Friday, August 10, 2007

Sometimes Pictures ...

Sometimes, pictures can tell or cover-up whole stories—more than any news report or any press conference can.

In the English-speaking world, John Berger, more than any art critique I know, has shown how pictures and looking can disclose a great deal about events, people and places. (See his Ways of Seeing and class of the same name by Professor Lori Landay at UC Berkeley.)

When I write this entry, i.e. during lunch hour on August 8, 2007, two of the three pictures above are less than 24 hours old.

What do the pictures tell you?

A "Strategy" for Iraq

Thus, writes David Gardner of Financial Times ("America's Illusory Strategy in Iraq," August 9 2007):

But US commanders seem to have no trouble detecting the hand of Tehran everywhere. This largely evidence-free blaming of serial setbacks on Iranian forces is a bad case of denial. First, the insurgency is overwhelmingly Iraqi and Sunni, built around a new generation of jihadis created by the US invasion. Second, to the extent foreign fighters are involved these have come mostly from US-allied and Sunni Saudi Arabia, not Shia Iran. Third, the lethal roadside bombs with shaped charges that US officials have coated with a spurious veneer of sophistication to prove Iranian provenance are mostly made by Iraqi army-trained engineers – from high explosive looted from those unsecured arms dumps.

Shia Iran has backed a lot of horses in Iraq. If it wished to bring what remains of the country down around US ears it could. It has not done so. The plain fact is that Tehran’s main clients in Iraq are the same as Washington’s: Mr Maliki’s Da’wa and the Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq led by Abdelaziz al-Hakim. Iran has bet less on the unpredictable Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi army, which has, in any case, largely stood aside during the present troop surge.

So, in sum. Having upturned the Sunni order in Iraq and the Arab world, and hugely enlarged the Shia Islamist power emanating from Iran, the US finds itself dependent on Tehran-aligned forces in Baghdad, yet unable to dismantle the Sunni jihadistan it has created in central and western Iraq. Ignoring its Iraqi allies it is arming Sunni insurgents to fight al-Qaeda. And, by selling them arms rather than settling Palestine it is trying to put together an Arab Sunni alliance (Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia) with Israel against Iran. All clear? How can anyone keep a straight face and call this a strategy?

Monday, May 21, 2007


Everything transitions from one form to another through stages. In a play, a character may transition from hope, to frustrated ambitions to bitterness and despair. Death itself comes as a transition. Thus, does Leonardo da Vinci describe, in his Notebooks [as quoted by Lajos Egri], the transition to death:

... And this old man, a few hours before his death, told me that he had lived a hundred years, and that he did not feel any bodily ailment other than weakness, and thus, while sitting up on a bed in the hospital of Santa Maria Nuova at Florence, without any movement or sign of anything amiss, he passed away from this life. And I made an autopsy in order to ascertain the cause of so peaceful a death, and found that it proceeded from weakness throgh failure of blood and of the artery that feeds the heart and the other lower members, which I found to be very parched and shrunk and withered, and the result of his autopsy I wrote down very carefully and with great ease, for the body was devoid of either fat or moisture, and these form the chief hindrance to the knowledge of its parts ... The old who enjoy good health die through lack of sustenance. And this is brought about by the passage to the mesaraic veins becoming continually restricted by the thickening of the skin of those veins and the process continues until it affects the capillary veins which are the first to close up altogether; and from this it comes to pass that the old dread the cold more than the young, and that those who are very old have their skin the color of wood or dried chestnut, because this is almost compeltely deprived of sustenance.

What is in this description that makes it such a more revealing read that today's medical treatise on aging and death?

Saturday, April 7, 2007

The Fear Machine

Thus, writes the national security advisor to President Carter, Zbigniew Brzezinski:

Fear obscures reason, intensifies emotions and makes it easier for demagogic politicians to mobilize the public on behalf of the policies they want to pursue.

...The terror entrepreneurs, usually described as experts on terrorism, are necessarily engaged in competition to justify their existence. Hence their task is to convince the public that it faces new threats. That puts a premium on the presentation of credible scenarios of ever-more-horrifying acts of violence, sometimes even with blueprints for their implementation.

...That America has become insecure and more paranoid is hardly debatable. A recent study reported that in 2003, Congress identified 160 sites as potentially important national targets for would-be terrorists. With lobbyists weighing in, by the end of that year the list had grown to 1,849; by the end of 2004, to 28,360; by 2005, to 77,769. The national database of possible targets now has some 300,000 items in it, including the Sears Tower in Chicago and an Illinois Apple and Pork Festival.

...The entertainment industry has also jumped into the act. Hence the TV serials and films in which the evil characters have recognizable Arab features, sometimes highlighted by religious gestures, that exploit public anxiety and stimulate Islamophobia. Arab facial stereotypes, particularly in newspaper cartoons, have at times been rendered in a manner sadly reminiscent of the Nazi anti-Semitic campaigns. Lately, even some college student organizations have become involved in such propagation, apparently oblivious to the menacing connection between the stimulation of racial and religious hatreds and the unleashing of the unprecedented crimes of the Holocaust.

...A case in point is the reported harassment of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) for its attempts to emulate, not very successfully, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Some House Republicans recently described CAIR members as "terrorist apologists" who should not be allowed to use a Capitol meeting room for a panel discussion.

There is more. Read the full text in the online edition of The Washington Post.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Children, Rich and Poor

UNICEF has released a report on the condition of children's lives in rich countries. (The Child Poverty in Perspective report can be found here.) The report, which ranks the U.S. and the U.K. at the very bottom of a list of 21 industrialized nations, starts with the following note:

The true measure of a nation’s standing is how well it attends to its children – their health and safety, their material security, their education and socialization, and their sense of being loved, valued, and included in the families and societies into which they are born.

You can also view the UNICEF's The State of the World's Children 2007.

This includes a little report and video on Zahra Yaghobinezhad's activities in Iran's Persian Gulf port city of Bandar-e Langeh. There are also other stories on activists from the U.S., Romania, Ethiopia, Brazil, Chad, Bangladesh and Indonesia.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Pay for Propaganda or Propaganda for Pay

Even as papers have gone far in changing their business models to accommodate to digital media, the paper editions remain superior to their digital versions targeted to desktop readers not only because of the technological qualities of paper but also because of the design of the paper editions.

Everything from font face and size of the headings to the arrangement of columns and stories on the print pages guide the reader to the intended destination. Take a paper edition of Financial Times, and you'll know what I mean. (Note that Financial Times has not yet broken the folding symmetry, which The Wall Street Journal did break on Jan. 1, 2007, by reducing its columns from an even to an odd number.)

Of course, I cannot help write about the paper edition without mentionting that while the designer of Financial Times does a good job, its opinion columns and editorials remain what they are as is expected in all papers with editors.

For example, one of the Financial Times opinion columnists, the editor Jacob Weisberg, seems to be on a solid contract to write a regular but a rather poor column on Iran in every so many issue.  While the intent of Weisberg's column reminds me quite a bit of Michael Ledeen's "work" on the opinion pages of The Wall Street Journal back in 2002 - 2003 era (before he got caught with the blank lies he kept stringing together almost at will), Wiesberg may yet prove to be a better poetic writer with a better sense of dramatic art (as in plays) and has taken upon himself to offer somewhat more fanciful strategum.

In all this, what surprises me most is that these people actually get paid to feed propaganda to their hapless readers and write with confidence and an air of authority about topics they know so very little about.

We can think of this nauseating activity in two apparently distinct ways: Propaganda for Pay or Pay for Propaganda. Take your pick but you need to pick one. Why does the first seem a bit more shameless?

In the same vain, I really truly wonder and am quite curious to know whether Weisberg's dreamy columns on Iran actually get the light of the day in the European print edition of Financial Times or whether only we, the American readers of the print edition, have the honor of being regularly subjected to the drama in his columns.

The topics captured in the above paragraphs remind me again that in the world I live, form continues to matter way more than substance.

Monday, January 29, 2007

jUploader and Flickr

jUploader works quite well with Flickr on Mac. No intrusion into the iPhoto world. Simply drag and drop from iPhoto into jUploader. I'm using a 1.1.2 which still supports JDK 1.4. The author says he is moving it to 1.2 and JDK 1.5.