Monday, October 31, 2005

Prince Charles and Looking Good

Well, Prince Charles and Camilla are visiting the United States this week. Charles is expected to tell President Bush all about how he needs to get cracking on the Kyoto Treaty and how people should be terrified about global warming and, oh yes, how the United States should start showing more respect to Muslim countries and how racist, unsophisticated and provincial we are here in the United States.

As a tribute to Prince Charles and in honor of his visit I offer this small portfolio of what Charles would no doubt refer to as his Halloween Costume "haberdashery."

Image hosted by Prince Charles dressed as Count Dracula

Image hosted by Prince Charles dressed as a leprechaun (probably for St. Patrick's Day) in the hopes of making friends with the Irish

Image hosted by Prince Charles dressed as a Native American to remind everyone that the British once joined with the American Indians to fight off the French in the "colonies" way back when the sun never set on the British Empire and all that.

Image hosted by Prince Charles dressed to kill in his Muammar Ghadaffi costume

Image hosted by Image hosted by
Prince Charles in today's Halloween costume looking very convincingly like a Hotel doorman (I am not making this up. This is what he actually wore today, October 31, 2005).

Like St. Paul, Prince Charles clearly believes that he "can be all things to all people." Except, in Charles' case, the people are snickering.

Note to Prince Charles: Please set your own house in order before telling us what to do. You know what I are aware, of course, that Muslims and Blacks have been rioting against each other in Birmingham, England this past week (Note how the British news calls the rioters "asians" so as to avoid calling them Muslims/Pakistani immigrants). I haven't seen much of that in the U.S. lately. Perhaps we should treat Muslims just like the English do, what?

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Hugo Chavez Tells Venezuelans--Halloween Is Contrary To Our Way"

Hugo Chavez, Venezuelan President, friend of Fidel Castro and George W. Bush-hater took time on his weekly national radio address to warn his people of a great and looming threat: Halloween. Yes, the American celebration of Halloween is, according to Chavez, a "game of terror" where, "families go and begin to disguise their children as witches."

All of this reflects the American culture of "putting fear into other nations, putting fear into their own people."

The BBC article reporting Chavez' comments adds a side note:
(Chavez) did not refer to incidents earlier this month when lanterns made from hollowed pumpkins carrying anti-government messages appeared in several places in the capital, Caracas.
Are there any skeletons in your closets Mr. Chavez?

NOTE: Chavez is always a good source for a good quote. See here for something he said in September.

Pope John Paul II's 1975 Ford Escort Sells for $690,000

Image hosted by Photobucket.comAfter the near fatal assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II in 1981 he gave up riding in an open car for sitting in a glass-enclosed Pope-mobile instead. But this had not always been the Pope's favorite means of transportation.

Back in 1975, when he was still the Polish Cardinal Wyzynski he purchased a blue Ford Escort as his personal car. Yesterday, at a Las Vegas auction, the car sold for $690,000. The seller had been hoping the car would sell for as much as $1-5 million.

You could pick up an identical model down at your local used car lot for $1,200.

I'm sure that is what Cardinal Wyzynski would have wanted you to do.

Supreme Court Nominee Prediction

I have not idea who the next US Supreme Court nominee will be. The latest news indicates that it is a dead heat between Federal Judges J. Michael Luttig and Alito.

Both men have long track records of judical experience and are both considered to be firmly in the tradition and philosophy of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Scalia.

Both were overwhelmingly approved for their Federal Court positions by the Senate and it would be a real stretch for the Democrats to claim extraordinary circumstances to justify a filibuster on either.

My prediction, if I must make one (and I don't but I will, anyway), is that Alito will be nominated. At 55 he is four years older than Luttig and, based on my reading, be slightly less distressing to the Democrats. His 15 years on the Federal Appeals Court in Philadelphia (in contrast to Luttig's 4 years in Richmond, Virginia) gives plenty of paper trails to follow and, therefore, fewer opportunities for demands from memos or records from the Executive Branch (a situation that Harriet Miers cited for her withdrawal from nomination).

I feel that Bush believes that he will get at least one more chance to nominate to the Court and will be keeping Luttig in his "back pocket." If he gets more than one opportunity look for Janice Brown to get called up. She has only recently been appointed to a Federal Appeals Court position so another year or two on the bench will only serve to ripen her appeal.

I'll probably be wrong on this but no one can say I didn't stick my neck out!

Saddam Was Willing To Leave Pre-Invasion Iraq

The Australian and Al-Arabiya printed a report yesterday that claims that the United States had negotiated an international agreement with Saddam Hussein for him to leave Iraq and go into exile just prior to the 1993. But Arab nations refused to cooperate:

Deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had secretly accepted a last minute plan to go into exile to avert the 2003 Iraq war, but Arab leaders shot the proposal down, Al Arabiya television reported today. UAE President Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahayan made the proposal for Saddam to go into exile at an emergency Arab summit just weeks before the US-led war began in March 2003. But the 22-member Arab League, led by Secretary-General Amr Moussa, refused to consider the initiative.

"We had got the final agreement from the different parties, the main players in the world and the person concerned – Saddam Hussein – within 24 hours," Mohammed bin Zayed, deputy head of the UAE armed forces and crown prince of Abu Dhabi, told the UAE-based channel in a documentary

A quote from Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak indicates that the United States had agreed to the terms under the conditions that there be a peaceful transition of power in Iraq.

Butwhy would the Arab League refuse to support such a deal? Why did they risk so much suffering for the people of Iraq to preserve a despot who was willing to leave quietly? Could it be that they believed their purposes would be best served by the instability that an Iraqi war would bring? Did they believe that the response of millitant Islam to the invasion would draw attention away from their own national corruption and weakness?

As Captain Ed puts it (and this entire post is a hat tip to him),

Does the Arab League bear ultimate responsibility for the war, and did the US almost finesse Saddam out of Baghdad? We may never know for sure, but if this report is accurate, it would show that the Bush administration was willing to accept a solution short of war that removed Saddam and his sons from Iraq.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Three Girls Beheaded in Indonesia--Inspector Clouseau Is On the Case

A BBC article relates the following:

Three girls have been beheaded and another badly injured as they walked to a Christian school in Indonesia. They were walking through a cocoa plantation near the city of Poso in central Sulawesi province when they were attacked.

This is an area that has a long history of religious violence between Muslims and Christians.

A government-brokered truce has only partially succeeded in reducing the number of incidents in recent years.

Police say the heads were found some distance from the bodies.

It is unclear what was behind the attack, but the girls attended a private Christian school and one of the heads was left outside a church leading to speculation that it might have had a religious motive. (empahasis mine)

Uh....let's see. Christian girls walking to a Christian school in a region beset with conflict between Muslims and Christians. One of the girl's head's is left outside a Christian church....

So, although he is "unclear what was behind the attack," Inspector Clouseau "speculates" that it "might" have had a religious motive.

Whoever wrote this article obviously did not want to cast an negative aspersion against Muslims.....although, way down in the second half of the article (if you take the time to read that far) we learn that the area where the girls were killed:
was the scene of bitter fighting between Muslims and Christians in 2001 and 2002.
More than 1,000 people were killed before a government-brokered truce.

Although the violence has been subdued, it has never gone away completely.

A bomb in May in the nearby town of Tentena, which is predominantly Christian, killed 22 people and injured over 30.

The fighting four years ago drew Islamic militants from all over Indonesia and many have never gone home.

Analysts say the militants have targeted central Sulawesi and believe that it could be turned into the foundation stone of an Islamic state.

The analysts have warned that the violence could resurface at any time.

Wow! I am so impressed with these "analysts." Muslims blow up 22 Christians and they actually predict the possibility that "the violence could resurface at any time."

That should give those 22 dead Christians and the three beheaded Christian girls something to worry know that violence "might" be coming along any minute now....

The facts of the matter are clear: Back in 2000-2001 radical Muslims from outside the community stirred up conflict between local Muslims and Christians by attacking Christians and forcing them to defend themselves (against a large Muslim majority population and a government and police force that generally chooses to look the other way).

Christians are then attacked and murdered in "reprisals" for having defended themselves. Just to keep things on edge, every so often a bomb goes off in a Christian area or Christian children are found beheaded.

The message is clear: Christians, get out! Leave your homes and your community where you have lived for over 100 years. Turn your businesses over to your Muslim neighbors. Or you will die.

Until these outside Islamic agitators showed up Muslims and Christians had lived and worked side by side without any hostilities for over a century. The "conflict" is not the will of the local Muslim population but, caught in the middle, they are terrified of what might happen to them if they were to speak out against it.

And the news media, as this article so nicely illustrates, tries to present it as a "conflict between Muslims and Christians" as though some nice mediator could step in and get them to "kiss and make up."

Until we learn how to stand up to these radical Muslim thugs they will continue to terrorize Christians and fellow Muslims, continue to bomb and kill and behead innocent Christians and Muslims, until they get what they want: A world ruled by people like themselves.

We cannot let this happen. Christians and Muslims (and Hindus and Buddhists) around the world must unite to defend against this "theocracy of death" and those who support it.

And the media must begin telling the story straight out, plain and simple, and bury their misguided political correctness in a grave alongside the graves of those three beheaded Christian girls in Indonesia.

What's Wrong With This Story?

Have you heard about the rioting outside Paris the past three days? Of course not. No one in the American media has printed or said anything about it. Two people are dead, 29 police vehicles destroyed, vandalized buildings and rioters tried to burn down a police station. The situation was so bad that this was the good news in the article:
There were no clashes with police (last night), unlike previous nights, although 13 people were arrested, mostly while carrying hammers or petrol cans.
Even if you had read the articles written about it in France you might not have understood who was rioting. Read the article here and then ask yourself what's missing in the article? (Hint: The only reference to Muslims is complimentary)

UPDATE: The BBC seems to have omitted who was rioting as well. I guess that the identity of rioters is no longer of any interest to readers or, one assumed, the police. It is curious that the word "immigrant" is used. I suppose that could mean that the rioters were expatriate Canadians? Why is the news media so reluctant to give us the news?

Friday, October 28, 2005

Libby Vindicated & Cleared of Outing Valerie Plame

I just had to write that headline bcause you will not see it anywhere else.

For months a special prosecutor has been persuing the charge that members of the Bush administration leaked information to the press that exposed Valerie Plame as a CIA agent.

After two years, the special prosecuter apparently had not found enough evidence to indict anyone on this charge. (The indictment for Scooter Libby that was released today can be found here).

During two years involving hundreds of hours of testimony covering hundreds of people trying to recall hundreds of conversations that took place over two years ago with hundreds of different people and with most of these conversations either "off the record" or from an "anonymous source" and being recalled without the benefits of having taken notes on those conversations to assist with recalling exactly what was said when and to whom...... After all of this, the Special Prosecutor was only able to come up with one statement, repeated several times by Scooter Libby concerning conversations with three/four journalists, that appears to be untrue.

In each of these conversations, Libby told the special prosecuter that he was asked a question (which the reporters apparently deny they asked) and that, in his reply, he told them that he did not confirm to them that Valerie Plame was Joe Wilson's wife (which the reporters apparently claim otherwise) but that he had heard suggestions to that effect from other reporters (which the reporters apparently claim he did not say to them.)

The prosecutor presents this evidence against Libby, clearly taking the side of the reporters testimony as being true while believing that Libby intentionally lied, obstructed, falsified and perjured himself with this one statement out of thousands of statements on every other point.

Maybe. Maybe not.

Clearly Libby will have some explaining or clarifying to do when he is given the opportunity to defend himself during his now-pending trial.

If, in fact, Libby made these statements knowing full well that they were not true then he should suffer the consequences of the charges that he now faces.

But, whether guilty of these charges or not, there is no evidence presented that in any way paints the Bush administration as having conspired to do anything unethical or illegal concerning the pathetic case of Joe Wilson and his wife, Valerie Plame.

Curiously, although Barbara Miller of the New York Times is mentioned as one of the reporters who interviewed Libby, her published recollections of her testimony interviews are so vague and and her own integrity and honesty so shaky that her testimony, cited as evidence in the idictments, would appear to be less than authoritative.

This leaves the recollections of NBC's Tim Russert and Time reporter Matthew Cooper as the basis for the indictments against Libby. As I read Libby's testimony in the indictment I am not always certain that he is testifying as to what he told them and wanted them to believe (which was clearly obfuscated and untrue but not in any way criminal) or to what he actually knew and believed at the time (and either lied about it intentionally--which is criminal--or simply mis-remembered--which is not).

At the worst, Scooter Libby was caught in telling a lie to the Grand Jury that has little to do with the charges that initiated the investigation in the first place.

As a reflection of the Bush administration, Captain Ed puts it in persperspective:

If the Times has its sources correct, they can celebrate the second indictment of a Bush administration official.
That only puts the Bush administration 59 behind the Clinton administration, by the way. And that was while he was still in office -- that apparently does not count Sandy Berger's stealing of code-word classified documents from the National Archive and destroying them during the 9/11 investigation
Right now it appears to be a he/said she/said sort of indictment. A classic case of "left-wing media" vs "conservative republican administration advisor."

With a foundational plot line like that the trial will make a compelling story.

As a matter of national politics it will, however, be "full of sound and fury" but "signifying nothing."

UPDATE: I appears that my thoughts are closely reflected in a statement released by Libby's lawyer today.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Miers Withdraws As Supreme Court Nominee

Harriet Miers threw in the towel today, requesting the President that her name be withdrawn from nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. Bush, with regret, accepted her request.

Image hosted by Photobucket.comIn her resignation letter, Miers offered the reason for her decision as revolving around the issue of "separation of powers." As a White House Legal Council for the past five years she has amassed a wealth of documents that, if released, could provide evidence to her opinions on legal matters and the methodology and legal philosophy by which she forms her opinions.

While the Senate Judiciary Committee is demanding that those documents be released, Miers indicated that she would rather step down than be the cause of a legal headache for the White House that could lead to an unprecedented release of confidential Executive Branch files to the Legislative Branch.

Three thoughts:

1. Bush, with his advisors (including Miers), must have anticipated this particular issue when Miers was nominated. A plan must have been in place to deal with it. Why then, when the issue came up, did it become a reason for her withdrawal? That does not make any sense at all. If, on the other hand, the White House either did not anticipate this matter or, having anticipated it, did not have a rational and reasonable plan to countermand it, then the President and his staff are incompetent buffoons.

I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt but am still mystified by the lack of a systematic or coherent defense of her nomination. Either something went terribly wrong that has not yet been revealed or else the failure of her nomination was not only anticipated but planned from the beginning.

2. It would appear that Mier's reasoning in her resignation letter would preclude any future Federal Court nominee from having ever served in a White House position OR (using the same logic) in any capacity on the U.S. Supreme Court. If documents related to a nominee's service as White House Counsel can be subpoenaed then so could documents related to a nominee's service as a U.S. Supreme Court intern or aide.

The idea that such confidential memos, correspondence and legal advice could be subpoenaed for something other than a criminal investigation is, to my knowledge, without precedent. Once again I am mystified that the White House would "blink" over a matter that has the full weight of history and legal precedent on their side.

3. I am baffled that the White House went so long and so far with this nomination knowing and observing the political capital they were losing with their conservative base. The immediate negative reaction to Mier's nomination (which I initially supported here) should have been anticipated. Even if the reaction caught the White House by surprise, the President should have immediately had second thoughts about the cost of driving a wedge through the Republican Party over one particular nominee when there were many others, equally or more qualified, who would have drawn wide-spread party support.

Unless President Bush can turn dross into gold, even a solid and well-supported nomination will not quickly repair the political damage created by the Mier's debacle.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

President of Iran Says, "Israel Should Be Wiped Off the Map"

Every once in awhile a leader stands up and speaks the truth boldly and unequivicably. Two people did that today. But there was a significant difference.

First, Governor Jeb Bush of Florida, in the wake of Hurricane Wilma, publicly declared,

"People had ample time to prepare, and it isn't that hard to get 72 hours worth of food and water, to do the simple things we ask people to do," Gov. Jeb Bush said. The governor bristled in response to criticism of FEMA.

"If anyone wants to blame anybody, blame me," he said. "I'm not going to criticize anybody and I'm not going to let anybody criticize FEMA for something we accept responsibility for." (as quoted in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel)
How refreshing to seeing a politician accept responsibility instead of trying to blame someone else. How refreshing to see a leader face a problem and promise to find a constructive way to solve it and to do even better next time.

On the other hand, we have Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad declaring that,

“There is no doubt that the new wave (of attacks) in Palestine will wipe off this stigma (Israel) from the face of the Islamic world,” Ahmadinejad told students Wednesday during a Tehran conference called “The World without Zionism.”

“Anybody who recognizes Israel will burn in the fire of the Islamic nation’s fury, (while) any (Islamic leader) who recognizes the Zionist regime means he is acknowledging the surrender and defeat of the Islamic world,” Ahmadinejad said.

Ahmadinejad also repeated the words of the founder of Iran’s Islamic revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who called for the destruction of Israel.

“As the imam said, Israel must be wiped off the map.” (from

For those of you who have never heard this sort of rhetoric before, "A World Without Zionism" means exactly the same thing as, "A World Without Israel."

It is significant that Iran aligns itself with Palestinian terrorism against Israel. Known as a long-time supporter of terrorist organizations such as Islamic Jihad, Iran here publically declares common cause with any group that, in the name of Islam, seeks the physical destruction of the nation of Israel.

Does this qualify as a declaration of war? Would this sort of declaration, taken in the context of Iran's nuclear reactor program, justify a "preemptive strike" by Israel?

I, for one, believe that it is more than likely that Israel will not sit and wait until Western Europe gets around to condemning Iran for either its nuclear ambitions, its incitement to terrorism or its public vow to see Israel destroyed.

When the time is right, Israel will "go it alone" and attack Iran in "self-defense."

Israel will be universally least publicly.

The United States, Jordan and Iraq will be excoriated for having allowed Israeli warplanes to pass through their air space.

Iran, in turn, will turn loose at least 10,000 trained jihadi who will be more than willing to martyr themselves in attacks against the US/Iraq, the nation of Israel and any Muslim nation that has or may be considering establishing diplomatic relations with Israel.

Egypt and Jordan will be fair game, of course, but other nations will suffer under the Iranian-style fatwas as well.

Arab governments may well topple under such an assault and the United States, in defense of Israel and other Middle East "allies," may be forced to quarantine and blockade Iran from all trade as part of a world-wide boycott of an entire nation.

In a worse-case scenario, the United States could be forced to actually attack Iran from the air and possibly even send ground troops across her borders.

The religious and governmental leaders in Iran are, of course, counting on their proxies in Palestine to do their dirty work for them. As long as they can pretend that their hands are "clean" they know that they can sucker Western Europe, Russia and China into giving them a "pass."

What is truly frightening this time around is that the President of Iran is talking so boldly that it almost appears as if there is a plan in place....and that Iran actually believes that the destruction of Israel is "doable."

Personally, between the two I would choose Jeb Bush every time.

Rosa Parks Dies at 92

Image hosted by Photobucket.comRosa parks died on Monday night. She carried to her grave a name that was synonymous with the Civil Rights movement; a name perhaps eclipsed only by the name of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. himself.

When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man on a Birmingham, Alabama, bus on December 1, 1955, she was not simply resting her feet. While her feet may, indeed, have been tired that day, it was her heart that was truly heavy and weary.

"Our mistreatment was just not right, and I was tired of it," she wrote years later.

On December 5 she was fined $14 and put on trial. Black Montgomery, including a young pastor, Martin Luther King Jr., organized a boycott of the city bus system, a boycott that would not end until late December the following year.

That year, 1956, would first find the Montgomery City Council voting to reaffirm their commitment to segregated seating on city buses. Soon after, a Federal Court, and then the U.S. Supreme Court, ruled that the segregation policy was in violation of the Constitution. On December 20, 1956, Federal injunctions were served on the city, enforcing the judicial rulings. The boycott ended the following day. A small, but historically significant, victory had been won.

In 1957 Parks and her husband moved to Detroit, Michigan. In 1963 she participated in the March on Washington where Dr. King delivered his "I have a dream..." speech.

In 1965 she began working as an administrative assistant to U.S. Representative John Conyers, D-Mich, a position she would hold for over 20 years.

In 1994 Parks published her memoirs, "Quiet Strength." Two years later she is attacked and beaten in her home by a black man looking for money. He did not know at the time who it was he had assaulted.

Afterwards, Park wrote, "I pray for this young man and the conditions in our country that have made him this way."

In 1996 she received the highest U.S. civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Not to be outdone, in 1999, the U. S. Congress voted to present her with the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor as well.

Rosa Parks was quiet and gentle by nature. But she was stubborn, too. Once she had made up her mind that she was no longer going to accept being a second-class citizen of a country that guaranteed her equality under the law, she sat down on that seat on that Montgomery, Alabama, bus and never left it again.

The forces of bigotry and segregation tried their hardest to get her to stand up and go away but, in the end, it was not the world that caused Rosa Parks to was Rosa Parks who moved the world.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Study Leave Trip To Jordan

I don't want to take up too much space on this page so, if you want to see my pictures and read about my recent one-week visit to Jordan just click here or on the photograph of the Royal Jordanian Airlines plane on which I flew to Amman from New York. At the end of the post are a few miscellaneous photos and a few reflective poems, too.

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Monday, October 24, 2005

Update On South-East Asian Tsunami Recovery

Last night, following a Hawaii Multi-Faith Leadership Forum program that updated us on the disaster recovery process in Indonesia and Thailand (following the earthquake and tsunami that killed over 200,000 people last December), I was privileged to take our two special guests out to dinner.

South-West Coast of Thailand

Image hosted by Photobucket.comFrom Dr. Bunchar Pangpanich I learned that, in Thailand, at least, the recovery from the tsunami (that killed 5,000 people there, half of them European tourists…..mostly Scandinavian) is going well. Housing has been largely rebuilt and schools are once again up and running. The focus of his agency, the Free Andaman Network, is on economic and social recovery for the coastal peoples.

Those who live off of the sea in that part of Thailand are largely Muslim. There is also a gypsy-type ocean culture called the Moken who were also dramatically impacted by the devastation.

The first part of Free Andaman plan has been to build and rebuild fishing boats/canoes to replace those that were destroyed. Many boat-building “shipyards” have been financed for this purpose. Some have been so productive that, after replacing local area boats have been contracted by the Thai government to build boats for other areas, too.

Prior to the tsunami, the homes of most villagers stood on land that had never been processed into actual legal title for those who lived there for generations (the title process is too expensive for these poor people). Following the tsunami it has not only been difficult to determine where individual homes had once stood, but business interests, hoping to capitalize on the disaster, have shown up holding legal “documentation” that purports to show that they are the land owners. These folks would like to develop the beachfront land for resorts and other economic purposes. The government smiles on this and, unfortunately, looks the other way, leaving the poor fisher-folks to fight it out on their own.

Fortunately, according to Dr. Pongpanich, the courts are independent enough to sort out the competing claims with some fairness….but only when groups like his intercede and organize the local people to stand up and defend their rights.

As villages become reorganized around these common needs and concerns local, democratic methods of self-government are beginning to emerge, empowering the villagers even more. These people do not want or need a handout any more, according to Pongpanich. Local relief and reconstruction agencies already have more than enough money to finish up the work and the real need is in community organization and development, something his agency is busy doing. (“Perhaps you might consider sending your money to Indonesia where it is more desperately needed,” he said.)

Dr. Pongpanich indicated that he did not ever anticipate that his organization would become a permanent “NGO” (non-governmental organization) but was willing to allow it to complete its work over the next 12-16 months and then dissolve.

His personal plan, at that point, is to become a Buddhist monk and develop his spiritual life and disciplines in a deeper way.

As a fully-trained and licensed medical doctor (trained at the Presbyterian Medical School in Changmai) he has already given up that practice in order to serve the larger social and economic needs of the tsunami-impacted coastal communities. It is not surprising to me that he would be willing to give up and let go of this as well for a time of personal and spiritual introspection, refreshment and renewal.

One interesting side note is that his family household includes four Muslims, three Christians (Presbyterians) and three Buddhists, including himself. It is his impression that the recent highly publicized murders by Muslim radicals of local Thai’s have been carried out by a very small and marginalized number of people. Local Muslim leaders have publicly condemned such actions. He also shared his belief that at least ½ of these killings have been of a personal nature rather than from religious zealotry.

Aceh Province, Northern Sumatra, Indonesia

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Click photo to enlarge

The Rev. Dr. Edison Munthe, an Indonesian Lutheran pastor, had a somewhat different story to tell of the situation in Aceh Province in northern Sumatra. Although houses are being rebuilt with both government and non-government assistance, vast numbers of displaced people, (almost all of them Muslim) are still living in tents set up at refugee camps.

The earthquake that followed the tsunami by several months damaged and destroyed many buildings, schools, mosques, businesses and other infrastructure far inland, making the job of rebuilding communities and lives all the more difficult.

As in Thailand, business ventures, with the tacit support of governmental agents and members of the Indonesian military, have seized land that had previously been covered with individual homes and entire villages. This has left thousands of tsunami victims with no place to go home to and no place to rebuild their lives.

Apparently there is a national history of the people of Aceh being treated less fairly than those in other regions of Indonesia. This precedent, enhanced by the presence of drug running and corrupted government officials, has prevented any genuine return to normalcy in the area.

Basic humanitarian needs are still unmet for many thousands of people. Local Christian pastors, while representing a small minority of the population, have been major conduits of money and provisions. They are, in turn, highly respected and accepted by the Muslim majority.

Common Themes

Both men commented on the obvious: Providing support through private agencies (NGOs) is far more efficient than going through government channels. Not all NGOs have local leadership, however, and either are unable to carry through on their plans or are unable to transport needed materials from Jakarta, for example, to Aceh.

For the most part, now that the initial crisis has passed, cash donations are preferred over material ones. Shipping and transporting these materials is costly and difficult. Cash, however, is easily traded for the things that are actually needed in a specific situation. It is not that there is no food or clothing, only that the (ample) food and clothing available cost money that the poor coastal peoples do not have.

It is vital, say Dr. Munthe, that these Indonesian people be allowed to return to their land and reestablish their communities. In the long run both men also agreed that giving too much help and assistance will hurt more lives than it will benefit. “People need to be empowered to rebuild their own lives… work together as neighbors and friends and families in the traditional cultural patterns of sharing.” People will work and will work hard if given even a small bit of hope for a better future. As long as they remain displaced in refugee camps, sitting idle with nothing to do and little to hope for, a sense of hopelessness and despair will make any future recovery of Aceh all that much more difficult.

Overarching Theme of Our Common Humanity

Both men experienced a similar response to their respective tragedies. In each case, cultural, religious and historic differences that had once separated people became secondary and almost marginal matters as the common needs of a common humanity became paramount.

In Thailand, Buddhists worked with Muslims to establish boadyards (the most successful of which is operated by a Muslim Imam).

In Indonesia, Christians worked and gave freely and generously to support and aid the vast numbers of displaced Muslims.

The spirit of cooperation has been experienced as such a good thing that leaders in the various faith communities are working out ways to continue and sustain their relationships as the crisis begins to lessen and the temptation comes to fall back into old patterns of behavior.


It was good to hear of the successful rebuilding of lives and culture in Thailand.

It was sad and disheartening to hear of the continued suffering of tens of thousands of people still displaced from their homes and communities in Indonesia.

Yet it was inspiring to hear of the spirit of our common humanity transcending those things that would ordinarily be powerful enough to divide people one from another.

Matters of faith and culture are vital and must never be diluted. But when at issue is the survival of our neighbors in need each faith and culture must rise above itself and help usher a mutually-shared vision of peace and prosperity into a tangible reality.

I am so grateful for men and women like Edison Munthe and Bunchar Pongpanich. There are good people in every corner of the world who are willing to sacrifice themselves for the common good of all, even those they do not always see eye-to-eye with. It was a double privilege to not only hear their public presentation but to share a private meal and private conversation with them afterwards.

Wierd News #4 Honolulu Airport's "Drive Through" Baggage Claim

A man, who police suspect may have been on drugs, drove his car through a glass door and into the baggage claim area of the Honolulu Airport's Inter-Island Terminal on Sunday afternoon.

No one was injured even though the man continued to drive the car for nearly 100 yards before being arrested.

As someone who had frequently driven to and from the Honolulu Airport my theory is this: The man was probably just frustrated after driving around and around the always full parking garage attached to the Inter-Island terminal and, in desparation, was merely looking for a place to park.

Image hosted by Photobucket.comHistorical Footnote: Some years ago students at MIT found a novel way to solve their parking problems. As a "hack" (practical joke) they managed to put a fully equipped and working police car on top of the school's signature dome.

Wierd News #3 "Science Almost Loses 'Rat Race'"

Image hosted by Photobucket.comIn an attempt to discern how introduced species move and spread in a new environment, New Zealand researchers released a Norwegian Rat named "Razza" onto an otherwise "ratless" island.

Although electronically monitored so that the scientists could track the rat wherever it went Razza managed to elude recapture for 18 weeks. At one point the rat disappeared from their monitor completely only to be rediscovered on another island after apparently swimming over 400 yards across open water.

Numerous traps and baits and even sniffer dogs failed to reel in the renegade rat until a suspected area was totally "saturated" with traps. Razza finally met his fate when lured into a fatal liason with fresh penguin meat.

The results of the experiment were so unexpected that the researchers are trying it again to "make sure Razza's race wasn't a fluke."

"We want to check whether this was normal behavior," one scientist said.

Wierd News #2 "Syria Says, 'Blame Israel'"

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Wink. Wink.

After getting caught in the cross-hairs of a United Nations investigative report on the assassination of former Lebanon Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, Syrian Foreign Ministry advisor Riyad Dawoodi replied, "There's no proof."

In the legendary tradition of the OJ Simpson defense team, Dawoodi then attempted to create a "reasonable doubt" by shifting the blame to......who do you think?

AP writer Donna Abu-Nasir writes,

Seeking to put another spin on Hariri's assassination, Dawoodi implied that the Arabs' longtime foe, Israel, could have been behind the killing.

He said (the UN's) report concluded the assassination "could not have happend without a very sophisticated means which belongs to a highly equipped security organ."

"And you just look around you--who is very well-equipped?" he asked, alluding to Israel.

I can just hear Monty Python adding a sly, "Wink. Wink." to this otherwise pathetic moment.

Still, it is refreshing to see Syria publically admitting that its car-bombing capabilities are not "very sophisticated" and that its security organ is not "highly equipped."

Weird News #1 Archimedes' "Death Ray" a Failure

Image hosted by Photobucket.comIn a sort of "friendly fire" competition, researchers from MIT and the University of Arizona attempted to recreate one of the ancient world's most compelling legends.

The story has it that Archimedes saved Syracuse from a sea invasion by a Roman fleet by creating a series of polished surfaces that reflected and concentrated the light from the sun into a sort of "death ray" that set one Roman ship on fire after another.

According to the AP report, the competition took place in San Francisco this past Saturday, October 22. An old, wooden fishing boat was the target.

The Arizona team failed to do anything more than raise the temperature slightly.

From 150 feet away MIT managed some smoldering but no flame.

When the boat was moved to within 75 feet the MIT team actually managed to start a small fire that, unfortunately for history, quickly went out.

One observer summed it up this way, "We're not saying it can't be done. We're just saying it's extremely impractical as a weapon of war."

Before the U.S. war on Iraq I suppose that most folks figured that "IED's" were also "extremely impractical as a weapon of war." I just hope that the "terrorist/insurgents" don't pick up on this "death ray" idea and figure out some way to made something out of it. There is, after all, an ample supply of sunlight at their disposal.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Rory Carroll, Kidnapped British Reporter Freed In Baghdad

Image hosted by Photobucket.comRory Carroll, Baghdad-based journalist for the English newspaper The Guardian was released today after being kidnapped on Wednesday.

This might not normally be something I would blog about except for the fact that Rory was my seat-mate on my recent 11-hour flight from New York City to Amman, Jordan, on Royal Jordanian Airlines. (I took the above photo of Rory as we disembarked at Queen Alia International Airport in Amman).

Rory was returning from a 2-week vacation spent with his sister in New York.

I mentioned my encounter with Rory in a previous post here.

Rory has been in my thoughts and prayers often since I met him. It was not until today, when I heard on the radio of his release, that I even knew he had been kidnapped.

In any case, I join with his family, friends, the Guardian and his fellow journalists stationed in Iraq in giving thanks to God for his safe release.

Rory told me he was scheduled to complete his assignment this coming January. He was, he said, looking forward to leaving Iraq and starting a new assignment somewhere else.....presumably somewhere where you don't have to worry about being kidnapped every time you interview someone for a story.

I wonder whether Rory will now get an early ticket home. If offered I would be surprised if he didn't take it.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Able Danger Strikes Again--Is Anybody Listening?

Last August I posted here on U.S. Congregssman Curt Weldon and his attempts to get some political and news media traction on what appeared to be a Front Page "no-brainer."

Weldon presented compelling evidence that a government intelligence group code named "Able Danger" identified an al-Qaeda terrorist cell along with serveral of the 9-11 terrorist/hijackers (including Mohammed Atta) by name over a year before the actual attacks.

Weldon wanted to know why the information was squelched and by whom and why the Congressional 9-11 Commission did not report on this matter even though the material had been presented to it during its investigation.

Well, after more than two more months of effort, all Weldon has now gathered a total of 7 former Able Danger associates who are willing to swear that this story is true. CIA and DOD Intelligence people are claiming that all Able Danger documents have been destroyed and are forbidding all former Able Danger members who are still under their employment to say anything more about this matter.

One of his witnesses, a Colonel who received a Bronze Star for his intelligence work, has even had threats that his medical coverage, which includes his children, might be revoked.

What is going on here. What is being covered whom.....and why? Certainly there can be little danger to national security since, according to the Intelligence community itself, Able Danger has been defunct for over two years.

Today, (see here (Michelle Malkin), here (Captain's Quarters) and especially here (Sean Hannity interview with Weldon) Weldon added to his accusations, revealing that former Able Danger members are also willing to testify that they notified the US Navy over two weeks before the attack on the US Cole in Yemen that there was a plot to attack US military interests there. They told the Navy NOT to allow the Cole to enter the harbor or dock there.

Two days before the attack they repeated their request and the evidence for it.

The Navy ignored both requests. The Cole entered Yemen. Terrorists attacked just as the Able Danger team had said they would. Seventeen sailors were killed and 39 others were injured in the blast.


Where is the media? Where is the pursuit of truth? Does no one care that the World Trade Center and the passengers and crew of four commercial airline flights might still be alive if anyone had listened to any of these reports?

Not to mention the loss of lives and material in the bombing of the USS Cole?

This story is not going to go away.

People in high places are trying very hard to hide something.

I suspect it must be something very, very important.

But instead, we are "captivated" by the side-show of "who outed CIA 'pseudo-sleuth' Plame."

On a scale of importance from 1 to 10 it seems to me that one of these is a 1 and the other is a 10.

I'll leave it to you to decide which is which.

Apparently the US news media has already cast their vote.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005


Image hosted by Photobucket.comIn perhaps his most famous parable, Jesus tells the story of a son who leaves his home and father behind to find success in the world on his own terms. When the "prodigal son's" career proves to be a complete failure he decides to return home on his knees, hoping to be given a second chance by a father he has never really taken the time to know.

In Elizabethtown, Cameron Crowe has resurrected this time-worn but deeply profound theme and given it a twist: The father dies before the son can return home.

While the son, Drew (played by Orlando Bloom), never really shows guilt or contrition he does radiate an odd combination of depressed fatalism and whimsy (the latter of which serves as the emotional metaphor for the film).

A over-cheerful and bouncy stewardess, Claire (played by Kirsten Dunst), gushes and manipulates her way (whimsically, of course) into his heart; redeeming him from his self-centered "it's all about me" attitude in the process.

A wonderful ensemble of earthy-quirky characters at first mystify and finally endear themselves to Drew as he discovers honest love and affection among his father's family and friends in their hometown: Elizabethtown, Kentucky.

Unlike Jesus' parable, there is no way for Drew to discover his father's love and acceptance face to face. All of that must come second hand from those who knew his father better than he ever had himself. As the unhurried (but never slow) movement of the story unfolds Drew begins to see a depth of character, humor and steadfastness in his mother and others that he has never noticed before....and has most certainly never seen in himself.

The romance between Drew and Claire spirals, joins, leaps and separates much like a man and a woman in a pairs skating performance. In the end, there is a dramatic "lift" which leads to a closing pirhouette. It is, of course, Claire who both "lifts" Drew out of his depression and sweeps him off his feet in the end.

My 16-year old Daughter #3 (who attended the movie with me this evening) rated it an "8" (out of ten). As for myself, even though the whimsy centered on a character who seemed far more saddened by his career failure than by his father's death, the screenplay, dialogue, direction, camera work, editing and soundtrack kept the story moving seamlessly and gracefully along in a tasteful and captivating way.

I did not cry or even feel the desire to cry even though there was a thin layer of emotional sentiment and grief laying close to the surface. I did, however, laugh often and far more loudly than I had expected.

I would rate this movie a 10 for the simple reason that I was entertained without any insult to my intelligence; nor did I feel any inclination to fall asleep even though I had only gotten 5 hours of sleep the night before!

In the end, the movie seems to say that keeping a sense of humor (and whimsy, too, of course) will help anyone overcome saddness and disappointment in life. Especially if that whimsy is accompanied by a caring family and one-special-person who loves you even though you aren't a member of their family! This must be the philosphy of Cameron Crowe who is quite open about admitting that the movie grew out of his experience with the sudden death of his own father several years ago.

The title of this new movie will not bring the casual movie-goer into the theater but I suspect that word of mouth will keep this sweet and weepless serious-romantic-comedy around for more than the usual three weeks.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Dreams & Visions & God

Image hosted by Photobucket.comYesterday, while leading a funeral service for a dear old friend and charter member of my congregation, one of her sons shared an interesting testimony.

It seems that just last week he was working on a house he owns in Texas. While in the back yard he inadvertantly laid down on top of a nest of fire ants. He was bitten over 100 times, had a severe allergic reaction and, while trying to return to the house to get in some cold water, he collapsed and, as he recalls it, stopped breathing.

He immediately heard voices and saw a brightly lit hallway. He cried out, "I don't want to die. I have my wife and my parents to take care of!"

He then found himself breathing again and, although in great pain, made a full recovery without even seeing a doctor.

He said that this experience brought him great comfort when his mother died two days later because now, without a doubt, he knew that there was, indeed, life after death....and in that life there was a God who knew him and heard him when he cried out to live.

While not an active Christian, he was raised in the faith (in our congregation!) and knew the doctrine and stories of the Bible. But it was this experience that confirmed for him the reality of heaven, of God and of life beyond this life.

He also shared that, still in Texas after he had learned his mother had died here in Hawaii, he offered up a prayer, saying, "Mom, please let me know somehow that you are all right."

Immediately a butterfly appeared nearby, fluttered around for a bit and then landed just in front of him on the lawn. After a few moments the butterfly took off and fluttered away.

This too, brought him great comfort. He saw it as a clear sign from his mother that she was in a "good place."

For a moment or two I pondered whether this man was really on to something or was simply, out of emotional need, mistaking ordinary things for being somehow supernaturally significant.

I have concluded that this man was really on to something.

God has repeatedly spoken to us and revealed his glory to us through ordinary things.

For example: To most everyone in the ancient world the star was just a star. But, to the "wise men from the East," the star was an omen, a clear and straightforward indication that a new King had been Bethlehem!

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Jesus had his disciples throw their nets over the other side of the boat when they had not been able to catch a single fish. When the followed Jesus' instructions, the nets became completely full of fish, literally to the breaking point. The disciples immediately understood this as a "message" from God.

In the Old Testament, Gideon wanted God to let him know whether what he had been told was true. So, he put a lambskin outside his tent one night and in the morning it was dewy wet (when he asked for that) and on the next night it was completely dry (which had also asked for). This, he knew was a "vision" from God.

Whether it is a star, a fish or a piece of lambskin, God can take ordinary things and use them to speak to us in extraordinary ways.

This is what signs and dreams and visions are all about: Seeing or hearing or experiencing the real presence of God (and, often, his revealed will) in an otherwise ordinary setting or circumstance.

It does no one any good to try and tell someone who has had such an encounter that it was all a figment of their imagination. The experience somehow becomes self-validating. An experience of God of this kind is by no means experienced as an illusion or unreality. If anything, the extraordinary experience is even more real than the ordinary setting or object that served as the vehicle for the vision in the first place!

I myself have experienced several very powerful (and very subjective) experiences of what I immediately understood to be a direct communication from God. On one ocassion I was miraculously delivered from a completely unavoidable traffic accident. At that moment there was so little hope that I actually closed my eyes in resignation. When nothing happened, I opened my eyes and found that the impossibly tangled convergence of cars had completed disappeared. The nearest car was more than 100 feet away. I knew right away and without going through any real thought process that my life had been spared for some great purpose.

This incident was a significant step toward viewing my life as being valuable for God and being useful for others.

On another ocassion I had a dream/vision that both chilled and thrilled me. The vision was a overwhelming re-experience of the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit entered the room filled with Jesus' disciples like a rushing wind and with tongues of fire.

I woke up knowing without a doubt that God had used that vision to assure me that he was empowering me to serve him in some way. At the time I had no idea what that might mean, but I was completely convinced that, whatever God called me to do, I would be given the means to accomplish it.

Image hosted by It is easy, of course, to mistake indigestion for being a message from God. A psychiatrist I once knew was convinced that he had experienced an alien landing and had actually boarded at UFO, travelled with them and then returned to earth.

I cannot prove or disprove that what this man experienced was real or illusory. All I can do is to evaluate his experience from the standpoint of the Bible.

A true vision from God always....and I do mean always....communicates a sense of God's glory, power and holiness. Such a vision is always an overwhelming experience that confirms some great truth about God or imparts some sense of calling or purpose leading to a deeper faith and a closer relationship with God....and often with others as well. Such a Biblically authentic experience may or may not include the person of Jesus Christ. But, even if it does not, the vision will in no way lead a person away from Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Lord and Savior of the world. In no way will the experience affirm anything that diverges from the Bible as being the only infallible guide to what we are to believe about God and humanity or how we have been called to live in relationship with God and with others.

If a "vision" does not accomplish these things (and my friend's "encounter" with a UFO produced a clear movement away from God) then it must be assumed that the experience was a spiritual deception and one that will ultimately produce bitter fruit in the life of the person it has led astray (unless, of course, they repudiate and reject it as being spiritually counterfeit).

I believe that God still "speaks" to people in this way today.

Along with Native American Christian activist Vine Deloria, Jr., I can assert that "a person cannot have a 'mis-experience.' But they can have a mis-interpretation of that experience."

In this way many non-Christians, have had a "visionary" encounter with the living God yet do not have the knowledge to clearly understand what they have experienced. Part of Christian evangelism is to reach out to these people and take their spiritual experiences seriously, even as we help them look at and understand those experiences in the light of the one true God who has revealed himself most perfectly to the world through Jesus Christ.

Perhaps you, or someone you know has had a "spiritual" or "visionary" experience. It is important always to, 1. Determine whether it was from God or not (does it lead you to God or away from God) and then, if it appears to be an authentic God-experience, to, 2. Interpret it in light of Jesus Christ and the written word of God, the Bible.

I do not present myself as an expert in these matters although I strongly believe that many people who do present themselves as "experts" in these matters tend to make the whole subject far too complicated and the their interpretation far too legalistic than is actually necessary.

Such experiences should not be a surprise....especially for a Christian. After all, it was Jesus who said that, ".....the Kingdom of God is at hand." This means of course that the real presence of God and the way of life God commends is close enough to touch....or to be touched by!

My life and faith were confirmed by what, to anyone else, were extremely subjective and suspicious experiences. To me, however, and to the man at the funeral who was encouraged and comforted by similar spiritual "encounters," God made his meaning just as clear as he did long ago to those wise men, who looked at a star and saw something that no one else had seen.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Ballot Stuffing In Iraq? I Am So Surprised...And So What?

Iraq's electoral commission said Monday it intended to audit "unusually high" numbers in results coming from most provinces in Saturday's landmark referendum on the draft constitution.

It appears that American-style democracy has finally come to Iraq...complete with the "mom and apple pie" tradition of slipping a few extra ballots into the box when nobody's looking.

Does this invalidate the election? Most certainly it will not. But an honest investigation might shed some light on the nascent growth of real, honest(sic)-to-goodness "plumbers" and "dirty tricks" units within the major political parties in the country.

Take Anbar province, for example, the most predominant Sunni population in the country.

Thus far, Anbar has reported voter turnout at 77-90% with 97% voting "No" on the new Iraqi constitution.

Former Baathist Party members are most certainly groaning today, dreaming of the "old days" just three years ago when Saddam Hussein managed to get a 100% voter turnout and a 100% voter approval rating, not only in Anbar province but in every other province in the country as well.

Other provinces with smaller Sunni majorities or near-majorities such as Diyala (Baqouba), Ninevah (Mosul) and Tamim (Kirkuk) appear to have approved the constitution by votes of 70% to 20%, 78% to 21% and 63% to 36% respectively.

If these totals are to be believed then it would indicate that half or more of the Sunnis in those provinces voted to endorse the constitution. This would make it all the more difficult to believe that 97% of Sunnis voting in Anbar province would have actually rejected it.

A quick tally of the preliminary, incomplete and unofficial voting reports (with most of the Kurdish, pro-constitution north and four southern pro-constitution Shi'ite provinces in the south not yet included) shows 2,917,000 (84%) of Iraqis voting "Yes" versus 570,000 (16%) voting "No."

I do not think that any amount of ballot box stuffing could change those figures enough to change the outcome. And remember, many of the most pro-constitution provinces have not even reported their vote results yet!

If this does not constitute an overwhelming endorsement of a freely-elected, democratic, representative and constitutional government by the people of Iraq then I don't know what else would.

If the Iraqi people, including Sunni, Shi'ite and Kurd, wanted to stick a finger in the eye of the terrorist thugs they could not have done so more clearly and decisively than they did this past Saturday.

In every election there is a winner and there is a loser.

Today, at least in Iraq, the al-Qaeda, fundamentalist, radical Islamicist, terrorist thugs are losers.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Letter to the Editor: Honolulu Advertiser

Note: The following letter was sent to the Honolulu Advertiser today in response to this article on the front page of their Sunday paper this morning:

I am dismayed and disgusted by the sub-headline on today’s (Sunday, October 16) front-page story , “Sunnis, millions of others cast vote.” The sub-headline reads, “New constitution could face defeat as some provinces back insurgency.” This statement is patently false and is neither referenced nor substantiated by the article it purports to summarize.

The largest Sunni political group in Iraq, the Iraqi Islamic Party, urged Sunnis to vote “Yes” on the proposed constitution. The only province that could remotely be considered to be “supportive” of the “insurgency” would be Anbar Province. It is here that the “insurgents” terrorize, threaten and kill those who oppose their barbaric policy of murdering Muslim men, women and children as part of a futile and twisted attempt to assert radical religious and political control over Iraq. The vast majority of Sunnis, as well as Kurds and Shi’ites, publically refer to these thugs as “terrorists” (not “insurgents” or “freedom fighters”) and want them to be killed or thrown out of their country.

To imply, as your sub-headline, that “some provinces back (the) insurgency” is a blatant, calculated and easily-refuted lie. Whatever editor wrote or approved this should be reprimanded and, in addition, a public retraction and apology should be printed as soon as possible.

Michelle Wie Disqualified In First Tournament As a Pro

Move over Tomás de Torquemada, the Inquisition has a new leader in the person of Michael Bamberger, a reporter for Sports Illustrated.

Bamberger, following the completion of the LPGA Samsung World Classic Gold Tournament, told LPGA officials that he believed that Michelle Wie, playing in her first tournament as a professional, may have, after declaring an unplayable lie, taken a unfair drop that was closer to the hole than her original lie.

Required to investigate the accusation, officials first reviewed television video records of the incident. They determined that the video was "inconclusive."

Accordingly, they proceeded out to the course with Wie and her caddy and had them show exactly where the ball had been dropped. They then paced off the distance to the hole from the original lie and the drop. This too, apparently, was inconclusive.

Finally, they took string and laid it to the hole from both ball positions. by this means they were able to determine that the ball had been dropped 12-15 inches closer to the hole. (Wie later stated that she believed the distance had been 3 inches). This, according to the "rules of golf," meant that Wie should have added a 2-stroke penalty to her score. Since she signed that round's scorecard without that penalty included she was automatically disqualified.

Now, the 7th hole on the Palm Desert Bighorn Valley Course is a par 4, 400-yard hole. Assuming that Wie hit a 250 yard 3-wood shot into the bush, she would still have at least a 150 yard approach shot to the hole. This means that Wie dropped her ball leaving approximately 149.66 yards to the hole. This is an advantage worth disqualifying someone for?

So, the LPGA now has an Inquisition and a Grand Inquisitor. It has instant replay review and even taped review of actions taken over 24 hours earlier. It can disqualify a player based on possible mis-remembered ball placements nearly two competitive golf rounds earlier.

Can you imagine this being done in a professional baseball game (Sorry, tape review of last week's game shows that Bonds was out of the 1st base running path on his bunt single. His hit must now be recorded as an out, the runner at third did not score. The inning is declared to have been over and it is ruled that the Giants did not fairly win the game. The Dodgers are therefore declared to have won the game. Boxscores and league standings shall be changed to reflect this ruling")?

Professional football ("Sorry, it appears that the coach's left toe was over the sideline on the third play of the second quarter. This should have led to a five yard penalty and loss of down. The game must be forfeited")?

Professional tennis ("Sorry, it appears that the line judge and referee were wrong after all. The point should have gone to Lindsay Davenport. Serena Williams is therefore declared disqualified")?

Professional golf ("Sorry, although video tape review of yesterday's round was inconclusive, we went out with pieces of string, measured out the distance to the hole and determined that Michelle Wie was somewhere between 5/10,000 and 1.9/1,000's closer to the hole than she ought to have been. Wie is herebye disqualified")?

Oops. Sorry about that. They actually do this in professional golf!

You've got to be kidding me!

Can any professional golfer ever be sure they are actually going to be declared ineligible or not, even days after they have completed their round or even the tournament?

The LPGA should investigate and revoke this ridiculous, trivial, vindictive and outrageous ruling. It demeans the sport. It demeans the players. It demeans the spectators and the television viewers. It is a crock and a sham.

In addition, Michael Bamburger should be banned from all professional golf tournaments for years to come. He is a disgrace, a boor and an embarrassment to Sports Illustrated.

The only bright note in this debacle is Michelle Wie who, with grace beyond her just-turned 17 years of age (note: oops, I meant 16 years of age), responded to this injustice with humility and restraint. Her public comment after all of this?
"I learned a great lesson," Wie said, her voice choking with emotion. "From now on, I'll call a rules official no matter where it is, whether its 3 inches or 100 yards. I respect that."
The lesson I learned, unfortunately, is this: The spirit of golf is dead. Michael Bamberger and the LPGA killed it this afternoon.

Howard Kurtz Misrepresents Judith Miller's Plame Testimony

In a widely syndicated article for the Washington Post, Howard Kurtz has once again written on the Valerie Plame “outing” investigation. Today’s article (the one I read in the Honolulu Advertiser, which is not available on-line, is similar but not identical to that published by the Post) purports to be a summary review of New York Times writer Judith Miller’s story, published yesterday, concerning her recent grand jury testimony. Miller’s testimony was limited to matters concerning information she received from Vice-President Dick Cheney’s Chief of Staff, I. Lewis Libby.

Kurtz, unfortunately, appears to have misrepresented Miller’s story on at least two important points and implied potential administration misbehavior where none was really possible.

Error #1: Kurtz states, “During two of the 2003 conversations with I. Lewis “Scoote” Libby, Miller said, she wrote versions of Plame’s name in her notebook, although she believes the name came from another confidential source she said she cannot recall.”

The error here is that Miller did not say that she wrote versions of Plame’s name in her notebook during conversations with Libby. She did write them in her notebook, but did not specify that she wrote them during her conversations with Libby. A moot point? Perhaps. But Kurtz’ version gives Miller’s conversations with Libby a potentially sinister spin that they do not, in fact, deserve.

Error #2: Kurtz states, “Miller said she initially refused to testify about her discussions with Libby because she believed he was signaling her that she should not cooperate in the CIA leak investigation unless her account would clear him.”

The error here is, first of all, what Miller “believed” Libby was “signaling” her is of no import whatsoever. She could “believe” that Libby was a werewolf, but, without tangible evidence, her believing something does not make it so. Secondly, the only possible evidence that might be interpreted as a “signal” from Libby was a letter that Miller received from him while already in jail for having refused to testify.

False Implication #1: Kurtz writes that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald “is investigating other crimes, such as whether there was a conspiracy in the administration to discredit Plame’s husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson IV.”

The problem here is that the Senate’s Investigative Committee on this matter already has discredited Wilson; a conclusion that was unanimously affirmed by both Democrats and Republicans on the Committee. How, then, can it be a crime for the administration to strategize how to “discredit” someone who had already discredited himself by telling lies and half-truths?

Kurtz is a good writer and it could be argued that his “facts” are fairly correct. But sometimes the way the facts are packaged and selectively chosen can lead a reader to a conclusion that is as every bit wrong as if the story itself had been a lie.

As with any media summary, it is always good to have read the original source of the story yourself.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Iraqi's Choose Peace In Today's Vote

No matter what the outcome of today's vote on the proposed Iraqi Constitution, the Iraqi people's demonstration of sheer determination to walk long distances and stand in long lines in order to mark their ballot the way they want to mark it is a victory worthy of celebration and thanksgiving.

If anything is at all clear today it is that the Iraqi people have emphatically rejected terrorism and have boldly embraced the democratic process for a free and unified Iraq.

Reuters has published many beautiful photographs of the voting from which I have chosen the following as my favorites. As far as I can see these faces do not represent a nation fractured by sectarian fear on the verge of descending into chaos and civil war. Don't believe everything that you read in the generally morbid media. Instead, believe what you see in these photographs...and acknowledge that what took place today was a very good thing for us all!

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"Iraq the Model" Posts a Pre-Election Celebration of Freedom

The Iraqi blogger who posts at "Iraq the Model" wrote these words yesterday in anticipation of today's voting. They moved me so deeply I am posting them here in their entirety. (Note: Be sure to visit the site for today's postings as well).

Iraqi's preparing to decide...

Only hours separate us from a major historic day for our nation (too many historic days for Iraq in these two years!).

Tomorrow will draw a line that would mark the beginning of a new era in Iraq; a constitutional Iraq will become reality. It’s only a beginning since there will be more steps to go but it’s the right beginning because it’s a transition from temporary laws to a permanent-though amendable-constitution on which the people will assume control through their elected representatives and through their own direct votes.

It is really amazing how things have changed in Iraq; three years ago Saddam “won” 100% of the votes in a pathetic referendum that he designed in order to give legitimacy to his reign while yesterday even security detainees were allowed to express their opinion on the constitution through voting and the government and parliament are almost begging the 15 million plus voters to say ‘yes’! And although many signs indicate that the document is on its way to be ratified, no one can say it is until the people decide which checkbox to tic tomorrow.

Some people would say “Is that all you won, after more than two years of war and violence? That’s only one basic right” well, that is the point; we’ve secured one key right that can help us secure the rest.

Approving this draft is not the end goal, it’s a step among others in this process of evolution in Iraq and it’s going to be the gate to more steps until we reach the day when we have a constitution that satisfies and serves the greatest majority of the people.

Now let me take you in a short journey in Baghdad; I woke up this morning and decided to take a tour to see Baghdad preparing for the referendum, first thing I saw and surprised me was a leaflet thrown in front of our door.

It was calling for a ‘NO’ stating 10 reasons for doing that. I read the leaflet that had the Ba’athist tone with five out of 10 of the points said that approving this draft constitution is a Zionist goal. I tried hard to find a connection and of course there wasn’t any and it looked like a desperate attempt to use conspiracy theories.

To give you an example of the points in that paper I’ll tell you what one point was “what if an Iraqi woman married an Israeli man? Should we grant their children the Iraqi nationality!!!???” and yes, they used way too many exclamation points and question marks.

I walked away feeling more willing to vote with ‘yes’. Baghdad’s streets weren’t crowded as they usually are and checkpoints were everywhere and roads leading to the voting stations were mostly blocked. Most of these stations are located inside the buildings of schools and these in turn are inside residential blocks which makes them easier to protect.

People on the street, TV and radio are all talking about the coming historic event while papers went on hiatus since yesterday but many of them published the document on Wednesday to ensure that more people get to read it.

Although the distribution didn’t go perfectly, I doubt there are many who didn’t get the chance to take a look as the document was published many times on different outlets including websites and there were many discussions on TV where articles were discusses thoroughly. Add to this the thousands of workshops and lectures organized by NGOs. So I think it’s fair to say that only those who weren’t interested in the subject would say that they didn’t have the chance to read the document.Of course SMSs on cell phones were also utilized for advertising this or that point of view. Yesterday I received an SMS from a Turkmen friend of mine asking me to vote ‘no’ and to forward the message to 10 other contacts!Actually the Turkmen front decided to reject the draft some time ago and some Assyrian powers in Kirkuk joined them too so it is expected that we’re going to see many ‘no’ ballots in Kirkuk.In Baghdad, some districts witnessed rallies celebrating the agreement between the Sunni and the Kurdish and Sheat leaders on the constitution and people were flying Iraqi flags and firing fireworks.

The walls are covered by many of thousands of posters and banners; most of which encourage a ‘yes’ while some call for a ‘no’. The association of Muslim scholars accused the security forces of tearing their posters but in fact I saw many torn posters from both sides.

On the other hand, the Islamic Party is winning the respect of Iraqis for its courage and role in pushing the process forward; actually it’s a rare occasion where secular people thank and support a religious party for doing something. This can be understood when remembering that secular parties will be the ones to benefit more from the aftermath of this after the new parliament is elected.

In my opinion, this morning’s attacks on the offices of this party prove our idea when we said that no reconciliation is needed in Iraq and when we said that civil war in Iraq is not a strong possibility. It has shown that the conflict is not between the average citizens themselves but it’s rather a conflict between the average Iraqis and the terrorists and it has shown clear that this terrorism is not sectarian in nature but it’s in fact one of politics and interests.

I am so excited but a flashback from Saddam’s referendum three years ago still hurts; he wanted a 100% as the 99.96% of the previous one shocked the dictator. I was depressed that way and I decided not to go to the voting office and so did the rest of the family but my father was afraid that not going could be dangerous.He said that maybe one member of the family could go alone and cast votes for the rest of us. We looked at each other thinking who’s going to volunteer to do this ugly job to protect the family. At that moment my father said “it was my generation that caused the misery we’re living in so I’m the one who should do this”.

I couldn’t stop him and I couldn’t utter a word but I felt sad for him; his sacrifice was big and I had teary eyes when I watched him taking our papers and heading out.

It is different this time father, no more 100% and a ‘no’ would make me happy just like a ’yes’ would do and no one ever will force us to do something against our will anymore.Tomorrow will be another day for Iraqi bravery. May God protect you my people…you have suffered so much and you will still be suffering for some time but I am sure the future will be bright.

God bless you my people and all the freedom lovers who keep sacrificing to make this world a better place.

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night--#1

Ferd Lewis, sports writer for the Honolulu Advertiser, is normally a very good, insightful and sometimes witty writer. In today's column, however, had he been writing fiction he would have made himself eligible for first prize in the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest.* I quote:
For in the day and a half preceding the 6:05 p.m. kickoff, time planned to see old friends and dust off memories, the 58-year-old has had ample opportunity to ponder the turn of events that dislodged him from his native Canada and brought him to Hawai'i, which would become an important crossroads in his life just over 40 years ago.
*This award is named after the writer of the novel that began with this famous opening sentence:

"It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents--except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness."
--Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, Paul Clifford (1830)

Friday, October 14, 2005

No More "Insurgents"-- Now, Even the Sunni Call Them "Terrorists"

I have long wondered when the tide would turn. This week, apparently, it has.

What am I talking about? It is this:

The Iraqis are at last referring to those who are bombing and shooting them as "terrorists."

They are not calling them "insurgents." They are not calling them "freedom fighters." Whatever it is that the Western news media are calling them, the Iraqis are no longer calling them.

To the Iraqis they are now bona fide terrorists. Period.

Two days ago I quoted a man injured in a suicide bombing in Tall Afar as saying:

I don't think those terrorists know the meaning of God, and they don't have the least right to claim that they're religious.
Yesterday, after a bomb had gone off in front of their headquarters, Alaa Makki, a senior party official with the largest Sunni(!) political party in Iraq (the Iraqi Islamic Party) condemned the Baghdad attack, saying the party would "use the political process to fight terrorism and promote stability in Iraq"

When the Sunni leaders in Iraq start referring to the "insurgents" as terrorists it should be time for the US news media to wake up and take notice.

Unless we know something that the average, ordinary, man-in-the-street Iraqi doesn't know, we should respect their judgement and join them in calling these terrorists terrorists!

But don't bet on it.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Harriet Miers OK By Me

Image hosted by Photobucket.comDo I care who President Bush nominates to the Supreme Court? Yes, of course.

What do I look for in a nominee? They should be demonstrably capable and smart as regards the law. They should be articulate in their opinions and ideas. They should begin and end their legal opinions firmly grounded in the U.S. Constitution (in between the beginning and the end they can explore any and all the U.S. legal precedent they can find but their conclusion should be tied to the actual wording of the Constitution). They should be respected by their peers....even those who may not agree with them.

Does Harriet Miers meet these criteria? Yes, I think she does...with the possible exception of how she might draw her judicial opinions from the Constitution. This is a big uncertainty but not a worry-some one. Few practitioners of the the U.S. legal profession make use of the U.S. Constitution very often anyway. Even appeals court judges are more concerned with precedents than with a direct examination or interpretation of the Constitution. In most cases, at least, the interpretation of the Constitution itself is deferred to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Miers will have the opportunity to explain what her judicial philosophy will be when she goes before the Senate Judiciary Committee. No doubt she has considered this matter often during her long and distinguished legal career.

I believe that she is qualified. I believe that President Bush is convinced that she will be faithful to his pledge to appoint judges that will tend to read their opinions from the words of the Constitution rather than read their opinions into that document of documents.

Are there other judges or potential candidates for SCOTUS who are demonstrably more convincingly conservative? Sure. But Bush, for one reason or the other, did not choose to nominate them. Why? I don't know. But it is folly to assert that Bush blundered in this nomination as though he simply rubber-stamped the recommendation of others. I am convinced that this appointment represents a more far-seeking vision than those who seem only interested in asserting their personal preferences in the here and now.

I cannot agree with Laura Ingrahm who, on her radio show today, predicted that Bush will soon "do the right thing" and withdraw her nomination in order to satisfy the far-right Republican base.

Half of that base has already expressed their support for Miers. The rest will follow once they have had their say and realize that Bush means what he says and will not change his mind on this matter.

Several leading Democrats (including Harry Reid) have already expressed their support of Miers. It will not do the Republican Party any good for anti-Mier partisans to continue their whining and crying into next week.

Mier's nomination will not be revoked. She will express her judicial philosophy clearly and well to the Senate Judiciary Committee and, in the end, she will be approved by at least the same number of votes that Judge Roberts received at his confirmation.

The nation reelected George W. Bush as President of the United States in part because it trusted him to make good court appointments. It is his job to do so. He has now done so and his candidate does not appear to have any warts or blemishes except those projected onto her by her critics.

Do I wish I knew more about her than I do? Yes, of course. By the time the Senate votes for or against her confirmation I will know a lot more. But I doubt that any of it will change my mind. Or the President's.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Iraqi Bomb Victim Tells It Like It Is

The New York Daily News (which I read while eating my breakfast in Manhattan this morning) quotes a surviving victim of the suicide bomb blast that killed over 30 Iraqi's in Tall Afar yesterday,
We didn't notice him. He drove so fast in his car. He picked the most crowded area, where people were gathered near the food ration store. I don't thiink those terrorists know the meaning of God, and they don't have the least right to claim that they're religious.
Point One: The injured Iraqi should be told immediately that the bomber was not a "terrorist" but an "insurgent." You would think that those Iraqi folks would have conformed into using the proper "politically correct" euphemisms by now.

Point Two: Al-Qaeda's number two man Zawahiri's worst fears (as expressed in his recently released private letter to Zarqawi) have been realized. Ordinary Iraqis no longer consider that these insane terrorists have anything to do with Islam at all.

Point Three: If this Iraqi man's opinion is widespread among the Iraqi people then it should be obvious that the "insurgent/terrorist" battle for the hearts and minds of the people of Iraq has been lost.

Point Four: If Point Three is correct, then Al Qaeda's dream of setting up a populist Islamist government in Iraq has already been transformed from a dream into a nightmare.

It would seem that the more Iraqis that Zarqawi kills, the sooner the radical, international Islamist movement will fade into historical impotence and oblivion.

These spiritually and morally bankrupt fiends have already lost the war in Iraq. They can continue to kill people (any idiot can do that.....and these people are little more than creative, sophisiticated idiots) but they will never lay claim to any pro-active power in that country.

There are still those, especially among the al Sadr Shi'ites, who pose a potentially divisive threat to the unity and peace of the new, emerging nation of Iraq. But killing people is not necessarily the same thing as fighting a war with the possibility of winning it.

Hopefully, the world media will understand this someday soon.

Murder Confession Produces Clean Laundry

According to today's New York Daily News, a Brooklyn man confessed to a friend that he had murdered two women and didn't want to go back to jail.

The two women had been found in the man's apartment on Saturday, the day he had moved in with his friend.

So, after hearing that his new room mate had just murdered two women (and had put one of them in his refrigerator for safe keeping) and was considering suicide, what does the friend do? According to the Daily News,
...the friend left to do laundry.
Yeah, that's the first thing that I would do, too....right?

In any case, when the friend returned to his apartment the man had shot and killed himself with a bullet in his head.

I've heard of airing out your dirty laundry, but this is ridiculous!

Bonus Info: In addition to the two dead women, the police, while searching the man's apartment, also found a chain saw and several hockey masks. They believe that the man, "a paroled robber, may have simply stolen the tool to sell."


I'm Baaaaaack!

Yep. I'm back in Hawaii after a 12-day trip that took me over half-way around the world to the Hashimite Kingdom of Jordan. In the days ahead I will be posting some of my thoughts and experiences from this trip. Yes, there will be pictures, too!

Monday, October 03, 2005

Trip to Jordan Post #1

Well, here I am in Jordan. I won't take time to say much except that I'm having a great time. I had my hair cut this evening down the street from my hotel in Amman. The hotel wanted 10 JD (Jordan Dinars) but the local barber charge only 3 JD. One of the barber's friends, named Hassan, walked back towards the hotel with me…carrying my shopping bags as a gesture of friendship. Hassan is a Palestinian born in Saudi Arabia but now living in Jordan and attending University studying computer graphics in Jerash. I think he had fun trying out his English on me. His family is originally from Nablus.

Anyway…after one full day here in Amman and northern Jordan here are a few photos of things so far.

This is Wesel. He is a Yemani working hard in the United States to support his wife and extended family who remained back in Yeman. This photo is at JFK just before we flew to Amman. He has not seen his wife in 1 1/2 years.

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This is Rory Carroll. He is from Ireland but is a staff writer for the Guardian (UK) newspaper. He is returning to Baghdad where he has been covering the unfolding story in Iraq for the past year. He will return home to England in January. We had much to talk about as we sat together from NYC to Amman.

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This is a Jordanian dagger I purchased last evening. I will exchange it for one slightly larger tonight.

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This is the Sea of Galilee from the Jordanian overlook at Um Qais. This is the site of the ancient Greek/Roman city of Gadara, the location where Jesus cast out demons from a man and put them into a herd of swine. This is a favorite spot for Palestinians to come and look across at their old homeland, yearning to return. (Click on this one to see the Sea of Galilee more clearly).

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Bouganvlilea at the Um Qais cafe/coffehouse where we ate lunch.

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At the Roman city of Jerash (like Gadara, one of the Decapolis) we came across Jordanian army musicians playing bagpipes and drums in the Western Roman Ampetheater. Jordan had once been a British protectorate and the late King Hussein had been educated in England, hence the odd juxtaposition of traditional Jordanian/bedouin garb and Scottish bagpipes.

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Also in Jerash this evening. Sunset at the Temple of Aphrodite.

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This, I think, is a good place to end the post. Aloha and Salaam.