All opinions posted. None too pathetic or contrived. Everyone gets their say.

"...even the wicked get worse than they deserve." - Willa Cather, One of Ours

Friday, July 30, 2004

Intellectually Disarmed

"Because the Cold War is over does not mean that we are not in a war situation. We are - but our enemy's attack may come at any time, in unexpected form and on unannounced pretext. Our readiness to meet the threat is undermined by the legalistic mood that infects judiciary, police and government. The rhetoric of human rights now predominates over the dictates of defence necessity. We are intellectually disarmed, perhaps the weakest security posture in which it is possible for people to confront danger."

John Keegan

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Democrats: Too Nice For Their Own Good

Washington Post
TV Networks Continue to Fail the Public On Coverage of Politics
...the Democrats' namby-pamby decision to go positive -- not to attack the arguably very, very vulnerable administration of George W. Bush -- has put a pall of niceness over the proceedings that, try as they might, cranky-minded TV commentators haven't done much to dispel...

But a little hard-core, down-and-dirty political colloquy would seem more than appropriate for a time in which Americans are threatened by international terrorism on one side and economic woes on the other...
A viewer could have come away from the speech with the impression that Edwards was saying "a Kerry-Edwards administration will be even better than Bush-Cheney" rather than "the current administration has got to go." He didn't offer enough motivation for changing leadership in the middle of an apparently intractable war.
...Katie Couric told viewers of yesterday's "Today" show on NBC that Illinois legislator Barack Obama had "electrified" the crowd with his stunningly eloquent speech Tuesday night. Too bad NBC refused to show it. Too bad profit-mad NBC-Universal was determined to air its lame reality shows and sitcom reruns instead. And then Couric tells us we really should've been there. The networks are just plain nuts.
Coverage by cable networks lasts longer but strays often from whatever is happening on the vast stage (with the vast screen behind it) in Boston's FleetCenter. On Fox, gabby and opinionated commentators occasionally will allow a few minutes of a speech to air, but then they return to the spotlight they love so much for their own use.
...The networks have got to look for a better convention story than the hoary old bore about how conventions don't matter any more. It makes them sound like shills for the corporate front offices, who hate to lose an hour of profit-making pap even in the middle of summer.
Edwards' speech was nice, but 12 hours later I can't remember a significant phrase from it. Maybe "not in our America"? This makes it sounds like non-Democrats might be living in an America that is different than the one everyone else lives in. Sheesh.

It may seem trivial, and it is, but the Dems really need to come up with a campaign slogan with some resonance. Remember "putting people first" & "end welfare as we know it", "Building a bridge to the 21st century", "Are you better off than you were four years ago?", "it is morning again in America", and "compassionate conservative" & "leave no child behind"? I do. And I can tell you who said them in and for which winnning campaign (Clinton '92, Clinton '96, Reagan '80, Reagan '84, Bush 2000). These lines are memorable for a good reason. They told us something compelling about the specific candidate that made you want to vote for them, even if it wasn't true.

What is Kerry's theme? "Let's Restore America to...something", maybe? Who knows? God knows possibly but the public doesn't.

In tomorrow's speech I hope he tries for something compelling and superficial, as opposed to something serious and quickly forgetable. This is a big opportunity to connect to the people and he can't blow it.

Allies and Security

"The best security we ultimately have is the spread of freedom and democracy and justice throughout the world…We are the ally of the US not because they are powerful, but because we share their values."

Tony Blair

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Federal court: privacy policies mean nothing

Ars Technica (tech news)
Some Judges are Nuts

Following 9/11, commercial airlines were asked to turn over passenger data they had collected to government agencies. These Passenger Name Records (PNRs) can include everything from a passenger's home address to their meal preferences and credit card numbers. In this particular case, Northwest Airlines turned over PNRs of many of its customers to NASA as part of an effort to study ways to increase airline security. A group of Northwest customers sued the company, pointing out that sharing their personal information with NASA is a direct violation of the privacy policy on Northwest's website. U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson disagreed, dismissing the case on June 6. Part of the rationale was that

. . . the customer's "personally identifiable information" -- the stuff that the airline agreed to protect -- did not belong to the customer, because the customer "voluntarily provided some information that was included" in the information given to the government, and that when Northwest "compiled and combined" this information with other data it "became Northwest's property." The court concluded "Northwest cannot wrongfully take its own property." This analysis is not limited to airlines. Any company or entity is now free to say anything in order to induce you to part with your personal information (don't worry, it's secure, or we won't sell it), because once you give it up, it "belongs" to them.
Needless to say, this case (PDF) has far-reaching implications for privacy policies, both online and on paper. Further, Judge Magnuson decided that online privacy policies don't constitute a contract between the company and the customer:

The final part of the district judge's opinion threatens to derail a long established body of law regarding the enforceability of language on websites. All companies have them -- you know, the burdensome and oppressive terms on a website that nobody reads (or is capable of reading) that limits the company's liability, or contains grandiose claims of superiority of their vaporware. In this case, the court held that Northwest was not bound by contract to do what it said it would do because there was no evidence that the consumers "actually read the privacy policy."
Essentially, what this means is that all those long-winded fine print agreements you have agreed to may not protect your personal information at all. Without judges who will step up to defend the privacy rights of consumers, it won't matter even if everyone starts reading the fine print thoroughly. By dismissing this case, Judge Magnuson has established that the personal information of online customers is not protected by the Electronic Communications Privacy Act or deceptive trade practices laws. Nor does sharing customers' personal information amount to an invasion of privacy or a breach of contract. With E-Commerce growth showing no signs of ebbing, the question of how confidential customer information is handled online is going to become increasingly urgent. Without any privacy protection at all, you are at the mercy of the company you are doing business with to honor the agreement. If they do not, then according to Judge Magnuson, you have no legal recourse at all.
This opinion is so outrageous that I can't imagine that it won't be overturned on appeal. Then again, sometimes "the law is an ass".

Wierd Stuff From Japan #12

Another hop across the Pacific, and I'm back in Japan again. Arriving at Narita, I unconsciously opened myself up to all the little changes that would greet me as I switched modes. Immediately I was impressed with how well-mannered all the Japanese around me were -- around the baggage carousel there's a "no cart" zone, and everyone was politely waiting for their luggage with their carts outside the zone. Several of the girls I saw waiting for their luggage sported "yaeba" (YAH-eh-bah), the famous cute crooked eye teeth that Japanese females often have, since Japanese very rarely get braces on teeth here. To combat the sweltering heat and humidity of the air around me, I went to buy a drink. While there were many choices familiar to anyone from the States -- Coke, Pepsi, even Mello-Yellow, which is being sold in "retro" bottles here this summer -- more than half the drinks available were varieties of bottled Chinese oolong or green tea.

As usual, I lost a day in my return trip to Japan, leaving on Monday afternoon from California and arriving on Tuesday night. It's only fair since I get a day free when I go the other way, leaving Japan at 2 p.m. and arriving in America at 8 a.m. on the same day, in effect arriving before I'd even left. Jumping from one side of the planet to the other means dealing with jet lag, which is never fun. Jet lag is really bad going from Japan to the U.S., since you have to stay awake a whole day before it's time to sleep, however going the other way isn't so bad: you just wake up too early the next day, and start to get dull around the edges in the afternoon.

Japan's cold northern region is home to enka, the blues-like "country music" of Japan that has a very unique sound and is enjoyed by truck drivers and everyone over 50 years of age here. Filled with themes of one's wife running away to marry another man, of images of the cold Tsugaru Straits between Honshu and Hokkaido, and of sake-drenched loneliness, it plucks at the heart in ways few other kinds of music can. Sung by both men and women, enka songs capture the sweet pain that we all feel in life. Enka, which probably originated in Korea, often employs tremolo vocals, singing while changing the pitch of your voice (not totally unlike yodeling) to express the emotion of the singer. Because enka songs are the last thing Japanese would expect a gaijin to be able to sing, I made it a point to learn many songs when I came to Japan, great fun while singing karaoke. Here are some samples of enka if you'd like to hear what it sounds like:
NOTE: This item is part of a continuing series based on weekly emails I have recieved for many months now from this guy from San Diego who now lives and works in Japan. The link listed above is a comercial link to his company. I am sure he would like you to look at it.


“The sign of intelligent people is their ability to control emotions by the application of reason.”

Marya Mannes

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Iraqi Minutemen

USMC News Release
Iraqi soldiers' sacrifice in Marine zone saves lives of 250

The quick reaction of two Iraqi National Guard soldiers cost them their own lives, but saved those of 250 recently.

"The people who did this are against the advancement of Iraq. They are only trying to start violence and cause a nuisance," said Sgt. Ali Al-Hamdani, a spokesman for the Mahmudiyah ING. "These soldiers were very good at their duties. Their sacrifice is necessary for the security of Iraq."

More than 250 Iraqi men had gathered outside the front gates of the compound here during the morning of July 17. Many were interested in joining the newly formed Iraqi National Guard and working to rebuild their country. One terrorist saw this as the best time to strike.

A taxi approached the front gates at 7:45 a.m., according to witnesses. One of the Iraqi soldiers on duty at the gate that morning was Adil Abed, a young man who was planning to be married next week. He would never see his ceremony or his bride-to-be again.  Abed attempted to stop the suspicious taxi. When the driver failed to respond, Abed fired his AK-47 and the driver returned fire with a pistol, hitting Abed.

The soldier's comrade Sadaam Obeeid rushed forward to help his friend when the taxi, packed with explosives, detonated. The blast sent shrapnel and debris a hundred meters in every direction killing the two soldiers, the driver and injuring many of the civilians standing near the gate. The engine block of the taxi landed 80 meters away from the blast. It landed on top of a parked car.

When the confusion caused by the attack died down, the soldiers took time to reflect on what they'd lost a few days later.

"We are very sad. They were our friends and now we've lost them. They were good men," said Deputy Sgt. Thaid Hadiph, an ING soldier from Mahmudiyah. "The sacrifice they made for Iraq will not be forgotten."

The Iraqi solders' actions weren't surprising for the Marines dedicated to training them to take a greater role in security and rooting out terrorism. Lt. Col. Rick Jackson is a 46-year-old from Allendale, N.J. Marine serving as the deputy director of Iraqi Security Forces for 1st Marine Division. He said the actions, while tragic, are telling of the dedication of Iraqis sworn to protect their nation.

"These guys are out training with us every day," Jackson explained. "We do joint patrols together. To hear they stood their ground and acted the way they did isn't that surprising at all."

Jackson refuted rumors that ING soldiers were unwilling or unable to perform their missions. He compared their training to that of Marines.

"If you enlisted a Marine in February, when these guys stood up, he wouldn't be to his first unit by now," he said. "Now, they're not Marines, but if you look at the amount of formalized training and the threat, they're doing a pretty good job."

The soldiers of the ING here showed some sadness when they talked about their friends killed in the explosion. However, through the loss, they also found new resolve to continue protecting the people of Iraq.

"They are holy victims of the war on terrorism," said Iraqi Sgt. Haair Ahamy, an ING soldier. "They stood up and were brave, protecting their people. They were cowards, the terrorists who attacked us."


Every hour, men approach the gate to join the ING. One recruit said he did not like the deaths of the soldiers but he was not afraid of it.

"The terrorists were trying to discourage people from joining the ING with their attack," Ahamy said. "In the days following it we have had many, many men come to us wanting to join. They see the attack as proof they are needed. Terrorists will not win here."
via Blackfive

Despite the near certainty of mortal danger, young Iraqi men are volunteering in large numbers for the security forces such that they have continued to exceed the capacity to train them. Even hearing near daily stories of men in line waiting to join up being attacked by suicide car bombers, these brave young men continue to go into public places and stand in these vulnerable lines for hours. 

I am awed by the bravery and determination of the Iraqis to build a normal country. It is to their great credit.

Good news from Afghanistan, Part 2

...If there is one place where good news is harder to come by than Iraq, it's Afghanistan. For that we should partly blame our poor understanding of Afghan realities, and consequently, unrealistic expectations. An isolated, poor, largely rural country with harsh landscapes and limited natural resources, Afghanistan has been for the past quarter of a century cursed with constant violence and oppression. Good news from Afghanistan will not in any foreseeable future mean mushrooming shopping malls and health care clinics in every village. For the people who have suffered so much for so long, relative peace and absence of theocracy are a good start.

But, as is the case with reporting from Iraq, we shouldn't let the media off the hook so easily, either. For all the fashionable talk about Iraq distracting the Bush Administration from the war on terror, it's largely been the media who have ignored Afghanistan except for the occasional story about another skirmish with the Taliban remnants or the explosion in opium cultivation.

CBS's veteran journalist, Tom Fenton, recently had this to say about the work of his media colleagues:
"You know the old saying: No news is good news. But in the news business, it is just the opposite: Good news is no news - which is why you have been hearing so little from Afghanistan recently.

"Iraq has been grabbing the headlines. Even the most confirmed optimist would find it hard to see a ray of light there today. But there is a growing body of evidence that things are beginning to improve in Afghanistan. To see why, you need to travel around Afghanistan a bit. That's something the media find hard to do in Iraq now - many news crews rarely venture out of their hotels in Baghdad."
Not to mention in Kabul. If they did, they would arguably find more stories like these:

DEMOCRACY: The Afghanis eagerly await their chance to participate in free and democratic elections...

The Afghanis are growing increasingly optimistic about the future of their country and approving of its current political direction. According to a poll conducted by Chaney Research, AC Nielsen India Org-Marg and the Afghan Media Resource Center for the Asia Foundation, Hamed Karzai remains popular in Afghanistan, enjoying favorable opinion of 62% of those polled. The interim government's performance gets a tick of approval from 57% of Afghanis. In other results from the same poll, 64% of Afghanis believe that their country is moving in the right direction (versus only 11% who think Afghanistan is moving in the wrong direction). More significantly, two thirds of those polled support the United States, and only 11% still favor Taliban. 81% plan to vote in the coming elections, although majority expresses concerns whether the poll will be completely fair...

SOCIETY: Afghani refugees continue to vote with their feet: "The pace of return to Afghanistan remains strong, with thousands of refugees going back daily. So far this year, we've seen some 450,000 refugees repatriate."...

...And the government seems to be succeeding [in improving the status of women]: "Now, a good share of the women have shed the burqa the Taliban forced on them and instead wear scarves draped loosely around their faces. Many have gone back to work in the capital, Kabul. More than 2 million have registered to vote, and a few hold high-level government positions."...

...After the puritanical Taliban rule, Afghanis are enjoying an entertainment explosion:
"...many shish-kebab restaurants and ice cream shops now play music videos and foreign films on DVD, giving new meaning to the idea of dinner and a movie. And unlike the films shown at both government and privately owned theatres, these films are uncensored and can be seen in the evenings."

RECONSTRUCTION: In a huge vote of confidence and a sign of optimism, the Afghan International Chamber of Commerce is formed in Kabul: "Three hundred people were expected; 2,500 showed up to vote. Obvious was their energy, their enthusiasm, their pride and their strength. They were creating one of those institutions that becomes a pillar of a free society, an economic power independent of the state."

The trade between Afghanistan and Pakistan stood at just $20 million two years ago, but today it's $700 million...

SECURITY: For the Coalition troops things seem a lot calmer than in Iraq. "People are more apprehensive about us in Iraq... Here, they stare at us like we're a circus act, but they accept us," says Michael Englert, a Navy bomb-disposal expert who travels with the Marines to help detect roadside explosives and mines.

Meanwhile, the new US-trained Afghan Army continues to grow steadily, and it now numbers 13,000 men...

...Let's never forget that none of this would have been possible without the United States and allies who two and half years ago helped to bring peace and freedom to the long-suffering people of Afghanistan. Let's hope that, with the world's help, the Afghanis will now make the most of it.
The most essential next steps are the elections, and building the new Afghan national army to about 80,000 men in size. These two items will do more to build stability in Afghanistan than anything else that can be done.

Terrorists' Strongholds

Hammorabi (from Baghdad)
There are several outlawed groups working inside Iraq. Al-Qaeda represented by the Jordanian Fadhel Nazal Al Khalaylah (Zarqawi) and the remaining of the security forces of the previous regime are on the top two on the list...which includes the Baathists especially among those from the previous security systems who were involved in murder and torture and knew they will have no where to go or hide once the security issue settled. Most of these people are illiterate or semiliterate. Wahabists of course are the main moving drive for Al-Qaeda and the nescient and uncultivated people.

Among the other outlawed groups are the real criminals including those released from prison by Saddam. The last group includes killers, rapists, robbers, and money seeking but masked under religion or resistance. Most important and among these groups especially Al-Qaeda and the Wahabists are many Arabs insurgents like Syrians, Saudis, Jordanians, Egyptians, Somalians, Sudanese, Libyans reaching up to 75% in some cases.

The problem started in Falluja and some other parts of what is called the Sunni triangle...They succeeded to convert Falluja into a city under Talaban like rules and they then tried to create another stronghold inside Baghdad in Al Adhamyiah but to some extent they failed there with few seats. They are certainly supported by what is called Hiyat Uolama Al Muslimen (Sunni group from those Mullahs appointed by Saddam and joined by the Wahabists then) lead by (Sheikh Hareth Al Thari). The later are supported by (Sheikh) Karthawi in Qatar and the Oil (Sheikhs) in Dubai plus Al Jazeera as their mouthpiece.


The terrorists then succeeded recently to get the second strongest hold in Samarra!...For the last few weeks until now Samarra is under the terrorists' control. They are mixture of all above mentioned groups. More than 300 of them are armed and controlling the city completely now. About 45% of the residents have been forced or moved by their choice to Baghdad and other areas. The government and coalition troops tried to solve the problem peacefully to avoid creating another Falluja but the insurgent get the benefit and enforced their control. They not only controlling the city but imposing their Talaban like law on the inhabitants.

Stories about this have been mentioned by the immigrant families. They are imposing their jungle law on the people including the colour and type of dress, the Wahabists women Hijab, the way to walk or talk or listen to music and so on. In one story the armed thugs stopped a school aged boy and after they pointed a gun to his head they asked him not to wear blue jeans next time and to cut his hair or they will shot him! The boy went to the hairdresser and cut his hair before he goes home to change his jean!

Samarra is close to Baghdad and the terrorist will use it in any scenario to extend their grip over the region...

Our surprise is why the government don't like to take the issue seriously! We think that the more time pass without treatment the more serious the cancer will be. The cancer has to be treated early with very imperative and radical therapy or you will get the consequences. We believe that enough time has been given to the terrorists and outlawed in Samarra and Falluja and those supporting them in Baghdad from the Mullahs. The situation is an Iraqi issue and it have to be solved by an Iraqi way. Toady they attacked the oil supply to a power station in Baghdad just near Samarra.

The criminals in Sammara should be dealt with immediately. First we need to give them a 3 days truce to surrender to the authorities of course after surrounding the city from all sides with tanks and armoured vehicles and heavy guns supported by air. Drop leaflets to warn the civilians not to hide any insurgent or face consequences and to leave the city (only children and women and old allowed. All others are suspect until proved otherwise.) The number of insurgents is 300-500 armed thugs, so if they refuse to surrender wipe them out once and forever. Only by this way we will be able to prevent this from happening again. On the same time any media or logistic or inciting for terrorism or helping it should be arrested including the Mullahs of the previous regime and those who broadcast for Al Jazeera.

On the other hand if you want the law to be respected there should not be any discrimination in applying it. The suspected killers should be tried and either convicted or freed by the justice...Yesterday; this happened with Muqtada Sadr who speak in public after 2 month hiding. He attacked Alawi for allowing his newspaper to be published again after it was closed by the CPA! We think that Alawi deserve such attack because he is the one who allowed Sadr paper to open again! If there are evidence against Sadr that he killed some one before why the law is not applied on him?! ...

The issues need to be solved to get security is from inside and not only from outside countries. Falluja, Samarra, the Black Triangle, Sadr, Al Thari, the Mullahs of Saddam, and the other criminals all need to be dealt with by determination and capability.

Since Samarra became stronghold for the terrorists the attacks and the kidnapping increased significantly. On the other hand Falluja lungs start to breathe in and out strongly. The news coming about decapitated bodies found here and there, assassinations, killing, kidnapping, attacks, and other crimes on daily basis are countless.

For how long is the government postponed dealing firmly with these areas and its thugs?!
The Iraqis are certainly more willing to deal strongly with the insurgents and the terrorists than we ever were.

Eventually the Iraqi government will have to retake Samarra and Fallujah, and when they do the results will be very bloody. Fewer civilians would have been killed if we had done it instead of waiting for the Iraqi security forces to do it.

I suspect the delay in dealing with these issues is mostly due to the relative weakness of the Iraqi security forces. It will take 6-12 months before they have the sufficient capacity to handle an operation such as the siege of Fallujah.

"Thank You"

“One time, while out on a patrol in the Sunni Triangle of Iraq I had a small little Iraqi girl hand me a flower, and say the words: ‘Thank you.’ That's something the protesters back home will never understand.”