Friday, December 08, 2006


Things may seem to be at a standstill here but like a duck who's serene on the surface, there's some frantic paddling going on beneath the surface.

I'm occupied with writing final exams, grading, and the academic details that I will be leaving behind once the semester is over. Its holiday time and the baking and decorating is just barely underway; school activities for the kids are running full tilt.

I've decided to take my idea for a new section of a contemporary world issues course focusing on Iraq on-line! Why not teach it over the blogosphere for free? I get paid so little to teach it to 30 undergrads anyway and this way there's no grading!!

Check back in January for that as well as for a re-launch of the blog, possibly in a new format.

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006



I've been waiting for this day since election day 2004 (remember how horrible that felt?)


Why? Well, one place to start would be this Frontline account of the missteps in the first year of our occupation of Iraq Lost Year in Iraq.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Everyday people in Iraq

During the months and years that I lived in the Middle East, I became friends with many of the merchants that I encountered on a daily basis. I would discuss Quran with the owner of the little grocery store near my apartment as I made photocopies letters and lessons. I talked about the Archbishop with the Christian bakers who made pizza. I talked about Sufism with folks at one bookstore; the educational system with the staff of another book store. A dear and true friend was from a merchant family who had a presence in the big souk for centuries. I knew his wife, children and siblings. He knew my husband and had met my parents. From him I met many other merchants and small manufacturers. Another man who over the decade I knew him became like a surrogate father to me is part of an extended family that started with just a single candy shop in a small provincial town, now they are wholesalers; trucking sweets all over the rural provinces to supply small shops. So it is with a sense of great poignacy that I read about the slow destruction of the small shop owners in Iraq.

First to go was the pastry shop next door. That was early last spring. Since then, Alaa al Janabi, 46, has watched as Baghdad's epidemic of violence drained the life from his street, one store at a time.

Not long ago, about a dozen shops lined the one-block stretch of road in southwest Baghdad's Saidia neighborhood. Now only Janabi's computer-game arcade and the barbershop one door down remain, and the barber sneaks in for only a couple of hours each day, at a time whispered like a password to longtime customers.

Along a nearby section of a bit more than a mile, where 140 shops once stood only 23 remain. So many merchants in the area have been killed - or fled in fear that they would be - that the result of staying seems obvious, especially for a Shiite Muslim in a neighborhood that's being methodically cleansed by Sunni Muslims, who dominate the area.

"I am here waiting to die," Janabi said.

Jay Price and Mohammed al Dulaimy
McClatchy Newspapers
Small shopkeepers are a key component of the middle class in Iraq. Insurgents target them because in doing so you target a whole family, a whole network of small supplies, an entire social and economic ecosystem. What will happen? Look at Afghanistan. The war with the Soviets damaged and crippled the country but it was what came after, the endless civil war, the battles between warlords that drove away first the professionals, the doctors, engineers, lawyers, and professors who could find work abroad; then the big merchants, those with access to capital left; then the small merchants; eventually anyone with any type of skill left Afghanistan to escape the civil war, the plumbers, the machinists, the mechanics, the tailors, the barbers, the butchers. Only farmers on their land, the very poor, and the most radical were left. They welcome the Taliban as a force that might restore order and morality to a devestated and abandoned country (Please go read Ahmed Rashid's book The Taliban). But that lies in the future (God willing, Iraq will escape that horrible fate altogether). Today the loss of each shop, each merchant, makes the calculus of daily survival more difficult and inevitably more people -- the very people who are our best hope of rebuilding the country will leave.
In Baghdad, the loss of neighborhood stores is more than an inconvenience. With electricity only a sometime thing, refrigeration is impossible, so many people must buy food daily. Traveling even a few extra blocks can mean running a gantlet of death squads, illegal sectarian checkpoints, common bandits, kidnappers and random bombs. Showing up in a strange neighborhood, even just to buy tomatoes, can draw the wrong kind of attention.

Iraqi and U.S. officials here are painfully aware of the problem. Restoring normalcy to troubled neighborhoods is a goal of their current district-by-district military sweep through Baghdad.

It's unclear yet whether it's working; it hasn't reached Saidia yet.

I don't know what the model is for restoring normalcy, how it can be done without either massive increases in troop levels (along with language and cultural training for the US army on a mass scale) or a complete withdrawal. But I weep for each merchant, for each family that the shop supports, for each neighborhood, and each city in Iraq. Ya Iraq! How has it come to this?

Thanks to Iraqnam for bringing the San Jose Mercury article to my attention. The author of Iraqnam also has a piece up at Daily Kos on "The week that was" detailing the events of the last week, October 8-14, for each year 2001-2006. I'd blog about it but it is almost too painful just reading it. Every year it is the same except that every year it gets a bit worse; how long is this war going to go on?

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Murtha & "Defeatocrats"

Juan Cole has brought my attention to Rep. John Murtha's piece in the Washington Post today taking on Karl Rove's latest creation,"the Defeatocrats."

Murtha explains:
The Republicans are running scared. In the White House, on Capitol Hill and on the campaign trail, they're worried about losing control of Congress. And so the administration and the GOP have launched a desperate assault on Democrats and our position on the war in Iraq. Defeatists, they call us, and appeasers and -- oh so cleverly -- "Defeatocrats."

Rove & Company can be so clever! (I must admit, however, that my secret dream job would be to come up with such turns of phrase for the Democrats; I love being push-polled by a Republican candidate and turning every crafted phrase back on them). But unfortuately, this is serious business, and deserves not clever phrases but real analysis and hard decisions; two things Republicans can't seem to do. Murtha continues:
When U.S. forces first entered Baghdad, the Iraqi people cheered as the statue of Saddam Hussein was torn from its pedestal. Forty-two months and $400 billion later, we are caught in a civil war in which 61 percent of Iraqis think killing Americans is justified and the Iraqi people butcher one another at an alarming rate. We are considered occupiers. The longer we stay, the harder it becomes for the Iraqis to find their own destiny.

The administration's "stay-the-course" strategy is not a plan for victory. It's not even a plan. All we have is a new military blueprint to keep 140,000 troops in Iraq through 2010.
Murtha's piece deserves to read in full and his ideas taken seriously. Here is a true patriot, a man who served 37 years in the Marine Corps, thirty-seven years! The chicken-hawks don't deserve to hold his coat much less challenge his patriotism.

Friday, October 13, 2006

The Replacements

Time taken to find a replacement to teach the courses I just declined?

About 48 hours!! I'm sure that the Dean could have done it even faster if she had tried.

But it was definitely the right thing to do. Grand Aspirations University spends money lavishly on landscaping, new buildings, marketing materials etc but relies on adjuncts to do the lion's share of the teaching. Over time the discrepancies wear you down (particularly as it is a Catholic school that goes and on about its mission and ethics). I always swore that I would get out before I became a bitter adjunct and the time is now.

Do I sound bitter? Then, you have never met a truly bitter adjunct, it can be fearful to behold.

Once again, the Dean held out the possibility of full-time employment some time in the future, but I've heard the same song and dance again and again. Adjuncting for another semester won't help my chances of getting a full-time post with them and it might even hurt. Two years ago I realized that getting a full time position at this school wasn't my dream but possibly my nightmare. A 4-4 teaching load, plus committee, advising, and service responsibilties with brutal and infinitely petty politics (I've already pissed off enough people to make a full-time offer unlikely.)

Just nine more weeks, and then I am out for good! Yee-haw!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Good Girl in the Happy Fog

Dean Dad over at Confessions of a Community College Dean has talked recently about the Happy Fog, the self-delusional certainty that the regular rules don't apply to you. Dean Dad wants to talk about Happy Fog in relationship to workplace management issues but he notes:

Is there a more textbook case of happy fog than the hordes of eager young grad students rushing into doctoral programs, each convinced that s/he will buck the adjunct trend? If not for their exploitable hopes and dreams, colleges would have to hire more full-time faculty, and would be even more expensive than they already are!

So sad and so true. My independent study student this semester can't wait to go to grad school and pursue a Ph.D. in philosophy and religion. I immediately asked him, "do you expect to support yourself with this?" Since I can't dissuade him I can only advise him to marry well. I came out of the Happy Fog surrounding academia two years ago thanks to the bracing posts and comments of Invisible Adjunct.

I've written about the impact of Invisible Adjunct before. Go and read the entire blog and comments (its inactive but remains as an archive, a valuable public service) before entering grad school. Thomas Hart Benton in the famous "So you want to go to grad school article" also identifies the magical thinking that creates the happy fog:
The Modern Language Association's own data -- very conservative and upbeat in my opinion -- indicate that only about one in five newly-admitted graduate students in English will eventually become tenure-track professors.

"Are you the one in five?" Really? Well, that's what the other four think too. Take my advice (I secretly care about you as a person): Don't go.

If you speak this way, four out of five students will think you're a crank and find a more flattering adviser: "Of course, my little genius, you can be anything you want to be."

But even after I had stopped drinking the Kool-aid and could see precisely what my true position was an adjunct in the academy, I couldn't quite give it up. Teaching is seductive; you get to stand before a class and make pronouncements, shape history, see bright young faces nodding at your words. But then Dean Dad once again came to the rescue and helped me clarify my position: I was stuck being the good girl. Dean Dad explains,
It's a kind of modesty, worn as a badge of honor. (The contradiction in proudly displaying one's modesty is rarely addressed.) Leave such vulgar pursuits to lesser folk -- I'm too busy nobly and selflessly pursuing truth (and tenure, and status, and travel money . . .

I don't think it's a coincidence that most of the more interesting and insightful academic bloggers are female. The tension between self-effacement and self-promotion that pervades academic culture is structurally similar to the tension in the definition of the 'good girl' - be sexy but not sexual, get attention without looking like you're trying to get attention, etc. Women academics have seen the contradictions twice, so they seem (generally) better able to articulate them. "I could never do that" is a classic good-girl sentiment. Seek approbation through self-effacement --yeah, that should work . . .

As the classic tenure-track faculty line evaporates into budgetary purgatory, I think many academics would be well-advised to retire their modesty. The existing rules have set up an entire generation to fail. It's time to write some new rules.

Yes, indeed. Adjuncting has worked for me. It allowed me to gain classroom and course development experience, it has allowed me to keep my hand in the field while having children. But the process has turned against me now. It sucks up my time and energy and pays me less than minumun wage when divided by all the unpaid hours of class prep, grading, meeting with students etc. Teaching the same courses over and over wears me out and has started to sap my creative energies. When the request to order next semester's textbooks came in, I was filled with dread. I knew it was time. I finally took the plunge and declined my sections for next semester.

Its time to start the next phase.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Popular Wisdom

David Brooks' NY Times column on 9/28 is one of the things that irritated me enough to drive me back to blogging. [The link above will only take you so far if you are not a NYT subscriber. Now, I firmly believe that everyone should read a paper newspaper everyday and the NYT is an excellent choice but I remain bewildered by their insistence on keeping so much on-line content behind subcriber firewalls.]

Saturday, five smart, intelligent letters to the editor in response to Brooks' column were published. My favorite comes from Utah.

To the Editor:
David Brooks acknowledges that modern nations mark their greatness by economic wealth and that "Islamic extremists will continue to compete and grow until mainstream Islamic moderates can establish a more civilized set of criteria for prestige and greatness."

Why, then, does Mr. Brooks continue to support the violence of war as a means of ending the violence of terrorism? Given his reasoning, wouldn't it be far wiser to divert the billions of dollars we are spending on the Iraqi disaster into the economic development of Palestine?

Wouldn't viable ports, secure water sources, healthy agribusiness and manufacturing plants be more productive in the fight against Islamic extremists then military action?
Janet Ellington
Salt Lake City, Sept. 28, 2006

Yes, I can think of nothing that would reverse al-Qaeda's appeal than a strong economy with high levels of employment for young men. In the Arab world, young men without jobs face a future without marriage in a society where marriage and fatherhood are still crucial signs of maculinity and adulthood.

To the Editor:
If, as Mr. Brooks avers, Islamic extremism is not a result of "short-term historical circumstances, but of consciousness and culture," why did the Bush administration and Mr. Brooks believe that 150,000 Western troops, even with billions of dollars, chould change than in jig time?

Grand delusion, indeed.
William W. Goetz
Bedminster, NJ, Sept. 28, 2007
I would only add the political litmus tests that kept many smart, experienced, Arabic-speaking Americans from government positions in the occupation government destroyed any chance that we ever had of moving the consciousness and culture of Iraq in any particular direction.

To the Editor:
David Brooks says countries in the Arab world do not define their national glory economically. In fact, their arrogance stems directly from the money they receive from the West for their oil.

Without the petrodollars flowing into these regimes, they would find themselves quickly at odds with their people, who anger would be pointed at their leaders, resulting in the overthrow of these totalitarian regimes.

The "grand delusion" is that we can maintain our present level of oil consumption, attacke regimes that were contained (Iraq) and talk about attacking other countries (Iran) when we do not have enough troops to maintain order in a country previously defeated (Afghanistan).

President Bush siad he was the "decider"; I see him as the "delusioner."

Brian Gallagher
White Plains, Sept. 28, 2006

Mr. Gallagher does not mention that fact that most of the arrogant, petro-fueled regimes, encourage their populations to see "attacks on Islam" coming from the West as a way to divert their energies away from home-grown political change. Everytime, the western media, commentators, authors, playwrights, etc. carelessly criticize Islam, they play right into this dynamic.

All in all, these letters indicate to me that Americans deserve so very much better from the currrent administration.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Call to Arms

The Bush/Cheney administration mishandling of the war in Iraq and the (mis-named) War on Terrorism makes me physically ill. The administration is pouring oil on a burning fire and doesn't seem to understand why the flames won't go out. I have been immobilized lately and not blogging. But I can feel my internal gears starting to shift. Because this is something I know about, I know about the Middle East, I know about Islam, I know Arabic, I know about the daily struggles of ordinary people in the region, AND I know about America, I know about party politics, and "framing issues" and, dammit, I have a sleeping baby in my lap. I have skin in this game. I want a different, better future for my family, for America, for Syria, for Iraq, for Afghanistan.

Time to write the Senators again, my own, and Chuck Hegal, and John Warner, and John McCain, and Patrick Leahy. Time to write David Brooks, and Keith Olbermann, and my local paper. It is time to say (as if it had to be said) that America should not use torture, it is an ineffective technique to again information, it hardens the resolve and desperation of the enemy and it is morally corrosive to the torturer and the society that condones it.

And time to starting blogging again.

Susan G at Daily Kos is fired up too. Billmon has a new post up even after declaring he was taking a break. The Islamic Society of North America has a new President, Ingrid Mattson. It is Ramadan, it is the middle of Jewish High Holidays, and today is the Feast of St. Michael and All the Angels. Election Day is 39 days away. Time to get back to work.

Monday, September 18, 2006


Ooh, Billmon! I'm either laughing or crying, not sure which!

Please read.

Islam 101

Over the weekend I got an email from a college friend asking about book recommendations on Islam. I teach courses on Islam in the contemporary world and have been meaning to post some recommendations for quite a while. Thanks Tony for the push.

First of all, there is no single perfect book on Islam. Islam is a major world religion with 1427+ years of history. It is a big, diverse ocean of belief, practice, experience, and history as are all the major religious traditions. You can study it for a lifetime and never exhaust the subject. I've been reading, studying, and living among Muslims for nearly 18 years!

But everyone has to start somewhere. I start my students with Emery Bogle's book Islam: Origins and Beliefs. It is a bit dry in places but I like it because it integrates Shi'a Islam into its history. It is a short yet comprehensive look at the development of Islam and Islamic history. Your average "intro to Islam" book is from a Sunni perspective. Indeed, Sunnis are the vast majority of Muslims, but Iran is nearly 100% Shia and Iraq around 60%. With this administration's call for democracy in the Middle East and its implementation in Iraq, Shi'a Muslims are empowered in ways that they have not been in the modern era. We will see the implications of this shift for decades to come.

An amazing resource for getting a sense of what the scriptures and textual traditions of Islam are like is John Alden William's book, The Word of Islam.

This semester I am also having my students read Anthony Shadid's Night Draws Near. I'd like to stand on street corners and hand this book out to passers-by. Shadid speaks Arabic and spent the months before and during the invasion among Iraqi civilians. It is an important book and it is now available in paperback.

Blogs and web sites are also an important resource. Look over at my sidebar. There's a reason Juan Cole's Informed Comment is on top. My advice: read it and read it daily. A year from now you will have gained a much better perspective on the Middle East, Islam, and contemporary politics.

A wonderful way to get a sense of the perspective of ordinary, moderate, modern Muslims is the web site Islamicity. Browse around. They have many articles on the history, texts, and practices of Islam. Here is a recent piece disputing the link many people make between Islam and violence. It is a valuable place to get a sense (in English) of how Muslims debate and frame these topics themselves.

More books and web sites tomorrow.

Monday, September 11, 2006


Honestly, I'm trying to avoid a lot of the 9/11 remembrance stuff going on today. I shy away from blogs with posts remembering 9/11. But baby Butter is asleep in my arms so I'm stuck in front of my keyboard . . . so I thought I'd take a moment to remember.

Peaches. My memories of September 11, 2001 are tied to peaches. Like so much of the country, it was a beautiful day here. We had the windows open and exchanged the sliding glass door to the deck for the screen door. 'Skandar was three and R was just a baby herself, 8 months old. I was home with them all day. We were building a new house and were scheduled to have a storage unit dropped off in preparation for putting our current house on the market. One of the last things DH said to me before he left for work was "if you are going to use these peaches for babyfood, you need to make it today." Overripe peaches. I was happy to add poaching and blending peaches to my to-do-list for the day.

Life seemed so full and so good. I got the kids breakfast. The house was still full of cool morning air. Blues Clues was on TV and I was on my knees chasing my crawling daughter when the phone rang. I don't remember whether it was DH or my mother who called first. "A plane hit the Trade Center?" Ominous, but interesting.

I changed the TV to CNN. I couldn't make sense of what I was seeing. I couldn't get up to speed. They were re-playing footage from a local NY station of a young green reporter standing outside with a view of the towers behind him. He had been sent to report on the first plane that no one had really seen. The one that might have been a little single engine plane. As he was trying to explain to viewers what had happened the second plane appeared over his shoulder, the reporter at first thought it was an example of the regular flight paths across NYC and pointed it out to viewers. Then when it hit, disappearing into the second tower, he lost his composure and said, "Oh my God, what am I seeing?" In the passing years, I have never seen that footage again but I remember it so well because it summed up my own feelings in those first minutes of learning of the disaster. What am I seeing? I was frustrated with the cable coverage and finally realized that the networks would be covering it was well. When I turned to ABC and saw Peter Jennings, I was relieved. Peter could make it make sense to me. And he did. We kept the TV on ABC for the rest of the day and into the early morning.

By the time I got up to speed, the first tower had fallen. I called my husband at work in disbelief. (He had been on a business trip the week before, we were so gratful he was not travelling). how could the tower have come down? Then on live TV, as I was watching, still on my knees, crying aloud for the lives being lost before me, the second tower fell.

Three-year old 'Skandar complained about where Blue's Clues had gone. Trying not to cry, I told him that it was important that mommy watch the news instead. He called "mama's fire show" and went outside to play with his trains. I talked to my sister living in DC, my friend Martha, my friend Linda, my mom again. Right on time, the man with the drop-off storage unit appeared with his truck. We talked about the attack a bit outside as he unloaded the unit, the sky so blue and so clear. Then I asked him in as I filled out the paperwork and we sat together on the couch, two total strangers and watched the TV.

At some point that afternoon, I went into the kitchen and there were the peaches. Still soft and ripe, still waiting to be pureed into babyfood. It was painful to look at something so everyday and ordinary and so unchanged when it seemed that everything around us was different. I thought of all the couples whose exchanges that morning had been filled with such ordinary talk and who would never be able to talk to one another again. Babies who wouldn't know their fathers, mothers gone from their children.

Late in the afternoon of September 11, 2001 I sliced peaches and put them in the blender. I carefully poured the puree into an icecube tray and froze it. Tears slid down my face, in sorrow for everything that was different and for everything that was unchanged.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Steve Irwin

After a break from blogging I alway wonder what will motivate me to start posting again. Last week Egyptian novelist and Nobel laureate, Naguib Mahfouz, died. Had I been blogging daily, a post would have surely been dedicated to him. My father would have had his 70th birthday tomorrow. There might have been a post about my own sense of loss and grief. But somehow I could put those things off, mediate on them alone rather than rev up blogger.

I'm surprised and saddened that what has spurred me back to blogging is the news of Steve Irwin's sudden death. Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter. His end came not from a crocodile but from a stingray in a freak accident while filming a show for Animal Planet. (Apparently the show was to be called "Ocean's Deadliest.")

I first discovered the Crocodile Hunter in 1997. I was just back from 15 months in the Middle East. Most of that time I had been living with a local family that spoke no English. They had a black-and-white tv but no sattelite dish and the parents frowned on videos (aside from a few ancient movies like Antar wa Shaddad). I had a hard time readjusting to America and an even harder time handling American popular culture. The two bedroom, two-bath apparent I shared with my husband and two cats was bigger than the house I had just been living in with as many as thirteen other people. I was lonely and adrift. And in this period, I was drawn to Steve Irwin. I have a weakness for real people doing dangerous things that they love. But those early shows with Steve and Terri and their dog in canoes at night looking for and capturing live crocodiles were magnetic. The risks they took were unbelievable, the connection between them was papable. Later that year, pregnant for the first time, I remembering telling DH that "this baby can grow up and be anything it want, anything but the crocodile hunter."

A few years later Steve and Teri had their own child Bindi (named after a crocodile). As my kids grew up, Animal Planet and Steve's shows, particularly Croc Diaries with behind-the-scenes views of Australia zoo, were a favorite destination. We even talked about some day visiting Queensland Australia to see the zoo. Zoos, animals, and animal facts and trivia are a common preoccupation among my children in no small part thanks to Steve Irwin.

And now, at age 44 with two young children, his parents, and Teri left behind, he is gone.

For a time, my brother produced celebrity profiles that were syndicated to foreign markets. He has interviewed everyone. I always affected a studied nonchalance, refusing to get excited about any celebrity, Marlon Brando, ho-hum, Bono, Paul McCartney, vaguely interesting. Only once did I get truly excited, when I learned he had interviewed Steve and Teri Irwin (as part of the media tour with the release of the Croc Hunter movie). "Steve and Teri Irwin?! You interviewed the Croc Hunter, OMG! Did you get a picture, what were they like?" My brother said that TV toned down Steve. That in real life he was ten times as enthusiastic. Talking about animal conservation, he would gesture so broadly and bounce in his seat that he kept hitting the boom mike and once even accidently knocked into Teri.

I've known a few larger-than-life personalities like Steve Irwin in real-life. They are forces of nature, trailing ideas, plans, projects in their wake. Full of passion and enthusiasm for their life's work. The world is a little poorer place when they are gone.

Steve Irwin, you will be missed. Godspeed.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Class Prep

Sorry for the blogging break, Abu 'Skandar is out of town for an extended period so I have all the childcare, plus the cooking, and its time to do the prep for the new semester.

Although I'm teaching a course on contemporary world issues in the Muslim world for the nineth time, its always a lot of prep because things in the Middle East are changing so fast. It's a draining class because the students come in knowing so little and they have so much to learn. Every semester feels like a new mountain to climb, and thanks to the politics of the current administration, the journey just keeps getting steeper and steeper.

I plan on having the class listen to Terry Gross' interview with Ahmed Rashid next week. It aired on Fresh Air today.

The class will try not only to make sense of Pakistani politics, jihadist groups, al-Qaeda, Afghanistan and the resurgent Taliban, they will also have to understand the war in Iraq and Israel/Palestine, Syria/Lebanon/Hizbollah, and oh yeah, there's Iran too! But hey, if George Bush can do it, so can an undergrad . . . oh wait . . . oh, nevermind.

I should be back to blogging regularly next week.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

More Peace Poems from Gush Shalom

Although the cease-fire seems to be holding, I wanted to share a few more of the peace/protest poems published in Haaretz by Gush Shalom, the Israeli Peace Bloc. I find the condensed language of poetry very moving and strangely appropriate for the confused world we live in.

From Monday:

The politicians will
Blame each other.
The generals will
Blame each other.
The politicians will
Accuse the generals.
The generals will accuse
The politicians.

Nothing of this
Will help
The dead.

Ad published in Haaretz, August 14, 2006

Of all the Gush Shalom peace poems, that one (above) is the most timeless with a rhythm and cadence (in English anyway) that I find very moving.

On Tuesday, they returned to the more immediate theme of a need for a political settlement:

The last victim
Of this war
Has not yet
Been buried -
and the chief of
Army Intelligence
Already announces
That he expects
Another war
in Lebanon.

Could there be
A more striking
Confirmation of the fact
That there is
No military solution?

Ad published in Haaretz, August 15, 2006

As the Lebanon crisis turns from bombs back to speeches and politics, I think that it is important to remember the dead from both sides. Juan Cole posted a letter from Todd Hasak-Lowy on the death of David Grossman's son, Uri, a solider in the conflict. Please go read the whole letter to learn more about writer and peace activist David Grossman here. But I want to highlight this passage from Hasak-Lowry that lingers in my mind even days later much like the poems of Gush Shalom:
But maybe now's the time to stop, to really stop and think about how each death on every side draws a ring around itself to include another dozen or so people, family members and life-long friends, who never fully recover from their mourning. Maybe now's the time to realize, if you're willing to do the horribly simple math, that for some time now every Palestinian and every Israeli has likely found him or herself, and in many cases more than once, drawn reluctantly into someone's now obliterated circle, leaving a conflict between two nations of mourners.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Works for Me Wednesday: Corelle

Its Wednesday and once again I want to join Shannon at Rocks in the Dryer for "Works for Me Wednesday." I know it might feel jarring to have household tips adjacent to discussions of war or politics but that's how life is. I love grappling with big ideas and current events but there's always the laundry to do and the thousand and one ordinary necessities of life.

Today, I want to talk dishes! I know that many people love stoneware for daily use but I find it heavy and awkward. I love Corelle! Thin, lightweight, durable. Here's how they do it:
Corelle glass dinnerware is made through a hub lamination process that thermally bonds three layers of glass: core glass in the middle, with top and bottom layers of very clear skin or glaze glass. The process creates a lightweight, durable, multi-layered product. In addition, the unique enamels used during the decorating process actually become part of the glass, so the patterns last as long as the plate.

Corelle was first introduced in 1970 and my family must have been among the first to buy it. One of my earliest memories is going to Sears with my father to buy a set. When we got back my little sister got hold of a bowl from her highchair and promptly threw it to the ground. As promised, the Corelle did not break! It made quite an impression on me; its one of my few memories from before my brother was born in 1971.

On my own after college, one of my first purchases was a set of sleek white Corelle dishes. I still use them today and my mom still has most of the pieces from that 1970s set (now a vintage pattern, good old snowflake blue.)

In addition to its durability, I think that my favorite feature is that I can reach into the dishwasher with one hand and pick up five plates simultaneously! Whoo-hoo! Anything that helps empty the dishwasher more quickly.

Now, Corelle comes in some amazing new patterns and even a thicker style and a stoneware version too! Not to mention funky square plates! But I still love the original Livingware. Although I am tempted to add a new pattern to mix in with my white plates.

Lightweight, durable, pretty and I've forgotten to mention, affordable! Works for me!

Back to School

Well, the cease-fire seems to be holding. Although a comprehensive peace does not seem to be in the works, a cease-fire is an improvement over bombardment. So, today I am going to turn back to a more immediate interest: back-to-school.

Yesterday, my older two went back to school. I am happy for them but it is a little bittersweet. As I wrote a friend,
"I'm excited for them, we all love school and the new activities it brings, but yes, it reveals the passage of time for them and for me. The years are going by . . . I think that never will I be more loved, seen as more powerful, imagined more wise, felt more strong, than I am in these years of intensive, hands-on parenting. The kids still belong to me more than they belong to themselves and I mourn that ending. My mom did too. Of course, it is a tremendous blessing to have healthy strong kids who will start to pull away and become wonderful adults . . . but there's a loss too and the beginning of the school year is when I feel it a little, can see that shape of it in the future, sigh.

Its hard and often exhausting to be at the center of your children's world. But in the end, its such a short amount of time and it goes by so quickly. The oldest, the eponymous 'Skandar, is in third grade now and although it hasn't happened yet, I know that soon the struggle to individuate oneself and pull away from family will begin.

The real challenge is to not to short-circuit that process by pulling away first. Some wise person, perhaps, Mary at Owlhaven, had a post about this months ago. About the need for parents to be there, and stay there, as children enter the tweens and teen years. To let them pull away as they are ready rather than jump-start the process for them. I'm not quite ready to read this book yet, but it has to go on the reading list in a year or two. Our Last Best Shot: Guiding Our Children Through Early Adolescence by Laura Stepp. The Amazon description includes this quote:
"Early adolescence is partly about loss," writes author Laura Sessions Stepp. "Parents lose their children's unquestioning adoration; kids lose their innocence, and sometimes their faith in adults."
That is the challenge that lies ahead, the vague outlines are just barely visible on the horizon as school starts again.

Edited to add: It was Mary but at her Ethiopian adoption blog! She has some very wise words and a book to recommend.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Women on Iran & Terror

I'm feeling sleepy today, must be the extra early morning to get everyone off to the first day of school. So, I've been reading lots of blogs with the baby sleeping in my lap this morning but I have little inclination to write much.

Lots of smart people are blogging about Seymour Hersh's latest piece in the New Yorker about Lebanon as a Bush adminstration dress rehersal for an attack on Iran. Juan Cole, Joshua Landis, and Billmon all weigh in but for my money this morning the best analysis comes from Helena Cobban at Just World News. She writes:
Hersh's piece reveals a number of significant things about strategic decision-making inside both Israel and the Bush administration.

First, and most evident, is that the Israeli "plan" for taking down Hizbullah was one that relied almost totally on the use of airpower and other forms of stand-off weaponry (ship-launched missiles, drones, etc). This would clearly be the most plannable way in which the Bushites might be planning to attack Ira, since the US, like Israel, harbors an intense wariness to getting bogged down in a ground war.

But of course the "airpower plan" developed and used by IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz failed miserably at taking down Hizbullah's military capacity-- even while it had the entirely predictable political effect of uniting the Lebanese population more firmly around Hizbullah than it had been for the past three or four years.

Interesting results for the "field-test" of tactics that might be used against Iran, huh?

She notes that most Iranian exiles, commentators, and ordinary citizens say that the quickest way to derail the Iranian opposition and unite all elements of Iranian society would be for the US to attack it. As she puts it so clearly:
Honestly, though, I don't think anyone needed a "field test" of the use of widespread anti-infrastructure bombing tactics to be able to reach the conclusion that they would be (a) politically extremely counter-productive, as well as (b) of limited operational value against a well-prepared opponent. My parents stayed in London for much of the Blitz: Bush and Cheney had only to talk to members of the older generation of Londoners (or indeed, of Dresdeners) to find out that air bombardment by foreigners causes a population to rally ever closer round the national flag, not to seek that particular moment in history to rally for deepseated political change.

Why do politicos not get this? Why would massive bombings and the complete disruption of society make people suddenly more willing to engage in political experiments? Intuitively, I would think that most people would fall back on what they know and greatly distrust anything coming from the folks who are bombing you!

Bitch Ph.D must also be busy or sleepy today, no update. If you need a kick from a smart sassy women, then check out the piece on living with terror in today's Daily Kos from SusanG. Very funny.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Terror Threats & Police Work

Please read the always wise and informed Juan Cole on the links to Pakistan in the current "liquid bomb plot."

Highlights include his speculation that the US may have been kept in the dark:
US authorities were only told about some details two weeks ago, apparently. It may be that the British counter-terrorism community learned its lesson from the loose lips of the Bushies in summer of 2004. I argued then that from what we could tell from open sources, it seemed likely that the Bush administration played politics with information about a double agent in Pakistan who was helping monitor a London al-Qaeda cell. It seems likely that the election-year leak allowed budding terrorists like Mohammad Sadique Khan to escape closer scrutiny, and so permitted the 7/7/05 London subway bombings to go forward.

This time, the MI5 and MI6 and the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) may not have told Washington everything.

So pathetically sad if this is true. Once again, the administration that sells itself as "tough on terror" turns out to be attuned to nothing but its own political advantage. Must stop this line of thought now as its too depressing to continue. If you want more try Billmon.

Juan Cole points out that this plot was uncovered through old-fashioned police work, the "knife" that is required to excise terrorists from the surrounding society without injurying innocents whose deaths creates new recruits to the very cause we need to undermine.
If this operation is as advertised, then it underlines again the importance of plain old fashioned counter-terrorism and police work. An army of 136,000 men in the field can't stop bombs from going off in Iraq every day. What stopped the liquid bomb plot was something superior, a tool fitted to the task.

Juan Cole also directs us to another wise man, John Tirman, with six important insights to be drawn from the current plot. Where are the wise women you might ask? Well, that would be Helena Cobban but she's travelling and has yet to weigh in on the latest news. Her peice on Lebanon is well-worth reading. For amused outrage, try Susie at Suburban Guerrilla.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Peace Poems from Gush Shalom

Since July 21, 2006, Gush Shalom, the Peace Party in Israel, has been placing ads protesting the war in the newspaper Haaretz. Translated into English the text of the ads sound like little poems. Not sure if they have the same effect in Hebrew but I find them remarkable. Here is the one for today, August 4, 2006:

This war has
Only one aim left:

To save the prestige of
And Halutz.

All the other aims
Have gone up in smoke.

There is no military solution.

Tomorrow, Saturday, 6 pm, in Tel-Aviv, we shall take part in a march of all the peace organizations against the war.
Starting from Ben-Zion Boulevard corner King George, we shall march to Magen David Square. JOIN!

Ad published in Haaretz, August 4, 2006

No need to wonder just how the American media will cover the peace protest, I would guess that there will be no coverage of it at all.

Here is another:

After the war,
The situation will be
As it was before.

A hundred speeches
Of Olmert
Will not change that.

There is no military solution.
Only a political settlement.

Ad published in Haaretz, August 4, 2006

I'm captivated by their haiku-like quality but I would guess that they probably rhyme in Hebrew. Would any American organization ever protest through poetry? Here is their ad after Qana:
"We warned them
And called on them
To escape!"

That is disgusting

Because we have:
Bombed the roads.
Destroyed the bridges.
Cut off the supply of gasoline.
Killed whole families on the way.

There is only one way
Of preventing more such disasters,
Which turn us into monsters:
T O S T O P!

There is no military solution!

Ad published in Haaretz, August 1, 2006

Read them all and find more information about the peace movement in Israel on their website.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Lincoln Group Loses PR Contract

In case you missed it, Free Press brings us news of our old friends the Lincoln Group from the Washington Post, July 19, 2006:

The U.S. military has removed two firms from a psychological operations contract aimed at influencing international public opinion, including one District-based company that ran into controversy last year for planting pro-U.S. articles in Iraqi newspapers.

The firms, plus a third company that will retain the contract, spent the past year developing prototypes for radio and television spots intended for use in Iraq and in other nations where the United States is combating terrorism. Unlike the reports that the District-based Lincoln Group distributed to the Iraqi press which looked to be written by independent Iraqi journalists the commander in charge of the new spots said yesterday that he wants their origins made clear.

"Certainly we would intend to accept attribution for the spots," said Col. Jack Summe, commander of the Tampa-based Joint Psychological Operations Support Element. "We will not place things under someone else's name, trying to fool people into thinking it's a true news item."

So that job for social scientists in Iraq . . . probably a no go now.

The TV and radio contract, originally worth up to $300 million over five years, had been held by three firms since last year: the Lincoln Group; San Diego-based Science Applications International Corp.; and Arlington-based SYColeman, a subsidiary of New York-based L-3 Communications Corp.

But officials with the military's Special Operations Command decided this spring that they would be better off with just one contractor. They exercised their option to continue SYColeman's contract but not the other two. Military officials say the decision had nothing to do with last year's controversy over the Lincoln Group.

See, look how well the military can do spin and damage control all on their own without those Lincoln Group PR pros!

"We learned that working with three companies increases expenditures in both time and money and does not provide best value to the government," said Lt. Col. David Farlow, spokesman for the military's psychological operations unit.

To get a sense of what many in the military really thought of Lincoln Group and their efforts in Iraq look at the May/June issue of the Columbia Journalism Review and an article titled "Mind Games" by Daniel Schulman.

Before the Lincoln Group's covert campaign began sometime in early 2005, the firm (then operating as Iraqex) had been chosen to carry out a p.r. contract, worth more than $5 million, that was overseen by the coalition's public affairs staff in Baghdad. An army officer, who was involved in selecting the Lincoln Group for the contract and who worked extensively with its employees when they arrived in Iraq in November 2004, told me it had initially been hired to provide basic communications support, such as polling and media analysis, not for the clandestine placement of news stories or paying off the Iraqi press.

"In terms of their proposal, they were head and shoulders above everybody," the officer said. "The problem was they couldn't do a third of what they said they were going to do." He continued, "They were my little Frankensteins. They were sending guys over there that had absolutely no knowledge of Iraqis whatsoever. It was like the Young Republican fucking group, some guy who was working for the governor-elect in Michigan, a guy from the Beltway who was part of some Republicans for Democracy group, not a fucking clue. It was a scheme written up on a cocktail napkin in D.C. They were just completely inept." The public affairs staff became increasingly frustrated with the contractor. Some officers, including two brigadier generals, refused even to work with them. "That's when they moved under IO," the officer said. Eventually, the Lincoln Group was responsible for planting hundreds of stories in Iraqi newspapers.

I recommend reading the entire article. In it the Lincoln Group emerges not just as a bunch of inept hacks but part of a broader effort spearheaded by Donald Rumsfeld and others in the administration to muddy the longstanding military divide between psychological warfare (waged on the enemy, not the citizens at home) and the public affairs office. So contractor-created proproganda enters our news as well as the Iraqus. And democracy is sabatoged on all fronts!

In the CJR Shulman quotes a senior Public Affairs Officer recently returned from Iraq:

"Perhaps Iraq is a unique situation, but I think some of our IO efforts may have hurt our overall efforts at supporting an elected government and democratic, free institutions. Saddam fed the people propaganda for decades, should we continue to feed them propaganda and expect them to support us and/or their elected officials?"

Schulman also touches on the deeper question, what good is our proproganda when our policies and the truth on ground those policies create inflame out enemies? Abu Ghraib, Haditha, prisons without a hearing in Guantanamo Bay. Now, there's something worth pondering, something worth getting worked up over.

Please go read the whole article.

Still can't get enough of the Lincoln Group? Try these!

US urged to stop paying Iraqi Reporters - International Herald-Tribune

Iraqi clerics on Lincoln payroll, clerics a key target for proproganda efforts - International Herald-Tribune

And just for laughs try Wonkette on the Lincoln Group

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Baghdad's Qana: Amiriya Shelter 1991

I've written about the disaster in Qana 2006 and my experience of the first Qana massacre in 1996. People around the world are remembering Qana and their own Qana's; places where civilians seeking shelter from war died in large numbers yet where the world seemed to forget or to never even know of the crime in the first place.

Treasure of Baghdad is one of the very best Iraqi bloggers. The deaths in Qana make him remember Baghdad's Qana, the Amiriya Shelter 1991:
The crime's TV footage and pictures posted on the internet reminded Iraqis with a similar crime happened in 1991 when the U.S. decided to punish Saddam for his invasion to Kuwait by killing his country's civilians. Amiriya Shelter crime was never forgotten. On February 13, 1991 at 4 in the morning it was hit by two American bombs, which incinerated the building, including all but ten of the 400 women and children seeking refuge inside of it. Despite severe looting to the shelter after the U.S.-led invasion, pictures of many of the victims remain, which includes several entire families who died in the slaughter. Shadows of women who died have been burned into the walls, similar to the infamous shadow of a man flash-imprinted into concrete as he was vaporized by the atomic bomb of Hiroshima.

I was 10 years-old when the crime happened. I still remember the footage of the men and women who were weeping for their families and relatives at the metal fence of the shelter. Their eyes were red as if they were crying blood instead of tears. Twenty-five years passed and I still see the same footage but this time in Lebanon. Lebanese civilians were crying blood for the loss of their relatives and friends in Qana.

Treasure of Baghdad, July 31, 2006

Americans were at fault then. Apparently, the intelligence was wrong; it wasn't a military site but a shelter of civilians. I want to believe that the military didn't target it knowingly. "We're human, we goofed!" is what I wanted to say at the time. How inadequate is that response. But its is barely mentioned in our histories of the war, America has never had to account for it morally or in any other fashion. I will admit that I had completely forgotten it and even after reading Treasure of Baghdad could recall only vague memories from 1991 of hearing it briefly on the news.

We say it was first a shelter for high-ranking officials. They say it was opened to the general public. We say there are no innocents, everyone is implicated. (Didn't they know Saddam was a bad guy? Vaporized into shadow-prints? that's what happens to people who associate with Saddam -- Can't you almost hear Cheney saying that?).

Over and over, I hear this. The children in Qana should have known Hezbollah was launching missiles nearby (Don't they know they are bad guys?). Somehow, people want want to believe that the unjustly dead were not truly innocent. Because then what? We owe compensation and need to accept guilt and possibly punishment. But if they were implicated, in on the violence, the attack, the threat in some way, well, then, it is all part of war.

In Amiriya, they should have known we would target government sites, they are not truly innocent. Even Bin Laden invokes it about the Trade Center, they should have known what the government has done in their name. They are not truly innocent.

Is anyone ever innocent anymore? Is any war death a simple tragedy? Is compensation ever offered? Prosecution for war crimes ever made? Decades of painstaking work in establishing the Geneva Conventions, the Internation Criminal Court, establishing rules for the conduct of war and the protection of civilians and we all throw it away. I don't want to die for my blue passport some day. I don't want anyone to die for their lack of innocence, for the coincidences of life, and identity, and circumstance, that put them in the range of either madmen or the madly rational governments who try to take them out. Enough!

Another memory of mine now: pictures of the civilians killed (including small children) when President Reagan bombed Libya posted in permanent display cases in front of the Libyan embassy in Damascus. I walked past those pictures of limp, bloody toddlers and felt a pang, a pang of guilt and implication every time. But really, those pictures weren't for me, weren't meant to shame the few Americans in Damascus. They were meant for the Syrians, for fellow Arabs, to demonstrate their current powerlessness and rouse them to further action.

My students have a hard time grasping this, why people would cling to a moment of defeat, of humiliation, of loss, why would they would stubbornly remember? Until I say two words: Remember the Alamo! The nascent Republic of Texas lost at the Alamo, lost completely. But they fought valiantly (or so we are told). And that loss became the rallying cry that led more men to fight. No one remembers the Battle of San Jacinto, the overwhelming victory that led to Texas' independence from "the tyrant Mexico." Had the defeat at the Alamo been less total perhaps there would have been less urgency to sign up and fight. Hell, a tactical victory at the Alamo might have doomed the whole Republic of Texas project!

Remember Qana, someone is saying somewhere. Remember Amiriya!

Somewhere else someone is saying, Remember the Marines in Beirut 1983! Remember the Trade Center!

And on and on. I say, remember when children and women and old men were innocents, remember when we all signed treaties and defined war crimes and pledged to uphold human rights?

Because right now, my toddler is sleeping. And somewhere in Pakistan a toddler is awakening. And in Kashmir, and Iraq, and Lebanon, and Israel, and Chechneya, and Darfur, and Somalia, and Congo, and Libya, and Guatemala and New York City, there are toddlers. And they are all innocent tonight.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Works for Me Wednesday: Story Tapes

Its Wednesday and even though the balance here between mommy blog and political blog has been leaning strongly towards politics these days I want to join Rocks in the Dryer for Works for me Wednesday! In part, because it is the everyday mundane activities of motherhood that keep me grounded and sane enough to contemplate world affairs and in part because each week I've gotten several good tips from the WFMW folks that make my life easier.

One thing that works for our family is story tapes at bedtime. I nurse my babies to sleep, then with toddlers nurse and read books at bedtime, eventually, we just snuggle and read aloud. But its often hard making that transition at age 4 or so to falling asleep on one's own. Story tapes fill that gap. We still read aloud at bedtime (and my husband is a master of made-up tales) but story tapes (or CDs) after our reading is done give us more time in the evening and still let the bigger kids drift off peacefully.

Chinaberry is a great place to get wonderful story tapes. A Cricket in Times Square has to be my kids' all time favorite. They will listen to it night after night. Jim Weiss is another treasure. He is a storyteller who has a whole series of tales and peaceful images designed to help kids fall asleep. They work on adults too (the winter cabin with the hot chocolate and the sleighbells makes me nod right off).

Peaceful bedtime, works for me!

First-person: Qana 1996

In the spring of 1996 I was living in Damascus, conducting research for my dissertation, when a UN post filled with women and children who were seeking refugee from the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah was hit with an Israeli missile.

The date was April 18, 1996. 106 civilians were killed and 116 injured. Most of the dead were women and children. The pictures on television were horrifying. I can still see the images in my mind: white headscarves stained with blood, the limp bodies of toddlers, the torn blue and white banners of the UN. Over and over again, the images were broadcast: dead children, crying women, outraged men, pools of blood amid sacks of flour stamped with the UN emblem.

The atmosphere in Damascus was, how to describe it? People were frozen with disbelief and horror. In the days after 9/11, in those immediate, horrible days, when conversations were hushed, and dread and sorrow filled everyone's eyes, I felt a vague sense of familiarity. Where had I been where the atmosphere was the same? I finally remembered. It felt like Damascus after the attack in Qana.

The horror and shame were particularly acute because the dead had been killed while seeking the protection of the UN but not even the status of the United Nations could protect them or even lead to international outrage. The US accepted the Israeli government contention that it was an accident and with that the world let it go.

Syrians, like Arabs elsewhere, felt that the massacre reinforced what they already knew, that the world did not value their lives, the lives of their children as it did others. How many times did I hear people say that if it had been reversed, if a Hezbollah missile had hit an Israeli shelter and killed 106 people, over half of them children, would the world accept it was an accident? "Israel would kill us all," said one friend gesturing to the city around him.

I did not know what to say. I knew that the attack barely registered for most Americans and I felt ashamed to admit it to my friends and neighbors who were hurting so badly. I will never forget how deeply and profoundly the violent deaths in Qana affected ordinary Syrians.

Monday, July 31, 2006


More pictures of the destruction of Qana from the BBC

Originally uploaded by Liberté&Igalité.

Qana was hit at least 80 times. Eventually, inevitably a shelter full of civilians was hit.
You would think that the Israelis (the Israelis!) would understand the moral danger of assigning collective guilt and issuing collective punishment.

Listen to a wise man, Juan Cole, on the difference between Hezbollah and al-Qaeda:
Western and Israeli pundits keep comparing Hizbullah to al-Qaeda. It is a huge conceptual error. There is a crucial difference between an international terrorist network like al-Qaeda, which can be disrupted by good old policing techniques (such as inserting an agent in the Western Union office in Karachi), and a sub-nationalist movement.

Al-Qaeda is some 5,000 multinational volunteers organized in tiny cells.

Hizbullah is a mass expression of subnationalism that has the loyalty of some 1.3 million highly connected and politically mobilized peasants and slum dwellers. Over a relatively compact area.

Remember, Hezbollah has the support of about 40% of the Lebanese population, like our allies in Iraq, they are a political party with seats iparliamentnt as well as a military wing. Again, Dr. Cole:
The main factor in causing these peasant sharecroppers to become politically aware and mobilized was the Arab Israeli conflict. The Israelis stole some of their land in 1948 and expelled 100,000 Palestinians north into south Lebanon, where they competed for resources with local Lebanese Shiites. In the late 1960s and early 1970s the Palestinians became politically and militarily organized by the PLO. The Shiites' conflict with the PLO in the southern camps in the 1970s was probably a key beginning, but from 1982 it was primarily their conflict with the Israeli Occupation army that spurred them on.

He is speaking here of Shia Lebanese peasants. Rural folk who practice a different form of Islam from the orthodox Sunni variety (I'm not going to define it further here, some 60% of Iraqi are Shia; if the general readership after three+ years of war doesn't grasp the difference, God help us.) He continues,
Where subnationalisms are organized by party-militias willing to use carbombings and other asymmetrical forms of warfare, they are extremely difficult, if not impossible to defeat militarily. It would take a World War II style crushing military defeat of these populations, with the willingness of the conqueror to suffer tens of thousands dead in troop casualties. Israel is not even in a position to risk such a thing, given its small population.

Hizbullah is not like al-Qaeda in any way, sociologically speaking, and making such an analogy is a sure way for a general or politician to trick himself into entering the fires of hell.

What the Israelis set out to do, if they intended to "destroy" or even substantially attrite Hizbullah, was completely impractical. What they have done is to convince even Lebanese formerly on the fence about the issue that Hizbullah's leaders were correct in predicting that Lebanon would again be attacked in the most brutal and horrible way by the Israelis and that an even more powerful deterrent is needed. I.e more silkworms, not fewer. . The days when the Israelis could lord it over disconnected unmobilized Arab peasant villagers with their high tech army are coming to a close. The Arabs are still very weak, but are throwing up powerful asymmetrical challenges (e.g. party-militias with silkworm missiles!). Israeli alarm about the new connectedness of their foe explains the orgy of destruction aimed at bridges, roads, television and radio facilities and internet servers. But it is too late to disconnect the south Lebanese, who can easily and quickly rebuild all those connectors.

One hope the Israeli hawks appear to entertain is that they can permanently depopulate strips Lebanon south of the Litani river. Since most Shiites vote Hizbullah and offer political support and cover to it, fewer people means fewer assets for the party-militia. This project would require the total destruction of large numbers of villages and the permanent displacement of their inhabitants north to Beirut.

That is why the massacre at Qana occurred.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Don't Look Away! Pictures from the Lebanon Crisis

It is real; it is happening today. It is so easy for Americans to look away (to look away from Darfur, to look away from Uganda, from Congo, from Iraq, from Afghanistan) but our foreign policy (or 6 years of neglect of our foreign policy) and our tax dollars are deeply implicated in the current crisis in Lebanon.

Pictures of the crisis from the BBC.

Everyday, it becomes clearer that the best course of action for everyone would have a call for an immediate cease-fire on day 2 or day 3 of this crisis! There is no military solution for either Israel or Hezbollah, short of genocide.

Friday, July 28, 2006


Well, the conflict continues to rage at the listserv about the Lincoln Group, sigh. Reflecting on it, its fueled by the impatience and anger of the person who first posted the job. If she would just let people say their piece, the flames would die down. More on that later. [Please note that the first link is to Lincoln Group's corporate site, very illuminating for what they don't say.]

But it does highlight an on-going problem with the war and the administration's overall efforts: an over-reliance on private contractors who are inept, corrupt, unethical and/or incompetent. In some ways the Lincoln Group is simply inept and unethical. With little experience and few actual media or PR contacts they managed to receive (by way their connections to Republican fundraisers) high dollar contracts for work in Iraq. And then those political connections led them to plant false news stories in Iraqi newspapers not to shape the situation on the ground but to influence the political landscape back home.

Blackwater, a "security contractor" (which has never made sense to me, okay, you have to contract out for language and culture experts, but isn't security -- beefy guys with guns -- pretty much the core mission for the military?) with lots of high-dollar contracts seems to have played a key part in the failure of the Iraqi war.

Juan Cole led me to this story today.

On March 31, 2004, an American convoy was ambushed by insurgents in Fallujah, a hotbed of Iraqi rage over the U.S. presence. The four men escorting the convoy in two Mitsubishi SUVs were killed in a fusillade of small-arms fire. A furious mob set the vehicles ablaze, dragged the bodies out and partly dismembered them. Two were strung up from a bridge over the Euphrates River.

The entire episode was captured on film and aired worldwide.

The four dead Americans were not soldiers. They were civilians working for North Carolina-based Blackwater USA. The nation learned with a horrifying jolt that there was something new going on here: Modern warfare was being privatized.

[. . .]

In Iraq, it irrevocably altered the course of the war. U.S. Military commanders, who had no advance knowledge of the convoys presence in Fallujah, were ordered by Washington to change tactics and pound the city into submission, inflaming the Iraqi insurgency to new heights.

Yes, the military had no idea that Blackwater was coming and the contractors actually circumvented a Marine checkpoint outside the city. The families of the men (along with men killed on a flight operated by Blackwater in Afghanistan) are suing the company. The company however is arguing that it has become an integral part of the military, part of the President's powers, and deserves the same battlefield immunity from prosecution as the military.
Blackwater is arguing that although it is a private company, it has become an essential and indistinguishable cog in the military machine and, like the military, should be immune from liability for casualties in a war zone.

At stake, Blackwater says, is nothing less than the authority of the president, as commander in chief of the armed forces, to wage war as he sees fit.

The plaintiffs say it is all about corporate greed, unaccountability and a private army run amok.

The story (in the Virginia Pilot) deserves to be read in full.

On the second page you can vote in a poll with the question: Is it a good idea to deploy combat-ready private soldiers in a war zone? Right now, readers are split, 50% say yes, 46% no, the rest undecided. I wonder how the Marines who had responsibilityty for Fullujah and who had approached the Sunni stronghold in 2004 with a motto of "patient, persistent presence" would vote in the poll?

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Lincoln Group

Update: The military announced that The Lincoln Group has lost their funding for this PR project! Read all about here.


Lincoln Group has an opening for a number of strategic consultants to support Coalition efforts in Iraq. Strategic Consultants will provide advice to senior military and government decision makers and their staff. Consultants will provide advice on Iraqi political, economic and cultural issues; the development of Information Operations programs; as well as other non-kinetic operations designed to reduce the power and influence of insurgents and other adversaries in Iraq. Consultants must be able to analyze and provide advice on such issues as political legitimacy, nationalism, public confidence in the emerging government, and other strategic issues. Consultants will be expected to provide advice on countering the propaganda and messages deployed by insurgents, Anti-Iraqi Forces, Anti-Coalition Forces and other adversary elements. Strategic consultants should have a strong background in one or more of the following disciplines:

Social Sciences - ideally with a focus on the study of Iraq and the Middle East. This assignment will include the collection and analysis of social science data on the political, economic, cultural, social, security and information environments in Iraq. It will also include developing recommendations for military planners, flag rank officers and others.

Advertising, Marketing, and/or Public Relations. This assignment would include the provision of advice on the development and execution of strategic communications, public outreach and awareness campaigns and the measurement of the effectiveness thereof.
Information Operations and Psychological Warfare/Strategic Communication. This assignment would include the provision of advice on all aspects of the planning, execution and evaluation of information operations in Iraq and elsewhere.

Minimum Educational Requirements:

Social Scientists -Masters Degree in Political Science, Anthropology, International Relations, Middle Eastern Studies, Sociology, Strategic Studies or related field.

Advertising/Marketing/Public Relations – Bachelor’s degree and/or extensive industry experience in strategic communications planning and effectiveness measuring, with proven success in international markets.

Information Operations/PSYOP/Strategic Communication – Extensive real world and exercise experience as an IO/PSYOP/ SC/ planner. The qualified candidate must be familiar with staff battle rhythm and military planning so as to seamlessly integrate analytical and creative products with Coalition operations.

Required Skills:

Strong basis in social science analytical methodologies.

Ø Extensive skills in the development of strategic communications campaigns or elements thereof to include marketing, advertising, public relations

Ø Understanding of quantitative research methodologies

Ø Ability to use analysis to provide strategic recommendations to military planners and leaders.

Ø Ability to work in a fast paced, stressful environment.

Desired Skills:

Ø Military experience and/or experience working in post-conflict reconstruction environments

Ø Arabic language skills.

Ø An understanding of stability operations, counterinsurgency and the process of constructing a state in the wake of a conflict

Ø Ability to conduct detailed interviews with people from other cultures in order to collect information on politics, economics, society and culture.

Ø Strong computer skills. Ability to quickly learn statistical programs, text string searches and other packages that would assist in quantitative and qualitative research.

Ø Project/Program Management Skills.


All positions will be based inside a secure US military facility in Iraq.

Security Clearance required: clearable to Secret, ideally up to Top Secret SCI. Must be US Citizen.

Salary Range & Benefits:

§ $150-$180k (commensurate with experience)

§ Corporate benefits including health insurance, 401k match, educational assistance and bonus programs

Someone offered to share a parody of this ad, I should have taken them up on the offer!

But the Lincoln Group reference still bothered me. So, I googled and dug a bit. Ho-ho! Yes, the Lincoln Group with (surprise, surprise weak media connection but strong links to Republican fundraisers) who got part of $300 million grant in 2003 for "media work" that ended up as part of the whole "planting fake news" scandel! Remember that, remember when we were worried about fake news and proproganda?! Yes, the good old days.

Here's a single comprehensive place to look at claims about Lincoln Group: SourceWatch a project of The Center for Media and Democracy.

And here's what our new best friend Billmon (who is this guy, anyway?) had to say about them way back in November 2005, and (clever man) in June 2005.

Works for Me Wednesday: Cast Iron

Once again, I'm joining Shannon at Rocks in My Dryer for "Works for Me Wednesday."
Today, my tip is simple: cast-iron pans!

I'm always amazed that more people do not use cast-iron pans. They heat fast and evenly, are naturally non-stick, and they add iron to the food cooked in them. I always had excellent iron levels during my pregnancies. Something I attribute to the cast-iron pans as much as the pre-natal vitimins. Two of our pans (a 9-inch and 12-inch skillet) are over fifty years old and still going strong. We also have a 17-inch skillet that's truly huge and a new grill pan.

I'm not sure who made the older pans. There used to be more manufacturers but today most cast iron pans are made by Lodge. Even better, Lodge has developed a way to "cure" the pan for you, so they are ready to use without curing (done by repeatedly heating oil in the pan until it develops the proper non-stick patina). Our new grill pan was pre-cured by Lodge and it works just as well as the older pans.

So avoid the flaking teflon of non-stick pans and try cast-iron. Works for me!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Syria and Egypt

Well, blogging is quite therapeutic, I have to say that. After getting out my frustrations here. I was able to compose a response to our local playwright who was surprised to hear that other countries besides Syria have secret police.

Umm . . . Yes, pretty much every state in the Middle East has secret police or "internal security forces" that includes Egypt, Jordan, Saudi, all the Gulf states. Egypt has operated under special "emergency measures" for nearly thirty years, laws that give the state security apparatus sweeping powers and restrict the rights of citizens to assemble, organize, and speak their mind (truly the US Bill of Rights is a rare and wonderful thing!)

See here for more:

I'm not surprised that you have heard little about Syria and moderate Islam. One reason to locate the play in Egypt is that there has been much, much more research done by scholars, historians, etc there that has been published in English. Egypt is a long-time American ally which means that scholars have been able to get grants to work there for decades. [Plus, British scholars have been there since 1918.]Syria was part of the Soviet bloc for most of the Cold war and it was difficult for scholars to work there (everyone was in Egypt or Iran or Iraq); [those who did were French]. That is changing but very slowly.

Since 1970 and the ascendancy of President Hafez al-Assad, Syria has been ruled by the Alawi sect, an off-shoot of Shia Islam and very distinct from Sunni Islam and mainstream 12er Shia Islam as well. The Syrian state must maintain an official version of Islam that is big enough to include Alawis as Muslims since the Syrian Constitution requires that the President be a Muslim. Any construction of Islam that encompassing Alawis has plenty of room for Sufis, and Sufi's "live and let live" philosophy fits in well. The Grand Mufti of Syria promotes moderate Islam. Here's the website of the recently deceased Mufti.
Here's a story about the new Mufti condemming suicide attacks.

In Syria as in Egypt, Jordan and other countries the mosques are largely state-controlled with the sermons monitored and even produced by the state. Wahabbi Saudi Arabia despises Sufi Islam and its preachers often speak against it. Al-Qaeda views Shia, Alawis, and Sufis asapostatess to Islam and would be happy to eliminate them.

Here's what the CIA had to say on the matter in the late 1980s
Here's a more recent summary, please note the second to last paragraph.

I still think Egypt would better [for the play], more class tension, more outspoken people, more reseach and sources available, lots of tension of the role of Islam, Islam in daily life etc but all Muslims are Sunni so you avoid the complications of Shiism, Alawis, etc that you will have to account for in Syria and you guys have quite a lot on your plate already. Plus, you don't have worry about Egypt as a "state-sponsor of terrorism" etc.

No response yet from the playwright.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Laugh or Cry?

Laugh, cry, or maybe just go in the corner and throw up?

And I'm not even talking about the situation in the Middle East!! There the news is grim, grim, grim. Juan Cole today writes and cites sources that Israel had been planning this war in conjunction with Donald Rumsfeld and the Department of Defense for nearly a year. But apparently did not share this information with the President who seems to be operating under the idea that Syria set it all in motion. If you can stand it go read Billmon for more. If you want more news about Lebanon, try the website of the Lebanon's daily paper, The Daily Star. And Iraq, don't forget Iraq, although it might not be a unified country much longer. Death squads are roaming the streets and civilians are dying in greater and greater numbers.

In light of all that, this little tidbit deserves only a thonk! of disbelief. The small, private university where I teach as an underpaid adjunct, let's call it, Grand Aspirations University has had big plans for a co-ordinated curriculum program on Islam. Fine and dandy. But this school lacks an Islamic studies program, a comparative religion program, a Middle Eastern studies program or even an anthropology program. So, local expertise on the topic is lacking (although big, Tier I university with all of the above is right down the street, they won't ask them for help). I have done my best to help out but as an adjunct I'm not part of any committees and I don't have any pull at this place. They have failed to get funding for most of their ideas which is probably for the best but one component, a play about Islam, is still going forward. The local playwright is not Muslim or Arab and has little experience in the Middle East. Here is part of a recent email exchange:

American playwright: The play is in Syria rather than Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, or someplace more stable and less fraught than Syria because I felt that the characters needed something to push up against. Though in many ways life in Damascus is like life anywhere -- eating, sleeping, seeing friends, praying, arguing with the children, etc -- in other ways it's full of complication -- contending with the secret police, contending with censorship, living under a saber-rattling regime whose foreign policy may not reflect your views (sounds familiar), and now wondering whether the Israelis will start mortaring the city from the Golan Heights.

Umm Skandar: Okay but your answer made me laugh a little. Secret police: Jordan -check, Egypt - check, Turkey -check, Foreign policy not representative of public views: Jordan - check, Egypt - check, Turkey - check; no democractic process or institutions, Jordan - check, Egypt - check, Turkey - blank (for the last decade). In fact, Syrian foreign policy is probably more closely aligned with public opinion than anywhere else (it just doesn't align with American views!!) There's much more struggle about the role of Islam in public life in Egypt, Jordan, and Turkey than there is in Syria. There's much more freedom of religion in Syria and the regime works hard to support moderate, Sufi-inflected forms of Islam.

American playwright: Thanks for this. It helps clarify a lot of my thinking actually. First of all, I didn't know that Egypt, Jordan, and Turkey had all of that going on as well; my mind boggles a little to think about it. Does *everybody* have secret police??

Ugh! Yeah, pretty much everywhere in the Middle East has secret police. Egypt for god's sake has been under "emergency measures" that preclude much of civil society for the last thirty years!!!


This play will have about as much useful information about Islam as would a play written about Christianity in America by Saudi students based on the information found in their Arabic-language books at their university library in Jedda!

Friday, July 21, 2006

What words cannot say

Words cannot say

How beautiful Lebanon is . . .

How beautiful the people are . . .

Lebanese refugee
Originally uploaded by masser.

How horrible the loss . . .

senza parole
Originally uploaded by budiulik.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

A shout to the heavens!

Worth reading. From the Embassy of Lebanon.
Address to the Diplomatic Corps
By the Prime Minister
H.E. Mr. Fouad Siniora
Grand Serail, Beirut, July 19, 2006

I have convened the diplomatic corps in Lebanon today to launch an urgent appeal to the international community for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire and assistance to my war ravaged country. You are all aware that seven continuous days of an escalating Israeli onslaught on Lebanon have resulted in immeasurable loss: the toll in terms of human life has reached tragic proportions: over 1000 injured and 300 killed so far; over half a million people have been displaced; in some areas, the hospitals have been crippled and are unable to cope with the casualties; there are shortages of food and medical supplies; homes, factories and warehouses have been completely destroyed; UN facilities in Maroun El Ras and Naqoura have just been shelled, so have been army barracks and posts of Joint Security Forces; a civil defense unit has been wiped out and foreigners are being evacuated.. As I speak, the trauma, the desperation, the grief and the daily massacres and destruction go on and on. The country has been torn to shreds.

Is the value of human life in Lebanon less than that of the citizens of other countries?

Can the international community stand by while such callous retribution by the State of Israel is inflicted on us?

Will you allow innocent civilians, churches, mosques, orphanages, medical supplies escorted by the Red Cross, people seeking shelter or fleeing their homes and villages to be the casualties of this ugly war?

Is this what the international community calls self defense? Is this the price we pay for aspiring to build our democratic institutions? Is this the message to send to the country of diversity, freedom and tolerance?

Only last year, the Lebanese filled the streets with hope and with red, green and white banners shouting out:

Lebanon deserves life!

What kind of life is being offered to us now?

I will tell you what kind: a life of destruction, despair, displacement, dispossession, and death.

What kind of future can stem from the rubble?

A future of fear, frustration, financial ruin, and fanaticism.

Let me assure you that we shall spare no avenue to make Israel compensate the Lebanese people for the barbaric destruction it has inflicted and continues to inflict upon us, knowing full well that human life is irreplaceable.

You want to support the government of Lebanon? Let me tell you, ladies and gentlemen, no government can survive on the ruins of a nation.

On behalf of the people of Lebanon, from Beirut, Baalbeck, and Byblos, to Tyre Sidon and Qana, to each and every one of the 21 villages at the southern border, declared a no-go zone by Israel, to Tripoli and Zahle, I call upon you all to respond immediately without reservation or hesitation to this appeal for an immediate cease-fire and lifting the siege, and provide urgent international humanitarian assistance to our war-stricken country. I would also like to thank the international organizations and the friendly countries that have already extended their valued help and thank as well those who are preparing to do so.


We the Lebanese want life.

We have chosen life.

We refuse to die.

Our choice is clear.

We have survived wars and destruction over the ages.

We shall do so again.

I hope you will not let us down.

God help them! I don't see much aid coming from the US any time soon.

Juan Cole over at Informed Comment has many moving voices from ordinary people in Lebanon; Syria Comment is finally up and running again after nearly a week without any posts (what a time for a vacation!), and Billmon sends us to military analyst William Lind for an interesting perspective on what he calls "the Israel-Hamas-Hezbollah war." Why does that old REM song "its the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine" keep running through my head?