best when viewed in low light


Game On!

In my ongoing quest to convert the real world into a hybrid of synthetic internet-based technologies and physical experience, I like to see that the young upstart of the communications/entertainment industry - video games - is getting good press.

It's not the sinners' past-time any more!

Retired Roman Catholic nuns...

From the New York Times:
March 30, 2007 Video Games Conquer Another World: Retirees

CHATAWA, Miss. — For 133 years the School Sisters of Notre Dame have lived here in a thick forest just up the hill from the Tangipahoa River. In a modest but stately compound called St. Mary of the Pines, 52 retired members of this Roman Catholic order spend much of their time as the order’s members have since the 19th century. They read and garden, fish and sew. They pray five times a day.

But many also have a new hobby, one they credit for keeping their hands steady and minds sharp. They play video games. Every day residents go to the seven-terminal “Computer Cove” to click furiously on colorful, nonviolent, relatively simple games like Bejeweled, Bookworm and Chuzzle.

Though they live in a remote grove, the women of St. Mary are actually part of a vast and growing community of video-game-playing baby boomers and their parents, especially women.

Anxious about the mental cost of aging, older people are turning to games that rely on quick thinking to stimulate brain activity. A step slower than in their youth, they are using digital recreations of bowling, tennis and golf.

Spurred by the popularity of the Nintendo Wii game system among older players, Erickson Retirement Communities, based in Baltimore, which manages 18 campuses around the country with 19,000 total residents, is installing the consoles at each location.

[On Thursday Norwegian Cruise Line announced that it was installing Wii systems on all its ships.]

PopCap Games in Seattle, the maker of the diversions so popular at St. Mary, says its games have been downloaded more than 200 million times since the company was founded in 2000. A spokesman said that the company was stunned by results of a customer survey last year: 71 percent of its players were older than 40, 47 percent were older than 50, and 76 percent of PopCap players were women.

It turns out that older users not only play video games more often than their younger counterparts but also spend more time playing per session. is a Web site that offers “casual” games, easy to play and generally less complicated than the war, sports and strategy games favored by hard-core gamers. According to Electronic Arts, the game publisher that runs the site, people 50 and older were 28 percent of the visitors in February but accounted for more than 40 percent of total time spent on the site. On average women spent 35 percent longer on the site each day than men.

“Baby boomers and up are definitely our fastest-growing demographic, and it is because the fear factor is diminishing,” said Beatrice Spaine, the marketing director. “Women come for the games, but they stay for the community. Women like to chat, and these games online are a way to do that. It’s kind of a MySpace for seniors.”

A couple of hours before heading to a harmonica concert recently, Sister Jean-Marie Smith, 61 and a retired teacher, paused her round of Bookworm (a digital take on the classic Scrabble word game) at the prodigious score of 34,765,180 to explain how she joined the gamer generation after moving to St. Mary last summer.

She has attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, “and I just could not focus on anything,” she said. “I constantly have to find things to keep my attention. But the first time I played Bookworm, and that red tile hit the bottom and I lost, I stood up and said, ‘Me and this computer are going to have a talk.’ The fact that it’s interactive and also competitive really draws me in and helps me focus.”

Sister Marie Richard Eckerle, 72, who introduced the games at St. Mary, smiled and said: “I hear all the time from sisters when they first see the computer, ‘I can’t do it, I can’t do it, I can’t do it.’ And then they can do it. And they actually like it.”

The game industry has been pleasantly surprised to discover this growing audience that is more familiar with Little Richard than Ludacris, and some companies, particularly Nintendo and makers of easy-to-play casual games, have begun to cater specifically to older players. (Microsoft and Sony, two other big game companies, still focus mostly on young men.)

“We actually use something called the ‘Mom Test,’ ” said John Vechey, 28, a founder of PopCap. “When we were first making games like Bejeweled, we would sit our moms in front of the computers and just let them play, and that’s a big way how we would see what works in an accessible, casual game. The problem is that our moms have gotten a little too savvy, so we’re always looking for new moms to test on.”

Aside from casual PC games the other big spur to increased gaming by older players has been the recent introduction of two new game systems by Nintendo of Japan. The hand-held DS and the home Wii console (pronounced “we”) are specifically meant to buck the industry trend toward increasing complexity and instead provide a simple yet captivating experience for players of all ages and degrees of coordination. In many games, players need only swing and twist the Wii controller rather than have to master complicated combinations of buttons and triggers.

Dick Norwood, 61, a semi-retired businessman who lives in a community for residents 55 and older in Crest Hill, Ill., spotted the Wii in a mall in December. After playing Wii bowling with two other couples at home, he persuaded Giovan’s, a local Italian restaurant, to begin a “seniors only” Wii bowling league, where nine couples now show up every Thursday.

“When I started calling people about it, they had no idea what I was talking about, and they were laughing at me saying, ‘You want to start a bowling league on a video game in a bar?’ ” he said. “Well, we got there the first time, and we were there for six solid hours. In the past, I probably would have agreed that video games are just for kids. But I’ll tell you, at our age when you bowl for real, you wake up with aches and pains. Those balls aren’t light. But with this you’re getting good exercise, but you’re not aching the next day.”

There is no good evidence that video game playing can alter the course of dementia or cause lasting improvements in memory, but research is sparse. Most neuroscientists doubt that gaming can hurt, and some small studies are under way.

Jim Karle, a graduate student in the department of psychology, neuroscience and behavior at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, reported last year that preliminary experiments indicated that playing video games could have a beneficial effect on short-term memory. Mr. Karle has not applied his research directly to older subjects, he said, but he may not have to. He has witnessed the increased popularity of gaming among older players first-hand.

“The baby boom generation is definitely playing more video games,” Mr. Karle, 29, said. “My mom never played video games, and then I would try to call her last year and could never get through. It wasn’t that the line was busy. She just wasn’t answering. It turned out it was because she had gotten engrossed with a game called Zuma. She’s 60 years old, and suddenly she was totally into it.”

Master of Disaster

Just a word about Karl Rove: offensive.

That is all.


Vows Don't End Wars, Bombs Do!

The main page of the New York Times website is just...well, sort of precious today. Because on this digital "front page", there are two articles that might seem to contradict each other. Or maybe not.
And then, of course, there's government by playground rules.

From the New York Times:

March 28, 2007 Bush Vows Not to Negotiate on Iraq Timetable

WASHINGTON, March 28 — A defiant President Bush vowed today not to negotiate with Congress about setting a date for withdrawing American troops from Iraq, and he said the American people would blame lawmakers if there is any delay in approving money for the war effort.

“Now, some of them believe that by delaying funding for our troops, they can force me to accept restrictions on our commanders that I believe would make withdrawal and defeat more likely,” Mr. Bush said. “That’s not going to happen. If Congress fails to pass a bill to fund our troops on the front lines, the American people will know who to hold responsible.”

The president, speaking to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association here a day after the Senate endorsed the withdrawal of most American troops by March 31, 2008, said that the people of Iraq had already shown their desire to run their own country by voting in free elections, that Iraqi security forces are gaining strength with American help, and that the outcome in Iraq “will affect a generation of Americans.”

Far from sounding conciliatory, Mr. Bush hurled a dismissive dart at the lawmakers as he asserted that the emergency war-spending bills approved by the House and under consideration by the Senate were loaded with special-interest items, some of them downright silly.

“There’s $3.5 million for visitors to tour the Capitol and see for themselves how Congress works,” Mr. Bush said, drawing laughs from the friendly audience. “I’m not kidding you.”

“Here’s the bottom line,” Mr. Bush went on. “The House and Senate bills have too much pork, too many conditions on our commanders and an artificial timetable for withdrawal. And I have made it clear for weeks if either version comes to my desk, I’m going to veto it.” (Mr. Bush has used his veto power only once, in 2005, to reject a measure that would have expanded federal financing for embryonic stem cell research.)

The $122 billion emergency bills do include nonmilitary spending items, some with little or no connection to national defense. But about $100 billion would go to the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns.

Shortly after the president’s speech, Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic House speaker, said Mr. Bush should “calm down with the threats.”

Democrats will try to put the onus on Mr. Bush for any delay in providing money for the military, arguing that he is the one who is holding it up by vetoing the spending measure. “We will have legislation that will give him every dollar he asks for for our troops and more, but with accountability,” Ms. Pelosi said.

The House and Senate bills have significant differences, which would have to be reconciled before a measure could be passed by the full Congress. The House bill, passed a week ago, would require the president to bring most combat troops home by September 2008. The bill being considered by the Senate, on the other hand, would set a nonbinding goal of March 31, 2008, for withdrawal.

The House bill passed, 218 to 212. A vote on the overall Senate bill is expected on Thursday, although the March 31, 2008, withdrawal goal was endorsed in a 50-to-48 vote on Tuesday that rejected an amendment to erase the date.

Given the closeness of the votes so far, it is highly unlikely that opponents of Mr. Bush’s policies could muster the two-thirds necessary in both houses of Congress to override his veto. And Mr. Bush’s speech today was a message to Democrats that they should not assume their negotiating position is any stronger because of their narrow victories last week in the House and Tuesday in the Senate.

Mr. Bush did talk about issues of keen interest to the cattlemen, saying, for instance, that if foreign leaders “want to get the attention of the American people in a positive way, you open up your markets to U.S. beef.” But at least half his speech was devoted to Iraq and Afghanistan and the wider battle against terrorism, which he again insisted was linked to the Iraq campaign, despite his critics’ assertions to the contrary.

“The best way to protect this country is to defeat the enemy overseas, so we don’t have to face them here at home,” Mr. Bush said, to applause.

The president said the new push to secure Baghdad through reinforcements should be given a chance to succeed, not undermined by Congressional votes that might cause America’s foes to question its national will.

Mr. Bush also differed, as he has many times before, with those who say that he has falsely linked the Sept. 11 attacks to Iraq, and that the war there is a distraction from, rather than an integral part of, the fight against terrorism.

Alluding to a chilling new tactic by Iraqi insurgents, using children to lull security guards, Mr. Bush said, “That evil that uses children in a terrorist attack in Iraq is the same evil that inspired and rejoiced in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and that evil must be defeated overseas so we don’t have to face them here again.

“If we cannot muster the resolve to defeat this evil in Iraq, America will have lost its moral purpose in the world. And we will endanger our citizens, because if we leave Iraq before the job is done, the enemy will follow us here.”

March 28, 2007
Reprisal Attacks Kill Dozens in Iraq

As many as 50 people were killed in what appeared to be reprisal attacks in Tal Afar after a double suicide-vehicle bombing there on Tuesday killed 85 people and wounded 150, Iraqi officials and a witness said today.

Armed attacks broke out against Sunnis in the Sunni neighborhood of Al Wahda, with Shiite Iraqi security forces suspected of taking part, they said.

“Some of the families of the victims were enraged, and with cooperation of some policemen they attacked the Sunni areas,” said a resident in the city, Muhie Muhammad Ebrahim. “I can say that a public slaughtering took place, but there was no reaction from the authorities.”

Twelve police officers suspected of taking part in the reprisal killings were arrested, said an official in the Iraqi army, who declined to be identified. And the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, a Shiite, ordered a committee be formed to investigate allegations the gunmen included some Iraqi police.

In the most destructive of the two suicide attacks in Tal Afar on Tuesday, the bomber was driving a truck partially filled with sacks of flour for bread that concealed his explosives. He started handing out the sacks to people, saying it was free aid. But as a crowd gathered around his vehicle, he detonated the bomb. Dr. Salah Qadou, the head of the hospital there, said today the death toll from the two attacks had risen to 85.

Today, ambulances circulated through the northern city to pick up bodies. The hospital was running low on medical supplies and blood. The police said that dozens of people demonstrated in front of the mayor’s office, calling for him and the police commander to resign.

The Iraqi army imposed a curfew and dispatched army vehicles to patrol the streets of the city, which was once cited by President Bush as an example of American military success in Iraq.

The American military said in a statement today that its forces were prepared to assist the Iraqis in enforcing the law in Tal Afar.

Tal Afar is a dusty and agrarian northern city where the American military established a large presence in 2005 by putting its forces closely together with Iraqi police and security forces in joint operations. Before then, in 2004, American forces had pushed into the area with a large offensive, then later withdrawn. The city, once seen as an entry point for foreign fighters, saw a dramatic drop in violence and was regarded as one of the few success stories of the American campaign.

But like many other cities in the country, Tal Afar, with a population of a quarter million, has been far from immune to large scale attacks, and there have been fierce battles as American troops have fought to wrest control of the area from groups affiliated with Al Qaeda and from other insurgents.

In November last year, two suicide bombers, one in a car and the other on foot, attacked an outdoor car market in the city, which is rife with insurgents, killing at least 20 people and wounding at least 42.

In September, a bomber wearing an vest filled with explosives killed 21 people and wounded 17 when he blew himself up near a line of people waiting to receive their allotment of cooking fuel, according to Iraqi state television.

In May, a suicide bomber in a pickup truck drove into a public market and blew himself up, killing 17 people and wounding as many as 65, officials said.

Kirk Semple, Alissa J. Rubin, Ahmad Fadam and Qais Mizher contributed reporting from Baghdad, and Iraqi employees of The New York Times from Kirkuk, Mosul and Ramadi.

March 28, 2007 Iran to Release Female Sailor; Britain Steps Up Pressure

LONDON, March 28 — Britain's dispute with Iran over 15 captured sailors and marines escalated sharply today when Britain froze all "bilateral business" with Tehran and Iran displayed some British prisoners on state television — an act condemned by the Foreign Office here as "completely unacceptable."

One of the captured sailors, Faye Turney, 26, the only woman among them, was shown wearing a black head-scarf and saying "obviously we trespassed into their waters." She also praised her captors as "very friendly, very hospitable and very thoughtful, nice people. They explained to us why we had been arrested."

Iran's foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, attending a meeting in Saudi Arabia, had indicated earlier that Ms. Turney, could be released soon. "There was no hurt or harm," Ms. Turney said in the television footage. "They were very, very compassionate."

Iranian authorities also made public what they said was a letter written Thursday by Ms. Turney to her family saying: "We were out in the boats when we were arrested by Iranian forces as we had apparently gone into Iranian waters. I wish we hadn't because then I would be home with you all right now. I'm so sorry we did because I know we wouldn't be here now if we hadn't. I want you all to know that I am well and safe.

"I am being well looked after, I am fed three meals a day and I'm in constant supply of fluids," the letter said. Her words were addressed in part to her three-year-old daughter Molly and husband Adam.

The circumstances in which she recorded her words and wrote the letter were not clear. Some of the captured Britons were shown in a room eating a meal with her, but it was also not clear the extent to which the tape had been edited. In one section she was wearing a black and white checkered head-dress and in another a black head scarf.

After the video tape was broadcast, Margaret Beckett, the British Foreign Secretary, said that she was concerned about "any indication of pressure on, or coercion of, our personnel."

British officials have been denied access to the captured sailors and their whereabouts were not disclosed. Britain renewed its demand on Thursday for the release of its sailors.

Ms. Turney's remarks contradicted insistence in London that the British sailors had been in Iraqi waters where they patrol under Iraqi and United Nations auspices to interdict smugglers and protect oil installations.

Earlier Prime Minister Tony Blair told parliament that the British sailors, captured on March 23, were acting legally and in Iraqi waters.

"It is now time to ratchet up international and diplomatic pressure in order to make sure that the Iranian government understands their total isolation on this issue," he told parliament.

The Royal Navy also took the highly unusual step of making public charts, photographs and previously secret navigational coordinates purportedly proving that the British sailors were 1.7 nautical miles — roughly 1.95 miles on land — inside Iraqi waters when they were apprehended at gun-point and forced into Iranian waters.

The toughened British posture heightened the sense of crisis that has sent oil prices soaring.

The Royal Navy's disclosures opened a coordinated diplomatic barrage by some of the most senior British officials, including Mr. Blair and Mrs. Beckett, the Foreign Secretary, who told parliament that Britain would "be imposing a freeze on all other official bilateral business with Iran until the situation is resolved."

"The Iranian authorities have so far failed to meet any of our demands or responded to our desire to resolve this issue quickly and quietly, through behind the scenes diplomacy," Mrs. Beckett said, explaining Britain's decision to go public and offer some kind of retaliation, if only symbolic.

The government had been under political pressure at home to show itself as more muscular after being accused in newspaper editorials of being timid toward Iran. At the same time, though, many analysts said Mr. Blair had embarked on a risky strategy that could backfire if Iran responded to pressure by digging in its heels and refusing to free its captives.

The decision by Iranian television to show footage of the 15 captives rekindled memories of a similar episode in 2004 when eight other British captives were paraded blindfolded on Iranian television.

Britain has little direct official bilateral business with Iran beyond sporting and cultural ties and some humanitarian assistance to refugees and earthquake victims, according to an assessment on the Foreign Office website (

Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, visited Iran in 2004 to show concern after the Bam earthquake.

Britain's more significant diplomatic and political business with Iran is conducted as part of a troika of European nations along with France and Germany pressing Iran to limit its nuclear ambitions.

While the impact of the prohibition on official business was, therefore, unclear, it seemed to reflect the first formal reprisal by Britain in response to the seizure of its personnel, designed to show, in Mrs. Beckett's words to parliament, "the seriousness with which we regard these events."

"This is not going as far as breaking off diplomatic relations," said Lord Norman Lamont, the head of the British-Iranian Chamber of Commerce, "but it is upping the ante." In parliament, the government's actions received support from a broad consensus across party lines.

The publication of the British data followed a warning by Mr. Blair on Thursday that the dispute would enter a "different phase" if the sailors were not released. In parliament on Wednesday the Prime Minister called the seizure of the British personnel "completely unacceptable, wrong and illegal" and renewed calls for their immediate return.

Vice Admiral Charles Style told a news briefing that British authorities "unambiguously contest" Iranian assertions that the sailors were in Iranian waters. He also accused Iranian forces of ambushing the British naval personnel — seven Royal Marines and eight sailors. Vice Admiral Style did not offer to answer questions.

He said that, in secret diplomatic contacts, Iran had produced two conflicting sets of coordinates to bolster its case, the first placing the British soldiers in Iraqi waters where, Britain says, they were on a routine anti-smuggling patrol authorized by the United Nations and the Iraqi government.

An Iranian statement said Tehran had "sufficient evidence" to prove that the British sailors had penetrated 0.5 kilometers — roughly 500 yards — into Iranian waters.

Vice Admiral Style said the British boarding party in two inflatable boats had boarded an Indian-flagged naval vessel on March 23 after observing it unloading cars. He said the boarding took place at these coordinates: 29 degrees 50.36 minutes North, 04 degrees 43.08 minutes east. That placed it 1.7 nautical miles inside Iraqi waters, he said.

In diplomatic contacts last week, he added, Iran had provided Britain with an initial set of coordinates for the position of the boats that placed the incident in Iraqi waters.

"We pointed this out to them on Sunday in diplomatic contacts," Vice Admiral Style said. "After we did this they then provided a second set of coordinates that places the incident in Iranian waters" over two nautical miles away from where they were said to be by Britain, he said.

"It is hard to understand a legitimate reason for this change of coordinates," he said. The Navy said the sailors in two boats had formed a boarding party from H.M.S. Cornwall, a frigate patrolling in Iraqi waters.

Sebnem Arsu contributed reporting from Istanbul


He Said, She Said

Actually, it's really "Iran said", "the UK said" but that doesn't sound as smooth.

What does sound smooth is the way that both Iran and and the UK are confident that the British soldiers who were taken prisoner by Iran in defense of an infringement on their borders were either in Iraqi waters or not, depending on whose side you're on.

But let's be realistic. This is not about 15 sailors - much as they are human souls and deserve the respect, dignity and freedom of other humans (not that anyone's really concerned about their humanity...just saying) - this is about political maneuvering, and it's fucking obvious.

In fact, let's give this the latest Totally Fucking Obvious Award.

But, I digress. The real issue here is Iran's continuing efforts to assert its sovereignty, especially with respect to the West and all those attempting to control them through the UN Security Council.

And even this nonsense from the UN, preventing Iran from enriching uranium, is just an excuse for the culture war that is happening with increased tension and intensity every day. I have been hammering this point since my first post on a related topic, and I will continue to do so until I see some glimmer of hope in our foreign policy.

I've been accused of being a relativist. That is completely incorrect. I am an absolutist just as much as the Neo-Con hawks are, I just believe in a different set of absolutes. But I'm also willing to tolerate this planet with people that I view as insane, because I'm sure I appear that way to plenty of others - especially those that know me fairly well.

My point is this: we have to all live on this planet, whether we get along or not, and the best way to coexist is to respect the similarity in the fundamental values across all cultures, religions, nationalities, etc. I'd bet my life on the fact that Iran's ideological propaganda sounds a lot like ours, once you replace all the Allahs with Gods, and all the Irans with Americas (and don't get me started on that!).

And I really don't see the point of sending one person to kill another person on the grounds of morality, or ideological differences, or, in the case of Islam v Judeo-Christianity, a vast separation in language (and that's all!).

For the sake of argument, let's compare the basic structure of both of these religions:

1. Absolutist = a single divine power determines the path of all things.
2. Hierarchical = the doctrine is organized by levels of power and status.
3. Male Dominant = self-explanatory.
4. Death-Centered = the rewards of a good life come after death.
5. Glorified Martyrdom = one blessed human communicated with the divine, and died.

I'm not anti-Christian, anti-Judaism, or anti-Islam. I'm in favor of all means for humans to connect with a sense of the divine. If this is what works, more power to you!

But the idea that the values that come out of these belief systems are vastly different...

Let's just say I haven't seen evidence of this, and the imposition of cultural racism on foreign policy is juvenile and intolerant at best; destructive to the human race and all that is beautiful, at worst.

Mutants Revealed!

The boss is back, so all the intense, globally-relevant topics to be addressed have to get pushed to the side by brevity-inducing blurbs like this.

The best part of the article, in fact, the best discovery made by medical science in the past ten years can be be summarized by this quote:

"It makes me wonder whether the current classification of [redacted] is an oversimplification."

Ah, modern medicine. Paving the way for normative behavioral expectations and social ostracism for those members of the human race outside the middle 10 percent of the bell curve.


Ha Ha New York Times - I Beat You!

When it happens that we, the connected, globally-aware, digital society beat the fat old paper of record to the punch, it may seem like gloating, but how often do you get a chance to do that?

From the New York Times:

March 26, 2007
Chongqing Journal

In China, Fight Over Development Creates a Star

CHONGQING, China, March 23 — For weeks a dispute had drawn attention from people all across China as a simple homeowner stared down the forces of large-scale redevelopment that are sweeping this country, blocking the preparation of a gigantic construction site by an act of sheer will.

Chinese bloggers were the first to spread the news of a house perched atop a tall, thimble-shaped piece of land like Mont St. Michel in the middle of a vast excavation. Newspapers dove in next, followed by national television. Then, in a way that is common in China whenever an event begins to take on hints of political overtones, the story virtually disappeared from the news media, bloggers here said, after the government decreed that the subject was suddenly out of bounds.

Still, the “nail house,” as many here have called it because of the homeowner’s tenacity, like a nail that cannot be pulled out, remains the most popular current topic among bloggers in China.

It has a universal resonance in a country where rich developers are seen to be in cahoots with politicians and where both enjoy unchallenged sway. Each year, China is roiled by tens of thousands of riots and demonstrations, and few issues pack as much emotional force as the discontent of people who are suddenly uprooted, told they must make way for a new skyscraper or golf course or industrial zone.

What drove interest in the Chongqing case was the uncanny ability of the homeowner to hold out for so long. Stories are legion in Chinese cities of the arrest or even beating of people who protest too vigorously against their eviction and relocation. In one often-heard twist, holdouts are summoned to the local police station, and return home only to find their house already demolished. How had this owner, a woman no less, managed? Millions wondered.

Part of the answer, which upon meeting her takes only a moment to discover, is that Wu Ping is anything but an ordinary woman. With her dramatic lock of hair precisely combed and pinned in the back, a form-flattering bright red coat, high cheekbones and wide, excited eyes, the tall, 49-year-old restaurant entrepreneur knows how to attract attention — a potent weapon in China’s new media age, in which people leverage public opinion and appeals to the national image to influence the authorities.

“For over two years they haven’t allowed me access to my property,” said Ms. Wu, her arms flailing as she led a brisk walk through the Yangjiaping neighborhood here. It is an area in the throes of large-scale redevelopment, with broad avenues, big shopping malls and a recently built elevated monorail line, from whose platform nearly everyone stops to gawk at the nail house.

Within moments of her arrival at the locked gate of the excavated construction site, a crowd began to gather. The people, many of them workers with sunken cheeks, dressed in grimy clothes, regarded Ms. Wu with expressions of wonderment. Some of them exchanged stories about how they had been forced to relocate, and soothed each other with comments about how it all could not be helped.

From inside the gates, a state television crew began filming.

“If it were an ordinary person, they would have hired thugs and beat her up,” said a woman dressed in a green sweater who was drawn by the throng. “Ordinary people don’t dare fight with the developers. They’re too strong.”

Earlier this month, the National People’s Congress passed a historic law guaranteeing private property rights to China’s swelling ranks of urban, middle-class homeowners, among others. Some here attributed Ms. Wu’s success to that, as well as her knack for generating publicity.

“In the past, they would have just knocked it down,” said an 80-year-old woman who said she used to be a neighbor of Ms. Wu. “Now, that’s forbidden because Beijing has put out the word that these things should be done in a reasonable way.”

Between frenzied telephone calls to reporters and to city officials, Ms. Wu, who stood at the center of the crowd with her brother, a 6-foot-3 decorative stone dealer who wore his brown hair in jerri curls, stated her own case with a slightly different spin.

“I have more faith than others,” she began. “I believe that this is my legal property, and if I cannot protect my own rights, it makes a mockery of the property law just passed. In a democratic and lawful society, a person has the legal right to manage one’s own property.”

Tian Yihang, a local college student, spoke glowingly of her in an interview at the monorail station. “This is a peculiar situation,” he said, with a bit of understatement. “I admire the owner for being so persistent in her principles. In China, such things shock the common mind.”

Ms. Wu will in all likelihood lose her battle. Indeed, developers recently filed administrative motions to allow them to demolish her lonely building. Certainly, the local authorities are eager to see the last of her.

“During the process of demolition, 280 households were all satisfied with their compensation and moved,” said Ren Zhongping, a city housing official. “Wu was the only one we had to dismantle forcibly. She has the value of her house in her heart, but what she has in mind is not practical. It’s far beyond the standards of compensation decided by owners of housing and the professional appraisal organ.”

With the street so choked with onlookers that traffic began to back up, Ms. Wu’s brother, Wu Jian, began waving a newspaper above the crowd, pointing to pictures of Ms. Wu’s husband, a local martial arts champion, who was scheduled to appear in a highly publicized tournament that evening. “He’s going into our building and will plant a flag there,” Mr. Wu announced.

Moments later, as the crowd began to thin, a Chinese flag banner appeared on the roof with a hand-painted banner that read: “A citizen’s legal property is not to be encroached upon.”

Asked how his brother-in-law had managed to get inside the locked site and climb the escarpment on which the house sits perched, he said, with a wink, “Magic.”

Sex Crazed Women!

The medical community is almost like a Monty Python sketch - they look into "problems" and try to find "solutions", but no matter what they find, they never seem to see the most obvious explanation. It's hysterical.

In fact, the word "hysterical" brings to mind one of the most notable failures of the medical community - namely: female sexuality.

And the modern solution - the prescription and absorption of mind-body chemicals in the form of pills - is yet another way of avoiding the most obvious solution to this problem:

Men can't fuck.

Most men can't fuck a woman at all, much less well. They've built an entire culture surrounding the protection and justification for this plainly obvious fact. Hierarchy? That's the way to divvy up the women so that your status matters more than your merit. Male dominance? That's the way to hold a proverbial gun to the head of the woman you're fucking - she's not there cause she wants to be, she's there cause she's forced to be. Marriage? Money? Both socially-lubricated ways of holding onto the woman you've got so she won't leave for greener pastures.

Women (and gay men) already know this, and men...well, you already know this but are having a hard time admitting it to yourselves. It's ok. We understand. And, it's not that hard to improve, either. Just try thinking of your whole body (and his or her whole body) as the tip of your penis, then try using it all at the same time. Pretty straightforward. Once you get this idea well-absorbed, the rest is just technique.

Practice! Practice! Practice!


The Little House That Could

Those crazy Chinese! Talk about respect for private property rights!

What doesn't make sense is the idea that planning, budgeting and construction can take place before everyone has agreed to go along with the proposed outcome. No matter what the individuals do, if there's money on the side of construction, they're getting thrown out. And the idea that the government can trump individual rights, whether by law or bribery...I mean, compensation, seems a bit disrespectful. Or contradictory.

Kinda makes you want to rethink that whole private property thing from the beginning.

Still not sure why, in this particular case, the owners won't "sell". I also don't understand why the government doesn't just say ok, suit yourself, we'll build around you. Is there some kind of guarantee that there has to be access to the property? Or can't they just remove this one tiny segment from the construction? Build over and around them?

It's kind of cute:

What's really interesting to me about this article, or rather, the fact that the BBC News published this article, is that it follows well on the path of China's recent move to protect private property rights through legislation. Is this the West beckoning the Chinese into our economic structure, a seduction to capitalism?

How Easily They Lose Their Ideals

This just proves that politics sucks out your soul.

And also, why is the New York Times reporting this old news? What's really going on?

From the New York Times:

March 23, 2007
New to Job, Gates Argued for Closing Guantánamo

WASHINGTON, March 22 — In his first weeks as defense secretary, Robert M. Gates repeatedly argued that the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, had become so tainted abroad that legal proceedings at Guantánamo would be viewed as illegitimate, according to senior administration officials. He told President Bush and others that it should be shut down as quickly as possible.

Mr. Gates’s appeal was an effort to turn Mr. Bush’s publicly stated desire to close Guantánamo into a specific plan for action, the officials said. In particular, Mr. Gates urged that trials of terrorism suspects be moved to the United States, both to make them more credible and because Guantánamo’s continued existence hampered the broader war effort, administration officials said.

Mr. Gates’s arguments were rejected after Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and some other government lawyers expressed strong objections to moving detainees to the United States, a stance that was backed by the office of Vice President Dick Cheney, administration officials said.

As Mr. Gates was making his case, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice joined him in urging that the detention facility be shut down, administration officials said. But the high-level discussions about closing Guantánamo came to a halt after Mr. Bush rejected the approach, although officials at the National Security Council, the Pentagon and the State Department continue to analyze options for the detention of terrorism suspects.

The base at Guantánamo holds about 385 prisoners, among them 14 senior leaders of Al Qaeda, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who were transferred to it last year from secret prisons run by the Central Intelligence Agency. Under the Pentagon’s current plans, some prisoners, including Mr. Mohammed, will face war crimes charges under military trials that could begin later this year.

“The policy remains unchanged,” said Gordon D. Johndroe, a spokesman for the National Security Council.

Even so, one senior administration official who favors the closing of the facility said the battle might be renewed.

“Let’s see what happens to Gonzales,” that official said, referring to speculation that Mr. Gonzales will be forced to step down, or at least is significantly weakened, because of the political uproar over the dismissal of United States attorneys. “I suspect this one isn’t over yet.”

Details of the internal discussions on Guantánamo were described by senior officials from three departments or agencies of the executive branch, including officials who support moving rapidly to close Guantánamo and those who do not. One official made it clear that he was willing to discuss the internal deliberations in part because of Mr. Gonzales’s current political weakness. The senior officials discussed the issue on ground rules of anonymity because it entailed confidential conversations.

The officials said Mr. Gates and Ms. Rice expressed their concerns about Guantánamo in conversations with Mr. Bush and others, including Mr. Gonzales, beginning in January and onward. One widely discussed alternative would move the prisoners to military brigs in the United States, where they would remain in the custody of the Pentagon and would be subject to trial under military proceedings. There is widespread agreement, however, that moving any detainees or legal proceedings to American territory could bring significant complications.

Some administration lawyers are deeply reluctant to move terrorism suspects to American soil because it could increase their constitutional and statutory rights — and invite an explosion of civil litigation. Guantánamo was chosen because it was an American military facility but not on American soil.

Placing the detainees in military brigs on United States territory might fend off some of those challenges. The solution may eventually require a new act of Congress establishing legal standing for the detainees and new rules for their trial and incarceration if brought to the United States.

Mr. Gates’s criticism of Guantánamo marks a sharply different approach than the one taken by his predecessor, Donald H. Rumsfeld. It also demonstrated a new dynamic in the administration, in which Mr. Gates was teaming up with Ms. Rice, who often was at loggerheads with Mr. Rumsfeld. The State Department has long been concerned about the adverse foreign-policy impact of housing prisoners at Guantánamo.

In the end, Mr. Gates did succeed in killing plans to build a $100 million courthouse and detention complex at Guantánamo, after he argued that the large and expensive project would leave the impression of a long-lasting American detainee operation there and that the money could be more effectively spent elsewhere by the Pentagon. Mr. Gates approved a far more modest facility at one-tenth of the cost.

The setback in his effort to close Guantánamo was described by senior Pentagon officials as Mr. Gates’s only significant failure during an effort in his first three months in office to shift course from policies pursued by Mr. Rumsfeld. The outcome suggests that Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney and Mr. Gonzales remain committed to a detention plan that has become one of the most controversial elements of the administration’s counterterrorism program.

Mr. Cheney’s spokeswoman, Lee Anne McBride, said via e-mail that “we don’t discuss internal deliberations.”

Mr. Bush has repeatedly said he ultimately wants to shutter the detention operations at Guantánamo. But he has also said it is not possible to do so any time soon.

State Department and Pentagon officials have said that even close allies are uncomfortable with American policies toward Guantánamo, making it more difficult in some cases to coordinate efforts in counterterrorism, intelligence and law enforcement.

More than 390 detainees have been transferred abroad from the Guantánamo facility since it was opened amid global controversy in 2002. Last year, 111 detainees were transferred out, and 12 more have been this year. About 20 of those repatriated to home countries have been picked up again in sweeps of terrorism suspects or have been killed or captured in battle, Pentagon officials say.

Many countries do not want to take back the detainees held at Guantánamo. Some home nations will not guarantee that returning detainees would be assured humane treatment and fair trials, while others will not guarantee that detainees viewed by American officials as still dangerous would not be set free.

Mr. Gates’s challenge has sent a ripple through the White House, because it forced officials to confront the question of whether Mr. Bush was actually moving to fulfill his stated desire to close the detention facility. Officials who advocate shutting down Guantánamo, including some at the Pentagon and the State Department, said an underlying motivation of those who want to keep the center open is that closing it would be seen as a public admission of an incorrect policy — something the Bush administration is loath to do.

Neither Mr. Gates nor Ms. Rice have made public their comments to Mr. Bush. “Nobody is going to be insubordinate with the president,” said one senior administration official involved in the discussions. “You know the saying: ‘One war, one team.’ ”

But in a recent Pentagon news conference, Mr. Gates did speak about his concerns over Guantánamo in general terms.

“I think that Guantánamo has become symbolic, whether we like it or not, for many around the world,” Mr. Gates said at the time. “The problem is that we have a certain number of the detainees there who often by their own confessions are people who if released would come back to attack the United States. There are others that we would like to turn back to their home countries, but their home countries don’t want them.”

He said officials “are trying to address the problem of how do we reduce the numbers at Guantánamo and then what do you do with the relatively limited number that would be irresponsible to release.”

“And I would tell you that we’re wrestling with those questions right now,” he continued.

In an interview on Thursday, Gordon England, the deputy secretary of defense who is Mr. Gates’s point man on detention issues, suggested that the long-term answer to Guantánamo might be creating some new international legal structure or set of multilateral agreements to manage captured members of global terrorist organizations.

“I don’t know the alternative unless the international community, frankly, develops an alternative,” Mr. England said. “It is not a U.S. problem. It is an international problem to be dealt with.”

Mr. England said American government officials had “an extraordinarily high degree of confidence from the information available” that many Guantánamo detainees were “going to damage the country, so you just can’t let them go.”

“So,” he added, “this is difficult. I know it’s onerous. I know there are a lot of questions about it. We deal with it the best we can. But at the end of the day, we are not going to put the country or our citizens in jeopardy.”

On The Road To WWIII

Now things are really getting exciting!

It is clear that the Iranians are feeling like they have to assert themselves. What with US/European attempts to curb their nuclear ambitions through the UN, and accusations/explorations into their support of Iraqi militias, it's understandable that they might be feeling defensive.

The problem is, the West is looking for opporunities to expand this culture war (even though the fundamental beliefs of both Christianity and Islam, translated through their respective organizations, are about centralized absolute power, submission through hierarchy, and male dominance). The only thing this action is going to do is precipitate further political tension and military hostility. This guy, Thomas Barnett, has written an astonishingly convincing argument for this new-age Manifest Destiny.

Ultimately, the justifications for war do not matter. Death is a part of the cycle, and the use of force is an outgrowth of our predatory instincts. OK, fine. I take issue with the self-congratulatory aggrandizement, the cultural arrogance, and the lies. Just stop with the lies.

I think I could actually respect a President who got behind that podium and said: People, in order to continue to supply you with endless energy and consumer products, we have to make sure our access to the necessary resources are not cut off by rogue elements. Often, these rogue elements take the form of independently-minded (read: anti-US, anti-Western) national leaders and private organizations who want to prevent us from using the entire planet as our proverbial oyster.

There are two ways to protect ourselves: we can buy them off, or we can kill them off.

Given the difficult, uncooperative mindset of these nations and organizations, they rarely respond to an overt buy-off, which could be viewed as a sacrifice of their cause for some else's interpretation of the collective good. So, when we choose this option, it usually takes a long time and a lot of subtlety - both extremely unpopular political tactics.

The other option is the kill-off. We prefer this route because it makes money for the vested interests in our country, it clears a large number of high school dropouts and unemployed citizens off the dole, and when it works, it's a lot faster. Plus, this way our country looks strong (grrr) and our ideology looks righteous.

It's the storm of bullshit that I object to most.


Ride That Ass!

So much for an empowered Senate majority:from the New York Times


Thank you, Tony Auth


Race Or Food?

It's nice to know that this country of immigrants (from 1492 til today) will always welcome new groups into our culture in the same way: by hating them until they have enough money to buy our love. Or maybe not.

Pessimistic, perhaps, but I see no justification for the negative reactions of various US communities to the arrival of new grocery stores aimed at the economically, culturally and politically powerful Hispanic market.

It's funny, because I started reading the article and thought - WOW! This is great! A chain of grocery stores that is expanding the "Spanish" food section to the whole store! An unbelievable opportunity for people in the mid- and south-west to have access to foods that are readily available, and evidence of the cultural and economic blending that was signed into possibility with NAFTA (remember that?).

I appreciate the "fair reporting" from the NYT, and I'm glad to know that this opportunity was not met with enthusiasm and acceptance by the communities lucky enough to host these stores.

You know what tripped up the white folks on the city councils? Chicken slaughtering in-house. And I'm not saying that a dude with a machete is hacking off heads in the front of the store - we're talking standard butcher setup in the back, but in the store. They couldn't get approval.

The more things change, the more we try to stay the some imagination of racial, cultural, social or political cohesion and homogeneity that has NEVER EXISTED! EVER! ANYWHERE!

Get over it. Gimme some fucking Goya.

As always, the NYT text below:

March 21, 2007
Tortillas Like Mamá’s, but This Is No Bodega

YOU’RE not going to find Swanson frozen dinners at Rancho Liborio, a shiny new 49,000-square-foot supermarket in this Denver suburb. But you will find the fried plantains called maduros and giant Peruvian kernels of corn.

In the produce section, a dollar will buy you three avocados. The tilapia are sold live. Stacks of fresh tortillas, made from 600 pounds of corn ground in the store daily, are always warm. And maybe, if the local political winds shift, shoppers might one day be able to buy a chicken that was slaughtered and plucked on site a few hours earlier.

The store’s slogan pretty much says it all: “Si es de allá lo tenemos aquí.” Translated, “If it’s from there, we have it here.”

This upscale store is a new concept for the Cuban family that started the small Liborio chain in Los Angeles in 1966. The idea is to sell food to an increasingly affluent pool of Hispanic grocery shoppers as well as the growing segment of people who want their supermarkets filled with fresher, local and more authentic food.

With its bright, wide aisles, agua fresca bar and an expansive selection of hot food like carnitas and even pizza, Rancho Liborio wants to be the go-to store for second- and third-generation shoppers who are attracted to markets like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, but want to cook and shop in a store that feels like home.

“We’ve gone to all the other markets in the area, but this is the place where the tortillas are the closest to his mother’s,” said Deeanna Zavala, who was shopping on a recent Saturday with her husband, Guellermo. “And we can still get everything else we need.”

Rancho Liborio is not the only grocery chain hungry for more affluent shoppers whose families have roots in Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America. The 65-store Minyard chain in the Dallas-Fort Worth area is pumping money into its Latino-theme Carnival stores. In Northern California the Super Mercado México chain, based in San Jose, has started buying old Albertsons stores. Publix, one of the biggest grocery chains in the country, is experimenting with Publix Sabor stores in Florida.

Winn-Dixie, which runs 521 stores in the South, started a Hispanic neighborhood merchandising program at 103 stores in Miami and Orlando, Fla. The hope is that store-sponsored dominoes tournaments, Spanish-speaking employees and a product mix fine-tuned to each neighborhood will help distance the chain from a recent bankruptcy. One offering is La Completa, a line of hot meals featuring combinations like pork, rice and yuca to go.

“It appears that the Hispanic community is just as pressed for time as anyone else,” said Jim Carrado, senior director of neighborhood merchandising for Winn-Dixie.

In 2007 Hispanics are expected to become the minority group with the most spending power in the United States, displacing African-Americans, according to a report by the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia.

For decades small markets and bodega-style stores in cities like Los Angeles, Dallas and New York catered to new immigrants looking for lower prices. But larger, more traditional chains are now trying to capture shoppers in those cities, as well as in places like Denver, Atlanta and Minneapolis.

They are finding that it takes more than a few Mexican products mixed in among the ranch dressing and Fruity Pebbles to attract them.

“If you add jalapeños to the produce department, it doesn’t become a Hispanic store,” said Jack Rosenthal, the food service supervisor for the two Rancho Liborio stores in the Denver area. Mr. Rosenthal, who was born in Peru, speaks English, Spanish and German fluently.

Although there is no one typical Hispanic shopper, some generalizations are driving the design of the new Latino-theme stores. Many have wider aisles because, research shows, grocery shopping is often a family outing. Hispanic families tend to be larger, and more people cook from scratch, so produce and meat departments tend to be bigger and better stocked. And loyalty to brands from the home country is strong. At Rancho Liborio, Tide is almost an afterthought. Mexican brands like Ariel dominate the shelves.

But the generalizations end there. The term Hispanic applies to people from many countries, each with particular preferences for things like fruit, meat, spices, bread and beans. Tastes can change from city to city, even neighborhood to neighborhood.

A walk through the dried-bean aisle at Rancho Liborio in a case in point. There are pintos, both the larger speckled brown ones preferred by Mexicans and the smaller, lighter-colored ones used in Peru. Pink beans appeal to Puerto Ricans, and black beans to Cubans, Guatemalans and Brazilians.

Even individual households are multicultural, which adds to the challenge of finding the right mix of products in an ever-fusing Hispanic food culture.

“In many households you have an individual whose grandparents are Hispanic but from four different countries,” said Joseph Pérez, a senior vice president at Goya Foods. The company, which has headquarters in Secaucus, N.J., is the largest Hispanic-owned food company in the country.

Attracting Hispanic shoppers is a delicate business, said Juan Guillermo Tornoe, who runs Hispanic Trending, a market research company in Austin, Tex. Buyers for big chains will often go to Hispanic food trade shows, order everything in sight and then wonder why their efforts to market to Latinos fail.

“Well, what are you buying?” he said. “Are you buying hot sauce and expecting to sell it to Cubans?”

The Rancho Liborio bakery is a study in cross-cultural merchandising. The Cuban bread has to have the right delicate crust and texture for dipping in café con leche. The compact Mexican loaves called bolillos (four for $1) are sold near Salvadoran pastries called peperechas, layered with pineapple. The tres leches cake is a hit with almost everyone, including African-American shoppers from the area.

Customers know the difference, Mr. Rosenthal said.

“If it doesn’t taste right, they’ll tell you,” he said. That’s why Rancho Liborio hired Eulalia Ventura from El Salvador to make as many as 200 pupusas a day, by hand. The pupusas are stuffed with a mixture of cheese and the herb loroco, and sometimes with pork cracklings and beans, then grilled until the interior bubbles.

Monica Mejia, a student at Metropolitan State College of Denver, drove 45 minutes on a recent Saturday with her mother, Sara Mejia, in part for the pupusas. The family emigrated from San Salvador six years ago, and find themselves going to Rancho Liborio as often as they can.

“It’s really nice here because my mother can get the brands she grew up with,” Ms. Mejia said.

Generational differences that arise among Hispanic shoppers further complicate things for grocers. Ms. Mejia doesn’t mind spending $2.29 for a pupusa, but to her mother that seems expensive.

Newer immigrants are more likely to be bargain hunters, especially in the competitive Los Angeles market, said Bob Rosenthal, Jack’s brother and the director of food service and bakery for all eight Liborio stores in Southern California, Las Vegas and Colorado. “But as a culture begins to progress in society,” he said, “the younger people want the food that reminds them of Abuelita” — Grandma — “and they don’t care if it costs more.”

In the meat section at Rancho Liborio, nary a T-bone is to be found. Most people from Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America cook with thinner cuts, so the 10 varieties of beef are stacked like crepes, separated by pink paper. The chicken section is stocked with both the smaller inexpensive yellow-skinned chickens that Jack Rosenthal said are popular with recent immigrants and the plumper white-skinned birds more popular with people who were born here.

When the chain started its expansion into Colorado, the owners had hoped a polleria would be the star attraction. Live chickens would be shipped in every morning, then slaughtered and processed by noon. But the polleria, which has met the federal Agriculture Department’s guidelines, sits unused at the Commerce City store, the first in the chain to open in Colorado, because the idea of chicken slaughtering didn’t go over with some city officials and residents.

“You’d think we were planning to kill people,” Jack Rosenthal said.

The company ran into a similar problem when it began plans to open a store with a polleria in Greeley, Colo. Both chicken slaughtering and the chain’s bilingual signs tapped a vein of anti-Latino sentiment. The public outcry grew so intense that the company scratched the polleria. The local newspaper, The Tribune, ran an editorial in July welcoming the market and condemning what the editorial board viewed as a vilification of Mexican immigrants.

“If this were any other market, people would welcome it with open arms, and maybe wander through the aisles to find some new foods to try at the dinner table,” the editorialist wrote.

And in fact the Liborio markets are attracting white, black and Hispanic customers. When it comes down to it, a grocery shopper is a grocery shopper.

“It’s not so much the cultural stuff,” said Marie Lopez, a dental hygienist in the Denver area. “Everything here is fresh, and the prices are good. That’s really what I’m looking for.”


Totally Fucking Obvious Award

Goes to...

BBC News Online for their stunning reportage on the world's complete lack of interest in the "humanitarian impact of the war in Iraq"!

Blood Suckers

The implications of GM food and animals is my pet project right now. And even though I may not have the discipline to eat only organic, I theoretically support that growing method 100%! (I'm making efforts, ok? And no one ever said I couldn't be a hypocrite - it's our way of life!)

Those crazy scientists! Rather than actually find ways of preventing and/or managing the inevitable population of diseases that impacts the human species, they're now trying to build robot...I mean "Genetically Modified" bugs to combat them for us!

If it weren't so totally misguided and arrogant, it would be utterly brilliant.


The Movie Is The Message

Everyone's wild about 300.

I have a friend who's been obsessed since she read the graphic novel, and whose love for the story easily blinds her to the fact that it is a sensationalized, racist portrayal of good versus evil. But when isn't it?

I saw the trailer for this film about 6 months ago and knew that I could never see this film. I'm sure it's good, but I can't sit through a movie whose fundamental message is one that I disagree with on every level, and whose role is to promote a white- and Western-centric representation of historical events.

In every culture, light and dark, good and bad, are set in opposition to each other - battling for supremacy and the ownership of souls, or hearts or land, or whatever they're after.

Frank Miller dramatized this epic, ongoing human battle beautifully. He deserves the accolades for an intricately, opulently told version of this age-old tale.

But I must question the choices of the producers and the studio to put out this movie now. There are strong messages - far less universal and ancient - reflected in the visual imagery of this film. They are effective, timely and controversial. And these are probably all the reasons why this movie was made and released at this time in the world's history.

The unfortunate part is that it can not be accompanied by a warning label, or even an open mind. The message will be absorbed and interpreted by each individual who enters that theater in a different way - some of whom will see this as further evidence justifying the pro-Western crusade launched and lead by the Bush administration since 911.

After all "THIS is Sparta!"

Much of the North American Iranian community is understandably enraged by this portayal of Persian culture. And they should be, especially at a time when tensions between the US and Iran are high.

What the current US administration believes is that we are the only country with an inherent right to sovereignty. But if you're from Iran, not only is this laughable, but it is juvenile, arrogant and incredibly short-sighted. Persia was born, lived and passed into new forms before the US existed as a self-recognized entity.

We lost an opportunity to enter a new age of global cooperation and shared perspective after 911 when we invaded Iraq. Since then, we have done everything to further alienate and ostracize other countries, especially those whose good will could have helped us achieve a real sense of justice. Namely, capturing, trying and convicting Osama Bin Laden (or whoever was in charge) of responsibility for the 911 plot and the killing of innocent people.

Instead we chose to enter an era of self-righteousness and isolationist cultural and political ideals. Even for conservatives, or Republicans, this is exactly counter to the founding principles of this country, and does absolutely nothing to further our credibility and our cause - that is, if our cause really is (or ever was) to bring enlightenment, empowerment and the liberty to exercise it to more of the world.

I believe in that. How do we make it happen?


Scaredy Politicians

You pansies!

Grow some ideals.
Learn to accommodate other people's perspectives.
Learn some tolerance for opposing interests.
Practice what you preach about Freedom, Democracy, Liberty, and Openness.

From the New York Times:

March 14, 2007
Scrutiny Increases for a Group Advocating for Muslims in U.S.
With violence across the Middle East fixing Islam smack at the center of the American political debate, an organization partly financed by donors closely identified with wealthy Persian Gulf governments has emerged as the most vocal advocate for American Muslims — and an object of wide suspicion.

The group, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, defines its mission as spreading the understanding of Islam and protecting civil liberties. Its officers appear frequently on television and are often quoted in newspapers, and its director has met with President Bush. Some 500,000 people receive the group’s daily e-mail newsletter.

Yet a debate rages behind the scenes in Washington about the group, commonly known as CAIR, its financing and its motives. A small band of critics have made a determined but unsuccessful effort to link it to Hamas and Hezbollah, which have been designated as terrorist organizations by the State Department, and have gone so far as calling the group an American front for the two.

In the latest confrontation yesterday, CAIR held a panel discussion on Islam and the West in a Capitol meeting room despite demands by House Republicans that Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, not allow the event. The Republicans called its members “terrorist apologists.”

Caley Gray, a spokesman for Representative Bill Pascrell Jr., a New Jersey Democrat who helped book the room, rejected that label in a phone interview and said CAIR held similar meetings when Congress was controlled by Republicans. Still, Mr. Gray called back to specify that Mr. Pascrell did not endorse all of the group’s positions.

Last fall, Senator Barbara Boxer of California issued a routine Certificate of Appreciation to the organization representative in Sacramento, but she quickly revoked it when critics assailed her on the Web under headlines like “Senators for Terror.”

“There are things there I don’t want to be associated with,” Ms. Boxer said later of the revocation, explaining that her California office had not vetted the group sufficiently.

CAIR and its supporters say its accusers are a small band of people who hate Muslims and deal in half-truths. Ms. Boxer’s decision to revoke the Sacramento commendation provoked an outcry from organizations that vouch for the group’s advocacy, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the California Council of Churches.

“They have been a leading organization that has advocated for civil rights and civil liberties in the face of fear and intolerance, in the face of religious and ethnic profiling,” said Maya Harris, the executive director of the A.C.L.U. of Northern California.

Government officials in Washington said they were not aware of any criminal investigation of the group. More than one described the standards used by critics to link CAIR to terrorism as akin to McCarthyism, essentially guilt by association.

“Of all the groups, there is probably more suspicion about CAIR, but when you ask people for cold hard facts, you get blank stares,” said Michael Rolince, a retired F.B.I. official who directed counterterrorism in the Washington field office from 2002 to 2005.

Outreach to all Muslims via groups they support is an important aspect of ensuring that extremists cannot get a foothold here as they have in Europe, Mr. Rolince said.

The cloud kicked up by the constant scrutiny is such that spokesmen at several federal agencies refused to comment about the group and some spoke only on the condition of anonymity.

After a brief interview, Ms. Boxer declined to answer additional questions about the commendation to the Sacramento representative, Basim Elkarra. A spokeswoman, Natalie Ravitz, said in an e-mail message that the senator had decided “to put this entire incident behind her.”

Joe Kaufman, who Ms. Boxer’s office said first drew her attention to CAIR’s reputation, is the founder of a Web site that tracks what he calls the group’s extremism, Other critics include the Investigative Project, a conservative group that tries to identify terrorist organizations, and the Middle East Forum, a conservative research center that says its goal is to promote American interests in the region.

“You can’t fight a war on terrorism directly when you are acting with a terror front,” said Mr. Kaufman, who advocates shutting down the organization.

Founded in 1994, CAIR had eight chapters at the time of the Sept. 11 attacks, said Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the group, but has grown to some 30 chapters as American Muslims have felt unjustly scrutinized ever since.

Broadly summarized, critics accuse CAIR of pursuing an extreme Islamist political agenda and say at least five figures with ties to the group or its leadership have either been convicted or deported for links to terrorist groups. They include Mousa Abu Marzook, a Hamas leader deported in 1997 after the United States failed to produce any evidence directly linking him to any attacks.

There were no charges linked to CAIR in any of the cases involved, and law enforcement officials said that in the current climate, any hint of suspicious behavior would have resulted in a racketeering charge.

The group’s officials say the accusations are rooted in its refusal to endorse the American government’s blanket condemnations of Hezbollah and Hamas, although it has criticized Hamas for civilian deaths.

Several federal officials said CAIR’s Washington office frequently issued controversial statements that made it hard for senior government figures to be associated with the group, particularly since some pro-Israeli lobbyists have created what one official called a “cottage industry” of attacking the group and anyone dealing with it.

Last summer, the group urged a halt to weapons shipments to Israel as civilian casualties in Lebanon swelled. In September, it held a dinner for former President Mohamed Khatami of Iran at a time when much of official Washington had ostracized that Islamic republic. In November, the group sponsored a panel discussion by two prominent academics who argue that the pro-Israeli lobby exercises detrimental influence on United States policy on the Middle East.

“Traditionally within the government there is only one point of view that is acceptable, which is the pro-Israel line,” said Nihad Awad, a founder of CAIR and its executive director. “Another enlightened perspective on the conflict is not there, and it causes some discomfort.”

When Mr. Bush visited a Washington mosque in 2001, Mr. Awad was among the Muslim leaders he met. But Dana M. Perino, a White House spokeswoman, said Mr. Awad had not been invited to any recent iftars, annual dinners to break the fast during the holy month of Ramadan. She offered no explanation.

This year, when Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales met with the leaders of half a dozen Muslim and Arab-American organizations in his office, no representative from CAIR was invited.

When Karen P. Hughes, the close adviser to Mr. Bush and under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, started interacting with the group, she was criticized as dealing with “Wahhabis,” shorthand for Saudi-inspired religious extremists, a State Department spokesman said.

CAIR has raised some suspicion by accepting large donations from individuals or foundations closely identified with Arab governments. It has an annual operating budget of around $3 million, and the group said it solicited major donations for special projects, like $500,000 from Prince Alwaleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia to help distribute the Koran and other books about Islam in the United States, some of which generated controversy.

The donations are a source of contention within CAIR itself. Several branch directors said they had avoided foreign financing and had criticized the national office for it.

Officials at other Arab-American and Muslim organizations said there was a decided split between how the national office operated and how the branches did. The branch offices, which raise their own money and operate largely as franchises, concentrate on local civil rights problems and hence develop close working relationships with law enforcement.

When the Southern California chapter threw itself a birthday party last November, nearly 2,000 people packed the Anaheim Hilton’s ballroom to hear guests of honor praise the organization, including J. Stephen Tidwell, the director of the F.B.I.’s Los Angeles office.

“I am very excited to be here,” Mr. Tidwell told a reporter covering the fund-raiser for an Arab-American television news channel, calling CAIR “an important bridge for the F.B.I. into the Muslim, Arab-American community.”

The Washington office, the officials at the other Arab-American and Muslim groups said, tends to fight more image battles because its main staff members have backgrounds in public relations. Still, they said, CAIR’s contrarian image helps with fund-raising both in the American Muslim community and among Arab governments because both believe that the federal government is biased against them.

Some Muslims, particularly the secular, find CAIR overly influenced by Saudi religious interpretations, criticizing it for stating in news releases, for example, that all Muslim women are required to veil their hair when the matter is openly debated.

But they still support its civil rights work and endorse the idea of anyone working to make American Islam a more integral part of society. One Arab-American advocate compared CAIR to “the tough cousin who curses at anyone who speaks badly about the family.”

Some activists and academics view the controversy surrounding the group as typical of why Washington fails so often in the Middle East, while extremism mushrooms.

“How far are we going to keep going in this endless circle: ‘You are a terrorist!’ ‘No, you are a terrorist!’? ” said Souleiman Ghali, one of the founders of a moderate San Francisco mosque. “People are paying a price for that.”

David Johnston contributed reporting.

Republicans: Grand? (Hmm) Old? (Yes) Party? (Hardly)

What the Republicans need now is a major revamp. A new focus on policy, and a new way to integrate engaged, socially active members. What they need is youth and principles. Not Ann Coulter, who's overstating-the-obvious approach, spiced with a bit of Republicans-always-get-the-short-end whine and fake-y blondness, just blows all commitment to reality and progress out of the proverbial waters.

They're not alone: the Democrats need to figure out how to run an empire (more on that later).

The next election looms, and they're out of ideas. A proliferation of candidates means only one thing: they have no idea where they're going, no connection to their constituents and the things that matter to them, and no idea how to focus a coherent policy strategy based on real, conservative values (part of the problem is that no one remembers what "conservative" actually means).

Here's the best thing I've heard from them recently:

"A lonesome Republican voter is accosted by a gunman in the dead of night. The gunman points his weapon at the hapless voter and asks: 'Who will you vote for? Romney? McCain? Or Giuliani?'

The Republican thinks deeply, then shrugs and says: 'OK. Go ahead and shoot me!'"

There are a couple things about this that I find particularly funny.

Let's assume that the gunman is also a Republican - and given gun control politics, he must be - it's hilarious to think that the way a Republican expects to get an answer from someone is by holding a gun to their face.
[Think Walter Reed resignations, Attorneys General]

The hapless voter is also particularly funny, because just like the millions of soon-to-be-at-the-polls compatriots, his or her indecision will probably just result in a sacrifical death - and that means votes for Democrats.

The problem with the Democrats is that they have no idea how to put their party firmly in power and keep it there. The Republicans instrinsically understand empire in a way that the Democrats would be ideologically offended by, even though they need to understand and apply this methodology if they expect to move forward in any of their progressive visions for our nation.

What this all boils down to is a complete breakdown in the roles of government, media and populace.

The populace needs to insist on its values being conveyed to its leaders through both the media, and through individual accountability - don't be afraid to flood your Congress(wo)man's office with angry letters!

The media needs to stop sensationalizing politics as if it's high school drama at the prom, and what they really need to do is stop relying on press releases and government sources and go out and talk to people on the street to find out what it is they're actually looking for in the leadership. I mean, even my beloved BBC News has a comment forum (though whether or not the government pays attention is questionable).

Meanwhile, the individuals and agencies of government need to actively pursue and engage members of the public in their discourse. I'm talking open committees, citizen councils, high-ranking (unpaid) citizen ombudsmen, issue-based forums that are open to the public. Not only that, but procedures need to be in place for government officials to face public inquiries when charged with wrong-doing.

We preach Democracy, let's act like one.

The future for the Republican party demands a shift in personnel, and a dramatic retooling of policies to match the ideological preferences and global perspective of coming generations. Isolationism is no longer an option, hegemonic independence (whether economic, social or military) is impossible, segregationist social policies are archaic.

I've got a Republican Manifesto, along with a Divine Rights of Democrats treatise in the works. Just wait!

From the New York Times:
March 13, 2007
Chief Army Medical Officer Is Ousted
WASHINGTON, March 12 — The Army’s top medical officer was forced into retirement Monday, yet another aftereffect of the disclosure of shoddy conditions for outpatients at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

The ousted officer, Lt. Gen. Kevin C. Kiley, the Army surgeon general, became the third high-ranking official to lose his job because of shabby living quarters and bureaucratic tangles endured by wounded troops returned from combat.

“I submitted my retirement because I think it is in the best interest of the Army,” General Kiley said in a statement released by the military. “We are an Army Medical Department at war, supporting an Army at war. It shouldn’t be and it isn’t about one doctor.”

Before Monday’s announcement, General Kiley had indicated a desire to continue serving. Just last Tuesday, he told the Senate Armed Services Committee that “I still think I’ve got the right skill sets and the right experience to fix these problems.”

Army officials said General Kiley would most likely suffer the financial penalty of retirement benefits at two-star level, one rank lower, since he had not completed the required three years’ service as a three-star general to qualify for benefits at that rank.

The Army announced that Maj. Gen. Gale S. Pollock, the service’s deputy surgeon general since last October, had assumed the surgeon general’s duties. Pete Geren, the acting Army secretary, said a board would convene in April to recommend candidates to succeed General Kiley.

“We must move quickly to fill this position,” Mr. Geren said.

Though it was clear that General Kiley had been forced to retire, Mr. Geren expressed thanks “for his dedication to duty and long years of service.” General Kiley began his military career on July 1, 1976. He became the 41st surgeon general of the Army on Sept. 30, 2004.

The ouster of General Kiley followed by a week and a half that of Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman, the Walter Reed commander, who was fired on March 1 because, the service said then, Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey “had lost trust and confidence” in his ability to make improvements in outpatient care at the hospital.

Only a day later, Mr. Harvey was let go by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who was described by aides as angry over Mr. Harvey’s choice of General Kiley to succeed General Weightman. General Kiley had earlier appeared to play down the problems at Walter Reed, where he was in command until 2004.

Maj. Gen. Eric B. Schoomaker, a longtime Army doctor, has since taken command at Walter Reed, and, in another personnel shift related to the troubles there, the Army announced Monday that Brig. Gen. Michael S. Tucker, currently the deputy commanding general of Fort Knox, Ky., would become General Schoomaker’s deputy.

In a speech Monday to the staff at Walter Reed, Mr. Geren said the service’s disability system “has become a maze, overly bureaucratic, in some cases unresponsive and needlessly complex.”

“It is a system that frustrates and often stymies the best intentions of dedicated public service and compromises the Army values we pledge to uphold,” Mr. Geren said. To the applause of the hospital staff, he added, “In simplest terms, a soldier who fights the battle should not have to come home and fight the battle of bureaucracy.”

The poor outpatient care at Walter Reed, first disclosed last month by The Washington Post, has given political ammunition to critics of the Bush administration.

“The challenges facing our men and women in uniform go well beyond just the Army medical system to the full range of support and services this administration should provide to all of our nation’s veterans,” the Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, said in a statement Monday. “As we enter the fifth year of war in Iraq, this administration has still failed to develop a plan to care for our troops from the battlefield to the V.A. and everywhere in between.”

Representative Ike Skelton, the Missouri Democrat who heads the House Armed Services Committee, said his members were preparing legislation “to improve administration, eliminate bureaucracy and ease transition issues for our service members and their families.”

Even as another top official was being forced out Monday, the office of the Army inspector general provided Congress a report on the service’s physical disability evaluation system “detailing findings of military medical and personnel policies, procedures and services for wounded and injured soldiers,” according to an Army news release.

The study, undertaken nearly a year ago and completed last Tuesday, “found policy variances between the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Defense Department and Army regulations,” according to the statement. The inquiry also found “that training for personnel assisting soldiers is not standardized and that current information-management databases are inadequate.”

The study’s recommendations include “updating Army regulations, improving timeliness standards, standardizing training, implementing quality controls and improving computer systems to better track soldiers’ medical information and case status.”

March 14, 2007
‘Loyalty’ to Bush and Gonzales Was Factor in Prosecutors’ Firings, E-Mail Shows
WASHINGTON, March 13 — Late in the afternoon on Dec. 4, a deputy to Harriet E. Miers, then the White House counsel and one of President Bush’s most trusted aides, sent a two-line e-mail message to a top Justice Department aide. “We’re a go,” it said, approving a long-brewing plan to remove seven federal prosecutors considered weak or not team players.

The message, from William K. Kelley of the White House counsel’s office to D. Kyle Sampson, the chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, put in motion a plan to fire United States attorneys that had been hatched 22 months earlier by Ms. Miers. Three days later, the seven prosecutors were summarily dismissed. An eighth had been forced out in the summer.

The documents provided by the Justice Department add some new details to the chronicle of the fired prosecutors but leave many critical questions unanswered, including the nature of discussions inside the White House and the level of knowledge and involvement by the president and his closest political aide, Karl Rove.

The White House said Monday that Mr. Bush and Mr. Rove had raised concerns about lax voter fraud prosecutions with the Justice Department. And several of the fired attorneys told Congress last week that some lawmakers had questioned them about corruption investigations, inquiries the prosecutors considered inappropriate. The documents do not specifically mention either topic.

While the target list of prosecutors was shaped and shifted, officials at the Justice Department and the White House, members of Congress and even an important Republican lawyer and lobbyist in New Mexico were raising various concerns.

In rating the prosecutors, Mr. Sampson factored in whether they “exhibited loyalty to the president and attorney general,” according to documents released by the Justice Department. In one e-mail message, Mr. Sampson questioned a colleague about the record of the federal prosecutor in San Diego, Carol C. Lam. Referring to the office of the deputy attorney general, Mr. Sampson wrote: “Has ODAG ever called Carol Lam and woodshedded her re immigration enforcement? Has anyone?” Ms. Lam was one of the seven fired prosecutors.

Two others, Paul K. Charlton in Arizona and Daniel K. Bogden in Nevada, were faulted as being “unwilling to take good cases we have presented to them,” according to another e-mail message to Mr. Sampson, referring to pornography prosecutions.

Another United States attorney, David C. Iglesias of New Mexico, was added to the hit list in the fall of 2006 after criticism from his home state, including a demand by Senator Pete V. Domenici, a Republican, to meet with the attorney general to discuss the performance of Mr. Iglesias’s office.

The fallout from the firings came swiftly, according to the documents. Within a day, messages were flying between the White House and the Justice Department about reaction to the dismissals. Administration officials were aware that the decisions were likely to be controversial, and the plan for carrying them out included a warning to “prepare to withstand political upheaval.”

An aide to Senator Domenici was said to be “happy as a clam” over the dismissal of Mr. Iglesias. But Senator John Ensign, Republican of Nevada, was said to be “very unhappy” about the decision to dismiss Mr. Bogden, who Mr. Ensign said “has done a great job for Nevada.”

Mr. Sampson, an ambitious young Republican lawyer who was the Justice Department’s point man for the plan, resigned Monday. Mr. Gonzales, who approved the idea of the group firing, has been under fierce criticism from lawmakers of both parties over the dismissals, which have provoked charges that they were politically motivated.

Shortly after Mr. Bush’s second term began in January 2005, Ms. Miers proposed dismissing all 93 serving federal prosecutors, part of a broad review of political appointees. The Justice Department and Mr. Rove rejected that plan as impractical. But her proposal set in motion the series of events that led to December’s smaller-scale housecleaning and a major black eye for the White House.

The extensive consultations between the Justice Department and White House over which United States attorneys should be ousted started as early as March 2005, the e-mail messages show.

That is when Mr. Sampson, Mr. Gonzales’s aide, sent a document to Ms. Miers ranking the nation’s federal prosecutors.

“Bold=Recommend retaining; strong U.S. Attorneys who have produced, managed well, and exhibited loyalty to the president and attorney general,” the e-mail message from Mr. Sampson said. “Strikeout=Recommend removing; weak U.S. Attorneys who had been ineffectual managers and prosecutors, chafed against administration initiatives, etc.”

From the start, the “strikeout” list included Ms. Lam, Margaret M. Chiara of Michigan and H. E. Cummins of Arkansas, all of whom ultimately lost their jobs. But the “bold” list of stellar performers included Mr. Iglesias and Kevin V. Ryan of San Francisco, who would also be removed.

As the months passed and the list was refined, a broad range of parties provided comment, either by directly naming prosecutors or raising an issue that touched on them.

J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois, then speaker of the House, for example, appeared in one exchange among Bush administration officials inquiring why the United States attorney’s office in Arizona was apparently not prosecuting marijuana possession cases involving less than 500 pounds.

Representative Lamar Smith, Republican of Texas, also asked a White House official to explain why prosecutors were pursuing charges against illegal immigrants only if they had been counted entering the country illegally eight or more times.

And Senator Domenici called the Justice Department in January 2006, “because he wants to discuss the ‘criminal docket and caseload’ in New Mexico,” an e-mail message sent among senior Justice Department officials said. As the lawmaker’s inquiry is followed up, a copy of Mr. Iglesias’s generally glowing 2005 performance evaluation was produced, along with a series of critical questions that Justice Department officials wanted answered.

“I assume the senator is hearing from either judges or others back home,” said the e-mail message written by William E. Moschella, who was then an assistant attorney general for legislative affairs. The focus on Mr. Iglesias intensified in June 2006, when Mickey Barnett, a Republican Party activist in New Mexico, requested “a meeting with someone at DOJ to discuss the USATTY situation there.”

The e-mail message alerting Justice Department officials, sent by a senior official in the White House Office of Political Affairs, noted that Mr. Barnett is “the president’s nominee for the US Postal Board of Governors. He was heavily involved in the president’s campaign’s legal team.” The next day, Mr. Barnett and Patrick Rogers, a New Mexico lawyer who has led a campaign against voter fraud, met with Justice Department officials. Conservatives often worry that Democrats will inflate their vote count with fraudulent or illegal immigrant voters.

The plan for firing seven United States attorneys was refined in November and December in consultations between Mr. Sampson and Ms. Miers’s office. The five-step blueprint for the removals was finally approved by the White House counsel’s office on Dec. 4.

Along with detailed instructions on how to carry out the firings, the plan advised officials to tell any of the fired prosecutors who asked “Why me?” to respond, “The administration is grateful for your service, but wants to give someone else the chance to serve in your district.”

In choreographed phone calls on Dec. 7, the head of the liaison office for United States attorneys at the Justice Department informed the seven prosecutors that they were being removed. At the same time, Mr. Gonzales and officials in the White House communications office called senators and other lawmakers in each of the affected states.

In executing the plan, Mr. Sampson wrote that it was “very important” that the calls to prosecutors and courtesy calls to lawmakers in the affected states occur “simultaneously.”

The dismissal of the seven prosecutors was preceded the previous summer by the removal of Mr. Cummins in Arkansas. He was succeeded by J. Timothy Griffin, a former prosecutor who had once worked with Mr. Rove. In a Dec. 19 e-mail message, Mr. Sampson wrote: “Getting him appointed was important to Harriet, Karl, etc.,” a reference to Ms. Miers and Mr. Rove.

Mr. Sampson’s e-mail message, sent to the White House and Justice Department colleagues, suggested he was hoping to stall efforts by the state’s two Democratic senators to pick their own candidates as permanent successors for Mr. Cummins.

“I think we should gum this to death,” Mr. Sampson wrote. “Ask the senators to give Tim a chance, meet with him, give him some time in office to see how he performs, etc. If they ultimately say ‘no never’ (and the longer we can forestall that the better), then we can tell them we’ll look for other candidates, ask them for recommendations, interview their candidates, and otherwise run out the clock. All this should be done in ‘good faith’ of course.”

John M. Broder contributed reporting.

In the past...