Saturday, December 27, 2003

Larry Gonick Joins the Blogroll....
Please go visit Larry Gonick's website (link at right).....he's got a complete book listing and a nice blog (under the "forum" link) for all of the fans of his "Cartoon History of the Universe" series. I have always recommended these books to any fan of cartooning and history...Larry puts tremendous effort and research into these books (with great puns on every page as well!). Go check 'em out....you won't be disappointed.

Peace on Earth....Is it even remotely attainable? I came across a very good quote from Mark Twain while surfing another blog:

"Man is the only animal that deals in that atrocity of atrocities, War. He is the only one that gathers his brethren about him and goes forth in cold blood and calm pulse to exterminate his kind. He is the only animal that for sordid wages will march out...and help to slaughter strangers of his own species who have done him no harm and with whom he has no quarrel...And in the intervals between campaigns he washes the blood off his hands and works for "the universal brotherhood of man" --with his mouth."
- Mark Twain "What Is Man?"

And so we celebrate this "time of peace" while people are killing each other around the world...I suppose there hasn't ever been a long stretch of world-wide peace in humanity's short time here on this planet. We listen to spiritual leaders on issues of pre-marital sex, abortion and other ethical issue, but if they speak out against war, they're just ignored, as if peace and forgiveness are just Sunday-school teachings and not guidelines to actually mold your life around. To speak out against war in times of fervent patriotism is not thought of as spiritual in nature, but treasonous.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

What Next, a Rain of Frogs??OK, so California has now experienced massive firestorms, freak hailstorms and now an earthquake since Arnold was elected Governor. If he was a Democrat, you just know Pat Robertson would've used these biblical plagues as an example of God's displeasure of sinfull California electing a steroid-using, orgy-loving groping dude as their leader.....believe me, down here in Florida we've heard Pat's theories of Disney's gay-days bringing on the full wrath of hurricanes as God's messengers of doom....

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Alternate Universes Abound.........in Joe Lieberman's mind, that is...first off, nobody's denying that the capture of Hussein is a bad thing; he was an insanely crazy power-hungry dictator in the true sense of the word. If anything, this should be yet another reminder that this Country should never try to prop up "friendly" dictators as we did with Hussein back in the 80's when Iran was a thorn in our side. Lieberman's crack about "if Dean were President, then Hussein would still be in power.." was a strange one, and a sign that he is indeed desperate to garner support. OK, let's play that game Joe, since you were trying to be the current VP anyway...maybe 9/11 never would have happened on Dean's watch...would I trade that non-event for a still-in-power Hussein? Right now I would....that's the problem with making shit up like that, any Bradbury fan can tell you that alternate universes are just in the pages of a book....

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Making a Tough Road Tougher....
I work with fire....prescribed fire, that is. My job is to look at a piece of land, evaluate the fire history, make recommendations as to the fire cycle needed and then write the actual burn prescription. In order for the fire to be successful (meet the management goals and not kill anybody!), I assemble a team of specialists; folks that know how to light a fire (actually harder than you might think!), how to suppress any spotovers, how to read weather and so on. My main point is that in order for me to accomplish a very hard goal involving a diverse group of people, I would utilize folks who possessed skills that matched the task - not my old college buddies that like to burn things......In that vein, I present to you a very good article that outlines just who was hired to oversee Iraq after the military was done. Not the folks who are specialists in their fields, politics be damned, but the same ol' political cronies.

"When the history of the occupation of Iraq is written, there will be many factors to point to when explaining the post-conquest descent into chaos and disorder, from the melting away of Saddam's army to the Pentagon's failure to make adequate plans for the occupation. But historians will also consider the lack of experience and abundant political connections of the hundreds of American bureaucrats sent to Baghdad to run Iraq through the Coalition Provisional Authority.

It's not that Americans lack such experience. In the last decade particularly, many American officials acquired a great deal of expertise in post-conflict reconstruction in places like Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor and in post-Communist countries in Eastern Europe and around the globe--expertise that could have been put to good use at the CPA. Names frequently mentioned are those of General Bill Nash, who commanded troops in the Gulf War and NATO operations in Bosnia; Robert Perito, former senior foreign service officer and deputy director of the Justice Department's international police training program, who helped advise peacekeeping missions in Bosnia, East Timor, Kosovo, and helped organize post-conflict police training in Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia; Bob Gelbard, former U.S. presidential envoy to the Balkans; and retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Jacques Klein, who served in various capacities in the Balkans under the United States and the United Nations. Yet according to experts in the field, few of those with experience in these various deployments got the call to serve or even had their opinions solicited.

In their place, the architects of the war chose card-carrying Republicans--operatives, flacks, policy-wonks and lobbyists--for almost every key assignment in the country. Some marquee examples include U.S. civil administrator Paul Bremer's senior advisor and liaison to Capitol Hill, Tom Korologos, one of the most powerful GOP lobbyists on Capitol Hill. Then there's the man in charge of privatizing Iraq's 200-odd state owned companies, Tom Foley, a venture capitalist and high-flying GOP fundraiser. Foley was one of the Bob Dole's top-ten career donors, Connecticut finance chair for Bush 2000 and a classmate of the president's from Harvard Business School.

The chief advisor to the Agriculture Ministry is Dan Amstutz, a Reagan administration veteran who until recently served as the president of the North American Export Grain Association. Oxfam's Director of Policy Kevin Watkins recently quipped that with his record of opening up developing economies to cheap American agricultural exports, "putting Dan Amstutz in charge of agricultural reconstruction in Iraq is like putting Saddam Hussein in the chair of a human rights commission." The presence of so many GOP lobbyists and fat-cats on the CPA roster has led many to suspect that the staffing was driven by the desire to award prized contracts to friendly companies and campaign donors. There is more than a little truth in those impressions. But a closer look paints a more complex picture.

In the lead-up to war, the architects of the coming invasion fought endless rearguard battles against their enemies at the State Department and the C.I.A. to keep the major policy decisions firmly in their hands. And the process continued as they began to staff CPA itself, where they wrote off not only State Department employees (considered disloyal because State had resisted the hawks over Iraq strategy) but also anyone who worked at NGO's (ideologically suspect) and those who had worked in Clinton's government (ditto).

By making partisan loyalty their primary criteria, the administration ruled out most of the people with experience in the field and restricted themselves to politically trustworthy Republicans, many of whom, though often well-meaning and admirably willing to serve their country in a very dangerous place, had little to no experience to prepare them for the challenges they'd encounter in Iraq."


"More such "help" may be on the way in the person of Rich Galen, veteran GOP-spin meister, former spokesman for Vice President Dan Quayle and onetime head of Newt Gingrich's GOPAC. In late October, Galen received the call to serve his country in Iraq as yet another of Bremer's Senior Advisors. His gig? Adding more artillery to the Iraq War spin operation. "My job," Galen told The New York Post before shipping off, "will be to help reporters on the ground find interesting stories that they can use. If there's a civil-affairs unit out of Manhattan that rebuilt a school, it might be of interest to Channel 5 but not to a network."

CPA officials say that the older GOP functionaries do a reasonable job keeping their partisanship publicly under wraps. But the younger Republicans in Iraq spend much of their time plotting against the Democrats. "Everything is seen in the context of the election, and how they will screw the Democrats," said one CPA official. "It was really pretty shocking to hear them talk."

"They are all on the campaign trail," said another official. "They see this as a stepping stone to a better job in the next Bush administration." "I don't always know if they are Republicans," said yet another senior CPAer. "But what is clear is that they know nothing about development, and nothing about transitional economies." They're trying to do the right thing, this official adds, "but they do what they do without any knowledge of how the post-war world works in reality. They come up with hare-brained schemes that cause so many problems they take more time to fix than to create."

It's also driven journalists on the ground, watching these operatives move in and out of Saddam's marble Republican Palace, which CPA commandeered as its headquarters, to joke: "They don't call it the Republican Palace for nothing."

There's more, go read.........

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Religion and War
I've always been amazed at the ability to transform from religious peace to rabid war that most of humanity possesses....As a biologist, I can understand that the basic response to physical threats, the taking of basic resources such as food or shelter would be acts of aggression or violence. As a biologist, I can also understand the basic evolutionary value of primitive humans developing religious beliefs within their tribal units over time. These beliefs serve to further unite basic family or community groups together, providing shared customs and ceremonies. Close tribal groups would have a survival advantage over individuals in the long run.

So I can understand all of that....what I don't get is the outright abandonment of the peaceful teachings ("thous shalt not kill" seems pretty cut and dry) during these times of war, and the derision of those who profess to follow paths of peace and non-violence as ways to a more peaceful world. Here's an example of a Catholic priest tangling with the National Guard in New Mexico:

"I live in a tiny, remote, impoverished, three block long town in the desert of northeastern New Mexico. Everyone in town - and the whole state - knows that I am against the occupation of Iraq, that I have called for the closing of Los Alamos, and that as a priest, I have been preaching, like the Pope, against the bombing of Baghdad.

Last week, it was announced that the local National Guard unit for northeastern New Mexico, based in the nearby Armory, was being deployed to Iraq early next year. I was not surprised when yellow ribbons immediately sprang up after the press conference.

But I was surprised the following morning to hear 75 soldiers singing, shouting and screaming as they jogged down Main Street, passed our St. Joseph's church, back and forth around town for an hour. It was 6 a.m., and they woke me up with their war slogans, chants like "Kill! Kill! Kill!" and "Swing your guns from left to right; we can kill those guys all night."

Their chants were disturbing, but this is war. They have to psyche themselves up for the kill. They have to believe that flying off to some tiny, remote desert town in Iraq where they will march in front of someone's house and kill poor young Iraqis has some greater meaning besides cold-blooded murder. Most of these young reservists have never left our town, and they need our support for the "unpleasant" task before them. I have been to Iraq, and led a delegation of Nobel Peace Prize winners to Baghdad in 1999, and I know that the people there are no different than the people here.

The screaming and chanting went on for one hour. They would march passed the church, down Main Street, back around the post office, and down Main Street again. It was clear they wanted to be seen and heard. In fact, it was quite scary because the desert is normally a place of perfect peace and silence.

Suddenly, at 7 a.m., the shouting got dramatically louder. I looked out the front window of the house where I live, next door to the church, and there they were--all 75 of them, standing yards away from my front door, in the street right in front of my house and our church, shouting and screaming to the top of their lungs, "Kill! Kill! Kill!" Their commanders had planted them there and were egging them on.

I was astonished and appalled. I suddenly realized that I do not need to go to Iraq; the war had come to my front door. Later, I heard that they had deliberately decided to do their exercises in front of my house and our church because of my outspoken opposition to the war. They wanted to put me in my place."


"I decided I had to do something. I put on my winter coat and walked out the front door right into the middle of the street. They stopped shouting and looked at me, so I said loudly, publicly for all to hear, "In the name of God, I order all of you to stop this nonsense, and not to go to Iraq. I want all of you to quit the military, disobey your orders to kill, and not to kill anyone. I do not want you to get killed. I want you to practice the love and nonviolence of Jesus. God does not bless war. God does not want you to kill so Bush and Cheney can get more oil. God does not support war. Stop all this and go home. God bless you."

Their jaws dropped, their eyeballs popped and they stood in shock and silence, looking steadily at me. Then they burst out laughing. Finally, the commander dismissed them and they left.

Later, military officials spread lies around town that I had disrupted their military exercises at the Armory, so they decided to come to my house and to the church in retaliation. Others appealed to the archbishop to have me kicked out of New Mexico for denouncing their warmaking. Then, a general called the mayor and asked him to mediate "negotiations" with me, saying he did not want the military "in confrontation" with the church. Really, the mayor told me, they fear that I will disrupt the gala send-off next month, just before Christmas, when the soldiers go to Iraq.

This dramatic episode is only the latest in a series of confrontations since I came to the desert of New Mexico in the summer of 2002 to serve as pastor of several poor, desert churches. I have spoken out extensively against the U.S. war on Iraq, and been denounced by people, including church people, across the state. I have organized small Christian peace groups throughout the state. We planned a prayer vigil for nuclear disarmament at Los Alamos on the anniversary of Hiroshima this past August, but when the devout people of Los Alamos, most of them Catholic, heard about it, they appealed to the archbishop to have me expelled if I appeared publicly in their town. In the end, I did not attend the vigil, but the publicity gave me further opportunities to call for the closing of Los Alamos. I receive hate mail, negative phone calls and at least one death threat for daring to criticize our country. But New Mexico is the poorest state in the U.S. It is also number one in military spending and number one in nuclear weapons. It is the most militarized, the most in need of disarmament, the most in need of nonviolence. It is the first place the Pentagon goes to recruit poor youth into the empire's army.

If we are to change the direction of our country, and turn people against Bush's occupation of Iraq, we are going to have to face the ire and persecution of our local communities. If peace people in every local community insisted that our troops be brought home immediately, that the U.N. be sent in to restore Iraq, that all U.S. military aid to the Middle East be cut, and that our arsenal of weapons of mass destruction be dismantled, then we might all find soldiers marching at our front doors, trying to intimidate us. If we can face our soldiers, call them to quit the military and urge them to disobey orders to kill, then perhaps some of them will refuse to fight, become conscientious objectors and take up the wisdom of nonviolence. If we can look them in the eye and engage them in personal Satyagraha as Gandhi demonstrated, then we know that the transformation has begun.

In the end, the episode for me was an experience of hope. We must be making a difference if the soldiers have to march at our front doors. That they failed to convert me or intimidate me, that they had to listen to my side of the story, may haunt their consciences as they travel to Iraq. No matter what happens, they have heard loud and clear the good news that God does not want them to kill anyone. I hope we can all learn the lesson. "

So what role does religion play in these times of war? We have all seen the banners proclaiming that "God Bless Our Troops," but the reality is that war is hell.......US soldiers have killed Iraqui civilians, Saudi religious fanatics killed thousands in New York, and so on. Is this what any diety supports? The Pope proclaimed that "God doesn't walk with man into battle," and that sounds pretty wise to me.

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