The eyes that cannot see beyond Jabaliya and Samarra
At first glance the violence in Jabaliya in Palestine and in the Iraqi town of Samarra appear to be unconnected. The Israeli army's incursion into northern Gaza looks like just another deadeningly familiar episode in the unending conflict between Palestinians and Jews.
The US-led weekend assault on insurgents in mainly Sunni Samarra seems to be broadly typical of the continuing turmoil in Iraq.
But peer beneath the headlines and it is clear that these ostensibly separate events are far from routine, and are closely linked in many ways, directly and indirectly.
In both Jabaliya and Samarra modern armies with state-of-the-art weaponry and unanswerable air power attacked residential areas, causing numerous civilian casualties.
In both cases the degree of lethal force used was grossly disproportionate to the assessed threat. Three US and two Iraqi battalions - about 5,000 men - were sent against 200-300 insurgents in Samarra.
In Gaza, in order to deter the sort of vicious home-made Hamas rocket attacks that killed two children in Sderot last week, the Israelis have deployed an estimated 2,000 soldiers and 200 tanks, and are threatening an escalation.
In both places, enormous damage has been done to homes and infrastructure, including basic services. The Palestinians are appealing for international assistance for what they say is a developing "humanitarian tragedy".
The Iraqi Red Crescent, reporting that 500 families were forced to flee Samarra, said the Iraqi interim government had asked for emergency aid.
And just as Israel's unbending stance, favouring force over dialogue, threatens a spreading conflict, drawing in Syria and Lebanon, so does an aggressive US policy, confusing power and legitimacy, intensify the risk of an Iraqi fragmentation embroiling Iran, Turkey and other neighbours.
Jabaliya and Samarra, officially, are distinct theatres in the wider "war on terror".
But far from being unconnected, to many in the Arab world they look dismayingly like integral parts of a western crusade against both Muslims and Islam in general, to which violent resistance is the only possible response.
On both sides of the divide this dread downward spiral creates a kind of unseeing rage to which all are held hostage: blind in Iraq, eyeless in Gaza.
thanks to The Agonist
Tamara de Lempicka (1898-1980)
Auto-Portrait (Tamara in the Green Bugatti) (1925)
thanks to The Cartoonist
Cheney, Rumsfeld and Bremer: Deserting a Sinking Ship
How to understand the sudden outbreak of candor among Bush administration officials (or former officials) about Iraq in the past couple of days?
In the vice presidential debate on Tuesday evening, Dick Cheney said, "I have not suggested there's a connection between iraq and 9/11." Well, maybe not in so many words, but Cheney hinted around about this sort of thing relentlessly.
E.g. consider this from an appearance on Meet the Press:
"Cheney: "If we're successful in Iraq, if we can stand up a good representative government in Iraq, that secures the region so that it never again becomes a threat to its neighbors or to the United States, so it's not pursuing weapons of mass destruction, so that it's not a safe haven for terrorists, now we will have struck a major blow right at the heart of the base, if you will, the geographic base of the terrorists who have had us under assault now for many years, but most especially on 9/11." [NBC, Meet the Press, 11/14/03]
It is hard to read this statement in any other way than that Cheney mistakenly thought Iraq was the "geographic base" of al-Qaeda. Although he later went on in the same interview to deny an Iraq/9/11 connection, I fear I believe his tactics in this regard were deliberately dishonest. Cheney typically made these inflammatory associations up front, then quietly denied their full implication later, sure that the first, bold statement was what would stay in people's minds. This is the way that at one point a majority of Americans were bamboozled by the Bush administration into thinking that Saddam was somehow connected to 9/11, which he was not. So why is Cheney backtracking more explicitly now? It is because before, he could get away with saying these things despite their falsehood, because no one was seriously challenging him and the press did not want to get out ahead of a major political figure. But now it is the election season, such that the press can always find a legitimate counter-voice. In this situation where you cannot depend on a monopoly over official information, it starts to become dangerous to lie outright, because you know an opponent will call you on it and maybe weaken your credibility.
U.S. Faces Complex Insurgency in Iraq
The U.S. military is fighting the most complex guerrilla war in its history, with 140,000 American soldiers trained for conventional warfare flailing against a thicket of insurgent groups with competing aims and no supreme leader.
The three dozen or so guerrilla bands agree on little beyond forcing the Americans out of Iraq.
In other U.S. wars, the enemy was clear. In Vietnam, a visible leader — Ho Chi Minh — led a single army fighting to unify the country under socialism. But in Iraq, the disorganized insurgency has no single commander, no political wing and no dominant group.
U.S. troops can't settle on a single approach to fight groups whose goals and operations vary. And it's hard to sort combatants from civilians in a chaotic land where large parts of some communities support the insurgents and others are too afraid to risk their lives to help foreigners.
"It's more complex and challenging than any other insurgency the United States has fought," aid Bruce Hoffman, a RAND counterinsurgency expert who served as an adviser to the U.S.-led occupation administration.
Insurgents aren't striving for revolution as much as they are trying to spoil the U.S.-backed interim Iraqi regime by inflicting as much pain as possible on the United States and its Iraqi and foreign allies.
"We want every U.S. dog to leave the country," said an insurgent leader in Fallujah who identified himself as Abu Thar, a 45-year-old former colonel in the Iraqi army.
Identity Kit Series
How then is the antipathy to the descriptive photograph to be overcome, in relation to the depiction of street-homelessness? With the Identity Kit series shown here, I have attempted to portray the gross poverty of the dispossessed by inviting some of the homeless men on London's streets to display their belongings - those carried in their pockets, or in a bag. The individuals' participation in the arrangement of their possessions, and their willingness to lay them open for external scrutiny, is a statement from the heart of their perilous and impecunious position. (As one young man, Darren, stated: These are all my worldly goods.)
Richard G: Busking spoons (for `ham and egg-ing'*), diary, passport, roll up, matches, tobacco, cigarette papers, allowance
book, medical prescription, DSS letter, penknife, photograph, paper tissues, 21 pence. (*begging)
thanks to Street Photography mailing list
Trapped with the fighters in battlefield Gaza
Chris McGreal in Jabaliya finds Palestinians furious at Israel's occupation and worried about the militants
Sixty Palestinians dead, and one Israeli soldier. Tens of thousands of civilians trapped without electricity or water by the most extensive military occupation of the Gaza Strip since the intifada began four years ago. The demolition of homes, roads and power lines that typically accompanies Israeli assaults on Gaza's refugee camps.
Israel's Operation Days of Penitence may seem a disaster for Hamas and its allies. But yesterday it was Ariel Sharon who appeared on the defensive as the battle around Jabaliya, the birthplace of the first Palestinian uprising 17 years ago, evolved into more than a struggle to prevent Hamas launching the rudimentary Qassam rockets that killed two young children in Israel last week.
The outcome of the incursion by about 200 tanks, bulldozers and armoured vehicles, backed by helicopters and missile-firing drones, could decide whether Mr Sharon fulfils his pledge to pull thousands of Jewish settlers and Israel's military bases out of the Gaza Strip next year.
thanks to Aron's Israel Peace Weblog
Reverse the Picture
Anatomy of a Palestinian Outrage
thanks to LensWork
does anyone feel a draft?
Uncle Sam Will Soon Want Your Kids
Recently, when John Kerry brought up the possibility of a return to the draft, SecDef Donald Rumsfeld was quick to respond that Kerry was full of it.
But my take is that Kerry is right on the mark. Not only because Rummy has been flat wrong on every major military call regarding Iraq, but because this is a war that won’t be won by smart weapons or the sledgehammer firepower we see every night on the tube.
Right now – with both our regular and Reserve soldiers stretched beyond the breaking point – our all-volunteer force is tapping out. If our overseas troop commitments continue at the present rate or climb higher, there won’t be enough Army and Marine grunts to do the job. And thin, overworked units, from Special Forces teams to infantry battalions, lose fights.
Clearly, this war against worldwide, hardcore Islamic believers will be a massive military marathon, the longest and most far-flung in our country’s history. By Christmas, more troops could be needed not only in Iraq and Afghanistan, but wherever the radical Islamic movement is growing stronger, from the Horn of Africa to Morocco, Kenya, Somalia, Yemen and across Europe – remember Spain?! – to Asia.
Accordingly, we need to bring our ground-fighting and support units to about the strength they were before the Soviet Union imploded, especially since the proper ratio of counterinsurgent-to-insurgent in places like the Middle East should be around 15 to 1. You don’t have to be a Ph.D. in military personnel to conclude we need more boots on the ground.
thanks to Steve Gilliard's News Blog
thanks to 37th Frame
Since 1965, life expectancy for Russian men has decreased by nearly six years. And now there is AIDS.
The first days of spring are electrifying in St. Petersburg. The winters are hard and dark and long, and when the light finally returns each year thousands of people pour onto Nevsky Prospekt and into the squares in front of the Winter Palace and St. Isaac’s Cathedral. Petersburg has always been more open and more openly European than other Russian cities, and the day I arrived this spring was the first on which men in shirtsleeves could fling Frisbees across the endless avenues. I settled into one of the many coffee shops along the Neva River—they are a recent innovation—and noticed something else that was new: a large stack of pamphlets advertising an H.I.V. support group. aids is not a subject that people talk about much in Russia. Even though the epidemic is spreading here more rapidly than anywhere else in the world, there are virtually no public-service ads on television about it, and the government spends next to nothing on prevention, treatment, education, or care. This year, the entire budget for H.I.V.-related matters is a little more than five rubles per person, less than the cost of a pack of cigarettes.
St. Petersburg has been a rare exception to what seems like an official policy of ignorance and neglect. The city is responsible for the first program in Russia that sends buses to deliver information—and clean needles—to people who cannot be reached in other ways. It also pays for health workers to travel to schools, hospitals, and even construction sites to inform people about their choices. Condoms are available, and often free. Almost two years ago, St. Petersburg opened the country’s first aids hospice. There is still only one. Funded with local money, it sits not far from the city’s Botkin Infectious Disease Hospital, one of the largest such facilities in Russia. The hospice is small; it has just sixty beds, and they are not filled. The director, Olga Leonova, is a valiant woman with an impossible job: trying to assure patients that they have a future while convincing everyone else that aids threatens to turn Russia back into the Third World country it was before the Second World War. “You can see it getting worse every day,’’ she told me as we walked around the floor one morning. “It’s not just drug addicts now.’’ For years, H.I.V. infection in Russia was driven almost exclusively by shared needles. “We are seeing pregnant mothers and people we would never have even tested in the past.’’
A Disappearing Country
This week in the magazine and here online (see Fact), Michael Specter discusses the burgeoning problem of aids in Russia, and the wider demographic crisis that threatens the nation’s future. Here Specter talks to The New Yorker’s Amy Davidson about the connections between disease, democracy, and Russia’s place in the world.
AMY DAVIDSON: You’ve previously written for The New Yorker about the aids crisis in Africa and in India; this week, you look at aids in Russia. What makes the situation different there?
MICHAEL SPECTER: It takes an average of ten years before somebody who is infected with H.I.V. shows the signs of aids; the epidemic hit much of Africa before anybody on earth knew that it existed. In addition, the poverty in Africa is acute. In India, much of the population is desperately poor, diseases like malaria are epidemic, and millions are illiterate. Russia had the special advantage of avoiding the earliest waves of the aids epidemic. It is a highly literate country. Yet the Russian government has done almost nothing to capitalize on that advantage. It seems a special shame for an epidemic to be spreading in a country that is not poor, and at a time when so much is known about how to prevent infections.
Russia is dying. As it deteriorates it becomes more unstable. Something to watch.
These are platinum prints. Too bad the web can't show then in all their glory. But still nice.
thanks to 37th Frame
Is energy independence an impossible goal?
Although the Democratic and Republican energy plans differ widely, their underlying rationale is the same. In 2003, the United States consumed some twenty million barrels of oil a day, of which slightly more than half was imported from abroad, much of it from the Persian Gulf. By 2020, according to the Department of Energy, domestic oil producers will be meeting less than a third of United States needs, and the Gulf countries will be supplying up to two-thirds of the world’s oil. “This imbalance, if allowed to continue, will inevitably undermine our economy, our standard of living, and our national security,” the Bush Administration’s National Energy Policy Development Group warned in a May, 2001, report. “But it is not beyond our power to correct. America leads the world in scientific achievement, technical skill, and entrepreneurial drive. Within our country are abundant natural resources, unrivaled technology, and unlimited human creativity. With forward-looking leadership and sensible policies, we can meet our future energy demands and promote energy conservation, and do so in environmentally responsible ways that set a standard for the world.”
When energy independence is presented in this way, it is hard to object—who would advocate energy dependence?—but optimism and an appeal to American patriotism don’t add up to a coherent policy. Moving beyond rhetoric and actually trying to make America less reliant on foreign oil involves confronting powerful commercial interests, solving difficult technological problems, and convincing the American public that cheap fuel is not a birthright.
thanks to also not found in nature
The Robert Frank Coloring Book
the end of democracy
The short version:
Don't let its anemic headline fool you: The Boston Globe's lengthy new special report on the Republican congress, the first installment of a three-part series, is the most important article out there right now for anyone who wants to understand how our legislative process is changing under unified GOP control. It's a thorough, sober, and totally eye-opening piece -- even for those close observers of the GOP's momentous and terrifying transformation of congress who've already read the definitive reports of Michael Crowley, Jonathan Chait and our own Robert Kuttner.
thanks to War and Piece
The long version
Back-room dealing a Capitol trend
GOP flexing its majority power
"There is no legislative process anymore," said Fred Wertheimer, the legendary open-government activist who has been monitoring Congress since 1963. "Bills are decided in advance of going to the floor."
thanks to War and Piece
This is a must read
Vintage Folding Cameras
Photography, especially with classic cameras is my passion. I love the cameras from the 1950s through 1980s, especially old "folders." I have a particular passion for Agfa Isolettes & Records in 6x6 & 6x9 negative sizes. Zeiss Ikon Ikonta and Nettar folders are my second choice! My passion has taken me to restore these cameras to FULL functionality — complete restoration with NEW bellows, cleaning / adjusting shutters, rangefinders, & focusing cells. My prices are VERY reasonable and serve to put more of these classic cameras in the pockets of fans like you. Now we can enjoy Medium Format photography with the tools our parents and grandparents used to record our mid-century. Simply e-mail your questions for your restoration. Thanks and Have a Great Day!!
Medium Format In Your Pocket!
These are tempting. I must resist. The really big camera takes a 6 x 7 cm negative. The middle one takes a 6 x 4.5 cm negative. The bottom folder takes a 6 x 9 cm negative. Isn't progress wonderful?
Morality and Health Care in the US:
Let the Lazy Buggers Die
I write fairly frequently about health care policy. And almost every time I do, someone crawls out of the woodwork and says something similar to this:
I worked hard for my health insurance. I don’t see why someone who didn’t work hard, save, and prioritize paying for health insurance, should get as good a health care as I do.
Let’s look at this. We’ll leave aside the assumption that people who don’t have health insurance aren’t hard workers, it’s bullshit, but let’s grant it. Let’s say it’s true. Then lets parse the morality of this statement. Let’s re-state it more clearly:
Lazy people don’t deserve good and timely health care. That means that some of them will die or suffer pain, nausea or debilitation that could otherwise be stopped, but since they’re lazy they deserve to die or suffer for their laziness.
Let’s take this one step further. It is a fact that the US pays about 50% more per capita for health care than Canada. On all major metrics except for one the Canadian system performs as well or better than the US one. What is that metric?
Non-essential surgery waiting times.
Well, I've finally jumped into the deep end of the pool. I bought a commie camera from someone named Igor in Ukraine.
It's a Zorki 6 built in 1960. I got it for $21.The lens is non-standard — the standard lens is an Industar-50 f3.5. A slower lens than what I need. This camera comes with a Jupiter 8, a 50mm f2 lens. Much better, although I have no idea if this particular lens is any good. No claims were made for the condition of the lens. I was planning on putting on the f2 Summitar 50mm lens that's on my grandfathers Leica, anyway. (The leica needs new shutter curtains.) It's a collapsable lens which should make for a compact camera with the Zorki. It would be interesting to compare the two lenses. It will need some touch up paint and some new leatherette to replace the cheap nylon and, eventually, a Jupiter 12 35mm lens. Hopefully, in two weeks, what I think I ordered will arrive. Anticipation.