Friday, May 30, 2008

The news has reported on tornadoes, plane crashes, and Mars rovers, but what about this...?

I'm no fan of Pres. Bush. We all know he lacks skills, is a general daily embarrassment, and an example of the Peter Principle in action. Nonetheless, history will probably show that he was right about a few things, and one of them may be the thing he is most vilified for-namely, the war in Iraq. Thanks to my man Chris for passing along this item that I would otherwise have never seen.

Terror On Wane,' 'Al-Qaida On Run' And Other Headlines You Won't See


Posted 5/22/2008

Mileposts: As President Bush's term winds down, signs are there that the war on terror is being won. The conflict in Iraq is ebbing, and worldwide terror attacks are down. When will someone call it what it is? VICTORY.

Back from the front, Gen. David Petraeus called on Congress Thursday to begin considering a drawdown of U.S. troops after five years of war. Violence in Iraq has plunged to its lowest levels since 2004, and al-Qaida is a tattered shadow of its formerself — key leaders dead, successors weak and recruiting down.

"My sense" Petraeus said, "is I will be able to make a recommendation (in the autumn) for further reductions."

This is no Saigon-style exit, but a coming victorious end of a long conflict. U.S. forces have pounded al-Qaida into irrelevance.

Using highly disciplined Special Forces strikes, advanced intelligence and communications, and local allies in the right places, 155,000 U.S. troops have been crushing a vicious enemy motivated by no rational forces in a war with no precedent.

They are winning against all odds, overcoming not just terrorists, but other obstacles such as a lumbering Pentagon bureaucracy and weak-kneed Western intelligentsia whose media toadies trump every military error and harp on every isolated bad deed.

Now proven wrong, these same critics retaliate by ignoring what is a very big story.

Worldwide terror attacks have fallen off 40% since 2001, according to a study by Canada's Human Security Report Project, and support for al-Qaida in the Arab world has collapsed. The study found terror attacks had been overcounted because Iraq War atrocities distorted the figures. Security gains elsewhere included even sub-Saharan Africa, where the improvement was called "extraordinary."

Just as the conflict in Iraq is coming to a close, two related terror wars — in Spain and Colombia — are also seeing signs of victory.

Working with France's tough, savvy police forces, Spanish authorities on Tuesday arrested Javier Lopez Pena, the top terrorist of the Marxist ETA group responsible for 800 killings since 1968.

Lopez himself broke a cease-fire negotiated in 2006 and, assuming Spain wouldn't fight, resumed his bombings. His al-Qaida-linked group is now headless and unlikely to cause the same trouble. Sealing ETA's doom was the Spanish government's decision to confront rather than negotiate with the thugs, and then join with France.

Even more impressive, the FARC terrorist group in Colombia has been reduced to a ghostly remnant of its former self, unable to make payroll and its leaders terrified of being slaughtered by its remaining 9,000 foot soldiers out to collect government rewards.

Its leader, Raul Reyes, was killed in an airstrike March 1, and six other commanders have been either blown away or jailed.

This week, FARC commander Nelly Avila Moreno put down arms, admitted the FARC is "crumbling" and pleaded with her comrades to surrender. More than 1,000 FARC fighters, seeing no future against superior firepower and a united public, have done so.

FARC's terrorists can no longer communicate with each other except by messenger and are running out of money. Colombia's people completely despise it and are turning them in. Thursday, Colombia's army unearthed a huge FARC arsenal in the jungle, taking two tons of bombs and 8,000 land mines from FARC's bloody hands.

From the deserts of Iraq to the villages of Spain to the jungles of Colombia, these victories against terrorist groups are all linked. They are the result of using proven tactics, holding together resolutely, cooperating with other nations to share and deliver intelligence, and forming united fronts. When this happens, terrorists cannot flourish. Recent successes show that these wars are winnable.

So why are the mainstream media so eager to ignore this news, and let their dour view slant their coverage? By failing to recognize the emerging victory over terrorism, the media only damage public morale and give the terrorists hope.

But in the Internet age, the media can't hide the news forever: Victories are beginning to emerge from Iraq and beyond. Maybe the news media should drop their bias and catch up with reality.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Being Annoyed, Chapter 7,392

Let me be the first to admit that I am peevish. It's been a lifelong battle to avoid showing the world just how easily irritated I am. So it make sense that I have more than my fair share of pet peeves, in addition to my many peeves that remain feral.

High on my list of peeves (and I do actually have a list, I keep it in my wallet) are people who forward emails with wild and false claims, never taking a moment to consider if the warning, amazement or indignation they're sharing has any ghost of validity. Being big on the whole truth thing, each time I get one these canards in my inbox I feel - you guessed it - peevish.

It's not as if there aren't simple ways to check the reality of the latest outrageous news. There's, for Pete's sake. How hard is that to use? Simply type in a few keywords from the latest lamebrain email you received, and chances are you'll know in 10 seconds whether to alert the nation or not. (But the more challenging question is this: do you hit reply and tell the offending sender that they are spreading BS? I do. But of course, I'm peevish.)

Long before there was Snopes there was The Straight Dope. I remember reading the column in alternative weeklies in the early 1980s. (Wikipedia says it's been around since 1973. That's no urban legend, either.) The Straight Dope is the place where you can learn the answers to such compelling questions as:

I have heard from numerous sources (many of them seemingly credible) that the average human consumes an average of four spiders per year in his or her sleep. Is there any truth to this fact?

Many years ago I was told that when a mosquito is engaged in dinner one should flex or tighten the muscle in the general vicinity. This would trap the hapless female, along with her proboscis, causing her to overfill and explode. True?

Was Abraham Lincoln gay?

And The Dope even has a searchable archive, too. Both Snopes and The Dope have weekly email newsletters that will keep you on the cutting edge of urban legend manufacturing and help you know crap when you see it.

This message was made possible by a grant from the Annoyance Foundation, helping the peevish to be less of an ass.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Man Without Good Book Listless, Edgy

I need a good book to read.

I always feel out of sorts when I don't have a good book going, and right now I am in between reading gigs. I could feel this coming on as I finished Thirteen Moons. Really loved that one, and experience tells me that it's rare to find a great book to follow a great book. More likely you get a double-bogey after a birdie, which is something else I have experience with. Don't get me started.

Thirteen Moons had everything I like in a novel - historical context, wisdom, a sense of humor, a character I could believe and care about, and just the right amount of sentimentality. (The New York Times review said this one by Frazier is a lot closer to Larry McMurtry than to Cormac McCarthy, which is just fine. Anything that falls on the spectrum between those two guys is going to be a good read for me.) I hated knowing that I would have to finish it. Now what?

I periodically commit myself to the idea that I won't buy another book until I have read every unread book in the house. That usually lasts about a week. This time around, I made a half-hearted attempt to start the most recent translation of Don Quixote. Second time around for me on that one, and no luck. Not in the mood for a masterpiece, I guess. Took a sideways look at A Thousand Splendid Suns but didn't even read the flap. Scoured through the shelves here and there hoping for magic. What was the name of that one about that...thing? The one I heard about from...who? I have a copy of it around here somewhere. Nothing. The Sunday Times book review taunts me.

If you've got any surefire cures for my problem, please correspond. No crime fiction or spy novels need apply - I'm not getting ready to lie on the beach for a week - and no chick lit, Tom Clancy or courtroom thrillers. (You can see the root of my problem now, can't you? Picky, picky, picky.)

Help me before I reach for another magazine...

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Say Anything

Remember the movie The Jerk? Steve Martin starts off the story narrating as his character Navin Johnson by saying "I was born a poor black child." It's funny because it's so obviously not true. We all know Steve Martin, and we know he's not black. In fact, he's really, really white. And he delivers it with a straight face. So we juxtapose the obvious truth with the earnestly-made statement, and voila! Comedy!

So how is it now that Hillary Clinton can get away with this last month of pretending to be a pickup-driving, duck hunting, boilermaker-swilling blue collar candidate without generating thunderous guffaws everywhere she goes? We have the juxtaposition - the obvious truth that Hillary is one of those candidates who might go blank if she was asked the current cost of a gallon of milk (a question that stumped the first Pres. Bush, I recall), and the earnestly-made statement, i.e., "I am just a good ol' boy - or good ol' woman - like you." Not only that, but at the same time re-casting Obama as an elitist! Now that's what I call spin.

The most recent laugh-out-loud moment: this week's big statement about how she will take on OPEC if elected.
"We're going to go right at OPEC," she told supporters in Merrillville, Indiana. "They can no longer be a cartel, a monopoly that get together once every couple of months in some conference room in some plush place in the world, they decide how much oil they're going to produce and what price they're going to put it at."
Nicely populist pitch. This from a woman who has spent just about her entire adult life in conference rooms, mostly in plush places, making decisions with other people in the top 2% in income, education and power. Hardy har har.

Let's look at Hillary's hardscrabble beginnings. She grew up in the suburbs. Her father managed a business. (There's some street cred.) She's a good student and gets into Wellesley College. (One of the original Seven Sisters colleges, and no doubt just chock full of future blue-collar workers in training.) She then goes on to Yale Law (I assume she worked her way through as a bricklayer or garbage collector?) and directly into a law firm (perhaps captaining the bowling team?) She works in law and politics exclusively, moves to Arkansas with Bill, gets married, works in more law firms. Next thing you know, first lady of Arkansas, then on to the White House. Hardly seems like enough time in there for all the ditch-digging and coal-mining she must have done to earn the down-to-earth, regular-folks mantle she's trying to wear today.

Sure, every pol plays this same act in a campaign. Maybe it's not fair that Hillary's past is so well known and documented, heightening the absurdity of it. And maybe it's more annoying because of the irony that Obama actually has some hard-scrabble background, at least by comparison with Hil. He's the only one of the three, if you include McCain, who can make a claim of being from common stock - and yet he bowled a 37. Go figure.

I suppose it's tilting at windmills to expect candidates to restrain themselves, and remain somewhere closer to reality as they talk about themselves and their characters. Then again, a little honesty might result in a little trust, and a little trust is a good place to start.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Mongo copycat? Conan wannabe? Or just fed up with stuck up dromedaries?

Six Flags Visitor Arrested For Hitting Camel

VALLEJO (AP) ― A man has been arrested for allegedly punching a camel on a dare at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom.

Vallejo police say 24-year-old Christopher Allen was dared by a friend to enter a restricted area at the theme park where the camel was kept and punch it. He struck the animal and was arrested.

Undoubtedly our top story today is this tragedy that was perpetrated in nearby Vallejo.

On first instinct, you might wonder what kind of meth head would get exercised enough to want to punch a camel. But this clearly seems to me to be a copycat crime. This kid was either trying to duplicate the "Mongo cold cocks a horse" scene from Blazing Saddles, or more likely, a "Conan punches a camel" scene that can be found as a video game excerpt on You Tube.

Then again, if you are in the captive animal taunting business, it's always better to choose something that can't much fight back, rather than teasing a tiger like those nimrods at the SF Zoo a few months ago. The camel might spit, or kick you, but probably won't bite your throat out.

Clearly I cannot condone camel punching. On the other hand, we've all seen that smug look they get, those half-lidded eyes, looking down that long nose at us. "Thirsty?" he seems to say. "Not me, not a bit thirsty." And I can't help but consider the many years of camel complicity in encouraging our youngsters to smoke.