Monday, February 28, 2005

"The Bear of Wolf Creek, Installment 2"

By: Unknown

Installment 1

"Once upon a time, there was a huntin'-woman named Sally Mae Sue Ellison Grant. That was her name, but seein' as she didn't like usin' a lot of words, and she had found herself in what mos' folks considered a field of work for men, she shortened that name herself. People jes' called her Big Sue.

"Anyways, Big Sue was of the hunter persuasion, in that she lived by her lonesome out in the woods and hunted and tracked rabbits and 'coons and the like, 's well as the occasional ven'son, so's she could sell the meat and fur to buy supplies. Now, she liked bein' a hunter, 'cause she could support herself jes' fine without buyin' food nor clothes, but makin' them herself. She done spent her days trackin' through the woods, followin' critters and greeting the occasional passerby with a pert nod.

"One day Big Sue was doin' jes' that, when she came by Wolf Creek. It was one of those nice likkle cricks the runs on through the woods hereabouts: only a few feet deep, but so full of fish it was like as if they was going to spill out onto the banks! Big Sue says to herself, "Now this here looks to be a good spot fo' fishin'," an' so she sat down and thought for a second, drawin' herself a map in her head, so's she could come back later.

"As Sue was so occupied, she heard the soft pad of feet. Now Sue was an experienced hunter: she could tell rabbit steps from 'coon steps from people steps easily. And she had heard these steps before. Before she even turned around, she knew she was face-to-face with a bear!"

"Did the bear getter, Ol' Pete?" one of the youngin's asked. Ol' Pete was 'bout to answer when Likkle Pete chimed in.

"I bet she bearly got away," Likkle Pete said, grinnin'.

"Watch yo' tongue, boy," said Ol' Pete. He turned back toward the circle of youngin's who was waiting patiently for the story. "Turns out she didn't need to get away," said Ol' Pete.

Friday, February 25, 2005

A Very Serious Subject and "The Bear of Wolf Creek, Installment 1"

By: Unknown

I think I need to start out this post with a very serious subject, that's neither political nor religious. It's one we should all ponder carefully, though it may not directly affect us.

On February 15th, Chip Tomeo passed away (many of the our regular readers (and all of the IVIC bloggers) know his son). I don't know his story; I don't recall ever meeting him; indeed, I hardly know anything about him, his life, or his cause of death aside from what's revealed in this obituary and in his last name. I wager that his cause of death was cancer, for a reason I'll get to in a minute, but if anyone knows this information, and would like to send it to me, or would like to write a synopsis, or eulogy of sorts summarizing his story, please feel free. My e-mail address is drkashik(at)

Chip's sons friends (and possibly groups related to them. Again, I have limited information) have been collecting donations for the American Cancer Society in his name, which is why I assume cancer was the cause of death. If you knew Chip Tomeo, or are friends with his son, there's really nothing more I should need to say. At this point, you should be waiting for me to give you a donation link. Well, since I know Christie Cunningham's page already, I'll send you there . Or you could look around for others. And I have checked the veracity of the site. A WHOIS lookup reveals that it was registered by the American Cancer Society (link), so it is a reputable website.

As for those of you who weren't particularly affected by Mr. Tomeo (as I was not), you may have already discarded the option of donating out of hand. I urge you to reconsider, if you have. Charity is not a virtue that arises only when one feels grief; true, righteous charity comes unbidden. One gives not out of desire to remedy one's own grief, but out of sympathy for the grief of others, and the desire to aid a worthy cause.

There is, arguably, no cause greater than this. Cancer is a murderer we can thwart, unlike most major causes of death. But change and discovery can only be evinced through years of study. Research costs money. The grand thing is, you can help! Just make a small donation: $30, $15, $5, $1, or anything you can afford, to the ACS, or any other cancer foundation. We all have money that can be put to better uses: use it now! This is a chance to make the world a better place. Indeed, it would be wrong not to.

Following is the first installment of a fictional short story I'm writing. I'm aware that short stories are not generally in installments, but, being aware of the short attention span of web-surfers, and being conscious of the time restraints on my own writing abilities, I decided to break a short story into shorter parts.

The Bear of Wolf Creek (I)

It was one of those snowy, stormy nights you get up in the mountains time-to-time, and Pa had just stumbled in the door with an armful of firewood. Us children were sittin' round the fire, with Ol' Pete (that's my grandpa on my Pa's side) sittin' next to Likkle Pete (that's my biggest brother, his name bein' that of my Pa, Pete, who was named after his Pa, who's Ol' Pete. 'Cept that Ol' Pete was named after his Pa, so he was just Pete 'til Likkle Pete came along. Course, when Likkle Pete came, we figure it was the first time in history that a youngest Pete was alive with three older Petes alive above him. We called great-grandpa Oldest Pete 'til he died a few years ago. Now we call him dead). Ol' Pete had that gleam in his eye like he was just itchin' to spin a yarn (tha's what he called tellin' a story. I'm not sure why).

Anyway, Ol' Pete kinda leaned back from the fire and cleared his throat. Turn's out this was an unnecessary gesture, seein' as how we were already as quiet as the snow outside, just hearin' the fire crackle and watchin' the big log glow. We all turned a bit to look at Ol' Pete, who started right in:

"Have I ever told you kids the yarn 'bout the bear of Wolf Creek?" he says, then he paused for a bit, in thought. "Maybe it was the wolf of Bear Creek.... No," he says, "definitely the bear of Wolf Creek."

"You sure it weren't the cat of Dog Creek?" Likkle Pete said cheek'ly.

Ol' Pete glared at him. "Watch yer tongue, boy," he says. Ol' Pete said that a lot to Likkle Pete, just as an admonition. I don't think he ever really got mad 'bout it. Then Ol' Pete turned back to the fire to tell his yarn.

(To be continued...)

By my hand,
~Michael Akerman

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Free Mojtaba and Arash!

By: UnrepentantNewDealer

Feel free to read last night's post on Islamofascism below this one if you haven't yet and post comments if the urge strikes you. The following is a brief post to draw your attention to a

Worldwide Blogger Alert

I don't personally know Mojtaba Saminejad and Arash Sigarchi. But their plight has spread through the blogosphere like wildfire and I believe it is worthy of calling attention to on IVIC. They are Iranian bloggers imprisoned by the regime there for speaking out against the Islamic Republic's arrests and detentions of dissident bloggers. They are but the tip of the iceberg of dictatorial governments, most notably Iran, cracking down on bloggers.

The Committee to Protect Bloggers has declared today "Free Mojtaba and Arash Day." Here's what you can do to help. I encourage everyone who reads these words and has a blog of their own to post a short post like this. It could say nothing more than just "Free Motjaba and Arash." You can download a banner ad on their site Also, the United States does not maintain diplomatic relations with Iran but there is an Iranian Interest Section at the Pakistani Embassy and Iran does have a representative at the UN.

Dr. Mohammad Javad Zarif
Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran
622 Third Ave. New York, NY 10017
Tel: (212) 687-2020 / Fax: (212) 867-7086
E-mail: Email the ambassador

Iranian Representative
Embassy of Pakistan
Interests Section of the Islamic Republic of Iran
2209 Wisconsin Avenue, N.W.Washington, D.C. 20007
Email the Interests Section

You know what to do.

Monday, February 21, 2005

On President's Day and Islamofacism

By: UnrepentantNewDealer

Remember the President's Day and Keep It Slackish

First of all, a happy President's Day to you all. I hate saying that. I can still recall (or at least, I think I still recall) when we had two separate holidays in February, Lincoln's Birthday and Washington's Birthday. Both days were federal holidays, as they should be. Washington and Lincoln were the most important leaders of the eighteenth and nineteeth centuries, respectively. I suppose we should also have a holiday for the man historians overwhelmingly regard as the greatest twentieth century president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

I was perfectly happy with having two Mondays off in quick succession. Two three day weekends in February to provide relief from the hustle and bustle of second-semester studies. Everyone loves three-day weekends. Except businesses, I suppose. I understand giving the employees both days off would be costly, but I think the shrewd businessman could make up for it by having separate Lincoln's and Washington's Birthday sales.

As it is, we have for some years now had this amalgamated "President's Day." This irks me because it seems to honor all presidents, as though all presidents were equally worthy of honor. This is patently ridiculous. We have had some great presidents (Truman, Wilson, and both the Roosevelts, in this century) and some presidents who were merely good (Clinton, Kennedy, Eisenhower perhaps). But let's face it, most of our presidents have been mediocre (Pierce, Fillmore, Buchanan--oh hell, every president between Jackson and Lincoln and every president between Lincoln and McKinley, and even he was a hack--as well as the likes of Taft, Coolidge, Hoover, and Ford) and we have had more than our fair share of really, really bad presidents (Harding, Johnson, Nixon, and Reagan would be my picks of the worst of the last hundred years).

To pretend that all of these presidents are equally worthy of praise and honor is no different than saying that all students, no matter how they do in class, deserve an "A". There's a reason we have memorials for Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln but not for Harding or Fillmore. In short, bring back Lincoln's Birthday and Washinton's Birthday. And give college students both off. I'm sick of "holidays" like President's Day on which you still have to go to class. It's not a holiday if you're doing any work!


I first came across the term "Islamofascism" last fall. I first heard of it as coming from America's most annoying pompous windbag, Bill O'Reilly, although I doubt he posesses the mental wherewithal to coin a word. On the other hand, he might as well have coined it, for whoever coined this word didn't know what they were talking about--which is, of course, O'Reilley's distinguishing characteristic.

What does this word actually mean, anyway? It seems to be used to describe--or rather, to condemn--Islamic radicals of the Taliban/bin Ladin/al-Zarqawi variety.

Let's break the word down, examinging "Islamo-" first. As we've heard a million times by now, Islam is a "religion of peace", or put more accurately, "no more a religion of war than Judaism or Christianity." All three monotheistic faiths advocate peace and members of all three have committed many of the worst atrocities in the bloody annals of mankind. So, ok, these fundamentalists claim allegiance to Islam, same as abortion clinic bombers (,10987,1101850114-140923,00.html) and Tomas de Torquemada ( claim allegiance to Christianity, and the same as Baruch Goldberg ( Meir Kahane ( claim allegiance to Judaism. Of course, all right-thinking Christians, Jews, and Muslims would rush to reassure us that these extremists are not representative of their respective religions, but they do constitute an extremist element on the fringes.

All right, they're "Islamic". Now, what about the other half of "Islamofascism"? Fascism is a very specific political ideology. According to that fount of all earthly knowledge, Wikipedia:

"The word fascism has come to mean any system of government resembling Mussolini's, that

* exalts nation and sometimes race above the individual,
* uses violence and modern techniques of propaganda and censorship to forcibly suppress political opposition,
* engages in severe economic and social regimentation.
* engages in corporatism,
* implements or is a totalitarian regime."

First, do Al-Qaida and the Islamic fundamentialist movement "exalt nation or race above the individual"? There is no existing nation all the Islamic terrorists support, only "idolotrous" ones they wish to overthrow. As to race, Al-Qaida has recruited people of many races to accomplish its aims, from the African bombers of the American embassies in East Africa in 1998 to John Walker Lindh more recently. Al-Qaida is, ironically, egalitarian in a racial sense, but militantly anti-pluralist on religious matters, including the equality of women.

Second, while the Islamic radicals do use violence and propaganda, so do the corrupt authoritarian regimes they seek to overthrow. So, we have another element of fascism that doesn't really apply to the "Islamofascists."

Third, "severe economic and social regimentation"? Not particularly. While they couldn't be characterized as advocates for free trade, they also lack a coherent economic philosophy. Banks in predominantly Muslim nations traditionally don't charge interest, as it is forbidden in the Qu'ran. Needless to say, the fundamentalists see everything through the narrow lens of religious zealotry, not in terms of class, caste, or other socioeconomic issues.

Next, we come to "corporatism." I'll return to it after considering number 5: that fascism is totalitarianism. This one defintely applies to the Islamic radicals, as every time they seize power in a country, they immediately institute a totalitarian regime of terror.

Number 4: "Corporatism." What is this "corporatism"? Back to Wikipedia,

"Besides totalitarianism, a key distinguishing feature of fascism is that it uses a mass movement to attack the organizations of the working class: parties of the left and trade unions. Thus [fascism is] a militant form of right-wing populism. This mobilization strategy involves Corporatism.... state action to partner with key business leaders, often in ways chosen to minimize the power of labor unions. Mussolini, for example, capitalized on fear of an imminent Socialist revolution, finding ways to unite Labor and Capital, to Labor's ultimate detriment.... The moneyed classes in return helped him change the country's laws to raise his stature from a coalition leader to a supreme commander. The movement was supported by small capitalists, low-level bureaucrats, and the middle classes, who had all felt threatened by the rise in power of the Socialists.

This is the key to understanding fascism. As I understand it, fascism has four pillars: glorification of war and the military, glorification of the totalitarian state and of the nationalistic spirit, glorification of the business elite, and hatred of the opponents of the aforementioned groups (the pacifists, the labor unions, and the Socialists). The resulting union of State, Business, and Military is what fascism looks like. By these criteria, the current presidential administration is more "fascist" than the "Islamofascists" are, though don't misunderstand me, I'm not saying Bush is a fascist.

The "Islamofascists" do glorify armed jihad against the "unbeleivers", but they do not glorify military force for its own sake, an important point. To the Islamists, violence is merely a means to an end--the establishment of God's Kingdom on Earth, a renewed Caliphate. For true fascists, war is good in and of itself, regardless of its aims. This is a strange concept for us to understand today. Benito Mussolini, the founder of fascism, described this attitude:

"Fascism, the more it considers and observes the future and the development of humanity, quite apart from political considerations of the moment, believes neither in the possibility nor the utility of perpetual peace.... War alone brings up to their highest tension all human energies and imposes the stamp of nobility upon the peoples who have the courage to make it.... War is to man what maternity is to a woman. From a philosophical and doctrinal viewpoint, I do not believe in perpetual peace."

A far cry from Aristotle's "We make war that we may live in peace." Also dissimilar from the jihadist philosophy, which seems to view war as a means to an end.

On the matter of the glorification of the nationalistic spirit, the jihadists are enemies of the spirit of nationalism which is diametrically opposed to their delusions of a pan-Islamic empire. The "glorification of the business elite" has already been examined and discarded as non-applicable. The Islamic radicals glorify other Islamic radicals, not mere money-grubbing Western capitalists. In fact, if anything, Islamic fundamentalism can be understood to be a backlash against the strengthening currents of globalization and (mostly) free market capitalism, along with the secularization all this entails.

Soon after 9/11, Osama bin Laden appeared in a video. I don't remember a word he said. All I can remember about this video is that he wore a watch on his wrist, a fact picked up on by a number of pundits at the time. Closer examination revealed that the watch was almost certainly a Timex. A $65.00 Timex Ironman Triathalon Sportswatch. Timex is a symbol of Western capitalism, the same crass "godless" material culture that Islamic radicals like bin Laden rail against.

That Timex gives me confidence that we'll win. Think about it. The terrorists communicate with one another via encrypted cell-phone, email, text message. They claim credit for each new atrocity against innocent civilians by posting a message on one of the known militant websites. They propagate their ideology by releasing videotapes to major multinational news networks, like Al-Jazeera. Their beliefs may be straight out of the seventh century, but their jihad against the west is only made possible by utilizing the very system they want to destroy. The forces of globalization are inherently democratic, and everywhere globalization spreads, democracy eventually follows.

So, the "Islamofascists" may rail against the West, but they cannot avoid being caught up the globalization system. The great backlash against globalization is only made possible by utilizing the technologies of globalization, which in turn undermines the backlash. Bin Laden condemns the West with his mouth, but sings its praises with his watch. The Islamic "anti-globalization" forces can't fight against the West unless they adopt the technologies of the infidel, but if they adopt the technologies of the infidel, they can't help but be exposed to the values of the infidel; most damaging for their cause, if they adopt the technologies of the infidel in order to defeat the infidel, they acknowledge their own technological (and ideological) inferiority. That is why, in the long run, we'll win.

I kind of wandered from where I was originally intending to go with this post over the last couple of paragraphs. The point I set out to make is that "Islamofascism" is a very misleading term. So, why do some people, particularly on the right, stubbornly persist in calling our ideological opponents in the war against terrorism "Islamofascists"? At first, I thought the only reason it was used at all is that fascism is being misunderstood to simply mean barbarity. Now, yes, fascism was barbaric. But so are communism, imperialism, colonialism, rascism, anti-semitism, xenophobia, and other forms of bigotry. Yet no one thinks to call Islamic radicals "Islamocommunists", which is just as misleading as "Islamofascist."

I wonder if there isn't a darker explanation, though. A Wikipedia search for "Islamofascism" also turned up the older word "Judeofascism." This is a term long used by anti-Semites to attack Israel and Jews in general as being no different than the fascists, the Nazis. It is a way to dehumanize Jews, even, on an unconscious level, at least at first, to rationalize inhumane treatment of them.

I wonder if this isn't also the case with "Islamofascism." The word makes no sense when one approaches it from a knowledgable perspective. Yet, this word originated on the hyper-blowhard right-wing fringe of American politics. To this day it is used almost exclusively by right-wingers. Why? Because it fits their view that all Muslims, or even most Muslims, are no different morally from the Nazis? Bill O'Reilly himself made the claim that making students at Chapel Hill read a book about the Qu'ran was the same as forcing students during WWII to read Mein Kampf. (,10987,335965,00.html) Gee, that's not too subtle. Then we have Ann Coulter saying "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity." Now, she wrote these words two days after 9/11, but she still stands by them to this day.

When you start thinking of the terrorists as "fascists", how long will it be before someone somewhere justifies mistreating suspected terrorists? About as long as it takes to say the words "Abu Ghraib." After all, they're not really POWs, entitled to Geneva convention protections and innocent until proven guilty. Rather, they're "Islamofascists" and "enemy combatants" who we are justified in locking up in Guantanamo Bay or torturing at Abu Ghraib or Bagram, justified in depriving them of all the basic human rights our new attorney general has labeled "quaint." Perhaps I'm reading too much into this, but while semantics may seem like a trifling thing, the process of dehumanizing the "other" is how atrocities are always justified.

Well, then, what should we call these Islamic radicals? Well, how about "Islamic radicals"? It's accurate. Or "Jihadists" (alternatively, "Jihadis"). These are all words the experts use. I prefer the term "Islamoreactionaries." Like reactionaries elsewhere, these reactionaries want to turn back the clock to a nostalgic golden age of righteousness, in this case the seventh century. Of course, if we insist on calling them something derogetory (I admit, they certainly deserve it), the Romans came up with just the word more than 1,500 years ago when their culture was also under assault from outside forces: barbarians.

Last Words

"The truth is that men are tired of liberty." Benito Mussolini

"The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it [be]comes strong[er] than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism - ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or any controlling private power." Franklin D. Roosevelt

"The strategic adversary is fascism... the fascism in us all, in our heads and in our everyday behavior, the fascism that causes us to love power, to desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us." Michel Foucault

"I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality... I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word." Martin Luther King, Jr.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

What the fudge?

By: Ed

As I write this, I am watching the Lary King interview of Mary Kay Letourneau. As I am watching, I can't help but be disgusted; with society and the former teacher. I am simply outraged by the lack of remorse this woman appears to have and further angered by the apathy of many citizens.

I have heard several times now how others had a teacher fantasy in school; how it was somehow not as bad because of this feeling. Her victim was (I think) 12 years old when she abused him. How sick can a person get to think they can have a deep and meaningful relationsip with a 12 year old? She spoke of her "first family" and how she might not be able to see her children if she continued the affair. She did continue though. Obviously her actions show that she only cares about Mary Letourneau.

Now she is engaged to her victim. I absolutely detest that there is no legal recourse to stop this unholy union, but alas it can't be done without taking our own freedoms; freedoms from innocents. I suppose my main point though, what really infuriated me, was how this is starting to be shown as a "deep love that survived all odds". She abused a child! If a man committed this crime he (if he survived prison) would be burned in effigy by the media for this action. Instead, King seemed to go light on her and her "love" continues to warp the true boundries of decent and loving relationships.

So I leave all readers with this question:

How much further will you allow our culture to slip?


Thursday, February 17, 2005

SocSec 'n' Such

By: Unknown

News for social security: Bush is thinking about raising the cap on Social Security Taxable income. The current cap limits taxable income to all income under $90,000. This means, of course, that the percentage of income taxed is literally higher for the poor (generally, when a Democrat says taxes are higher for the poor, they're lying or mistaken). This is a bad thing.

Consider the math. For someone who makes $90,000 a year (the cap), 100% of their income is being taxed. Let's say the tax rate is 4% (made up number for simplicity of calculation). They are, therefore, paying a net 4% tax (.04*1=.04). Someone making $180,000 is being taxed for 50% of their income. At a 4% rate for 50% of their income, they are paying only a 2% net tax (.04*.5=.02). Frankly, that isn't right.

As much as Democrats would like to believe that Republicans just want to cut taxes for the rich, most of us want everyone to be treated equally by the tax code: no tiers, no caps, no differential treatment (note that I'm not advocating a flat tax, but a flat tax rate. They're very different). The same way I don't want the rich to be taxed more, I don't want the poor to be taxed more. As it stands, the cap charges the poor more.

Indeed, I'd venture that the cap should be not only raised, but removed altogether. Not only would this guarantee solvency, it would pay the transition cost to private accounts (which are still a better system, overall), and it is morally right. Everyone should pay the same rate, on every tax. The only fair tax currently standing is sales tax (which is always the same rate for the state). Let's make more like that!

UPDATE: What's with these frickin' chalky Valentine's hearts? The conversation ones with words on them. They're fantastic, yet oddly disconcerting. And I think I'll eventually break a tooth on them. I always chew them instead of sucking on them... my brother says it sounds like I'm eating teeth.

They should put a surgeon general's warning on them.

This update brought to you by the "'n' Such" in the title, as there was very little "Such" prior to now.

By my hand,
~Michael Akerman

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Bad Form, Old Chap

By: Unknown

Recently, a professor named Ward Churchill at the University of Colorado wrote an essay, in which he proceeded to piss off every single American. If you've been keeping up with the blogosphere, you know the story: Dr. Churchill claimed that the victims of 9/11 deserved to die, and were not innocent victims, but "little Eichmanns (Nazi war criminal)" who served as puppets to the US Government's evil plans of peace, prosperity and freedom.

Dr. Churchill (instead of keeping his mouth shut) recently said that more 9/11 style attacks may be necessary.

The controversy over this guy is not whether we should all hate him (answer: yes), but whether he should be fired from his professorship for his statements. Volokh, Instapundit, and innumerable others have claimed that firing him would set a dangerous precedent that would surely bring about the destruction of the (academically offensive) Academic Right.

However, these esteemed bloggers are almost invariably professors themselves, and look at this situation through the subjective eyes of a sympathizer. There is little doubt that, in any other profession save, perhaps, journalism, Dr. Churchill (who slanders that esteemed surname) would have been tossed out without his hat the minute he uttered such statements! The argument is raised, however, that academic freedom is paramount for professors, whose jobs are to present their views in an unfettered manner. Additionally, there is the consideration of the First Amendment right to freedom of speech.

While these concerns are true, the traditional (and morally correct) interpretation of the First Amendment is that the freedoms allowed must be weighed against society's wellbeing. And this is the sticking point!

You see, Dr. Churchill's (I honestly hate using a title of respect for him) views are, indeed, dangerous. In fact, his sacking is more justified due to his professorship! Opinions like these, especially in the mouth of a teacher, are misleading, deforming, and dangerous, as they effect the malleable minds of the youth (don't kid yourself and think that collegiate minds aren't malleable).

The hippie movement of the Vietnam era was an effect of this. The more extreme variations (attacking soldiers, violent protests, etc.) of hippiedom were invariably misinterpretations, distortions, or outright misrepresentations of relatively harmless opinions from authority figures. Yet Churchill is all the more dangerous. He doesn't advocate violence and disrespect: he advocates the death of fellow citizens!

Churchill will never act on his views; his students may. It is hardly worth the risk of this man spawning a fringe movement while we cower before the thinnest shadow of the risk of corruption. Someone must rid academia of this most evil of men (there, I said it. Churchill is Satan walking).

Besides that, I would urge Churchill's supervisor to consider that it looks very much like they are endorsing, or at least accepting, these wrongheaded opinions. After all, they are paying for them!

By my hand,
~Michael Akerman

Friday, February 04, 2005

News Roundup: Between Iraq and a Hard Place

By: UnrepentantNewDealer

As I'm a Democrat and, hence, obviously must hate America, I'll open by talking about a story that reflects poorly on our nation, mock Bush's SotU, quickly gloss over the Iraqi elections, and close on a sour note. Just doing my part as a card-carrying member of the VLWC (Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy, for those of you out of the loop).

But first, in other news...

By now, everyone must have heard about the recent death of comedian extrodinaire Johnny Carson. Whenever I think of him now, I can't help but think of that Elton John song, "Candle in the Wind."

I would have liked to have known you
But I was just a kid
Your candle burned out long before
Your legend ever did

I really wish I'd gotten to meet him, or at least see him when he was on the "Tonight Show." Unfortunately, I really was just a kid.

A few days before he died, the newspapers carried a story about how Carson thought of at least 5 new gags or jokes every day. He'd send them to David Letterman, whom he regarded as more of his comedic heir than that pompous windbag Jay Leno. Occasionally, Letterman would use them in his monologue.

According to, a "tradition evolved over the years so that anytime Carson would say a phrase in his monologue such as 'It was so (hot/cold/dark/etc.)...' someone in the audience would invariably call out 'How ---- was it?' which would set up Carson's rejoinder 'It was so ----, that ....' and complete the joke. According to a later biography of Carson, however, it was actually against the rules for someone in the audience to interrupt Carson this way, and anyone who called out 'How ---- was it?' was invariably removed from the studio."

So, Carson's the one who started that!

Anyway, moving on...

On the note of death and dying, Pope John Paul II has been hospitalized for the flu. For a man as old and frail as he is (he has Parkinson disease, like Arafat did) pneumonia could be the final straw for his immune system. Vatican officials play down the severity of the illness, but then again, that's to be expected from any bureaucracy. Although I am not a Catholic, I have immense respect for the man. I consider John Paul II to be one of the truly great leaders of the past century. Remember, it was John Paul II and Solidarity leader Lech Walesa who, more than anyone else, encouraged the people of Poland to resist the Soviets. When it became apparent that the Soviet leadership was no longer willing to use force to keep the nations of Eastern Europe in its despotic grip, the whole house of cards that was the Warsaw Pact quickly fell apart. Forget Reagan, Thatcher, and Gorbachev; it was two Poles who brought down the "Evil Empire."

John Paul II also did a lot to help mend relations between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, Judaism, and science. (He apologized for the Catholic Church's intolerance toward Galileo, an apology about 400 years overdue) But on social values issues (like allowing women to be clergy; making celibacy optional; and allowing the use of condoms and other forms of birth control to cut down on the number of abortions worldwide and, also AIDS cases in Africa) the Pope was inflexible. A mixed legacy, indeed, though overall, one any pontiff could be proud of. I will post further on the subject in the event that he doesn't make it. I encourage readers, regardless of their religious affiliation, to pray for his speedy recovery.

Dean for DNC?

In case you haven't heard, the current chair of the Democratic National committee, the insufferably pompous windbag Terry McAuliffe is stepping down. The almost certain replacement is... get this... Mr. Scream himself! That's right, perhaps encouraged by the recent reemergence of Newt Gingrich from the political looney bin, "Howeird" Dean has escaped his comfortable white padded room at the funny farm to run the DNC. Really, they shouldn't even let this man near a mike!

I know, I've heard the argument that Howard Dean proved himself to be an adept fundraiser in the primaries and that the most important job of a National committee chairman is to raise money for the party. But a large part of being the chairman of a political party that is out of power is to go on TV and other media sources and advocate the positions of the party. When your party is out of power, and it's not an election year, and your leaders in Congress (in this case Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid) are not exactly media-ready, the party chair often fills the need of "voice of the party." Kinda hard to do when you're a national laughingstock. (Reference my post-Iowa post the January before last:

Hopefully the committee members will see reason and pass over Dean when they convene this month. If not, it's going to be a long 4 years indeed. On second thought, maybe they should let Dean be DNC chairman. Keep him out of trouble and hopefully out of the 2008 primaries. Please, God!

Not my America!

Now, the first item on the agenda: "Report on story that reflects poorly on our nation." Hmmm... I have just the thing! I think I'll just let this article,, speak for itself:

"Videotapes of riot squads subduing troublesome terror suspects at the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, show the guards punching some detainees, tying one to a gurney for questioning and forcing a dozen to strip from the waist down, according to a secret report.... One such clip.... showed 'one or more' team members punching a detainee 'on an area of his body that seemingly would be inconsistent with striking a pressure point,' which is a sanctioned tactic for subduing prisoners.... In other 'questionable' cases, reviewers said a video showed a guard kneeing a detainee in the head, while another showed a team securing a detainee to a gurney for an interrogation.... A separate clip captured a platoon leader taunting a detainee with pepper spray and repeatedly spraying him before letting the reaction team enter the cell, reviewers wrote.

"Investigators also noted about a dozen cases where detainees were stripped from the waist down.... Prisoners were often left naked for days.... Many of the prisoners are Muslim men and under strict interpretations of Islam view contact with other women other than their wives as taboo.... Prisoners released from Guantanamo have accused the extraction teams of abuse and one former U.S. National Guardsman received brain damage after posing undercover as a rowdy detainee and being beaten by teammates.

Way to win over hearts and minds in the Muslim world, guys! All this, after Abu Ghraib. Makes me sick! Not ashamed to be an American mind you. Just ashamed these people are my fellow countrymen.

On Bush's State of the Union, I admit I did not watch most of it. I don't feel like I missed much though. After all, Bush's SotU statements and promises are notoriously unreliable. This from

"Hey, Mr. Prez, is that Axis of Evil any less evil now? Is North Korea any more cooperative? Is Iran any less belligerent? How is that battle against AIDS in Africa going? Did you find all that yellowcake from Niger? How about all those caches of chemical and biological weapons in Iraq? Are we still leaving children behind? Have we nabbed Bin Laden? Can I start planning my trip to Mars now? Is there one major plan or goal expressed by Bush in a State of the Union that has worked? Where are the standards of judgment? Where is the scorecard?"

Between Iraq and a hard place

Now, the recent Iraqi elections. I am too young to remember the fall of the Berlin Wall, the great explosion of democracy in 1989. So, to have seen the peoples of Afghanistan, Ukraine, Palestine, and now Iraq vote in the last few months has been extraordinary. Seeing the footage of thousands of Iraqis walking to the polls, holding up their indelible-ink stained fingers as a sign of defiance to insurgents has been among the most moving sights of my life. We are truly living in historic times.

There was less violence than I had feared. Apparently all the draconian security measures (including a three-day ban on driving and traveling outside your province, jamming all cell phones, not revealing where the polling places were until hours before voting started, and having most of the candidates choose to remain anonymous for fear of being assassinated) worked to prevent the "blood flowing in the streets" that the insurgents had promised.

I'd like to caution against the feeling that any kind of turning point has been reached. We've heard that before. We heard that attacks were sure to decrease after the fall of Baghdad when Bush declared "Mission Accomplished", after Uday and Qusay were killed, after Saddam was captured, after "sovereignty" was transferred in June 2004, after we chased the rebels out of Fallujah. Each time, violence only increased, and the insurgency only got smarter, bolder, more sophisticated, more deadly. This election, while it might seem to be a crushing blow against the insurgency, could do more to undermine a unified democratic Iraq than anything the insurgents could accomplish in their wildest dreams.

The reasons for my pessimism have to do with Iraq's history and demographics, my reading of various blogs (notably Juan Cole's, which is in the blogroll), and the realizations I have come to as a result of my reflections on 20th century history and two college courses I took last semester about Islam and Middle East politics.

The Shiites make up 60% of the country's population, but have long been oppressed by Saddam and other leaders of the Sunni community, which makes up about 20% of Iraq's population. The Sunnis are loathe to give up their traditional power. Because of this, some Sunnis boycotted the election. Many others realized that not participating in the election would be a disaster for the Sunni community, but, as the violence in Iraq is primarily concentrated in the areas with a majority Sunni population, they didn't feel safe voting. Most Sunni groups and politicians called for the elections to be delayed to give time for the security situation to improve. The Bush administration was deadset on having the elections on schedule, because of the Shiites (see below), and because there was no guarantee that the situation would necessarily be any better in a few months. Sunni turnout is estimated to have been in the single digits, meaning there is a real danger that they will feel disenfranchised and left out of the new government--a potent recipe for a protracted civil war, exactly what Al-Zarqawi is trying to achieve.

The worst part about all of this is that it was probably preventable. The whole occupation of Iraq has proved to be a series of increasingly deadly screw-ups. What was the first thing Paul Bremer did as consul of Iraq? He disbanded the Baath party and the Iraqi Army. So, all these soldiers were fired and were not getting paid to stay out of trouble by the coalition, but they were allowed to keep to keep their military-issue firearms. Hmm... Doesn't take a rocket scientist to see how you just might get an insurgency by doing that. Add to that the fact that, without an Iraqi Army to secure the borders, all sorts of foreign terrorists could easily slip in. Then take some draconian measures, like closing down Shiite newspapers critical of the occupation, which sparked Moqtada al-Sadr's rebellion.

Then, last spring, when most of the Sunni insurgents became concentrated in Fallujah, the city was surrounded by coalition forces for the final showdown with the foreign terrorists, ex-Baathists, and former Iraqi officers controlling the insurgency. But, as American casualties started to mount, to prevent John Kerry from getting any leverage out of the situation, the decision was made to withdraw from Fallujah, "Mission Not Accomplished." The city was handed over to... a former Baathist general. Surprise, surprise, the city soon became a miniature Taliban, women were forced back into veils, and the insurgents had a safe haven from which to launch attacks with impunity. The final assault on Fallujah was postponed until after the American election in November to prevent a backlash against the heavy American casualties this might incur. Given such a long head start, the insurgent leaders (al-Zarqawi and Co.) got the hell out of Dodge and dispersed to other cities, particularly Mosul, where headless bodies are now being found in the streets on a regular basis. It's hard not to draw the conclusion that the insurgency benefited from the delayed assault on Fallujah. Perhaps if the military had simply been allowed to finish the job last April, the insurgency would be far weaker now and more Sunnis might have gone to the polls last Sunday, rather than call for boycotts and postponement.

Of course, the majority Shiites didn't want any postponement in the elections they expected to dominate. The fewer Sunnis who vote, the more power the Shiites get. Add to self-interest the fact that the most respected Shiite leader, the Grand Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani, decreed that it is the religious duty of Shiites to vote. Most of the Shiites voted for Sistani's slate of anonymous candidates. They did so primarily out of a sense of religious duty. Their respected ayatollah told them to vote for his United Iraqi Alliance, and they did so in large numbers. Sistani has been agitating for elections for more than a year, and is the man who derailed Bush's original "smoke-filled room" caucus plans for post-war Iraq. He never would have countenanced a delay.

Sistani is of the Najaf school of Islamic clericism, which holds that religious leaders should stay out of politics except when absolutely necessary for the security of the followers, and even then, only to the minimum extent necessary to reestablish stability. He is unlikely to push for setting up an Iranian-style theocracy. On the other hand, his main Shiite rival, al-Sadr, with whose militias American soldiers had to fight last year, does favor a more activist clergy. Sistani has the upper hand now, but the moderates in Russia (Kerensky, et al.) had the upper hand in post-czarist Russia, and as the situation turned from bad to worse, Russians turned to the radicals under Lenin. Similarly, the moderate Socialists in Weimar Germany gave way to the extremists under Hitler as the situation in Germany became increasingly desperate. If the situation under the new Shiite-dominated government doesn't improve, probably sooner rather than later, the Shiites will choose the radicals out of sheer desperation.

But there is a third main group in Iraq, the Kurds. They did better than the Sunnis and will probably form a coalition with Al-Sistani's party and probably the more secular Allawi's party as well, leaving the Sunnis out in the cold. The Kurds have long agitated for an independent Kurdistan that would encompass all the Kurdish-majority areas in Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey. While their population is spread over these 4 nations, they tend to view themselves as Kurds, not Turks or Iraqis who happen to be Kurdish. After the Gulf War of 1991, the Coalition forces imposed two demilitarized "no-fly" zones in Iraq: one in the south to protect the Shiites, the other in the north to protect the Kurds from Saddam's genocidal ambitions. Under the protection of U.S. warplanes, Kurds established something of a de-facto state in Northern Iraq. They gained almost total autonomy from the central government in Baghdad and want to maintain that autonomy under the new government.

Some Kurdish intellectuals and activists set up tents outside the polling places in Kurdish-majority areas for an unofficial vote on whether Kurdistan should be an autonomous province in Iraq or declare independence. Unfortunately, from all reports, the independence crowd won overwhelmingly. At the very least, the Kurds will demand the creation of a "Kurdish Autonomous Region", almost entirely self-governing, though that might not sit well with the Shiite-dominated central government in Baghdad.

The situation in the north is compounded by the competing claims of Kurds and Sunni Arabs to the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, the spiritual capital of the Kurdish people. Saddam uprooted many of the Kurdish families in the area and replaced them with Arab Sunnis more loyal to Saddam. Now, with Saddam out of power, many ethnic Kurds have returned to Kirkuk to reclaim their old homes, which have been occupied by Sunnis in their absence. This has led to conflicts between Arabs and Kurds that have jeopardized local stability and threatened to bring in Turkey to intervene. Turkey has already had to put down a Kurdish revolt within its borders at the cost of more than 35,000 lives, and fears that an independent Iraqi Kurdistan will relight the flames of rebellion among Turkish Kurds. Turkish political and military leaders have stated point-blank that the powerful Turkish military will not stand idly by and allow the Iraqi Kurds to gain independence.

So, the low turnout among Sunnis is likely to lead to a strengthened insurgency and possibly civil war. The high turnout among Kurds could very easily lead to lead to a Turkish invasion of northern Iraq. And the high turnout among Shiites could lead to attempts by some of Sistani's rivals to set up an Iranian-style theocracy.

Tell me again why we have cause to celebrate.