Saturday, January 03, 2004


Live on CNN, it looks like the Mars rover, Spirit, is on the ground and transmitting. Awesome. There may be images in the next few minutes... Around midnight eastern.

This is good news. There have been enough failures, so a success, like this mission appears to be so far, is long overdue and a huge confidence booster.
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Flight cancellations 

If you're interested in learning why certain overseas flights bound for America are being cancelled, The Command Post has a lot of good info.
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Friday, January 02, 2004

EU could have averted war 

So says the headline of this article from South Africa's News 24.

Rome - A politically united Europe could have prevented the war on Iraq, according to European Union Commission President Romano Prodi, quoted in an interview published on Friday in the Italian daily La Repubblica.

"If Europe had been present and united, I believe, we would not have seen the war on Iraq," Prodi said, adding "Then we would have managed to find a solution to preserve the peace."

Such an attitude assumes that peace is always the best state of things. Peace IS a wonderful thing. The best of all possible worlds, in a Panglossian kind of way. Nobody is going to say that they absolutely prefer war over peace. But most of Europe seems to have forgotten that sometimes war is necessary. (Hint: War is responsible for your freedom, Europe. Not sure why you would so readily deny that benefit to others.)

"Peace," in the sense Prodi uses it, really means "lack of war." I would hardly call Saddam Hussein's Iraq a place of "peace." It was a violent and dangerous place for those who dared speak a word against the regime, and even for some who were simply in the wrong place when one of Saddam's hideous sons passed by. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed by that regime, but apparently Prodi and his ilk prefer that "peace" to the real peace that will be the final outcome of the U.S.-led liberation. I don't want to predict how this war will be viewed by history, but my gut says that the anti-war crowd will be a footnote to what will be seen as a very successful and world-altering effort.
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"America is the enemy of God" 

Reuters brings us the story of a U.S. Army raid on a Baghdad mosque, in which weapons were seized and the raid, predictably, was denounced by worshippers and the imam.

"American soldiers entered the mosque with their shoes on and with machine guns in their hands," the imam, Abdulsatar al-Janabi, told Reuters, adding the raid had lasted five hours.

"They trampled on the holy Koran, beat up some of the worshippers and stole computers and a donations box," he said. Others claimed that a page was torn from the Koran.

Protesters screamed and cried, chanting: "God is great" and "America is the enemy of God".

Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, a U.S. military spokesman, said U.S. troops had conducted the operation after a tip off from Iraqis and netted a wide array of weaponry to be used against occupying forces facing a relentless insurgency.

Good for 1st Armored Division. I'm all for respecting the sanctity of places of worship, but if you hide weapons in one, and the U.S. Army comes looking for them, then the mosque was defiled long before the soldiers arrived. However, with my little bit of time spent in a Muslim country (and my one visit to its Grand Mosque), I can see a couple of problems that should have been expected. First, Friday is the Muslim holy day. This raid is the equivalent of walking, heavily armed, into a Christian church on Sunday in the middle of the pastor's sermon, asking everyone to leave, and then poking around the place in search of contraband. In other words, it's the worst possible timing. Secondly, there's the issue of weapons, and of the soldiers keeping their boots on. I wouldn't want any American commander to disarm his men in such a situation, but could some compromise be made on the footwear? It's common practice in the Arab world to remove footwear before entering a home, or especially a mosque. It's a matter of respect for any non Arab/Muslim visitor to do the same.

I don't know if any of these things were considered. They may well have been, although the timing of the raid is still extremely suspect. (I do, however, seriously doubt that anyone was beaten up or that soldiers "trampled on the holy Koran" and tore pages from it.)

Remember, we're on their side. We need Iraqis to feel as if our goals are their own. We're trying to build trust. Busting into a mosque in the middle of the holy day is not how we do that, however fruitful the search may have been.

UPDATE: CNN provides a little more detail on the fruits of the raid:

Kimmitt called the mosque a "hub of anti-coalition and anti-Iraqi activities" and the scene of insurgency cells' meetings.

He said confiscated weapons included high explosives, TNT, blasting caps, gunpowder, grenades, detonation cord, artillery primers, rocket launchers, mortar tubes and sights, AK-47 rifles and ammunition. Soldiers also found materials for making the small bombs regularly used to target coalition convoys, he said.

UPDATE 2: Juan Cole says, "Still, the US Army could have done itself a favor here by just sending in Iraqi police to do this job and not having GIs invade a mosque."

Great idea.
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If someone can tell me why my posts get progressively narrower the farther down on the page they appear... or why my sidebar is no longer a sidebar and is now at the bottom of the page... I would love to hear your ideas. I've dug through the code myself and nothing jumped out at me as the cause. If you can't see what I'm talking about, go to my December archives and hold the space bar down--it'll be very obvious. It narrows all the way down to a single word per line, and that's kind of annoying to me.


UPDATE: Got the main page fixed. Reloaded a fresh template and reinserted the links, email, comments, etc. The problem with the archives remains, so I'm still looking for ideas.
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Death to America 

LT Smash has some good comments about Iran after a leading cleric greets American humanitarian aid with a cry of "Death to America." It certainly provides an interesting contrast with Vice President Mohammad Ali Abtahi's blog, about which I posted just below.

Smash has this to say:

HARD-LINE IRANIAN CLERICS like Jannati fear that the United States will take advantage of this opportunity to thaw relations with the Iranian government.

They’re wrong, of course. We don’t give a rat’s ass about the Iranian government – because we realize that motley group of aging thugs and theocrats are not much longer for this world.

I think they realize it too, or else they wouldn't try to keep their opponents out of elections.

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Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Iranian VP is a blogger 

That's how it appears on this site, anyway, and it's fascinating. Among Mohammad Ali Abtahi's posts is one today, with his New Year's wishes:

Would it come true that the next year be a year of peace and sans blood?

Would it come true that in the next year humans own reverence and so their spirit?

Would it come true that humans be free everywhere in the world including our country Iran, to be able to live however they want?

Would it come true that the humans do not commit any crime and as a result no more prisoners be there? And no one wait others? And at least those who are in jails for their beliefs being released and gain back their freedom?

And tens of other WOULD IT BECOME TRUEs that has been dreams and hopes till now.

There might occur a miracle so that the year 2004 becomes so.

Amen to that. The Christmas post is even more surprising, as it quotes from the Gospel of Matthew and says, "this auspicious day is a harbinger of kindness and love"

Hat tip to Jeff Jarvis for the link. According to him, Hoder says the blog is for real. Reuters and AFP ran stories about it. Guess it's legit!

Would it come true that more Iranian officials think as he does.
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End of the year Democratic Underground wrapup 

Glenn Reynolds linked to it, so this post from John Hawkins isn't exactly a secret now, but I figured I would link to it anyway in case you missed it. It's "The 10 Worst Quotes From the Democratic Underground For 2003."

It's scary. Don't say I didn't warn you.
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Turns out the night sky is no big deal 

Do you feel important? Do you feel big? Well, here's an article to put your insignificant life in perspective.

Nah, not really. But it's still humbling to think that on a clear night, away from any lights, as you stare up at the heavens, you won't see:

- The over 100 billion galaxies that make up the universe, or

- The over 300 billion stars that make up our own galaxy, or even

- The over 8,000 stars visible from earth.

No, you'll see, at most, 2,500 of them at any given time, under ideal conditions. The vast majority of the human race will never see anything outside one tiny corner of our own galaxy, itself a tiny corner of the vast heavens.

I've always known this intrinsically, but to have it expressed in raw numbers... Wow.

But none of that takes away from the sheer beauty of the night sky. More than once I've found myself staring at the heavens, thanking God for creating something so magnificent.

And I believe there are few sights more stunning than the stars at night, viewed from a ship at sea, hundreds of miles from any significant human settlement. There were some quiet nights on the bridge of the aircraft carrier, with no other ships around, and nothing to do but maintain a constant course, when, after the quiet conversations went silent, I would slip out from the darkened pilothouse onto the bridge wing outside, and simply get lost in the stars. If you have never seen a night so dark, so full of stars, and so calm that starlight shimmers in thousands of streaks across the sea, reflected the way moonlight is in other, more pedestrian places, then you have never really known how it is to feel at once humbled by the beauty of God's creation, reduced to a tiny speck in the vast universe, and intimately a part of both.

Knowing that I have only seen, and will only ever see, an infinitessimally small fraction of all that is out there... well, that makes the whole experience even more wondrous.
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Shatner sings, take 2 

Some things are better left in the past... But not William Shatner albums! He's got a new one coming out for all you fans. No, seriously.

For those who have gritted their teeth or shrieked in horror at his interpretations of Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds or Mr. Tambourine Man, consider yourselves warned.

But can this album really be as bad as 1968's The Transformed Man? I'm almost curious enough to buy it so I can find out. He's working with Ben Folds and Henry Rollins. I can't see them helping him much.

But I must say that this is one news item I never thought I would see.
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Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Chris Shays, security expert 

Drudge links to this AP article in which Congressman Chris Shays (R-CT) recommends giving in to fear:

Republican Rep. Christopher Shays, however, said people ought to avoid places like Times Square, calling it irresponsible for officials to make people think they don't need to take precautions.

"Secretary Ridge says just do what you normally do," Shays said. "If normally you go to Times Square, I wouldn't do what you normally do. I wouldn't go into places when you're packed and where if there was panic, a lot of injuries would take place."

Yeah, that will show those terrorists, won't it? They want us to change how we do things. They don't want us to go about our lives normally. Doing as Shays suggests only plays into their hands.

UPDATE: New Year's has come and gone safely, and I almost forgot to add my "neener-neener" directed at Shays. Fortunately, almost a million people ignored him and had a good time anyway.
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LA Times investigates for months, discovers the obvious 

The LA Times (registration required), after months of digging, finds that Syria helped Iraq acquire weapons illegally. What a shocker.

DAMASCUS, Syria — A Syrian trading company with close ties to the ruling regime smuggled weapons and military hardware to Saddam Hussein between 2000 and 2003, helping Syria become the main channel for illicit arms transfers to Iraq despite a stringent U.N. embargo, documents recovered in Iraq show.

The private company, called SES International Corp., is headed by a cousin of Syria's autocratic leader, Bashar Assad, and is controlled by other members of Assad's Baath Party and Alawite clan. Syria's government assisted SES in importing at least one shipment destined for Iraq's military, the Iraqi documents indicate, and Western intelligence reports allege that senior Syrian officials were involved in other illicit transfers...

They reveal Iraq's increasingly desperate search in at least a dozen countries for ballistic missiles, antiaircraft missiles, artillery, spare parts for MIG fighter jets and battle tanks, gunpowder, radar systems, nerve agent antidotes and more.

Huh. Nerve agent antidotes. Why would a country without nerve agent need antidotes?
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The Western Disease 

Victor Davis Hanson has, as usual, an excellent column about those on the American left and others of similar thinking who seemingly have nothing good to say about the West.

There is something terribly wrong, something terribly amoral with the Western intelligentsia, most prominently in academia, the media, and politics. We don’t need Osama bin Laden’s preschool jabbering about “the weak horse” to be worried about the causes of this Western disease: thousands of the richest, most leisured people in the history of civilization have become self-absorbed, ungracious, and completely divorced from the natural world — the age-old horrific realities of dearth, plague, hunger, rapine, or conquest.

Indeed, it is even worse than that: a Paul Krugman or French barrister neither knows anything of how life is lived beyond his artificial cocoon nor of the rather different men and women whose unacknowledged work in the shadows ensures his own bounty in such a pampered landscape — toil that allows our anointed to rage at those purportedly culpable for allowing the world to function differently from an Ivy League lounge or the newsroom of the New York Times. Neither knows what it is like to be in a village gassed by Saddam Hussein or how hard it is to go across the world to Tikrit and chain such a monster.

Our Western intellectuals are sheltered orchids who are naïve about the world beyond their upscale hothouses. The Western disease of deductive fury at everything the West does provides a sort of psychological relief (without costs) for apparent guilt over privileged circumstances. It is such a strange mixture of faux-populism and aristocratic snobbery. They believe only a blessed few such as themselves have the requisite education or breeding to understand the “real” world of Western pathologies and its victims.

I recommend reading the whole article.

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Getting to know Iraq's tribes 

The Christian Science Monitor has a story about an Army officer who is doing a very valuable job.
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Monday, December 29, 2003

No Happy New Year in Saudi 

The religious police in Saudi Arabia have banned New Year's gifts.

RIYADH (Reuters) - Morality police in southern Saudi Arabia plan to conduct raids to ensure that shops do not sell flowers, candles and gifts to those planning to celebrate New Year, a local newspaper reported on Monday.

The Arabic-language al-Watan said the Authority for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (APVPV) in Aseer province was determined to uphold a ban by the conservative Muslim kingdom on non-Muslim celebrations.

Sell flowers and the religious police will shut you down. You have to be pretty insecure about the strength of your message when you feel threatened by a New Year bouquet.

Al-Watan is a strongly pro-reform newspaper in the kingdom. Maybe if the paper publishes enough stories like this one, people will start to realize how... bizarre their society is. Maybe not.

Minor quibble: The Reuters article says that the APVPV answers only to King Fahd. A) King Fahd is only the king because he survived his 1995 stroke; he pretty much lacks any capacity to rule. B) The APVPV does indirectly answer to Prince Nayef, the interior minister--a major thorn in the side of his more reform-minded half-brother Abdullah, the Crown Prince.

Here is a great article on the interplay of conservative and reformist forces in Saudi Arabia from the current Foreign Affairs, if you're interested.
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