Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Iraq Confidential-Not Exciting Enough for Prime Time

I have a real problem with 24-hour news networks for many reasons, the vast majority of which have nothing to do with their alleged politics and everything to do with the quality of the information you receive. Now you’d think that one of the benefits these networks offer is that because they are solely dedicated to news gathering, they’d be able to spend more time on stories and provide more in-depth analysis. Instead what we get is the exact opposite: a repetitious barrage of soundbites and glossed-over analysis so they can move on to the most recent piece of dramatic video footage.

A case in point would be the extremely simplistic view of the Shiite majority in Iraq given by the CNNFOXMSNBCABCCBS monolith. According to all the network analysis I’ve seen thus far, the Shiite clerics in Iraq are often portrayed as being no different in philosophy from the Shiites in Iran. A lot of this has to do with the media’s fascination with firebrand/publicity hound Muqtada Al Sadr who is an Iranian-style Shiite and the face the media often shows as representative of most Shiites. Al Sadr, however, does not speak for all Shiites. And if this 2003 Wall Street Journal article entitled Shiite Schism by Amir Taheri is correct, he never has. I’ve cited this article here before, but I’m citing it again because it needs to be considered when viewing the events surrounding the recent elections. It’s a great overview of the recent history of Shiites in Iraq and provides more than a little insight as to why a genuinely democratic Iraq is indeed possible. It also sheds light on the deeper reasons Iran has for subverting it.

One of the events which the Katrina/Wiretap/DeathToll obsessed media didn’t have the time to tell you today involves a twist in the ongoing investigation into the assassination of Shiite cleric Abdul Majid al-Kohei. If you’re wondering why you’ve never heard of Al Kohei before, the article I cited earlier will only make you wonder even more. In the eyes of Iraqi Shiites he, and primarily his father, were of greater significance than Al Sadr has ever been. But because Al Kohei was by and large a peaceful man who was supportive of American intervention he was probably not controversial or violent enough a subject in the mainstream media’s eyes to hold your attention.

Without digressing further, a story appeared on the Asharq Alawsat web site today (here) giving insight into the disappearance of a file crucial to the Al Kohei murder investigation. This file contained a sizeable amount of evidence that Al Sadr was responsible for the killing of Al Kohei. Also missing with the file were the arrest warrants for Al Sadr and those implicated in helping him. Further thickening the plot is who might have been responsible for the file’s disappearance—none other than current prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafa. National Accord Chairman Ahmad Chilabi is also implicated in the piece. It is alleged this was done in exchange for Al Sadr’s promise that he would not cause anymore trouble. Apparently Al Sadr got a bulletproof Mercedes out of the deal, too. Which begs the question, why would he need one if he didn’t plan on causing more trouble? But I’m digressing again.

The point I’m trying to make is when the news tells you there are only three socio-religious-political factions in Iraq and all their constituents march in lockstep, you’re only getting a tenth of the story as usual. Many more Shiites than has been reported want a democratic Iraq that DOES NOT mirror the Iranian style of government. Because, as Shiite Schism and the philosophy of the murdered Al Kohei will attest, for many Shiites Islam’s job is to change hearts first then society. Not the other way around as it is in Iran.

Where'd it go?

If you've ever wondered where that sizeable portion missing from your paycheck went, the Census Bureau offers a handy site that lets you see. It breaks federal spending down by fiscal year, gov't programs and even by how much goes to each state. I'm including the link here, but will also make it a permanent link in the side bar. The site takes a little patience to figure out, but once you do it makes from some pretty interesting surfing. Thanks to Freeper xzins for digging it up.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Go Gert

I just returned from celebrating Christmas with Laurie’s family. If I’m not mistaken, this was my first official large family function with her side and it went well. What I’m coming to love most about her family is just how comfortable everyone is with who they are. They live their lives out loud. And while they are acutely aware of one another’s warts, they are determined to stick together for the long haul—warts and all. Not that this kind of commitment-in-the-face-of-imperfection doesn’t exist in my family, it’s just nice to know that Laurie and I will be building on two very strong, very similar foundations.

While I was there I got to play cards with Gertrude—Laurie’s 91 year old grandmother. She is a live wire. She still drives herself around safely, loves to travel, frequently stays up past midnight and is a total card shark. We were playing Garbage; a game that requires you to come up with increasingly improbable combinations of cards in order to win. I think I managed to take one hand, but Gert invariably left the rest of us holding the bag. And she would always wink or act surprised whenever the cards went her way. As Laurie would say, “Go Gert.”

I think I remember one of the poker players at Horizon saying you should never play against old people because they’ll clean your clock. After this weekend I think I can safely say that little bit of advice applies to any card game or game of chance. Anyone who’s managed to live into their 90’s is obviously on better terms with chance than you are.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Merry Christmas to All

I really didn't want my last post before Christmas to be a political diatribe so here's a quick one. Nothing really special to say other than I wish everyone who reads this a wonderful Christmas. For me it will be a time of fellowship with family and friends. It will also be a time of reflection on all that has transpired in the past year. It has been a very good year and I thank God for it--something I don't do nearly enough.

One more thing. I got an e-mail the other day that was basically a rant about how Christians know not what they celebrate at Christmas. I'm not going to say anything to that except this--while many pagan traditions may well have been tacked on to the pagentry of the holiday, it doesn't change one scintilla what the holiday is about for believers: God's desire to reunite Himself with his creation. It is about the hope we have in Jesus Christ. I know I don't speak out very often about my faith and I hope my non-Christian friends who read this don't take it for preaching. I don't think they will because the vast majority know I'm hardly qualified to. But every now and then I get convicted about my silence and feel prompted to speak up.

Anyway, all I want to say is may God grant us all peace this Christmas--inside and out.

Merry Christmas

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Impeach or Shut Up

The Democratic leadership in this country has accused this president of everything from knowingly lying about going to war to murdering people in natural disasters. Now they say he's spying on us illegally. I am not not going to argue the minutiae of war powers or federal response obligations here. What I will say though is that if this president truly is this heinous, why in the name of all that's holy isn't the vast majority of Democratic leadership calling for his impeachment? I know many on the extreme left already have, but I'm not talking about them. I'm talking about the Pelosis and the Reids. The politicians that really have something to lose.

Say what you want about Clinton's impeachment, but you have to hand it to the Republicans for at least having had the balls to put their money where their mouth was. And they were impeaching a popular president for something as relatively innocuous as lying under oath about an affair. No wonder the Democratic base is so full of loathing. Not only are their elected leaders spineless when it comes to doing something about terrorism . . . or social security . . . or prescription drugs. They can't even pull the trigger on impeaching someone, who by their accounts, is the worst president this country has ever seen.

Now granted, if you go strictly on a partisan basis they wouldn't have the votes to pull something like this off right now. But the midterms are a'comin' and if, as the media so clearly is hoping, Dems take back congress I better see impeachment among the first items of business. I'm serious. If these people want to lead the country and they know for a fact that George Bush is a ruthless individual hell bent on stripping us all of freedom of speech and plunging us into war for personal gain, they had better ante up when the time comes.

Of course they won't. Because they know everything they're saying is total horseshit designed to obfuscate the reality that they have no plan for America except to have it back under their power. They crave power above all else and for six years we've had to listen to their anguished screams as they lost election after election because Americans were more comfortable with a president that did something, even if it wasn’t perfect, than one that would rather form committees and explore "nuance" to keep from having to do anything politically risky.

In fact I want Bush's next speech to simply be, "Impeach me. Bring it on. If I am truly a criminal it should be easy. Hell, my poll numbers are low enough. Why not give it a shot?" Unfortunately he won't do that either. Instead, I'll probably have to endure another two years of incessant weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth from the left. I’m telling ya’, impeachment would almost be a relief at this point.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Here's to Christmas

Anxiety ran high as I drove to the mall tonight. I loathe Christmas shopping. I love giving, that's not the problem. I just hate the whole sickening circus atmosphere that retailers create to put you in the mood. It does anything but for me. Despite these misgivings, tonight's outing proved to be above bearable. I actually was kinda relaxed.

A big reason for this was the curious lack of crowds. Not sure if it was the weather, a surge in online shopping or simply my lucky night, but the mall seemed no more busy than a typical weeknight. It is to this relative lack of clamor that I attribute my success at finding, what I think, are some pretty swell gifts. Being in a relaxed state and not having to fight the urge to flee a giant crowd gave me time to really browse.

It also gave me time to think as I people watched. I know this probably falls under the heading of "Personal Problem", but I don't like crowds because I assume no one cares about anyone but themselves. Projection? Maybe, but I can't help but assume a little of the worst whenever I encounter a stranger. Surely there was a time in our nation's history when fellow citizens we didn't know enjoyed more benefit of the doubt. Maybe not. But I found that weighing on my mind as I waited for the clerk at Piercing Pagoda to explain to a confused customer that she really did get the 50% off the extra pendant she bought.

I felt sorry for both the customer and the girl attempting to explain. The customer spoke very broken English and the girl was doing her best to remain courteous. For a second I actually entertained the notion of helping, as if I was some kind of Kissinger of Consumer Affairs and would be able to broker a deal. Plus I just wanted to get some ladybug earings for one of my nieces and move on. See, just looking out for me. I was projecting earlier. Huh. Projecting. Brt.

I finished off the shopping expedition with a stop at Borders. While there I bought a few things for myself: the 50th anniversary edition of National Review, a paperback edition of The Martian Chronicles and a nifty LED mini-reading lamp. I've always wanted to read The Martian Chronicles 1.) because I loved Fahrenheit 451 2.) have been lucky enough to see Ray Bradbury in person and 3.) my only recollection or experience with the story was the TV mini-series from my childhood. I'm sure Martin (McKee, not the Martian) would be able to give me the particulars on that third point.

Right now, I'm enjoying that Dutch delight Ketel and it's two best accoutrements, tonic and a twist of lime. All this while lounging in my jammies and listening to the A Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack. That's a great CD if you don't have it. For me it brings back so many memories of childhood anticipation at this time of year. Of soft glowing lights on the tree that I could see from bedroom door. Of clear, full moon nights with luminescent snow. Of everything that this time of year is supposed to be about.

Anyway, here's to Christmas. I know, a lazy tie-in to the title, but the Ketel's kickin in and its about time for a long winter's nap. Peace on Earth my friends and God bless us every one.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

My Kind of Town

Coming to you from the field office in Dyer, IN today. I'm up Laurie's way for a couple of family functions. Yesterday's was a bowling party for my soon-to-be nephew Clayton. Laurie and I bowled and, if I recall (and I'd better not very often), I beat her. Of course her attention was divided between bowling and herding a bunch of squealing 7 year olds. I just kind of stood back and watched it all happen in between rolls. Natrually, I can't ever bowl anymore without a million Big Lebowski quotes coming to mind. One of the youngsters set the scratch line sensor off and I had to fight the urge to yell "Over the line!". And I doubt any of the kids would've understood what "This is not Nam . . . " meant.

After the bowl-o-rama Laurie and I hopped a train to Chi-town to check out the Mag Mile and get some dinner. When we got to the platform at Homewood she saw a few people from the school she teaches at. I was introduced and we went further down the platform to wait. While standing there you could see the knot of Illiana people chatting and then stopping and looking over their shoulders at us. I thought I looked presentable enough, but it did make you wonder what the chatter was about. It's always at times like this I have to stifle the urge to give people something to talk about. Since Laurie still has about a month to go at Illiana I behaved.

We got off the train at Randolph St. and headed to Grand Lux for dinner. When we got there ans saw the jam packed lobby we figured we might have to make other plans. The frazzled hostess confirmed this for us with a tense "It'll be about a 60 to 95 minute wait." I could tell she was hanging on for dear life to the frozen smile on her face. Rather than be the guy that caused the dam to break I got us outta' there before she cracked.

While trying to think of someplace else, Laurie said she recalled Chicken saying one of his relatives or friends was a big shot at the Saloon Steakhouse in the Seneca hotel and that it was pretty good place to eat. So off we went. When we arrived the host told us they were sold out for the night in the dining room but that we could eat at the bar if we'd like. No problem. The bar was really nice with oak paneling and had a very old English pub thing going for it. Curious as to what role Chicken's alleged associate had in the place I called Chicken. That's the magic of cellular. Now you can indulge any question you may have at anytime anywhere. I left a message and told him we were at the Saloon Steakhouse and who his contact was so we could negotiate a deal. A very confused Chicken called me back about 5 minutes later explaining he knew no one there and that he'd never been. This was a really a blessing, in that it proved just how compatible Laurie and I are. I'm not the only one that imagines conversations or forgets details.

I ordered a 10 oz cut of prime rib with hash browns and Laurie had the filet. The french onion soup I had as an appetizer was outta' sight as were the steaks. The place is kind of pricey, but if you get a chance and have a decent appetite the Saloon Steakhouse is a great place to go. Just don't tell them Chicken sent you.

Afterwards we slogged down a very slushy Michigan Ave. to Starbucks for eggnog lattes. Very tasty stuff if you've never had one. Nothing really crazy about them, except they use eggnog instead of milk. It made a great dessert type coffee without being too sweet. The Phish-groupie looking barista screwed our order up though and forgot to make Laurie's. After we got that sorted out we mushed the rest of the way to the Randolph St. Metra station only to find out we had about an hour until the train left. Laurie suggested we go check out the window displays at Marshall Fields to kill time. This turned out to be a great idea, but not because of the window displays. I'll explain that later.

As we headed west on Randolph we passed several street musicians playing Christmas music. That mixed with the snow, the city's christmas lights and people you passed really put me in the mood. As we rounded the corner on State(?) we could hear "Let it Snow" being sung over a loud speaker. The voice was coming from a Chicago Fire Dept. tanker with it's lights on. A fire fighter in the right seat was just singing over the PA. And he was good too. Everyone on the sidewalks was cheering him on and waving. One lady was running alongside the tanker trying to get the guy's picture. All I could say was, "What a cool town."

Looking at the time I'll have to save my critique of the Marshall Field's windows for another post. Just do yourself a favor and get your butts up to Chicago before Christmas. It's hard to get burnt out on the holidays when you've seen a caroling fire truck.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

You Can Still Rock In America

Thanks to the Deacons, Tullamore Dew, Mary Anne's and Night Ranger for reminding me . . . you can still rock in America. It's a little past 3 am and I'm just getting home. Is this a great country or what?

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Florida On My Mind

"I was in the Virgin Islands once. I met a girl. We ate lobster and drank pina coladas. At sunset we made love like sea otters. *That* was a pretty good day. Why couldn't I get that day over and over and over..."

I can hear Bill Murray's character Phil from Groundhog Day as I'm flickr'ing Florida pics and feeling the chill from my closet creep across the office floor as we dive into the 3rd straight night of single digit temps. Knowing there are warmer places on earth one could live sure makes you feel like a chump on nights like this. Someday . . .

You can see the pics here.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Another quick one

No pics from Florida just yet. I will post some links to those tonight. This weekend however was a barnburner. If I can get pics from that, they'll go up tonight too. The Horizon 20th Anniversary Christmas Party was Saturday night and it was easily the best Christmas party I've ever been to--and I mean any Christmas party, not just the "company" variety. At the heart of the festivities was the Blooze Brothers Band from Chicago. They had a thumping rhythm section, powerful horn section and a pair of go go dancers, all of which added up to a room full of happy feet.

Now I don't like dancing much, but when I hear good old soul or R&B, I simply can't sit still. I think Laurie and I were on the dance floor for about 80% of the songs. They did just about everything from the Blues Brothers soundtrack, with the mildly disappointing exception of She Caught the Katie and the "c'mon and shake your tail feathers" song by Ray Charles. They did do Georgia on My Mind though. The highlight of the evening was a dance off between R3 and my father. Dad threw down the gauntlet at the beginning of the evening when he made the opening remarks. Naturally, Ralph was only too happy to oblige. There should be some good pics that Stevie Wonder took which I can post later.

Earlier--much, much earlier--that morning I joined Cousin Kellner, the amazing Pat Brown and John Gilman for a fruitless hunting expedition. Oh I saw about 20 something birds but didn't kill a one of them. Its a painful story that is still too burdensome to tell right now. Maybe later. But between walking my tuckus off in frozen fields all morning and then dancing it off that night, I was gassed by the time I got home. Sunday was indeed a day of rest. Laurie and I lounged around a bit and then joined the folks for a little brunch later.

In other news I've been ignoring the news and I'm feeling much better for it. Oh, sure I'll check out the internet now and again to keep abreast of the major headlines, but I'm finding a lack of talk radio and talking heads most beneficial to my overall outlook on life right now. Besides, I've got bigger fish to fry with the impending nuptials. Jill, Carrie, and Marnie are all married off. Laurie and I are on deck. Can't wait.