been found dumped across Baghdad over the past three days, police said Wednesday. Police said 52 bullet-riddled bodies were found Wednesday, with 20 of them blindfolded, tied up and possibly tortured."

That may be a record. And this is not like being stuck on the LA freeways. Wherever we thought we were going, we're not going to get to that particular there. Maybe there will be a miracle change in something that fixes everything, but that seems unlikely. As the most popular way of putting things goes these days, you can look for that pretty pony, but there's no pony hidden deep in that steaming pile of horseshit.

And the attempt to keep that hope for a pretty pony alive gets harder all the time, as Associated Press reports in this item. The president does hear these sorts of things - his audiences are carefully vetted - but his father was in quite friendly Abu Dhabi, where he feels quite at home, giving a plesant speech on his family's accomplishments, when a woman rose from the audience to say this - "We do not respect your son. We do not respect what he's doing all over the world."

If the AP is to be believed, the president's father seemed "stunned" when the audience, full of young business leaders, "whooped and whistled in approval."

His voice was "quivering." He gave this reply - "This son is not going to back away. He's not going to change his view because some poll says this or some poll says that, or some heartfelt comments from the lady who feels deeply in her heart about something. You can't be president of the United States and conduct yourself if you're going to cut and run. This is going to work out in Iraq. I understand the anxiety. It's not easy."

Something is up. He wouldn't say he would handle the situation in Iraq differently than his son had. That was a trap, but he gave a hint - "I have strong opinions on a lot of these things. But the reason I can't voice them is, if I did what you ask me to do - tell you what advice I give my son - that would then be flashed all over the world ... If it happened to deviate one iota, one little inch, from what the president's doing or thinks he ought to be doing, it would be terrible. It'd bring great anxiety not only to him but to his supporters."

What did Reagan say about self-delusion in the face of unpleasant facts? Well, silence will have to do. That's a subset of folly that's a bit less dangerous. He has apparently not told his boy the he won't be getting a pretty pony this holiday season. And he won't be telling his son that the reason why. What can you do? You stick by your kids. But forget about the pony.

We are, at least, training the Iraqi Military, and that will make things all better. As they stand up we stand down, and all that. But then there's this from the Pentagon reporter at the Washington Post, Thomas Ricks (the fellow who wrote Fiasco, and didn't call it Folly) -
Some advisers reported being personally targeted by infiltrators. "We had insurgents that we detected and arrested in the battalion that were planning an operation against me and my team," Allen said.

But Iraqi officers may have had even more to fear, because their families were also vulnerable. "I went through seven battalion commanders in eight weeks," Allen noted. Dixon reported that in Samarra both his battalion commander and intelligence officer deserted just before a major operation.

Iraqis also had some complaints about their U.S. advisers, most notably that junior U.S. officers who had never seen combat were counseling senior Iraqi officers who had fought in several wars. "Numerous teams have lieutenants … to fill the role of advisor to an Iraqi colonel counterpart," the Lessons Learned report stated.

Farrell, the officer in east Baghdad, said some advisers were literally "phoning in" their work. Some would not leave the forward operating base "more than one or two days out of the week - instead they would just call the Iraqis on cellphones," he said.

Dixon was grim about the experience. "Would I want to go back and do it again?" he asked. His unambiguous answer: "No."
Yeah, but we were told things were going great with all this training, as here. That was one year ago. Someone was being optimistic, or self-delusional. Take your pick.

Perhaps one should listen to the officers involved -
Bing West, a former Marine officer who runs a government-consulting firm and who has been to Iraq numerous times captured the situation thusly:

"140,000 American soldiers, 3,000 advisors. My goodness gracious, less than two percent. If you're serious about building up the Iraqi forces there's something wrong with that equation. I think just coming back from Iraq that really throughout our ranks you sense they know that. They get it. So almost independent of the Congress and the executive branch, the military is most likely going to move in a major way - reducing the overall forces but really building up the advisors. Why? If you go to any Iraqi battalion or any police unit, the first thing the advisors there tell you is they can't stand without us. They're not ready yet and probably will not be for several more years. So if you hear one chorus from over there, it's to embed more Americans with the Iraqis – then you don't need as many Americans."

Jay Garner, the retired Army general who was the American viceroy in Iraq until he was shoved out by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in 2003, was also on the panel. Garner gave the problem some scale by offering a guesstimate on how many Iraqi units still need significant advising and training.

"What we have right now is a 100-plus certified Iraqi battalions - about 110, I think," Garner said. "I'm not sure what certified means but it does not mean that they're capable of operating by themselves. A few of them are maybe somewhere between five and ten." Each Iraqi battalion has between 400 and 600 men.
Ah, just about all of the Iraqi forces being called certified can't operate effectively without being "robustly advised" in Garner's opinion. No pony there.

And Christy Harden Smith reports listening to Thomas Hammes, the retired Marine colonel who wrote "The Sling and the Stone: On War in the 21st Century," during a recent National Public Radio interview saying we need sixty US advisors with each battalion instead of the current ten, and they would need to be non-commissioned officers and be maintained for "a very long period of time." This would mean an additional ten to twenty thousand troops being sent to Iraq.

No pony there. And she points to Frank James in the Chicago Tribune with this -
Not only does the U.S. military not have enough service members devoted to advising and training, but as Ricks's piece indicates, many of the people we've assigned to advise Iraqi forces don't have the right skills or experience to do the job.

All the experts I've listened to recently expect the Iraq Study Group led by former Secretary of State James Baker and Lee Hamilton, the former Indiana congressman, to recommend that the U.S. ramp up its advisory and training activities. That is a key part of any responsible exit strategy.

But as Ricks's story and other evidence indicates, the U.S. is frighteningly far from where it needs to be if we are, in good conscience, to move our forces from Iraq and leave behind an indigenous military adequate to the task of dealing with the insurgency and sectarian violence.
Ah, but there is self-delusion. It'll work out. On the others hand, good numbers of Iraqis are seeking asylum in Scandinavian nations. Finland is fine. You can get used to all the herring.

Smith's assessment -
Someone is going to need to sit down with the Shrub soon and have a talk. Because the rose-colored glasses schtick isn't working with anyone whose brain has half a working synapse, and it is getting worse by the hour in Iraq. And it is worth asking, over and over again until someone gets a straight answer, where the President got the idea that the Vietnam War was winnable with just a few more bombs? Because if that is the perspective that he and his advisors bring to the table in any consideration on Iraq, then we are going long and then some… until some time after 2008, at the very least.

This is a mess of George Bush's making, of his choosing, of his pushing. The accountability for this failure is at his feet.

The neocons bear a lot of responsibility for pushing their agenda and failed "flowers and candy" idiocy along - they are not even remotely blameless in this no matter how quickly Richard Perle tries to scuttle away from the bright lights and back into whatever lair he resides in the off-political-seasons. And Adelman and his ilk sure don't get a pass either.

But Iraq and its endless ripples of violence and hatred and cultural and secular division… this will all be laid at George Bush's feet as his legacy, his Presidency, his monumental hubris and failure.

It is past time for accountability.
Yep, "If history teaches anything, it teaches self-delusion in the face of unpleasant facts is folly." The man should listen to his hero.

Geez, out here we're only stuck in traffic.

Posted by Alan at 21:13 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 22 November 2006 21:44 PST home

Tuesday, 21 November 2006
In Time of War - Visiting Gandhi
Topic: Photos

In Time of War - Visiting Gandhi

Mahatma Gandhi World Peace Memorial, Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine, 17190 Sunset Boulevard, Pacific Palisades, CaliforniaRather than an entry on politics and the war, a visit to the Mahatma Gandhi World Peace Memorial, and the "wall-less temple" erected in his honor. The memorial is a thousand-year-old stone sarcophagus from China, in which a portion of Gandhi's ashes are encased in a brass and silver coffer.

This is at the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine, 17190 Sunset Boulevard, Pacific Palisades, California, just up the hill from Pacific Coast Highway, at the edge of Malibu. It was established by Paramahansa Yogananda and opened on August 20, 1950 - a ten-acre site, with gardens and natural spring-fed lake, with swans, ducks, koi, and lotus flowers everywhere.

Gandhi's ashes had been sent to Yogananda by an old friend, Dr. V.M. Nawle, a publisher and journalist from Poona, India, who understood the bond between Yogananda and Gandhi. Following the dedication of the memorial, Dr. Nawle wrote - "Regarding Gandhi ashes, I may say that they are scattered and thrown in almost all the important rivers and seas, and nothing is given outside India except the remains which I have sent to you after a great ordeal .... You are the only one in the whole world who received Gandhi ashes outside India."

So here they are.

As we all know - Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948) was a major political and spiritual leader of the Indian independence movement. He was the pioneer of Satyagraha - resistance through mass civil disobedience strongly founded upon ahimsa (non-violence). Gandhi is commonly known and spoken of worldwide as Mahatma Gandhi (Hindi - Mahatma - Great Soul) and is sometimes called Bapu (in Gujarati, Father). Gandhi first tried out civil disobedience in the Indian struggle for civil rights in South Africa. When he returned to India, he helped lead poor farmers and laborers to protest oppressive taxation and widespread discrimination. Leading the Indian National Congress, Gandhi worked for the alleviation of poverty, the liberation of women, brotherhood, for the end to "untouchability" and caste discrimination and for the economic self-sufficiency of that nation. Also, Gandhi's work focused upon the goal of Swaraj - self-rule for India. Gandhi famously led Indians in the disobedience of the salt tax through the 400 kilometer (248 miles) Dandi March, and in an open call for the British to Quit India in 1942. That goal, freedom, came at a heavy cost - tens of thousands died in all of his movements as they clashed with the British.

Gandhi remained committed to non-violence even in the most extreme situations. Gandhi was a student of Hindu philosophy and lived simply, organizing an ashram that was self-sufficient in its needs. He made his own clothes and lived on a simple vegetarian diet. He used rigorous fasts for self-purification as well as a means of protest. All this was mainly done to raise the status of India's depressed classes and draw them into the freedom struggle. Gandhi is considered the "Father of the Nation in India." His birthday on October 2nd is celebrated each year with Gandhi Jayanti, a national holiday.

Gandhi's teachings have inspired civil rights leaders - Martin Luther King, Steve Biko, Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi. And he said things like this -

  • What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty or democracy? - "Non-Violence in Peace and War"
  • Non-violence is not a cover for cowardice, but it is the supreme virtue of the brave. Exercise of non-violence requires far greater bravery than that of swordsmanship. Cowardice is wholly inconsistent with non-violence. Translation from swordsmanship to non-violence is possible and, at times, even an easy stage. Non-violence, therefore, presupposes ability to strike. It is a conscious deliberate restraint put upon one's desire for vengeance. But vengeance is any day superior to passive, effeminate and helpless submission. Forgiveness is higher still. Vengeance too is weakness. The desire for vengeance comes out of fear of harm, imaginary or real. A dog barks and bites when he fears. A man who fears no one on earth would consider it too troublesome even to summon up anger against one who is vainly trying to injure him. The sun does not wreak vengeance upon little children who throw dust at him. They only harm themselves in the act.
  • What kind of victory is it when someone is left defeated?

It was worth a visit.

Mahatma Gandhi World Peace Memorial, Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine, 17190 Sunset Boulevard, Pacific Palisades, California
















Mahatma Gandhi World Peace Memorial, Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine, 17190 Sunset Boulevard, Pacific Palisades, California
















Mahatma Gandhi World Peace Memorial, Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine, 17190 Sunset Boulevard, Pacific Palisades, California














At the Mahatma Gandhi World Peace Memorial, Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine, 17190 Sunset Boulevard, Pacific Palisades, California



















Mahatma Gandhi World Peace Memorial, Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine, 17190 Sunset Boulevard, Pacific Palisades, California

Posted by Alan at 22:07 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 21 November 2006 22:14 PST home

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