The Legend of Wooley Swamp

What ever happened to nuance? Jabberwocky is being spewed up by the left and right as they try to drag us into their Wonderlands. This blog charts a path out of this swamp of simple truths and false certainties. And from time to time, it'll be a place for more light-hearted musings.

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Location: Palms - L.A, California

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Kansas vs. Pennsylvania; plus the Radical Center

Maybe it's the obvious change in season, and Berlin sure is getting darker and colder by the day. Maybe it's my strong dislike (or fear) of partisanship, i.e. the tendency to see every single little thing as a positive or negative proof of one's own worldview. But something's got to give in the Wooley Swamp.

The U.S. House of Representatives (link may not be updated just yet) last night debated U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq, and from the reporting I've seen and heard it was a VERY partisan affair. Necessary though such debates are, it hurt to watch this one. Yes, I have an opinion on this matter, but you won't find it here. For that kind of remedy you know where to go: e.g. the Guardian or Wall Street Journal's op-ed/editorial pages. Read some pieces and see if you learn something about yourself. Especially when you read opinions on the other side of the divide. And then re-read your favorite pundit's stance. You'll find that they were 'wrong' on certain aspects. That they ignored plenty of details to make sure their point of view appeared to be closer to the truth.

As you may have gathered, I try to avoid this in my posts by linking to different takes on issues. And so I shall continue. But to be honest with you, it is exhausting not to hind behind ideology. And perhaps it's futile to not seek such refuge. I have certainly dabbled with either side of the mainstream spectrum, but when there I became frightened by how similar the ugly side of the left and right can be. So here I am stuck in the broad, boggy middle. Sometimes it's like being at sea with no land in sight and other times it's a feeling of unadulterated freedom. The latter tends to happen when you take a plunge into the wonders of the undersea world, far away from the shrieking seagulls and even farther from the sheep on the shores. If you've been surfing or even better, scuba diving, you'll understand.

Let me close by bringing attention to a couple of items:

1. In yesterday's Washington Post, Charles Krauthammer points to one of the key 'forgotten' aspects of this year's U.S. November elections. Namely, the debate that pits creationism vs. evolution, which resulted in very different outcomes in the states of Kansas and Pennsylvania. For all you smug secularists who think 'intelligent design' is just some nutty religion thing that doesn't concern you, think again.

2. And in today's Guardian, Martin Kettle highlights an interesting reality in today's political landscape. Supplanting the fringes, there are increasing signs of a radical center. This sounds like quite good news, but I for one need to think about this a smidgin. Any prospect of one dominant party in the center definitely raises some major alarms bells in me. Still, may the arm-flailing of the revisionists, theocrats and demagogues - you know, the motley crew of Chomsky, Robertson, Moore, Buchanan, Le Pen, Haider, Chavez and co - begin.

On that somewhat cheerier note, I wish you a pleasant weekend. On this end, I gotta say that Erin was right...I never doubted it :-)
'Tis snowing!! Time to try out those winter tires.


PS Major kudos to the Onion for giving a voice to the people.


Intelligent Design Ousted

Voters in Dover, PA voted out eight school board members who supported an intelligent-design statement being read in biology class. What do you think?

Asian Man

Steve Morton,
"Yeah, but check out who they replaced them with… an 18-year-old politics nerd and a local drag queen who’s always running for office."

Young Woman

Peggy Ramone,
Computer Programmer
"I feel kind of bad for them. Where can they be ignorant and influential now?"

Young Man

Christopher Osburn,
Legal Secretary
"Splendid! Now the only authorities left who subscribe to these wacko theories are safely contained in the highest echelons of executive, legislative, and judicial government."

Friday, November 18, 2005

Conspiracy and Paranoia Can't Mar German Lovefest

Picture a stalemate in Bratislava, a mudpaddy in Prague, bizarro world in Manama, a Waltzing Matilda extravaganza in Sydney and a sad, sad spectacle in Istanbul. Picture ecstasy in Spain, the Czech Republic, Trinidad & Tobago, Australia and Switzerland. And picture despair in Slovakia, Norway, Bahrain and Uruguay as well as chaos in Turkey.

ORIGINAL: The crowd envelopes Australian player Tony Vidmar as they celebrate after their second leg World Cup qualifier against Uruguay at Sydney's Olympic Stadium, Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2005 Australia defeated Uruguay on penalties to book a World Cup soccer finals berth for the first time since 1974. (AP Photo/Andrew Cabello-Reynolds)

On Wednesday, the line-up for next summer's World Cup was completed (thanks Smokin' for the link.) The last five teams booked their tickets, bringing the total to a rather massive 32. Defending champion Brazil and host Germany will have their hands full, trying to avoid 'ignomy' at the hands of so-called outsiders. OK, those who employ that term DO have a point since only seven nations have ever won the Cup, including the aforementioned duo. Still I have my sneaking suspicions, and a burning yearning, that this is about to change. My favorites? More on that some other time - Tunisia comes to mind though - now back to what was a mad, mad Wednesday.

The first two games were rather uneventful mainly because Spain and the Czech Republic were so superior to Slovakia and Norway. Me thinks that most neutral fans are pleased with these outcomes since the winners happen to play the beautiful game. Norway in particular is known to play a game more akin to curling.
Unnskyld Norskis, I couldn't resist the barb, you're alright in my book.

In Manama things began to get more interesting. Two countries who have never been to the World Cup were playing for a famous place in the sun. Trinidad & Tobago should have been disadvantaged as the guest but managed to pull off a minor upset for their people and coach Leo Beenhacker. Beenie is Dutch and he's one of three Dutch coaches fielding a team next summer. Anyway, the tie (meaning a home and away game) was evenly poised and when TnT scored a 48th minute goal, Bahrain mounted a fierce assault in search of an equalizer. And in bizarre circumstances, it seemed they found one. The goalkeeper was about to kick the ball when Hussain Ali popped up, nudged the ball just after it left the keeper's hand, collected and blasted it into the very empty net. But the goal was disallowed for interference. Bahrain was not happy and have lodged a protest.

Down under, Australia's Socceroos (yes, not only the U.S. calls it soccer) was trying to get to its first Cup since 1974. Last time around, they were also forced to play a tie vs. Uruguay, which requires Herculian efforts by both teams as they combat jet lag, flying half way around the world to do battle. It was becoming a tedious tradition for the geographically isolated near-Republic of Oz: Ahead of the 1994 World Cup they lost against Argentina and in 1998 against Iran. But this time they were led by 'miracle coach' Guus Hiddink, Flying Dutchman II who brought his native Holland to the semi-finals in 1998 and managed the same for South Korea in 2002.

Uruguay won the first game in Montevideo and ahead of the return, their star striker Alvaro Recoba auditioned for the theater of the absurd. He claimed that the powers above were going to propel his team to Germany. In defence of his feverish belief in some kind of 'divine right,' one should at least mention that Uruguay won the Cup in twice in the 1930s. Yeah, that's kind of like England's random triumph in 1966, but whatya gonna do? Australia got the goal they needed and their goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer saved two penalties during the shootout. He later claimed that he 'knew' where the kickers were going to place the ball. Maybe Recoba told him. Regardless, the presence of even more Aussies in Germany will be greatly enjoyed. They will party on, singing infinite renditions Waltzing Matilda for the rest of us. For Uruguay, all that remains is to hire Hiddink ahead of 2010 Finals in South Africa.

Speaking of those present in Germany, this post is dedicated to the sane super-majority of the Turkish team's fans. That would include myself. In gut-wrenching circumstances the team that claimed 3rd place in Japan/Korea was denied an invitation by the lowly-rated Swiss. The aftermath of that game is still ongoing and my own reflections on the repurcussions are still stewing.

Come Wednesday you could cut the atmosphere in Berlin with a knife. The streets in Kreuzberg were empty by 7 pm. This scence was repeated across Germany, several million citizens and residents with Turkish heritage had their priorities straight. This is the biggest Turkish population outside of Turkey and the biggest minority here by far. So if you can imagine a World Cup in Germany without Turkey, you're imagining the wrong World Cup. Unfortunately, despite an amazing game in Istanbul, that's the World Cup we're gonna have imagine. It is a shame. But there was more than shame on display in Istanbul.

The game was pulsating, a consequence not only of what was at stake but also of the fact that Switzerland (already up 2-0 from the game in Berne) converted a penalty in the FIRST minute. Turkey now had to score FOUR goals and somehow they conjured just that. Unfortunately, they also let in one more and due to the obscure rule that goals away from home count more, the aggregate of 4-4 was in Switzerland's favor. OK, them's the brakes. But after the final whistle somebody lifted their leaden foot off the pedal. All hell broke loose.

The Swiss players ran off the field like Maurice Greene, but were soon embroiled in a major melee as they tried to reach the dressing room. One of their players kicked a Turkish official (he may now be banned from the dream he had just qualified for) while another was hospitalized after receiving a hard blow to the stomach. The German TV crew I had been watching fled and Turkish security personnel beat on Swiss officials.

FIFA, the international football federation, has launch an inquiry, but before it even got underway the FIFA boss Sepp Blatter stepped in the wrong place on the cow pasture. Instead of withholding judgement, he launched into a slew of accusations against the Turkish authorities, waving the ultimate sanction of banning Turkey from participating in the next international tournament. This was rash indeed, but since Blatter - like the head of FIFA's disciplinary committee who will rule on this - happens to be Swiss, fertile ground for conspiracies was tilled.

ORIGINAL: Turkish police form a cordon as Swiss players and supporters enter Istanbul's Atataurk Airport. Turkey could be banned from the 2010 World Cup after FIFA launched an investigation into the violence that followed their play-off with Switzerland in Istanbul. (AFP)

Heck, paranoia was rife before the game, with the Turkish media whipping up a frenzy of disinformation, and the Turkish team manager Davut Dasli uttering the following: "The Swiss have treated us badly. And if fairness does not deliver justice on Wednesday, we will take care of it ourselves."

Yes, this is still football. And while many Turks were affronted by the booing of their national anthem in the first leg in Bern, there can naturally be no excuse for veiled threats and then seemingly acting on them as if it was all a bad video game.

Ahead of this World Cup, some in Germany have speculated that a sporting event of this magnitude may help foster assimilation and understanding between communities. Not too absurd an aspiration. Something along the lines of German Turks - this is the telling term preferred by all to 'Turkish Germans,' though often the German is omitted altogether - cheering for Germany if Turkey is not playing.

Remember that this is 'bloodlines count first, foremost and forever' nation-state Europe , where you are brought up to believe in things you may not have experienced. But anyway, with Turkey now eliminated, we shall see...I doubt they'll be ringing cow bells with the Swiss fans. And there is some reason to hope based on the experience of 2002 when both countries reached the semi-finals. 'Sustantiated rumors' have it that the Turkish population stood behind Germany when it played Turkey's conquerers Brazil in the final. It didn't help - nothing could have - but even some conservative commentators noticed and had their Weltanschaung turned upside down.

It's been a while since those glory days and aside from this nothing has really changed.
But it would be the ultimate rebuke to the moronic nationalists in Turkey and the identity politics purveyors of all communities here in Germany. So here's to hoping.


PS In case you were wondering, Flying Dutchman III is none other than Bondscoach (Holland), the talismanic striker Marco van Basten.

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Thursday, November 17, 2005

Iraqi Kings of the Jungle

On the day that the White Phosphorus debate was rekindled, I missed the birth of a more bizarre allegation. I just saw Rummy's reaction when asked about it during a Pentagon briefing, absolutely priceless. Lions? What in the wide, wide world of sports is going on around here?

Well, it seems that Saddam's late son Uday used to keep a mini-pride caged in one of his palaces. Sounds like Tony Montana (that's him in the hot tub) to me. Tony bought himself a tiger when he briefly got what "was coming to him," i.e. "the world, Chico, and everything in it." No doubt he served as a role model - their destinies were certainly eerily similar - for ol' Uday.

And so now the U.S. military must be using his ex-pets to coerce confessions. Dunno about that, last thing I heard the lions were purring away in the Baghdad Zoo, quite pleased to have been liberated from the clutches of the Hussein clan.

Last but not least, I just read a very sober piece (the comments are good too) on the whole WP situation. I rest my case. Really.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Musharraf Calls It Like It Is

: Please consider this appeal from CARE Pakistan

Rarely have so many people been so affected by a natural disaster as the one in Pakistan on 8 October 2005. The death toll of 80,000 and rising is mind-boggling and the millions that have been made homeless likewise so on a whole other level. Pakistani President Pervez Musharaf has lambasted the members of the international community for not appreciating the seriousness of the situation. Various United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations have reiterated his plea. A modern day airlift (see photos) has now begun. But there are still not enough helicopters, blankets or tents.

ORIGINAL: British soldiers wrap up tents, food and other supplies to earthquake victims before airlift by British CH-47 Chinook helicopters at an airport in Muzaffarabad, Pakistan, Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2005. Two British military helicopters on Wednesday joined an increasingly urgent push to send supplies to survivors of last month's earthquake that killed more than 86,000 people and devastated large parts of mountainous northern Pakistan. (AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim)

Forget what will be an extremely arduous recontruction phase, and forget for now what this could mean for Pakistan itself or its relations with India. We are talking about immediate survival. This distinguishes this natural disaster from most others, and makes the lack of response all the more distressing.

Talking heads have been blowing hot air and pointing to their favorite scapegoat, 'donor fatigue.' What a misnomer - we're not talking about a blood donor who needs a cookie and some rest between donations - and what a cop-out for doing far too little. There is a starker reality at work here, and the sooner we recognize it the better. This reality is not pretty nor is it politically correct.

Ask yourself: Why were people not 'tired' or miserly when the Tsunami wrecked havoc across South and Southeast Asia in December last year or when Hurricane Katrina flattened an area the size of Germany last month? Why did all manner of agencies and governments cough up more cash than could be spent? Why were there countless telethons and charity concerts? Why were individuals so generous? I spy: Empathy.

And so must we now conclude that in this case, it is somehow absent? No, not entirely, but it is sorely lacking. And as a friend, who worked in both Aceh and now in Pakistan, has told me, the logistical nightmare in the latter situation should not be underestimated. We are talking transport on foot or by mule here (this sometimes even when helicopters are available, but cannot land.) Still let's be clear, it's not like they have too much money this time around. Au contraire.

I was in Sweden when the Tsunami struck and witnessed what can charitably be described as incredible empathy. There's no call for being (too) cynical about it here, but it took me by surprise. Yes, the media can bring disasters to our living rooms, and so it was in this case. The international scope of the destruction also helped connect people from all over. Some people knew someone in Sri Lanka, some in Indonesia, Thailand or India. It snowballed into something large and lasting.

But the empathy was founded on two simple facts. One, many Swedes were killed and injured by the Wave when it hit the Western shore of Thailand. Secondly, connected to this, many Swedes have been to Thailand and at least have an idea of what it is like. There was far less coverage of what was going on in Aceh initially, even though everyone knew it must have born the brunt of the water wall's onslaught.

With Hurricane Katrina, empathy clearly came out of how it affected the great, historic city of New Orleans. And this was the U.S., and people all over believe that they can relate. Believing counts for more than you can say. At the time, I focused my minor efforts on bringing attention to the town of Pass Christian, Mississippi. A tenous connection and its total destruction was what I needed.

But here we are without the necessary empathy. It's taken me this long to write a brief post. An area few Westerners have been to is shaken to smithereens, and despite the relatively small disaster zone we do not step up to the plate. This is quickly exacerbated and soon our response this time bears no resemblence to the aftermath of Tsunami or Katrina. For when empathy and connect is absent, the 'bottom-up effect' does not kick in. Individuals do not relate or donate, Bono does not put on a show and governments are not pressured to act. But this is EXACTLY when they must do so.

ORIGINAL: Kashmiri earthquake survivors walk along a damaged road in Neelum Valley November 16, 2005. The United Nations and British military launched an airlift on Wednesday to move hundreds of tonnes of food and shelter to earthquake survivors high in Pakistan's mountains to ensure they survive the winter. REUTERS/Amiruddin Mughal

It is the rare occasion when top-down actions and the remnants of big government can mobilize and rally people. The fortunate among us who live in representative democracies, elect people who pick up a check to think about things. It is clear that there will always be disasters when empathy will be lacking, and for those occasions there must be contingincies. These require transferring resources immediately. We the voters will thank them later, and the people on the ground will do so long before then. I mean we are talking paltry sums here. So paltry that the shame wells up inside of me. Now, what am I going to do about it?


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Like I Said: White Phosphorus Was Used in Fallujah

The post has been updated re: the soldier in the RAI 'documentary,' international law and
last takes on the subject

Right off the bat: I was wrong about this story, but not in the way you might think.

Today, the ol' BBC (thanks to the Wizard of Id for the tip) had a story that warrants revisiting my choking-on-muesli experience last week. Yes, white phosphorus is back in the news. It turns out that the mainly fallacious, and never retracted, RAI report - passed on a little too eagerly by the BBC and the blogosphere, see e.g. Daily KoS - incidentally managed to touch on a rather thorny aspect of the reality of war.

The news: The Pentagon has confirmed that WP was used as an 'offensive incendiary weapon,' the intention of which was to flush out insurgents in Fallujah. BTW, the UK has also confirmed its usage, but (so far) only as an illuminating agent. In terms that offer uncomfortable, candid insight into the brutality of war, Pentagon Spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Barry Venable described its usage:

"The combined effects of the fire and smoke - and in some case the terror brought about by the explosion on the ground - will drive them out of the holes so that you can kill them with high explosives." (added emphasis)

Contrary to some readings of my posts I did not engage in obsfuscation, spinning or my own version of wishful thinking. Nor did I deny that WP was employed (remember this picture?) I believe I referred to there being no chemical weapons, no conspiracy and no attacks on civilians. In my update post, I stated how the BBC had changed its tune and now talked about 'incendiary arms.' That sentence was conspicuously NOT followed by yours truly writing that this new take was some kind of outrageous lie.

This IS still all true, even without resorting to contrived definitions of the word 'is.' So while I continue my merry ways along these lines and admit where I 'erred,' the latest revelation is proving too scrumptious for the conspiricists and war opponents to resist deploying. I will not preach as to the ethics of using WP - I am sure you can make up your own mind there - but instead quickly note how those eager to push their opinion on others seem prone to go loosey goosey with the facts.

In the RAI report - reminder: which the Berlusconi controlled network released as a figurative smokescreen - the soldier Jeff Englehart (who acknowledges that he was 'misquoted.' See here.) said that there was no doubt that WP was a 'chemical weapon.' Yes, said RAI and the choir. Civilians were targeted. CHOIR: Yes. Can nuance, reading treaties, new revelations change your minds? CHOIR: No.

Fortunately, my own standards are of a somewhat higher caliber, so here's how and why I was wrong. First, I implied that WP was not used as a weapon at all, and that was clearly wrong. Secondly, I was wrong since the Pentagon statement was issued today, i.e. not before I wrote the piece. Still, I wrote that the Fallujah was likely "a savage, bloody battle in a controversial war. No more but certainly no less." I was also sadly mistaken in my assumption that the German media would refrain from slobbering all over this sorry mess. I just had the misfortune of watching the evening news (in German,) which tonight was steeped in more biased editorializing than usual. This blog usually does a good job of clearing this kind of fog. More on this from me some other time.

But, the Others were wrong last week on several more, serious points - even though they could and should have known better - and continue to be so. But because the Pentagon acknowledged something it never denied (the State Department did that ham-fisted job and humiliated the U.S. Ambassador to the Court of St. James in the process,) they somehow feel vindicated in what bear the hallmarks of long-running and somewhat irrational grievances.

Instead of accepting the Pentagon explanation - that the State Department got it wrong when they issued a denial - they believe in the LIE. To me that is hindsight and distortion, and wholly unnecessary even if you think that WP should never be used.

Try looking at it this way:

  • WP is not a chemical weapon. Instead,
  • it is primarily an illuminating agent, which
  • can be used as a conventional incendiary weapon and/or 'flushing-out' device that
  • is only illegal when used indiscriminately on civilian areas, something
  • in all likelihood the US did NOT do. Also,
  • the relevant protocol of the Conventional Warfare Treaty has not been signed by the US.
  • Moreover, regular soldiers fired the rounds and
  • embedded journalists were there to see it.

Taking the last two points first, the notion that the Pentagon had planned to engage in a 'cover-up' seems a little ridiculous. The soldiers were bound to talk about it - there are even stories about its use in official U.S. military magazines - as were the journalists. And so they did. Folks who believe they've uncovered a conspiracy as big as the moon landing make me shed a tear.
And considering the first six points, it is blindingly obvious that the US believes it is on FIRM legal ground - both domestically and internationally - here. Even if the relevant protocol had been signed, it is FAR from clear that the U.S. in breach of it. So again, why would they cover it up? Because they care that Kos and co might misconstrue their battlefield methods? Opting out of treaties and protocols is the sovereign right of any (potential) signatory and it happens ALL the time. And no, not only when John Bolton has his way.

You know, the decisions to use weapons, including WP, are made by people on the ground in the heat of combat, not by Rummy in a smoke-filled room. The opting out in this case was a President Carter decision, which was tacitly approved by the U.S. Senate that ratified the rest of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons. This can be explained in any number of ways (save for the desire to melt skin on insurgents several years down the road.) Point is, it happened long ago and if you had really been following these kinds of things, you could have predicted that WP would be used in this way. Now that's an interpretation a million miles away from the one that files this under a cover-up and proof of American baying for blood.

By all means, disagree with the tactics - vehemently even - but there's no need to wind up in a web of jabberwocky. Again, ask yourself why you are so willing to tow that line.

The reason people were initially (justifiably) upset was because the word 'chemical' was used and emotional connections to Saddam, the Hallabjah massacre and WMD were made. How do you think President Talabani felt when he heard this? Aside from the fact the Sarin nerve gas and WP are as different as a chemical weapon and....a non-chemical weapon, there are the issues of targets and intentions. More precisely: Civilians and murder as opposed to insurgents/terrorists/the enemy and waging war while trying to minimize civilian casualtiss.

An aside: The piece following the WP piece on the flagship BBC program 'Newshour' was actually on Berlusconi, but unfortunately on how he's the subject of a 'novel' in which he gets assassinated. I mean really... And so his connection - from the forged Yellowcake documents, legal troubles to the convenient timing of the RAI piece just when the Iraqi President was visiting - to this story remains unraveled. Will somebody please pull the thread?

My beef with this - from the first moment I heard it - remains how this kind of story continues to be reported, especially by the likes of RAI and Kos. It is clearly intended to cast the U.S., the Pentagon and/or President Bush in the worst possible light. Their aim? To assist their claim that it's really the U.S. government that is ruining the image of the country. And if this game requires ignoring facts, using inflammatory language and assuming the worst, SFW? Thus, the purveyors of this fiction become useful idiots, or willing lackeys, to folks with whom they really have nothing in common. Funny, it sounds like they're the ones ruining images by telling a fib or two.

The original RAI story is still lying flat on its face while the conspiratorial bottom-feeders work themselves into a frenzy, holding up its hollow shell as inadvertent proof of their own tunnel vision. Echochamber...Meanwhile, on the other side of the Looking Glass, the rest of us are grappling with reality. Whether or not the deployment of WP was acceptable. Just who lied about what during therun-upp to the war. The nature of preemption. The price we are willing to pay for liberty. These issues will be addressed in due course. For some last takes (?) on WP: visit Stockholm, opt for an ablution and then have some balloon juice. They all debunk the most spurious claims, while leaving it up to the reader to decide what to think about WP. You know, the real issue.


At the risk of sullying precious, and currently vulnerable, souls by mentioning them in the same breath as this toxic brouhaha: the people of Northwest Pakistan and Kashmir are beginning to feel the onset of winter in their ruined homeland. And there is a still a lot more the world can and should do to help them. There can be no greater priority right now.

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