Friday, May 28, 2004

GraniteRants: Extreme Makeover Edition
I decided to sweep up the place and spruce up the look. Please note that I have added a Photo Gallery section to my sidebar. I will add more pictures of trips and hikes and whatever else as time goes along. Right now I have posted photos from our February/March trip to Arizona, Utah, and Nevada. Enjoy!

Random Musings
Some things are just ripe with irony. (No I won't be breaking out into Alanis Morrisette tunes anytime soon). For instance, peace protests often showcase expressions of rage and hate. Or for that matter, public celebrations of Earth Day invariably leave trash strewn about streets, sidewalks, and parks. Now comes news that a judge groped women while attending a conference on sexual harassment.

What a moron.

Monday, May 24, 2004

The Odd Day
Saturday threw me and my wife for a loop. Because of the rain, we ended up going shopping for useless items. I picked up some clear storage tubs at WalMart to help keep organized some of my car camping knicknacks. We then went to Staples for office supplies (perhaps the one category of products that p*sses you off the most that you are blowing your hard earned money on). Then on to the Fresh Market for some chicken sausage (I had got it in my mind that the rainy day was a good opportunity to make homemade ravioli). It is interesting the change in appearance of shopping clientele when you go from one store to another, especially when one notices the high quotient of fashionable eyewear worn by Fresh Market patrons.
Then it was back home to make the pasta and the filling for the ravioli. I don't know why I continue to make pasta from scratch. It is such a time consuming and hands on process, though I have to say the ironing board contraption recommended by Alton Brown did simplify the process somewhat. But just as you near the point of despair, tasting the finished product is extremely rewarding, especially when the flavor rocks.

And then we finished the evening with a few cocktails and the second season of The Real World available On-Demand. It was the perfect silly end to a somewhat pointless day.

Friday, May 21, 2004

Always Remember Charles Stuart
The news has claimed that the US bombed an Iraqi wedding party that was taking place near the Syrian border. Later, news stories suggested some confusion as to whether the event really was a wedding party at all or was, as the US military asserts, a hideout of enemy insurgents. Was it an innocuous wedding party? Was it a base for the enemy? Did the enemy stage the attack to look like a massacre of a wedding party? No matter what truth eventually emerges, the initial impression has been generated that the US killed innocents. This impression has been echoed and repeated through multiple news stories in media outlets worldwide. The effect has been amplified. What is going on here reminds me of the peculiar and tragic events that involved a Boston man named Charles Stuart. Let me explain.

The story of Charles Stuart is well known. A man, in hysterics, calls Boston authorities and reports that a black man shot him and his pregnant wife. Cameras and paramedics arrive on scene and the region and the nation learn of the horrible incident involving Charles Stuart and his wife, Carol. While he survived the gunshot he sustained to his abdomen, his wife did not survive the gunshot she sustained to the head.

Boston police immediately set out to find the suspect. What followed afterwards was an inglorious set of actions and circumstances that involved the incarceration of a black suspect thought to have been responsible for the crime. However, in a surprising turn a few months later, the brother of Charles Stuart confessed to family and eventually to police that he assisted Charles in staging the shooting for the purposes of pulling off an insurance scam. As the police conducted a search for Charles Stuart, word of the brother's confession hit the news. An abandoned car at the crest of the Tobin Bridge brought an end to the search. Charles Stuart had jumped, ending his own life.

Charles Stuart thought that he could get away with murder by taking advantage of the prejudices of a large part of the population. Knowing that he could count on that prejudice, he staged his wife's murder in a manner that would feed into that prejudice, providing him the means to get away with the crime and enrich himself.

Our enemies employ similar tactics. They know that when facing us on the battlefield they will not win. Their success and victory depends on the use of different weapons, the greatest of which is how deftly they can manipulate and take advantage of the prejudices held by significant portions of people in our own Western society. Indeed, as Charles Stuart relied on there being ample numbers of people who held anti-black prejudice, our enemies in the current fight rely on the prejudices of significant numbers in the West who are reflexively suspicious of and/or completely against the US. Events are staged to take advantage of that bias, whether it be claims of Baby Milk factory bombings, allegations of physical defects caused by US military munitions, charges of "massacre" in urban warfare clashes, pictures of craters in marketplaces the result of American bombs. The enemy will stage anything, and even sacrifice their own in the process, so long as a perception can be crafted that will feed and animate the prejudices that assist the cause.

Charles Stuart killed his wife and blamed it on a black man, all so that he could be a rich man. The prejudices held by significant members of society were an unwitting accomplice to his crime. Similarly, the enemies we fight today have no problem killing their own people, so long as they generate an opportunity to blame it on the US. Our capitulation in the fight is the victory they seek. How they secure that capitulation will depend on how deftly they manipulate and marshall the anti-US prejudices of people in our own society. Democracies in the West cannot, and do not ignore the rising tide of dissent. Our enemy knows this, and counts on it for victory. It remains to be seen whether the enemy will be ultimately successful in staging enough death to energize those prejudices to the necessary level where the din of anti-US fervor breaks our will to carry on the fight.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

The Good News
I have to post this blog post from Chrenkoff in its entirety. It nicely sums up the good news in Iraq that just does not get much airtime.

Prisoner abuse, Shia uprising, prisoner abuse, Fallujah, prisoner abuse, lost heart and minds, prisoner abuse... Oh, did I mention prisoner abuse?

The news from Iraq has been consistently bad for two month now, with one "quagmire" after another cheering up the media, the left and the "Arab street", and depressing the hell out of most conservatives.

So, for a change, here's some good news from Iraq that you might have missed (I don't know how that could have happened):

DEMOCRACY TAKES ROOT: Democracy is spreading - from the ground up (Washington Post), as it should: "In the province of Dhi Qar, about 230 miles southeast of Baghdad and a backwater even by Iraq's standards, residents voting as families will have elected city councils in 16 of the 20 biggest cities by next month."

And in Baghdad (CS Monitor), "American authorities created nine district councils... with representatives sent by 88 neighborhood advisory councils. The district councils, in turn, sent representatives to the Baghdad City Advisory Council to work with the American administration." "Every day (CS Monitor) the evidence is a little stronger that the council members understand the benefits of this system, and we even see signs out in the community of it catching on."

Meanwhile, a Western PR firm, with Arab partners, tackles the world's toughest ad campaign - selling democracy (CS Monitor) to Iraqis accustomed to life under a dictatorship.

HEALTHIER, WEALTHIER AND WISER: "[M]y salary was about 17 US$ before the war. Shortly after the war it was raised to 120 US$. Three months after that, they made it 150 US$. Two months later it became 200$... [and] from the next month... [it] will be around 300 US$" - read the whole extensive piece (Iraq the Model) on salaries, unemployment, and the standard of living. It makes a fascinating living.

And there's also good news for retired government employees, who are finally getting decent pensions (Iraq the Model). And the 80,000 needy families (Khaleej Times), who are being taken care of by the Iraqi Minister of Labour and Public Affairs (with 300,000 more by the year's end). According to the Minister, Sami Azara Al Majoon: "We have rehabilitated the orphanages, the centres for the handicapped and special needs institutions in Iraq, as well as the institutions for the deaf and blind. Work is on to accommodate all the homeless and orphaned children and ensure the needs of the handicapped. In addition, we have opened 28 offices for the ministry in different parts of the country to accept applications of Iraqi citizens in search of employment and job training."

Meanwhile, on the education front (CPA), "more than five million Iraqi students are back in school and more than 51 million new Ba'ath-free textbooks are in circulation." And Iraqi universities are experiencing a brain drain in reverse (CS Monitor), as many of the thousands of academics forced into exile under Saddam are coming back to teach the next generation of students.

And in health (CPA), "some 100,000 healthcare professionals working in 240 re-opened hospitals and 1,200 clinics." The health system has to be rebuilt almost from scratch (Scielosp): "[it] was 'already badly run down' due to previous wars, sanctions, drastically reduced spending - some estimates suggest the Iraqi health budget was cut by 90 per cent during the 1990s - as well as an inequitable health treatment policy."

SPIRITS REVIVE: "In a stunning upset victory, the Iraq national football team (CPA) defeated Saudi Arabia tonight 3 to 1 to earn a trip to the 2004 Olympic Summer games in Athens." It's the first time in Iraq's history that Iraqi football team will compete in the Olympics. Better still, while the victory over Saudi Arabia was played at a stadium once used by Saddam as an outdoor torture chamber (Washington Post), Iraqi soccer player know that if they fail in the future they won't be tortured by Uday Hussein (Sports Illustraited.

Other areas of life previously suppressed are experiencing cultural revival - like traditional Kurdish music (Utusan). "Before, Arab music was the most popular, but now even the latest albums aren't selling... Many more people are buying Kurdish music," says Niyaz Zangana, who runs the popular Zang record store in Arbil.

Not just Kurds, but also Marsh Arabs (RFERL), whose homeland was destroyed by Saddam as collective punishment for rebellion, are reviving. With the marshes being reflooded and ecosystem restored, the ancient culture is returning to the mouths of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

THE RECONSTRUCTION: "Iraqi crude oil sales (Forbes) since last year's U.S.-led invasion hit more than $9 billion... The Coalition Provisional Authority had deposited a total of $9.28 billion in its Development Fund for Iraq."

"Some 20,000 contractors (Mlive) are doing business in the country with relatively few security problems... Most are sharing in the $18.4 billion that has been allocated by the U.S. government to rebuild roads, public utilities, schools, housing and other parts of the Iraq economy."

John Roberts (Mercury News), a contracting officer with the Army Corps of Engineers, says: "Saddam Hussein used power as a reward and punishment... Power's important to us (Americans) because we see power as relating to the people." While the Army Corps of Engineers has been mostly restoring oil infrastructure, it is also "creating and improving ports, airports, roads, bridges, schools and health clinics. The corps has replaced more than 700 electrical towers throughout Iraq, Roberts said. The goal is to restore 6,000 megawatts to the national grid by June 1. About 4,500 megawatts are currently on the national grid."

In fact, overall (Forbes) "about 2,200 different [reconstruction] projects worth around US$2.5 billion were under way, with 18,000 already completed. Targets had been met with oil production, which was back to 2.3 million barrels a day, clean drinking water and power."

Meanwhile, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce welcomes the establishment of an American Chamber of Commerce in Iraq (CNS News) -- "AmCham for short."

And while the big guys work on the big stuff, a lot of private charity work is going on under the radar, be it donations of toys for Iraqi children (Operation Give), helping with supplies and equipment for Iraqi schools (Iraqi Schools), or this latest appeal (Spirit of America): "In response to a request from the U.S. 1st Marine Division, Spirit of America donated 10,000 school supply kits, 3 tons of medical supplies and 2 tons of Frisbees printed with 'Friendship' in English and Arabic. These items will be given to Iraqis by the Marines as gifts of friendship from the American people."

THE SECURITY SITUATION: Fallujah is revolting and al-Sadr is stirring trouble in the Shia south, but the Kurd-controlled (Kurdish Media) areas are going so well that you never hear anything about them: "American soldiers based here don't have to call in air strikes against foreign fighters or exchange gunfire with Baathist loyalists. Nor do they live in mortal fear of deadly IEDs, or improvised explosive devices, along the roadsides. In fact, says one soldier who travels in this area, 'I always see the thumbs up, and little kids offer us candies'."

Speaking of Fallujah (Scotsman), the US-appointed retired major-general, Mohammed Abdul-Latif, seems to be having a calming effect on the locals: "We can make [the US] use their rifles against us or we can make them build our country, it's your choice," he has told "a gathering of more than 40 sheikhs, city council members and imams in an eastern Fallujah suburb... As he spoke, many sheikhs nodded in approval and listened with reverence. Later, they clasped his hands and patted him on the back."

Elsewhere, "Accused of being collaborators with American occupation forces, Iraqi policemen, guards, and soldiers have endured ridicule, threats, and targeted violence that have left hundreds dead over the past year. But there are signs that hard-nosed attitudes toward the country's embattled, US-trained security forces are beginning to soften (CS Monitor)."

THE REAL PRISONER ABUSE: The story of nine Iraqis (National Review) sent to Abu Ghraib prison on flimsy charges, tortured, mutilated and filmed for amusement. By Saddam Hussein. The nine men in question had their hands chopped off; now Americans are giving them new ones (WSJournal).

THE MIDDLE EASTERN DOMINOES: "We went to the Arab countries and said, 'Look, you need to come together with a blueprint for Arab reform. If you do not articulate such a blueprint, one may be forced upon you.' We in Jordan are in the clear: We have our plans and are not using regional problems as an excuse. We are moving forward, as are some of the other moderate countries. But the rest of you, 'Wake up!' The Middle East is changing. If you don't get that process going, one will be forced on you." - King Abdullah of Jordan (Washington Post) in an interview with "Washington Post".

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

They're Here!
Did the Mexican Air Force confront UFOs? You decide.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Any Takers?
So what are the odds that Donald Trump turns up in tonight's Friends finale?

Botoxed Boob Tube
You never really see old people on the TV anymore. At least not in the sense where they are acting like familiar and real people. There's no Angela Landsbury, or Matlock, or Golden Girls (though that show was a bit creepy at times when the subject of retirees and their sex drives was explored). There's no wise old Wilford Brimley giving sage advice to the young Shannon Dougherty. No, the only times you see old people now are in commercials where they are either falling off their chairs, whining about their health insurance in campaign ads, or losing control of their bladders. Then there are the endless riffs off of the Cocoon theme, where commercials show Gramps getting that old time urge and chasing after Grandma, one clunky step after clunky step of his walker one at a time. I can't help but think of that line from a Porno for Pyros song, "..and elderlies act like children...", that is how our TV depicts them that's for sure.

Maybe that's why Everybody Loves Raymond is popular. Old people are watching that show because it's one of the few that actually has old people as characters. Where else are they on TV? Maybe all camped out on 60 Minutes perhaps? Does Larry King serve as the token for all the networks? Keep representin' Larry!!!

With so many channels on TV to choose from, I am greatly amazed at the narrowness of the programming. Nearly every station is geared towards the young. Young hipsters getting a makeover, or redoing their home, or cooking up a fantastic meal, or arguing drunk over stupid sh*t in their IKEA decked house. Young people diving headfirst into a bowl of pig intestines, or competing against each other singing sugar coated pop songs in overdone R&B style. What's Grandma gonna watch that's not rife with quick cut images or rattling her brain with the Fred Durst dirge?

Thinking about it, it will be quite interesting to hit that moment in life when the mass media culture is no longer directed at me or my age. How does America look, and how do you look at America when American TV ignores you? I bet that view is very interesting. No wonder the old buy RVs...

Kreblog for Prez!
The man is a genius.