Friday, February 28, 2003

Bribed, Used, and Stupid
An Iraqi blogger describes his disgust for the pampered Westerners (aka "Human Shields") who arrive for duty to protect Saddam.

"Anyway, what really got my goat this time was finding out that they get food coupons worth 15,000 dinars per meal, 3 for every day.fifteen thousan.
Do you know how much the monthly food ration for a 4 person family is worth, for a whole month not per meal (real cost, not subsidized) ? 30,000 dinars, if you get someone to buy the bad rice they give you for a decent price. 15,000. What are they eating? A whole lamb every meal?"

Let's put this within context. Today in the morning Raed, our friend G. and I went for a late big breakfast we had 2 tishreeb bagilas (can't explain that, you have to be an Iraqi to get it otherwise it sounds inedible) and a makhlama (which is an omelet with minced meat), tea, fizzy drinks and argila afterwards (the water-pipe-thingy) all for 4,750 dinars, and we were not going super cheap. A lunch in any above-average restaurant will not be more than 8,000 dinars and that includes everything. 15,000 thousand is a meal in a super expensive restaurant in Arasat Street, in one of those places that really almost have an "only foreigners allowed, no Iraqis welcome unless you are UN staff" sign on it. I will stop calling them tourist when they stop taking all this pampering from the Iraqi government. Did I tell you about the tours? Today was Babylon day. You are really missing it, the cheapest way to do the Iraq trip you have wanted to do but were too scared."

Thursday, February 27, 2003

Analysis Right on the Money
Many different reasons exist to explain why the US is now confronting Iraq. Some are cogent and some are just plain moronic. However, I think the most succinct and evenhanded and on-the-money explanation comes from an Indian editorialist in the Hindustan Times. Leave it to someone else to speak our language better than we do. This is a Must-Read and I think perfectly dovetails with the speech Bush gave last night on the prospects for future Iraqi democracy once Saddam is removed. Go Here. Please Read. The article is not long.

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Sexual Chocolate
Vicki and I have taken to ending our evening meal with a few morsels of bittersweet chocolate (usually rated at 70% cacao content or higher). Our first foray into this realm began with Scharffen-Berger. This is a relatively young upstart in the universe of chocolate but their product is made using time honored techniques and processes. The taste of the 70% is quite smooth with hints of a cherry roastiness.
Most recently, I ponied up decent dough to purchase a few more exotic offerings. Michel Cluizel offers a 72% variety that contains small nibs of cacao. This chocolate is similar to the Scharffen-Berger in texture but the flavor is mellower and subdued with a greater hint of roastiness that overshadows other flavors.
Perhaps most intriguing is the Bonajuto from Sicily. This chocolate is quite different from what we are used to in that it is made using techniques perhaps most true to the original "Xoco'atl" that the Aztecs enjoyed. Indeed, Bonajuto may be as close as we come to appreciating chocolate in its most historically original form when it entered into European consciousness back in the 16th Century. In this case, the cacao nibs and the sugar remain distinct crystals and the texture is crispy and crunchy rather than smooth. Later chocolate production blended the cacao and the sugar into a combined solid with a uniform texture. In the Bonajuto, the two remain separate and distinct within the whole bar. A very unique and delicious treat!
And finally our chocolate travels ventured us to Venezuela and the kingly offering called El Rey. This variety ensures production at the source of the cacao and the "Gran Saman" offering (70%) utilizes the heirloom Criollo cacao native to the region. The texture is smooth and inviting and the roastiness couples with hints of nut to produce a fine finish. El Rey is my favorite.

Durable Nonsense
One thing that amuses me when economic numbers are reported by the government is the special attention given to "Durable Goods" purchases - which are often characterized as big ticket items. Usually they break down these big ticket items as cars & appliances. See, if people are buying cars and appliances at a clip, then our economy must be humming along. What I don't understand is this special attention towards appliances, specifically clothes dryers and washing machines. I mean, I don't understand how these items are "big-ticket" at all. A car costs 10+ thousand and a clothes dryer can be had for $250. BIG difference there. How can both be lumped into the same "big ticket" item mentality? A DVD player used to run about $250 and now can be had for even $100. Is this a Big Ticket item? Is it something about the huge metallic surface area of a washing machine that scares us into recognizing it's Big Ticket status? Do huge chunks of metal confer Big Ticket-dom? I don't think so. I mean, when people pick up a gas grill at Home Depot do they think its a Big-Ticket appliance? Does the government count it as such? Also, do people look for 12-Month No-Interest Financing when purchasing the gas grill or the DVD player? That's what boggles my mind the most. The stores advertise their no-interest purchase options for the huge metallic $300 dryer and yet the customer is SOL if they go to buy an $200 XBox or Playstation. What is it about appliances that make us really mull over the decision to buy one? Why do we need to be enticed with No-Interest No-Payments for a washing machine and yet impulse buy the computer scanner, digital camera, or Pocket PC? A washing machine is nothing more than sheet metal, a motor, a thermostat, and some relay circuits to shut on and off the incoming/outgoing water hoses. Whoop-de-do! But yet we approach the purchase decision of one of these R2D2s as if it were one of Hercules' Twelve Tasks.

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

She's Got a Ticket to Ride, but She Don't Care
Here are the UN Security Council Resolutions regarding Iraq since the 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Obviously, Saddam has these stuffed in the glove box of his car like so many unpaid parking tickets. (One wonders if the car Saddam drives is a Renault, Peugeot, or Citroen).

Resolutions: 660; 661; 662; 664; 665; 666; 667; 669; 670; 674; 677; 678; 686; 687; 688; 689; 692; 699; 700; 705; 706; 707; 712; 715; 773; 778; 806; 833; 899; 949; 1051; 1060; 1111; 1115; 1129; 1134; 1137; 1143; 1153; 1154; 1158; 1175; 1194; 1205; 1210; 1242; 1266; 1275; 1280; 1281; 1284; 1293; 1302; 1330; 1352; 1360; 1382; 1409; 1441; 1443; 1447; 1454

Source: UN

Friday, February 21, 2003

Odd Thought of the Day
Lnotes emailed me a humorous .jpeg where OJ, Robert Blake, and Scott Peterson are playing golf. Heck, throw in Phil Specter into the mix and you'd have an interesting Skins Game in the making....

Thursday, February 20, 2003

Portsmouth, I Hardly Knew Ye
I imagine the graves in the cemeteries near Strawberry Banke opening up and all the restless souls of a bygone colonial era rising up out of the earth to come and reclaim their once proud city. Portsmouth has begun to sink into a depressing miasma of cultural kitsch one would behold if they mixed equal measures of the E! Network and a Cucumber Body Scrub from Bath & Body. One stroll along Market Street and it's impossible not to be violated by all the touchy-feeliness. Herbal stores, bonsai trees, flamboyantly colored pieces of blown glass. And now, an OXYGEN BAR. Yep, it's as if Woody Harrelson has been named honorary member of the Portsmouth Planning Board. Come on in. Don't be shy. Sit down and relax as we pump you full of pure oxygen distilled from the fresh atmospheres of Nanuvut. But what in the hell makes these places attractive in the first place? What is so possibly entertaining about sitting in a hammock or a Craftmatic bed and then getting strapped up to a tank of gas by some dude wearing a black turtleneck? Do colored lights, avant-garde pieces of artwork, whalesong soundtrack, and wafts of purified air really build towards a pleasurable experience? You know, there's already an "oxygen bar" in Portsmouth and it's called Prescott Park. There you can get all the fresh air and relaxation to your heart's content and best of all it's Free! No door cover charge. No credit cards required. Sit back, relax, breath deeply, and look around at the nature around you. It's there for you anytime. Just one warning though. Don't be surprised if you see some once-buried corpses walking around, looking to reclaim their city from the soulless cadavers currently setting up shops, restaurants, and oxygen bars. It will be like a Thriller video.....

Thursday, February 13, 2003

Coiffure Capital
I just noticed I have titled many of my recent posts using the Letter C. Oh well. Like Scrabble, you use what you're dealt with.
Anyway, You Who? had a recent post about Portsmouth and the growing hipness factor, which leads to my own personal observation. (Queue Jerry Seinfeld-esque delivery....)

What's the deal with all the hair cutting going on in that town?

Seriously, there must be more hair cutting per capita than capita available! A shortage of heads to clip and cut. Almost every alleyway, avenue, and street sports some sort of styling salon. How can Portsmouth support so much barbering?

Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Cowboy Count
Incidents of direct military engagement of US armed forces (by President):

Pres. Ronald Reagan (R)
Lebanon (troop deployment)
Grenada (invasion)
Libya (naval engagement)
Libya (airstrikes)
TOTAL: (4)

Pres. George Bush Sr. (R)
Panama (invasion/capture of Gen. Noriega)
Kuwait/Iraq (invasion & Kuwait territory recapture)
TOTAL: (2)

Pres. William Clinton (D)
Haiti (troop deployment/install of Pres. Aristide into power)
Somalia (troop deployment/failed capture of Warlord Aidid/"Black Hawk Down" incident)
Bosnia (airstrikes)
Afghanistan & Sudan (cruise missile strikes against al-Queda and suspected al-Queda targets)
Iraq (airforce patrol of no-fly zones/periodic airstrikes of ground installations)
Serbia & Kosovo (airstrikes)
Iraq (cruise missile attacks against suspected WMD installations)
TOTAL: (7)

Pres. George Bush Jr. (R)
Afghanistan (airstrikes & invasion of Taliban & al-Queda positions/overthrow of Taliban leadership)
Iraq (airforce patrol of no-fly zones/periodic airstrikes of ground installations)
Yemen (remote control aerial drone missile attack of al-Queda operative)

Comments: Pres. George Bush Jr is highly unpopular in Western Europe for his "warmongering". Former Pres. Bill Clinton enjoys high favorability ratings throughout Europe.

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Ode to Cold
Zephyrus blasts a frosty breath
blown chunks of ice
filled with symphony
the dischord of sluggish piston
and oil viscosity

Thursday, February 06, 2003

A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the UN
So this is how it works. The US has worked with the UN structure to get resolutions passed regarding specific action towards Iraq. In the event that Iraq doesn't comply, the UN resolution spells out that armed force may be an option. There are many that argue that the US go through the UN to obtain a second resolution that specifically authorizes the use of force against Iraq. So this is the formula: Seek UN blessing, get resolution, dither around a bit, go back to UN, await passage of a second resolution that authorizes force and then apply force if conditions merit and no other option is available.

Now contrast this with what France has done in their "Blood for Cocoa" adventure in the Ivory Coast: France invades its former colonial possession with troops, installs a highly unpopular peace plan, riots ensue, and then AFTERWARDS seeks UN approval. So for France it's Invade First and Ask Questions Later all the while demanding that the US go through the UN first and obtain its blessing before deciding anything on Iraq.

What a load of steaming hypocrisy. France is a joke. The UN is a joke.

Wednesday, February 05, 2003

You Don't Even Know what You Don't Even Know
An interesting issue has been exposed in the current debate and it concerns known and unknown information. To some, a thing does not exist unless it is known. They argue, for example, that Saddam does not have Weapons of Mass Destruction because they haven't been shown any 'Smoking Guns'. In this case their perception is dependant on the revelations of reporters and fact finding agencies, on the truthfulness of Saddam, and the things to be there at the right time that would allow for exposure in the first place.

In effect, this approach is akin to letting the variables decide the hypothesis. Shouldn't it be the other way around? Decide a hypothesis, test it with facts and known items, and then determine whether it has been proven or disproved. In regards to this approach vis a vis intelligence gathering, this article in the New Yorker is quite illuminating. As Rumsfeld points out, there are knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns! Meaning, there's stuff you know, stuff you don't know, and stuff you don't even know that you don't even know. Indeed, the old adage is relevant in this case: Does a tree falling in a forest make a sound if you are not there to hear it? The obvious answer is Yes, because experience reveals that when we are in a forest a falling tree does indeed make a sound. Removing ourselves from the forest does not mean the capacity for sound generation also disappears. Things happen even if we are not around to observe them. And knowing that fact is a very useful understanding indeed.

Tuesday, February 04, 2003

....And the Stage Opened Up and into the Void fell Peter, Paul, & Mary...
Yes!! For fans of Best In Show, Waiting For Guffman, and Spinal Tap, the latest offering from Michael McKean, Chris Guest, and the incomparable Fred Willard is a much needed skewering of drippy 60's Folk music. Huzzah!

Water War
I've written about the Blue State/Red State divide in this country. The Red States were the ones who went for Bush and the Blue States were the ones who went for Gore in the 2000 election. The Red States are found in the Sun Belt South, the Central Plains states, and the Rocky Mountain West. The Blue States are found on the coasts and the Rust Belt region. Red States are growing in population. Blue States (particularly those on the East Coast) are either stable or declining in population.

I'm fascinated with this relationship within the US. It can be approached by a number of angles. This particular one discusses the charged issue of water usage out West and how the impact of the ongoing drought is generating friction between the various states that rely on the Colorado River for survival. For many years now, California has been drawing more water than it has been allotted. In years past the issue was ignored, but as the Rocky Mountain and Desert Southwest (Red) states have exploded in population, so has their need for more water. It looks as if the Bush Administration is siding with the Western states in the growing water war and will turn down the spigot that runs to California (Blue State). It will be interesting to see how this plays out since so much of Southern California simply could not exist without the gushing largesse that the Colorado River provides.

Monday, February 03, 2003

Shuttle Columbia
Here are some links to NEXRAD weather radar loops which show the drift of the debris cloud over Texas and Louisiana.

A Step Up from Bob Ross
Vicki and I visited Boston's Museum of Fine Arts this past Sunday to view their current "Impressions of Light" exhibit. The collection was designed to show the progression of French landscape painting in the mid to late 19th Century from the Barbizon School to the more acknowledged school of Impressionism. Essentially, the Barbizon school considered it important for the artist to paint landscape while actually situated outdoors (rather than back in the studio). Attention to natural details and the interplay of light and shadow were the most important considerations. Landscape did not have to portray dramatic or idealized themes (such as famous estates, cityscapes, or scenes from antiquity) but rather more mundane and muted perspectives (farmlands, river meanderings, woods and hunting grounds). As the movement progressed, the natural effects of light and shadow began to play a more important role in the crafting of the landscape. Artists paid particular attention to time of day, changes in weather, and the shifting character qualities of light in their quest to frame the landscape. It soon became more important for artists to pay attention to the details of light rather than the details of the landscapes, and it was these "impressions" that began to characterize the particular artists that charted this new ground in landscape painting. Soon, landscape detail became less important and was instead replaced with a rigorous attention to the details of light, weather, and time of day and the shifting qualities that each played a role in. There is no better example of this to be found than in the works of Claude Monet who in his famous study of water lilies portrayed them in different lights, different weather patterns, and different times of day. It didn't matter so much that a natural feature be presented with detail since what the artist was trying to capture was the impression of light and shadow on the natural feature itself. Overall, an interesting exhibit.