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Catfish and Cod
Saturday, August 30, 2003
 
Sacrilege: II.
(Link path: Shi'a Pundit)

Shi'a Pundit, along with recent arrests, has convinced me that al-Sadr is unlikely to have been responsible for the attack on al-Hakim and the Imam Ali Mosque (as I earlier believed -- that should teach me not to come to snap judgments). While al-Sadr is fully willing and capable of al-Hakim's assassination, he would be most unlikely to have damaged the Mosque itself. It's not just al-Hakim's current power base, but also al-Sadr's future potential power base. Attacking it would be political (and to some extent religious) suicide.

No, it's more likely to be just who the Iraqi police claim -- an alliance of disgruntled Ba'athists and al-Qaeda scum. Being Sunni extremists, they would have less of a problem with killing Shi'a. (Especially if they were from Pakistan, a place that seems to be more prone to Sunni/Shi'a violence. Please correct me if I am wrong.) Moreover, they would delight in the violence and chaos for its own sake -- and for the heartache that it would cause the American occupiers. al-Qaeda's long-term goal is to make the occupation and rebuilding of Iraq a failure; to destabilize Iraq and make it a hellhole, so that Iraqis and all other Arabs can learn to hate Americans.

Many Americans, out of ignorance, ask "What's the difference between al-Qaeda and every other Muslim?" Many Muslims, out of a misplaced sense of brotherhood and out of support for al-Qaeda's less odious goals, ask the same thing. In actions like those taken on Friday, it becomes possible to distinguish al-Qaeda and their terrorist brethren from all other Muslims. Terrorists like al-Qaeda don't care.

All Shi'a, including al-Hakim and al-Sadr (who are quite willing to use violence for political purposes in other venues), would never attack the Ali Mosque. They respect and revere it as a holy site. The American Army does likewise: it avoids posting guards near the Mosque, and took great pains not to shell it during the invasion. They did this out of concern over the feelings of Iraqi citizens, not out of any religious sympathy for the Mosque. Nonetheless, they did it, because they respected the status that others placed on the Mosque.

But al-Qaeda, and especially the butchers like the ones that killed Ayatollah al-Hakim, don't care about what value anyone else places on anything, except how it serves their ends. They're perfectly willing to defile anything, commit sacrilege anywhere, destroy or attack anyplace -- as long as it serves their ends.

In the attack on the embassies in Nairobi and Dar es-Salaam, we learned that al-Qaeda did not respect the rules of diplomacy.
In the attack on the U.S.S. Cole, we learned that they did not respect the Western militaries.
In the attack of the Eleventh of September, we learned that they did not respect Western commerce or culture, or the injunctions against suicide.
In the multitude of attacks on Afghan women, we learned that they did not respect the female sex, or any of the rights granted them by Allah or by modern society.
In the attack on Bali, we learned (again) that they reject the concept of being an innocent, a concept as firmly rooted in Islamic morality as Western morality.
In the attacks on Pakistan, Algeria, and Morocco, we learned that they did not respect other Muslim governments, or other Muslim peoples.
In the attack on U.N. headquarters in Baghdad, we learned that they did not respect those who came with honest (and anti-American!) intentions to help suffering Muslims.
In the attack on al-Hakim and the Imam Ali Mosque, we learned that they did not respect the sanctity of holy places, the idea of peaceful politics, or the idea of a better Iraq.

So what do they respect? No person and no ideas except their own. Because of their ideology, they are driven to attack anyone and anything that offends them. That means that everyone and everything that is not allied to al-Qaeda is in their gunsights. The longer that al-Qaeda operates, the more clearly everyone will see the truth of their ideas and motives. That is why, in the long run, they will never succeed in creating the world they envision.
Friday, August 29, 2003
 
Ballpark names.
(Catch of the day)

Why, oh why, can't companies leave decent ballparks alone? Why can't every major league ballpark in North America have a decent, respectable, inspiring name? I'm not complaining about the practice of selling off naming rights to a ballpark. Many companies, having bought the privledge, bestow a simple one-word name that conveys both personality and corporate benevolence. (These companies are often the ones with strong local ties.) But others saddle their ballpark with a meaningless GoodName suffering from mangled conflation, BiCapitalization, or -- worst of all -- A.C.R.O.N.Y.M.S.*

Not that my own Ballpark of Choice suffers from this problem. A mob of Red Sox fans would publicly accost the fool who tried to change the name of Fenway Park. I am blessed; why can't others be, too? Let's investigate good ballpark names vs. bad ones.

Edison Field, Anaheim Angels. Not "EI Field" or some travesty. We are Edison, let us be Edison. Edison is a perfectly good name. Verdict: good.

Bank One Ballpark, Arizona Diamondbacks. "Bank One"? This says nothing to me about who you are. Should I go down the street and open an establishment named "Bank Two"? Aside from the faintly Orwellian taste of this name, it has no personality and no soul. I might care about Bank of Boston or Fleet Bank (or the local equivalent; perhaps Bank of Phoenix). But Bank One can never carry allegiance, and neither can Bank One Park. Verdict: bad.
UPDATE: Since writing this post I have since learned that Bank One Ballpark is commonly referred to as the "BOB". This is so cute that it completely reverses the complaints listed above. "Bank One" has no soul, but "BOB" has plenty!

Turner Field, Atlanta Braves. This is the House that Ted Built. And I don't mean Ted Williams. It's corporate, yes, but it isn't afraid to say who it is. Verdict: good.

Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore Orioles. Until I looked the name up, I didn't even know about the Oriole Park part of the name, I only knew about Camden Yards. What a great name for a great ballpark! If all of Baltimore were as clean and nifty as this place, Baltimore would be the top city in America. Who can hate the place where the Babe grew up in center field? Verdict: good.

Fenway Park, Boston Red Sox. 'Nuff said. Verdict: good.

Wrigley Field, Chicago Cubs. Almost as old & venerable as Fenway. Almost as good a name, too: corporate, but such a personality. I bet most kids alive today wouldn't associate Wrigley Field with Wrigley chewing gum. Verdict: good.

U. S. Cellular Field, Chicago White Sox. Excuse me while I barf. "U.S. Cellular"? You can't even bring yourself to root for your hometown team; it's the Chicago White Sox, but no, you're a big national company, "U. S. Cellular". You're above all these petty regional factions. Like baseball rivalries. Verdict: bad.

The Great American Ball Park, Cincinnati Reds. Not according to formula, but you gotta give 'em points for style. The Great American Ball Park. We're the best and we're not too proud to shout it. Hey, I disagree, but it's a cool name anyway. Verdict: good.

Jacobs Field, Cleveland Indians. Named for the founder, not according to some "Gateway" public works bureaucrat's whim. I like, I like! Verdict: good.

Coors Field, Colorado Rockies. Corporate, yes, but with a certain memetic resonance. Coors, after all, always associated itself with the Rocky Mountains, and now with Rockies baseball too. I wouldn't be ashamed to say I patronized Coors Field. Verdict: good.

Comerica Park, Detroit Tigers. While not as bad as Bank One Park, this is still a mangled and conflated name with no history and no meaning. Who or what is Comerica and why should I care? Someday this might mean something, but not today. Verdict: bad.

Pro Player Stadium, Florida Marlins. This name is just obscene. Buying a ballpark name so you can sell athletic equipment? This comes close to the corporate equivalent of incest. I'm not coming to your ballpark to buy more sporting equipment, I'm coming to watch a ballgame! Does this mean that only Pro Player equipment is used at Pro Player Stadium? When I go to Pro Player Stadium's souvenir stand, will I get only Pro Player's authorized MLB hats and jerseys? And are the men on the Florida Marlins team not just pro players, but, yes, Pro Players? And to top it all off, they destroyed a perfectly good name -- Joe Robbie Stadium -- to saddle themselves with this tragedy. Arrrgh! Verdict (need I say it?): bad.

Minute Maid Park, Houston Astros. While corporate, and non-personal, Minute Maid does have a certain charm to it. I felt ambivalent for a while, but if I'm going to give Tropicana Field a pass (and I will), I think I'd better let this one go too. Verdict: good.

Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City Royals. Named for an old citizen? Sure! Why not. Verdict: good.

Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles Dodgers. A classic. What's not to like? Verdict: good.

Miller Park, Milwalkee Brewers. Hey, beer made this town. They are the Brewers. So why not have a beer name for your park? Verdict: good.

MetroDome, Minnesota Twins. This name smacks of MetroDevelopment projects of the 60's and 70's (whence, I feel sure, it came). But hey, they're getting rid of it, so why ride them over it? Verdict: pass.

Olympic Stadium, Le Expos de Montreal. If you have to be a monument to incompetent socialist planning (first planned in the 1930's, not completed until 1987), you can have no better name than Olympic Stadium. Keep the name, even if you do lose the ball team. Verdict: good.

Shea Stadium, New York Mets. Means almost as much as a certain other stadium I'd rather not mention until I have to, to the denizens of New York. Verdict: good.

Yankee (sucks) Stadium, Bronx Bombers. Yankees suck, but at least their stadium name doesn't. (Aside from the fact that anything named Yankee sucks.) Verdict: good.

Network Associates Coliseum, Oakland Athletics. Give me a break. "Network Associates"? Who the hell are you? However, the name (shortened to the Net) is better than the previous one: "Alameida County Coliseum". Sounds like they'd have the County Fair, complete with best pig contest, right after the ball game. But please, name it after your founder or something. Verdict: bad.

Citizens Bank Park, Philadephia Phillies. I almost gave this one a pass. Then I saw that the name was placed in the exact same font and logo as the bank itself uses. No. Nonononononononono. This is a ballpark, not a corporate asset or a trophy of your stupendous profits or a very large advertising screen. This is a shrine to the National Pastime, and you should treat it with respect. You can start my giving it a decent name. How about "New Veterans Stadium"? Verdict: bad.

PNC Park, Pittsburgh Pirates. Weep, O you residents of Pittsburgh. Weep for your ballpark. For though it is a well built park, with a fine design and a gracious view of your bounteous and beautiful city, it is saddled with a ugly name. A name that must be gazed upon, in fifty foot tall letters, every time you glance over the Monogahela. Verdict: bad.

PETCO Park, San Diego Padres. Hmm. I thought PETCO was "where the pets go", not "where the Padre fans go". Did I miss something? (Hey, at least it's not Qualcomm Park anymore. PETCO Park at least means something!) Verdict: bad.

Pacific Bell Park, San Fransisco Giants. Reflecting a local company with plenty of history, I'll take this one. But why did we have to get rid of "Candlestick Park"? Verdict: good.

Safeco Field, Seattle Mariners. Another tragedy of word amalgamation. "Safeco?" Who are you? Was "Safe Field" not good enough for you? Verdict: bad.

Busch Stadium, St. Louis Cardinals. Busch has been associated with St. Louis at least as long as the Cardinals. It's a simple, easily stated name. Keep it! Verdict: good.

Tropicana Field, Tampa Bay Devil Rays. If you're going to have a corporate name on a Florida ballpark, what better name than an orange juice company? And an easily pronounced one, at that. Verdict: good.

The Ballpark at Arlington, Texas Rangers. Like Camden Yards: not according to the ancient formula, but we'll keep it anyway. Verdict: good.

SkyDome, Toronto Blue Jays. According to this naming scheme, shouldn't the team be the BlueJays? AfterAll, WeShould BeConsistent InOur WordUsage. RepeatAfterMe: BiCapitalization IsGood ForEveryone. Verdict: bad, but easily fixed with the use of a space bar.

(*) A Completely Revolting Or Nearly, Yes, Meaningless Synonym.
 
In case you haven't heard, the Saudis are not our friends.
(Link path: Boston Globe)

While the Administration blames Arizona pipelines and other causes for the current spike in oil prices, the real movers and shakers continue to operate behind the scenes. While it's not true that the war was fought solely for oil, one of the expected benefits of the Second Gulf War was the boost to world oil production. The Iraqi oil pipelines would start pumping again; large amounts of oil would be sold; supplies would go up and the price would fall; and the American economy, not to mention everyone else's, would be boosted.

That turns out not to be the case. The oil is not flowing. The blame can partly be attributed to institutional neglect under Saddam; but the real shock to the system is the constant bombing of the Iraqi pipelines. Since no one with current hopes of power in Iraq wants the pipelines destroyed, the blame can be laid with the Ba'athists. The Ba'athists, in turn, have been linked with Saudi jihadists convienently driven out of Arabia revently.by the Saudi government. There are even reports that a Saudi national, un-named by the CPA, is acting as co-leader of the Ba'athist resistance.

And in the meantime, the world price of oil is above $30 a barrel, and the Saudis are milking all the profits they can. As the Globe states, "Nearly five months after the fall of Baghdad, it is Saudi Arabia that has staged an economic rebound, Iraq is mired in post-war disarray and US consumers face higher energy costs...The kingdom's economy is likely to grow by nearly 7 percent this year." While our economy grows at 2% and jobs flee the country like rats from a sinking ship.

The post-war period is not, to say the least, unfolding according to plan.
 
Why are we fat? Because we don't exercise, of course!
(Link path: Baltimore Sun, American Journal of Health Promotion, in press, American Journal of Public Health, in press)

The study cited above claims that a big part of the cause of American obesity is urban sprawl. The article above points out that education, race (i.e., genetic background), and age are larger factors. I might mention that American plenty is also to blame: in the distant past, all rulers were fat simply because they could eat well. American food marketing and the Fast Food Nation can't help either. Yet everyone agrees that exercise is part of the answer; and living in Boston, a pedestrian-friendly, car-discouraging city, has taught me that proper urban design can encourage exercise. What if everyone that commuted today walked a mile to work? What if more children walked to school instead of taking the bus or riding in Mom's car? What if you went shopping by pushing a personal cart rather than driving an SUV?

While some bemoan sprawl, others see opportunity. New Urbanism is an architectural movement that aims to reduce sprawl and renew the American Community that was destroyed by Levittowns and freeways. With New Urbanism, you can rebuild civic spirit by encouraging local downtowns over strip malls and long commercial highways. New Urbanism also encourages urban designs that allow people to walk to work (or to mass transit), to school, and to the grocery. New Urbanism can even revitalize former sprawl through infill projects.

The future of urban America lies in revitalization, and re-creating a small-town feel in a global context. Not only will it be good for the economy, but it will be physically and mentally more healthy than the lifestyle we built for ourselves in the twentieth century. Let's get started.
 
Power outage in London.
(Link path: canada.com)

It turns out that power grid failures are not all that uncommon, after all. It is quite possible that neglect of the power transmission network, network effects, and NIMBY-ism are far more to blame for recent power outages than the direct effects of de-regulation. We know what failure due to de-regulation looks like: California rolling blackouts. Failures like these are technical, not political, in nature. However, it may take political as well as technical changes to fix their underlying causes.
 
Who taught these bozos to negotiate?
(Link path: The Grey Lady [free and pointless registration required])

North Korea is still running their diplomatic corps according to Standard Operating Procedure: threaten the other side before doing anything else. Does goodwill translate into Korean?

China's representative was "visibly angry" at the inane gaffe. Talks will proceed nonetheless, but everyone now trusts the North Koreans that much less. The Norks are not negotiating in good faith, and everyone can now see that we were right not to trust them initially. It is China's duty as North Korea's patron state to control them and ensure peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. They were hoping (and may still hope!) that we will clean up their mess for them. But if they fail to do so, the consequences may be disastrous for China: a nuclear-armed Japan, perhaps, or American troops on the Chinese border. Worst of all, America might cut back on their imports from China; and China is in desperate need of our trade, for the money they are making in capitalization is one of the few things preventing a revolt from within the ranks.

China must act, now, to restrain North Korea. Half measures will not work: full threatening of the Nork lifeline (the supplies crossing the border) is the minimum force required. China may even need to mobilize its forces near the Nork border, as the Russians are doing. If the Norks test their nuke, war may become inevitable.
 
While I'm on the topic of Iraq...
(Link path: Where is Raed?)

This is how an anti-Baathist raid looks like to the other side.

Now, I'm not going to call for an end to the raids -- there is scum out there, and it must be wiped out. What I do say is that we should be giving positive services to the innocent Iraqis that we raid without reason. Iraq has no probable cause right now; no Fourth Amendment; and little grievance system for wrongful searches. Iraqis feel helpless under an occupation force that can disrupt their lives at any time. Is this the image we want to leave them with?

We need more Civil Affairs people, to listen to grievances, publicly punish law-breakers like whatever scum stole Papa Pax's Johnny Walker (alcohol, I presume), and give some positive cash or services or something to make up for the disruption we've caused. This isn't justified by altruism; it's PR, and absolutely necessary if we're not to leave long-standing smouldering distaste in our wake. The Iraqis revolted against the British just two years after they welcomed them as liberators. We must learn from their experience, for we do not want to suffer the same fate.

Maybe we can spend some of the money we'll save by firing Halliburton on these tasks...
 
Iraq in the twenty-first century -- the danger in the occupation budget.
(Link path: Baghdad Burning)

Behold, as the Iraqi blogosphere expands!

Salam Pax, Where is Raed?
G., Gee in Baghdad
Riverbend, Baghdad Burning

Read these blogs! Only by finding out what both sides really think can we hope to find out what's really going on in the occupation; only by finding out what's going on in the trenches, in the streets, in people's minds.

Case in point: Riverbend's latest post on the management of 'reconstruction'. Riverbend is proud of her countrymen and women, as she has every right to be. She points out that there are plenty of out-of-work Iraqi construction companies that could take contracts in the rebuilding of Iraq. They are highly skilled, highly motivated, and would have no trouble interfacing with either local labor (they speak Iraqi Arabic) or with American officials (they speak English, Engineerese, and Bureaucratese). Yet, instead, we are bringing in Halliburton to do the job. Riverbend's insulted that we're using foreign labor and frightened that Iraq will be stuck with the bill (as a way of placing Iraq in thrall to the World Bank and the IMF).

I'm more concerned about our budget. Riverbend may or may not be aware of this, but the U.S. Government is in a horrendous budget deficit. Maybe our government can manage to stick ridiculous bills on the Iraqis, but unless and until they do, we have to pay for it. And we can't afford wasteful spending when we're already drowning in red ink. Halliburton may be profit-taking; dubious means have been used to secure these funds. Or perhaps they're just inefficient; American financial experts say Halliburton really does blow through all that cash. But whether the extra spending is honest or corrupt, it's still an outrage to the American taxpayer. If the numbers Riverbend is quoting are at all accurate, we surely would do better hiring Iraqi companies than American ones. Even the necessary background checks would cost less (over the long run) than hiring Halliburton.

Critics in America are already saying that we can't run the occupation "on the cheap" and that the Bush Administration is spending too little on the occupation. Could that be because the Administration is unwilling to do more with less?
 
Sacrilege.
(Link path: the Beeb)

Another bomb in Najaf has killed at least 17 (some reports are saying over 20) and damaged the Tomb of Ali. No one has claimed responsibility, but ten to one it's part of the SCIRI/al-Sadr rift in the Najaf religious community.

These tactics must end. One of the basic rules of a democracy is that, when the going gets tough, the tough don't get bombed. Or to put it in more refined terms: civil society must remain civil in its actions. No matter how bad the invective gets, assassinating your opponent (or attacking his physical power base) is never a legitimate tactic in a civilized country. If this becomes acceptable, or even tolerated, while U.S. troops are present in the city -- then you can hang up the rule of law in Iraq.

We impeached Richard Nixon simply for breaking and entering his opponent's lair. (Okay, okay, conspiracy to obstruct justice by obscuring the conspiracy to break and enter. Picky, aren't we?) Imagine what America would be like -- both then and today -- if Nixon's men had smuggled a bomb in to kill DNC operatives (and just maybe a senior Democratic staffer) instead.

Is it any wonder that both sides are now raising militias?

Militias are created when people believe that the duly constituted government cannot or will not protect them, and is unable or unwilling to prevent their organization. They are the first step toward independent polities and civil war. Najaf is no longer simply 'friendly territory', a place where people can relax compared to the (relatively) bloody Sunni Triangle. Neither side is trying to take potshots at us, but they're taking potshots all the same, and that means insecurity on the streets and in the minds of ordinary Iraqis. In the middle-to-long run, that translates into instability, a poor economy, and unhappy Iraqis.

Keep your eyes on the prize. The goal -- the real reason we invaded and occupied Iraq -- was to create a stable, prosperous, democratic, open, and happy Iraq. A proud people secure in their standing, who didn't have to blame the West and the United States for all their woes. A nation that can help lead the Middle East into the twenty-first century.

(And, yes, a base for our troops and a source of oil. Many people say that delegitimizes our war. But does that mean that only interventions that do us no good whatsoever are legitimate? We'll discuss this another time.)

Iraqis won't like it if we crack down. Surpress one side, and we'll be partisan and interventionist -- meddling in Iraqi politics. Surpress both sides, and we'll be accused of opressing Iraqi politics. Inevitably, we'll be seen as surpressing Iraqi aspirations in favor of our own.

A better answer would be to have Iraqi troops do so. But -- d'oh! -- we disbanded the Iraqi Army, and the corps of policemen and traffic cops we have trained up so far can't do the job. In another year, thanks to the miracles of cadre training and geometric growth, the Iraqi government (American-influenced or not) will have a sizable force that can stop this insanity. If we set the government and army up in such a way that no single tribe, faith, or region can dominate the apparatus of government (the way Saddam's al-Tikritis did), then such a force could surpress violence and rebellions without formenting discord and (say it softly) seperatism. But that's next year; we need solutions today.

Which is why Gen. John Abazaid, CENTCOM commander and Arab-American, supports recruiting occupation troops from other countries, particularly Muslim countries that will be less vulnerable to accusations of impropriety. Some people think that's a bad idea, as Muslims may refuse to fire on fellow Muslims, especially if the occupation force in Iraq is forced to fight Iranians, Syrians, or Saudis. Nonsense. If you're concerned about invasions or border patrols, simply make sure the Muslim forces aren't near the border. (That's not where they are needed, anyway.) And if you're concerned about firing on fellow Muslims, you're ignoring much of Muslim history.

The real sticking point is placing Muslim troops under American command. It's been done before, and it might be done again, but right now it's distasteful to many Muslim rulers. (Not really dangerous to the rulers, mind, just distasteful. It runs counter to current propaganda efforts.)

A potential compromise might be to use troops from countries originally opposed to the invasion. If the currently proposed UNSCR passes, and the occupation forces receive UN blessing, then it's possible that French, German, or Russian troops might join the occupation forces. They could be the visible hand that shuts down terror in the name of politics, without causing people to say that "you're in the American's pockets!" They might carry around a pro-Saddamite stink (which is close to deadly in much of Iraq now), and they'll never be respected by ordinary Iraqis, but at least they won't be perceived as the direct imperalist threat.

When put that way, I think I might even support the French joining the occupation effort. It would allow them to experience, firsthand, the consequences of coddling dictators. They created the Saddamite mess at least as much as we did, and they hung on to him long after the excuses used to justify their support rang hollow.

In the meantime, who will stop the bombings? The Special Forces and other shadowy organizations will do what they can, raiding bomb manufacturies and dismantling terror infrastructure. We can install better security at sensitive sites. But, in the main, it appears that the bombs may go on. That's definitely a negative, but there's a ray of hope: it will make all Iraqis detest anyone who uses tactics to gain power. Once the people are organized, they can surpress local madmen themselves. And once they do, they will have what everyone wants them to have: a peaceful, civil society.

One last point: the American troops went far out of their way to avoid shelling or bombing the Mosque of Ali. Yet some of the Iraqi people are willing to bomb it. What does that say, from either a Western or a Muslim perspective, about the relative righteousness of their causes? Who would you trust the most to guard the Mosque of Ali -- SCIRI, al-Sadr's militia, or the Americans?

(Yes, the above question forces a hard choice; that's intentional. I didn't put an entry for an honest, nonpartisan Najaf City Council police force, because they are obviously a better choice than all three of the above.)

UPDATE: Ayatollah al-Hakim, the leader of SCIRI, is among the dead. It doesn't take a genius to realize that the purpose of the attack was to assassinate al-Hakim, which means the blast is the work of al-Sadr. Chalabi, among others, have already blamed us for the attack, saying it was our duty to provide better protection. Others are blaming Saddamites, who are now about as easy to pick on as Nazis. (Not that this development is a bad thing.) Also, this is apparently the third attempt on an al-Hakim family member in the last week. (Only this attack succeeded.)

The Boston Globe characterizes this fight as a "generational power struggle." No doubt it is. But whatever struggles occur are the business of the people involved. When you set off bombs, it becomes other people's problem. The Iraqi people must believe, down deep in their bones, that bombs are not the way to resolve conflicts. But how can this idea be instilled? I really don't know. Perhaps the Iraqis themselves can try some ideas.